What’s shakin’? – July, August and September 2018

What have you been looking at lately?

TV

I tore through season 2 of the Marvel’s Luke Cage. I’m enjoying the various Netflix Marvel series and Luke Cage is not exception. Like in season 1, there is a level of African-American cultural references that I suspect are going way over my head, but not in such a way as to make the story incomprehensible. I’ve enjoyed the course they are charting for Luke Cage, and I think they’ve set up for an interesting third season down the line.

Likewise I worked my way through season 2 of Marvel’s Iron Fist. This is still very newly out, so I won’t give away any plot spoilers. Suffice to say I enjoyed it more than season 1, and it seemed like they engaged with a lot of the issues people raised re: cultural appropriation and gender bias (maybe not completely, but they seemed to at least be acknowledged). My perspective should be treated with suspicion though, as I’m as likely as the next person to have biases and blind spots. I’ll be very interested to see how people who have direct experience around those kinds of issues engage with the show.

Final Space is a cartoon space comedy on Netflix. Season 1 is 10 episodes, and I liked it. A little bit Futurama, but a lot more blood and guts. I may have been reading too much into it, but the straight, white guy protagonist was such a doofus that it almost seemed a commentary on sticking someone like that at the centre of a narrative. A bit stupid, but a lot of fun.

Speaking of stupid, I also watched Future Man, another sci-fi comedy. Again a lot of blood and guts, and some funny and self-aware commentary on time travel as a plot device.

The Good Place season 3 has just started – the whole household is very excited by its return.

Books

Hidden City by Alan Baxter – an urban fantasy with strong horror elements (as you’d expect from Baxter). I enjoyed it, pace was good and Baxter develops the characters quickly and well. From Goodreads:

When the city suffers, everyone suffers.

Steven Hines listened to the city and the city spoke. Cleveport told him she was sick. With his unnatural connection to her, that meant Hines was sick too. But when his friend, Detective Abby Jones, comes to him for help investigating a series of deaths with no discernible cause, Hines can’t say no. Then strange fungal growths begin to appear in the streets, affecting anyone who gets too close, turning them into violent lunatics.

As the mayhem escalates and officials start to seal Cleveport off from the rest of the world, Hines knows the trouble has only just begun.

Cabaret of Monsters by Tansy Rayner Roberts – got this through Robert’s recent Kickstarter to resurrect her Creature Court trilogy. I enjoy Robert’s writing a lot, and this was no exception. Very much stand alone, although it I think it adds something if you’ve read the Creature Court trilogy (I’m planning a re-read when the new editions come out). From Goodreads:

Saturnalia in Aufleur is a time of topsy-turvy revels, of the world turned upside down and transformed before your eyes. The city’s theatres produce an annual display of reversals, surprises and transformations.

In this city, flappers can transform into wolves. Even the rats are not what they seem.

Evie Inglirra is on a mission to infiltrate the theatrical world of Aufleur and discover what lies beneath their glamorous cabaret costumes and backstage scandals. Has she bitten off more than she can chew?

Luna and Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald – great space opera.

I’ve been enjoying the Murderbot series by Martha Wells (not the only person on the planet that this is true of) so I decided I might try one of her fantasy books, and picked up Death of the Necromancer. Really good fantasy, set in a secondary world with a kind of 18th/19th century feel (muskets and swords, not medieval). Unfortunately, a lot of the books she has written based in this world don’t seem to be available in Australia, but I’ll keep looking.

Starting the Galactic Suburbia book club where they are reading How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ. Only up to chapter one at the moment, but I can tell it will be a very interesting experience.

I’m not reading as much as I should!

Movies

Normal superhero palaver – Ant Man and the Wasp, Deadpool 2, even went and saw Venom last night. I remain a sucker for superhero movies, even the bad ones. Ant Man and the Wasp I really enjoyed – funny, light hearted enough to be a good antidote to the slightly depressing Infinity WarsDeadpool 2 was funny, I’ve just picked it up on DVD and looking forward to watching the extended edition. Venom… wasn’t great, but watchable and I do like the anti-hero trend at the moment.

