Review: The City of Silk and Steel by Mike, Linda & Louise Carey (Gollancz)


The City of Silk and Steel by Mike, Linda & Louise Carey


Once, in a city called Bessa, there was a sultan who was over throne by religious zealots, lead by Hakkim Mehdad, who didn’t like the way the sultan and his people enjoyed themselves. The sultan’s wives and children were slaughtered and his 365 concubines were banished and sent to a neighbouring caliph as a tribute. But something threatened the banished concubines and everything changed.


Imagine you are in the desert and a group of you are sat around a fire and someone starts telling a story about a City of Women. You may think from the way the narrator tells the story of exiled concubines that it is just a tale that has no basis in reality and to be fair it does start as just as story. But our narrator, the librarian Rem, tells us how a city of women came to be and what they did afterwards.

The City of Silk and Steel is this story but it’s built from asides and reflections and futures of those involved and as it grows you end up seeing the full picture.

Even though you could think of it as an Arabian Nights style tale due to its setting and the classical feel it captures. The Careys have managed to take what may have been a safe linear tale and push themselves  into holding a reader’s attention as they pause, re-tell, give backstories, and make you as interested in the events of the characters lives have lead them here as to where they find themselves now.

An example of this is the titles of some the tales. Some are more ambiguous than others for example ‘Tales Whose Application is Mostly Tactical: Bethi’ versus ‘Giver of Gifts’. One of my favourites stories is ‘The Cook’s Story’ as it includes recipes but they are used to make a point. They show the contrast between the old Sultan and Hakkim and how the ascetic movement has effected the kitchens and the merchant’s who supply it. This technique adds a quality that is rare in most stories though to be fair most stories wouldn’t sustain this type of narration.

It works here as there is no main character as such, unless you’d define it as the city of Bessa, instead you have characters who are important to the tale. There are those that make decisions like Zuleika who changed the entire direction of the women’s lives,  Gursoon who makes sure they survive Zuleika’s actons, Rem not only narrates but gives commentary on events as she was there affecting them not in small part due to her sight of the past, present and future. Then there is Anwar Das who grows to be much more than a camel thief. There are other characters and other stories including the act of kindness that the women will come to regret in the end.

But it does show rightly that you can have all sorts of strong female characters and what women can achieve. When the tale starts most, but not all, of the women have no other recognisable skills than those needed to survive their role as concubines, which involve not only looking after the sultan’s physical needs but ensuring, along with his wives, that they diplomatically cool his fires when he could make rash decisions.

But as they need to survive outside the city their underused (and unacknowledged) skills have to be used and honed in order to trade as well as fight when needed. And this the heart of The City of Silk and Steel and the source of its title. The silk is the women and their soothing nature and the steel is the fight inside them and both are needed. Though it may not be enough but not for the reasons that you may think. A city run by women is a very successful one but compassion is sometimes a weakness.

The ease with which regime change occurs may be have some readers pausing to wonder why it wasn’t harder but then again it’s a story that plays out over several years and its focus is on the characters not particularly on capturing a true ‘reality’. The narrator freely admits that is a story not a historical record though it is both.

It is the record of Bessa but also a story about Bessa.


I was truly enchanted by The City of Silk and Steel. The narrative style is refreshing. The way in which the story passes back and forth. The changes in focus. The way it builds. And the devastating way it ends. You may think that it’s bound to be a happy tale. It is in lots of ways as the women are practical but even that isn’t enough.

The Carey’s sometimes gloss and lubricate in some places where more grit and resistance would make the journey feel tougher but when it matters they don’t hold back. You want the women to beat the odds. You know the dangers of what they are doing and all you can do is read and wait.

If you like classical feeling fantasy tales with modern complexities, which is enchanting, captivating and enjoyable then The City silk and Steel should be top of your list.

SSM Review: Second Wind by Mike Carey (Zombie)

Title: Second Wind
Author: Mike Carey
Link: n/a
Collection: Zombie: An Anthology of the Undead
Publisher: piatkus
Release Date: Out Now

It’s a strange new world. The dead are rising. If you die there is a chance you might not stay dead. When a high flying stock broker starts having heart attacks he starts planning the continuation of his life. Nicky describes that transition from living man to dead zombie and tells us about the person that tries to share his new home.

