Air and Ash – a review

Thursday_horizons

This is the second of my new Thursday Creation Review posts which will usually be Books, but I am still reserving the right to review Games, Films or other Works of Art – and I will add music to that.

Alex Lidell’s Tides is a series of books that has been on my Want To Read list for too long – and then I won Book 3, Sea and Sand (#3) in a Goodreads Giveaway. First, though, I read and reviewed First Command (TIDES, # 0.5), which was an absorbing taster that introduced me to the main character of Lieutenant Nile Greysik and her world.

The author kindly provided me with Book 1 of the series, and this is my extended review.

AirandAsh

Air and Ash (TIDES #1)

by

Alex Lidell (Goodreads Author)

Born to privilege.
Trained for command.
Destined for danger.

After a lifetime of training, seventeen-year-old Princess Nile Greysik, a lieutenant on the prestigious Ashing navy flagship, sails into battle with one vital mission–and fails.

Barred from the sea and facing a political marriage, Nile masquerades as a common sailor on the first ship she can find. With a cowardly captain, incompetent crew, and a cruel, too-handsome first officer intent on making her life a living hell, Nile must hide her identity while trying to turn the sorry frigate battle worthy. Worse, a terrifying and forbidden magic now tingles in Nile’s blood. If anyone catches wind of who Nile is or what she can do, her life is over.

But when disaster threatens the ship, Nile may have no choice but to unleash the truth that will curse her future.

Review 4.3 stars

After reading First Command (TIDES, # 0.5), the taster that introduced me to Lieutenant Nile Greysik and her world, I had to read Tides #1. This book was provided by the author but without any requirements.

When Nile escapes her Royal obligations and masquerades as a common sailor, events conspire against her. The author ensures that the decks are stacked against Nile in unexpected ways that had me guessing where the story was heading. This was a slightly devious storyline although with few plotlines to misdirect the reader from a fast read.

The characters are varied, and some have complex personalities with backstories that are never totally revealed – there must be more to come. The cast hints at the world created from the political situation and attitudes to the crucial seafaring.

Alex Lidell’s well-imagined world blends seafaring and fantasy, and yet brings back memories of reading the Hornblower books in my teens – although it is wrong to compare the books. This protagonist is female, and the author builds on that – as well as the princess angle. But there is so much more – like magic being a very mixed curse. For Nile, this force that flows through her veins is a primary motivation – and not just for herself.

This is a world where magic is going underground through misunderstanding and a growing sense of discrimination. Attitudes, not just in magic, vary from nation to nation and between cultures. For instance, the Ashing royals serve in their navy, but in other states, the nobility and rich pamper themselves.

The social divide is clear, but onboard a ship there is promotion from the ranks. The nautical details rang true from my limited mucking-around-in-boats and from my copy of The Hornblower Companion. The confined space of a ship adds to the cruel pecking order. However, rank brings expectations as does Royal blood. Nile needs to judge who to trust beyond appearances if she is to complete her goals.

Where do events lead Nile? I’m giving nothing away – even if you keel-haul me – all I can say is ‘don’t expect all the threads to be tied up’. This entertaining read is Book 1 of a trilogy and you won’t want to stop. I’m not, although I must clear the reading decks so I can open War and Wind (#2) and the conclusion Sea and Sand (#3).

Recommended for those that enjoy their seafaring adventures spiced with fantasy – 4.3 stars adjusted to 4.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – four stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – four stars

First Command

#IWSG – Spring Inspiration

IWSGBadge

Another month and another IWSG post. Well, not just any month but the Blogging from A to Z Challenge month, so I managed to write 26 posts and got them scheduled on the correct days. But enough of that – I’ll post my reflections on the Challenge next week – this is an IWSG monthly past.

May 2 question – It’s spring!

Does this season inspire you to write more than others, or not?

Of course, Spring inspires me – to get outside and soak up the sunshine. And yes, Spring is here, and the little grey cells are sparking – despite the MS. Okay, I have my struggles with the misfiring nervous system, and my brain loses direction and thoughts. I forget what I am doing, my fingers hit too many wrong keys, and my body must sleep sporadically or suffer the painful body-wrenching attacks.

Officially, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac, Spring arrived on March 20, 2018. That means that the Spring Equinox must have set all those A-to-Z posts in motion.

I’ve even used the last few days to devise a cunning plan. Did Baldrick help with that?

Baldrick_thumbnail

The cunning plan: to write a review once a week of one of the books I’ve read and failed to review here. Those reviews will be scheduled for every Thursday.

However, I reserve the right to write other posts – if motivated.

What about the deviously cunning Fates Maelstrom plans? Not abandoned or shelved but extended.

