Daughters of Doubt and Eyerolling

Category: Reviews Page 2 of 19

The First Law Buddyread

Say one thing for TheLadyDuckOfDoom and TheMarquessMagpie, say they enjoy the hell out of a well-written epic fantasy series. And Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series was just that.

We read the first three books as buddyreads, which really takes a lot of determination if you want to pace yourself.

The series starts of with The Blade Itself, in which our illustrous cast of characters is introduced and assembled. Here are some of them:

  • Logen Ningefingers, also called the Bloody-Nine: a humble northman haunted by his past. In Lady Duck’s estimation, he also suffers from dissociative identity disorder.
  • Sand dan Glokta, a once praised fencer, for his looks as well as his skill, he was tortured and turned into a cripple when he got captured in war. Now he serves as a torturer and investigator for the Inquisition, which is more of a police institution than religious undertaking in the Kingdom.
  • Jezal dan Luthar, the rich kid, totally loathesome. What an ass.
  • The Dogman, a named man from the north, famed for his sense of smell. It feels unlikely, but he really grows on you.
  • Ferro Maljinn, a former slave, runs on revenge plots alone. She is a force to be reckoned with.
  • Collem West, an army Major stepping up when things get difficult and dangerous. Don’t worry, he has his faults.
  • Bayaz, First of the Magi, always with a trick up his sleeve. You never know what’s up with that cheating bastard.

We spent most of the first book getting a glimpse into the lives of these characters. It‘s mainly a setup book and not a ton of stuff happens. But don‘t think that it gets boring for even a bit – we at least follow Glokta uncovering a conspiracy, after all.

Instead of suffering from a case of middle book syndrome, Before They Are Hanged turned out to be a roadtrip book. There are some very interesting character developments, and we get to know the cast a lot better. The brewing conflicts are foreshadowed very reasonably and you smell a war coming. In the 10th anniversary edition, the author’s note tells us that Abercrombie is incredibly proud of this book, and Lady Duck seconds this opinion. The middle book syndrome is expertly circumnavigated, and she laughed at the end of it.

In The Last Argument of Kings, the world is at war. New kings are crowned and need to grow into their roles very quickly. Although, do they really? There’s fighting, blood, and even more fighting. The “backwards” Northmen play quite a big part in the turn of events. The ending leaves some threads dangling, but intentionally so. The books play so well on the common epic fantasy genres, and denying the readers full closure is just another of Abercrombies tricks. Or maybe he planned more books set in this universe all along.

Overall, the series mostly deals with what it means to wield power. Who can be trusted with it? What does having a title really mean? Isn’t everybody (except one… ) just pretending to know what they’re doing and hoping for the best? Another recurring theme twists the fantasy trope of redemption arcs: sometimes, as hard as people try to be better, sometimes they can not.

The writing style was a real treat:

  • so many unexpected moments of comic relief…
  • … but still grim and bloody
  • it changes a bit with the characters (The recurring “Say one thing for Logen Ninefingers…”, “dead body found at the docks” is a recurring imagined newspaper headline in Glokta’s head after he gets into trouble)
  • some predictable plot twists and turns, but the execution is still great.

The characters feel very real. You see the bad side of every one of them. Not all of them are likeable, but all of them are captivating. I never thought I would root for a crippled torturer, but go Glokta go! Prepare yourself for some very difficult and sad death scenes – but also for a burst of joy when one absolutely loathsome character meets a very satisfying end. While the books are quite “dude-heavy”, the female characters also shine. They are morally grey, scheming and far from your classic damsel in distress.

So, I guess I really need to read all Abercrombie books now. Don’t worry, the next one (Best Served Cold) is already waiting on my shelf. Lady Duck insert: not on my shelves, oh noes. We will need to change that asap (which means summer or later, book buying ban be damned)

5/5 Birdies for each of them – still alive, still alive

Better Skip in Case of Emergency

I found Daniela Krien’s Love in Case of Emergency (or Die Liebe im Ernstfall in the original German version) at a book flea market, picked it up for 1€ and felt incredibly lucky.

