Review of A Thousand Steps into Night by Traci Chee

In the realm of Awara, where gods, monsters, and humans exist side by side, Miuko is an ordinary girl resigned to a safe, if uneventful, existence as an innkeeper’s daughter. But when Miuko is cursed and begins to transform into a demon with a deadly touch, she embarks on a quest to reverse the curse and return to her normal life. Aided by a thieving magpie spirit and continuously thwarted by a demon prince, Miuko must outfox tricksters, escape demon hunters, and negotiate with feral gods if she wants to make it home again. But with her transformation comes power and freedom she never even dreamed of, and she’ll have to decide if saving her soul is worth trying to cram herself back into an ordinary life that no longer fits her… and perhaps never did. 

A Thousand Steps into Night is a standalone YA fantasy steeped in Japanese folklore. Following Miuko as she makes her way from clumsy awkward teen to clumsy awkward teen demon in waiting, the story feels somewhat childlike in its narrative. Miuko is from a sheltered home where propriety is held in high regard, her life experiences are minimal which are reflected in the way way the writing plays out. One thing is for sure, she just can’t catch a break and its both comical and heart breaking at times as she gets so near yet so far from what she is trying to achieve.

The story started off strong and i felt instantly pulled into the world, there was little lead into to the story arc and we hit the ground running along with Miuko as she quickly finds herself understanding what it is to be one foot in one world and the other somewhere else entirely. There is so much going on as Miuko runs against time from place to place searching for both a cure and place to hide from those giving chase – like so many “journey” based stories she finds many who both help and also hinder her in her task. I enjoyed how some of her stops felt like genuine trials, especially in the village without women, and that the sinister presence of the demon voice giving Miuko series pause to consider demon life.

However, i did find this book didn’t keep me as hooked as it did in the start, there was a huge number of people to keep track of and the flighty nature of the journey meant that world building had to take a back seat. It was just lacking a layer of substance that would have kept me hooked from page to page.

It’s a nice little fantasy adventure though, very much appropriate to the YA market and i liked that it was a standalone. If you’re after a light and quick read that isn’t fuelled by romance and has a strong focus on friendship and family, give this a go!

Thank you to Harper 360 YA for the review copy

Review of Butterfly Assassin by Finn Longman

Girl by day, killer by night: a dark, twisting thriller about a teen assassin’s attempt to live a normal life.

Trained and traumatised by a secret assassin program for minors, Isabel Ryans wants nothing more than a new life as a normal civilian. And she might just be in with a shot when she befriends Emma Westray, because for the first time in her life things are looking up.

But when Isabel blows her cover by impulsively murdering a burglar, she draws the attention of the guilds – the two organisations who control the city of Espera. An unaffiliated killer like Isabel is either a potential asset … or a threat to be eliminated.

Will the blood on her hands cost her everything?

The Butterfly Assassin is a faced paced adrenaline ride that will leave you struggling to put it down. The tone is set from the very first chapter that this is a book that will not pull any punches or sanitise its violence for the sake of its readers, it hits the upper end of dark for the YA bracket

Isabel Ryans is a character that you can’t help but hurt for, the fact that she transforms so effortlessly from student to cold blooded killer is heartbreaking; that her programming is so entrenched her body reacts before her brain can process, she’s like a young black widow. She is so endearing though as she tries so hard, every step of the way, to be a normal teen to try and shield her past life but she just cant catch a break as it catches up with her in the most catastrophic ways

The story works well if you are a visual reader, playing out very much like a movie, character driven by Isabel as she races against the clock, there’s a lot going on and several different players who may or may not be who they seem or to be trusted. The landscape feels very bleak and sterile at times, I read in shades of grey.

I do feel a little torn in that I do love wordbuilding and I felt that there was more to know, i would have liked to have understood more of the history behind the guilds and how they came to exist in parallel with the day to day, and had a more descriptive vision of the world, it could have been anywhere at any time. However, i do have to balance that with the fact that the thriller pacing would have fallen flat if time was taken to explain every little thing, much is left to the reader to connect the dots in the background and i was actually ok with that in the end.

