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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

'Poison or Protect' Delightfully Deadly novella #1 by Gail Carriger

Received from the author in exchange for an honest review

From the BLURB:

Can one gentle Highland soldier woo Victorian London’s most scandalous lady assassin, or will they both be destroyed in the attempt? 

New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger presents a stand-alone romance novella set in her popular steampunk universe full of manners, spies, and dainty sandwiches.
 

Lady Preshea Villentia, the Mourning Star, has four dead husbands and a nasty reputation. Fortunately, she looks fabulous in black. What society doesn’t know is that all her husbands were marked for death by Preshea’s employer. And Preshea has one final assignment.
 

It was supposed to be easy, a house party with minimal bloodshed. Preshea hadn’t anticipated Captain Gavin Ruthven – massive, Scottish, quietly irresistible, and… working for the enemy. In a battle of wits, Preshea may risk her own heart – a terrifying prospect, as she never knew she had one.
 

Buy Poison or Protect today to find out whether it’s heartbreak or haggis at this high tea.
 

Warning: Contains men pleasing women, and ladies who know what they want and ask for it, sometimes in detail. May also contain plaid, appearances from favorite characters, and the strategic application of leather gloves.
 

‘Poison or Protect’ is the first in a series of ‘Delightfully Deadly’ novellas, set in the same universe as Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate and Custard Protocol series’.

Before I delve into the deliciousness of this first novella, I’ve got to quote from Ms Carriger’s website and get just a little bit excited over what readers have in store from the pre-eminent steampunk romance author.

The Delightfully Deadly novella series is set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate series and features characters who appeared in the Finishing School series but are now grown up. As well as the DD novella series, fans will be treated to Supernatural Society Novellas – stand alone LBGT romances – as well as Claw & Courtship Novellas – which are coming in 2017, and are stand alone werewolf romances. This shall be nothing short of a fantasy feast for fans – and this fan in particular who is always happy to visit and revisit Carriger’s endlessly fascinating and fabulous steampunk/urban fantasy universe.

The first in ‘Delightfully Deadly’ is ‘Poison or Protect’, which tells the story of ex-drone to Lord Akeldama, turned deadly assassin, Lady Preshea Villentia (I always want to applaud Carriger’s character names). Preshea is tasked with attending a house party where she’ll be expected to protect her Tory host from assassination, and dissuade his young and impressionable (not to mention, moneyed) daughter from marrying a gauche gentleman and fortune-seeker called Jackson.

Except there’s one problem – young man Jackson is attending the house party with his best friend and fellow werewolf, Captain Gavin Ruthven – a much more sensible (and sensuous) retired Scottish officer who Preshea becomes complicatedly attracted to.

I adored this novella. There are lots of old favorites and familiar faces peppered throughout, but Preshea and Gavin’s romance is entirety fresh and fabulous. Both characters have interesting enough back-stories and proclivities that were simply delicious to unpack. Preshea, for instance, is nicknamed The Mourning Star because she’s been through four husbands already (and she’s too beautiful for a moniker like Black Widow Spider, thankfully).

“My skill set is in quite the opposite direction. It is unladylike to brag, but I could steer this dirigible, if needed.” 
Both men looked more admiring than shocked. Good, I have judged them correctly. These were that unusual breed of male that admired a capable female. 
Preshea found herself in an unexpected predicament. Enjoying the float, fighting an inclination for the wrong man, and a genuine affection for both.

Gavin may be big and burly, but he’s a gentleman who likes to be led by a stronger female in the bedroom … And when these two meet there’s a slow spark of chemistry that ends up igniting on the page.

“Lass, I want this clear – I’d apply for the position of fifth husband, if you’d permit.” 
“Oh, yes? Here I thought you desired a long and happy life.” 
“Aye, lass, but I’d as soon a shorter one with you than a longer one without.”

Gail Carriger is just one of the funniest, most charming and original writers I’ve ever come across – and I’m downright delighted that she’s gifting readers these novellas, so as to consume more of her words and live a little longer in her worlds. I’m particularly excited for the Supernatural Society LGBT+ novella series, and even more so since there’s a couple in ‘Poison or Protect’ who really intrigued me. I have a feeling that as more of these novellas come out, I’ll be moved to re-read all of her series in chronological order just for my own pure delight!

