Waiting on Wednesday: Black Sun

Welcome to Waiting on Wednesday, a weekly meme linking Waiting on Wednesday by Breaking The Spine and Can’t Wait Wednesday by Wishful Endings

| Waiting on Wednesday: September 23 |

Black Sun

Book One of Between Earth and Sky

by Rebecca Roanhorse

A god will return
When the earth and sky converge
Under the black sun

In the holy city of Tova, the winter solstice is usually a time for celebration and renewal, but this year it coincides with a solar eclipse, a rare celestial event proscribed by the Sun Priest as an unbalancing of the world.

Meanwhile, a ship launches from a distant city bound for Tova and set to arrive on the solstice. The captain of the ship, Xiala, is a disgraced Teek whose song can calm the waters around her as easily as it can warp a man’s mind. Her ship carries one passenger. Described as harmless, the passenger, Serapio, is a young man, blind, scarred, and cloaked in destiny. As Xiala well knows, when a man is described as harmless, he usually ends up being a villain.

Crafted with unforgettable characters, Rebecca Roanhorse has created an epic adventure exploring the decadence of power amidst the weight of history and the struggle of individuals swimming against the confines of society and their broken pasts in the most original series debut of the decade.

To be published by Gallery / Saga Press on 13 October 2020

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Friday Firsts: The Vagrant by Peter Newman

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

| Friday Firsts: July 07 |

The Vagrant

Book One of The Vagrant Trilogy

by Peter Newman

Fantasy | 400 Pages | Published by Harper Voyager in 2015

| First Paragraphs |

Starlight gives way to bolder neon. Signs muscle in on all sides, brightly welcoming each arrival to New Horizon.

The Vagrant does not notice; his gaze fixes on the ground ahead.

People litter the streets like living waste, their eyes as hollow as their laughter. Voices beg and hands grasp, needy, aggressive.

The Vagrant does not notice and walks on, clasping his coat tightly at the neck.

Excited shouts draw a crowd ahead. A mixture of half-bloods and pimps, dealers and spectators gather in force. Platforms rise up in the street, unsteady on legs of salvaged metal. Wire cages sit on top. Within, shivering forms squat, waiting to be sold. For some of the assembled, the flesh auction provides new slaves, for others, fresh meat.

Unnoticed in the commotion, the Vagrant travels on.

The centre of New Horizon is dominated by a vast scrap yard dubbed ‘The Iron Mountain’, a legacy from the war. At its heart is the gutted corpse of a fallen sky-ship; its cargo of tanks and fighters has spilled out in the crash, forming a skirt of scattered metal at the mountain’s base.

Always opportunistic, the inhabitants of New Horizon have tunnelled out its insides to create living spaces and shops, selling on the sky-ship’s treasures. Scavenged lamps hang, colouring the shadows.

One tunnel is illuminated by a glowing hoop, off-white and erratic. In the pale light, the low ceiling is the colour of curdled milk.

Awkwardly, the Vagrant enters, bending his legs and bowing his head, his back held straight.

Corrugated shelves line the walls, packed with bottles, tins and tubes. The owner of the rusting cave hunches on the floor, cleaning a syringe with a ragged cloth. He appraises the Vagrant with a bloodshot eye.

‘A new customer?’ The Vagrant nods. Syringe and cloth are swiftly tucked away and yellowing fingers rub together. ‘Ah, welcome, welcome. I am Doctor Zero. I take it you’ve heard of me?’

The Vagrant nods.

‘Of course you have, that’s why you’re here. Well, what can I get you? You look tired. I have the finest selection of uppers this side of the Breach, or perhaps something to escape with?’ His eyes twinkle, sleazy, seductive.

One hand still on his collar, the Vagrant’s amber eyes roam the shelves. They alight on a small jar, its label faded to a uniform grey.

‘Ah, a discerning customer,’ says Doctor Zero, impressed. ‘Rare to have somebody who knows what they’re looking for. Most of the rabble I get through here can’t tell the difference between stardust and sawdust.’ He picks up the jar, flicking something sticky from the lid. ‘I assume whoever sent you appreciates the scarcity of good medicine … and the cost.’

In answer, the Vagrant kneels and places two platinum coins on the ground, sliding them across the floor towards the Doctor.