I found the use of esperanto interesting, especially as it’s not a language that really pops up often, I liked the fact that each chapter had both English and Esperanto meanings, like a little lesson each time!

Whilst the story wrapped up in whirlwind, it was a very enjoyable and easy whirlwind to get swept up in and I’m excited to find out where Isabel Ryans may end up next!

Thank you to Simon and Schuster for the early review copy

Review of Nettle and Bone by T Kingfisher

After years of seeing her sisters suffer at the hands of an abusive prince, Marra―the shy, convent-raised, third-born daughter―has finally realized that no one is coming to their rescue. No one, except for Marra herself.

Seeking help from a powerful gravewitch, Marra is offered the tools to kill a prince―if she can complete three impossible tasks. But, as is the way in tales of princes, witches, and daughters, the impossible is only the beginning.

On her quest, Marra is joined by the gravewitch, a reluctant fairy godmother, a strapping former knight, and a chicken possessed by a demon. Together, the five of them intend to be the hand that closes around the throat of the prince and frees Marra’s family and their kingdom from its tyrannous ruler at last.

Nettle and Bone is the fairytale I didn’t know I needed in my life! It is a wonderfully chaotic story in that you never quite know where it’s going to take you next, when I first picked it up it was dark and bleak to the degree that I thought I was reading a dystopian but as the story winds back the clock to tell us how our protagonist Marra gets herself into the predicament she finds herself in, its clear that this is a dark and delicious fairytale full of macabre creatures, darkly comedic wit and demon possessed chickens.

Telling the story of 3 sisters who are doomed to marry the wicked prince of a nearby kingdom, Marra is sent to a convent to protect herself from the misfortune that has befallen her siblings. Not one for convent life and hiding away whilst her family suffers, Marra sets out on her own to save her sister as it’s clear that no prince charming is going to do the right thing. I loved the refreshing take that Marra steps up to this! Nettle and Bone then takes us on a wonderful mash up of the wizard of Oz meets found family as Marra picks up a band of outcasts along the way to aid her in her quest. My favourite by far was the Dust Wife, whos no nonsense and brittle exterior was a clever front for a quick witted keen mind and a knack for forward planning.

Their journey is full of perils, puzzles and often angry spirits as Marra and each of her troupe find their own redemption arc and their part to play to get to the castle but can they save the princess in time?!

4*

Titan Books Blog Tour: Pennyblade by J.L. WOrrad

Today is my stop on the Pennyblade blog tour, thank you to Sarah Mather and the Titan Team for having me along! I have an excerpt for you today but first a little about the book:

Blurb

A sharp-tongued disgraced-noble-turned-mercenary has to stop the world collapsing into chaos in this gripping, savagely funny epic fantasy packed with unforgettable characters, for fans of Joe Abercrombie.

Exile. Mercenary. Lover. Monster. Pennyblade.

Kyra Cal’Adra has spent the last four years on the Main, living in exile from her home, her people, her lover and her past. A highblood commrach—the ancient race of the Isle, dedicated to tradition and the perfection of the blood—she’s welcome among the humans of the Main only for the skill of her rapier, her preternatural bladework. They don’t care which of the gleaming towers she came from, nor that her grandmother is matriarch of one of Corso’s most powerful families.

But on the main, women loving women is a sin punishable by death. Kyra is haunted by the ghost of Shen, the love of her life, a lowblood servant woman whom Kyra left behind as she fled the Isle.

When a simple contract goes awry, and her fellow pennyblades betray her, Kyra is set onto a collision course with her old life, and the age-old conflict between the Main and the Isle threatens to erupt once more.

Excerpt:

THE MAIN, Coastal Highway, April 881

I pointed my rapier in the innkeep’s mottled face.

‘Forgive my candour,’ I said.

He stood in the noiseless highway inn’s doorway, the light from inside making a half silhouette of his figure. He stared at the rapier’s point.

‘What’s that?’ he asked.

‘What?’ I said. ‘A bloody sword.’

