The Final Strife by Saara El-Arifi – A Review by Bryony

“She was not born to sparkle. She was born to burn.”

Rating: 5 stars

Release date: 23/05/2022

Publisher: Harper Voyager UK

Author: Saara El-Arifi

CW: Blood, death, poverty, torture, addiction, drug abuse, violence, emotional abuse

Rep: Queernorm society, F/F romance, non-binary/transgender SCs


The Empire rules by blood

Red is the blood of the elite, of magic, of control.

Blue is the blood of the poor, of workers, of the resistance.

Clear is the blood of the servants, of the crushed, of the invisible.

The Aktibar – a set of trials held every ten years to find the next Ember rulers of the Empire – is about to begin.

All can join but not just anyone can win; it requires great skill and ingenuity to become the future wardens of Strength, Knowledge, Truth and Duty.

Sylah was destined to win the trials and be crowned Warden of Strength. Stolen by blue-blooded rebels she was raised with a Duster’s heart; forged as a weapon to bring down from within the red-blooded Embers’ regime of cruelty. But when her adopted family were brutally murdered those dreams of a better future turned to dust.

However, the flame of hope may yet be rekindled because Sylah wasn’t made to sparkle, she was born to burn.

And it’s up to her whether she rules the empire or destroys it.


The Final Strife is an epic fantasy, full of rich world building and intricate characters. I fell in love from the first page (I’ve been in an ebook slump for a while, so the fact that I didn’t want to put it down from the start was a bonus).

I loved the world in this. The hierarchy is based on blood, when two of the main characters are trying to hide theirs. This allowed a plot in which the characters had to challenge preconceived beliefs, so they could grow and want to change the rules.

There was so much queer rep. I want to say there was X, Y and X, but it’s a queernorm society, so there are no labels. Instead, people just exist. In a world where character are already judged for the colour of their blood, it was refreshing to have characters just love who they wanted to. I did particularly like the F/F romance in this though, how the characters had time to develop their feelings, but also how this relationship was contrasted with another.

Although there was a romance in this, just as important were the friendships. It also really explored family – what’s made, what’s given, and what’s forced.

For a book with such a high-stakes plot, the characters were super important. There were three women at the heart of this and I loved each of them. They showed strength in their own ways and taught each other too. I liked that there were women who were smart with swords, smart with politics and smart with rebellion.

I really liked the Trials in this and how they ran alongside a rebellion. The book was exciting. I liked that the Trials tested different parts of the characters and allowed us to learn more about the world too.

The end of this presented us with some new twists, so I’m excited to see how they’ll be resolved and revisited in the sequels.

The Seawomen by Chloe Timms – A Review by Bryony

“None of us have a choice. All of us do things we don’t want to do. We shut our eyes and turn our heads and pray to God; we marry and we lie under men just to live another day.”

Rating: 5 stars

Release date: 14/06/2022

Publisher: Hodder Studio

Author: Chloe Timms

CW: Drowning, death, torture, implied rape, arranged marriage, pregnancy, religion, female subjugation, disfigurement, fire, death by fire, implied homophobia (past)


Everyone on this island has a story. This is mine.

Esta has known nothing but Eden’s Isle her whole life. After a fire left her orphaned and badly scarred, Esta was raised by her grandmother in a deeply religious society who cut itself off from the mainland in the name of salvation. Here, fear rules: fear of damnation, fear of the outside world and fear of what lurks beneath the water – a corrupting evil the islanders call the Seawomen.

But Esta wants more than a life where touching the water risks corruption, where her every move is watched and women are controlled in every aspect of their lives. Married off, the women of the island must conceive a child within their appointed motheryear or be marked as cursed and cast into the sea as a sacrifice in an act called the Untethering.

When Esta witnesses a woman Untethered she sees a future to fear. Her fate awaits, a loveless marriage, her motheryear declared. And after a brief taste of freedom, the insular world Esta knows begins to unravel…

The Seawomen is a fiercely written and timely feminist novel, at once gothic, fantastical and truly unforgettable.


