Review: Shanghai Sparrow

I genuinely had no idea what I was in for with this book. I thought the cover art was awesome (steampunk dragon? Yes please) so I grabbed it and gave it a twirl, and then when I was done twirling I read it!

So what is Shanghai Sparrow? Well to start with it’s written by Gaie Sebold!

The book is set in a steam punk British Empire, which also contains a Chinese Empire and a Russian Empire but they’re only mentioned in passing, and the story follows Evvie Duchen a grubby street urchin, and Holmforth a dedicated a loyal servant of the British Empire. Throw in a pinch of fairy Folk and a dash of magic and you’ve got yourself a good setting.

Immediately I found myself drawn in to Sebold’s story. She definitely has an excellent handle on giving the reader just enough information so that they know what’s going on in the moment, but keep the reader asking questions and yearning for more information! Why is Evvie a thief? What’s up with the weird Holmforth? What’s this magical Etheric science I’m hearing so much about!? Suffice to say Sebold did a wonderful job of keeping me entertained but also keeping me yearning for more. 

This, I think, lent itself to the pace very well. I found myself hungrily devouring the text and also wanting to find out that next tiny tit-bit of information that made the world so colourful. But Sebold avoids the pitfall that can be the trouble with a lot of fiction set in alternative universes, which is to talk too much about the world and too little about what’s going on. Of course, I understand the want of authors to talk about their world, they’ve spent years meticulously crafting these intricate universes and only want to share them with you, to enrich your experience of the story! I get that, and at times I love it. Sebold, however, gives us the world with hints and throwaway lines that leave us asking questions.

I understand that this could be a bad thing, but I don’t think it is in this case. We are given just as much as we need to know and and it really highlights that we’re being told about the characters. 

And the characters are great. We mainly stay with the point-of-view Evvie with forays to Holmforth and the rare appearance of a mysterious Fox Spirit. None of the characters are just villainous because we need villains and neither do we get the most heinous of crimes and have characters performing actions that are against their nature purely to progress the plot. Each of the characters is developed and as we discover more about them and their motivations we come to understand each of them very well. 

And as a side-note: I also very much enjoyed that there were many strong female characters, I am always pleased when this happens. There are no damsels in distress in this book, no sir (or madam)! All of the characters, regardless of gender, are intelligently crafted three-dimensional beings. 

I was a little miffed when the story jumped to backstory for a chapter or so, after all, I wanted to know what was happening with the plot! But then you start finding out little things and the same level of storytelling is involved in the backstory so it rapidly becomes a non-issue. (And I have done this before with chapters of backstory, to be slightly miffed but also almost immediately engrossed, and this is no different!) 

This is a great read, Sebold writes very well and drops colourful similes and imagery in to her work that give it that added spark. The way she has set up the plot and the world mean that the pacing is quick and well thought out, you don’t find yourself rushing through the boring bits (what boring bits?) and Sebold knows how to ratchet up the tension. 

I was pleased to find out that Solaris Books have commissioned a sequel as well! There is much more I wanted to see, especially of Evvie! So if you’re up for a series then this is the book for you! But if you’d prefer self-contained story, then just pretend I didn’t mention it!

All in all, I was very impressed with Shanghai Sparrow and would heartily recommend it. You’ll find yourself devouring pages on the edge of your seat, whether you like it or not! 

Review: The Lost Castle (The Chronicles of Krangor)

I love a good fantasy book, and I love dinosaurs. So what’s not to love when you mix them together? 

That’s why I picked up The Lost Castle the first in a series called The Chronicles of Krangor written by Michael Pryor, which is a fantasy novel where all the characters are dinosaurs of one sort or another (bet you didn’t see that coming?).

It is a children’s book, so I wasn’t expecting it to be super duper complicated and just really a bit of fun to break up the weeping muddy explosion that is the Malazan universe. 

The story centers around three young saurs who uncover the evil Queen’s diabolical plan to rule the world using magic. Awesome. We’ve got dinosaurs, an evil queen, and world domination goin’ on. Mainly we follow Adalon (on the cover, I assume) a young noble and promises to exact justice on the Queen for the death of his father. 

The cover for The Lost Caste
Look at him, being all knight-y and prehistoric.

One thing that always surprises me about children’s books (although it says more about the kinds of books I read, I suspect, than children’s books) is how quickly the plot progresses. We are immediately thrown into the thick of things and the plot progresses at a compelling pace. 

However, I do think that this sacrifices something of the prose as a rather inordinate amount of the time (not all the time, but just enough that I noticed it) we are being told what is happening more often than not rather than being shown. I understand that this is also partly to do with tailoring to the audience, as much as I like to imagine I’m still a kid at heart, I know that I have grown up. (Damn you Peter Pan!)

One thing that I did find a bit odd was the description of the saurs themselves. The details were never thoroughly detailed and we are only offered snippets of the saurs in any one paragraph. I guess that a reason for this is that Michael Pryor has devised a world where the dinosaurs have evolved and moved away from the petty classification of us mere humans. Instead of (what I assumed to be a descendant of the iguanadon) we are told they are ‘Clawed Ones’, or instead of some sort of Tyrannosaurus Rex we hear of the ‘Toothed One’. At its face I think this is a good way to try and show what the characters are without bogging the young readership down with too many details. But I did also find that it left a lot to the imagination, which sometimes left me thinking “Oh, maybe they don’t look like I thought they did…”. Although I should qualify this that I was a massive dinosaur nerd when I was a kid (who am I kidding, ‘was’?) so maybe I shouldn’t wait for Pryor to tell me if a character is a Stegasaurus or a Kentrosaurus….

But moving past that and my own geekery, the characters are interesting and there is danger abound and not just the danger of the Queen’s guards that have been set on those she wants eliminated. The three friends we follow (each a different kind of saur) all have their own personalities and Pryor does well to bring them out and show the value of friendship and teamwork throughout. 

So if you like dinosaurs and fantastical stories and you fancy a quick read, or you know a suitable youngling (no, I don’t know why I phrased it like that either) then I would recommend this book. The world is ripe for the picking and Pryor sets himself up for an adventurous romp over the trilogy.