Introducing: The Triangle by Nakisanze Segawa

Contributing author of Crossroads, Nakisanze Segawa is a Ugandan writer and performance poet. She is also a contributor to Global Press Journal, and to the Daily Monitor newspaper in Kampala. The Triangle is her first novel.

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It is a time of upheaval in the African nation of Buganda. Missionaries are rapidly converting people to Christianity, undermining the authority of their king and sewing discord among his people. Three characters – Nagawa, a young but unhappy bride to the king; Kalinda, a servant in the royal courts; and Reverend Clement, a Scottish priest – are swept up in forces that will change their lives and reshape the future of their nation.

While African history often has been told by Westerners rather than Africans themselves, Ugandan writer Nakisanze Segawa offers an African perspective. Her meticulously researched novel examines a critical moment in Ugandan history, and offers a surprising and fresh perspective on Africa in the days just before colonialism.

For more information, or for bloggers to request a review copy, email nagawakalinda@gmail.com.

The Triangle is available to buy in paperback and as an ebook on Smashwords.

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An Empire in Runes by Jeffrey L.Kohanek

James McStravick reviews An Empire in Runes by Jeffrey L.Kohanek.

A Long Forgotten Magic That Might Save the World…Or Destroy It

Led by a boy named Brock, a small team of teens urgently assembles a force to confront an army of monsters, one that ravages and destroys anyone or anything in its path.

In a race against time, Brock attempts to train a group of recruits to wield the powerful magic known as Chaos, a magic that he himself is still learning to master. All the while, they must remain vigilant against a secret organization within the Ministry that will do anything to prevent the return of Chaos.

As foretold by an ancient prophecy, the human army must face and defeat their ancient enemy on the Tantarri Plains. For if they fail, all will be lost.

An Empire In Runes

“An Empire in Runes” is the final book in Jeffrey L. Kohanek’s The Runes of Issalia trilogy and what a great trilogy it has been.

When I previously read and reviewed the first and second books in the trilogy, The Buried Symbol (here) and The Emblem Throne (here) I spoke highly of them, this book is no exception to that and possibly the best of the lot.

An Empire in Runes takes place shortly after the climactic finish to The Emblem Throne and we quickly get to see not only how the primary characters but the secondary characters are dealing what has happened up to this current point. For the characters in this trilogy what they have been wanting to accomplish has been a long road and I thoroughly enjoyed reading how each character is dealing with the current situation and the lead up to what has happened.

One aspect I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the most is the planning that occurs in the run up to the final battle and how each character has an important role to play in the run up to it so they can ensure they win it. With this aspect in particular we see numerous groups 2 or more characters being sent off in multiple directions and this allows the book to further build the relationship between them in more detail since they have been travelling as a group for quite a while. Two characters in particular I thoroughly enjoyed reading about were Benny and Ashland, as the role they played in the lead up to the epic conclusion gives you a brief glimpse back into where it all started.

But once all the planning has come to a head and the final battle begins we get a battle of epic portions as we see it divided into different areas of the army that has amassed to fight off what has been tearing the country apart. When I read the battle scenes in the previous books I thoroughly enjoyed them and I thought they were done extremely well but this final battle was something like I had never read before in this trilogy as not only was it so well crafted but it showed the consequences of war and what effects it has on places and people.

I think Jeffrey L. Kohanek definitely wraps this series up very nicely as we get to visit some people and places we haven’t seen since the first book and we see a lot of the story threads being either answered or closed off. So as far as I am concerned there no questions left unanswered when I came to finishing the final book in the trilogy.

With all of the above in mind I really enjoyed reading An Empire in Runes as it caused me to lose quite a lot of time on a number of occasion’s due to how deeply I found myself getting absorbed into the world. If you enjoyed The Buried Symbol and The Emblem Throne then I would highly recommend reading this book because not only is it the best book in the trilogy but it is great conclusion to the trilogy as a whole.

Goodreads | Facebook | @JlKohanek

BLACKWING BY ED MCDONALD (Ravens’ Mark #1)

James McStravick reviews Blackwing by Ed McDonald.

