BookSpace: Things in Jars; Fixed Odds; Crown of Feathers; Good Boy

Chiara Bullen’s April edition of BookSpace reviews some of the latest Scottish literary productions

Things In Jars, Jess Kidd

Fiction | Canongate | £14.99 | Buy here

London, 1863. Bridie Devine, the finest female detective of her age, is taking on her toughest case yet. Reeling from her last job and with her reputation in tatters, a remarkable puzzle has come her way. Christabel Berwick has been kidnapped. But Christabel is no ordinary child. She is not supposed to exist.

With an eerie yet explosive prologue and opening chapter, Jess Kidd immediately throws you into the action with Things In Jars — exactly what I’m looking for with any kind of mystery novel. The supernatural-infused Victorian London is reminiscent of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norell, Kidd’s writing just as witty and wonderful. Tenacious protagonist Bridie Devine is incredibly well-fleshed out and a joy to follow. From her jaunty sense of style to her forceful determination, I immediately fell in love. This is a title you won’t want to miss this Spring. 

Fixed Odds, William McIntyre

Crime | Sandstone | £7.99 | Pre-Order here

George ‘Genghis’ McCann has stolen – and lost – a priceless masterpiece. Snooker champion Oscar ‘The Showman’ Bowman is charged with betting fraud. With a second baby on the way, and promises of great rewards if he wins Bowman’s case and recovers the painting, defence lawyer Robbie Munro has never been so tempted to fix the odds in his favour.

Fans of Tartan Noir will most likely be familiar with the escapades of defence lawyer Robbie Munro — but for those who aren’t (like me) the tenth instalment of the crime series is thankfully easy to follow, McIntyre welcoming readers old and new to his world.  An intricate mystery with (literally) high stakes, the narrative is peppered with good old Scottish humour meaning this is a light and refreshing read for a crime novel. My only issue is that some of the humour seemed to rely on stereotypes about women (mostly at their expense) meaning I couldn’t get into it as much as I’d have liked. 

Crown of Feathers, Nicki Pau Preto

Young Adult Fantasy | Ink Road | £8.99 | Buy here

In a world ruled by fierce warrior queens, a grand empire was built upon the backs of Phoenix Riders legendary heroes who soared through the sky on wings of fire until a war between two sisters ripped it all apart. Sixteen years later, Veronyka is a war orphan who dreams of becoming a Phoenix Rider from the stories of old. After a shocking betrayal from her controlling sister, Veronyka strikes out alone to find the Riders even if that means disguising herself as a boy to join their ranks.

At the beginning of this feathered fantasy I felt a little overwhelmed as the world-building is immediately piled on to the reader. However, sitting through this history-class for such a highly immersive world means you’re well rewarded when the action really gets going just under halfway through the book. A story of sisterhood, betrayal and the way we treat the world around us, Crown of Feathers will be a new fantasy favourite for fans of strong female leads, diverse characters and magical creatures. The phoenix has been beautifully re-imagined in this narrative and I can’t wait for the next instalment.

Good Boy, Mal Peet (illustrations by Emma Shoard)

Children’s (age 14 and up, but edited to a reading age of 8) | Barrington Stoke | £7.99 | Buy here

Sandie has been battling it since childhood: the hulking, snarling black dog of her nightmares. For years, her precious pet dog Rabbie has kept the monster at bay, but when he is no longer there to protect her, the black dog reappears to stalk Sandie in her sleep

A hauntingly good story with gorgeous illustrations, Good Boy depicts the fear and anxiety many of us battle throughout our lifetime. Fans of Patrick Ness (particularly A Monster Calls) will love this — Peet doesn’t hold back when tackling tough issues, demonstrating how powerful and poignant children’s literature can be and that we all should be reading it. Heart-breaking and honest, I found myself moved to tears and desperate for more. I’m also a huge fan of how the publisher, Barrington Stoke, edit their books to make them accessible for all readers, no matter how difficult reading may be for them. You can find out more about this initiative at barringtonstoke.co.uk

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