One out of the box: this new and poisonous air

I spend a lot of time poking around the interwebs, reading blogs and reviews, and scanning websites like amazon, angryrobot and fantasticfiction for upcoming titles.  (Tough job, I know etc etc).  It’s not often that I find a book I want to read that the library selectors haven’t already purchased, and often when I do, and the library buys it on my recommendation, it turns out to be either embarrassingly awful or just like 12 other titles we already own.

CoverOccasionally, though, I get it right, and feel incredibly pleased with myself, and then need to share my triumph with the world.  So. Pardon me while I wax lyrical about Adam McOmber’s This New and Poisonous Air.

It’s a bit posh, a bit literary, a bit fairy tale steampunk horror romance adventure; all wrapped up in a slim dark volume (see, now I’M getting all posh) of short stories.  Reviewers have used words like fantastical and macabre, and made comparisons to Poe, Angela Carter, even Tim Burton; while Publishers Weekly talks about its “sinuous, antiquated style”.

What it reminds ME most of, however, is a collection of fairy tales that I used to read as a child.  Way before the Disneyfication of every old fable and fairy tale, we had a matched set of bound volumes that collected fairy tales and legends from around the world.  One in particular that I remember reading over and over was Hans Christian Andersen’s The Nightingale, and this is the story that was constantly in my head as I was reading McOmber’s short stories.

If you’re a fan of magic realism, remember wistfully the grown-up versions of fairy tales before Disney, or just want to step out of this world for a few minutes, grab a copy of This New and Poisonous Air and find a quiet place to read.  I promise you won’t be disappointed!

One out of the box: Winter by Rod Rees

Much like this post, Rod Rees’ Winter is the first in a series.  I found it, literally, in a box of new books I was unpacking. It looks delicious – shiny,  with an old-fashioned globe on the front.  It also has a killer series title – The Demi-Monde.  Further inspection reveals it lives up to its promise.

The premise is that the United States military has developed a virtual reality training programme that fully immerses soldiers in a created world.  Locked in a kind of Victorian steampunk era, the Demi-Monde is populated with historical figures, and not nice ones.

In order to replicate the reality of today’s ‘asymmetric warfare’, with its unholy mix of terrorism, warlords, drug cartels and factions, the world is divided into four quarters, each with a particular social or religious profile, then stacked with despots and megalomaniacs, from Crowley to Heydrich, Robespierre to Beria, and more.

It sounds complicated, but it isn’t, once you get the hang of it.  The sympathetic lead is a young woman called Ella who (for various reasons) is the only one who can enter the world and save the President’s kidnapped daughter. From this angle, it’s a simple thriller adventure plot.

I have to say the characters aren’t as easy to bond with as I’d have liked, but the story and the audacious concept make up for this.  It’s an incredibly detailed and beautifully realised world, and I’m hanging out for number two already.  Oh, and as an ‘extra for experts’ kind of bonus, the website for the books is a thing of true beauty.

One out of the box is a regular series of new  material available at your library.