Friday Firsts: Malice by John Gwynne

Welcome to Friday Firsts – a new weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. New Book: First paragraphs. First impressions. New favourite?

| Friday Firsts: August 04 |


Book One of The Faithful and the Fallen

by John Gwynne

Fantasy | 672 Pages | Published by Tor in 2012

| First Paragraphs |

Forest litter crunched under Evnis’ feet, his breath misting as he whispered a curse. He swallowed, his mouth dry.

He was scared, he had to admit, but who would not be? What he was doing this night would make him traitor to his king. And worse.

He paused and looked back. Beyond the forest’s edge he could still see the stone circle, behind it the walls of Badun, his home, its outline silvered in the moonlight. It would be so easy to turn back, to go home and choose another path for his life. He felt a moment of vertigo, as if standing on the edge of a great chasm, and the world seemed to slow, waiting on the outcome of his decision. I have come this far, I will see it through. He looked up at the forest, a wall of impenetrable shadow; he pulled his cloak tighter and walked into the darkness.

He followed the giantsway for a while, the stone-flagged road that connected the kingdoms of Ardan and Narvon. It was long neglected, the giant clan that built it vanquished over a thousand years ago, great clumps of moss and mushroom growing between crumbling flagstone.

Even in the darkness he felt too vulnerable on this wide road, and soon slithered down its steep bank and slipped amongst the trees. Branches scratched overhead, wind hissing in the canopy above as he sweated his way up and down slope and dell. He knew where he was going, had walked the path many times before, though never at night. Nineteen summers old, yet he knew this part of the Darkwood as well as any woodsman twice his age.

Soon he saw a flicker amongst the trees: firelight. He crept closer, stopping before the light touched him, scared to leave the anonymity of the shadows. Turn around, go home, a voice whispered in his head. You are nothing, will never equal your brother. His mother’s words, cold and sharp as the day she had died. He ground his teeth and stepped into the firelight.

An iron cauldron hung on a spit over a fire, water bubbling. Beside it a figure, cloaked and hooded.

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads

| First Impressions |

First impressions? Well first I have to admit that I started this book a long time ago and for reasons I fail to remember, put it down and haven’t picked it up again until now.

Re-reading the opening however, which is brimming with dark tension and mystery, has drawn me back into The Banished Lands and I’m already hooked. While the slow build-up of the opening chapters is almost certainly what made me put Malice down to begin with, it’s detail and character development on second take is a joy to read. I certainly won’t be putting it down again until it’s finished!                   

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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Friday Firsts: The Immortals by S. E. Lister

Welcome to Friday Firsts – a new weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. New Book: First paragraphs. First impressions. New favourite?

| Friday Firsts: July 14 |

The Immortals

by S. E. Lister

Fantasy | 328 Pages | Published by Old Street Publishing in 2015

| First Paragraphs |

Rosa came home after seven years, in the same year she had left. It was the beginning of the wet spring she knew so well. She found their cottage on the edge of a village, the latest Hyde home in a string of many, tucked out of the way behind a disused cattle barn. There were sandbags stacked against the steps, blackout curtains in every window. Bindweed framed the doorway. Beyond the fields a church spire rose into the dusky sky, lashed by rain, its chimes silenced.

A glossy blackbird shook its wings in a tree above her head, its liquid song filling the evening air. Everything was green, fat raindrops sliding from oak leaves and splashing onto the newly sprouted daffodils on the side of the road. There was a bicycle leaning against a silver birch. The grass at her feet was thick with snails.

She knocked, and after a few moments the door clicked open. A fair-haired girl blinked up at her politely. Rosa stared at her sister, now ten years old and tall for it, and felt the whole breadth of her own absence.

Bella ducked halfway back into the hallway. She peered out from behind her hair, plainly confused as to why this ragged stranger was familiar. Rosa’s words, rehearsed across many miles and decades, caught in her throat. She had nothing to say.

“Who is it?”

Footsteps, and then Bella had been pulled aside, making way for an apron-clad woman with her hair in curlers. She had a tea-towel in one hand and a mug in the other. Her mouth grew small and tight. The mug began to shake, spilling a slick of coffee onto the floor.

“Come in. Hurry! Come in…” Her mother’s hands did not touch her, but beckoned urgently. The door was pulled closed. In the hallway Rosa looked at Harriet Hyde, who had grown thinner, her face lined and her fiery hair dulled with grey. The softness around her edges had been replaced by a strained, brittle look. She bent to dab at the stain on the floor, shooing Rosa away when she tried to help. Bella clung to her apron.

