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Sci-Fi Review: ‘Caszandra’ by Andrea K Höst

This is the third part of the Touchstone trilogy, and anyone who, like me, loved the first two, won’t have any problem enjoying this too. I’ve classified these as sci-fi (other planets, high-tech everywhere) but I’m getting less sure, since the technology is delightfully arm-wavy. All communication is via the ‘interface’, a brain-embedded universal internet which is incredibly useful at crucial moments. It can send/receive messages, provide all sorts of background information (aka instant info-dump) at the drop of a hat, and helpfully records everything so that the detail can be picked up later. There are ‘drones’ (robot things) which are deployed in a variety of plot-facilitating ways. Then there’s the literal world-building – when a new building is required, a bucket of special goop is ‘programmed’ with an architectural plan and away it goes. It beats scaffolding and uncouth building workers, anyway. Even the ‘ships’ used for inter-planetary travel are largely undescribed and unexplained. Then there are ‘psychics’ with all sorts of powers – elemental, levitation and teleportation, as well as actual psychic (mind-reading, sort of) abilities – all of which seems suspiciously fantasy. No quest, no secret heir to the kingdom, and definitely no magic swords, but there is a heroine with mysterious unexplained powers. There are monsters and at least one traditional fantasy beast, too.

Whatever you call it, the setup is much the same. Cass is still the stranger from Earth with the weird unexplained abilities which are so useful in unlocking the abandoned planet Muina, if they don’t get her killed her first. The inter-planetary politics and resettlement are taking centre stage now, but the psychic military, the Setari, are still back and forth on missions to fight monsters. And we finally have a Big Bad – the particularly creepy humanoid monsters who are both intelligent and organised. And hell-bent on destruction and mayhem, not to mention capturing Cass. So the race is on to find out what is going on, and a way to fight back.

The tension ramps up nicely to the grand confrontation, and much of the book has rather a heavy background tone. Cass and friends are doing various fluffy things (going shopping, eating out, socialising) while waiting for the Big Bad (the Cruzatch) to turn up again and kidnap Cass for various evil purposes, destroy the known world, kill all the nice friends and generally carry out their villainous plans. The good guys, meanwhile, are more or less floundering round trying to guess what awful thing might be coming up next, with no greater ambition than just – well, surviving. Their only plan seems to be – let’s blow stuff up and see if that helps. Or throw Cass at something to see what happens (which has been going on throughout, really).

This part of the book stretches the diary format to its absolute limits. It worked well earlier on, I think, to get the reader right under Cass’s skin, and was a very effective way of getting across her sense of isolation and differentness. It really doesn’t work so well for big battle scenes, because the reader knows immediately that Cass survived, or she wouldn’t be writing her diary afterwards. So the big confrontation is effectively told in abbreviated summary form (‘and then I… and then we…’), which loses a lot of the tension. There is also the problem that the romance has been settled, and while it’s a lot of fun going through the are-they-no-surely-not phase with friends, it was actually more fun when they were kept apart and Cass secretly had the hots for him. Or at least, it was more tense. A large part of the atmosphere in the first two books revolved around the very strict military protocols wrapped around everything Cass did and the stiffly correct attitude of the Setari, which kept her so heart-rendingly alone. Now that she’s sleeping with one of the Setari and is (largely) friends with the rest, things get a little warm and fuzzy and group-hug-y.

One aspect is unchanged, however; everything still hinges on Cass and her strange set of abilities as ‘touchstone’, the key to revealing the past, what went wrong to cause the planet Muina to be abandoned, and (indirectly) the present and future too. It’s surprising how often these talents drive the plot by revealing key information or making some unfeasibly difficult task possible, but while this is very convenient, it never feels like deus ex machina, since Cass has had these abilities from the start and has simply learned to use them (or to use them better, perhaps). Plus they frequently go wrong or out of control or twist off in unexpected ways. The author is very good at following the appropriate logic for these developments, so that when Cass has one of her frequent brushes with death, she is ‘grounded’ for a while afterwards, even when it might have been more dramatic to have her present at some incident or other, instead of hearing about it second hand. Nice, too, to see Cass herself using her talents directly to fight her own battles (sometimes literally), instead of being a passive tool to be manipulated. The moment when, in the midst of mayhem, she decides to visualise into reality a battle-winning device of awesome proportions is simply epic.

