An Engineer and a Philosopher Walk into a Time Tunnel: The Princelings of the East Blog Tour!

16

the princelings trilogy

You know that old joke, don’t you? The one where the engineer and the philosopher walk into a time tunnel?  Well, if you haven’t heard it, let me be the first to introduce you to friend-of-the-shelf, indie author Jemima Pett’s adventure series for all ages: The Princelings of the East! We shelf-dwellers are very pleased to be participating in the tour, hosted by My Family’s Heart, to promote the first three books in this six book series.

Now, while I say that the tour is promoting the first three books in the imageseries, I only managed to get through the first two before my tour date crept up on me, so I’ll be focusing in on those two today. I should also mention that I acquired the trilogy by winning a competition run by Jemima herself a veritable age ago and this tour gave me the perfect opportunity to knock two books off my TBR and re-home them on my permanent shelf – hurrah!

To start us off, here’s the blurb for the trilogy from Goodreads:

Suitable for all ages, The Princelings of the East is a trilogy relating the adventures of unlikely guinea pig heroes Fred and George. Two innocents abroad, they solve problems caused by unintended consequences, commercial greed, and blind prejudice yet still find time to engage in troubled love affairs and nearly blow themselves up with their own inventions.

Oh yes, did I mention that the engineer and the philosopher are, in fact, guinea pigs? Sorry for the oversight. I suspect that the reason this trilogy has sat on my TBR unread for so long is because I am mildly wary of books based around anthropomorphic animals. I’m pleased to say, however, that the writing here is such that the guinea pig thing is hardly an issue and when I did remember I was reading about guinea pigs, the mental image always gave me a little giggle. Essentially, Fred, George and the gang definitely grew on me quite quickly.

princelings one

Book one of the trilogy is The Princelings of the East in which we are introduced to Fred and George’s world – a world made up of castles full of guinea pigs, each with their own royal lineages. In this book, the Castle on the Marsh (or Castle Marsh for short) is experiencing strange and highly inconvenient energy drains and Fred (the philosopher) and George (the engineer) decide to throw caution to the wind and venture forth from Castle Marsh to see if they can discover the cause of the Energy Drain.

Almost immediately the brothers are separated and while Fred is led onwards by a stranger with an unusual accent and plus-sized girth, George finds himself in a different castle that seems to be labouring under some very odd chronological anomalies. As the brothers puzzle out the mysteries that they are faced with in their separate situations, we are introduced to a host of other characters and must riddle out, along with Fred and George, who is trustworthy and who might not be who they appear to be.

I was surprised at the cerebral nature of the writing in what I originally thought was a middle-grade story. Much of Fred’s adventure is taken up with political to-and-fro-ing as high profile members from other castles become involved in solving the problem of the Energy Drain and diplomatic relations between various castles are carefully managed. George, in the meantime, is left to unravel the mystery of a tunnel that appears to transport its users to other times, while also assisting in the streamlining of production processes of a widely exported diet drink.

At times, during Fred’s story arc, I felt a bit like I was reading Jane Austen (for guinea pigs) and during George’s, I felt like I’d fallen into Back to the Future (for guinea pigs). While this might sound an unpromising match, it actually worked really well to keep me engaged. And as I mentioned before, whenever I remembered that these were guinea pigs – riding in carriages, fixing industrial vending machines and the like – it gave me a chuckle. It’s rare that you find a book that is pitched nominally at children that also has enough intellectual material in the plot to keep adults interested, but this is one of those books.

the princelings two

The second book in the trilogy is The Princelings and the Pirates which does exactly what it says on the tin, plunging Fred, George, some of the guys we met in the first book and some new furry faces into a good old, piratey adventure. This book had a much lighter tone than the first and the action – in terms of deck-swabbing, swashbuckling, kidnapping and the like – increases tenfold. The book opens with Princess Kira of Dimerie, a prime wine-producing kingdom, kidnapped by pirates – guinea pig pirates, obviously – and when the other castles send emissaries to find out why the wine supply has dried up, said emissaries, including Fred and George, are press-ganged into the pirate life.

As well as the general pirate business, there’s also a surprise in store for the brothers as they discover a certain bad seed nestled in the branches of their family tree, suffer some critical injuries and aid in the effort to subdue the pirate menace. I thoroughly enjoyed this story, being partial to tales set on the high seas and the whole “main characters are guinea pigs” thing really had me giggling as my mind boggled at some of the more swashbuckly battle scenes in which the characters engage.  This book also had many more touching scenes as friends, new and old, fall into dangerous situations and the thin line between life and death becomes a tenuous one to walk.

