Thursday, 13 May 2021

Shout-Out: Witches Steeped in Gold by Ciannon Smart

This Jamaican-inspired fantasy debut about two enemy witches who must enter into a deadly alliance to take down a common enemy has the twisted cat-and-mouse of Killing Eve with the richly imagined fantasy world of Furyborn and Ember in the Ashes.

Divided by their order. United by their vengeance.

Iraya has spent her life in a cell, but every day brings her closer to freedom—and vengeance.

Jazmyne is the Queen’s daughter, but unlike her sister before her, she has no intention of dying to strengthen her mother’s power.

Sworn enemies, these two witches enter a precarious alliance to take down a mutual threat. But power is intoxicating, revenge is a bloody pursuit, and nothing is certain—except the lengths they will go to win this game.

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Book Review: Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages by Jeffrey Burton Russell

Pros: quite thorough in some areas, decent number of images, very interesting subject matter

Cons: fair amount of repetition, some sections could have been fleshed out more

This is the third book in Russell’s history of the devil, following The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity and Satan: The Early Christian Tradition. (Click the titles to read my reviews of them.) It examines the development of the history and figure of the devil during the middle ages, considering issues like when and why he fell, what he looks like, what his powers are, his role in the fall of mankind and its subsequent salvation by Christ, and whether God is ultimately responsible for the devil's actions. 

The book has 11 chapters: The Life of Lucifer; The Devil in Byzantium; The Muslim Devil; Folklore; Early Medieval Diabology; Lucifer in Early Medieval Art & Literature; The Devil and the Scholars; Lucifer in High Medieval Art & Literature; Lucifer on the Stage; Nominialists, Mystics, & Witches; and The Existence of the Devil. The book also has an essay on the sources used, a bibliography and an index.

Due to the nature of the topic and how people and institutions wrote either building on the past or opposing the writings of others (writings that were deemed heretical), there’s a fair amount of repetition. It’s really interesting seeing the slow development of ideas. The book focuses mainly on the timeline of the fall of the devil & the evil angels (at the time of creation, sometime later) and the image and powers of the devil.

I’d have liked longer chapters on the Muslim devil and Byzantium as I don’t know as much about those areas of belief and his examination of them was very superficial.

The book includes a decent number of black and white photographs to help visualize the subject matter.

The section on witches was interesting as it focused on how preachers kept the fire and brimstone ideas of the devil alive even as theological discourse around evil was slowly letting ideas of the devil fade in importance.

The book pointed out a lot of interesting information about how Christian thinkers in the middle ages approached ideas of evil, the devil and God’s omnipotence. Despite the level of repetition, it’s a fascinating book.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Book Review: The Falconer by Elizabeth May

Pros: interesting world, complex protagonist

Cons: protagonist didn’t consider consequences

A year ago Aileana Kameron’s mother was killed in front of her by a fae. No longer the social debutant she once was, XX now fights the fair folk at night, social engagements notwithstanding. But her reputation is suffering and her father’s patience is almost gone. Soon she will have to choose her future, or have it decided for her.

While I sympathized with Aileana’s history, I didn’t particularly like her as a character. Her desire to kill the fae was treated very much like a drug addiction and it was hard seeing her losing her life to this obsession. I really liked her mechanical tinkering and would have enjoyed learning more about her various inventions. I was surprised by how little she thought about the consequences of her actions. Her reputation aside, the fact that she throws a bomb at monsters on a bridge in one scene with no thought of what destroying the bridge means for the city (or what kind of destruction her bomb could do in general before using it) showed how young and unprepared she was.

I liked that her best friend played a decent role in the book, and that female friendship was seen as an important factor in her life (something that’s often overlooked in SFF in general).

The book is set in an alternate Scotland, where the fair folk are real but most people don’t believe in them anymore. Only a few people, like Aileana can see them (with or without aid). The city felt like a vibrant place and the descriptions were very nice.

The romance aspects came up late in the book and were fairly subdued. So subdued in fact that I was actually shipping the wrong couple and was left surprised by the protagonist’s choices near the end.

The book ends in a cliffhanger, and it’s been a long time since I’ve read one of those. It was a very exciting scene so I turned the page in anticipation of the climax only to find the glossary.

It was an engaging story, fast paced with a fair amount of action.

Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Graphic Novel Review: Averee written by Stephanie Phillips with Dave Johnson, Illustrated by Marika Cresta


Pros: realistic setting and characters, pretty artwork

Cons: ending is simplistic

In a future where your Ranked app scores decide where you can live, what restaurants you can enter, and how ‘cool’ you are at school, being at the bottom sucks. When the app is hacked and the scores of Averee and her mom drop suddenly, Averee faces prejudice at school while her mom’s job is in jeopardy. A friend’s idea to find the app’s founder sounds impossible, but just might be Averee’s only hope.

Averee is a 5 issue, self-contained graphic novel. The artwork is full of colourful pastels and simplistic backgrounds, letting the characters and plot be the focus. It’s easy to grasp the kind of world an app like Ranked would create, so little world-building was required. Having said that, the cattiness of some schoolgirls is very realistic and sells the setting.

I liked the friendship between Averee and Zoe, whose rank has always been low. Their arguments and resolution feel natural for their age. I also liked the budding relationship between Averee and Luke, the awkwardness of trying too hard while hoping it’s not obvious you’re trying too hard.

The plot is well paced across the 5 issues, and while the ending seemed a little simplistic (I feel like the trio would face more consequences for what they did), I did like the resolution.

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Book Review: Satan: The Early Christian Tradition by Jeffrey Burton Russell

Pros: detailed analysis, lots of explanation

Cons: lots of necessary repetition

This is the second in a series of books on the evolution of the devil in Christian thought, following The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity (reviewed here). There are 8 chapters: The Devil, The Apostolic Fathers, The Apologetic Fathers and the Gnostics, Human Sin and Redemption: Irenaeus and Tertullian, Mercy and Damnation: the Alexandrians, Dualism and the Desert, Satan and Saint Augustine, Conclusion: Satan Today. There is also an essay on the sources used by Russell.

Given that each group of theologians built on what came before, the book contains a lot of repetition. Several later authors expanded on Origen’s theory of the cosmos and redemption before it was declared heretical. Russell does a good job of explaining sometimes convoluted mythologies (like those of the Gnostics and Manicheans) so that you can see how their beliefs coloured that of Orthodox Christians.

Each chapter deals with a stage in the development of Christianity, including how the believers at that period understood Creation, the Fall (of angels and mankind), and Redemption (whether through Christ’s sacrifice or via tricking the Devil). It’s interesting to read the various theories and how they shifted and grew over time into the ideas we’re familiar with today.

While it’s an older book, first published in 1981, the scholarship is solid, with then current references and a lot of page notes explaining certain concepts in more detail.

If you’re interested in the development of the devil and hell, how theological discourse changes over time, or simply in the history of Christianity as a whole, this is an interesting read.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Video: Meet some of the last papyrus makers in Egypt

 I saw papyrus for the first time in 2019 on my trip to Ethiopia. It's a beautiful plant and an important historical skill. I'm glad to hear there are people keeping papyrus paper alive and hope the industry recovers quickly when the pandemic ends.

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Book Review: Carved From Stone and Dream by T. Frohock

Links to my review of the novellas & book 1.

Pros: interesting characters, tense, fast paced

Cons: scenes of torture some may find disturbing

It is 1939 and the Spanish Civil War has gone poorly for the Republicans, backed by los Nefilim. With his wife and daughter, heir to his crown, sent to Paris in advance, Don Guillarmo is pursued by Nationalist forces while crossing the Pyrenees. A betrayal alerts him to the existence of a pocket realm where his brother Jordi, backing the Nationalists, is helping the Germans plan an invasion of France.

While this is technically the second in a trilogy (following 3 novellas), the book is designed to stand on its own. There’s enough background information to jump in here, but I do feel you won’t get the same emotional kick if you aren’t aware of the relationship between Diego, Miquel and Raphael.

The book cleverly ties the Nefilim (offspring of angels and demons) into the history of the Spanish Civil War and the coming second world war. There’s a bibliography at the back of the book that shows the author’s done their research regarding the period and how LGBT characters fit in historically, while also allowing readers to expand their own knowledge if they’d like to learn more.

The book gets very tense at times, with depictions of torture. Though horrible things happen, it never felt gratuitous. The story is fast paced, with several point of view characters, so the horror is never overpowering.

The book really shines with its family relationships. The love Diego and Miquel have for each other, and their desire to help each other through difficult circumstances shines through. I also liked seeing Raphael become a young man, making mistakes and learning hard lessons.

The Grigori was horrifying and I can’t wait to learn more about it and the other fallen angels.

I’m really enjoying this series and look forward to the final volume.