Posts By: PaulineMRoss

More new covers, and a competition for 50+ books

March 25, 2017 General, Publishing/marketing 2

More Brightmoon covers

Here are some more stunning new covers from Deranged Doctor Design. The changeover has begun with the first three books, so just for a while you’ll see both the old and new covers around – it’s not easy updating paperback and ebook covers all at the same time, when there are seven books in the series so far!

And a great competition

I’ve joined up with 50 other fantasy authors to offer you the chance to win an amazing collection of books AND a Kindle Fire! The Fire Mages is in there, plus books from some fantastic authors, like Michael J Sullivan, Intisar Khanani, D K Holmberg, Michael Ploof and lots more. One lucky person will win a Kindle Fire and a copy of every book shown, and a second winner will get all the books. Click the image to enter the competition.

Not read The Magic Mines of Asharim yet?

Then make a note in your diary to pick up a copy on Monday 27th March, when it will be FREE for the first time ever. It’s perhaps my least-read book, but I love the characters of Allandra, Xando and Zak, and their sweeping adventure across the northern end of the Plains of Kallanash, which takes them from the inhospitable Sky Mountains (home of those magic mines), through the decaying canals of the Two Rivers Basin, to the faded glory of Mesanthia and finally to the warrior culture of Hurk Hranda. Enjoy!

And finally…

News of the next book in the Brightmoon world: Findo Gask’s Apprentice is finished! It weighs in at 126K words, the second shortest of my books so far, just a bit longer than The Dragon’s Egg, and about twice as long as an average mainstream novel. Now it rests for a while, and then the process of editing and polishing ready for publication begins. I hope to publish it in June or July, but if it takes longer, so be it.

However, I’ll be posting excerpts over the next few weeks to whet your appetite. The main character is new, but there are some very familiar faces putting in an appearance, both from The Magic Mines of Asharim and from The Plains of Kallanash, so for anyone who was wondering how Mia, Hurst and Dethin were getting on, you will soon find out!

Next month I start work on the ninth book in the Brightmoon world, The Dragon Caller, featuring Garrett and his son Ruell from The Dragon’s Egg. And lots of dragons! With luck, that might be out this year. So many stories to tell, so little time. Happy reading!

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Review: ‘The Cleaner of Chartres’ by Salley Vickers

March 15, 2017 Review 2

I never know what my book group is going to inflict on me next. This one I at least managed to read, although it fell short of being enjoyable. I prefer a simple story, well told, with believable characters, something that I find absorbing, even if it may not be compelling. This was deficient in all areas.

The story revolves around Agnes, who appeared one day at the cathedral at Chartres and stayed for twenty years, finding a place in the town and gaining friends along the way. How she came to be there, and how her life begins to unravel, are slowly unfolded. Agnes herself is something of an enigma. She takes on odd cleaning jobs to make ends meet, both at the cathedral and for various other people, and at first she seems to have no personality, being very compliant and passive. She appears to be mentally deficient (she can’t read, for instance), yet she makes some astute observations and notices when people need help. She’s very quiet, yet has numerous friends. She failed to learn to read as a child, yet now she learns very quickly. She was badly treated at her convent orphanage, had a baby at fifteen and was sectioned afterwards, yet is quite open and trusting in her dealings with people. I found her not very believable, and couldn’t get interested in her.

Of the other characters, most are caricatures, without any depth to them at all, and no, telling us their whole history the first time we meet them doesn’t give them depth or make them credible, it just makes the book stodgy and (frankly) boring. Once the book gets past the midpoint and the dumping of information wholesale is no longer deemed necessary, the story picks up a little speed. Even so, the unfolding plot is too predictable to be interesting and the ending was, frankly, quite unbelievable.

I know I’m a picky reader, and there’s some excellent writing in here, amid the stodge and the cartoon-like behaviour of some of the characters, and the French setting may appeal to some readers (although apart from the odd word tossed in, like patisserie, very little French atmosphere seeped through). I’m sure there’s meant to be some profound parallel between the main character’s life and the labyrinth on the cathedral floor, although I’m not sure what it is. I daresay the meaning whizzed over my head. Recommended for anyone who enjoys literary fiction and is less fussed than me about a heavy writing style, but for me it was only three stars.

