Review of Dark Lullaby by Polly Ho-Yen

For fans of Black Mirror and The Handmaid’s Tale, in Dark Lullaby a mother desperately tries to keep her family together in a society where parenting standards are strictly monitored.
When Kit decides to have a child, she thinks she’s prepared. She knows how demanding Induction is. She’s seen children Extracted. But in a society where parenting is strictly monitored under the watchful gaze of OSIP (The Office of Standards in Parenting), she is forced to ask herself how far she will go to keep her family together.

There was something deeply personal about reading Dark Lullaby, speaking honestly as someone who suffered from PND and often felt massively inadequate as a first time parent I couldn’t help but put myself in the place of the parents we meet in this book. It’s a path that has been trodden before, a society beset by infertility where children are revered, however, Dark Lullaby takes it to a new level with the sinister OSIP. Literally anyone, anywhere can be waiting to pounce, to pass judgement on the smallest infringement of their overbearing standards of parenting. Feeding, sleeping, soothing, these are all things that as parents now we struggle through but with support, to think of doing that alone and under scrutiny of failure made this a heart shattering read at times.

Told in an alternating “Then” and “Now” style we see Kit go from an “Out” the term for woman who chose not to go through Induction to the desperate mother we meet in the opening chapters. How eventually a society obsessed with child bearing reduces a woman’s worth to almost zero if they chose to remove themselves from the process. Substandard housing and career stagnation can all be escaped by fulfilling your destiny as a woman to produce a child. Its sad to see the pro’s and con’s of having a child weighed initially in lifestyle perks and how conditioned women become, even knowing the pain and risk involved, that this is the ultimate in achievement.

There was something utterly compelling about Kit’s story though, understanding the choices she makes through what she has witnessed and what she believes society requires of her is stunningly written. Despite the heavy subject matter it doesn’t feel heavy to read, I found myself bounding through the pages, the short and snappy chapters building up to the storm we know is coming, the urgency of Kit’s quest spilling into my fingers and I turned page after page desperate to know how it ends. Whilst the connection to The Handmaids Tale is fair given the subject, it’s actually the Black Mirror feel that stood out more starkly for me. Everything should be questioned and I was left with an uneasy satisfaction at the way things played out, which is a curious feeling and one that I don’t think a book has ever left me with before.

Even though my own experiences made this a difficult read in places, it was as brilliant as I hoped it would be from the blurb and the stunning cover. There is also some pretty clever propaganda floating around from the publisher which you should definitely seek out too to round out the reading experience. Thank you as always to Titan Books for providing me with an early copy of Dark Lullaby for review.

4 Stars


Blog Tour Spotlight: The Gilded King by Josie Jaffrey

Hey everyone!

Today it’s my stop on the @The_WriteReads blog tour for The Gilded King by Josie Jaffrey! The Gilded King placed forth in the 2020 BBNYA Awards and I’m excited to be spotlighting this story for you today!

But what’s this about BBNYA? BBNYA is a yearly competition where book bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors!  BBNYA is brought to you in association with the Folio Society (If you love beautiful books you NEED to check out their website!) And the book blogger support group TheWriteReads.

If you are an author and wish to learn more about the 2021 BBNYA competition, you can visit the official website ( or our Twitter account, @BBNYA_Official. If you would like to sign-up and enter your book, you can find the BBNYA 2021 AUTHOR SIGN UP FORM HERE. Please make sure to carefully read our terms and conditions before entering. 

If you are a book blogger or reviewer, you can apply to be part of BBNYA 2021 by filling out this form (also remember to read the terms and conditions before signing up)! 

But onto the book!

In the Blue, the world’s last city, all is not well.

Julia is stuck within its walls. She serves the nobility from a distance until she meets Lucas, a boy who believes in fairytales that Julia’s world can’t accommodate. The Blue is her prison, not her castle, and she’d escape into the trees if she didn’t know that contamination and death awaited humanity outside.

But not everyone in the Blue is human, and not everyone can be contained.

Beyond the city’s boundaries, in the wild forests of the Red, Cameron has precious little humanity left to lose. As he searches for a lost queen, he finds an enemy rising that he thought long dead. An enemy that the humans have forgotten how to fight.

One way or another, the walls of the Blue are coming down. The only question is what side you’ll be on when they do.

