Tuesday, 13 December 2016

'Tis the season - for rhymes

The Christmas season is full upon us, but why on earth does everything suddenly have to rhyme? Adverts are the worst culprits, forcing all their wording into tortuous rhymes and half rhymes without any real attempt to make it scan - or even make sense.

I blame Clement Clarke Moore, the author of Twas the Night Before Christmas which in itself is pleasing enough but hardly the the most poetic piece of writing. This seems to have given any advertising agency free licence to do their own version of this for their Christmas offerings.

Let's be honest, the original is pretty twee in itself. Doing a substandard version of it (and they invariably are) really isn't going sound pretty and indeed they don't, typically involving a few words with their pronunciation tortured to breaking point to make them fit, or grammar or sense abandoned just to get the required word at the end of the line.

I'm guessing that between Twas the Night and the rhyming couplets that abound in Christmas cards, this kind of thing is seen as acceptable and in some way part of the spirit of Chrismas. But as with most things, if you can't do it properly don't bother to do it at all.

There are any number of excellent poets out there who I'm sure would be happy to have a commission for something that is actually poetic and captures the Christmas spirit far more effectively. But they have an annoying habit of actually producing poetry not just forced rhyming doggerel.

There's no wonder that people say things like "I don't like poetry." This time of year is ideal to get some quality poetry heard but instead they get this instead.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Book Review: Felix Noonan, Sheffield Poet

Felix Noonan, Sheffield Poet (ISBN 978-0-9570526-1-1) is a self-published work avaiable from The Besotted Wretch bookshop in Sheffield. And what a terrific book it is.

Telling the life story of 'forgotten' local poet Felix Noonan, a poet who wrote his verse in a thick Sheffield dialect (there is a quick foreward explaining word usage and pronunciation), hoping to do for the distinctive South Yorkshire accent what Robbie Burns did for the Scottish one.

Telling the story of his forebears sets the scene, starting with his boxing champion grandmother Kitty and his mother Henry (named when the rather punch drunk and confused Kitty was convinced she was having a boy) and their adventures which ultimately resulted in the production of young Felix. The story then follows his life from gruelling hardship of industrial Sheffield until his rise to fame as Britain's nominated poet for the Second World War. Now a perons with a reputation he manages to get involved with many of the great people and events of the 20th Century.

Reading this book is an absolute blast. It's one of those that you can just pick up and read more of with a big grin and the occasional chuckle (if not out loud laughter, followed by a rather embarrassed check to see if anyone else in the room noticed). The style of writing is confident and tells the story as straight biography without a trace of irony, no mean feat. We are told for instance that as a child Felix suffered from poor health, in particular "mumps, cholera, flu, scarlet fever, a bad back, polio, consumption, Athlete’s Foot, measles and chilblains".

Excerpts from his poetry abound and are well worth reading (possibly including a quick refresher from the foreward). The excepts from Noonan's Poetic Places, a sort of thumbnail sketch of a tour of Britain in poem form are particularly fine. For example for Weston-super-Mare:

If da likes a sunneh beach else visitin a fair
Da could doo a damn sight wess dan Weston-super-Mare

Or my personal favourite, the terrific Anglesey rhyming couplet:

If yoo should cross ooer t’Menai Bridge get readeh for a shock

There are also quotes from other famous literary people of the time who apparently met or mentioned Felix but strangely the passages were edited out of their works before final publishing. There are tales of his hounding by the FBI and the McCarthy anti-communists in America and of his search for his routes in Ireland. There are a veritable Who's Whom of cameos such as Brendan Behan, George Orwell and Alan Ginsberg.

All of it is terrific stuff, told with a lot of brio and tongue firmly in cheek. This is a firm favourite of mine and will be a book I will be re-reading from time to time. It might be said that if there hadn't been a Felix Noonan, someone would have to invent him.

Felix Noonan, Sheffield Poet is available from The Besotted Wretch bookshop, 329 Abbeydale Road, Sheffield S7 1FS and if any trip to Sheffield was not already a great day out, why not make it even better than popping in and buying a copy and browsing the other books they have for sale?

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The 'The X Y' thriller book titles

Looking through my list of books on Goodreads and thinking about some of the other books I have seen and read there is a clear trend in thriller books to have titles along the lines of The X Y where X is usually a name, proper noun or (for the more adventurous) a greek letter and Y is a regular noun.