The republic faces annihilation, despite the vigilance of Galharrow’s Blackwings. When a raven tattoo rips itself from his arm to deliver a desperate message, Galharrow and a mysterious noblewoman must investigate a long dead sorcerer’s legacy. But there is a conspiracy within the citadel: traitors, flesh-eaters and the ghosts of the wastelands seek to destroy them, but if they cannot solve the ancient wizard’s paradox, the Deep Kings will walk the earth again, and all will be lost.

The war with the Eastern Empire ended in stalemate some eighty years ago, thanks to Nall’s ‘Engine’, a wizard-crafted weapon so powerful even the Deep Kings feared it. The strike of the Engine created the Misery – a wasteland full of ghosts and corrupted magic that now forms a No Mans Land along the frontier. But when Galharrow investigates a frontier fortress, he discovers complacency bordering on treason: then the walls are stormed, and the Engine fails to launch. Galharrow only escapes because of the preternatural magical power of the noblewoman he was supposed to be protecting. Together, they race to the capital to unmask the traitors and restore the republic’s defences. Far across the Misery a vast army is on the move, as the Empire prepares to call the republic’s bluff.

Blackwing

Firstly, a big thank you to Gollancz for sending me an arc copy of this book for review.

When I read the first page of Blackwing I found myself immediately drawn into the world as Ed McDonald not only manages to grip you very quickly but is also able to give you a quick breakdown of whats happening while setting the tone of the world which I find authors sometimes find struggle to do within that first page.

I usually find myself enjoying one or more aspects of a book more over others but with Blackwing I never once found this as I believe Ed McDonald has managed to accomplish the perfect blend of world building, action, mystery and depth. I find it is very rare to encounter a book like Blackwing as the last time I encountered a book like this was when I first read The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson, I also sometimes found myself thinking that the way he crafted certain scenes reminded of Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series.

One thing I found that made the book a lot easier to read was that Ed McDonald never seemed to over extend the length of a scene as I always found the scenes ended very naturally and because of this the chapters were slightly smaller than a lot of books I have read. This of course then lead to my inner voice saying “oh go on one more chapter won’t hurt”, then next thing you know its 2am or 3am and you have to get up for work in a few hours.

With my reviews I always find myself delving into a breakdown about what I loved and disliked about a book as well discussing the world and characters. Over the past few days or so I have thought over how I wanted to write this review and every time I do I just can’t seem to find the words that would do this book justice and show much I enjoyed it.

Is Blackwing the best fantasy book I have ever read? This is quite possibly true but then again I don’t how I would feel about books I read a number of years ago such as The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. One thing I can tell you though is that Blackwing is the best book I have read so far this year and I feel sorry for the books that have to follow it as they are going to have a tough time against it. Blackwing takes all the elements of a great fantasy book and molds them together to create something that is truly awe inspiring and quite possibly perfect.

Ed McDonald | Goodreads | Facebook | @EdMcDonaldTFK

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis

I review The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis.

A debut literary thriller from an incredible new voice. What do you do when the man who gave you everything turns out to be a killer? 

Everything Elka knows of the world she learned from the man she calls Trapper, the solitary hunter who took her under his wing when she was just seven years old.

But when Elka sees the Wanted poster in town, her simple existence is shattered. Her Trapper – Kreagar Hallet – is wanted for murder. Even worse, Magistrate Lyon is hot on his trail, and she wants to talk to Elka.

Elka flees into the vast wilderness, determined to find her true parents. But Lyon is never far behind – and she’s not the only one following Elka’s every move. There will be a reckoning, one that will push friendships to the limit and force Elka to confront the dark memories of her past.

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What a ride. The Wolf Road is everything I love in a book. It’s dystopian, which confused me for a while, as it also reads as an historical fiction. The Damn Stupid, described in the book, seems to be some kind of nuclear war, which threw the world back into the 1800s. Beth Lewis blends the two genres together seamlessly; I got lost in a world that was at once the future and the past, with all the emotions of the present.

