Tag: Books

Publication Day!

- 0 comments - Books

It’s publication day for THE EMPEROR OF MARS. It’s also the day that SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB comes out in paperback, in case you’ve been waiting for a cheaper version.

Publication day is always super busy, and I haven’t done nearly everything I meant to, but I did go out with the boys, eight-year-old MrD and four-year-old MrX, to a cafe and then a bookstore, so who can say fairer than that? To be honest, I’d happily do that every day…

If you haven’t read SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB already, THE EMPEROR OF MARS will work on its own, but I do think you’d have more fun if you read SECRETS first.

While you’re here, here’s a (spoiler-free) extract from Chapter Three of THE EMPEROR OF MARS. Enjoy!

THE EMPEROR OF MARS extract

In two days, the museum was opening a new gallery stuffed full of the amazing artifacts we’d found in our dragon tomb.

We pushed our way through the heavy, iron-studded door, and deafening noise immediately washed over us.

“Look out!” Putty shouted.

I ducked just in time as something swooped by, almost taking my head off.

The entrance hall was in chaos. For a moment, I thought the museum had been attacked. But it was almost worse: Dozens of junior curators were rushing around the lobby in panic, shouting and waving, while a cluster of automatic servants strained to carry a large, elaborate artifact toward a nearby gallery. One of the curators had even put on a pair of pneumatic wings and was flapping around, out of control, almost crashing into the other curators, the artifact, the walls, and us. The automatic servants wobbled, the curators shouted contradictory instructions, and any moment the whole thing was going to end in disaster.

“Hey!” Putty shouted. “That’s our artifact! You’d better not drop it!”

I’d never quite figured out what the artifact was supposed to be. It was made of hundreds of brass balls, each the size of Putty’s fist, all connected together with thin brass rods. We’d found it in the dragon tomb when we’d been taking shelter from Sir Titus. Before I’d had a chance to look at it, he’d smashed it to bits with his excavator. The museum had spent the last few months restoring it, but I still didn’t know what it was, and no one else seemed to, either. It looked a bit like a man crouching, ready to jump up. Or maybe like a bowl of noodles tipped over a sculpture made of marbles.

“Look,” Putty said. “There’s Dr. Guzman. Why don’t you ask him about Rothan Gal?”

I eyed the small, dust-smeared junior-under- curator standing on the far side of the lobby. “Why don’t you ask him?”

“He’s awfully boring. You deal with boring better than I do.”

“Thanks?” I said.

THE EMPEROR OF MARS

Find out about the book

Read Chapter One

SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB

Find out about the book

Read Chapter One

THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS

And, of course, there’s my novella, THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS, set in the same world but with different characters:

Find out about the novella

Read the opening

Coming up

Coming up sometime this year, I’ll be releasing a new short story, THE BAD GUYS, set right after THE EMPEROR OF MARS finishes. Hang around for it.

Right now I’m working on a new humorous middle grade fantasy which I hope you’ll all get to see before too long!

Cover Designs

- 0 comments - Book Covers

I don’t get to spend much time on cover design anymore (or web design, for that matter) because most of my non-childcare time is spent on writing, but occasionally I get to do the odd cover. Here are a couple of covers I’ve designed for Steph in the last month.

First up is a cover for her short story, Shadow Duet, which is a sequel to her historical fantasy, Masks and Shadows.

I was particularly pleased with this one, because I made it entirely from freely-available, public domain images, so other than my time, it didn’t cost a penny.

The second cover is for Steph’s forthcoming novella, Snowspelled. My contribution to this was a little less, because I was working from a specially-commissioned artwork by Leesha Hannigan. All I had to do was add text, make a few subtle adjustments to make the text more visible, and add the frills. But I think it turned out really nicely. Here it is:

Follow the links to find out more about the stories!

Finished Copies and Free Novella

- 0 comments - Books

It’s now just over three weeks until both SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB is published in paperback and THE EMPEROR OF MARS is published in hardcover and ebook versions. My lovely publisher sent me copies of each, hot off the press. Here they are:

And to celebrate the books coming out, I am giving away free e-copies of my novella, THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS, to everyone who is subscribed to my newsletter by June 29th, 2017. THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS is set in the same world as SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and THE EMPEROR OF MARS. You can sign up in the sidebar of this page or at http://eepurl.com/wy0hH.