I wrote draft one of Book 3 in the Snowdon Shadows series for NaNoWriMo last November. Then I started editing Fates Maelstrom in December, developing all the ideas needed for the final draft prior to beta-reading.

That has led to Goth Patrol, a short story about the main protagonist, policewoman Sparkle Anwyl and how she lost her first love and joined the CID. I’m starting on another short, Face Trash, her first case as a detective, fresh from police college. Call these stories ‘character research’.

Or should I publish those stories first?

That’s what Spring does for my devious brain – seeds seeking fertile soil.

[One problem: I need a friend to sit with and chat, face-to-face over a pint or a meal. I lost that when I moved four years ago.]

**

The awesome co-hosts for the May 2 posting of the IWSG are E.M.A. Timar, J. Q. Rose, C.Lee McKenzie, and Raimey Gallant!

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting! 

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG

 

 

H is for Hellblade

 H

 

The aim of my Blogging From A to Z Challenge is to find the origins of online games, some relatively modern and some with ancient roots. Gaming might well be a modern take on an art that is almost timeless – storytelling. A perfect excuse for a writer to delve a little deeper. [Visit here for links to other A to Z participants.]

Game: Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is an intense psychological action-adventure game which PCGamesN rated, “a miraculous technical feat made by a team just a fraction the size of the ones that typically dominate the triple-A space.”

Release Date: April 8, 2017

Developer/Publisher: Ninja Theory

Genre/gameplay mechanics: Award-winning game – dark fantasy action-adventure; hack and slash; puzzle-solving; psychological horror. Voice-acting integral to unique, 3D binaural audio design. Cutscenes combine motion/performance capture by video editor-turned-actress Melina Juergens and live-action performances by other actors.

Setting: A rendition of Helheim, the Norse underworld – effective use of audio and visual to submerge players in Senua’s nightmarish journey and her accurately-portrayed mental world. The world feels horrifyingly real as the sounds and graphics seem subtly distorted.

Storytelling: Hellblade follows Senua, a Pict warrior who journeys to Helheim to save the soul of her dead lover from the goddess Hela. Also, the character struggles with her mind, and the game revolves around her condition. Senua suffers from psychosis but believes it to be a curse. She is haunted by an entity known as the “Darkness”, voices in her head known as “Furies”, and memories from her past.

As Ninja Theory said in 2015, “Senua experiences psychosis, including hallucinations and delusions, as well as suffering from anxiety and depression. As a player, you will witness Senua’s living nightmare through her own eyes… Developing Hellblade independently gives us the freedom to tackle a subject as challenging as mental health. It is a subject that we are handling with all the respect it deserves, ensuring that our portrayal of Senua’s condition is both accurate and sensitive. To help us with this we are working closely with Professor Paul Fletcher, a professor of Health Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, as well as arranging to consult directly with people who have experience of mental health difficulties. We are also very proud to say that Hellblade is being supported by Wellcome Trust, which is a global charitable foundation which aims to build a greater public understanding of science and in particular health.”

Releases:

  1. August 8, 2017 – Windows, PlayStation 4
  2. April 11, 2018 – Xbox One

Origins (Chronological):

  1. 2010 – Ninja Theory released Enslaved: Odyssey to the West, a video game that saw the Ninja team develop their motion capture with Andy Serkis.
  2. 8th century – The Roman Empire was unable to conquer a group of Celts in the northern reaches of Great Britain known as the Picts. Towards the end of the century, the first Vikings arrived in the islands of Orkney and replaced them as the main population of the land. Senua is portrayed as a Celtic warrior on Orkney.
  3. 793-1066 – Norse Mythology in the Viking Age: “Before the Norse (a.k.a. the Vikings) were converted to Christianity during the Middle Ages, they had their own vibrant native pagan religion that was as harshly beautiful as the Nordic landscape to which it was intimately connected.”
  4. The 1st century and earlier – The main inspiration of Senua’s character was the Iceni queen Boudica, while her name came from Senuna, a Celtic whose name was at first read incorrectly as Senua. The team researching Celtic culture and the Celts’ views on mental disorder, found out that they used the term ‘gelt’ for a man or woman who had been driven mad by a curse, grief, or the trauma of a battle. A gelt would take to a life in the woods in search of penance, punishment and purgatory. The team decided to make Senua a gelt, who had left her home in exile for those reasons.

Recommendation: Hellblade was a commercial success and was well received by critics, who praised it as a work of art and applauded its uncommon choice of revolving around psychosis, the quality and uniqueness of its approach of the condition, and its story and main character. Reviews included this  7 August 9 stars review from IGN: “An incredible atmospheric story reinforces Hellblade’s serious subject matter in this vivid tale of harrowing darkness.” 2017 Players were equally enthusiastic in their reactions.