‘I hope you aren’t trying to trick me,’ the Doctor replies, picking them up and tapping each one in turn with his finger. The coins vibrate and a brief two-note duet fills the cramped space. For a moment neither speak, both moved to other memories by the sound.

Doctor Zero holds them to the light, the clean discs incongruous with his sallow skin. ‘My apologies,’ he says, handing the jar over quickly, hoping no change will be asked for. ‘And if you have any other needs, don’t hesitate to come back.’

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads

| First Impressions |

It’s impossible not to fall in love with Newman’s writing style. Even from the opening paragraphs the flow of his words and the lyrical construction of his sentences drew me deep into its pages and refused to let me go. The mystery and tension is palpable, the world a dark unknown, and the characters ever more so. This is one novel which already has me hooked.

First impressions? Breathtaking. If The Vagrant continues in the vein in which it started I have high expectations of it being an outstanding and incredibly memorable read.

Fingers crossed.

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

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Review: Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan

Occupy Me

by Tricia Sullivan

Science Fiction | Fantasy | 266 Pages | Published by Gollancz in 2016

| Rating |

This book was received from Netgalley in return for an honest review

As soon as I finished Occupy Me, the latest novel from sci-fi author Tricia Sullivan, I knew that I would have a hard time writing a review for it. At its best, Occupy Me is a beautiful, twisted and chaotic novel which sings with wonderful prose and an obvious depth of skill and imagination. At its worse, however, it is confusing, utterly strange and left me at times thinking ‘what was the point?’

Written in a distinctive voice, with a healthy dose of imagination, Sullivan’s talents as a writer are undeniable. However, this is a book which I can only imagine will be loved or loathed in equal measure by those who embark on unravelling those mysteries which are held between its pages. I’m afraid that after a promising start, by it’s conclusion, my feelings fell more in line with the latter.

A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world. Breathtaking SF from a Clarke Award-winning author.

Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over.

And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.

Tricia Sullivan returns to the genre with a book that will define the conversation within the genre and will show what it is capable of for years to come. This is the best book yet from a writer of exceedingly rare talent who is much loved in the genre world.

Sullivan paints a strange picture of a world where angels nudge humanity in a favourable direction and which is coloured by both the innocence and the disenchantment of the protagonists. These protagonists – one angel: Pearl; and one doctor: Kisi Sorle – spin the narrative into something akin to a chase across the globe, where aims are not always clear and the hunter and the hunted are often interchangeable. This is a novel where, should it be undertaken, the utmost attention should be paid to the very least of strings lest the reader get mired in the cacophony of madcap themes and schemes which undoubtedly unfold the moment one’s attention drops.

Occupy Me, however, benefits from an assortment of strange, repulsive and somewhat amusing characters who, whilst providing a diverse cast, failed to make me truly care for any by its conclusion. Unfortunately, with little connection to the majority of the cast, it became increasingly difficult to care about their place in the narrative even when I understood what was going on at all. But whilst these may not have been characters I ‘liked’, they were all rather interesting, if not entirely bizarre, and often became the driving force behind the plot, heaping moments of excitement and utter confusion on the reader in equal measure.

And not least Pearl. An angel whose memories of her past are lost and whose present and future are uncertain, Pearl is an oddity in this world and beyond. Her interactions are strange and amusing, her view of the world is both innocent and all too knowing, and her life is entwined with mystery and a sense of the unknown. Her attachment to ‘the briefcase’ and her failed attempts at its retrieval are, when not entirely confusing, some of the most nonsensical, absurd and enjoyable moments in the novel, and her almost alien composition keep the level of intrigue and mystery at a peak throughout.

Dr. Kisi Sorle on the other hand is a good man who, in a strange case of possession and an unusual attachment to a certain briefcase, finds himself complicit in murder, crime and other nefarious acts. In his – or rather the other his’ – attempt at causing instrumental global change, the world as we know it is broken apart in a torrent of chaos, flashes of bright light and the apparition of prehistoric monsters at inconvenient moments.  The strange which surrounds Dr. Sorle is entirely more my cup of tea and his chapters, whilst equal in absurdity, were entirely more comprehensible and provided welcome intervals throughout the novel.

