book reviews, spoiler free

The Girl the Sea Gave Back by Adrienne Young

Book Review

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The Girl the Sea Gave Back 
by Adrienne Young

Rating: XXXX

Published September 3rd 2019 by Titan Books

“He knew that I’d bring death since the moment he first laid eyes on me. And he was right.”

For as long as she can remember, Tova has lived among the Svell, the people who found her washed ashore as a child and use her for her gift as a Truthtongue. Her own home and clan are long-faded memories, but the sacred symbols and staves inked over every inch of her skin mark her as one who can cast the rune stones and see into the future. She has found a fragile place among those who fear her, but when two clans to the east bury their age-old blood feud and join together as one, her world is dangerously close to collapse.

For the first time in generations, the leaders of the Svell are divided. Should they maintain peace or go to war with the allied clans to protect their newfound power? And when their chieftain looks to Tova to cast the stones, she sets into motion a series of events that will not only change the landscape of the mainland forever but will give her something she believed she could never have again—a home.

I was gifted an early finished copy of The Girl the Sea Gave Back by publisher Titan Books in exchange for an honest review, despite not being blown away by Sky in the Deep, the debut book by the same author I decided to give this second book a go as there defintley felt like potential and the cover and name of the book completely won me over.

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You might remember back in April I reviewed Sky in the Deep (you can find my review here) and I found it really predictable and didn’t hugely enjoy it too much as a result but I am pleased to report the sequel of sorts/companion story The Girl the Sea Gave Back felt like a vast improvement. If you haven’t read Sky in the Deep however do not despair as they can be read as separate books and you do not have to have read Sky in the Deep to understand and follow TGTSGB. I would say, however, that it is beneficial and gives the story much more depth. It is certainly a good story in its own right but I found I was already attached to other characters because of their involvement in the first book, especially Halvard who is a main character this time around and I had already decided I would lay my life down for him in Sky in the Deep.

The Girl the Sea Gave Back, for me at least, defintley benefited from having a little more of a fantasy element to it. The main character, Tova, is a truth tongue, she can communicate (in a way) with the spinners who carve fate into the tree of Udur and thus she can cast runes and use them to determine futures and outcomes. This really gave it a more interesting depth and the fact that Tova from a Kyrr, (a member of a mysterious clan from the headlands who keep to themselves) living among another clan called the Svell made for some brilliant narrative and conflict within as she tried to find her place. I really like that although Tova is young and relatively inexperienced she made smart choices and was an easy character to mesh with and see the world through her eyes.

Halvard is all grown up ten years after the events of Sky in the Deep and he is almost impossible not to love, he’s grown up to be honourable and thoughtful but as one of the first generations to have not seen battle in the fighting seasons, instead being taught merely to fish and hunt instead of fight he sometimes feels he is lesser and not worthy of responsibility placed on him by those around him. He is as wholesome as ever in this companion story and the love I already had for him only grew as he makes hard decisions and proves himself to be who his family and his village already know him to be.

The plot was paced fairly well, with sprinklings of battle here and there which were written very well, being both exciting and easy to follow. There is the smallest sprinkling of romance involved and I was worried that it would be very predictable and irritate me but honestly, it was okay and not made a huge deal of which I think was for the best. I found moments surprised me and I became quite invested in the outcome of all involved, The Girl the Sea Gave Back is a solid and enjoyable read.

 

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book reviews

The Girl in Red

43550676.jpgThe Girl in Red by Christina Henry

Rating: XXXXX

Published June 18th by Titan Books

“She was just a woman trying not to get killed in a world that didn’t look anything like the one she’d grown up in, the one that had been perfectly sane and normal and boring until three months ago.”

It’s not safe for anyone alone in the woods. There are predators that come out at night: critters and coyotes, snakes and wolves. But the woman in the red jacket has no choice. Not since the Crisis came, decimated the population, and sent those who survived fleeing into quarantine camps that serve as breeding grounds for death, destruction, and disease. She is just a woman trying not to get killed in a world that doesn’t look anything like the one she grew up in, the one that was perfectly sane and normal and boring until three months ago.