Examples off the top of my head: The Rembrandt Secret by Alex Connor, The Roswell Conspiracy by Boyd Morrison and of course all the Bourne and Jansen books by Robet Ludlum (and Eric von Lustbader).

At first glance this looks like a fairly lazy way of choosing book titles - you could (and I'm sure someone has) write a computer generator to create endless titles in this format. This leads to a certain perception of sameness between all of these books - both in quality and content - that might me misleading.

But the other side of that is that essentially you know what you are getting. These books are not going to win any literature awards but the reader immediately knows they will get a plot where there is a perceiptible threat and the chisel jawed hero (for it is invariably a male lead) must then use the skills and integuity he has learnt either from some sort of military, special forces or espionage training to overcome the odds to win through, saving the day.

So although the title may seem like it's an easy cop-out, it is a very good way of indicating what you will get. It is however no guarantee of quality, but that's true of any title.


Thursday, 28 April 2016

Book Review Star Ratings

The star rating for books (as with much else) is ubiquitous; it gives a good indication of whether the book was liked or not at a glance, which given the sheer volume of books out there can only be a good thing. Across Amazon, Goodreads and Smashwords (my major reviewing platforms) the 5 star rating rules. No half stars, just 1 to 5 stars.

But what do the star ratings mean? I saw a recent comment posted on Goodread's anniversary that the reviews on there were useless because most of the ratings given to books were 4 and 5 stars, implying that the system was flawed because if the vast majority of ratings are that high then all books look good.

This got me thinking about my reviews, how I choose the star rating and what that means to me and if I should maybe modify how I rate books.

I definitely give more 4 and 5 star ratings than I do other ratings but I do give 3 stars relative frequently. I very rarely give 1 or 2 stars as for me the book would have to be very poor and show no promise at all, and even with the boom in self publishing most authors are very much capable of producing a good book.

I would suspect that the casual reader (rather than someone like me who reviews on request) they tend to read books they like, and often from authors they already know they like. This means that for any given book they are more than likely to give a higher review. I suspect this is the reason for the high ratings at Goodreads - most people are reviewing books they know they will like beforehand, and very rarely encounter something that disappoints. There is also the consideration that they may be reviewing books they have read in the past, and books that were enjoyed are far more likely to be remembered than those that were disliked or were simply unengaging. This inevitably skews any reviews towards the higher ratings.

There is also pressure to produce 1 star ratings, which I think is especially true of Amazon, where readers who were very disappointed in a book will take the time to register a low rating and a ppor review. Some of time they genuinely didn't enjoy the book (which is fine) but sometimes there is a poor rating for something outside the author's control - the book arrived late when ordered, or was damaged etc - in which case the author suffers for something that is not their fault.

So what do I mean when I give my star ratings? I will say right here that I am not over critical of books. I know some reviewers go through them with a fine toothed comb and take lots of notes when reading, but my reviews are more about how I reacted to the book on an emotional level. Sometimes it takes a few days after I have finished a book to work out how I felt about it. Sometimes I know by the end of the first chapter that this is going to be 5 stars. I can ignore a few spelling errors or mis-words here and there as long as they don't distract from the narrative, for example, but lazy plotting or lack of character is a serious flaw.

5 stars
If I award 5 stars then I really enjoyed the book and looked forward to each reading session. This could have been because the plot was superb or because the language and prose itself was just enjoyable to read. I know some reviews reserve this for only books that are truly outstanding. That is fine but really not for me. I will sort out some sort of ordering when I do my top ten books of the year and a lot of that is influenced by how some books live with me for longer than others.

4 stars
4 stars are used for those books that I generally enjoyed but I felt could perhaps have been improved in some way or didn't quite engage me as much other works. It's still a good book and worth a read and I would recommend it to others without hesitation (I retweet my 4 and 5 star reviews regularly). I try to make it clear in the review why I felt it didn't quite deserve the final star.

3 star
The middle of the star range and does indeed indicate a middling book; this usually means that I enjoyed some parts of the book but that others just didn't work for me (others may disagree). Sometimes I have to force myself to finish a book; this will probably mean a 3 star rating if the overall plot or some of the ideas are still worthy of attention. I will also use it for books where it could just have been that the author was struggling to express what they meant and I will give them the benefit of the doubt because there is promise in the premise (if you will).

