Robyn Reviews: These Feathered Flames

‘These Feathered Flames’ is a queer retelling of the Russian folktale of the Firebird, but reads more like a beautifully layered political fantasy. Packed with secrets, betrayals, and ethical dilemmas, it twists and turns, ensuring the reader never knows what’s coming next.

When twins are born to the Queen of Tourin, their fate is certain – one will be raised to rule, and one will become the feared and revered Firebird, tasked with maintaining the balance of magic in the realm. Separated as young children, Asya and Izaveta live completely different lives. However, when the Queen dies suddenly, both are thrust into their new roles unprepared. Asya grapples with her power – the Firebird must commit terrible atrocities to maintain stability, but the consequences of her soft heart could be even worse. Izaveta, meanwhile, finds her position as heir precarious, older and more powerful advisers moving from all sides to depose her. The sisters must decide who they can trust – and what they will sacrifice for the sake of the Queendom.

Of the two sisters, Asya is definitely my favourite. The Firebird is a ruthless creature, balancing out the use of magic by exacting tithes – and leaving death and destruction in its wake. Its carrier, however, is gentle and kind-hearted, always seeking to defend rather than attack and wanting peace above all else. Asya loves her sister, despite their differences, and will do anything to ensure the Firebird hurts as few people as possible. Her kindness makes her vulnerable – including to her own power – but it also gives her a sense of strength and resolve. Asya’s many mistakes are all borne from good intentions. It’s hard not to like such an intrinsically nice person – and it doesn’t hurt that she has a beautiful friendship with her pet bear, Mischka.

Izaveta, meanwhile, has been raised by a Queen renowned for being a hard, uncompromising ruler – and she had no soft side for her daughter. Izaveta is seen as weaker, unfit for rule, and fights this by trying to be even colder than her mother was. She trusts few, and sees other people more as pawns than fellow humans. However, Izaveta is human, and she does care – perhaps too much – about her Queendom, and especially her sister Asya. She might not be a nice person, but she’s not an evil one. Raised to care about power and control above all else, she struggles to see the world as anything other than a chessboard for her to shape – but she has a heart, and its when she listens to it that she’s at her strongest. Despite everything, its hard not to sympathise with Izabeta and her plight.

The plot is the book’s highlight. Alternating in perspective between Asya and Izabeta, it follows their separate quests – Asya’s to control her power and track down a magic user who has unbalanced the scales, and Izabeta’s to garner enough support to be elected queen. Asya’s storyline is faster paced, with threats around every corner – to Asya, from an unknown foe, to the world, from the unbalancing of the magic scales, and from Asya, as she struggles to control the Firebird within. Izabeta’s is slower, but no less fraught with tension. She has few allies, and even those she doesn’t know if she can trust. Every move she makes is a gamble, every move she doesn’t make an opportunity lost. Like Asya, she grapples with her conscience – although while Asya wears her heart on her sleeve, emotions burning like flame, Izabeta’s heart is hidden away with only small cracks in her icy facade.

The majority of the book takes place in the palace, but there are hints of the Russian inspired setting. Outings are made riding bears, rather than horses, and the surrounding forest has the feel of a cold, snowy place. The palace itself also feels cold – but more because of its inhabitants than its setting. There are no sanctuaries for the characters – only hard choices with bitter consequences.

The sapphic romance is a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers and beautifully written. Every element feels authentic – the hatred at the start is clear, and the gradual move to begrudging friendship and finally more is carefully done. Its very much a side element, with the central relationship that of the sisters – and even to an extent between Asya and the Firebird – but it provides an element of warmth to the story.

Overall, ‘These Feathered Flames’ is an excellent political fantasy novel with intriguing elements of Russian folklore. Its marketed as YA, and has clear coming-of-age components, but very much has cross-market appeal to adult fantasy fans. Recommended for all fans of political fantasy, folklore, and morally grey characters.