I adored The Seawomen. I did not realise a book about kind-of-mermaids and female rebellion was missing from my life, but I’m so glad I’ve been able to read this.

Esta was a great main character. I think you could really read the conflict she was having about her situation because she was constantly trying to be better whilst also feeling deeply uncomfortable about what was happening. She didn’t try to drag anyone into her plans. I was so glad when she had the chance to be loved after spending so long being looked at with a black mark.

I thought the setting was clever – claustrophobic, haunting, dark. The characters were surrounded by unimaginable amounts of water but stuck where they were, with the people they already had. The lack of escape really worked.

I thought the religious aspect was a really effective way of trapping the characters too, and the way it was used to justify the actions of characters was not unbelievable. Even the rarely seen threat of the seawomen worked because they were monsters that constantly seemed to escape persecution.

I really really loved this. If you love books like The Handmaid’s Tale or The Mercies, you ought to try this too.

Merchants of Knowledge and Magic by Erika McCorkle – A Review by Bryony – BLOG TOUR

“My secret would plunge the world into chaos.”

“ How much is it worth?”

Rating: 3 stars

Release date: 08/04/2022

Author: Erika McCorkle

CW: Slavery, rape, injury, death, torture, male subjugation, gender discrimination, gender dysphoria

Rep: Asexual, intersex MC, LGBTQ+ side characters


On one of the many planes of the Pentagonal Dominion, priestess Calinthe trades in information, collecting valuable secrets for her demonic employer. Calinthe has a secret of her own: she’s intersex, making her a target for the matriarchal slavers of the Ophidian Plane whose territory she must cross in her search for hidden knowledge. But thanks to her friend Zakuro’s illusions, Calinthe presents as a woman — a comfortable, if furtive, existence in a world determined to bring her to heel.

But when, instead of a mere secret, the priestess uncovers an incalculably powerful artifact, Calinthe finds herself in a high-stakes negotiation with the same matriarchs who sought to enslave her. On the table: Calinthe’s discovery, a charm powerful enough to transform a mortal into a god… against a secret so deadly it could quell all life on every plane of the dominion. If Calinthe plays her cards perfectly, she and Zakuro could escape Ophidia wealthier than either of them ever dreamed possible.

But if she plays them wrong… she’ll learn slavery in her pursuers’ hands is a fate far worse than death.

Merchants of Knowledge and Magic was an immense fantasy book. In scale similar to the likes of Lord of the Rings and The Priory of the Orange Tree, this book spans realms and countries, each with magic systems, beliefs and religions. There were gods, goddesses and demons to worship, and various species to learn about. It was a book you could tell the author had spent plenty of time poring over.

Calinthe was a really unusual character – an asexual, intersex, human-dragonfly hybrid who deals in knowledge and secrets instead of money or goods. I found her premise really interesting and I liked the relationship she had with Zakuro. I didn’t find her a particularly engaging character (I did wish she’d show more emotions towards some of the “normal” things that happened in society, and to a particular event at the end of the book) however – although that could have been on me because I struggle to picture characters and so a human-dragonfly hybrid was kind of beyond me.

Although I liked that this was a queer norm, matriarchal society, it felt like the matriarchy went too far the other way. I didn’t feel comfortable with the slavery and sexual assault (the point, I know, but still) and personally didn’t think it needed to be as explicit as it was.

I don’t think the plot was particularly high-stakes until just before the end, so I struggled to get into the story. I think, if I’d not been reading this for a blog tour, I would have been able to read it at my own pace and fall into enjoying it rather than forcing myself to get through it for a deadline. I may pick up others in this series.

Erika McCorkle, she/her, lives in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. She is a creator of fantasy worlds and a voyager to the worlds created by others. She spends much of her free time writing, reading, watching anime, and playing video games, all usually of the fantasy genre. She has a Bachelor’s of Science in Biology and currently works the night shift at a blood bank, meaning she is most definitely a vampire.

The Last White Rose by Alison Weir

Release date: 12th May 2022

Publisher: Headine Review

Pages: 544 pages

Author: Alison Weir


AN ENGLISH PRINCESS, BORN INTO A WAR BETWEEN TWO FAMILIES.