There are worse threats in the woods than the things that stalk their prey at night. Sometimes, there are men. Men with dark desires, weak wills, and evil intents. Men in uniform with classified information, deadly secrets, and unforgiving orders. And sometimes, just sometimes, there’s something worse than all of the horrible people and vicious beasts combined. 

Red doesn’t like to think of herself as a killer, but she isn’t about to let herself get eaten up just because she is a woman alone in the woods…

You know that author you keep putting off reading? Not in an unkind way, but in an “I WILL get around to reading one of their books” muttered every time you see them because you just know they’re going to be great and you then something comes up and you for whatever reason the thought slips your mind again and again and again. This is Christina Henry for me so when the lovely Julia from Titan Books asked if I wanted to review The Girl in Red by Henry and take part in the Instagram book tour in I jumped at the chance! I love retellings at the best of times but this sounded like a really interesting inspiring take on the Red Riding Hood Story.

I found The Girl in Red to be slightly terrifying, absolutely creepy as heck and wholly addictive. It reminds me a lot of the human element to the earlier episodes of the Walking Dead when you begin to realise it’s not the zombies, or in this case, the cough that are the things you have to watch your back for it’s the survivors, most of who have become desperate or cruel (if they weren’t already) since the crisis. It’s not a unique tale by any means and is a little repetitive and predictable in some places but forgivably so because the real star of this book for me (other than main character Red herself) was the amazing way Henry builds tension. I found I was holding my breath, clenching my teeth and I had trouble reading it in my house alone, at one point my phone rang (a rare occurrence) while I was reading and it was during such a tense moment in the book that I screamed so loudly I woke up my four year old. On the slightly negative side, I did personally find the ending very rushed and a little unsatisfying but the book, even on reflection was no less enjoyable for it.

Red has possibly become one of my favourite fictional characters. She is a fantastic mix of badassery and compassion, she will kill and make tough choices to survive but she doesn’t let herself become dehumanised for it which I found a really refreshing balance, when she has to fatally defend herself she doesn’t relish it, when she has to take supplies she takes what she needs and likes to make sure that there is enough left if someone else needs them etc. Red often overthinks things, often to a fault and often thinks herself round in circles to inaction which is a habit I am also extraordinarily guilty of, so seeing it portrayed in this fantastic character who acknowledged that her obsessive and sometimes paranoid thinking could be debilitating like that felt incredibly eye-opening and has really helped to keep my own obsessive thinking in check by being able to identify it.

Main character Red is also an amputee and obviously, I can’t speak to the accuracy of her experience or identify with it but I found it really enlightening and I hope it helped people who find themselves with prosthetics feel seen and represented as well as hopefully helping to educate others. There is a line that is said in relation to someone question how much Red is capable of due to her amputation and Red replies with “Stop treating me like half a person…I am missing my leg below the knee. My brain is still functioning. I know what I can do and what I can’t.” and this feels SO important and relatable for anyone who is judged, babied and looked down on because they’re differently abled.

The Girl in Red is out in stores and online today!

 

book reviews, book talk, spoiler free

X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga

42423832X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga by Stuart Moore

Rating: XXXX

Published May 14th by Titan Books

“Within her, the power surged. Fiery, unstoppable; ancient and new all at the same time, all barely contained by her desperate will. Fueled by rage, bound for vengence, burning with the primal energies of the universe.”

Piloting a shuttle through a deadly solar flare, Jean Grey saves the X-Men, but is possessed by one of the universe’s most powerful forces–the Phoenix. As she adapts to her new powers, the mutant team launches an assault against the clandestine organization known as the Hellfire Club. Once inside, however, Jean is tricked by the villain Mastermind into betraying her teammates. She becomes first the Hellfire Club’s Black Queen and then Dark Phoenix, as the power to destroy worlds bursts forth uncontrolled. Shooting into deep space, Jean destroys an entire star system, then encounters a cruiser piloted by the spacefaring race the Shi’ar. When the cruiser is obliterated, the Shi’ar queen decrees that the Phoenix must die. But only the X-Men can hope to stop Dark Phoenix, and save Jean Grey.

