Friday Firsts: The Ashes of London


Welcome to Friday Firsts – a weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. First paragraphs. First impressions. A new favourite?


| Friday Firsts: August 07 |

The Ashes of London

Book One of Marwood and Lovett

by Andrew Taylor

Historical Fiction | 496 Pages | Published by Harper Collins in 2016


| First Paragraphs |

The noise was the worst. Not the crackling of the flames, not the explosions and the clatter of falling buildings, not the shouting and the endless beating of drums and the groans and cries of the crowd: it was the howling of the fire. It roared its rage. It was the voice of the Great Beast itself.

Part of the nave roof fell in. The sound stunned the crowd into a brief silence.

Otherwise I shouldn’t have heard the whimpering at my elbow. It came from a boy in a ragged shirt who had just pushed his way through the mass of people. He was swaying, on the brink of collapse.

I poked his arm. ‘Hey. You.’

The lad’s head jerked up. His eyes were wide and unfocused. He made a movement as if to run away but we were hemmed in on every side. Half of London, from the King and the Duke of York downwards, had turned out to watch the death throes of St. Paul’s. 

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| First Impressions |

The opening paragraphs of The Ashes of London are an incredibly evocative start to the book. The fall of St. Paul’s is captured so vividly – the heat and the flames and the ash falling from the sky – that you are instantly transported to the terrifying and chaotic Great Fire of London of 1666.

This is a book which quite clearly provides a richly detailed backdrop on which to hang its tale of freedom and murder, and I cannot wait to unravel what happens next.

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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Friday Firsts: Leviathan Wakes


Welcome to Friday Firsts – a weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. First paragraphs. First impressions. A new favourite?


| Friday Firsts: July 31 |

Leviathan Wakes

Book One of The Expanse

by James S.A. Corey

Science Fiction | 561 Pages | Published by Orbit in 2011


| First Paragraphs |

The Scopuli had been taken eight days ago, and Julie Mao was finally ready to be shot.

It had taken all eight days trapped in a storage locker for her to get to that point. For the first two she’d remained motionless, sure that the armoured men who’d put her there had been serious. For the first hours, the ship she’d been taken aboard wasn’t under thrust, so she floated in the locker, using gentle touches to keep herself from bumping into the walls or the atmosphere suit she shared the space with. When the ship began to move, thrust giving her weight, she’d stood silently until her legs cramped, then sat down slowly into a fetal position. She’d peed in her jumpsuit, not caring about the warm itchy wetness, or the smell, worrying only that she might slip and fall in the wet spot it left on the floor. She couldn’t make noise. They’d shoot her.

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| First Impressions |

I have had Leviathan Wakes on my TBR for what seems like an awfully long time and, after watching The Expanse series on Amazon Prime, it became only too apparent that if a TV series is this good then the book really must be something else entirely. So, here I am, writing my Friday Firsts post and I’ve already made it through 25% of the book!

The opening paragraphs are full of tension and mystery – who has taken Julie Mao? Why has she been imprisoned in a storage locker? Where are her crew? – and this theme runs throughout the book as every subsequent chapter amplifies the anticipation, uncertainty and excitement.

Furthermore, as the story progresses the parallels between book and TV series become ever more apparent, highlighting just how good a job the production team did in realising at least the (first quarter of the) first book in the series. This gripping space opera really is no less wonderful for knowing what is coming.

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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Friday Firsts: To Be Taught, If Fortunate


Welcome to Friday Firsts – a weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. First paragraphs. First impressions. A new favourite?


| Friday Firsts: July 17 |

To Be Taught, If Fortunate

A Novella

by Becky Chambers

Science Fiction | 136 Pages | Published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2018


| First Paragraphs |

If you read nothing else we’ve sent home, please at least read this. I ask knowing full well that this request is antithetical to what I believe in my heart of hearts. Our mission reports contain our science, and the science is by far the most important thing here. My crew and I are a secondary concern. Tertiary, even.

