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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Book Review: Provenance by Ann Leckie

Provenance Ann Leckie

“There were unexpected difficulties,” said the dark grey blur.

I have briefly mentioned the Imperial Radch trilogy before, in a slightly incoherent, oh-my-goddess-I-love-this-so-much way. In order to for this book to make any sense, you need to have read those three books (Ancillary Justice, Ancillary Sword, Ancillary Mercy) first. They are very very good, so off you go and read them. I’ll wait.

Done? Okay, on to the review. Provenance is set in the same world as the Imperial Radch trilogy, but outside the Radch Empire and with a new point-of-view character. It is set shortly after the events of Ancillary Mercy, although it is not a direct sequel. Ingray Aughskold is a very different person from Breq/Justice of Toren One Esk. She is entirely human, for a start, and she comes from one of the many civilisations living outside the Radch Empire (the Radch do not make for good neighbours). She is young, she is a bit inexperienced, and she is desperate. Or at least, she feels that way.

Ingray is in many ways a very privileged young woman, fostered by a prominent family on Hwae. Her family is also rather cutthroat, and when we meet her Ingray has just sunk all of her money into a mad scheme designed to set her above her fosterbrother and secure her place in the household. Safe to say, it does not go as planned at all. Events spiral out of her control, there are other agendas at work, and by the end of the book her original aims are almost forgotten. It is fantastic.

I love the things that Ann Leckie does with worldbuilding, especially in the way that she creates social and cultural norms and then puts them next to another culture with different ones. Hwae, for example, has a three-gender system, with children considered agender. People declare their gender when they become adults, and take on an adult name. She has done this after writing an entire trilogy with a culturally Radchaai point of view character, who thought of everyone as ‘she’ because the Radchaai only have one gender. There are people from a different system (the name escapes me), who cannot speak to family members or even acknowledge their existence. There are aliens, there are humans from different places with very different ideas about how things should work, and there are humans who are legally considered aliens. It is also great that a lot of her spacefaring cultures feel distinctly non-European, and are mostly not white.

Provenance is big and fun and complicated. It is about where people are from, and how much that matters. It’s about the stories that people tell about themselves; the personal ones and the historical ones, and what happens when one person or group’s stories are told louder than others, or when those stories turn out to be not entirely true. It is about Ingray Aughskold figuring out that she doesn’t need to be anyone except herself, and in the background huge things are happening as the Presger and the Geck and the Rrrrr come to meet and discuss whether or not AI can be part of the non-interference treaty.

I strongly recommend Provenance, as well as the Imperial Radch trilogy. Ann Leckie’s world is a big exciting place with lots to say about personhood and Empire and society, and she says it well in the form of compelling stories.

Rating: read this book; question everything…

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Poem: Reasons I am still Angry (Women’s Suffrage Centenary) by Meredith Debonnaire

A very quick list-poem, written just this morning. It is rough!

  • Because 100 years is not a very long time.
  • Because of the pay gap.
  • Because of sexual harassment .
  • Because of that man who followed me home and stood outside my door and waited and waited and waited and I had never seen him before but it was my home and I was scared.
  • Because of no pockets on clothes.
  • Because of paying more for having no pockets on clothes.
  • Because holding hands with any of my girlfriends has always been an exercise in risk assessment.
  • Because period poverty.
  • Because statistically the person most likely to assault me is a man that I know and trust and am familiar with.
  • Because of Manic Pixie Dream Girls.
  • Because I am tired.
  • Because I do not want to do the damn washing up, or the sweeping, or the laundry.
  • Because of emotional labour.
  • Because of cuts to Refuges.
  • Because you can’t vote if you are homeless, or in prison, or if registering your address would put you in danger.
  • Because if you are a student moving between two places it is not easy to vote.
  • Because the voting system is broken and unfair.
  • Because naked women advertising kitchenware is normal.
  • Because I am a bitter angry person with so much to be angry about.
  • Because I am not very good at hope.
  • Because I live in fear of having my body invaded.
  • Because my body is already invaded.
  • Because we do not have a 100% reliable contraceptive, and abortion is still technically illegal.
  • Because strangers think it is ok to tell me how they think I should look.
  • Because politics is still playing out violently on bodies.
  • Because the first thing that most people will do when they see me is try to figure out if I am a man or a woman, and if they can’t tell easily I can expect at the very least pointed jokes.
  • Because of shaving armpits.
  • Because public spaces are not safe.
  • Because I am 26 and I get asked about my biological clock.
  • Because of jiggle physics.
  • Because I must be nice.
  • Because if I wrote this entire list out it would be three times the length of my body.
  • Because 
  • Because
  • Because…

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Poem: Stars by Meredith Debonnaire

The thing is, I have written poetry for years and years, and mostly it just sits on my harddrive gathering metaphorical dust. I never send it anywhere or read it to anyone. So I decided the blog was as good a place as any for it. This one is maybe five years old, but it seemed really relevant. Maybe I’ll share some new poetry with you sometime…

Because what could have been done
lay already in scattered dreams;
Hope-shrapnel tearing into us.
Because reams of fear paralysed us,
and we knew not whether it was power or powerlessness
that we feared.
Because terrible freedom roared with its dying voice,
We hid.
Buried in debris disguised as civilisation,
clogging our souls with chewing gum,
with television and radiation
and eroticised fantasies of microwaves,
new tables and smooth-sided mobile phones.
Instead of communities,
an empty kind of sex appeal.
It’s a deal that we’re born into;
A false idol to worship.
That gorgeous monster cripples us.
Because we trust the voices that tell us
we cannot survive without greed.
Because we were terrified to think ourselves
and the blinders were just thick enough;
The screaming light of Icarus,
or whatever celebrity,
more important.
Our concrete, tarmac and breezeblock denials
of our transitory nature
scarring the land.
Disconnected, we banned feeling.
So now, when our papier mâché
castle of cards world shakes,
and people tumble into the abyss
clutching ironing boards, clinging onto computers,
desperately driving cars in the quixotic attempt
to escape themselves.
We remember.
that this is not the first time we have fallen.
Because what we could have done
lies already broken
we must dream bigger dreams.
Because we need more than a token symbol
and a flat-packed duvet.
Because steel beams and brick walls and glass three inches thick
cannot imprison a mind.
Because when our cities have collapsed
delusions shattered
we will find that we are left without maps.
That we are left with the sky and the land;
Alone or with gods
whatever dreams and freedoms that we dare.
With the stars, with the earth on our hands.
With love, with fear, with air.