Published by HarperCollins
Hardback: 10th June 2021

Robyn Reviews: Peter Pan (Mina Lima Edition)

The story of Peter Pan, first published in 1904, has been adapted so many times that most are familiar with the core elements of the story. In this edition, Mina Lima have republished the original with a number of deluxe illustrations and interactive elements, from the crocodile’s clock with moveable hands to a pull-out newspaper detailing the events in Kensington Gardens while the children are in Neverland. The story itself is obviously dated but still holds an element of magic, and the added extras are fun and creative. While this appears to be aimed at collectors, each interactive component would appeal to children.

Peter Pan, the boy who never grows up, loses his shadow in the home of Mr and Mrs Darling and their three children. He returns to the house to look for it – but along with his shadow, leaves with the children too. Wendy, John, and Michael fly to Neverland to join the Lost Boys, a band of children Peter has similarly collected. Wendy becomes the Lost Boys’ mother, and they live a dreamlike life, punctuated only by the threat of Captain Hook and his band of pirates. However, the dream is not all pleasant. Their lives are lived according to Peter’s whims – and the longer they spend on the island, the more they start to forget the life they lived before. As time seeps by at an unknowable rate, the children must decide whether to stay on Neverland and never grow up – or return home to the comfort of a normal life.

The writing style is typical of the era, with a level of detachment, but it still creates an excellent atmosphere – darker and more eerie than modern adaptations would have you believe. Mina Lima add addendums to explain some of the more dated terminology, making it accessible to the modern reader. Neverland is a wonderfully creative example of fabulism – a delightful place where nature is in harmony with its inhabitants and mermaids and fairies are as normal as cats and dogs. The balance between the dark atmosphere and keeping things child appropriate is struck well.

Certain aspects have dated more than others. The references to the Redskins, with terms like savages, are inappropriate in modern literature. Similarly, while the Lost Boys go on adventures, Wendy’s only purpose is to look after them – she does the cooking and the laundry, tucks them into bed at night, and can only be the damsel in distress. However, by staying entirely faithful to the original story, the reader is given a window into society at the time and their expectations, even in their fantasies. Some of the magic is lost, but the cleverness and imagination is still apparent.

The Mina Lima edition is beautifully presented in a high-quality hardback that looks wonderful on the shelf – especially with its companions in the Mina Lima classics set. There are currently seven, with an eighth due to be published this year. Inside, each chapter has a full colour introductory illustration, and within the chapters are more illustrations and pop-out design elements. There are fairy wings which flap, a clock with moveable hands, and a multi-part diagram with insight into the children’s brains (one of my favourite elements, as scientifically inaccurate as it is). The only downside of these elements is that some have metal pins in, and whilst MinaLima have included pieces of card to protect the surrounding pages, they do still get damaged with repeated reading. While each element is great fun to explore, this is clearly more of a collectors product that doesn’t stand up to too much wear and tear.

Overall, the Mina Lima ‘Peter Pan’ is a faithful adaptation of the original story with some fun, attractive extras. For fans of classic children’s stories it makes an excellent addition to the shelf.

Published by Harper Collins
Hardback: 2nd June 2015

Robyn Reviews: The Last Bear

‘The Last Bear’ is a beautiful and moving children’s book about eleven-year-old April and her summer on Bear Island. It combines gorgeous writing with a wonderful tale about a girl and her connection to nature – and especially to Bear, the only polar bear remaining on an island cut off by the receding polar ice. Woven throughout is a rallying cry about littering and climate change. This is a lovely little book, perfect to be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

After April’s mother died suddenly in a car accident when she was four, April was left to be raised by her father, a climate scientist. However, his grief at his wife’s loss led him to throw himself into his work, more or less leaving April to her own devices. When he receives an invitation to spend six months manning the research station on Bear Island, April is ecstatic – finally, her and her father can have their own adventures. Instead, her father once again occupies himself with work. But her isolation leads April to make the most extraordinary friend. There are no bears on Bear Island – but there might be just one.

