Category Archives: Reviews

Goblins 3 – something a bit like a review

I claim no objectivity for this one. It’s published by Sloth Comics – the lovely folk who put the Hopeless Maine graphic novels out. I proof read it. It’s originally a French comic by Martinage and Roulot, and unlike previous Goblins books, there’s now a colourist in the mix too, so the colours are a bit more nuanced, which is cool. Sloth handles translations, and hence the need for a proof reader.

Anyone who has ever roleplayed in a fantasy setting, or played any other kind of fantasy game, knows what happens to goblins. They die. This isn’t the first project to explore that from the perspective of the goblins, but I’m prepared to bet no one else has got quite as much or as varied an array of deaths, or as much comedy and definitely not the two in combination. It’s very funny.

I read book 1 a while ago – goblins die. By this point, the whole thing has got a bit more complicated. Goblins try things, sometimes it even looks like they might succeed, and then through their own foolishness and incompetence, they snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at the last minute, and end up splattered.

If you are the sort of person who will laugh at goblins making very bad choices and getting themselves killed, this is for you. It is sick humour. In many ways, this is a one trick pony of a series, but dear Gods, what a trick it is, and how numerous are the ways in which it can be undertaken!

More about Goblins here – http://www.slothcomics.co.uk/titles


How to Save the Planet – a review

How to save the Planet is a small book by Luke Eastwood. Luke is an established Druid author, and while the content here is unequivocally suitable for Druids and Pagans, the book is not written specifically for us. It’s written for people who want to do something and don’t know where to start or what would be best.

This is a no-nonsense, no punches pulled ten step guide to living in a way that is viable for the planet. It’s full of interesting bits of information about what kinds of impact different activities have, their history, their place in our culture and how the alternatives work. It’s all very readable and digestible.

Given the subject matter, this is surprisingly comfortable reading. There’s no blaming or shaming for your average, ordinary person, just clarity about where we are and what has to change. The lifestyle changes Luke calls for are reasonable and realistic. They aren’t going to be easy or comfortable for everyone, but, we are long past time for people who have more than they need taking more than the planet can afford. If you are one of those people and this message makes you feel uncomfortable… get over yourself. That’s all there is.

I think the best way to use this book is as follows – buy a copy for someone who needs to make lifestyle changes. It’s not an expensive book and it is raising money for Greenpeace. It may be the ideal Yule/Christmas gift for the annoying uncle who won’t stop flying places, or the sibling who sees fuel guzzling cars as a status symbol, and so on and so forth.

If you’re feeling weary and overwhelmed and are not coping with the emotional impact of the climate emergency, this book may also be for you. It has a clear message about what you can most usefully be doing. Reading it and finding you’re well ahead on that ten point list is, I can promise you, an affirming and encouraging experience. It’s so easy to end up feeling like your personal action isn’t enough – when so much of this does boil down to personal action and how we shape the culture we are part of.  So, buy a copy, read it, give yourself the opportunity to feel like you’re doing ok with this stuff, and then pass the book along. Author Luke Eastwood is actively encouraging people to share copies and hand them on, so do that. Put it in the hands of someone who needs it – either to affirm what they’re already doing, or to encourage them to get stuck in!

This book is widely available from places that sell books, so check out your online seller of preference or see if your local bookstore will get it in for you. Here’s the Book Depository link https://www.bookdepository.com/How-How-Save-Planet-Luke-Eastwood/9781527245983


Carved from Stone and Dream – a review

Carved from Stone and Dream is a novel by T Frohock. It is the second book in a series – I’ve not read the first but was told they standalone and I could jump in here. So let me start by saying yes, you can totally do that. This book stands alone. My suspicion is that the emotional impact of it would however be very different for the person who read book 1 (Where Oblivion Lives) first, because being invested in the characters already would turn this already intense story into mercilessly edge of the seat stuff from the first page.

Coming in as a new reader I was trying to figure out who I ought to care about, so when a character I barely knew died, I wasn’t that upset, and when multiple characters were in significant peril at the start of the book, it was interesting but I didn’t think it would break me. I suspect if I’d read book 1 already, I would have been in bits most of the way. It’s a tense, story told almost entirely through action sequences – technically it is quite some feat of writing to get that much character, backstory and insight into a book that never lets up.