I really appreciated the diversity between the two tales and now I’m chomping at the bit (of lettuce) to get at book three, The Princelings and the Lost City, which as I mentioned, I didn’t get time to read before this post.

princelings three

Starting this series has been enlightening, and I feel I’ve been inspired to take another look at Brian Jacques’ Redwall series – if I can enjoy adventurous guinea pigs so much, surely battle-hardened squirrels will be right up my alley!

If you are looking for an adventure series that will give your brain and your funny-bone a work out, then I can heartily recommend having a look at the Princelings series. It’s certainly got a wider appeal than just middle grade aged readers.

If you’d like to find out more about the series, you can go here and if you’d like to check out Jemima Pett’s blog, you can do that here.

Until next time,

Bruceimage

Indie Trilogy Feature: The Nightfall Gardens Series…

2

imageAaaaaaaaaand, we’re back!! Yes, Wifi is connected, the big computer has been set up and I am once again able to communicate with you in more than short, texty bursts.  To celebrate, I am bringing to you a special feature on a very unusual and beguiling fantasy trilogy – the Nightfall Gardens series by indie author Allen Houston.  And it has a gargoyle in it. Bonus!

Now, I was contacted by Mr Houston a little while back asking if I would review the first book in the series, Nightfall Gardens, with a view to maybe reading and reviewing the remaining books later on.  It was one of those unexpected moments that made me grin a little bit because, you see, I had already hunted down, bought, read, enjoyed and reviewed Nightfall Gardens back in April, 2014 on Goodreads, but hadn’t featured it on the blog.  So of course, I jumped at the chance to review the next two books in the series, thereby reducing my mountainous TBR pile by two.

So now my friends, you will be treated to a review of a whole series! This doesn’t often happen for this blog….in fact, in never happens because I generally make it a rule not to review subsequent books in a series on here if I’ve already reviewed the first (although I will be making a second exception to this rule in the next few weeks – stay tuned!).

On this momentously unusual occasion then, allow me to introduce to you the maverick, mould-breaking fantasy world to which Nightfall Gardens belongs. Here’s the blurb for book one from Goodreads:

Vain Lily Blackwood and her shy brother Silas wonder if their family will ever settle in one place long enough to lead a normal life. When a mysterious stranger arrives claiming to be their uncle, they discover their parents have been hiding a secret that turns their world upside down.

The two are kidnapped to Nightfall Gardens, the family’s ancestral home, a place shrouded in ancient mystery, where they meet their dying grandmother and learn of an age-old curse placed on Blackwood females.

Lily must take over as protector of the house and three haunted gardens that hold mythical beasts, fairy-tale nightmares and far worse. If she doesn’t, the evil trapped there will be unleashed and bring on a new dark age.

While she deals with malevolent ghosts inside the house, Silas is put to work in the gardens, where one wrong step means death.

Along the way, they search to unlock the secrets of the house and to stop the creatures in the gardens before time runs out and the world is destroyed.

NightfallGardenscover

Now as it’s been nearly a year since I read this book, I’m going to share with you my original Goodreads review as it is probably a more accurate representation of my thoughts about the book than anything I could dredge up now. So this is what I thought:

Ten Second Synopsis:
Lily and Silas are taken against their will to Nightfall Gardens, their ancestral home in a void between our world and the next, and repository of all ickiness.

It is nice to find a YA horror/paranormal/fantasy sort of a book with an original premise and setting. Nightfall Gardens (the book) was as creepy as all the reviews I read promised it would be. In fact, Nightfall Gardens (the house and grounds) was almost too depressing and hopeless for my liking. The section in which Silas and Arfast come upon the creatures from the White Garden having a raucous party reminded me strongly of the scene of Aslan’s sacrifice in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – it had that sense of the despair associated with the triumph of evil and the knowledge that hideous things are now inescapable. Essentially, it had a real sense of “things are going to get worse before they get…well, even worserer than that!”

I would have liked to see a bit of humour or something to flesh the child characters out a bit as I did feel that the oppressive atmosphere was too much at times, but that’s just my preference.The servants in the house – Polly and Ozy, and Ursula, the ever-cheerful Glumpog maid – were a highlight and I could just see them being brought to life in a Henson-esque movie masterpiece.

Overall this is an original and engaging read for those who like a dark twist on their fantasy books.

But if I thought Nightfall Gardens was both original and engaging (and I did, because I gave it four stars), then I was about to be drawn ever-deeper into the tangled world that Houston has created in book two – The Shadow Garden.  Here’s the synopsis, again from Goodreads:

Precocious Lily Blackwood carries a responsibility far greater than other people. As the last female Blackwood, she must keep the evils in Pandora’s Box from destroying the world.