5/5

Monday, June 20, 2016

Some thoughts on editing YA and kids books containing Indigenous content - guest post by Ambelin Kwaymullina


Some thoughts on editing YA and kids books containing Indigenous content

A few people have asked me recently about the kinds of things editors need to know in order to appropriately edit YA and children’s books that contain Indigenous characters/content. So here’s a few thoughts on some of the things that editors might find it useful to inform themselves about.  

A Lack of Sustained Engagement

It should be noted at the outset that a lack of editorial knowledge regarding Indigenous peoples and realities in part arises from the fact that most of the Australian publishing industry – and the literature industry more generally – lacks any history of sustained engagement with Indigenous peoples. Engagement has tended to be on a one-off, ad hoc basis with all the failings that can entail – inconsistencies in approach (including inconsistencies within the same publisher); a lack of retention of corporate knowledge (because knowledge resides with one person and is lost when they leave); and a lack of meaningful, sustainable connections between a publisher and Indigenous peoples.

The obvious framework through which publishers can foster engagement with Indigenous peoples is a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). RAPs are increasingly a feature of the public and private sector, including the schools sector. A RAP – which is a business plan that details how an organisation/corporation will achieve reconciliation – is built around three core elements: fostering respect for Indigenous peoples and cultures, building relationships, and creating opportunities (both through Indigenous employment and through supplier diversity). Detailed instructions on the development of RAPs are available at the Reconciliation Australia website.

Best Practice Standards

Best practice standards are contained within the AIATSIS Ethical Research Guidelines, the AIATSIS Ethical Publishing Guidelines, and the Australia Council for the Arts Indigenous Writing Protocols. The research guidelines are relevant because there is an intersection between literature and the extensive work on working ethically with Indigenous peoples that has emerged from the research field. This is especially so in relation to non-fiction or fiction that draws heavily from fact (eg from historical events); and to collaborations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. Editors should be well familiar with all these documents. In addition, every editor should have read Murri lawyer Terri Janke’s recent publication Indigenous Cultural Protocols and the Arts, which relates to the Australia Council protocols and sets out a series of questions that any arts practitioner should ask in relation to projects involving Indigenous peoples/knowledges/cultures. These questions are equally relevant for any editor to ask when seeking to ensure a best practice approach has been followed.

Editors should further be aware of two intersecting areas that underlie the guidelines and protocols: Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP), and the principle of free, prior and informed consent.

The leading Australian expert on ICIP is Terri Janke. I would suggest that editors read Terri’s presentation Who Owns Story (and the associated discussion on copyright on the AIATSIS website), and More Than Words: Writing About Indigenous Australia.

The principle of free prior and informed consent (FPIC) is an international best practice standard applied to projects and initiatives concerning Indigenous peoples, and will be especially relevant to collaborations with non-Indigenous peoples. In essence, ‘free’ means free from coercion, manipulation or pressure. ‘Prior’ means with sufficient advance notice, including allowing enough time for Indigenous consultation and/or Indigenous consensus decision-making processes. Informed – in the context of literature – means Indigenous peoples being comprehensively informed as to the nature of a given project/book, including (1) what ICIP issues arise and how ICIP will be protected (2) what return of benefits there will be to the Indigenous peoples/communities involved in the book/literature project; and (3) any potential risks for Indigenous peoples. For an example of an Indigenous FPIC protocol, refer to the Kimberley Land Council’s research protocol

Indigenous Cultural Competency

Cultural competency is often mistakenly understood as being something that is achieved solely through obtaining knowledge about Indigenous peoples. However, the research demonstrates that the achievement of cultural competency requires a person is aware of their own cultural standpoint and the limitations of that standpoint when it comes to comprehending the cultures of others. To aid in understanding the concept of cultural competency, I suggest editors read the summary provided in pages 37 – 50 of the National Best Practice Framework for Indigenous Cultural Competency in Australian Universities, and especially the models of cultural competency provided at pp 49 – 50.