The tale revolves around the struggles for power between various different groups of Nefilim. It took me a while to piece together who the Nephilim are and how their magic works – both are fascinating, and I don’t want to spoiler it. It’s rich, complex, original stuff that has a real elegance to it. There’s a pretty much perfect balance between coherence in the magic, and mystery – often if the mechanics are too clear, magic stops feeling magical. Equally if the magic hasn’t been thought through, it can be too convenient and unconvincing. Teresa Frohock has nailed it.

Now, all of this would be more than enough story for most authors… but there’s an added layer in that the book is set during the Spanish Civil War and looks at how that contributed to the Second World War. While that’s all framed by Nefilim activity, it’s an interesting and brutal period that I think often gets left out of WW2 narratives. It’s good to see a story touch on it in this way.

This is a violent story, there are some really uncomfortable sequences, it is definitely a book for adults. It’s also a story that has gay characters without the gay being particularly what the story is about. Gay characters are put under the same pressure in fear for their loved ones and families as straight characters in similar situations are, and that makes me very happy. It’s great to see LGBTQ people included in a story where they’re allowed to be other things as well and the plot isn’t about the gay. For extra points, the gay characters are already in an established relationship – it’s not a romance or a coming out story!

The writing is excellent, so if this all sounds like the sort of stuff you might read, pick up a copy. It’s a satisfying story, that comes to a conclusion while leaving plenty of room for future tales in the same setting. You can read it without having to make a commitment to the whole series (anyone else still got issues from The Wheel of Time?) but if you want to dig in for more, you can do that too.

 

Find out more about the book here – https://www.tfrohock.com/carvedfromstone


Tales of Wrong – a review

There is no earthly way I can write objectively about this book, I have too many feelings about the author and the stories to do anything other than gush.

Tales of Wrong is a collection of creepy and sinister short stories from Professor Elemental (Paul Alborough). There’s humour, whimsy and deeply disturbing things here – my favourite blend.

So, let me tell you about my history with these tales. Quite some years ago I approached the Prof about co-writing, and he was initially cautious, but he sent me a short story he’d written – Confessions Of A Swan Eater – which I loved. I persuaded him to co-author with me and we had a lot of fun doing ‘Letters Between Gentlemen’. During that time frame I also got to see Aunt Fanny’s Horn, and I later saw some of the other stories in their early stages. These stories are in this collection, and it makes me so very happy to finally see them on paper.

It is quite a thing to watch a person go from saying ‘I don’t know if I can write anything other than songs’ to holding in your hands the short story collection they’ve put together. And reading it, and seeing how clever it is – because these stories interconnect and are more than the sum of their parts. It’s a fine collection.

I loved this book. And yes, it is in some ways a hideous misshapen baby grown in a filthy laboratory – you can see that from the cover art I’ve inserted into this post. And yes, it is indeed very wrong – the Punch and Judy story is a definite candidate for the award for most wrong thing I have ever read. But it is also wonderful, and I cannot help but feel that when said hideous baby was in the test tube stage of its unnatural life, a teensy bit of me got in the mix – a strand of hair perhaps, or some highly suspect DNA. And it feels good to have been part of this dastardly process and just a little bit implicated in the results.

You can get copies here – https://professorelemental.com/product/337599


The Curious Adventures Of Smith And Skarry – a review

Imagine a world in which caffeine and sugar are controlled for being too dangerous. Imagine illicit tiffin dens, land pirates, soup seers, dodgy magicians, and a very quiet gentleman with an octopus friend… and you’re starting to get a feel for the delightfully madcap reality in which Penny Blake’s Curious Adventures are set.

It’s great fun.  This is playful steampunk adventure with lots of LGBTQ characters (so much yay!), and political substance underneath the entertaining surface. It’s a tale that has questions to ask about who holds power and on what terms. It has things to say about gender and identity, and questions to ask of the reader, who will be left to ponder their own answers at their leisure. For me, this book is the perfect balance of entertaining escapist fantasy, and serious stuff to chew on.

