Books : reviews

Paul Cornell.
Tor. 2022

The crew of the Rosebud are, currently—and by force of law—a balloon, a goth, some sort of science aristocrat possibly, a ball of hands, and a swarm of insects.

When five sentient digital beings—condemned for more than three hundred years to crew a small survey ship by the all-powerful Company—encounter a mysterious black sphere, their course of action is clear: obtain the object, inform the Company, earn lots of praise.

But the ship malfunctions, and the crew has no choice but to approach the sphere and survey it themselves. They have no idea that this object—and the transcendent truth hidden within—will change the fate of all existence, the Company, and themselves.

Paul Cornell.
Witches of Lychford.
Tor. 2015

rating : 3 : worth reading
review : 21 January 2018

Traveler, cleric, witch.

The villagers in the sleepy hamlet of Lychford are divided. A supermarket wants to build a major branch on their border. Some welcome the employment opportunities, while some object to the modernization of the local environment.

Judith Mawson (local crank) knows the truth—that Lychford lies on the boundary between two worlds, and that the destruction of the border will open wide the gateways to malevolent beings beyond imagination.

But if she is to have her voice heard, she’s going to need the assistance of some unlikely allies…

Judith is one of the few people in Lychford who can see the Truth: the proposed new supermarket will destroy the protection the town has against the beings that live on its borders. But no-one believes a mad old woman.

Lizzie, the local vicar, should have been briefed about the town’s needs when she took up her post. But the old ways are being lost, and she has not been brought up to date.

Autumn, Lizzie’s childhood friend, who became estranged when Lizzie joined the church, is a sceptical scientist, yet she runs the local magic shop. She would be a key part of the town’s defence, but she can’t bring herself to believe what happened to her in those lost years.

This is only 140pp long, so counts as a novella rather than a novel. But it packs a lot of content into its relatively few pages, and I found it to be a compelling story. We get to see the menace of the proposed new supermarket unfold through the eyes of three unlikely, and somewhat unwilling, allies. After an excellent build-up, things come to a head rather quickly, but with a satisfactory conclusion. Although this one disaster has been averted, I’m sure there is more trouble awaiting our trio around the corner.

Paul Cornell.
The Lost Child of Lychford.
Tor. 2016

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 22 July 2018

It’s December in the English village of Lychford—the first Christmas since an evil conglomerate tried to force open the borders between our world and … another.

Which means it’s Lizzie’s first Christmas as Reverend of St. Martin’s. Which means more stress, more expectation, more scrutiny by the congregation. Which means … well, business as usual, really.

Until the apparition of a small boy finds its way to Lizzie in the church. Is he a ghost? A vision? Something else? Whatever the truth, our trio of witches (they don’t approve of “coven”) are about to face their toughest battle yet!

Christmas is coming, and something weird is happening in Lychford. The three witches may be being targetted. Vicar Lizzie wonders if she is being haunted by a small boy as she prepares for an important wedding; Judith is out investigating the border with Faery; Autumn is having problems with a potential new boyfriend; they are all in grave danger from an unexpected direction.

This is another novella-length tale of the Witches of Lychford, bringing back some old characters, and introducing some new, as the trio battle themselves as much as the forces of Evil. We can see the problems arising, but will the Witches notice in time? A good page turner.

Paul Cornell.
A Long Day in Lychford.
Tor. 2017

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 24 February 2020

It’s a period of turmoil in Britain, with the country’s politicians electing to remove the UK from the European Union, despite ever~increasing evidence that the public no longer supports it. And the small town of Lychford is suffering.

But what can three rural witches do to guard against the unknown? And why are unwary hikers being led over the magical borders by their smartphones’ mapping software? And is the immigration question really important enough to kill for?

It’s post Brexit referendum Britain, and racism is on the rise; Autumn is having a bad time, and Judith is winding her up dreadfully. Eventually, there’s a big falling out, which happens at the worst possible moment, as the borders against the Fey are damaged. Can the three witches work together to save the day?

