Domitian by Simon Turney

Canelo Adventure | 2022 (22 October) | 415p | Review copy | Buy the book

Domitian was, through many of his formative years, the heir and spare to an ambitious general, a sometime challenger to the imperial throne and then the emperor himself, Vespasian. It wasn’t easy living through, in one piece, the reigns of Nero and the subsequent conveyor belt of ill-equipped and doomed emperors, and Domitian suffered as much as anyone, seeing family members murdered. But Domitian survived because he turned his seeming unimportance into a talent, creating a spy network that would see him out of all sorts of trouble and push his family ever upwards. He was an observer of everyone while being observed by none, except by his noble friend and political tutor Nerva, who takes some time out, in the aftermath of it all, to tell us all about it. You won’t want to turn away.

Domitian is one of the most famous of the infamous Roman Emperors and a suitable subject for Simon Turney’s Damned Emperors series, or Naughty Emperors, as I like to call them. Domitian is the third (after Caligula and Commodus), and the only one not to begin with C. As with the other books, we largely see the subject through the eyes of others, sometimes, as with Nerva, the eyes are wise, and my quite good knowledge of Rome has me very intrigued about Nerva’s role in all of this.

While the novel itself tells of a dramatic sequence of events, they occur over many years and that makes for a saga feel to the story. It isn’t rushed. We’re expected to get to know Domitian and Nerva and to get a feeling for what this Rome of theirs was like. In this Rome, reaching the purple heights of the throne was no guarantee of security or longevity – danger comes from every direction, and also from within. This is a novel with numberless conspirators whispering in the shadows. Now and again they get hauled out onto the stage to be cut up into pieces but there is always someone to replace them. Domitian is more aware of this than anyone. But he has his friends, just a few, and he keeps them close and loyal. But there is also the inner Domitian, what he keeps hidden, and what escapes from him, terrifyingly.

I do enjoy the ambiguity of these novels – they don’t make bad people good but they do make you question assumptions about a person gleefully written off by Suetonius, while also enjoying those famous and scandalous traits preserved to history.

In other guises, Simon Turney (aka S.J.A. Turney) writes some excellent Roman military fiction. In this series, we move from the battlefield to the no less deadly arena of Roman politics and its popular venue for murder and mayhem – the imperial banquet.

Domitian is a thoroughly entertaining, very well written imperial biography while also being full of facts and details about Roman life for the rich and entitled in the second half of the 1st century AD. It is a fine time in which to set a novel, especially one as good as this; a less fine time in which to have actually been around.

Other reviews
With Gordon Doherty – Sons of Rome
Writing historical locations – a guest post

Apologies for my recent hiatus from reviewing while I contend with continued pain and mobility issues. I am feeling happier in myself these days so I have reviews written and we’re ready to go, my friends!!

The Sign of the Devil by Oscar de Muriel

Hello! Before I begin, I must apologise for the lack of reviews in recent weeks. I am suffering from a bad back injury that has made reading and concentrating very difficult. I am beginning to start to feel hopeful that I might be on the mend! So keep everything crossed. I have turned to audiobooks, which, as they have done in the past, provide comfort and company. I have finished a few books over August as a result and so the reviewing should pick up from now on. Excuses over, on with the review!

The Sign of the Devil by Oscar de MurielThe Sign of the Devil by Oscar de Muriel

Orion | 2022 (4 August) | 480p | Review copy | Buy the book

Evil has returned to Victorian Edinburgh. Body snatchers are busier than ever, feeding the frenzy for autopsy theatre. But one night the body snatchers are disturbed and the corpse is recovered, a mark of the devil on its skin. It had not been there before. That same night a patient is murdered in Edinburgh’s lunatic asylum. An identical symbol is marked on the walls. The prime suspect is a young woman, another inmate, indeed considered possessed. She is Amy (or Pansy) McGray, found guilty of killing her parents with an axe, also wounding her brother, Detective ‘Nine-Nails’ McGray. It is up to McGray, and his long-suffering former associate Inspector Ian Frey, to prove her innocence, right the wrongs of the past and solve the mystery of the sign of the devil.

The Frey and McGray series has been a joy to read over the last few years. Surely, these are the most perfect examples of Victorian melodrama and mystery. Sadly, with this, the seventh novel, the series comes to an end. It is very much a conclusion to the series, looking back to the beginning and coming to terms with the event that has cast a shadow from the start – the murder of McGray’s family and the confinement of his sister, now mute and troubled. All of which means that this is not a stand alone novel, nor is it the one to start with. INstead, go back to the beginning and Strings of Murder.