Growing up one of my favourite things to do was the watch the ever-loving heck out of the animated X-Men show. This was my first real introduction into superheroes, this and the animated Spiderman show, mainly because they both had EPIC openings and are tunes that are basically wired into my DNA at this point. ANYWAY, not only did the animated X-Men show have people with superpowers, it had women and girls with superpowers, (and I was a girl so obviously this meant I could also have superpowers), it had some sweet beautiful angst, amazing romances, hilarious one-liners and some of the most 90’s costumes I have ever seen in my life (and I grew up in the ’90s). This show stole my heart and rocked my world, even more so when The Phoenix and Dark Phoenix story arcs started. I loved that Jean became so incredibly powerful and when she became the Dark Phoenix I have to say it made me feel incredibly empowered and the Dark Phoenix became my first villain/anti-hero obsession and I think very possibly where my love for seriously angsty stories came from.

Years later I had devoured the Phoenix story again in comic form when I was finally old enough to buy and source them myself (my mum didn’t approve back then) and then we got X-Men: The Last Stand and everyone hated it but I ADORED it and although it obviously has some problems I still love the version of the Dark Phoenix we got. Skip ahead and now not only do we have the Dark Phoenix film that just came out (that’s a WHOLE other post trust me) we have also been treated to another Marvel prose story, this one by highly decorated author Stuart Moore and it’s all about Jean and the Phoenix force. To say I was excited is an understatement and thanks to the lovely folks at Titan Books I was gifted a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Not only was this my favourite X-Men story, Stuart Moore’s X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga is an updated retelling as well. I find comic stories can be very subjective, especially the older ones and absolutely the origin stories, they change so much over the years and I think this was a tale that was definitely due an upgrade and when comparing it to the comic version and honestly, it was brought forward perfectly. I had another look through the comics after finishing this book (it’s been a while since my last readthrough) and it’s such a faithful adaption in that we still get all the key moments and beats, even some of the iconic lines are the same they’re just enhanced by being able to look beyond each frame and into the minds of these characters and really get a read on their thoughts and feelings which is fast becoming my favourite thing about these Marvel novelisations.

With a more in-depth look into each character, we also got to see a lot more character development as the story progressed from Scott finally beginning to understand Jean, Jean accepting herself, Xavier owning his mistakes (a rare find) and Logan actually being pretty damn amazing. For me, other than Jean, Logan was one of my favourite characters, he’s somehow rough and animalistic while also being a sweetheart who just respectfully loves this woman so much and he doesn’t make a fuss that she’s with someone else, he just loves her in his own, unobtrusive way and gets on with things while also understanding the hard truths and being able to deal with them and know his own limitations. I’m really glad we got to see this side of the Wolverine in this novel.

Another character I hadn’t expected to have enjoyed so much was also Emma Frost, she always seems to get the eye candy treatment so it was nice to see what her game plan is, how she feels about Shaw and the others as well as the way it seems she feels towards Scott and one of the big differences I noticed was Emma aiding the X-Men briefly for her own reasons but I won’t go into details for fear of spoilers, I just wanted to mention it because I felt it really helped to build a real personality for Emma.

There were some characters who did appear in the Dark Phoenix Saga novelisation that I hadn’t expected to see and that were brief cameos by Peter Parker and Doctor Strange as well as a small chapter featuring a group fo the Avengers. Although they seemed a little out of place and didn’t have any impact on the story at all I did enjoy them turning up, however briefly. In the original comics, we have one frame each for the Fantastic Four and the Silver Surfer as well as Spiderman, Doctor Strange and X-Man turned Avenger Hank Mccoy (Beast). In the true spirit of this being an updated retelling the Avengers we see in the book are the ones we have come to know via the popular films set in the MCU at present and I’m curious if including them was a prerequisite by Marvel themselves to tie it into the success of the MCU at the moment or some personal wish fulfilment by the author in seeing these heroes all truly occupying the same space like we should have seen in the films if it hadn’t been for the rights to the characters being all over the place. Either way, I loved the inclusion, I wanted to be miffed they had no bearing on the story but I honestly couldn’t bring myself to be more than slightly annoyed by it and even that didn’t last long.