But all the same, we do have a lot riding on someone picking this up.

You don’t have to rush. The file will have taken fourteen years to reach Earth, and assuming that we have the good luck of someone reading it right away and replying straight after, it’d take that file another fourteen years. So, while we can’t wait around forever, the urgency – like so many things in space travel – is relative.

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| First Impressions |

Hot off the heels of finishing the second novel in Becky Chambers’ Wayfarers series, A Closed and Common Orbit, I decided to embark on her stand-alone science fiction novella, To be Taught, If Fortunate.

Having read several disparate reviews for this novella, I have decided to read it with no expectations either way and let myself be carried along whether good, bad or ugly. Having said that, I have developed a somewhat unreserved love for Chambers’ writing and the opening paragraphs are so very intriguing and, as always, so beautifully written that I can’t help but feel like I will love this novella all the same!

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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Friday Firsts: A Closed and Common Orbit


Welcome to Friday Firsts – a weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. First paragraphs. First impressions. A new favourite?


| Friday Firsts: July 10 |

A Closed and Common Orbit

Book Two of the Wayfarers Series

by Becky Chambers

Science Fiction | 385 Pages | Published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2016


| First Paragraphs |

Lovelace had been in a body for twenty-eight minutes, and it still felt every bit as wrong as it had the second she woke up inside it. There was no good reason as to why. Nothing was malfunctioning. Nothing was broken. All her files had transferred properly. No system scans could explain the feeling of wrongness, but it was there all the same, gnawing at her pathways. Pepper had said it would take time to adjust, but she hadn’t said how much time. Lovelace didn’t like that. The lack of schedule made her uneasy.

‘How’s it going?’ Pepper asked, glancing over from the pilot’s seat.

It was a direct question, which meant Lovelace had to address it. ‘I don’t know how to answer that.’ An unhelpful response, but the best she could do. Everything was overwhelming. Twenty-nine minutes before, she’d been housed in a ship, as she was designed to be. She’d had cameras in every corner, voxes in every room. She’d existed in a web, with eyes both within and outside. A solid sphere of unblinking perception.

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| First Impressions |

It has been far too long since I finished The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Four years in fact; and despite it being one of my favourite science fiction reads of the 2015/2016 period, I still hadn’t picked up A Closed and Common Orbit. Following a timely reminder by The Earthian Hivemind that this series existed, I quickly bought a copy and placed it on the top of my ever-increasing book pile.

And I am so happy that I did.

In just a few short paragraphs I was fully absorbed into a landscape I thought I had forgotten. Familiar names, familiar faces; the events of the previous novel slowly unfolding in my head. The character driven plot was the highlight of the first novel and I find it unlikely that this sequel will disappoint.

I truly cannot wait to get lost with the Wayfarers, or at least Lovelace and Pepper, once again.

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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Friday Firsts: Nevernight by Jay Kristoff


Welcome to Friday Firsts – a new weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. New Book: First paragraphs. First impressions. New favourite?


| Friday Firsts: March 30 |

Nevernight

Book One of The Nevernight Chronicle

by Jay Kristoff

Fantasy | 448 Pages | Published by Harper Voyager in 2016


| First Paragraphs |

People often shit themselves when they die.

Their muscles slack and their souls flutter free and everything else just … slips out. For all their audience’s love of death, the playwrights seldom mention it. When our hero breathes his last in his heroine’s arms, they call no attention to the stain leaking across his tights, or how the stink makes her eyes water as she leans in for her farewell kiss.

I mention this by way of warning, O, my gentlefriends, that your narrator shares no such restraint. And if the unpleasant realities of bloodshed turn your insides to water, be advised now that the pages in your hands speak of a girl who was to murder as maestros are to music. Who did to happy ever afters what a sawblade does to skin.

