A TASTE OF BLOOD WINE by Freda Warrington

5 04 2014

I knew Freda Warrington from The Court of the Midnight King, a story of Richard III set in a somewhat alternative 15th Century England (along with a soupçon of time-slip – just my cup of tea), but for some reason I had never come across this wonderful series of vampire novels.

Blood Wine covers

I borrowed A Taste of Blood Wine from a friend – he was reluctant to lend it but I had spotted it on his bookshelf, read the first couple of pages and was now firmly clutching it to my chest. What could he do? Well yes, I know. Gentlemen are now largely a thing of the past, but I won the fight and hurried home still clutching it, and read deep into the night.

Read! You can sleep when you’re dead!

The story opens with a horrifyingly vivid description of First World War trench warfare during the nightly lull in the fighting. And in the middle of the carnage, a vampire walks unhurriedly through no man’s land, “an impossible apparition to anyone left alive. [...] The dying: he sensed them all around him.”

And there, his “maker”, Kristian, finds him.

We learn that the vampire, Karl, has been hiding from Kristian for the last four years.

‘Why immerse yourself in this horror?’
‘Why not?’ said Karl.
‘Because it’s nothing to do with us, this human mess!’ Kristian struck the ground. ‘We are above it!’
‘Are we?’ Karl feared Kristian, but would never let the fear win. ‘Why shy away from evil, when our kind personifies evil?’ [...]
‘Do not speak of evil, Karl.’ Kristian’s dark eyes gleamed. ‘The only Devil is mankind. This is the very folly for which we should punish them.’

This is the backdrop. Karl, who sympathises with humanity and sees himself as something evil, and Kristian, who regards humankind as evil and himself and his kind as the instrument of God.

Back to “reality”: In London in the early 1920s, the Neville sisters are part of the scene at the Season’s parties and dances. Two of them enjoy it all. The third, Charlotte, does not. She wants only to return to Cambridge, where she works alongside her professor father in his laboratory.

Her father, meanwhile, has taken on a new research assistant: the vampire Karl, once a cellist in Mozart’s Salzburg, but now intent on investigating the mystery of life (and death), hoping he might learn in a laboratory how the interminable might be terminated – his own, or Kristian’s; and also hoping to discover something of the true nature of the other dimension known to vampires as the Crystal Ring that exists alongside the dimension in which mere humans live and die.

And so begins one of the great romances of modern literature: the shy, studious wallflower and the charismatic, unnaturally handsome vampire. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, but yes, of course, in the sequel, A Dance in Blood Velvet (which I rushed out and bought) Charlotte is a vampire – self-assured now, and living the life of a vampire millionaire with Karl. Home is a secluded chateau in one of the most beautiful parts of Switzerland, and by travelling via the Crystal Ring they can be anywhere in minutes, dining in, say, Venice, before attending the opera in, say, Vienna.

Things can only go wrong, and, of course, they do.

The second book is slower than the first, but still gripping and full of the unexpected – including a ballet dancer, Violette, who is just too perfect to be entirely human, and a couple of rather unsavoury human mages (I won’t call them witches, I’m sorry, for me witches will always be women) who have power even over vampires.

Now I am looking forward to reading the the third book, The Dark Blood of Poppies, which apparently focuses once more on the magical dancer, Violette.

PS What I wrote up there – “Read! You can sleep when you’re dead!”

read-sleep

But can we? Books like this one – and there are so many stories around at the moment of those who have indeed shuffled off this mortal coil – always make me think of Shakespeare’s “To die, to sleep … to sleep?





ARALORN: MASQUES & WOLFSBANE by Patricia Briggs

22 02 2014

Aralorn cover

Two early works by Patricia Briggs (of Mercy Thompson fame), or rather a very early work and a later sequel featuring the same cast of characters in the same alternative fantasy universe.

“Wolf” is a great wolf which Aralorn saves from death in a pit full of spiked stakes in the prologue to the first story, Masques. But Wolf turns out to be a shape-shifter, and the only son of the evil sorcerer who is holding the country in thrall.

