Review: Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (2015)

Signal to Noise

There are books that when you first hear about them excite and tease you, though if, like me, you’ve heard about them months before they come out that excitement can fade, mostly because other books get in the way, but some things do stay around with Signal to Noise it was the trio of music, and magic and Mexico which stuck, and that is a pretty good summary of its hook.

Meche is a fifteen year old girl who uses music to mask out the world around her. The love of music is inherited from her father but it’s with her two friends, Sabastian and Daniela, where her passion takes a more practical and disturbing turn when she discovers how to make music weave magic, and we’re witness to how magic doesn’t really make things better.

Moreno-Garcia goes back and forth between Mexico in a 2009 present and 1998 past as she shows us the lasting effect of the earlier events. She doesn’t linger too long in either and makes both interesting enough that you’re happy to get back to either time frame. She also uses the past to confuse and foreshadow present.

You see Meche’s journey as she burns through her friends and witness the breakdown of her relationship with her family at the same time as seeing that it’s unfinished business she may have tried to leave behind but can’t now avoid dealing with.

You know that’s where the first half of the tale ends up pretty quickly because that is how the present section starts but it’s what happens next and why that makes it more interesting.

As an adult you can’t help thinking back to your earlier self and seeing how you laid tracks to the present and wondering if you could change things what would you change? But Meche has no such regrets. Though there is a scene with her grandmother, that we see as an audience, which if Meche had witnessed would, I think, fill her with a lot of remorse.

Even though this story is full of teenage anxieties and issues I’m reluctant to label it as YA because of the effect it had on this adult reader. The power of using those formative events is that emotion is simpler and more intense, which works in its favour, though this could be seen as simplistic if you’re expecting a more nauanced exploration.

Brought together because they’re unhip gives an awkwardness and a camaraderie to Meche, Sebastian and Daniela but it’s more than that because Meche is a leader and Sebastian has a unacknowledged crush on Meche and with Meche confused by her own feelings then Daniela playing go between the two. It’s teenageness in a microcosm.

As for the music, I’d be surpised if Moreno-Gracia hasn’t got her own passion there. The various melodies resonate as you read and the author makes the point that what is obvious isn’t always the most effective.

Back to the magic. Does it make things better? Not really.

At the heart this novel are dysfunctional relationships; with Meche at 15 and 36 dealing with the effect of her father and how she is and was with her friends plus it illustrates effectively how we do, but mostly don’t, change.

Signal to Noise is a great debut that uses music and magic to bring something a little different to the exploration and struggles of teenage years.

Review: The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing by Tarquin Hall

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing is the second published case of the Indian detective Vish Puri.

Early one Delhi morning a 20-foot vision of the Goddess Kali appears to a morning session of the therapeutic Laughing Club who then proceeds to strike one of their members dead before vanishing into thin air.

There is much to love about Hall’s quirky detective. The most immediate is the pet names he gives to his employees. He names them with wry mix of the jobs they do for him and their personality traits. For example, we have Hanbrake (his driver), Facecream (who works undercover), and Tubelight (as he spends most of his time in the dark).

But the cast doesn’t end there. It is truly a family affair with Puri’s mother getting herself involved in her own mystery and this time drags along Puri’s wife. There is a warmer feeling to this series because of the lively secondary characters which you don’t find in most detective novels.

Hall gives insight into Indian culture and beliefs as Puri sets out to disprove that a Goddess can actually manifested but this brings him into conflict with a Guru who has the ear of the Prime Minister. And Puri has then has another disturbing mystery to solve.

It’s fast-paced and it’s pleasurable watching Puri’s clue-hunting, bartering and sleuthing as he talks to all aspects of Indian society to get to the bottom of what actually happen.

Hall seems to be having fun not only with Puri’s quirky, but extremely effective, ways but also complicating his life with his Mother and Wife sticking their noses around the place in the hunt of clues of their own.

The cover quotes a reviewer calling, ‘Puri the Indian Poirot’ and but it’s not Poirot dropped into India it’s more a what if Porit was Indian, though Puri himself is always reference Holmes, though not always in a endearing way.

It has everything I love in a modern ‘cosy crime’ novel. A quirky cast of characters, mysteries which are actually mysterious and an investigation with entertaining twists and turns.