Eldest daughter of the royal House of York, Elizabeth dreams of a crown to call her own. But when her beloved father, King Edward, dies suddenly, her destiny is rewritten.

Her family’s enemies close in. Two young princes are murdered in the Tower. Then her uncle seizes power – and vows to make Elizabeth his queen.

But another claimant seeks the throne, the upstart son of the rival royal House of Lancaster. Marriage to this Henry Tudor would unite the white rose of York and the red of Lancaster – and change everything.

A great new age awaits. Now Elizabeth must choose her allies – and husband – wisely, and fight for her right to rule.


I’ve not read much if any historical fiction before, but I was really interested to try this. There’s a line at the end of SIX where the wives are arguing and say, “Who knows the name of Henry VII’s wife?” This felt like the perfect opportunity to learn what I could about her.

I’m only about 300 of 500 pages through this, but I’ve enjoyed it so far. Although Elizabeth’s passivity and reluctance to be more than just a wife is sometimes frustrating, it made sense in the context of the time period – she did all she could given the restraints put on her and that was almost admirable in its own way.

As the book starts to explore her role as a mother and Queen, I am looking forward to seeing how she will act and how she can be brave in the constraints of the time.

When Women Were Dragons by Kelly Barnhill – A Review by Bryony

“Dragons were a subject avoided in any context. One would sooner arrive at church in one’s underpants or discuss menstruation with the mailman or chat about sex on the radio. It simply wasn’t done.”

Rating: 3 stars

Release date: 03/05/2022

Publisher: Hot Key Books

Author: Kelly Barnhill

CW: Death of parent/parental figure, cancer, child abandonment, misogyny

Rep: Lesbian MC


In a world where girls and women are taught to be quiet, the dragons inside them are about to be set free …

In this timely and timeless speculative novel, set in 1950s America, Kelly Barnhill exposes a world that wants to keep girls and women small – and examines what happens when they rise up.

Alex Green is four years old when she first sees a dragon. In her next-door neighbour’s garden, in the spot where the old lady usually sits, is a huge dragon, an astonished expression on its face before it opens its wings and soars away across the rooftops.

And Alex doesn’t see the little old lady after that. No one mentions her. It’s as if she’s never existed.

Then Alex’s mother disappears, and reappears a week later, one quiet Tuesday, with no explanation whatsoever as to where she has been. But she is a ghostly shadow of her former self, and with scars across her body – wide, deep burns, as though she had been attacked by a monster who breathed fire.

Alex, growing from young girl to fiercely independent teenager, is desperate for answers, but doesn’t get any.

Whether anyone likes it or not, the Mass Dragoning is coming. And nothing will be the same after that. Everything is about to change, forever.

And when it does, this, too, will be unmentionable…

Perfect for fans of THE HANDMAID’S TALE, VOX, and THE POWER.


When Women Were Dragons was a really fun twist on a serious subject. By using dragons in place of subjects best not to be discussed (ie. menstruation), the reader could see the ridiculousness of ignoring something that was (literally) a huge part of society. It completely neglected women’s lives because men were a little uncomfortable.

I loved that Alex was so interested in mathematics and science, whilst still being a family figure. Her relationship with Beatrice was heartfelt and I could really see her desperately trying to keep them together – I loved their bond of best friends, sisters, and more.

I think, given Alex’s interest in science, I was a little surprised there was less science to the book. The story is told as a combination of narrative and research papers, but the research is still very narrative. There was scope for scientific explanations and diagrams, but we didn’t get it. I understand that, as a society, they did not know everything about dragons yet, but I still feel like the opportunity was there and it wasn’t taken.

There was a really interesting point that transgender women could become dragons too, so it wasn’t just a biological phenomenon. It would have been really interesting to have explored this more.

Although I enjoyed this story and the moral it tried to share, I don’t think the story was particularly riveting. Nothing much happened to move the pace along.

