Review: Among Others by Jo Walton

Among Others by Jo Walton

The Phurnacite factory in Abercwmboi killed all the trees for two miles around.

Sometimes, there are books that stare straight into my heart and soul and reflect them back. For me, this was one of those. There is probably no such thing as a perfect book; Among Others, however, was exactly the right book at the right time, and that is not something to be underestimated. It rekindled my appreciation and love for libraries, it spoke a lot of my truths, and it allowed me to remember my sixteen and seventeen year old self with more compassion and understanding than I’ve ever managed. So, obviously, this review is enormously biased and I am well aware that this book may not be for everyone.

It’s 1979. Mor, who has lived her whole life in the Welsh Valleys surrounded by a varied and sprawling family, among fairies and wilderness and magic, has been forced to live with her (somewhat useless) English father whom she has never met and who promptly sends her to boarding school. Her twin sister is dead, her mother is mad and possibly evil, and she is alone. Among Others is written as a diary, as Mor turns to books and journalling, observing the world around her with sharp eyes and a certain dry humour while trying to make sense of what happened, what is happening, and how to move on. The fairy/magic aspect of the world is some of the most convincingly real that I have ever come across; odd and earthy and tied to the landscape, relating to the “real world” in strange ways. Mor is an unreliable narrator in the way that most grieving people are, and the story just… unfolds. Slow, unhurried, and yet still at times shocking, heartrending and heartwarming. If I was told tomorrow that I was only allowed one book for the rest of my life, it would be a close call between Among Others, Unquenchable Fire, and the dictionary (but which dictionary?!).

Rating: Read this book. Go to the library.

Book review: The Book of Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor

the-book-of-phoenix-cover-art

Nobody really knows who wrote the Great Book.

If asked to describe The Book of Phoenix in one sentence, I would say that it is a cataclysm in the form of a book. Like the protagonist, the pages seem to burn and burn and burn until they are etched onto the heart. Every page is full; every page breathes life and death and rage and love, and I finish it feeling scorched and elated.

I could talk about the story, that of Phoenix Okore who was a genetic experiment and a captive, who became so much more (fugitive, villain, lover, sister, goddess, beacon, rogue) and who both escaped and accepted everything that she was. About the characters, a wonderful cast of people who are so very real even when they are able to eat metal, walk through walls or grow wings. About the fact that every time I was forced to put this book down, I found myself thinking about colonialism and racism and exploitation and modern slavery and what it means to be complicit; about all the ways in which we find ourselves accepting the unacceptable so long as we do not have to see it. About the world, which was simultaneously very different from ours (a mixture of magic and science-fiction) and so close that you could cut yourself on it. About the relationship between technology and nature. About the nature of stories.

I could talk about those things and I could talk for hours because The Book of Phoenix is an exquisitely crafted tale that holds all of those things (and more) together like a spiderweb. But I’m not going to, because this is a book that needs to be felt. It needs to be read and absorbed and allowed to shake you all the way down your spine. And then, then it needs to be talked about, and I don’t know quite how to do that on my own.

So, read this book; it is a beautiful and original piece of speculative-fiction full of all kinds of fire. It is the first thing I have read by Nnedi Okorafor, and I have every intention of finding all of her other work and reading it too, because if it is anything like The Book of Phoenix it will be worth my time and my money ten times over.

Rating: burn the house down and start a revolution.

Book Review: When We Are Vanished by Nimue Brown

When We are Vanished by Nimue Brown, art by Tom Brown

No corpse.

This is a book with serious depth. I am already fifty pages into my second read of it, because I just know that there are things I didn’t quite get the first time round. When We Are Vanished is a beautiful, quietly kaleidoscopic piece of work. It has the feeling of a fever dream just before waking, when sleep logic and waking logic meet for a few moments. It also has a wonderful, sometimes sharp sense of humour that runs through the entire book and that had me chortling to myself at more than one point.

The story is set in a world where computers stopped working. In fact, all silicon-based tech is now useless. Most of the plot takes place some years after this has become the norm, and everything is crumbling away and being reclaimed by nature. The remaining people soldier on through the new normal, and rarely talk about what is happening. They do not, for example, talk about the people who vanish and leave nothing behind. They don’t talk about what happened. The new technology is based on tree cells, and it works pretty well except for when it really doesn’t. The whole set up is fantastically, oddly believable.

