Category Archives: Review

SFR: Jack Shade in the Forest of Souls by Rachel Pollack

Fantasy&ScienceFiction-201207_thumb[7]Rachel Pollack presents a shamanic noir 14,447 word novelette and introduces us to the Traveller and private eye Jack Shade, who also appears in a more recent tale ‘The Queen of Eyes’ and at least one more to come. He’s also in a short (short) story on Rachel’s website.

I was going to pick up her new book The Child Eater but I got sidetracked (temporally) by hearing about this in a recent interview.

In ‘Forest of Souls’  Jack is called from a card game by a man who posses his business card and Jack goes to investigate how he obtained it.

I love a good ‘urban detective’ and was curious how shamanic noir would turn out. I loved it. This case involves a visit to the forest of souls through a very curious entrance and a mystery that isn’t what it first seems. It is relatively short so it can be read in one sitting andJack Shade has lots of curiosity to explore in future stories.

I was a little surprised that Rachel Pollack would write a classic-feeling noir but I wasn’t surprised that she’d write it well or inject a lot of mysticism into it as I’ve read a lot of her thoughtful non-fiction (mostly tarot-related). I have high hopes for The Child Eater and Jack’s next case.

Review: Elric: Fortress of the Pearl by Michael Moorcock (1989)

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According to its  original publication The Fortress of the Pearl is 8th in The Elric Saga but The Michael Moorcock Collection and Wikiedia places it chronologically second, after Elric of Melniboné and Other Stories, and if, like me, you are reading in chronological order this is Elric’s first big adventure.

I was going to say that this is a better start than Elric of Melniboné but I’m not sure it is. Elric of Melniboné is an exploration through several short stories (and a comic book script) of how Elric became who he is, but here a lot of it that background is implied or mentioned only in passing. I’m not sure it would have the same impact on the uninitiated. You’d still have fun reading it but some the weight would be removed.

Elric crawls towards the city of Quarzhasaat, after trekking the southern edge of the Sighing Desert, and having run out of herds that give him vitality he is near is near death. He is rescued by an entrepreneurial boy who sells his skills for a deadly price. One that can be paid by recovering the pearl of the title.

Moorcock makes it look easy. Elric’s task of finding the Fortress of the Pearl and then the precious pearl  sounds simple but Moorcock uses it to explore reality, dream, expectation, wish fulfilment amongst other things.

So far in his adventures’ Elric’s journey’s have had a strong spiritual element. This differs as he’s not travelling into some dream/reality past he’s going into another construction of a dream. Here he is without his usual knowledge and instead gains a guide, Alnac Kreb  whose philosophies revolve around Balance pulling Elric away from his usual Chaos though not completely towards its opposite Law.

There is a sword and sorcery element but it doesn’t revolve around his vampiric sword, the Stormbringer, but its influence can still be heavily felt, and Its addictive qualities are paralleled through Elric’s struggles with an elixir he is tricked into taking.

As he is guided towards the pearl he gets to see how an ancient city of an enemy has attempted to rewrite his race and their empire from history and at the same time building up the myth of the pearl into something which can bestow real political power.

For all this it feels very traditional though not overlay familiar and certainly not stale. It combines the right mix of thought and pure adventure though part of me wanted Moorcock to lose some more the traditional scaffolding and for Moorecock to risk freewheeling a little more..

It is a solid adventure for our hero, though as we see at the end, he’s a hero still that doesn’t hold back when embracing chaos.

I’m on a roll and ready to read The Sailor on the Seas of Fate

Review: Speedy Death by Gladys Mitchell (1929)

speedydeath Alastair Bing’s guests gather around his dining table at Chaynings, a charming country manor. But one seat, belonging to the legendary explorer Everard Mountjoy, remains empty. When the other guests search the house, a body is discovered in a bath, drowned. The body is that of a woman, but could the corpse in fact be Mountjoy? A peculiar and sinister sequence of events has only just begun…

Speedy Death is the first novel of sixty six to feature Gladys Mitchell’s detective Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, a polymathic psychoanalyst and author, and it sets the model for the all the other ones I’ve read so far. Though it also introduces an aspect of Mrs Bradley’s character that I didn’t (and probably wouldn’t) have known without reading this. I won’t spoil it but it definitely makes her stand out from the Miss Marples of this world.