The Brexit situation isn’t introduced merely for current historical context; Autumn becomes aware of the irony of being anti-Brexit whilst fighting to secure the town’s magical borders. Although relationships and borders are patched up by the end, there are clearly things that still need to be resolved.

Paul Cornell.
The Lights Go Out in Lychford.
Tor. 2019

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 4 March 2023

Be careful what you wish for…

The borders of Lychford are crumbling. Other realities threaten to seep into the otherwise quiet village, and the resident wise woman is struggling to remain wise. The local magic shop owner and the local priest are having troubles of their own.

And a mysterious stranger is on hand to offer a solution to everyone’s problems. No cost, no strings (she says).

But as everyone knows, free wishes from strangers rarely come without a price…

Weird things have been happening for a while in Lychford, kept under control by the local trio of protective Witches. But eventually, people grow old and their powers fade: is that what is happening to Judith, and will she be able to help Lizzie and Autumn beat the latest incursion?

I accidentally read these in the wrong order, by reading Last Stand before this, so I knew some of the outcomes (although I deliberately left it a while between readings, to let the details fade in my memory). So I enjoyed discovering the story of how Lychfield woke up to the dangers if faces, leading to real consequences for everyone.

By now, surely everyone knows that you shouldn’t take up the offer of a free wish…

Paul Cornell.
Last Stand in Lychford.
Tor. 2020

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 21 March 2021

There are changes in the air, both in Lychford and in the land of fairy.

The magical protections previously employed by the town are gone, and the forces of darkness are closing in—both figuratively and literally.

Can Autumn and Lizzie save their community, and… well, the world?

Exploding fairies, the architect of the universe, and a celestial bureaucratic blunder make this a stunning conclusion to the ever-popular Witches of Lychford series.

It’s the last battle in Lychford. Autumn and Lizzie are all that stands between Lychford and annihilation. Are they strong enough to prevail?

This is a satisfying conclusion to the series, with an epic battle between the forces of good and … something hugely not good. There are some clever twists, imaginitive uses of postcodes, a lot of denial, and an interesting dilemma for Lizzie.

Paul Cornell.
London Falling.
Tor. 2012

Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete the drugs bust of his career when his prize suspect is murdered in custody. Furious, Qyill pursues the investigation, co-opting intelligence analyst Lisa Ross and undercover cops Costain and Sefton. But nothing about the death is normal.

Now the team must find a suspect who can bend space and time, and alter memory itself, before they strike again.

As the group starts to see London’s sinister magic for themselves, they have two choices: panic or use their new abilities. Hunting a terrifying supernatural force the only way they know how, they must learn the rules of this new game – and quickly. More than their lives will depend on it.

Paul Cornell.
The Severed Streets.
Tor. 2014

Summer in London: a city in turmoil. The murder of a well-known MP is like a match to tinder, but Detective Inspector James Quill and his team know that it’s not a normal homicide. Using their new-found second sight, they soon discover that they are the only ones who can see the killer.

Then there are more deaths. The bodies of rich, white men are found in circumstances similar to those that set the streets of London alight with fear during the late 1800s: the Whitechapel murders. Even after everything they’ve seen, accepting that Jack the Ripper is back from the dead is a tough ask. Quill realizes that they have to understand more about this shadowy London, but the team’s unlikely guide – a bestselling author – can’t offer them much insight.

Relying on traditional police work and improvising with their new skills only lands them in deeper water, and the investigation is soon going to hell – literally. If they’re not careful, they may be going with it…

Paul Cornell.
Who Killed Sherlock Holmes?.
Tor. 2016

The ghost of Sherlock Holmes is dead
But who will solve his murder?

The Great Detective’s ghost has walked London’s streets for an age, given shape by people’s memories. Now someone’s put a ceremonial dagger through his chest. But what’s the motive? And who – or what – could kill a ghost?

When policing London’s supernatural underworld, eliminating the impossible is not an option. DI James Quill and his detectives have learnt this the hard way. Gifted with the Sight, they’ll pursue a criminal genius – who’ll lure them into a Sherlockian maze of clues and evidence. The team also have their own demons to fight. They’ve, been to Hell and back (literally) but now the unit is falling apart…