#BookReview The Drowned City (Daniel Pursglove 1) by K. J. Maitland @headlinepg

The Drowned CityAbout the Book

1606. A year to the day that men were executed for conspiring to blow up Parliament, a towering wave devastates the Bristol Channel. Some proclaim God’s vengeance. Others seek to take advantage.

In London, Daniel Pursglove lies in prison waiting to die. But Charles FitzAlan, close adviser to King James I, has a job in mind that will free a man of Daniel’s skill from the horrors of Newgate. If he succeeds.

For Bristol is a hotbed of Catholic spies, and where better for the lone conspirator who evaded arrest, one Spero Pettingar, to gather allies than in the chaos of a drowned city? Daniel journeys there to investigate FitzAlan’s lead, but soon finds himself at the heart of a dark Jesuit conspiracy – and in pursuit of a killer.

Format: Hardcover (448 pages)  Publisher: Headline
Publication date: 1st April 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The author has created an interesting character in Daniel Pursglove. I liked the way small details about his often troubled past were dropped in now and again, laying the groundwork for future books. I also liked that the book was set in Bristol – the ‘drowned city’ of the title – not only because it made a change from the oft-used setting of London but also because it made sense from the point of view of the plot.

The writing was of the quality I’ve come to expect from other books I’ve read by the author, most recently A Gathering of Ghosts. Some episodes that particularly stood out were the dramatic prologue, a scene in which a Protestant mob attacks the house of a cordwainer and his family, and the New Year’s Eve masque.

Like any good hero, Daniel has some narrow escapes from those out to stop him achieving his mission.  This includes an adversary from his younger days. However, he always miraculously manages to turn up safely in his bed at his lodgings in the Salt Cat tavern. He also acquires a useful helper along the way whose knowledge of the city and ability to pass unnoticed aids Daniel’s intelligence gathering efforts as he seeks to carry out his mission but also determine if there is any connection between it and a series of murders.

No historical novel set in the period is complete without an appearance by one of the Cecil family; in this case it’s Robert Cecil. I actually felt some sympathy for him having to deal with the petulant and easily influenced King James I the author presents in the book. Although, with the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot still within recent memory, perhaps the King can be forgiven for imagining assassins at every turn and being concerned that one of the conspirators may still be at large. (I confess that until I read the historical notes at the end of the book I hadn’t realised Spero Pettingar was a real historical figure. For much of the book, I was convinced his name was an anagram!) And there are still adherents of Catholicism to be dealt with as well as the Jacobean equivalent of fake news, spread via illicitly printed pamphlets or ‘broadsides’. As Cecil warns the King, “Sire, even a superstition, if it takes hold of the imagination of the people, can be as powerful a weapon as any truth.” Indeed.

The Drowned City has all the ingredients to make an absorbing historical thriller although at certain points I found it on the slow side. However, it certainly picked up pace towards the end. As Daniel confides, ‘The art of legerdemain is to make the audience look in the wrong place’. In my case the author didn’t quite manage that when it came to the identity of the culprit whom I’d had my suspicions about for a few chapters, but I found enough to enjoy in The Drowned City to make me look out for future books in the series.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of Headline via NetGalley.

In three words: Atmospheric, intriguing, dramatic

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karen maitlandAbout the Author

Karen Maitland (writing as K. J. Maitland) is an historical novelist, lecturer and teacher of Creative Writing, with over twenty books to her name. She grew up in Malta, which inspired her passion for history, and travelled and worked all over the world before settling in the United Kingdom. She has a doctorate in psycholinguistics, and now lives on the edge of Dartmoor in Devon. (Photo/bio credit: Publisher author page)

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#BookReview The High-Rise Diver by Julia von Lucadou, trans. by Sharmila Cohen @WorldEdBooks

The High-Rise DiverAbout the Book

Riva is a “high-rise diver”, a top athlete with millions of fans, and a perfectly functioning human on all levels. Suddenly she rebels, breaking her contract and refusing to train. Cameras are everywhere in her world, but she doesn’t know her every move is being watched by Hitomi, the psychologist tasked with reining Riva back in. Unquestionably loyal to the system, Hitomi’s own life is at stake: should she fail to deliver, she will be banned to the “peripheries”, the filthy outskirts of society.

