[reading] What have you read recently?

Just finished The Grey Bastards: The Lot Lands by Jonathan French on audiobook. Interesting with a Half Orc “Biker Gang” (they ride hogs). A decent bit of Worldbuilding and a decent plot.

I felt it was let down by the way they treated Women Characters. There is one Female, Fetch, that has any real character development. The rest are just treated as bed warmers.

I would give it 3 out of 5.

Now on with the next book in The Expanse Saga Tiamat's Wrath on audiobook.
Just finished Tiamat's Wrath Book 8 of The Expanse. A very good read with a lot of Clucking Bell moments. No spoilers given but damn. The narrator of the audiobook is excellent as always; The overall Story Arc is moved along nicely. It is a shame that it is over next book. Looking forward to watching this on Amazon.

If you have not read the books or even seen the show. It is worth your time and effort.


Rune Priest
A couple of Early Reviewer titles from April:

New Worlds, Year Two by Marie Brennan

This is the second collection of essays on world-building by Marie Brennan. They are initially published on her Patreon blog, and subsequently collected into a single book. As with the first anthology, I was left wanting something more meaty that went into topics in more depth. However, the broad range and demonstration how things connect is useful.

Recommended as a good introduction to the topic.

Do Not Go Quietly: An Anthology of Victory in Defiance edited by Jason Sizemore

A bit of an oddity. A collection of short stories and poetry on the theme of victory in defiance. I’m not sure I liked it very much; some of the stories were rather grim (especially the version of The Little Match Girl) and in general I found it so-so. The poetry I thought was something of a waste of space.

OK if you like grim fiction.

Now reading Tremontaine: The Complete Season 4 before continuing with Early Reviewer offerings.
Last edited:


Rune Priest
Tremontaine: The Complete Season 4, written and edited by Ellen Kushner. Other contributors: Tessa Gratton, Liz Duffy Adams, Joel Derfner, Karen Lord, Delia Sherman and Racheline Maltese.

This wraps up the prequel to Ellen Kushner’s Riverside series, ending roughly a year before Swordspoint starts. A lot of loose ends are tidied away; notably the foreign factions present in the Tremontaine series and not in the Riverside series. I can see I’m going to have to reread my way through the lot when the new Riverside instalment comes out in a couple of years.

The braided stories that are the trademark of Serialbox ‘books’ dance and weave their way through the plot. The Balaam traders are threatened by their enemies from the Tullan Empire, who had been sent by the Chartili (not really wanting them in Chartil). The Chartili ambassador must forgo love for duty - but love decides to travel home with him; at least in Chartil he will be a respected scholar. Diana, Duchess of Tremontaine finds a new love when the Crescent Chancellor dies and she needs to ensure the right person is elected. Underlying all this is Riverside; threatened by the building of a new bridge, they attempt to fight back with little success - until the river itself takes a hand.

All the stories interlink; some threads from the earlier books are picked up again and woven back into the tapestry to reach a satisfying conclusion.



Rune Priest
Waters of Destiny, by Ian Watson and Andy West

Free in exchange for a review via the LibraryThing Early Reviewers Programme.

An esoteric medical thriller set in 2008 and 1160, the book is about the resurrection of the Black Death by an Ismaili sect who are heirs to the Assassins and reject the Aga Khan as their spiritual leader. The 1160 AD is about an Ismaili adherent researching disease in Ethiopia; he isolates and prepares a filovirus which is eventually released as the Black Death. In 2008, a medieval historian researching the Andalusian poetisas discovers a previously unknown poem which turns out to be a coded message about the Black Death.

This type of book isn't really my cup of tea and I was a bit uncomfortable with the demonisation of Muslims given events in recent years, but I suppose they are the enemy du jour.

Competently written, the story seemed to hang together. Recommended if you like this type of thing.
Decided to start reading Hyperion by Dan Simmons. It has been on my to read list since it was published but never got around to reading it.Okay it is on audiobook but still counts as reading. The audio production is an ensemble cast, which is not common these days.

A group of strangers are chosen for pilgrimaged to see a Entity known as The Shrike. Each has a Story to tell on why they think they might have been chosen.

I am about half way through and it is a very thought provoking story. Basically Canterbury Tales in a Sci Fi setting. It works and is very well realised. I can see why this Series is considered a Modern Classic.


Rune Priest
Pillar of Darkness, by Dave Duncan

Free from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme in exchange for a review.