In the context of the literature industry, cultural competency requires an understanding of whiteness. The industry itself is overwhelmingly white both in terms of its employees and in terms of the underlying structures and philosophies embodied within the institutions (including publishers) that comprise it. This includes unconscious but often deeply embedded assumptions as to the superiority of Western culture, cultural expressions and institutions over those of Indigenous peoples (and other non-white peoples). It also includes the operation of white privilege (although all non-Indigenous peoples who live on Indigenous lands are to some degree privileged in relation to Indigenous peoples, because everyone who came to Australia post-colonisation has gained in some way from the dispossession of those who were here before.)

White privilege was defined by US scholar Peggy McIntosh in her watershed work on the subject as an invisible package of unearned assets that she could count on cashing in on everyday, but to which she was meant to remain oblivious. In 2010, Black writer Zetta Elliott adapted Peggy McIntosh’s analysis to discuss the present day literary industry in the US; I’ve drawn on Zetta’s article to write about privilege in Australian literature. Other Australian YA/kids writers who have addressed privilege include Rebecca Lim and Justine Larbalestier. In the US, there is a wealth of online commentary on the subject of whiteness, privilege and YA/kids lit, including the following: Daniel Older, Diversity is not enough: race, power, publishing; Allie Jane Bruce, On Being White: A Raw, Honest Conversation; Zetta Elliott, It’s not me, it’s you: letting go of the status quo; Megan Schliesman, Lessons on Reading While White; Ellen Oh, Dear White Writer (and for some of the reaction to Ellen’s post, see here and here). Any editor familiarising themselves with commentary in this area should also read Robin DiAngelo’s work regarding the concept of ‘white fragility’, as this concept is often referenced in US discussions.

What about gaining knowledge about Indigenous peoples? There are a range of online resources that editors may find helpful, including: Indigenous terminology guides (for example, the Flinders Uni guide); Reconciliation Australia’s Share Our Pride module; answers to basic questions as well as explanations of common myths about Indigenous peoples; resources on history including the 1967 Referendum, land rights, and the Stolen Generations; and the websites on culture and Country created by Indigenous nations, such as the Kaartdijin Noongar (Noongar Knowledge) website. Reading online materials is not of course a substitute for formal cultural competency training. But in the absence of publishers engaging Indigenous peoples to offer such training, editors should try to be as informed as they possibly can, and in this respect, there is one more source with which all editors should be familiar: Indigenous literature. There are a wealth of Indigenous Australian voices in Australia, and one of the best ways to learn about being Indigenous is through reading the works of Indigenous peoples speaking to our own worlds. And in relation to YA and children’s literature, begin with the extensive catalogue in this field of the Indigenous publisher Magabala Books.

The 21C diversity conversation

There is a global dialogue happening around diversity in literature – or rather the lack thereof, and in particular, the massive under-representation of diverse voices. In the US, this conversation includes websites dedicated to providing thoughtful, in depth analysis of representation in literature. We don’t yet have the equivalent of such websites in Australia. But anyone with an interest in Indigenous peoples and literature should be regularly reading the work of Nambe Pueblo Indian woman Debbie Reese at her American Indians in Children’s Literature website. Editors should also be informed about the diversity conversation more broadly. The intersections between different experiences of exclusion are important, especially because anyone who belongs to more than one category of difference will be even more marginalised still (in this respect, Indigenous women are amongst the most marginalised on earth; Indigenous LGBTI Australians are at a particularly high risk of suicide, and Indigenous Australians are almost twice as likely to be living with a disability as non-Indigenous Australians). Diverse Australian YA/kids authors who have written to diversity issues in Australian literature include myself, Sarah Ayoub, Rebecca Lim, Gabrielle Wang, Will Kostakis and Erin Gough. US websites that address representation issues in YA/kids literature include: Disability in Kids Lit; GayYA; Oyate; Reading While White; Rich in Color and the We Need Diverse Books movement.

There are a multitude of voices in this space speaking powerfully to why representation matters, and to the many dangers and manifestations of mis-representation.