April is the sort of plucky heroine that children’s fiction thrives on. She’s stubborn, determined, and has an absolutely huge heart – especially for animals of all shapes and sizes. Her connection to nature is absolutely beautiful to read about. In many ways, April is reckless and foolhardy, but it’s impossible not to root for her every step of the way.

At its heart, this is a story about two relationships – the one between April and Bear, and the one between April and her father. Both are wonderfully and intelligently written. April’s relationship with Bear is heartwarming to read about – the way she’s determined to help him right from the start, and the way he always seems to understand when April’s having a bad day. Such a close friendship between a young girl and a polar bear is entirely unrealistic, but it doesn’t matter because it’s so beautifully done. April’s relationship with her father is much sadder but no less moving. In many ways, April lost both her parents when her mother died, and the guilt she feels for thinking that is cleverly rendered. The author simultaneously manages to make April wise beyond her years but also feel exactly like a real eleven-year-old girl, a difficult balance.

Hannah Gold’s prose really makes the story come to life. There are beautiful depictions of the wild landscape of Bear Island, but it’s the way Gold infuses the story with emotion that makes it stand out. The reader feels April’s delight, fear, desperation, and determination right along with her, making the happy moments all the more enjoyable and the sad moments even more moving.

The story is illustrated throughout by Levi Pinfold, and his depictions are fantastic, bringing elements of the story to life. The moments he’s chosen to capture are very powerful – especially the final scene. It’s hard to pick out a favourite image as they’re all excellent, but the emotional value of that moment is undeniable.

Overall, this is a wonderful children’s story recommended for children and grown-up-children alike.

Published by Harper Children’s
Hardback:18th February 2021

Book Review: The Last Bear

The Last Bear, by Hannah Gold (illustrated by Levi Pinfold), is a magical tale about a lonely girl and her unusual friend. Set on Bear Island, an outpost between Norway and Svalbard inhabited only by wildlife and research scientists, it offers a warning about the impact of climate change wrapped around an exhilarating adventure, beautifully told.

The protagonist is April Wood, the eleven year old daughter of an academic still grieving the loss of his beloved wife seven years previously. April is happiest when alone with nature – in her back garden or on visits to her grandmother on the coast. She finds school a trial.

“April didn’t like school, or the girls at school didn’t like her. She didn’t know whether it was because she smelled of fox or the fact she was the smallest girl in her class or even that she cut her own hair with a pair of garden scissors. Either way, April didn’t mind too much because she preferred animals to humans anyway. They were just kinder.”

When April’s father is offered a six month position at a weather station in the Arctic Circle, his daughter is delighted. She imagines the fun they will have spending time together, sledging and exploring. Her father is often so wrapped up in his work he barely seems to notice she exists.

On the journey to Bear Island, April meets Tör, the ship captain’s son, who mentions that there are no longer any bears at her destination. However, three weeks after she arrives at the small cabin she and her father will call home for the arctic summer, she comes face to face with an injured and emaciated polar bear. She calls him Bear and sets about earning his trust.

Contrary to expectations, the important work her father is doing for the Norwegian Government takes up all of his time. April is therefore left to her own devices. She explores the island, slowly forming a bond with Bear. She intuits his backstory from the knowledge she can glean and the affinity she has developed with all wildlife. She determines to help Bear but must work out how.

The author has taken certain liberties with what would be reality to paint the island and April’s adventures there as an enchanting time. Throughout, however, tension builds to the almost unbearable climax. The reader will become invested in Bear’s prospects as April risks everything to try to offer him the chance of a less lonely life.

Such a story couldn’t work without the skill of the author in creating her fully formed characters with the lightest of exposition. April’s attitude, bravery and stoicism will appeal to children and adults alike. The young girl takes her disappointments and turns them into opportunities. Her observations of people and place bring them to life.

The author writes in her note at the end of her passion for the planet.