With the help of her younger brother Silas, the dusk riders and her best friend Cassandra, she must protect Nightfall Gardens and ensure that the fairy-tale monsters, old gods and deathly shades stay separated from humanity.

But now, the creatures bound to the Gardens are gaining strength and threatening to break loose. Bemisch, a malevolent witch, has escaped into the mist land to join forces with Eldritch, a powerful nature god. The mysterious Smiling Ladies hold the key to a dark secret from the Blackwood family’s past, and something once again roams the halls of the manor, trying to kill Lily.

Worse yet, her fourteenth birthday is approaching and with it a dangerous rite of passage. Lily must enter the Shadow Garden, home of all that is nightmarish, and come face to face with her most terrifying threat yet.

the shadow gardenFirst let me say – that is an awesome cover.  Because I read the second two books on the Kindle, I never really paid attention to their covers (or blurbs) and just jumped on in.  But this, that, is an absolute ripper and gives you a pretty good representation of just how creepy and disturbing some of Houston’s creations are.  Those delightful maidens on the cover are the Smiling Ladies, three mightily icky sisters who mysteriously appear at every moment of major human suffering.

This book was again divided into chapters alternating in viewpoint between Lily, as she attempts to figure out how to survive her rite of passage in the Shadow Garden, and Silas, as he and his dusk rider friends become entangled in a deadly mission to rescue some villagers from the evil deity Eldritch and his witch Bemisch.  I really enjoyed the alternating viewpoints because there was so much action and intrigue in this helping that it was good to have a break every chapter and jump between the various dangers being faced by the siblings.

The Shadow Garden moved a lot more quickly than Nightfall Gardens and I was far more engaged emotionally with the characters in this offering.  We get to find out a lot more about other minor characters also, with some focus being placed on Cassandra, Jonquil, Villon and others which was a nice expansion to the main event.

My favourite part of this story was Lily’s trial in the Shadow Garden itself (and an unexpected meeting with one of Polly’s relations!).  The narrative at this point reminded me so strongly of the sacrifice of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, as Houston describes all the vile and vicious and just plain bizarre creatures that inhabit the part of Nightfall Gardens that is home to the incarnation of human nightmares.

This was my favourite of the three books and a real step up for Houston in terms of the tightness and pacing of the plot.

Now, onto the finale!  The Labyrinth rounds out the trilogy and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Time is running out for Lily and Silas Blackwood in their hunt to destroy Pandora’s Box before the beings of Nightfall Gardens unleash its evil upon an unsuspecting world.

Loyalties will be tested and friends will make the ultimate sacrifice as the two face off against an army of horrors that live in the Gardens.

At the center of it all stands the Labyrinth, a maze haunted by dying gods and startling secrets that Lily must navigate to find Pandora’s Box. But will she be too late?

the labyrinth

Book three really does pick up exactly where the last book finished and once again plunges straight into the action.  This is probably the most anomalous of the three books as in it we get to journey into the Labyrinth, the home of all the lost, almost-forgotten and mostly ancient deities that are trapped, waiting for a chance to re-exert their power over humans in the real world.  This section of the story still had the menace of the rest of the action (especially when the Smiling Ladies decide to make an appearance) but also lent a sense of otherworldliness and hope to the pervading sense of anticipated loss that coloured the first two books.

The book has the classic “building up to the final battle” atmosphere throughout, but we are also treated to some new (and unexpectedly jocular) characters and a little bit of romance in the air for Ursula, the Glumpog maid who spreads despair (unintentionally) wherever she goes.  Ursula ended up being one of my favourite characters of the series, mainly because of the comic relief that she tends to provide whenever she’s in a scene.

The thing I appreciated most about this book was the fact that the final battle and resolution had all the feeling and action expected of the climax of a fantasy trilogy, without the blow-by-blow descriptions of the final fights that are so characteristic of this genre, and which I tend to find rather tedious.  I was very grateful to the author for giving us the meat of the resolution without all the tiresome chewing of gristle that just draws out the ending for no discernible benefit to the telling.

My thoughts on the series in a nutshell?

By the time I left Nightfall Gardens I had garnered a deep respect for Houston’s abilities as a storyteller, but more so for his incredible commitment to the world he has built.  The construction and population of Nightfall Gardens is vastly imaginative, undisputedly arresting and something that will no doubt be greatly appreciated and devoured with relish by those hoping to discover a fantasy tale that touches on the classic themes of the genre in a downright refreshing environment.

I was so pleased that Allen approached me to review the rest of this series, because otherwise those books might have sat on my TBR list forevermore, with me thinking that they would be much the same as the first.  This is one of those rare (almost endangered, in fact) beasts – a series that gets better book by book.