I love these characters. The very tartan McGray and the extremely English Frey are a great double act. Much of the time we see McGray through Frey’s eyes and his exasperation, and McGray’s constant teasing, are hugely entertaining. These are dark books, dealing with diabolical crimes, but they are also very funny.

There has always been an element of the supernatural in these novels. McGray is a firm believer in such things as devils and witches and he always gets the unsolvable cases that nobody else wants. Frey is the opposite. He believes in logic and deduction. But combined they have a habit of working things out. They also have a habit of getting stabbed. Frey is especially scarred by their earlier cases. No wonder he’s not keen to work with McGray again. But there is something about McGray’s sister that pulls these two men together to clear her name.

I love the depiction of Victorian Edinburgh. I don’t know the city and so can’t vouch for the accuracy but it is so atmospherically drawn, by night and by day. The surrounding countryside seems both beautiful and threatening and the grand houses hide sinister secrets. The crimes are gruesome. It is also a place of science and education.

The Sign of the Devil brings the series to a satisfactory conclusion. If you’ve not read any of the books, then this is the perfect time to start, knowing that it’s complete. I will miss Ian and Nine-Nails. I’m also intrigued to see where the author, the very talented Oscar de Muriel, turns his attention next.

Other reviews
A Fever of the Blood
A Mask of Shadows
The Loch of the Dead

The Darker Arts
The Dance of the Serpents

All That Lives by James Oswald

Wildfire | 2022 (17 February) | 448p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book | Listen to the book

Discoveries of 700-year-old human remains at an archaeological dig in South Leith intrigue DI Tony McLean and his partner Emma but Tony becomes troubled when more bones are recovered, far, far more recent and yet sharing similarities with the ancient remains. And other people are dying. Their deaths appear violent and brutal but no evidence can be found of a killer. Matters aren’t helped by the return to work of Chief Superintendent Gail Elmwood who appears to have had a miraculous recovery from her horrific burns. She wants Tony to work with the charitable Dee Foundation, which is working to clear the streets of drugs and knife crime. Tony knows differently. Jane Louise Dee or Mrs Saifre is Tony’s nemesis of many years’ standing. He knows her to be a monster.

How I love this series! I’m not a big reader of crime fiction these days, as I immerse myself in historical fiction and alien worlds, but if there’s one series I will always read it’s James Oswald’s Tony McLean books. I absolutely love them. They’re set around Edinburgh, a beautiful city with a current of darkness flowing beneath and the books themselves are also dark. Retired officer Grumpy Bob works in the basement on old, cold crimes, revealing an evil that never dies, while the enigmatic Madame Rose taps into the positive energy that can keep people safe. This is a world in which evil fights good, with hints of the supernatural, but only hints. These books are truly immersive, multi-layered and they make you believe.

Tony McLean is one of my favourite characters in contemporary fiction. I love his kindness and thoughtfulness. But he’s not rewarded for it. Once more, Tony must suffer in his private life as Emma falls terribly ill. His worry colours the novel and draws us in to it. It’s hard not to care for Tony McLean.

The old favourite characters return here, including the cats, and I must admit to enjoying the return of Jane Louise Dee. This woman is utterly diabolical. Once again, her battle with Tony is sinister and dramatic. I also loved seeing Janie Harrison take on more of a role.

I listened to the audiobook of All That Lives, the first time I’ve done so with this series and I’m so glad I did! It’s brilliantly read by Ian Hanmore and the fact that it’s read in a Scottish accent added so much to the experience of reading a Scottish novel. Tony McLean is fixed in my head after all these years and this narration fitted that view completely, even enhancing it.

All That Lives is the twelfth novel in the series. You don’t need to have read the others to enjoy this one but I think you might want to after you’ve read it! Tony has a history that is well worth discovering and you’ll want to spend more time with Madame Rose. I really hope there are many more to come and, when you’ve read All That Lives, you’ll understand why I’m nervous!

Other reviews
Natural Causes
The Damage Done
Written in Bones
The Gathering Dark

Cold as the Grave
Bury Them Deep
What Will Burn
No Time To Cry (Constance Fairchild 1)

The Wall by Douglas Jackson

Bantam Press | 2022 (9 June) | 432p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

It is AD 400 and the Roman Empire is disintegrating and, outside of the city of Rome itself, nowhere is this more apparent than on the empire’s fringes. Hadrian’s Wall was built almost 300 years before, several of the forts along this border even earlier. And now it decays. Prefect Marcus Flavius Victor is Lord of the Wall, a title inherited from his heroic father, and he’s earned it in his own right. He’s feared and admired by his own men and also by the tribes across the Wall who sense that the Romans no longer have the power to defend the Wall. As Marcus works to rebuild morale, men, buildings and resources along the Wall, the tribes stir.