Well, let’s say that I’m happy I didn’t pay more. It’s not a bad book, not really. I just didn’t care at all for the characters. The book consists of five interconnected stories about different women. I do not need every character to be likeable, but at least one out of five POVs would have helped a lot.

The thing that stayed with me most was the feeling that everyone was cheating on everyone else. Not my favourite kind of plot, to say the least. I probably expected a more empowering kind of book. It could have been an interesting look at difficult topic and the strength it takes to overcome challenges, instead it just left a somehow toxic taste in my mouth as we see five women that are hurt or defined by either the absence or the presence of men.

2/5 Magpies – at least it was a quick read

Quick reviews – March ’22

A.J. Hackwith’s The God of Lost Words, first published 02 November 2021.

This is the last book in the Hell's Library trilogy. Even days after finishing it, and I savoured it slowly, I am still what the title says: lost for words that is, not a God/dess; just in case you were wondering. It's the perfect ending to the trilogy. Claire, Hero, Brevity, and Rami are trying to save the Library from falling into the clutches of Hell's demons. The dream team have to  outsmart Malphas by showing a united force to be able to save the Library of the Unwritten, or face obliteration. 
Hackwith poured her love for her characters and books into this story. She wrapped up this truly unique trilogy nicely, giving it a fitting ending. 

5/5 Harpy Eagles

The Drowned City & Traitor in the Ice by K.J. Maitland, published 01 April 2021, 31 March 2022 respectively.

It's 1606. James VI/I sits on the British throne. Daniel Pursglove sits in his majesty's prison suspected of performing witchcraft. 
On the anniversary of the foiled Gunpowder Plot a huge tidal wave destroys large parts of Bristol. Enter Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to the king, who offers Daniel a chance to win his freedom. Daniel is to go to Bristol to find one of the members of the Gunpowder Plot who managed to escape arrest and is now recruiting Jesuits. 

Unfortunately, the pace of the book is rather slow, and the verbose descriptions -although creating a wonderful atmosphere- slog down the story further. 
Just one year later, 1607, and paranoid Kind James sends Daniel to infiltrate a Catholic household that is said to be full of supporters of the pope; among them the traitor Daniel already pursuit in the first book. Soon the bodies start piling up and Daniel is determined to uncover the killer, in a house where no one is who they pretend to be. 

The second book in this series couldn't hold my attention to the end. I kept skimming pages, because of the slow pace. The writing is good, but too descriptive for my taste. 

2/5 Harpy Eagles for either novel

Tigana, or fantasy from another age

Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay was our newest attempt at a Buddyread. First published in 1990, we were a bit stunned that this book is 32 years old, older than me. It is a standalone fantasy novel, and the TheMarquessMagpie recently read a much more recent novel by the same author, A Brightness Long Ago, and really enjoyed it.

Tigana is the magical story of a beleaguered land struggling to be free. It is the tale of a people so cursed by the black sorcery of a cruel despotic king that even the name of their once-beautiful homeland cannot be spoken or remembered…

But years after the devastation, a handful of courageous men and women embark upon a dangerous crusade to overthrow their conquerors and bring back to the dark world the brilliance of a long-lost name…Tigana.

Goodreads blurb, 09.03.2022

So off we went to the Lands of the Palm, modeled after Italy in the Renaissance, where we meet Devin, one of our main Protagonists. Devin is a young singer in a troupe and does not really have any defining character traits, but takes more the role of the observer of the story who gets swept up in the plot. This is where TheMostHonourableHarpyEagle left us, without intriguing characters, the book was too slow for her. And she is not wrong, there does not happen much in the book.

While the prose is certainly beautiful and I have passages that I really liked, the book feels a bit like an ancient Greek tragedy. They go this way, meet this person, then the other. Then there is a woman bent on revenge but instead she falls in love. Torn in two, she tries to find a mystical being for help and a prophecy.

