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Gideon the Ninth


I read Gideon the Ninth by New Zealand author Tamsyn Muir after hearing many great reviews for this magic-induced, science-fiction adventure.
Gideon the Ninth focuses on the central character of Gideon from the Ninth House, an orphan raised alongside the ruling heir, the extraordinary necromancer, Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House. Harrowhark is a powerful necromancer but like all those in the ruling Houses, the talent wield such magic has a physical cost. The necromancers are protected by their swordweilding cavaliers.
The Ninth House is the last of the great ruling Houses and when the Emperor Undying calls the representatives forth, Harrowhark Nonagesimus seizes the oppurtunjty to rescue her crumbling House, it’s future bleaker than the skeletons that keep the illusion of a prosperous House alive. But Harrowhark finds herself with a problem. The Ninth have no cavalier and the only swordsman capable of defending Harrowhark is the military trained Gideon. For her own part, Gideon has tried to escape the Ninth House countless times and being indebted to serve Harrowhark and protect her is less than appealing. In the end, to survive, both Harrowhark and Gideon must unite forces and mascquerade before the challenge the Emperor sets forth. The necromancer among the Nine Houses who succeeds and defeats the challenges put before them and their cavalier, becomes an immortal necromancer, capable of wielding the combined powers of necromancer and cavalier, able to stand alongside the Emperor in battle.
It is not unsurprising that Harrowhark and Gideon discover many secrets best left buried and learn the darkest truth about the Empire, each other and themselves. To succeed, both must work together and the uneasy alliance soon becomes a firmer friendship built on the decades in each other’s vicinity. The truth of Harrowhark’s true power remains unknown and the true parentage of Gideon is another mystery which will aid them both in the dangerous battles of wits and lies to outmanoeuvre the necromancers and cavaliers of the other Houses.
I throughly enjoyed the fast-pace of Gideon the Ninth and the witty, refreshing characters. The world-building is solid and intriguing. I can’t wait for the next instalment. A highly recommended read!

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City of Lies

I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me . . .”

City of Lies, Sam Hawke

One of my belated book reviews is the debut Fantasy novel City of Lies by Australian author Sam Hawke.
The opening line is the best hook for a novel of political intrigue, murder, mystery and the social disquiet that fill the once peaceful city of Silasta. The story revolves around three unusual protagonists, the irresponsible and unprepared heir to the Chancellory, his quiet best friend Jovan, also the master of Poisons whose family duty has been protecting the life of Chancellor by consuming all food and drink intended for the ruler. The last of the group is Jovan’s intelligent but physically frail sister Kalina, damaged by the poisons training her brother withstood, Kalina relies on her education and intellect.
The three friends represent the next generation of Silasta and are not yet initiated into the secrets, policies or threats that are directed at the mighty trade city. When the Chancellor and Jovan’s uncle die prematurely, Silasta is immediately besieged by an unknown military force and rumours of a secret sect within the populous emerge, rebel groups intent on overthrowing the ruling classes. Jovan and Kalina must now uncover the truth behind the murder of their uncle and the Chancellor before the city falls to the outside forces and try to get word to the commander of the army when all routes from the city are closed.
City of Lies is a story of intrigue within the ruling classes, the need to uncover the truth of a history kept hidden and the struggle for Jovan and Kalina to keep their friend, the new and unprepared Chancellor alive long enough for the city to be rescued by their returning army. The siblings uncover many truths that had been deliberately hidden from them and the principles of equality they believed the city stood for seems false and the uprising awakens the angered ancient forces of the land, Silasta must be genuinely united if it is to survive.

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Circe

I recently read Circe, a historical fantasy by Madeline Miller, a retelling and exploration of the maligned figure in Ancient Greek mythology, the witch Circe.