It’s really hard not to enjoy this book and I can’t wait to read The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken.

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I’m going to do the unusual thing of starting with the summary. If you want to read on you can but I can’t promise that your expectations or enjoyment won’t be spoiled from here on in.

In a nutshell, The Ocean at the End of the Lane sees Neil Gaiman at his rawest. He takes us back to a childhood moment, which could have seen something very different happen, and uses it to explore stories, reality, childhood, loneliness and learning to make the most of your life. Read it in one sitting if you can. I promise you’ll be glad you did. And don’t let the size confuse you that this a light tale. It’s deeper than the ocean.

You’re still here and you want to know more? You sure? Well, if you’re curious lets go deeper. But I’ve warned you already you probably don’t want to know.

Alright then, are you ready? Don’t say I didn’t warn you….

I’ll start with a bit of a confession. With any prolific author I think there are works of theirs you’re going to get on with more than others. I say this as I didn’t connect with The Graveyard Book as much as everyone else. I loved the concepts and ideas but couldn’t quite connect the main character. I liked American Gods and he’s written a lot of my favourite short stories. So I was a bit nervous about The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

I needn’t have worried. In comparison I couldn’t have felt more connected to the narrator telling us about an event in his younger self’s life. It could be partly because it’s written in first person that I found it easier to feel for him but I know it’s much more than that.

Here’s one reason:

‘I lay on my bed and lost myself in the stories.
I like that. Books were safer than people anyway.’

I’m sure all lovers of books escape into stories but when you’re a lonely child that escapism is a new reality. A world that isn’t like your own. It makes you feel different about yourself and the world:

‘I liked myths. They weren’t adult stories and they weren’t children’s stories. They were better than that. They just were.’

Moving back to what this story is about. It’s about life and living. When we first meet our narrator he has just been to a funeral though we’re unsure whose and it doesn’t really matter because his subconscious reaction is to go back to his childhood haunt and the farm at the end of lane. And there he remembers the moment when he met the 11-year old Lettie, who introduces him to the world behind the veil, though the veil is already lifting when he meets her.

There are moments of ‘reality’ that are heart stopping like a moment when his father gets angry. That scene drove me right back to being young and powerless and when you realise the world isn’t as safe as you first thought.

It’s full of observations about life and living but it doesn’t feel like moralising. Like reading Terry Pratchett you learn a lot about human behaviour but because this is first person you get it a bit more directly:

‘Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way hundreds of times, or thousands, perhaps it never occurs to step off the paths…’

It’s true when you put it like that.

And one final observation:

‘I wondered if it was true; if they were all children wrapped in adults bodies, like in children’s books hidden in the middle of dull, long books. The kind with no pictures of conversations.’

As for the fantasy, well, reality turns on a knife-edge. Our immersion is clever and complete. And in a way I’d like an ocean at the end the lane too.

I really don’t want to say too much about the story itself. I will say it is short as it focused on one event, one wrong that needs to be put right. And because of that focus Neil Gaiman is free to explore the minor but significant details as well as look at the grander parts of life.

It made me smile, it made me sad, it made my heart ache and it made me think.

What else could I ask for?

Read it.

Out 18/06/2013 in hardback and ebook.
Buy from: Amazon Hardback/Kindle , Waterstones, Book Depository UK/US, or your local bookshop.

Review: Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

Promise of Blood


The cover says, ‘THE AGE OF KINGS IS DEAD…AND I HAVE KILLED IT,’ which is quite a statement to make. And to be fair it’s not an understatement. Field Marshal Tamas’s coup in of the nation of Adro, one of the Nine kingdoms, results in the death of the monarch and the layer of aristocrat. But it also results in the death of his royal kabal of Privileged, magic users who are there to keep the King safe (they didn’t do a good job on this occassion). Though they aren’t the only magic users there are lesser users like powder mages and those with a knack.

The trouble is that it’s the powder mages, who are mostly military and of whom Tamas is one, may have saved Adro from being sold out to their neighbours, but the end of the Age of Kings causes its own problems.