So if you want to be informed – listen.

*** 

Ambelin Kwaymullina is an Aboriginal writer, illustrator and academic who comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She works at the Law School at the University of Western Australia and is the author of a number of picture books as well as the YA speculative fiction series, The Tribe.  

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Reflecting on Indigenous superheroes, Indigenous Futurisms and the future of diversity in literature - guest post by Ambelin Kwaymullina


Reflecting on Indigenous superheroes, Indigenous Futurisms and the future of diversity in literature

I cannot count the number of time I’ve been told it’s unusual to be an Indigenous speculative fiction writer who tells a story about an Indigenous superhero. But Indigenous superheroes are nothing new – at least, not to Indigenous peoples. We have always had stories of the Ancestor heroes, and through the long violence of colonialism, we’ve had other heroes too. These heroes include the resistance fighters of the frontier period; the undercover operatives of the protection era where intense government surveillance required Indigenous peoples to engage in a thousand hidden acts of defiance; and the child heroes who survived being members of the Stolen Generations.  In Australia and elsewhere, Indigenous peoples have also long been able to interact with the world in ways that the West might label as ‘magic’, but this is because the West often defines the real (and hence the possible) differently to the Indigenous cultures of the earth. There are many aspects of Indigenous realities that might be called ‘speculative’ by the West (such as communicating with animals and time travel). There is also much in Western literature that Indigenous peoples regard as fantasy even though it is labeled as fact, including the numerous negative stereotypes and denigrations of Indigenous peoples and culture contained within settler literature. In this context, speculative fiction has told many a colonial tale whereby Indigenous peoples become the ‘primitive’ populations of alien worlds, overcome by the equivalent of the colonial nation-states enacting their so-called manifest destiny across the stars. Spec fic has also told yet more iterations of the ‘white saviour story’ whereby it is only a white hero (and never an Indigenous one) who can ‘save’ the Indigenous peoples from their terrible plight (a plight that was itself created by white invaders). And it is a genre which has continuously engaged in the appropriation of Indigenous and other non-Western cultures, thereby causing much distress to the marginalised peoples of the earth.


But there is a growing Indigenous presence in speculative fiction. Indigenous Australian Young Adult and Children’s writers who write spec fic include myself, Teagan Chilcott, Tristan Michael Savage, graphic novelist Brenton McKenna, and the group of young Aboriginal people responsible for the NEOMAD comics. In the US, Anishinaabe academic Grace Dillon has coined the term ‘Indigenous Futurisms’ to describe a form of storytelling whereby Indigenous peoples use the speculative fiction genre to challenge colonialism and envision Indigenous futures. Since Indigenous cultures (and peoples) have long been relegated to the past in the mythos of colonial settler states, the very act of imagining Indigenous futures is one of resistance. There is therefore a degree to which being an Indigenous spec fic writer is to be part of what might be called, in Star Wars parlance, a ‘rebel alliance’, and it is an alliance that fights – of course – against the forces of Empire.  


Indigenous superheroes are nothing new. Nor are Indigenous stories. But since colonisation began, our voices have been silenced and our knowledges and cultures appropriated. So what is new are the existence of spaces where Indigenous peoples can tell and control our own stories.  This is not to say the battle to protect our cultural expressions is over. It most definitely is not, and here in Australia, we don’t yet have what could well be the single most effective measure of protection – a National Indigenous Cultural Authority. But there is a greater awareness of the need to deal respectfully and ethically with Indigenous peoples than once there was. There is also an ever-growing cyber-space presence of many diverse voices who are challenging misrepresentations and drawing attention to the need to read the authors who are writing to their own worlds. In 2015, spec fic author Corinne Duyvis – a writer with autism and one of the founders of Disability in Kidlit – invented the hashtag #OwnVoices, to promote books with a marginalised protagonist written by someone from the same group. Websites such as Disability in Kidlit and, in an Indigenous context, American Indians in Children’s Literature, provide a source of critiques that interrogate (mis)representations in literature in way that is still generally not done by mainstream reviewers and award judges. So do ally websites such as Reading While White, which is run by a group of White librarians to support the struggles of people of colour and Indigenous peoples in literature. There isn’t an equivalent to these websites in Australia … yet. But questions of authority, legitimacy, appropriateness, privilege and power are increasingly being asked of literature and of the Arts more generally.