There are some things which really show the age of the book, the casual racism for once, the depiction of women as incapable of controlling their feelings another. Each character feels like a certain stereotype, and a strong, non-male character is missing, at least in my opinion.

Then there is the casual incest which really adds NOTHING to the story. Absolutely nothing. The author has written a really good afterword, but the explanation that in face of war and oppression, people tend to act out in other ways is really not enough for me.

While this was a very slow, flawed read for me, it was not all bad, and I would like to quote a part of the authors afterword here:

Tigana is in good part a novel about memory: the necessity of it, in cultural termns, and the dangers that come when it is too intense.

guy gavriel kay

3/5 duckies

I’d like to feel a shiver, please.

Lately I’ve read a few books that were supposed to send shivers down my back, or a tingle up my spine, or at least give me a mild case of goosebumps, but all they did was make me wonder whether my sense of thrill is broken.

Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes, published 08 February 2022.

It was hailed as Titanic meets Event Horizon and that is more or less what you get. A luxury space liner adrift for two decades. An emergency signal picked up by a small crew. As soon as the crew enters the space liner they know something is wrong. The whole ship is frozen. The passengers are dead, but something moved. They all saw something move out of the corner of their eyes.

It wasn't that big of a surprise to me, what was behind the horror. Still, the book was interesting and entertaining enough for me to stick it out till the end.

3/5 Harpy Eagles


The Atlas Six by Olivie Blake, first published January 2020.

Take a secret society that is the heir to the Great Library of Alexandria, six young magicians, who are the best of the best, and a building that is very English and that is to be the home of the young magicians until the initiation, when one of them has to be murdered by the others.

Dark academia YA fantasy, unlikable characters that hardly ever interact with each other, lots of telling instead of showing, stilted dialogue, a big twist that just isn't. And this is the revised edition?! I do not want to know what the first - unrevised - edition looked like.

This book will have its following. It's been hyped on TikTok and has a wonderful cover. It just wasn't for me.

1/5 Harpy Eagles


Sundial by Catriona Ward, published 10 March 2022 (UK).

"... [A] twisty horror novel..." Erm, no.
Lots of animal cruelty and child torture? Yes. 
Did I enjoy the prose style? No. 
Did I guess the twist(s) beforehand? Yes.
Would I recommend the book to anyone? No.





1/5 Harpy Eagles

Athos 2643

Dear Readers, this is the first review about a German book in German. I will not translate this review into English. I’m going to leave my short description of this book here instead: It’s a very philosophical sci-fi novel featuring an aging, sexually frustrated inquisitor and his AI assistant with a very misogynistic holo-Barbie appearance, as well as a handful of ascetic monks and their ethically compromised AI.

Athos 2643 – Nils Westerboer – erschienen am 19. Februar 2022 bei Hobbit Presse, Klett-Cotta.

Beschreibung des Verlags:

Auf Athos, einem kleinen Neptunmond, stirbt ein Mönch. Rüd Kartheiser, Inquisitor und Spezialist für lebenserhaltende künstliche Intelligenzen, ermittelt. An seiner Seite: Seine Assistentin Zack. Schön, intelligent und bedingungslos gehorsam. Ein Hologramm. Für Rüd die perfekte Frau. Doch das Kloster des Athos verbirgt ein altes, dunkles Geheimnis. Rüd erkennt: Um zu überleben, muss er Zack freischalten. Das Jahr 2643: Der Neptunmond Athos ist zum Schauplatz eines unerklärlichen Verbrechens geworden. Die lebenserhaltende KI des Klosters steht im Verdacht, gemordet zu haben. Inquisitor Rüd Kartheiser, ein Spezialist im Verhören künstlicher Intelligenzen, wird mit dem Fall beauftragt. Zusammen mit seiner attraktiven holografischen Assistentin Zack, die ihm durch eine Reihe von Sicherheitsbeschränkungen absolut ergeben ist, erreicht er den kleinen, zerklüfteten Mond. Doch die Ermittlungen der beiden treffen auf Widerstand. Während Zacks anziehende Erscheinung bei den Mönchen Anstoß erregt, entpuppt sich die KI des Klosters als gerissene Taktikerin, die ihr Handeln geschickt verschleiert. Als sich unter den Mönchen ein zweiter Todesfall ereignet, begreift Rüd, dass er mehr als je zuvor auf Zacks Hilfe angewiesen ist. Um ihr Potential auszuschöpfen, trifft er – hinsichtlich ihrer Sicherheitsbeschränkungen – eine folgenschwere Entscheidung.

