Tuesday 28 June 2022

Book Review: A History of Herbalism: Cure, Cook, and Conjure by Emma Kay

The book starts with an introduction that lists herbs for various purposes and then takes you on a brief world history tour of herbalism, starting with the Greeks and Chinese. Throughout the book examples of how various herbs are used are employed from sources from multiple countries.

There are three chapters. Chapter 1 goes over specific British herbalists, followed by information on those who worked in adjacent fields (sellers, hospitals, gardens, illustrators). Chapter 2 deals with magic and medicine, giving individual A-Z lists for both topics. Each listing mentions an anecdote or usage from a historic source. The book isn’t being comprehensive, there are only a few usages per herb, but it’s a great compilation that’s enlightening without being boring. Chapter 3 is on how herbs have been used in cooking. Here the author translates a number of interesting recipes. Be aware, with a few exceptions these are direct historical translations, meaning there are no measurements, so unless you’re used to using old cookbooks or are a trained chef, you’ll have a lot of experimentation ahead of you if you decide to make one of these recipes. The recipes are organized by topic, with most of them employing multiple herbs.

I was impressed with the breadth of sources Kay used. I learned about quite a few interesting British and medieval herbals (some of which you can find online as they are out of copyright), as well as herbs and herbals from other countries (including Nigeria, Japan, and the Aztec empire). I was impressed by the number of countries with written herbals predating the modern period, and with the author’s including recipes and herbal usages from so many of them.

The book ends with substantial notes and a bibliography.

There are a decent number of black and white photographs to accompany the text.

The text often jumps from one herb or topic to another with little to no transition, which I found delightful as it maintained interest when reading the book in its entirety, though some might find it disorienting.

This is a great book. It tackles a broad topic and has done an excellent job of maintaining interest while being enlightening. Even if you’ve read several books on herbs and herbals you’ll find something new here.

Out in the UK on June 30th, later (different sites show different release dates) in other countries.

Friday 17 June 2022

Gollancz Open Submission Call for Unagented Authors

From their press release:

*We are currently open to unagented novel submissions until 30th June 2022*

Whether you're writing epic space opera or smutty paranormal romance, dystopian fiction or psychological horror, we'd love to hear from you!

Our titles include Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher series, Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, Kristin Cashore’s Graceling Realm, and many more. We love everything fantastical and are excited to read wherever your imagination takes you.

Anyone with a completed fantasy, science fiction or horror novel that does not have representation with a literary agency and has not previously been published in the UK is welcome to apply.


Please send in your unagented submissions between 1st June 2022, (00:00 BST) until 30th June 2022, (23:59 BST) to submissions.gollancz@orionbooks.co.uk.

In your email, please include:
Your full-length book attached as a .pdf or Word .doc/ .docx

Up to a 1,000 word synopsis in the body of the email, including what genre your story falls within (feel free to refer to currently published titles too).

100 words about yourself in the body of the email.

Your email address.

Should you have any further queries please contact us at submissions.gollancz@orionbooks.co.uk.
For more information on what we publish, check out our website and social channels.

Thursday 16 June 2022

Shout-Out: Rise of the Vicious Princess by C. J. Redwine

The first in a YA political fantasy duology about a fierce princess determined to bring lasting peace to her kingdom regardless of the cost to her heart—from C.J. Redwine, the author of the Defiance series and the New York Times bestselling Ravenspire series. Perfect for fans of These Violent Delights, And I Darken, and Ash Princess.

Princess Charis Willowthorn is the dutiful sword of Calera. Raised to be ruthless and cunning, her only goal is to hold her war-torn kingdom together long enough to find a path toward peace with their ancient foe Montevallo, even if the cost is her own heart.

When violence erupts in the castle itself, nearly killing the queen, Charis must assume her mother’s duties and manage both the war and her kingdom. But as an unseen enemy begins sinking Calera’s ships, Charis realizes a threat much greater than Montevallo is coming for her people. So she forms a plan.

By day, she is Calera’s formidable princess intent on forging an alliance with Montevallo. By night, she disguises herself as a smuggler and roams the sea with a trusted group of loyalists, hunting for their new enemies. And through it all, she accidentally falls in love with the wrong boy.

But her enemies are much closer than Charis realizes, and her heart isn’t the only thing she has left to lose.