Let’s get this out of the way. I had a great time reading this book.  I’m having a really good run of varied reading; Equations of Life, Poison, The Panopticon, The City of Silk and Steel, The Universe of Alex Woods and I’m happy to add Promise of Blood to the list.

What’s different? Guns and magic! I honestly didn’t think I’d get excited about someone else’s gun fetish but McClellan’s narration drew me in. He has structured his story in such a way that it is compelling from the opening chapter. He weaves three main threads; an investigation each of the kabal’s dying words, his son’s hunt for a rogue privileged and Tama’s own struggles in powers. But even those seeds grow and each of their roles change as the story unfolds.

I’m aware that one person’s fresh voice is another’s cliché but I’m also aware that my tolerance for certain epic fantasy stories is low so to be drawn in and excited by a fantasy novel is a refreshing thing. McClellan really does have a skilled storytellers eye for lingering in the right places for the right time before looking elsewhere. It’s a dangerous thing to do to leave one thread just as it’s in full swing only to leap to another and invariably you think you’d like to keep going rather than leave it.

I never felt that. I did think that a couple of times the leaps didn’t flow from one moment in one thread to the same or future moment but instead they felt they were going backwards (I could be wrong). But even so the whole thing held together. Each thread was worthy of the attention it got and each was packed with twists and turns. I enjoyed each of them equally for different reasons. The treat that Tama’s faces leading a country, the underside met by his investigator and the action that his son provides hunting.

All the characters are multifaceted. McClellan is good with giving characters something worthwhile to do. They serve the story. Some more than others obviously but even the minor characters are interesting for example a maid we meet at the start plays an important role at several key moments which are unbeknown to her moments before they happen.

As I was reading I didn’t have any major problems with portrayal of any of the characters apart from a niggle to do with the ’slave-girl’ Ka-poel. She’s a mute, a ‘savage’ and her magic is not understood by those around her. She accompanies Tamas’s son on his missions and when she does she looks after him, mostly via magic. I only had the niggle because of something that happens later on.

McClellan shows women in various roles and strata of society but it does have an old school flavour to it. The society is a conservative one. It’s a book about the men (thanks Neil) and their fights and struggles dominate, though as I said the maid’s story is a powerful in minor thread and could well turn into something else but even that it is about a male character.

So while I didn’t have any issues while reading it on reflection it could and probably should have taken more risks to displace the social model it based itself on. The women have a valuable role in the story but not in their own society, at least that their power isn’t their own as they facilitate the males at each and every turn.


Where does this leave me? I have a quandary. If I’d read and moved on then I’d have been left with feeling I’d enjoyed an amazing book. And I still feel like that. But the process of reviewing it has made me consider other aspects that I wouldn’t have lingered on. I would have missed the conservative nature of the backdrop. That’s the privilege of being a male reader I guess.

So, I can’t ignore that aspect but neither can I berate it for sticking to a historically social norm. I can wonder why it wasn’t more daring. I can be honest and say that I think that this is a book written for men. And most male readers are going to enjoy the hell out of it without batting an eyelid.

As for me I’m going to read the next one. I’m hoping that McClellan brings to it all his skill as a storyteller. I’m invested in the plight of the people of Adro. I want to know the consequences of Tama’s actions. I want to see what the shocking end of this one means in the bigger picture. But I also hope that there is time for McClellan to tweak his treatment of his female characters. I’m not sure how he’d be able to do it as he’s set the whole world up to be male dominant but there are still opportunities for giving them strength rather than weakness and goals that unrelated to those of the male characters.

This is a traditional feeling story. It’s amazingly well constructed. Its aim isn’t to elevate the role of women in society, so leaves to others. But it does explore the law of unexpected consequences. Its premise feels fresh. It’s exploring an idea about what happens when gods you don’t think are real actually are. It also explores the diminishing of power over time. The role of the church and it’s statements vs it’s actions. It explores truth and lies. Plus it has guns and magic and a passion for that which is infectious.

And with all that said would I recommend this book?

Oh yes, but with all the caveats above.

Buy from:

Amazon UK: Hardback/Kindle

Book Depository UK/US

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.

City Watch Re-Read: Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Guards! Guards!


