Today we are recommending another Fox Spirit skulk member, but not our own publications. That is because in addition to some incredible short stories with us, in the last few years James Bennett has been writing novels. Awesome novels with DRAGONS.
James is interviewed in two parts on Damien Seaman’s blog where he talks about his writing, his travels, the need for representation and getting his book deal
I have read the first two books in the Ben Garston trilogy and am very excited to get my foxy paws on the third.
And as we are reviewing this month here are my super quick reviews of the first two:
James Bennett takes myth, fairy tale, history and the almost real world and expertly pulls the threads together to weave a tale of dragons, daring adventures and ancient foes.
It’s also the heartbreaking and powerful story of a young girl’s desperation, betrayal and hope.
A fantastic story and a complete tale, with the promise of more to come.
The first novel in this series created a rich world where history, myth and fairy tale blend together and offered us a protagonist driven by duty more than heroism as it built towards a climax. This second volume picks up with the fallout of the previous years events, dropping the reader straight into the action as we discover that far from being allowed to fade back into the background, Red Ben is going to be fighting for his life.
The focus in the second novel is on the eastern and western guardians of the remnants and the lore and the machinations of the Envoy, leading us through Xanadu in the past, Paris in the present and of course, a little bit of London among others. The threads of loss, betrayal, longing and survival weave throughout the fantastic story telling and compelling characters. It’s faster paced than the first, full of visceral battle scenes, with the occasional potent moment of sorrow or despair, rooting it deeply in the readers heart.
James Bennett is a superb storyteller and this series is a must read for fans of knightly adventures, dragons or fantasy, or pretty much anyone who reads fiction really.
I would recommend reading the first, but technically I think you could dip straight in at book 2, Bennett drops just enough breadcrumbs to follow the plot without the full background, although I think it is a shame to miss out on book 1 personally.
When I started Fox Spirit I gave up book blogging formally, and only occasionally post about the books I am reading. I thought the run up to Christmas is a good time to share some of my recent reads though. I don’t gt as much time as I used to but these were all especially enjoyable.
Under the Pendulum Sun by Jeanette Ng
I fangirled at poor Jeanette at Sledge lit because I loved this book. It is not an action packed book of fae adventures and magic, it is more a thoughtful look at religion and self through the attempt to convert the fae. Although not a great deal happens in terms of outward adventuring the main characters are forced to re examine everything they believe about themselves and the meaning of their own souls. The book never feels slow, part of its magic I suppose is that it feels as though there is a great deal going on even when it is all in the subtext, but this is what I imagine dealing with the fae would be like. A genuinely delightful and thought provoking read.
Raising Fire by James Bennett
This is the second in James’ trilogy, although it you want to dive straight into all action you could pick it up here. I think you would be missing out because Chasing Embers is fantastic and full of gorgeous world building. Once again Ben Garston, the only dragon left awake by the accords, spends much of his time fighting for his life and trying to work out who to trust. This book blend myths and fairytales from various parts of the world with a little history, building into James’ glorious version of reality. full of adventure and dragons. Read it.
The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding by Alexandra Bracken
I picked this up because of the hardback cover. It’s a young adult, maybe middle grade read and it deals in demons and possession. It’s good fun. Not as complex as the Bartimaeus books which are my gold standard for this sort of story, but the characters are interesting and it’s a quick entertaining read. I particularly enjoyed the developing relationship between Prosper and his unwelcome passenger. Family dynamics are never as simple as they seem, so perhaps this is a good choice for Christmas.
The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig
I don’t buy books because people advertise them on social media, but occasionally someone I follow (a lot fo them are writers) will say something that will make me go and google their work. I downloaded Heidi’s book on Kindle for a look as it was on offer, then 3 chapters in, bought the paperback and the sequel. It’s a simple enough concept, using maps to Navigate through time as well as place, but it’s brilliantly executed and thought out and the element of time travel makes everything a little more complex. I enjoy the lead Nix and her relationships with the crew and her father. Really entertaining novel asking the question, what would you do for love and how far is too far?
I have been asked about books. Not the ones we publish, but what I buy outside of Fox Spirit and specifically what other small presses I look to for my reading material.
