Author Archives: Zarah Robinson

Review of Safe Passage (Black Flag #1), by Rachel Ford

I received an Audible code for a review copy of Safe Passage, by Rachel Ford.

Description from Goodreads:

Go big or go home. For privateer Captain Magdalene Landon, it’s all about going big. For Kay Ellis, it’s about getting home. Together, they’re about to architect the most daring heist in the galaxy. Kay knows too much. She knows it’s a matter of time before a Conglomerate hitman finds her. She’s desperate for safe passage back to Union space. Then Magdalene shows up, promising a way home in exchange for that information. It’s a risky bet, but Kay is out of options. So she strikes a deal: the heist of the century for her freedom.Kay is playing a dangerous game, and she knows it. She’s made herself Enemy Number One of the Conglomerate. She’s relying on privateers for her safety. It’s a fool’s game. But the worst part is, her fool’s heart is starting to warm to the enigmatic captain. And that’s a risk for which she hadn’t planned.

Review:

I can’t say I enjoyed this book much. I didn’t find much that grabbed me. I felt the world wasn’t well developed, the romance was abrupt, the casual use of attempted heterosexual rape as motivation unoriginal (especially in a lesbian romance), and the characters were too Mary Sue like. Here’s an example, they kept people alive when they shouldn’t have. It felt like an artificial mechanism to move the plot along AND that the just author didn’t want them to seem like bad guys, especially considering those same characters end up dead anyway. It seemed inconsistent this insistence on ‘doing the right thing’ when they are basically thieves (and have already killed others).

This tendency to use obvious and inelegant artificial events for plot progression was also present in the romance. The characters got together, then one broke it off for sudden and stupid reasons. Then later apologized so they could get back together just as abruptly. You see it all coming a mile away.

Similarly, all the twists are as obvious as the sun. You know from very early on what is going to happen and when. 

The writing itself is fine, minus a tendency for characters to call Kay by name too often. And the narration too…for the most part. I actually greatly disliked how Rich voiced the characters. But that’s a matter of taste not quality. 

All in all, I think this was just a poorly matched book for me. I went in with high hopes. I love sci-fi romance, but this one wasn’t a winner for me.

Review of The Woman Who Spoke to Spirits, by Alys Clare

I borrowed a copy of Alys Clare’s book, The Woman Who Spoke to Spirits from the local library.

Description from Goodreads:

London, 1880. “I’m dreadfully afraid someone is threatening to kill my wife …” When accounts clerk Ernest Stibbins approaches the World’s End investigation bureau with wild claims that his wife Albertina has been warned by her spirit guides that someone is out to harm her, the bureau’s owner Lily Raynor and her new employee Felix Wilbraham are initially sceptical. How are the two private enquiry agents supposed to investigate threats from beyond the grave? But after she attends a s�ance at the Stibbins family home, Lily comes to realize that Albertina is in terrible danger. And very soon so too is Lily herself … 

Review:

I wasn’t thrilled with the first person, present tense narrative choice. I thought it really distanced the reader from the characters. But beyond that I mostly really enjoyed this book. I’ll grant that I wasn’t particularly surprised a the identity of the villain, having guessed it very early on, and I thought there was a subtle centering on Felix that made him feel more the main character than her (when I also sense it was meant to be her). But there was good writing, interesting characters, not-quite-banter (but working in that direction), and a couple moral quandaries I appreciated thinking on. Mostly though I really liked both Lily and Felix, as well as them together. I look forward to reading future books in this series.

Review of The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, by Alexis Hall

Book cover of The Affair of the Mysterious Letter

I pre-ordered a copy of Alexis Hall‘s The Affair of the Mysterious Letter.

Description from Goodreads:

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham finds himself drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark. 

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas’ stock-in-trade. 

Review:

This book came to me challenged. It simply had so much to live up to. Alexis Hall is one of my favorite authors. But more importantly, several years ago I came across a snippet they’d written that has haunted me ever since. I don’t remember if it was a piece of their then WIP or a standalone scene that had just come to them. But either way, it stuck with me and I’VE WANTED THAT STORY ever since. When I read the synopsis for The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, I desperately hoped this was the story that scrap of writing fit into. And if my memory of that scene serves, I think it is.

The challenge for The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, of course, is how can reality possibly stand up to something imagine by another (however vaguely) for years? In some ways it accomplishes this task admirably, in others it was me who posed an impediment to my own enjoyment.

John is everything I could want in a puritanic Watson- esque hero. Ms. Haas is everything I could hope for in a cryptic, sorcerous Holmes. Hall’s writing is crisp as ever, the story engaging, and (as so many others have said) the story is marvelously queer. However, I struggled with the frequent breaks in the narrative in which John attempted discourse with the reader (especially in the beginning) and the Lovecraftian world full of reality bending gods was at times hard to pin down. (On a side note, I kept waiting for Piccadilly and Co. to make a cameo. I really hope there wasn’t one that I missed. LOL)

All in all, however, once I’d gotten used to the pace, I truly enjoyed this book. Everything about John Wyndham is lovable and 100% hope I sensed a future romance in the works for him. I ship him and [deleted to avoid spoiler] hard core. I don’t know if Hall plans more books in this series. But I’d look forward to reading them if there are more.