Category Archives: Reviews

Polytheism: A Platonic Approach – review

This book came to me as a review book. I found it a really interesting read, if hard going. There’s an assumption here that the reader is someone who reads philosophy texts and knows the kind of language philosophers use. If you aren’t one of those people – and I’m certainly not – then you might find this a hard read requiring a high level of concentration.

Overall I enjoyed the challenge and found the exploration of a Platonic approach to polytheism fascinating. I can’t say this book has changed how I think about anything, but it’s not written to persuade, simply to demonstrate a perspective. If you are the sort of person who enjoys exploring ideas, then this may well appeal to you. If you read philosophy as part of your Druid path I would say it is well worth a look. If you like the idea of contemplating the nature of Gods and reality, this is well worth considering. Polytheists may well find it affirming, or may disagree wholeheartedly with this take on the way in which deities might relate to each other.

More on the publisher’s website – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-portals-polytheism-platonic-approach


Empty Cauldrons – not quite a review

This is not an objective review. Empty Cauldrons by Terence P Ward is a book about depression and Paganism. For this book, Terence interviewed a number of Pagans about their experiences, and I was one of those people. We knew each other from the period when Terence was reviewing books for The Wild Hunt and I was sending out review books for Moon Books.

Unlike most of the interview-based books I’ve read, this one does not get samey. The interviews were conversations, and each went in its own direction. Rather than publishing the interviews, Terence uses them as source material to explore various aspects of what’s unique about depression for Pagans. This content is woven together with a wealth of ideas about how to navigate depression as a Pagan. Terence brings a lot of deeply explored ideas to the reader, including spells, rituals, prayers and diverse approaches for thinking about and dealing with depression. It’s really innovative work and any Pagan reading it has a decent chance of finding something that might help them. I have never seen content like this before, it’s  highly original and potent.

I found it refreshing to read something that acknowledges this is an issue many of us just have to live with. There are no promises about cures here, or magical ways of never feeling depressed again. These are tools for coping, for surviving, for climbing back out of the hole. It’s realistic and comforting and does not set anyone up to be further crushed. This is not a book that explores the causes of depression much – because the reasons are so individual. Instead, it focuses on how to live with the reality of it – and the symptoms are a lot more commonly shared by people who suffer. That means the odds of it being relevant to anyone with depression are high.

This is a very readable book, the tone has a nice balance of pragmatism and mild optimism. I find that when I’m severely depressed, anything too optimistic seems unrelatable, patronising or irrelevant. It helps to read work from someone who understands what depression is. Presenting it as something that may not ever be entirely overcome but can be managed and lived with offers hope, but not so much hope as to seem unrealistic.

Reading it also put some things in perspective for me. I recognise entirely the kinds of inner landscapes being described here. A significant amount of the book is about dealing with the kinds of things that does to a person – how depression can make you lose control of your life and do things that only make your situation worse. Reading it made me realise that I’ve done a solid job of fighting that, for years. I get up, I do the essentials, I keep moving, no matter how bad things are inside my head. It probably means things don’t look that bad from the outside – that I do manage to keep going may look like evidence that the depression is mild. But I can hold this knowledge for me and I can be a bit kinder to myself in recognising that I have been fighting an epic battle with this for years, and doing all the things I could have done to make a difference.

More on the publisher’s website https://www.llewellyn.com/product.php?ean=9780738763330


Story Compass – a review

Story Compass offers the reader an interesting and original set of tools for self discovery. You could use it as a workbook, or as the basis of a set of retreats, read it flat out and take what suits you, or dip into it.

I think there are several kinds of people who would particularly benefit from this book. It’s very much aimed at the reader who wants to explore themselves in a contemplative way, and who needs tools and maps for this. It assumes that you’ve not done a deep dive into your ancestry, or the water you swim in, and that you have yet to figure out how your culture, background and life experiences have informed you.

It’s designed for people who are not squaring up to massive trauma legacies. If that’s you, then this probably isn’t the ideal book and you’ll need to find something more trauma informed.