However, it would be an unfair review to say there were no parts of this novel which I enjoyed from start to finish, including an interesting play in perspective writing which made for one of the highlights of the novel. These sections, written in second person perspective (an idea which would usually give me nightmares), were some of the most enjoyable chapters and their increase in frequency would have been of benefit throughout. Similarly, Sullivan’s prose is relatively distinctive and is one of the few novels I’ve felt compelled to read in an American voice. Her passages are often marked by interesting, amusing description and surprising observations, and Sullivan’s obvious love for the strange is something which I would be eager to read in her future work.

Despite these aspects of the narrative which I enjoyed all the way through, a lack of clarity and a firm sense of confusion seemed to grip me by its end. The strange questions raised throughout the novel failed to yield the answers I was so desperate to find out; the science came with little explanation and even less sense; and the characters shifted from being interesting if a little strange to being almost unbearably confusing. This novel, which began with an intriguing and incredibly readable opening chapter, started to weigh heavily over its course and became something of a chore to read by its conclusion. Occupy me is, altogether, a book which has left me in more than one state of confusion.

Whilst Occupy Me may not have been the read I had hoped it would be, and whilst it may not have been the best introduction to Tricia Sullivan,  there were still positives and enjoyable moments to pull from its pages. I may have felt a little too much relief as I drew to its conclusion but, you never know, it may just take you by surprise. Be open to the strange and the strange may just open up to you… just take care that the strange in question isn’t a briefcase.

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Bookish Beats: Bonobo – Black Sands

Bookish BeatsMusic, much like literature, has the power to drive your imagination; it can lift the soul and create real emotion.This is Bookish Beats, a feature which will showcase some of the soundtracks which have enriched the worlds I’ve found between the pages. 

Black Sands


Listen to with:

An atmospheric science fantasy

Such as:

Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer

Black Sands is the fourth studio album from Bonobo, the stage name for musician and DJ Simon Green. Following on from the success of his previous three albums, Black Sands, with its combination of electronic beats, world music – in particular its eastern and afrobeat inspired tracks – and jazz, is a beautifully composed chillout album which succeeds in transporting you to another place.

Black Sands opens with Prelude, a beautiful and soaring track whose violin melody exhibits the eastern influence which is drawn throughout the rest of the album. This atmospheric melody is similarly picked up by other tracks and remains one of my favourite Bonobo tracks to date. Kiara samples Prelude to maximum effect, using electronic beats and distorted vocals to create an addictive track which retains the beauty and atmosphere of the original whilst adding dynamism and pace to an otherwise perfect melody. Similarly, Kong uses a repetitive melody which continues to build on the atmosphere in a supremely chilled out track which resonates with positive beats.

Eyesdown introduces some vocals into the mix with the soulful sounds of Andreya Triana, whose vocals are featured in a number of tracks throughout the album. With its repetitive and paced beat and electronic underscore, Eyesdown is another track which instantly takes you out of this world. Triana’s vocals return in The Keeper, a track which succeeds in slowing the pace of the album right down; and again in Stay the Same, which showcases the beautiful tone of Triana’s voice in this jazz and soul inspired track.

Black Sands builds on the success of these tracks with a number of instrumentals which set the tone and pace of the album, introducing new themes and diverting it where necessary. El ToroWe Could Forever and Animals are upbeat, jazz influenced tracks which revel in their own beat. 1009 uses traditional electronic beats to create a dance inspired track which remains tied to the rest of the album through the use of a steady electronic violin overtone.

All in Forms is another favourite from this album; an upbeat track which retains a haunting quality through sampled vocals which create an eerie and distorted atmosphere, both complementing and setting themselves apart from the rest of the track. This atmosphere is picked up again in Black Sands, the titular and closing track of the album; a beautiful, slow and haunting track which has an old world quality to it, playing off a sad melody against a positive beat.

This is a beautiful chillout album which provides a wonderful backdrop to reading. I wouldn’t normally have paired an album with such a positive overtone with a heady and atmospheric book such as Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer, but its success in transporting you to another world only emphasised the strange of this novel. They say opposites attract, I guess they’re right.

