A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams

My Five Word TL:DR Review : A Little Slow to Start

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A Dark and Secret Place is the first foray into thriller/mystery by an author whose body of fantasy work I love and as such this was also an impressive book although I didn’t love it quite as much as the author’s other books.

As the book begins we make the gruesome discovery of a dead woman, the body mutilated and staged in the horrific style used previously by the notorious serial killer Michael Reeve, known as The Red Wolf, except Reeve was caught and has been in prison since.

At the same time we meet Heather Evans.  Heather is returning to her family home.  A home she left as a teenager and hasn’t visited since.  Heather and her mother shared a strained relationship and Heather’s return has been brought about by the sad news that her mother has commited suicide.  Heather struggles to understand why her mother would take her own life, the suicide note itself is puzzling, but when she discovers a stack of letters between her mother and the serial killer the plot thickens.

Heather takes the letters to the police and becomes caught up in the hunt for a copycat killer – involving visits to the Red Wolf himself to try and discover if he is involved.

The story is told in two timelines.  We have Heather’s current timeline and we jump back to a young version of Michael.

This one does get off to a fairly slow start but I didn’t have a problem with the pace to be honest.  It slowly becomes obvious that Heather is the centre of something very odd.  She finds strange things in the house, there’s a creepy vibe to the place and sightings of a stranger lurking in the rear garden.  To be honest I don’t think  I could have stayed there so Heather was certainly a lot braver than I would have been.  Clearly somebody was leaving these ‘mysterious’ things for her and there was a tension about this element to the tale that was decidedly spooky.

The flashbacks to Michael were also a bit unnerving and dark in nature but I’m not going to discuss those here.

We also have the visits to prison where Heather visits with Michael in a desperate bid by the police to uncover anything about the new murderer.  The visits don’t turn out to be terribly helpful with Michael often behaving rather obtuse, spouting stories that resemble gruesome fairytales.  Michael has a very strange intensity to him that was a little unnerving and I couldn’t help having this odd ‘Silence of the Lambs’ vibe.

The story escalates when Heather decides to take matters into her own hands and the final revelations become a little frantic.

I liked this one, there are some good ideas here and the story is well delivered.  However, I didn’t love this one and I’m not sure that I can put my finger on why that is.  I think on the face of it I struggled to connect with Heather.  She could be a little bit prickly and in spite of her obvious intelligence she made some very dubious and risky decisions.  I was mystified by one of her decisions in particular but,again, I won’t elaborate.

I think my slight hesitation in falling for this was a slight disparity between the first half of the book and the second  They didn’t seem to gel as well as I would have liked.  The ending had an almost chaotic feel with all sorts of elements being woven into the storyline.  And the really odd thing is that now, reflecting on the story itself to write this review I struggle to recall some of the final revelations which is a really strange experience for me.

Overall, though, I did like this, it was a very easy read, gripping in fact, and I would love to see what the author comes up with next.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 3.5 of 5 stars.

December Countdown, Day 22 : Reindeers

December book meme (details here).  Reindeers – a book with memorable critters : (I’ve gone for the whole series with this one)

The Poison Song (The Winnowing Flame Trilogy #3) by Jen Williams

PoisonSongAnd so the final book in the Winnowing Flame Trilogy comes to an end, slightly bitter sweet maybe but nonetheless a thrilling conclusion to a fantastic and epic series that for me firmly places Jen Williams on my favourite fantasy author list.  Two series, both epic, both completely different in tone, world building and characters and yet both incredibly impressive.  What’s not to like really – it’s an absolute no-brainer.

I’m not going to discuss the plot, if you haven’t read the first two books in the series I strongly suggest you do so, apart from the fact that you’d be missing out on an awful lot of world building and development of character arcs but also, for me, one of the things I love about this author is she pretty much picks up from where she left off.  It’s something I really like but I imagine if you like to delve into a series midway it might make the book something more of a struggle to get on board with.  Plus, be aware that this review might contain spoilers.

First and foremost I would say that this is another series where each book brings something unique to the storyline.  We being this adventure with the Ninth Rain in which we meet some very easy to like characters and take a look at the fascinating world of Sarn.  This is a fictional world that marries fantasy and sci fi.  Occupied by a variety of different people and species and also with a long history of conflict invovling invading aliens.  We discover the world primarily through the eyes of Vintage, an archaeologist of sorts who seeks out wartime artefacts.  We also learn of the Eborans, a race of immortals, beautiful and almost ethereal who resorted to drinking the blood of humans when their own source of immortality dried up.  They brought about their own downfall causing a massive rift between their people and the humans (who seemed to take umbrage at becoming meals on legs) when their blood drinking tendencies lead to disease and a rather messy demise.  We discover the meaning of the Ninth Rain and end the story with the birth of the fantastic war creatures.