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New Brightmoon covers! And a box set too…

March 6, 2017 Brightmoon world, News 2

Big changes are afoot in the Brightmoon world – my lovely covers by Glendon Haddix of Streetlight Graphics will soon be replaced. Why change? Because Glendon gave me exactly what I asked him for – a series of striking fantasy romance covers. And it’s taken me a long time to realise that I don’t write fantasy romance! Most of my books do have some kind of romance in them, but that doesn’t make them romance books.

So, I’ve decided to start again with a clean slate and a new designer, Deranged Doctor Designs, and this time I’ve told them to make the covers epic fantasy through and through. I’m thrilled to show you what they’ve come up with. I’ll be introducing these one by one from 15th March, so if you’re a fan of the old covers and you want to complete your collection, now’s the time to do it. Here are the first three of the new designs (more to come soon):

Kallanash360FireMages360Bennamore360

And a new box set!

Most of my books are standalones, but three of them are connected, so I’ve gathered them into one convenient package for the enjoyment of those who prefer their epic fantasy in trilogies. The Fire Mages Collection contains:

  • The Fire Mages
  • The Fire Mages’ Daughter
  • The Second God

You can buy the whole set for $9.99 (or equivalent), or as always it’s available for free with your subscription to Kindle Unlimited or Prime. Click the image to link to your local Amazon to buy or borrow.

BoxSet360

And I have a favour to ask…

There are lots of reviews for the individual books but almost none for the box set. If you’ve read some or all of the books, I’d love it if you could write an honest review for the box set on Amazon so that other readers will know whether it’s their cup of tea or not. Thank you so much!

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Urban fantasy review: ‘Murdered Gods’ by Marina Finlayson

March 4, 2017 Review 0

Marina Finlayson is one of my all-time favourite authors. Her stories just seem to resonate with me, and I’ve enjoyed every single thing she’s written. Which makes it more than a little nerve-wracking whenever I pick up a new book – will this be the one that falls flat on its face? Well, no is the answer, not by a long shot.

In the previous book, Lexi got into a whole heap of trouble over a stolen ring with magical powers, although with a hot fireshaper around, there were some compensations, too. But the ring’s doing some odd things, and Lexi’s own ability is unusual too. Controlling animals seems pretty tame when you’re surrounded by shifters in a world ruled by powerful shapers, but where did that ability come from? Lexi decides to go back home to the human territories to ask the one person who knows – her mum.

Accompanied only by her faithful pal Syl, a cat shifter who refuses to take human form, Lexi heads off on what should be a simple journey. But that’s not going to happen, right? With some really, really angry people on her tail and a lot of mysterious goings on back home, the story sucked me in big time, and I just couldn’t put it down. I’m not going to say any more because – spoilers! But you can be sure that there’s a ton of action, lots of neat twists and a glorious punch-the-air moment when the cavalry arrives (in a most unlikely shape!).

Be warned, however, that some of the big questions raised in this book remain unresolved. There’s no cliffhanger, as such, but there are definitely unfinished aspects left for the next book. I can’t wait! Five stars.

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Authors answer #20: What element of writing (setting, characterization, plot development, etc.) do you find most challenging?

February 12, 2017 AuthorsAnswer, Writing musings 0

For me, it’s definitely the plot. I’m a pantser, which means I just start writing without much thought in my head of where the story might take me. I usually start with a character, or a group of characters, in a particular situation, and I just turn them loose, so to speak, and they make their own decisions and steer the story. The setting grows around them.

But, while this kind of ‘discovery’ writing, where the author discovers the story at the time without any forethought or planning, can lead to problems. You can find your characters have got themselves into a deep hole and really can’t get out again without miraculous help, and that’s a big no-no. There’s even an expression for it: deus ex machina, (the god from the machine). This doesn’t happen to me very often, since my characters tend to be sensible chaps and chapesses, who foresee the upcoming deep hole and take avoiding action.

Or the story can ramble interminably without ever getting anywhere, and this one I’m definitely guilty of. In epic fantasy, a certain amount of rambling is tolerated, because readers love an expansive sort of world that feels b-i-g, so I think I’ve mostly got away with it. But still, it can make the story feel slow.

