March 2023 book blog

I only read two books this month, but they were whoppers. I started off with a break from ‘Shadows of the Apt’ in the shape of a re-read of the classic anthology ‘By Blood We Live’, edited by John Joseph Adams. I do love a themed anthology, and this one has a pretty basic theme (vampires) which has drawn contributions from the great and the good of the genre. This collection has been sitting patiently on my shelves since I first read it a decade or so ago, so I’ve given it a farewell read before I send it out into the world to entertain someone else. The stories vary from full on gothic to modern imaginings of the genre. I’m only going to mention the stories that absolutely stood out for me, but with contributors such as Neil Gaiman, Anne Rice, Harry Turtledove, Tad Williams, Michael Marshall Smith, Jane Yolen, Tanith Lee, Joe Hill, Brian Stableford, Kelly Armstrong, Ken MacLeod, Robert L Sawyer, Stephen King and Catherynne M Valente, I think I’m on fairly solid ground when I say that if you’re a horror / sf / fantasy fan, you’ll probably find something to love in this book.
The book kicks off with a lush retelling of Snow White by Neil Gaiman. ‘Snow, Glass, Apples’ points out that there was always something a bit dodgy about that so called dead body in the glass coffin. ‘Under St Peter’s’ by Harry Turtledove is a story that once read, will forever colour your perception of Easter. Michael Marshall Smith shows off his writing skills with ‘This is Now’, a masterful telling of a simple tale. He winds the story in and out of the timeline without a single misstep, to amazing effect. Jane Yolen’s ‘Mama Gone’ has a determined heroine, a homesick hungry vampire, and several ineffective blokes, I truly enjoyed this story. Joe Hill’s ‘Abraham’s Boys’ takes a more critical look than usual at Van Helsing – was he really a slayer? John Langan’s ‘The Wide Carnivorous Sky’ is a science fictional stab at the vampire mythos, the story takes four traumatised US army vets and pits them against something hellish that tore from the sky one hot day in Fallujah. The collection is very neatly tied up at the end with a reprint of Stephen King’s return to Salem’s Lot. ‘One for the Road’ is always a pleasure to read.

And from there, I returned to the characters that feel like old friends by now. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Heirs of the Blade is the seventh novel in the ‘Shadows of the Apt’ series. It’s worth mentioning that some of the short stories from ‘Spoils of War’, the linked anthology, feed into this novel, and whilst it’s not necessary to read them to enjoy the book, it’s nice to have the back story to some of the new and returning minor characters.
Things are really kicking off now, as our heroine Che sets off to find her sister Tynisa, hoping to save her from a vengeful killer ghost. Che’s old enemy has become her closest friend, whilst the young Empress of the Wasps travels to an ancient city to claim untold powers from the Masters.
With the exception of a short visit to Kanophes, this book is mostly set in the Commonweal, where Dragonfly and Grasshopper kinden inhabit a world where chivalric tradition has been knocked over and mugged by the Wasp invasion and the massacre of a generation of Commonweal youth. Tynisa has fled there, hoping to find some trace of her dead friend Salma, and Che is following fast in her footsteps, desperate to save her sister from madness and corruption.
I loved this book, and I especially loved the use of Tynisa’s and Che’s point of view to illustrate both Tynisa’s madness, and her belief in the nobility of Salma’s family and cause.

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