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Blog Tour Review - The Only Way Out is Death by Varun Gwalani

 Blog Tour Review - The Only Way Out is Death by Varun Gwalani Twelve powerful people are kidnapped and imprisoned in an empty hotel. Each one of them has three choices: Live out the rest of their days peacefully in the hotel, Die by suicide so the rest of their companions can go free, Or murder one of their companions so they alone can go free. The Only Way Out is Death follows the story of these twelve people from the perspective of a young lawyer, Kiriaki, told as the events unfold. She has to forge messy alliances, navigate complex relationships and feuds, and, above all, try to stay alive. Meanwhile, the mastermind of this death game is lurking just out of view, watching them closely, making sure they are primed for murder. Will Kiriaki find the mastermind before it's too late for her? Will she outmanoeuvre the cutthroats before they cut her throat? There are twelve selfish lives in the hotel. Will it end in twelve selfish deaths? The Only Way Out is Death is a fascinating nov

Blog Tour Review - The First Bright Thing by J R Dawson

 Blog Tour Review - The First Bright Thing by J R Dawson

Welcome to the Circus of the Fantasticals.

Ringmaster – Rin, to those who know her best – can jump to different moments in time as easily as her wife, Odette, soars from bar to bar on the trapeze. With the scars of World War I feeling more distant as the years pass, Rin is focusing on the brighter things in life. Like the circus she’s built and the magical misfits and outcasts – known as Sparks – who’ve made it their home. Every night, Rin and the Fantasticals enchant a Big Top packed full with audiences who need to see the impossible.

But while the present is bright, threats come at Rin from the past and the future. The future holds an impending war that the Sparks can see barrelling toward their Big Top and everyone in it. And Rin's past creeps closer every day, a malevolent shadow Rin can’t fully escape. It takes the form of another Spark circus, with tents as black as midnight and a ringmaster who rules over his troupe with a dangerous power. Rin’s circus has something he wants, and he won't stop until it’s his.

I love a dark and creepy circus story, and The First Bright Thing is definitely all of that, but this book also shines out with hope.

It's based around a familiar trope. Something happened in the world that meant that certain individuals, seemingly at random, each suddenly got a power. They each get one, though many of them can be used in different ways, and each individual gets a different power. Some are physical mutations, like the people with wings, others are physical transformations, with various types of shapeshifters, some are mental powers and some can move people through time and space. In The First Bright Thing these are sparks, and the people with them each decide whether to use their powers for good or evil.

So how does The First Bright Thing approach this differently to all of the superhero stories that have used the same set up?

Well, to start with there is the circus setting. Circuses are places of magic and mystery, and combining that with actual magical powers works incredibly well. So many of the familiar circus elements are here, but each one is enhanced by the magic present, from the menagerie of animals being replaced by a shapeshifter capable of becoming any beast to the size changing clowns. And there are subtle little touches that make it clear that there's so much more to their abilities than just innate magic, but that it still takes skill and practice. There's so much detail in here about the circus, how it works, its traditions and its practices that it really does feel so real. All of the performers are brilliant characters, but the three women running the show really stand out.

The setting works really well too. The sparks come during the first world war, and thanks to the seer powers of Mauve, they know what's coming and that it wasn't actually the war to end all wars. The use of time travel, combined with some other powers, is really well done, as they desperately hunt through time and across the world trying to find a way to prevent the second world war from coming. It gives the novel a lot of its drive and passion.

But there are greater depths too. There's a second circus, a dark circus, led by a horribly villainous Circus King. Although he's not seen for much of the book, his presence looms threateningly over so much of it, giving the whole thing a real sense of danger and peril. His powers are brilliantly presented, they're terrifying, but I love how we also get to see how he personally struggles with them, and how they feed so many of his insecurities and darker emotions. He reminded me a lot of the Purple Man from Jessica Jones, a villain I always found both utterly terrifying and strangely hypnotic. We get a series of flashbacks showing us the relationship between him and Rin, the ringmaster, and it's fascinating watching their relationship unfold when we already know where they end up. 

There's so much darkness and despair threaded through this novel, but what raises it above is the message of hope it brings. The circus picks out people who need inspiring and gives them a night that will hopefully help them find what they're missing and turn their lives around. Some people end up in the circus, a new start and a way out of trouble or away from hate. And through it all is this hope that they can stop the coming devastation. In the circus there is acceptance and love, and that's beautiful.

The First Bright Thing takes a familiar idea and crafts something magical and original from it. A beautiful story.


The First Bright Thing by J R Dawson is out on 22nd June 2023, published by Tor Books.

I was given a review copy in return for an honest review and participation in this Black Crow PR blog tour.

Don't forget to check out the rest of the tour!


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