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4.5 stars

The Voyage of the Basilisk: around the world in 80 dragons

Book cover: The Voyage of the Basilisk - Marie Brennan (a sea serpent and a whale, illustration by Lady Trent)When you’ve stopped a war, been declared a traitor and jumped off a cliff on a dragon-bone glider, there’s little left to fear. But long sea voyages require capital, so it has taken Isabella a few years to prepare for her around-the-world trip. And this time she plans to take young Jake with her.

ADVENTURE FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

Raven Stratagem: choose wisely

Book cover: Raven Strategem - Yoon Ha Lee (spacefighters attacking a space station against a green sky)Kel Cheris, half-possessed by the ghost of notorious General Shuos Jedao, survived an assassination attempt that wiped out her entire fleet. Or did she? Physical appearances aside, it appears to be Jedao who usurps command of General Kel Khiruev’s fleet. Formation instinct compels the Kel to follow Jedao – but will he really defend the Hexarchate from the Hafn? Or will he betray them to their deaths?

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Spellslinger: the magical art of confidence

Book cover: Spellslinger - Sebastian de Castell (styled like a playing card, with a magical young man at either end)Kellen is 15, the astonishingly untalented son of the Jan’Tep’s greatest mage. Struggling to cast even the simplest spells, he’s the butt of jokes and school yard bullying. Worse, if he can’t pass his mage trials before he turns 16, he’ll be relegated to the Sha’Tep servant class – reliant on his obnoxious little sister’s charity if he’s lucky, sent down the mines if he’s not.

Spoiler free

The House of Binding Thorns: darkly delicious

Book cover: The House of Binding Thorns - Aliette de Bodard (silver thorns on a blue background)As one House falls, another rises. Notre Dame stands in ruins, while House Hawthorn seeks unlikely alliance with the dragon kingdom to reign supreme in Paris. But there are many who would like to see Asmodeus fall in well-earned ruin. Whose loyalties can be counted on in a House built on bloody rebellion?

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Bite-size Books: Sunbolt

Book cover: Sunbolt - Intisar Khanani (rich red-orange text on a blue background with a geometric motif above it)Hitomi is a foreign-born street thief with dangerous secrets: untrained magical abilities and ties to the Shadow League, enemies of the corrupt Archmage. But even the haunted streets of Karolene are safer than what awaits her beyond its borders.

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Ancient Light: the difficult second album

Book cover: Orthe - Chronicles of Carrick V by Mary Gentle (Golden Witchbreed / Ancient Light)Ancient Light continues the epic world-building of Golden Witchbreed, giving us a good look at the Southern Continent to explain the fragile balance of power before the action returns to the Hundred Thousand for the devastating final act.

This is great stuff, but ultimately a tough sell and not one for readers seeking happy escapism. I think Ancient Light is a book that needs to be read in the context of the time it was written (the 1980s) to be fully appreciated – while it works on its own terms, the themes gain resonance when you keep corporate greed and the Cold War in mind.

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Mary Gentle – Golden Witchbreed

Book cover: Orthe - Chronicles of Carrick V by Mary Gentle (Golden Witchbreed / Ancient Light)I didn’t mean to read this, but I’m ever so glad I did – it’s an excellent book and a great introduction to Mary Gentle.

Earth has mastered FTL travel, and sent diplomats and xeno-teams all over the galaxy to establish relations with our alien neighbours. Relatively inexperienced Lynne Christie is sent to the enigmatic world of Orthe / Carrick V when the previous envoy dies – in part, she soon realises, because she is expendable.

Needless to say, she’s in over her head from the start

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