I didn’t find much that surprised me but in a faithful retelling that’s to be expected and sometimes welcomed, one thing I did have trouble with was keeping track of some of the action, there would be times when I think I’m following okay and then someone is on the opposite side of the room to where I thought they were or fighting someone completely different, it made sense enough when I stopped and reread the text again but I think some of it was just lost on me.

Overall I enjoyed the book and I feel it’s a fantastic and faithful revival of my favourite story arc. I enjoyed the personal look we got into the characters and I am excited to read more novelisations like this as there are quite a few Marvel storylines, even bigger ones I didn’t get into due to my late-coming to the medium as well as being perplexed by all the different titles, X-Men especially. Another X-Men title, X-Men: Days of Future Past penned by Alex Irvine (he’s written for Blizzard I’m VERY excited) which is out June 25th and you can bet I’ll be reviewing it so keep an eye out.

Is there a comic, tv show or other media you’d like to see get a faithful novelisation or retelling?

book reviews, spoiler free, Uncategorized

The Devouring Gray

Devouring Gray.pngThe Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

Rating: XXXXX

“Being invisible when you used to be seen…it’s like being dead, but no one mourns you.” 

Branches and stones, daggers and bones,
They locked the Beast away.

After the death of her sister, seventeen-year-old Violet Saunders finds herself dragged to Four Paths, New York. Violet may be a newcomer, but she soon learns her mother isn’t: They belong to one of the revered founding families of the town, where stone bells hang above every doorway and danger lurks in the depths of the woods.

Justin Hawthorne’s bloodline has protected Four Paths for generations from the Gray—a lifeless dimension that imprisons a brutal monster. After Justin fails to inherit his family’s powers, his mother is determined to keep this humiliation a secret. But Justin can’t let go of the future he was promised and the town he swore to protect.

Ever since Harper Carlisle lost her hand to an accident that left her stranded in the Gray for days, she has vowed revenge on the person who abandoned her: Justin Hawthorne. There are ripples of dissent in Four Paths, and Harper seizes an opportunity to take down the Hawthornes and change her destiny-to what extent, even she doesn’t yet know.

The Gray is growing stronger every day, and its victims are piling up. When Violet accidentally unleashes the monster, all three must band together with the other Founders to unearth the dark truths behind their families’ abilities—before the Gray devours them all.

After hearing about this book going around Twitter I became quickly intrigued by the creepy aesthetic and almost political intrigue based in a small town where four founding families are primarily in power, respected and revered. A lot of people referred to it as a mix of Riverdale and Stranger things, of which I have seen neither but had heard good things about. I was gifted this book by Titan in exchange for an honest review and I was so excited when it arrived, the UK paperback as a chilling cover design alongside hot pink sprayed edge pages! Not to mention as an extra spooky treat there were four tarot cards including at important parts to do with each card already placed inside the book which I kept in place and collected as I read through to give the book an extra dimension.

The Devouring Gray is aptly named because I absolutely devoured this book. I was slowed down a little by the fact I didn’t read it much at night because it was mega spooky in places but I found any spare time I could to read it during the day. There were just so many great aspects to this book I had trouble putting it down.

One thing I got excited about early on is all the fantastic rep in this book. There were not one but two bisexual characters who both mention attractions to same and different genders with one such character not having even experienced an actual relationship with anyone before and all of this is an absolute breath of fresh air in my queer lungs because both happen so rarely in books, let alone together and it is a GIFT. Speaking of gifts, arguably my favourite character, Harper Carlisle is also representing with some disability rep by being amazing with a sword and still managing to kick butt all while being her awesome self and missing one arm from the elbow down. I could honestly talk about her forever.

I don’t say this a lot but, I LOVED all of the romance spread throughout the book too. It’s not super obvious and although it’s threaded through the plot in places it doesn’t take it over and I find all the different dynamics interesting enough that I’m always interested in more and I enjoy the little moments we get here and there whereas often in a lot of books I can’t wait for said moments to end. I’m fully invested enough now that I would read a sequel to find out what happens with who for that alone at this point (although I am looking forward to the second book for other reasons as well of course).