The body in the bath is a unlocked door mystery where no-one seems to have a strong alibi. This really isn’t a spoiler as the body and the unlocked nature of the room are revealed by the end of the first chapter. What is clever is how Mitchell spends the next 322 pages rattling round the same country house with the same core characters without it feeling drawn out.

The strength of this book is how Mitchell keeps presenting each character for analysis, which giving us time to get to know them and to consider whether they are the murder. Mrs Bradley is, interestingly, placed off to the side though you’d think that being a guest she’d be in the perfect position to snoop and inform the readers in reader.

Instead, another guest instigates the investigation and draws Mrs Bradley into their confidences but having her become interested does draw her into the judgemental gaze of the police. You can see that Mitchell is challenging usual conventions of disbelief like the one where the police accept help without placing any suspicions on the helper.

What is particularly sweet is the other characters reactions to finding out that the male Mountjoy and the women in the bath could be the same person. Not one of them made that the issue, which is unexpected 1929. The setting makes a contemporary version of this novel unrealistic but I feel that today’s grittier writers would make it a source of conflict.

I love the unexpected nature of Mrs Bradley, she’s a bit of unwanted guest here, as it does make herself very useful and indispensable at key moments.

Honestly it ticks all the cosy crime boxes. If you’re a fan of cosy crime or clever mysteries please do give it a go.

Next up in the series for me: The Longer Bodies.

SFM Review: Slow River by Nicola Griffith (1995)

slow-river-coverI can’t shake the impression I have that science fiction is going to be dry (or that fantasy is going to be some pseudo-medieval Royalty with magic). I know better. I’ve read so many books that aren’t those things and I keep waiting to be proved right. I think you’ll agree this is madness.

The only reason I mention it is because Slow River is anything but dry and dusty. It’s complex, emotive, and daring. It leaves a mark, which is one that I want from the SF Masterworks collection. I do want them to leave a lasting impression after I’ve read them as much as I’d like them to be worthy of being put on a pedestal. Obviously, the reasons for elevation vary, historical importance being one, but impact for me is the thing that keeps me exploring and Griffith definitely has that.

Lore’s troubled life is presented through three different timelines: childhood, recent past and present. The present is told in the first person and the flashbacks are told in the third. Actually, it’s unfair to call them flashbacks as they are threads that weave to let the reader know how Lore Van Oesterling, daughter of one of the world’s most powerful families, ends up with a thief and predator like Spanner.

It raises one big question: What would you do to survive? Lore’s new life with Spanner does make for uncomfortable reading. The depths that Lore descents to in order to pay off the debts owed to Spanner, who rescued her when she was dropped naked and injured in the street after her kidnaping, is a long way to fall.

Lore’s first meeting with Spanner is described in the recent past thread and in the present she starts a job, which is several levels below her knowledge and skill, but is also safe from scrutiny, that is until she has to out herself to her suspicious boss or risk the lives of her co-workers.

Getting to know Lore at these differing points, her childhood being probably the saddest, makes for a powerful exploration of who she was and who she has to potential to be. The ease in which Griffith presents the rightful normality of the same-sex relationship that Lore and Spanner share is to be commended, though if it wasn’t as self-destructive then there would be no drama. It’s the dynamic of their relationship, rather than the sexuality of it, which makes it dangerous.

There is a under-representation LGBT characters in speculative fiction in general and having Slow River as a SF Masterworks is a confidence boost especially as Griffith doesn’t shy away from the the darkness which Spanner subjects Lore to, there is romantic sex and depraved acts (due to their impact on Lore rather than the acts themselves), but all are shown with the same respect to the characters and the story that Griffith has set out to tell.

Part of me is jaded by stories of impossibly rich people because it removes layers of reality and replaces them with an easy fantasy but this story used that difference to good effect as even in those scenes where the ‘reality’ of wealth is too distorting Griffith keeps it raw. She shows the ways  Lore’s parents use their children as pawns and how naivety can obscure the reality of the situation. If you’re wondering why doesn’t Lore just leave or go back to her family? Well that gets explained and, as in this life, going back isn’t that simple.

Griffith leaves the ‘best’ revelation until last and makes it the most gut-wrenching moment though that’s not the only one you’ll have. This story has several moments where facts shift your understanding. I’m tiptoeing around so much of what makes it a powerful and essential read but I really don’t want to say to much more.

Slow River deserves its place on the SF Masterworks and needs a slightly higher pedestal just to make sure it’s not overlooked.

