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The Modern World review

More bugs. More gore. More praise

Author: Steph Swainston

Publisher: Gollancz

352 pages • £12.99

ISBN: 978-0-575-07007-3


Your world is at war. Giant, ugly and very hungry insects swarm ever nearer and your armies barely manage to keep them at bay. What to do? Short of boiling a bloody big kettle and scalding the pests, the next best thing has to be drowning them. And so the world’s mightiest dam has been built, the floodgates will soon open and the insects are doomed… or so it seems.

This is the third of Steph Swainston’s wonderful Castle novels, so you can bet the insects have a trick or two up their sleeves (or, in this case, wings). And because it’s Swainston, you can also bet that amidst the gore, grime and blood – and boy, is there a lot of that – there’s also a cheeky vein of humour. “Because he has no imagination, he is a popular novelist,” says the lead character, Jant, of one of his immortal brothers. We learn that mice with three legs are known as “trice” and the cats that hunt them are “trousers”. Lewis Carroll, eat your heart out.

It’s to Swainston’s credit that she manages to balance the dark (any battle with the insects is horrifying) with the light (a race of little dogs who stare at young women!). The cast of this universe somehow manage to be just like you and me; no mean feat when half of them either have wings, are destined to live forever or could teach the Hulk a thing or two when it comes to fighting.

The Modern World is another welcome glimpse into a fantasy world so aggressive it could knock seven shades of Hell out of most entries in the genre. We can’t recommend it highly enough.

Jayne Nelson

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