Favourite track

01 – Prelude

Top track for action

02 – Kiara

Top track for tension

08 – All in Forms

Top track for emotion

12 – Black Sands



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Review: Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer


Book One of The Southern Reach Trilogy

by Jeff VanderMeer

Science Fiction| Fantasy | 195 Pages | Published by Fourth Estate in 2014

| Rating |

Imagine, if you will, that you are lost within an alien landscape. You do not know whether you have left this earth or crossed through an alternative dimension, or whether you yet remain in a strange forgotten corner of the world. The only thing which connects you to the rest of humanity is a journal. A journal of a woman whose name you do not know, whose life is slowly unfolding as you turn the cracked and brittle pages, and whose fate will yet remain a mystery at its close.

Annihilation is a strange, disquieting and eerily beautiful novel which takes the reader on an expedition into Area X; where those who enter leave changed, if they leave at all. This is a tale of discovery and quiet observation, a preternatural mystery which should be slowly savoured until you are nothing but lost in the wilds of VanderMeer’s imagination.

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

Annihilation follows the expedition of an unnamed protagonist, the biologist, as she journeys into Area X, a mysterious and extensive partition of land under an apparent imposed quarantine. Previous expeditions have entered but all have returned altered, if they returned at all.

Together with a psychologist, an anthropologist and a surveyor, the twelfth expedition makes its way into this strange and mystifying land only to find that danger is as likely to come from within as without; no one remains the same in Area X. With towers that spiral into the earth, strange cries in the night and creatures straight out of a fever dream, finding a way home might be the least of their problems.

Annihilation is a quiet flight of (science) fantasy across uncharted territory; a novel which slowly draws you into a world of sinister discovery.  Area X is a vast and mysterious zone which takes on an almost alien appearance; its utter unfamiliarity creating a heady and foreboding atmosphere which weighs heavily throughout. VanderMeer’s writing is effortlessly engaging, leading the reader one step at a time into this strange, hypnotic and almost hallucinogenic world which, whilst not overtly involved, rides a line of tension from beginning to end.

Throughout the novel Area X appears overwhelmingly large, but despite this impression the narrative remains confined to a comparatively small zone which the expedition is reticent to leave. Whilst the necessity for staging the narrative in this relatively small area is somewhat apparent, my own imagination was straining at these invisible borders, desperate to discover more of the land and its utterly strange inhabitants. But if it was a ploy to make me want to read book two, it worked! VanderMeer has set me on a voyage of discovery which I am determined to see through.

Our unnamed protagonist is a thoughtful, analytical woman whose perspective of quiet observation and discovery make her an engaging character. Whilst this works in the favour of the biologist, we gain little perspective on the supplementary characters beyond her observations. Her tendency to watch rather than communicate means we never establish any meaningful connection to the other members of the expedition and care little for them when events conspire against them. This does, however, add to the air of mystery and tension; anyone is capable of anything, everyone is disposable and no one is safe.

VanderMeer’s first foray into Area X is a beautiful, subtle and incredibly atmospheric read which resonates with a sense of the unknown and the unknowable. His lyrical writing is saturated with the strange, forming a sinister and other-worldly tale which becomes increasingly difficult to put down. Whilst I would have preferred a little more action throughout the narrative and a more climactic, defined conclusion, the story remained absorbing throughout and the beauty of VanderMeer’s writing more  than made up for it. This is a tale of quiet enjoyment. Of the strange. Of dreams and of nightmares.If you like your science fantasy subtle and eerie, and wish to venture into the unknown, then Annihilation might just be the book for you. This is a novel which diverted all of my expectations and still managed to impress. Jeff VandeerMeer may be a new addition to my bookshelves but I imagine he’ll be there to stay.

Bookish Beats Suggestion
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Review: Down Station by Simon Morden

Sci Fi Month 2015

Down Station

by Simon Morden

Science Fantasy | 323 Pages | To be published by Gollancz in February 2016

| Rating |

This book was received from Netgalley in return for an honest review

Initially I requested this book because.. well.. it has a pretty cover! However, after attending the Gollancz Book Festival in Manchester and seeing a very funny Simon Morden on the panel, I couldn’t wait to crack this book open. Down Station is a novel about fresh starts and new beginnings, about bravery and loyalty and the nightmares that haunt us, and the determination of the human spirit. This is a sweeping science fantasy which harks back to genre traditions and takes the reader into a world of strange magics and even stranger creatures.