“how it needs our protection and how anyone, no matter how big or small, can inspire hope and create change”

Although weaving this into her story she succeeds in avoiding polemic. At its heart this is a tale of a lonely girl seeking love, finding it, and choosing to set it free despite the personal cost. It is an adventure crying out to be made into a dialogue free animated film, preferably harnessing the illustrator’s stunning pictures. I adored the story and recommend it to every reader, whatever their age.

The Last Bear is published by Harper Collins.

Robyn Reviews: The Betrayals

‘The Betrayals’ is gorgeous, atmospheric, character-driven historical fantasy at its finest. It’s slow-paced, but there’s a constant underlying sense of danger that keeps it engaging throughout.

Unlike the majority of readers, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Collins’ adult debut, ‘The Binding’ – it started far too slowly, without the atmosphere to back it up. However, it grew into itself as it went on, and I had high hopes that Collins’ sophomore effort might have fixed the teething issues. These wishes have been fulfilled. The characters are far more engaging and likeable, the atmosphere more effective, the pacing perfectly balanced. There are minor quibbles, but this is a much more enjoyable read.

‘The Betrayals’ is set at an exclusive college, Montverre, dedicated to studying the national game – the grand jeu. This mysterious game is part mathematics, part music, and – it could be claimed – part magic. Léo Martin won the Gold Medal for his grand jeu as a second year – an almost unprecedented achievement – but subsequently left academia for politics. Now, disgraced from the ruling political party, he finds himself exiled back to Montverre. But things have changed in the last ten years, and there are many parts of Léo’s past – parts he hasn’t thought about in years – he doesn’t want coming back to haunt him.

There are three POV characters – Léo, the disgraced politician; Claire, the first female Magister Ludi in history; and the Rat, a mysterious figure who hides in the passageways of Montverre. There are also regular interludes – written in first person, unlike the rest which are in third – from Léo’s diary as a student at Montverre. I’m not always a fan of the first person, but these were some of my favourite parts – Léo now is a politician for a fascist party and a resounding misogynist, whereas Léo then was a bully, but had many more redeeming features. The complexity of those entries turns him into a character you can understand and empathise with.

Claire is an intriguing character. Montverre is an all-male institution, and as the first female Magister Ludi she has a point to prove. She’s strong and clever, but can be abrasive. Her interactions with Léo are intricately written, and I suspect I’ll appreciate them even more on a reread.

The Rat is my one major quibble with the book. She’s not a bad character, but she doesn’t fit well with the rest of the story – I feel like she could be removed and the tale told just as effectively, and possibly more tautly. At its heart, this is Léo and Claire’s story – the other characters are almost superfluous distractions.

This is a character-driven story, and whilst the plot is clever, it’s less important than the intersecting relationships and character dynamics. It’s almost like crossing Collins’ debut with ‘The Secret History’ – a mashup of historical fantasy-lite with dark academia and a generous helping of male egotism. The atmosphere and writing style should appeal to fans of both.

Overall, this is an excellent historical fantasy and a chance to see Collins’ writing and imagination at their best. Those who weren’t so fond of her ‘The Binding’ may want to give her a second chance, and those that loved her debut should find plenty to enjoy here. Recommended.

Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by HarperCollins
Hardback: 12th November 2020

Robyn Reviews: Star Daughter

‘Star Daughter’ is a beautiful Hindu-mythology inspired YA fantasy that truly captures the idea of being a teenager caught between two worlds. Shveta Thakrar infuses every chapter with angst and conflict, and while the plot is predictable, it’s written with enough emotional to stand up as a strong addition to the genre.

Sheetal Mistry has a secret. Her mother was a star – not the star of some TV show or film, but an actual star, one that came down from the sky to spend some time on Earth. But stars must always return to the Heavens, and years ago her mother abandoned her and her father, returning to her place in the celestial court. All Sheetal has left are memories – and a warning that no-one must find out what she is. But as her seventeenth birthday comes closer, the call of the stars is getting louder, and it’s getting harder and harder to hide. Everything comes crashing down when her dad accidentally gets hurt – and, with only her best friend Minal at her side, Sheetal is left to seek out the stars for some answers, and the only thing that might save her dad’s life.

