Friday 56 #2: The Garden of Five Surprises

The rules for this meme are: pick up a book. Any book. Turn to page 56, or 56% in your eReader. Pick a sentence, and link back your blog or comment about it to the Friday 56, hosted by Freda’s Voice. Simple!

Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett

Time is a resource. Everyone knows it has to be managed. And on the Discworld that is the job of the Monks of History, who store it and pump it from the places where it’s wasted (like the underwater – how much time does a codfish need?) to places like cities, where there’s never enough time. But the construction of the world’s first truly accurate clock starts a race against, well, time for Lu Tze and his apprentice Lobsang Ludd. Because it will stop time. And that will only be the start of everyone’s problems.

Thief of Time comes complete with a full supporting cast of heroes, villains, yetis, martial artists and Ronnie, the fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse (who left before they became famous). 


How to Have a Very Bookish Autumn

Leaf, Leaves, Yellow, Autumn, Fall

Autumn is upon us! The skies are crystal blue, the leaves are crunching underfoot, and I’ve unpacked my thick jumpers and scarves from their summer holiday on top of the wardrobe. My circulation is not great, so I’ll pretty much be in gloves from now until April.

So, to get us all in the mood for the snuggliest, most colourful season of them all, here are 8 things to invest in for a super bookish autumn. Continue reading

Words for the Week: V

Hello again, folks! Welcome to another episode of Words for the Week, which happens every Sunday. I have so many books full of great words, and I so rarely have an excuse to delve into them. So I’m putting together a small selection of these lovely words once a week, in the hope that you enjoy them as much as I do. This week’s words begin with ‘V’. 

Vengesour (noun): An avenger.

Petition to rename the avengers so that they sound 50% more like dinosaurs. Please and thank you.

Virago (noun): 1. A fierce or abusive woman; 2. A woman with masculine strength or heroic qualities; an amazon.

This is a great word, because even just in its meanings you can easily see the kind of linguistic bullshit women have had to deal with over time. Founders of international publishing house Virago were apparently also sick of linguistic bullshit, and decided to reclaim it. Their imprint publishes great women. Mystery solved, patriarchy punched in the face every time someone buys a Virago book. 

Vady (noun): Devon, Sussex. Something carried about by a traveller to provide comforts during the journey. 

My vady is usually biscuits. But I have a reason! I’m quite prone to travel sickness, but if I have something in my stomach before I start, I’m usually fine. It’s a weird thing – usually you need an empty stomach to fight travel sickness – but it does give me a good excuse for not sharing my biscuit supply. 

Verglas (noun): Mountaineering. Thin blue water-ice that forms on rock.

Beautiful word, deadly phenomenon. I can’t resist a water word, and we haven’t had one in a few weeks, so here we go. 

Virga (noun): Meteorological. Observable streak or shaft of precipitation that falls from a cloud but evaporates before reaching the ground. 

I’ve never seen this, but doesn’t it sound cool? Someone send me a picture of one. 

This week’s words were sourced from Foyle’s Philavery, collected by Christopher Foyle; Landmarks by Robert McFarlane; The Disappearing Dictionary by David Crystal.

Review: The Seafarer’s Kiss by Julia Ember

Goodreads summary:

Having long-wondered what lives beyond the ice shelf, nineteen-year-old mermaid Ersel learns of the life she wants when she rescues and befriends Ragna, a shield-maiden stranded on the mermen’s glacier. But when Ersel’s childhood friend and suitor catches them together, he gives Ersel a choice: say goodbye to Ragna or face justice at the hands of the glacier’s brutal king.

Determined to forge a different fate, Ersel seeks help from Loki. But such deals are never as one expects, and the outcome sees her exiled from the only home and protection she’s known. To save herself from perishing in the barren, underwater wasteland and be reunited with the human she’s come to love, Ersel must try to outsmart the God of Lies. 


This is an absolutely spectacular book, and absolutely one of my favourites of the year – possibly ever. Seriously, it’s completely brilliant. Smart plotting, ensnaring characters, evocative language… I love it. 

Firstly, one of the healthiest relationship representations I’ve ever read, for all that both parties are probably murderers. In fact, there’s lots of interesting consent things going on here generally. The king of the glacier has perverted the system that his mother upheld and turned mermaids into broodmares, terrified more than anything of a low fertility count that will doom them to a life despised. On the other hand, they might have a high fertility count and be trapped in a cage by the merman they’re coerced into committing to until they’re exhausted from producing so many offspring and entirely without hope. So, you know. It’s not great either way. 

Ersel has never wanted to play her part in the system. She and her childhood friend Havamal dreamed of leaving the glacier and finding somewhere to live in freedom. But he decides that safety is better than freedom, and joins the King’s guard. Now, she is alone. There are a lot of “I’m not like other girls” moments early on in the book that I squinted at, but stay with it, because it’s challenged in the most excellent way as Ersel finally begins to find her purpose later on. Because it’s often her misunderstanding of other people’s needs and desires – her assumption that she must be alone – that causes her to do the most harm. 