Tuesday 14 June 2022

Book Review: A Song With Teeth by T. Frohock

This is the third novel in the series, and though they are designed so you can read each book independently, you do get more out of the by reading them in order as the characters and some story arcs continue from earlier books. The author does include a quick spoiler free synopsis of prior books if you do decide to skip ahead. You can find my reviews of the previous novellas and books here:

Los Nefilim (novella collection)
Where Oblivion Lies
Carved From Stone and Dream

Pros: complex worldbuilding, wonderful family relationships, interesting characters


It’s 1943 and the Nazi’s have occupied France. Los Nefilim lost the Spanish civil war and are helping with the French resistance. Diago is acting as a double agent with his daimon-kin and running several lines of spies. Ysabel is sent to retrieve important manuscript pages that carry parts of a spell that will help the allies in their planned invasion. Meanwhile Guillermo’s brother is consolidating his power as the new leader of Die Nefilim.

It’s a slow-burn spy novel that gives each character several unforseen twists to their story.

The background is complex and there is some terminology you need to learn (there’s a glossary at the back to help you out). The books deal with angels, daimons, and nefilim (or nephilim) the offspring of humans and angels/daimons.

While there are some disturbing scenes, they’re short and important to the story, like Nico’s time at a concentration camp.

It feels rare to see loving relationships in SF/F so to get two in this series was wonderful. Diago and Miquel have something special. They’re such good parents and handle the trials they’re dealt with love and compassion. Similarly Guillermo and Juanita also have a great relationship, and have raised Ysabel to be a good leader. Having the kids reflect on what their parents taught them about handling fear and acting calm under pressure was really cool.

This is a great series. It can be hard to take all at once (there’s one off page rape that’s central to the story and several on page scenes of torture), but it’s also got some brilliant family love (both straight and queer). If you’re looking for strong relationships and interesting spy stories in a historical setting, pick these up.

Thursday 9 June 2022

Shout-Out: The Embroidered Book by Kate Heartfield

‘Power is not something you are given. Power is something you take. When you are a woman, it is a little more difficult, that’s all’

1768. Charlotte, daughter of the Habsburg Empress, arrives in Naples to marry a man she has never met. Her sister Antoine is sent to France, and in the mirrored corridors of Versailles they rename her Marie Antoinette.

The sisters are alone, but they are not powerless. When they were only children, they discovered a book of spells – spells that work, with dark and unpredictable consequences.

In a time of vicious court politics, of discovery and dizzying change, they use the book to take control of their lives.

But every spell requires a sacrifice. And as love between the sisters turns to rivalry, they will send Europe spiralling into revolution.

Brimming with romance, betrayal, and enchantment, The Embroidered Book reimagines a dazzling period of history as you have never seen it before.

Tuesday 7 June 2022

Movie Review: Dawn of the Dead (1978)

Directed by George Romero
IMDb listing

Pros: good acting, political commentary, tense moments

Cons: some gore (but very minor), violence

The dead walk the earth and cities are trying to mitigate their spread. But some people doubt what's going on and don't want to hand over their departed loved ones.

After a harrowing escape from an increasingly overrun city, four people take refuge in an abandoned mall.

I was impressed by Night of the Living Dead, which I watched a few years ago and wanted to continue the series. And this film holds up shockingly well. There were a few scenes I might have thought unrealistic or over the top before living through the Covid pandemic. Now, it’s impressive how true to life the film is.

The story does a good job of setting up the 4 protagonists. You watch them in harrowing circumstances, in downtime, and slowly falling apart due to the constant stress. The actors are great.

I watched the ‘complete cut’, which apparently added back some character development scenes and gore to the theatrical version. There was some gore, but only once scene (towards the end of the film) seemed gratuitous. Though it was 2 1/2 hours long it never really dragged. There were some tense moments, some subversions to expectations, and some genuinely sweet moments when things were calm.

The film made some very cutting remarks about politics and racism at the time (and our current time, as it turns out). I loved that one of the protagonists was a black man who was by far the most competent of the bunch. I also liked that the woman refused to be ‘den mother’ to the guys.

The special effects were basically just make-up and done very well. There is a lot of violence, especially at the beginning and end of the film.

It’s a good movie. It’s great when older stuff holds up well, though a bit sad we haven’t progressed much as a society from the lessons it was trying to teach.

Friday 3 June 2022

Cathedral Information Pages going up on Archive.org

The first information page has been posted on Archive.org. It’s a 2 page spread on Notre-Dame de Laon Cathedral in France. You can find it here.

I decided to go with Archive.org as anyone can download these information pages from the site without an account (though an account is needed for other uses, like borrowing books).

I’ve set the license for attribution - non-commercial.

My idea is to post 1 or 2 of these a week on Monday and/or Friday depending on how busy I am and how much work that weeks page(s) require.

My page on Sainte-Chapelle in Paris is ready to go up on Monday. You can find all of my pages by looking up Strider66 and ticking off the 'account' box on the left.