Today’s Art (9th September 2019)

Well, although I’ll probably spend the next couple of days or so making photo-based paintings, today’s digitally-edited painting is a gothic fantasy painting that turned out much better than I’d expected 🙂

As usual, this painting is released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND licence.

“Palace” By C. A. Brown

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One Essential, But Overlooked, Element Of Fantasy Fiction – A Ramble

Well, I thought that I’d take a very quick look at the fantasy genre again. This is mostly because the novel that I just finished reading (Kill The Dead” by Tanith Lee) reminded me of another, somewhat overlooked, element of fantasy fiction that gives these stories a lot more emotional depth, humanity and atmosphere.

In short, nothing is mass-produced in traditional-style fantasy stories. This sounds like a really small thing, but it has a huge impact on the atmosphere and tone of fantasy stories.

In essence, everything in the story – from the buildings, to the items, to the musical instruments etc… is a unique thing that has been made by hand by people of varying skill levels. This means that every location seems slightly unique and every object in the story has a greater significance because it has it’s own backstory. After all, it was made by a person rather than churned out by a factory.

This “every object has it’s own backstory” thing can be used in all sorts of creative ways. For example, in Tanith Lee’s “Kill The Dead”, a bizarre musical instrument (cobbled together from three other instruments) is not only used to explore quite a lot of one character’s backstory, but the instrument’s backstory also means that you actually care about what happens to it. Now try to imagine the same thing for a mass-produced smartphone in a thriller story or something like that. It just isn’t the same.

In addition to this, it also means that many objects in fantasy stories are at least slightly unique. This, again, can be useful for worldbuilding and characterisation. After all, if the objects in your fantasy story are as unique as the people that made them, then they are probably going to tell the reader more about the places where they are created.

Likewise, these handmade objects in fantasy fiction will often be well-used or slightly imperfect in some way or another, which helps to add to the vaguely tragic and thoroughly human atmosphere of the story. It really creates the sense of people living in a harsh medieval-style world where everything matters more and things have to either last longer or be made/repaired by people who might not be experts at a particular trade.

Plus, because objects in fantasy fiction are made to last, this can also give these items a lot of backstory – especially if they have been handed down through the generations or stolen/won in battle from other characters.

In other words, fantasy fiction is one of the few genres where inanimate objects rountinely have characterisation. This adds a lot more atmosphere and depth to a story than you might expect.

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Sorry for the ultra-short article, but I hope it was useful 🙂

Review: “Kill The Dead” By Tanith Lee (Novel)

Well, after seeing several horror fiction websites mention Tanith Lee’s novels over the years, I’ve been meaning to read one of them. But, when I looked online for second-hand copies, they often seemed to be slightly on the pricer side of things. So, when I saw that a second-hand copy of Lee’s 1980 fantasy novel “Kill The Dead” was going cheap, I decided to check it out. And I’m so glad that I did 🙂

So, let’s take a look at “Kill The Dead”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS (but I’ll avoid major ones).

This is the 1990 Legend (UK) paperback edition of “Kill The Dead” that I read.

The novel begins in the leaning tower of a decaying house beside a mountain road. A young woman called Ciddey Soban stares out of a window and sees a mysterious man in a dark cloak walking along the road. Panicked, she warns her sister – Cilny – to hide.

The man on the road, Parl Dro, is a famous exorcist who is searching for the legendary city of the dead, Ghyste Mortua. But, when he nears the house, he senses something. So, he enters the garden to investigate. Ciddey rushes out of the door with a knife and tries to threaten him. More amused than frightened, Parl leaves with a promise to return.

In a nearby inn, the star-struck locals are more than happy to tell Parl all of the gossip about the Soban family. Yet, they are disappointed that Parl doesn’t want to do anything about the ghost they suspect lives with Ciddey. On his way to bed, Parl plays a sneaky practical joke on a musician called Myal who tries to pick his pocket.

The next morning, Parl climbs a nearby hill and watches the villagers throw stones at Ciddey’s house. To Parl’s surprise, Myal joins him on the hill to remonstrate about the fact that the purse he’d stolen contained nothing but stones. The two of them talk for a while and then go their separate ways, both of which lead towards Ciddey’s house…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is excellent 🙂 Once you get used to Lee’s writing style, you will be rewarded with an enchantingly atmospheric, gloomily gothic and beautifully bittersweet tale that will draw you in and leave you tearful and astonished when it is over. Seriously, this novel is astonishingly good. Imagine a mixture between an Alice Hoffman novel, a 19th century ghost story and an episode of “Game Of Thrones” – and this should give you some idea what to expect.