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Tales From Tantamount: February of the Year of the Sad Plastic Bag, part one

Being a further record of the happenings in the town of Tantamount, a slightly odd and usually lost town often located near the Forest of Dean.

Headlines in Tantamount February 1st

The Tantamount Herald
Council up in arms over “Leap Day” scandal amid claims that the extra day is a European conspiracy! p2
Imbolc celebrations may cause town-wide hysteria, according to imaginary experts. More on p5
Tantamount Life
MY HELLISH MISERY! Stay-at-home dad, missing for two years, reveals that toddler accidentally sent him to faerieland. Full story on p11-13


Proverb of the day: An apple a day keeps the devil away. Unfortunately, extensive scientific investigation has proven this proverb to be untrue. Other things that are untrue include chem trails, electrosensitivity, and money. Therefore we advise that you deposit all your used conspiracy theories and theoretical currency in the bin below to be disposed of safely.
Tantamount District Council


RE: stew recipe
TO: management@pinprick.tan
FROM: laurallovelace@hotmail.tan

Dear Thora Hope,
Please find attached a recipe for a stew – it was given to me by a rather upset dog yesterday. As you know I am not overly interested in stew, however I think this recipe bears some looking at. With a few tweaks it could be a new staple at Pinprick Cafe, and the fishbones should make for good fortunetelling. Please read and let me know what you think.
Also, will we be acknowledging the Leap Day, or moving straight into March?
Best wishes,
Laura Lovelace
Attachments: Dogstew recipe.doc
antiviral blessing.doc


and introducing
the EXISTENTIAL EPICENTRIC EARTHQUAKE of EDITH with their debut collection
7:30pm till late
Drinks, snacks and crisis counselling available at the bar. Admission T6.25, 9th February


RE RE: stew recipe
TO: lauralovelace@hotmail.tan
FROM: management@pinprick.tan

Dear Laura,

This is a good recipe – I have made some changes and hope you will introduce it as a new dish. That dog must have really liked you!
We will be running with the Leap Day – I don’t like Julius Caesar myself but the Leap Days are fun. Also find attached the flyer for the poetry gig that we are hosting.
Best wishes,
Thora Hope
Attachments: Blam poetry night.doc
Antiviral blessing.doc



Waterworks to take place here on Dark Lane Way through the second half of February. These essential waterworks are for maintaining the culveted springs below the road, and making ceremonial offerings of propitiation to prevent flooding later in the year. Anyone wishing to take part in the ceremony should contact Severn Trent on xxxxx 728 888 NO PIGEONS

Thanks, Severn Trent


Weather Report

The weather today was clear as glass and occasionally interrupted by high-pitched zagreets. Domestic animals were noticeably irritated, and several public bathrooms were wrecked.


It would appear that Tantamount has moved into the Severn. We urge residents to remain calm, and not to attempt to leave the town except at low tide. We have provided every household that we care about with water-breathing apparatus, and are taking advantage of our new position to go fishing. An oneiromancer and a Town-whisperer are being consulted on when they believe Tantamount will move again.
Tantamount District Council

The Tantamount Grapevine (official) can confirm that a riot took place last night, shortly after the Carrion had departed. A group of furious pensioners armed with megaphones, baseball bats and SCUBA gear took over the streets for a good hour. Several shops were set alight, windows were broken, and the public marijuana fountain was trashed (we’re all quite sad about that).
The rabble eventually retreated to the bingo hall, where they used numerology to summon a Being from Beyond (we don’t know where it’s beyond). We heard from trusted sources that, when the rioting reached Pinprick Cafe, Thora Hope defended the premises by wielding an enormous salmon. Jeff’s taxidermy shop was wrecked, although some witnesses claim that was not pensioners but angry goats disguised as pensioners.
More to follow!

Tantamount will return at some point in mid-February. Should you need to catch up, there is a page on my website with links 🙂
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Book Review: A Portable Shelter by Kirsty Logan

A portable shelter kirsty logan book cover

I’m going to tell you a story.

This was a spiderweb of a book: a collection of short stories deftly threaded together. Ruth and Liska are expecting their first child, and have retreated to a tiny cottage on the north coast of Scotland. They have agreed to only tell their child truths, however both are telling it stories; Ruth in the day while Liska is at work, and Liska at night while Ruth sleeps. The collection is made of the stories they tell.

And what stories! Selkies and circuses and dragons and bicycles. The ordinary and the magical; the ordinary as magical, and vice-versa. Stories of love and loss and hard lessons and hope. Through these tales, we catch glimpses of the women doing the telling. Of who they are and where they’ve beena and how they see the world. It is wonderful and weird – reading it felt a little like catching a werewolf mid-change: scary, magical, and impossible to look away from. I found myself intrigued by the layers; the stories and the people behind them. I admire Kirsty Logan’s skill in telling us a big story by telling lots of little ones (though of course this is not a new technique). This book is a gem, and one which I think will stand-up well to re-reading.

Rating: read this book, and dive down into the salt.

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