This is the final part of the trilogy, and I hugely enjoyed the first two parts, so it’s not exactly a big surprise that I loved this one too. Of course, it’s not perfect (what is?). The problem with keeping track of the vast array of characters is even greater this time round, and apart from the Big Bad they all seem to be rather nice, pleasant people. Even the few set up as hostile turn out to be gruff and suspicious rather than outright nasty, in the end. And who’d have thought so many of them would be breath-takingly beautiful, intelligent people? From being entirely alone on a strange planet, Cass ends up friends with pretty much everyone, which is slightly implausible. The complexities of a society of umpteen million people are fairly comprehensively airbrushed away into one homogenous mass (although I guess the ubiquitous interface would eliminate a lot of differences). The rather different society on Nuri was interesting, and I would have liked to know more about it. I also found it strange that so much of life on Tare and Muina was similar to Earth; there was really no effort to make these worlds truly alien, apart from a few minor details tossed in here and there. And anyone looking for explanations for every little mystery will be disappointed, since much remained unanswered or vague.

In the end, though, none of that mattered. I loved Cass’s shift over the course of the trilogy from schoolgirl thinking only about romance and exams, to the saviour of worlds and the focus of inter-planetary law-making. And she makes the transition without fuss – the occasional totally justified hissy-fit excepted – and without losing her essential nature or her sense of humour. Much of what she goes through is pretty horrible but she bears it with quiet fortitude and oodles of common sense. One of my favourite fictional characters. Five stars.

Touchstone series
Lab Rat One


Sci-Fi Review: ‘Lab Rat One’ by Andrea K Höst

I loved ‘Stray’, the first part of the Touchstone trilogy, so I moved straight onto part two. And wouldn’t you just know it, the one time I don’t need a ‘Previously on…’ type recap because it’s all fresh in my mind, there one is at the front of the book. And again there’s a glossary and list of characters at the back. If only all authors were so considerate. The previous book had no cliffhanger ending, but there wasn’t much resolution, either – just an acceptance by main character Cass that, having stepped accidentally through some kind of wormhole-type ‘gate’ from Earth and finding herself on a different planet altogether, there’s not going to be a happy ever after any time soon, and doing her bit to help out the locals with their problems in the meantime is not such a bad thing. So at first, the story continues in much the same way, with Cass being carted about on missions, tested and trained, and treated very much like the lab rat she designated herself early on. So for anyone who disliked that aspect of the first book, this is more of the same.

Fortunately, we haven’t yet seen the full extent of Cass’s unique set of abilities, so even a routine test can suddenly turn into a frantic scramble for survival or an ooh-aah moment. The opening up of the abandoned planet of Muina through Cass’s talents is fascinating. We also see more in this book of the other societies descended from the abandoned planet of Muina (where Cass first arrived), so there is a certain amount of inter-planetary posturing going on, which is quite fun. And Cass becomes a media star! But much of the action centres around the Setari (psychic ninja space soldiers, basically), who are defending Tare, their home planet, from the creepy and highly variable Ionoth which leak through from – well, wherever they come from (I’m hazy about the ‘spaces’ and ‘pillars’ and whatever it was that happened). In book one, the Setari mostly treated Cass as a piece of military equipment, useful but not particularly interesting, and she had to fight to get them to see her as anything other than an object. This time round, they are much more aware of her as a person, and she is beginning to build relationships with some of them, and assert herself as a person.

Partly this is because she can speak the language better, so she is able to express herself with more subtlety, and display her wonderful sense of humour. I very much like the way the author has handled the language differences, so that Cass gradually becomes more fluent over the course of the books, although lapsing sometimes when under stress. I have no idea whether the early efforts are an accurate simulation of how a native English speaker would adapt to a new language, but it seemed pretty convincing to me. I found it totally believable that the Tarens would not appreciate how intelligent she is, when her only communications are halting baby sentences with bad grammar.

I like Cass very much. She’s exactly the sort of person I would love to have for a friend – smart, self-deprecating, sensible and very, very funny (in a totally non-vicious way). Her observations of Taren life and the people around her are wonderful. And I have to confess to having the hots for Ruuel (the love interest), which is so not me. My taste in men was formed by Woody Allen (cute and funny) or Robert Redford (roguish in a dishevelled but handsome way), and perfectly honed, impossibly fit and laconic-bordering-on-terse types don’t do much for me. But Ruuel? Mmmm, yes. There’s a certain amount of angsting going on Cass’s head about him, but it’s very funny. She rates men on the Orlando Bloom-meter, and when one of the Setari registers a 7, she points out that Orlando Bloom himself registers a 7 on the Ruuel-meter. Did I mention how much I love Cass’s sense of humour? And for anyone concerned about the romance level, it’s certainly higher than in the first book, but there’s still a lot more plot than angst.