Hellblade_02

4.55 Stars: Before I played the game, I watched numerous video reviews, diaries and walkthroughs, and I was excited. The game ticked so many boxes, and elements tied into my current WIP, whose second protagonist suffers from a form of psychosis. The actual experience was intense. As expected the voices-in-the head and confused images created a disturbing atmosphere, at times nightmarish. The combat should have been simple, but not for this nerve-jangled oldie who can’t hit the right keys fast enough – so died repeatedly…frustrating. I’ll keep trying though.

  1. Setting: 4.5*
  2. Storyline: 5*
  3. Gameplay: 3.75*
  4. Entertainment: 4.5*
  5. Genesis: 5*

Alternative ‘H’ thoughts:

H is also for Philip Pullman’s trilogy His Dark Materials, but I’ve yet to find a suitable game. Is there one?

+ ‘H’ Games played: Heroes of Might & Magic – but that comes under M.

Hela da

Death in Dulwich – a review

I must apologise for this belated review – my own detective work conspired against this getting written.

 DeathInDulwich

Death in Dulwich (London Murder Mystery #1)

by Alice Castle

Thirty-something single mum Beth Haldane is forced to become Dulwich’s answer to Miss Marple when she stumbles over a murder victim on her first day at work. To clear her name, Beth is plunged into a cozy mystery that’s a contemporary twist on Golden Age crime classics. But can she pull it off? She already has a bouncy young son, haughty cat, a fringe with a mind of its own and lots of bills to pay, as she struggles to keep up with the yummy mummies of SE21. Join Beth in #1 of the London Murder Mystery series, as she discovers the nastiest secrets can lurk in the nicest places.

 

Review 4.7 stars

The descriptive opening with its Dulwich setting and the centuries-old school swept me into a change of reading direction. I tend to read more hard-boiled mysteries, but when a cozy grabs my attention like Death in Dulwich, I am hooked.

Single-mum Beth Haldane did more than that. She’s both a determined and an amusing protagonist whose priority is her son. But stumbling over a murder victim on her first day at a new job adds to her impressive daily juggling. She realises that she is a prime suspect so delving into the secrets hiding in leafy SE21 is logical.

Except to the police who have their way of dealing with crime. I sensed that the Inspector will be making a re-appearance in Beth’s life when she is faced with her next case. As a writer of police procedurals, I questioned the authenticity of his actions – but only for a moment, and I want to know more.

Beth holds to her priorities – Homework must come before murder investigations and getting your son to school on time is vital. Even harder when you are surrounded by ‘the yummy mummies’ with aspirations for their little darlings.

Alice Castle paints a humorous picture of the upwardly-mobile world, yet she makes the subtle competitiveness work alongside. The characters all feel realistic, from the staff at Wyatt’s – I remember some from my private school days – to the suspects driven by…well, that would be spoiling the fun.

Let’s just say that suspects can get desperate, and there are red herrings plus direct challenges for Beth that test her resolve. Never underestimate a determined sleuth or a devious writer. Some of the structural twists fooled me as well.

This mystery that kept me grinning and thinking. Recommended for those that want a neat cozy read. I may not join Beth immediately for her next case, but The Girl in The Gallery is a Must Read.

4.7 stars upgraded to 5.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Authenticity – four stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

 

A Hero’s Tale – a review

This is the third Book in the When Women Were Warriors fantasy trilogy and when I reviewed the second book, A Journey of the Heart, I had to read Book 3 at once. I wasn’t disappointed, although I must apologise for this belated review – life & health conspired against this getting written.

 Hero'sTale

A Hero’s Tale (When Women Were Warriors #3)

by Catherine M. Wilson (Goodreads Author)

In Book II, Tamras moved from her home into the lands beyond its border. In Book three, the stage widens further: she deals with the struggles of whole peoples. Caught up in intrigues that would once have been far above her, the heroine risks everything unless she can not only learn to swim in treacherous waters, but to master them. The heroine ‘s inner journey continues to match her outer one. She must confront the meaning not only of personal love, but the love that extends beyond oneself and those we hold dear. Catherine Wilson ‘s skill at tackling the big issues of love, meaning, and humanity is so deft that it all seemed, to me at least, to flow naturally from her narrative in a way I found technically quite breathtaking. “–from a review by Charles Ferguson on the Goodreads website

“Being the third and last volume in a series I enjoyed immensely, I knew that I could expect this last book to deliver a happy and satisfying ending. What I didn’t t expect was the intricate and daring storyline of this last volume. It is bigger and broader than what has come before, and it is spectacular. this time the story unfolds on to a whole new level. More characters, more intrigue, greater losses, wonderful reunions. There ‘s no taking the easy road here the story opened up into unimagined dimensions to tell a tale that really is that of a hero.”

