Book Review: Odesa at Dawn

odesa at dawn

“He just didn’t see the point of making up new terms, as if civilisation were evolving, as if history were linear, instead of repeating itself over and over.”

Sally McGrane’s second spy novel takes the reader inside the underbelly of Odesa, a port city on the Black Sea in southern Ukraine that was once the Russian Empire’s glittering third capital. Given recent media reporting on the war taking place in this country, it is an eye opening window into a place that is clearly not the forward thinking democracy those of us in the privileged west are currently being encouraged to believe. In this account corruption is rife, and any attempts to stamp it out are met with violence from those who milk the system. While threats from Russia rumble in the background, there are still plenty of citizens who align themselves with this former overlord turned aggressor.

The story being told centres around Max Rushmore, an ex-CIA man now working on assignments as a sort of freelancer. He travels to Odesa to attend a conference, along with a number of his former colleagues. While there, he is distracted by strange occurrences he starts to hear about on the grapevine. Drawn to work out what is going on he encounters a varied cast of characters trying to make money or retain ill-gotten power by dubious means.

The reader is introduced to: The King, a one-eyed old man who is not as doddery as he first appears; The Lion, a recently released convict with a drug habit; Rodion, a scientist working on a long hidden secret; Felix, an entrepreneur with dreams beyond his abilities; Sima, a young woman whose role appears to be the love interest; a colony of cats that get everywhere, listening in. Alongside these characters are politicians, policemen, and an eager young man Max uses to cover his increasing absences from the conference his boss believes he is documenting.

While the mafia style gangs, brothel keepers and drug addicts go about their iniquitous business, there exist tourists enjoying the local beaches. Their ability to ignore what is going on around them brings across how facile pleasure seekers can be. Many of the local population live in buildings liable to collapse into the catacombs that run underneath the city. Meanwhile apartment blocks lie empty, thrown up in haste by foreign developers eager to cash in on tax breaks – money laundering.

The unfolding mystery is convoluted but does come together by the end. The evident decay and endemic violence make Odesa sound a terrible place. Few of the characters featured are likable. When deaths occur it is hard to feel sympathy. Even the cats act in gangs and murder their own to retain advantage – an interesting addition to what is billed as a spy thriller but one that elicits little affection for the creatures.

The pace is slow for a thriller but there are nuggets of interest. The science behind the poor axolotls showed how narcissistic humans can be. Max treats his wife terribly. He must have a strong skull given the number of knocks it receives from which he recovers surprisingly quickly. Of course, such occurrences are not unusual in the genre. The hero is often both troubled and flawed yet has to live through hardships if he is to fight another day.

The mostly short chapters helped retain engagement. The writing is fluid with a good number of original twists. It took some time to work out who was who, and to join the dots as threads were woven together. The author trusts that the reader will keep up without being spoon fed, that they will spot the cues without necessarily guessing where they lead. The ending is satisfying as it is not too cloying, neat but with an edge of ambiguity.

A thriller for the literary minded rather than a page turner. A grim reminder of how corruption defiles all in the vicinity.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, V&Q Books.

Robyn Reviews: Truthwitch

‘Truthwitch’ is the start of a high fantasy series right on the border between YA and adult. Its action packed with well fleshed out characters, strong relationships, immense worldbuilding, and generally everything you need for a superb fantasy novel. Like all fantasy stories, it takes a little while to adjust to the setting, but once you’re in it grips you tight and doesn’t let you go.

Safiya and Iseult have a habit of finding trouble – but after a clash with a powerful Guildmaster and terrifying Bloodwitch, their lives are upended. Forced to flee their Venaza City home, the Threadsisters find a reluctant ally in Prince Merik – who sees an opportunity to bring trade to his starving people once more. However, the Bloodwitch is hot on their heels – and Safiya, a rare and unregistered Truthwitch, must avoid capture at all costs, lest she be used in the age-old struggle between Empires. With war on the horizon, the friends will stop at nothing for their freedom – and to keep their power out of enemies hands.

