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Tea-drinking introvert found either behind a book or within arm's reach of one. Book reviewer, and book sniffer. You may have seen me on W24, BooksLive, Aerodrome, Bark Magazine, CultNoise Magazine, or Expound Magazine.

29 Nov 2021

Review: The Shadow in the Glass by JJA Harwood

Despite only being 17, Eleanor has not led an easy life. her mother passed away when she was just 9, but thankfully, she had Mrs Pembroke, who took her in and raised her like a daughter., but the relief was short lived, because after three years, Mrs Pembroke followed Eleanor’s mother to the land of the dead. And then everything changed. Instead of continuing her life as Mr Pembroke’s ward, Ella was made a housemaid, forced into a life of service and poverty, and constantly under the dark and oppressive shadow of the master of the house, who is a little too interested in the young women in his employ.

Despite this, she has one silver lining: the library. In the depths of night, Eleanor sneaks into the forbidden room to let her mind escape through stories.  And it’s during one of these midnight sojourns that Eleanor’s life changes completely.

She’s not alone in the library, this time. There’s a black-eyed woman with her, with a startling proposition: she will grant Eleanor seven wishes, in exchange for the young woman’s soul. Only, there’s a catch – each wish comes at a very steep price.

The premise of selling your soul to the devil is certainly not a new, but JJA Harwood might just make you forget that. Shocked by the carnage each wish creates, and the ultimate price she will have to pay, Eleanor strives to make something of her life without the assistance of any supernatural forces. But she can’t – each time she tries to resist the allure of that simple word, fate, or perhaps the woman with the black eyes, forces her hand, and soon enough Eleanor is down to a final wish, without much to show for her trouble.

Thankfully, she has a plan to ensure she never has to give up her soul, nor the final wish which ties it to her. But will it work?

The Shadow in the Glass is more than a cautionary tale of the dangers of ambition and the downsides of making a deal with the devil. Apart from being the literal embodiment of the warning to be careful what you wish for, it’s a tale of a desperation, with a strong social commentary carefully used as background. Eleanor’s gradual descent into depravity and desperation are starkly contrasted to the romance and bright future our protagonist longs for. The Shadow in The Glass is a page-turner and an exhilarating journey from the first sentence.  

The Shadow in the Glass by JJA Harwood is published by Harper Voyager, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

15 Nov 2021

Review: Son of The Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa

Danso has found himself in a unique position. Despite not being High Bassai, he is a novitiate, and while his position in the guild is tenuous, he seems totally unconcerned with decorum. Instead, Danso seeks the truth behind stories, including that of his mother’s past. His fixation has landed him in hot water a few times, much to the ire of his intended, Esheme.

Yet when events beyond Danso’s control force the land of Bassa to close its borders, and for Danso to be expelled from his university, his life changes beyond recognition. But that’s nothing compared to his discovery of a strange warrior from a distant land, with the ability to wield magic, and a price-tag on her head.

Ands it’s that discovery, along with his insane desire to help this exile, that REALLY lands him in trouble, and places his life, and the lives of everyone he loves, in danger. Because it turns out Danso has a secret of his own, which could unsettle the very history upon which the kingdom of Bassa was founded.

African fantasy has just found itself a king in the form of Suyi Davies Okungbowa. I’ve yet to discover another writer who can effortlessly weave African mythology and history with a dazzling display of fantasy to create something new and delicious. Son of the Storm is more into just a foray into the birthplace of humanity (and probably magic). It is a cleverly crafted social narrative that exposes injustices and discrimination while the camouflage of epic fiction. Okungbowa has created a page-turner that is as addictive as it is compelling. He has reintroduced to the world to the power for Africa, and an African story, and I am hooked.

But there’s a downside.

Just as the characters start to feel like real people, and the trek across unknown lands really hits its stride, we are left with an (admittedly very good) cliffhanger, and the torture of waiting for the next instalment. Which means that we have what feels like an eternity to wait before the story continues. I hate that – I want more already, so excuse me while I learn to transform a sulk session into patience. In the meantime, join the party and grab a copy of Son of the Storm before Hollywood finds it first!

Son of the Storm by Suyi Davies Okungbowa is published by Orbit, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers.

27 Oct 2021

Review: Rabbits by Terry Miles

K’s a gamer, but he’s not your average gamer. Sure, he’ll dabble in arcade games and online roleplayers, but what he’s really into is something many of fellow gamers haven’t heard of: Rabbits. The pattern-seeking underground game is the cause of much speculation, because like Fight Club, you don’t talk about it. Which is why the purpose, players, and plot of the game are all such a mystery. All K knows is that it’s real, and it’s something he wants – no, needs – to win, and not just because the prize promises to be the winner’s most heartfelt desire.