Sistersong by Lucy Holland – A Review by Bryony – BLOG TOUR

Rating: 5 stars

Release date: 28/04/2022

Publisher: Tor Books UK

Author: Lucy Holland

CW: Invasion, death, death of family, injury, ritualistic dead body preparations, gender dysphoria, transphobia

Rep: Transgender MC


In a magical ancient Britain, bards sing a story of treachery, love and death. This is that story. For fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe, Lucy Holland’s Sistersong retells the folk ballad ‘The Twa Sisters.’

King Cador’s children inherit a land abandoned by the Romans, torn by warring tribes. Riva can cure others, but can’t heal her own scars. Keyne battles to be seen as the king’s son, although born a daughter. And Sinne dreams of love, longing for adventure.

All three fear a life of confinement within the walls of the hold, their people’s last bastion of strength against the invading Saxons. However, change comes on the day ash falls from the sky – bringing Myrdhin, meddler and magician. The siblings discover the power that lies within them and the land. But fate also brings Tristan, a warrior whose secrets will tear them apart.

Riva, Keyne and Sinne become entangled in a web of treachery and heartbreak, and must fight to forge their own paths. It’s a story that will shape the destiny of Britain.

Sistersong is a powerfully moving story, perfect for readers who loved Naomi Novik’s Uprooted and Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale.

Folklore retellings are one of my favourite sub-genres of fantasy, so I was optimistic for Sistersong. Before I knew it, I had fallen in love with this story.

Sistersong retells the folk ballad ‘The Twa Sisters’. I am not familiar with British folklore but loved how this story weaved together folklore into history, just as the characters weaved magic into the everyday, making it impossible to draw the two apart with causing a rip.

I really enjoyed seeing a country where the “old gods” were beginning to be lost to the new Christian one and how that affected day-to-day life – how it wasn’t as simple as switching from many to one, how there was conflict and consequences. I also found mention of the Roman and Saxon conquests really interesting as it managed to ground the story in history, making it even trickier to separate fantasy from reality. It also made the end of the book very fast-paced.

I adored the characters in this. They are imperfect, complicated and sometimes selfish. Our three narrators begin the tale as three sisters, unable to effect change. By the end, their impact and voices have grown, influencing the path the story took. It was so interesting to see them view themselves as powerless, so they came to appreciate their own worth. I especially liked how Keyne explored his gender and fought for it even when others disagreed – and how he fought for his land when everyone saw him still as only a girl. This story was about family and love, how those relationships are tested and challenged, and whether they can recover.

The magic in this felt ancient, almost creepy. Magic that drew from and affected the land. But I also liked the “little magic” too, the stories to sing a baby to sleep or to just wish for a sunny day. No one character was given all the power – all that believed in it could use it to varying degrees.

Sistersong is a haunting tale, lyrical in its narrative, and almost as dark and sad as classic folktales. I’m so glad I picked this up and I cannot wait to reread it!

Elektra by Jennifer Saint – A Review by Bryony

“If only I’d had the good fortune to be born a son, rather than a daughter.”

Rating: 4 stars

Release date: 28/04/2022

Publisher: Headline/Wildfire Books

Author: Jennifer Saint

CW: Death, death of a daughter, murder, murder of a parent, rape


The House of Atreus is cursed. A bloodline tainted by a generational cycle of violence and vengeance. This is the story of three women, their fates inextricably tied to this curse, and the fickle nature of men and gods.

Clytemnestra

The sister of Helen, wife of Agamemnon – her hopes of averting the curse are dashed when her sister is taken to Troy by the feckless Paris. Her husband raises a great army against them and determines to win, whatever the cost.

Cassandra

Princess of Troy, and cursed by Apollo to see the future but never to be believed when she speaks of it. She is powerless in her knowledge that the city will fall.

Elektra

The youngest daughter of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, Elektra is horrified by the bloodletting of her kin. But can she escape the curse, or is her own destiny also bound by violence?


Jennifer Saint managed to, once again, beautifully capture the voices of Greek myth heroines, who have been denied the chance to tell their story before.