The way is gradually opening for Indigenous peoples to speak our truths, whether alone or in equitable partnerships with non-Indigenous peoples. We don’t yet live in a world where all voices have an equal opportunity to be heard, and where all voices are heard equally. But we are on our way to it, and therefore on a journey to the stories that will exist when we do.    
Welcome to the future.  

*** 
Ambelin Kwaymullina is an Aboriginal writer, illustrator and academic who comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She works at the Law School at the University of Western Australia and is the author of a number of picture books as well as the YA speculative fiction series, The Tribe.  

Friday, May 20, 2016

My events at Melbourne Writers Festival 2016



Hello Darling Readers,

Long time no see! I am still in the thick of deadline-itis, but thought I'd interrupt my Blog of Solitude to *squeeeeee* a little, and say how excited I am to be back at Melbourne Writers Festival this year!
I'm going to be involved in two Schools sessions: 

How To Review  Tue 30 Aug, 11.15am, VENUE: ACMI Cinema 2

What are the ingredients of a review that does all the right things? Film reviewer Myke Bartlett and YA book blogger Danielle Binks take students through the craft of reviewing, with special tips for reviewing the page and the screen. Learn from the professionals!


*** 

Opinion Writing Thu 1 Sep, 12.30pm, VENUE: ACMI Cinema 2

How do you write a killer opinion piece, making your voice heard and maybe even changing minds? Opinion queen Clementine Ford and fellow feminist Amy Gray will open their toolkits and teach you about voice, structure, argument and more.



Sunday, May 8, 2016

#LoveOzYA Committee and Community response to: Productivity Commission’s Report on Australia’s intellectual property arrangements

Hello Lovely Readers, 

I've been a bit incommunicado lately, and I do apologise! It's also that I've been in a bit of a reading slump and haven't been reading enough (or fast enough) to post reviews. Freelance writing, creative writing, and letter-writing having taken up all my brain power, and unfortunately the blog has laid dormant .... and the crickets will probably continue to chirp until I've got a few deadlines out of the way. Apologies again - I shall get back into the swing of things soon! 


I sit on the #LoveOzYA committee, and last week we on the committee decided to speak up and oppose copyright proposals and parallel importation (for all the reasons why, you may want to do some additional reading up here).

This is something I feel really passionately about, and if you #LoveOzYA and want to show your support for the Australian youth literature sector - and Australian publishing in general - then you are welcome to add your name to this submission as a co-signatory (and if you feel so inclined, a paragraph or two response too!): 



Tuesday, May 3, 2016

'Night Shift' Midnight, Texas #3 by Charlaine Harris

Received via NetGalley

From the BLURB:

Welcome to the most intriguing mystery you'll read this year.

Welcome to Midnight, Texas.

At Midnight's local pawnshop, weapons are flying off the shelves-only to be used in sudden and dramatic suicides right at the main crossroads in town.

Who better to figure out why blood is being spilled than the vampire Lemuel, who, while translating mysterious texts, discovers what makes Midnight the town it is. There's a reason why witches and werewolves, killers and psychics, have been drawn to this place.

And now they must come together to stop the bloodshed in the heart of Midnight. For if all hell breaks loose-which just might happen-it will put the secretive town on the map, where no one wants it to be...

‘Night Shift’ is the third book in Charlaine Harris’ ‘Midnight, Texas’ urban fantasy series.