Meine Erwartungen:

Die Menschheit hat aus irgendeinem Grund irgendwie das Sonnensystem bevölkert. Die Technik hat sich weiterentwickelt. Es gibt Klöster. Also hat die Menschheit weiterhin Religionen, vermutlich monotheistische patriarchale Religionen.

Ein Inquisitor muss in einem Kloster auf einem Neptunmond einen Mord aufklären. Na wenn das nicht nach „Der Name der Rose“ klingt. Wir sind also in der Zukunft, aber sozial doch eher im Mittelalter. Frauen sind an bestimmten Orten verboten und werden, mal wieder, auf ihr Äußeres und ihren bedingungslosen Gehorsam reduziert.

Wie kann man einen Klappentext so sexistisch darstellen? Alles nur Marketingmasche? Steckt hinter dem Buch gar ein feministischer Roman? Wird Zack sich befreien? Wurde der Mord mit ganz viel Finesse durchgezogen? Unter Nutzung der lokalen Begebenheiten und Widrigkeiten?

Mein Fazit – nachdem ich den Roman am Ende von Teil 1 (67%) abgebrochen habe:

Das Buch ist mehr philosophische spekulative Fiktion als ein Science-Fiction-Roman. Die Geschichte mag in der Zukunft spielen, auf einem Neptunmond, es gibt KIs, es gibt eine gruselige automatisierte Fleischzucht, künstliche Gravitation, etc pp. Es gibt ausschweifende, teils extrem langatmige Landschafts- und Planetenbeschreibungen. Es wird mit Sci-Fi Ausdrücken und Abkürzungen um sich geworfen, zu denen oft die (wissenschaftliche) Erklärung fehlt – und nein, ein Appendix, der mir diese Dinge erklären soll, reicht mir hier nicht. Das ist die faule Version eines Sci-Fi-Romans. Abgesehen davon scheinen einige Handlungselemente komplett von den bisherigen spärlichen Erklärungen abzuweichen. So werden, zum Beispiel, die Gravitationsspule und die damit verbundenen Injektionen semi-wissenschaftlich erklärt, und dann ist da dieses Insekt, das offensichtlich der Schwerkraft ausgesetzt ist, bei dem ich mir aber nur schwer vorstellen kann, dass ihm jemand regelmäßig die nötigen Partikel einspritzt.

Wie ich bereits angedeutet habe, der Roman ist sehr philosophisch. Was bei KIs als Hauptcharakteren natürlich nicht weiter verwunderlich ist. KIs in einem Roman fordern geradezu die Diskussion über die üblichen philosophischen, ethischen und religiösen Themen, die als „wer darf über Leben und Tod entscheiden?“ zusammengefasst werden können, heraus. Das macht letztlich auch den Hauptteil der Geschichte aus, das Philosophieren mit den KIs und über die KIs und deren Entscheidungsfreiraum.