“Did you walk through the village dressed like that?” Harriet asked at last, straightening up. Rosa nodded. “Were you seen by anyone?”

“I don’t think so. It’s dark, mother.”

“Yes, yes, I know. But busybodies at their windows…” Harriet’s eyes were bulging.

“Nobody looks out of their window at this hour.” Rosa lowered the pack from her shoulders. She peeled off her raincoat, and untied the scarf from around her hair.

“You might at least have changed your clothes.”

Rosa felt her jaw clench. “That wouldn’t have been easy.”

The whitewashed hallway was lit by a single bulb, umbrellas stacked beside the door, shoes in a neat line. No pictures on the walls, no peg for visitors’ coats. She had forgotten that they always had this feel, the Hyde homes, this stale, unloved impermanence. The carpets were worn only by other peoples’ footsteps, the pencil-scratches by the door marking the heights of other peoples’ children. Occupants long-gone, each place a borrowed shell.

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads

| First Impressions |

Having heard little about this book or its author prior to opening it up – indeed I hadn’t even read the synopsis! – I dived in head first with no expectations. From the opening sentences this book gripped with its beautiful style and somewhat melancholy air and, with little to go on but the writing itself, I fully expect this to be an enchanting if somewhat haunting tale which I am already eager to continue.

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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Friday Firsts: The Vagrant by Peter Newman

Welcome to Friday Firsts – a new weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. New Book: First paragraphs. First impressions. New favourite?

| Friday Firsts: July 07 |

The Vagrant

Book One of The Vagrant Trilogy

by Peter Newman

Fantasy | 400 Pages | Published by Harper Voyager in 2015

| First Paragraphs |

Starlight gives way to bolder neon. Signs muscle in on all sides, brightly welcoming each arrival to New Horizon.

The Vagrant does not notice; his gaze fixes on the ground ahead.

People litter the streets like living waste, their eyes as hollow as their laughter. Voices beg and hands grasp, needy, aggressive.

The Vagrant does not notice and walks on, clasping his coat tightly at the neck.

Excited shouts draw a crowd ahead. A mixture of half-bloods and pimps, dealers and spectators gather in force. Platforms rise up in the street, unsteady on legs of salvaged metal. Wire cages sit on top. Within, shivering forms squat, waiting to be sold. For some of the assembled, the flesh auction provides new slaves, for others, fresh meat.

Unnoticed in the commotion, the Vagrant travels on.

The centre of New Horizon is dominated by a vast scrap yard dubbed ‘The Iron Mountain’, a legacy from the war. At its heart is the gutted corpse of a fallen sky-ship; its cargo of tanks and fighters has spilled out in the crash, forming a skirt of scattered metal at the mountain’s base.

Always opportunistic, the inhabitants of New Horizon have tunnelled out its insides to create living spaces and shops, selling on the sky-ship’s treasures. Scavenged lamps hang, colouring the shadows.

One tunnel is illuminated by a glowing hoop, off-white and erratic. In the pale light, the low ceiling is the colour of curdled milk.

Awkwardly, the Vagrant enters, bending his legs and bowing his head, his back held straight.

Corrugated shelves line the walls, packed with bottles, tins and tubes. The owner of the rusting cave hunches on the floor, cleaning a syringe with a ragged cloth. He appraises the Vagrant with a bloodshot eye.

‘A new customer?’ The Vagrant nods. Syringe and cloth are swiftly tucked away and yellowing fingers rub together. ‘Ah, welcome, welcome. I am Doctor Zero. I take it you’ve heard of me?’

The Vagrant nods.

‘Of course you have, that’s why you’re here. Well, what can I get you? You look tired. I have the finest selection of uppers this side of the Breach, or perhaps something to escape with?’ His eyes twinkle, sleazy, seductive.

One hand still on his collar, the Vagrant’s amber eyes roam the shelves. They alight on a small jar, its label faded to a uniform grey.

‘Ah, a discerning customer,’ says Doctor Zero, impressed. ‘Rare to have somebody who knows what they’re looking for. Most of the rabble I get through here can’t tell the difference between stardust and sawdust.’ He picks up the jar, flicking something sticky from the lid. ‘I assume whoever sent you appreciates the scarcity of good medicine … and the cost.’