Trepidation caught flame in his wet eyes. ‘Where’s its edge?’

‘Dun’t have an edge,’ Shortleg said beside me. ‘All about the point. Like a big needle, right?’

‘Right,’ the innkeep said. He gulped.

‘It does have an edge,’ I said to them both. ‘Eight inches’ worth either side of the point, see?’ I indicated. ‘The emphasis is on the point, granted, but it’s not without edge. Common misconception.’

‘Yer couldn’t slice an arm off or owt,’ Shortleg countered.

‘Maybe I don’t want to slice arms off. You humans and your fucking dismemberment.’

‘Nowt wrong with a big chopper,’ Shortleg said. He chuckled and grabbed his crotch.

‘Oh, yes, very mature.’

The innkeep gulped again. ‘You’re an elf?’

‘Fuck’s sake,’ I muttered.

‘Commrach,’ Shortleg corrected him.

‘Look,’ I said, ‘could we all agree that this is a sword? If only in principle?’

‘Yeah,’ the innkeep said. He held his blotchy hands up. He took a deep breath. ‘So… you, er, you want letting in?’

‘Ah, there’s no rush,’ I said. ‘Our colleague’s right behind you.’

The innkeep looked over his shoulder to see Nail levelling a throwing spike at him.

‘Anyone back there?’ Shortleg said to Nail.

‘Silent as the grave,’ Nail said.

‘Business shit then?’ Shortleg said to the innkeep.

‘I guess,’ he replied.

‘C’mon, let’s all have a pint, eh?’ Shortleg said and he smiled.

The men made their way to the bar.

I looked back and motioned to Benadetta. She was stood by the road, thirty feet away, a grey ghost in the twilight. Desolate moorland stretched behind her.

She nodded and began to walk forward, almost hobbling. Not for the first time I felt uneasy about her wound.

The innkeep, already behind the bar and pouring ale for Shortleg, looked at Benadetta’s vestments with surprise.

‘She’ll have whisky,’ I told him.

‘A joke,’ Benadetta said. ‘I apologise for our behaviour, sir.

We’ve h-had to take extreme measures. But, as you see, we are of the Church. You’re quite… safe.’

Aside from his inability to recognise offensive weapons, I thought.

Unbelievable.

About the Author

James Luke Worrad lives in Leicester, England, and has for almost all his life. He has a degree in classical studies from Lampeter University, Wales. He has found this invaluable to his growth as a science fiction and fantasy writer in that he soon discovered how varied and peculiar human cultures can be. In 2011 James attended Clarion, an SF workshop held at the University of California, San Diego. He’s had short stories published by Daily Science Fiction, Flurb, Newcon Press and Obverse Books. He also writes screen plays for short films, one of which- Flawless- won the Seven/Five Film Festival Award and was selected for both the Cannes and NYC Independent film festivals. (It was also screened at CERN, home of the Large Hadron Collider). He runs the Fantasy & Science Fiction Salon group on Facebook. He also works a nightshift at a small hotel, an occupation that never leaves him short of material. 

Pennyblade is due for release on 29th March 2022 and is available from Titan Books

Review of A Lesson in Vengeance by Victoria Lee

Felicity Morrow is back at the Dalloway School to finish her senior year after the tragic death of her girlfriend. She even has her old room in Godwin House, the exclusive dormitory rumored to be haunted by the spirits of five Dalloway students―girls some say were witches.

Felicity was once drawn to the dark legacy of witchcraft. She’s determined to leave that behind her now; but it’s hard when Dalloway’s occult history is everywhere. And when the new girl won’t let her forget it.

It’s Ellis Haley’s first year at Dalloway. A prodigy novelist at seventeen, Ellis is eccentric and brilliant, and Felicity can’t shake the pull she feels to her. So when Ellis asks Felicity for help researching the Dalloway Five for her second book, Felicity can’t say no. And when history begins to repeat itself, Felicity will have to face the darkness in Dalloway―and in herself.