Interestingly, it’s a bit difficult to categorise this novel by genre. It has elements of a traditional ghost story/horror story, elements of gothic fiction, elements of dark fantasy and elements of “grimdark” fantasy. It’s a tale that is hauntingly tragic, gloomily morose and bitterly bleak and yet it also has a heart and soul to it that you might not expect. Despite the fantastical trappings, this is very much a human story about loneliness, sorrow, redemption, memory, genius, self-loathing and psychology.

The novel’s fantasy elements are fairly interesting. In essence, the novel only really has one fantastical element – ghosts. But, by focusing on the mechanics of how ghosts are created and dispelled, this novel has an intensity to it that stories with lots of different fantasy elements don’t really have. Seriously, by just using this one fantastical thing as the main focus of the story, Lee gives the novel much more depth than you might expect. Not to mention that the novel’s ghost-based elements also contain some hints of vampire fiction too 🙂

The novel’s medieval-like settings are really atmospheric too. With the exception of one mystical location (Ghyste Mortua), none of the other locations are named. They are just small villages, crumbling houses, desolate plains etc… and, yet, rather than making these locations seem generic, this just adds realism and atmosphere to the story. In addition to lots of well-written descriptions, the fact that these rural locations are so ordinary that they aren’t even named really helps to add emphasis to the “long journey” theme and bleak atmosphere of the novel too.

In terms of the characters, this novel is exquisite. Not only is the begrudging friendship between the terse, mysterious and morose ghost-hunter Parl Dro and the optimistic, but tragic, musician/thief Myal Lemayal a huge part of what makes this novel so interesting, but both characters get loads of characterisation too 🙂

In addition to this, the novel’s antagonist – Ciddey Soban – comes across as a very chilling, yet thoroughly realistic and tragic, character too. Seriously, the main characters in this novel are some of the most well-written that I’ve ever seen.

And not only that, even the briefly-glimpsed/described background characters seem intriguing and real too. Seriously, the characterisation in this book is so good that it can even make you care very deeply about an inanimate musical instrument. Yes, a musical instrument is a character in this book – and it works!

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is utterly brilliant… when you get used to it. In short, the novel is written in a highly elaborate and ultra-formal 19th century-like style which will probably seem “overwritten” at first.

It is the kind of book that casually uses phrases like “such a dwelling betokened the proximity of the village” and even taught me a new word (“concupiscence”) too. But, Lee uses this style for a good reason. Not only does it add to the historical/fantastical atmosphere of the story, but it also gives everything in the story a level of atmosphere and depth that might catch you by surprise.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really interesting. At a gloriously efficient 172 pages, this novel is that wonderfully rare thing – a short medieval fantasy novel 🙂 Due to the highly formal and detailed writing style, this novel is very much on the slow-paced side of things. But, once you’ve got to know the characters and immersed yourself in the setting, the story becomes so compelling that the fact that it moves slowly just means that you have more time to enjoy it 🙂

As for how this thirty-nine year old novel has aged, it has aged really well 🙂 Thanks to the vaguely medieval setting, the elaborate 19th century-style narration and the really well-written characters, this novel is timeless.

All in all, this novel is a masterpiece. Yes, it might take you a while to get used to the writing style, but it is well worth putting in the effort. This novel is an atmospheric, poignant and compelling gothic/dark/grimdark fantasy story that is filled with some of the best characters you’ll ever see. Plus, it is a short fantasy novel too 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Three Thoughts About Writing Short Fantasy Fiction

Well, I thought that I’d talk about the fantasy genre today. This is mostly because the novel that I’m reading at the moment (“Kill The Dead” by Tanith Lee) is a short traditional-style fantasy novel – seriously, it’s just 172 pages long 🙂

One of the things that can be off-putting about the fantasy genre is the sheer length of the average fantasy novel. Don’t get me wrong, longer fantasy stories/series can be good (eg: J.K. Rowling, Clive Barker, G.R.R Martin etc..) but a longer novel is just as likely to put readers off as it is to attract them.