I suspect my daughter will insist on going to see the Teen Titans Movie some time these school holidays, and I’m also looking forward to the Spiderman cartoon with Miles as Spiderman.

Games

I’ve downloaded some old games onto the iPad – Baldur’s Gate and Baldur’s Gate 2. I loved those games when I was younger, and I love them still! Have completed BG1 and working my way through BG2 as a Cleric/Ranger character (which I’ve never played before).

I also bought the new Tomb Raider game, but haven’t had a chance to play it yet as my 10yo daughter has decided she is going to be Laura Croft when she grows up and is devouring the game herself.

Writing

I’ve gone back to my novel manuscript, and have been slowly working my way through it editing. It is a very slow process – I don’t have a lot of time to devote to writing at the moment, and what time I have tends to be late at night when I’m not at my freshest.

Matters Arising for the Identification of the Body by Simon Petrie – a review

Another delayed review from a book I read a while back – I’m trying to catch up!

From Goodreads:

Tanja Morgenstein, daughter of a wealthy industrialist and a geochemist, is dead from exposure to Titan’s lethal, chilled atmosphere, and Guerline Scarfe must determine why.

This novella blends hard-SF extrapolation with elements of contemporary crime fiction, to envisage a future human society in a hostile environment, in which a young woman’s worst enemies may be those around her.

‘Matters Arising’ won the 2018 Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Novella or Novelette, and was shortlisted in the analogous category in both the Aurealis and Ditmar Awards.

This novella by New Zealand born/Canberra based Simon Petrie was recently re-released under his own imprint. Petrie has a series of stories based on a colonised Titan (one of the moons of Saturn), and while most of them are straight sci-fi, Matters Arising is a sci-fi/detective story crossover. Perhaps due to the number of stories he has set in this world, there is plausible, in depth world building that doesn’t overwhelm the narrative which is a great starting point.

For instance Petrie creates an interesting conceit, having an arm of the government work to establish the details of suicides to see if the society can learn anything from the circumstances. It is an interesting reflection on how culture/government might evolve in a constrained environment like a Titan colony.

In fact, Matters Arising packs a lot into the novella length. As well as setting a good pace, Petrie uses the extra space of a novella to flesh out the main character nicely, showing glimpses of family and other background information which creates a much stronger connection between reader and protagonist.

The mystery at the core of the story is intriguing, and the payoff at the end satisfying. The mystery itself depends on some of the technological advances outlined in the world building, which I like in a sci-fi/crime story. When the mystery could be set anywhere, it seems to defeat the purpose of using a futuristic setting.

All in all, I found Matters Arising a thoughtful, exciting piece, well and truly worthy of its award winning status. Highly recommended!

What’s shakin’? – June 2018

So, what have I been up to in June, culture consumed wise?

TV

Finally got around to finishing a couple of TV seasons that I’d left half done for some reason.

Lost In Space Season 1 – visually spectacular, good characterisation, tense. So if it was so good, why did I pause half way through and not come back to it for about 2 months? I’m not 100% sure, but I think it had to do with the Dr Smith storyline. Waiting for the other shoe to drop and people to work out what she was up to created a tension that took the edge off the show for me. However, when I got back into it it was a good run to the end, and it was an intriguing cliff hanger.

Shadowhunters Season 3 – don’t generally love the angel/devil based urban fantasy (I love urban fantasy, just not the Christian element) but I remain vaguely interested in this one. Not enough to watch religiously (pun intended), but every now and then. I could make some comments about world building, but honestly I think I like it mainly because I can switch my brain off and just watch along.