A lesson in vengeance was initially such a captivating read for me, whilst it took a couple of chapters to get into the flow, I had easily consumed half the book in one evening. I enjoyed the old school creepiness of Dalloway, that it had such a rich and vibrant history. Felicity’s inner monologue captured such a broad and complex range, from the usual school struggles, fitting in and rising above the whispers, to pure harrowing fear as branches tap on windows and spirits seemingly are prowling the forest outside.

Comparisons to “The Craft” are well founded, with Felicity’s penchant for tarot reading and late night rituals alongside of 5 girls who fit the established tropes well with Ellis taking front and centre as the narcissist. This is truly Felicity and Ellis’s story though and the side characters feel very much just like that, it’s a shame they were not given the opportunity to develop but in turn this did support the insular world that Felicity and Ellis were the queens of.

Honestly Ellis is just awful though. The worst kind of manipulative, gaslighting friend, I had such an intense dislike for her that I struggled to root for the relationship with Felicity. I’m not sure if as a reader we are meant to be caught up in the spell that she weave’s over the others and if we were i think that maybe why i was able to see as many of the twists coming as I did. If you are triggered by gaslighting I would carefully consider picking this up, it brought back all kinds of horrible memories for me.

Whilst i really enjoyed 90% of the story I struggled with the ending which felt somewhat messy and rushed. This was a shame given how perfectly the story had been paced up to that point, everything had such an elaborate gothic flourish and feel to it’s planning, a slow burn of trust and discovery, that the ending really jarred.

A lesson in vengeance was a great read which i reached to pick back up at every chance and was easily consumed in 48 hours, the worldbuilding was wonderful and Felicity a fantastic character, it just missed the 5* mark for me for the reasons above which are more down to my own interpretations than the writing. 

4*

BBNYA Blog Tour: Odriel’s Heirs by Hayley Reese Chow

BBNYA is a yearly competition where Book Bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors. If you are an author and wish to learn more about the BBNYA competition, you can visit the official website http://www.bbnya.com or twitter @bbnya_official. 

The sign-ups will soon be open for the 2022 BBNYA competition, be it for authors to enter their books, or for bloggers wanting to be part of the new panel, so keep your eyes peeled!!

Check out some of the reviews so far!

Read to Ramble

Myth and Magic Book Blog

Rebbie Reviews

The Strawberry Post

Lost in Neverland

Blurb

The brave, burning with fire, harnessed the Dragon’s Rage….

As the Dragon Heir, seventeen-year-old Kaia inherited the power of flame to protect her homeland from a godlike necromancer’s undead army. But after centuries of peace, the necromancer has faded to myth, and the Dragon Heir is feared by the people. Persecuted and cast out, Kaia struggles to embrace and control her seemingly useless gift while confined to her family’s farm.

But when the necromancer’s undead terrorize the land once again, Kaia runs away to join the battle.

With the help of her childhood rival, the handsome Shadow Heir, and a snarky, cursed cat, Kaia must figure out how to control both her fire and her confidence in time to save Okarria. If she fails, she will sacrifice her family, her new friends, and the enchanting world she has only just begun to see.

And time is running out.

Book Info

Publisher: Self Published

Length: 178 Pages

Date Published: March 1, 2020 

Amazon:

https://www.amazon.ca/Odriels-Heirs-Hayley-Reese-Chow-ebook/dp/B0838R4DTB  (Canada) 

https://www.amazon.com/Odriels-Heirs-Hayley-Reese-Chow-ebook/dp/B0838R4DTB (USA) 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Odriels-Heirs-Hayley-Reese-Chow/dp/1652953302  (UK)

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/51626011  

Author Website: https://hayleyreesechow.com/ 

About the Author

Hayley Reese Chow is the author of Odriel’s Heirs, the 2020 winner of the Florida Author Project. She also has short and flash fiction featured in Lite Lit One, The Drabble, Bewildering Stories, Teleport Magazine, and Rogue Blades Entertainment’s anthology, As You Wish.

Until recently though, she’s mostly done a lot of things that have nothing at all to do with writing. Her hat collection includes mother, wife, engineer, USAF veteran, reservist, four-time All American fencer, 100 mile ultramarathoner, triathlete, world traveler, book inhaler, and super nerd.

