Book reviews: The Corn Maiden And Other Nightmares, The Heresy Of Dr Dee

Have your say

Check out our latest book reviews.

The Heresy Of Dr Dee

Phil Rickman

Phil Rickman’s second novel in The John Dee Papers series maintains the adventure theme of The Bones Of Avalon.

Astrologer royal and adviser at the court of Queen Elizabeth I Dr Dee and his friend and former student, Lord Robert Dudley, travel to the Welsh border in search of the Wigmore Shewstone, an apparently supernatural crystal.

With Dudley suspected of involvement in his wife’s murder to clear the way for impending marriage to the Queen, there is a dark cloud that follows the party.

The expedition takes a further negative turn when the pair become embroiled in complications relating to politics, corruption, religion and superstition, leaving Dee in serious danger in his family’s homeland.

As a thorough body of work, there is much to admire; the plot is at times engaging and the period detail extensive.

However, the narrative proved heavy going and the characterisation grated somewhat, with the guardedness of the period failing to engage.

The over-riding difficulty in warming to the seemingly never-ending cast of characters and their subsequent actions ultimately left an unsatisfactory aftertaste.

hardback by Corvus, priced £14.99

A Billion Jokes! (Volume One)

Peter Serafinowicz

A Billion Jokes (Volume One) by Peter Serafinowicz is by turns clever, smutty, cute, crazy and quirky. Fans of his Twitter wordplay and tangential TV programmes will love it.

Serafinowicz has a unique wit and the short quips and observations have the exhausting rapidity of Tim Vine while being apparently inspired by the sensibilities of the surrealist movement.

At their best the jokes are very, very funny, but they can be patchy. This should be a big hit as a Christmas stocking filler.

The majority of the jokes and warped aphorisms really hit the mark – leaving you looking forward eagerly to Volume 2.

hardback by Boxtree, priced £12.99

The Corn Maiden And Other Nightmares

Joyce Carol Oates

The prolific Joyce Carol Oates returns with her 23rd collection of short stories, a morbid series focusing on familial injustice and loneiness.

The titular tale is the collection’s real triumph, effectively meshing a creepy plotline with jarring, stream-of-consciousness language.

This story follows a group of teenage girls in US suburbia as they prepare to sacrifice a blonde innocent. Told from the very different perspectives of the confused child, her frantic mother, the plotting teenagers and the wrongfully accused man, it plays to the most common fears of adults and children alike.

Other stories worth a mention include A Hole In The Head, a slow-burning surgical nightmare, and the haunting Nobody Knows My Name, which follows a child coming to terms with the disruption of a new baby.

Oates explores some dark material and isn’t afraid to throw in the occasional shocking twist.

hardback by Head of Zeus, priced £16.99

The Bront Sisters frequently visited York

York’s Literature Festival opens its doors