Book Review: Infernal Devices

Infernal Devices, by Philip Reeve, is the third book in the author’s Predator Cities Quartet. This is a series of fantasy adventure stories aimed at young adults but enjoyable for all competent readers. I reviewed the first two books here and here.

In this instalment, Tom and Hester have settled in the now static city of Anchorage where it came to rest on the Dead Continent, presumed sunk by all who knew of its existence. Their daughter, Wren, was born here and has known nothing but a peaceful if rather lonely existence in her fifteen years. Having grown up listening to the tales of her parents’ adventures she dreams of experiencing some excitement for herself.

Caul, the former Lost Boy, inadvertently presents her with opportunity when she stumbles across a secret meeting he attends in the dead of night. She turns thief in exchange for passage away, but when events turn deadly, ends up being sold as a slave.

Appalled by this unexpected reminder of their past, Tom and Hester set out to rescue their child. Assuming that she will have been taken to the Lost Boys’ hidden headquarters at Grimsby, Caul goes with them. He wishes to be reunited with Uncle, the closest he has ever had to a parent. This desire the young burglars feel to belong to a mum or dad has been their undoing. Wren is not the only freshly captured slave.

The action moves to the pleasure city of Brighton where the wily Pennyroyal continues to spin his web of deceit. Unbeknownst to all, just as Tom and Hester launch their rescue attempt, powerful forces are about to be unleashed. The Green Storm has set its sights on Brighton, although its stalker leader is not telling her minions why.

As with the previous two books, there is plenty of action and many imaginative contraptions that playfully mock the terms and technology we enjoy today. Beneath this humour lies an unavoidable dark truth, that man’s greed, selfishness and lust for power overrides any semblance of sense.

An entertaining romp that plays fast and loose with coincidence, bravery and luck, not that this detracts from the enjoyment of the tale. Amidst the carnage there lies much for the reader to consider. A fun but also poignant read.

Book Review: Predator’s Gold

predatorsgold

Predator’s Gold, by Philip Reeve, is the second instalment in the author’s quartet of novels focusing on a futuristic, steampunk version of our world. Aimed at young adults, the story is set in a post apocalyptic Earth, ravaged by a Sixty-Minute War which caused massive geological upheaval. I review the first in the series, Mortal Engines, here.

Two years after their escape from the Medusa disaster, Tom and Hester are travelling the Bird Roads in their airship, the Jenny Haniver, ferrying cargo between remote cities. Whilst on a stop at an airborne trading post they are offered a substantial fee for transporting a passenger, a task they would not normally undertake. The journey turns troubling when they are pursued by a recently formed band of radical Anti-Tractionists, the Green Storm, who wish to reclaim the Jenny Haniver. It had belonged to one of their most revered members who is now dead.

The subsequent dogfight damages the airship forcing our trio to put down on Anchorage, a peaceful traction city that has been ravaged by plague. Its ruling Magravine, a teenager named Freya, is still finding her way as leader following the deaths of her parents. Bound by tradition she is reluctant to mix with the visiting ‘tramp avaiators’, but when she discovers that their passenger is the renowned author and historian, Professor Nimrod Pennyroyal, she grants them an audience.

Freya is immediately drawn to the handsome Tom. When he mentions that he trained as an historian on his home city of London she offers him a job at her personal museum. Tom is tempted, and Hester is incensed. Her disfigurment has sapped her self-confidence, but she will not give up her beloved without attempting to reclaim his affections.

Unbeknownst to all aboard, Anchorage is playing host to other visitors. Hidden within the bowels of the city are a team of Lost Boys, and their spy cameras enable them to watch everyone.

In the world of Municiple Darwinism, where resources are uncreasingly scarce, loyalty is a luxury few possess. Anchorage is at risk from bigger cities who covet its innovative propulsion system. The Green Storm are intent on acquiring the Jenny Haniver. And for reasons few comprehend, a price has been put on Hester and Tom’s heads. When Hester’s jealousy mars her judgement, and the truth about Pennyroyal is revealed, personal interests clash leading to powerful forces being unleashed.