I must admit that I went into ‘Night Shift’ a little bit wary. I really, really disliked Harris’ sophomore effort in a series that brings minor and beloved characters from all her other series together … But second book ‘Day Shift’ lacked emotional heart for me, and largely because two of my favourite characters established in book #1 were inexplicably cut down. But I was quickly buoyed by ‘Night Shift’, because those two favourites – Fiji and Bobo – and their unrequited love affair was touched upon quickly, hinting that it’d be a lodestone for this instalment. And lo and behold, it was;
 Bobo had seemed a little broody for days, though no one was sure why. Fiji who was always aware of Bobo, was a little hyped by the fact that she was almost certain that he was staring at her even when she wasn’t speaking. She didn’t know why; she sadly suspected it was not for the same reason she liked to look at him. In fact, looking at Bobo was one of her favourite things to do.

Something is stirring underneath the town of Midnight, Texas. Strangers are being pulled to the town to commit suicide at the crossroads, and everyone in town is aware that this is just the prelude to a bigger bad waking … The best way to describe the action of ‘Night Shift’ is with this exchange between witch Fiji and psychic Manfred, which I loved because it speaks to a more menacing and intriguing “big bad” that’s plaguing the town of Midnight, and just because I love how meta it is that Charlaine Harris gives some love to ‘Buffy’ when she herself is the creator of what has become another iconic vampire series (there’s also mention of Fiji reading some Anne Rice, which also tickled my meta);

“Maybe you’re right, Manfred. Did you ever watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer?” 
The change of subject left him teetering. 
“Ah … sure. My grandmother loved it.” 
“Do you ever wonder if Midnight’s on the Hellmouth? Like Sunnydale?” 
Manfred laughed. “That’s exactly what it feels like,” he said. “You must be Willow, and Olivia must be Buffy. And Lemuel is Angel.” 
That brought a smile to Fiji’s face, too. “I would classify Olivia more as Faith,” she said. “Bobo can be Xander.” 
“So Diedrik would be Oz.” 
For a reason Manfred couldn’t fathom, Fiji flushed.
 
I loved the mystery at the heart of ‘Night Shift’, both because it’s more satisfying than the more human mysteries of the past two books and because Fiji very much gets to be at the centre of things. For this reason also, Bobo doesn’t get a lot of page time which I didn’t love … but I can appreciate this book being more Fiji’s show, Bobo had to remain a bit of a mystery to her (and therefore, to readers). I adore Fiji and any time Charlaine Harris chooses her as the series focus, the plot is vastly improved.

I also appreciated that Harris at least touched on a little mystery for Manfred, by mentioning the young woman he crushed on in book #1, but who has all but vanished from the series since; 

Manfred wondered how Creek Lovell was faring. He’d had a crush on her the size of a boulder, and he’d never figured out if it was returned.
 
I can’t find anything on the internet about whether or not ‘Midnight, Texas’ will continue beyond ‘Night Shift’ – but I sure hope so, for this little emotional nugget about Manfred and Creek, and also because my old favourite from Sookie’s world – Quinn, the weretiger – has hope in his heart by the end of ‘Night Shift’, and I’d love to see how it works out for him.

I really, really loved ‘Night Shift’ – even as things got a little ridiculous towards the end, I just found it great fun and really thought Harris hit her stride juggling all these characters and their relations against a menacing big bad. ‘Midnight, Texas’ is currently filming as a TV-movie, which I’m also ridiculously excited about (not least because Dylan Bruce – who played Paul in ‘Orphan Black’ is onboard to play Bobo!), and the IMDB description has it billed as “Twin Peaks meets True Blood” which is just so on-the-money I can’t stand it, and my hopes are up high.

‘Night Shift’ is Charlaine Harris at her tangled, paranormal-noir best – with beloved witch Fiji as the emotional centre of this instalment, plus a good subplot about Olivia and Lemuel and enough kernels of complication to leave fans hoping for more instalments … ‘Night Shift’ is the high of this series so far, and I want more.

5/5

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

'The Moor' Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes #4 by Laurie R. King


From the BLURB:

In the eerie wasteland of Dartmoor, Sherlock Holmes summons his devoted wife and partner, Mary Russell, from her studies at Oxford to aid the investigation of a death and some disturbing phenomena of a decidedly supernatural origin.

Through the mists of the moor there have been sightings of a spectral coach made of bones carrying a woman long-ago accused of murdering her husband--and of a hound with a single glowing eye. Returning to the scene of one of his most celebrated cases, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Holmes and Russell investigate a mystery darker and more unforgiving than the moors themselves.