The absolute highlight of this book is the friendship between Safiya and Iseult. These two young women are not related by blood, but they’re the most important people in each other’s lives, sacrificing everything for each other. In many ways, they’re quite different, but they compliment each other like two halves of a whole. Its lovely reading a fantasy that celebrates friendship, and paints deep emotional bonds without forcing them to be romantic.

There are four primary perspectives – Safiya, Iseult, Merik, and the Bloodwitch Aeduan – and each is engaging, bringing a new element to the story. The alternating is done well, with no leaps that throw the reader out of the story or distract from a sideplot – each furthers the narrative and gradually makes the worldbuilding more clear. Iseult and Aeduan have the most mystery, with clear potential for development in subsequent entries – but the ending twist also ensures a prominent role for Safiya and Merik.

The worldbuilding is excellently done. The reader is launched straight into the action, with no exposition or explanation. There’s a little initial confusion, but the basic concepts quickly become clear: three main Empires, coming to the end of a twenty-year Treaty which ended an ancient war (but greatly favoured one side), and each containing elemental witches. Witches powers can be specific (Voicewitches, which can send messages to each other over great distances) or broad (Waterwitches, with control over the element of water), and are more common in certain empires – Marstock has an affinity for fire, whilst Nubrevna has mastery over air. These powers are tied to ancient wells – one for each element – which currently lie dormant, waiting for the next Cahr Awen: a pair of matched witches which bring balance and harmony. The concepts are simple, and woven seamlessly into the narrative, allowing the reader to understand just enough as they go along whilst maintaining an immense sense of mystery.

The plot is clever, twisty, and with multiple elements of mystery that will likely only be explained in subsequent books. Dennard does brilliantly at sliding in hints, and whilst some are obvious to the seasoned fantasy reader, that doesn’t make the concept any less smart.

The romance is one of the weaker parts of the book. There’s a large element of insta-love – and whilst that somewhat fits with the concept of Threads between people that is central to the magic of the story, it isn’t the most satisfying to read. Admittedly, Dennard does brilliantly at creating chemistry and making the attraction believable, but it’s still a bit too fast to be fully convincing.

Overall, ‘Truthwitch’ is an excellent addition to the high fantasy genre, and fills the gap between YA and adult fantasy with aplomb. Recommended for all older YA fans and those looking for an entertaining fantasy story.

Published by Tor (Pan Macmillan)
Paperback: 23rd February 2016

Robyn Reviews: The Fever King

‘The Fever King’ is an ambitious YA dystopia, a tonal response to the YA dystopian boom in the early 2010s (think The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner), but with greater diversity and scope. It’s a bit rough around the edges, with mild issues around pacing and engagement, but overall it’s a solid and worthwhile read.

Sixteen-year-old Noam Alvaro is the son of undocumented immigrants in Carolinia, part of the former United States. He’s spent his life fighting for the rights of immigrant families and refugees fleeing outbreaks of a dangerous magical disease – one that grants 1% magical powers and kills the remaining 99%. However, his entire life is upended when he wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of a magical outbreak, and newly blessed with the rare power of technopathy. His ability draws the attention of the magical elite and he finds himself drawn into the very world he’s always hated. Stuck between two worlds, Noam must decide who he can trust and how far he’s willing to go for the greater good.

Noam makes an excellent protagonist. Intelligent but emotional and often lead by his heart, he cares deeply and always wants to do the right thing, but struggles with what the right thing is. Rationalising his new identity as one of those he’s always despised is challenge, as is seeing the others around him as people rather than merely monsters. Noam tries to straddle two worlds, never feeling at home in either, and clings to things that remind him of the life he once had. At times, Noam is frustrating in those he trusts or the decisions he makes, but its always clear and believable why he’s done what he’s done, and his growth throughout the book is excellent. Books narrated by a single protagonist hinge on whether that protagonist convinces the reader, and Noam does.