In answer, the Vagrant kneels and places two platinum coins on the ground, sliding them across the floor towards the Doctor.

‘I hope you aren’t trying to trick me,’ the Doctor replies, picking them up and tapping each one in turn with his finger. The coins vibrate and a brief two-note duet fills the cramped space. For a moment neither speak, both moved to other memories by the sound.

Doctor Zero holds them to the light, the clean discs incongruous with his sallow skin. ‘My apologies,’ he says, handing the jar over quickly, hoping no change will be asked for. ‘And if you have any other needs, don’t hesitate to come back.’

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads

| First Impressions |

It’s impossible not to fall in love with Newman’s writing style. Even from the opening paragraphs the flow of his words and the lyrical construction of his sentences drew me deep into its pages and refused to let me go. The mystery and tension is palpable, the world a dark unknown, and the characters ever more so. This is one novel which already has me hooked.

First impressions? Breathtaking. If The Vagrant continues in the vein in which it started I have high expectations of it being an outstanding and incredibly memorable read.

Fingers crossed.

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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Friday Firsts: The Hit by Nadia Dalbuono

Welcome to Friday Firsts – a new weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. New Book: First paragraphs. First impressions. New favourite?

| Friday Firsts: June 30 |

The Hit

Book Three of the Leone Scamarcio Series

by Nadia Dalbuono

Crime | 320 Pages | Published by Scribe UK in 2016

| First Paragraphs |

LILA SAT CRYING ON THE SOFA, her eye make-up running down her cheeks. The camera panned right to reveal Fernando standing in the doorway, half in shadow. The music was building to a slow crescendo.

Micky Proietti sighed and uncrossed his legs. He’d told them ‘no piano’. He’d made it perfectly clear, he’d said it several times and had even set it down in an email, but there was piano everywhere — it was practically wall to wall.

Fernando approached from the doorway and stood behind Lila, placing a shaky hand on her shoulder.

Fernando had a memorable face, but his performance was weak. Right now, he looked like someone had run over his pet canary. Why hadn’t the director done a retake? The problem with the old guard was that they were scared of the talent; they didn’t ride them hard. The young guns didn’t care; they’d do whatever it took, commit their actors to an asylum if necessary. He should have got the Caselli Brothers on this. Why the hell had he listened to Giacometti when he’d insisted on Andrea? Andrea was 65 — he was past it. TV was a young man’s game.

Yet again, Micky Proietti considered the fact that he turned 43 next month. Would he be able to stay in the game until retirement? Would he be squeezed out, forced to take up a new career? Focus, Micky, he told himself. You will be pushed aside if you don’t turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.

Fernando was sitting next to Lila on the sofa now. He was taking her hand gently in his. ‘Darling, I have something to tell you …’

The dreadful piano music resumed, and the screen faded to black…

Micky Proietti cleared his throat, remembering the basic lessons from his management training: start with the positives before moving to the negatives; be constructive; build confidence. Problem was, right now he couldn’t think of any positives. Lila was OK-ish. She just about carried it, but it was hardly a stellar performance. As for Fernando, Micky could write the reviews already: ‘a limp effort’; ‘lacks passion,’ etc, etc.

Proietti cleared his throat again. He could murder a line. Maybe he should pop over to the bathroom before addressing the team. No, he told himself. Just get it over with — duty first, pleasure later.

He shifted in his seat and surveyed the room. The editor was chewing down on a nail, staring at him impassively, quietly defiant. Micky hated that rebellious streak in editors; they always seemed determined to let whoever was higher up the hierarchy know that they wouldn’t be intimidated, couldn’t be pushed around. Actually, if he was honest, he’d always been a bit scared of them. Andrea, the director, was looking down at something on his notepad, doodling nervous circles with his biro, crossing and uncrossing his feet. Did he already realise it was a disaster? Didi, the producer, was subtly shifting her skirt higher up her magnificent legs. Poor Didi wouldn’t be able to screw her way out of this one.

He recalled his management training once more, then thought, Fuck it. He needed to be in Parioli in an hour, and then there was that trip to the bathroom …

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads

| First Impressions |

I’ve been looking forward to a follow up to the Leone Scamarcio series by Nadia Dalbuono for some time – though The Hit turned out to be an accidental one-click Amazon buy. Oops! But no concern there – this was definitely going to end up on my bookshelf sooner rather than later!

