Book Review: Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

I’ve always been fascinated by candles.

This book is also published under the title What Sunny Saw in the Flames, which has a few textual differences mainly related to dialogue (or so I’ve heard).

I devoured this book. I picked it up and did not want to put it down until it was done, continually asking “What happens next?”. And yet, I find it (along with a lot of Nnedi Okorafor’s work) hard to review: I know that, as a white English person, there are going to be things that I miss. And there are places where I know I am missing things, and probably things that I am missing that I don’t notice I am missing. I really, really love Nnedi Okorafor’s work, but I am scared of somehow, without meaning, doing her a disservice by being ignorant in my reviews.

So, here is what I think I can confidently say; Sunny Nwazue is a wonderful, engaging protagonist with a clear and unique voice. The imagery is stunning, and the plot is carefully done. I loved the writing style, and the magic system is fascinating. There is a whole hidden magical world that Sunny is drawn into, which (I think) has a basis in a real secret society, and the rules of the magical world were brilliantly thought out. I enjoyed the friendships, and the way that they grew and changed. I like reading things that are not set in Europe or America, especially fantasy. Overall, I strongly recommend this book: it’s gripping and fun, although the danger is very real…

Rating: read this book, look deeply into candles.


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The Life and Times of Angel Evans

I got a rather wonderful review the other day 🙂

The Moth Festival

Hello! As most of our blogging focus is on Hopeless, Maine this year (and that happens over here) I thought I’d spend some time over here bringing attention to some of the amazing things and creators we have found in our travels.

This time, I’d like to tell you about Meredith Debonnaire. If she does not become one of the major voices for her generation in fantasy, I will be very surprised. Seriously. Her story, The Life and Times of Angel Evans has a novel’s worth of unspeakably cool ideas in it and a VOICE. Dear gods, what a voice! In terms of density and originality of ideas, it compares favorably with China Miéville. There is also a novel’s worth of suggested story here. There is deft invocation of atmosphere and a complex believable character in an impossible situation. The emotional weight is utterly convincing (for reasons) and is…

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Book review: Red Witch by Anna McKerrow

red witch by anna mckerrow

Writing this while I remember it.

This is the sequel to Crow Moon. I will try to avoid spoilers for Red Witch, but there may be some for Crow Moon.

Red Witch is a fantastic read. It does a lot of really exciting, unexpected things. Firstly, it has a different point-of-view character from Crow Moon‘s, which is a bold move considering they are both first person books. Crow Moon was from the point-of-view of Danny Prentice; Red Witch is from the point-of-view of Demelza “Melz” Hawthorne. As a reader, I was instantly given a new perspective on things that I thought I was familiar with; events from Crow Moon are given a new sheen, and a whole layer is added to the worldbuilding. I made a lot of “Ooooh” noises.

On top of this, Melz has left the Greenworld following the murder of the lad she was in love with (who was her sister’s boyfriend, so her grief is a complicated beast)(Her sister is Saba, and I am still a little unhappy with how she is presented? I want more insight into her motives). The Redworld and the fuel wars have been mentioned, but now Melz is stumbling around in the middle of it and it is never quite what we have been led to believe. A lot of the beginning struck close to home for me because I have been the awkward teenager wearing a handknitted jumper trying to figure out how the rest of the world works (Steiner education!)(I still wear handknitted jumpers though) and it was baffling and hard. Then there are the stories that Redworld tells about Greenworld, and that was very interesting indeed.

A lot of the narrative is about Melz grieving, and it was an amazing narrative because Melz is a powerful kickarse witch who is nevertheless in pain. And she’s a bit lost, trying to figure out who to trust out here: Bran Crowley, the enigmatic charmer living in the White Well in Glastonbury? His bodyguard? Ceri, Catie and Demi, who are playing at magic? Herself? But this is a narrative where she is allowed to be in pain and angry and vindictive and powerful without being punished by the narrative. She’s allowed to go on a journey which does not diminish any of her power – her goddess is the Morrigan which really tells you a lot. I loved that Anna McKerrow did this.

I also love that Anna McKerrow does such interesting things with plot and worldbuilding; the story never quite went where I thought it would, insignificant characters from Crow Moon become suddenly important and then I thought back and realised it had been foreshadowed, and similarly small plotpoints were expanded on in really pleasing ways. Goddesses intervene. People make mistakes. There are curses. The land fights back. It’s bloody brilliant.