Erzählt wird die Geschichte aus Sicht der Gynoid Zack, der KI mit Holoprojektion. Diese Holoprojektion ist fast perfekt nach Rüds Wünschen angefertigt worden, die Brüste sind zum Beispiel etwas zu klein geraten, aber sonst ist sie eine prima Holo-Barbie: gehorsam in allen Lebenslagen, gibt keine Widerworte und lässt sich prima zulabern, wenn Rüd mansplainen muss. Dass sie auch hervorragend seine sexuellen Phantasien erfüllt, erfährt man direkt in der Eingangsszene, einer soft-BDSM Situation. Durch ihre geringe Oberflächenspannung kann Zack nur sehr kurze, sehr dünne Kleidchen tragen. Und immer wenn es Rüd passt, stellt er sie bloß. Egal ob sie dabei gerade allein sind, oder unter Menschen (eigentlich müsste es „unter Männern“ heißen, denn Zack ist die einzige weibliche Figur im Roman). Zack weiß, als auktoriale Erzählerin der Geschichte, netterweise auch häufig was in den anderen Charakteren vor sich geht. Gut, dass sie Rüd einschätzen kann, verstehe ich, aber woher weiß sie so gut über die Gedanken der Mönche bescheid? Das kann nicht alles nur Beobachtung sein.

Die Mordermittlung an sich ist nebensächlich. Mir zumindest war recht früh klar wer es war und warum. Ja, ja, natürlich hab ich nicht zu Ende gelesen und dahinter steckt noch ein größeres Geheimnis, das in Teil 2 des Romans sicher geklärt wird. Aber am Ende des ersten Teils hatte ich definitiv kein Interesse mehr weiterzulesen. Zumal ich schon nach dem Klappentext nicht wirklich Lust auf den Roman hatte.  

Ein paar Gedanken, die mir während des Lesens kamen:

  • Gynoid? Ganz nah an Gynozid. Überhaupt nicht sexistisch im 21. Jahrhundert, oder? Abgesehen davon, warum Gynoid? Also quasi die weibliche Form von Android. Frau-Droid? Dabei ist die Holo-Barbie ja gar kein Gynoid/Android, sondern nur eine KI, die dank eines Emitters holographisch dargestellt wird.
  • Warum muss Zack aus ihren Wahrnehmungen (über den kugelförmigen Emitter), zum Beispiel in der Fleischfabrik, Schlussfolgerungen über die dort arbeitenden Drohnen anstellen? Als KI sollte sie die nötigen Informationen abrufen können.
  • Warum kann die KI alles im Raum wahrnehmen, auch wenn der Emitter in Rüds Tasche oder Faust eingeschlossen ist?
  • Wenn Zack im „mediterranen Raum“ eine holografische Burka tragen kann, warum kann Rüd ihre Kurven dann nicht auch auf Athos mit angemessener Kleidung bedecken?
  • Im 27. Jahrhundert gibt’s weiterhin klar abgegrenzte Länder. Der Shisha-Bar-Inhaber ist anatolischer Herkunft? Die Gründer der Minen auf dem Athos waren Schweden? Erklärung?
  • Apropos mediterraner Raum. Wieso wird die Gravitation auf der Raumstation über Neptun(?) wegen des Ramadans reduziert?
  • Apropos Raumstation – Wasserstoffmeere bedeuten flüssiger Wasserstoff. Wie hält eine Raumstation dem Druck und den Temperaturen stand? Und der dazugehörigen Gravitation des Planeten? Wasserstoff wird erst ab mehreren Giga-Pascal flüssig. Da hätte ich so gern eine Erklärung gehabt.  
  • Die Namen der Charaktere wirken extrem mittelalterlich. Einige der Mönche haben sogar alliterative Namen, ich dachte ernsthaft: ich hab’s kapiert, das hier ist eine Satire! Vor allem wenn man „Zack“ für die Holo-Barbie dazu nimmt; weil sie so auf Zack ist?
  • Gibt’s auch nur irgendeine sinnvolle Erklärung für die gruselige Fleischzucht? Betonung auf sinnvoll.
  • Skleroiden gibt’s auch. Wenn ich das jetzt mit Gynoid vergleiche, dann sind das Hart-Droiden. Geschlechtsneutrale Arbeits-Droiden, die wie ein Golem mittels eines Stück Papiers (hier eines Chips) in der Stirn kontrolliert werden.
  • Wo sind die Frauen? Es gibt nur Holo-Barbie Zack als agierenden weiblichen Charakter. Werden die Männer in Fabriken hergestellt? Diese Idee kam mir, nachdem die KI des Klosters ein Problem lösen sollte und erklärte, dass man auf eine Hebamme verzichten könne, man aber dringend einen Kreisler bräuchte, der mit Seilen umgehen kann.
  • Das bringt mich zu meiner letzten Frage, was ist ein Kreisler? Stand bestimmt im Appendix, oder? Denn ein Kornfruchthändler (veralteter österreichischer Begriff) wird es wohl kaum sein.