And so far, so good! The opening paragraphs draw the reader into the ambition-led, drug-fuelled, tension-filled world of showbusiness – a prime set up for this crime thriller to really kick off. And while the first paragraphs don’t give much away, we start to get a feel for the characters – and possible suspects – in this showbiz enterprise.

If The Hit is anything like The Few or The American then it’s going to be a tension-building, action-packed chase through Rome’s underworld which I cannot wait to get sucked into.

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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Friday Firsts: Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Welcome to Friday Firsts – a new weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. New Book: First paragraphs. First impressions. New favourite?

| Friday Firsts: June 09 |


by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Fantasy | 298 Pages | Published by Tor in 2016

| First Paragraphs |

THE WORDS THAT TWANGED and thrummed their way to Nth said, New food coming, and he stirred, resettling his legs to take the measure of the message: how far, what direction, who originated it. Mother’s Brood was large. Some of her children were more reliable than others.

New food. Different food. That had everyone’s interest. Across the span of the web, that was strung in mistlike sheets from tree to tree across their forest, he felt the others rousing, rising from their torpor. There was always food, even for so many bodies as Mother’s Brood ran to, but variety was welcome.

In the dark wood, the deer ran in their many herds, feeding in the clearings under the shadow of the webs, and being fed upon in turn. Mother saw to it that there were always clearings, where the great trees had been poisoned and weakened. There would always be deer aplenty.

In the trees there were monkeys, and they were clever and often escaped the hunt or the web, but this, too, was Mother’s plan. The monkeys were just clever enough that there would always be enough monkeys. They were aware enough to realize their fate, when they were caught, and that gave their juices an extra savor.

There were no wolves, no stalking cats. It was not that the flesh of these things was unpalatable, but they were wasteful. They consumed too many deer and monkeys for their presence to be tolerated.

New food , though. Nth waited for the words of the web to tell him that this prize wastaken, so that he could beg Mother for a taste.

More speech came from the hunters, a constant commentary as they shadowed the intruders into the dark wood, hurrying above them while their siblings wove traps and barriers to channel them and funnel them.

New food. Man.

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads

| First Impressions |

My third week of Friday Firsts and once again I return with one of my favourite authors! Adrian Tchaikovsky has written a multitude of outstanding fantasy and science fiction novels which always appear to hit the mark – and Spiderlight, I expect, will be no exception.

The novel begins in the heart of the dark brood itself. The thoughts,  hungers and animalistic desires that creep through this cluster of spiders are brought to the fore in Spiderlight’s opening paragraphs, leaving an impression of tension, excitement and a sense that this is going to be one unique novel!

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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Friday Firsts: Legion: Skin Deep by Brandon Sanderson

Welcome to Friday Firsts – a new weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. New Book: First paragraphs. First impressions. New favourite?

| Friday Firsts: June 02 |

Legion: Skin Deep

Book Two of Legion

by Brandon Sanderson

 Sci-Fi | Novella | 208 Pages | Published by Gollancz in 2015

| First Paragraphs |

What’s her angle?’ Ivy asked, walking around the table with her arms folded. Today, she wore her blonde hair in a severe bun, which was stuck through with several dangerous-looking pins.

I tried, unsuccessfully, to ignore her.

‘Gold digger, perhaps?’ Tobias asked. Dark-skinned and stately, he had pulled a chair over to the table so he could sit beside me. He wore his usual relaxed suit with no tie, and fit in well with this room of crystalline lighting and piano music. ‘Many a woman has seen only Stephen’s wealth, and not his acumen.’

‘She’s the daughter of a real estate magnate,’ Ivy said with a dismissive wave. ‘She has wealth coming out of her nose.’ Ivy leaned down beside the table, inspecting my dinner companion. ‘A nose, by the way, which seems to have had as much work done on it as her chest.’

I forced out a smile, trying to keep my attention on my dinner companion. I was used to Ivy and Tobias by now. I relied upon them.

But it can be damn hard to enjoy a date when your hallucinations are along.

‘So …’ said Sylvia, my date. ‘Malcom tells me you’re some kind of detective?’ She gave me a timid smile. Resplendent in diamonds and a tight black dress, Sylvia was an acquaintance of a mutual friend who worried about me far too much. I wondered how much research Sylvia had done on me before agreeing to the blind date.

‘A detective?’ I said. ‘Yes, I suppose you could say that.’

‘I just did!’ Sylvia replied with a chittering laugh.