Rating: read this book. Be wary of the crows…


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Book Review: Weaver’s Lament by Emma Newman

Weaver's Lament by Emma Newman Industrial Magic book two

Charlotte was certain she was going to die.

Book two of the Industrial Magic series

review of Brother’s RuinBook one of the Industrial Magic Series.

The further adventures of Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Gunn, secret mage, secret illustrator, and possibly a burgeoning socialist. Charlotte finds herself working undercover at a cotton mill in this book, at first to assist her brother who believes his apprenticeship is being sabotaged, but increasingly with her own agenda. I enjoy Emma Newman’s writing. There are hints dropped throughout this book about directions the series might take, all of which are very exciting (I have so many theories about the process that the mage organisation puts mages through to stop them going “wild”).

I love that Emma Newman has taken this Victorian world, powered it with magic, and is using it not only to tell fantastic stories but also to comment on social injustice. There are some revelations about work at the mill which were nothing short of genius. Charlie Gunn remains a wonderful main character, by turns naive and stubborn. My only complaint is that there is not enough book at all!

Rating: read this book, be kind to the ghosts.


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Book Review: Crow Moon by Anna McKerrow

Crow moon by anna mckerrow cover shows silhouette of a face with crow in white wuperimposed

And then he said, ‘No-one should distract an ordained knight from his thoughts in a discourteous way, for perhaps he has either suffered a loss or he is thinking about the woman he loves best.’ From the Mabinogion.

The fire in the middle of the circle casts flickering shadows over our faces: we stand obediently in its fierce warmth, following the words of the monthly full-moon ritual.

At this point, it is relevant to mention that I went to a Steiner school because that hugely influenced the way I read this book. Crow Moon is set in a fascinating world sometime in the future, where Cornwall and Devon have cut themselves off and become an eco-pagan haven known as the Greenworld. As far as the people inside know, the rest of the world (the Redworld) is engaged in fuel wars. The Greenworld is completely self-sustained, with loads of gardening and recycling and agriculture, and also magic. Everyone wears knitted and homemade clothes and talks about the weather a lot. Steiner education puts a lot of emphasis on practical and integrated skills, so a lot of my school time was spent doing what was referred to as handwork (knitting, crocheting, weaving, sewing, gardening, woodwork, pottery, basketry, metalwork…), and the attitude to education overall was really different. And there were a lot of homemade jumpers, and theoretically I can build a compost loo (probably not well), and there was singing and music and a lot of effort put into making a community, which was nice, but it was a small community, which can be hard (something that’s explored very well in this book).

I say all this because what that meant was that I spent a lot of time reading this book recognising things, and going “Oh yeah, compost loos are really annoying” and “huh, yep, that journalling thing, I remember doing that” and also chuckling whenever characters particularly reminded me of people I knew (I remember a lot of people who kept crystals attached to their phones to offset the negative energy). Anyway, what all this means is that, much as I loved the world of Crow Moon, to me it felt familiar rather than like a strange potential future. The main character is Danny Prentice, an endearing idiot. I applaud Anna McKerrow’s skill in writing a first person character who was convincingly a 16-year-old boy, with behaviour daft enough to be believable for a boy of his age with no role-models but not so daft that the reader comes to resent him. He did stupid things, and I yelled at him a lot, but I wanted him to come through the book safely.

The story is about Danny Prentice figuring out who he is and where he wants to fit into the Greenworld, and as he is doing this there are far larger things stirring. Things that may threaten the entire Greenworld. His mother, Zia, is a witch. I enjoyed the delicate way that Crow Moon explored what her calling costs her, and how that ties into Danny’s reluctance to accept his own powers. I also loved the magic in Crow Moon. There was a sense of mystery to it, as well as a layer of mundanity. A lot of people were clearly just going through the motions because it was required of them. There were rituals and spells, and you had to have a gift to do it in the first place. But there were also goddesses and gods, who were vast and great and inscrutable. Even when they appeared fully on the page they retained a sense of mystery and might – they might help the characters, and they might not, and no-one human would be able to say why.