The Magicians Season 3 – now this was excellent TV. I’ve liked The Magicians all the way through, but I thought this season stepped it up a notch. It goes without saying that Margo and Elliot steal the show as always, but using a portal fantasy setup to allow for the meta-examination of the tropes of fantasy makes this show stand out for me. If you haven’t been watching, definitely go back to season 1. But put it this way – any show that uses misheard request to result in “trial by wombat” is always going to have my vote.

Also watched the end of The Flash and Supergirl (my daughter loves both). I’m less of a fan these days, I think the characters on both shows (as well as Arrow) makes questionable ethical decisions, at least from a utilitarian point of view. Still, it is a good experience sharing with my daughter.

Next month, I watching along with Gotham (bonkers!) and looking forward to watching the next season of Luke Cage.

Books

The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley. Do you ever get the feeling that you’re just not smart enough to understand a book? The Stars are Legion has got a lot of love from a lot of people whose opinion I respect, but I didn’t fall in love with it myself. Didn’t hate it either, my reaction was more of the “meh” variety. I appreciated aspects of the novel, what it was doing with gender etc. But it didn’t grab me me by the throat and I had to drag myself through. Just goes to show, all the novels aren’t for all the people!

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz – I know I’m a bit late to this particular parade, but I liked this novel. It had that William Gibson/Bruce Sterling kind of feel which conjured up that warm, snuggly feeling you get when you are reminded of your teenage reading habits. Some really interesting comments on the long term impact of intellectual property law taken to an extreme. Some great characters as well – I like a novel that can write from the perspective of both the protagonist and the antagonist and still make both have sympathetic elements (as well as non-sympathetic ones).

Next month I’ve got Alan Baxter’s Hidden City on my reading list, not sure what else yet. As always, happen to entertain any suggestions in the comments.

Movies

My 10yo daughter has fallen in love with Oceans 8, and has insisted on seeing it three times at the movies. So I actually got to go and see it one of those three times. Does a great job at replicating the feel of the first movie, but still being a very fresh take on the theme. Script was tight, acting great – a fantastic movie, but if my daughter’s experience is anything to go from, particularly good for any young women in your orbit.

Speaking of heist films, I also saw Solo towards the start of the month. I know it hasn’t received as much love as previous films, but I really liked it. It was good to see another aspect of the Star Wars universe, and I thought the plot was good for the style of film (fast paced). There were enough nods to the history to keep fans happy, but I think a non-fan would also get a lot from it.

Next month, it’s Ant Man and the Wasp on the radar. I’d also like to see The Incredibles 2.

Writing

The experience of having my novella (‘The Reclaimers‘) released in Dimension6 earlier in the year was fantastic. Since then, I’ve been motivated to start editing my novel draft (Unaligned) and working on a new short story that I’m excited about. Family life and work have left less time than optimal for writing (and this blog!) over the last few years, and I’m trying to reboot now.

Crossroads of Canopy by Thoraiya Dyer – a review

Another tardy review from a book I read last year, Crossroads of Canopy by Australian author Thoraiya Dyer (*). The recent release of the sequel Echoes of Understorey prompted me to finally put finger to keyboard.

From Goodreads:

At the highest level of a giant forest, thirteen kingdoms fit seamlessly together to form the great city of Canopy. Thirteen goddesses and gods rule this realm and are continuously reincarnated into human bodies. Canopy’s position in the sun, however, is not without its dark side. The nation’s opulence comes from the labor of slaves, and below its fruitful boughs are two other realms: Understorey and Floor, whose deprived citizens yearn for Canopy’s splendor.

Unar, a determined but destitute young woman, escapes her parents’ plot to sell her into slavery by being selected to serve in the Garden under the goddess Audblayin, ruler of growth and fertility. As a Gardener, she yearns to become Audblayin’s next Bodyguard while also growing sympathetic towards Canopy’s slaves.

When Audblayin dies, Unar sees her opportunity for glory – at the risk of descending into the unknown dangers of Understorey to look for a newborn god. In its depths, she discovers new forms of magic, lost family connections, and murmurs of a revolution that could cost Unar her chance…or grant it by destroying the home she loves.