She’s dead herself, now – words both the wicked and the just would give an eyeteeth smile to hear. A republic in ashes behind her. A city of bridges and bones laid at the bottom of the sea by her hand. And yet I’m sure she’d still find a way to kill me if she knew I put these words to paper. Open me up and leave me for the hungry Dark. But I think someone should at least try to separate her from the lies told about her. Through her. By her.

Someone who knew her true.

A girl some called Pale Daughter. Or Kingmaker. Or Crow. But most often, nothing at all. A killer of killers, whose tally of endings only the goddess and I truly know. And was she famous or infamous for it at the end? All this death? I confess I could never see the difference. But then, I’ve never seen things the way you have.

Never truly lived in the world you call your own.

Nor did she, really.

I think that’s why I loved her.

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads


| First Impressions |

Narrator led openings such as these always intrigue me –  giving away little details into the future of protagonists we are yet to meet, giving an impression as to their character, and giving clues as to how their existence affects the world around them.

Whoever the Pale Daughter is, and how she came by the names Kingmaker and Crow, I do not know – but I sure as hell can’t wait to find out!

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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Friday Firsts: Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky


Welcome to Friday Firsts – a new weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. New Book: First paragraphs. First impressions. New favourite?


| Friday Firsts: March 23 |

Dogs of War

by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Science Fiction | 262 Pages | Published by Head of Zeus in 2017


| First Paragraphs |

My name is Rex. I am a Good Dog.

See Rex run. Run, enemy, run. That is Master’s joke.

My squad is Dragon, Honey and Bees. They are a Multiform Assault Pack. That means they are not Good Dogs.

I am coming close to the enemy now. I am coming from downwind. I can smell them: there are at least thirty human beings in their camp. I can smell guns. I cannot smell explosives. I cannot smell other dogs or any Bioform breeds, just humans who are enemies.

I am talking to my guns. They tell me they are ready and operational. All systems optimal, Rex, they tell me. Good Dog, well done for remembering, says my feedback chip.

They are called Big Dogs, my guns. This is a joke by the people who gave me them. They are on my shoulders and they will shoot when I talk to them, because I need my hands for other tasks than pulling triggers. They are called Big Dogs because humans are too little to use them without hurting themselves.

I do not like the thought of humans hurting themselves. Bad Dog! comes the thought. I like humans. Humans made me. Enemies are different.

I am talking to my squad. Dragon is not replying but his feedback signal shows that he is alive and not already fighting. Dragon is difficult. Dragon has his own way of doing things and often he conflicts with what Master has told me. Master says “Dragon gets results,” and so I cannot tell him to stop being Dragon, but I cannot be happy with him being Dragon. Dragon makes me uncomfortable.

Honey is talking to me. She is in position with the Elephant Gun. This name is also a joke. Like the other jokes, I do not understand this one. Honey is not an elephant.

Bees is talking to me. She reports 99 per cent integrity. Bees doesn’t have or need a gun. Bees is ready. Honey is ready. Dragon had better be ready or I will bite him, even if that makes me a Bad Dog.

I am talking to Master on our encrypted channel. Master tells me I am a Good Dog. I am in position and there is no sign from the enemy that they know I am here.

Master tells me I can attack. Master hopes I do well. I want very much to make Master proud of me.

I tell Honey to start. She has gone crosswind of the enemy camp. I can smell her but they cannot. She talks to her targeting system and I listen in as it identifies targets of opportunity. Honey agrees. They send eleven explosive shells into the camp from a distance of four hundred metres, aiming for maximum disruption. As soon as the eleventh is away, even as the first shell hits, I am moving in.

I see the fire. I hear the sound of human voices, shrill above the explosions. Run, enemy, run.

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| First Impressions |

This is a really intriguing opener and unlike anything I’ve read from Adrian Tchaikovsky so far. I’m not certain how the story will develop, or how the Multiform Assault Pack will come across as living, breathing creat… genetically engineered bioforms, but I can’t wait to find out!

Tchaikovsky has never disappointed with anything he has written so far, so I don’t doubt for a second that this will be an interesting, exciting and thoroughly compelling read.

