This month I participated in a reading challenge over on The Storygraph, titled Fantasy February. It will, therefore, not surprise you that the majority of the books below are fantasy.
I have really enjoyed the reading challenge, the ten different categories getting me to rifle through my tbr pile and dust of some older purchases that I kept looking at and going “I must read you but I’m not quite in the right mood”. The reviews below are in the order I finished the books across the month but my favourite of them all is Nicola Griffith’s Spear. It will be no surprise to any of you that it is an Arthurian retelling and I have to say that it’s the best one I’ve read for many years. If you only take one recommendation from me this month, make it this one!
It will also not surprise you know that I didn’t finish all ten books. My taste in fantasy mostly runs to historical and high fantasy and those are mostly in the 400+ pages category. I have started every single one of the ten books I chose for the prompts (yes, I am one of those terrible people who can have over twenty books in the progress of being read at any one time) but four of them remain unfinished. They’ll pop up in the monthly posts over the rest of the year as I work through them.
And just before we head into the reviews proper I feel I must reiterate that I’ve put a variety of links to the books in order to ensure you have the biggest possible choice of where to get a copy if anything takes your fancy and that the majority (other than amazon) are more beneficial to both the author and indie bookshops. Please note that all the Bookshop UK links below are affiliated links, meaning that if you choose to purchase via that link then as well as all the indie bookshops signed up to Bookshop UK getting a cut of the sale, I will also get a (very) small amount of money to help keep me herding my words onto the page.
The Way Past Winter by Kiran Millwood Hargrave
At its heart this is a story about love being stronger than hate, the power of doing what is right rather than what is easy, and the understanding that life is change and fighting that causes more harm than good. It’s also a magical tale about a land locked in winter, menfolk being stolen away and three sisters searching for their family and for the promised spring.
Having read The Girl of Ink and Stars I was already a fan of Kiran and this only bolstered my opinion of her work. I loved Mila and Pipa and Sanna and was bound fast by the golden threads of the story, reading it in two wonderful gulps on consecutive days. It’s the perfect read for this time of year, when spring is just about to burst into life and I heartily recommend it.
Spear by Nicola Griffith
The Arthurian legends are some of my favourite tales of all time and I have spent a lot of time reading various retellings and reimaginings. The best ones take a slice of the legend out of the whole and then go all in on that one area. This is one of the best ones. This is not a tale of Arthur but of one happening in Arthur’s realm and it reads like a bard’s song, resonating in my soul.
I do not wish to include any spoilers in this review – I would not want to take any of the joy of discovery in the first reading from anyone – so I cannot point to the many wonderful things in the work and say “look at how brilliantly this is done” was I would like to. Instead I will say that the way the magic is included is sublime, the way the relationships are handled is (to me) perfection, and the whole shape and flow of the story is masterful.
I cannot recommend Spear highly enough
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
If you, like me, wanted to like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell but found yourself alienated by its density and volume and worried that Piranesi might be equally as unfriendly, worry no more. At a mere 272 pages it feels as if Susanna Clarke has taken everything she learnt from writing Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell and distilled it into this astonishing work.
Piranesi has left me hollowed out in the best way possible; scoured and reshaped by the tides of a story that was both fresh and new and as ancient as storytelling itself. Reading it felt like entering a fever dream and, having just now finished the last page, I wish to immediately return to the beginning and be swallowed up again.
Wonder filled, and wonderful, and worthy of everyone’s time and attention.
Deadly Education by Naomi Novak
I really wanted to fall in love with this book (I have adored several others Naomi wrote) but, whilst I can’t fault the pace, writing or characterisation, I didn’t get on with the world and I didn’t find I cared enough about the main character to make me want to read any more of this series. This is not at all down to the quality of the book, simply a matter of personal taste.
I can clearly see how this dark fantasy would grab you and not let you go if you are more partial to that side of the fantasy genre than I am, so please do not let me put you off giving it a try.
City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
I read this quite slowly for me because I wanted to luxuriate in the descriptions and the depth of the world being presented to me and also to ensure that in my eagerness to find out what happens next I did not skip any details that might be important later on. The mixing of 18th century Cairo with the myths and legends of the area into a magic whole was captivating and fascinating, and all the characters were vivid and alive in a way that is sometime lacking when there are this many players on the stage, so to speak.
Overall it is absolutely wonderful in every respect; immaculate world building, a gripping plot and characters that grab your heart and hold it fast. I will be reading the other two books in the trilogy as soon as I can get my hands on them.
Agatha Christie: A Very Illusive Woman by Lucy Worsley
I really enjoy both Lucy Worsley’s writing style and how she approaches her subject, no matter what that subject is and her latest book, a biography of Agatha Christie did not disappoint. I’ve read several other biographies of Agatha yet I did not feel as if I were merely trudging through old ground, instead there were new insights and, I felt, a more rounded and human picture of a woman who, as Lucy rightly points out in the title, feels fairly elusive. You also get more of a balanced picture of both her husbands and some well worked through literary criticism of Agatha’s extensive output. It is a fairly long book but I never felt that it was dragging or that any of the detail included was extraneous thanks to the deftness of the prose. An excellent book that I would highly recommend if you find Agatha as interesting as her mysteries.
I read the audiobook version of this and thoroughly enjoyed listening to Lucy’s narration of her own words as I worked on my crochet.
Author Website | Amazon UK | Blackwells | Bookshop UK | Audible
2 thoughts on “February Reads”
I loved Piranesi, at some point I need to re-read it because I think it will be very different on the second time through.
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Yes, I think I need to do the same as then I’ll be able to focus on how she has written it so wonderfully rather than just wanting to know what happens next.
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