The first thing that really struck me about this book was the world-building. Societies that have evolved living in the branches of huge trees, with the closer you can get to sunshine, the better off you are. Even though we are seeing the world through a single perspective, Dyer does a wonderful job hinting at a more complex world, leaving me with no doubt that future books will have plenty of material to explore. It does take a couple of chapters to orient yourself in the book, but a small amount of initial effort pays off handsomely.

Dyer has created an interesting pantheon to inhabit her world. No unknowable distant gods here, but 13 very tangible beings constantly reincarnated into new bodies. There were some tantalising hints as to how these gods came to be, and where they might have got their power from. There were also interesting societal consequences explored, when the evolution of your community is done in the presence of such powerful beings.

At first I found the protagonist, Unar, relatively unsympathetic, and a little hard to relate to. I hit a turning point when I started to think of her as a millennial, and those traits that I had initially found a tad grating became more recognisable. I think Dyer has been clever here, and as a result of her early portrayal Unar has a very satisfying character arc. A character drawn in less stark terms at the beginning would not have been capable of such fundamental change/growth.

The book forms a natural canvas for exploring issues of diversity by weaving themes of race, societal status, slavery into the fabric of the story, and the world building.

Dyer is one of Australia’s pre-eminent short fiction writers, and it was a pleasure to see her translate that skill into the novel length market. I am very much looking forward to reading her next book in the series.

 

(*) I am acquainted with Thoraiya through a writing group that I sporadically attend (it is an excellent writing group, my less than stellar attendance record speaks more to the demands of work and family than any deficiency in the group!). I don’t think this fact has influenced my feelings re: this book, but who knows?

Faerie Apocalypse by Jason Franks – a review

First a confession. I’ve been very tardy writing this review. Partly because the business of life has got in the way of me updating this site as often as I should, but also because I felt I needed to sit on this story for a while before writing down my thoughts. It is, without doubt, one of the most refreshingly different stories I’ve read in a while. I knew I liked it. But I had to think a bit about why.

This is the second book I’ve reviewed by Australian author Jason Franks. The first was Bloody Waters, a fantastic story about magic and music.

From Goodreads:

Over the centuries the Faerie Realms have drifted away from the mortal world. But for some, the Doors will open. For some, there is a Way to travel there, if they want it badly enough.

If they dream it hard enough.

In this era, only lovers, poets, and madmen can access the Realms of the Land–and for good reason.
A succession of mortals travel to Faerie: a veteran seeking beauty; a magus seeking power; an urchin seeking his wayward father; an engineer seeking meaning. These mortals bring the horrors of our age to the Land, and the Folk who live there respond in kind.

As the title suggests, this is not a pleasant dip into the whimsical world of the fey. There are few characters whose behaviour would lead me to call them sympathetic. Compounding that, Franks uses labels instead of names (“The Magus”, “The Mortal” etc) to create even more distance. For the first few chapters I found this a little off-putting. I didn’t feel engaged with the protagonist. I even put the book down for a few days. But Franks’ prose has the same deceptively simple, and beautiful, style that I loved in Bloody Waters and so I came back, and was quickly hooked.

And that was when I realised that the characters were not designed to be sympathetic, and the additional distancing actually allowed me to focus more on the impact they were having to the world(s) around them, rather than wasting energy on trying to relate. It also gave the whole text the feel of a fable, almost in the style of aural storytelling. I found the combination compelling, and once I got into the rhythm of the storytelling I gobbled it up in very short order.

Not withstanding all that, I did love reading the character of the Magus. A bad man by any standard, but I love Australian bad guys. Franks draws out the Australian-ness of the character to a level that should resonate with overseas readers, but doesn’t go too far into parody. In that sense, it reminded me of the writing of another favourite Australian author, Jason Nahrung. There are also a few little quirks that would particularly appeal to an Australian sensibility, for the local reader.