‘The Moor’ is the fourth book in historical mystery series ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’ by Laurie R. King, first published in 1998.

For a little while there in 2014 I was seriously into King’s ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’. Having just discovered the series I tore through The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, A Monstrous Regiment of Women and A Letter of Mary in a matter of weeks and gave five-stars to all. And then I got to fourth book The Moor and reading it was slow-going … I couldn’t get into the story, which sees Mary and her now-husband Sherlock Holmes revisiting one of Watson’s famous tales (really Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s) The Hound of the Baskervilles. The mystery of this fourth book just wasn’t clicking for me, possibly because it felt like there was an over-reliance on the Conan Doyle original to ground the plot, whereas in the first few books of the series I’d been thoroughly enjoying the originality and Holmes’ determination to break away from his famous detective past.

I also found it hard to get into a reading groove with this book, because it lacked the chemistry between Mary and Holmes that I’d been so enjoying in the first three. Book one felt like a very platonic relationship between the two, in which they were both finding their footing with one another – but by book two it was clear there was more going on between them than just mentor/mentee, and as they became equal partners in investigations, you could really read the spark of romance between them. By book three they were very recently married, and it was fascinating reading them adjust. Book four actually has Mary and Holmes separated for a fair bit of the investigation into a ghostly carriage roaming the Moors, which worked to highlight that Mary is very much still her own woman and capable of functioning without her new husband, but means we’re not getting as much of that witty banter and cunning back-and-forth between them.

But since I started reading and then put aside ‘The Moor’, Laurie R King has released two more ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’ books – ‘Dreaming Spies’ and ‘The Murder of Mary Russell’ – the 14th book in particular has been causing quite a buzz in the fandom community that has not gone unnoticed by me (the blurb promises, the series will “never be the same after this bombshell”). Thus, I’ve pushed myself to finish ‘The Moor’ so I can get back on track with this series with aims of getting to books #13 and #14. It was a slog, but I’m glad that on the other side of ‘The Moor’ is book number five, ‘O Jerusalem’ which I have on good authority is a favourite instalment for lots of ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’ fans.

So I slogged through ‘The Moor’ – and eventually I must admit the very thing that was annoying me (an over-reliance on referencing Conan Doyle’s Baskervilles) became – if not endearing, – then certainly intriguing. Laurie R. King takes the opportunity of placing Sherlock Holmes in close proximity to, quite possibly, his most famous case as a way to examine how much he hates and rejects the fame and infamy that Watson’s stories have brought him. And it provides at least one nice opportunity for Mary Russell to come to Holmes’s defence;

‘My husband does not really enjoy talking about his old cases, Mr Ketteridge. It makes him uncomfortable.’ 
Most men, and certainly forceful men like Ketteridge, tend to overlook women unless they be unattached and attractive. I usually allow this because I often find it either amusing or convenient to be invisible.
 
On that level I appreciated ‘The Moor’ within the series and in expanding the universe of Mary Russell and Holmes. This book ended up feeling like burying the past, where in the beginning I had resented King’s bringing it too much to the fore;
 ‘Gould?’ Holmes laughed. ‘He’s the most gullible of the lot, full of the most awful balderdash. He’ll tell you how a neighbour’s horse panicked one night at the precise spot where a man would be killed some hours later, how another man carried on a conversation with his wife who was dying ten miles away, how – Revelations, visitations, spooks, you name it – he’s worse than Concan Doyle, with his fairies and his spiritualism.’

But I still found this mystery too slow going, and the sluggish pace (which seems in keeping with the ethos of locals Russell and Holmes find themselves in the company of) rather infuriating, and not conducive to a steady read. I also didn’t love that Russell and Holmes split up to investigate separately for a fairly good chunk of this story. All in all, this is not my favourite instalment but I have my suspicions (even just looking at Goodreads ratings!) that quite a few don’t love this particular addition to the series, and soldiered on as I now have to get to the other side and better instalments of ‘Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes’.

2/5