So, whilst Tanith Lee’s “Kill The Dead” isn’t the first shorter fantasy novel I’ve read (since I also read urban fantasy novels sometimes), what I’ve read of it so far has made me think about what makes a good short fantasy story. So, I thought that I’d offer a few tips.

1) A focused story: Simply put, if you want your fantasy story to be a lean and efficient story, then you need to focus on a few essential elements.

For example, I’ve read just over half of Tanith Lee’s “Kill The Dead” so far. In what I have read, there are three main characters, one central magical element (eg: the creation and exorcism of ghosts) and one mythical location for the characters to journey towards. Everything in the story is related to these five elements.

If you want to tell a shorter fantasy story, then this seems like a good template to follow. In other words, you need to find the few truly essential elements of your story and then focus all of your attention, descriptions etc.. on these things.

2) Pre-existing elements: If you are telling a fantasy story within a sensible number of pages, then you need to at least partially rely on things that the reader already knows and understands before they read your story. Yes, you need to add one or two important new elements to these things (otherwise your story will become generic and uncreative), but you also need to rely on your reader’s pre-existing knowledge too.

For example, Dave Duncan’s “A Rose Red City” partially relies on the reader’s knowledge of history and myth in order to make room for more storytelling. Likewise, Rebecca Levene’s “Anno Mortis” uses pre-existing history and a mixture of Roman/Norse/Greek/Egyptian mythology in order to add a lot of extra depth to a relatively short (350 pages or so) self-contained dark fantasy thriller story.

Plus, pretty much every urban fantasy novel already expects the reader to know what vampires, werewolves, elves etc… are and what the modern world looks like.

This sort of thing can, of course, be done in a much more subtle way too. For example, the settings in the first half of Tanith Lee’s “Kill The Dead” are all various nameless villages and natural landscapes. Since the average fantasy reader will already be familiar with medieval-style villages and most people will be familiar with natural landscapes, the novel can do a large amount of worldbuilding with relatively few well-chosen descriptions and details – leaving more room for characterisation, drama, storytelling etc….

3) Other genres: Virtually every shorter fantasy story that I’ve mentioned so far has taken inspiration from at least one other genre (eg: the thriller and/or horror genres).

Focusing on blending the fantasy genre with another genre means that you have to use techniques from that genre. Many other genres have more of an emphasis on fast-paced, suspenseful, focused storytelling.

In other words, adding another genre shakes you free from the traditions of the fantasy genre. It frees you from the idea that fantasy novels have to be giant, sprawling epics that contain seven pages of family trees and four maps before the first chapter even begins.

Other genres don’t really do this sort of thing very often. So, by adding elements from another genre to your fantasy story, you can use those elements to tell a leaner and more efficient fantasy story 🙂

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “The Arrivals” By Melissa Marr (Novel)

A couple of weeks earlier, I heard about a really intriguing genre called the “Weird West” genre (eg: the western genre, but with supernatural, horror, sci-fi etc.. elements).

So, after looking around online, I found a couple of second-hand books. But, since one of them didn’t interest me as much as I’d initially expected, I ended up reading the other one – Melissa Marr’s 2013 novel “The Arrivals” – instead.

So, let’s take a look at “The Arrivals”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2013 Harper Collins (UK) paperback edition of “The Arrivals” that I read.

The novel begins with a gunfight in a monastery in the middle of a bizarre wasteland in an alternate dimension. One of the possessed monks has just shot a gunslinger called Mary and her friends (Jack, Kitty, Edgar and Francis) want revenge. After a battle, the monk is killed and the gang carry Mary’s body back into the surrounding wasteland. In the wasteland, dead people sometimes return to life after six days. Sometimes they don’t.

When they don’t, a person from our world who has taken a life appears in the wasteland to replace them. When a new arrival appears, no-one can be certain of their loyalties. They could side with Jack and his band of honest outlaws or they could be seduced by a powerful, cruel man called Ajani who wants to turn the wasteland into part of the British Empire…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it seemed a little bit random at first, it quickly became a lot more atmospheric and compelling than I had expected 🙂 This is an interesting moderately-paced thriller novel that is filled with intriguing characters and a fairly atmospheric and well-developed fictional world too.

Seriously, I love how the fantastical elements of this story follow a clear set of rules but are also kept mysterious enough to be intriguing. Likewise, this is also one of the most original fantasy novels that I’ve read recently.