I went for quite a long time since starting FS without reading much outside of it, then I changed jobs. Just over six months ago I found myself with a commute by train and it has been heaven. So let’s start with a list of books I have read and enjoyed since August and the reasons I read them.
A note before I start, every one of these books was excellent and I would recommend them all so assume high stars all round. I am bad at reading books that don’t draw me in quickly.
13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough – I know Sarah a little and have read her work before, so was happy to buy and read her recent releases, confident I would enjoy them. The Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho – Zen did a story for us which was superb. I like to support writers who have supported us with their stories by buying their books, add to which, I really like reading all the writers we work with so it’s a low risk strategy. Burning Embers by James Bennett – James is a friend, a Fox Spirit writer and a fantastic story teller. No brainer. Sparrow Falling by Gaie Sebold – I loved Gaie’s earlier novels, I nearly died of squee when she did a story for us so obviously I had to have this. The Tiger and the Wolf by Adrian Tchaikovsky – Adrian is a fantastic writer and again, has worked with FS. Alice by Christina Henry – The original Alice always struck me as darker than people think, I was intrigued. I was also looking for interesting novels by women. Lost Girl by Adam Nevill – Apt 16 terrified me, Adam is a great writer and a lovely man, we must try and weedle a story from him one day. Wolf in the Attic by Paul Kearney – this one just looked interesting and Paul’s name is one of those where I am always a bit, have we met? Or have I just come across his name so many times I think we have met? How to be Dull by Basil Morley Esq – Basil Morely is actually K.A. Laity who writes and edits for FS among others and never fails to entertain me. The Red Tree By Caitlin Kearnan – Picked this up years ago because it looked interesting, and it languished on the shelf. I thought I would give it a try as part of my bid to make my reading more diverse and I was rewarded richly. Geekerella by Ashley Poston – recommended and indeed supplied by a publicist friend who knows what I like Escapology by Ren Warom – Ren is amazing, which I know because we published her novella so obviously I had to read this. How to be a Woman by Caitlin Moran – Rare occasion where I actually got around to the book group choice but a fantastic book that has set me off collecting up more feminist non fic. Killer of Enemies by Joseph Bruchac – Part of my personal challenge to be more diverse in my reading. Joseph is a Native American writer and I loved the sound of this particular book. It’s great btw. Nemesis by Agatha Christie – I love Christie, I love this story, charity shop comfort read. Clockwork Heart by Dru Paliassotti – Bought this forever ago, and it appealed when I did a shelf search. Miss Peregrine’s home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Briggs– enjoyed the film but was curious as a friend who loves the books was very cross about the changes. Love across a Broken Map by The Whole Kahini – A friend was involved in editing and producing this and so I had great confidence in it being excellent. It was. Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough – see previous Pinborough. Also one of the main characters is called Adele, how could I resist? The Red Queen by Christina Henry – Sequel to Alice which I loved. The Ocean at the end of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – again it’s been on the shelf a while, but I have read a number of Gaiman’s books over the years and had no doubt I would enjoy it. The Stars and Legion by Kameron Hurley – Read God’s War as a BFS judge, loved it, read the next one, love Kameron’s fiction and will just keep buying and reading them.
Books I am dipping into
They do the Same things Differently Here by Rob Shearman – Shearman is an incredible short story writer and possibly the loveliest man alive. Nasty Women by various – Saw a lot about this and with the world as it is it felt like a must read. Frazzled by Ruby Wax – Because I am basically. The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh Shukla – Part of my efforts to challenge my reading habits. Enjoying this greatly.
So you will start to see a pattern.
I like to support writers I know, especially ones I have worked with or who I enjoy chatting with on online of F2F, which is helped by the fact that I am confident I will enjoy their work.
I buy from small presses and indie authors a lot at events, it’s not well represented here but I have a stack of books I have read or want to read from the likes of Grimbold, Kristell ink, Newcon and others both past and present. Things I look for in small presses tend to be that people running them I know share some of my tastes or values, or writers in common as that is a good sign I will enjoy the stuff they put out. Some of the presses I love, like Boo and Jurassic sadly closed, which I talk about at length in the Sisyphus post, so I won’t go back over it here. Not all indie presses are so small of course, Angry Robot and Titan, along with Abaddon and Solaris often make their way onto my shelves, I recently discovered Quirk and will be going back there again. Then there are specialists, like 404Ink and Dhalia who offer something more specific but from time to time overlap with my genre preferences or just hit my needs in the moment and who are doing high quality work. There are lots I haven’t mentioned but browse the dealer room at any genre con and you are surrounded by people I would buy from.
