Robyn Reviews: If We Were Villains

‘If We Were Villains’ is an absolutely spellbinding book. Set in the claustrophobic bubble of a class at drama college, it explores the lines between fact and fiction, right and wrong, and acting and authenticity in a complex and engrossing way. Many have touted it as the natural successor to Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’ – having read both, I personally believe this is better, although I imagine many will disagree. Where ‘The Secret History’ is a punch in the gut, this is more the first breath of cold air on a winter’s morning: impactful without leaving the reader feeling quite so eviscerated.

Oliver Marks has just been released from prison, having served ten years for a murder he may or may not have committed. He’s greeted by none other than Detective Colborne, the man who put him in prison all those years ago. The detective is retiring, and he wants to know the truth – what really happened at Oliver’s elite conservatoire. Oliver agrees to tell his tale. Thus begins a story of a group of young actors, each with their own role both in life and on the stage, and what happens when those roles are changed.

Oliver might be touted as the protagonist, but he’s always played the supporting role. He’s a sweetheart – the glue binding his group of friends together. Naive and trusting, Oliver is blissfully unaware of most of what’s happening right under his nose – but he also has insights that others wouldn’t. Reading the novel from his perspective showcases a very different angle to most books, and whilst he can make a frustrating protagonist I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The other six characters, of course, fit into the roles of a Shakespearean play. There’s Richard, the protagonist – traditionally masculine, cocky, the sort who always gets the girl. There’s Meredith, the love interest – beautiful, body confident, content to hang off Richard’s arm. There’s James, the antagonist – more delicate and effeminate than Richard, but otherwise shrouded in mystery. There’s Filippa, the supporting role – a tomboy, renowned for her versatility, but utterly forgettable because of it. There’s Alexander, the fool – a loud, flamboyant gay disaster who flirts with everyone and is always the loudest person in the room. Finally, there’s Wren, the supporting female character – slightly less seductive than Meredith but still beautiful in a quiet way.

Except, of course, they’re not just characters – they’re people, and they don’t slip into their roles as neatly as it might first seem. The protagonist isn’t always the hero. The love interest wants to be seen as more than her body. The antagonist isn’t always wrong. The forgettable character is missed when they’re not there. The fool, always laughing, isn’t always happy. The supporting character sometimes comes first. As each becomes less of the character and more the person, relationships twist, leading to unprecedented levels of damage. With the wreckage mounting, each must decide which role they actually want to play – the one they’ve been assigned, or one they craft for themselves.

This is a story about humanity. It’s about the relationships between the characters – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s about what happens when actors get so deep into a character they forget how to be themselves. The plot is dark in places, but also far less important than each character and the way they interact with everyone else. There are constant references to Shakespeare, but familiarity with his work isn’t required to appreciate the intricacy and brilliance of ML Rio’s creation.

Overall, ‘If We Were Villains’ is an exceptional piece of literature – fiercely clever and lingering far beyond the last page. It will always be compared to ‘The Secret History’, but it deserves to be talked about in its own right and on its own merit. Recommended for fans of complex character dynamics, dark academia, and what humanity is capable of when left unchecked.

Published by Titan Books
Paperback: June 13th 2017

Robyn Reviews: All the Murmuring Bones

‘All the Murmuring Bones’ is a beautifully atmospheric tale, winding folklore and fantasy together to create something dark and gothic. There are family secrets, lapsed bargains, a crumbling fortune – and at the heart of it all, a young woman who just wants to be free. The tale winds slowly, filled with lingering descriptions, painting a vivid picture tinged with the salt of the sea.

Miren’s grandmother, Aoife, is the last of the O’Malley’s – a family who prospered due to a bargain struck with the mer. All their ships would have safe passage across the sea in return for one child sacrificed per generation. However, pride in the bloodline has become their downfall – generations of intermarriage have left producing enough healthy children impossible, with Aoife only able to bare one child. With the bargain broken, the legacy is collapsing: the O’Malley fortune has dwindled to nothing. Miren is left to bare the burden of the family misfortune. Trapped by her grandmother’s scheming, Miren desperately seeks a way out – but in a family full of secrets, there’s only so far she can go.