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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Friday Firsts: Binti by Nnedi Okorafor


Welcome to Friday Firsts – a new weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. New Book: First paragraphs. First impressions. New favourite?


| Friday Firsts: March 16 |

Binti

Book One of the Binti Series

by Nnedi Okorafor

Science Fiction| 96 Pages | Published by Tor in 2015


| First Paragraphs |

I powered up the transporter and said a silent prayer. I had no idea what I was going to do if it didn’t work. My transporter was cheap, so even a droplet of moisture, or more likely, a grain of sand, would cause it to short. It was faulty and most of the time I had to restart it over and over before it worked. Please not now, please not now, I thought.

The transporter shivered in the sand and I held my breath. Tiny, flat, and black as a prayer stone, it buzzed softly and then slowly rose from the sand. Finally, it produced the baggage-lifting force. I grinned. Now I could make it to the shuttle. I swiped otjize from my forehead with my index finger and knelt down. Then I touched the finger to the sand, grounding the sweet smelling red clay into it. “Thank you,” I whispered. It was a half-mile walk along the dark desert road. With the transporter working, I would make it there on time.

Straightening up, I paused and shut my eyes. Now the weight of my entire life was pressing on my shoulders. I was defying the most traditional part of myself for the first time in my entire life. I was leaving in the dead of night and they had no clue. My nine siblings, all older than me except for my younger sister and brother, would never see this coming. My parents would never imagine I’d do such a thing in a million years. By the time they all realized what I’d done and where I was going, I’d have left the planet. In my absence, my parents would growl to each other that I was to never set foot in their home again. My four aunties and two uncles who lived down the road would shout and gossip among themselves about how I’d scandalized our entire bloodline. I was going to be a pariah.

“Go,” I softly whispered to the transporter, stamping my foot. The thin metal rings I wore around each ankle jingled noisily, but I stamped my foot again. Once on, the transporter worked best when I didn’t touch it. “Go,” I said again, sweat forming on my brow. When nothing moved, I chanced giving the two large suitcases sitting atop the force field a shove. They moved smoothly and I breathed another sigh of relief. At least some luck was on my side.

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads


| First Impressions |

This novella had been on my bookshelf for far too long and, after hearing so many good things about it, it was about time I dusted it off and set to reading.

And even from the opening paragraphs, Binti does not disappoint. Questions are raised – Who is this girl? Where is she going? Why will she be considered an outcast if she leaves? – and the small points of detail in the description marking out the landscape and the girl’s belongings make this a novella I don’t expect to put down!

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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Friday Firsts: The Builders by Daniel Polansky


Welcome to Friday Firsts – a new weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. New Book: First paragraphs. First impressions. New favourite?


| Friday Firsts: March 09 |

The Builders

by Daniel Polansky

Fantasy | Novella | 226 Pages | Published by Tor in 2015


| First Paragraphs |

Reconquista was cleaning the counter with his good hand when the double doors swung open. He squinted his eye at the light, the stub of his tail curling around his peg leg. “We’re closed.”

Its shadow loomed impossibly large from the threshold, tumbling over the loose warped wood of the floorboards, swallowing battered tables and splintered chairs within its inky bulk.

“You hear me? I said we’re closed,” Reconquista repeated, this time with a quiver that couldn’t be mistaken for anything else.

The outline pulled its hat off and blew a fine layer of grime off the felt. Then it set it back on its head and stepped inside.

Reconquista’s expression shifted, fear of the unknown replaced with fear of the known-quite-well. “Captain . . . I . . . I didn’t recognize you.”

Penumbra shrunk to the genuine article, it seemed absurd to think the newcomer had inspired such terror. The Captain was big for a mouse, but then being big for a mouse is more or less a contradiction in terms, so there’s not much to take there. The bottom of his trench coat trailed against the laces of his boots, and the broad brim of his hat swallowed the narrow angles of his face. Absurd indeed. Almost laughable.