It’s that moment, and others, that brought home to me exactly how smart this book is. Not subverting tropes for the sake of it, because it’s a fun thing to do, but taking specific expectations and very thoughtfully bearing down on them until they shatter. Ersel is belittled by the other merpeople, who think that she’s doing all this because of her love for a human. But she asserts again and again that she’s doing it for herself, for the dreams she’s had since she was a child, and I love her for it. Ersel and Ragna exist as independent people, not compromising themselves for each other but making sacrifices for the things they believe in. 

This is a genuine twist on the version of The Little Mermaid that we all know, not just a simple retelling. Characters are spliced and reconfigured in startling ways, and nothing is quite as you’d expect. I don’t want to issue spoilers here, because it’s too good to spoil, but trust me, it’s great. 

While we’re on the subject of things being not quite as you’d expect, I just have to talk, for a second, about Loki. They are completely marvellous. Contrary and dangerous by nature, but never without cause. They manipulate Ersel and other characters, but not with infinite power. It can be so tricky to have gods in books – often they take over, or get distracting. But Loki’s involvement is completely delicious, and they teach Ersel some valuable lessons that she’s going to need in order to rescue her people from tyranny. And they’re not just here to cause havoc generally – there’s clearly some long game being played here, and I’ll be interested to see what happens here further down the line. 

Ersel is bi in the text, but I also read her as some degree of asexual – I’d be interested to hear other people’s perspectives on this. She frequently asserts that she’s not interested in the kinds of relationships expected of her by her people, and though (minor spoiler) she and Ragna do have sex, she doesn’t express specific sexual desire for Ragna – she just enjoys the experience. But the amount of times that she declares her lack of interest in the mating rituals of her people, and her reluctance to agree to commit to Havamal despite her admission that she cares very deeply for him, all feeds into a personal interpretation of the text that says she’s asexual to me. 

The Seafarer’s Kiss is clever, passionate and compassionate. The characters make mistakes but are driven to actively repent of them rather than simply being condemned. It’s dark in places, comforting in others, and never stops being interesting. 

Also, the beluga whales are super cute. 

Plump mermaids are healthy mermaids. Also a lot of body image issues are dealt with. The f/f romance between Ragna, a human, and Ersel, a mermaid. Loki uses gender neutral pronouns.

Words for the Week: U

Hello again, folks! Welcome to another episode of Words for the Week, which happens every Sunday. I have so many books full of great words, and I so rarely have an excuse to delve into them. So I’m putting together a small selection of these lovely words once a week, in the hope that you enjoy them as much as I do. This week’s words begin with ‘U’. 

Ultracrepidarian (adjective): Expressing opinions on matters beyond one’s knowledge; ignorant and presumptuous. 

I know I’ve included a number of words in the series along this line, but I like them, so there. This one also has the bonus of sounding a bit like ‘creep’.

Unnun (verb): To expel a nun from the religious order to which she belongs. Pronounced ‘un-nun‘.

I love it. Simple and effective. It makes perfect sense. 

Ugsome (adjective): Northumberland, Scotland, Yorkshire. Disgusting, loathsome, nauseating; frightful, horrible, ghastly. Loathsomeness was ugsomeness. A horrible sight would appear ugsomely. The basic element was ug, a verb meaning ‘feel or cause disgust’, derived from one of the common exclamations of distaste. As an object of disgust, you could also be an ug

One simple word, so many opportunities for use. I’m kidding, of course. You’re all gorgeous. 

Unheeve (verb): Exmoor. To thaw or show condensation. In Northamptonshire, they have ungive, ‘to thaw’.

I like the idea that the thaw is the undoing of something – back when we had a real weather cycle, and not this nonsense of twelve degrees one week, twenty-seven the next. Sort it out. 

Upcasting (noun): North Sea coast. Uprising of clouds above the horizon, threatening rain. 

I love this, because it evokes the idea of the clouds being almost flung into the sky on the horizon, sailing through the air towards the land where it will rain – and rain heavily. 

This week’s words were sourced from Foyle’s Philavery, collected by Christopher Foyle; Landmarks by Robert McFarlane; The Disappearing Dictionary by David Crystal.

The Friday 56 #1: Thud!

I love this meme. The rules are: pick up a book. Any book. Turn to page 56, or 56% in your eReader. Pick a sentence, and link back your blog or comment about it to the Friday 56, hosted by Freda’s Voice. Simple!

 Thud! by Terry Pratchett

Koom Valley? That was where the trolls ambushed the dwarfs, or the dwarfs ambushed the trolls. It was far away. It was a long time ago. But if he doesn’t solve the murder of just one dwarf, Commander Sam Vimes of Ankh-Morpork City Watch is going to see it fought again, right outside his office. With his beloved Watch crumbling around him and war-drums sounding, he must unravel every clue, outwit every assassin and brave any darkness to find the solution. And darkness is following him.

