Category: time travel

Review: ‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ by Stuart Turton

Review: ‘The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle’ by Stuart Turton

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Somebody’s going to be murdered at the ball tonight. It won’t appear to be a murder and so the murderer won’t be caught. Rectify that injustice and I’ll show you the way out.

It is meant to be a celebration, but it ends in tragedy. As fireworks explode overhead, Evelyn Hardcastle, the young and beautiful daughter of the house, is killed.

But Evelyn will not die just once. Until Aiden – one of the guests summoned to Blackheath for the party – can solve her murder, the day will repeat itself, over and over again. Every time ending with the fateful pistol shot. 

The only way to break this cycle is to identify her killer. But each time the day begins again, Aiden wakes up in the body of a different guest. And someone is desperate to stop him ever escaping Blackheath…

I don’t even know where to start with talking about this book.  I don’t know how to convey just how much I *LOVED* this book without just writing “I LOVED THIS – READ IT” over and over again.  It’s strange to have read a book in February and to be absolutely certain that I’ve finished one of my favourite books of 2018.

On the face of it, The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle (which we’ll now call Seven Deaths) is a classic, ‘Golden Age’ style mystery with a twist. It’s been published beautifully, with a stunning art deco cover and end papers that map out Blackheath in the style of a Cluedo board.  Right from the off, it sounded good and looked even better. I know that it’s a cliché but it really is so much more than it seems.  It is the story of Aiden Bishop trying to solve the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle but it’s also the story of a relationship between Aiden and the mysterious Anna and it’s about sacrifice and whether it’s worth treading on others to succeed.  It’s truly, truly astonishingly good.

I can sense my memories just out of reach. They have weight and shape, like shrouded furniture in a darkened room. I’ve simply misplaced the light to see them by

I am an absolute sucker for time travel stories but they can be really hit and miss.  Some authors try to dodge the complexities of characters coming across themselves in the past by having them go to any lengths to avoid their earlier selves while others clumsily smush plotlines together, requiring a fairly hefty suspension of disbelief.  Seven Deaths manages to properly take on time travel and win.  As Aiden moves between “hosts”, he encounters future hosts and past ones and the weaving together is so deftly done, I was basically in awe of Stuart Turton the whole time I was reading. There are small oddities that are later revealed to be pivotal moments, all tucked around the tangents of the central mystery that slowly but surely come together.  It’s complicated but I never found it confusing, a wonder in itself with eight versions of Aiden Bishop walking around and crossing paths with each other.

To add some slight balance, I wasn’t 100% convinced by part of the very ending.  Not so much that it in any way detracted from how much I adored this book (which is, of course, wholly and completely) but in a way that did give me a slight pause.  The main elements of the ending are perfect (obviously), there’s just a small bit that wasn’t a little less so compared to everything else. There isn’t a lot more that I can say without spoiling things for you. There were so many twists, moments that genuinely unnerved me and moments that completely blew my mind.  Pure genius.

How lost do you have to be to let the devil lead you home?

Overall:  What else can I say? The plotting is impeccable, the writing is flawless and it’s a beautiful book to own. It’s an absolute masterpiece that I can’t wait to read again one day.  It’s one of the best books I’ve read in a really long time and I can’t imagine reading anything better than it for quite some time. Apparently Turton is currently writing his second book and I will be preordering that as soon as physically possible.  If it’s even half as good as Seven Deaths, I’ll be a happy reader.

Review: ‘City of Dark Magic’ by Magnus Flyte

Rating:  2 out of 5 stars

Once a city of enormous wealth and culture, Prague was home to emperors, alchemists, astronomers, and, as it’s whispered, hell portals. When music student Sarah Weston lands a summer job at Prague Castle cataloguing Beethoven’s manuscripts, she has no idea how dangerous her life is about to become. Prague is a threshold, Sarah is warned, and it is steeped in blood.


Soon after Sarah arrives, strange things begin to happen. She learns that her mentor, who was working at the castle, may not have committed suicide after all. Could his cryptic notes be warnings? As Sarah parses his clues about Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved,” she manages to get arrested, to have tantric sex in a public fountain, and to discover a time-warping drug. She also catches the attention of a four-hundred-year-old dwarf, the handsome Prince Max, and a powerful U.S. senator with secrets she will do anything to hide.
City of Dark Magic could be called a rom-com paranormal suspense novel—or it could simply be called one of the most entertaining novels of the year.