The plot is twisty and I found myself constantly second-guessing myself and being unsure who to trust and/or believe thanks to four different POV’s not all of which are clued up on events or what I could call, particularly reliable narrators and that all just adds a whole other twisty angle to it that really got me turning pages like my life depended on it. The Devouring Gray is a familiar kind of story but author Christine makes it her own. This will be a book I don’t think I’ll be shutting up about for a while and now desperately await its sequel!

 

 

 

 

spoiler free, tbr thursday

April TBR

After March taking forever I’m somehow still in denial we’re now into April, it’s crazy. This was meant to go up yesterday on the first Thursday of the month like usual but it didn’t occur to me what day it was until it was over half gone so although a TBR Friday doesn’t have quite the same ring to it you get the idea!

Some people on Twitter etc have dubbed this month ARC April and although I’m not officially taking part in anything for that I am using April to try and get through my ever growing backlog or ARCs and early finished copies to help give me a nice clean slate, clear some physical shelf space and hopefully improve my currently terrible NetGalley rating! So these are the books I’m planning to read!

Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young
This is my current read and feels very Vikings meets Game of Thrones so far, I’m enjoying it but it does feel a little predictable at this point, not quite done yet though so we shall see. Gifted to me by Titan books in exchange for an honest review.

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman
It may look gorgeous with it’s pink sprayed edges but this book sounds seriously spooky and I’m kind of looking forward to it freaking me out a little.  Gifted to me by Titan books in exchange for an honest review.

No Way by SJ Morden
I read and reviewed One Way last year and the ending was left wide open but I had no idea until about two weeks before publication last month when my review schedule was already full to the brim so I’m so glad to finally be able to get around to it at last. Gifted to me by Gollancz in exchange for an honest review.

The Everlasting Rose by Dhonielle Clayton
Much like the situation with No Way, I read the first book The Belles last year and was swamped during its publication date this year. Although I’ve been a little reserved about reviewing the second one I definitely want to get it read and see how the sequel pans out. Gifted to me by Gollancz in exchange for an honest review.

Empress of all Seasons by Emiko Jean
One of the problems of being a mood reader is when you get books like this one that sound totally up your street, look gorgeous etc but when you get them you just can’t get yourself into the right frame of mind to read them and that can really ruin the experience so I’m hoping that now the time is finally right. Gifted to me by Gollancz in exchange for an honest review.

Revenger by Alastair Reynolds
A bit of an older book but with the sequel, Shadow Captain having recently been released I was sent a finished copy of this first book in the series to try out as it sounds like a great fit for me and would love to get in the sci-fi mood ready for Aurora Rising in early May. Gifted to me by Gollancz in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve been a bit behind with my reading of late so I’m really hoping April is a good reading month! What are you reading right now and how are you enjoying it?

Bookish Discuussions, q&a, spoiler free

James Lovegrove Q&A

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It’s been two days since the release of Firefly: The Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove, (you can check out my spoiler free review here) and today I’m excited to share with you a Q&A I did with the main himself about his experiences writing his newest release.

First off let me say, I absolutely loved The Magnificent Nine, it completely took me back to the days of watching Firefly on SyFy, the show had such a particular feel and quality to it that I think you’ve really managed to capture. One of the things that, I think really helped was your use of language, a really unique aspect in the show and one that I think you’ve managed to embody brilliantly in your writing for this book. How did you find getting into that particular style? Not just the use of signature words from the show such as ruttin, shiny and gorram but the inclusion of the chinese phrases and the way the words flow in such a way that makes it instantly recognisable to a lot of fans.

Thanks. I’m glad you enjoyed the book so much .At the risk of sounding cocky, I found
it fairly easy getting into the Firefly idiom. That’s because I’ve watched every episode
and the movie at least three times, and because I love the show. The dialogue is this
delightful mix of the florid and the earthy. I was already used to writing Victorian-style
dialogue from my Sherlock Holmes pastiches, so all I had to do was add some Western-
movie grit to that. It all flowed from there. Honestly, The Magnificent Nine was perhaps
the most fun I’ve ever had with a novel. I polished off the first draft in about four
weeks. It was paid fan-fiction, basically.

Do you have a favourite Chinese curse word or phrase from the series or that you used in your book and did you get to make up any of your own?