You’ll also get an exclusive look at the opening of THE EMPEROR OF MARS, plus book recommendations and stuff about writing. How can you resist?

Later on, I’m also going to give away another short story that takes place directly after the events of THE EMPEROR OF MARS, but I want to give people a chance to read THE EMPEROR OF MARS first.

So, sign up to the newsletter now in the sidebar of this page (or below, if you’re using a phone or small tablet…)!

The Emperor of Mars: Book Giveaway and Sneak Peek

- 0 comments - Books

In case you didn’t see it on Twitter and Facebook, I’m doing a giveaway for the so-far ONLY signed Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) of my second book THE EMPEROR OF MARS (I may sign one other ARC closer to publication, but that will be it, so one day this will be worth millions*.)

*Or not.

ANYWAY…

THE EMPEROR OF MARS is the sequel to SECRETS OF THE DRAGON and takes place eight months later.

Here’s the blurb:

A missing Martian. A sinister plot. A French spy.

If Edward thought life was going to be easy in Tharsis City, he was very, very wrong. The moment he intercepts a thief escaping from Lady Harleston’s townhouse, he is caught up in a terrible scheme that threatens the whole of Mars.

Soon he’s fighting off vicious sea serpents, battling a small army of heavily-armored thugs, and trying to unpick an impossible mystery. Meanwhile, Putty has declared war on her new governess, a war that, for the first time in her life, Putty may be in danger of losing.

Edward doesn’t know whom he can trust. Will he make the right choice? Or will his family – and his entire planet – fall victim to the treacherous Emperor of Mars?

Join Edward and his family for a whole new, exciting adventure on Mars.

And here are some of the internal pages from the book, with art by Jeremy Holmes (who also did the cover):

See the pages in full size.

(Do note, though, that the ARC is an uncorrected proof of the book, so there may be minor differences in the text and artwork between the ARC and the final version, and a couple of pieces or artwork aren’t in the ARC. But that’s what makes it special, right? ;) )

The giveaway is on goodreads and is open worldwide from April 24th to May 11th, 2017. Go and enter right now and be one of the first to get the book.

The Emperor of Mars: ARCs and First Pass Pages

- One comment - Books

The Emperor of Mars is on his way. He’s been planning this for a long time, plotting, scheming. And now he is one step closer.

Yes, he has made it to Advance Reader Copy (ARC) status and First Pass Pages.

Here are *my* ARCs looking excessively handsome.

And here is our new cat, Pebbles, tolerating (just) being put in charge of a copy.

So what does it look like inside? Well, I’m glad you asked! Here it is. This is the first page, along with a new character, George Rackham.

If you can’t read that first page, this is what it says:

Chapter 1: The Trouble with Vine-Mining

I was twenty feet underground, surrounded by glowing blue sandfish crystals, with my head jammed in a beetle-vine warren, when I realized that vine-mining wasn’t for me.

I had seen the notice pinned up outside the local office of the Imperial Martian Airship Company:

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED!
ROOT OUT BEETLE-VINES!
SAVE LUNAE CITY!
SIGN UP TODAY!
BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!

Perfect, I’d thought. What a great idea.

I had never been so wrong.

You might have thought that living in the middle of Mars’s biggest desert would mean that you never got wet…

* * *

I’ll post the rest of the first chapter closer to publication day (which is on July 18, 2017, since you asked).

I’ve been working on the First Pass Pages (basically, a printout of the ARC), fixing up any last errors, tweaking the odd bit, smoothing things a little, but the ARC is pretty close to what the published book will be. There are typos and a few other minor errors, but the story is the same.

While we’re all waiting for the final, finished book, if you want a chance to win a signed ARC, keep an eye open. I’ll be posting a giveaway in a few weeks time.

Until then!

(Note: cover and the internal illustration above are by Jeremy Holmes.)

Book Review: Congress of Secrets, by Stephanie Burgis

- 0 comments - Book Reviews

The year is 1814, and the Congress of Vienna has just begun. The Emperor Napoleon has been defeated, and the great powers of Europe have gathered in Vienna to carve up Europe among themselves. Along with them have come the powerful, the deposed nobility of old Europe, and the opportunistic, hoping to grab power and wealth for themselves. Amid glittering balls, parties, and salons, the great of Europe meet, plot, and position themselves.