It is hard to say much about this book without spoiling it for you, but I loved Aralorn and identified with her immediately. Patricia Briggs describes Masques as bearing all the signs of an early work by an author still learning her craft, as opposed to Wolfsbane, the sequel, written twenty years later. Maybe so,  but I saw little difference. She is still there in that world, still totally at home in it, still completely familiar with each character and scene.

Now I would like a third story, please. Make it a trilogy, Patricia!





SEVENWATERS 2 & 3 by Juliet Marillier

22 11 2013

SON OF THE SHADOWS

Son of the Shadows coverLike the first book of this trilogy, Daughter of the Forest, Son of the Shadows is long and begins slowly, but gradually becomes “unputdownable”. 

When the story opens, Sorcha, the Daughter of the Forest of the first book, is living in Sevenwaters with her husband Hugh, a Briton known in Ireland as Iubdal, and her three teenage children: Niamh, the eldest, a stunningly beautiful girl, tall with red hair, and the twins Sean and Liadan. Sean is being groomed to take over the estate should anything happen to his uncle, Liam, the present Lord, who has no son of his own. Liadan, the daughter who most resembles Sorcha as she was when she was young, is the narrator:

I would catch Mother sometimes, looking at Niamh and looking at Sean and looking at me, and I knew what was troubling her. Sooner or later, the Fair Folk would decide it was time. Time to meddle in our lives again, time to pick up the half-finished tapestry and weave a few more twisted patterns in it. Which would they choose? Was one of us the child of the prophecy?

It is, of course, Liadan they choose, the Fair Folk, the mysterious Lady in blue and the Lord with flaming hair  but they show no sympathy with her sister in her sufferings and nor do they approve of Liadan’s love, so Liadan rejects their advice and warnings and orders and all their scheming, and turns instead to the Old Ones, the older folk, the voices in the burial mound, once banished by the incoming Fair Folk. After all, one of her ancestors, Eithne, was of the older folk, the Fomhoire, and it is from them that they (some of them, Sorcha and Liadan, at least) get “the Sight, the healing mind“.

Magic pervades this book, as it did the first one. There is druidism and imbolc, sorcery and witchcraft, standing stones and an ancient burial mound, and among many other magical characters, a man who is half swan, one of whose arms is a great white swan’s wing, and who lives alone by a lake in the forest;

And like the first one, it is a great love-story, with a girl touched by magic as the long-suffering heroine who never gives up. If you enjoyed Daughter of the Forest, don’t miss this.

CHILD OF THE PROPHECY

Child of the Prophecy coverLike Son of the Shadows, this third book in the trilogy does not stand alone, and should not be read unless or until you have read the first two. And it is very much the same as them. When it opens, Fainne, the daughter of Niamh of Sevenwaters and Ciarán the sorcerer, is living with her father in a home among the caves in a cliff on the remote south-west coast of Ireland. Niamh died when she was small, and she does not remember her at all. All Fainne knows in the life she shares with her father, an intensely serious and reserved man, as he trains her in the arts of sorcery – and a few days each summer when the travelling folk come and among them her only friend, the boy Darragh, who loves horses and plays the pipes and is a wonderful swimmer.

It is Fainne’s story, and like Sorcha in the first book and Liadan in the second, she has a task to fulfill which is nigh on impossible and can only be accomplished in the greatest secrecy with everyone believing the worst of her. Enough to say that Lady Oonagh, the evil sorceress (who is of course Ciarán’s mother and Fainne’s grandmother), sets out to complete the destruction of Fainne’s mother’s family, using Fainne as her brainwashed and helpless tool.

The descriptions of Ciarán teaching Fainne sorcery when she is still a little girl are amazing. For example, here he is showing her for the first time, how to use the Glamour:

‘Time to begin,’ said Father, regarding me rather severely. ‘This will be serious work, Fainne. It may be necessary to curtail your freedom this summer.’ 

‘I  yes, Father.’