This book is pure undiluted pleasure. I was slightly drunk on the enjoyment of it, and hey – no calories, no falling over and no hangover afterwards. Just a great big smile. Why isn’t every book like this? Twelve stars. At least. And now straight on to the third book…

Touchstone series
Lab Rat One

Sci-Fi YA Review: ‘Stray’ by Andrea K Höst

I loved this book, loved, loved, loved it. It’s the first book in ages to keep me up until the wee small hours because I absolutely positively had to know what was coming next. Here’s the premise: almost-eighteen year old Cass is walking home from her suburban school one day after her last exam before graduation when – pop! – she finds herself in the middle of a not-Earth forest, with no way back. For a while, she is on her own, walking through this world with its odd mixture of Earth-like creatures (deer and otters) and other more alien types, surviving as best she can. She’s a pretty resourceful type, but even so it’s a marginal business. But luckily some super-ninja soldier types from a technologically advanced society turn up and rescue her, and after that things get seriously weird.

Cass is an unusual sort of heroine. She’s clearly intelligent, but she’s not the kick-ass type of female so beloved of the current sci-fi and fantasy scene. She seems quite passive, going along with everything that’s asked of her, even though she’s basically being used as a military tool, but then her new ‘friends’ don’t abuse or hurt her (at least, not intentionally!) and, frankly, I’m not at all sure what other options are open to her. Being useful and helpful (at least until you know your way round and have got a better grasp of the language) is just plain common sense. I loved the way that Cass gradually brought her hosts to see her as a person, with needs and feelings of her own, and not just a passive piece of kit (‘Military equipment doesn’t salute’ she comments drily at one point).

The book is written in the first person in the form of a diary, which works very well to tell us what’s going on in Cass’s head. It also brilliantly conveys the sense of disorientation she frequently feels, and the ‘otherness’ of an Australian girl parachuted into a culture which has many similarities with Earth but is also scarily alien. Fortunately Cass has a great sense of humour, and sees the funny side of many of the peculiar situations she finds herself in. This is one of the great perks of portal-type stories, that the transported character can toss around all sorts of slang and in-jokes and cultural references: (‘I tried very unsuccessfully to explain Clint Eastwood, and then moved on to Johnny Depp, and now all of First Squad except Maze have sworn to find a path to Earth so they can watch Pirates of the Caribbean’).

As a piece of science fiction, this is fairly light on the sciencey bits. There’s nanotechnology, and a universal interface system (brain-embedded internet, basically), but the Ena (‘A dimension connected to the thoughts, memories, dreams and imagination of living beings’, it says in the glossary) which surrounds Cass’s new home, the monsters (Ionoths) living there and the psychic abilities of the Setari (the ninja soldiers) seem closer to fantasy to me. As with all the author’s work, there are plenty of deeper themes for those who like to look beneath the surface: about being an outsider, being treated with respect, duty versus freedom, the greater good versus the individual. Not to mention the pleasures and perils of a permanently wired-in internet.

This is another terrific piece of writing by one of my favourite authors. I was a little concerned about it being a YA book, but no need – there’s no love triangle, and the very small amount of angsting over boys is actually very funny. The only (minor) grumble I had was the sheer number of characters involved, a situation not helped by Cass’s early problems with the language, so that she spells names wrongly in the early parts of the book. But there’s a full list of characters at the back, plus a very useful glossary, which rather wonderfully explains all Cass’s Australia-speak and geekisms alongside the in-book terminology. This is very much the first book of the trilogy, so although there’s a mini-resolution, this doesn’t have the feel of a stand-alone book. Be prepared to invest in the whole trilogy (available as an omnibus), not to mention the fourth part, entitled ‘Gratuitous Epilogue’. Five stars.

Touchstone series
Lab Rat One

Fantasy Review: ‘And All The Stars’ by Andrea K Höst

Pauline’s Review (posted 2/14/13)

I don’t read many young adult books, but I do read everything by Andrea K Höst, so this was a must for me. It’s the author’s first venture into post-apocalypse fantasy, and it begins, literally, after the apocalypse – the very instant after, as main character Madeleine finds herself amidst rubble from a disintegrated underground station. Rubble and dust, in fact, vast amounts of dust which coat everything, including Madeleine herself. And as she makes her escape through the ruined station, she encounters the base of the Spire, a black spike, which has instantaneously risen into the Sydney skyline, along with numerous others all around the world.