When Women Were Warriors manages to blend mythic storytelling with characters who feel so real you could imagine stepping into the pages and having a conversation with them. A Hero ‘s Tale skilfully weaves the questions of love, faith and fairness into a dramatic story; not only of a relationship between the main characters, but of a quest so much bigger it takes the breath away. There is everything you could wish for here power struggles, forces for good and evil, dramatic tests of faith, daring rescues, fatal rivalry, but it is managed with such a deft hand that in the end it is all one beautiful story. What else is there to say? This is not just lesbian fiction, but a story about being human. It ‘s not to be missed.–from a review by Kate Genet on the website, Kissed By Venus

In Book III of the trilogy, Tamras must make her own hero ‘s journey. She ventures into the unknown and encounters a more formidable enemy than any she has ever faced. Character is destiny, and the destiny of Tamras and all her people will depend upon choices that come less from the skills she has been taught than from the person she has become, from her own heart.

 

Review 5 stars

It has been a few weeks since I made the final stages of the heroic journey of Tamras but so much of this world ‘when women were warriors’ lives on. I am tempted to slip back into her vibrant world again as the characters and settings feel so rich, and the writing still weaves its spell over me.

This is the epic climax and the story grows in intensity as the events become more complex. Tamras faces new challenges that are a true test of everything that she has learned. The younger and less-experienced Tamras of Book 1 might well have failed, and even after progressing so much, she still stumbles. Yet, Tamras struggles on.

The character has grown to the point where she can stand alongside some formidable characters, sharing her brand of wisdom and still learning as unexpected events unfold. Some key motifs and threads come together in well-constructed echoes and actions that made me feel this tapestry was being woven together neatly. Wolves and mysteries were my thoughts, but I will say no more about that.

Yes, as with any epic saga, there are threads left to tease the reader, but no saga truly ends as life continues beyond ‘The End’. Without those, this reader would not be creating my own imaginings of where Tamras goes next. Do we want a ‘happily ever after’ ending?

The central element is again ‘Love’ in all its forms, true and perverted, uplifting and shattering, emotional and physical. We all need to learn who to embrace and when. The key is to follow your heart and the truth will be revealed.

All the evocative words and images are there again, all the rich and flawed characters, and some unexpected actions and decisions. All these make A Hero’s Tale another recommended read and the perfect end to the trilogy. Finally, I have the signed paperbacks to place in my bookshelf alongside my prized hardback copies of The Lord of the Rings.

When Women Were Warriors too will be regular re-reads over the years to come.

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Diversity – five stars

Characters – five stars

Structure – five stars

Readability – five stars

Editing – five stars

 

#IWSG Mystery Love

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge

Today is the Insecure Writer’s Support Group monthly blog post and a chance to promote the Fictionary Finish Your Novel Contest.

First, the IWSG post:

February 7 question – What do you love about the genre you write in most often?

Although I write in various genres – mystery, SF/speculative, fantasy, alternative history and even children – Mystery must be the one that I write in most often.

My debut was an equestrian mystery – Spiral of Hooves – so its sequels will be. My current series is a mystery/police procedural – Snowdon Shadows. Even draft novels in other genres have a strong mystery element.

Yes, I love a perplexing mystery and my mind enjoys devising the twists. When I read a good mystery, especially by a master like Agatha Christie, I try to outthink the ‘detective’ but usually fail. However, when I finish a great mystery novel, I like looking back to see how the story was crafted, for instance with the clues buried in the text at key points. Learning how to use red herrings, deceit, and well-timed distractions are something that I still need to take on board.

One of my favourite examples is Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd with its brilliant twist ending. How this was achieved is masterful and one reason why I keep writing and reading Mysteries. A modern favourite in a similar vein, and also a lesson in crafting a mystery, is Sally Quilford’s The Secret of Lakeham Abbey.

You can flick through my Book Reviews to see how many Mystery novels I read. What do you recommend? What genre do you read and/or write? And why?

*

The awesome co-hosts for the February 7 posting of the IWSG are Stephen Tremp, Pat Garcia, Angela Wooldridge, Victoria Marie Lees, and Madeline Mora-Summonte!

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting! 

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!
Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG

*

Fictinary_contest

I am currently using a brilliant tool for online editing my current WIP and I highly recommend it. Fictionary was developed for writers by writers and makes many of the tasks after writing an early draft much simpler.

If you sign up with Fictionary for a free 10-day trial by February 18th, 2018, you will be automatically entered for the contest to win a Grand Prize of a lifetime Fictionary subscription and a $1999 FriesenPress Publishing Path. There are also additional prizes – further details and sign-up at https://fictionary.co/Finish-your-novel-contest/

I will be doing an assessment of Fictionary in the next day or so, looking at the various elements that I have been using – or intend to use.