Everything from the mysterious mechanics of life and death amongst the arrivals, to the bizarre etiquette of the novel’s vampire-like creatures, to the relatively few magic-based scenes to the array of mysterious creatures (eg: wingless dragons called Lindwurms, plagues of giant insects etc..) are really interesting. Not to mention that the weirdness and originality of these elements really helps to make the reader feel like they’ve been plonked into a mysterious alternate world.

Although this novel is a thriller novel, don’t expect it to be a wall-to-wall action-fest. Although there are several well-placed fight scenes, the focus is more on character-based drama, the atmosphere of the wasteland and the politics of it. Since these three things are handled really well, the story still remains really compelling – even if it is very slightly less of an action-thriller novel than the dramatic opening scene (which reminded me of the computer game “Blood“, which is never a bad thing 🙂 ) might lead you to expect.

Thematically, this novel is pretty interesting too. It is a story about loyalty, friendship and family as well as being a novel about how power corrupts. The more democratic and egalitarian band of outlaws is contrasted well with Ajani’s cruel hierarchy and his imperial ambitions. Although this element of the story isn’t explored quite as much as I would have liked, it still helps to add some depth to the story. Likewise, this is also a story about moral ambiguity, bereavement, love and redemption too.

Still, the best parts of this story are probably the characters and the atmosphere. This novel has the kind of desolate, gritty wild west atmosphere that you would expect and this really helps to immerse the reader in the story 🙂 Likewise, although this is one of those stories where the main characters spend more time arguing with each other than fighting the bad guys, the main characters are a really intriguing bunch of people from different periods of history who all have interesting personalities, complicated backstories and dramatic flaws.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is fairly good. It is written in a fairly informal, but descriptive, style that really helps the story to flow well in addition to being a really good fit with the gruff, harsh world of the wasteland too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is pretty good. At a wonderfully efficient 274 pages in length, this novel never feels too long. Likewise, although this story is a bit more moderately-paced than I’d expected, the atmosphere, setting, characters and plot really help to keep it compelling 🙂

All in all, this novel is a really interesting version of the western genre. It’s an atmospheric, dramatic and compelling tale that is set in an intriguingly mysterious world and populated by some rather interesting characters (even if they do spend quite a lot of time arguing with each other).

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Three Reasons Why “Low Fantasy” Is Better Than “High Fantasy”

[Note: Since I prepare these articles quite far in advance, it can be surprising how much my opinions can change between writing and publication. Basically, at the time of preparing this article, I was still a relatively inexperienced reader of the urban fantasy genre (and was perhaps a little less aware that it has it’s own set of tropes and cliches too) .

Since then, my attitudes towards the fantasy genre have become a bit more nuanced (especially since finding books in the dark fantasy and magical realism genres). Still, I’ll keep this article (albeit with a couple of small edits) for the sake of posterity even though it doesn’t really reflect my current opinions and seems a bit naive and simplistic when I read it these days.]

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One of the interesting things about getting back into reading regularly a few months ago is that I’ve ended up reading a lot more fantasy fiction than I initially expected. Unlike some other genres (eg: sci-fi, horror, detective fiction etc..), my relationship with the fantasy genre is a lot more of an ambiguous one.

On the one hand, it’s been a genre that I’ve loved from an early age (eg: I used to watch “Buffy: The Vampire Slayer” enthusiastically, I read “Fighting Fantasy” gamebooks, I played computer games like “Heretic“, I read “Harry Potter”, I collected “Magic: The Gathering” cards and enjoyed the “Lord Of The Rings” films etc.. when I was younger).

It’s also a genre that I seem to drift away from and return to regularly (such as my “Game Of Thrones” phase a few years ago). Plus, a couple of my favourite types of music also have an association with the genre too (eg: symphonic metal, power metal etc..). Yet, I’m much more likely to derisively think of fantasy as “silly”, “over-complicated” etc… when compared to my other favourite genres.

However, a while before writing this article, I happened to read a Wikipedia article about “Low Fantasy” and it was something of a revelation to me. I suddenly realised that most of my criticisms and misgivings about the fantasy genre applied to high fantasy (swords & sorcery, Middle-Earth etc.. type fantasy) rather than low fantasy (eg: fantastical stories set in, or involving, the “real” world).

So, here are three of the reasons why low fantasy is better than high fantasy:

1) Variation and imagination: One of the really cool things about low fantasy is that it sometimes includes a lot more variation and imagination than high fantasy does.

