The Arkhel Conundrum
by Sarah Ash
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I read the original trilogy shortly after publication and discovering there was to be a new instalment in the saga was a wonderful surprise. After 14 years, I certainly hadn’t expected a new book in the series! That’s also a reason I delayed reading it. ‘What if it spoils the memory of the originals? What if my tastes have changed and I don’t like it?’ I was both excited and anxious to read The Arkhel Conundrum and in the end I needn’t have been worried: it is every bit as excellent as the first three books.
The rear cover has a quote comparing Ash to Robert Jordan (Wheel of Time) and George R.R. Martin (Game of Thrones) and rightly so; she is an expert in weaving a tale of epic proportions with a wide cast, all of whom are well-written and fleshed out, without falling foul of overly complex plot threads.
Yes, you will almost certainly need to read the Tears of Artamon in full in order to appreciate The Arkhel Conundrum as there are references back to events in the previous books that you might not understand without reading them. You could go in straight at book 4 and get by with what’s in this book alone and still enjoy the new story-lines but I heartily recommend the trilogy as it is excellent.
In this instalment we meet back up with Gavril and Kiukiu and start the story in earnest almost a year after the end of Children of the Serpent Gate and after the birth of their daughter who, it turns out, was conceived before Gavril was freed of his dragon-demon Khezef. Little Larisa is a very special baby and once Elder Ones and Heavenly Guardians alike discover her existence, she becomes very popular indeed.
Emperor Eugene, in the absence of his mentor and magus Kaspar Linnaius, launches a competition to construct a flying craft, which accidentally opens him up to new threats. We’re also introduced to a handful of new characters, including Toran Arkhel and Gerard Bernay, who feel like we’ve known them long before this book, such is the strength of their characterisation.
In the high/epic fantasy style there are different plots weaving together towards two climax points that are expertly done and I foresee those two story-lines coming together in a 5th book. PoV shifts between chapters so that we can feel and experience the world from different character perspectives where even seemingly minor characters are still key to the overall story.
I feel I cannot proselytise about this series enough. I loved it when I first read it and still love it now. I look forward to the next book and won’t be quite so anxious to keep going next time!
This was my 42nd book of 2020.
All Systems Red
by Martha Wells
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a short novella introducing the character of Murderbot, a free agent security android on its final contract with a surveying team on an uninhabited world, as it tries to avoid interacting with the clients (the humans) as much as possible and chill out watching serials and reading books. An introvert’s dream!
Unfortunately for Murderbot, the world is not as uninhabited as the team were told and Mb takes some serious damage rescuing two of its client scientists from the maw of a very large, very chompy hostile entity. Investigating how The Company could’ve neglected to warn the team about the local fauna highlights some discrepancies they have to work together to figure out and escape the planet alive. Much to Murderbot’s annoyance as those serials won’t watch themselves!
The story is told first person by Murderbot and this adds to the appeal of this story as Wells successfully gets us to empathise with and root for a rogue AI who has dubbed itself MURDERBOT (not the most sympathetic of names, is it?) but who really just wants to be left alone. The action is fast-paced but not rushed; the world building is just right for such a short book and the ‘touchy-feely’ parts that Mb hates so much make you think. A good all-round balance and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.
I listened to the audiobook narrated by Kevin R. Free, which was 3h 40m long, and while Free’s narration style sounds an awful lot like Wil Wheaton it definitely fits well with Murderbot’s sarcastic and misanthropic demeanour.
This was book 40 of my Goodreads Challenge 2020.
Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Silvia Moreno-Garcia writes exquisite prose and weaves amazing stories and worlds, seemingly, effortlessly. When Noemí arrives at High Place to find her cousin Catalina taken ill, after receiving such an alarming letter from her some weeks before, she is immediately suspicious – as are we, the readers. What follows is an expert lesson in the Gothic full of intrigue and suspense in a remote 1950’s mould-ridden mansion in Mexico, inhabited by some very peculiar characters in the Doyle family. A family obsessed with England and holding on to some very racist and misogynist ideals in an overly strict household that ‘no one leaves’.
Without giving too much away, Mexican Gothic will have you guessing from the start as to what is really going on at High Place. Where Noemí’s nightmares may take you one way, her conversations with the various Doyles will take you another, and all the while we wonder what is really behind Catalina’s sickness? This is a great book from a brilliant writer and a must-read for any Gothic Horror fans.
For me, the Gothic genre is not quite my thing and I found the first half of the story a little slow, which is why I’ve given it 4 stars instead of 5. The final third of the book flew by and will certainly ensure you remember to watch what you eat in creepy strangers’ houses.
This was book #38 of my 2020 reading challenge.
The Silent Patient
by Alex Michaelides
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The Silent Patient is a mystery/thriller with a twist I did not guess. That’s a claim a lot of PR tends to make only for it to not be true. There are a lot of books out there that I have guessed the endings to and while I was expecting something a little different to the standard cookie-cutter thriller (my theory in the first half of the book was it would be some sort of Shutter Island switch-up) the ending was well disguised.
Alicia murdered her husband and never spoke again; Theo thinks he will be the one to “save her” and get her to talk again. They both had a tumultuous upbringing with asshole fathers, which Theo believes gives him an edge to figuring out why Alicia stopped speaking. All the while, telling us about his unfaithful actress wife, Kathy. Some of Theo’s white-knighting and general attitude towards women is frustrating and disappointing, although stick with the story as it feeds into the ending.
In between Theo’s narratives we have entries from Alicia’s journal that she began to keep in the weeks running up to the murder of her husband Gabriel. These offer us a glimpse into the character of Alicia who – present day – is silent. It’s a clever mechanism to build up a rapport and empathy with a character that would otherwise be inaccessible.
There are plenty of little twists and turns in the story along the way that will keep you guessing at what’s going to happen next. It’s a great read, well written, paced and with good character development on both Theo and Alicia’s part. As Michaelides begins to peel back the Big Reveal, and it starts to click into place, it’ll have you thinking “Hang on a second…!” before hitting you with the full secret. Expertly done.
Gods of Jade and Shadow is a little different than my usual fantasy choices – I don’t tend to read fantasy based in our real world Earth – and I was not disappointed. The journey of Casiopea Tun is one I found myself readily investing in and just as at-first rude & lofty god Hun-Kamé softens and grows on Casiopea so does he too with the reader.
The quest they embark upon doesn’t have great odds and along the way they meet demons, ghosts, spirits, witches, warlocks and Lords of Death. Hun-Kamé seeks to restore his power and himself to the throne of Xibalba (a form of Underworld in Mayan history) but he needs Casiopea’s help to do so. She is stuck living with her awful racist family who treat her with cruelty and disdain – she wants to escape and the time she spends with Hun-Kamé becomes some of the most vibrant and exciting days of her life; even with all the threat, dread and sacrfice.
It is set in the 1920s so some of the prose and dialogue is suitably antiquated; if you’re not used to reading historical fiction it might take a little bit to get used to (like me) but it is worth it. This is a wonderful story that will teach you a few little snippets of Mexican and Mayan history along the way. Don’t worry, you don’t need to know anything special in advance as Moreno-Garcia not only guides us beautifully through the narrative but includes a handy Glossary at the end of the book too.
Gods of Jade and Shadow
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
My rating: 5 of 5 stars