I think this book also has ideas to offer to new bards. If you’re starting out on a creative path and figuring yourself out in relation to the work you want to do, there’s a lot here that’s usable. The relationship between self and creation, history and inspiration, how we draw on experience and work with the material of our own lives is all highly relevant.

Taking control of your own story, and being the teller of your own life can be an incredibly powerful and empowering process. The stories we tell define us, and if that is something you have no idea how to engage with, this is a book, and a process, to consider.

The writing style is easy going and enthusiastic. If you like the idea of taking your inner child on an adventure, then you’re going to love this. There’s a playful, open hearted tone to the whole thing – which isn’t for everyone. If you suspect you might find that patronising rather than engaging, you might well not get along with this book.

The work outlined in Story Compass can be approached in a number of ways. You could be fairly pragmatic about it and go for imaginative journaling and creative thinking. You could use it as a guide for visualisations and journey work and really go for that – depending on your needs and preferences. One of the things I liked is how unprescriptive the author is when it comes to these kinds of inner journeys. You’re given the gist of where to go and what to do, but how that plays out is very much down to you. It made me realise how normal it is to see this kind of practice described in a lot more detail, where you are told what spirits or ancestors are going to say to you. I found it refreshing to see such open ended explorations.

I came to this title as a book reviewer interested in working with story. It’s not come to me at a time when I could personally make much use of the contents – although twenty years ago it would have been a divine gift to encounter something like this. It means that a lot of what’s here is not material I’ve felt moved to test – I’ve already done this sort of work, in my own ways so there’s not much for me to delve into and unravel. However, I think the whole approach is useful and fertile, and likely to be worth exploring for anyone who is setting out on a journey of self discovery.

More on the publisher’s website – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/story-compass-journey-discovery


The Honesty of Tigers – a review

In the opening pages of this novel, Ken Jackson dies, and is reborn as himself. He is able to relive his own life with full memory of his first shot at it and to try and fix the things he thinks went wrong. It raises so many questions about what any of us would do differently if we knew how some of those choices would play out. But of course once you start changing things, you no longer really know how anything works anyway.

This is an engaging story about identity and choice, and about what we think we know and how partial that always is. The setup allows us to see multiple versions of the same people, and impressively, this is never confusing! The writing is incredibly skillful, with two closely related timelines playing out side by side for the majority of the book, in a way that always makes perfect sense. 

The story is set, for the greater part, in a Cornish fishing village. The sense of place really contributes to the atmosphere and the character of the book. Further, David draws on a rich seam of traditions, conveying a time and a place on the brink of change. From the 1960s onwards, the fishing fleets declined, taking other traditional industries with them and draining the life from traditional communities. This is handled with a sensitivity that never romanticizes what’s lost but doesn’t encourage you to be seduced by the idea of ‘progress’ either.

For the Pagan reader, there are generations of magical women, traditional herbalism and people who are deeply rooted in their landscapes. This is more in the wise woman tradition than practicing Paganism, and again it’s handled deftly and deeply embedded in the story.

David Bridger is a thoughtful, insightful author whose appreciation for messy, human lives lights up every page. I am entirely smitten with his writing style. If you like books with unpredictable shapes, this has a very satisfying and surprising story, richly emotional and ultimately hopeful.


Stranger Things – some reflections

This isn’t exactly a review. I’ve watched two series of Stranger Things now, and there are aspects of it that I’m really impressed with.

One is that the emotional lives of the teenage characters are taken seriously – by the adults in the story, and also by the writers. I’ve never liked things that treat the feelings of young humans as silly, insubstantial or trivial. The feelings and experiences we have in our teens can have a huge impact on our lives in all kinds of ways. For most people it is a time of finding out who you are, with all the implications that brings.

The second thing I’ve really appreciated is the vulnerability and emotional honesty of the characters. They’re all flawed and messy and they get things wrong. There have been a few instances of this turning violent – especially with the teenage boys. However, there’s a stunning amount of people owning their shit, apologising, and explaining where they are coming from. These are characters who want to understand each other, want to make sense to each other, and want to work through their problems and do better. I love that.