Abschließend kann ich nur sagen, Athos 2643 war definitiv nicht was ich anhand des Klappentexts erwartet hatte. Es war sogar noch schlechter. Ich hatte auf eine Mordermittlung im klassischen Holmes&Watson-Format gehofft; auf eine Holo-Barbie-Watson, die aus ihrem Gefängnis ausbricht; auf mehr Science, weniger Philosophie. Stattdessen hat der Roman das typisch deutsche Sci-Fi-Frauenbild bestätigt: Eine Nackte auf dem Umschlag und „Zacks anziehende Erscheinung“. Ich frage mich, ob ein Roman mit einer weiblichen Inquisitorin und ihrem Holo-Adonis als Assistenten es überhaupt in den Druck geschafft hätte. ABER, das war ja nicht die Botschaft des Buchs, das hab ich sicher alles komplett missverstanden. Ging eigentlich um “Wer darf Gott spielen”.

0/5 Harpy Eagles [bei NetGalley 1/5 Sternen, 0 Sterne mag deren KI nicht 😉 ]

Quick Reviews – January/February 2022

Near the Bone by Christina Henry

Well, this was a page turner, although or despite not being as bone chilling as I had expected.
Mattie lives in the woods, with her husband William. When checking the rabbit snares she finds strange bear-like tracks. There's a beast hiding on the mountain. 
William is much older than Mattie, very brutal and the reader soon understands that something is not right here. 
Mattie remembers impossible bits from her past. Three college students are in the woods tracking the creature. William bought bear traps and grenades to kill the beast. 
Any idea how this will end? 
The sinister part reminded me of Neville's The Ritual. I was rooting for Mattie, but there were moments when I despised her for being such a wuss, nevertheless I kept turning the pages because I wanted to know whether my prediction of the outcome was right. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles


Pandora by Susan Stokes-Chapman

Review based on an ARC provided by the publishers.

Pandora "Dora" Blake's parents were killed in an accident twelve years ago. Her uncle took charge of Dora and of the antiquarian shop Dora's parents built and has nearly run it to the ground. Dora knows her uncle is hiding something and eventually finds Greek antiquities in the cellar. She enlists the help of Edward Lawrence, a book binder and antiquarian scholar, to find out whether the items are genuine. Soon they discover that the large vase Dora found has more in store than helping Edward to achieve an academic future and Dora to restore her parents' shop to its former glory.

Pandora is a historical novel set in Georgian time. It's a mystery novel as much as a historical novel. The writing is good. The descriptions of London and the characters are vivid. The three POV give each of the three characters their own voice.

At times, though, the use of anachronistic words took me out of the story, but that might have been rectified before publishing.

3,5/5 Harpy Eagles


Strange Beasts of China by Yan Ge, translated by Jeremy Tiang

In Yo'ang humans and "strange beasts", human-like mythical creatures, live together. Each of the nine interconnecting chapters of the book is dedicated to a different species of "strange beasts". The nameless narrator tells us about the origins, appearances and habits of the different beasts. It was interesting, but the repetitive nature of the stories soon got boring. 
It's surrealism, or magical realism. 

