In the harsh winter of December 1889, the sailing vessel Irex leaves Scotland, bound for Rio de Janeiro. She carries three thousand tons of pig iron and just three passengers for what should be a routine voyage. But Captain Will Hutton soon discovers that one of his passengers hides a horrifying secret that threatens the lives of everyone on board. As the Irex battles relentless storms, Hutton fights battles of his own as he becomes mired in the intrigues of his passengers.
When the Irex is wrecked off the Isle of Wight six weeks later, it falls to the county coroner, Frederick Blake, to unravel the events that overtook the doomed ship. He quickly runs into opposition – powerful forces within the British Establishment are working to spike his inquest. Locked in a conflict with the sinister agents sent to obstruct the investigation, he begins to discover that nothing aboard the Irex is what it first seemed, while the evil that stalked the ship now threatens anyone who seeks to expose it…
Irex is an atmospheric mystery, set in a rich Victorian world, packed with intrigue, twists and unforgettable characters — the gripping first novel by Carl Rackman.
The story is told via alternating chapters…the ill-fated maiden voyage of the Irex and the inquest into the wreck. The format works well and as the story unfolds, you realise how unreliable individual viewpoints are and that every angle needs to be brought together to get to the truth. However, with some passengers not surviving the voyage, others missing and those who give testimony unclear about some aspects of what actually happened, this proves difficult for the coroner.
Rackman succeeds in immersing us in the world of Victorian sea faring. His descriptions of the ship are precise, enabling the reader to envision being aboard. The claustrophobic sense being on a ship gives you is strong. The chapters on the storm and wreck are vivid, detailed and build the tension superbly, as does his handling of the ever increasing suspense and danger the coroner and his colleagues find themselves in.
The author develops rounded, believable characters. They are human, make mistakes and are often either second guessing themselves or in conflict with themselves about what to do next.
Rennie, the Glasgow journalist, is, to me, a Victorian version of Brookmyre’s Jack Parlabane.
A thoroughly enjoyable read.
Thanks to #TheWriteReads for a digital copy of this to review for this #BlogTour .
This is not going to be a normal review post. I am joining Ben Harris (@one_to_read) and others on Twitter this month to celebrate the work of Jan Mark. I will add to the blog (not promising it will be daily) on my readings over the month. They are more notes than a narrative. I apologise in advance if they seem disjointed, I am finding new links as I read and type these. I may return to previous days and add/edit as I read further.
Having mostly read short stories in previous #janMARKuary Januarys, I am starting with a novel this time, Useful Idiots. I will read a chapter a day for 13 days then chose something else.
I want to focus on Jan’s vocabulary choices and the descriptive images she creates and enhances with the use of one or two extremely well appointed words.
glistened oilily – even saying the word oilily out loud adds texture to the description.
the scything wind – no added comments needed here, we all know what this feels like.
“the auditorium…was raked, with long curving rows of seats” – typing this made me think Jan is linking human made structures with the land and fits in with other imagery and word choices in the text so far.
plastered maquillage (I had to look that up) – there is a passage later in the chapter that builds on this, that shows how caked on the stage make up was.
obdurately blank – Jan uses this phrase to describe a screen wall in a theatre, conjuring audience impatience for the show to start.
city canyons – appears in the middle of a description of a landscape ravaged by a hurricane. I immediately imagined a sweeping view from a drone flying over/down the streets of a very build up urban landscape.
“lattermath of the hurricane” feels like it should jar, but it doesn’t. The dictionary definition refers to the second mowing of a crop. Jan has used it to detail something buried in the sand, “scarcely proud”, that would be further exposed once a second tide had ebbed and flowed. Here is the full paragraph is all its glory.
Archaeology is key to this story and Jan’s phrasing and word play is wonderful. She describes the work of the archeologists as cutting “into their past through a layer cake of centuries”.
Buildings are falling or being dismantled (reasons not yet known) and new builds will be erected, pinning down the past”.
The second chapter gives us more details about cultural tensions, the uncovered skull being discovered close to or on the unmarked border between territories. I will look at this as we go further into the story and get more detail.
However, I want to look at the tension between two characters today: Merrick Korda, a graduate trainee, and his archaeologist boss Remy Turcat. So far, we see this from Merrick’s point of view, but it tells us a lot about Turcat’s character. It is unclear if the tension is purely a power one based on position in the organisation or if there are other things at play.