My third big source of delight is the impact of horror in this story. Characters who have been through terrible things together do not become jaded or more violent or convinced that the world is a terrible place. They become kinder to each other. They try harder to fix things. 

We’re a storytelling species, and the kinds of stories we tell each other matter greatly.


Wild Times – a review

Wild Times Cover

This book could have been written with me in mind. It’s my first foray into anything explicitly Hopepunk, this is clearly a genre I need to explore.

There’s magic here that I think will work for many Pagan readers. It’s not a rehash of a Pagan path nor is it heavily based on folklore, although there are a few elements here and there. The familiar stuff plays out in unfamiliar ways. This is a fantasy scenario that overlaps the real world, has elements of urban fantasy, and in many ways reminded me of Charles de Lint. Only, this is set around the south west of England, in landscapes familiar to me, which is wonderful.

I love getting to read stories with bisexual and polyamorous characters. There’s a lot of this, but it isn’t what’s driving the narrative. This is just who people are and how they relate to each other and that makes me very happy.

There’s a lot going on in this story – people and places, action and interaction. There’s also a lot of thinking about how to live, what to do, and all of that centers on cooperation. Philosophically speaking, I felt very at home here. This is a book with a lot to say about community and how we relate to each other.

Werewolves on motorbikes. Old gods who show up as strange children. Revenge. Romance. Pirates. Magical otherworldly beings. Ghastly plots that must be foiled. Sinister government agencies. If you like stories in which magical and extraordinary beings are present in our world, and there are thin places that take you to otherworlds, this is a book for you.

I found the writing engaging and I very much want to go and live in the version of reality this book offers. It’s a big book, which I was glad of, it’s been a welcome escape for me in the last week, and I have taken much joy in it. If it sounds like your sort of thing, then I heartily recommend it.

This isn’t David Bridger’s only book, and I hope to be back for more of his work.

More on the publisher’s website – https://www.beatentrackpublishing.com/?ref=wildtimes


Emi – fiction review and offer!

Book Composite Emi

Emi is a beautiful, troubling, haunting sort of book. Set after the apocalypse, the two main characters – Christopher and Emi are dead people who are somehow still moving. Christopher is missing most of his innards and doesn’t remember much about who he was or why he feels compelled to walk. Emi is a very small dead girl, cute, endearing, heartbreaking and monstrous all at the same time. Their journey takes them through a world that is greatly changed and from which humans have largely vanished even though their influence remains. Those who were here before the humans are returning, in all their wonder and horror.

This is a remarkable, poetic, uneasy sort of book. I can heartily recommend it. 

There is only one way you can get a copy at the moment, and that’s direct from Craig. However, you may be pleased to hear that Craig has set up an awesome thing and it goes like this…

Saunter over to Craig’s Patreon page – https://www.patreon.com/craighallam

Sign up at any level.

Tell Craig that Nimue sent you, and he will give you an Emi pdf.

Which is pretty damn cool. You’d also be doing yourself a massive favour, Craig is a really interesting author with quite a lot of fiction to his name at this point, so there’s lots of good stuff to be had on his Patreon.


Healthy Planet – a review

Earth Spirit: Healthy Planet

This is a really striking book and well worth your time.

The first section deals with how reality works – the science is quite intense but if you are an intelligent and determined reader, you’ll keep up even if it isn’t your area of expertise. What really struck me about this section is the deliberate choice of emotionally engaged language when talking about the building blocks and systems of the natural world. It made me realise that our ‘objective’ language is a choice and one that often serves to alienate us from whatever we’re talking about. This first section would make a powerful spiritual text for animists.

The second section really digs into the issues facing the world. It isn’t easy or comfortable reading. Part of the problem of course is that no one really wants to face up to massive, terrifying almost unimaginable threat levels, which is part of how we got into this mess in the first place and a real barrier to fixing things. Taking the time to educate yourself is a meaningful thing that you can do to contribute. Be prepared to be afraid. Embrace your grief, know what you have lost, and carry that knowledge. Use it to push back against business-as-usual.

Throughout the second section, there are prompts for things you can do or explore, so it’s not a disempowering read. The author is clear that it is worth acting and that we must not ignore the problems facing us. Political change will depend on creating a context that pushes politicians to act, and that’s on us.

