Five Wounds by Katharine Edgar

Five Wounds is the debut novel by author Katharine Edgar. It is pitched as a Young Adult book, but I have to say that this is no barrier to adults wanting to read it. The language flows free and it is in no way dumbed down. It lacks for nothing in comparison with a book aimed at the adult market.

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Five Wounds is set during the Pilgrimage of Grace, a turbulent time during English history, and it takes the reader effortlessly into the world of Tudor England. The story is centred around the tale of Nan, a teenager who has been plucked from a world of convents and religious devotion and put straight into a life where she faces an arranged marriage to a much older man, along with political intrigue and danger.

The reader is provided with a wealth of historical details, well researched as regards to accuracy. The description, both of the scenes and the various objects and clothing, and also of the thoughts of the people and their vocabulary choices really bring the Tudor period to life. The historical scene is set very deftly indeed, and I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the book. This is a side of history little covered in schoolbooks, which generally prefer to concentrate on the big events and political shenanigans of the day, whereas in Five Wounds we see attention on the everyday minutiae, the small details of life.

Katharine Edgar deals skilfully with the attitudes of the day, tackling sensitive themes of human relationships and nature. This includes abusive behaviour, which she approaches head on, accepting it as part of life and sweeping nothing under the carpet. Yet there is nothing gratuitous about it; it is merely an accurate portrayal of a historical reality: nothing less.

I found it to be a very engaging read, with a rich and varied vocabulary, and realistic characters, as well as lively and interesting dialogue. It is easy to identify with the main character of Nan, share her fear of her fate at the hands of the men in her life: her father, Lord Middleham, and especially Francis, with whom she has a troubled and very teenage relationship. Despite her strong religious convictions, she is no whitewashed heroine, but a real human being, with faults, rash decisions and emotions. I found the character very believable. Also realistic were some of the secondary characters, such as Francis, whose petulant immaturity and coercive behaviour rang very true.

There were some points in the book that were left open – perhaps this was deliberate in order to set the scene for a sequel, and I shall certainly look forward to further works by Katharine Edgar – she is definitely an author to keep an eye on.

Five Wounds is available here:

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Wheel-Mouse vs All the Crazy Robots

Wheel-Mouse vs All The Crazy Robots

This is about a book and about a little girl. Celyn Lawrence has severe quadriplegic cerebral palsy. This means that she cannot move anything except her eyes.She also has to contend with life threatening epilepsy and she is life limited. And within that treacherous body that won’t work as Celyn deserves, there is a fabulous imagination, one that has produced a glorious work of children’s fantasy.

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The story is about a young mouse in a wheelchair. Wheel-Mouse, as she is called, has a marvellous magical power – zumming. This is something like zooming, only better, faster, more exciting. One terrible day something happens on Earth: robots land and start to spoil the place with their poo! With her magical zumming, it is Wheel-Mouse’s task to come up with a plot to do away with the robots and save the Earth. Simple, yet hilarious, this is a story children will enjoy tremendously, and laugh all the way through. And perhaps it will also inspire them to look twice at their wheel-chair using peers.

This is a lovely little book for children, written by a girl who was just 8 years old at the time of writing, and whose sense of humour is what shines out from the pages.

Not only that, but the book is for a generous cause: all proceeds go to the Children’s Hospice charity for terminally ill and life-limited children.

And here is Celyn herself, presenting the cheque for the money raised so far to the Hospice:

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You can watch Wheel-Mouse here on youtube, and it is available to buy on Amazon Kindle:

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Restoree by Anne McCaffrey – A Review

I first read Anne McCaffrey’s Restoree over twenty years ago, as a teenager. It struck a chord with me even then, and I have been back to read it several times since.

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The vast majority of Anne McCaffrey’s work is in a number of series, but unusually for this prolific author, Restoree is a stand-alone book. Perhaps this is because it was McCaffrey’s first full work to be published, or perhaps simply she had no desire to revisit it. Whatever the reason, this is a complete story in itself, and really requires no sequel.

The story opens with Sara, a native of Earth, who gradually awakens to find herself working as a nurse, kept drugged and functioning a bit like a robot, in a psychiatric clinic. She realises that she is on an alien planet, Lothar. As chance would have it, her patient is the Regent of the planet, Harlan, a powerful man fallen on hard times.

Sara is shocked to realise that her appearance has changed; for the better, in her opinion. As the story develops, we discover that Sara has been snatched from Earth by the alien race Mil, hated and feared by the Lotharians. Her horrific experience at the hands of the Mil had sent her into deep shock – something not unknown to the Lotharians, who she learns would regard her recovery and status as a restoree with revulsion.

The plot is full of political intrigue as Harlan escapes from the clinic and fights to regain control, with Sara’s assistance. There is a hint of romance, as the relationship between these two deepens, but this is not at all the main element in the story.

Sara is portrayed as a strong and capable woman. McCaffrey states in her own preface that she wrote the book as a reaction to the way women were generally portrayed in science fiction. Her protest has meant that Sara is no simpering heroine waiting to be rescued, but a resourceful character who takes the initiative. I find her very believable and likeable.

There are some obvious, glaring holes in the plot, such as how Lothar happens to be populated by human beings, despite it not being a colony of Earth. Technology in the book also reflects the time when it was written; 1968. However, if we suspend our logical analysis of science and knowledge gained in the intervening years, this is still a very readable tale.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin – a review

The Left Hand of Darkness was written in 1969 and before long will celebrate its 50th anniversary. I first read it as a teenager, and I have gone back and reread it several times since then, each time adding more to my appreciation.

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The story is set on the cold planet of Gethen, which is inhabited by a race of intersex humanoids: people who have both male and female characteristics and genitalia. Any one of them can become pregnant, any one of them can inseminate. To this place comes an adult male envoy from the Ekumen, an outside authority. This is Genly Ai, who appears to the locals as a Pervert, as he is unable to shift into a female phase.

Quite apart from exploring gender stereotypes and human relations, the book also goes into the theme of xenophobia, both in the locals’ attitude towards Genly Ai and in the local war between two neighbouring nations on Gethen. There is a strong theme of treachery and what it really means to be a traitor, how this can be seen from different perspectives. This all leads into the relationship between Genly Ai and the Gethenian Estraven, a central strand woven into the story. Their relationship is beautifully examined, and I found the reactions and behaviour of both very realistic and believable. These are not just credible characters; they really come alive.

Le Guin provides a wealth of rich detail for her planet: there are allusions to its history, its mythology, and the local culture is well described and realistic. This is a book that can be taken in many ways: as a simple science fiction novel, as a political text, as social commentary, or even as a story of friendship, and its versatility is that it works well in all of those fields.

This is an incredible book, and one I expect to read again.