The early chapters of the book show a world divided in two – those who, like our heroine, have been exposed to the strange dust and begin to develop patches of colour on their bodies and unusual powers, and those who have not yet been contaminated. People know by instinct that the dust is something to avoid. One of the iconic moments of the book for me is the vivid image of Madeleine emerging from the train tunnel and climbing onto the platform of the next station down to escape, coated from head to foot in the mysterious dust, while passengers on a stopped train, staying safely enclosed beyond reach of the dust, peer through the windows at her in horrified pity.

As with all books of this type, survival is the first priority, and this part of the book is fairly conventional. Madeleine meets other survivors of the contamination, they begin to organise themselves, and use their ingenuity to avoid being hunted down. Naturally, there are constant threats and near-misses, but the gang is smart, and finds some pretty imaginative ways to hide and to provision themselves. Some of this is predictable and some is very ingenious, but although the plot burbles along quite nicely, it all felt slightly ho-hum. I think this is probably because it’s YA, and quite an extreme YA book at that. All the main characters were teenagers, without a single older person (bar one in his twenties, later on), and the hide and survive plot made it seem almost like an Enid Blyton adventure – the Famous Five, only with romantic angst and a bit of sex thrown in. Although the characters were all interesting enough in their way, the uniformity of age made it a little flat for me.

But then, just past the two thirds point, there’s a moment which changes everything, one of those magical OMG moments when your perception simply shifts sideways to open up the story in innumerable different ways. I love it when an author manages to do that to me. The ending is less magical and more prosaic, but still an enjoyable page-turner, and the epilogue – well, I’m never keen on epilogues, but that’s just me. I can see the need for it here, however.

I was worried at one point that this was going to be a disappointment to me, but in the end the strong opening and that wonderful twist saved the day, and left me mulling over all the implications. I never fully engaged with the characters or the romantic entanglements early on, but eventually there was a great deal of depth to the story, and some of the issues raised buzzed round in my head for days. I liked, too, that the characters weren’t the standard issue beautiful people who leaped into perfectly honed action when called upon. These were relatively ordinary people with odd combinations of talent and weakness. Problems were solved by intelligence, common sense and teamwork, rather than brute force. Nor was everyone uniformly heterosexual. An interesting and thought-provoking, if slightly uneven, effort. Four stars.


Nathan’s Review (posted 3/1/13)

Black towers thrust from the ground all around the world, spewing a dust that settles all over. Madeleine Cost finds herself covered from head to toe, and fully expects it to be her eventual death. Not sure what to do with her last days in the apparent apocalypse, she goes to her cousins house and starts to paint.

But she doesn’t die, though at times early on she feels she might. Instead she finds that she has turned blue where the dust touched (although midnight sky, complete with stars, would be more accurate). She has an incredible appetite. And together with a new group of friends facing the same issues, she is going to be thrust into a battle for survival.

I think I can see why fans of Höst are so ardent in their support. A completely original concept, I can’t think of anything that even compares. It is impossible to talk about the details of this book without spoilers, but trust me it is unique. Take out the main plot details, and what is left is still completely one of a kind. We see cell phones and webcams in the apocalypse. There are large swaths of people who may not be unaffected, but at least have a visible way out if they show patience. And while young adult novels usually focus on youth (duh), Höst gives one of the more plausible reasons for a lack of adults I have seen.

“And All the Stars” is a quick paced book, with several big reveals spaced throughout to keep up the interest. While it has plenty of action, the focus is about Madeleine and her new group of friends putting their heads together to solve problems. Some of the answers are fairly simplistic, but that is forgivable in a YA book. And while I had some advanced warning, the final reveal was fairly jaw dropping to anyone invested in the characters.

Perhaps it was the YA nature of the book, but I wasn’t completely enamored with everything. Specifically I had trouble caring about any of the characters except Madeleine. Her new best friend seemed likable enough, and had some nice interactions with Maddy. But outside of that, teen romance, will they/won’t they relationships, and other trappings of current YA. Höst did manage to give a more diverse cast than I am used to; several ethnicities are present, and strait isn’t the default for everyone. But despite that the kids still fell into set character types; the imp, the leader, the victim, and the tough.