This is a book primarily about climate chaos, but it’s not simply about CO2. There’s a serious look at the issues around methane, and an exploration of different kinds of pollution and the impact that has. We damage ecosystems in multiple ways and all of them need scaling back as a matter of some urgency. Light pollution only gets a brief mention – but at least it’s in there!

This is not an easy read, but it is well worth your time and attention.

More about the book here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/earth-spirit-healthy-planet


The Conjuror Girl Trilogy – a review

The Conjuror Girl is a new trilogy from steampunk author Stephen Palmer. It may be slightly more accurate to describe it as a really big book in three volumes and for that reason I’m reviewing the set together.

The story centres round an orphan girl living in an alternate late Victorian setting. She’s Monique in the first book, and changes her name to Monica in an attempt to redefine herself in book 2. In writing this tale, Stephen has drawn heavily on the harsh realities of life for vulnerable children. Class-based inequalities, gender inequality, and the historic lack of opportunity for girls and women are strong themes in these books. Rather unusually, Stephen explores the impact of internalising these kinds of issues. We see a lot of stories about plucky girls defying the norms of their times, but Monica is impacted in her sense of self by classism and sexism while trying to resist it, and I think this is really well explored.

There are several other key themes across the books, and they’re inter-related. One is selfishness, and how we relate to the world if we let selfishness dominate. The person who wants to shape the world inline with their own preferences is inevitably at risk of being out of touch and disconnected from reality. But at the same time, the person who wants to create and to change things has to enter that territory. The antidote to this lies in friendship, and in supporting each other. Stephen’s characters depend on reflecting truths back to each other, keeping each other grounded in a sense of self that includes other people’s perceptions. No one is allowed to drift off in a cloud of their own ego. It’s an interesting commentary on relationship and mental health and how vital it is that we are honest with each other.

This is a series with strong steampunk elements and a fair amount of the charmingly fantastical. In this version of history, Paris was lost to monumental flooding caused by a magician. French refugees live in the UK. Our central character knows little of these things and is slowly piecing together how her world works and trying to figure out where she fits. In a world where allegedly only men can be magicians, a conjour girl is going to have challenges. This isn’t your usual magic school narrative, as Monica mostly has to learn on the run and by making things up as she goes along.

The main character is in her mid teens. It would be a suitable read for a teen, but I think the assumed reader is an adult. It doesn’t read like YA to me, although that’s not a genre I’m massively up to speed with.

The plot is highly engaging and keeps moving at a good pace throughout, providing surprises aplenty. The fantastical elements are original and its easy to suspend your disbelief and go along with them. The alternate Victorian England Stephen offers is rich with strange and curious things and is a pleasing place to spend time. The books run on from each other, so spare yourself some frustration and buy all three at once.


Pagan Portals Sekhmet – a review

Pagan Portals - Sekhmet

Another recommended read!

This fascinating small book delves into the history and worship of Sekhmet – an ancient Egyptian deity. If you have any interest in ancient Egypt, there’s a wealth of detail here, centered around this fascinating Goddess. Olivia Church does a lot of work to put Sekhmet in context – her stories make a deeper sense if you are aware of the landscape she originates in. There are valuable insights here about how the language works, what the implications of that are for spells and rituals, and how Egyptian notions of deity impact on how we might understand a specific figure.

I have a longstanding interest in things Egyptian resulting in a passable if superficial knowledge. This book greatly enhanced my understanding of not only Sekhmet, but ancient Egyptian religion as a whole. It was a great read and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Olivia Church also explores modern Sekhmet worship and how that tends to differ from what’s known of the history. Sekhmet is clearly a Goddess who speaks to many modern Pagans. If you’re interested and looking for a place to start that will give you historical insight and substance, this is clearly the ideal book. For anyone like me with a broader interest in the subject matter, its a good read. This isn’t a book for someone who is already an expert in the subject – but that’s not what Pagan Portals are for.

More on the publisher’s page – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-portals-sekhmet-egyptian-goddess