Circe follows the unusual female figure of Ancient Greek literature, the witch daughter of the Titan god Helios, exiled to Aiaia by Olyimpium Zeus. The details of Circe’s strangely mortal-like voice, her yellow Titan eyes and seemingly lack of powerful gifts make her unwanted and taunted among the Titans and Olympians alike. Yet Circe raises her brother from infancy and it is he who discovers the hidden powers of the Titan and Nyrad heritage. Aeëtes later becomes the infamous god, creator of the Golden Fleece, father of Medea and challenged by Jason and the Argonauts. Their sister Pasiphaë is wed to King Minos of Crete, the extravagant courts of Knossos later falling to Pasiphaë’s own vengeance when she gives birth to the monstrous Minotaur. Circe’s gifts for witchcraft are later revealed when she transforms mortals into gods and rival nymph Cilla into a monster.

Exiled on the island of Aeaea, Circe enters the legendary heroic tale of Odysseus who, shipwrecked on the Isle, stays for several years on the course of his travels back to Ithaca. Unbeknown to Odysseus, Circe bears him a child and earns the wrath of the powerful Olympian goddess Athena, Odysseus patron and protector. The prophecy of Odysseus death relates to his son and desperate to protect her child, Circe obscures the Isle in a powerful illusion, keeping all the gods away except the trickster Hermes and challenges Trygion, the ancient god of the deep sea for a weapon powerful enough to inflict pain upon the immortals.

Circe was vividly described and detailed, the explanations of Ancient Greek mythology and literature were wonderful. As a former scholar of Ancient Greek and Roman history and mythology, I loved the originality of Miller’s witch Circe while still adhering to the foundations of the broader mythologies. A surprising and exotic storytelling! Definitely well recommended!

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The Institute

I read The Institute by US author Stephen King after many reviews discussed the social issues within the novel and the similarities with the psychologically challenging novels Firestarter and Carrie, both sharing with The Institute, children with powers of telekinesis and telepathy.

The Institute focuses on twelve year old Luke Ellis, a boy of exceptional intellect who is kidnapped one night from his home, his parents murdered. Luke is taken to an isolated and secret government research center known only by those inside as ‘The Institute’. Luke has very a minor talent with telekinesis which like many of the other children in the The Institute labels him a “Pink”, the more expendable children exposed to riskier experiments designed to provoke greater talents in telepathy or telekinesis. Within ‘Front-Half’ of The Institute, Luke meets Kalisha, Nick, George, Iris, and ten-year-old Avery Dixon who are all, like him, kidnapped children, now orphaned. The true horror of The Institute is not just the experiments or dissociated manner of the staff, Luke learns that ‘Back-Half’ is the real horror of the secret experiments. Once children have undergone and survived the initial experiments of Front-Half, they are quickly transferred to Back-Half where no one hears from them again.

Luke’s intellect and kindness helps gain him a friend on the inside operations at The Institute. Through this network, Luke plans an escape and a way to expose the inhuman experiments and treatment of the children kidnapped from their families, lives forever changed. The secrets Luke discovers are dangerous to The Institute and the truth more horrific than anyone realised.

The Institute is a strong novel about our modern social condition and the ease with which society accepts actions for the ‘greater good’. This is the social context that Stephen King explores with detailed historical references to Facist and Communist ideologies. The Institute does have many elements reminiscent of Firestarter but is hard-hitting in its delivery where it shares the emotional weight of social injustice with The Green Mile. Ultimately, I found The Institute without true comparison. A must-read novel.

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The Bee and the Orange Tree

I read The Bee and the Orange Tree by Australian author Melissa Ashley. A wonderful historical fiction set during the early stages of the French Revolution but focused on the female literary circles surrounding Baroness Marie Catherine D’Aulnoy established as an author in her own right after successful publication career of several novels and fairytale collections. The darker, more disturbing undertone throughout the novel is that of female oppression during the reign of the French King Louis XIV, where the fairytales of young heroes and heroines overcoming impossible odds is a glittering hope for the oppressed women and subjugated peasants of France.