This is an action adventure story set in a wondrously imaginative world. The author pokes fun at contempoary elements and our attitude to history whilst offering battles reminiscent of Robot Wars but on a huge scale. Characters are believably fallible with their ingrained prejudices and blinkered fight for self-preservation. The damage and death count may be high, but this remains a rollicking read.

Book Review: Pseudotooth

pseudotooth

Pseudotooth, by Verity Holloway, is one of the most unusual books that I have read in a while. It explores the effects of trauma and the crossover between dreams and reality. It asks the reader to consider what they would define as real when ‘pseudo’ events have an impact on everyday life.

The protagonist is seventeen year old Aisling who has been raised by her mother, Beverley, after her father left his pregnant, teenage girlfriend in the care of his maiden aunt, Edythe, and disappeared forever from their lives. They have had little to do with any family members since Aisling was a young child. Beverley, a secretary, is concerned about how she and her daughter are perceived and is struggling to deal with the health issues Aisling is currently facing.

For the past couple of years Aisling has suffered blackouts and seizures. She has submitted to a plethora of tests and spent time in psychiatric care but still no cause can be found. When a doctor suggests her condition may be psychosomatic Beverley loses patience. She cannot cope with the way her daughter looks – emaciated with messy hair, grubby clothes and no apparent desire to improve her life or appearance – and after so long trying to find a solution wishes to move on with her own life. Beverley’s boyfriend has asked her to move in with him. When the doctor suggests that Aisling may benefit from a change of scenery Beverley arranges for her to go and stay with Edythe at the old rectory where the now elderly lady has lived all her life.

Aisling wishes to please her mother and desperately wants to get well. She is frightened by the effects of her illness, exhausted from her inability to sleep restfully, drained by constant nausea that prevents her from holding down food. She packs little for her stay in rural Suffolk – the diary where she writes down her dreams as her doctor suggested, and a volume of poetry by William Blake whose dark words bring her comfort.

Edythe treats her great niece with contempt. She values cleanliness and order as on a par with godliness, the personal problems she believes Aisling has allowed to fester as something that can be sorted with strict rules and determination. Edythe’s brother, Robert, is also being cared for at the rectory. He is kind to Aisling but the secrets he shares with her about the old building’s past start merging with her dreams.

Aisling’s dreams have for some time featured a young man named Feodor. Her diary recounts in detail his often violent history. When a shadowy version of him appears to her whilst awake, around the time she discovers a priest hole in the rectory cellar, her world’s collide. Another young man, Chase, who she met briefly in the rectory garden, emerges as a dream time friend. She becomes a part of his world, a post apocalyptic existence where those deemed unfit and undesirable are made to disappear.

The trauma that triggered Aisling’s illness is touched upon but she has dissociated events, tried and failed to wash the stain of them away. Although she is aware that the world she is currently inhabiting is a dream she is unsure how to return to waking life in the rectory, or even if this is something she wishes to achieve given the happiness she has discovered here. In confronting the dangers faced by Feodor and Chase she learns more of terrible events that took place in the rectory, which Edythe cannot allow to be talked of for fear they besmirch her memories of her revered father. It becomes clear that Aisling’s demons have also been suppressed.

Although vividly portrayed and well written it took me some time to engage with the plot. Many of the early sections of the book are bleak, Aisling’s situation painful to contemplate. By halfway through the pace had picked up and I raced through the final third eager to know what came next. The adventure is fantastical, but then dreams are subject to a different concept of reality, whether dreamt awake or asleep.

This is an unusual fantasy adventure grounded in the dark realities of mental illness and escapist imagination. It is a sometimes challenging but ultimately worthwhile read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Unsung Stories.

Book Review: Metronome

metronome

Metronome, by Oliver Langmead, is a fantasy adventure story that takes the reader inside the world of dreams. Its protagonist is William Manderlay, a retired sailor and musician living in a care home in Edinburgh. He and his friend Valentine, a distinguished old soldier, spend their days coping with the indignities of ageing. When Manderlay talks of the vivid dreams he increasingly suffers his friend ascribes them to a muddle of memories, over-stimulated imagination and indigestion.