What I find really difficult is structuring the story so that it has a properly dramatic arc, with tension building and building to a crescendo at just the right moment. This sort of thing is much easier for those who sit down and plan out the whole outline before writing a word. Sometimes the crescendo happens anyway at just the right time, and that’s awesome. And sometimes it gets missed out altogether (in one of my books, the main character is unconscious for a crucial battle), which is less awesome. And sometimes the ending just fizzles out. I hope I’m more aware of the problems now, but it’s still an issue that trips me up occasionally.

So why don’t I outline? I find it too restrictive. I’ve never got the hang of beat sheets and hitting pinch points and all that good stuff that, if you use them properly, builds the structure effortlessly. It just feels like a straight-jacket. Once or twice I’ve used Libby Hawkes’ method in Take Off Your Pants! to get me started and after the first few chapters everything begins to flow, and sometimes I have waypoints I know I want to hit, but I’ve never plotted an entire book from start to finish. For that reason alone, I will never, ever tackle a time travel story. Just too many complexities to keep in my head! I enjoy reading them, when I can follow what’s going on, but writing one would be my worst nightmare.

Footnote: Authors Answer is the brainchild of blogger Jay Dee Archer, of I Read Encyclopedias For Fun. You can read the answers to this question by his eclectic bunch of authors here. More recently, Erica Dakin, of the Theft And Sorcery blog, has been answering the questions independently. You can read her answer to this question here.

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2016 review: Part 3: Writing

January 29, 2017 Current writings, Ramblings, Writing musings 0

I got a lot of writing done in 2016. A lot. I finally found my stride, and increased my speed, as well as making daily writing a more consistent habit, and the result was (tada! roll of drums!):

548,000 words written

Which is a lot! Of that, 167,000 words, or 30%, was fantasy and the rest Regency romance. For the fantasy, I wrote the whole of The Second God and began Findo Gask’s Apprentice. For the Regencies, I finished Amy, and wrote Belle, Connie, Dulcie, Grace and Hope, plus a novella, Mary.

I discovered along the way that I can’t write two books at the same time. I can, however, write one and edit another, so that’s how I work it. At any one time, I’ll have one book being written, another ‘brewing’, or resting before editing, and another being edited or otherwise prepared for publication. At this precise moment, I have Findo Gask’s Apprentice half written, Hope awaiting initial editing and beta reading, and Grace newly released. If it sounds like a production line, sometimes that’s what it feels like! But I love the writing, and don’t mind the editing, so it doesn’t feel like work.

So how did I write so many words?

1) I wrote faster. I followed some of the precepts in Chris Fox’s book 5000 words an hour, like: write in short sprints; know what you’re going to write before you start; ‘eat the frog’, which means do the important stuff (the writing) first. Chris rolls straight out of bed and starts writing. He’ll stop between sprints for coffee or a shower, but essentially he gets the writing done before anything else in his day, and he’s often finished by 9:30 or 10 o’clock.

2) I wrote most days. I’m not fanatical about it, and in 2016 I took a whole month off writing (we went to Australia), but I try to write every day.

3) I bought a small laptop to carry round the house. It’s a dedicated writing computer, with nothing on it apart from Scrivener and the absolute essentials (browser and email), and I only use it for writing the current work in progress. It means I don’t have to go upstairs to the study to write, I don’t have to make the decision that ‘now I’m going to write’, and I don’t get distracted by the overflowing intray and whatnot; when I have a few minutes between chores, I sit down and write.

4) I developed writing habits. Every day after breakfast I sit down for half an hour to write. After lunch I sit down for another half hour. Late afternoon, another half hour. After tea, another half hour. Plus all those snatched moments between chores – ten minutes here, fifteen there. It adds up to 2-3K words in a day.

5) Brain.fm. This is a recent discovery. It’s music that’s specifically designed to enhance your focus while working (or to help you relax or sleep, if you choose those options). I don’t know how it does it, but it really does work, and I definitely write faster when I listen to it.

Plans for 2017? Write! I hope, without a month off to gawp at the amazing sights of Australia, I can write 600K words this year, producing 2 1/2 fantasies and 3 1/2 Regency romances. But honestly, the actual amount of words doesn’t matter, so long as I’m still enjoying it.