For example, urban fantasy can include elements from other genres alongside more traditional fantasy elements – such as vampire thrillers like Jocyelnn Drake’s “Nightwalker“, horror story arcs in Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics and sci-fi elements in both novels like Lilith Saintcrow’s “Dante Valentine” series and computer games like “The Longest Journey” and “Shadowrun: Dragonfall“.

In addition to this, low fantasy will sometimes use the tropes of the fantasy genre in a much more creative and imaginative way than high fantasy traditionally does. Since these stories can’t rely on the traditions of the high fantasy genre, they have to come up with new and imaginative ways to meld the fantastical and the mundane. They can’t just rely on the old tropes of swords, castles, knights, heroic quests etc.. for their stories.

As such, not only does low fantasy have a lot more variation between stories – but it also means that the fantasy elements have to be imaginatively different too. In other words, you’re much more likely to see intriguingly different variations of the fantasy genre in low fantasy than you are in high fantasy. After all, if a low fantasy writer has to come up with a plausible way to meld the fantastical and the mundane, then they’re going to have to use their imagination…

2) Shorter stories: Yes, some low fantasy novels are giant tomes (Clive Barker’s “Weaveworld” and Neil Gaiman’s “American Gods” spring to mind), but this is thankfully a lot less common when compared to high fantasy.

With the possible exception of Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” (which I haven’t read), I don’t think that I’ve even heard of a high fantasy novel that can’t also be used as an emergency doorstop and/or paperweight. [Edit: Surprisingly, short fantasy novels/novellas actually exist 🙂 Expect a review of Tanith Lee’s “Kill The Dead” in late August.]

Since low fantasy stories incorporate well-known real life settings and elements, and since they’re often melded with other genres like the thriller, horror, detective, romance etc.. genres, there’s more reason to tell gripping, shorter stories. Since they don’t have to spend lots of time building a giant, medieval-style world, they can get on with actually telling the story.

Since a good portion of low fantasy novels aren’t that much longer than the average novel (300-400 pages these days) and don’t require any extra time investment, they are a lot more accessible and easier to impulse-read when compared to giant tomes of high fantasy. Likewise, even when low fantasy novels tell longer stories, they will often be broken up into a series of shorter books rather than a series of gigantic tones. I mean, I’ve even found a low fantasy novella. A novella! In the fantasy genre 🙂

3) Themes, symbolism, meaning etc..: One of the cool things about stories that meld the fantastical and the realistic is that the fantastical elements usually have to be there for a reason. In other words, low fantasy isn’t just “fantasy for the sake of fantasy” in the way that high fantasy can often be.

As such, low fantasy stories will often be a lot deeper, more intelligent and emotionally powerful than high fantasy can be. For example, good urban fantasy vampire stories will often explore themes like belonging, subcultures, civil rights, secrecy, mortality, traditions etc.. in a way that could rival even the most literary of novels.

More fantastical low fantasy stories (eg: Neil Gaiman’s “Sandman” comics etc..) will often use the fantastical as a lens to look at elements of humanity, in a way which often gives these stories one hell of an emotional punch when compared to the typical high fantasy stories of knights going on epic quests etc…

So, yes, since low fantasy has to find a good reason to include fantastical elements, these stories usually mean something in the way that the fantasy elements of a typical high fantasy story often don’t.

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Review: “The Invisible Library” By Genevieve Cogman (Novel)

Back when I originally bought my copy of Natasha Pulley’s “The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street“, I noticed another intriguing-looking steampunk novel mentioned on the website.

So, when I got back into reading once again, I bought a second-hand copy of Genevieve Cogman’s 2015 novel “The Invisible Library”…. and then didn’t get round to reading it until a month or three later.

So, let’s take a look at “The Invisible Library”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Tor (UK) paperback edition of “The Invisible Library” that I read. And, yes, the shiny gold text and illustrations don’t really show that well in this scan.

The novel begins with a character called Irene working undercover as a cleaner in a boys’ boarding school. She is on a mission to steal a book from the school. However, the room the book is being kept in has some kind of magic-based security system. Needless to say, Irene is soon chased across the school grounds by an assortment of gargoyles and hellhounds. When she reaches a nearby library, she opens a paranormal doorway and steps through it…. into a much larger library.

Irene is a librarian, an agent of a vast timeless library that exists between an infinite number of parallel universes. The job of a librarian is to track down rare books from different universes in order to preserve them for eternity. However, soon after Irene hands the book in, she is given a new mission by her superiors.

