Tag Archives: adventure

Review: Circus Hearts 2 and 3 by Ellie Marney

Almost immediately after reading and reviewing All the Little Bones – the first in the Circus Hearts series – a began reading the second, All Fall Down. Once I finished that I went straight onto number three, All Aces.

If nothing else, that will tell you how easy these books are to read, and how easy is it to want to read them. So here we go, with me telling you why these next two books (and the whole damned series) are so good.

Circus Hearts 2: All Fall Down

While the first book, All the Little Bones, follows trapeze artist Sorsha Neary, All Fall Down is about Fleur Klatsch, who looked set to be Sorsha’s worst enemy in the first book.

The aftermath of the final events of All the Little Bones are infused in the opening of All Fall Down, where Fleur is dealing with the consequences of her actions. There’s also the little matter of the accident that could have killed her.

Fleur is determined to make up for her mistakes and face her responsibilities full on. She is, after all, the ringmaster’s daughter and one day she’ll be running Klatsch’s Karnival.

One day happens sooner than she’d like, when a series of accidents, which are very obviously not accidental, put her father in hospital and the whole circus at risk. In the meantime, she’s confronted with the return of her childhood best friend, Marco Deloren, who against all stereotypes ran away from the circus.

Fleur is hard-headed and domineering. She’s also loves her father, is passionate about the circus and, despite some of her history, has the potential to be a great leader. All of these things are put to the test as she’s thrust into leadership. Marney draws a textured picture of someone who could easily be unlikable, and instead makes Fleur complex, deep and sympathetic.

Like All the Little Bones, there’s romance here, and it’s elegantly balanced and entwined with the story of the dangerous acts of sabotage, the history of Klatsch’s and its rivals, the personal histories of the players and Fleur’s transition from a bossy child to a substantial woman.

Marney’s depiction of Klatch’s is also fantastic – you can damn near smell the greasepaint, the sawdust, the sweat; the smoke and the fire.

None of the books indicate what city, or even what country, Klatsch’s and its rivals might operate in. I think it’s a good choice. Circuses operate as worlds of their own, and the only truly ‘real’ places in these books are within the canvas and wooden walls of the carnivals, and with the people who inhabit them.

Circus Hearts 3: All Aces

All Aces, like the first two books in the series (All the Little Bones and All Fall Down) is written in the first person from the point of view of the young female protagonist. It was a great way to introduce Sorsha and then Fleur and give them great agency.

Getting inside the head of Indonesian-born contortionist Ren Petri is also fantastic, and even more so because Ellie Marney has found a distinctive voice for her. Along with being supremely bendy, Ren is studious, kind, very organised and very brave. She’s sharply observant and has some behaviours that indicate a degree of neurodivergence, which serve to make her unique perspective even more engaging. She’s also surprisingly impulsive: where others run away, she’ll run towards. That impulse prompts some of the best and the worst things that happen to her throughout All Aces.

All Aces, like All Fall Down, begins with events that overlap the previous installment. Circus worker and card sharp, Zep Deal rescued Ren from a fire and she’s still suffering health issues. The repercussions for Zep, whom some believe to have been criminally involved with those events, are different but just as unpleasant.

At the same time, Ren is juggling family obligations and is keeping some secrets, but not as many as Zep, who joined Klatsch’s circus to escape his father and a shady past. Far from keeping them apart, these secrets and their efforts to untangle Zep from his draw the two of them more and more closely together.

Once again, Marney winds the YA romance intricately together with the overall plot so that it’s perfectly balanced. It’s also perfectly charming and delicious. It’s a pretty sure bet that things will work out in the end, but the superbly written trick of it trying to see how on earth it will.

Like Ren’s extraordinary and graceful contortions, the plot bends and loops and provides plenty of surprises – and like Zep’s exquisite skill with a deck of cards, it’s all sharp and snappily paced, with Aces appearing from nowhere with perfect timing.

I’m sad it’s the last of the Circus Hearts stories: the whole world Marney has built is so lively and textured. I’m going to miss it a lot.