Elektra, the book’s namesake, is angry. She wants justice for her father and she doesn’t care who gets in the way. It’s difficult to know if she’s a sympathetic character, but she’s definitely determined.

Clymenestra: She is also angry. She seeks revenge for her daughter. But she also remembers her sister, Helen, and struggles to match the woman Greece’s army is fighting to return with the sister she loved dearly.

Cassandra is forced to live her whole life forgotten, mocked, ignored. Cursed by Apollo to tell the truth and have no one believe her, she’s forced to watch the future without the ability to prevent it.

The three narrators had unique voices and motivations, meaning they were easy to tell apart. I was really drawn into each of their stories and did not want to put the book down, especially as it was so easy to read.

The three women were also a really effective way of exploring a war from different angles – they experienced the war as a daughter waiting for a father to return, a wife left to run her husband’s estate, and a princess/priestess trapped in a war-torn city. I really enjoyed the different perspectives they offered. I think there are certain, male-centred parts of this book that are better known (i.e. Clymenestra’s rage at Agamemnon), so it was interesting to see them told from the women this time. It allowed us more opportunity to evaluate the reasons and ask whether we’d do the same.

May Day by Josie Jaffrey – A Review by Sam – BLOG TOUR

Rating: 4 stars

Release date: 09/07/2020

Publisher: Silver Sun Books

CW: Sexual assault, alcoholism

Author: Josie Jaffrey

Josie is the author of multiple novels and short stories. Most of those are set in the Silverse, a pre- and post-apocalyptic world filled with vampires and zombies.

She is currently working on a range of fantasy and historical fiction projects (both adult and YA). Ultimately, she hopes to be a hybrid author, both traditionally- and self-published.

After finishing her degree in Literae Humaniores (Classics) at the University of Oxford, Josie wasn’t sure what to do with her life.

She slogged through a brief stint working for an investment bank in London during the 2008 credit crunch, then converted to law and qualified as a solicitor specialising in intellectual property. She worked at a law firm for five years before moving to a UK-based international publisher in 2016. Whilst she loved law, in the end she didn’t love it quite as much as writing, which she now does almost full time.

Josie lives in Oxford with her husband and two cats (Sparky and Gussie), who graciously permit human cohabitation in return for regular feeding and cuddles. The resulting cat fluff makes it difficult for Josie to wear black, which is largely why she gave up being a goth. Although the cats are definitely worth it, she still misses her old wardrobe.


If the murderer you’re tracking is a vampire, then you want a vampire detective. Just maybe not this one.

It’s not that Jack Valentine is bad at her job. The youngest member of Oxford’s Seekers has an impressive track record, but she also has an impressive grudge against the local baron, Killian Drake.

When a human turns up dead on May Morning, she’s determined to pin the murder on Drake. The problem is that none of the evidence points to him. Instead, it leads Jack into a web of conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the country, people to whom Jack has no access. But she knows someone who does.

To get to the truth, Jack will have to partner up with her worst enemy. As long as she can keep her cool, Drake will point her to the ringleaders, she’ll find the murderer and no one else will have to die. Body bags on standby.

May Day is the first book in Josie Jaffrey’s Seekersseries, an urban fantasy series set in Oxford, England.

Reading new urban fantasy is one of my favourite things. It’s one of my absolute genres, and this is good urban fantasy. It’s got vampire police. Vampire drug dealers. Vampire aristocrats. Also, a trigger warning should be thrown up, because a non zero amount of vampire sexual violence. It kind of gave me the ick, and if the rest of the book didn’t have its hooks into me quite as much it might have got me to put the book down. Just thought I’d get that out the way. 

So, main character Jack Valentine is a newbie vampire and a member of the vampire police. She’s precisely the kind of flawed, messed up anti hero I like. She’s an alcoholic, because all hard boiled detectives are, she’s… you know what? Kind of a cliché, but it’s a cliché I happen to love, so she gets a pass on that. I like me a flawed, hard boiled detective. Especially when she’s a bi vampire!