A plan is being hatched to overthrow the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork and replace him with a King. In order to do that the Unique and Supreme Lodge of the Elucidated Brethren of the Ebon Night need to summon a dragon, because everyone knowns that the true King will be the man who saves the City by slaying a dragon.

At the same time Carrot Ironfoundersson, who is too tall to be dwarf (being human and all), is sent by his adopted dwarf parents to Ankh-Morpork to join the City Watch, who we first meet in the form of a drunk Captain Vimes. The somehow unneeded, until now, Night Watch get it together to investigate the appearance of dragon and some burnt human outlines in a wall, which couldn’t possibly be a dragon? Could it…


It has to be 16 years since I last read Guards! Guards! I’ve read almost all of the Disworld books (but not end of Mort, or all of Wintersmith, Making Money, I Shall Wear Midnight, and Snuff) so I’m well versed in the Discworld, and I have read a few of them multiple times when I was younger (Wyrd Sisters, Sourcery, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade, Hogfather), but I haven’t re-read any of the City Watch ones until now.

After the effect of The Stress of Her Regard had on my reading (it drained my strength enough that 80 pages from the end I called it quits) someone on twitter (I’m avoiding name dropping) said I should re-read some Pratchett and she was absolutely right!

I hadn’t forgotten what a joy it is to read an early Pratchett as such but I may have forgotten the joy of re-reading something you liked a lot. I even think I had a better time this time around. More than once I was laughing out loud and then having to explain what I had set me off, which is particularly hard when you’re chuckling to the image of Lady Ramkin as Discworld parallel valkyrie carrying off a battalion.

As an early Pratchett he’s working his way through some well trodden fantasy tropes by taking the mickey and here it’s not only the idea of a royal heir coming back to reclaim a throne but also the idea of what it is to be hero, which is played out beautifully in a scene where the various heroes for hire decide that they’d rather be in the put.

It also show’s how skilled Terry is an observer of human behaviour:

‘Human nature, the Patrician always said, was a marvellous thing. Once you understood where the levers were.’

This quote is at the beginning but is especially effected when reflected on at the end after discussion between Vimes and Patrician where they consider their respective roles in the world.

And by the end you can see why the world needs both a Vimes and a Patrician. Someone that sticks by the rules and someone who manipulates them.

It’s also novel of privilege, the brothers who summon the dragon are doing so because they want to end the oppression they feel they are suffering. Though of course when the King strips the privileges of others there will be some exceptions won’t there? They are slightly deluding themselves I think.

It’s also a love story, and a sweet one at that, but it would spoil it to say more.


I really enjoyed Guards! Guards! I enjoyed it that much that I’ve had to stop myself from reading Men at Arms until I’d written this review. If I hadn’t I think I’d have caught up with Snuff (the latest to feature Sam Vines) and not got around to reading any other books but those featuring the Watch.

For a new reader to the Discworld I think this is the perfect introduction. Not only do you see the embryonic stages of the Watch (three dysfunctional men joined by an eager forth), you get to see the City as a fully formed character. You get glimpses of the Guilds and what a clever man the Patrician is and why he is one of my favourite characters along with the Librarian (and it takes a lot of skill to understand a character who mostly says Ook!?).

Mini Review: The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall (Arrow)

I’ve found my new favourite detective. This time they are from India in the guise of portly, persistent and unmistakably Punjabi, private detective Vish Puri.

The Case of the Missing Servant is our first introduction to this ‘Indian Poriot.’ An established detective, with an web of contracts and employees, Puri is very much a conductor and ring master, though even he has problems with an interfering mother. As an introduction it works well. Hall gives us several threads to follow. Not only do we have the ‘missing servant’ we also have assassination attempts, unsuitable suitors and other case name dropping.

The thing that Hall captures most is the colour. The characters are lively and background is vibrant. Good crime authors  present the solving of the crime in an engaging way but great ones also make their manor a character in its own right. I enjoyed seeing how Puri works. His employees make a great supporting cast. Their characters are all as different as the jobs they do, which makes their interactions with Puri delightful to read.

What’s different for me is that Puri has a loving and happy family life and after seeing his mother you can tell where Puri gets his nose from. It’s unusual to have such a happy detective and that makes The Case of the Missing Servant such a joy to read. Yes, the crime is serious and seriously handled but the nature of a cosy crime novel is that it isn’t disturbing. His  idiosyncratic ways make it fun.