While writing the book I put out a distress call on social media, and luckily a Chinese-
speaking Facebook friend, Yen Ooi, came to my rescue. She gamely helped me with
translating several fairly obscene phrases that I came up with, most memorably “beat
me with a wet and soft sheep cock”. From the existing Firefly pinyin lexicon, I think my
favourite is “Holy mother of God and all her wacky nephews”, which crops up in “Our
Mrs Reynolds”.

Although the language is a big help in giving your book the same feel as the show on which its based another thing that struck me was just how well you captured the feel of each of the characters, did you do anything in particular to find the actions and voices of these characters and their rhythm among themselves and each other?

The characters were so well-sketched and clearly defined in the show that it wasn’t hard
re-creating them on the page. The trick was staying true to the way the writers and
actors portrayed them, while at the same time using the techniques of the novel, such as
interior monologue, to flesh them out that little bit more. The one person I was least
certain about, to begin with, was River. Over the course of the series she changes a great
deal, swinging between wide-eyed moon-calf and hyper-intelligent kill bot, and I found
her hard to get a fix on. I was completely unsure about writing her, and I couldn’t quite
believe it when my editor told me I’d actually got her nailed. Hell of a relief.

Is there a particular member of the crew of Serenity you relate to the most?

Probably Wash. He wisecracks to hide his insecurities, like I do, but when it’s called for,
he gets down to the job and is utterly competent, as I hope I am. He’s also got a
gorgeous, tough-as-nails wife who takes no bullshit, and so do I.

Did having the opportunity to write The Magnificent Nine and it’s predecessor Big Damn Hero change the way you felt about any of the characters?

I’d always looked at Mal as a good guy to the core, but when I was re-watching the
show in preparation for writing the novels, I realised he’s pretty hardcore ruthless. He’s
more embittered than he lets on, which emerges in flashes here and there, such as in
“Ariel” when he nearly throws Jayne out of the airlock. You threaten what’s his, and no
matter who you are, you’d better expect reprisals. I think it’s Nathan Fillion’s charm
that’s deceptive here. He makes Mal wonderfully easy-going and you might think that’s
all there is to him, but there are moments when Fillion allows glimmers of the steeliness
beneath to show through. It’s a terrifically well-rounded performance.

In this book you really dig down into Jaynes emotions which are often only hinted at in the show and personally I enjoyed this closer look into a character that at first glance could have easily been written off someone who doesn’t really give much of a care about anyone but himself, your story really highlights what we see glimpses of in the show, how did it feel really getting down into all of that and what made you decide to do so?

I think Jayne gets stereotyped as the big dumb guy who likes to shoot guns. I thought
it’d be fun to up the stakes for him and give him something to care about, so in The
Magnificent Nine he reconnects with an old flame and discovers that their affair may
have had unintended consequences. Perhaps against his own better judgement, Jayne
learns to step up and do the right thing, even though this comes at a cost. Can’t say any
more than that because of, y’know, spoilers.

You’ve written over a number of genres over the years and for different age groups, how does writing a tie in novel for a series like Firefly differ from that and how did you get into it?

About four years ago I told my then-editor at Titan, Miranda Jewess, that I’d be
interested in tie-in work but only if it was Firefly. Titan didn’t even have the licence
then, but a couple of years later they did, and Miranda remembered what I’d said and
got in touch. I jumped at the chance. I like a challenge, and I also like to get things right,
so I re-immersed myself in the ’Verse and got reacquainted with the characters and the
tech, and then decided I would really lean into the Western-movie elements of the show.
I was excited because I’d never done anything like this before, neither a tie-in nor a
Western (other than a Western-inflected short story, “The Black Rider”, in the
anthology Gutshot). I had, however, had some experience with writing in other authors’
voices through my Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft pastiches. It was really just a case of letting my love for Firefly show through and giving my fellow Browncoats what they
want.

Were there any particular rules of guidelines aside from the obvious when you were creating the story? If so could you tell me a little about these? Did they restrict you very much? Did you have to change anything in particular to accommodate them?