As unique as the book and setting was, and I want to make clear it was well put together, I didn’t buy the whole premise. I feel that either too much or too little of what caused this unique event was explained. I was given just enough information to see holes in the execution of it. I also wondered how long utilities and infrastructure could really remain running when most people are hiding from magic dust in their houses or out in the countryside.

So here is how I see it. A smarter than average YA tale, with a completely unique set up. A strong protagonist who stays pretty self-reliant. But it doesn’t quite escape some of the YA trappings and most of the characters bored me. I think most of the failings I see could be expecting too much from a young adult book as an adult, but that is the only way I can read it. Really want to try some of the author’s adult novels; I think they may work better for me.

3 stars.

Copy received through NetGalley

Fantasy Review: ‘Stained Glass Monsters’ by Andrea K Höst

This one starts with a bang, as a mysterious woman in white appears out of nowhere, seemingly, into the middle of a peaceful village. She stays exactly where she is for the rest of the book, but the story races about all over the Kingdom of Tyrland as the former Queen, now exiled into Eferum, the ‘other’ world, tries to make good her return.

There are two main characters, of whom Rennyn is the more interesting by far. Intelligent, competent and entirely self-sufficient, yet she never becomes a Mary Sue, and it’s always clear that she has hidden depths, as well as (perhaps) an agenda of her own. She’s accused of being arrogant, but perhaps it’s more a question of self-awareness. It’s not arrogance to know what has to be done and to go about doing it with minimal fuss. Kendall is the bratty not-quite-child, whose major role seems to be to ask the tricky questions so that essential elements of the magic system or necessary plot points can be explained to the reader, or to act as a window to events not seen by Rennyn. Despite her heroics at the big confrontation, she always felt a bit extraneous. I rather liked Rennyn’s younger brother, Seb, however, who has a very focused view of magic and simply refuses to acknowledge the validity of any viewpoint other than his own. He will ring a bell with anyone with knowledge of a certain geeky type of teenage boy.

The Kellian are the most intriguing aspect of the book. The stained glass monsters of the title, because of their ability to reflect or absorb (not quite clear which) the colours around them, they are magically created beings (golems, originally) who have subsequently interbred with humans, with interesting and very creepy results. Given that they give the book its title, it was always obvious that their role would be pivotal to events. Even so, I wasn’t expecting the way things turned out; as always, the author has the power to astonish and disturb in equal measure.

I’m a big fan of the author, who creates believable worlds where women are just – well, people, everything from Queens to mages to soldiers to farmers and everything in between. In addition, her worlds are always very different from the standard fantasy tropes and themes, so that just when you think you’ve got a handle on things the plot shoots off at a completely unexpected tangent. I love to be taken by surprise, especially when (as here) the surprise is totally logical and in line with everything that’s gone before. And as always, this is not just a retelling of the traditional good versus evil story. It’s not at all clear where, if anywhere, the distinction lies, and there are more shades of grey than black and white. There is also a more philosophical depth, for those who enjoy such things, about the rightness, or otherwise, of making decisions for other people, of controlling people with magic, of using people against their will.

If I have a complaint, it’s that the first half of the book is overfilled with exposition – details about the magic system, for instance, which is moderately complicated, or about the underlying politics, or about the plot itself. The Grand Summoning is a complicated process, and I got lost in the details sometimes. There were also too many characters for me to keep straight, and I wasn’t even clear, sometimes, which of them were human and which weren’t. Most of this, however, either resolved itself before the final confrontation or ceased to matter, and there was compensation in the array of very different locations where breaches from the Eferum occurred, necessitating some innovative solutions, both practical and magical.

The finale was appropriately epic, with innumerable twists and turns, the main plotline tied up with a very satisfactory little bow on top, yet with enough dangling threads to carry forward into book 2 of the series. This is a relatively short book with an interesting magic system, the fascinating non-human Kellians and some thought-provoking ideas. Apart from Rennyn and Seb, the humans are mostly walk-on parts, but they still feel like properly three-dimensional people. Another enjoyable read from Ms Höst. Four stars.

By the same author

The Silence of Medair

Fantasy Review: ‘The Silence of Medair’ by Andrea K Höst

For those who say all self-published works are dross – this book is a stunning counter example. The manuscript spent an unbelievable ten years – I’ll say that again, TEN years! – languishing with a single publisher before the author withdrew it in disgust and self-published. You can see why they might have had a problem with it, because it’s very different from the average. It’s intelligent, thought-provoking and well written. It avoids cliches. It’s character-driven fantasy at its best. It’s also a cracking story. I loved it.