Read it.

Review: The Crimson Campaign by Brian McCellan (2014)

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Just to get this out of the way, Brian is a client of mine and I’ve been typesetting/ebooking the  novellas and short stories he’s written in the same Powder Mage universe so this review has some bias. Saying that though, this is still an honest review otherwise there would be little point in writing it. Luckily I really liked it.

Speaking of being honest, military fantasy is not my go-to genre, and traditional medieval-eurocentric fantasy is something I can take or leave (shock horror), which makes me a hard sell. The first book in this series, Promise of Blood, was one of the most enjoyable books I read last year but it also left me the most conflicted because of its ‘conventional’ use of female characters.

At the end of the first book I wasn’t sure the direction this series was headed but now it’s obvious that this is a full-on war story, if Promise of Blood laid down the battle lines, The Crimson Campaign digs the trenches and sets the stage for the bigger battle to come in The Autumn Republic.

McClellan has carved his niche in this saturated market by focusing in gunpowder. He has Powder Mages, military men and women, who use gunpowder to give themselves superhuman strength and speed. They can also control bullets and explode gunpowder at will.

There are other magics like those with a  ‘knack’  like never needing sleep or a photographic memory, though these are minor compared with Privileged who can destroy a building with a wave of a hand. Power Mages fall somewhere in middle of that scale. And then there is also Ka-poel, with her ‘savage’ magics.

By the opening of the first book Field Marshal Tamas killed almost the entire of the Royal Cabal of Privileged. This is important because there is an incident early on here which isolates Tamas and his Powder Mages from the rest of his army, and in doing so losing Adro the tactical advantage with their war with the Kez.

And here is where my stamina for military fiction shows. There was a point about a third in were we keep going from Tamas marching through enemy lands to his son, Taniel Two-Shots, who is trying to keep the battle lines form falling back  as the Kez press forward. I honestly thought of putting it down. There is only so much marching and fighting I can take.

And to be honest as I saw this was turning into big battle war story I imagined it was going to continue with an unending descriptions of fighting and marching but as we (Tamas, Taniel and I) push past that section it turns again and from then on I was again hooked.

There are three threads here. In addition to the two already mentioned Inspector Adamat is focused on saving his wife but to do so he has to investigate the mysterious Lord Vetus. These threads are picked up from the first book but unlike the first one, where all three really had the same goal, here we see them separate into their own stories.

McCellan keeps his chapters short and tightly focused so it’s not long before you’re catching up with what each of the three is doing and apart from that one section the pace keeps moving at good speed. Our author likes to keep the reader on their toes with twists and turns and revelations. He likes surprises as well and the build-up towards the end has an enjoyable reveal, which also sets a different the scene for the last book. And I like the main characters hadn’t seen it coming.

There are a couple odd moments where my enjoyment of the main characters overrode a nagging disbelief in the scenario but I was having too much fun to let that spoil anything. And without spoiling things for you the part I felt it the most is an escape scene where the lack of people being around is too odd not feel strange. But that’s a minor niggle.

As I said at the beginning I enjoyed The Crimson Campaign. Brian seems to have tried to address the issues with the female characters within the boundaries of his world and, as the middle book of a tilogy, it’s made me eager to find out what he has planned for his characters.

Bring on The Autumn Republic!

Review: The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas (2013)

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In Commissaire Adamsberg Fred Vargas has created one of my favourite detectives. There is something about his unorthodox methods and his obsessions which makes him endearing. It helps that Vargas has injected his squad with plenty of their own idiosyncrasies such as having an unending stock of food hidden away, being an unstoppable impossible force (you’ll have to read to find out what this means) and a detective who often speaks in verse. You also get to see the bonds strengthen with his newly discovered teenage son – who has changed a lot since we first met him.

But it’s Adamsberg who everything centres around which makes it a wonderful, if sometimes confusing, read.

This time his reputation attracts a mother from Normandy, well away from his jurisdiction, whose child has seen a vision of the ghost riders and since the middle ages their appearance has signalled a grisly end to murderers, rapists and those with serious crimes on their conscious. The mother is worried that people will die and impresses how much she needs the help that only  Adamsberg can provide.

The Ghost Riders of Ordebec marks Adamsberg’s seventh appearance and there is no sign that Vargas is tiring. She gives three cases for her detective to solve; the affect of the rider’s  appearance; a lad who may have falsely accused of torching a car with the driver still inside; and  the cruelty to a pigeon. Through these cases you see Adamsberg’s methods and his team in different lights. Most strongly felt is the camaraderie and loyalty he brings out in all those involved.