But what does Marcus actually want? He, too, can see the cards on the table. Does he fight to hold the Wall for Rome or does he have a personal ambition? And what about the rival tribes in the northern lands? Who do they fight for?

Douglas Jackson writes the most stunning and insightful Roman military fiction. I’ve read and loved all of his novels. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing him talk about them at events and he knows his stuff. His novels have taken him across the Roman empire but they are at their very best when set in Britannia – everyone who loves historical fiction should read Hero of Rome. This is one of my favourite novels of all time and one of the few I’ve read more than once. In The Wall, the author, a Scot, travels even closer to home and examines the breakdown of empire and its final fury in the borders, an area he clearly knows very well.

The Wall is set at an unusual time. Douglas Jackson’s earlier novels are set in the first century of the empire, around the time of the Claudian conquest of Britain. Now we’ve moved on about 350 years and that is such a long time! This is not the same Britannia. But the Romans we find in this novel hail from across the empire. They are such a varied bunch. They are the result of four centuries of conquest. They have views about the past and it has to affect their actions now as they face the barbarians across the Wall.

I love the stories and people that populate The Wall and we move across it to visit the quarrelsome tribes. There are women as well as men, they are deadlier, perhaps. The novel is a journey of sorts along the forts and settlements of Hadrian’s Wall, all places filled with memories. At the centre of it all is the charismatic Marcus, who is prepared to fight his superiors for what he needs to secure the Wall. You can almost see the transfer of power before our eyes, from the authority of the government to the might of the Lord of the Wall.

This is a fascinating period, not often covered, and Jackson portrays it impeccably. There is a great deal of action and some of it is marked by the violence that would have characterised life on this lethal border. The Wall is immersive and entertaining, and it opened my eyes to a whole new period of life and death along such a well-known monument.

I can also recommend Douglas Jackson’s mystery thrillers, written as James Douglas (links below)!

Other reviews and features
Hero of Rome
Defender of Rome
Avenger of Rome
Sword of Rome
Enemy of Rome
Scourge of Rome
Saviour of Rome
Glory of Rome

Hammer of Rome
An interview

Writing as James Douglas
The Doomsday Testament
The Isis Covenant
The Excalibur Codex
The Samurai Inheritance

The House with the Golden Door by Elodie Harper

Head of Zeus | 2022 (12 May) | 400p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

The Roman city of Pompeii is enjoying its heydey and life is looking good for Amara, who once worked as a prostitute in the city’s most infamous and famous brother, the Wolf Den. She has been rescued by a wealthy man and he is now the only man she serves as one of Pompeii’s most glamorous courtesans. But she can’t leave her friends there behind. She is haunted by their continued suffering while being all too well that her own good fortune is transient. And so Amara sets out to help them, especially her closest friend Victoria, and that means she must go back into the wolf’s lair.

The Wolf Den was my favourite novel of 2021. It brought the streets and houses of Pompeii to life for me in a way no other book has done. I’ve visited the place often and I’ll never see it with the same eyes again thanks to the power of Elodie Harper’s prose and research. I was so pleased that there is more and so I couldn’t wait for The House with the Golden Door. Even before I started reading, I was stunned by the beauty of the cover. These are seriously gorgeous books!

The novels are set during the few years leading up to the eruption of Vesuvius. The fact that we know what lies in store adds such a sense of foreboding and I can’t help hoping that the author takes us right up to these events. But the novels don’t miss the drama of the eruption. Instead, the focus is on the daily lives of these damaged women, as well as on the men who own them, the men who love them and all of the other people who tread these streets as shop workers, slaves, business men, courtesans, inn keepers. I love it.

I think any novel is bound to suffer by comparison with The Wolf Den which, to my mind, is nigh on perfect. The fact that Amara has been removed from that awful brothel of the first novel, a major character in its own right, detracts a little from the power of the second. I also found the storyline involving Victoria difficult. Nevertheless, The House with the Golden Door is an excellent novel and once more it is filled with the details that make these novels stand out. There are so few good novels about Roman women or society in general. This was indeed a man’s world. And it is wonderful to immerse oneself in their stories, although everything about Amara’s life and her past is so hard. But there are moments of joy and happiness and I feel like we’re there with her for it all.