I submitted three story outlines for consideration, and Titan and the licensor together
decided which one they would like to see as a novel. So, from the outset, I was writing to
order, but still the guidelines were fairly loose. Once I’d written the book, it was up to
editorial to say what they thought worked and what didn’t, and I rewrote accordingly.
There wasn’t too much of that, in the event. Mostly it was a case of a line of dialogue
here and there not sounding quite right and needing to be honed, or a few instances of
character interaction which didn’t ring true. Any changes were minor. I felt that, even
if it wasn’t expressly stated, I was being asked just to have fun in this fictional world
and do the best job I could.

Thank you for your answers, as a last question I would love to know if you have a favourite episode of the Firefly and why?

It’s not so much a favourite episode as a favourite moment. It’s in “War Stories” when
Niska is torturing Mal and Wash at his skyplex. Zoë strides in, and Niska thinks he’s
being terribly clever and mean by inviting her to choose one of them to save, and before
he’s even finished talking, Zoë just points at Wash and goes “Him”. It’s perfect. You’re
expecting her to agonise over the choice. So’s Niska. But she doesn’t. She rescues her
husband because (a) he’s her husband and (b) she knows Mal can hold up better under
torture than Wash can. It’s both emotionally and logically the correct choice, and it
shows both how pragmatic and at the same time how loving Zoë is.

James Lovegrove is the author of several acclaimed novels and books for children.

James was born on Christmas Eve 1965 and, having dabbled in writing at school, first took to it seriously while at university. A short story of his won a college competition. The prize was £15, and it had cost £18 to get the story professionally typed. This taught him a hard but necessary lesson in the harsh economic realities of a literary career.

Straight after graduating from Oxford with a degree in English Literature, James set himself the goal of getting a novel written and sold within two years. In the event, it took two months. The Hope was completed in six weeks and accepted by Macmillan a fortnight later. The seed for the idea for the novel — a world in microcosm on an ocean liner — was planted during a cross-Channel ferry journey.

James blew his modest advance for The Hope on a round-the-world trip which took him to, among other places, Thailand. His experiences there, particularly what he witnessed of the sex industry in Bangkok, provided much of the inspiration for The Foreigners.

Subsequent works have all been published to great acclaim. These include Untied Kingdom, Worldstorm, Provender Gleed and the back-to-back double-novella Gig.  Many of his early books are being reissued by Solaris Books in a series of compendium volumes entitled The James Lovegrove Collection, beginning in late 2014.  United Kingdom was shortlisted for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, while “Carry The Moon In My Pocket”, a short story, won Japan’s Seiun Award in 2011 for Best Foreign Short Story.  It and other stories by James, more than 40 in total, have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies over the years, and most have been gathered in two collections, Imagined Slights and Diversifications.

More recently, James has moved into the Firefly ‘Verse, writing tie-in fiction based on the much-missed TV series (and its follow-up movie). His first Firefly novel is Big Damn Hero (based on a story outline by Nancy Holder). His second is The Magnificent Nine.

In addition, James reviews fiction for the Financial Times, specialising in the children’s, science fiction, fantasy, horror and graphic novel genres, and was a regular and prolific contributor to Comic Heroes, a glossy magazine devoted to all things comics-related, until its regrettable demise in 2014.

 

book reviews, spoiler free

Firefly: The Magnificent Nine

38486256Firefly: The Magnificent Nine

Rating: XXXX

Published: March 19th by Titan Books

“This was without a doubt the dumbest, insanest, reckless-est plan he had come up with, in a life marked by no lack of such plans.”

An old flame of Jayne Cobb’s, Temperance McCloud, sends a message to Serenity, begging him for help. She lives on the arid, far-flung world of Tethys, and bandits are trying to overrun her town to gain control of their water supply: the only thing standing between its people and dustbowl ruin. Jayne tries to persuade the Serenity crew to join the fight, but it is only when he offers Vera, his favourite gun, as collateral that Mal realises he’s serious.