A bit of an oddity. It starts off as a cyberpunkish story in the near future. The world has changed; climate change is one part, but the major change is an anomaly in Africa. A zone of antitechnology, it attracts people; but as entering is mostly a death sentence, seeking to enter is analogous to committing suicide and is strictly forbidden by most governments.

However, people do enter, and are catered for by various ‘resorts’ eking out a quasi-legal status around the edges of the zone. They do their level best to discourage entrants to the zone. The story follows one such group of entrants, all with reasons to enter.

The story is rather like the Christie story, Ten Little xxx (whatever the current PC title is). As attrition kicks in, and their possessions are gradually winnowed away by the changes in antitechnology level, we see how people cope.

In the end though, I felt the tension about who lives, dies or falls by the wayside wasn’t ratcheted high enough and the story disappoints in that respect. Otherwise, it’s a perfectly reasonable SF story.

OK, but could do with higher tension.
The January Man by Christopher Somerville. A book on walking by The Times correspondent (and my old English teacher from middle school circa 1981-82). It's also part autobiography and meditation on fathers, sons and family in general. I enjoyed the walking/travel stuff but was less enamoured of the parts about his Dad - he comes across as an all round decent bloke who led an interesting life: RN active service in WW2 then GCHQ during the Cold War - but I felt the book descended into sentimentality when talking about their relationship.

Somerville also not very nostalgic about his teaching days. Can't think why.


Rune Priest
A couple more LibraryThing Early Reviewers wins:

F is for Fairy, edited by Rhonda Parrish

One of Parrish’s Alphabet Anthologies. These comprise 26 short stories all linked to the theme of the book; in this case, fairies.

I thought this could turn out rather twee, but in fact I enjoyed most of the stories - most had a bit of a twist, enough to cut the sweetness. In fact, these were closer to the original concept of the Fair Folk than the cloying Victorian imagery that is the more usual take.


Legends 3, edited by Ian Whates

The third anthology celebrating David Gemmell. I thought it a bit more uneven than the Parrish, but I still enjoyed reading the book. I must admit I haven’t read any Gemmell for many years now, although the ones I owned (2 or 3 of his first works) remained in my collection for quite some time. I think I may appreciate them more now I’m older should I reread them.

Either way, these short stories tend to the grittier style of fantasy, not the heroic style popular when Gemmell started writing. I’ll admit in the 1980s I preferred heroic fantasy to gritty fantasy, but now it’s the other way round. Generally, these stories were enjoyable, but one or two I didn’t think quite met the standards of the others.



The Guvnor
Staff member
Conn Iggulden, Darien, Empire of Salt
Nice fantasy outing from a usually historical fiction writer.
Low magic.
Some nice characters I warmed to;
Daw Threefold
Arthur Quick
Vic Deeds
Didn't go overboard or overstate it's welcome, worth getting on a bargain price, 7/10


Rune Priest
Best of British Fantasy 2018, edited by Jared Shurin

Free from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme in exchange for an honest review.

Compared to other anthologies I’ve read recently, I found this to be a very mixed bag. I also found their definition of fantasy to be rather elastic - Godzilla poetry is fantasy???

Ranging from fairly traditional stories through to what I would describe as magical realism, most contributions were reasonably readable, a few eminently so.

OK but I’m glad I got it as a freebie. I prefer more tightly curated anthologies to ‘Best of’ (which often come across as ‘we haven’t got enough so we’ve got to add padding’).


Rune Priest
Theodora Goss, The Athena Club
The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter
European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman

The third book in the series is out but we haven’t got it yet.

This series is a mash-up of various Victorian and Edwardian mad scientist and adventure stories.

In the first book, Mary Jekyll meets up with her half-sister, Diana Hyde, Catherine Moreau, Justine Frankenstein and Beatrice Rappacini. It should be obvious whose daughters they are (the last is from a story by Nathaniel Hawthorne).

They are investigating a series of murders in Whitechapel and meet up with Holmes & Watson, and end up investigating the Purfleet Asylum.

In the second book, the Club receives a plea for help from Mina Murray (once Mary Jekyll’s governess), and travel to Vienna to rescue Lucinda van Helsing with the assistance of Irene Adler.

Travelling onto Budapest to meet Mina Murray, they encounter Laura and the Countess Karnstein, and find Mina Murray living with Count Dracula. In Budapest, they attend the Socièté’s annual conference, and meet Madame President, who is Ayesha.