The Bee and the Orange Tree follows Angelina, Marie Catherine’s daughter, raised in a convent with barely any contact with her mother or father. Angelina is recalled from her only known world of the convent, to aid her ageing mother as an assistant. Soon, Angelina finds herself among the literary salons of Paris, attended by some of the most talented writers and poets but also many wealthy or noble families. Angelina is disheartened to discover the popularization of the craft and art her mother worked hard to establish herself and which Angelina greatly enjoys. Angelina is quickly confined by the existence of a respectable woman, suddenly missing the relative freedom of the convent especially as Marie Catherine has not written a single word after suffering an unusual form of writers block.

At one literary circle, Angelina is introduced to her mother’s protege, a young talented writer named Alphonse. Although unsure of her feelings toward Alphonse, Angelina is soon aware that Alphonse’s attempts to court her are only aimed at gaining Marie Catherine as a potential benefactor. This revelation hardens Angelina’s mistrust of Parisian society, which only deepens further when Marie Catherine’s good friend, Nicola Tiquet is accused of adultery and attempted murder. The subsequent trial of Nicola Tiquet, an independently wealthy and powerful woman without the need of a husband to support herself, becomes a focal point for Angelina’s realization of the oppressive nature of French society and the discrimination against women and any of unequal status. Against this is the greater landscape of the early French Revolution and the the determination of the powerful to hold onto power. Throughout these dramatic social challenges, Angelina learns disheartening truths about both her parents, discovering both are willing to sacrifice for their own aims and Angelina soon finds she has more in common with Alphonse than she imagined.

The Bee and the Orange Tree was an engrossing, complex historical fiction where the stories of each of the characters were as much the focus as the development of the fairytale literature and women’s rights in France during the eighteenth century. A wonderful read and highly recommended!

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A Darker Shade of Magic

I had read many reviews of A Darker Shade of Magic by US author Victoria Schwab and in October 2019, I decided to delve into this popular series. I thoroughly enjoyed the world-building and unique characters of the first book in this trilogy.

A Darker Shade of Magic follows Kell, one of two last magicians capable of stepping between three alternate realities. These parallel realities are connected by a city called London and, while magic exists in varying strengths throughout all worlds, it is the fourth world which was the strongest. This fourth reality, known as Black London was consumed by a dangerous magic that overwhelmed the inhabitants and the magicians. When this magic began to leak into the closest Londons, White then Red London, Black London was sealed off to prevent the spread. Now only White and Red London possess any forms of magic while Grey London has virtually none.

Kell, is a magician bound to serve the royal family of Red London but adopted and raised almost like a son but his power as a magician requires his service as a messenger between the ruling monarchs of Red, White and Grey London alongside Holland, his counterpart in White London. During an unscheduled and illegal trading escapade to Grey London, Kell is tricked into smuggling a relic from Black London into Grey London. Events soon spiral out of control, the dangerous and possessive magic from Black London begins to carve swathes through the inhabitants of Grey London. Kell inadvertently becomes entangled with Delilah Bard, a young woman, thief and vagabond, who steals the relic but possessing surprising resistance to its effects. Soon, Kell and Delilah are embroiled in a dangerous game to clear Kell’s good name in Red London and stop the spread of the corruptive magic from Black London by returning the relic and resealing Black London. Throughout this ordeal, Kell and Delilah try to outmanoeuvre Holland, the magician from White London.

A Darker Shade of Magic was an intriguing first instalment of a trilogy rich in world-building and detail. I enjoyed it immensely. A great read!

Writing

Salvador Dali Illustrated Alice in Wonderland

I just discovered the 150th Anniversary edition of Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carol published by Princeton University Press is an illustrated version by artist Salvador Dali. Absolutely stunning illustrations that are pure magic!

You can buy hardback and paperback copies of this gorgeous edition through most bookstores and online stores at affordable prices.

Recent Reads, Writing

Zodiac Themed Anthology Series

I’m currently reading the second volume in a 12 part series, a Zodiac themed anthology produced by Aussie Speculative Fiction. Each month, a new anthology featuring that month’s zodiac sign will be released. This January-February, I’m reading Aquarius and because it’s also my own star sign. The Aquarius anthology features many unique interpretations of the water-carrier star sign by Australian and New Zealand speculative fiction writers. You can read more about the Aquarius volume here.