Amanda, Maria, Kim and Epona are our main characters. And oh my, did I love them! Not one, not two, not three but four female leads, who are related to each other (Amanda is the mother of the other three), and who are all very different people caught up in the same mystery. Having that amount of female leads was very exciting, especially because they had history with each other. It made me realise how rare it is to have family relationships between women that are central to the story. And their relationships were central; were up close and personal and included all the kinds of mess that comes with family even before we dig into the extra mess that happens when there are time loops and people vanishing and a possibly-prophetic self-help book.

There are other characters: Col: a driven, perhaps slightly mad scientist with a steam-powered car; Jerry: who should be less charming; Tish: a little bit mysterious. The book, How to Improve Your Life – the Merrily Method, felt rather like a character in its own right; a slightly ridiculous, increasingly threatening character who nevertheless meant well (or tried to). And the plot…. Well, it’s hard to review without spoilers, but I will say that it is delightful! It’s been a long time since I’ve encountered such an original take on time travel, and it was exciting to read something nearing science fiction that had nature so close to its heart. There are images that stick and scraps of sentences that refuse to leave. It reminded me, in some ways, of Woman on the Edge of Time: there’s this slight uncertainty about whether the world has gone mad, the character has gone mad, whether the world and the character are even separate or if it matters. When I got to the end, I turned straight back to the beginning to read it again.

As I said at the beginning, this is a work with some serious depth to it. If at all possible, I’d recommend reading it in one sitting (it’s 286 pages). It’s a very atmospheric work, with the slower pace that tends to accompany that, and you do have to actually think about things. However, if you’re interested in thoughtful speculative fiction that has some very interesting ideas about reality as well as strong characters and the single most hilarious interrogation scene that I’ve ever come across, this is for you.

Pretty much my only criticism is that the proofreading was a bit poor, and that’s a shame because it takes attention away from the writing (which is wonderful). Personally, I can soldier through bad proofreading when the writing itself is good, but I know some people find this really difficult. It’s a really personal thing, so I’m just going to say that I think it’s worth it.

The Life and Times of Angel Evans by Meredith Debonnaire — The Book Smugglers

Look it’s here it’s here it’s here! Publication day! You can now read my short story for free by following the link! Of course, if you are able to buy the eBook it is much appreciated, however do go ahead and enjoy it in whatever format works for you. And if you like it, tell all your friends 🙂

The Life and Times of Angel Evans by Meredith DebonnairePublished 09/13/2016 | 16,757 Words Doctor Who meets Good Omens in this new short story from Book Smugglers Publishing. When Angel Evans was born into her world, the event was beset with a troubling number of prophecies. Her magical future was so portentous that all of…

via The Life and Times of Angel Evans by Meredith Debonnaire — The Book Smugglers

A Smugglerific Cover: The Life and Times of Angel Evans by Meredith Debonnaire — The Book Smugglers

It has arrived! Behold, the beautiful cover of The Life and Times of Angel Evans. Isn’t the art incredible? I know I love it. You can buy the ebook today, or wait until it’s available for free on the BookSmugglers website (which will be on the 13th Sept). I hope you enjoy this short story – in case you’re wondering it involves a) a heroine b) a friendly poltergeist c) some dead prophets d) MAGIC!

In which we reveal the cover for The Life and Times of Angel Evans by Meredith Debonnaire! Today we are thrilled to share with you the final cover for Book Smugglers Publishing’s Superhero season of short stories. Without further ado, BEHOLD! The smugglerific cover! About the Story Doctor Who meets Good Omens in this new…

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The Indigo Mantis by E. Catherine Tobler — The Book Smugglers

This is the first story in the Summer 2016 Superhero theme from the BookSmugglers (which, full disclosure, I have a story in), and I have to say that it is fantastic! A very original piece of work that made me laugh more than once, and a wonderful riff on the detective genre. I’ve never before felt quite so emotionally invested in the wellbeing of a bug. You can read it for free, so do go ahead and check it out – the link is below.

The Indigo Mantis by E. Catherine ToblerPublished 05/24/2016 | 5,726 Words A crime-fighting praying mantis avenges her father’s murder in E. Catherine Tobler’s The Indigo Mantis Since witnessing her father’s murder, revenge has been on Indi’s mind. A mantid with a vendetta, Indi has searched her tree high and low for the murderer. In the…

via The Indigo Mantis by E. Catherine Tobler — The Book Smugglers