As only Noam gets a POV, the secondary characters are more mysterious, but Dara and Calix Lehrer especially are intriguing and well fleshed-out. There’s strong potential for both to be developed in the sequel.

The setting is standard dystopia fare, a city in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event – in this case a virus that decimates most of the population. Where this goes further than most dystopias is exploring the issue of refugees from the virus and the dynamics of immigration. The parallels to contemporary refugee politics are clear, and this poses plenty to think on about current refugee policy. Lee does well at raising questions without pretending to have all the answers, and at pitching complex political debates at a level accessible to a YA audience.

The romance is unfortunately one of the weakest parts of the book. There’s very little initial chemistry, and the relationship is beset by communication issues – some believable in the context of immature teenage characters, but largely frustrating. Its great reading a YA dystopia with a male-male relationship, but it doesn’t come across as a healthy one.

Overall, ‘The Fever King’ is a late entry into a crowded genre, but a worthwhile addition with plenty of new material to explore. Recommended for all dystopia fans.

Published by Skyscape (Amazon Children’s)
Paperback: 1st March 2019

Robyn Reviews: The Stardust Thief

‘The Stardust Thief’ is an enjoyable fantasy debut inspired by tales from ‘One Thousand and One Nights’, but one that lacks a little sparkle. Many fans of action-driven fantasy will likely love it, but for those who appreciate more character connection it may fall slightly short.

Loulie Al-Nazari has crafted her reputation as the Midnight Merchant – a purveyor of illegal magical artifacts, aided by a mysterious bodyguard. However, when she breaks her routine to save the life of a simple civilian, he turns out to secretly be a prince – and now Loulie has drawn the attention of his father, the Sultan, who blackmails her into a dangerous quest to track down the most powerful of all magical artifacts – a magical lamp. Accompanied by the prince and one of his legendary Forty Thieves – and of course her bodyguard – Loulie sets off on a journey beset by vengeful jinn, killers from her mysterious past, ghouls, and deadly secrets. Loulie soon discovers that nothing is as it seems, and she must decide who to become in this strange new reality.

The story alternates between three main perspectives – Loulie, Prince Mazen, and Aisha bint Louas of the Forty Thieves. Of these, Mazen is ultimately the most engaging. A kindhearted prince who much prefers telling stories to a crown, he is utterly out of place in his cutthroat family. His family despises him for his cowardice, and everyone is convinced he must have ulterior motives. Mazen struggles with identity, with marrying his desires with what he ultimately has to be as a royal, and with understanding how everyone else is using him for their own gain. His naivety can be challenging to read, but he has a huge amount of growth and is easy to sympathise with and care for. Seeing him in his element telling stories is one of thr strongest part of the novel, which at its heart is an ode to the tradition of storytelling.

Both Loulie and Aisha are strong, determined female protagonists, fighters at heart and convinced that their way of seeing the world is the right one. Their beliefs and loyalties are polar opposites, but in every other way they’re immensely similar. The main difference is that Loulie has someone she can trust – her bodyguard, Qadir – whereas Aisha has been burned too many times and trusts no-one. Their arcs thus run in inverse directions – Loulie’s trust in Qadir is shaken as illusions are stripped away and revelations come to light, and Aisha is forced to compromise and let others in in order to survive. The contrast is done well, although ultimately neither character’s psychology is delved into in the depths it could be.

The plot is fast paced, with regular twists and turns. Those familar with ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ will appreciate the number of references and story elements blended in, but there’s also political scheming, betrayal, and other fresh elements to keep this a unique story.

The primary weakness is a superficiality to the writing. Abdullah has created a strong world, intriguing characters, and a solid plot, but at no point do the reader and characters feel fully connected, lessening the impact of everything that happens to them. This slightly detached prose is common in older myths and fairytales and may be a deliberate choice, but it doesn’t quite work here. Fans of plot driven rather than character driven fantasy will probably engage much more with it as a story.