3/5 Harpy Eagles


Fortune Favours the Dead by Stephen Spotswood

It's the late 1940s. Willowjean Parker ran away with the circus years ago. In New York she comes across the famous detective Lilian Pentecost, who hires her as an assistant. 
Fast forward to three years later, Mrs P and Parker are hired to solve a locked room mystery. The widow of a rich industrial magnate was killed after a seance at the family's Halloween party.
The murder could be anyone from the husband's business partner, to the children, the medium present at the seance, to the ghosts of the past. 
I liked how Pentecost and Parker faced the usual trials and prejudices of women in that time. It was done well, I never had the impression that the women behaved anachronistically. Pentecost further has to deal with a chronic illness that makes her job very hard at times; from personal experience, I can say that the author depicted Mrs P's problems very accurately. 

4/5 Harpy Eagles

Madhouse at the End of the Earth

Welcome back to the Marquess Magpie‘s next entry in the series „people dying on the ice and/or mountains“. This time, we are following the crew of the Belgica into the Antarctic night.

It is the age of polar exploration, and Belgian Navy officer Adrien de Gerlache decides to lead an expedition to the Antarctic to make his nation proud. One of the expedition‘s goals was to reach the (magnetic) South Pole. And oh my, during their journey things go south indeed.

They were not even anywhere close to the South Pole before some of the crew members started brawling and they had to get rid of their cook. The beginning of the book therefore has a bit of a boys will be boys vibe. They also lose one of the crew members quite early on during a storm.

The book mainly follows the commander de Gerlache, the ships’s surgeon Frederick Cook and first mate Roald Amundsen. Having read an abbreviated version of Amundsen‘s account of his later expedition to the South Pole, it was very interesting to see everyone‘s favourite viking in his younger years. These characters are what makes the story so very interesting. Cook and Amundsen developed a kind of bromance, tinkering with the exploration gear and going on skiing excursions together.

When faced with the decision to either abort the expedition or to let the ship get trapped in the ice, possibly for months, de Gerlache made the conscious decision to stay. He would hate to come home and be known as a quitter. His desire for fame and glory by far outweighed his instinct for self-preservation, and his crew didn‘t get to have a say at all.

Trapped in the ice, every night got longer and longer, until the sun disappeared for seventy days. One can only imagine what this does to your mental health. The ones being least affected were Cook and Amundsen, taking it as a chance to prepare even harder for future expeditions. Amundsen, the weirdo, almost seems to be having fun. But soon they had to face the fact that – not unlike punk – scurvy‘s not dead.

Thanks to the primary sources Julian Sancton used, this feels like a very close and accurate account of the story while offering different perspectives. The description of the preparation phase was a bit slow, but once the crew got on board the story really took off. The German translation was great and for once did not feel clunky at all.

5 / 5 Magpies – ice, death and madness all the way. Remember to eat your penguin meat.

The Midnight Library

Ah, another Matt Haig book. The Midnight Library has been sitting on my shelf since Christmas. I knew I wanted to get to it sooner rather than later. But when I saw that a friend started reading it, sooner became right away. And since it is quite snack sized, I tore through it in two days.

The story follows Nora Seed, who decides to die but ends up in a library instead. In this library, time has stopped at midnight and Nora has the chance to visit other versions of her life. Imagine that every time you decide something, another version of your life branches off. What if there is a perfect life you could join instead? And what if there isn‘t?

Matt Haig takes on a heavy topic and still leaves you hopeful in the end. It was a bit predictable, but I was totally fine with that.

5/5 Magpies – 4 for the story, one for the author

19th century Edinburgh in two novels

Books are perfect to travel to different places and different times; I don’t need to tell you this, I know. My recent reading took me to Edinburgh in the 19th century. Both books not only had the setting in common, both books also dealt with the study of the human body and the supernatural. Now that I think of it, both even offered a spot of romance.

The first novel was Anatomy by Dana Schwartz. The cover hooked me, the blurb got me:

Edinburgh, 1817.

Hazel Sinnett is a lady who wants to be a surgeon more than she wants to marry.

Jack Currer is a resurrection man who’s just trying to survive in a city where it’s too easy to die.

