The Fox
by Frederick Forsyth
Random House

4/5 stars

When the history of the thriller is written, British author Frederick Forsyth deserves a chapter all to himself. His debut alone, The Day of the Jackal (1971), was enough to cement his reputation as a master of the genre.

The Fox, however, is his last: in a recent interview, Forsyth said he was retiring from the literary game. Instead of his usual calcula­ting anti-heroes who are expert with gun and knife, Forsyth offers a 17-year-old computer genius with Asperger’s who can climb over any firewall. Did I detect a slightly fogeyish complaint about this rising adolescent power: “Jeremy Hendricks, in a world where teen­agers were becoming leading lights, was mature”? Mature or not, he is wanted by almost every government and terrorist organisation, mainly for that old thriller cliché: world domination.

Readers can have fun spot­ting the portraits of figures such as Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, and it is intriguing to notice how much reality seems to be mirroring Forsyth’s art: Russian assassins hunting down targets on British soil? In other respects, Forsyth has not moved with the times. His is a macho world where politically correct sensitivities are flouted, albeit with humour: “Clearly, the Limeys were pretty weird” is a mild example. Time has not withered his skill at pacing or building tension. Top drawer.

Muse of Nightmares
by Laini Taylor
Hodder & Stoughton

4/5 stars

The hardback edition of Laini Taylor’s Muse of Nightmares – the sequel to the immensely enjoy­able Strange the Dreamer (2017) – nearly matches her own pink hair. This feels considerably less strange than Taylor’s Mesarthim, the children of gods and humans whose skin is “blue as sapphires” and whose hearts are multiple. Our Mesarthim heroine is Sarai, the titular muse of night­mares, whose strange fate in Strange the Dreamer climaxed in a finale that I won’t spoil here. Let’s just say that she met and fell for Lazlo, an orphan whose own birthright offered more than he bargained for.

Part two forces both to come to terms with these shocking revelations and the looming presence of Minya, who played a central role in that drama­tic conclusion. Taylor writes with a baroque Tolkienesque vibrancy that might take the uninitiated a while to grasp: “The Godslayer had assured the delegation that the gods were dead.” At more romantic moments, however, the message may still be fantastical, but it is clear enough: “Sarai’s hearts were a pair of butterflies, fluttering in a dance. Lazlo’s palms glided over her hips and still they slid higher, gathering the silk up around her waist to reveal what was secret beneath.” You get the picture. Muse of Nightmares is terrific Young Adult fantasy. Let’s hope there’s more.