Vargas is one of those writers you need to trust and as mentioned in my review of An Uncertain Place I went through the same feelings with that one as I did with this.  Vargas is very skilled at placing obscure and seemingly unrelated details down in the first section of her novels though this does make it feel very foggy and slippery. The problem with this technique is that if it wasn’t for Adamsberg (or from reading her previous work) you might not feel you have a guide you can trust.

But then suddenly the fog clears and you can see the path and know that Vargas has been you leading you quite a merry dance. That’s not to say that you’re being tricked because Adamsberg is as much in the dark as you are as a reader and it feels that you are both finding out together. Though Adamsberg’s clockwork is hidden so you don’t known everything he does but you can still hear the explanatory ticks.

Siân Reynolds deserves a special mention for doing the translation work and making the whole thing flow. I always used to worry that that a translation would mean clunky and second-rate prose but Reynolds (as have other translators of other works) has made it feel seamless.

In conclusion, unlike many other detectives, Adamsberg’s compassion for those involved makes this serious alone a good read but when you see how clever Vargas is of putting unseen information in plain sight it becomes compelling. I’m yet to come away from her novels without feeling I’ve ‘won’ something. I  really hope you we get another.

Review: Skin Game by Jim Butcher (2014)

Skin Game

If you thought The Dresden Files was starting to lose its way then reading Skin Game will prove you wrong.  Harry Dresden’s  latest case is a tough one: he has to break into the highest security vault in town under orders from his new boss, The Winter Queen, and to do so he has to work with a previous villain who’s previously tried to kill.

It’s the fifteenth book in this series so if you’re never heard of Harry Dresden or read one of his cases this is not a good place to start and if you’ve not read Changes, Ghost Story or Cold Days go catch up first as those are fundamental to seeing how Jim Butcher has altered the game which is being played out as part of the bigger picture.

It has been a bit of a rough transition as Dresden and Butcher work best when solving a case, which is exactly what Skin Game is all about, but the last few books have been dealing with a climax of a story arc and its aftermath and in doing so lost that familiar feeling. Luckily, here the bigger picture takes a back seat.

Since Changes there has been a void in Chicago, a Dresden-shaped one, and rather than protecting those close to him his absence has confused and hurt them. And Butcher addresses some of those relationship issues as a fundamental part of the plot, which shows that Butcher has grabbed hold of Harry and given him a good shake.

It was definitely needed as Harry isn’t good on his own. And so much is put to right’s here. It feels like ‘classic’ Harry is back. The heist formula adds focus and allows Butcher to play games with the reader leading to a clever and satisfying climax.

Everything that makes Dresden is here. The tricks of fairies, the Christian themes, the problems, the damsels, the manipulation and the ‘big bang’ ending.  If you love Harry you’ll love this. Though if you don’t like the ‘Dresden’ view of the world this won’t change anything.

Let’s go back to the damsels. A criticism of this series is the view that Harry Dresden has of women, especially his male gaze. That is still here and in some way it’s enhanced by the new power has from Winter. He is what he is. That isn’t to say that all the female characters are sexualised but there is a strong testosterone smell in the air.

Is that damaging? As I said at the start over fourteen books have established the characters, their personalities and their dynamics. It would be impossible to drastically alter this without making those changes feel false. And, this isn’t excusing anything but Harry has always been portrayed as a night with a weakness for wanting to save damsels in distress.

There is a glimmer of hope of fatherhood and  family with  its  inherent responsibilities, which I hope will give another aspect of Harry for Butcher to explore.

I guess the representation is ‘traditional’. It’s not progressive. I’m not sure it’s derogatory (your milage may vary). But I’d like to see less objectification certainly.

As I was reading I couldn’t put it down. The heist has a tight window and that adds tension to the whole thing. It’s a constraint that works perfectly. Butcher, as I’ve said, still manages character development by having Harry’s ego humbled with conversions with old friends, especially welcome is seeing Michael make a much needed return.

Harry Dresden’s place as the leading Urban Fantasy Detective remains. Butcher has a plan. Harry is back on form. And for a Dresden book this is practically perfect. I can’t wait to read what happens next year.