Sheetal is a likeable protagonist. Forced into a situation completely beyond her control, she spends the entire book fighting to stay afloat. Her constant worries are harrowing to read about, but she’s hardly helpless – she fights tooth and nail. She’s also never afraid to admit when she’s wrong – an unusual trait in YA characters, but one that I really appreciated.

Everyone around her, on the other hand, is very difficult to like. For a supposed best friend, Minal spends a great deal of time abandoning Sheetal or giving her conflicting advice. It’s clear that Minal’s trying to help, but I couldn’t understand why Sheetal was so attached to her. Similarly, everyone in Sheetal’s family spends more time trying to manipulate her than they do trying to understand her. I appreciated the moral greyness of almost every character in the book, but it was horrible watching Sheetal be tossed around between people who cared more about their goals than they did about her.

‘Star Daughter’ uses several tropes of YA fantasy – the quest to get something to help an ailing family member, the competition that must be won, the ‘Chosen One’, the secret powers that must never be revealed. The ending is relatively predictable – I’d guessed the main twist by about halfway through – but it works, and predictability can be comforting. What makes each trope stand out is the Hindu culture. I loved how this was infused into every paragraph. However, familiarity with Hindu culture isn’t necessary to enjoy this book – I’m not particularly knowledgeable, but every reference was easily understood and added to rather than detracting from the narrative.

My main issue was with the romance. YA fantasy has a habit of acting like someone’s first crush is the absolute love of their life, and insisting they stay with that person forever. I didn’t feel like the romance in the latter half of the book was necessary – it would have been more realistic for both parties to move on, rather than constantly reminding themselves of past traumas. This was a story about Sheetal taking control of her own life – it didn’t even need a romantic element to it.

Overall, this is a great YA fantasy with some gorgeous writing and true emotional resonance. Recommended to fans of mythology-inspired fantasy and complex family dynamics.

Published by HarperCollins
Hardback: 3rd September 2020

Robyn Reviews: Queen of Volts

qov

‘Queen of Volts’ is the final book in the Shadow Game trilogy, a YA urban fantasy trilogy set in the fictional city of New Reynes – the city of sin. It’s a taut, high-stakes, fast-paced conclusion to an action-packed trilogy, filled with unpredictable twists and heartbreaking losses. The ending fits the trilogy perfectly and, despite the tragedies, made me grin with delight. The Shadow Game trilogy is horrendously underrated – hopefully with this book it’ll finally get the attention it deserves.

‘Queen of Volts’ has five main point-of-view characters – Enne, Levi, Sophia, Lola, and Harvey – and alternates between them in chapters grouped by tarot cards (or shadow cards), a lovely touch. Initially, I cared about some perspectives more than others – but by the end, I appreciated them all and the different angles they offered. Harvey especially is a peripheral character in previous books but adds a different flavour here, complementing the others perfectly. His relationship with Bryce is brilliantly depicted and dissected, and his character arc is probably the strongest. Lola also has an exceptional arc – very different to the arc I expected, but cleverly done.

The fictional setting of New Reynes – likely inspired by Las Vegas – is a town of street lords and casinos, conmen and gangs. Everything is a game, and everyone a player. Enne and Levi have come a long way from who they were in Ace of Shades – the uptight girl from finishing school and the egoistical crime lord packed away like ill-fitting suits – but they remain compelling, intriguing characters. The moves that they’ve made have given them powerful allies and even more powerful enemies – but figuring out which is which is more difficult than it might first seem.

It’s hard to discuss the plot without spoiling Ace of Shades or King of Fools, but the stakes have definitely been raised. Courtesy of King of Fools, no character feels safe, so the entire book is fraught with tension. It’s entirely implausible, but this is YA fantasy – plausibility isn’t the point.