A small group of commuters and tube workers witness a fiery apocalypse overtaking London. They make their escape through a service tunnel. Reaching a door they step through…and find themselves on a wild shore backed by cliffs and rolling grassland. The way back is blocked. Making their way inland they meet a man dressed in a wolf’s cloak and with wolves by his side. He speaks English and has heard of a place called London – other people have arrived here down the ages – all escaping from a London that is burning. None of them have returned. Except one – who travels between the two worlds at will. The group begin a quest to find this one survivor; the one who holds the key to their return and to the safety of London.

And as they travel this world, meeting mythical and legendary creatures, split between North and South by a mighty river and bordered by The White City and The Crystal Palace they realise they are in a world defined by all the London’s there have ever been.

Reminiscent of Michael Moorcock and Julian May this is a grand and sweeping science fantasy built on the ideas, the legends, the memories of every London there has ever been.

Down Station follows the tale of a group of multi-ethnic Londoners who find themselves transported to another world – Down – following a fiery encounter whilst working on the London Underground. For some, Down provides a chance for them to escape their pasts, escape the expectations of others and give them a new start in a land where anything may just be possible. For others, Down is hell and they will do anything they can to get back to London and the world that they know.

From the opening pages, Down Station sets a pace which is maintained throughout the novel. With barely a dull moment and an open ending which seems to yell sequel, this novel is a refreshing  and somewhat whimsical read. However, there were elements of the narrative which could have used a little more depth and explanation. The overriding danger which quite literally exploded into the opening chapters dissipated upon our company’s arrival in Down. Though there were plenty of dangers present in this strange new world – eaten by a monstrous fish? Sure! Carried off by a hungry eagle? Why not! – the narrative lacked the urgency and desperation that perhaps it should have had.

The world of Down, however, is certainly a captivating place which is portrayed in beautiful short passages of description. The similarities to an Earth of the past are quite apparent and though strange beasts and plants were hinted at if not described outright, I would have preferred Down’s otherworldliness to have been more apparent. Having said that, this is a world which is accessed by a portal from our own so perhaps a sense of familiarity was the intention all along.

The magic system Morden has created certainly makes up for any similarities to our own world but, again, the danger could have been turned up a notch. This is a world where, if you have the ability, anything is possible – you can be whoever you want to be, do whatever you want to do – but not without paying a price. Either you take control of your powers or they will certainly take control of you. The times when our protagonists were confronted by this strange magic certainly made for interesting reading.

The most intriguing aspect of this magic system, however, has to be its worldbuilding element. This is a world powered by magic, a magic which runs along lines of power which connect one portal to another. It is at these intersections that Down starts to respond to its inhabitants and the magic truly happens. Castles, fortresses, towns and villages spring up in righteous glory from the earth or fall into rot and ruin until they disappear into decay. Simon Morden has created something that sits well in the fantasy genre but has a distinctly unique feel to it which I only hope will continue to grow in future novels.

Down Station also has a whole host of characters to sink our teeth into too (if you so wish). Our main protagonists are Mary and Dalip, who are both incredibly likeable but in completely contrasting ways. Even Mary’s verbal diarrhoea when it came to f-bombing only serves to make her a more believable character.  Morden manages to depict their personalities incredibly well by including their thoughts and beliefs throughout the narrative and both these characters have something very distinctive and unique in their portrayal.

The secondary characters could perhaps have done with a little more attention as, though they featured heavily throughout the novel, it felt like we never got to learn much about their lives or motivations. Their snapshot depictions were enough to keep me reading but these intriguing hints only left me wanting more! The villains of the piece also suffered from the ‘lack of danger’ present in parts of the plot and, even though they were ruthless and dangerous, they almost felt devoid of both ruthlessness and danger. This, however, did not stop it from being an absorbing read. All the right elements were there, I just wanted more!

Down Station is a fun and interesting read which I zipped through in no time at all! Though there were elements of the novel which I felt could have used a bit more depth, this didn’t spoil my enjoyment and I’m sure fans of both science fiction and fantasy will find enough to keep them happy! I’ll certainly be on the look out for more books by Simon Morden… and perhaps next time I can get one I can get signed!

What are your feelings for science fantasy? Do you enjoy the crossover between genres?

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