The common thread is that their fathers/creators are all current or former members of the Socièté des Alchimistes with an interest in human experimentation. The expelled mad scientists are trying to take over the Socièté, and the Club thwarts that.

Rather fun, and very much lighter in tone than the Galen Becket fantasy series (also drawing on Victorian literature).


Rune Priest
A Hazardous Engagement, by Gaie Sebold

Free from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme in exchange for an honest review.

I really enjoyed this novella but alas, it was all too short. A caper story with an all-female gang of thieves and ne'er-do-wells. Hired by her brother to steal a magical artifact from a bride-to-be, Madis assembles a group of rogues to carry out the heist. Cue various double-crossing relatives and things that aren't actually what they seem, the villains of the piece get their come-uppance and Madis and co get away with the loot and the gratitude of the less-than-willing bride.

Reminiscent in style of Tanya Huff's Madelene stories (Third Time Lucky: And Other Stories of the Most Powerful Wizard in the World) and Joanna Russ' The Adventures of Alyx, I look forward to reading more of their adventures.



Rune Priest
The Bone Shaker, by Edward Cox

Free from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme in exchange for an honest review.

A grimdark fantasy novella. Knights enter a dark forest in search of their ruler's kidnapped heir. The twist: all the characters are female. The only named male characters mentioned are the kidnapped sons of the two rulers. All other named characters are female. It felt very northern European in tone; the knights came across as Teutonic Knights, all bone-headed pride and religious bigotry, the forest people were quite nasty and xenophobic elves, and the necromancer responsible for the kidnappings was suitable evil. It felt rather like the big bads in the Heirs of Alexandria series if it had been written by Glen Cook.

There's a nasty twist at the end.

Not bad, but not something I'd have gone out of my way to get.
Got the first ten Jack Aubrey novels (Age of Sail stories by Patrick O'Brien) ages ago - only just started reading them. Into no. 5 at the moment. Quite enjoying them, but preferred the Richard Bolitho (Alexander Kent), Richard Delancey (C. Northcote Parkinson) and Hornblower novels more. There are a few other authors I've read but can't remember offhand.


Rune Priest
Between the Rivers, by Harry Turtledove.

@Apocryphal’s reviews of Mythic Babylon inspired me to dig this one out. A stand-alone historical fantasy set in Ancient Mesopotamia, dealing with free will and the relationship of a god with his worshippers.

Sharur is a trader from the city of Giblil; the city god, En-Giblil, is lazy and doesn’t bother to micromanage his worshippers as other gods do. As a result, the Giblut are an inventive and industrious people, who have taken to thinking for themselves, helped by the preponderance of smiths and scribes in the city.

A trading trip to the mountains is a disaster; the mountain gods have forbidden their people to trade with the Giblut. It seems something was traded from the mountains which should not have been - a vessel of the god’s power. Terrified by the loss, the mountain gods threaten Sharur...

An excellent read, although the writing style may be rather off-putting - it’s very rhythmic and repetitive. Of course, those who have read The Epic of Gilgamesh will recognise the style.

Highly recommended, especially as a resource for Mythic Babylon or Dara Happan Glorantha.

Link added by @Guvnor: [it's smile.amazon https://is.gd/5qyNK2]
Last edited by a moderator:
Whahey, glad those blog entries inspired someone! Going to get back to doing them shortly. I read Between the Rivers years ago and enjoyed it. It’s certainly a stylish book and an interesting take on creating Mesopotamian fantasy.

We’ve just finished reading Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Foster, which is a kind of first-contact novel inspired by the Wizard of Oz, set in Washington Territory in 1873. I just loved it, though reactions at the club were mixed.

And speaking of our Tabletop Roleplayers Book Club, we’d Love to get some new members, so if the idea of sharing some reads with fellow gamers and talking about how to family them appeals to anyone, please check us out. We’ll be reading The Farthest Shore in November.

Last edited:


Rune Priest
And speaking of our Tabletop Roleplayers Book Club, we’d Love to get some new members, so if the idea of sharing some reads with fellow gamers and talking about how to family them appeals to you, please check us out. We’ll be reading The Farthest Shore in November.

TBH, I'm not much into group reads - too much like work! In any case, I have enough defined reading what with the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme, and the occasional score on NetGalley. This year, my reading got rather disrupted with the Hugo Packet reading - there's several books I never got around to reading (the YA books). I tend now to read anthologies whenever I can - I can usually read one or two stories in my lunch break or on my commute without getting distracted when I'm working.