Overall, ‘The Stardust Thief’ is a solid debut with plenty of potential, but one that lacks the character connection to fully convince fans of character-driven fantasy. Recommended for fans of Arabic-inspired stories, action-packed fantasy, and strong female characters.

Thanks to Orbit Books for providing an ARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by Orbit
Hardback: 17th May 2022

Book Review: Isaac and the Egg

isaac and the egg

This review was written for and first published by Bookmunch.

Isaac and the Egg has been much hyped by its publisher, crossing my radar months before publication. While this would normally make me somewhat wary, the synopsis proved too intriguing to resist (well done, publicists).

It tells the story of the titular Isaac, a man broken by grief. In the depths of a cold winter he drives himself to a lonely wood where he unexpectedly finds an unusual creature. Fearing for its wellbeing, he decides to take it home. The tale is mostly told from Isaac’s point of view but there are occasional sections where the creature gets to share its thoughts and insights. These offer a fresh perspective on this strange human who is obviously hurting so badly. One of the strengths of the story is the creature’s back-story, although this takes some time to reveal.

The book opens with Isaac standing on a bridge, ‘unsure whether to jump or not’. He cannot remember driving there. He has been drinking heavily and regularly but this is not the only cause of the blanks in time he has been suffering. Struggling to cope with the unrelenting pain of loss, he screams into the void – and something screams back. It is enough to distract him from whatever else he might have done next.

Isaac’s life is a mess. He is neither eating nor sleeping properly. He neglects basic self care. He has shut out the many people who wish to try to help him. At first it seems that the creature he brings home is only adding to the many problems he is failing to deal with. Gradually, there is a shift as looking after and hiding this strange new companion serves as a diversion from the damaging fallout resulting from Isaac’s raw grief. As time passes the reader may ask if Isaac is caring for the creature or is it caring for him.

I found this a slow burn of a story, the first third providing necessary background but lacking sufficient tautness to keep me fully engaged. Clever use of foreshadowing encourages the reader to judge certain of Isaac’s actions, and why he is assiduously avoiding particular places. The creature remains something of an enigma until close to the end.

Although a story exploring loss and guilt, there is also humour. The creature’s actions, attributes and attitude mock many human traits. However badly Isaac is behaving, the sense of overwhelming grief is well conveyed. He is bereft and adrift but not as alone as he wishes to be – something he will eventually come to appreciate.

Having early on questioned why I had fallen for the hype, by halfway through I was drawn into and enjoying the tale. What lifts it is how the creature came to be Isaac’s sidekick. To go into further detail would risk detracting from future readers’ right to experience spoiler free developments. I may have been put off initially by certain elements that seemed implausible, but by simply going along with what was apparently being suggested, it all came to make satisfying sense.

The denouement offers hope for when grief becomes overwhelming. If this sounds heavy then rest assured, while the topic certainly is, how it is handled here makes it accessible. Although poignant, the story remains entertaining.

Any Cop?: An impressive debut in which a highly unusual character is used convincingly to effect. A moving but never cloying read.

Jackie Law

Book Review: The Knock-Knock Man

knock knock man

The Knock-Knock Man, by Russell Mardell, was my recent holiday read and proved a good choice for this setting. It is a crime thriller of sorts but also a ghost story. The protagonist is Ali Davenport, a young woman who joined the police – as her father had done – because she wanted to be one of the good guys. When the story opens she is living in squalor in London, self-medicating with alcohol as she tries to come to terms with her resignation from the force. This followed her role in an horrific incident that led to multiple deaths. Her memories from that night remain somewhat hazy, not least because they culminated in a sighting with no obvious logical basis.

Ali is fierce and somewhat impetuous. She was good friends with her former partner, Ernie, who died recently from supposed suicide. When she is contacted by their former superior, DC Frank Gage, she agrees to return to the sleepy town of New Salstone in Wiltshire to help him quash rumours of a supernatural being that Ernie’s wife, Maggie, is blaming for her husband’s death.