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Mystery review: ‘A Case of Murder in Mayfair’ by Clara Benson

January 23, 2017 Review 0

This is the second in the spin-off series from the author’s Angela Marchmont series or murder mysteries set in the twenties. This time, Freddy Pilkington-Soames, insouciant man-about-town, finds himself in the middle of a drugs-and-murder case amongst a set of film people. A famous Hollywood actress somehow falls from a high balcony during a party announcing her landing a plum part. She wasn’t the nicest person in the world, so no shortage of suspects with a grudge against her, including another actress, a cameraman, a producer, the actress’s sister and so on. Freddy joins forces with another journalist, the less than scrupulous Corky Beckwith, to investigate.

This series has one advantage over its predecessor – Freddy is able to take a far more active part in events than the ladylike Angela. So there’s a great deal of creeping about at night, sneaking into suspects’ houses and getting into fights. Freddy’s also rather resourceful, although there’s sometimes an element of luck involved in placing him at just the right spot for things to happen.

This one wasn’t quite as light-footed as the first in the series, and I’m hoping that Freddy gets out of town occasionally in future books. Angela got about quite a bit – Cornwall, Scotland, Italy spring to mind – and several of her books had a country-house feel to them redolent of Agatha Christie, which I marginally prefer to the seedy side of London. But a good entertaining romp, nevertheless. Four stars.

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2016 review: Part 2: Reading

January 16, 2017 General, Ramblings 0

There was a time when I read 100+ books a year. In 2012, it was 108, and I also had time to review them all, write series reviews and compose long, detailed essays about my reading-related thoughts. In 2013, I read 91 books. In 2014, the year I published the first of my own books, it was 61, then 57 in 2015. In 2016 it was just 46, and that included a month in Australia with my Kindle, and a whole shedload of long-haul flights. This is the trouble with writing — it eats away at my reading time. And that also means that I have to be more selective with what I read, and I tend to be less experimental. Out come the tried-and-trusted authors, whose work I know I’ll enjoy. And the effect of that is that my average rating on Goodreads has risen from 3.3 stars to 3.8 stars.

So there will be no best-of list, and no self-published gems this year because they would look remarkably like last year’s. Instead a few statistics.

1) Genres:

  • Fantasy: 16 (35%)
  • Regency: 16 (35%)
  • Other: 14 (30%)

The ‘Other’ category includes murder mystery, literary and the stuff my book group makes me read. The Regency is a consequence of writing my own Regency romances. I’ve started a full reread of all Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances, and I’ve also started a list of more modern ‘best-of’ Regencies, compiled by Googling. Lots of the recommended ones were only available in paperback, which sounds as if the publishers are missing a trick, so I was restricted to those available for Kindle. And I picked up the three bestsellers on the day of my list-making, just for comparison.

2) Publishing type:

  • Self-published: 27 (58%)
  • Trade published: 19 (42%)

This is something that shifts a little more towards the self-pubbing end of the spectrum every year. I used to read solely trade pubbed, but now I find them either too expensive or too long or too flashy (by which I mean that they have a stunning one-line hook, but the actual story falls well short of being stunning). Sometimes they’re just unreadably ambitious. A self-pubbed book is more likely, in my experience, to be a good, old-fashioned well-told story.

3) Review rating:

  • 5*: 18 (39%)
  • 4*: 19 (41%)
  • 3*: 7 (15%)
  • 2*: 0
  • 1*: 2 (5%)

The result of my comfort-reading binge is that my average rating for the year is 4.1.

4) Gender balance:

  • Male author: 6 (13%)
  • Female author: 40 (87%)

Yikes! This is what happens when I start rereading Regency romances – all those female authors! I read 16 Regencies in 2016, 7 by Georgette Heyer and 9 others. Even excluding those, male authors were only 25% of the total. Which isn’t intentional by any means, but just part of the switch from longer, trade-pubbed (dominated by male authors) to shorter, self-pubbed.

I’ve never chosen my reading material by the gender of the author, so I don’t suppose this will change much until I move away from romances and back to more varied books. More fantasy! But the real issue is how to find more time to read in the first place. If anyone has an answer to that, please let me know.

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Review: ‘The Warden’ by Anthony Trollope

January 16, 2017 Review 0

I’ve never read any Trollope before, but my book group likes to mix things up, so here we are. This was a real surprise to me. It was published in 1855 and my previous dabblings in that era have left me less than enthusiastic. Overly wordy, sentimental, turgid and a real slog to get through – that was what I expected. What I got was funny, sharply observed, sympathetic and surprising easy to read.