When the two of them have a chance encounter outside the Edinburgh Anatomist’s Society, Hazel thinks nothing of it at first. But after she gets kicked out of renowned surgeon Dr. Beecham’s lectures for being the wrong gender, she realizes that her new acquaintance might be more helpful than she first thought. Because Hazel has made a deal with Dr. Beecham: if she can pass the medical examination on her own, the university will allow her to enroll. Without official lessons, though, Hazel will need more than just her books – she’ll need bodies to study, corpses to dissect.

Lucky that she’s made the acquaintance of someone who digs them up for a living, then.

But Jack has his own problems: strange men have been seen skulking around cemeteries, his friends are disappearing off the streets. Hazel and Jack work together to uncover the secrets buried not just in unmarked graves, but in the very heart of Edinburgh society.

Well, this should have been my jam – apart from it being a YA novel: Gothic tale, a mystery, a romance. It wasn’t. But it sure has a great cover.

It’s the autumn of 1817, our teenage heroine, Hazel, is a smart red-head who lives in a castle. She’s read every medical book in her father’s library and knows how to distinguish the humerus from the femur, but doesn’t know that becoming a female physician – that is a woman who’s a medical professional – is not in her future. And no, before you think something along the lines of, but this girl will use her strong will to show the patriarchy what’s what, forget it. She’s the kind of girl who’s flabbergasted when she find out that her future husband will determine whether she might practice medicine, given that she first has to be allowed to study and pass the exam. Basically, we have a 21st century girl in a 19th century setting.

Jack is a dull character. He snatches bodies out of graves and sells them to anatomists. He has a crush on an actress. He snatches bodies out of graves… Oh, I said that already. Well, you get the picture.

The pacing of the novel is off. The blurb is a summary of the first 40% of the book. The mystery was a no show until about 75%. Then we get the story going, wrapped up, and a potential sequel hinted at in the remaining quarter.

While I was waiting for the (not really baffling) mystery, I realised a lot of inconsistencies with the time and place of the story: Word of mouth goes round about a teenager performing medical procedures alone in her house – but no authority cares. A pregnant woman in labour is walking for hours to get to Hazel instead of finding a midwife near her. A policeman treating Hazel like he has no care in the world about her socially higher standing. Anachronistic language and no distinction in speech between the different social classes. I could continue. There was so much more. Just thinking Edinburgh, late September, sunrise and sunset times, and my hackles rise again. Dear author, how much research did you really put into this book?

One more thing about the romance: Hazel and Jack hiding in the grave of a mutilated body and kissing and falling asleep with said body only feet away – so romantic.

1/5 Harpy Eagles


The second novel that brought me to Edinburgh was set at the other end of the century. It’s Craig Russell’s Hyde, a retelling of the Robert Louis Stevenson story.

Edward Hyde has a strange gift-or a curse-he keeps secret from all but his physician. He experiences two realities, one real, the other a dreamworld state brought on by a neurological condition.

When murders in Victorian Edinburgh echo the ancient Celtic threefold death ritual, Captain Edward Hyde hunts for those responsible. In the process he becomes entangled in a web of Celticist occultism and dark scheming by powerful figures. The answers are there to be found, not just in the real world but in the sinister symbolism of Edward Hyde’s otherworld.

He must find the killer, or lose his mind.

A dark tale. One that inspires Hyde’s friend . . . Robert Louis Stevenson.

It is always a problem for me to write a long review about a book that I enjoyed.

Hyde is a dark-ish character. He’s not the monster Stevenson painted, but works for the Edinburgh police force. He’s been hiding his episodes since his childhood, recently they have become more severe. So severe, that Hyde fears he might be the brutal killer himself. Coming out of his “spells,” he finds himself close to the murder victims too often for it to be coincidence.

The occult dark part was a tiny bit predictable for me. I have read similar stories and knew who the puppet master pulling the strings was early on. This did not diminish my enjoyment of the story, though.

Russell played with the original duality of Stevenson’s story, but gave it a different twist. Setting, characters and plot development made sense. Add a few cameos and they made me overlook the few inconsistencies.

4/5 Harpy Eagles

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