There is a lot of violence, to almost gratuitous levels. However the violence has a purpose, and underpins the story. It is an apocalypse after all. And each fight/battle/encounter is rendered so uniquely that the violence doesn’t seem repetitive at all. Still, if you aren’t one for a bit of blood and guts steel yourself before embarking on this particular quest.

The novel is made up of a few interlocking stories that build on each other. Franks uses the structure to pointedly comment on a lot of fairytale tropes, usually without much mercy. The gradual accretion of evidence of fey-dysfunction built slowly over the course of the stories also helps make the case for the conclusion.

While the first couple of transitions are a little jarring, by the end of the novel the different strands have come together and you have a connected narrative in your head.

Franks plays a bit with time, and as a reader your progress through the story is not exactly linear. However, I’ve been a sucker for this type of storytelling since I fell in love with Catch-22 at high school, and I found it added to the other-worldly feel of the novel.

As a minor aside, there is one section, based in the “real” world that is clearly set in the future. Franks does a fantastic job seeding the story with just a small number of specific details that flags this fact, without having the character dwell on futuristic things. It is a subtle, but brilliantly executed, piece of world building and although it is only a very small part of the story, I did enjoy it as both a reader and a writer.

A fantastic, original piece of work that I very much enjoyed. Franks has delivered another great read, which I highly recommend.


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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.

Swarm and Nexus by Deborah Biancotti, Margo Lanagan and Scott Westerfeld – a review

I recently read the second two books in the Zeroes trilogy by Deborah Biancotti, Margo Lanagan and Scott Westerfeld (Swarm and Nexus). Long time blog readers might recall that I read, and enjoyed, the first book in the series a while back.

From Goodreads:

EVERY POWER HAS A DARK SIDE. Keep the secret. Use your power for good. Keep out of trouble. Stick together. Or things will fall apart.

It’s the holiday season, but the celebration at the Zeroes’ underground nightclub is blown apart when two strangers with new powers take to the dance floor. The Zeroes pursue them, only to discover that they’re fleeing an even more sinister power-wielder, Swarm. The Zeroes must learn all they can about this dangerous new player if they are to stay safe.

Meanwhile each of the Zeroes also has their own issues to deal with. Bellwether’s confidence is challenged, and Mob questions the nature of her power. Crash’s conscience gets a workout, and Anon and Scam face harsh truths about belonging. And it’s up to Flicker to pick up the reins and lead the Zeroes into a terrifying showdown.

A terrific sequel with a cracking pace that raises the stakes in this brilliant and unique superheroes series.

From Goodreads:

The Zeroes are in disarray.
One of them has vanished into thin air.
One of them is in prison.
The rest of them are on the most-wanted list.
And something big is brewing.

After defeating Swarm in a breath-taking stand-off, Nate has been arrested for his murder. In prison and isolated, he can’t use his powers of influence at all. Flicker, Chizara, Kelsie and Ethan are on the run and in hiding from the FBI who believe the Cambria Five are domestic terrorists. And Agent Phan and the FBI have a secret weapon up their sleeve – a teenager with a superpower that the Zeroes haven’t encountered yet.

Meanwhile, Sonia Sonic and her growing band of weird-hunters are tracking inexplicable events across the country – and their investigations lead them to New Orleans during Mardi Gras, where the celebrating crowds promise enormous power to anyone who can channel it. Time is running out for the Zeroes, but they must learn to trust each other again and combine their powers for good – to avert the looming disaster.

A brilliant, action-packed conclusion to the superb Zeroes series.

All my points from my review of the first book remain true. While it is very young adult perspective, there was enough adult material to hook me in.

I really like the idea of “networked” powers in this series. I was recently talking to a group of young people about the way they engage with social media, and I was blown away by what was essentially the sophisticated network theory analysis that they used to navigate that space. Rather than focus on individual posts or tweets, they seemed to hold a map in their head of a pattern of social media interaction from individuals they followed. They made judgements on authenticity and levels of accuracy based around these patterns. It was fascinating, and made the way the powers in this series work even more interesting as a reflection on this way of seeing the world. It made me feel old at the same time, but that’s my problem not the book’s!