Is Merrick one of the useful idiots of the title? This is not clear yet. But Turcat definitely treats him like an inferior being. Jan describes this all too familiar treatment well, also reflecting the wider cultural tensions, not just that between the two individuals.
“Turcat had neither welcomed him nor turned him away: he was expected.”
“He regarded Korda as little as his own shadow: it was always there beneath him; he did not expect it to speak.”
“…validating Merrick’s suggestion by appropriating it.”
“Turcat looked across at Merrick and had to acknowledge him.”
“He was used to being invisible but not so invisible that he was forgotten.”
There is a definite sense of othering going on from a position of privilege.
As the skeleton discovered on the beach is unveiled, slowly, layer by layer from the peat surrounding it, so Jan cleverly reveals the layers of cultural mistrust, misappropriation and history behind the conflict between the indigenous, “archaic” Inglish and the others (so far no name has been attached to them).
Despite Turcat’s dismissive attitude towards Merrick, when it is revealed that he is descended from the Inglish, although he has neither lived in their territories nor followed their lifestyles, Turcat is surprised. This leads me to believe his othering and unbotheredness of Merrick has, up to this point been down to position and privilege. Their boss, on the other hand is downright racist and does not hide it, once Merrick’s ancestry has been voiced aloud.
The way Jan has written the two narratives as one, unpeeling layers to get us to the truth of the matter, is highly skilled and a testament to her skills as a writer.
Merrick is told to get lost for a couple of days by his boss. He gets on the wrong train and ends up being manipulated into visiting the fen land of the Inglish by someone he has only met once, by chance. The manipulation is subtle and well executed considering it was a chance encounter.
I finished quicker than anticipated as I was so drawn into the story I could not limit to one chapter a day.
Even though written in 2004, a lot of what Jan has written in here is relevant today: unions, riots, suppression of indigenous people.
The useful idiots of the title are the general population, manipulated into certain behaviours by the media and rich business people with agendas of their own to achieve their goals. Merrick is also a useful idiot, both to Turcat and to the Aboriginals, even more so with the decision he makes without their knowledge.
I had to check the definition of Aboriginal, as Jan chose it to define the indigenous people of Europe, not something I was familiar with.
My understanding/knowledge of the words is in reference to the indigenous people of Australia. The other definition is not place specific: The aboriginal people or animals of a place are ones that have been there from the earliest known times or that were there before people or animals from other countries arrived.
Manipulation is a strong theme running through this story. Manipulation of university departments and staff, protestors, the general public, the indigenous population individuals and in Merrick’s case, his own body. The reasons for, and outcomes of, the manipulation are different in each case and the outcomes not all what was anticipated.
Although described as a YA novel, this presents more as an adult read. I cannot quite put my finger on why. It is definitely not an MG. All the characters are adults. There is no reason it could not be a YA, the themes and content are appropriate and suitable for YA discussion and interpretation.
Son of Shadow is the start of a new fantasy trilogy, following on from the Shadowmagic Trilogy. Admission…I have not read the original trilogy but will be rectifying that soon. This omission did not detract from my enjoyment of the book, but would have helped in following who was who as the story unfolded.
Thanks to The Write Reads @The_WriteReads and Eye and Lightning publishers for the advanced copy to review.
A world of faeries, leprechauns and dragons – and magic fuelled by the blood of trees.
A mystery portal to the Real World.
And a pair of curious young adventurers who know they shouldn’t step through it…
Meet Fergal the Second, nicknamed ‘two’. Or ‘Doe’, in his own language. He can do magic. But, for the moment, he’s forgotten where he’s from. Or what’s happened to his blind friend Ruby.
He’s actually from Tir na Nog, the enchanted world of Shadowmagic, where a new generation of the royal House of Duir are cheeking their parents, preparing for adulthood and itching to see the Real World for themselves – whatever the peril.
The story is split into three parts. The first covers Fergal’s introduction to the Real World, where he has no memory of where he came from, who he is or what he is doing. Something is clear though…he loves Real World pizza.
He does know how to make coins disappear, not slight of hand like a stage magician, but actually disappear. He then struggles to understand why he gets into trouble for doing so, despite being told he won’t, as the coin owners think it is deception, not magic.