The world building is great – it’s such an entertaining setting, and the way in which tea, and sugar and cake function in the lives of the characters is a joy to behold. For me it also says a lot about who gets to decide which of our pleasures are socially acceptable, and which are vices to be punished or made inaccessible. Actual history is full of this and I think it’s no coincidence that the kind of real-life people who would bring back hunting are often also the ones who would criminalise being gay, for example.

The ways in which money and perceived class impact on how legal and acceptable your vices might seem is certainly a concept you’ll find in this book. It’s there in the dynamic between the two eponymous characters – one of whom has the confidence of wealth and one of whom does not and is consequently a lot more anxious about things. Illicit things become playthings for the affluent who can buy their way out of trouble, and dangerous life choices for people too poor to have many options.

Pagan readers should note that there’s some really interesting Goddess stuff going on in the background of the story. There’s also some no-punches-pulled things to be said about invasive, patriarchal upstarts who wish to be worshipped as Gods.

I very much recommend that you check this book out. My only warning is that it is clearly the start of the series and you’ll get to the end of book 1 and have feelings about not having the next one right now.

Pre-order a copy here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Curious-Adventures-Skarry-Ashtons-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B07Y4SYRVX

And I gather there will be a paperback in the fullness of time!


Tales from Tantamount – a review

Tales from Tantamount started life on Meredith Debonnaire’s blog. It’s now available (with extras) as both an ebook and paperback.

Tantamount is a small, inherently unstable town somewhere in the vicinity of the Severn River. Where exactly it is, varies. History does not quite work the same way here either. History in Tantamount is a dangerous thing.

During The Year of The Sad Plastic Bag we get a glimpse of town life, most of it through found items, notices, and other ephemera. I like this kind of storytelling because it requires you, as a reader, to get in there and do a fair amount of the work, threading your own stories together from what’s available. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, because the fragments you get to play with are charming, evocative, provocative…

The whole project is laced with humour and satire, and things to think about, and weirdness and whimsy and unexpected voices. It’s a charming thing. If you like my fiction it’s highly likely you’ll also like what Merry does.

Start here if you want to read it on the blog – https://meredithdebonnaire.wordpress.com/tales-from-tantamount/

And yes, if the cover art seems somehow familiar, that would be because Tom drew it, and I did the colouring.


Standing and Not Falling – a review

Presented as a workbook for those wanting a spiritual detox ahead of working magic, Standing and Not Falling is a text you could work through over 13 moons. The idea is to deal with the kinds of things that might get in the way of a magical practice, and pave the way for a deeper and more effective kind of sorcery. For anyone interested in serious magic, this is well worth a go.

I didn’t read it or work with the book in that way. I pick up this kind of book because it is always useful to research for the fiction. I’ve learned a lot that I can no doubt apply in my speculative writing. What I didn’t realise when I started reading the book, is how valuable it is as a philosophical text.

Lee Morgan has a great deal to say about how we navigate inside our own minds, how we perceive the world and relate to it, and how our thinking shapes our experiences. There’s a lot here about being embodied, about animism and relationships based on animist philosophy. There’s great content about ancestry, our relationship with the land, and how we deal with mainstream culture – and for that matter, how it deals with us. There’s a great deal to chew on. Much of it aligns with my own thinking, so that was pleasingly affirming, but at the same time, it’s a very different perspective on those familiar issues and it opened up a great deal of new territory for me.

I recommend that Druids pick up Standing and Not Falling to read as a philosophical text. It has a great deal to offer on those terms. Anyone interested in the bard path will also be interested in how the book is written – the crafting of it, the way language is deployed, the poetic qualities the author brings – these are all worthy of your attention and may well be a source of inspiration.

I don’t feel qualified to comment on this as a magical text because it’s not my path. However, what I can say (having read a fair few magical books for research purposes) is that I’ve never seen anything like this before. There’s a world view here, and a way of relating to self, world and magic that, while it has some familiar elements, really isn’t like anything else I’ve run into. It’s well worth a look.

More about the book here – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/standing-not-falling 


The Dirigible King’s Daughter – a review

When Alys West guest blogged with me recently about living tradition (https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2019/06/13/referencing-the-tradition-by-alys-west/) she mentioned a Steampunk novel, so I asked for a review copy.