‘Good.’ He gave a nod. ‘Stand here by me. Look into the mirror. Watch my face.’

The surface was bronze, polished to a bright reflective sheen. Our images showed side by side; the same face with subtle alterations. The dark red curls; the fierce eyes, dark as ripe berries; the pale unfreckled skin. My father’s countenance was handsome enough, I thought, if somewhat forbidding in expression. Mine was a child’s, unformed, plain, a little pudding of a face. I scowled at my reflection, and glanced back at my father in the mirror. I sucked in my breath.

My father’s face was changing. The nose grew hooked, the deep red hair frosted with white, the skin wrinkled and blotched like an ancient apple left too long in store. I stared, aghast. He raised a hand. It was an old man’s hand, gnarled and knotted, with nails like the claws of some feral creature. I could not tear my eyes away from the mirrored image.

‘Now look at me,’ he said quietly.

Like the first two books, it starts so slowly you don’t know how you’re going to keep reading it, but then suddenly you don’t know how you will ever be able to stop reading it, how you are going to be able to live in a world other than this one, a world without these people.

Another wonderful novel. 





DAUGHTER OF THE FOREST by Juliet Marillier

26 10 2013

Daughter of the Forest cover

This is a long book and the middle is slow, but the pace picks up again and for the last two hundred pages it is “unputdownable”. But if you like a world in which you become so involved that you want to stay there for ever, then the longer the better. (And there are two sequels set in the same world – this is only the first part of a trilogy!)

When the story opens, six brothers and their sister, Sorcha, are growing up in the heart of a great forest in an Ireland in which, it seems, druids still reign in an uneasy truce with the Church. They have no mother, for she died in childbirth when Sorcha, the youngest, was born. And little in the way of a father either, for Lord Colum has no time for them or indeed for anything but his unending battle against the Britons across the sea. The girl, brought up by her brothers, is strange and wild, and – like the forest around her – is touched by magic. As are at least two of her brothers, Conor and, most especially, Finbar, the one she is closest to. But there is also a priest,  Father Brien, who fortunately takes a hand in their upbringing and education. He is an old friend of their father’s and sometimes speaks of Lord Colum as he once was.

‘What did you mean,’ I said, still thinking hard, ‘about our father being the one and giving it up?’ For I could not imagine Father, with his tight, closed expression and his obsession with war, as the conduit of any kind of spiritual message. Surely that was wrong.
‘You need to understand,’ said Father Brien gently, ‘that your father was not always as he is now. [...] I met your mother. I saw their joy in each other and how her death took all the light from him.’
‘He had us,’ said Finbar bitterly. ‘Another man might have thought that reason enough to live, and live well.’
‘I think you are too harsh,’ said Father Brien, but he spoke kindly. ‘You know not, yet, the sort of love that strikes like a lightning bolt, that clutches hold of you by the heart, as irrevocably as death; that becomes the lodestar by which you steer the rest of your life. I would not wish such a love on anyone, man or woman, for it can make your life a paradise, or it can destroy you utterly.’

Both Sorcha and Finbar will one day know such a love, to their cost. For the moment, however, all is in order – until two events occur which change everything.

The first is the capture of a young British warrior. He is tortured by Sorcha’s father and his men and her two eldest brothers, intent on gaining information from him, and afterwards is reported to be dying. Conor and Finbar engineer his escape, while Sorcha, who is growing up to be the herbalist and healer of the clan, is deputed to nurse him – though this is not without misunderstanding and difficulty.

‘But he threatened to kill you,’ said Finbar, exasperated with me, ‘he held a knife at your throat. Does that mean nothing?’
‘He’s sick,’ I said. ‘He’s scared. And I’m here to help him. Besides, I was told …’ I broke off.
Finbar’s gaze sharpened. ‘Told what?’
I could not lie. ‘Told this was something I must do. Just the first step on a long and difficult path. I know I have to do it.’
‘Who told you this, Sorcha?’ asked Father Brien, gently. They were both staring at me intently now. I chose my words with care.
‘You remember Conor’s old story, the one about Deidre, Lady of the Forest? I think it was her.’
Father Brien drew in his breath sharply. ‘You have seen Them?’
‘I think so,’ I said, surprised. ‘Whatever reaction I had expected from him, it was not this. ‘She told me this was my path and I must keep to it. I’m sorry, Finbar.’ 