2 stars
I really really don't want to give a 2 star rating and will try to talk myself out of it and find reasons to bump the book up to 3 stars. It will generally mean that the author has got something really fundamental wrong with the book; it is either devoid of any interest, just plain dull or the plot is so flawed it ruins anything of merit. To date I think I've only ever given one 2 star review, for The Long Utopia by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett. It hurt to do but I really couldn't justify a higher mark.

1 star
Simply put: I couldn't dinish it. And I will grimly read a lot of uninspiring pages just to get to the end of a book. If I can't see any redeeming features then it's going to get 1 star. That has happened with precisely one book, Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire which I know a lot of people rate very highly but I really didn't think it offered anything new in the fantasy world (people had been doing more 'realistic' and darker fantasy for a long time beforehand) and wasn't in fact very well written (in my opinion).

Sometimes I sort of wish there were half stars I could use but that actually makes the job harder rather than easier. At least the divisions above are reasonably clear cut; what's the difference between 3 stars and 3.5 stars? No idea so although some books fall on the borderline between whole stars, on balance I'd rather have to decide to move them up or down rather than have a wider range to choose from.

Friday, 8 April 2016

The Importance of Reviews

I've been reviewing books and posting online now for about 2 and half years. I originally did it just because I read a lot and originally was posting basically every day about how far I had got with the latest books and what I thought of it so far. I did wonder if authors would be interested in how a reader's impression of the book changed as it went on.

That then moved to a more traditional read and then review. Mostly this was just because of the amount of time it was taking to post every day (and sometimes things get busy in real life), but also because it felt like posting every day was somehow chipping away at the final result. Although if any authors do want a day by day post of how I find their book I'm sure I would be happy to do that.

One thing I didn't expect was just how much reviews are treasured by (most) authors. I write my reviews on Goodreads, which automatically posts to Twitter for me (I'm not a big Facebook user these days).  I then run through my reviewed books in sequence and repost any 4 and 5 star reviews to Twitter, trying my best to find the author's Twitter handle. I didn't expect anything really from the authors (especially of volume published books) but usually I get a like if not a retweet. If I am very lucky the author will message me and some authors I've become a huge supporter of because they take this time.

But from their point of view reviews are the only way they have of knowing if people are actually enjoying their work (or not - criticism where it's justified can be just as valuable if a little demotivating). Pure sales or download figures can't do that. I just didn't realise how few people post reviews when they have read a book. In these days of social media sites for everything is it really that hard just to go on Goodreads and rate the book if nothing else?

So now my reviews are posted not only for me to compose my thoughts on the book I have just read. They are also for all you authors out there who work hard to produce great stories for us to read.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Indie vs traditional authors in 2015

After writing my list of the top 10 books of 2015 I got to thinking about what the ratio of  independant/self published authors was to traditionally published ones and how the quality compared.

The reasoning behing wanting to check the quality is simple: traditional books still sell and (as far as I can see) far outsell independant authors. Now a lot of this is going to be marketing but a lot of the books I read I've never seen any marketing for the author and have simply come across them. Add in the fact that traditionally published books are usually significantly more expensive (even as eBooks) than independantly published ones, perhaps the extra cost can be accounted for by the extra quality of having professional editors pick the stories that get published. I am sure that many people are put off independant books because they think they will be inferior (I admit this is anecdotal).

Down the to analysis. This is all going to be subjective but hopefully usefull nonetheless.

I read 33 books for the first time in 2015. 19 of these were independant (usual eBooks) and 14 were traditionally published (all printed books except for one short story). The skew there is simply because as eReaders are more portable I get more opportunity to read eBooks than printed ones, so therefore I read more of them.

As I review everything I read on Goodreads it pretty easy to have a look at the star ratings I gave and split the list into independent and traditionally published authors. The results are quite interesting simply because it seems that from my point of view in 2015 they both scored about the same. Independant authors scored an average of 4.42 stars per book, traditional publishers 4.36. They have very similar ratings for each of the star ratings to, 58% to 57% for 5 star, 26% to 29% for 4 star and 16% to 14% for 3 stars and below. Traditional publishing scored the only 2 star of the year for The Long Utopia by Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett which I thought was rather weak (review here),

Looking further into this, though, the results should be markedly biased towards traditional publishing if variable quality is assumed for authors that one has never read before.