Miren makes an excellent protagonist. Shrewd and determined, she fights for what she wants the quiet way – biding her time, outwardly appearing to acquiesce whilst secretly gathering information and plotting her next move. She’s spent her entire life under her grandmother’s thumb, experiencing cool disinterest rather than warm affection – but she loves her family, and wars with contrasting desires to protect the family legacy and tear down every root of it. She has her weaknesses – but she knows them, every last flaw, and she turns them into weapons. Miren might not outwardly seem like the most special or talented woman, but if there’s someone you don’t want as your enemy then it’s her.

The writing takes a little time to adjust to, but once it draws you in it’s exquisite. The first chapters are packed with dense descriptions, and the plot ambles around them like a man picking his way through the fog – but eventually, the book ensnares you and leaves you enraptured. This is very much a novel about atmosphere rather than plot. The story is solid – an arranged marriage in exchange for a fortune, a secret kept for decades, a journey full of magical creatures and ethereal encounters – but not what lingers. Instead, it’s the eerie images of mer watching on from the sea, witches hiding behind herbs and smiles, ghosts of abandoned cottages preying on weary travellers, that make this book what it is.

There’s also an element of story within a story. The O’Malleys have a book of stories, passed down through generations. There are tales of dealing with the mer, of selkies giving up their pelts, of witchcraft and herblore and – above all – the importance of family. It’s never clear how much is fact and how much fiction, but Miren grew up with these stories and remembers them in times of hardship. They’re a source of comfort – the O’Malleys are children of the sea, and the sea protects its own. Each story is as beautiful as the tale which contains them, and they add a wonderful extra element.

The main weakness ‘All the Murmuring Bones’ has is the same thing which creates its lingering atmosphere, and that’s the descriptions. It takes a long time to get past the pages and pages of description and settle into the story, and even once there, it can detract from key moments of the plot. Personally, I found this a very minor thing – the writing is beautiful, and I adore books which create an atmosphere – but I suspect some readers will find it too slow going and tedious. If you’re the sort of reader who wants action to create tension, this isn’t the book for you.

Overall, ‘All the Murmuring Bones’ is a delightfully gothic tale that would feel right at home in a book of fairytales from several centuries ago. Recommended for fans of eerie stories and classical folklore: especially those which focus on the quiet power of women who have been wronged.

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

Published by Titan Books
Paperback: 8th April 2021

Robyn Reviews: The Library of the Unwritten

‘The Library of the Unwritten’ is a fun fantasy adventure with a highly unique premise. Fast-paced and engaging, it’s an easy and enjoyable read.

Hell isn’t just a place where damned souls go where they die – it also plays host to the largest library in all existence. Within this library is the Unwritten Wing, shelves containing every book left unfinished by its author. Occasionally, characters within these books rise up and escape, trying to get their authors to finish them – and it’s the librarian’s job to track them down. When a hero escapes his book and manages to flee all the way to Earth, it’s down to Head Librarian Claire, her assistant Brevity, and junior demon Leto to track him down. However, when their retrieval is unexpectedly interrupted by an angel, a chase begins – one that could lead to war between Heaven and Hell.

Claire is a strong woman, with all the positives and negatives that brings. She takes her job as head librarian seriously, ruling with an iron fist coated in ink. She has no sympathy for characters who go walkabout, no matter how they plead – unlike her more empathetic assistant, Brevity. Claire is all ruthless competence and hard lines. However, as the story goes in, cracks start to appear in her armour – and beneath it is a flawed, struggling, and far more interesting woman. Claire makes a solid protagonist, and her love of books and the library will resonate with all bookworms.

Leto, in contrast, is an absolute sweetheart. He’s terrible at being a demon – he’s not even the slightest bit demonic – and ruled entirely by his heart. His heart isn’t on his sleeve, it’s on a neon sign flashing above his head at all times, and he’s all the more endearing for it. Leto struggles with the morality of Claire’s actions – just because characters bleed ink not blood doesn’t make them any less real – but even more with himself.

Brevity is a weaker character. A failed muse, sentenced to the library in punishment, she has just as much heart as Leto – but she spends so much time trying to be what people want her to be, she loses who she actually is herself. It’s never clear what she actually wants, and she falls somewhat flat as a result. Ironically, she feels more like a character than Hero, who’s genuinely leapt out of the pages of a book.

