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Robert Batten

Sci-Fi and Fantasy Author

Tag: Urban Fantasy

Recommendation: The Fireman by Joe Hill

Over on the Writing Bloc we’ve kicked off monthly book recommendations from contributors. Our first post is up, covering our recommendations from March. My recommendation this month is The Fireman by Joe Hill. You can find the recommendation below, or read all the recommendations over on The Writing Bloc.

The Fireman by Joe Hill

My book of the month is The Fireman, by Joe Hill. It came to me as a recommendation from one of my editors, which is high praise in itself. The Fireman is an apocalyptic horror by best-selling author Joe Hill. It takes us to a version of our world that is burning. Literally. A mysterious disease, known as dragonscale due to the markings it creates on the body, is causing mass spontaneous combustion. With the sheer number of people catching fire, almost everything else seems to be going up in flames too, including civilization. Into this setting we meet Harper, an uncompromisingly positive nurse with a fondness for Julie Andrews. Harper is amazing. She’s a charming mix of innocence, courage, and intelligence. Experiencing the world through her point of view is a delight.

“Harper put the novel back on his desk, cornering the edges of the manuscript so it stood in a neat, crisp pile. With its clean white title page and clean white edges, it looked as immaculate as a freshly made bed in a luxury hotel. People did all sorts of unspeakable things in hotel beds.”

The story is a slow burn, building the intensity as the disasters mount. The world is well-realized and the dragonscale fascination, but throughout it’s the characters and the prose that shine. The novel telegraphs each of the disasters and betrayals beautifully, letting you stress as the tension builds without spoiling the moment when it finally arrives.

“Almost as an afterthought, she put a box of kitchen matches on top of it as a paperweight. If her Dragonscale started to smoke and itch, she wanted to have them close at hand. If she had to burn, she felt it only fair that the fucking book burn first.”

If you enjoy dystopian / apocalyptic fiction, you should absolutely read The Fireman. You can find it on Goodreads here or Amazon here.

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Recommendation: Sorcery for Beginners

Disclaimer: the author of Sorcery for Beginners is my editor. I’ve tried to be impartial here, and am confident I enjoyed the book regardless, but in the interests of transparency…

Sorcery for Beginners cover

Sorcery for Beginners, by Matt Harry, is an urban fantasy targeted primarily at a younger audience. However, in the same way Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone in the US) captured the imagination of many adults, SFB is also destined to have a wide appeal. It’s an instruction manual for the ancient art of sorcery, teaching its lessons through the educational example of Owen Mcready. The book intersperses Owen’s tale with interesting tidbits, reference notes, and (most importantly) instructions for casting the various spells featured. The story is well told, great fun, and built upon some marvellous world-building. I knew early on I was ready something special and wasn't disappointed. It’s set up to be the first in a series, and I anticipate these novels becoming a staple in the genre. This could well be the first instalment in the next Harry Potter.

Look at it!

I read most of my novels in electronic format these days, but I recommend picking up SFB as a physical book. The production values sunk into the paperback are awesome, and the book looks gorgeous, with French flaps, rough-cut pages, and wonderful illustrations.

Note: Kindle Oasis owners shouldn’t buy the kindle version. The Oasis has as a different aspect ratio to other Kindle models and it plays hell with the formatting of the illustrations. Other Kindle models should be fine.
You can find Sorcery for Beginners on the publisher site, Amazon, Book Depository, and Goodreads, or just ask your local bookstore to order a copy for you.

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Recommendation: Sparked

Sparked, by Helena Echlin and Malena Watrous, is a young adult urban fantasy that is a joy to read. I read a wide range of genres, including more than a few YA novels. Reading the novel, I felt it was potentially written for a younger age group than me. Before you start, yes, I know I don’t come anywhere close to qualifying as “young” adult. However, there’s a lot of YA books out there that feel they're written for a more mature group within the bracket. Or maybe they just try to be edgier. Either way, there’s something distinctly innocent about the teenagers who take centre stage in Sparked, and it fits the story well.

Speaking of story, Sparked follows Laurel as she tries to work out what’s really happened to her sister, who goes missing early on. Circumstances leave Laurel convinced her sister is in danger, but no one else will believe her. As she digs deeper, she begins to discover the situation is far more complicated and dangerous than she ever thought possible.

Both Helena and Malena have previously published novels, but never before together as a team. Their skill is obvious, with slick prose and well-structured scenes throughout. There’s nothing in the world or the plot that makes it stand out as something completely unique within the genre, but there’s nothing too derivative either, and the execution is excellent. My only real complaint is that when Laurel finds someone who can give her answers, those answers are a little cliched in delivery. While that small sequence pulled me out of the flow temporarily (I got back into it soon after), I suspect it wouldn’t bother its target audience as much. The rest of the novel avoids such a trap, and the supporting characters are great — indeed, the group dynamics are part of what makes the novel click.

If you’re looking for a YA urban fantasy, but sick of Twilight clones packed full of Edwards, pick up Sparked. It delivers a quality story with panache and leaves the door open for more to come.
You can read more reviews of the book on its Goodreads page here. Alternatively you can order a copy from:

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