Elka is the perfect heroine. Flawed, raw, open. Her voice is beautiful, innocent, yet haunted. Her story is sad, yet she is incredibly strong. Left with her abusive Nana while her parents went north to “make their fortune”, Elka gets caught up in a thunderhead, some kind of storm, and is deposited miles away from home. She comes upon a hut, which belongs to a man she calls Trapper. Covered in tattoos, hulking, Trapper is terrifying, but Elka sticks with him for over 10 years, learning his ways, the ways of the wild, and coming to think of him as her father. Her eyes are closed to his real ways, his wolf road, until she sees his face plastered on wanted posters around the nearest town.

Elka’s journey to understanding, not just the truth about Trapper, but also about herself, is hard and heartbreaking. How many of us have been fooled by someone? Been so caught up in a certain life that you do things without thinking of the consequences, of the importance of your choices? Are we even able to make choices in such situations? Beth Lewis writes about this in an incredible and engaging way, describing Elka’s path beautifully.

Listening to The Wolf Road as an audiobook was an extra treat. Amy McFadden is wonderful, and truly brings the story to life. This is a contender for my book of the year.

Goodreads | Amazon | Audible

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

“Lizzie Borden took an axe
And gave her mother forty whacks
When she saw what she had done
She gave her father forty-one.”

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I’d never heard of Lizzie Borden before I read about this book. The topic instantly grabbed me, and I knew I had to have it. I was crossing my fingers every time I searched for it on NetGalley, and, lo and behold, it came up. And I was approved!

When her father and step-mother are found brutally murdered on a summer morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden – thirty two years old and still living at home – immediately becomes a suspect. But after a notorious trial, she is found innocent, and no one is ever convicted of the crime.

Meanwhile, others in the claustrophobic Borden household have their own motives and their own stories to tell: Lizzie’s unmarried older sister, a put-upon Irish housemaid, and a boy hired by Lizzie’s uncle to take care of a problem.

This unforgettable debut makes you question the truth behind one of the great unsolved mysteries, as well as exploring power, violence and the harsh realities of being a woman in late nineteenth century America.

I love a good historical fiction, particularly one based on a true story. Lizzie Borden is famous (or infamous) for being acquitted for the murders of her father and step-mother in 1892. Told from the perspectives of Bridget the maid, a troubled young man called Benjamin, Emma the eldest daughter, and Lizzie herself, we’re thrown into a whirlwind of a whodunit.

There’s clearly something very strange about the Borden family. Lizzie is in her thirties, Emma in her forties, and neither of them have ever married or moved away from their childhood home. Emma, the eldest, gave up a large part of her life to care for Lizzie, when they were left motherless after their mum died. Their father married Abby a few years later, and it seems the sisters made a decision to never love their stepmother.

There are also clear signs of abuse. Andrew Borden is often violent and quick to anger, and Lizzie too has a fiery temper. Emma has escaped to her friend’s house when the murders occur, and is dragged back by the tragedy. You can almost feel her desperation to cling on to her freedom. It’s Emma who I identify with the most: the eldest daughter, older by a fair few years, forced to give up childhood and become a parental figure.

See What I Have Done is full of secrets, and Schmidt doesn’t give them up easily. This is a triumphant debut, wonderfully written and well-researched (Schmidt stayed in the Borden house while writing this book, which is actually now a creepy hotel!). Lizzie Borden dug her claws into me and didn’t let go until the very final page.

See What I Have Done is due out in May 2017, and you really don’t want to miss it.

Goodreads | Amazon UK

Larchfield by Polly Clark

I review Larchfield by Polly Clark.

‘We need the courage to choose ourselves’ W. H. Auden

It’s early summer when a young poet, Dora Fielding, moves to Helensburgh on the west coast of Scotland and her hopes are first challenged. Newly married, pregnant, she’s excited by the prospect of a life that combines family and creativity. She thinks she knows what being a person, a wife, a mother, means. She is soon shown that she is wrong. As the battle begins for her very sense of self, Dora comes to find the realities of small town life suffocating, and, eventually, terrifying; until she finds a way to escape reality altogether.

Another poet, she discovers, lived in Helensburgh once. Wystan H. Auden, brilliant and awkward at 24, with his first book of poetry published, should be embarking on success and society in London. Instead, in 1930, fleeing a broken engagement, he takes a teaching post at Larchfield School for boys where he is mocked for his Englishness and suspected – rightly – of homosexuality. Yet in this repressed limbo Wystan will fall in love for the first time, even as he fights his deepest fears.