A lot of the eBooks I read are essentially random choices, they have either been offered to me for review (in which case they may be something I wouldn't have normally picked up) or are picked rather haphazardly from sites like Smashwords where large numbers of books are published daily by their authors. The printed ones have by and large been from authors I knew I liked before I picked the book up. So in general I would have expected independent books to score lower simply because there is more chance I won't enjoy them.

Even more detail on that  - and naming names. In terms I independent authors, the new ones I read books for in 2015 were: Greg Johnson, Kurt Chambers, Travis Luedke, John Darryl Winston, David Chilcott, John Dolan, James Minter, Diana Febry, Deborah Coonts and Charles Kaluza. Of these I read multiple books by Kurt Chambers, John Darryl Winston and David Chilcott. I read the books of only one independant author that I was already familiar with - Katrina Cope, and then she had started a new series with a different feel to it.

For traditional publishers I had read 7 of the authors before (Chris Brookmyre, Stephen Hunt, Alastair Reynolds, Matthew Reilly, Stephen Baxter & Terry Pratchett and Joe Abercrombie). Of these only Alastair Reynolds and Matthew Reilly's books were not part of a previous series of theirs. The new authors I found in 2015 were Boyd Morrison, David Gibbins, Luke Scull and Alex Connor and of these only Boyd Morrison scored 5 stars for one of the 4 books of his I read.

The result is that for independant books I was pleased when I found an author I really liked (most of them) and those that didn't quite make 4 or 5 stars were will worth reading. For the traditionally published works it is perhaps a little disappointing that authors I do like have not been more consistently delivering 5 stars.

The inevitiable conclusion here is twofold. Firstly, independant authors are on the ascendent and secondly don't be afraid to dabble in independant works for fear that they may be self indulgent or just plan bad. It is daunting that there are a lot of books to choose from but that shouldn't put anyone off. I say take the plunge and grab an eBook by an independant author today. You won't regret it.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Books of 2015

2015 was a year that saw nearly 40 books read, and looking back I was surprised how many had been 4 and 5 star. There is an outstanding quality of work out that and I have to say from what I have seen the independant authors have the edge on the major publishers at the moment.

My Books of 2015

I would say this is in no particular order, but it is in order of the Author's first name, which is as arbitrary as anything else. Of all the books I read these 10 are the ones I thought were particularly good or stayed with me after I had turned the last page.

Alastair Reynolds - Slow Bullets

 Most famous for his Revelation Space novels, Reynolds released this short story (more of a novella) in the summer. The plot is unrelated to any of his previous work, as far as can be determined anyway. As with a lot of his work the characters are neither good nor bad but simply human, capable of both enormous compassion and horrific cruelty.

Scur is captured by the enemy at the end of a war that has gone on for years and spanned many worlds. After being rescued she finds herself in a transport ship with hundreds of other soldiers from both sides, some of which are wanted for war crimes. But something has gone wrong and the ship has not arrived at its intended destination. With factions of the passengers pushing for all out war with each other, Scur tries to mediate the conflict and resolve their apparently hopeless situation. But which side is she on and who is prepared to stand with her - or against her?

The failing environment of the ship is well drawn by Reynolds, as are the various members of the factions on board. As would be expected there are some quite unpleasant occurrences, either deliberate acts or accidents. A well written and timely reminder that epic science fiction can be personal.

My Goodreads review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1230678821

Boyd Morrison - The Ark

This time last year I hadn't heard of Boyd Morrison. Now he is firmly established as one of my favourite commercially published authors and definitely the number one thriller writer for me. The Ark is the first in a series of books he has written featuring engineer Tyler Locke as the main character.

There are two main reasons his work reads so well in my opinion; firstly he will take a fairly fantastic myth (in this case the story of Noah's Ark) and provides a logical thesis to show that the story we have now may have a basis in real events. In this case, Noah's Ark wasn't a ship but a refuge in a cave, and the flood was a deadly virus. When an end of the world cult discover a sample of this virus and engineer it to wipe out humanity, it is up to Locke to stop them.

The second factor is the hero, Tyler Locke himself. An engineer with a scientific outlook he doesn't take the incredible concepts he is presented with at face value. Instead he works through them methodically to work out what is really going on and this works well. He takes nothing on faith and questions everything and for me that resonates. He exchanges banter with his friend in the impressive shape of Grant Westwood, former wrestler, Army Ranger and electronics and explosives specialist. Unlike other pairings in adventure/thriller novels both are capable and Grant never feels like a side kick, there for muscle or comic relief.