The cast of side characters are interesting and entertaining and wonderfully queer. The plot moves at a good clip and is nice and twisty. In fact, I’m struggling to be objective about this book because it feels like it was written specifically to pander to me and my specific niche likes in a book. I don’t know if the four star rating I’m going to give it is fair or not, but I’m going to give it one anyway. 

Okay, review over. 

I’m going to mention the next book now, so if you don’t want a major spoiler for it, consider this post over:

Seriously. Go away. 

Also, TW sexual violence:

A character in this book sexually assaults Jack. Like I said, it gave me the ick, both in the way it should when you read something horrific, and in the “I didn’t think that kind of thing happens in a modern book” way. 

Then in the second book there’s some plot hand waving to justify it, and Jack ends up sleeping with her abuser. It was just a bit much for me and kind of tore me out of the book and away from the characters. It gave me the mega ick. Did not like. Probably won’t read any future books if there are any. 

Ick. 


I received this book to read and review as part of the 2021 BBNYA competition and the BBNYA tours organised by the TWR Tour team. All opinions are my own, unbiased and honest.

BBNYA is a yearly competition where Book Bloggers from all over the world read and score books written by indie authors. If you are an author and wish to learn more about the BBNYA competition, you can visit the official website http://www.bbnya.com or twitter @bbnya_official.

The sign-ups are now open for BBNYA 2022 for authors and panelists. Click here to enter:

https://www.bbnya.com/how-to-enter/author-sign-up

https://www.bbnya.com/how-to-enter/panellist-sign-up

Gaia by Imogen and Isabel Greenberg – A Review by Bryony – BLOG TOUR

“The women all agreed. They had chosen a green war. There was no fighting, no spears and no thunderbolts – only small acts of kindness and huge acts of sacrifice.”

Rating: 3 stars

Release date: 14/04/2022

Publisher: Bloomsbury Childrens

Author: Imogen and Isabel Greenberg


Imagine you made something that was so beautiful and powerful that everyone wanted to take it for themselves. And then you had to watch them destroy it. Would you fight for it?

Meet Gaia, the ancient Greek goddess who created the Earth and the universe that stretched beyond it. She raised trees from their roots to the sky, sent waterfalls tumbling over cliffs and created the tides that sloshed on the shore. She gifted her creation to animals and mortals, and watched as they made it their home.

But she also created a force she couldn’t control: the ambition of gods. Gaia watched as the gods fought brutal wars and manipulated mortals such as Hercules and Achilles, disturbing peace on Earth. Storms raged, fires blazed and people, animals and plants suffered. Gaia begged the gods to look after her creation, but no one listened.

But Gaia never gave up fighting for a better world. This is her story.

Written and illustrated by two remarkable sisters, Imogen and Isabel Greenberg, this story is an exciting and action-packed adventure, with a poignant environmental message at the heart of it: the pursuit of power damages our natural world, and we all have to work together to protect it.


Through the lens of Greek mythology, Gaia is a story that aims to educate children on the harm that has been done already and that continues to be done to the Earth.

The illustrations are bright and bold, making it quick and easy to read. I thought it was really beautiful to look at. The story was narrated by the Three Fates who often appeared in the corner of a page to make a comment on what was happening or to cheer on a hero.

Classic Greek myths, such as Zeus’ defeat of Kronos and the Trojan War, form a backdrop to the authors’ intent of the book. Although they may not have been entirely accurate (I’m not sure accurate Greek myths are necessarily kid-friendly), they successfully shared the authors’ point that the Earth has been destroyed since it was created more or less – either the Gods have been waging war over it or humans have just been… human.

I think it was a really fun, really easy introduction to Greek mythology for kids, with the added bonus that it might teach them to value and look after the environment. The reader is made to sympathise with Gaia, who sees her creation constantly being destroyed or taken advantage of, so children should hopefully work to lessen this hurt.

Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy of this for review!