It also makes me wonder why on earth books of this quality, with such interesting takes on a familiar genre aren’t picked up by the big publishers.  It’s one of those times that I am super-thankful for indie authors.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Adult Fiction Read-It-If Review: Mr Wicker…

7

 

image

Cheerio my pretties! Today I have an indie fantasy-paranormal-horror story for the grown-ups that features all manner of creepy goings-on.  I was initially drawn to it because of the raven on the cover (cool!) and the fact that it was set partly in a ghostly library (super-cool!) and partly in a psychiatric inpatient facility (count me in!).  I received a digital copy of today’s book, Mr Wicker by Maria Alexander from the publisher, Raw Screaming Dog Press (now there’s a name that gives you a good idea what sort of books they publish) in exchange for review – thanks!

Alicia Baum is experiencing a run of failures – her husband left her, her last book bombed in sales, and the bank is foreclosing on her house – and decides to end it all.  As she loses consciousness during her suicide attempt, Alicia finds herself inside a mysterious library with the sinister librarian, Mr Wicker, who informs her that his library holds a book containing Alicia’s lost memory – the one that is the cause of all her suffering to date.  Before she can take possession of the book, or move on into the (proper) hereafter, Alicia wakes to find herself in Bayford Psychiatric Hospital, under the control of the odious Dr Sark. 

Dr James Farron is a paediatric psychiatrist with a special interest in Alicia’s case.  Using funding for a research grant, Dr Farron is attempting to find out more about the mysterious Mr Wicker, a name that continually arises in the sleep-talk of children suffering trauma who are brought to the hospital.  Alicia is the first adult Dr Farron has ever encountered who has mentioned Mr Wicker, and he intends to find out why.

As the two cross paths in the hospital, danger is closing in from all sides, threatening to end Dr Farron’s career and Alicia’s life.  Unless Alicia can untangle the mystery of her missing memory, Mr Wicker may just open the door to some very old secrets indeed, that have the potential to change Alicia and Dr Farron forever.

22545259

 

I’m going to do things a bit differently this time, as I tend to do when I feature books with some particularly sensitive or disturbing themes (and this book has a bit of both), so here is a “Don’t Read it if…” disclaimer for those who are faint of heart.

Don’t Read it if:

* you are in a fragile state of mind and the graphic description of a suicide attempt and violence against the female lead character is not something you want in your current reading experience

Now, onto the Read it if:

*you like your fantasy/horror stories to be raw, graphic and featuring more than a little violence, creepiness and smouldering sensuality

* you’ve ever been minding your own business and enjoying a quiet stroll in the park when out of the blue a large angry bird descends seemingly out of nowhere to chase, swoop and peck you … this point applies doubly if this has happened to you indoors

* when reading stories set in a psychiatric hospital, you prefer said hospital to employ practices more suited to a medieval torture chamber

*you believe fantasy/horror just isn’t fantasy/horror unless it takes a completely unexpected turn right in the middle of the story, preferably involving a little known ancient myth that features eternally repeating betrayal and murder

Mr Wicker was a lot more graphic in its horror and violence than the books that I usually read, but I suspect it will greatly appeal to those who regularly enjoy this genre.  Graphic descriptions aside though, the author manages to deliver a pretty complex storyline without losing control of any of the multiple plot threads.  Throughout the book, there’s a palpable sense of danger to Alicia, and the feeling that things aren’t what they seem.  A number of the hospital staff are less than professional, to say the least, and as the story unfolds the reader gets the idea that not only may Alicia be in danger from supernatural forces, but from some very human forces also.

Dr Farron is an instantly likeable, if somewhat stereotypical character, fulfilling the role of Alicia’s protector and champion when all around her seem to discount her experiences as the ravings of a madwoman.  The author manages to throw any stereotypes out the window with the introduction of a new and entirely unexpected (for me, anyway) plotline right in the middle of the book, that sheds light on the character of Mr Wicker and the reasons why he is so interested in Alicia herself.

Underlying all of this is Alicia’s missing memory and how this has contributed to her unraveling life.  This mystery is played out slowly, as Alicia dips into her family history in sessions with Dr Farron, but can’t quite grasp the memory that Mr Wicker guards so closely.  The inclusion of this personal psychological mystery as one of the major plotlines gives a nice break from all the other strangeness going on in the book and allows for a change of pace that I appreciated when it popped up every now and then.

Overall, I’d say that this book has a satisfying blend of fantasy themes, anticipated romance, family secrets, horror and mystery  and will appeal to those who are looking for a complex story with a lot of twists and turns.  And large, flapping birds appearing in odd places.  Mr Wicker is due for release on September 16th.

Until next time,

Bruce

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

//