The worldbuilding is primarily Judeo-Christian, with Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory, but also encompasses other beliefs – Valhalla makes an appearance, as does an ancient Greek labyrinth. It’s superficial, but doesn’t need to go any deeper for a fantasy adventure. The plot isn’t the most original, with most of the twists and betrayals predictable – but this works reasonably well in a story that focuses on unwritten books and their archetypes. The real highlight is simply the idea of a library with unwritten books that characters can escape from as more-or-less fully fledged personalities. It’s clever, simple, and works brilliantly. AJ Hackwith winds in elements of found family and what is means to belong, creating a novel which might not be the strongest work of fiction but is a delight to read.

Overall, this is a fun fantasy adventure which will appeal to any bookworm – especially if they’ve ever been an aspiring writer. Recommended.

Published by Titan Books
Paperback: 11th February 2020

Robyn Reviews: All the Birds in the Sky

‘All the Birds in the Sky’ is a profoundly strange book. It’s extremely ambitious, bending genres and written in a very particular style, but it doesn’t quite manage to carry it off. It’s also quite different to what you might picture from the blurb, which can lead to confusion as the story unravels.

The novel follows two individuals – Patricia, a witch, and Laurence, a technology-obsessed scientist – from childhood. Both are social outcasts, and thus thrown together. They’re too weird for school – nerdy before being nerdy was almost cool – and too obsessed in their own interests to be friends. Neither truly understands the other or believes they would be friends by choice. As they grow older, they lose touch – partially by choice, and partially through outside forces – but in adulthood, unusual circumstances force them to reconnect. Together, they could bring about the end of the world – or stop it.

The style of writing means there’s no connection between the reader and either Patricia or Laurence. It isn’t clear if this is a deliberate plot device – the reader failing to relate to them in the same way as their peers – or simply an accident, but either way it doesn’t work for me. They feel distant and two-dimensional, definitely stereotypes rather than people, and it makes it difficult to care what happens to them. It also makes them very forgettable – as soon as the novel is finished, its hard to remember any details you’ve just read.

The plot is the strongest part. The events of the novel are bizarre – Charlie Jane Anders has clearly done her research, because the science has a vague basis in reality, but coupled with witchcraft it becomes completely chaotic. The blend of science-fiction and fantasy is clever and intricately done. In many ways this boils down to simply magic vs science, but it feels ridiculous to dilute such a complex and confusing novel down to such a trivial description.

Unfortunately, what could be a strong and engaging novel is derailed by the writing. The entire novel is written in a detached and superficial manner – a bit like a newsreader telling an entire narrative in monotone without going into any details or justification. It reminds me of a poorly-written middle grade novel – not in content, which is definitely adult, but in the way it avoids explaining anything as if the reader won’t understand it. If the writing style is ignored it becomes an enjoyable, creative piece of literature, but without the connection with either the characters or the plot it becomes a bit of a slog to get through.

Overall, ‘All the Birds in the Sky’ is a creative attempt at fusion between science fiction and fantasy, with an intriguing premise and ambitious plot, but one which is let down by the writing. It may be enjoyed more by fans of experimental fiction than conventional science fiction and fantasy fans.

Published by Titan Books
Paperback: 26th January 2016

Robyn Reviews: Fable

‘Fable’ is an absolutely typical young adult fantasy book. For fans of the genre it makes an enjoyable enough read, but it lacks anything special to make it stand out.

Four years ago, Fable’s father – one of the most feared tradesmen in the Narrows – abandoned her on a remote island to prove her worth. Survive, and she’ll be allowed to come into her legacy. Anything else and she won’t be his daughter. Finally, Fable has scraped together enough coin to pay for passage off the island – but the seas are treacherous, and the man Fable enlists for help, West, is more than he seems. Fable’s salvation might turn out to be her downfall.

Fable couldn’t be a more typical YA protagonist. Lost her mother in a tragic accident? Check. Abandoned by her father to live as an orphan? Check. Possessing rare and unusual skills that she must keep secret from everyone else? Check. Beautiful despite years spent barely able to survive and feed herself? Check. Fable is determined and feisty, if very naive, and a likeable enough protagonist – but she doesn’t stand out. It can also be very irritating how she clings to her fathers rules and beliefs despite him being a horrible person. This is probably realistic, but it’s not pleasant to read.

The crew of the Marigold, the ship Fable escapes on, are an interesting bunch – although because they and Fable don’t trust each other one jolt, they remain a mystery for much of the book. Willa especially is a brilliant character, and West clearly has the obligatory tragic backstory for the main male character in a YA fantasy. It isn’t really a spoiler to call him the love interest because it’s so obviously choreographed from the beginning, and the plot is standard enough to throw up few surprises.