The biggest strengths of this series have always been the creativity of the worldbuilding and the relationships between the characters. By the third book in the trilogy, the worldbuilding is established – but ‘Queen of Volts’ goes further than its predecessors in testing those relationships and really shines for it. As the characters are tested, their relationships entangle and fray in complex ways, and Foody absolutely nails the feelings and changes. While the plot might be farfetched, the relationships aren’t, and that makes the entire book relatable. I especially liked the family dynamics (although I won’t spoil the story by revealing whose).

Overall, this is a brilliant conclusion to a solid YA fantasy trilogy. I don’t understand why this series isn’t shouted about more – with a finale as good as this, I hope it gains its place on people’s shelves. Recommended for all fans of YA fantasy, urban fantasy, morally grey characters, and complex character dynamics.

Thanks to NetGalley and HQ Stories for providing an eARC – this in no way affects the content of this review

Published by HQ
eBook: 1st September 2020 / Paperback: 1st October 2020

Robyn Reviews: The Court of Miracles

There was so much potential here but it wasn’t achieved. Maybe huge fans of Les Misérables will enjoy The Court of Miracles but to the average reader everything is so disjointed and confusing it’s hard to ever get into the story. There are unexplained time jumps, sudden changes in motivations, and generally inexplicable plot points which just can’t be believed. I’ve heard so much hype about this book and I can’t see how it’s justified.

The protagonist, Nina (or Eponine), was born into poverty, the daughter of the Master of Beasts in the Guild of Thieves – one of the Guilds making up the Court of Miracles, a collection of the undesirable members of 1800s Paris society. The Court has its own laws and own hierarchy, but the laws are being abused. Nina’s elder sister, Azelma, has been sold by their father into prostitution, and Nina will do anything to get her back – even if that means going up against the Master of the Guild of the Flesh, the dreaded Tiger himself.

It’s a great premise, and the backdrop – France if the French revolution failed – is equally brilliant. Unfortunately, the story never gets going. It keeps jumping with no explanation. Nina has just joined the Guild of Thieves, then she’s been there two months, then she’s been there two years. New characters are introduced with minimal explanation and justification and the reader is expected to care. It all feels fragmented and unbelievable, and it’s hard to come to care about anyone or their motivations when their motivations keep suddenly switching. All the major characters from Les Misérables cameo, but while this likely appeals to existing fans, the lack of explanation is confusing to everyone else.

Nina is fine as a main character – she’s brave but reckless, smart but not all powerful – although she’s ‘the best Cat (thief) ever’ with no explanation or on-page training, which is a trope that’s a little tired. Her care for her sister – and her friend Ettie, later on – is heartwarming, although the sudden shift in focus from her sister to Ettie is slightly jarring. Equally, Ettie’s switch from helpless little mouse to capable looks-out-for-herself lockpicker was great but never really explained. Essentially, all the characters were great, but all their growth took place off-page. I kept waiting for things to happen on-screen, but all we were shown were action scenes or the scheming of the Court. I wanted character development that was shown, not changes that were told.

There’s no romance in this, which was great – not all books need romance – but everyone seemed to be in love with Nina anyway. A prince? Check. An assassin? Check. The head of a lovable French resistance movement? Seriously, Nina spends all her time stealing from people, crawling around in the sewers, or thinking about either her sister or Ettie – why do these people love her? It would be a stronger book with none of that at all.

I feel like this has been a very negative review. It isn’t a dreadful book – it’s fine. A very quick read, plenty of action, plenty of originality, a brilliantly diverse cast. It just doesn’t feel finished. It’s a rough draft that could have become a diamond but has been left unpolished. I expected more, especially given the hype, and I’m just disappointed.

From what I’ve seen, my opinions are in the minority and lots of people love this – which is great! But personally, I can’t recommend it – unless you’re looking for spin-off Les Misérables fanfiction.

