Tag Archives: review

Rem Wigmore book reviews

These two books follow straight on from each other, and it does work to read them back to back. Foxhunt has been out for a while Wolfpack is coming out this January. I figured it made sense to review the two in one go.

This story is set in a future that has come back from the brink and where humanity is trying to make better choices. That makes for very hopeful reading. There a mix of people going back to older ways of doing things, alongside imaginative future tech and lots of solar power. There’s also a lot to think about around how people organise themselves – this mostly goes on in the background but it’s a source of richness within the books. The world building is deftly done and engaging and I would cheerfully spend a lot more time reading stories set in this future. The main character is trans, there are a lot of trans and nonbinary characters and everyone introduces themselves with their pronouns, which is wonderful. I don’t think I’ve ever previously read anything that was so entirely queer and it made me very happy.

There are definite threads for Pagans in these novels. The author clearly knows their mythology, and draws on it in all sorts of interesting ways. There is also reverence for the earth and for the Green threading through it all, which I found really resonant.

If it sounds like your sort of thing, get in there!

Foxhunt

For me the heart of this story is how the main character – Orfeus – grows as a person and learns about herself. At the start of the book, Orfeus presents as cocky and sassy and seems fairly self-assured. However, as the story progresses, it becomes obvious that Orfeus isn’t close to many people and really has no idea who to trust or how to relate to most people. There’s a huge learning curve for the character around understanding other people and forming more substantial relationships. It’s really interesting watching a main character who has very little idea what they’ve got into and who makes terrible choices about how to react. I found that refreshing, and opens the story up in ways that a more competent character could not have done.

Overall this is a charming romp of a book right up until it takes a very uneasy turn towards the end. The story plays out well.

Wolfpack

The second novel introduces more perspectives and we see this future reality through more eyes – which I really liked. Wolfpack builds on the ideas from the first book, expands the cast and develops the characters we’re already familiar with. It’s a stronger novel, and much more emotionally intense than Foxhunt. I came very close to crying over this story on multiple occasions. There are themes of community, relationship, trust, and hope. The way all of that plays out gave me a lot of feelings and the emotional journeys of the characters are really powerful. It’s a story about how we move on together, how we heal together, how we look after each other and this is such good and needful stuff to be talking about. And it’s good to encounter those themes with characters who wear cool masks and have nifty flying bikes and surprise owls.

Find out more on the author’s website – https://www.remwigmore.com/


Space train – a review

This is not an impartial review. David is my friend, and we’re writing together – a situation I got into because I love his work. I loved Space Train, it’s quite possibly my favourite book of his I’ve read so far.

I have read a modest amount of sci-fi along the way – I’m not an expert in the genre, but I’ve done enough of it to have opinions. This is character driven sci-fi, with the science at a level that seems plausible to a non-expert (me) and doesn’t weigh the book down. I seldom enjoy novels where the ‘hard’ science dominates the story. I’m much more interested in concepts, and this is a book with plenty of those.

What David has done here primarily is to use a futuristic setting in order to talk about tyranny, colonialism, capitalism and the violence that all creates. The Space Train itself carries people fleeing a tyrannical culture, and the story revolves around their experiences as said tyrannical culture goes after them. The cast are a mix of humans and really interesting aliens, and the whole thing has a bit of a frontiers/cowboy vibe to it as well. 

The story is driven by both grief and friendship. Many of the characters have endured loss and trauma in a war that happened before the book starts. There’s a lot in here about how people can support each other through that. The action is dominated by people trying to protect and take care of each other. The plot is powered to a large degree by a cast intent on building community, and there’s a large cast, reflecting that communal feeling rather than focusing entirely on one or two heroes. Different kinds of courage, loyalty and values are explored. There’s also a villainous villain who, had there been a movie version twenty years ago, would have been played by Gary Oldman, or perhaps Alan Rickman.

One of the things that really stood out for me was the way PTSD is dealt with in the story. One of the characters is dealing with a scenario that is so close to a previous horror they lived though, that they are repeatedly triggered. David does a superb job of expressing what happens during that kind of triggering, and how trauma often continues to be very present in a person’s life. As a reader, you can’t tell whether events are taking a turn for the worst or if you’re caught up in a flashback – which is also how that kind of triggering works for the person experiencing it. In terms of PTSD representation, this is one of the most powerful depictions I’ve ever read.

I loved it. If you think space socialism with a high paced plot is for you, then I heartily recommend you check it out.

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


The Path to Healing is a Spiral

This is an incredibly grounded book, full of humour, compassion and wisdom. Anna McKerrow explores various approaches to healing while steadfastly resisting ableism and toxic positivity. It’s a powerful read with a great deal to offer anyone who needs to take better care of themself.

I was not having a good week when I read this book back in May. (I had the book well ahead of release for blurbing, and I cunningly stashed a review!) The week in question started with a massive triggering event, and a huge meltdown, then Idabbled in sleep deprivation and then crashed into a period while flirting yet again with anaemia. Health had become a matter of firefighting and trying to keep going. It’s been a tough year on that score with far too many rounds of similar things. I read this book while in a place of urgently needing to heal, and feeling lost and powerless. It was a good book to read in that context.

Anna talks about an array of emotional healing experiences she’s had, and about the kinds of horrible, but not that unusual experiences that meant she needed that. As she points out, most of us will be wounded, repeatedly along the way. Healing is something we need to do. She also writes about the kinds of things a womb can do to your body and more people need to know this stuff, regardless of womb-status.

