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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
This isn’t an objective review – poet Adam Horovitz is someone I am blessed to count as a friend, and I live with the cover artist!
This is a lovely collection of poems. You should definitely get a copy.
I’ve spent days trying to work out how to write a review without saying anything too obvious or tedious about this new collection while getting across something meaningful about why I like Adam’s poetry so much. So here we go.
Adam is like the sea.
Stay with me, this works. The sea takes whatever it encounters, and polishes it until the ordinary becomes extraordinary. Adam is much the same. His poems are often about scenes and experiences that are likely to be familiar. He also favours the everyday language – he isn’t one of those poets where you have to go in armed with a thesaurus, willing to try and decode the poem as though it was some kind of cryptic crossword. Which is as well because mostly I hate that sort of writing.
You don’t have to have read a lot of poetry to make sense of Adam’s work. There are no rules or references that you need to have a handle on. Some of the pieces do allude to other work, and while it’s nice when you know what’s going on there, it’s also totally workable when you don’t. I knew some of the pieces he mentions and not others, and it was fine.
In these poems, simple and everyday language turns into something enchanted. It’s about the pacing, the placing of words in relationship to each other, the soundscapes thus created, and the way a pairing of words can birth a sense of meaning that feels magical and unfamiliar even when those words are wholly mundane. The ordinary becomes remarkable.
It’s like the way the sea takes ugly broken pieces of glass, and turns them into colourful, smooth delight.
Having really enjoyed Julie Brett’s first book – Australian Druidry – I was excited to get a review copy of Belonging to The Earth. This is part of the new Earth Spirit line from Moon Books – small, tightly focused titles for anyone interested in Earth-based spirituality.
Julie is a Druid living in Australia. Her work is very much about squaring up to the implications of being on someone else’s land, with all that history of violence, cultural oppression, massacre and displacement. It’s something she’s navigating personally and she has a great deal to share about the process. I think she sets a good example of how anyone might move towards respectful relationship with the true owners of a land, without speaking over them or appropriating their traditions. She shares a lot of direct quotes from Elders she’s sat with, and the principle of showing up to listen is one that we all need to adopt.
Belonging to the Earth is written about Australian experience, but it offers a map to anyone interested in decolonization and the Indigenization of ideas. Julie is clear that wherever we are in the world, we all need to work on becoming more aligned with indigenous people and that this is also about having respectful and sustaining relationships with the land.
Reading this as a European, I was struck by the thought that although many of us live in the lands of our ancestors, we don’t have that depth of connection. Any of us could have been Aboriginal peoples, but none of us are. Countless ancestral choices have brought us to this point, and we have a great deal of work to do to both change that, and change the colonial narrative that insists on treating our disassociation as superior to the land-honouring cultures of First Nations People.
There’s a lot to learn for those of us with European and colonial heritage. The need to learn is urgent. How those of us from the colonial-capitalist side of history deal with First Nations People is a critically important matter of social justice and restorative justice. We urgently need the understanding of landscapes that would allow us to live in sustainable ways. We all need to be rooted in something more nurturing than consumerism.
I heartily recommend this book, and have every intention of reviewing more titles from the Earth Spirit line.
Tales from Tantamount is a project by Merry Debonnaire that frankly isn’t easy to describe. It’s made of words, and is charming and funny.
Tantamount is a town that doesn’t stay put, and during the book it goes on holiday, gets in the river and visits a swamp. The life of the town comes to us through found objects and ephemera, and while there are stories, they aren’t told in conventional ways. Tantamount has an array of supernatural beings, and a goat on the council. No one seems to know how the various local councils work.
Fans of Nightvale are going to find this is just their sort of thing. If you enjoyed my Wherefore series I rate the chances of you also enjoying this. It made me chortle a lot.
This fantasy novel by Jacey Bedford is due out in January 2022, but I had the lovely opportunity to read it in advance!
This is a fantasy novel set in a reality that is like our Earth but significantly different in various ways. The familiar aspects serve to rapidly ground the setting and there’s a good balance between what is familiar and what is fantastical. The action takes place in Europe, and we’re at a technology level that gives us printed newspapers, officers on horseback, guns and artillery. In a scenario where assorted small nations are jostling with each other, a King is murdered, and this where the book starts.
We follow a number of characters, including the man blamed for the King’s murder and the assassin hired to do it. I always enjoy stories that make me complicit with problematic characters, and Jacey does an excellent job of persuading us to like the assassin. All of the characters are engaging, well rounded and interesting people. All of them are messy and flawed in their own ways, and driven by their own issues and obsessions. The story is compelling and nicely paced while not being overly demanding.
