May 24, 2015

Book Review – Hild by Nicola Griffith


Good books, I find, are great for getting you through hard times.  Hild fit that bill perfectly as I read it over three nights in front of an open fire.

Hild is set in 7th Century England, and based on the historical figure that later became Saint Hilda of Whitby.  If you have an aversion to reading about the lives of Saints, set aside your preferences and delve into a rich exploration of character and a beautiful presentation of Anglo-Saxon England. From a short passage in Bede’s The Ecclesiastical History of the English, Griffith manages to conjure*  a fully realised, interesting character and give a real flavour of the time period.

The character of Hild is presented more as a natural philosopher, her thinking is almost scientific in her observation of the natural and political worlds she finds herself in. She sees patterns and frames her analysis of them in terms of prophecy – necessary for survival in a court with a fickle king and a priest of Rome who resents those with religious/mystical power, especially women.  The Gods and later God seem to be a frame of reference that she moves within rather than a deeply held belief.  I get the distinct impression that if the thinking of her time period allowed it she’d be an Agnostic.

It’s a coming of age novel, a tale of the rise and fall of Kings but the real tension comes from the precarious position of King’s Seer that Hild is groomed for by her mother. This tale should have something for everyone swords.  I found it weighty and rich in its language but not dense.  The kind of book that makes you notice the prose and leverages off it to provide an immersive experience.

While the book does reach a resolution, I felt that there was ample interest, story and opportunity for a companion work that detailed the rest of Hild’s life.  If you’re a fan of Anglo-Saxon historical, Hild presents a fuller world beyond shield walls and oath making.

* perhaps conjure is a little cliché and underwhelming - I want to invoke a sense of awe and magic that I know stems from shoulder to the wheel literary crafting.

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May 17, 2015

Book Review – Ross Poldark by Winston Graham

ross-poldark A fan of the currently airing BBC Poldark television series(the second they have made), I picked up a 1968 Fonatana edition of the first novel Ross Poldark.  The novel was first published in 1945 and seems to have launched the career of Winston Graham – he went on to write 11 more books in the series and an additional 32 novels right up until his death in 2003.

For a novel published at the end of the second world war I found that it weathered the intervening 70 years exceedingly well. If I didn’t know its publication date I’d suspect that it could have been written anytime in the last decade.  The dialogue is smooth (indeed much of it makes it into the new BBC series), its representation of women, more balanced than many later novels. 

I’d be comfortable saying that it passes the Bechdel test.

For those watching the TV show, Ross Poldark covers up to somewhere near the end of Episode 3, the plot is almost identical (only one subplot has been discarded).  Having watched and enjoyed up to Episode 4 so far I was surprised to still find myself enchanted by the writing – a mark of Graham’s talent I think.

For those readers not yet to experience Aidan Turner playing Ross Poldark, shirtless and sweaty in a field swinging a scythe, the basic story is as follows:

Ross Poldark, scion of a second and less fortunate son of the ancient Poldark line, returns from the war against the American colonies.  A rogue when he left, war has sobered him and he intends to settle down.  In his time away Ross’ father has died, leaving him a house that is almost a ruin, inhabited by farm animals and two recalcitrant servants.  He hopes to marry his sweetheart Elizabeth, but is frustrated by his Uncle’s plans.

Ross, nevertheless sets about to restore his property and land, helping his tenants in the process and dreams of reopening one of his mines.

Ross Poldark is set at a time of change.  Having returned from the Revolutionary war, he has been exposed to more liberal ideas about class and the treatment of lower classes.  This exposure, combined with poor treatment of the poor and landless in Cornwall,  makes for dramatic tension in every direction.  There’s the arrogant rich, money grabbing bankers, and predatory capitalists. 

Come to think of it, nothing much has changed. 

There is also romance, action and social comment.  In short, a great start to a well loved historical saga.

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May 15, 2015

Change in reviewing procedures

shot_1430530282471 So it appears that my faithful backup ereader, the old Sony PRS 505 is finally dying (8 yrs versus 11 months for my Kobo Vox).  At this point in time I can’t afford the outlay on a new reader( or a new phone) so I will be finishing off previously accepted ebook reviews by laptop. 

For the foreseeable future I will only be taking review copy in print form for novels and collections. For poetry reviews and small collections I may consider digital formats (pdf / epub).

I will also stop taking unsolicited reviews through the blog.  I have had a number of people sending me requests who obviously don’t read the blog or what I review.  I just can’t keep up with the volume.

I still intend to try and support the Australian scene as much as I can and will source review works through my contacts with traditional publishers, the Australian speculative fiction scene and Australian small press publishers.


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May 11, 2015

First Light - A Selection of Poems by Philip Hodgins

first-lightI came across Philip Hodgins quite by chance, I was doing a bulk search for Australian Poetry via the SA Library system and his name came up.  He died in 1995 from Leukaemia. A critically acclaimed poet and award winning poet, successful here and overseas.  His admirers included Les Murray, Clive James and Peter Goldsworthy.

It’s an indictment on our culture I think, that outside of  poetry circles, not many would know who he was now.  His work is approachable, grounded in rural life Australian Rules Football and towards the end of his life, the difficulties of confronting a terminal illness.

You can view his work at the Australian Poetry Library to get a taste and download a pdf copy at $3 a poem, hunt for one of his collections second hand or from tomorrow you can get you hands on the only collection of his in print, First Light.

If you’re keen, Booktopia have free shipping until midnight tonight (code: FREEBIE)*



* Yes I get affiliate commissions through these links.

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May 3, 2015

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell BBC Drama

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell was one of those books that I bought on hearing good reviews, only to have it buried under review copies about 4 years ago. With the BBC to shortly be launching their TV series I think it might be time to dust it off and get reading.

I have an ebook version, but am wondering if we might get a snazzy hardback version (done in a similar format to the embossed Gentlemen of the Road by Chabon).  Enjoy this launch trailer anyhow.


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Tor open for Novella submissions

mast_logoFor the month of May,  Carl Engle-Laird and Lee Harris will be reading unsolicited submissions.  Check out the post at Tor here for specific details.

It should be noted that they are actively seeking works from underrepresented populations:

In addition, both Lee Harris and Carl Engle-Laird actively request submissions from writers from underrepresented populations. This includes, but is not limited to, writers of any race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, class and physical or mental ability. We believe that good science fiction and fantasy reflects the incredible diversity and potential of the human species, and hope our catalog will reflect that.

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