The plots in the books twist as unbelievable myth is turned into possible science, and with Morrison's interest in fast vehicles and bleeding edge technology there are numerous chase scenes and gadgets galore. At the end of the books Morrison always has a little explanatory chapter where some of the more exotic technology is revealed to be real - or at least on the cusp of being real.

If you want a thrill ride, forget the rest, read Morrison. He is the latest collaborator with Clive Cussler in the book Piranha and that may prove to be something special and lift it above the rest of the recent Cussler output.

My Goodreads review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1357125785

Charles Kaluza - Tails and Fixers

Tails and Fixers manages to combine exploration of another planet, battle for survival, social commentary and romance all in one story, with enough left over for some philosophical musings on the origin of life in the universe.

It's a lot to pack in but Charles Kaluza writes fluently managing to move seamlessly between phases of the plot. The hero is Floyd, sent on a one-way mission to another world which has broadcast a radio message. This turns out to have been a distress call and Floyd arrives to an almost destroyed world and initially must use all his ingenuity to survive.

When he eventually contacts survivors he finds two symbiotic races living in a enclosed environment and very wary of him and what he represents. He finds their social order to be somewhat at odds with his ideals and is determined to leave and make some sort of life for himself on the surface, but with allies and enemies in the alien hierarchy, will he be allowed to do this?

There is so much to like about this book, plenty of good ideas and interesting characters. There are plenty of twists and reveals as the plot winds towards it's conclusion.

My Goodreads review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1428836433

Deborah Coonts - Wanna Get Lucky?

The glitz and glamour of Las Vegas hides an ugly underbelly of seediness, sex and the ruthless pursuit of money. Lucky O'Toole knows all about every angle. As the customer services manager for a top casino resort hotel it his her job to ensure that any little problems are ironed out. Naked drunken man in the stairwell? Call Lucky. Escaped snake in a hotel room? Call Lucky. Cocktail waitress falls out of the casino's helicopter to her death? Call Lucky.

The last proves to be something that even Lucky can't simply smooth over. The more she tries to find out the more she is sure that the death is no accident.and that lot of people are hiding a lot of information from her. But with the annual adult movie awards about to hit town in the same week as a swingers convention, Lucky might not have much time to find answers.

This novel is fun and sassy, perfectly balancing the darker aspects - the murder and the dark side of Vegas - with a freewheeling narration by the hugely likeable main character. She is someone who is always sorting problems out for others but can't seem to grasp the problems in her own life.

The main plot is obviouly the how and why of the fateful helicopter plunge but there are plenty of side plots along with real genuine laughs. In short this is a total delight of a book and I'll definitely be reading more of the series.

My Goodreads review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1409699507

Diana J Febry - Each To Their Own 

Although not technically one of the best books of the year (I only rated it 4 stars) this was definitely a highlight of the reading year.

The plot of this book starts out simply enough with Dan convinced that foul play was involved in the death of his daughter, who apparently committed suicide. With the police - and nearly everyone else - thinking his is being delusional he decides to find out the truth himself.

The journey spans the country and each twist moved Dan deeper into a dark world and to making desperate decisions, sometimes with catastrophic results.

If the plot sounds like something that can be found serialised on the television that is exactly how it feels to read but with the benefit of not having to wait for a week to read the next chapter. The characters are drawn very well and it's really unclear how everything fits together until very near the end. Exceptionally well plotted and well written.

My Goodreads review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1372314683

John D Winston - IA: Initiate

Science fiction covers a wide range of story types, from the big bangs per buck of space opera to the very small scale and subtle tales that seem like normal life - just a little skewed in some way.

IA: Initiate is definitely at the small scale end. It is the equivalent of the close-up magician making coins disappear right in front of you rather than making whole buildings vanish. Both are just as impressive and IA: Initiate never fails to impress.

The story follows Naz, a teenage boy who lives with his younger sister in a ghetto called the Exclave. Their parents split up years before and now both are dead - the father in a car accident that Naz was involved in and the mother killed by her abusive new partner. Naz himself has no memory of anything before the car crash which killed his father.

Naz just wants a quiet life and to look after his sister. He tries just hard enough at school to get by without attracting attention. He does odd jobs for local shopkeepers. He doesn't want to change the world. But he is not quite a normal child. He has powerful and realistic dreams and hears voices when he becomes stressed.

