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Book Review: Chernobyl Prayer – Svetlana Alexievich

I won’t lie, this is one of the most intense books I have ever read. It is a collection of memories, stories, thoughts and feelings of the survivors of the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

This book pulls no punches when it comes to telling the stories of those who were involved in some way with the disaster. Some of them left me in tears, some of them left me horrified. All of them were moving in some way.

I am unsure where to begin with this one, it is not my usual read! I picked it up because I wanted to find out the personal stories of the people – to get a bit deeper than the HBO show went. This book certainly delivered that. The story of the Fireman who was first on the scene was far more graphic when told by his wife – they omitted some gruesome details in the show – and it was difficult to read from an emotional point of view.

What hit home in this book was how little the people actually knew about what was going on. They had no idea how dangerous the disaster was and that is down to the political environment at the time. It is a very alien way of thinking – to me at least – and seeing people volunteer for what was essentially a suicide mission seems insane.

Then I reached the stories of the people who moved TO the exclusion zone to escape the civil wars that was a result of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. I think, how awful must life have been for those people if moving to an irradiated death-trap was a positive move?

The tales of the surviving children is also hard hitting. A lot of them are unwell, a lot of them spend time in hospitals and know they are going to die.

The book is certainly enlightening, and bleak, however it is very much worth reading. I’d recommend it – the translation is good and language wise, it is easy to follow. The content however, that can be difficult to swallow.

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Review: Spear of the Emperor – Aaron Dembski-Bowden

I have been thoroughly spoilt this year with books I have read, I’ve not had a bad one yet, and they keep getting better. This one is no exception.

I am trying to think of the best point of this book and I really am struggling to select just one. The plot, pacing, characters and language contained within this book is all fantastic.

Let’s start with the plot and pacing. The book does take a while to truly get going, but the time spent at the start of the novel is essential. None of it drags, all of it is well crafted and a good introduction to the setting of the story. The plot is masterfully crafted, twists and turns in most unexpected ways and honestly, leaves you reeling from the side-swipes it takes. I don’t do spoilers in my reviews, as you know, but I am still trying to wrap my head around what happened – go and read it, you won’t regret it.

Characters – there are some amazingly written individuals in this story. The narrative is written from the Point of View of a Chapter serf. She has an interesting history herself, and the story is told through her. I really enjoyed reading about how she uses her augmetics, and how she serves her Master. Some of the details of the Mentor Legion are left out as they are ‘secret’ and not for any reader to learn. Through her eyes, the reader is witness to exceptional interaction between some very different cultures. All the characters go through an emotional journey and are not the same as they were at the start of the story.

Technically, the novel is brilliant. None of the language is overly technical, but nor does it skimp on detail. The novel still feels like a 40K Science Fiction novel, but the details are not overwhelming. Nor are the more ‘poetic’ devices, such as simile and metaphor. The whole read is balanced and thoroughly enjoyable. There were some late night sessions because I was unable to put it down, which hasn’t happened for a while.

I also hope that there will be a follow up story to this one, it is hinted at that it is the first chapter of a longer tale, and I eagerly await the next installment!