Review [Warning: this is quite a rant – if you are of an excessively polite disposition, please look away now]

The problem with marketing a book as “one of the most entertaining novels of the year” is that you have to work very hard very quickly to convince people that you are either quite droll or an extremely gifted author.  “Magnus Flyte” (a pseudonym for the writing duo of Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch) is neither.  I’m sorry but City of Dark Magic is ridiculous.  I’ll end on a positive-ish note but before that there will be much derision.  If you would like to skip ahead to the smile-y bit or skip the rant, please do – I’ll meet you there in a few moments.

Sarah Weston is perhaps one of the most irritating and…weird main characters that I have ever read about.  I know that having a “good nose” for things is an actual saying but it should not be extended to including smelling emotions. It is not possible to smell envy, no matter what drugs you’re taking.  Maybe it was intended to be quirky or maybe it was just to make sure the reader understands just how good Ms Weston’s intuition really was but I was one comment about her flipping nose away from throwing my eReader a long way away from me.  You might think I’m getting a little over-excited about one bad analogy but really this is just one example of the bizarre writing style.  Quirky I like, daft and erratic I do not.

Not only does Sarah have an unnaturally sensitive nose, she also seems to have a dangerous libido.  On arriving in Prague, Sarah manages to inadvertently have sex with someone whose identity remains a mystery for quite a number of pages.  I would hate to disrespect women generally by using any offensive or derogatory terms and I am all for liberty but…no.  And then Sarah falls in love with the “handsome Prince Max”.  He is rude, uncommunicative, seemingly a bit loopy, aggressive and anti-social.  Every girl’s dream, I’m sure.  Not a fan of InstaLove?  Sarah and Max’s relationship is about as “Insta” as it gets.  One minute he’s slamming doors in her face and ignoring her, the next he’s swearing to protect her and getting arrested because of their irrepressible…connection.  Why?  I still don’t know.

Not all of the characters are annoying – Pollina, a young musical prodigy, is intriguing and Nico, a four-hundred year old dwarf, is cynical and managed to illicit a couple of smiles.  I would also have been happy to read more about some of Sarah’s fellow academics.  There is very little character development, though, and my enthusiasm about the cast is pretty lacklustre.

So that’s the main character and her love interest, what else can I criticise?  Ah, yes.  The plot.  It was actually the plot that drew me to the novel in the first place.  I *loved* the idea of a scholar of the works of Beethoven travelling to Prague to sort through sheet music in search of revelations and prepare a museum exhibit.  Despite a strong start in this regard, it was disappointing when Sarah got so caught up with her “romance” that she all but abandoned her research in favour of gallivanting about with Max.  The plot was scatty, at best.  There were times when I was sure that I was now settled into the substantive plot and that the story would gain some traction, only to find in a few chapters that I was settling into a tangent that would abruptly be abandoned.  APPARENTLY there is some link between a historic Czech family and the Golden Fleece (yes, THAT Golden Fleece) but we were too busy being dragged about town seeing the past but not being in it to really get into that particular thread.  There are some attempts at rationalising and explaining the more fantastic aspects of the story but they didn’t really make any sense and involved the eating of Beethoven’s toenails so I remain unconvinced.  It read a bit like a plan made under the influence of alcohol: pretty ludicrous when viewed in the light of day but seems amazing at the time of inception.  I would also mention the political “intrigue” but there is only so much vitriol that I feel as though I can direct toward any one work of fiction.

I suspect that the array of loose ends are to lure me back to the series for the second “adventure”.  You might have gathered that that is one release that I am by no means clamouring for.

Let’s end on a high: Prague is one of the most beautiful and mysterious cities that I have been to and is a fabulous setting for a paranormal novel with some historical twists.  Even a few pages describing the historical capital will pull me in and go a good way to helping me forgive a book’s faults.  If I wasn’t in my positive paragraph, I might have pointed out that there were far too few such pages and that most of the book could have been set in any large European historical building for all of the advantage the authors took of Prague’s magic.  Thank goodness I’m in my positive paragraph, right?  Right.