The crisis level ratcheted up at an appropriate pace across the two books, with appropriately more powerful “bad guys” to stretch our heroes. What struck me though was how contained the story telling was. The progression seemed natural. Right up until the end, the stakes were high but not preposterously so. Of course, right at the end everything went a bit bonkers, with world changing consequences, but hey – this is speculative fiction. What’s not to like about a bit of bonkers? I could understand why some people might get put off by the sudden change in pace, but I liked it.

The level of teen angst was kept to a minimum, which I liked. That’s not to say there isn’t angst, but considering everything going on it was appropriate/proportional to the level of crisis.

The narrative voice for each point of view remained very consistent. I assume that the authors probably split up the work so that each author was responsible for different characters, but the overall effect worked. They seemed to work well together, and the work was well edited. If there were seams where one author ended and another began, they weren’t clunky, and I was well and truly able to suspend my disbelief.

Considering how over the top the last part of the last book got, I was happy with the ending. As a reader, I had a good sense of completion, without loose threads irritating me.

Overall, this is a good trilogy and one well worth your time, especially if you’re interested in a millennial take on super powers. Well and truly recommended.

Den of Wolves by Juliet Marillier (Blackthorn and Grim Book 3) – a review

Den of Wolves is the third book in the Blackthorn and Grim series by Juliet Marillier. From Goodreads:

Feather bright and feather fine, None shall harm this child of mine…

Healer Blackthorn knows all too well the rules of her bond to the fey: seek no vengeance, help any who ask, do only good. But after the recent ordeal she and her companion, Grim, have suffered, she knows she cannot let go of her quest to bring justice to the man who ruined her life.

Despite her personal struggles, Blackthorn agrees to help the princess of Dalriada in taking care of a troubled young girl who has recently been brought to court, while Grim is sent to the girl’s home at Wolf Glen to aid her wealthy father with a strange task—repairing a broken-down house deep in the woods. It doesn’t take Grim long to realize that everything in Wolf Glen is not as it seems—the place is full of perilous secrets and deadly lies…

Back at Winterfalls, the evil touch of Blackthorn’s sworn enemy reopens old wounds and fuels her long-simmering passion for justice. With danger on two fronts, Blackthorn and Grim are faced with a heartbreaking choice—to stand once again by each other’s side or to fight their battles alone…

I’ve been a fan of this trilogy since the first book, The Dreamer’s Pool. Billed as a romance, the first two books focused more on the friendship between the two main characters. I enjoyed a story that didn’t rely on concepts of romantic love to redeem characters and found it quite refreshing.

In this final instalment, the regard between Blackthorn and Grim turns towards the romantic. It is very well portrayed romance, subtle and sensitive, but I must admit to being somewhat disappointed that the friendship wasn’t enough for the characters.

Having said that, I am invested enough in the characters that even the prospect of a happy-ever-after wasn’t enough to turn me off. Like the other two books, the story here is stand alone, although enhanced by the investment you’ve made in reading the other books. There is one overarching thread of story that has run across the whole trilogy, which is brought to a resolution.

The writing is excellent, with sharply drawn characters and beautiful, sometimes almost poetic prose. As well as Blackthorn and Grim themselves, other minor characters are deftly sketched – no fully rounded, but enough to move the story along.

The resolution of the overarching thread felt a little rushed and anti-climactic – I must admit to having thought that the whole last book might be dedicated to that storyline, but it was actually dealt with almost as an afterthought. It was still a reasonably satisfying, if somewhat perfunctory, ending.

If you’ve read the other books, you’re going to want to read this one. If not, even though the story does stand alone, I would strongly recommend starting this series from the beginning.


