Charm (A Wicked Cinderella Tale) by Sarah Pinborough

Fairy tales are an essential part of growing up, no matter where in the world you are. Every culture has their stories and children grow up hearing these tales. Even as adults, one can enjoy fairy tales whether in their original form or as in this week’s review, a new retelling.

Charm is such a tale, and is the retelling of Cinderella. It is part of a series of three books (the other two being Poison and Beauty) that take well known and well loved fairy tales and give them a darker twist. In it we are taken to a kingdom far, far away, where the lovely Cinderella lives with her father, step-mother, and step-sisters. When the Prince holds a ball to find a bride, Cinderella is whisked away to attend in an enchanted dress and shoes – gifts from her fairy godmother.

That is where the similarities end. While Cinderella does do a good deal of the chores around the house, her family do not treat her as a slave. Her father is alive and loves her very much, as does her step-mother, albeit it in her own way. Cinderella and her step-sister Rose, are very close as well. Unlike the fairy tale, Cinderella isn’t completely loving and selfless. She has moments of jealousy and anger. She has moments of lust and desire.

I absolutely loved this book and tore through it in two days. It’s a very thin book and I would have read it in one day but I have a pesky little thing called a Real Life and a job. Blech. While this is a retelling of a classic story it was very dark in tone like the original. It is different and the ending is different but with the way it’s written, it feels natural and one doesn’t mind.

Because of sexual situations and brutality and such, this is NOT a book for children. Adults only please.

Well written with a great cast of characters, readers will enjoy this book. Those who enjoy a good dark tale will especially enjoy this book. I recommend it!

The Iron Assassin – by Ed Greenwood

The Steampunk genre is a fast growing one. It seems every time I go to the bookstore I find at least half a dozen new novels. Writers are jumping on this fast moving train (pun intended) in droves.

London is a city of gas-lamps and clockwork. Of airship flights and a rapidly growing city sprouting countless smoke belching stacks. It is filthy and crowded and to many, home.

The¬†young inventor Jack Straker believes he has created a weapon to defend Crown and country; a reanimated, clockwork-enhanced corpse that he can control. He introduces “the Iron Assassin” to the highly placed Lords who will decide if Straker’s invention becomes a weapon of the Lion-or if it is to be destroyed. However, Straker and the Lords find that the Iron Assassin has a will of his own and his past isn’t all that it seems. Is this mechanical man a monster?

I wanted to like this book, I really did. Touted as a kind of modern Prometheus – a la Frankenstein, a personal favorite – I was hoping it would be something a kin to that. A man brought back to life, struggling to find his place in a world that is not ready, nor does it want him. This however, was not that.

One of the things that made this book so difficult to enjoy was how it jumped around constantly. There were too many different plot lines going on at the same time and the number of characters to try and keep track of was personally quite daunting. While the prose itself was strong, the action and dialogue were well written; the inability for the story line to say in one place for very long weakened the overall appeal.

Ed Greenwood is better known for the Forgotten Realms series. I haven’t read any of this particular series yet but they seem to get good reviews on Amazon. Those who are familiar with him and enjoy his writing might enjoy this addition. Those who are not familiar with him, take caution and maybe get this one from your library if you want to read it.

The Iris Fan (A Novel of Feudal Japan) – by Laura Joh Rowland

While I am a fan of history in general, there are a select few eras that I find especially fascinating. One era, that I have mentioned before, is Victorian England. Another era is Feudal Japan, where this week’s novel takes place.

The year is 1709 and the shogun is sick and ailing. Sano Ichiro, once Chamberlain to the shogun has been demoted to a lowly patrol guard. His home life is faring little better as his marriage is in tatters. His friend and once loyal retainer is now a wanted criminal. Yet despite all this, Sano remains dedicated to Bushido – the way of the warrior.

When everything seems at it’s worst, the unthinkable happens – the shogun is stabbed in his own bedchamber. Sano finds himself reinstated as the chief investigator charged with finding the culprit. The stakes are especially high as if the shogun’s heir is not happy with the outcome, Sano will find himself put to death with his family beside him. Forced to ally himself with friend as well as foe, Sano is racing against time. Time, which for the shogun, is quickly running out.

The Iris Fan marks the 18th and final novel in the Sano Ichiro series. A fact I wasn’t aware of (since I didn’t read the book flap) until I got towards the end of the book. I have been a fan of this series practically since the beginning and have nearly all the books in the series on my shelf at home. Over the course of the books we, the reader, have watched Sano and his family change and grow. We are with him when he first meets his wife Reiko and later when they marry. We are with him when his first child is born and later through the ups and downs of his career. Reading the last book was like saying good-bye to friends and family.