The Dirigible King’s Daughter is a steampunk romance and I liked it as a romance because it deviates from the usual story shape in some interesting ways. We know from early on that the protagonists are in love with each other – it’s never really in doubt, but it’s more a case of whether love is enough and what it might cost them. This is a question I’d like to see asked more often- I think the assumption that love will always be enough is a harmful one that needs challenging.

On the steampunk side, there’s enough action, adventure, dirigibles and other technology to cheerfully tick all those boxes. There’s also (which is really important to me) a political aspect to it. It’s not all titled people having jolly adventures. Alys has things to say about class and the way in which wealth impacts on how people are treated. She also has a lot to say about gender politics, both historical and by implication, contemporary.

What really caught me off guard though was the emotional intensity of the book when it came to the main character’s backstory – which you slowly piece together heading towards the reveals near the end. No spoilers from me! There turned out to be a number of difficult subjects in this book, handled with empathy that resulted in something both moving and engaging.

I usually don’t pick up books in which a female protagonist is defined in the title purely in relationship to a man. I made an exception for this one, and I’m glad I did, because the story is very much about dealing with the implications the central character – Harriet – has to deal with from having been defined to herself and others by her father’s actions. This is a story about a young lady taking control of her life and emerging from beneath the long shadow her father has cast, it is about becoming someone other than The Dirigible King’s Daughter, and I very much liked that about it.

You can read the first 2 chapters here – https://alyswest.com/the-dirigible-kings-daughter/tdkd-sample-v2/

Or find the book on Amazon –  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dirigible-Kings-Daughter-Alys-West/dp/0993288677


White Hare Wisdom – a review

The White Hare Wisdom oracle cards are the latest creation from Jacqui Lovesey, of Matlock The Hare fame, with Phil Lovesey involved in the guidebook. I jumped in during the kickstarter, but you can now get the cards from etsy. So, how does it work having an oracle card set based in a fictional reality?

The short answer is that this is without a doubt the best oracle card set I have ever worked with – and I have had my hands on quite a few over the years.

The art is lovely, and you can check that out here to see if it suits you – https://www.matlockthehare.com/white-hare-wisdom

There are two things that have really struck me about using this set. The first is that there are concepts here that you don’t find in most decks because we don’t have words for them. Phil and Jacqui have taken the simple approach of inventing whatever words are needed – this is very much in keeping with the Matlock the Hare setting as a whole. The concepts in here are great, these are words to slip into your personal dictionary, to relish and be inspired by.

The second thing that really struck me is the lack of judgement. Usually oracle card sets have some judgy content – if there are reversed readings it will most likely show up here. This is, so far as I can remember, the first card set that hasn’t at some point focused on telling me what I’m doing wrong or where my personal shortcomings might be. Sometimes, when I’m having a bad day, that kind of oracle reading just knocks me down further, even if it is technically right.

What we have here, is good advice. There’s recognition that if you’ve picked up an oracle set you may have problems on your mind, but the advice is warm, friendly, nurturing stuff. Every card represents ideas about kinds of energies to work with, actions to take, forms of self care to think about and sources of inspiration. If you’re looking to bring fresh energy into your life to cheer your heart and ease your journey, this is a fantastic set to work with. Every card offers a substantial message and ideas you can really dig in with.

You can find the cards on Etsy – https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/683845358/white-hare-wisdom-44-card-oracle-deck-by


Gods and Goddesses of Wales – a review

June 2019 sees the release of Halo Quin’s Gods and Goddesses of Wales. This is a Pagan Portal – meaning it’s a short, introductory book. I read it a while ago – one of the many perks of my working life.

I very much like Halo as a human being. I’ve spent time with her at Druid Camp, she’s a warm, lovely person full of inspiration. She’s not identifying as a Druid – but honestly what she writes is just the sort of thing for a Druid starting out on their path. Welsh mythology has a central role in modern Druidry, but getting into it can be a bit of a struggle. This is an ideal beginner’s book, giving you very readable and relevant takes on those key myths and figures.

This is a relevant book for anyone interested in Welsh mythology or deities associated with the British Isles. It’s worth remembering that the Welsh border hasn’t always been in the same place, and if you are in the west of England, these influences are highly pertinent!

You can buy this book from anywhere that does books, here’s the Amazon link https://www.amazon.com/Pagan-Portals-Goddesses-practical-introduction-ebook