Into Vienna come Lady Caroline Wyndham, a wealthy English widow, and charming con man Michael Steinhüller. Both of them have secrets. Caroline was born Karolina Vogl, daughter of a radical Viennese printer. Caroline’s father was arrested by the secret police and her childhood was cruelly stolen from her by dark alchemy in the cells of the secret police.

Michael, meanwhile, was once the apprentice of Caroline’s father. Neither has seen the other since their childhoods were shattered, and both have returned to Vienna with plans of their own, Caroline’s to save her father, and Michael’s to pull one last con before he retires. Neither of them expect to encounter the other, and when they do, both their plans will be in danger, and so will they.

I’ve said before that a really well-researched piece of historical fiction can be as full of wonder as the most inventive fantasy or science fiction novel, and this historical fantasy proves that. Every scene comes alive with wonderful, vivid, and sometimes alien detail that make you feel like you’re really there. I lived for six months in Vienna, and in Congress of Shadows, I really felt like I was back there, strolling around the first district or through the royal palaces. This is lush and all-enveloping.

The characters, too, are incredibly involving and well-conceived. From the moment you first meet Caroline, Michael, and the third main character, Peter Riesenbeck, you are swept into their stories, their fears, their desires, and their plans. But it’s not just the main characters who are so believable and enticing. There is also a whole array of historical figures – from the quipping Prince de Ligne and the paranoid Emperor Francis to the manipulative head of the secret police, Count Pergen – and fictional counterparts who leap off the page.

The story is fast paced and increasingly tense as Caroline, Michael, and Peter’s plans begin to crumble in the face of the dark alchemy wielded by Count Pergen.

This is a fantastic book and I have no hesitation in giving it five stars. I loved Stephanie Burgis’s previous historical fantasy, Masks and Shadows, but Congress of Secrets is even better.

5 stars!

Buy Now: Indiebound | Book Depository (international) | Amazon U.S. | Amazon UK

Achievements Unlocked

- 2 comments - Books

Today I got to finish writing two books in one day. How often does that happen?

Okay, I’m spinning this a little.

I finished my last major edits of THE EMPEROR OF MARS, which is the sequel to SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and sent it off to my editor. There’s still the copyediting and the proofs (and possibly more proofs…) but that’s it for any big changes. Basically, the way the book is now is the way it is going to be when it’s published, other than the odd fix to sentences here and there.

THE EMPEROR OF MARS is set eight months after the events of SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and features more deadly danger, thrilling adventures, and terrible peril.

As a celebration, here’s the opening sentences of THE EMPEROR OF MARS:

The Emperor of Mars

Mars, 1817

I was twenty feet underground, surrounded by glowing blue sandfish crystals, with my head jammed in a beetle-vine warren, when I realized that vine-mining wasn’t for me.

I had seen the notice pinned up outside the local office of the Imperial Martian Airship Company:

Volunteers Needed!
Root Out Beetle-Vines! Save Lunae City!
Sign Up Today!
Before it’s too late!

Perfect, I’d thought. What a great idea.

I had never been so wrong.

The book is out on July 18th, 2017, but advance copies will obviously be out sooner. Keep an eye on this blog if you want to know when you’ll get a chance to win one. :)

My Work-In-Progress, which I have also “finished”, is the first draft. That means, of course, that it’ll have to be rewritten many times, and so it could be completely, utterly different when it actually is published (and, of course, it might not get published at all). But here is a very brief taste of the opening. This may or may not be in the final version.

The Mystery of Firelake Hall

London, England, 1924

On the day that Miss Wellington was given the job of governess to the Stone children, she learned two absolutely unshakeable rules.

Firstly, nobody – absolutely nobody – talked about magic in the Stone household.

More on this one if and when it progresses!

New Middle Grade Books for 2016: April – September

- 2 comments - Books

Time for a bunch more great-looking middle grade books coming out this year. I blogged books coming out from January to April and from January to June. Now it’s time to look at books coming out from April to September. (Yeah, the dates overlap, because I don’t always know about books far ahead of time.)

All of these books are by new voices in middle grade, debut authors in other words.

Here we go again!

Treasure at Lure Lake, by Shari L. Schwarz

Published: April 12th, 2016.

An epic adventure—that’s all Bryce wants this summer. So when he stumbles upon a treasure map connected to an old family secret, Bryce is determined to follow the clues to unearth both, even it means hiking in the wilderness in the middle of nowhere. Bryce must work with his bickering brother, Jack, or they may never see the light of day again!