Hayley currently lives in Florida with two small wild boys, her long-suffering

husband, and her miniature ragehound.

But at night, when the house is still, she writes.

To find Hayley’s other stories and see what she’s working on next, check out

hayleyreesechow.com. You can also find her on Twitter or Instagram @HayleyReeseChow.

Beneath Cruel Fathoms by Anela Deen – BBNYA blog tour spotlight!

Today I’m spotlighting Beneath Cruel Fathoms which placed as a finalist in the 2021 BBNYA! BBNYA is a yearly competition where Book Bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors. If you are an author and wish to learn more about the BBNYA competition, you can visit the official website http://www.bbnya.com or twitter @bbnya_official. 

The sign-ups will soon be open for the 2022 BBNYA competition, be it for authors to enter their books, or for bloggers wanting to be part of the new panel, so keep your eyes peeled!!

Blurb

After a violent storm destroys her ship, Isaura Johansdottir knows better than to hope she’ll be rescued from Eisland’s vast Failock Sea. Adrift and alone, her plans to start over lost, it’s a tragic conclusion after the disastrous end of her marriage—until she’s saved by Leonel, one of the merfolk, a creature long believed extinct. In repayment for her life, Leonel enlists her help to investigate the Failock’s mysterious and deadly plague of squalls. But when Isaura discovers Eisland’s ruthless new Lord commands the storms, her life will be in more danger on land than it ever was at sea.

As guardian of the Fathoms, Leonel must find the cause of unnatural storms ravaging the tidal currents and destroying the sea life. There are rumors of dark magic stirring in the Orom Abyss, the resting place of old, vanquished gods who tried to submerge the land millennia ago. Yet without proof, no one in King Ægir’s court will listen to him. And if it’s discovered he broke the Blue Laws to save a shipwrecked landweller, he might not survive the consequences.

As storms spread, Leonel and Isaura uncover secrets as forbidden as the bond that grows between them. Betrayal lurks in the restless sea, and when ancient powers lay siege to Eisland’s coast, the truth may be drowned along with everything else.

Reviews

Check out the reviews on the tour so far!

Dinipanda Reads

Shelves of Starlight

Sifa Elizabeth Reads

Sue’s Musings

Book Info

Publisher: Fine Fable Press

Length: 365 Pages

Date Published: 17th May 2019

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beneath-Cruel-Fathoms-Bitter-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B07NZHG2QW

Amazon USA: https://www.amazon.com/Beneath-Cruel-Fathoms-Bitter-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B07NZHG2QW 

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41829826-beneath-cruel-fathoms

About the Author

A child of two cultures, this hapa haole Hawaiian girl is currently landlocked in the Midwest. After exploring the world for a chunk of years, she hunkered down in Minnesota and now fills her days with family, fiction, and the occasional snowstorm. With a house full of lovable toddlers, a three-legged cat, and one handsome Dutchman, she prowls the keyboard late at night while the minions sleep. Coffee? Nah, she prefers tea with a generous spoonful of sarcasm.

To hear about the latest releases, giveaways, and other fun Sci-Fi/Fantasy stuff, sign up for her newsletter: http://eepurl.com/cNQ3iH

Blog Tour Spotlight Shadow of a Dead God by Patrick Samphire – BBNYA

Over the next few weeks I’ll be helping to spotlight some of the 10 finalists that made the grade for the 2021 BBNYA

BBNYA is a yearly competition where Book Bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors. If you are an author and wish to learn more about the BBNYA competition, you can visit the official website http://www.bbnya.com or twitter @bbnya_official. 

The sign-ups will soon be open for the 2022 BBNYA competition, be it for authors to enter their books, or for bloggers wanting to be part of the new panel, so keep your eyes peeled!!

Blurb

It was only supposed to be one little job – a simple curse-breaking for Mennik Thorn to pay back a favor to his oldest friend. But then it all blew up in his face. Now he’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit.

