Review: The Flower and the Serpent

By Madeleine D’Este

Genre: Fantasy/ Supernatural/ Horror

Release date: 4 December 2019 (pre-orders available now)

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

CREEPY AND WONDERFUL…

I’ve just finished reading an ARC of The Flower and the Serpent by Madeleine D’Este and I am still feeling blown away.

The story is set in a high school in Hobart, Tasmania, where a group of students are rehearsing for a production of Macbeth. The dark history of the play is well-known, and D’Este’s setting – on school grounds haunted by past evil – plays perfectly against it. Imbued with a sense of creeping menace, the novel is genuinely frightening at times, but the characters are never overshadowed by the horror.

And it is the characters that shine so brightly here. Each has their own voice, their own hopes and fears, their own shadow and light. Every character rings true, from ambitious, driven Violet to shy, self-effacing Lila. Practical Holly and logical Angelika are a delight. And the teacher, Mr Ravenswood, is such a brilliant creation. With every character, D’Este forces the reader to look beyond surface judgements, to the true depths of the human heart and soul.

Which is not to say the plot is unimportant. It’s a fantastic story, that twists and turns in surprising ways that are never gimmicky. The climax had me on the edge of my chair, and it totally delivered.

Bottom line: if, like me, you love Macbeth, you’ll adore this. If you despise Shakespeare and all he stands for, you’ll love it anyway.

Trust me.

Review: The Clockwork Detective

By R.A. McCandless

Publisher: Ellysian Press

Genre: Steampunk/ Fantasy/ Murder Mystery

Released: May 2019

Rating: 3 stars ⭐⭐⭐

Can I say first, what a gorgeous cover this is? It’s what first attracted me to this novel. And then the title and blurb were very intriguing, too:

Aubrey Hartman left the Imperial battlefields with a pocketful of medals, a fearsome reputation, and a clockwork leg. The Imperium diverts her trip home to investigate the murder of a young druid in a strange town. She is ordered to not only find the killer but prevent a full-scale war with the dreaded Fae. Meanwhile, the arrival of a sinister secret policeman threatens to dig up Aubrey’s own secrets – ones that could ruin her career. It soon becomes clear that Aubrey has powerful enemies with plans to stop her before she gets started. Determined to solve the mystery, Aubrey must survive centaurs, thugs, and a monster of pure destruction.

Sounds good, right? Fae in a steampunk world and a murder mystery. I haven’t read anything from R. A. McCandless before, so I don’t know how this compares to his other two novels, which are urban fantasy. All the ingredients are here, but they just didn’t add up to a tasty enough dish for me.

Aubrey is an engaging protagonist with an interesting backstory and solid detective skills. The clockwork leg is a stroke of genius. I think one of the problems is that I wanted more fantasy and science fiction wonder here. What I got felt more of a police procedural than anything else, despite the speculative elements. You could drop Aubrey into real world Victorian London, replace the druids with priests and the Centaurs with East End thugs and the first two thirds of the story would unfold in much the same way.

The final third begins with more supernatural happenings, but then devolves into so many pages of thinking and dialogue that it loses most of its momentum and tension. The ending wraps things up nicely, but again is too slow and extended.

I still think there are things here to enjoy, and I know that some readers have loved this novel, but it just scrapes in at three stars for me.

I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from #Netgalley, courtesy of Ellysian Press.

What I Read in April

April is autumn here. It’s a time to sit outside in the mellow sunshine with a book and a coffee and enjoy the turning leaves.

I read ten books in April, all fiction: eight novels and two novellas. And I didn’t abandon any of the books I started. It was a very good reading month, with ratings ranging from 3 stars to 5 stars, with an average of 4 stars for the month.

What I read (ranked from lowest to highest rated):

1. LEVERAGE IN DEATH (In Death #47) by JD Robb

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Crime Fiction, Futuristic, 3 stars

This brings me up to date with this series, but this one was a disappointment. In any long series, there will inevitably be highs and lows. It wasn’t a terrible book, but the characters seemed caricatures, each one just a set of their typical quirks and no more. The mystery wasn’t up to par, either, and the perpetrators and their motives just didn’t convince me. Still, a quick read with some fun to be had. Not recommended unless you’re already a fan and/or want to complete the series.

Continue reading “What I Read in April”