Oh . . . and at six o’clock every day, without fail, with no excuses, he must go home to read ‘Where’s My Cow?’, with all the right farmyard noises, to his little boy. There are some things you have to do.

Review: Lorali by Laura Dockerill

Goodreads summary:

Colourful, raw, brave, rich and fantastical – this mermaid tale is not for the faint-hearted.

Looking after a naked girl he found washed up under Hastings pier isn’t exactly how Rory had imagined spending his sixteenth birthday. But more surprising than finding her in the first place is discovering where she has come from.

Lorali is running not just from the sea, not just from her position as princess, but her entire destiny. Lorali has rejected life as a mermaid, and become human.

But along with Lorali’s arrival, and the freak weather suddenly battering the coast, more strange visitors begin appearing in Rory’s bemused Sussex town. With beautifully coiffed hair, sharp-collared shirts and a pirate ship shaped like a Tudor house, the Abelgare boys are a mystery all of their own. What are they really up to? Can Rory protect Lorali? And who from? And where does she really belong, anyway? 


I’ll be honest, I picked this book up because it was gorgeous (absolutely stunning!) and featured mermaids. Somewhere along the way, I’d decided that this was a f/f mermaid story, and was disappointed when I found out that Rory is a dude. But that’s my own fault for not even reading the blurb properly, and it in no way influenced my rating of this book. 

First of all, the positives. Laura’s characterisation and world are excellent. Her take on mermaids – ex-people who were salvaged when they went into the sea by other mermaids (mostly) – revitalises an old set of expectations, and the details are skillfully woven into the narrative. The Ablegare boys are fascinating and dangerous, like an especially charismatic shark. The way she uses multiple perspectives, including the Ocean herself, is brilliant.

Up until the epilogue, I was completely committed to loving this book, and reading the sequel (which is also gorgeous). Now, I’m not so sure, and this is where the spoilers come in. Come back for the last paragraph if you don’t want to know how the book ends.  

That last chapter, pre-epilogue, is a brilliant set piece. The Ablegares are at their best and worst, Rory is in apparently unsalvageable danger, the Cavities are an unstoppable force dramatically halted. And then, at the point that all the emotional tension has been ramping up to, at the moment of Rory’s death… We skip a year. 

We skip. A WHOLE YEAR. What?? Though in reader-time we’ve just seen Rory die, suddenly we’re being shown his mum as happy and singing with her new adopted daughter, Lorali. Though we last left the Whirl in political upheaval as their Queen spiraled into dangerous grief, now it is stable and safe with Zar on the throne instead. Hastings was reeling after the interference of the Ablegares and the murder of one of their children by a sea-beast sent by the Mer, and now everything’s fine and dandy. No. Sorry, but that’s not cool. The narrative whiplash is excruciating. For me, it was a spectacular mis-calculation to end it this way.

Essentially, we skipped a whole novel’s worth of material, and my faith in the narrative was shattered. Sure, it’s a happy ending. But at what cost? Before that moment, I would have been more than willing to recommend this book to anyone. But now I don’t think I would. Now, thinking back through the novel, I’m questioning whether the way Lorali’s past was revealed was the best way to go about it or not? I’m questioning the trigger that sent her up to the human world in the first place. It’s a good book, but I can’t believe in it any more. 

Nine Worlds 2017: Master

This was my first year at Nine Worlds, and I am already looking forward to next year. It was three days of nerds, geeking out, learning, great merch and awesome people. It was incredible to walk into a space every morning where not only was everyone welcome, but it was set up to be as accessible as possible to everyone. There were slip-ups, especially with moderators assuming people’s genders, but by and large, this is how all conventions should feel.

I wrote such a quantity of notes over the weekend (around 14k) that I decided the easiest way to present them would be to give each panel a post, and link them all up here. I went to thirteen panels over the three days – it was exhausting, but absolutely worth it. Some of the sessions were wonderful squee sessions, some were serious real-world technology discussions, some were out-and-out hilarious shows. All of them were great. I want to say a huge thank you to the team who organised and ran it – there must have been an enormous amount of work involved. I got to spend three days with my people, nerding out. This is the result. Continue reading

Nine Worlds 2017: Robots, AI and the Labour Market

The next panel was on Robots, AI and the Labour Market – possibly the most serious panel I went to all weekend. Panellists were Matthew Blakstad (works in researching labour market trends), David Thomas Moore (SFF editor, explainer of politics on twitter to idiots), Stewart Hotston (background in physics and astrophysics, works with hedgefunds) and Peter Ray Allison (15 years’ experience as an engineer), chaired by Sarah Groenewegen (works in law enforcement and is an SFF writer). Continue reading