For fans of Felix Castor this is Nicky Heath’s origin story. It gives glimpses into his warm blooded life before he became Castors go to guy. But without that connection it still works. If you are rich and have money then it shows how you can survive a zombie transformation under Carey’s zombie rules, where your consciousness comes back into dying and rotting body.

Carey adds the twist of a human companion to Nicky’s new cold and isolated world. It’s a good little exploration of the human psyche to see how they interact and the roles they take as is made very clear in the end.

Fans are going to get a real kick out of this one but those who haven’t discovered Castor after reading are going to be setting up false names and accounts so they can get their money when they come back from the dead.

Review: The Naming of the Beasts by Mike Carey (Orbit)


The Naming of the Beasts by Mike Carey
Published by Orbit and Out Now in Paperback

Felix Castor has made it to book five seemingly in one piece though not after more than a few scrapes along the way. You’ll have to read The Devil You Know, Vicious Circle, Dead Men’s Boots and Thicker Than Water for details of those.

This leaves me with a slight problem. How to explain the awesomeness of The Naming of the Beasts without destroying the enjoyment of reaching this point.

So the short review is; if you loved the series so far this is going to knock your socks off so read it! And if you haven’t had the pleasure yet let me introduce you to what you’ve been missing…

The dead of London aren’t staying dead and haven’t been for some years. The newly deceased are coming back to visit or moving back in if they’ve come back into their own bodies (Carey’s idea of zombies are more possessed corpses than the lumbering and brain eating movie variety). Though it’s not only the dead that are returning, things a lot older have also appeared, not only on the streets of London but all over the world.

And that is where people like exorcist Felix Castor come in. His special talents make him a sort of expert in the changes that are coming. Not that he’s enjoying it at the minute.The world hasn’t been too kind too him over the last few books.

In The Naming of the Beasts, his friend Rafi has escaped along with the demon that Castor trapped inside his body. Castor needs to stop the demon and find his friend but he can’t handle it alone. So he turns to the lesser of two evils to give him back-up and joins forces with an old adversary to try to stop the demon before he escapes Rafi’s body and becomes free in the world.

Now I’m a big fan of urban fantasy and I’m an even bigger fan of this series. For all the things going on we have in each book Castor trying to redeem himself by trying to do the right thing for his friends and family and failing because of other peoples agendas.

And Mike Carey is a master of putting Castor through the ringer each time. But he’s not rehashing the story in each book. He has the back story that’s been building from book to book until we get to this point.

And the answers raise more questions than they answer. The balance has twisted away from the living. And Carey plays with that. He takes each of main the characters away from their routines of normality he’s built up in the series so now Castor can’t work alone, Juliet is having more than a few problems controlling herself, Pen is well just Pen and Nicky, he’s wasting away, though he has a plan to save himself.

If this is the penultimate book in the arc then the ending to The Naming of the Beasts is a killer. Something just doesn’t feel right by the end. It’s almost too easy. It feels like Mike Carey has held a few cards back and I have a horrible feeling that Castor’s life is not going to go back to normal after this.

A true roller-coaster ride and a series that a fan of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files or quality urban fantasy really can’t miss.

Oh and check the next post to win one of three copies of The Naming of the Beasts

Review: Thicker Than Water by Mike Carey (Orbit)


Thicker Than Water by Mike Carey
Published by Orbit and Out Now

Thicker Than Water is the fourth and most personal Felix Castor novel to date. Felix is a whistle carrying exorcist, who up until now has been involved in cases rather than been at the centre of them.

A body is found in a car. The road it’s on is overlooking an estate. How does the body relate to the events that are happening in the estate, why is Castor a suspect and why does this lead Felix to his home town of Liverpool. And why is Juliet strangely silent on the cause of the case in hand.

I’ve probably said it before that I’m a big believer in starting at the beginning. I have and will go into a series with some success like the books of Neal Asher and Fred Vargas part way through and work backwards. But there are some series despite having no number on the cover that should be read in order.

The Dresden Files is a series where you get more from it knowing how the dynamics work and what experiences they have gone through and how those events have changed them. Well the Felix Castor novels work like that. Yes you can can read them alone but you’re not going to care as much as you might if you’d read the other three in order.

This is because Mike Carey has been dragging us in from book one, The Devil You Know, on the journey of Felix Castor. Not that is really what it feels like but the impact is definitely felt in Thicker Than Water. You get to meet his brother Matthew, delve into the shaping of Felix Castor through some of the events of his childhood, and find out that things aren’t aways how they appear.