This one is already out, so no need to delay. Get it now!

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

Artifacts, by Pete Catalano

Published: May 17th, 2016

Jax and his friends have been planning the summer of a lifetime at Camp Runamuck. However, when one of them is facing summer at a school desk for failing English, they watch those plans crash and burn!

At the last moment they’re given a way out. An extra credit assignment to find several fake artifacts for a fairy tale display their teacher is presenting at the local library. But soon they realize that they’re searching for one real artifact that can rewrite fairytales. Now they’re in a race against actual fairytale villains to get their hands on it first.

Imagine The Goonies meets Peter Pan.

This one has also been out for a while so you should have no trouble finding it!

Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Voyage to Magical North, by Claire Fayers

Published: July 5th, 2016

This is already out in the U.K. I know that, because I’m reading it right now, and very good it is too! Those of you in the U.S. have to wait a few more days. :D

Twelve-year-old Brine Seaborne is a girl with a past–if only she could remember what it is. Found alone in a rowboat as a child, clutching a shard of the rare starshell needed for spell-casting, she’s spent the past years keeping house for an irritable magician and his obnoxious apprentice, Peter.

When Brine and Peter get themselves into a load of trouble and flee, they blunder into the path of the legendary pirate ship the Onion. Before you can say “pieces of eight,” they’re up to their necks in the pirates’ quest to find Magical North, a place so shrouded in secrets and myth that most people don’t even think it exists.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

Sticks & Stones, by Abby Cooper

Published: July 12th, 2016

Ever since she was a baby, the words people use to describe Elyse have instantly appeared on her arms and legs. At first it was just “cute” and “adorable,” but as she’s gotten older and kids have gotten meaner, words like “loser” and “pathetic” appear, and those words bubble up and itch. And then there are words like “interesting,” which she’s not really sure how to feel about.

Now, at age twelve, she’s starting middle school, and just when her friends who used to accept and protect her are drifting away, she receives an anonymous note saying “I know who you are, and I know what you’re dealing with. I want to help.” As Elyse works to solve the mystery of who is sending her these notes, she also finds new ways to accept who she is and to become her best self.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Last Cherry Blossom, by Kathleen Burkinshaw

Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden fom its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.

This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Rat Prince, by Bridget Hodder

Published: August 23rd, 2016

The dashing Prince of the Rats–who’s in love with Cinderella–is changed into her coachman by the Fairy Godmother on the night of the big ball. And he’s about to turn the legend (and the evening) upside down on his way to a most unexpected happy ending!

I don’t often enjoy fairytale retellings, but this one looks like enormous fun. Can’t wait.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

Howard Wallace, P.I., by Casey Lyall

Published: September 6th, 2016

Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. He knows more than anyone how to work with what he’s got: a bathrobe for a trench coat, a makeshift office behind the school equipment shed, and not much else—least of all, friends. So when a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself . . . until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner. As they banter through stakeouts and narrow down their list of suspects, Howard starts to wonder if having Ivy as a sidekick—and a friend—is such a bad thing after all.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee, by Erin Petti

Published: September 6th, 2016

Eleven-year-old Thelma Bee is never bored. In fact, she has curiosity and adventure in her blood. She spends her time running science experiments, practicing Spanish, and daydreaming about exotic landscapes. But Thelma gets more than she bargained for when a strange woman sells a jewelry box at her father’s antique shop.

That night, a ghost kidnaps her father, and the only clues are the jewelry box and a word the ghost whispered in her ear: “Return.” Now it’s up to Thelma to get her dad back, and it might be harder than she thought—there’s someone wielding dark magic, and they’re coming after her next.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

Poppy Mayberry, The Monday, by Jennie K. Brown

Published: September 13th, 2016

What if your teacher could read your mind just because she was born on a Thursday? Or the kid next to you in class could turn back the clock just because he was a ‘Wednesday”? In the quirky town of Nova, all of this is normal, but one thing is not—Poppy Mayberry. As an almost-eleven-year-old Monday, she should be able to pass notes in class or brush her dog, Pickle, without lifting a finger. But her Monday telekinesis still has some kinks, and that plate of spaghetti she’s passing may just end up on someone’s head. And if that’s not hard enough, practically perfect Ellie Preston is out to get her, and Principal Wible wants to send her to remedial summer school to work on her powers! It’s enough to make a girl want to disappear…if only she were a Friday.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

The Adventurer’s Guide to Successful Escapes, by Wade Albert White

Published: September 13th, 2016

A thrilling debut novel where fantasy and science fiction meet, dragons aren’t as innocent as they look, and nothing is quite what it seems.