The best part about this book is the setting. The worldbuilding is exceptionally bare bones and basic, but most of this takes place on boats and the sea, and the way this is depicted is excellent. All the terminology is very well explained, without too much being dumped on the reader at once, and the highs and lows of life at sea are beautifully portrayed. There’s also a real sense of family amongst the crew – and clear reasons why this has to be the case. It’s a shame that everything else about the book is so bland, because the premise of rival merchant ship crews is packed with potential.

Overall, ‘Fable’ is a decent read, but lacks anything to make it stand out from other books in its genre. YA fantasy fans will likely enjoy it, but those who’ve read many YA fantasies before may find the story too familiar in territory.

Published by Titan Books
Paperback: 26th January 2021

Robyn Reviews: The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue

addie

Some books are impossible to capture in mere words. It’s ironic – after all, words are all that form the book in the first place – but no other words can quite create the same brilliance, the same beauty, the same resonance. How do you capture transcendence with twenty-six little letters? VE Schwab has found the answer – but I can’t fathom how to possibly do her work justice.

‘The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue’ is the best book VE Schwab has ever written. It’s a masterwork – a feat of wordcraft so exquisite it’s hard to imagine creating anything better. Every sentence is gorgeously constructed, every metaphor lands true, and every word is heartbreaking – heartbreaking because it brings you closer to the end. Addie has made a deal with the devil to live forever, and books like this show you why we all fear the curtain coming down.

“Were the instants of joy worth the stretches of sorrow? Were the moments of beauty worth the years of pain? And she turns her head, and looks at him, and says ‘Always’.”

Adeline LaRue is born in rural France in 1691. She’s a dreamer, a free spirit, always looking beyond the borders of her village – but she’s a girl, and girls are not allowed to dream. Girls must go to church, and obey their betters, and learn to be wives for their future husbands, and look after their households, and bear their children. Bound to a future she doesn’t want, Adeline looks for escape – but every dream has its price, and she doesn’t know the true cost until it’s too late.

Adeline can have her freedom – but only by giving up herself.

“The last, brittle thread to her old life has broken, and Addie has been set well, and truly, and forcibly free.”

Addie is the perfect protagonist. Sharp and quick, she’s the girl who dreams of more – and is also stubborn and determined enough to find it. Forced into dreadful situations, she still manages to find a light in the dark; a reason to go on. More than that – even as her life is treated like the plaything of others, she digs in her heels and wrenches it into the shape she needs. Addie will never back down, never admit defeat, never give up control. She has moments of weakness, of despair, of fear – but she knows that there are many better days to come, and she holds out for them like an old tree, bent and battered by the storm but still standing when the sun returns.

 “If she must grow roots, she would rather be left to flourish wild instead of pruned, would rather stand alone, allowed to grow beneath the open sky. Better that than firewood, cut down just to burn in someone else’s hearth.”

Henry is the opposite – the man who feels too much, and doesn’t know what to do with all these emotions that refuse to let him be. He’s the perfect counterpoint – the racing hurricane to Addie’s steadfast tree, the raging fire to Addie’s cold pool. He’s a dreamer too – but where Addie’s dreams are a tether, his are a maze. Addie’s response to running out of time is to find more of it. Henry’s response is to do more, always more, falling into a panicked spiral until everything falls apart.

Addie’s devil? He’s the dark shadow following you home at night. The menacing maw of the corridor before you flick on the light. He’s endless, timeless, and just when Addie thinks she knows him he demonstrates just how far from a mere human evil he is. She can name him, claim him, blame him – but the darkness cannot be tamed. When everything else fades, the darkness is all that remains.

“You think it will get easier. It will not. You are as good as gone, and every year you live will feel a lifetime, and in every lifetime, you will be forgotten. Your pain is meaningless. Your life is meaningless. The years will be like weight around your ankles. They will crush you, bit by bit, and when you cannot stand it, you will beg me to put you from your misery.”

The plot marches forward like the inexorable march of time. The perspective alternates – Addie now, in New York, versus Addie as she was, learning to navigate her strange half-existence – together weaving a narrative so vibrant, so emotional, you never want to leave. This is a book that could be read over and over and adored more every time. Several of the twists I guessed, but this didn’t lessen their impact – if anything, it highlighted it, their direction as inevitable as the ticking of the clock, the passing of the seasons. Everything comes crashing down eventually – all good things must end.