As with Sherlock Holmes he names previous cases to wet our appetite for further adventures though there are no worries on that score with The Case of the Man who Died Laughing and The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken already out and on my shelf waiting.

Audiobook Review: Orbus by Neal Asher (Tor UK)


Orbus is the third book in the Spatterjay series – I know this as William Gaminara reminded me when he started narrating Neal Asher’s return to Sniper and Vrell. This time we the switch in focus to Captain Orbus as he takes us away from the planet Spatterjay and out to the Graveyard, border between the Polity and the Prador Kingdom.

But before we continue I highly recommend reading The Skinner and The Voyage of The Sable Keech  first as Orbus is not a good jumping on point, being the last (so far) in this loosely connecting series. I guess you could read it in isolation but you’d miss a lot what makes Orbus a brilliantly imagined book. If you’re continuing to read I’m including spoilers form now on in. So with that in mind…

Spoiler Warning

Asher has been keeping secrets, the virus of Spatterjay isn’t all that it appears. It is so much more. And the evolution to its true nature is one part of what makes Orbus a crackling read.

At the end of the last book Vrell had entered Vrost’s ship but it’s what he does there which causes the viruses true nature to be revealed and causes the Prador King personally to arrive to finish the job that Vrost has so far failed to do. And you can see why a Prador who is infected with the Spatterjay virus shouldn’t be allowed to leave. Asher also introduces us to the Golgoloth, a myth and a story to scare young Prador, and a creature is that is very real.

Together they create a mix and a direction that I wasn’t expecting after the low level storytelling of the first two as this time the stakes could not be higher for King personally as well as the Kingdom and probably the Polity if the virus manages to get loose, which sounds dramatic, and it is.

Asher gets to stretch himself writing a grand space battle which he handles with fineness as he winds back time to see events from different views and plays out smaller dramas along with the big battle.

Orbus, being an old sea captain, infected with virus and very much mentally tainted by the Polity/Prador war on Spatterjay as explained in The Skinner and The Voyage of Sable Keech makes him a darker hero to follow. And his struggle with killing or saving Vrell at several points makes great reading.

Not that Orbus was expecting this mission when he signed up to Captain the trade ship Gurnard but Asher uses this book to demonstrate the the Polity AIs are quite manipulative and forward thinking.

End Spoiler Warning

The thing I like about Asher is that he’s always pushing and exploring his creation (the Polity). For example I’m going to read The Technician as soon as I can and that is supposed to feature a black (as in magician) AI. Now they might feature in his Agent Cormac series, which after The Technician will be the only books in the Polity I’ve not read, but I know it’s generated a sequel, Penny Royal, that he’s writing now.

But back to Orbus and a question: what should science fiction do? In Asher’s case his science fiction tells a great roller-coaster story and explores survival, genetics, societies, technology and other themes should be present in science-focused fiction. And he manages to show deep thinking without derailing the story he’s chosen to tell.

Though the voice telling this tale is that of William Gaminara who also lifted The Skinnerand The Voyage of Sable Keech off the page. It’s staggering to think that not only does Gaminara have to read for 14 hours plus but he also has to keep up with what voices he’s given to each character and it’s so smoothly done that when he slips (and he did only a handful of times) do you realise how effortless his narration feels.

For me Asher is a master craftsman and makes the Polity one of my favourite storytelling environments. It’s a universe that I’d urge any SF fan to explore right now.

Orbus is out now in paperbook, ebook and audiobook.

Review: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Headline)


A childless couple, Jack and Mabal, are making a fresh start at the ‘edge of the world’ in the wilderness of 1920’s Alaska. But Jack is struggling to clear the land and Mabal is loosing herself as the days grow darker.

Then during the first snow of Winter they build a snowman, a snow girl more exactly. In the morning the snowman is gone but at the same time they start getting visits from a girl and their lives turn a corner.


The Snow Child is a strange mix. On one side it is the retelling of a Russian fairy tale and on the other it’s the story of a couple’s struggle with the wilderness. But it is a mix that works.