The Bitter Twins is a book where the main characters are desperately scrabbling around trying to find a way to help them defeat the aliens and survive the threat of extinction.  This is definitely a voyage of discovery with some great revelations not to mention some betrayals and some excellent world building.

The final instalment brings this all together with a monumental threat to this world.  What I really liked about this third instalment (well, to be honest too many things to really mention so I’ll narrow it down) is, here we have an invasion of aliens.  Destructive and deadly beings with one intent (which I won’t give away here).  What’s really great about this is that at the same time as really being able to powerfully dislike the Jure’lia and their methods (plus, did I mention insects??) they also become understandable.  They’re not really baddies as such, they’re simply doing what comes naturally, it’s like blaming a lion for eating you.  Of course that doesn’t make the fact that everywhere they go they cause death and destruction any easier to take but in a sense it’s the perfect antagonist – the motivations are easy to understand because this is more about their own survival.  You don’t like them, you’re not in their corner, but they’re just doing what comes naturally and even if they’re defeated, they’ll simply go away, lick their wounds, recover and try it all over again.  I love this combination of fantasy and science fiction (fantascience), it works so perfectly and at the same time as giving us a relentless and unsympathetic adversary it also serves to throw into relief certain symbiotic similarities that aren’t at first really obvious.  The Jure’lia are basically parasites destroying everything they touch to fulfill a certain need that drives them.  The Eborans also shared a brief spell of ‘taking’ whatever they needed to survive, regardless of the consequences.  They didn’t stop because they suddenly became ‘nicer’ they stopped because they were dying out as a race.  At the same time the humans need the Eborans in order to survive the alien invasion and so over the years their relationship has evolved, out of necessity, to become more mutually symbiotic in nature and in that respect they must fight together if they’re going to survive.

The characters all move on again.  Tor in particular changes somewhat in this instalment, I won’t giveaway why but he definitely suffers from a sort of withdrawal of sorts which hurt some of the other characters.  Noon plays a key role, returning to the Winnowry to release her fellow captives.  She becomes a hero of sorts and in a strange twist discovers a new meaning for her particular brand of magic – of course she had to face some rather bitter truths in order to make that discovery but her findings are fundamental in the terrible war that is played out in the final chapters.  Vintage is probably my favourite character.  She’s been a great character throughout the series, often feeling like an almost motherly figure to the others, bringing them together, calming them in times of need, offering words of wisdom but not only that, she really does bring the optimism to the story that you need as a reader and her sense of wonder and enjoyment at finding herself bonded with her own war creature is incredibly infectious, all the more so because of the sad way that it became a possibility.

In terms of criticisms.  I have to admit that this took me quite a while to read.  There’s a lot going on here and sometimes you can’t help feeling a rather desperate sense of being overwhelmed by the true scale of the threat.  Plus, it took me some time to get back on board with everything that had happened previously.  On top of this there’s the conundrum faced by any author who has been so successful in creating such a group of well loved characters – who lives and who dies – and this must have been a very difficult choice to make. But, I suppose, it’s inevitable really, you can’t expect a world under threat, terrible battles and ferocious enemies and yet everyone to miraculously survive.  That being said, I can’t deny I would have liked a slightly different ending and even now my mind is trying to find ‘what ifs’ in some desperate attempt to find my own happily ever after.

In a nutshell, epic-y goodness, fantastic emotion, wonderful characters, gorgeous writing and a series well worth investing in.  Do yourself a favour and read Jen Williams.

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

 

Throwback Thursday : The Winnowing Flame Trilogy by Jen Williams

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ThrowbackThursday.pngThrowback Thursday, is a new feature created by Tenacious Reader with the aim of  highlighting books from your reading past. This can be virtually anything, a book that you previously read and loved, a book that you want to highlight again, maybe it’s a book in a series and the next book is due out shortly so you want to focus some attention on the series.   Anything goes – so long as your book isn’t a current release as there are already plenty of ways to highlight the latest books.  

Today I’m highlighting the first two books in the Winnowing Flame trilogy by Jen Williams.  Here are the two beautiful covers:

This series is certainly epic in scope.  It’s packed with originality and fantastic characters and it’s written with flair.  I’ve just finished the final instalment The Poison Song – and my review will follow later but for now suffice to say that fantasy lovers should be reading Jen Williams.  She’s a tour de force who is carving her own spot in the world of speculative fiction.  Her books are a delight and I highly recommend them.