So how is a second-rate mage, broke, traumatized, and with a habit of annoying the wrong people, supposed to prove his innocence when everyone believes he’s guilty?

Mennik has no choice if he wants to get out of this: he is going to have to throw himself into the corrupt world of the city’s high mages, a world he fled years ago. Faced by supernatural beasts, the mage-killing Ash Guard, and a ruthless, unknown adversary, it’s going to take every trick Mennik can summon just to keep him and his friend alive.

But a new, dark power is rising in Agatos, and all that stands in its way is one damaged mage…

Reviews

There are already some great reviews rolling in for this book as part of the tour, please go and check out the awesome bloggers who have shared their thoughts 

Before We Go Blog

Sue’s Musings

Kerri McBooknerd

Shelves of Starlight

About the Author

Patrick Samphire is the author of the adult fantasy novel SHADOW OF A DEAD GOD, as well as the middle grade novels SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and THE EMPEROR OF MARS. He has also published around twenty short stories and novellas.

Patrick has been writing stories since he was fourteen years old and thought it would be a good way of avoiding having to sit through English lessons at school. He was absolutely convinced that he would be famous by the time he was eighteen, but sadly, even infamy has eluded him.

He lives in Wales, surrounded by mountains, with his wife, their sons, and their cat.

When he’s not writing, he designs websites and ebooks.

Book Info

Publisher: Five Fathoms Press

Length: 462 Pages

Date Published: May 27, 2020

Amazon:

https://www.amazon.ca/Shadow-Dead-God-Fantasy-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0888RFP2C  (Canada) 

https://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Dead-God-Fantasy-Mystery-ebook/dp/B0888RFP2C   (USA) 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Shadow-Dead-God-Fantasy-Mennik/dp/1999725476 (UK)

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/57597498 

Author Website: https://patricksamphire.com/

An honest post from a burnt out blogger

It’s the blog post I’ve been putting off typing for a while but I think its got to the point where I’ve accepted that my blogging journey is at an end, it brings me nothing but anxiety and upset, i feel like everyone wants a piece of me and that isn’t healthy.

About 6 months ago 2 things happened, i missed a blog tour spot because I got my dates confused, i had my review nearly typed but then wordpress lost it all – it was 6pm, i had to get my daughter to dance and i had to retype an entire review, i was stressed because wordpress had let me down, i was upset because i had let a publisher down and because of this i was so distracted i nearly crashed my car taking my daughter to dance – i know its extreme but that’s the kind of thing that really makes you take stock on your priorities. I was a sobbing mess because i missed a book review. This happened at a time where i was also experiencing vision issues that were exacerbated by reading ebooks – even though i pretended to publishers that ebooks were perfectly fine.

I needed a break and i hastily posted a tweet to say i was on hiatus. During that time i updated my review criteria to remove ebooks. During that break i had one more review i was committed to, on posting that it was like the gates opened and I was flooded with review requests again, even from people who had acknowledged my hiatus, it sent me into a spiral and i just deleted them all.

I now feel scared to post a review because i don’t want to give the impression that i have either the time or capacity for blogging, in short, i can’t even review for fun anymore. Emails, DM’s on twitter, IG and even my personal FB messenger, it’s not fair and of course singularly its easy to understand that an author might not feel they are doing anything out of line, but taken as a community as a whole, it’s too much. I thought i found a safe space on tik tok but no, still the DM’s came (which i have since disabled.) I have removed my review page entirely from the blog and all reference to reviews on my socials – i just want to be able to love books without the weight of expectation that comes with it.

This is going to sound terrible but honestly a free ebook just isn’t worth it. Time to read, time to digest, time to type a review and post it to various platforms, taken with being a parent, a wife and a full time worker – for some ridiculous reason i put the demands of reviewing a book above the needs of my family. A blogger that i called a friend, did a huge tik tok rant about how ungrateful and entitled bloggers who wont accept ebooks are – like we should be reading machines ready to acquiesce at every turn. I’m jaded with it all. Trying to put a positive spin on a book i hated because an author who had put faith in me was at the other end , feeling like i can’t DNF because it’s something i have been given in return for a review, rather than a book i had bought myself and could put in the charity bag without questions.