I have also contributed a short story to the Taurus Anthology which will be released in a few months. I also wrote a brief post on my inspiration and research behind the short story.

If you’re interested in reading the Aussie Speculative Fiction Zodiac Anthologies, you can find copies the Aquarius and Capricorn Anthologies through Books2Read with direct links to your preferred bookstore.

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Muse of Nightmares

One of the best recent reads was the Muse of Nightmares by US author Laini Taylor. Following the events that brought the prequel Strange the Dreamer (read review here) to a dramatic conclusion, Lazlo Strange has transformed into one of the godspawn, awakening his dormant power to mould the magical blue metal Mesarthim. In a final desperate challenge against the vengeful Minya, Sarai was lost to the living, tethered to the world only by Minya’s power over the souls of the dead. Now Lazlo is caught between his need to save Weep and Sarai from Minya’s dark plans of a vengeful reckoning of those who slaughtered the gods and left Minya to care for the only children she could save.
Lazlo must negotiate the new tension of a strained hostage situation, Minya keeping Sarai’s ghost tethered as a bargaining piece to use against Lazlo and the godslayer, a tool to manipulate them both. But even as a ghost Sarai finds she is not entirely powerless and with Lazlo and her siblings help, she tries to understand the damage done to Minya through her dreams, discovering the girl has been caught in a traumatic loop of the day the Citadel fell to the godslayer and the handful of children she could save amid in the carnage as the citizens of Weep took vengeance against their oppressors. In uncovering the dark past that holds Minya fixed in place, her mind fractured into moments of that fateful day, Sarai and Lazlo begin to learn what the gods who visited Weep truly were, the history of metalsmiths wielding Mesarthim and the truth of the elusive white bird and an overlapping echo of another pair of siblings, moulded and wrought anew by Mesarthim, two sisters who would refused to be parted.
Muse of Nightmares is a complex narrative of many dark and disturbing tales where the characters are as vibrant as the magical city of Weep. Although the story is a much darker theme than the prequel, there is a constant sense of hope that infiltrated the story, offering a glimpse of what might be if Lazlo and Sarai are allowed to succeed in their dreams. I look forward to the next instalment!

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The Blue Rose

Recently, I read The Blue Rose by Australian author Kate Forsyth, a historical fiction novel that spans the French Revolution and the court of Imperial China. The heroine of The Blue Rose is Viviane de Faitaud, the intelligent daughter of the Marquis de Ravoisier. Raised knowing only her father’s displeasure and cruelty, Viviane leads a remarkable but secret life on her family estate, the Château de Belisama-sur-le-Lac in Brittany.
When Viviane’s father falls into gambling debts, he marries a much younger woman and in celebration, the grounds of the Chateau are to be landscaped in the latest English style. David Stronach, a Welshman, arrives at the Chateaux and begins work on the garden immediately.
Determined to make his name in the world, David continues to work at the Chateau despite growing unease between the social classes in France and delayed payments from the Marquis. Viviane befriends David and soon they fall in love, both of them trapped by claustrophobia in having their futures dependent on Viviane’s father, the Marquis. When the Marquis discovers their intentions to flee France together, David is chased from the Chateau grounds and Viviane forced to marry to a much older and wealthy duke to settle her father’s gambling debts. David escapes France as the revolution breaks and news reaches him that Viviane died at the guillotine with Queen Marie Antoinette. Heartbroken and determined to fulfil his promise to Vivane to find the blood red rose reported to grow in China, David joins a British expedition to the Imperial Chinese court to seek the elusive rose.
The Blue Rose is a fabulous historical fiction weaving together a delightful romance, the emotion and chaos of the French Revolution and the social confines of the 17th century. Behind this are the clashing of cultures, French and British and the trading tactics as they make contact with one of the oldest societies in the world and the splendour of Imperial China.