Tuesday, June 25, 2013

AWWC 2013: According to Luke by Rosanne Dingli

When Venetian art conservator, Jana Hayes, is presented with an ancient icon by a fellow Australian, priest, Rob Anderson, to assess its authenticity on behalf the Catholic Church she is excited. She delights in her work and when she discovers another older painting beneath the so-called St Luke Madonna, she is even more intrigued. Then things start to get messy - very messy - and Jana finds herself in danger as she tries to unravel the mystery of the icon. This is the beginning of a thrilling mystery which sees Jana and Rob find themselves in a dangerous race across Italy and beyond to Malta as they try to find out exactly who wants to stop the investigation and why. The story twists and turns with Jana's complex relationship with her mother as well as with Rob adding to it.

The author has obviously researched her subject deeply and I found the descriptions of the processes involved in art conservation, woven as they were into the narrative, fascinating and not intrusive. Setting is important in this story and the author skilfully evokes modern Italy and Malta with enough detail to make the reader feel as if they are there.

This is not a simple by the numbers thriller. It is built up with detail and peopled with characters who are rounded and believable. It would be enjoyed by those like their thrillers to involve intellect and more than just a wild ride.

According to Luke was published in 2012 and is available both as a paperback and an e-book from Amazon.com and the author's website

Rosanne Dingli blogs at www.rosannedingli.blogspot.com.au 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

AWWC 2013: Shadow Queen by Deborah Kalin

Shadow Queen by Deborah Kalin was published by Allen & Unwin in January 2009.

Matilde, heir to the House of Svanaten, is nineteen, of age and more than ready to take her place on the throne but her regent grandmother is unwilling to hand over the reins. But it is not as simple as a desire for power. Matilde has visions of the future and her grandmother's skill at hiding this is all that keeps her granddaughter from being claimed by the church and losing her throne forever. When her long estranged aunt arrives with her young son for a festival, Matilde is delighted until a moment of prescience comes too late and she loses family, friends and throne in one horrific attack. Alone and desperate to survive and eventually regain her throne, she agrees to be bound in marriage to the man who has wiped out her family. Her new husband, though, wants more than a wife and uses magic to secure her loyalty. Matilde finds herself despised by those she cares about as she struggles to subtly undermine her conqueror.

Shadow Queen is in many ways a coming of age story. Tilde may be restlessly wanting her throne at the beginning of the novel but she is also immature and naive and her prescience is potentially dangerous to both her and her throne. When her whole world is destroyed she is forced to grow up fast and, although she makes mistakes - and there are many of them, she learns quickly that he new husband's ruthlessness must be matched by her own.

The author keeps a tight grip on a complex story of politics and psychological manipulation that reveals itself slowly as Tilde learns more about herself, her family and her kingdom and its enemies. The characters are well-drawn with a blend of strengths and weaknesses and, often, surprising sides to them. As it should be, no-one is perfect in this world where betrayal is commonplace.

Shadow Queen is gritty fantasy set in a realistic quasi mediaeval world and should appeal to those who enjoy novels by Jennifer Fallon and Glenda Larke. There are no elves, fairies or vampires but there is magic - and it's powerful and dangerous.

Shadow Bound, the sequel to Shadow Queen, was published in 2010 and, although the author says she has no plans for a further book in the series, she has left it enticingly open. I intend to post a review of Shadow Bound soon.

Correction: I said incorrectly that Shadow Queen was no longer in print and only available as an e-book on Amazon.com. Deborah Kalin has informed me in the comments section that Shadow Queen is still available in A4 paperback through the Allen & Unwin website online bookshop if your local bookshop doesn't have it in stock.

Deborah Kalin's website is at deborahkalin.com

Sunday, June 09, 2013

GoH speech by N K Jemisin, Continuum

N. K. Jemisin's Continuum 9 speech (for those not part of the SFF world, Continuum is a science fiction convention held in Melbourne in Victoria, Australia) should be required reading for all of us - and by that I mean a universal "all".

I greatly admire N. K. Jemisin's writing - her original ideas and her prose are inspiring and I'd recommend her books highly - but what she has to say here is even more inspiring, in particular what she has to say about the silent 90%. I recently had my own epiphany about how silence makes everyone who doesn't call people on racist or other hateful remarks complicit in what is said. The truth is if we don't speak out we are as guilty as those who are making racist, anti-semetic, misogynistic, homophobic and other hate filled comments. That even this incomplete list is so long is disturbing in itself.

I think part of the problem is fear - of offending a friend, of being ostracised, of being shouted down and even of physical attack, and, of course, we should not be foolhardy and put ourselves in danger but there is a lot we can do instead of standing back. We can write to the newspapers, get on talk back radio to contradict the ignorant, tell a friend who makes a casual racist slur that it is not acceptable. Every time we do this it makes a difference. It might be small but it counts.

It's not easy to overcome our prejudices, especially if it's something we've grown up with and we all carry baggage and make mistakes but what we can do is to keep trying to do better. What N. K. Jemisin has to say here is important. I urge you to read it.