I read The Gilded King a couple of years ago and although I didn’t write a full review at the time, it was a richly woven and intriguing world clashing together Vampires and Zombies in a post apocalyptic virus fuelled frenzy! I rated it 4 Stars

About the Author

Josie is the author of nine self-published novels plus short stories. She is currently working on a range of fantasy and historical fiction projects (both adult and YA), for which she is seeking representation. Ultimately, she hopes to be a hybrid author, both traditionally- and self-published.

After finishing her degree in Literae Humaniores (Classics) at the University of Oxford, Josie wasn’t sure what to do with her life.

She slogged through a brief stint working for an investment bank in London during the 2008 credit crunch, then converted to law and qualified as a solicitor specialising in intellectual property. She worked at a law firm for five years before moving to a UK-based international publisher in 2016. Whilst she loved law, in the end she didn’t love it quite as much as writing, which she now does almost full time.

Josie lives in Oxford with her husband and two cats (Sparky and Gussie), who graciously permit human cohabitation in return for regular feeding and cuddles. The resulting cat fluff makes it difficult for Josie to wear black, which is largely why she gave up being a goth. Although the cats are definitely worth it, she still misses her old wardrobe.

Author Links


Review of The Swimmers by Marian Womack

A claustrophobic, literary dystopia set in the hot, luscious landscape of Andalusia from the author of The Golden Key.
After the ravages of global warming, this is place of deep jungles, strange animals, and new taxonomies. Social inequality has ravaged society, now divided into surface dwellers and people who live in the Upper Settlement, a ring perched at the edge of the planet’s atmosphere. Within the surface dwellers, further divisions occur: the techies are old families, connected to the engineer tradition, builders of the Barrier, a huge wall that keeps the plastic-polluted Ocean away. They possess a much higher status than the beanies, their servants.
The novel opens after the Delivery Act has decreed all surface humans are ‘equal’. Narrated by Pearl, a young techie with a thread of shuvani blood, she navigates the complex social hierarchies and monstrous, ever-changing landscape. But a radical attack close to home forces her to question what she knew about herself and the world around her.

Firstly I want to say a huge thank you to Titan books for the advanced copy of this title. I was excited to see a new book from Marian Womack, her previous book The Golden Key was a book that I loved so I was eager to dive back into her ethereal writing style. Unfortunately this dreamlike quality, which worked so well in a gothic setting, fell short in this story for me.

The premise is strong and a stark take on the future we could find ourselves in, the rich continuing with their opulent lifestyle whilst the poor remain on what’s left of the surface. The world has in many ways started to reclaim itself and the surface feels very colourful even if the local fauna is a much mutated version of how we would see it today. Reusing and recycling is a way of life, but society has also regressed to one full of superstition and stories over fact. The Swimmers is very subversive in this way and for those on the surface, including our protagonist Pearl, their myths have become part of their way of life, the salutary tales a clever means of control. The Woman in White a figure who both gives and takes in a way that feels immensely cruel, yet her stories continue to be told. I enjoyed how some of these stories were peppered throughout the book to really help drive home how close to propaganda some of them were.

Pearl was an interesting protagonist, her story jumps and is mainly in retrospect, I was never clear as to whether she was recollecting or dreaming but I liked how that matched how disorienting her life had become. One of the more fortunate of the surface dwellers she is top of a caste system which sadly still exists and I actually found it quite sad that with all the apparent progress, we still have a society heavily propped up by servitude. Her history is complex and her family full of secrets, her mother being one of the titular Swimmers – which If I’m being brutally honest, I’m still not sure I understand the significance of, especially as the ocean is pretty much a sheet of plastic debris. The introduction of Arlo as a second narrator was much needed and I found his sections in the earlier stages brought a real balance to haphazard recollections of Pearl. His eyes brought a fresh take to what was happening on the surface and I enjoyed his arc very much.

The sad thing for me is that I found The Swimmers to be so confusing. The story went in different directions and threads were left unanswered. The writing just didn’t feel cohesive and I found it such a hard book to motivate myself to come back to. The Swimmers is not a book you can read piecemeal and I think that’s perhaps why I struggled. I wasn’t able to have a really large chunk of time and indeed the last quarter where I had more time, I found that I was, to a degree, able to get into the story. However I still felt like I was missing things and had to flip back to check.

All this being said though, The Swimmers had one of the most deeply satisfying endings I have read for a long time, I had no idea with the dwindling pages how it could be ended but a simple epilogue spoke of so much and painted the picture perfectly. However, for much of the story I felt that the focus was in the wrong place and I wanted to know what was happening elsewhere which was a shame as I think a bit more structure could have made this a book I would have really loved.

3 Stars