Friday, 24 August 2012

Magic or Madness - Book Review

Magic or Madness is a YA novel by Justine Larbalestier, telling the story of fifteen-year-old Reason Cansino. Reason has been brought up by her mother, Sarafina, moving constantly across Australia in order to elude Reason’s grandmother Esmeralda, who has claimed custody of her. Sarafina has told Reason that Esmeralda performs all kinds of terrible rituals in the name of magic. When Sarafina is taken to hospital, Reason is sent to live with Esmeralda. Reason begins to explore the house, hoping to learn the truth about Esmeralda. However, when she steps through the mysterious back door and into New York, she is forced to wonder if magic might be real after all.

This is a clever book, with more layers to it than I first expected. After the first few chapters I was sure that Sarafina was completely nuts, and that Reason would have to slowly come to terms with the fact that Esmeralda is not the monster Sarafina made her out to be. Sure enough, Sarafina is taken to a hospital for the mentally ill, and Reason finds that Esmeralda’s house is not as Sarafina described it. Esmeralda herself seems completely normal. Then, slowly, a more sinister picture begins to emerge. There really are weird ritual objects hidden around the house. There really is the corpse of Sarafina’s pet cat in the cellar, with its neck slashed. The boy who lives next door seems to believe magic is real and that Reason can use it too. And then Reason steps through the back door into another country and suddenly everything changes.

Sunday, 19 August 2012

From Dark Places - Book Review

From Dark Places is a short story collection by Emma Newman. The stories are mostly very short (three or four pages, usually), and deal with the darker, bizarre side of human nature. These are all character-focussed, subtle, yet deeply moving stories, and often quite funny too, exploring where the magical meets the ordinary, and where supernatural horror connects with the horror of the human mind.

The stories are beautifully written. Emma Newman seems to have a touch for capturing all the little things people do that make them human, their vulnerabilities and quirks, their grief and their humour. All her characters feel completely real and believable, and it is these characters that really drive the stories. The author delivers the messages and the horror within the stories with just the right tone, subtly yet insistently, and with a very good feel for pacing. About two lines in, I was hooked every time. The stories grab hard, and do not let go until the end.

Short Story Sunday

I’ve decided to begin my first regular feature on this blog – *drumroll* – Short Story Sunday!

I absolutely love short stories; they’re something very different from a longer novel or novella, and something very special, too. A short story, naturally, must be briefer than a book. It has to come at the story a little differently, usually focusing more on character, building a world with the slightest, deftest touch, and making expert use of suggestion and symbolism. A short story can relay as much, and in some cases more, than an entire novel. Short stories are also a wonderful medium for exploring new ideas, for taking risks and for blowing genre boundaries completely out of the picture.

And they fit nicely into a lunch break too!

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Babel Fish Challenge

So, you might have heard a lot of talk about DRM lately. DRM stands for Digital Rights Management; it's that digital lock on your ebooks that stops you lending them to a friend, or transferring them from one device to another. It's annoying for readers, and there's evidence to suggest that it actually has no affect on piracy. Because of this, some authors and publishers have been pushing to get rid of it altogether.

And now Tor, the SF/F imprint of Macmillan, has decided to do just that. The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Tor are by no means the first; many smaller publishing houses, and even the Pottermore site (Harry Potter books), have been doing this for some time. But Tor is the first of the publishing 'giants' to take this step, and hopefully others will soon follow suit. Tor's new DRM-free ebooks can be bought directly from their online store. (The link takes you to the UK site. For the US click here)

But what does this have to do with Babel Fish??

Friday, 10 August 2012

Poison - Book Review

Poison, by Chris Wooding, is the story of a sixteen year old girl called Poison whose sister is stolen by phaeries. Poison, unwilling to accept her sister’s disappearance or the changeling left in her place, sets out to find the Phaerie Lord and demand her sister’s return. Poison soon finds herself pitted against weird and terrifying fairytale creatures. When she faces the mysterious figure of the Hierophant, the most powerful of the Lords, she finds herself in a fight to control her own fate, as well as the future of all humanity.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

The Alchemist of Souls - Book Review

The Alchemist of Souls is a fantasy alternate-history by Anne Lyle. Set in Elizabethan England, it follows two characters: the down-on-his-luck swordsman Mal, and Coby, a girl masquerading as a boy, who is working as the tireman of a theatre company. When Mal is hired to protect the Skrayling ambassador during his stay in London, and Coby’s theatre company is to act in a competition in the ambassador’s honour, their lives are drawn together. Meanwhile, something very strange and sinister is going on, something that involves the Skrayling creatures of Viking legend discovered in the New World. As Mal learns more about the Skraylings’ powers, he realises that England’s alliance with the Skraylings may be under threat, and that his own soul is in jeopardy.