Overall:  I can’t in all good conscience recommend this to anyone. It’s been a long time since I’ve read something that I felt compelled to say that about.  You have to go some way to make a story that includes time travel, Beethoven, Prague, guns and castles so annoying that I will unhesitatingly warn you away.  Remember that before you decide whether or not you want to pick up City of Dark Magic.

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Date finished:  07 April 2013
Format:  eBook
Source:  Received from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review – thank you, Penguin Books!
Genre:  Urban fantasy/paranormal fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by Penguin Books in November 2012

Review: ‘11.22.63’ by Stephen King

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

WHAT IF you could go back in time and change the course of history?
WHAT IF the watershed moment you could change was the JFK assassination? 

11/22/63, the date that Kennedy was shot – unless . . .

King takes his protagonist Jake Epping, a high school English teacher, on a fascinating journey back to the world of 1958 – from a world in 2011 of mobile phones and iPods to a new world of Elvis and JFK, of Plymouth Fury cars and Lindy Hopping, of a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald and a beautiful high school librarian named Sadie Dunhill, who becomes the love of Jake’s life – a life that transgresses all the normal rules of time.

Review

I bought this eBook quite some time ago when I got a Waterstones gift card for my birthday – I do love a bit of time-travel so I was convinced that I would eventually get to it.  But then one day when I was at work, I got a text from Hanna telling me that I HAD to read this book!  Inevitably, I started reading not long after.


I’m not sure what I expected.  I don’t have a lot of experience of King’s work, largely because I imagine his to be the kind of books that would leave me shaking in a corner and gibbering to myself.  Whatever I was expecting, I wasn’t prepared for 11.22.63 to be so…sensitive.  Sure, there was action and a fair dose of the sinister but there were also devastatingly believable romance and genuinely heart-warming friendships.  Clearly there is a lot more to Stephen King as a writer than I had been giving him credit for.  

As with much historical fiction, I was wary about straying into a period – you either find yourself learning about a whole new period or you end up bemused.  Thankfully, King has assumed no prior knowledge.  His research has obviously been painstakingly carried out and the detail is astounding.  Woven skilfully into Jake’s story are a plethora of historical and political points and anecdotes that enhance the story, rather than diverting from it.  I genuinely feel as though I know a lot more about the period leading up to President Kennedy’s assassination.  It would have been easy to have Jake feign ignorance on the basis that he isn’t from the 50s or 60s but King doesn’t once take the easy road and I have a great deal more respect for him as an author than I did before.

With all the detail floating around, you might think that you’re in for a bit of a stodgy ride.  Not so.  Jake’s story and the stories of those he meets are very personal, moving and gripping and I came to care very much what happened to each and every one of them.  Even the prologue-type section made my heart hurt and brought tears to my eyes. Jake meets a heck of a lot of people on his sojourn into the past and every single one has a place in the overall story.  The kind of characters that you miss when you’ve finished the book.

I think what I was aware of most when I started reading 11.22.63 was how time-travel stories are difficult ones to get right – there are countless things that can go horribly wrong and/or seem ridiculous.  As much time as went into researching the history must have gone into thinking through the implications of Jake’s time travelling.  It’s hard to gush openly about why I thought it was so clever and how much I loved reading about it without getting spoilery so I’ll just say that it’s smart and well done and I didn’t do any eye rolling or thinking of “Pfft – how silly”.

Incidentally, little experience though I have, I’m fairly sure that there are some “rewards” for King’s more loyal fan base.  Some way through the story, Jake finds himself in Derry, a town that has been plagued by a spate of murders seemingly perpetrated by someone or something lurking in the sewers.  I am not (nor will I ever be) an expert on King’s horror novels but I’m fairly sure that there are quite a few references to events from It.  So if you like King and like books where you get to feel like part of the in-crowd, you’ll like this.  But actually, if you like King that much, you’ll probably already have read this…so really this is just to prove that I was awake enough to spot the neat blending than anything else…*shrugs*

Overall:  There is nothing in this book that is out of place.  Nothing at all.  I can only imagine how much work must have gone into writing it but the effect is something really quite extraordinary.  740 pages without one moment where I wanted to hurry things along or one detail that I wasn’t convinced fit?  Masterful.

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Date finished:  20 December 2012
Format:  eBook (740 pages are HEAVY!)
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Science fiction/fantasy; historical fiction
Published (in the UK): by Hodder & Stoughton Limited in November 2011