The second event is their father’s decision to remarry. Lady Oonagh is the wicked stepmother to end all wicked stepmothers, a witch quite powerful and evil enough in her own right to take on the seven stepchildren without a qualm and, when they prove difficult, to place the six brothers under a shape-shifting spell that only Sorcha can lift. If she fails, they will be lost forever. 

The rest is the story of Sorcha’s long, lonely struggle to save them, to set everything to rights again, and restore the lost world of her childhood. She travels to Britain, where Ethelwulf has just come to the throne (the only clue the author gives us as to the exact date – Ethelwulf was the father of Alfred the Great and reigned from 839 to 857 or 8) and they are more concerned with the Danes than with the Irish. And though in the end she triumphs over evil, the world of her childhood is no more.

Magic pervades this book, and always on the fringe of the story – to some extent guiding events, pulling the strings – are “the Fair Folk”, fading in and out of sight among the trees. But it is more than a fairy tale – an outstanding one – and more than a great adventure; it is one of the best love stories I have ever read.





THE BEGOTTEN by Lisa T. Bergren

8 10 2013

The Begotten coverIt is a fact that in his letters to the Christians of Corinth, St Paul refers to an earlier letter or letters he had sent them, and the author takes that as her starting point in this outstanding medieval mystery.

The story is set in Siena in the year 1339, but the Prologue takes us back a further five hundred years to the iconoclasts of the Byzantine Church in Constantinople. These people, extreme puritans, were intent on destroying all ‘graven images’, and that meant not only statues and icons but also illuminated manuscripts, the beautifully illustrated copies of Biblical and other texts that, thankfully, were always reverently preserved in other parts of Christendom. In the Prologue, a man is arrested and sent to the stake to be burnt to ashes along with the Bible that he has spent years copying out and illustrating; but in the last moments, some pages are torn out and saved by his apprentice, who carries them west to Italy.

There they disappear from sight, as well they might, for they are part of a non-canonical book, the earlier letter of Paul to the Corinthians, and the illustrations are, or become, a visual prophecy of a movement, a group of people, the Gifted, each one of whom has to a special extent one of the gifts (such as the gift of healing) mentioned by Paul in his other letters.

Now, in 1339, the prophecy is being fulfilled. Lady Daria d’Angelo of Siena discovers that she has the gift of healing, and from then on her whole life changes. But the group who gather around her are opposed by another group whose leader is a nobleman in league with the Devil, a group that has already committed human sacrifice in the catacombs beneath the city of Rome. And in the background, aware of the prophecy and observing events, are Cardinal Boeri and the Bishop of Rome. Yes, the Bishop of Rome, for this story takes place during the period when the papacy was resident in Avignon, France, and these two men dream of bringing it back home to Italy. They believe they can use the Gifted, once they are established and revealed, to defeat the sorcerer and bring glory to Rome.

The Begotten is well written, the characters are authentic and memorable, and the atmosphere is perfect. This I am sure is how Toscana was as that time: we even have the painter Lorenzetti Ambrogio (1290-1348) painting the frescoes in the Hall of the Nine (you can still see them in the Palazzo Pubblico if you happen to be passing that way!) Here he is Daria’s childhood friend, a man she trusts when there is treachery all around her.