At bookstores I have a system. Check for new books by people I know/like already either F2F or from reading their work. Then browse for writers that expand my reading, so at the moment looking for books by non white writers is a big part of my store search technique for or openly LGBTQIA writers, writers of colour or non fiction books. Finally, anything that just looks interesting or a bit different (harder than it sounds tbh). I have been known to purchase books for their covers, or indeed because of the cover artist.
As we reach the end of 2016 and stumble blinking into a new year, I thought instead of the usual
‘what did we do, what are we planning’ round up, I would simply gather some recommendations of
books to take you into 2017. These came in response to a shout out on twitter for people to tell me
what books they want people to take with them into the new year.
We meander through many excellent genre titles, occasionally stepping out of speculative fiction
and even into non fiction as people share titles that have excited them and that you might want to
consider. There is a good mix of getting away from it all and getting ready for whatever 2017 brings.
I have added amazon uk links where possible, in case you want to know more about any of the books or add them to
your reading for the new year.
Since starting Fox Spirit my reading has dropped off dramatically, but I am going to do better in 2016. I will also be sharing anything outstanding on here. I posted about The Night Circus last year and over Christmas I read The Girl with all the Gifts by M.R. Carey and I thought it was wonderful. I will try to articulate why without spoilering.
Carey kicks off from the perspective of a little girl Melanie, living a very odd life, and allows the reader to unravel the mystery of what is going on, with a sense of slowly growing horror. The reader knows something is not right with the situation, the restraint of the children, the way they are showered and fed, and by the time the reason is revealed the reader is already suspicious. It takes longer for Melanie to understand and accept the reality of what is going on.
The novel is beautifully paced and continues to draw out elements of mystery and discovery all the way through. The characters, at first two dimensional from the perspective of the Melanie, are pleasingly complex and human as the book unravels. Once the early mystery of Melanie’s nature and situation are revealed the tropes of it’s particular sub genre are largely obeyed, but with a flair and originality that kept me reading and wanting to know how it would all resolve.
The resolution itself left me satisfied. It was a neat conclusion that pulled no punches. Heartily recommend this novel.
For the longest time I’ve struggled to finish books, to read something unrelated to Fox Spirit for my own pleasure. I am starting to reclaim that pleasure. Since I started out reviewing, I thought I might share my thoughts on those books I manage to complete here, with you.
I picked up The Night Circus after a number of friends recommended it to me. They were right!
The Night Circus is beautiful, complex and enchanting. A story of multiple layers, based around a magical contest whose contestant are committed without their consent and not told the rules. The game must be played and they are tied to it until it is complete. Everyone who works for the Circus or falls for its enchantments is also, more subtlety but just as irrevocably bound to it.
The combatants actually show a frustrating lack of curiosity about the game itself, while as a reader I was initially impatient to understand it better. It isn’t long though before the book casts its spell in full and I was lulled into the nightly life of the circus, less concerned with how or when it will end but rather wandering endlessly down the ouroboros like paths, gawping and gasping as each new marvel is revealed, but never quite shaking the unease fully, knowing that something is not quite ok here.
Two magical prodigies battle, using the Circus as their stage and while Marcus and Celia work and spar their respective mentors manipulate and protect the secrets of their ego driven with little regard for who is harmed or at least forever altered by the process.
The writing is beautiful, the story gently compelling, the characters never fully revealed in their complexity, everything is done so beautifully. The Night Circus is a masterclass for aspiring writers in how to create an atmosphere with every aspect of the book that reflects the tale you are telling.
I fell fully under the illusions of this book, absorbing it, watching it unfold slowly like the living statues that adorn its paths. Holding my breath as the illusions unfold ever more intricate and dangerous. What will become of Marcus and Celia as the game inevitably concludes and can the circus survive? Why is Poppet no longer able to read the stars and what is the role of young Bailey in all of this. With workings more delicate than the complications of the Circus’ amazing clock this is a book that draws you in and binds you to it gently, from which you cannot simply walk away before the game is done.