Alongside these characters there are: ghost hunters; a ruthless businessman; the wealthy family who, for generations, lived on a nearby country estate. There are rumours of a secret society, of satanic practices, and of a ghost that knocks on the windows of those who become its victims. Ali does not believe in ghosts. She remains determined to uncover what the moon faced creature some claim to have seen is.

The author weaves all this together by putting Ali in the building where Ernie worked as a security guard, and where he died. There are throwbacks to Ali’s childhood, and to the deadly incident that destroyed her hopes for a career with the police. As the death toll continues to mount she worries that she might unwittingly be a catalyst.

Gage is under pressure to get Maggie to stop causing trouble for a local businessman. Ali seeks the truth for Ernie, but finding it proves dangerous.

The writing is taut and engaging, the supernatural elements retaining sufficient questions to remain realistic. Threads are developed to explain where behaviours originated. Ali may be a bit of a mess, and surprisingly able to function with painful injuries, but her determination to follow through what her partner started makes her worth rooting for.

I mentioned that this made a good holiday read. It is a page-turner with a plot memorable enough throughout to put down and pick up without losing momentum. I did stay up later than planned on my last night as I needed to know how it ended. Pleasingly, while tense and dramatic, this did not rely on any sudden diversions from previous character development.

A well told story that should make readers think about the whats and whys of whatever they may find spooks them. A tale of trauma and coping mechanisms, of the ghosts that linger from childhood and are not always benign.

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

Robyn Reviews: Book of Night

Holly Black, best known for the ‘Folk of the Air’ trilogy but a prolific author of YA fantasy, makes her adult fantasy debut with ‘Book of Night’ – an urban fantasy about con artists, power, and messy characters living messier lives. In much the vein of ‘Ninth House‘ – another adult debut by a popular YA author – it’s a darker book, almost to emphasise that this is Definitely Not Aimed At Children. (There’s probably an entire debate to be had there about why female YA authors feel the need to do this, but I digress). In short, ‘Book of Night’ is a solid and enjoyable dark urban fantasy, but probably not a book that will appeal to many fans of Holly Black’s other work.

Charlie is a (mostly) retired con artist, working as a bartender and trying to distance herself from her previous life of crime. She’s got a steady, boring boyfriend and a steady income – if not enough of one to save up for her younger sister to go to college. However, when Charlie accidentally witnesses a murder on her way home from work, she finds herself thrown back into her old life of shadow crime – with her life potentially on the line. Never one to make a good decision when she could make a worse one, she throws herself wholeheartedly back into a world of secrets, power, and murder.

The magic system in this book is simple but effective. Everyone starts off with a shadow – but some people develop the power to alter them, using them to alter appearances, increase power, or even as weapons. Shadows can be traded and even stolen, leaving one shadowless – a lesser in society. The shadow trade is at its depths a dark and ugly thing, but to the populace at large, shadow alterations are seen as glamorous accessories. The choice of magic system adds to the darkness of the book in a quite literal way, but it’s cleverely done, and Holly Black weaves explanation into the story well, avoiding long passages of exposition.

Charlie, the protagonist, is a highly relatable Millennial-type character, the sort of person who keeps screwing up and whose life seems fated to go wrong in a hundred different ways – partially because Charlie herself can’t keep her nose out of trouble. She’s creative, curious, and kind-hearted, but also headstrong and reckless. Her relationship with her younger sister is intriguing, and one of the parts of the book I wish was explored further.

The plot is fast paced with plenty of twists and turns, with just about the right balance between foreshadowing and surprise. Most revelations can be predicted with enough mental gymnastics, but it’s satisfying having deductions proven right and there are still shocks along the way. Naturally, the book uses some genre tropes, but there’s plenty to make it feel original. The ending provides a satisfying conclusion that fits with the tone of the rest of the book, whilst leaving the door open for a potential spinoff or sequel.