One of the interesting points of this book is the way the whole cast is brought together. They work as a team each having their own roles but their connections aren’t shown in neon and they go deeper than what’s mentioned.

Which is one of the reason why you need to read Castors other investigations. You have to know what he’s risking in the opening scene and why he’s risking it. You have to know why he shouldn’t be teaming up with who he does and why he has no choice.

Carey has let the story off the leash in Thicker Than Water – know that he’s established everyone and can pull those strings/connections, he lets it twist and turn, and peels away layers and layers until Felix is exposed. Felix seems to win only to leave this reader close to tears on the final page.

The good news is that the next one, The Name of the Beast, is out the end of the August it might be September  and it looks like the world if going to Hell.

*** You can can find out a little more about the series in an earlier post.

Review: Dead Men’s Boots by Mike Carey (Orbit)

Dead Men’s BootsTitle: Dead Men’s Boots
Author: Mike Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 06 September 2007
Price: £7.99
Review Copy

Felix Castor, exorcist, doesn’t like funerals and at the start of Dead Men’s Boots that’s exactly where he is when a lawyer turns up to exhume the deceased (a former exorcist and someone Castor avoided before he died) so he can be cremated and it’s only the start of his problems. His new client is the wife of a man who is accused of murder only she’s convinced that he didn’t do it and it was done by a woman that’s been dead for forty years.

Told in the first person we follow Castor’s investigations as he figures out clues left by the deceased and wonders how a ghost can wield a hammer though the poor fella doesn’t know what he got himself into. Trouble finds Castor like a drunk finds a chippie. It’s part of the deal when you take that first drink.

As I said in my review of Vicious Circle, the second book of this series, Carey is a master plotter. His plots are focused and well planned though with enough clues that you mentally kick yourself when you start to see the connections.

Dead Men’s Boots is a stand alone title but it’s probably better to start at the beginning as you get to see more of Castor’s make-up as well as the history behind the some what’s going on and his history to some of the other characters. And there are some great fully formed secondary characters.

The subplot from the previous books is kept ticking over quite nicely with a few teasers that I hope are going to make an appearance soon.

It’s a great read. You can’t help yourself from wanting to know how deep in shit Castor can go before he drowns.

If I have one negative I’d say that some things are a little too neatly tied off at the end but I don’t really care as it’s a great read that keeps you thinking and guessing all the way to the end. And it’s left me wanting more.

Review: Vicious Circle by Mike Carey (Orbit)


Title: Vicious Circle by Mike Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Price: £7.99
Published: Oct 2006

Mike Carey is more widely known as a comic book writer – and for exploring the area of the occult in the comics Lucifer and Hellblazer (both available from DC Comics) He also writes about superheroes. He’s somehow found time to write a series of novels starting with The Devil You Know. Vicious Circle is the follow-up to that and takes us through another case of the exorcist Felix Castor.

Mike takes us to a London where the dead are no longer staying in the shadows. They are rising in great numbers and there is even an Act going through Parliament aimed at giving the dead legal status.

With this backdrop Castor takes on a request from the parents of a kidnapped girl. There is only one problem – she’s dead and ghosts can’t just be picked up and pocketed. Not that stops Castor taking on the case – the mystery and the grief of the parents persuades him – though the money may help too.

Mike does plot very well. The story is focused and well planned. The other thing he’s good at is hiding the twists and turns until the several ‘d’oh’ moments that occur. Everything moves along at a page-turning pace.

What is frustrating is the need to supply plot seems to leave Felix and the other characters getting less development time than they deserve, because Carey paints them so well you do want to spend more time with them. But as this is a first person tale there are perfectly good reasons why our focus can’t shift to the secondary characters too much. The only way would be to have Felix in their presence but being with them too long might give stuff away before everything is fully set-up.

Instead, you get to see him out and about, ducking and diving, exploring the seedy world that attracts his services. So you don’t notice this lack of progress until the conclusion, which itself makes you wish you knew Castor a little more.

Throughout the book Felix remains a bit of a mystery – but that’s how it should be. As is the way with all detectives – you see enough of their home life to make them human but not enough to shift the focus away from whatever they happen to be investigating.

Even though it’s not mentioned in the cover VC has all the markings of the second book of a trilogy. Character and storylines started in the first book play an important part here and the anticipation is that they will feature in the next one as well.

Whole heartedly recommended but read The Devl You Know first.