The good news for authors is that there are so many new and excited bloggers and reviewers out there, it’s lovely to see those that are really enthusiastic out there but honestly after nearly 7 years, i’m burnt out and ready to move on. 

I want reading to be fun again, which it has been for the last few months, i’ve agreed to a few reviews but feel like these are on my own terms, at my own request and i have control over them.

I will never be “open for reviews” again but i do desperately want to feel reviewing is a safe space, i’ve read some of my old reviews recently and whilst some of them aren’t brilliant – a lot of them reflect a me who loved what they were doing, maybe i can get it back.

The blog will remain open for legacy purposes and the odd review here or there, but Paperbacks and Pinot blog, thank you for the years that we had lots of fun in, i’m just sad it had to end this way.

Review of XX by Rian Hughes

At Jodrell Bank Observatory in England, a radio telescope has detected a mysterious signal of extraterrestrial origin—a message that may be the first communication from an interstellar civilization. Has humanity made first contact? Is the signal itself a form of alien life? Could it be a threat? If so, how will the people of Earth respond?

Jack Fenwick, artificial intelligence expert, believes that he and his associates at tech startup Intelligencia can interpret the message a find a way to step into the realm the signal encodes. What they find is a complex alien network beyond anything mankind has imagined. 

Drawing on Dada, punk and the modernist movements of the twentieth century, XX is assembled from redacted NASA reports, artwork, magazine articles, secret transcripts and a novel within a novel. Deconstructing layout and language in order to explore how idea propagate, acclaimed designer and artist Rian Hughes’s debut novel presents a compelling vision of humanity’s unique place in the universe, and a realistic depiction of what might happen in the wake of the biggest scientific discovery in human history. 

Having finished XX this morning I feel a sense of bewilderment and also weirdly, relief that I have made it to the end of nearly 1000 pages. 

XX had all the makings of my new favourite book, the premise is phenomenal and I really enjoy mixed media formats and graphic novels. I started out a little lost but immediately absorbed, I had easily sunk 200 pages without even realising. I loved the backstories of the characters, especially Harriet, learning how they came to be together to unpick this potentially world changing discovery. I also loved Dana and the conspiracy theory sections about what she experienced. The early snippets of wiki entries, interviews and magazine articles were frighteningly true to life with the kind of xenophobia that parts of humanity turn to when they don’t want to just accept that they are scared about what they don’t understand.

The DEMn were fantastically realised, I loved Girl 21 and her tweet style communication the most, her # conveying so much more in a couple of words than any of the others could in several pages, but XX themself I found impossible at times. The science is super-sciency and very in depth, I would presume that there is a high degree of fact and research but who knows! It sounded like it knew what it was talking about although I did feel very lost at times. I did however very much enjoy the use of patterns and how the most seemingly innocuous of breadcrumbs led to an exciting chase across the landmarks of London. I think the reasons why these pattern chasing sections stood out so much was due to the fact that quite a high proportion of the story takes place in a single room.

Downsides for me however though were the huge swathes of exposition which meant the actual story got lost, the use of font for XX’s sections was impossible to read and left me feeling disorientated and I was unimpressed with the comments about using a Burka as a disguise to escape and the use of word rohypnol to explain a lost passage of time. I also hate the fact that for parts of the story XX succeeded in making me just feel stupid

Ultimately for me XX was an amazing story idea which became lost in its need to be something it’s not. At half the size this could have been a really decent fast paced sci-fi thriller, but design is what makes Hughes intrinsically Hughes but sadly this is where it just didn’t work. These were initially the parts I looked forward to for their uniqueness and I wanted to try and unpick the pattern, by the end though i looked forward to them for the very reason that it was a quick way to get through 20 pages.

I feel conflicted because what it did well was done amazingly well but the rest was just too much for me.

Thank you to Black Crow PR and Picador for sending me a copy for review, its a book that I’m glad I read even if my experience fell short of what many others found to be a 5 star read.

3*