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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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: 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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Book Review: White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

White is for witching by Helen Oyeyemi

ore: Miranda Silver is in Dover, in the ground beneath her mother’s house.

This has to be the most unsettling book that I have ever read, with the possible exception of Let the Right One In although that is a completely different kind of unsettling. I have never read anything like it: Helen Oyeyemi’s writing is unique, and the sort of thing that one probably loves or hates without an inbetween. It is a story told by unreliable narrators: several of them, who are not always who they say they are. It is a story that crept up inside my head and squeezed my heart and promised not to let me go. It was not the story that it started out as, either. There are forms in which I have read this story before, and in which I am tired of reading it. I am tired, more than I can say, of the pretty thin fragile girl going mad while holding up all the things that nobody else can see and breaking breaking breaking while always looking beautiful – most girls are not fragile. Most women are not mad, but spitting furious (in my experience) and living with things that are not easily spoken of. I am tired of this narrative which has no space for the fury.

(And Miranda was not the only girl there: Ore was there, holding a whole different set of things, and Tijana and SPOILER I was glad that Ore left, that she did not stay to pick up pieces in a fight that wasn’t hers that would have tried to destroy her. Not glad that, again, the queer romance ended in tragedy and separation, but glad that Ore left and survived END SPOILER.)

White is for Witching was not quite this narrative. It went somewhere else. It was that story, told differently and compulsively and with layers and layers that I will probably be peeling back compulsively over the next week, month… It was about an angry house full of rattling histories and bigotry, and a family haunting and haunted. It was about keeping people out or letting them in and all of the ugly ugly things that get swept out of sight. It was about nationality and legacy and the things that get carried and the the things that are devoured and who belongs. Who really belongs, and what that means, and who gets to decide that and what right they have to do so. It was about all the things that Miranda Silver tries to devour or keep at bay; all the history bearing down on her and bearing down on Ore.

It was complex. I don’t think I can unravel it in just one review but it is worth reading, and worth reading again, and marking notes in the margins with pencils and listening to and thinking about the things that nobody wants to look at and why and the messy patchwork that makes up this country and all the everyday violence therein. And the ghosts, standing behind everyone.

Rating: read this book. Do not eat the damn apples.

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