I am very much looking forward to reading the two sequels, The Betrayed and The Blessed. So don’t be put off by what I am about to say next: If you are going to use any part of the “thou – thee – thy – thine” group of words, the old second person singular, then at least within one sentence, one utterance, you must not mix them up with “you”. But what happens here? I quote:

“You may count on me as thy protector “

“Vincenzo, you have kept thy promise “

“If you do not bid thy bride farewell, you will …”

“Fare thee well, Tatiana. I have loved you “

“I thank you for thy kind words, Brogi “

“I thank thee for thy sworn fealty. You may rise “

The errors are not even consistent: compare the last two lines quoted, “I thank thee for thy” and “I thank you for thy”; and consider the refusal to use “thou” along with “thy” in the first three examples, and compare it with this, where “thou” is used but not “thy”:

“… thou will find your thirst quenched … thou will find your bones warmed …  “

And then there is the problem of the verb form to be used with “thou” as in the above “thou will” and in, for example:

“Do what thou wish with my bones “

Please! Thou wilt find new life  Do what thou wishest with my bones 

Fine writing spoilt by careless editing.

And while we are on the subject of careless editing, there are some vocabulary slips, too. One that irritated me enough for me to note it down was “You may abide with us for as long as you deign necessary.” Come on!  – as long as you deem necessary. And this is from people who no doubt would not deign to read a self-published “unedited” novel.





Half-a-Dozen from among the Kindle Frees

21 08 2013

Half a Dozen recommended ebooks selected from among the many I have downloaded FREE from Amazon Kindle.

I often download free books from Amazon these days. (I am sent a list every day of books which are on offer.) However, I read very few of them right through to the end. What I think of as the illiterate ones I delete from my Kindle Reader after the first few lines. (I say illiterate rather than unedited because I know many of these books have come straight from the hands of the author to the Kindle download lists, but anyone claiming to be an author should be literate, should be able to edit his or her own work.) If I get past those first few lines, the story has to grab me. Then it has to hold me. Many of these writers start well, then become careless or boring. However, there are always a few gems. Here are some I really enjoyed and that you can safely download.

Kindle11. BY UNKNOWN MEANS

Doug Giacobbe

High adventure around Nassau, fast moving with great characterisation. James Bond country, but here only the bad guy is British.

The good guys are US Customs officers and officers of the US Navy. The bad guys, drug-smugglers. And the hero himself, fired from the Customs Service for being over-zealous in the pursuit of his duty, and not being one to give up, continues that pursuit in his own boat until he gets both the bad guy and the beautiful undercover agent who is posing as the bad guy’s amazon bodyguard. Great stuff.

Kindle22. OMEGA DOG

James Rush

Another fast-moving adventure set in the States. A hitman is targeting a group of apparently unrelated people, among them Beth, a conscientious young doctor. And the only person she trusts to protect her is ex-marine, ex-cop, Joseph Venn, the very man the police believe to be the hired assassin.

But Venn is working secretly for someone in the highest echelons of the American government …

Kindle4Kindle33. TIME OF DEATH

and

4. THE PEEPER

both by Ellis Vidler

Time of Death features the McGuire Women, a family of psychics. Alex, the youngest of them, is being targeted by a killer, either because of something she saw, or because of something she didn’t see except with her mind’s eye, for Alex is an artist and sometimes she finds herself producing automatic drawing (like automatic writing) depicting scenes of pain and death.

The other book, The Peeper, you simply must read. The Peeping Tom turns out to be – no, I’m not going to tell you. Let’s just say that in this book Ellis Vidler turns all our prejudices on their head.

Kindle55. THE FERAL SPY

Joyce Weaver

Very British, this one. A dotty old lady is arrested for shop-lifting. It transpires that she and her companion are living in dire poverty – and I mean starvation and exposure – in the derelict ruin of what was once the stately home belonging to her family. But how did they come to be in this state? And who – and what – were they, once, before most of these patronising young people were born?

Kindle66. THE MIST ON BRONTË MOOR

Aviva Orr

A time-slip story which turns into a truly fascinating glimpse of life at Haworth on the Yorkshire Moors when the Brontës were teenagers. You really feel you are there with Heather Jane Bell, the unhappy 21st-century girl who suddenly finds herself in a weird other world.  And the two she gets on best with are Emily, who befriends her, and Patrick Branwell, with whom she falls in love.

She had never heard of the Brontës, so it is not a form of wish-fulfilment.