Fergal then works out that he needs to find his sister. On his travels, having escaped from an asylum, he meets people who know of his faerie home land and of his family, some helpful, some not. With help, and some setbacks, he manages to get to where he needs to be, but still cannot find his sister.
The second part is set back in Tir na Nog, Fergal’s home. We discover through his memories who he is, how his sister disappeared and how his homeland is linked to the Real World. We also meet his family and friends.
Fergal is a cheeky teenager who rebels against his family’s teachings at times but at heart is a good kid. He learns the hard way that putting off admitting something to those who can help does not always end well,
The final part brings the two worlds together. Fergal and his friends have to work together, using magic to rescue not only his sister but also other family members from an evil sorceress.
The ending sets up for the next instalment very well, with Fergal saying “Oh cack” at what is to come, and I for one am already looking forward to continuing the story. It is at this point that reading the original trilogy would have been most helpful.
The author has created well rounded characters, warts and all, and the world building, especially Tir na Nog, is exceptional.
Length: 310 Pages
Publishing: 25th June 2022
About the Author
Born in Philadelphia but long settled in the UK, John Lenahan is an acclaimed magician and TV performer. He fronted his own BBC2 magic series Stuff the White Rabbit, played the voice of the toaster in Red Dwarf and has appeared on a wide range of entertainment shows including TFI Friday, Comedy Café and Celebrity Squares. He is a member of the exclusive Magic Circle. He is also the author of the popular Shadowmagic trilogy, a fantasy adventure series for young adults which combines Irish folk myth with 21st-century wit. Son of Shadow takes up the story once more, following the noble houses of the magical parallel world of Tir na Nog into the next generation.
This is not a new book, it was published in 2017. I discovered it by chance, having seen a different book on Twitter and following a link to the publisher’s website (@cranachanbooks https://www.cranachanpublishing.co.uk/ ). Being Scottish, with a fascination for Victorian times and also Punch and Judy, I obviously ordered it. I also ordered some other books, but that is for another blog.
Punch tells the story of Phineas, an orphan living in 1889 Inverness under the volatile guardianship of his “Uncle” Ewan. He is sent on a nighttime errand, which ends with the town market halls being set on fire. Falsely accused and justifiably scared of the reaction of his guardian and the police, Phineas goes on the run.
He forms unlikely alliances with an escaped prisoner and a family of travelling entertainers on his journey, which includes encounters with a dancing bear and Queen Victoria. He learns new skills, including becoming a puppeteer. He also has a bounty on his head, wanted for arson. Can he clear his name? Can he resolve his issues with his turbulent past? How he became orphaned is haunting him. This and way he was treated by his guardian means he struggles with trusting his new companions. Are they on his side or biding their time to turn him in for the money?
Barbara Henderson has written a gripping story based on a true event (the market halls in Inverness did burn down). The strength of this story is in the characters: their backstory, their relationships with each other, how they support each other to make sense of what has happened to them and how they finally resolve misunderstandings of their own and other people.
Themes of broken families, living with a bullying adult, friendship and trust run through the story, as does compassion, hope and love. When I took a break from reading, I was thinking of Phineas and his predicament and I wanted to get back to it as soon as possible…the sign of a very good book. I plan to read more of Barbara’s books.
Exiled, with her sisters, to a far-flung island by the whims of the gods, Medusa has little company except the snakes that adorn her head instead of hair. But when a charming boy called Perseus arrives on the island, lost as he sails the seas on a quest to save his mother, her lonely existence is disrupted with the force of a supernova, unleashing desire, love and betrayal…
The stunning illustrations throughout the book, by Olivia Lomenech Gill really being the island world of Medusa alive.
Jessie Burton has retold this myth superbly, bring it bang up to date with the feminist slant it very much needed. It is told from the view point of Medusa and because of this, the themes come across much more emotionally and with impact.
As Medusa and Perseus gradually tell each other their reasons for being on this far-flung island, we can see that perception of themselves and others is a very personal thing. Perseus holds Poseidon in high regard, Medusa hates him with a vengeance. Similarly, their views on Athena differ too.
There are strong themes of self worth, perception of how you are viewed by others and how this affects your behaviours and attitudes, how the opinions (real or perceived) of others impact on you and ultimately change you.