I have to say, though, that I’ve never read a book with so many words where so little actually happens. Much of the body of the text is made up of lovely commentary on the characters, their histories, quirks and motivations, together with the author’s opinions on the church, the newspaper industry and the legal profession. Some of that is interesting, but some is also very repetitive and long-winded, and could have been scrapped without any loss at all.

The plot revolves around doing the right thing. Is it acceptable to follow a course that is morally correct but might harm people one is fond of? What happens if one person’s view of moral correctness differs from that of other respected people? But mostly, it’s about the characters being driven to do what feels right to them even though the consequences may be disadvantageous to those around them or even to themselves. Everyone who plays a part sincerely believes that their actions are the only proper course, from the reformer who triggers the story to the bedesmen, the warden himself, the archdeacon, the daughter, the newspaperman and the barrister.

The ending is fairly predictable, with almost everyone worse off than they were before, but the author’s lightness of touch makes it more of a comedy than a tragedy. The characters make the book, and I enjoyed the read, but there’s enough Victorian caricature combined with wordiness to keep it to three stars.

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Five self-published gems of 2013

January 15, 2017 Archive, Ramblings, Review 0

Edit: This is my original post, reposted here because it got lost in a cyber-black-hole.

Self-publishing gets a bad rap. Some wit once said: the best thing about self-publishing is that anyone can do it; and the worst thing about self-publishing is that anyone can do it. Occasionally, trawling through the endless heaps of optimistic offerings on Amazon, it seems as if half the world’s population sat down at the computer, rattled off that novel they’ve always wanted to write, and without a single further thought clicked the ‘Publish’ button. Bad spelling, bad grammar, no punctuation at all, wooden characters, trite plots…

But there are authors out there who write as well as any of the big names, and better than many of them. They take the time to edit thoroughly, they add professional cover art, they take endless trouble with formatting. Their work is indistinguishable in quality from anything put out by the traditional publishers. And the great virtue of taking control of your own publishing is freedom. Self-pubbers can write what they want, in the way they want, as long or as short as the story needs to be. They’re not constrained by genre or perceived marketability or what’s hot. They can be as original as they like, and many are astonishingly imaginative.

The very best of my self-pubbed reading this year will be noted in the forthcoming Barney Awards, but here are a few others that gave me terrific reads this year.

The Wandering Tale by Tristan Gregory

This is a collection of four novellas set in a single world, and only loosely connected: a minor character from one story becomes more important in the next one. Each one is published and sold separately. Start with The Swordsman of Carn Nebeth. When a man returns to his village after nineteen years away fighting in the wars, young William is fascinated by his stories of the life of a soldier, and the battles he’s been in. But when other former soldiers start to cause trouble, he realises that bravery isn’t just for kings and soldiers. This is a cracking story of a boy growing to manhood in a small village, and learning the truth about being a hero. Great characterisation, a well judged balance between action and slower passages, a perfect ending and with more emotional resonance than I’ve seen in some well-regarded works many times its length. A beautifully crafted piece which I loved. There’s a lot of subtlety in these stories. People are honourable without being stupid or caricatures, they behave in believable ways and display both intelligence and strength of character. Even the bad guys have reasonable motivations. Below the surface are some thought-provoking themes – of war and honour and duty and bravery, the responsibility of power and the pragmatism of politics. Each episode is a little gem in its own right, but together they add up to something much more interesting.

The Five Elements by Scott Marlowe

A cracking read with elements of steampunk, alchemy, a fairly standard form of elemental magic plus there’s a fair dose of science in the mix as well. The main character, Aaron, is a sorcerer’s apprentice, but unlike the usual such character, he’’s a scientist, using logic and scientific knowledge to investigate effects related to his master’s work. He’s a terrific character, both immature yet intelligent and enterprising, perfectly aligned with his age. I absolutely loved his ability to approach any problem in a logical, scientific way, and find a rational solution. This is so refreshing in fantasy, which all too often turns to magic at such moments. The pace is rapid and there’s a dizzying array of twists and turns, to the point that I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next, or who was a good guy and who was a villain, almost to the end. The ending is appropriately grandiose and with unexpectedly thoughtful undertones. The author is to be commended for not taking the easy way out at this point. One of those books I tore through at high speed – that just-one-more-chapter syndrome; it’s an unusual, pacy story, with an unexpected plot-twist in almost every chapter, and great fun to read.