When the Serenity crew land at a hardscrabble desert outpost called Coogan’s Bluff, they discover two things: an outlaw gang with an almost fanatical devotion to their leader who will stop at nothing to get what they want, and that Temperance is singlehandedly raising a teenage daughter, born less than a year after Temperance and Jayne broke up. A daughter by the name of Jane McCloud…

I was gifted an early finished copy from the lovely team at Titan books in exchange for an honest review, as a big Firefly fan, I absolutely jumped at the chance. This is the second tie in novel to the Firefly franchise but acts easily as a stand-alone.

For those who haven’t heard of Firefly before, (and it’s scary how many people that probably includes nowadays as it was originally broadcast back in 2002, seventeen years ago which feels crazy.) It was a TV show set in 2517 after humans have branched out into a new star system and follows a group of renegades, some of whom fought for the losing side in a system-wide civil war, turned crewmates aboard a Firefly class ship called Serenity. It was originally pitched as “nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things.” In Whedon’s vision, “nothing will change in the future: technology will advance, but we will still have the same political, moral, and ethical problems as today.” Although the creator Joss Wheadon had planned for it to run for seven years, it barely lasted one season due to poor ratings but still lived on in the hearts and minds of it’s fans (or Browncoats as they are often referred to) for years to come, going so far as to petition for a continuation of the series which sadly failed. DVD sales of the singular season, however, were strong and the show even won a Primetime Emmy award. Thanks to its late success Wheadon and Universal pictures produced a feature-length film “Serenity” in 2005 to continue the series and it has since continued on via various comic series. The events that occur in this book, “The Magnificent Nine” take place between the end of the TV show and the film.

Whoever works on designing the looks of the books at Titan is amazing, this is another gorgeous book. The fantastic artwork on the front of the dust jacket is textured with the series title “Firefly” and the silhouette of the ship itself in a smooth foiling. The back of the dust jacket is simple but perfect with some Chinese kanji and a beautiful description of the ship Serenity, including the quote “She was the very picture of Serenity. From the outside at least.” The actual book itself is a perfectly matched Brown (a great nod to the Browncoats perhaps?) and an addition that is fast becoming my favourite thing to be included in hardbacks, a built-in ribbon bookmark.

The first thing that really pulled me into The Magnificent nine was the use of language. The original show has such a distinctive language style in many ways that are all brought over brilliantly into the written word with this book, from the phrasing in general, words that are unique to the Firefly ‘verse and the inclusion of the sprinkled Chinese phrases just like in the show. This made it easy to fall back into the already established fictional universe of the Firefly franchise and gave a sense of returning home as soon as I read the first few pages.

I really felt that James has also captured the individual rhythms and voices of the characters in a way that not only pays homage to the way they’re portrayed by the actors on the show but also gives us a unique insight into the inner workings of each character. Jayne, in particular, shone in this book, as a character who can often be misconstrued as selfish, unintelligent and trigger happy we really got a good look inside his head and although he can be a little of all three of those things it was refreshing to see another side of him swallowing his pride, protecting others and acknowledging that at times he can rush into things but when things are important he takes the time to think his actions through, even if they are often still part of a terrible idea, that’s just Jayne and we love him for it.

 

The plot moves at a good pace with a few little lulls here and there but it reads like a two-part episode. The fast-paced action scenes are easy to follow and visualise without being too repetitive, James seems to have a gift for making each altercation feel fresh. There are some great twists and turns throughout and although by the time most of them happened I had them figured out so they weren’t a huge surprise, they were interesting and well thought out with some great foreshadowing, again this is in line with a lot of the episodic storylines from the show. Even with some of the reveals feeling obvious however there are some surprising moments and there are plenty of tension-filled scenes where you’re not quite sure what could happen next. I loved the introduction of new supporting characters and especially River’s interactions with Jane. I’ve always found River to be a remarkably interesting character and this book is no exception, seeing her interact with a girl reasonably close to her age was heartwarming and fun. Not to mention Jane is a firecracker of a character and brilliant in her own right.

James Lovegrove has done an amazing job bringing the Firefly universe to the page with “The Magnificent Nine,” the characters leap off the page and the story pulls you in like a Jen mei nai-shing duh fwo-tzoo (extraordinarily impatient buddha). Keep your eyes peeled for a Q&A with the man himself coming soon!

A third tie in novel by the name of Generations is due in October this year and will be penned by Tim Lebbon.