But just as the next round of the game is supposed to start, the unthinkable happens. K is approached by a former winner, who requests his help to fix Rabbits, before something terrible happens.

And as he tries to help, he realizes that something terrible isn’t just forfeiting the prize – if K doesn’t fix Rabbits, the world as he knows it will end. Literally.

Rabbits is an ambitious project, and Terry Miles has accomplished a feat in world building. Despite a somewhat slow start, once it heats up, it’ll keep you flicking through the pages at a record rate. And part of the reason for that is that so much is happening. Truly, Rabbits is the definition of ‘something for everyone’. There’s conspiracy theories, technological advances and AI, a peek at the multiverse, a love story, a dash of adventure, and of course, a little murder and mayhem.

And this combination makes it feel familiar in the best way. It makes the reader think of shows like Fringe or Netflix’s Devs meets The Matrix vibes, with an added puzzle-solving and whodunit aspect.

And for that reason, I have one very important bit of advice for you: read Rabbits before it becomes the next Hollywood sensation, because Tinseltown would be crazy to pass up this story!

Rabbits by Terry Miles is published by Macmillan, an imprint of Pan Macmillan. And is available in South Africa from Pan Macmillan South Africa.

22 Oct 2021

Review: The Watchers by A.M. Shine

When Mina volunteered to act as a courier for a quick bit of cash, she had no idea that her life was about to change. It started in the woods. After taking a wrong turn or seven, Mina becomes lost, and arrives at the edge of a forest, when her car suddenly dies, leaving her no choice but to try reach her destination on foot. Yet as Mina proceeds through the woods, she can’t help but shake a feeling that something isn’t right, and as the sun sets, her discomfort increases.

When she’s spooked by a strange inhuman cry, Mina is saved from a chaotic sprint through the woods by the sudden appearance of a light, and a woman beckoning.

This is how she learns about The Watchers. Deep within the forest, is a room, where a mirror and a light are all that stand between a handful of wretched survivors and certain death. Now, Mina must come to terms with her new life: scavenging for food in the day, and sheltering in an abandoned concrete room at night, when The Watchers come out.

But how long can Mina’s new family survive like this, and what happens when they can’t outrun the darkness?

The Watchers is an unexpectedly delightful and mature horror. In a world populated with slasher films and jump scares, horror has transformed from the psychological to the visual, but A.M. Shine is changing that. Shine takes us back to the origins of horror – a slow reveal of something so unexpected, it makes you judge your sanity. This is horror for the intellectual, and it’s brilliant.

Not only does Shine build some pretty impressive tension theme of the terror of the unknown, but the author takes a step into the world of fantasy while doing this, twisting and reinventing myths and legends we’ve forgotten from our childhood. The nostalgia, combined with the creeping thrills throughout this book, guarantee an epic binge-reading session, because you will not want to put this book down.

The Watchers by A.M. Shine is published by Head of Zeus and is available in South Africa from Jonathan Ball Publishers

28 Sept 2021

Review: The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna

For Deka’s whole life, she has been raised according to the principles of Oyomo; that a woman’s place is to serve and honour men. Yet on the day of the Ritual of Purity, in which Deka will be cut to demonstrate the purity of her blood, everything changes. Instead of the crimson life force that flows through the veins of the other village girls; Deka’s blood is liquid gold. She is Unpure, and the sentence for this crime is death, because the Unpure are descended from demons.

Only Deka doesn’t die. Again and again, the elders try to end her life, yet her spirit and body remain intact. Just as the elders think they have discovered the way to truly kill her, she is saved by an unexpected source; an emissary of the emperor.

Instead of death, Deka must join an army of girls like her to fight the worst threat that the land has ever faced. And the emperor is willing to sacrifice them all to win.

But when training starts, Deka realises that there’s more to her new position, and the army itself, than she could ever have expected. What she learns shakes the very foundations of her world.

The Gilded Ones satisfies every possible craving a fan of Young Adult could have. Namina Forna has given us a glorious mythology with horrific yet strangely familiar limitations and social ills. We have a love story that is like no other, a generous dose of magic and intrigue, and even a range of action sequences. All of this has been woven together and perceived through a fantastic (literally) lens to make it pure magic. Once you start reading, you cannot stop. The characters are too enticing, the sub plots too arresting, and the writing too convincing and powerful to refuse.

The Gilded Ones will impress more than just YA fans – it will woo lovers of myth and legend, the seekers of fantasy, and those who want a peek of realism through struggle and inequality. It is superb.

The Gilded Ones by Namina Forna is published by Usborne, AND IS AVAILABEL IN South Africa from Penguin Random House South Africa.