The Tattered Banner by Duncan Hamilton

Soren is eighteen, trying to survive on the streets, when a theft gone wrong results in a street fight and a passing swordsman recognises some talent in him. He is taken to the Academy to learn to wield a rapier and be a gentleman. It’s refreshing to read a story where the rapier is the the weapon of choice, and I found it a refreshing change from the more usual broadswords and bows. The book sidesteps all the street-boy-goes-to-posh-school cliches, and quickly gets Soren out and about wielding his rapier and discovering the extent of his extraordinary gift. These early battles are beautifully described, the highpoint of the book for me, and I loved every moment of each one (especially the belek, which was one of those awesome moments that stays with you long after the book is finished). The world behind all the action has great depth, one where magic was once widespread by is now outlawed. A terrific page-turning read, and the follow-on book, ‘The Huntsman’s Amulet’, looks like reaching the same standard.

The Fall of Ventaris by Neil McGarry and Daniel Ravipinto

The first book in this series, ‘The Duchess of the Shallows’, was a breath of fresh air, a fantasy work set in a single city, with compelling characters and a beautifully woven plot, filled with double-dealing and double meanings, where nothing and nobody can be taken quite at face value. This follow-on is more of the same, but with even more depth, showing more of the city itself, its history, and the three main religions. The authors skillfully weave the many different strands together to create a brilliantly nuanced picture of Rodaas and its people. Duchess’s many schemes take her all round the city and below it, and these adventures bring the book to vivid and dramatic life. Some of her encounters are unforgettable: the strange candlelit ceremony at one temple, the meeting with the facet (priestess) in another and the events underground, for instance. The facets are a truly spine-chilling invention, a sort of hive-mind of masked women, all identical, and there’s a moment near the end, when the hive-mind slips slightly, which is awesome. Great characters, a compelling plot and terrific world-building; this is a polished and cleverly thought out book which would repay a second read to understand all the nuances and subtexts.

And All The Stars by Andrea K Höst

A YA post-apocalypse story in the literal sense, beginning the very instant after, as main character Madeleine finds herself amidst rubble from a disintegrated underground station. And dust, vast amounts of dust which coat everything, including Madeleine herself. And as she makes her escape through the ruined station, she encounters the base of the Spire, a black spike, which has instantaneously risen into the Sydney skyline, along with numerous others all around the world. The dust is the key, for those who encounter it are irrevocably changed. Finding out about the dust and the strange Spires, as well as simple survival, creates a pacy adventure which rattles along nicely. The characters aren’t the standard issue beautiful people who leap into perfectly honed action when called upon. These are relatively ordinary people with odd combinations of talent and weakness. Problems are solved by intelligence, common sense and teamwork, rather than brute force. Nor is everyone uniformly heterosexual. And then, just when you think you’ve got the book neatly pigeon-holed, there’s a moment which changes everything, one of those magical OMG moments when your perception simply shifts sideways to open up the story in innumerable different ways. I love it when an author manages to do that to me. An interesting and thought-provoking read.

And a bonus novella: Sunbolt by Intisar Khanani

I discovered the author’s debut novel, ‘Thorn’, quite accidentally, one of those magical reads where you start on the sample and find yourself so swept up in the story you just can’t put it down. This is just as good, the first in a projected series of perhaps six novellas altogether. This has to be one of the most unpredictable stories I’ve ever read, a new twist at every turn, and as the book is incredibly fast-paced, that means a breathtaking ride. Hitomi is a lovely heroine – spirited, enterprising and imaginative, and never, ever prepared to be pushed aside. She always does exactly what she wants to do, regardless of whatever instructions she’s given. I loved the way the author managed to fudge the question of who were the good guys and who were the villains; things just aren’t that simple here. One doesn’’t expect much in the way of world-building from a novella, but there’s surely enough background here to fuel a full-sized trilogy at least. This is a wonderful book, with memorable characters, some great world-building, an action-packed plot that never lets up for a moment and a surprising twist every few pages, and beautifully written.

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