Category: Reviews

Verity Fassbinder might have gone up against Archangels and Weyrd murderers before, but now she’s on a course that might just see her out of her depth – motherhood.

When Verity falls pregnant, she’s quite content to take things easy for a while, especially after the last few scrapes that she barely escaped. Spending more time with David and sorting through the piles of baby clothes are her priorities. But something out there has other plans for her and, with her super-strength depleted, Verity is in for the fight of her life.

The first Verity Fassbinder novel, Vigil, is a hard act to follow. The sleepy Brisbane setting with a supernatural underbelly is something that I wouldn’t believe could be pulled off if I hadn’t read it. The epic scale of the story seems suited to a more glamourous city, but Slatter’s Brisbane steps up to the plate marvellously. In Slatter’s hands Brisbane retains the essence that its residents love, but also becomes something more in the process. Needless to say, when I picked up Corpselight – at the official launch because I was not waiting longer than necessary for it – I expected great things.

And let me tell you how Corpselight delivers.

Pregnancy and motherhood aren’t things that crop up regularly in the urban fantasy novels that I read. To be honest, they’re not the sorts of things I’d seek out, but Slatter handles both well. Verity might be a no nonsense, hardened investigator used to toughing out difficult situations, but she’s also very human. She gets tired and cranky and emotional, and having a baby brings all of these things to the forefront. It’s also really interesting to see how Verity handles motherhood. Her portrayal in Corpselight is much more realistic than many fictional maternal portrayals. Despite having a baby to worry about, she’s still very much her own person. While she takes extra precautions, she’s not ready to give up her life to be a mother.

Corpselight is darker than Vigil. Not that Vigil was particularly light, but Verity had less to lose in Vigil. In Corpselight the stakes spike like crazy. There are more nuances now that we’re firmly set in this world. Everything is more complex; emotions, relationships, the enemy, family and friends. Verity’s comparative youth becomes a more important factor in this novel; setting her apart from those who have lived through far crueller regimes. It also becomes apparent that a lot of the complexities of the world are lost on Verity because she is too young to have experienced the things her friends have.

The wonderful magical elements are explored more fully in Corpselight. From the magics that Normals can conduct to those that need a Weyrd to power them. Many of the rituals are reminiscent of old faerie lore, and it adds a hefty dose of authenticity.

The ending of Corpselight, while not exactly a cliff-hanger, works brilliantly to set up an even more dynamic situation in the third book, Restoration. And since it’s not out until August 2018, I’m going to have to find something else to fill that void in the meantime.

Corpselight – Angela Slatter

Jo Fletcher Books (July 13, 2017)

ISBN: 9781784294342

The rightful Emperor of the Eight Islands is lost. His few remaining allies are scattered; most too broken to be of any use to anyone. An usurper holds the throne. And while he remains in power against the decree of Heaven, the land suffers through a terrible drought.

The true Emperor, Yoshimori’s staunchest ally, Autumn Princess, is dead. His other defender, Lord Kiyoyori’s spirit has been confined to a white stallion. Shikanoko, the deer’s child, is his last hope. But the heavily antlered stag mask that had given Shikanoko great power has now cleaved to his face, and so far no one he has come across has had the power to remove it.

Half-man and half-beast, Shikanoko wanders the Darkwood with a few loyal followers. Each day the beast side claims a little more of him. If he does not find a way to remove the mask soon, there will be no hope left for the true Emperor or the Eight Islands.

Lord of the Darkwood is the second book in the Tales of Shikanoko series. Technically there are meant to be four books but Emperor of the Eight Islands comprises the first two while Lord of the Darkwood combine books three and four. If you haven’t read the first volume yet, definitely pick it up. Lord of the Darkwood isn’t set up to be read alone. It barely offers sufficient memory joggers for people who’ve read the first volume more than a year ago. There were times when I had to flip back through Emperor of the Eight Islands because there wasn’t enough in Lord of the Darkwood to anchor me back in the story and I’m usually good with that sort of thing.

If you enjoyed Emperor of the Eight Islands, you’ll love Lord of the Darkwood. It has a similar feel. Like Emperor, Darkwood is heavily influenced by Japan’s historical warrior tales. Set in feudal Japan, the tale is epic in scale and detail. A great many characters from the first volume return, grow old enough to take up the Emperor’s cause and choose sides.

If you weren’t a fan of Emperor, you’ll likely not enjoy Darkwood either. It has the same strengths as its predecessor; fantastical, atmospheric – a tale of epic proportions and intricately woven politics. But it also shares the weaknesses of the previous volume. Women have a little more page time and agency in Darkwood, but the brutal rape that occurs in Emperor taints the second volume. It’s made worse by the fact that the victim of the rape accepts half of the responsibility for it and seemingly thinks that she deserved to die for it.

The writing is again lovely. Atmospheric and descriptive, but also restrained. Like mythological tales, the interest lies in the fantastical elements more than in individual characters or emotions.

For a refreshingly different type of fantasy Lian Hearn is an author to look for. She weaves a complex tale with skill; pulling all of the elements together and tying off loose ends to everyone’s satisfaction.

 

Lord of the Darkwood – Lian Hearn

Hachette (August 2016)

ISBN: 9780733635151

When the world is coming to an end, famine and war abound, the few remaining powers struggling to maintain any semblance of control, there is nothing but the plan. A plan for a future where descendants of the lucky few could step upon a pristine world to begin again.

The name of that plan: Haven’s End.

Buried deep within their mountainous vault the inhabitants of Haven’s End toil ceaselessly to maintain their time capsule of a society; rigid class structure keeps the lowly toiling, the entitled in a lifestyle of luxury and the police force holding the line between the two with violent efficiency. Only the hope of a future under the open sky holds the fragile peace together.

But what if the upper-classes didn’t want to give up the status quo? What if the world above had been safe for re-habitation for centuries? How far would those in power go to preserve their stranglehold on those below?

When a primitive surface-dweller makes it into the mechanised guts of the underground city it catalyzes a chain of events that can only end violently as the fragile trust the commoners hold in those in power is shaken to the core. Everything hinges on Marcus Jarrett and his small band of political outcast skaters who want to escape their rotten world before they mysteriously “vanish” like so many others before.

Haven’s End is a brilliant mix of post-apocalyptic design, political intrigue and hopeful dreaming. Multiple layers of worldbuilding stacked upon each other like strata of rock tell of hundreds of years of history and turmoil while characters drag the reader into a vision of the future where humanity can survive against its worst intentions.

With intricate characters, a web-like plot, graceful construction of several in-depth societies, and a sophisticated timelines Austin has written an incredible piece of Utopian fiction that stands proud in a genre difficult to encompass well. This novel has the style and complexity to keep even the most die-hard fan of the genre engrossed.

Haven’s End is available as an Ebook on Amazon

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

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