Dread Wood by Jennifer Killick – A Review by Sam – BLOG TOUR

Release date: 31st March 2022

Publisher: Farshore

Author: Jennifer Killick

Jennifer Killick is the author of Crater Lake, the Alex Sparrow series, and middle-grade sci-fi adventure Mo, Lottie and the Junkers. She regularly visits schools and festivals, and her books have three times been selected for The Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge. She lives in Uxbridge, in a house full of children, animals and Lego. When she isn’t busy mothering or step-mothering (which isn’t often) she loves to read, write and run, as fast as she can.


Turn the lights on. Lock the door. Things are about to get SERIOUSLY SCARY!

The brand new must-read middle-grade novel from the author of super-spooky Crater Lake. Perfect for 9+ fans of R.L.Stine’s Goosebumps.

It’s basically the worst school detention ever. When classmates (but not mate-mates) Hallie, Angelo, Gustav and Naira are forced to come to school on a SATURDAY, they think things can’t get much worse. But they’re wrong. Things are about to get seriously scary.

What has dragged their teacher underground? Why do the creepy caretakers keeping humming the tune to Itsy Bitsy Spider? And what horrors lurk in the shadows, getting stronger and meaner every minute…? Cut off from help and in danger each time they touch the ground, the gang’s only hope is to work together. But it’s no coincidence that they’re all there on detention. Someone has been watching and plotting and is out for revenge

I don’t know what I was expecting when I started Dread Wood. I’d just come off the back of reading a genuinely scary sci-fi horror book -which you may hear more about soon-, and that was off the back of reading a not so scary but very atmospheric folk-y horror-y book. This, apart from being middle grade, sits on the other side of the horror spectrum from those two. It’s an attempt to make a monster movie fit into a middle grade novel, and you know what? It works. It doesn’t do any one thing especially well and it has its flaws, but the package as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

For our cast we have Spunky Girl, Cautious Girl, Comedy Relief Guy and Narrator, whose primary character trait seems to be that he’s poor. Speaking as someone who is poor I don’t really mind that. I’ve banged this drum plenty already. More poor characters in our fiction please! Particularly kid’s fiction. And it does affect your personality and your decisions. It does become a part of who you are and filter how you see the world. Being that none of the other characters are particularly deep, I don’t mind that he isn’t. Then we’ve got our antagonists who aren’t not cliche, but who are effective none the less. The setting is nice and claustrophobic, as all good horror settings have to be, if the characters can just walk away it ruins the plot somewhat. A locked gate and a groundskeeper who doesn’t want to let you out are as good a narrative device as any other. 

There’s some light spoilers incoming at this point, so if you want to avoid them I’ll give you a takeaway now: I liked this book, it was good dumb fun, written well and compellingly. The plot moved along at a good clip and the tension started nice and early. Flat but serviceable characters. Probably won’t read again, but enjoyed it a lot all the same. Three and a half stars. Maybe four if I’m feeling generous. 

Okay, squad. Spoilers. 

Have you ever seen the film Eight Legged Freaks? I wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t. It came out in 2002 and was only okay, but this book is like a small scale version of that. The monsters are dog sized spiders, and they’re pretty cool. The explanation for how they became dog sized is nonsense, but it doesn’t have to be scientifically coherent for it to be cool, and these badboys are cool. Also, apparently Scarlett Johannsson was in Eight Legged Freaks. I suppose not even she is immune to being in a bad film.

The book isn’t immune to plot holes. The groundskeepers apparently have their pet spiders well trained and when they’re whistling a jaunty tune the spiders don’t attack, and that works just fine for the two or three hours on a Saturday the book takes place in. But what about the five weekdays before that, and the five before that and so on. Are you telling me one of them is always stood on the school field whistling or humming so an errant dog sized spider doesn’t gobble up an unsuspecting student? But I only thought about that plot hole as I closed the book. It didn’t distract me at the time. The plot moves quickly enough, and the book kept me interested enough that I didn’t stop to think of it during the story, only once I’d finished it. And even now, thinking about said plot hole, it doesn’t detract from how much I enjoyed the book. Some plot holes do that, because the story they’re in isn’t good enough to make you not mind it, but for some stories, like this one, you’re willing to suspend your disbelief just that little bit further. 

Dread Wood is a good time. Definitely worth reading.