If I have one complaint about the books, it would be the growing reliance on supernatural or otherworldly forces as major plot devices. In early novels there was sometimes a thought of ghosts or spirits being the culprit but in the end it was a human who committed the deed. With the later stories these began to take a more prominent role in the story, making them – especially towards the end – unrealistic.

A bit slow in the beginning, the pace really begins to pick up in the second half of the book. Familiar faces abound, some friend with others foe. New relationships are established and new bonds are forged.

Readers familiar with this series will likely find The Iris Fan a fitting end to the series. Personally I had a few quibbles but all in all greatly enjoyed the book. I am sorry to see this series end as I have enjoyed for a goodly number of years.

Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough

History is a subject that only as an adult have I learned to enjoy. While I am a fan of all eras in general, there are certain times and places that I have extreme interest in. One of those times is Victorian Era London. I have reviewed books set in that time in the past and this week’s review falls in line with them.

Mayhem brings us to London in the late 1800’s. Jack the Ripper has the city on edge as he slashes his way through Whitechapel. Scotland Yard has their hands full trying to catch him when another mass murderer arrives on the scene. Dubbed ‘The Torso Killer’ he has a habit of leaving neatly wrapped parcels containing his victims’ body parts – minus the heads. The spike in gruesome crimes has left Dr. Thomas Bond, the highly regarded surgeon working with Scotland Yard, unable to sleep. Opium offers some respite but his increasing need for the drug begins to bother the good doctor.

It is during one of his nightly trips to the seedier side of London that Dr. Bond encounters a mysterious priest who seems to be on his own search for something – or perhaps someone. At first the doctor rejects the priests theories about the Torso Killer as they are an affront to science and everything the doctor holds dear. It is only as time goes on and the body count continues to rise does Dr. Bond begin to wonder if perhaps the priest isn’t mistaken at all. And perhaps Dr. Bond knows the true identity of the Torso Killer.

Mayhem is a fascinating tale in that it is all based on real events. While I admit to being a fan of Victorian England and familiar with the Jack the Ripper killings, I had never heard of the Torso Killer. A bit of research showed me that they were indeed a real person and their killings occurred around the same time as Jack the Ripper. Further research showed me that characters in the novel (Dr. Bond, Inspector Moore, etc.) were also real people and were all involved with the Jack the Ripper and the Torso Killer cases. A bit of dramatic license was used, especially in regards to the culprit and how they were involved, but the majority of the story is taken from actual events and actual police reports.

Reviews on Amazon are mixed but honestly, I ripped through this book (pun intended). Dramatic and tense, I found it a real nail biter up to the end. At times quite gruesome it is not for the faint of heart. Those however who love a good horror should definitely pick this one up.

The Alchemist’s Daughter (A Bianca Goddard mystery) by Mary Lawrence

Ask a school aged student what their favorite subject is, and more likely than not their answer will be anything other than “History”. There are those young students who do enjoy history, but for the majority it isn’t until we become adults that the subject holds any interest. This certainly holds true for myself, dear reader. Only as an adult have I found the subject interesting.

The Alchemist’s Daughter is a novel set in a time which I have found interest in – 16th Century London. The time of the reign of Henry VIII, a most turbulent time. In it, we meet Bianca Goddard, an intelligent young woman who uses her knowledge of medicinal plants and herbs to create remedies for the very poor in the Southwark slums where she lives. When her friend Jolyn comes complaining of stomach pains, the usual remedy doesn’t ease the pain but instead kills Jolyn on the spot. Trying to recover from the shock, Bianca begins to suspect that Jolyn was poisoned long before, something the local constable doesn’t seem ready to believe.

In order to keep herself out of the gallows, Bianca must try and find the real murderer. Using her knowledge as well as relying on help from those around her she needs to stay one step ahead and find out who killed her friend before time runs out.

The reviews on Amazon are mixed for this book, and I have to admit my feelings towards it are the same. On the whole, the book itself is fairly enjoyable. A dramatic tale with a variety of characters makes for a good read. The more casual history fan will like this book but the more ardent student will likely find problems. Characters speak more “modern”ly with only the occasional word or phrase from the time thrown in. Outfits, ideas, and even food and drink from a variety of eras form a sort of mish-mash that comprise parts of the novel.

Bianca, as well as the other main characters of the novel, were somewhat interesting. Bianca herself reads as the beautiful yet plucky heroine, constantly overlooked but determined to make her mark. Others seemed more like caricatures instead of full fleshed out persons, right down to the exasperated boyfriend. For me, the only character that I found truly worth wondering about was the mysterious cloaked rat catcher who showed up on occasion. Who was he and what was he doing? I found myself questioning his motives more than the main characters.

I wouldn’t call The Alchemist’s Daughter a light, fluffy read since the subject matter is far from it. It is however for the more casual reader and those who are real sticklers for historical accuracy should stay away. A decent read but I doubt I’ll be searching out any other books in this series.