Once more, I should point out that these novels are not salacious or erotic. These might be courtesans and prostitutes but they’re also enslaved women living in a city full of life and colour as well as violence and threat. I can’t wait for the third book. I need to know what happens to Amara next. I’m hoping that in the meantime I can return to this incredible place in person myself.

Other review
The Wolf Den

The Capsarius by Simon Turney

Head of Zeus | 2022 (14 April) | 432p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

It 25 BC and Egypt is not what it once was. Pharaoh-less, it is ruled by Romans, hungry for its wealth and resources. The Queen of the Kush, far to the South, also has her eye on it and that means trouble. The 22nd legion is sent up the Nile to deal with the Queen’s army and raiders and among it is Titus Cervianus, an army medic and scientist who has the distinction of being both extremely talented at mending people while being incredibly unpopular and picked upon. It doesn’t help that he finds himself friends with one of the legion’s troublemakers, Ulyxes. As they travel deeper into Egypt, there is danger everywhere, from within the legion, from terrifying enemy fighters, and from the Nile itself, which thrashes with crocodiles.

I love a Roman military adventure and have read many of them over the years. The Capsarius is such a fine example for lots of reasons, not least its author, Simon Turney. What he doesn’t know about the Roman world and its military engine isn’t worth knowing. The amount of research he does for each of his books (fiction and non-fiction) is extraordinary and all of that means that you can enjoy his novels while also feeling that you’re learning something.

The setting of The Capsarius is fantastic and it is effectively a military tour up the Nile at a time with the wonders of ancient Egypt are fading but are still marvelled at and have a power to awe. Temples are described in beautiful detail that captures the enigma of Egyptian religion and architecture. I’ve visited many of these places myself on a leisurely cruise up the Nile and the novel brought back memories of the colour and heat of middle and southern Egypt.

But this is a dangerous place for Cervianus, not least because his fellow soldiers keep wanting to kill him while the officers in charge make reckless decisions about their mission. Cervianus seems to reel from one disaster to the next, while all of the time the legion is plagued by attack, the hostile environment, the heat, and then there are the crocodiles. I’m rather glad there were none of those on my cruise. Unfortunately, the crocodiles seem to like nothing better than the taste of a sweaty Roman soldier.

Cervianus’ medical knowledge is called upon with alarming regularity and the detail of his progressive methods is both fascinating and, I have to say, gory. But there is something really appealing about Cervianus. He is an entertaining and true companion, loyal, very unlucky and clever. Despite being widely unliked, he does find friends in strange places, including among the native Egyptian auxiliaries, who are fascinating in their own right.

I thoroughly enjoyed this tale of an unusual man and his exploits on the trail of the Kush queen’s army. The descriptions of the Nile and the legacy of its pharaonic past are wonderful as the army moves further and further away from Alexandria ad the familiar. Simon Turney knows his stuff and the fascinating detail and insight makes this novel stand out. If you love Romans and the ancient world, you’ll love this.

Other reviews (also writes as S.J.A. Turney)
Marius’ Mules I: The Invasion of Gaul
Marius’ Mules II: The Belgae
Writing historical locations – a guest post
With Gordon Doherty – Sons of Rome

A Sunlit Weapon by Jacqueline Winspear

Allison & Busby | 2022 (22 March) | 375p | Review copy | Buy the book

It is 1942 and the Americans have joined the war. With many men away from home, American GIs are helping out in English fields, keeping things going, making friends, falling in love. Women are working alongside them, including female pilots who collect and deliver planes across the country. One of them has a shock when she realises that there is someone on the ground firing at her plane from a barn. When she goes to investigate, she finds a terrified tied-up black American GI who says he had not been kept alone. His friend, a white man, had been taken away, probably to be shot. The army immediately judge him a guilty man. It is up to private detective Maisie Dobbs to discover the truth and clear the soldier’s name before he is transported back to the US. Maisie, married to an American, is better aware than most of the differences between the two nations and of the paramount importance that nothing destroys the relationship between them. Not everyone, it seems, agrees with that.

I am a huge fan of the Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. A Sunlit Weapon is the seventeenth in the series. I haven’t read them all yet (I discovered them relatively recently, about 3 years ago) but I have enjoyed reading them whenever I can and I think I’ve now read about ten of them. So, while I don’t think you need to have read them all to enjoy A Sunlit Weapon, I would recommend that you read one or two, just so that you have a bit of an understanding of Maisie’s unusual background and her relationships, particularly with her assistant, with her husband and with her adopted daughter. Maisie’s been through some adventures over the last twenty years. She’s known tragedy and she’s also experienced the worst of mankind. But there is also love.