She is instructed to take an apprentice librarian called Kai to a Victorian-like world and obtain an alternate version of Grimm’s fairytales. Of course, this mission quickly turns out to be much more complicated and perilous than Irene expected….

One of the first things that I will say about this book is that it was different to what I had expected and, at first, I didn’t like it. Although it really grew on me after a while (after all, it reminded me of a cross between TV shows like “Warehouse 13”, “Sliders”, “Doctor Who” and “Supernatural”, with strong hints of Sherlock Holmes too 🙂), “The Invisible Library” is much more of a fantasy novel than I had initially expected.

Yes, there are some really cool steampunk, thriller, sci-fi, detective and horror elements. But this is a fantasy novel first and foremost. It is also a novel where the mid-late parts of the story are much better than the earlier parts.

Although the novel’s fantasy elements can be quite innovative (such as librarians being able to command the world using words) and they do follow a fairly clear set of logical rules, the novel spends quite a while setting up all of these rules.

Likewise, the early to middle parts of the story can also sometimes seem like a random hodge-podge of every fantasy, steampunk and/or horror trope under the sun (eg: fae, dragons, vampires, werewolves, mechanical monsters, airships, magic etc..).

Still, it is well worth putting up with these problems. A lot of the more dramatic moments later in the story rely on you having a good knowledge of how the “rules” of the story’s world work. And the ending is just as, if not more, dramatic than anything in a large-budget Hollywood movie. So, it is worth trudging through all of the explanations and random stuff earlier in the novel.

Likewise, all of the other genres within this story work fairly well too. The thriller elements help to keep the story moving at a reasonable pace, the sci-fi elements are kind of cool, the steampunk stuff is suitably quirky, the story’s detective elements are an important part of the plot and the horror elements will catch you by surprise at a few points in the story too 🙂

Thematically, this story is really interesting. Not only is the contrast between chaos and order explored in this story, but it is also likened to the contrast between fact and fiction too. Likewise, the role of the library is also questioned too (eg: are they preserving books or just stealing and/or hoarding them? Is study for the sake of study worthwhile?). The novel also asks moral questions about whether the ends justify the means too (eg: the contrast between Irene and fellow librarian Bradamant’s approach to their jobs).

In addition to all of this, “The Invisible Library” is also a really interesting piece of meta-fiction about the value and role of books too (and, call me a luddite, but you really have to read this book in paperback. Seriously, it is a book about books. So, read the non-electronic version of it!).

As for the characters, I initially didn’t like them – but they grew on me after a while. In short, there is actual character development in this novel which results in the main characters becoming more interesting and sympathetic as the novel progresses.

So, even though Kai might seem like an annoyingly boorish brat and Irene might seem like a smug, prim, grammar-obsessed librarian at first – stick with the novel. The main characters, and the dynamic between them, slowly becomes more interesting as the story progresses. Likewise, it’s also really cool that one of the characters – Vale – is a homage to Sherlock Holmes, without being a direct copy of him. Plus, the novel’s other librarian characters are all suitably mysterious and/or scary too.

In terms of the writing, it is really good. Cogman uses a style of third-person narration that subtly evokes 19th century-style narration whilst still being readable and “matter of fact” enough to keep the story moving at a good pace. This novel is descriptive enough to be distinctive and atmospheric, whilst still remaining focused and compelling.

In terms of length and pacing, this story is excellent. There is a good mixture of faster and slower-paced scenes, and – given the amount of rules, backstory etc.. included in the story, not to mention the fact that it is both a fantasy novel and a modern novel – the book’s 329 page length is refreshingly concise and efficient too.

Plus, although it is clear that this novel is the first in a series, the main story is wrapped up reasonably well and there aren’t any seriously annoying cliffhangers (although the ending is obviously the set up for a larger series).

All in all, this is a good novel. Yes, it was different to what I had expected and it took me a while to get used to it. But, this novel is a quirky, complex thriller that builds up to a spectacular climax. There is good character development, reasonably good world-building, good pacing and an interesting mixture of genres here. If you like the steampunk genre and/or you like TV shows like “Warehouse 13”, “Doctor Who” and “Sliders”, then you’ll enjoy this book. However, it is more of a fantasy novel than you might initially expect and the story does take a little while to really get good.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get about a four.