(Look at that name, and don’t tell me time-travellers can’t affect the time they visit! But she doesn’t manage to save poor Patrick from himself …)





KINGDOM OF THE GRAIL by Judith Tarr

20 03 2013

tarrgrailThis book is set in post-Arthurian times when Merlin was still bound by Nimuë’s enchantments and the Grail still something a knight might reasonably set out in quest of. It is a period of which I am very fond, but the only other time I had tried to read a Judith Tarr novel, I gave up after a few pages! I expected the same thing to happen here.

It did not.

Far from it. After the first few pages, I could not put Kingdom of the Grail down.

It is the story of Roland, hero of the epic poem La Chanson de Roland in which Roland dies when he is ambushed by Saracens in the pass of Roncesvalles in the high Pyrenees. Only here he does not die: the story goes on, made wonderful, made mythical, by Judith Tarr’s own brand of magic. Roland, a descendant of Merlin, is both enchanter and shape-shifter – it is in his blood – and warrior – he is Count of the Breton Marches and one of the King’s Companions of Charles the Great of France.

A beautiful woman, Sarissa, appears at the court in France, bearing a magical sword, Durandel, and offers it as a prize. Roland wins it and becomes both her champion and her lover.  But what does she represent? What force, what kingdom, is he now champion of?

As the story moved on, I noticed how much Tarr has been influenced by such writers as Tolkein and Lewis. Everything leads up to a final battle between the forces of Good and Evil that is the best I have come across since the closing chapters of Lord of the Rings and The Last Battle which brings the Narnia books to a close. And her wizard (Merlin = Gandalf) and wicked sorcerer (Ganelon, tool of the Dark Lord) are the real thing, as is her man born to be king (Roland) of the enchanted land whose ancient king (Parsifal) is dying, waiting only for his successor to take up the sword and fight the great war that he himself no longer can – though before that can happen, Roland, not fully trusted yet by Sarissa and blaming her for the nassacre of his friends at Roncesvalles, flees in the form of a hawk and is for a while lost to mankind, his home the wilderness, the wasteland. “He had been human once. He had no particular desire to wear that shape again …”

But this is not mere imitation. It is great writing of the same genre. It has everything, and I cannot recommend it too highly.





THE HAUNTING by Paul Doherty

4 02 2013

The Haunting coverA ghost story from an author who never fails to please me. I missed this book when it first came out, probably because it was not one of his medieval mysteries. (I never miss those!)

Paul Doherty is a Roman Catholic and his familiarity with the Roman rites frequently displays itself in his stories. This is the first time, though, that the protagonist has been a Catholic priest functioning as a priest.  My favourite Brother Athelstan is, of course, a priest, but he functions as a detective, a sleuth, like Chesterton’s Father Brown.

Father Oliver Grafeld is not a detective. He is an exorcist, albeit a reluctant one. He is sent by his superior, Archbishop Manning, to Candleton Hall, a manor house in the country belonging to an old Catholic family – one of those families that simply ducked when the Reformation occurred under King Henry VIII and carried on century after century as though nothing had happened. Oh yes, they made one small adjustment: they had secret chambers where priests could be concealed built into their great houses.

And thereby hangs a tale. This tale. For the chatelaine of Candleton Hall in the time of Richard III, Henry VII and Henry VIII, was Lady Isabella Seaton, who was neither Catholic nor Protestant, but a Satanist. And when she died, she had no intention of letting any subsequent chatelaine take her place …

Father Oliver and his sister Emma are great characters, but so far as I can tell Paul Doherty has written no sequel to this story. Which is a shame.





FOREVER by Maggie Stiefvater

3 10 2012

In my post on the first two books of this wonderful trilogy – Shiver and Linger – I said it was not often that a story moved me to tears these days and quoted Robert Frost’s “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader”.

The third book, Forever, did it again.

The last part of Forever is so gripping, so moving, that I defy you to put the book down – or close your Kindle – after you have passed the 80% mark. By this time there are four separate characters you find yourself identifying with or at least rooting for and bowled over by, and each one’s fate hangs in the balance.