I am so fond of Maisie. She is practical, busy, helpful and loving. There is also an obstinacy to her. She will fight for what is right and she will persevere. She spends half of her time in London and the other half in the country, with her daughter Anna. But there are signs that this cannot continue indefinitely. Anna needs her. She is different from her schoolfriends and teachers. This is not a good time to be different. This is made more than apparent when Maisie takes on the case of the African-American GI.

I enjoy the spy element of these novels. Maisie has, in the past, gone undercover to complete some lethal missions. Those days are gone but she is still involved with individuals from the government, while her husband Mark is an important, somewhat shadowy figure at the American Embassy in London. His role now is to prepare the ground for the First Lady who is determined to visit England and encourage the GIs in person. There is a potential for disaster.

This isn’t fast crime fiction. In a way, it’s more of a saga, a leisurely investigation over multiple novels into the impact of the First World War, the rise of fascism and the Second World War on Maisie Dobbs and those she loves. It’s historical fiction more than crime and there are some fascinating glimpses into life in the early 1940s. The female pilots are especially admirable and charismatic. You can see why Maisie would be drawn to them. Discrimination is a clear theme of the series, whether it’s against women, foreigners or those of a different colour. This novel also provides an appealing portrait of the transformation of London by war but also by the influx of foreigners and new attitudes.

I was engrossed by A Sunlit Weapon and soon fell back into the cosy yet thoughtful world in which the author immerses the reader. I will always read these novels and, once more, look forward to Maisie’s return.

Other reviews
The American Agent
The Consequences of Fear

Breathless by Amy McCulloch

Michael Joseph | 2022 (17 February) | 320p | Review copy and Bought copy | Buy the book

Adventure journalist Cecily Wong needs a break and she also needs to put the past behind her. To do that she must confront her fears and the golden opportunity comes when legendary mountaineer Charles McVeigh offers her an exclusive interview. If, that is, she can reach the summit of Manaslu in Nepal, the eighth highest mountain in the world. It is a monumental task but Cecily and the other teams on Manaslu will have more than the elements, the lethal terrain and the lack of oxygen to contend with. There is uneasiness among those on the mountain, Cecily hears things she cannot explain, there are memories of fallen climbers, and soon there are deaths.

I have always been drawn to thrillers set in cold, wintry and inhospitable places. There is something about the battle to survive against all that the environment can muster against you. Having said all that, I’m not physically drawn to them at all and mountains terrify me! But the same cannot be said for Amy McCulloch, a fine writer who knows what she writes about. This is an author who has summited Mount Manaslu. She actually did it. How amazing is that?! And all of that personal experience and endeavour makes Breathless more real and convincing than ever.

You really can feel the effort and inherent danger of this climb. Cecily Wong and her fellow climbers are not ‘normal’ people. There is something truly epic about them, whatever their failings and arguments, and that something special really shines out in this novel, even while we see their flaws. Few of the climbers, if any, are without their personal battles. There is much to prove on the lawless precipices and crevasses of Manaslu.

The descriptions of actually how to scale a mountain such as this are fascinating, with the repeated climbs to camps for acclimatisation and so on, as well as the detail of specific parts of the climb, particularly sheer walls of ice and rock. This mountain has claimed many lives and, reading this, you can understand why. And that’s even without the thriller element! But this is a great place to get away with murder.

The thriller itself is an exciting read and very atmospheric. This feels like a haunted mountain and that adds to its tension and air of dread. I liked Cecily, our journalist heroine who must overcome some personal, traumatising hurdles to find the story that will save her career. It is true that the story is a bit predictable (I worked it out early on). Nevertheless, this is an entertaining thriller that really captures the sheer effort of the ascent. I was none the wiser by the end why anyone would want to put themselves through it but I was left in awe of this author who did just that.

Our Child of Two Worlds by Stephen Cox

Jo Fletcher Books | 2022 (31 March) | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book

In the troubled Cold War years of the 1970s, the world still reels from the events of Meteor Day when humanity learned that it wasn’t alone in the universe. A young alien child, Cory, landed alone on Earth and was adopted by Molly and Gene, who were prepared to risk everything to save and comfort this frightened, strange, wonderful child. But not only that, humans learned that there is another species, deadly, mechanical, snakelike, that destroys all life before it, that is already making incursions into the solar system. Now people look to the stars and hope for Cory’s people to arrive because this is not an enemy that can be fought without help.