The reader follows Naz as he tries to live his life and deny that he is special, but fate has other ideas.

Although aimed at a 'young adult' audience I would recomment this to anyone.

My Goodreads review:  https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1291122933

John Dolan - Jim Fosse's Expense Claim

Easily the shortest book I read this year it's hard to even claim this even long enough to qualify as a short story. In a large part that brevity its it's charm, giving it a lot of punch per page.

Set out as a series of emails (and other documents) it describes what can best be described as a 'difference of opinion' between Jim Fosse and one of the finance team at his company. Fosse is trying to claim a very large sum for expenses for a recent business trip and gets upset when it is questioned.

Although the actual tone of the correspondence is serious the way it is laid out is hilarious; Fosse becomes abusive very quickly while the finance employee tries to remain professional. Anyone who has worked in an office will have heard of sales reps presenting slightly questionable expense claims but Fosse takes it to a new level. On being challenged for the lack of recipts, for example, he responds that 'hooker's don't tend to give receipts'

Very irreverent, highly split-your-sides amusing even as the tone turns darker and the humour blacker it still remains fascinating.

Perhaps the sense of humour or the subject matter won't appear to everyone, and adult themes mean it's not for the faint hearted but I just thought it was terrific.

My Goodreads review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1312743413

Katrina Cope - Fledgling

Katrina Cope was one of my favourite authors last year with her Sanctum series and Jayden and the Mysterious Mountain made my books of 2014 list. This year Cope started a new series, firmly positioned for young adults.

The book follows an initially unnamed woman who has been murdered three times in previous lives and as such has been allowed to become an angel to stop innocents being harmed by evil.

Unlike most stories (at least those I have read) involving angels this isn't overtly religious and indeed the angels are pretty much kick-ass martial arts experts who take the phrase 'battling evil' quite literally. I described them as being like super heroes in my review and that is what it is like - it is a bit like an angelic version of X-Men.

The heroine is likeable and always wants to do what she feels is right even when it could get her into trouble. There is a streak of trouble romance for her running through the book so this is probably more suited to female rather than male readers, but the actual demon fighting is great fun for anyone.

A terrific start to a new series which is already showing a lot of promise to deliver.

My Goodreads review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1283240148

Kurt Chambers - Truth Teller

 Charlotte is an ordinary teenage girl on holiday with her family when she finds her way to a strange shop in an alley and is given a strange glowing globe which leads her to another world - one inhabited by elves and other strange creatures.

She discovers that the world is under threat from the evil Siren and that there is a prophesy of a person from another world who will save them - someone only known as the Truth Teller.

Despite her initial bewilderment Charlotte must travel to find the way back home, facing many dangers. Is she perhaps the Truth Teller?

The aim of this book is to get teenage girls to read epic fantasy and it does an excellent job, not putting a foot wrong. To those of us who were brought up on Lewis, Tolkien and epic fantasy in general the plot might seem a bit formulaic and cliched but Chambers attacks the story with relish giving a slightly different take on the familiar plot lines. After all, this is aimed at those who have never read fantasy before so does not need to provide some new twist, and to an extent it's a relief to read something that is comfortable just being a straightforward and fun read.

Despite being aimed at the female young adult audience this is still a good read for anyone who wants a light bite of epic fantasy without having to wade through appendices of family trees or volumes as thick as a brick. A delight to read.

My Goodreads review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1237595228

Stephen Hunt - The Court of the Air

I read the third novel of Stephen Hunt's highly imaginative Jackelian novels, The Rise of the Iron Moon, last year and was amazed by the density and complexity of the world it presented so made sure that I started the series from the beginning with The Court of the Air.

The first thing to say is that Hunt makes you work reading this book, but it pays off. He has essentially reinvented a Victorian style society and placed it into a very strange world with its own cultures, peoples and mythology. There are very few points of reference for the reader and nothing is explained so it's almost a note-taking exercise working out what is going on.

Not one for the casual reader then. But definitely one for anyone who wants to close the back cover having felt that they have accomplished something. The plot concerns machinations by foreign powers to take the land of Jackals by force and the rather disparate band who discover the plot and must thwart it. Hunt is not shy of the deus ex machina ending which means that things can build right towards the final pages.

The depth and scale of the concepts won't appeal to all but there is something in it that just snags my imagination. Possibly an acquired taste but one I'm very happy to have.

My Goodreads review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1067045739