This week’s bookcase includes reviews of A Life On Our Planet by David Attenborough and The Devil And The Dark Water by Stuart Turton.
What is David Attenborough’s analysis of the ecological crisis? And what was life like as a woman in 1900s Uganda? Find out in this week’s selection of books…
1. The Devil And The Dark Water by Stuart Turton is published in hardback by Raven Books, priced £16.99 (ebook £7.19). Available now
Stuart Turton follows his debut novel, The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle, with a brand new historical fiction book – this time set in 1634 aboard an East India merchant ship. The Devil And The Dark Water is a Sherlock Holmes-style mystery meets Tolkien-esque adventure, with an extensive cast and elaborate plot.
Threatened by storms and superstition, the passengers, sailors and soldiers aboard the Saardam endure several chaotic – and bloody – weeks as a demon known as ‘Old Tom’ plagues the ship. Turton flits between characters with his trademark intricacy, the plot tossing and turning like the ship on the high seas. Each crest and fall adds to the bewilderingly compelling story, culminating in a completely unpredictable and thoroughly satisfying ending.
(Review by Rebecca Wilcock)
2. The First Woman by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is published in hardback by Oneworld, priced £16.99 (ebook £6.99). Available now
Set in Uganda in the mid-20th century, Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi’s second novel, The First Woman, follows a young girl, Kirabo, on her path to adulthood.
Having grown up with her grandparents in a small village, the promise of education draws her to the city, while she deals with first love and the search for her lost mother. Ugandan society is richly drawn, both in its traditions and the tumults of increasing modernity.
Idi Amin is a looming background presence, but Makumbi keeps the focus on culture and the personal sphere. The focus flickers between different strands of Kirabo’s life, including a detour through her grandmother’s youth. Events sometimes seem disconnected, but this does help to avoid defining Kirabo through her relationship to any other individual. Ultimately, Makumbi writes a heroine who is vivid and with many dimensions.
(Review by Joshua Pugh Ginn)
3. Earthlings by Sayaka Murata is published in hardback by Granta, priced £12.99 (ebook ). Available now
Having read Japanese author Sayaka Murata’s last hit novel, Convenience Store Woman, you should know not to expect anything like a nicely wrapped up, heart-warming tale. That’s just not her style, but Earthlings really smashes any sense of being a relaxing read to absolute smithereens.
As a child, Natsuki spends her summers in the mountains with her cousin Yuu, desperately hoping to be rescued by a spaceship from the cruelty and terror of home and school. As an adult, acting the part of a grown-up, those terrors resurface with ghastly consequences.
Graphic and disturbing at times (skim-reading some sections felt necessary), it’s also a brilliantly scathing assessment of social norms, highlighting the conveyor belt drudgery of the ‘marriage and kids’ ideal, and questioning the pressure put on individuals to follow the herd – and what happens when they don’t. Curious, challenging and slightly nightmarish, it’ll certainly make your brain buzz.
(Review by Ella Walker)
4. A Life On Our Planet by David Attenborough is published in hardback by Ebury Press, priced £20 (ebook £9.99). Available now
If anyone’s going to bring the public’s attention to the urgency of the environmental crisis, it’s David Attenborough. His new book is split into three parts: ‘My Witness Statement’ plots Attenborough’s remarkable life as it unfolds alongside the gradual decline of our natural world.
‘What Lies Ahead’ is an informed analysis of the planet’s future if we continue on our current trajectory, and in the third part, Attenborough sets out his vision for change, using scientific rationale and case studies to underpin his ambitions. A glossary is also included, so you don’t need to be an ecological expert to understand his message.
It’s both a sobering and hopeful look at our current environmental crisis, the key challenges we face, and the solutions that might just save us from extinction. If you’re looking for an easy-to-read overview of where we are in the fight against climate change, this is the one for you.
(Review by Nicole Whitton)
Children’s book of the week
5. The Wizards Of Once: Never And Forever by Cressida Cowell is published in hardback by Hodder Children’s Books, priced £12.99 (ebook £8.99). Available now
This fourth and final novel in the Wizards Of Once series is another energetic page-turner through Cowell’s fantastical Bronze Age world. We rejoin Wish the warrior, and Xar the wizard, plus their entourage of sprites, fairies and bodyguards, as they set out to banish the Witches once and for all.
This is everything you’d expect from the Children’s Laureate: engaging, imperfect characters who have much to learn, a strong narrator that guides readers through the story, and sprinklings of cultural references and stretching words to keep readers of all levels stimulated.
The novel does slow a little towards the end, like Cowell can’t quite bear to close the final chapter. This is an excellent choice for young readers, but it is very much part of a series. Although Cowell does attempt to introduce characters and the overall plot, the pace and in-story references will inevitably leave new readers behind. But with a series this good, starting at the first book is no bad thing.
(Review by Nicole Whitton)
BOOK CHARTS FOR THE WEEK
1. A Song For The Dark Times by Ian Rankin
2. Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith
3. The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
4. Devil And The Dark Water by Stuart Turton
5. V2 by Robert Harris
6. The Evening And The Morning by Ken Follett
7. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
8. Battle Ground by Jim Butcher
9. Home Stretch by Graham Norton
10. Piranesi by Susanna Clarke
(Compiled by Waterstones)
1. Life On Our Planet by David Attenborough
2. What A Flanker by James Haskell
3. Guinness World Records 2021 by Guinness World Records
4. 7 Ways by Jamie Oliver
5. This Is Me by Mrs Hinch
6. Mantel Pieces by Hilary Mantel
7. Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given
8. Life In Pieces by Dawn O’Porter
9. Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass by Lana Del Rey
10. Confess by Rob Halford
(Compiled by Waterstones)
AUDIOBOOKS (FICTION AND NON-FICTION)
1. Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith
2. This Is Me by Mrs Hinch
3. The Institute by Stephen King
4. The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
5. Platform Seven by Louise Doughty
6. Think Like A Monk by Jay Shetty
7. What A Flanker by James Haskell
8. The Retribution by Val McDermid
9. The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
10. A Song For The Dark Times by Ian Rankin
(Compiled by Audible)