Review: A Study in Velvet and Leather by K. Caine

The second volume in Improbable Press’s 221b Series (the first was my own A Dream to Build A Kiss On) is the splended A Study in Velvet and Leather, due for release on 1 December 2018. An advance review copy was coaxed into my greedy little fingers, though, and promptly gobbled up.

K. Caine may have written a female Sherlock and male John in a canon-era setting, but  her tale departs wonderfully far from a traditional telling of thie enduring pair.

John Watson, invalided war doctor, is gay. It’s a surprise to find Stamford’s flat-hunting friend is a woman, but she’s an unusual one. Sherlock is a consulting detective, dressing most often in men’s attire and (we later learn) a reader of Sappho. They move into Baker Street together.

John narrates their life together: his increasing involvement in Sherlock’s cases and John recovers his health, along with his fascination for Sherlock’s methods and curiosity about so much that remains secret and unsaid about Sherlock’s life. John also records his bemused yet growing devotion to his astonishing flatmate, recording but not always understanding Sherlock’s response to him.

But as John develops his surprised and secret feelings for this remarkable woman, an undercurrent from Sherlock’s unspoken private life breaks the surface. The case involves “the well known adventuress” Irene Adler, a compromising photograph, and a private club. The meaning of velvet, leather and many of Sherlock’s mysteries will come to light.

One of the many glories of this book – which include engaging characters, the gorgeous flow of the writing and an exploration of the fluidity than can exist in gender and sexuality – is how seamlessly K. Caine uses the 221b ficlet format to tell a single story.

The 16 chapters of the book are subtly separated into 221-word sections, the last word of each section beginning with ‘b’.  This meets the rules of a 221b ficlet, yet is so smoothly done that the reader may not notice it, as the story’s rhythm moves so gracefully.

A Study in Velvet and Leather is one of those delicious books where you can’t decide whether to gulp it down in one go, or sip it slowly to make it last.

I’ve never been a sipper, though – and I was so involved in Sherlock and John’s adventures and feelings, so invested in them too – that I gulped that story down in a few hours one Saturday. The conclusion was both fantastically satisfying and left me yearning for more of these incarnations of Holmes and Watson.

A fabulous bonus to the whole story is the series of Appendices, in the form of notes between the two. I seriuosly can’t get enough of this fluid John and Sherlock. Additionally, the artwork by Avid Branks is sparing and elegant, and contains little clues of its own .

Which makes it doubly awesome that K. Caine is now writing another Improbable Press book with them, Conductivity.

I can’t wait.

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Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Musketeers

Tansy Rayner Roberts is responsible for much delight in my life, through her awesome books and novellas as well as her thoroughly delightful actual self.

She’s currently responsible for me mainlining the BBC Musketeers TV series, and how I’ve pestering people to watch it ever since.

It all began with her book, Musketeer Space.

I became a supporter of Tansy’s Patreon because this is Tansy Rayner Roberts. She’d just finished posting her SF, genderswitched alternative universe reworking of Alexander Dumas’s Three Musketeers.

I downloaded it. But man, did that file look looooooooooong on my Kindle, with dots leading off to the right beyond any other book I had on the device.

So I put off reading it. And put it off. Surely it would take ages.

Finally, though, I’d read every other TRR book in my collection, and I had time, so I finally opened it.

Readers, I tore through that book like I was going to get a prize for reading speed. And I DID get a prize! I got an awesome story, that was sprightly and funny and full of action and friendship and diversity and tragedy and romance and combat and consequences!

Basically, it was everything I always love about Tansy’s work.

Having gobbled down this delight that goes tripping along, I naturally immediately also seized upon the  Musketeer Space short Christmas story she’d written for her Patreon supporters, Joyeux. It’s set before the epic novel, and richly fills out some of the backstory while creating a strong, wondeful story in its own right.

I stared about hungrily for a bit and then realised I had also downloaded Tansy’s book of essays about celluloid Musketeers.

Even if you haven’t seen the films and shows in question, the essays in It’s Raining Musketeers are written with such humour and charm that it doesn’t matter.