 

Published by Harper Collins
Hardback: 18th June 2020

Book Review: The Alchemist

The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream, by Paul Coelho (translator not credited), tells the story of a young shepherd who consults a gypsy and then meets an enigmatic king. The boy is encouraged to follow his dream which involves abandoning his nomadic existence in Andalusia and seeking treasure at the Egyptian pyramids. Along the way he is robbed and beaten. He must find work if he is to continue his journey. He opens himself to the possibility of omens and must decide when to share what he learns from these.

The boy recognises that he must choose between regarding himself as a victim or an adventurer. Although looking to his future, to fulfilling his quest, the importance of living in the present is often reiterated. The boy learns from every experience, including that a universal language exists to enable deeper understanding of self, other people and place.

The fable-like narrative is spiritual but not favouring any particular religion. Rather it encourages the reader to take time to observe surroundings and engage with nature.

I was somewhat put off the story by the buried treasure aspect – despite the obvious metaphor – and the repeated references to God. I enjoyed the appreciation of nature and the boy’s acceptance of setbacks – how he reasoned in order to find ways to continue. The story of his journey, personal and practical, is a device to pass on the author’s perceived wisdom. I wonder if he regards himself as the titular alchemist.

This wasn’t the tale I expected when I requested the book based on its many rave reviews. Although offering occasional nuggets of wisdom, I found progress slow in places. Evocative and smoothly written as it is, I am reluctant to recommend.

The Alchemist is published by Harper Collins.  

Book Review: Enemies of the People

Are you happy with the way our current crop of politicians and their influencers are running the world? Do you believe Brexit will make Britain Great, that Trump is good for the USA? If so then this book may not be for you, unless you wish to gain a better understanding. It offers, in bite sized chunks, key facts about those who helped create the situation in which we find ourselves today.

Enemies of the People, by Sam Jordison, is divided into fifty short chapters dedicated to those who have worked tirelessly to further their personal agendas at such potentially devastating cost. These include the usual subjects – Vladimir Putin, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Nigel Farage, Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump – as well as the men and women who inspired their skewed ways of thinking. There are unexpected names – Pepe the Frog, Jesus Christ, Chris Martin, Mel Gibson, Simon Cowell, Your Granny. Although dealing with weighty subjects the content is not entirely sober and serious.

I was familiar with the majority of the names but not all of the information included. This is an important point to make. Although partisan in presentation the information has been verifiably sourced and makes for interesting reading, even for someone who tries to keep up with current affairs.

I learned that there is an inheritance of ideas, cherry picked and repolished but undoubtedly affecting decision making over decades. Country-wide catastrophe means little when personal power is at stake, when there are private fortunes to be made. Who says we learn nothing from history? These people have learned plenty from their predecessors and don’t care that their actions cause untold damage to those they purport to represent.

As well as politicians there are economists, religious leaders, writers, advisers and media figures. The common thread is the impact of their actions on the general population, and how most have got away with such behaviour. Methods of manipulating public thinking are among the most valued of skills. Wider suffering is shown to be of little interest to the perpetrators.

I bought this book for my seventeen year old son who is developing his own political views. The historical perspective, accessible language and concise structure will, I hope, offer him a wider perspective than he is picking up from popular web-sites, YouTube channels and the family influenced conversations of his peers. The book is witty without being bland, angry but on point. It does not attempt to offer answers but encourages readers to pay more attention, and not just to the dead cat on the table or Kim Kardashian West’s shoes.

Intended to provide a snapshot of our times rather than a roll call of evil the author states:

“I can’t pretend to be objective. In fact, I can’t pretend to be anything other than royally cheesed off. I’ve seen the world I love torn to shreds and I wish it hadn’t happened.”

If the enemies listed here can learn from history, so too can readers. This perfectly sized stocking filler offers as good a place as any to begin the conversation.

Enemies of the People is published by Harper Collins.