Anne has spent most of her thirteen years dreaming of the day she and her best friend Penelope will finally leave Saint Lupin’s Institute for Perpetually Wicked and Hideously Unattractive Children. When the big day arrives, a series of very curious happenings lead to Anne being charged with an epic quest. Anne, Penelope, and new questing partner Hiro have only days to travel to strange new locales, solve myriad riddles, and triumph over monstrous foes–or face the horrible consequences.

Packed with action, humor, and endless heart, this debut novel marks the first volume in an irresistible and original fantasy series.

Goodreads | Indiebound | Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Author Website

That’s all I’ve got for now. I will probably do one more of these round-ups for the end part of 2016. But check on the books from this list and the previous ones. There’s great stuff there.

New Novella: The Dinosaur Hunters

- 0 comments - Books

Hey folks. Exciting news for me! I have a new novella coming out on June 16th, 2016. It’s called THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS, and it’s set in the same world as SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and THE EMPEROR OF MARS, but it takes place a year before SECRETS and is a completely standalone novella.

Ever wondered where the dinosaurs were in SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB? Want to find out more about Regency Mars? Can’t bear to wait for THE EMPEROR OF MARS to come out? Wondering what all the fuss is about? Here’s your chance to find out!

You can pre-order THE DINOSAUR HUNTERS now from Amazon, or buy it from most ebook stores or my website on June 16th.

Pre-order: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | Amazon Australia

Or: Add on Goodreads

If you have a review blog or site and you’d like a review copy, please send me a message!

Here’s the blurb!

Mystery, murder, and adventure on Mars…

Mars in 1815 is a world of wonders, from the hanging ballrooms of Tharsis City to the air forests of Patagonian Mars, and from the ice caves of Noachis Terra to the Great Wall of Cyclopia, beyond which dinosaurs still roam.

Sixteen-year-old Harriet George has never had the chance for an adventure. Now her older sister is determined to marry her off. Harriet can’t think of anything worse.

Meanwhile, her brother-in-law, Bertrand, has a problem. He’s never been much of a police inspector. As far as Harriet knows, Bertrand has never caught a criminal in his life. But now the famous jewel thief, the Glass Phantom, has come to Mars, and Bertrand has been given the job of tracking him down. If he fails, Bertrand will lose his job and the whole family will be ruined.

Harriet will not let that happen.

So she comes up with a plan: she will capture the Glass Phantom herself. Even if that mean that she and Bertrand have to follow the thief’s intended victim, the Countess von Krakendorff, on a dinosaur hunt in the perilous Martian wilderness. But there is far more going on in this expedition than mere robbery, and the dinosaurs are not the greatest danger.

If Harriet cannot solve the mystery, her family won’t just be ruined. She and Bertrand may not make it out of the wilderness alive.

The Dinosaur Hunters is a thrilling adventure set in the world of Secrets of the Dragon Tomb.

Pre-order: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | Amazon Australia

Or read the opening:

The Dinosaur Hunters

Mars, 1815

Harriet George had been dressed as a boy for the last week, and she still wasn’t sure her brother-in-law had noticed.

“The thing is, Harry old thing,” the Honorable Bertrand Simpson said as he hunched morosely over his twelfth cup of tea that morning, “disguises are such dashed confusing things. Can’t tell if a chap is a chap or, you know, another chap.” He stirred his tea listlessly.

It had never been entirely clear to Harriet how her brother-in-law had managed to work his way up to the post of Inspector in the Tharsis City Police Service. As far as Harriet could tell, Bertrand had never solved a single case in his entire life.

Unfortunately, Harriet suspected that she wasn’t the only one who had figured that out. It was the only reason she could think of as to why Bertrand had been given the job of capturing the Glass Phantom. The Glass Phantom had evaded police forces in France, Austria, Britain, and Chinese Mars. He’d helped himself to the Crown of Charlemagne from under the nose of Napoleon’s Imperial Guard and had stolen the Orlov Diamond from the Imperial Scepter of Catherine the Great. No one with an ounce of common sense would risk their career tracking down such a notorious and difficult-to-catch jewel thief.