Review: Midnight Crossroad by Charlaine Harris (2014)

Midnight Crossroad

There is something comforting about Charlaine Harris’s writing style and that bleeds through into her characters. My first exposure to Harris was her Sookie Stackhouse short stories from A Touch of Dead  and then the first two Aurora Teagarden novels. The reason I mention this is that Midnight Crossroad mixes Harris-the-mystery-writer and Harris-the-urban-fantasy-writer.

Reading the Aurora Teagarden books you wouldn’t think that there are any supernatural elements in the world and reading Sookie Stackhouse you’d think their presence was quite normal so I wasn’t sure which way Midnight Crossroads was going to go.

You don’t have to get more the than the preliminarily pages to know that this one is going to have a strong supernatural thread as Harris gives a mini-introduction into four of her main characters: Manfred an internet psychic (also minor character from her Harper Connelly Series), Fiji an owner of a magic shop with powers of her own, Bobo a pawn shop owner and Olivia who catches a lot of flights.

Told in the third-person we get to spend time with several of cast and get to know all the major and minor characters enough to feel their lives are real though, because the people in Midnight all tend to have their secrets, a lot of who they were before moving to Midnight remains a bit of a mystery. However, that doesn’t stop Harris feeding us with tidbits of what may come later.

And knowing that Harris has chosen to bring characters from her other series into Midnight (I spotted a Lily Bard namecheck (does that mean Bobo is a Lily Bard character?)) compelled me order all her other series (Stookie Stackhouse, Lily Bard and Harper Connelly) in an very bad moment of bookish OCD because I love authors who explore their worlds in different ways (it’s one reason I love Asher’s Polity). It’s another reason I need to crack on and read the second book of the Kings’s Dark Tower but I digress.

Unlike other reviews I’ve read I don’t want to say whose body is found but that moment turns this into a mystery and it doesn’t happen until we’ve established our feet under the table with a most of Midnight’s residents. From that moment on Harris picks up the pace though still remaining calming in her style does some quite brutal things which means I can’t label it as a ‘cosy crime’ story.

I admit to getting a little uncomfortable with the nature of the ‘big bad’ here and I think that it’s going to to appear again as the series progresses but Harris handles a real world-concern well and it is needed to shatter the cosy bubble Midnight could become without it.

Harris makes the sense of community a priority and having Manfred with the outsider eyes and outside questions makes a good conduit for the reader. He’s likeable, in fact everyone is likeable in some way even the scary characters (both those in the community and the ‘big bad’). It does take a little while to settle (fifty pages or so) as we get to know some of the characters but we have a scene at the local restaurant, this brings most of the main characters together, and sets up most of the dynamics, which Harris then cements quite rapidly.

Overall, Harris succeeds in bringing her comforting style, her love of the supernatural together with her skills as a mystery writer to make a Midnight Crossroad into a pleasurable and enjoyable read. You have characters you’d like to spend time with and care about but you are also dying to know what other secrets they are hiding. I can’t honestly wait for my my next visit to Midnight.

Audio Review: The Cold Commands by Richard Morgan (2011)

The Cold Commands

It’s worth pointing out that an audio book gives a different feel to book, so really I’m reviewing Richard Morgan’s writing and Simon Vance’s performance of it, and it is a performance, Vance gives each ‘voice’ a different inflection to bring them to life. And I’m praying that he’ll be asked to read The Dark Defiles  as I’m really not sure what I’d do if he didn’t [luckily he is]. From that you must know that I’m invested in the lives Ringil Eskiath, Egar the Dragonbane, and Archeth Indamaninarmal and their fate.

And fate there is as by the end The Cold Commands sets our characters in places they wouldn’t have expected to be in at the beginning, which made the last quarter or so quite a surprise, and had me scrambling to find two hours listening over 24hrs to finish it.

At the the start it’s not clear where you are going. This does require an act of faith to push through as it feels like Morgan knows you already know and love these characters and will follow them regardless of where they end up but he doesn’t really give a sense of direction.

To be fair the characters aren’t sure what they should be doing either and each of them is eventually pushed or pulled into some sort of action – Ringil is freeing slaves, Egar is bored and does a bit of breaking and entering which gets him into more trouble that he could possibly imagine and Archeth is sent to retrieve a helmsmen, who brings with him promise of her again meeting her people.

The Cold Commands does several things that make it ‘different’ or at least outside the ‘norm’ and reading Brit Mandelo’s tor.com review reminds me that a few of them really should be highlighted.