This story has worked its way into my soul. Calling it a favourite doesn’t even do justice to its impact. It’s less a book and more of an experience – a temporary passage to somewhere greater than here.

If you want to read a story that speaks to your soul, read this book. Read it, and marvel how much beauty can be created with simple words.

“She leans back against him, as if he is the umbrella, and she is the one in need of shelter. And Henry holds his breath, as if that will keep the sky aloft. As if that will keep the days from passing.

As if that will keep it all from falling down.”

Published by Titan Books
Hardback: 6th October 2020

Robyn Reviews: The Ghost Tree

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This is a very difficult book to review. It has great elements, but certain parts of it make me very uncomfortable. I’m hesitant to recommend it because certain problematic aspects are never called out.

The Ghost Tree centres on the town of Smiths Hollow, a small town on the outskirts of Chicago known for being peaceful and prosperous. While towns around it have suffered from job losses and escalating crime, Smiths Hollow has flourished. However, there’s a dark secret behind that prosperity – and a cascade of events have been set in motion which might lead to it all falling down.

I want to start by explaining my primary issue with this book. It features a developing relationship between a fourteen-year-old girl who has yet to start high school and an eighteen-year-old college student. This relationship is never challenged or spoken of in any negative way. I’m enormously uncomfortable with the idea of young teenagers reading this book and thinking that relationships with adults are acceptable or even cool. There’s a huge inherent power and maturity imbalance here, and whilst it’s natural for teenagers to fantasise about relationships with those older than them, relationships between children too young for high school and actual adults should never be portrayed as normal. This isn’t being marketed as a young adult book, but in many ways it reads as one. I don’t understand why the fourteen-year-old wasn’t aged up to at least sixteen – this wouldn’t have affected the plot in any way, and would have made this feel less uncomfortable.

It’s a shame, because the characters in this are excellent. For a short book it has many point-of-view characters, but this works, creating a real small-town feel. There’s nuanced discussion about the difficulties of being a single parent, the difficulty of raising teenagers, racial tension, and being a teenager changing and growing apart from your family and friends. Many of the characters think uncomfortable things – one is unapologetically racist, another has very problematic thoughts about sex and virginity – but this actually works well, because many people do believe those things, and as long as those beliefs and opinions are challenged by other characters it becomes clear that they’re not being condoned. It captures the feeling of being a teenage girl very well, and whilst I haven’t been a single parent, the way it describes how this feels is also very nuanced and thought-provoking. Through the lens of all the different characters, it manages to show a variety of opinions on each event in a very eye-opening way.

To be honest, I think this would work better as a contemporary rather than a horror story. The horror elements felt unnecessary and a tad contrived compared to the cleverness and insightfulness of the characters and social commentary. They also weren’t particularly scary – I don’t know if this was the intent, but it combined with the age of some of the primary characters to give this a more juvenile feel. Personally, I would have preferred two separate stories – one a contemporary with this cast of characters, and one a gothic horror story about witches and the monster in the woods.

Having said that, the plot wasn’t bad, and I did enjoy reading this. Certain elements were very gripping, and I was really rooting for certain characters – especially Alex Lopez. Those looking for a basic horror story with an intriguing and varied cast of characters will probably enjoy this – I just think every reader needs to be aware that it’s not without its issues.

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

Published by Titan Books
Paperback: 8th September 2020

Robyn Reviews: All the Stars and Teeth

All the Stars and Teeth is a fun young adult fantasy that should appeal to all fans of the genre. Rather than striving for unique elements, it combines typical tricks and tropes to great effect, weaving a compelling – if predictable – story.

The book is told from a single point of view. Amora Montara, princess of the island kingdom of Visidia, is preparing for the biggest day of her life – the day when she proves her mastery of soul magic, to take over her father’s role as High Animancer. The High Animancer protects the kingdom from the Beast, a mysterious force which gains power if anyone in Visidia attempts to learn more than one magic. However, Amora’s demonstration doesn’t go to plan, and her life may be on the line – until she’s rescued by the mysterious Bastian, a pirate from the exiled kingdom of Zudoh. Together, Amora, Bastian – and Amora’s fiancé Ferrick, who sneaks after them – set off on a quest to save Zudoh – and potentially the whole kingdom.