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Vigil by Angela Slatter – a review

Australian Women Writers' Challenge 2016This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2016 Reading Challenge. All my 2016 AWWC reviews can be found here.


Vigil

A long time ago I read a short story by Angela Slatter called “Brisneyland by Night” in an anthology called Sprawl. In my review, I mentioned that I felt that Slatter had just touched on a much wider world. Well, it seems I wasn’t the only person to feel that way, because Slatter has expanded the story into a full length novel.

From Goodreads:

Verity Fassbinder has her feet in two worlds. The daughter of one human and one Weyrd parent, she has very little power herself, but does claim unusual strength – and the ability to walk between us and the other – as a couple of her talents. As such a rarity, she is charged with keeping the peace between both races, and ensuring the Weyrd remain hidden from us.

But now Sirens are dying, illegal wine made from the tears of human children is for sale – and in the hands of those Weyrd who hold with the old ways – and someone has released an unknown and terrifyingly destructive force on the streets of Brisbane.

And Verity must investigate – or risk ancient forces carving our world apart.

I really enjoyed the short story that inspired the novel, and that enjoyment has extended to the novel as a whole. I have a soft spot for urban fantasy (indeed, my own novel length manuscript borrows a lot from urban fantasy tropes), and I was very taken with the Australian setting for Vigil (even if it was Brisbane).

The protagonist, Verity, is a cranky private eye that straddles the world of normal humans (the Normal) and the supernatural community (the Weyrd). The Weyrd are portrayed as immigrants, people who have fled the old-country to find a new life on the other side of the world. I liked the matchup with the general makeup of Australian society – we are, after all, a society based around immigration. The Weyrd society seemed based primarily on European mythology, it did make me wonder about whether Asian and other influences might make their way into future books in the series.

The plot consists of a series of mysteries that are mostly interconnected. The “joins” between the original short story and the rest of the novel are mostly seamless – I don’t think you’d notice at all if the novel was your first exposure. I enjoyed the way the plot moved between the different strands, it gave a sense of the broader world and the way the supernatural elements of it work.

The pacing was good, with several set pieces that moved very quickly. While physical action isn’t Verity’s first choice of problem solving technique, there was sufficient confrontations to keep even the most die hard action fan satisfied.

The characters are very well realised for the most part and very sympathetically drawn. It was an interesting approach to the romantic subplot – the boyfriend is very much in the background, and I must admit I struggled a bit to feel the strength of the relationship (beyond Verity telling us on many occasions how much she liked him). This made the section of the novel where he was in danger slightly less impactful then it might have otherwise been.

Having said that, Slatter has a knack for drawing very substantive feeling secondary characters with a remarkable economy. Characters like the Norn sisters were quite vividly brought to life with very little page time.

Slatter has won many awards for her writing, and with good reason. On a sentence by sentence level the prose is excellent, and Slatter does a great job in creating a sense of place around Brisbane.

All up Vigil is an excellent novel, and with two more novels in the series planned, I’m looking forward to many more adventures with Verity Fassbinder. Highly recommended.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.


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Monthly roundup culture consumed – May 2016

So, what did everyone else do in May?

Books

Not a lot on the reading front this month. I’ve been picking away at a Star Wars novel, based on the Rebels TV series (which finished its second season this month as well). At the moment I only seem to be reading a page or two each night. That will have to change.

TV

Are any of you watching The Magicians, the new TV show based on the Lev Grossman novel of the same name? We’re only a few episodes in, but it seems pretty good. A more sophisticated fantasy than a lot of the shows on TV at the moment – I’m liking it a lot more than the Shannara Chronicles for example. Well worth watching if you get a chance, but I’ll save final judgment until the end of the first season.

Also finished Supergirl, Flash and Arrow through the month, although I must admit both were getting a bit stale by the end. The Flash in particular is getting silly, with alternate dimensions and timelines. The end was particularly bad – after fighting and saving at least two universes, the Flash went back in time and changed everything. Crazy stuff to create faux-drama. I’ll probably keep watching next season, but I’ve been preferring the Marvel Netflix superhero series.