Still, by the time I was up to her glorious review of the third episode of BBC Musketeers, warning all the way about spoilers, I thought it best to watch the thing before continuing with the essays.

I watched the thing. I fell madly in love with it. With friendship and dashing hats. With men who were full of fire and feistiness, passion and playfulness, who could hug it out and be emotional.

With women who had agency and passed the Bechdel test, the sexy lamp test, the ‘do I want to drown them in the duck pond?’ test. The queen, Constance, Milady and brilliant guest stars, all superb and with their own motivations and faults and genius.

Even the foolish king, played so adeptly by Ryan Gage, won my heart. None of the later villains was as brilliant as Peter Capaldi’s Richelieu, who died so that the Twelfth Doctor could live, but they gave it a damned good shot, including Rupert Everett, who Richard-the-Thirded up his Marquis de Feron with terrific loucheness.

Did I mention the diversity? A black Musketeer, a hispanic Musketeer. One of them’s Italian. The last is played by Tom Burke, son of my favourite Watson ever, David Burke, so I was kind of in love with him through inheritence anyway.

So I gulped down three seasons of this splendid series, which has a whole story arc and comes to a natural conclusion that was satisfying and joyful.

Frankly, it had to be good to compete with TRR’s awesome take on the Musketeers as epic, diverse, queer space buddies who are the very epitome of swash and buckle.

Then, Musketeer-hungrier than ever I went back to finish the book of Musketeer essays. (TRR’s reviews continued to be spot on, and I’m glad I watched the show and avoided the spoilers, just so I could enjoy the events all over again while reading about them.)

So here I am, all full up to the brim with Musketeers.

I suppose one of these days I should actually read the Dumas original.

Musketeer books on Amazon.com

 

Kickstarter – Sherlock Holmes: Adventures Beyond the Canon

I mentioned a few posts ago that a new Kickstarter was about to launch to fund an anthology of sequels to original Arthur Conan Doyle stories from the Sherlock Holmes canon.

The  Sherlock Holmes: Adventures Beyond the Canon Kickstarter campaign was launched on 1 August 2018, and it’s already been fully funded.

But that’s no reason to light a pipe, indulge in a seven per cent solution or go and have a flutter on the races (which was more Watson’s vice). If you back the Kickstarter, you can get hold of any or all of the three volumes, as well as back the book at higher levels and get even more Sherlock Holmes bookish deliciousness for your pains!

My story, ‘A Gentleman’s Disagreement’, will appear in the first volume of the anthology. It’s a sequel to ‘The Blue Carbuncle’ and follows what happens almost immediately after the end of the original story. It involves a second theft, some unpleasant accusations, a few incautious comments and a night in a prison cell for Dr Watson.

Here’s an excerpt:

I threw some papers from my chair onto the floor with the others, causing Holmes’s expression to spasm in disapproval, as though I had upset some order within the mess. I cheerfully ignored him as I took my seat, drew out my pipe and packed it from the Persian slipper.

I briefly felt sorry for the Countess, so unlucky in love. “His behaviour is scandalous,” I said, lighting my pipe with a match.

“You’ve forgiven her, then, for your night in prison?”

I puffed to ensure the tobacco was well lit and eased back in my chair. “It was an invigorating few hours at least,” I said magnanimously, “And the fault wasn’t entirely hers. Several of us had a hand in it.”

Holmes threw back his head and roared with laughter in that rare but wholehearted way of his, and I grinned.

“You are a diplomat, Watson,” he declared, still laughing.

“And you did apologise very handsomely for your share,” I said, saluting him with the stem of my new pipe, which he’d gifted me not long after the incident, “Though I’m grateful you secured my release before matters got out of hand.”

My friend sobered at the reminder. “Yes. Any longer in the lock-up with those old ‘friends’ of ours might have been less invigorating.”

“I was thinking more of the effect of the damp on my old wounds,” I demurred, though his evident concern, then as now, warmed me more than any apology.

The Kickstarter also includes interviews with the authors for every day of the campaign, talking about which story they chose to write a sequel to and why, among other things.

Learn more about Sherlock Holmes: Adventures Beyond the Canon or back it on Kickstarter.