I enjoyed all the characters – even viewed through Danny’s eyes, the reader could get a sense that there was more going on for them than what Danny knew. Roach was a fantastic villain; he was genuinely scary, probably because he had a deranged kind of charisma. Saba, Danny’s love interest, did not feel real to me. I think this was because we were seeing her as Danny did, which was not necessarily as a whole person. And Melz, Saba’s sister, was a fascinating spiky enigma. The next book in this series is from her point-of-view, and I am extremely excited about that! And there was always a sense of things happening at the corner of one’s vision: there would be little snippets of information and story that, if properly paid attention to, hinted at contradictions of the accepted dogma of the world, of bigger things happening and a larger world beyond the Greenworld. Of secrets.

Overall, I recommend Crow Moon: it’s subtle and interesting, and the ending was genuinely surprising. A unique piece of fantasy.

Rating: read this. Remember that real post-apocalypse gear will probably all be knitted.


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Book review: Brother’s Ruin by Emma Newman

brother's ruin by emma newman

Charlotte guided her brother to the right position on the pavement, ignoring the glares from other Londoners as they stopped the flow of people hurrying about their business.

I have just read this little book, and it was a delight. Very much the beginning of something (it’s okay, there are more books!), yet compelling in its own right. Brother’s Ruin is set in a Victorian London with magic, which seems to be the theme of several books I’ve bought recently. It is a well imagined world, with just the right amount of nitty-gritty detail.

The story follows Charlotte, or Charlie as she is nicknamed, a young woman of middling class with several secrets and a fiance whom I personally thought was a bit useless. The question is, can she actually keep any of her secrets secret?

There were lots of things that Brother’s Ruin did that were fun. I liked how industrial the magical colleges sounded, and the fact that the industrial revolution is effectively being powered by magic. I loved the trope inversion of Charlie’s brother being the one with non-specific ill health. Charlie herself was a loveable character. There was always this sense of a stubborn, naturally hotheaded person struggling in a system where she can’t be those things. It’s a fantastic read, and I’m looking forward to the second in the series.

Rating: read this book, dismantle the patriarchy!


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Book review: Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

Who Fears Death by Nnedi okorafor image contains a desert and a black woman standing with her back to us, sprouting vulture wings.

My life fell apart when I was sixteen.

Phew! This book was like a good kick in the teeth, stress on the good. I feel ill-equipped to review it – so much of this book falls so far outside my knowledge base, and although it is a post-apocalyptic fantasy, I still feel like there are going to be nuances that I have missed because of lack of real-world knowledge. So, I am going to do my best, but if I make some horrible mistake please let me know. Please also note trigger warning for rape – it’s a pretty big theme in this book so you may just want to completely skip the whole thing if that’s going to be hard, or at least proceed with caution.

Who Fears Death is an epic, if not in length then in structure. It covers years – an entire lifetime (at least). There is a prophecy and a quest and a great evil to be overcome, but these things are introduced slowly, and the main themes are personal. Onyesonwu is  a child of rape in a post-apocalyptic Africa. She is also Eshu; a magical shapeshifter (among other things). She has to fight stubbornly to be taught, because nobody wants to teach a woman. As a visually recognisable child of rape, she has to struggle for many things, including basic acceptance. And she is angry, with many and reasonable causes. There is a lot of visceral anger in this book; about slavery and genocide and fighting for survival. There is also hope. And love. And humour. And wonder. All of which are essential, because it would be almost impossible to read without those. Nnedi Okorafor has achieved an incredible balancing act here, pulling no punches with the pain of the story she is telling, and being similarly straightforward about the joys that her characters manage to find.

Onyesonwu’s story is, primarily, about justice. All kinds of justice. I’m trying not to spoil the plot here, but the amount that Nnedi Okorafor manages to cover in 419 pages is impressive. And her characters are sinewy and real and seem to breathe, her writing is clear and incredible, and the world she has built is a brilliant and fantastic thing. And damnit, I am so here for angry women hunting down the people who hurt them. I am here for that unmitigated and unreasonable fury, for the fight for ownership of one’s own body. I am here for non-European worlds and magic systems. I mentioned when I reviewed Book of Phoenix that reading it made me think about the things we are willing to be complicit in as long as we don’t have to look at them: Who Fears Death did that all over again. It’s a scorching, incredible book that makes me feel certain that I am not doing enough. And it looks fearlessly at the nitty-gritty reality of structural patterns impacting on individual lives and bodies. It’s also a compelling story, it’s just that I’m a little preoccupied with the rage…

Rating: read this book -remember that hope is a dangerous thing…


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