There are a number of rapes and attempted rapes in the book – which are integral to the plot and to the backstories of some characters. Part of the story is about exploring the impact of these experiences, which is done in a thoughtful way. I hate it when rape is used carelessly as a plot device, but that’s not what happens here, and given the way the story circles several key events, if you needed not to read the more detailed bits it is easy to see them coming and it would be feasible to skip over them. There is a significant amount of violence, including horrible execution methods, torture, nasty injuries, slow deaths, so if you’re a squeamish reader this probably isn’t for you. If you like your fantasy on the dark side without it glorifying the more horrific elements, this book will suit you well.
What I found most interesting was the sexual content. There’s a lot of sex and no jealousy. There’s an attitude of positivity towards sex workers that I really enjoyed. While it’s clear that some of the cultures value virginity in women, none of the female characters are shamed for being sexually active or promiscuous during the story. Contraception is very present and treated as normal in the setting. There are some queer characters – all of the focal relationships are straight, but there is an important background queer relationship in there too. Sex for comfort and not underpinned by a romantic relationship also features. The book has a lot to say about consent, love, attraction, and relationships as various of the characters move through different kinds of relationships with each other during the story. It’s not a straightforward romance narrative, and features a number of relationships that are important to the plot but that have very different shapes.
The magic in this story will engage Pagan readers. The author is clearly well versed in all sorts of traditions so the magic is rich and well informed.
I enjoyed the language used in the story telling. Faux-archaic writing can be the bane of the fantasy genre, as can the habit of fantasy authors to invent language off the cuff with little sense of how languages actually work. I found the approach to language exceptional and highly effective. But then, Jacey is steeped in the folk tradition and it shows in the work.
For clarity, I do know the author and have worked with her in the past while we were both wearing entirely different hats. Back in the days when I ran a folk club, Jacey was an agent I worked with on a number of occasions. I’m a longstanding fan of her band (Artisan) and have seen her performing on a number of occasions over many years. This is the first novel of her’s that I’ve read, but there are others and I hope to get round to them.
The Bird Atlas by Anna McKerrow is a beautiful fairytale. It’s a fairly small book but I spent about a week reading it because I wanted to live with it, and because it is so rich that I didn’t want to take it in too quickly.
Wren is a spirit girl, from a long line of Bird Fliers. Her people carry the souls of the dead to the afterlife. Wren lives in a gothic house on the edge of our world – it’s just her and her grandmother and the girl is lonely, and frustrated. And so the tale begins, and we learn more of who Wren is as her journey takes her through time and to different places. In losing herself, Wren finds out who she really is.
I found this to be a really emotional read – there’s nothing graphic, but the story deals with bereavement and grief. I found it deeply affecting. There are also themes of forgiveness, self-forgiveness, working out how to move on – there’s a lot of life lessons here. It’s a book that could well turn out to be healing for anyone dealing with grief and loss.
This is a book that could be shared with a younger reader – it’s quite wordy, and given the emotional content probably isn’t suitable for the very small ones. I know I would have really appreciated it as a child- I struggled a lot with the concept of death and would have found this story comforting and helpful from an early age. If you’re not sure whether it would be helpful to a young person in your life, read it first.
For the grownups out there whose inner child craves fairy stories, this is a lovely read. It’s rich with ideas and enchantment, and is a warm hearted, emotionally reassuring sort of book. I thought it was lovely and very much recommend it.
Reinventing Herself, by DJ Martin is an excellent comfort read. This is a modest peril sort of story in that people whose names you never even know are killed in the background, and there’s a killer to track down, and there is some drama at the end. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the peril level for the named characters never seems high and that you can safely read this story when you want something warm and reassuring.
Main character El has recently lost her husband, and has moved to a smaller home in the woods. She discovers that for women in her family, the menopause tends to bring magical powers in the form of being able to communicate with animals. This is a glorious idea, and as someone frequently drowning in the great menopausal hormone sea, I found it delightful to have this notion of magical transformation instead.
This is a story full of talking animals. I really enjoyed that – I was the sort of child who really loved talking animal stories, and apparently that hasn’t gone away. If your inner child wants something a bit more grownup that still has talking animals, this is for you. There’s a lot of whimsy and cuteness, and some of the animals are really funny.
There’s a lot of humour in the book. It’s a warm and charming sort of humour, based on surprise, humorous situations, and charm. There’s also a lot of content around people having and developing really good relationships – friends, family members, romance – it’s really nice seeing a book in which all kinds of healthy and functional relationships are explored and you see a lot of people being thoughtful and caring towards each other. There’s also enough complexity in the relationships to stop that feeling implausibly sweet. It’s also about people figuring out who they are and becoming more themselves, and making choices to support their own growth and wellbeing.
If you’re in the mood to grab a blanket and snuggle up with something cheering, this is an ideal book. Take it to your pillow fort, bring snacks, have fun with the modest peril and the magical take on reality this book is set in.