There are strong themes of consent and respect. Medusa’s feelings of how Poseidon should have behaved towards her (as opposed to abusing his power) and how she was not to blame are deeply felt. Her sisters’ allyship is strong but not all other women are her ally. Athena’s use of privilege and power are selectively abusive.
The promises we make…do we actually know what we are promising at the time? Open ended promises are not always good ones.
Throughout the retelling, Medusa’s view of herself, others in her life and her awareness of how the rest of the world perceives her opens up opportunities for conversations to be had. Important conversations.
Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for the eARC review copy.
It is always a good sign when a book starts with a map.
One of the amazing things about Philip Reeve is his ability to create and write about such vastly different worlds in such a way that they come alive on the pages, are usually characters that affect the storyline and live on in your head for a long, long time.
That the same person created and wrote Mortal Engines, Railhead, Larklight (amongst others) and now Utterly Dark is a magical mystery to me. But I am so happy that he did.
Utterly Dark is a foundling, washed up on the shores of the Autumn Isles and taken in by Andrewe Dark, the mysterious Watcher of Wildsea. When her guardian walks into the ocean one day and drowns, Utterly is thrust into the role of Watcher… can she keep the island safe from the threat of the terrifying Gorm? Unforeseen mysteries lie beneath the ocean’s surface. Adventure beckons, and Utterly will unearth astonishing secrets about the sea, her parents and life itself. Wildsea will never be the same again…
I read this in one sitting…always the sign of a good read.
Reeve has created characters with depth, with a backstory in lore, sea witches, sea and land magic and unbelievers.
As Utterly grows, develops friendships and trust in those around her, and learns of her surroundings, the Hidden Islands, the role of the Watcher, the history of Wildsea and its inhabitants over the generations, she struggles to understand her role in what is happening. The sea, its power, mystery and stories invade her dreams. She feels she is being watched all time time and wonders why.
The sea around Wildsea is alive, takes lives and sometimes offers bodies back to the land, is full of mysterious water dragons, Men o’ Weed and other lorish creatures. Why is it so interested in Utterly? Who should she believe…the written logs of her adoptive father (The Watcher)? Her uncle who moved away from the island many years ago and has forgotten the pull of belief in the folklore? Her new friends Aish and Egg (who refuse to touch or go near the sea)? The sea witch, Thurza Froy, who lost her husband to the hidden depths?
Relationships are at the heart of this story and what ultimately help Utterly when she has a choice to make. I think we can all relate to that.
P.S. I grew up crushing eggshells before throwing them away. I still do it. I had been told that if I didn’t, witches would sail to sea in them and sink boats. Uncle Will obviously got told the same story!
Thanks to NetGalley and David Fickling Books for the eARC.
Cyan has lived at the Elsewhere Sanctuary for as long as he can remember, freed by Dr Haven from dark memories of his past life. But when Cyan finds a mysterious warning carved into the bones of a whale skeleton, he starts to wonder what he had to forget to be so happy.
New resident, Jonquil, begins to resist the sanctuary’s treatment, preferring to hold on to her memories – even the bad ones. So when Dr Haven resorts to harsher measures, Cyan embarks on a secret mission to discover the truth about the sanctuary…and himself.
This is an intricately constructed dystopian world, a mixture of what we know blended with sci-fi … an island where the tide went out and never came back again, no wildlife, an invisible boundary shield, a building that can reset its rooms (like 3D Tetris), tracking devices, clocks with no hands, memory suppressing drugs and teenagers who just want to forget.
The themes tackled in this story are difficult ones and raise many ethical questions. Guilt, sorrow, medically induced memory loss, secret experimental drug trials.
Through the story, the author helps us to see that all our memories, experiences and feelings make us who we are, mould us into the people we become. Just because you cannot remember a key event or person does not mean you are no longer unaffected, even subconsciously.
Despite the difficult themes and my worry for what comes next for the characters, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and was engrossed in the lives of the characters and the world they inhabited. This is the first book I have read by Darren Simpson but it definitely won’t be the last.
Adam-2, a robot, has been locked in the basement of a lost building for over two hundred years, following a daily routine – until one day he is discovered by two children, and emerges into a world ruined by a civil war between humans and advanced intelligence. Hunted by both sides, Adam discovers that he holds the key to the war, and the power to end it – to destroy one side and save the other. But which side is right? Surrounded by enemies who want to use him, and allies who mistrust him, Adam must decide who – and what – he really is.