For an adult fantasy this is on the shorter side, and there could have been more exploration of the world and characters, but overall this is a solid, entertaining adult debut. Recommended for fans of Ninth House and fast-paced darker fantasy.

Published by Del Rey
Hardback: 3rd May 2022

Robyn Reviews: Gallant

VE Schwab is a prolific writer of fantasy across age groups and subgenres. Her adult fantasy The Invisible Life of Addie Larue remains one of my all-time favourites, and her City of Ghosts trilogy is a wonderful fantasy adventure for the 8-14 age group. Her latest offering, Gallant, is targeted at a teenage or YA audience, but makes a great easy read for adults too. It’s an atmospheric, slow build read with elements of Neil Gaiman. The ending isn’t quite as satisfying as I might have liked, but otherwise this is another solid entry to Schwab’s shelves that any fan of fantasy mysteries or the haunted house genre should enjoy.

Sixteen-year-old Olivia Prior can barely remember a time when she wasn’t alone. Her parents have vanished, and almost no-one at Merilance School for Orphaned Girls has bothered to learn how to communicate with a girl with no voice. When she receives a mysterious letter from an uncle she’s never met, inviting her to join him at his estate of Gallant, it seems like a dream come true, aside from one thing: A note in her mother’s old journal, the only piece of her she has left. ‘You will be safe as long as you stay away from Gallant’. Her options few, Olivia arrives at Gallant – but her welcome isn’t what she expected, and she soon finds herself surrounded by a family secret that might just spell her end.

The biggest strength of the book is Schwab’s writing. Atmospheric and haunting, it paints lingering images of Merilance, of Gallant, and of its inhabitants – both living and dead. It’s perhaps pitched a little young – Olivia is sixteen, but this is probably aimed at the 12+ age group, and she reads younger than she is – but nonetheless, the writing effectively builds tension without ever being age inappropriate.

Gallant pitches itself as ‘The Secret Garden’ meets ‘Stardust’, and certainly much of the imagery is clearly Gaiman inspired. However, even with the clear inspiration from other works and use of fantasy tropes, Gallant still stands out as its own work without feeling too reliant on or too similar to predecessors. It helps that Olivia feels very much like a Schwab protagonist – a feisty, adventurous girl fond of sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong and leaping into action before thinking about the consequences.

I liked the disability representation in the form of Olivia’s mutism, although a disabled reviewed would be better placed to vouch as to its accuracy.

The plot starts slowly, letting us get to know and sympathise with Olivia, revealing more and more secrets and unspooling at a greater and greater pace. The ending is fast-paced and almost over too quickly, with one final twist which is very clever but a certain lack of satisfaction. It would be helped by an extra thirty to fifty pages allowing the finale more time and impact – it almost feels like there’s a page limit as this is a YA not adult novel. Still, there’s enough there to hold it together and make it feel like a complete and enjoyable story. There is one trope in the ending which personally felt unncessary, but that’s a personal quibble that others may disagree with.

Overall, Gallant is an atmospheric YA fantasy novel perfect for fans of Neil Gaiman, haunted house stories, and family secrets.

Published by Titan Books
Hardback: 8th March 2022

Book Review: blue hour

Blue Hour, by Sarah Schmidt, is a searing story of three generations of females unable to escape the fallout from mistakes made by their mothers. It opens in 1973 with Eleanor, an abused wife, mother to baby Amy, leaving her home in small-town Wintonvale to try to reach the Blue Mountains. She has happy memories of this place from multiple visits with her father. Many of her memories are not so positive.

The timeline jumps back to 1940. Eleanor’s mother, Kitty, is a young nurse at Wintonvale Repatriation Hospital. Three years previously she had moved away from her parents’ home in Melbourne to take this job. They did not approve of her desire for independence. Growing up it had been drummed into her that keeping up appearances mattered, and that she must never do anything that could embarrass her family.