Eowyn Ivey’s debut is structured around the fairytale and in places it foreshadows events for the readers but rather than making it predictable it draws you deeper in. Mabal is subconsciously and then consciously aware of the parallels between real life events and there fictional counterparts. And oddly this makes it more realistic not less. You do end up wondering if Mabal and Jack projecting their wishes of having a child on the girl that visits them?

But Ivey doesn’t make this a romantic fairy tale. Life is hard for Mabal and Jack and their relationship is strained. The opening chapter sets Jack up as the problem but the more that is revealed the greyer the lines become. Mabal has her own baggage, which Jack is doing his best to deal with.

Luckily the arrival of the child Faina as well the family in the next farmstead that includes the larger than life  Esther who is the complete opposite to the reserved Mabal. They do however become fast friends. And it’s the visitations of Esther and family especially her son Garrett along with Faina that help turn the farm and the relationship between Jack and Mabal around.

Tensions are still there though as Faina appears to be to Esther a fantasy that Mabal has made up to help her cope and in public Jack won’t acknowledge the child’s visits. To make matters worse the child constantly disappears when the snow recedes. The clever thing that Ivey does is play with the punctuation of speech so you’re not quite sure if the child is really speaking or if there is some sort of wish-fulfilment going on.

Ivey also plays our impression of what Faina is. Is she a child of snow or a child that’s trapping animals in the wilderness to survive? Could she be both?


There has been a lot of buzz surrounding The Snow Child. And the question that is always asked is does it live up to it? Yes absolutely but not just because it’s a fairytale. For me it’s the examination of the nuisances of the various character relationships, both main and secondary, during the stories twists and turns that kept me reading.

Ivey’s debut is truly a modern fairy tale for adults and older children alike.

Review: The House That Groaned by Karrie Fransman (Square Peg)

The House that Groaned

Literary graphic novels feel pretty rare. I could be wrong as they are outside my radar or more exactly they fall between my main interest in novels and the cursory eye I keep on comics. And I have seen a two graphic novels from mainstream (eg non-comic publishers) in the last year one based on a fantasy novel and one with a fish man, which still fall into ‘genre’ so would have a more identifiable audience.

I’d venture that The House That Groaned hasn’t got a readymade market but will find fans with literary readers and those that love graphic novels but want something that isn’t superheroes and spandex will definitely enjoy it.

It arrived in the morning and I’d read it by the afternoon. Reading comics isn’t something that takes hours but it surprised me as I had other things I should have been doing. So what engaged me?

The world that Karrie Fransman managed to create in 141 Rottin Road.

Visually apart from the yellow lights in the windows on the front cover the rest of the book is black, white with various shades of blue. The style is comic art. Each panel bring it alive as they should but the panels are more than functionary as there is something magical about it.

Not only is there magic in the art but in the story itself. It definitely dips it toe into magical realism, which is quite odd for a story involving the six occupants of house converted to flats. I initially thought it would played ‘straighter’ than it eventually was. But it’s surreal blending of reality with the imaginary is what makes it so absorbing a read.

Barbara moves in to 141 Rottin Road, which is anything but the thick-walled apartment she was told, and allows us to use her as an introduction to the other residents, who are, if I’m being honest, more than a little odd.

And Fransman seems to have great fun playing on their oddities. Though they aren’t so odd to unrealistic. The woman that runs a fat club but really just wants to eat, the man whose only means of sexual excitement is extreme looking women, and then there is the neighbour across the landing…

Even though it revolves around 141 Rottin Road we occasionally leave its walls to see key defining moments in the characters lives (Fransman even includes the building’s life in those flashbacks). And I think that’s the most fascinating aspect; what made them into the strange people that they are?

And that element makes it quite dark. The fact that these people have been so twisted by those key moments and how that has had what we might see as a negative affect on their lives. It’s also a very fun and playful story both in terms of visuals and storytelling like the hall literally filling up with people for the diet class and the a very glutenous food eating scene.

The House That Groaned is the type of story that graphic novels are made for. Visually compelling and narratively complex. It’s also a book that challenges the conventions and expectations of what the medium can do.

Can we have more books like this? Please!

The House That Groaned by Karrie Fransman
Published by Square Peg
On sale now