Over the past few years, there has been a distinct lack of Sci-fi books for children. Thankfully, this situation is changing. This is Chisholm’s second, and is even better than his debut in this genre, Orion Lost, which was excellent.
Adam-2 is told from two points of view – the robot, Adam-2, and one of the humans, Linden. It is good to finally read a story with a non binary main character (using the pronouns ze/hir), who is integral to the plot.
Adam-2 is not like the other robots, he can think and imagine scenarios, not just follow programmed orders. He can learn and apply his knowledge. He is also immune to the EMP charges that the humans use to temporarily disable robots they fight against. Adam-2 has to work out what has happened to create, and prolong, the long term war between the humans and robots and find a way to end the war to bring peace.
There are various themes throughout – war/peace, friendships, family, trust and the rights and wrong of developing AI. Via Linden, and the influence hir mother (and her death) has on hir, we witness the struggle to work out the right path to take and also the power of telling stories, both to the teller and the audience.
I enjoyed Adam-2 and thoroughly recommend it. 5 star plus.
MAY, 1910. As the blazing Halley’s comet draws close to the earth, Nancy is uprooted to start a new life in Suffolk with a grandfather she has never met. With every curtain drawn shut, Nancy is forbidden from leaving her grandfather’s house: no one must know that her or her mother are there.
Yet, when Nancy discovers the house’s secret observatory, she watches her mother and grandfather creep out every night… Where are they going? And why mustn’t any of them be seen? Why does the Mayor hate her grandfather? As the mysteries pile up, Nancy has to bring dark secrets from the past to light – even if doing so will put her own life at risk.
A.M. Howell has done it again. A very enjoyable, mysterious, quick-paced adventure with many secrets being revealed to Nancy about her family as she investigates what her mother and grandfather are up to. Some of the secrets she is happy to discover, a couple not so much. The story is about family, the secrets they keep (and the reasons why), trust, power (how not to use it) and standing up for what you know to be the right thing, no matter how difficult it is or who it is you are standing up against. Sometimes you can be surprised by who else will stand with you once you start.
Anyone who knows me, knows I love a map in the front of a book. A.M. Howell doesn’t disappoint, featuring a map of 1910 Bury St. Edmunds as brought to life by Nancy and friends.
I was provided with an eARC of this book by NetGalley and Usborne Publishing. It is published on 8th July 2021.
Pull back the curtain and enter a world where mystery and magic take centre stage in a gloriously gothic, Victorian era adventure.
Twelve-year-old Tig works at Manchester’s Theatre Royale, cleaning, selling tickets, crawling along beams to light the gas stage lamps and anything else that is asked of her by her deliciously villainous boss, Mr Snell.
A strange and intriguing new act, a talking machine, arrives and behaves in a way that Tig just can’t work out. The machine appears to be hinting at a dangerous secret, so Tig must race against time to solve the mysterious clues. Just when she thinks she has, it turns out she was wrong and, because of her impetuousness, problems occur and her close friends start to mistrust her.
An action packed Victorian adventure full of ghosts, gadgets, a dress with pockets (if you know, you know) and shifty villains.
Jenni Spangler has used a real story to create a tense, atmospheric tale involving a cast of characters so well written that I read it in one afternoon. It helps that I have always been fascinated by stagecraft and inventions/curiosities like this
There is plenty of action, from Tig balancing on beams high above the stage in the dark, lighting the new gas stage lamps to mysterious thefts, disappearances and races to try to prevent the machine’s “open to interpretation” predictions of catastrophe.
However, the strength of the story lies in the characters that Jenni has created.
Tig, the feisty, impetuous, determined heroine.
Nelson, the sensible, cautious friend.
Mr Snell, the villainous, permanently nagging boss.
Gus, the ambitious but sneaky stagehand.
Mr (oops, sorry, Professor) Faber, the eccentric German inventor of the talking machine.
Eliza, the stage manager, who does her best to look after Tig when her “act first, think later” attitude gets her in trouble.
Euphonia, the talking head…does she have a mind of her own?
Annie…you will need to read the book to find out about her.
Chris Mould’s brilliant illustrations capture perfectly the array of characters and the gothic feel of the time, adding even more texture to an already well woven story.