Ivy rolled her eyes, refusing the seat Tobias pulled over for her.

‘Though honestly,’ I said to Sylvia, ‘the word “detective” probably gives you the wrong idea. I just help people with very specialized problems.’

‘Like Batman!’ Sylvia said.

Tobias spat out his lemonade in a spray before him. It spotted the tablecloth, though Sylvia – of course – couldn’t see it.

‘Not … really like that,’ I said.

‘I was just being silly,’ Sylvia said, taking another drink of her wine. She’d had a lot of that for a meal that she’d only just begun. ‘What kind of problems do you solve? Like, computer problems? Security problems? Logic problems?’

‘Yes. All three of those, and then some.’

‘That … doesn’t sound very specialized to me,’ Sylvia said.

She had a point.

‘It’s difficult to explain. I’m a specialist, just in lots of areas.’

‘Like what?’

‘Anything. Depends on the problem.’

‘She’s hiding things,’ Ivy said, arms still folded. ‘I’m telling you, Steve. She’s got an angle.’

‘Everyone does,’ I replied.

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads

| First Impressions |

Brandon Sanderson is definitely an author who can do no wrong –  and has done no wrong – in my eyes, so I was excited to continue my exploration of his work with the next in his Legion novellas.

First impressions? Sanderson makes an art of reintroducing characters and themes throughout his sequels in a delicate and unobtrusive way and from the opening chapter I was once again submerged in the many aspects of Stephen Leeds. Sanderson’s writing has once again hooked me into a fast-paced and exciting novella which I cannot wait to get back to!

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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Friday Firsts: The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan

Welcome to Friday Firsts – a new weekly meme created by Tenacious Reader. New Book: First paragraphs. First impressions. New favourite?

| Friday Firsts: May 26 |

The Waking Fire

Book One of The Draconis Memoria

by Anthony Ryan

Fantasy | 594 Pages | Published by Orbit in 2016

| First Paragraphs |


Report by: Lodima Bondersil – Acting Director, Carvenport Division, Arradsian Continental Holdings

Date: Settemer 29, 1578 (Day 166 of Company Year 135 by the Corporate Calendar)

Subject: Events surrounding the demise of Mr. Havelic Dunmorn, Director Carvenport Division, Arradsian Continental Holdings

Esteemed Sirs and Ladies,

By the time this report reaches your hands you will, no doubt, have received word via the Blue-trance of the demise of my immediate superior, Mr. Havelic Dunmorn, and an initial estimate of the associated deaths and considerable material destruction accompanying that tragic event. I have compiled this written account in the hope and expectation it will obviate any asinine and ill-informed rumours spread by competitors or Syndicate employees (see addendum for a list of recommended dismissals and contract terminations). It is my intention to provide a clear and unbiased account of events so as to better inform the deliberations of the Board and any subsequent directives they may see fit to issue.

The incident in question took place in and around the Harvesting and Dockside quarters of Carvenport on Settemer 26. The Board will recall Mr. Dunmorn’s Blue-trance communication on 12 Dimester which described the successful capture of a wild Black by the Chainmasters Independent Contractor Company, following a lengthy expedition to the south-western regions of the Arradsian Interior. I also refer the Board to the previous ten quarterly written reports from this Division concerning the increasing attrition rate amongst pen-bred stock, with Blacks proving the most short-lived of all breeds. I am sure the Board requires no reminder of the ever-decreasing potency of product harvested from inbred and youthful stock. Therefore, the capture of a live and healthy wild Black (the first such capture in more than a dozen years) was greeted with considerable excitement throughout the ranks of Syndicate employees, in that it offered the prospect of thickened blood lines and quality product for years to come. Unfortunately such expectations were soon revealed as premature.

Amazon | The Book Depository | Goodreads

| First Impressions |

I cannot even describe how much I already love this book… but first… first impressions! Opening with a report from Lodima Bondersil, The Waking Fire creates tension and excitement from the very start, throwing the reader into the chaos of an historic event before confronting them with the repercussions further down the line.

The prologue reveals an interesting and gripping opener, raising question after question following the apparent disaster revealed almost immediately. The writing style is formal, owing to the nature of the report, yet fluid enough to engage with the reader from the start; and the introduction of key events and figures gives the reader a number of clues that will ostensibly tie in with the rest of the novel. So far, so awesome! I just wish I had more time to read it!

What are you currently reading? What were your first impressions?

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