Which was why Bertrand, who wouldn’t have recognized an ounce of common sense if it had fallen into his morning tea, had leapt on the offer like a piranha-mouse on a stray muffin.

Bertrand came from a good family – his father was the fifth Baron Heatherstone – but his family’s estates on Earth had long ago been sold off to pay their debts. Bertrand’s father had brought the family to Mars to seek his fortune on a new world, but it hadn’t made any difference, and Bertrand scarcely had a penny to his name. In his position, he should have married a young lady with a good dowry. Instead, he’d married Harriet’s older sister, Amy. If it hadn’t been for Bertrand’s job, Harriet was certain they would have starved within the year.

And then, five years ago, Harriet and Amy’s parents had died, and Amy and Bertrand had taken Harriet in. She knew it had been hard for them, and she knew they’d given up a great deal for her. She owed them everything.

When Bertrand failed to catch the Glass Phantom, he would lose his job and it would be an absolute disaster for them all.

Harriet would not allow that to happen.

“You know, the Glass Phantom might not actually be in disguise,” Harriet said, trying to cheer her brother-in-law up. “I mean, why would he?”

Bertrand groaned. “That makes it even worse. If he’s not in disguise, how am I going to tell who he’s not disguising himself as?”

Which, Harriet thought, summed up rather neatly why her brother-in-law never actually caught anyone.

Enjoying it? Pre-order now: Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Canada | Amazon Australia

I’ll post more of the opening closer to the publication date

Don’t forget that if have a review blog or site, you can ask me for a review copy. Please send me a message!

Book Review: Masks and Shadows, by Stephanie Burgis

- 0 comments - Book Reviews

The year is 1779, the place is the Eszterháza Palace in Hungary. The famous castrato singer Carlo Morelli is travelling to the palace as a guest of Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, but he is not the only one. He’s accompanied by a famous alchemist, Ignaz Von Born, and a man he suspects to be a spy. Already arrived at the palace is the recently widowed Charlotte von Steinbeck visiting her younger sister, Sophie.

But there are plots brewing at the palace. The Habsburg Emperor and Empress are about to visit, and there are forces at work who will stop at nothing to assassinate them. There is blackmail, alchemy, and betrayal, and not everyone is who they seem to be.

Masks and Shadows is a historical fantasy set in an unusual location with characters who are quite unique. If you’ve read Stephanie Burgis’s previous middle grade books, you’ll know she has a knack for convincing, lively, three dimensional characters with complex motivations, and in this, her first adult novel, she has been able to create some of the most interesting characters you’re likely to read in a fantasy novel, from the castrato singer, Carlo Morelli, playing a role he no longer believes in to Charlotte von Steinbeck, the very proper young widow who is forced to confront the scandalous fact that her younger sister, Sophie, is the very public mistress of Prince Esterházy. Then there are the members of the prince’s opera company who are unwillingly caught up in the plots and Sophie’s husband, a member of the prince’s guard, unsuccessfully trying not to regret the deal he made that allows his own wife to be the prince’s mistress.

Add to those the real historical characters in the book: Prince Esterházy and his wife, the princess forced to live in the palace alongside the prince’s mistress, the composer Joseph Haydn, and a host of others and you have a setting that is rich and highly believable.

This is an enormously well-researched book, full of colour and atmosphere, but it’s not one of those books where the author feels the need to pile all the research on you. The story is fast-moving, touching, tense and enormously involving. You will genuinely believe you are in the Esterháza Palace along with these wonderful and conflicted characters, and the story won’t let you go until you reach the desperate finale.

This book draws heavily on opera and the opera company contracted to Prince Esterházy. I am not a fan of opera (to say the least) and know pretty much nothing about eighteenth century Hungary but everything about the story thread of the company trying to put on a performance of Haydn’s new opera for the visiting royals while being unwittingly caught up in the various plots and under threat of disapproval from the unforgiving prince caught me up and enthralled me.

Masks and Shadows is the kind of book that utterly absorbs you and drags you through the conflicting emotions and dilemmas of its rich cast of characters.

I would highly recommend this to anyone who likes fantasy, historical fiction or romance.

A brilliant and unusual book.

5 Stars

Buy Now: Indiebound | Wordery (International) | Barnes and Noble | Amazon US | Amazon UK