Kitty meets George, a farm-boy, just a few weeks before he leaves to fight in the war. By the time he returns he has been altered by the experience – physically and mentally. Despite misgivings, Kitty agrees to marry him.

“How can you be sure love is enough? It had been easy to love him before. I could make this work.”

From here the timeline of the story moves back and forth, revealing episodes from Kitty’s marriage and Eleanor’s childhood. Kitty is trying to be a good wife and mother but struggles with the challenges her life throws at her. George suffers horrific nightmares, is in and out of hospital. Kitty longs for the man he was before the war.

Eleanor is desperate for her mother to love her but carries with her all the cruel words spoken. When Amy is born and she finds herself struggling, her biggest fear is that she will act as Kitty did towards her. Eleanor’s husband, Leon, is away fighting in Vietnam. She fears not that he will die there but will return.

There is also Badger, Eleanor’s brother, who Kitty loved to show off to her neighbours when he was little. Kitty’s legacy from her parents is that she must always be seen to be the perfect housewife and mother. She garners sympathy for having a husband who struggles. What goes on behind closed doors matters little unless it becomes known.

Eleanor tried hard to break the cycle of behaviour, going away to university and applying to study further, abroad. When Leon arrives in her life it is Kitty who encourages their union. He wants a child – and feels entitled to anything he wants.

There is a great deal of foreshadowing throughout the book but the various reveals are still viscerally shocking. By the time it was reached I had guessed an element of the ending, but the detail proved a gut punch.

I could have done without the graphically described sexual activities, but understand why some were included. Kitty in particular is a complex character. Leon is a charismatic brute but all too realistic.

As with Schmidt’s previous novel, See What I Have Done, the writing is taut and evocative. The shifting points of view enable the reader to empathise with key characters, to understand why they act as they do even when behaving badly.  It is somewhat disheartening to consider how well meaning parents can still damage their offspring and that this then progresses down generations. The multiple layers of grief and familial love are skilfully portrayed.

A story of disappointed expectation – of the difficulty of being true to one’s self when this clashes with other’s needs. A dark but compelling story I am glad to have read.

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

Book Review: Constellations of Eve

constellations

“There were things Eve and Liam had both surrendered to achieve tranquillity, but it was easy to give up petty desires, dreams of the spotlight that wouldn’t be possible if everything else wasn’t flooded in darkness.”

Constellations of Eve, by Abbigail Nguyen Rosewood, is a story of love and the blindness this creates. In darkly measured prose it explores the thin borders that exist between love and hate. The protagonists have unsated needs, including the desire for possession of another. Certain relationships develop into obsessions that lead to deaths.

The novel is structured in four parts, each depicting the lives of Eve and Liam across differing trajectories. Secondary characters include Pari, Eve’s muse, and Blue, a much loved child. There are tragedies in both what happens and what could have been had different choices been made.

Eve is an artist trying to capture the beauty she sees in Pari. This flattering attention affects the way the latter starts to regard herself. Liam is drawn to Eve but she struggles to accept his loyalty will last. Her eye for perfection leads to a belief in the shallowness of emotional bonding, that the more beautiful people are a light that moths cannot resist.

“The curse of being cast with such a spell is that these creatures hover above their own life instead of living it. Everything beyond their own reflection is a total disappointment.”

The varying life stories capture the complex nuances of trying to weave two lives into one without losing whatever it was that each first fell in love with. Threads are shadowed by a pervasive savagery that can prove insidious. The arrival of a child can detract from attention once basked in. The needs of a friend can upset a valued equilibrium.

The writing is uncompromising but also lyrical. Scenes depicted are often graphic yet feel necessary for progression. Imagery hovers between the brutal and ethereal. As tension rises the author reveals paths this reader was not expecting, raising the tale to new levels.

A remarkable feat of imagination that is both disturbing and riveting. A story offering much to ponder beyond the final page.

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