Manderlay’s dreams take him back to his youth, to happy times spent with his late wife, Lily. Often though they then descend into nightmares, to pursuit by beings he believes to be lepers or huge creatures that cannot feasibly exist. He is aware that he is dreaming but this does little to diminish his distress.

In one such dream he meets a strange young soldier who introduces himself as March. He is a Sleepwalker, a nightmare hunter capable of disintegrating the monsters Manderlay must face. He gives Manderlay a compass and explains how he may traverse this world through doorways that will take him to the Capital. There they arrange to meet.

The dreams Manderlay walks through include other dreamers who he is instructed not to assist. If the dangers they face become too difficult to bear then they will wake and be gone from this world. The same would happen to Manderlay, but if he is to help March defeat the increasingly disturbing nightmares then he must remain asleep.

What follows is the unfolding of a quest to reach an island beyond storms where a Nightmare King has been imprisoned. Manderlay holds the map to this place in the music he makes. Competing Sleepwalkers and other beings are determined to reach it to fulfil their own ends. Battles must be fought with weapons forged through wit and faith.

As with the best fantasy stories the strength of this tale is in the underlying interpretation left to the reader to decipher. The layers and depths wind and intersect through a plethora of fantastical locations and creations. The imagery evokes the contrasting colours of challenge, order and reworked experiences. In dreams it would seem the barely possible may be achieved.

Such an unusual narrative is hard to explain but this is a highly readable adventure leading to a satisfying conclusion. Its originality is such that it adds to the appeal without descending into the absurd. Although I wondered at times how elements would interweave the puzzle was completed without contrivance. An enjoyable and fulfilling read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Unsung Stories.

Book Review: Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods

warrenwhisperingwoods

Warren the 13th and the Whispering Woods is the second book in a series of fantasy adventure stories aimed at middle grade children (ages 8-12). It is a delight for any age to read. Written by Tania Del Rio and illustrated by Will Staehle, it mixes an almost comic book style presentation with double column text. The book is a near square shape with an eye-catching, gothic design – truly, the aesthetics deserve appreciation.

The story told is a deliciously dark take on old style fairy stories. It features a small and somewhat ugly, twelve year old hero determined to do his forebears proud. There are wicked witches, talking trees, a snake oil salesman and loyal friends with intriguing powers. Warren must solve riddles, decipher codes, and save the lives of monsters who threaten to cook him over an open fire. All the while he is trying to ensure that his beloved inheritance, the Warren Hotel, survives that he may humbly serve its guests as did the twelve Warrens before him.

warren-final-cover-web   warrenhotel

The first book in the series, Warren the 13th and the All-Seeing Eye, ended with the discovery that, amongst the many secrets hidden within the run-down and ominous looking hotel, were a set of mechanical legs which enabled it to, quite literally, rise up and walk away. The sequel opens with the hotel restored to its former glory, travelling around the land of Fauntleroy filled with delighted guests – until a malfunction causes it to trip and fall over. Disgruntled and dismissive of apologies, the guests demand refunds and abandon the now sideways building. When Warren goes in search of a potion to put right the controls, the hotel is hijacked by a doppelganger intent on delivering it to a powerful witch who has offered a reward to anyone who brings it to her lair – a mile wide crater known as the Black Caldera.

As the hotel marches through the dangerous Malwoods towards the Dark Queen, Warren determines to follow it on foot. He discovers that his hotel is not the only thing Her Royal Darkness wishes to control. To thwart her wicked plans he must face every danger lurking within the shadows of the mysteriously damaged wood. There are bats and snakes, whisperings in a forgotten language, and hungry creatures who must kill to survive. The wood is home to witches intent on freeing their peers, captured by Warren’s friends and hidden within the travelling hotel.

The book is due for release in the spring of 2017 so my copy was an early proof with the artwork representative but incomplete. Nevertheless, it is clear that this is going to be a stunning addition to any imaginative child’s library. The humour and play on words adds to the enjoyment for all ages. If you are a fan of Tim Burton’s films, or of the Unfortunate Events series of books, you should seek out these stories.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Quirk,

Book Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

peculiarchildren

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs, is the first book in a trilogy exploring the world of children born with apparently impossible gifts. These include an invisible boy, a levitating girl, twins with incredible strength and a girl who can conjure up fire with her hands. Because common people cannot comprehend these peculiars, and what is not understood is often feared, the children live apart. Their well-being is overseen by a shape shifting matriarch who can manipulate time.