The need for human connection compels these two vulnerable outsiders to find each other and make a reality of their own that will save them both. Echoing the depths of Possession, the elegance of The Stranger’s Child and the ingenuity of Longbourn, Larchfield is a beautiful and haunting novel about heroism – the unusual bravery that allows unusual people to go on living; to transcend banality and suffering with the power of their imagination.

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I confess, I knew nothing of W.H. Auden before downloading Larchfield, but he seems like an incredibly fascinating individual. Clark introduces us to Auden as a recently published poet, heading north to join the teaching staff at a school in Helensburgh, Scotland. A homosexual in a time where being gay was illegal, Auden is careful and secretive, but he cannot help how deeply he falls in love – or with whom.

Dora, too, is a great character. Newly married, mother to a premature baby, Dora loses herself in the daily grind, the humdrum of life. A poet, with artistic friends stuck in their youth, Dora feels her own youth, her artistic reputation, slipping away – along with her senses. The neighbours upstairs are making her life hell; the small town is tightening around its own, forcing her out. After a particularly nasty encounter, Dora takes Bea, her daughter, down to the sea. There, she finds a bottle, and inside is a note from W.H. Auden. Already on the brink, Dora takes a step, and finds herself in a world that isn’t her own.

Larchfield is easy to fall into. Clark is an incredibly talented writer, who evokes 1930’s and draws the reader in from the present day. Her characters are well-crafted, and the story flows beautifully.

I’m not entirely certain what happened at the end. Was it real, or was it all inside Dora’s head? Perhaps Clark meant for it to be ambiguous. I think I’ll choose to believe it was real – whether it happened inside Dora’s head or not is an entirely different matter.

Larchfield is due out at the end of March.

Goodreads | Amazon UK

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

I review History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund.

Linda has an idiosyncratic home life: her parents live in abandoned commune cabins in northern Minnesota and are hanging on to the last vestiges of a faded counter-culture world. The kids at school call her ‘Freak’, or ‘Commie’. She is an outsider in all things. Her understanding of the world comes from her observations at school, where her teacher is accused of possessing child pornography, and from watching the seemingly ordinary life of a family she babysits for. Yet while the accusation against the teacher is perhaps more innocent than it seemed at first, the ordinary family turns out to be more complicated. As Linda insinuates her way into the family’s orbit, she realises they are hiding something. If she tells the truth, she will lose the normal family life she is beginning to enjoy with them; but if she doesn’t, their son may die.

Superbly-paced and beautifully written, HISTORY OF WOLVES is an extraordinary debut novel about guilt, innocence, negligence, well-meaning belief and the death of a child.

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History of Wolves is another coming-of-age story that will resonate with many people. Linda, mostly left to raise herself by hippy, laid-back parents, lives in Northern Minnesota, on grounds that used to belong to a commune, of which her parents were members.

“Winter collapsed on us that year. It knelt down, exhausted, and stayed.”

Linda is fourteen, melodramatic, poetic. She’s somewhat obsessed with a classmate, Lily, who spread rumours that their teacher, Mr Grierson, took her off and molested her. Linda’s narrative often veers off into dark corners, and the way the story is told (bouncing back and forth, from teenage Linda to older Linda, reminiscing) only serves to increase the feeling of unease as the reader continues through the story.

Linda also spends a lot of time babysitting Paul, a toddler who moved into a cabin across the lake with his mother, Patra. Paul’s father, Leo, is often working away, but when he arrives, Linda’s relationship with Patra becomes strained. Patra is young, closer to Linda’s age than to what Linda might consider a parent, and her youth becomes glaringly obvious when her older husband appears. You know that something happens, something bad, but Fridlund trickles the information into your mind, keeping you hooked until the very last page.

I did want to know more about the commune. Perhaps Fridlund will consider writing a prequel to History of Wolves. If so, I’d love to read it. The crisp writing reminded me of books like Winter’s Bone and Eileen. Dark, wintry, honest. Fridlund is an extraordinary writer, and History of Wolves is a haunting debut.

Goodreads | Amazon UK