When this book opens, it is Grace who is the wolf and Sam the human who has to wait through the long, long winter for the weather to warm up and this wolves who still can to change back into their human form. And keeping Sam company in Beck’s house ( if you don’t know what I am talking about read the first two books) is drop-out rock megastar Cole StClair, who is managing in his own inimitable way to melt the ice-queen Isabel – whose father is organising a hunt with a helicopter :to wipe out these wolves” once and for all!

And Sam is suspected of kidnapping and being complicit in the death of two girls – Grace herself, and her friend Olivia, who had also become a wolf and was found dead in the forest near Beck’s house after shifting back into human form!

I’ve given too much away, but read it anyway. By far the best werewolf series I have ever come across, full of rounded and totally sympathetic characters, and all set in a world I would joyfully return to any time.





SHIVER and LINGER by Maggie Stiefvater

5 08 2012

I read Shiver a while back and loved it and meant to say so here, but never got round to it. Then a few days ago I picked up a copy of Linger (the sequel) and was instantly drawn back into that world. It is, if anything, even better. Books don’t often reduce me to tears but the last few pages of this one did. What did Frost say? “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader”? Maggie Stiefvater must have had trouble with a soggy exercise book (I always use one first) or a dangerously wet keyboard while she was rounding this story off.

Grace Brisbane is an ordinary girl – boringly ordinary, really, in the opinion of her friends and all who know her. Hard-working and serious – straight-As, never misses school and, as she says of herself she “would never colour outside the line”.

Nothing odd at all, then? Well, she is very independent. She has to be, because her businessman father is almost never at home and her artist mother spends her time in the studio upstairs and goes out in the evenings. Grace looks after herself – and to a large extent looks after them.

In fact, her father is such a bad parent that when Grace was seven he forgot he had her with him in the car and left her locked in it for hours at the height of summer without any air or water. Everyone agreed that she should have died. No one could understand how or why she didn’t. And thereby hangs a tale – this tale! – but I don’t want to give too much away. Suffice it to say that if you like werewolf stories set in the ordinary, everyday world (in this case small-town America) rather than say 19th-century Transylvania, then these two books are just what you’ve been waiting for.

And though it says TEEN on the back, ignore that nonsense. These books are for everyone.

Afterthought: What does TEEN mean anyway? I supposed, mindlessly, that it meant aimed at teenagers, with teenagers as the main characters and the adults in the story mostly brain-dead, nasty or downright evil and living in their own materialistic world. Then I thought, but hold on, 13-year-olds are children, 19-year-olds are adults. What kind of stupid generalisation is this? Then the word “adult” got me thinking again and now I’m beginning to wonder whether TEEN simply means not ADULT – i.e. Trust us: this book contains no explicit sex so you can safely buy it for your teenage niece/nephew (who probably knows more about sex, at least in its more weird and wonderful forms, than you do!).) So there you go.

Second Afterthought: (Just can’t stop today!) I want to make a confession. At first, of course, I identified with Grace. She is the protagonist, she is very sympathetic, and her situation is one we can all imagine ourselves in – at least if urban fantasy forms part of our cultural diet  But gradually, as the second book got under way, I found myself identifying more and more with Isabel (“she-of-the-pointy-boots”), who – if you’ve read only the first book you will know to be a nasty bitch and you will begin to think I must be one too. But I challenge you to finish the second book and not begin to find that while Grace has become a bit of a damsel in distress – through no fault of her own, I hasten to add! – her knight in shining armour is failing dismally (he is busy reading Rilke and Mandelstam, which I must say I find refreshing even if it’s not going to save the situation) and Isabel has completely taken over from Grace as the one you find yourself following avidly from scene to scene. There is a third book out now. Will Isabel dominate it? Or Grace? I was about to say that I’m going to download it to my Kindle, but I’ve just checked and the Kindle edition costs more than the paperback. Totally absurd. Let’s keep cutting down our forests!








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