Almost— but not quite. Maybe it was the ragged scar that ran from his forehead through the blinded pulp of his right eye. Maybe it was the grim scowl on his lips, a scowl that didn’t shift a hair as the Captain moved deeper into the tavern. The Captain was a mouse, sure as stone; from his silvery-white fur to his bright pink nose, from the fan-ears folded back against his head to the tiny paws held tight against his sides. But rodent or raptor, mouse or wolf, the Captain was not a creature to laugh at.

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads


| First Impressions |

This is the second time I’ve read The Builders by Daniel Polansky and I already love it just as much as the first time, if not more. This is where grimdark meets The Wind in the Willows and I can’t get enough of it.

The opening paragraphs are exemplary of the character of this novella; and with gritty descriptions flowing seamlessly around a cast of perfectly wrought misfits, The Builders etches out a secret world of cut-throats, snipers and gambling stoats in which I can’t wait to be lost.. 

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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Friday Firsts: The Iron Ghost


Welcome to Friday Firsts – a new weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. New Book: First paragraphs. First impressions. New favourite?


| Friday Firsts: March 02 |

The Iron Ghost

Book Two of the Copper Cat Trilogy

by Jen Williams

Fantasy | 544 Pages | Published by Headline in 2015


| First Paragraphs |

It was Siano’s turn to walk the sky-chain.

She touched the tips of her fingers to the pitted rock of the cliff face behind her, taking satisfaction in its familiar solidity. Below her the tiny province of Apua crowded within its crevasse, the stacked red bricks of the monasteries fighting for space, and on the far side, the twin to the cliff she now perched on sat like a thick bank of storm cloud. Between the two cliffs hung the greatest of the sky-chains; the sky-chain for the Walk of Accuracy.

The chain itself was a wonder, each link a foot wide, and made of gold. Or at least, that was what Father Tallow said, although personally, Siano suspected the gold was only a covering and, underneath, the chain was made of something a little more reassuring. It stretched away from her and dwindled to a fine golden line high above even the tallest of the monasteries, until it met the far wall. Beneath it, Apua was teeming with people going about their daily lives, but you could be sure that there would always be a few pairs of eyes looking up, because you never knew when someone might attempt to walk a sky-chain. You never knew when someone might fall.

Siano had walked all three chains more times than she could count.

She stepped out from the small platform built into the rock and placed her foot on the first great link, testing its strength, feeling the soft thrum as the wind pushed against it, and the slower, more gentle rocking underneath that. She had taken her boots off and her bare foot looked warm and brown against the sun-bright gold.

‘Are you going to take all day, Siano?’ came a voice from behind her. She glanced back to see Leena grinning at her, nervous energy making her step from foot to foot. She was another of Father Tallow’s pupils, but she had yet to walk a single sky-chain or take a single life. Siano pitied her.

‘Please.’ Siano stepped fully onto the chain, the drop yawning away beneath her feet, and sketched a brief bow. ‘If you have finally gathered your courage, you are more than welcome to go first.’

She watched a grimace spasm across Leena’s face.

‘Just get on with it.’

Siano smiled and turned back to the chain in front of her. To either side the other sky-chains stretched into the distance: black iron for the Walk of Silence, blistered lead for the Walk of Secrecy. Taking a deep breath, she let herself feel the weight of her own body and its place in the universe. She let herself feel the texture of the link under her feet, warm and rough and solid. And then she walked.

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads


| First Impressions |

With the second book in The Winnowing Flame trilogy just around the corner, it was high time I continued my journey with Jen William’s debut fantasy –  The Copper Cat Trilogy.

Just a short way into the book and those expectations seem to be confirmed. The Iron Ghost opens with some beautiful worldbuilding, and already features new characters and new locations. This detailed and fast paced opener is characteristic of the style I so loved in The Copper Promise and I haven’t been able to put it down since!

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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