The sequence is called ‘A Land Fit for Heroes’ but who are our heroes? Ringil is probably the most surprising being not only gay but also a gay man whose intimate relationships with two minor characters are supportive rather than destructive,which is unlike The Steel Remains where the close relationship is destructive for him and the wider world and it comes back to haunt events here.  Archeth is struggling with restraint over her own desires and whether a slave girl is an expectable release. And finally, Egar’s own intimate relationship causes danger to all three though it is also a linchpin in strengthening the relationships between them.

I love The Cold Commands for that alone as there is no neon signposting. The sexuality and the problems that brings feels like an extension of the characters and I’m glad that Ringil’s relationships especially don’t ‘punish’ him.

Not that this novel a romance, it has another side shown in some dark and brutal moments. There is a rape scene, which is  rightly disturbing, and its inclusion shows a lot about the world in which everything takes place and is also telling about the characters involved and how they react.

There are a lot of soul searching moments, especially Ringil’s as he transverses the Grey Places, but each of the trio gets focus and attention, and for a middle book in a trilogy it goes deeper and further than just  treading water until the next book’s third act big finale.

Morgan likes to linger on the fights and the sexual scenes, often giving a blow-by-blow account, which I guess makes this ‘gritty’ or ‘dark’ and not for squeamish or prudish. Though I do think it’s important  that it never feels gratuitous; the fights especially have consequences. And often war ‘heroes’ are glorified by others, which are quickly earthed by Egar’s and Ringil’s putdowns.

There is also a turning of the tide here. We see the struggles that the ruler Jhiral Khimran II has in keeping power and how he keeps blocking the damn against the religious furore of the Citadel. I quite like him as character because of who he is and why he does what he does. He has a charm that comes from his scenes with Archeth and even though she’s a lot older than him he often feels much wiser. Though he s brutal and unflinching as well (and here Vance’s performance plays a strong role).

Speaking of Archeth, even she isn’t safe from Morgan’s callus hands. Outside influences extend to even her. But I’ll leave it as that to avoid unneeded signposting or spoiler inducing.

As I said at the beginning, it’s not clear at the start what to expect and I don’t want to flag those moments too much as their revelation makes you rethink a lot of earlier moments and makes a reread or re-listen in my gave something to look forward to.  But I will say that by the end Morgan has prepared the ground for something big. And the point where you hear ‘the cold commands’ will make a shiver run down your spine.

The Cold Commands uses traditional fantasy tropes and stretches those conventions to cover places they normally don’t reach. The main characters should be hard to like but they have plenty to hook your sympathies and understanding especially as their hearts are in the right place as storms gather around them. Honestly The Dark Defiles can’t come fast enough, though at last report it’s 50% bigger than this one and pays of debt due, but I’m nervous about how much Morgan is going to tear into the hearts of our characters.

Vance, as always, does a startling performance, and it always makes me chuckle that the dwenda sound welsh. His portrayal of Jihral especially sets the right tone and the helmsmen sound alien and disturbing. I could honestly listen to him read the phone book. Though with The Dark Defiles being half as long again I hope his voice holds out.

SFR: The Eyes Have It by Randall Garrett (1964)

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Title:  The Eyes Have It
Author: Randall Garrett
Source: Lord Darcy by Randall Garrett  (Fantasy Masterworks )

This short story can be summed up as a classical-feeling detective story set in an alternative reality with a magical twist. It welcomes you to a world where the Plantagenet kings survived, where the laws of magic were discover and physical sciences where never pursued. Not that we’re fed all that in one go. Instead we’re thrown in the deep end.

We start, as these things do, with the discovery of a body, which unfolds into an analysis of the relationships between the main suspects. We are also introduced to Lord Darcy and his forensic sorcerer, Master Sean O’Lochlainn, though Lord Darcy is definitely the boss.

It feels very grande. The characters and setting are social elite and Garrett seems to revel in the setting and the characters. The alternative reality feels natural and the use of magic, being licensed by the Church, is a nice twist – especially the pseudo-science-method of explanation.

As a piece of fantasy it is evocative and as detective fiction Garrett makes it work very well. I think the setting and the characters are more interesting than the murder itself, though it has its moments.

As an introduction I’m intrigued and I’m keen to see what direction it goes in next. This collection has nine other short stories and a novel so I’m going to have the chance to find out.