Movies

I went to see the X-Men movie X-Men Apocalypse. It was very visually spectacular, with an OK but not super-interesting storyline. If you like mutants, you have probably already seen this. If not, wait until it becomes available through streaming or something.

Other

I’ve been “patreon-ising” a podcast, Sheep Might Fly, where author Tansy Rayner Roberts reads some of her short fiction (both old and new). This month she completed an original story called “Glass Slipper Scandal” in her Castle Charming universe (scandal-mags in a fairytale kingdom). A very enjoyable story, and I’ll be looking forward to the next “Castle Charming” story. Roberts has moved on to a story from her Love and Romanpunk book, “Julia Agrippina”.

Monthly roundup culture consumed – April 2016

So, what did April have in store for me?

Books

Not a lot of reading through April. I’ve been reading a lot of Tansy Rayner Roberts work lately (see recent reviews of Musketeer Space and Sheep Might Fly), and decided to have another crack at her crime series (writing as Livia Day). I didn’t love the first book in the series (see my review of A Trifle Dead) but recent reading/listening has reminded me how much I enjoy Roberts prose, so I decided to give the series another chance with Drowned Vanilla.

I enjoyed the book more than I did the first one. The characters felt more grounded this time around, and when combined with Roberts/Day’s delivery, I found myself more attached to the story.

I don’t think I read much more than that through April, it was a very slow reading month.

TV

The Flash is starting to annoy me a bit. There was a recent episode where the Flash gave up his powers to save someone, only to put millions of people under the sway of a psychopathic superpowered mad-man. It was silly, and clearly done only to further an increasingly unrealistic plot. Now, don’t get me wrong – I’ll watch pretty much any superhero show and sheer bloody mindedness will probably keep me going with the series. But if it doesn’t improve soon, The Flash might have the distinction of being the first superhero show that I’ve given up on.

My daughter and I have been watching the Clone Wars cartoon series and the Rebels cartoon series, both set in the Star Wars universe. It has been fun to watch something with my daughter, and we’re both really into both shows. We’re getting towards the end of the Clone Wars, so soon we’ll only have Rebels to keep us going. I’ve found that watching Clone Wars has made watching Episodes I  – III a lot easier. Having a lot more story time with Annikan Skywalker when he is an actual hero makes his fall from grace more moving. There was an episode of Rebels recently where Annikan’s former apprentice comes face to face with Darth Vadar and realises who he is, and that was a lot more emotional than anything the movies have managed to produce. Lots of fun.

I watched the first episode of the US TV series House of Cards and I think I’m going to be hooked. More on that later.

And season 5 of Teen Wolf has come back onto Foxtel, which is excellent. I’ve rabbited on about Teen Wolf in other posts, so I won’t continue that here, but as a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the 21st century” type show, it has a lot going for it.

And finally, I can’t not mention Game of Thrones. We’re only a couple of episodes in, and I still find it compelling watching. I can’t believe how fast the hour goes by! I’ve read a lot of critiques, and I intellectually agree with a lot of it, but I can’t deny the fact that I love watching the show.

Movies

Captain America: Civil War was a great movie – lots of fun, and with very interesting fights. The last couple of Avenger movies have suffered from having bad guys who are very “same same”, robots, generic aliens etc. The fights got a little repetitive after a while. But in this movie, by pitting superheroes up against each other you got much more variety. Hero A uses Power X against Hero B, which gets trumped by Hero C and Power Y. The combinations and permutations were very entertaining.

The plot was intelligent enough, and they avoided enough cliches to make it hard to guess where they were going.

And of course Spiderman (my favourite superhero of all time) was a lot of fun to watch.

Coming Up

Looking forward to some XMen action at the movies in a couple of weeks. Also, trying to pick my next Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge book.

What about you? Anything juicy that you’ve been consuming?