If you’re curious about alternative healing approaches, there’s a lot to learn here. We get a mix of Anna’s experiences alongside interviews from practitioners, which I found really interesting. This isn’t a how-to book, it won’t tell you how to heal, but it does explore the idea that you could. Some things aren’t fixable, but mitigation, better support and more coping mechanisms are always worth having. It’s a wise and encouraging book in that way.

I think it is people in similar situations to me who will benefit most from this book. It’s for those of us who could do with taking the time to ask what could be made better, rather than just being in a perpetual running battle with the health issues. For those of us with mental illness, it’s a helpful invitation to think about what kind of support we might even need while being offered examples to consider. If your womb has chosen violence, this is definitely for you.

More on the author’s website – https://www.annamckerrow.com/the-path-to-healing-is-a-spiral.html


Folktales, Faeries, and Spirits – a review

One of the major perks that comes with being me, is that I get to read some books long before they are released. That was the case with this new book from Halo Quin, and I had the honour of being asked to write an endorsement. Halo is a writer whose warmth and generosity of spirit runs through everything she does. Her work is always cheering. I make no claims for objectivity, I’m a huge fan of this particular entity (fairy? goblin? I’m not always entirely sure…)

So, this is the blurb I wrote, which is in the front of the book (I will never get tired of getting to do this, although this isn’t one of my better bits of writing, I’m pretty sure I was ill at the time and there are word repeats and frankly Halo deserved better but here we are.)

“This book will be of particular interest to students of Druidry interested in working with folklore, landscape and spirits of place. There are many interesting fairy insights here, and the author provides a valuable map for engaging with stories and spirits in your landscape.”

I’ll add here that if you are starting out on any kind of exploration around folklore, fairy, stories in the land or spirits of place then this is a good book to pick up. If you’ve been poking around in this sort of thing for longer, you might still want it for the sheer charm.

More on the publisher’s website – https://www.johnhuntpublishing.com/moon-books/our-books/pagan-portals-folktales-faeries-spirits


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


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.


The Amber Crown – a review

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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.

More about Jacey Bedford here – https://www.jaceybedford.co.uk/books.htm


The Hourglass Sea – a review

The Hourglass Sea is the second book in Mat McCall’s Dandelion Farmer series. It’s steampunk fiction set on Mars, and I reviewed book 1 here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2017/09/19/the-dandelion-farmer-a-review/

I think there’s a fighting chance this would stand alone without reading book 1 first, but really, why would you do that to yourself? Read book 1 first and then read this one! There’s always that worry with a series that the author won’t be able to live up to the promise of the opening, or that it will all spiral out of control – well, that’s not an issue here.

I loved book 1, and book 2 follows on from it wonderfully. Mat expands and develops the story and the setting with great style and skill. Life on Mars is explored in greater detail and the plots we encountered in book 1 become even plottier. As some mysteries seem to become clearer, new questions and problems arise for the characters. What’s critically important in this is that it feels entirely controlled. There’s clearly an underlying story here, and as the world building expands, more sense can be made of what’s going on, not less.

This is a wonderfully diverse tale, with characters from all kinds of backgrounds. It sets that diversity in a context that is sometimes supportive, sometimes problematic for the characters. There’s some of that Victorian prudery, and an exploration of prejudice around it, but also a strong pushback against narrow and restrictive ways of being. There’s a look at the realities of colonialism that does not romanticise invasion, conquest or settlement. While the central characters are largely privileged people, the story itself exposes that privilege and its implications in all sorts of ways.

This is a complicated adventure with a lot of action and a great deal going on – murder and revenge, spies and political scheming, evil science, strange sf elements, mystery, wonder, smugglers, airships, afternoon tea… it’s a really strong mix that managed to be both grounded and surprising.

I particularly like Mat’s approach to storytelling – the tale is presented as a series of documents gathered after the event – diaries, text books, letters and so forth. Sometimes the story is fragmented. Sometimes it overlaps, but in the overlapping versions, doubts and possibilities appear. The first person voices of the characters are distinctive, and the choice of who not to give a voice to also affects the plot in significant ways. I think it’s technically a really clever piece of work, which I also enjoyed. I may think about the mechanics of this sort of thing more than is normal!

It’s not easy reviewing a book in a series because almost any comment on the details has the potential to spoiler the previous instalments. This is especially true of this series, where even talking too much about the identities of the characters in book 2 might give away too much about who has survived book 1 and what has changed for them.

Heartily recommended!


Soul Land – a review

Soul Land by Natalia Clarke is a love letter to a landscape. It was a joy for me reading someone else’s poetry in this vein – having done something similar with a poetry collection of my own called Mapping the Contours.

Natalia is in love with Scotland, and her poems are passionate expressions of a profound love affair with place. The writing is generous, sensuous, wholehearted.  These are bardic braise poems directed at place rather than person, and I greatly enjoyed reading them.

I recommend this collection primarily for the pleasure of reading it. However, for anyone on the bard path wondering about writing love songs, love letters, and romances directed towards the non-human, this is a lovely example. For the person who feels alienated and craves relationship with the land, this collection may help you on your way.

To be a body in a landscape. To be alive and keenly feeling and in relationship with all that is around you is an exquisite thing. For me, it is a key part of the Druid path. I’m painfully aware though that many people do not have that grounding love in their lives. Alienation from land, landscape and a sense of place is a modern illness, and reading and writing can be one way back into the land. Poems can be maps, and guides to help us heal and to rebuild the relationships that should always have been ours.

More about the book here – https://rawnaturespirit.com/e-guide/


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