For readers of The Handmaid’s Tale, The Circle and Brave New World, this chilling dystopia constructs a world uncomfortably close to our own in which performance is everything.

Format: Ebook (288 pages)            Publisher: World Editions
Publication date: 2nd March 2021 Genre: Dystopian, Science Fiction, Literature in Translation

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My Review

In the High-Rise Diver, Julia von Lucadou creates a vivid, if disturbing, picture of a future society in which surveillance is not just widespread but constant and invasive. Think activity trackers that monitor your sleep patterns, nutritional intake and vital signs. Where every action you take online is recorded and scrutinized. Where facial recognition technology is omnipresent and your location is tracked in real time using the tablet device that continuously bombards you with news alerts and advertising messages.

The book introduces the reader to a highly stratified society in which those who have earned the right to dwell in the city enjoy privileges denied to those who live in the ‘peripheries’. The only route out of the latter is via success at “casting sessions” at which future life and career paths are determined based on a candidate’s performance. Naturally, the sessions are live-streamed on social media to millions.

Reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, many children are conceived by ‘breeders’ and even those who aren’t may have little contact with their ‘bioparents’. However, like everything else in this society, the simulated experience of family life can be bought for a price. And if you don’t have the credits for that, there’s always the ‘parentbot’ app.

Readers are likely to have varying responses to certain features of the book, such as the absence of speech marks and the frequent use of ™ appended to certain words. Personally, the former didn’t cause me a problem and, although I found the latter a little annoying, it did underline the sense of a society in which anything can be commercialized, even a celebrity’s favourite cocktail. Pour me another flydrive™ barman. (You may be reassured to know that you can still get a martini even in this imagined future.)

If you thought an annual appraisal with your manager was something to be apprehensive about just imagine a situation in which your performance is continuously monitored, evaluated and rated by your superior, and in which your income, social status, accommodation and other ‘privileges’ are dependent on the outcome. If that doesn’t make you shudder, then how about the thought of having a date reviewed and rated by the other party and having to complete a profile in advance setting out your sexual preferences and expectations.

Although it wasn’t hard for me to imagine why Riva might not want to continue training in order to perform ever more daring dives off high buildings – surely a metaphor for the status conscious society imagined by the author – I’m not sure I really felt much connection with her. I was more drawn to Hitomi’s story, that of the watcher who is constantly watched herself and is gradually overwhelmed by the nature of her assignment.

The High-Rise Diver paints a rather grim vision of a possible future, one I hope will never come to pass. By the end, I definitely found myself hoping that Hugo Masters, Hitomi’s creepy boss, might have an encounter with a defective flysuit™. And if you’ve ever lacked the motivation for a digital detox, The High-Rise Diver will definitely provide the kick you need.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of World Editions via NetGalley.

In three words: Chilling, thought-provoking, imaginative

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About the Author

Julia von Lucadou was born in Heidelberg in 1982. She studied film and theater at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz and Victoria University of Wellington and earned her PhD in Film Studies in 2015. Lucadou worked as both an assistant director and a television editor prior to writing The High-Rise Diver, her debut novel, which was nominated for the Swiss Book Prize in 2018. She lives between Biel, New York, and Cologne. (Bio credit: Publisher author page)

About the Translator

Sharmila Cohen is an award-winning writer and German-to-English translator who has translated the works of several leading German-language authors. Her work has been featured in publications such as BOMB and Harpers, and her projects span from poetry and literary fiction to crime and children’s stories. Originally from New York, Cohen came to Berlin in 2011 as a Fulbright Scholar to complete an experimental translation project with local poets. She now divides her time between both cities. (Bio credit: Publisher author page)