The third book is due out today so if you’ve not yet started now is the perfect time.  And, because I’m just really nice here’s the cover for Poison Song so you can see the full set.  this one is a real beauty and my favourite (although it is difficult to choose):

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Friday Face Off :  “How sweet to be a cloud, floating in the blue”

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(May is the month of Wyrd and Wonder – details here, Twitter: @wyrdandwonder)

FFOHere we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book, compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future week’s themes are listed below – the list has been updated to help out those of you who like to plan ahead – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.  This week’s theme:

 “How sweet to be a cloud, floating in the blue” – A cover that is predominantly blue

Blue covers – I’m looking forward to everyone’s covers this week – there were quite a few out there but the book I’ve gone with is : The Iron Ghost (The Copper Cat #2) by Jen Williams. I loved this series and it’s a great fantasy series to begin my first FFO for Wyrd & Wonder – if you haven’t read it I highly recommend you do so.

My covers this week – only two but they both fit the theme :D:

My favourite:

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I love these covers.  Which one is your favourite?

Like last week I’ve added a Mr Linky here so that you can leave a link if you wish or please leave me a link in the comments so we can all visit and check out each others covers.  Thanks

I’ve updated the list and included themes through to the end of 2019 – I’ve also included events that I’m aware of so that you can perhaps link your themes up where possible (if you know of an event you’d like to share that let me know in the comments).  I also have a list prepared for 2020 and so will set up a separate page soon for forthcoming themes.  As always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment.

Next week – A cover featuring a festival/party/celebration

Future themes: (if you’re struggling with any of these themes then use a ‘freebie’ of one of your favourite covers)

2019

(May is the month of Wyrd and Wonder – details here, Twitter: @wyrdandwonder)

10th May  – “As full of spirit as the month of May” – A cover featuring a festival/party/celebration

17th May –  “The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow!” – A cover featuring a fantasy beast

24th May – “bibbity, bobbity, boo” – A cover that features ‘magical things’

31st May –  “simples” – A favourite fantasy cover 

7th June  – “One swallow does not make a summer” – A cover that makes you think of Summer 

14th June – “Coraline opened the box of chocolates. The dog looked at them longingly.” – A cover featuring something sweet

21st June – Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year – Pagan rituals/standing stones/blazing suns – a cover with your own interpretation

28th June – “And who decided which people wore the striped pyjamas” – A cover that is striped

5th July – “The question of whether or not we are alone in the universe… has been answered” –  a cover featuring something/somebody historic 

12th July – A wrap around cover

19th July – “You can’t choose between life and death when we’re dealing with what is in between.” – A cover that is grainy or looks like ‘white noise’

26th July – “Ludo ….. down” – A cover that is Upside Down

2nd August – “There are children here somewhere. I can smell them.” A cover featuring children

9th August – “I’m disinclined to acquiesce to your request.” – A cover featuring Pirates

16th August – “The haft of the arrow had been feathered with one of the eagles own plumes” – a cover featuring feathers

23rd August – A cover that is a movie tie in

30th August – “I wandered lonely as a cloud” – a cover that is predominantly yellow

6th September “Warm September brings the fruit” – a cover that is seasonal for Autumn/Fall

13th September – Friday the 13th – unlucky for some!  A cover with ‘curse’ in the title

20th September – “Your hair is winter fire,January embers.” – A cover featuring hair

27th September – Freebie

4th October – “Feed me Seymour” – A cover that is 60s horror

11th October – ““And, though there should be a world of difference between the smile of a man and the bared fangs of a wolf, with Joss Merlyn they were one and the same.”  – a cover featuring an Inn

18th October – “It’s your favorite scary movie, remember? He had on the white mask, he stalked the babysitters.” – A cover featuring a scream

25th October – for Halloween – pick any scary cover you like

(I’m hoping that November will once again bring to us SciFiMonth – Twitter @SciFiMonth)

1st November – A cover that is predominantly grey

8th November – “big badda boom” – a cover that features an explosion

15th November – “No thinking thing should be another thing’s property, to be turned on and off when it is convenient.” – a cover featuring a robot

22nd November – A cover that is Futuristic

29th November – “When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.” – a cover that is 60s sci fi

6th December – Now is the winter of our discontent, Made glorious summer by this sun of York”  – a cover that puts you in mind of winter

13th December – A cover that features a temple/or religious icon

20th December – Longest Night –  a dark and foreboding cover

27th December – the festive season – a cover that is glittery or sparkling

(2020 – January is Vintage SciFi month so I’ll be including possible themes to take that on board.)

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