Meanwhile, Cory continues to learn about life on this, his other world, while missing his home terribly, seeking to connect across the stars in his dreams. But Cory is a much loved child, not to mention a celebrity, and the subject of endless speculation, wonder and even fear. Molly’s concerns are much more practical – to keep her family together, to keep Cory as content as possible, and survive whatever will come.

Our Child of the Stars is one of my favourite books of all time. I love science fiction and especially tales of first contact, but there is so much more to this story than that. That’s partly because of Cory, who has to be one of the most adorable, sad, loving and curious figures that I’ve come across. But it’s also because of the setting in this small part of America in a reimagined and struggling 1970s. Molly and Gene are a wonderful couple. It’s so good to see them all again in Our Child of Two Worlds, set a little bit after the previous novel, with Cory’s identity now revealed and his powers emerging.

Despite the love that surrounds him, Cory is lonelier than ever, particularly as he’s aware that people fear him. But he loves to play with his powers and it’s a pleasure to read about the games he plays. Until the worry grabs him again. He’s been traumatised by the events of Meteor Day. He knows better than anyone how terrifying the Snakes can be. And he misses his family.

In Our Child of Two Worlds, we learn more about Cory’s people, how they communicate and how they love as families and explorers, as well as their mission. I loved the time spent on interstellar spaceships, the hope that not all aliens are out to destroy the world. But the fear of the Snakes is genuine and well-founded.

There are smaller concerns, equally important in many ways. The prospect of the arrival of Cory’s people means the chance of a life in the stars for Gene. Molly is more rooted in the family home. They are a loving couple but there is a shadow creeping in from the corners.

Stephen Cox writes beautifully and fills his characters with warmth and self-questioning. I love the incidental characters who debate whether Cory is a hoax. There’s the drama surrounding Molly’s family. There are tensions that play out on an intimate scale against the massive context of aliens, space travel, the potential end of the world. It works brilliantly.

There is also considerable excitement and tension as the realisation grows that the world truly is in danger. It’s a fantastic story, told so well. Do read Our Child of the Stars first. You need to do that and then Our Child of Two Worlds will be irresistible reading. How I adore Cory, the boy who loved by two worlds!

Other review
Our Child of the Stars

Impossible by Sarah Lotz

HarperCollins | 2022 (17 March) | 448p | review copy | Buy the book

A misfired, mistyped, angry email from Nick to  Bee – not at all the person who was supposed to be on the receiving end – is to change both their lives. Not instantly and not with great shifts of the ground beneath their feet, but slowly and gently. Bee is amused by Nick’s grumpy email (he’s a ghost writer who hasn’t been paid on time) and his self-deprecating humour while Nick falls for Bee, with her strange business of repurposing wedding dresses and her dire blind dates. They slowly get to know one another, purely online, using each other as a way to talk through some quite difficult situations in their lives. They have friends but in many ways they are isolated. Finally comes the time when Bee and Nick are ready to meet in person, under the clock in Euston Station, but, from that moment, the truth begins to dawn and it is impossible.

I love Sarah Lotz’ books. They’re unusual, very clever, frightening in some ways and not a little quirky. I like that. With Impossible, the author returns to the top form of The Three and Day Four, two books I cannot recommend highly enough, and which deserve a re-read. In those novels Sarah Lotz played with the horror genre. This time, romance gets its speculative and curious makeover.

This is a romance but not as we know it. Much of it is conducted by email at a distance, with the narrative alternating between Bee and Nick as they go about their lives while emailing amusing updates to their ‘penpal’. This means the reader gets to laugh but there is also sadness as we get to know the other people in their lives, especially Nick’s stepson Daniel. But all this leads up to where the novel is going and I am not going to say a word about that at all! I hadn’t read a review of Impossible before I read it and that did help but I do want to write this to urge you to dive in. If you don’t read romance normally then this is the romance for you and if you do read it then you will also fall in love with it.

Impossible is clever, sharp, warm, witty and original, as well as being fabulously written. It has the appeal of epistolary novels such as 84 Charing Cross Road while being very different. But, at the heart of it, lies a slowly and beautifully developing love affair between two immensely likeable human beings. It did me good to read it.

Other reviews
The Three
Day Four
The White Road

(as S.L. Grey) Under Ground