The opening is, surely, how all fantasy novels should begin: not by parachuting the reader into the middle of a battle, or some gruesome moment intended purely to shock, but quietly, with the main character in her setting, then adding in the mysterious background, some magic and a threat, to draw you in. But then this is an unusual book in a number of different ways. Many of the events which other writers would turn into a whole trilogy – a massive magic-induced disaster, an empire threatened by invasion, an escalating, seemingly unwinnable, war, a desperate race to find a magic gizmo to turn the tide, and then, miraculously, actually finding said gizmo – all happened five hundred years in the past, and are revealed only briefly in passing. The author even resists the temptation to put them into a prologue. Instead, the story starts some months after the primary character, Medair, has returned with the gizmo, only to find that centuries have passed, the invaders have become the establishment and she herself is the outsider. Her sense of dislocation, and how she adjusts to the new regime, form the substance of the book.

The created world is not outrageously original, just the standard-issue pseudo-medieval arrangement, with a few little touches to make it different, and happily no hackneyed taverns, assassins, thieves, whores and the like, and no gratuitous violence or sex. So this is a relatively civilised and orderly world, where the complications are political rather than societal. And unlike many low-technology worlds, there’s a relaxed gender-neutrality in operation. Women can, and do, become soldiers, heralds, mages, whatever they have an aptitude for. They can inherit empires, too. I get tired of the patriarchy thoughtlessly assumed in most fantasy.

And there’s magic, of course. Oodles of magic. There are mages and adepts (which may be the same thing, I’m not clear about that) who have quite powerful abilities, and there are also magical artifacts. There is also ‘wild magic’, which is hugely, earth-shatteringly powerful (literally) and very unpredictable. I liked the way that magic can be sensed in some physical way, some kind of feeling that allows a character attuned to it to know that magic is being used, and sometimes what kind, and where, and how powerful it is. That was neat.

But it has to be said that sometimes the magic borders on being deus ex machina. The heroine gets into a tricky situation and has only to reach into her dimensionally flexible satchel and pull out some magic gizmo or other to effect her escape. Or else another character waves his or her hands around and – pow, she is magically constrained to do something or other. Is it really deus ex machina if we know ahead of time that the satchel contains magical gizmos, or that the character is a mage? Not sure, but it certainly made a very convenient plot device. On the other hand, it allowed the heroine to use her own self-reliance and not be dependent on a bloke turning up with a sword or a spell to rescue her. In fact, she was usually the one rescuing the blokes.

The heart of the book is the nature of the Ibisians, the invaders of five hundred years earlier, now the establishment. Medair’s hatred and mistrust of them is still fresh, and the scenes between them crackle with tension, as she tries to adjust her strong and perhaps legitimate feelings to this new world order. The issue is complicated, too, by the other countries and factions still fighting against the new rulers. Where exactly do her loyalties lie? She has the magic gizmo which will destroy the invaders, but are these people still her enemies five centuries later? These themes – of loyalty and oppression and enforced compliance and the nature of colonialism – weave throughout the story.

This part of the book is beautifully done. The subtle and not so subtle differences between the world Medair remembers and the current one are neatly drawn – the architecture, clothing, food, mannerisms and customs – so that we first see the invaders through Medair’s eyes as strangely alien beings, and only gradually begin to soften towards them as we get to know them better. It becomes apparent that five hundred years of assimilation has worked both ways, and these Ibisians are not the same as the enemy of Medair’s own time.

The plot revolves around Medair’s struggles with her own antipathies and growing respect for the Ibisians, so there is a great deal of introspection and (it has to be said) downright angsting going on. There were a few moments when I wished she would stop agonising and just get on with it. But fortunately there was enough action interspersed with the angst to keep things rattling along. There were a few places where I wasn’t too sure what was going on, where a little more explanation or description would have helped. Occasionally the complex hierarchy of the Ibisians caught me out (all the ranks begin with a ‘k’, so they begin to blur together), and sometimes I wasn’t even sure which character Medair was talking to. But these are minor issues, which never seriously affected my enjoyment. This is a great read, a story with an intriguing premise, unexpected twists and plenty of action. It’s also that rare beast, a fantasy novel with a truly strong female lead character who’s not remotely a stereotype. I recommend it. A good four stars.[Originally posted on Goodreads December 2011]

By the same author

Stained Glass Monsters

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