Hammers on Bone (2016) by Cassandra Khaw

“My face is older than I remember, the lines longer, more entrenched in coarse brown skin. Puckered flesh details a history in bullet wounds, knife scars, burns. Ugly but human.” (p.75)

 

Hammers on Bone is a 2016 novella by Cassandra Khaw, the creator of Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef. It’s her first story to feature John Persons, a private investigator based in Croydon, South London. You could describe Persons as a Transformer-detective because there’s more to him than meets the eye. To say any more would be to spoil a fascinating plot device that Khaw uses. His latest client is a ten-year-old boy who has an unusual job for the PI. Continue reading

Mightier than the Sword (2017) by K.J. Parker

“Speaking as a military man, I despise fighting against lunatics. I’ve done it once or twice, and it sets your teeth on edge. You can’t predict what they’ll do, …” (Loc 570)

 

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Cover by Vincent Chong

When the Empress is your aunt, you’ve got to do what she says, even if you don’t like it. K.J. Parker’s latest novella pits an unnamed narrator against “the Land and Sea Raiders”, a group of mysterious pirates who have been attacking the land’s monasteries. We are told a brief history of encounters with the raiders, but until now, no-one has been able to discover exactly who they are or where they’re from.

“Our first experience of them was seventy long, high-castled warships suddenly appearing off Vica Bay. The governor […] sent a message to their leader inviting him to lunch. He came, and brought some friends; it was sixty years before Vica was rebuilt,” (Loc 129)

Continue reading

Way Down Dark (2015) by J.P. Smythe

“And then the lights go dim. Every day, fifteen hours they’re bright, then nine hours they’re dim. That’s how we know day from night; how we know it’s time to sleep. It’s also how the worst parts of the ship know to come alive.” (Loc 572)

 

The first part of J.P. Smythe’s Australia trilogy, Way Down Dark, tells the story of Chan, a teenage girl living on board a spaceship called “Australia”. The ship, we are told, left a dying Earth many years before and is searching for a new home for its large crew of “inhabitants”. Over time, the people on Australia have split into four separate groups: the Bells, the Pale Women, the Free People, and the Lows.

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Each group lives together in their own segregated zones on the ship. The Bells are descended from genetically engineered soldiers. The Pale Women are a religious group who keep themselves apart from the other groups. Chan is a member of the Free People, the most democratic of the groups; her mother is its leader.  The Lows are brutal fighters who care little for the rest of the crew, and are looking to expand by any means necessary. Continue reading

Food of the Gods (Gods and Monsters) (2017) by Cassandra Khaw

“I used to wonder if death kills your sense of humour. It does.” (Loc 72)

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Rupert Wong, “cannibal chef,” prepares food for gods and ghouls. Sometimes he is the food. He used to be a triad and has a dark past he’s not proud of. These days, he’s just trying to make enough for him and his girlfriend to get by, as well as keep the right gods and monsters happy enough to keep him out of hell. That’s hell with a capital “D” or “Diyu”, the Chinese realm of the dead.

“The holy man didn’t tell me anything I wasn’t already expecting. He said I had an express pass to all Ten Courts of Hell. I would be there for a thousand years, if I was lucky.” (Loc 198)

In an effort to work off some of his bad karma, Rupert agrees to investigate the murder of the Dragon King of the South’s daughter. The only clue is a couple of feathers rumoured to have belonged to one of the Greek Furies. Press-ganged private investigator or chef to gods and monsters, Rupert Wong could be the hero we’ve all been waiting for. Continue reading

The Arrival of Missives (2016) by Aliya Whiteley

“There are deep roots to May Day, stretching back through the centuries. I find I have a taste for power in all its forms, […] and what is more powerful than a Queen?” (p.76)

This is the second novella by Aliya Whiteley that I’ve read this year. The first one was her stunning story The Beauty (2014) which left me in awe of its invention, its beautiful prose, and its genuine strangeness. The Arrival of Missives is not quite as strange as The Beauty, but it is equally as fascinating once it draws you in.

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Set in a small village in England just after the First World War, this is the story of Shirley Fearn, the teenage daughter of a successful land-owning farmer. She attends the village school and has a crush on its teacher, the injured war veteran Mr. Tiller. Shirley dreams of escaping the traditional, sleepy village life and is exploring the possibility of training to become a teacher in a school in the next town. Continue reading

What’s Your Choice for World Book Day ’17?

This is my physical TBR pile going into March. If you had to choose 1 book to read next, what would it be? Please post your answer in the comments section below:)

(Adam Roberts’ Adam Robots and Brian Aldiss’s The Secret of this Book are short story collections.)

The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories (2017) Edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin

“Indeed We created man from dried clay of black smooth mud.  And We created the Jinn before that from the smokeless flame of fire”
(Quran 15:26-27)

Up until quite recently, I was only familiar with the word “genie” as a descriptor for supernatural beings that have a reputation for living in old lamps and granting wishes. The stories in this collection use either “djinn”, “jinn” or “genie” to represent these entities that are very different from the Robin Williams-voiced, cute, animated character seen in Disney’s Aladdin. So, what are these mysterious, misrepresented creatures? Here is what the website “islamreligion.com” says about them:

“The Jinn are beings created with free will, living on earth in a world parallel to mankind.  The Arabic word Jinn is from the verb ‘Janna’ which means to hide or conceal. Thus, they are physically invisible from man as their description suggests.”
(Source: islamreligion.com. Link here.)

the-djinn-falls-in-loveIn The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories, editors Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin have compiled a wonderfully varied collection of 22 tales of “Djinn” from authors including Nnedi Okorafor, Sami Shah, Monica Byrne, Claire North, Kamila Shamsie, Kirsty Logan, K.J Parker, Saad Hossein, James Smythe and Neil Gaiman. It was nice to find a mixture of writers I knew as well as ones who were new to me; one of the great things about short story collections.

And what a collection this is. I haven’t enjoyed a short story collection as much as this in a long time. This is a wonderful book and a book full of wonders. Every tale is well told. It’s a cornucopia of enchanting tales that sheds light on the human condition as well as the supernatural Djinn. It was difficult to select a favorite so I’ll write a couple of lines about the stories that really stood out for me. Continue reading