Into this world stumbles Jacob, a sixteen year old American boy who has always struggled to fit in amongst his peers. When a family tragedy sends him into a spiral of anxiety and recurring nightmares his psychiatrist suggests it may be helpful if he travelled to the place he associates with the source of his fears – a remote island off the coast of Wales where his grandfather lived as a child. Jacob’s grandfather raised him on a diet of weird and wonderful stories which he claimed were true. They were populated by children who could not exist, who lived together on this island in a beautiful house. They were threatened by the monsters Jacob sees in his dreams, which his grandfather talked of but was never believed.

When Jacob sets out to uncover the facts around his grandfather’s early life he finds only a ruin where the children’s home used to be. He looks for clues amongst the debris, asking questions of the locals. He uncovers more than he bargained for, but must then make a choice, just as his grandfather did so many years before.

The writing remains light despite the horrific occurrences threatening the peculiar children’s way of life. Jacob and his new friends must battle forces intent on their demise whilst keeping their existence hidden from those common people living alongside. Their enemies are known to hide in plain sight.

The story is being adapted for a film, directed by Tim Burton, to be released on 30th September 2016. It is a perfect match for the director’s style. Although containing many of the familiar elements in a young adult fantasy, there is much offbeat humour downplaying the fear and poignancy.

Within the narrative are scattered authentic vintage photographs depicting many of the characters. These provide a wonderful addition to the surreal feel. There are also stills from the film and a taster of the next book in the series.

An enjoyable read and an interesting take on a familiar trope. I rarely seek out film adaptations of books as they too often disappoint. Given the strong visual elements and stunning imagery conjured, this may well will be an exception.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Quirk Books.

Book Review: Ace of Spiders

aceofspiders

Ace of Spiders, by Stefan Mohamed, is the second book in a planned YA fantasy trilogy which began with Bitter Sixteen. Since I read that first book last month I have been pestering the publisher eagerly waiting for this installment. It did not disappoint.

The protagonist, Stanly Bird, is now eighteen years old. He has remained in London and continues to work at Skank’s comic book store. He is also bored. After fighting the child abducting monster his life has returned to that of a normal, geeky teenager. With his powers continuing to grow he feels wasted on normalcy. The empowered friends with whom he lodges disagree. They believe that if their superpowers were revealed to the public they would be endangered, that the authorities would wish to use them for their own ends. Their run in with the secretive Angel Group confirmed their worst fears and they want nothing to do with that way of life so choose to lie low.

When a contract killer attempts to murder Stanly his friends demand that he remains indoors until they can uncover who was behind the attack. Stanly is unwilling to comply. He sneaks out at night, flying around the city and beyond. Just as it looks as though his friends may be losing patience with him more sinister developments demand all of their attentions. The Angel Group has returned to their radars and this may not be the only monster that the empowered are required to fight.

As with the first in the series the appeal of this book is the humour and wit of the writing. Stanly Bird is not the brightest bulb in the box, although his powers are undoubtedly impressive and great fun to consider. He is all the more likeable because of his flaws. His temper and tendency to daydream add to the authenticity, his awkwardness invites empathy.

Brought up alongside computer games, who wouldn’t dream of fighting the baddies if given the power of flight and telekinesis? The problem for Stanly and his friends is working out who the baddies are and what a handful of individuals can actually achieve, especially when the rest of London wishes to be left alone to go about their everyday lives.

The plot twists and turns as monsters rise from the depths, motivations within the Angel Group are revealed, and increasing numbers of empowered people are discovered. When the lives of those he loves are threatened Stanly must decide how far he is willing to go, if he is willing to kill more than just the monsters.

The denouement was a roller coaster of battles, destruction, switching allegiances and the awesomeness of mind control. The author has created a hero with powers a reader can only dream about, and then demonstrates how difficult it would be to live with them. He also has fun showing some of what could be done.

A rollicking good ride that I flew through and now desire more. This is impressive, entertaining, addictive stuff.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.