Amora reads exactly like a teenage princess should – spoiled, entitled, sheltered, and desperate to be free and make her own choices. At times, this makes her an unlikeable protagonist, but I applaud Adalyn Grace’s decision to make Amora realistic. Her interactions with Ferrick and Vataea are excellent – Vataea especially helps make Amora more human. On the other hand, the romance was predictable and toed the line of insta-love, and I never felt the chemistry – I feel like a little more build-up would have helped.

Bastian is a great character. For a pirate, he’s a very nice, caring guy – even if he does spend a lot of time stealing and threatening people with swords. I’m slightly disappointed there weren’t more pirates – the story around Keel Haul is great, and a magic ship is always going to be a good thing, but a pirate crew is an opportunity to add humour and banter, and a book sold with pirates on the tagline really needs more than one pirate. As only Amora gets a point of view, much of Bastian’s story remains a mystery – but he’s still a well-enough rounded character.

My favourite part of this world is the magic system. The idea of each character having a magic – most based on their island of origin, but not all – is intriguing, and I wish we got to see more of it. I also adore soul magic – Grace didn’t play down how horrific it could be, and it’s fascinating seeing the other characters’ reactions to Amora using it. Amora oscillates between delight at her power and horror at the costs, which can be jarring – but for a teenager who’s been doing this since she was a child, her reactions seem realistic.

Overall, this is a solid young adult fantasy. Recommended for fans of interesting magic systems, strong female heroines, and pirates (with the caveat that there’s not a great deal of piracy).

 

*Thanks to NetGalley and Titan Books for providing an eARC of this book – this in no way affects the content of this review*

 

Published by Titan Books
Paperback: 4th August 2020

Book Review: The Near Witch

The Near Witch, by V.E. Schwab, is one of those rare books that may work better if well adapted for the screen. It contains a number of electric set pieces that could be awesome and terrifying if presented with appropriate sound and effects. They are granted a great many words to bring to life on the page.

Even beyond these the wider plot too often drags through its world building and repetitive activity. The concept is of our time – a community fearful of strangers and of change – but the fantasy powers foreshadowed never fully deliver.

The story opens with two sisters settling down to sleep in their candlelit bedroom. Sixteen year old Lexi is telling a story to five year old Wren. The narrative unfolds from the point of view of the older girl. We learn that her father is dead and her mother still mourning, now a shadow of her former self. Their uncle, Otto, lives close and keeps an eye on the little family. He disapproves of Lexi’s continuing interest in her father’s occupation as a tracker. Sixteen is the marrying age of the girls in the town and Lexi has a suitor, one she has little interest in.

The action is set in the town of Near. This is a remote community surrounded by moorland and, as the residents neither see strangers nor leave, must be self sufficient – something that is not explained. Generations ago a witch was banished and the children sing songs about the associated tale in their games. There are still two elderly witches in residence. They live on the edges and are treated with suspicion.

When a stranger is spotted, Lexi is curious. She believes that the witches know more about this young man than they will admit. Then children start to disappear and she fears for the safety of Wren. The town elders blame the stranger, assuming his unexpected arrival cannot be coincidental. Shut out from the efforts of these men, who are tasked with protecting the town, Lexi plans her own mission.

As each child is taken, Lexi seeks advice from the witches and tries to find out more about the stranger. She is warned away from involvement by Otto who eschews her supposed skills as a tracker. A love story is developing against a backdrop of growing suspicion. As the elders are making little progress they look for someone to blame.

The introduction by the author explains that this novel, her debut, was written when she was still at university. It was the spark that lit the flame of her successful career. It has fine ideas and some interesting characters but lacks the momentum needed to hold uninterrupted interest. I would have preferred tighter pacing.

Following The Near Witch, the book contains a second, shorter story, The Ash-Born Boy. This offers further background on the stranger who arrived in Near. Because of his powers he was abused by his step-father, something in which his mother was complicit. The tale posed as many questions as it answered.

The edition I read is gorgeously presented with embossed hard covers, end papers, ribbon and illustrations. I suspect it will be enjoyed by the author’s fans who may wish to better understand where her ideas began. As a first exposure to her work it may not have been the best place to start.

A promising concept and adept use of language but overlong and repetitive given the action contained.

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