Review: Skinshaper by Mark Gelineau and Joe King



Skinshaper

An Echo of the Ascended – Ferran Book Two

by Mark Gelineau and Joe King

Fantasy | Novella | 102 Pages | Published by Gelineau and King in 2016


| Rating |


This book was received from Netgalley in return for an honest review

Rend the Dark was an impressive venture into the darker and more disturbing aspects of Aedaron, a multi-faceted world which has been compiled through varying genre perspectives in the Echoes of the Ascended series. With its sequel, Skinshaper, we are once again transported into the darkest reaches of this world where a veritable army of abominations lie in wait to repulse, disturb and delight fans of this darkly epic – and short – work.

Mark Gelineau and Joe King have, once again, hit the mark with this brutally fantastic tale which doesn’t shy away from taking its protagonists to hell and back, resulting in what has become my favourite Echo to date. Epic in its telling, horrifying in its creations, and bloody brilliant in its execution, Skinshaper sets the bar in this latest thrill ride from these masters of the fantasy novella.Barricades broken.

A mining town empty.

One survivor swings in a cage, waiting to die.

Ferran’s tattoos burn as horrors near. They should run. They should seek help. But to save a few, they must journey deeper into the heart of the nightmare to face an ancient foe.

Following the death of his friend Hillion, and the terrifying events of Rend the Dark, Riffolk finds himself travelling in the company Ferran and Mireia, two Acolytes of Talen. As they wander from town to town, Riffolk’s eyes become opened to the dark and nightmarish creatures which pervade Aedaron. The Ruins, twisted abominations who seek the destruction of all that is good and pure, have once again taken hold in the land.

When Mireia’s powers draw them to a seemingly abandoned mining town, an encounter with a single survivor leads their small company down a dark path into the heart of the mine. But the vile horrors which await them in the shadows are going to be anything but easy to vanquish, not for a man wracked by his own cowardice and guilt, not even for those with the strength of Talen on their side.

From the world at large to the confines of the mine, Gelineau and King have carved out a cold and brutal world where humanity is neither the province of monsters nor of men. Where Elenor’s storyline depicts the wheels of justice in motion, Alys’ the divisions of class, and Roan and Kay’s the legacy of honour; Ferran’s storyline highlights all that is dark and terrible in Aedaron. Through horrifying descriptions and brutal action, Skinshaper is a short, sharp shock to the senses.

In a narrative which highlights the brutality and inhumanity of the Ruins, their wilfully destructive and grotesque natures are used to convey their absolute evil. This world of horrors, where the creation of abominations maximises both physical and emotional pain, once again reveals the darkest side of Aedaron and the inherent danger all our protagonists face. The Order of Talen, though a beacon of strength in these dark places, as yet seems small and incomparable to the sheer strength and determination of the Ruins, lending this novella a distinctly unpredictable feel.

The continuation of Ferran’s storyline however, if anything, brings us closer to Riffolk. He is our laymen and anchor point to this sub-series of novellas, asking the questions which allow us to comprehend the world and allow Ferran and Mireia, along with the Order of Talen, to retain an element of mystery. However, Ferran remains almost a closed book throughout Skinshaper, his enigmatic nature maintaining a level of intrigue which speaks of future revelations, whilst Mireia’s character is elaborated upon for an explosive conclusion which leaves the reader in great suspense.

Skinshaper is a small, self-contained adventure which has been brought to life by its detailed but terrifying world, interesting and complex characters, and a thoroughly gripping storyline. This novella, like its predecessors, succeeds in deceiving the reader by its length and, as always, is delivered with beautiful but concise prose. With eight Echoes under their belt, Gelineau and King have proven that their fast-paced and compulsive format is anything but tired, and have delivered an impressive round of sequels which have hit the mark every time. 

With this fast-paced read, one which grips the imagination and disturbs with its terrifying creations, Gelineau and King have captured the spirit of its predecessor whilst elaborating upon it in spectacular fashion. Skinshaper is a powerful, if somewhat horrifying, addition to the Echoes of the Ascended series which I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. 

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Review: The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu



The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories

by Ken Liu

Speculative Fiction | Anthology | 450 Pages | Published by Saga Press in 2016


| Rating |


This book was received from Netgalley in return for an honest review

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is an anthology of short fiction which stormed to the top of my reading pile following the success of The Grace of Kings last year. Throughout this anthology, Ken Liu, who has received much acclaim for both his feature length work and his short stories, explores a series of isolated narratives which strike a fine balance between truth, history, fantasy and science fiction.

An author who doesn’t shy away from the dark; within his narratives Liu weaves together the horrors which come with both truth and history and delivers it with a flair for the fantastic. Through addiction, memory and the choices we make, he constructs tales of the collective conscience where cultural memory, technological evolution and the growth of the species are the constant throughout. These are tales which resound with morality, with the choices we make as human beings, and with the weight of our own global past; attributes which make The Paper Menagerie an altogether beautiful, eloquent and often harrowing collection.Ken Liu has published almost 100 short stories and won nearly every genre award in existence. Here, he has selected his 15 favourite stories, including The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary (Finalist for Hugo, Nebula, and Sturgeon Awards), Mono No Aware (Hugo Award winner), The Bookmaking Habits of Select Species (Nebula and Sturgeon award finalists), and the most awarded story in Science Fiction and Fantasy history, The Paper Menagerie – the only story ever to win the Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.

The Book Making Habits of Select Species is a beautiful, transcendent tale of the written, carved, created and experienced word. In a universe where a myriad of cultures and alien species have innumerable methods for documenting knowledge and memory, the one constant is the desire to record, whether the method is obvious or not. This succinct tale is a lyrical exploration of books and the passage of information, a tale which provides an intriguing opening in which to introduce Ken Liu and his beautiful and captivating writing style.

State Change is a story of a young woman whose soul takes the form of a physical object – an ice cube. In a narrative which shows the pains she takes to protect and nurture her soul, this tale becomes a metaphor for those parts of ourselves we cling to and which become the defining force in our lives, even when beyond all sense and reason. Both poignant and humorous, this is a story about personal growth and the things we must sacrifice in ourselves to truly live.

The Perfect Match is a disturbing prospect of the future. In a world where huge technical corporations take control of every aspect of our lives, privacy and individual thought and reason become almost none existent. Both catering to our every need and taking away all our freedom of thought and action, these companies come to rule the lives of anyone linked to their technology but, perhaps most disturbing of all, it is a world that we have  already dipped a toe into.

Good Hunting is a story about cultural growth and change. In a tale where the face of China is changed forever, the inherent folklore and traditional magic which once permeated society is pushed aside by the coming of the British and the age of steam. No longer do the creatures of myth and legend stalk the nights, no longer are demon hunters required to protect their villages; but this is the age of steel and steam, where the possibilities produced by progress may just echo the magic of the past. Through the device of a fantastic alternative history, Liu’s narrative illustrates how tradition must adapt if it is to survive the future.

The Literomancer is a beautiful but harrowing tale of a young American girl living in China. When just one seemingly innocent word can have such unfortunate consequences, The Literomancer illustrates how fate can both bring two people together and tear them apart. This is a narrative about words and stories, about the futures we can discover through their telling, and the futures which may be lost because of them, demonstrating a darker and more haunting side to Liu’s writing.

Simulacrum is a tale about the invention of a technology which allows an exact record of a person to be projected and interacted with in three dimensions, and the consequences such a technology might have on society. In a narrative which switches between the inventor and his estranged daughter, this is a story about how a girl railing against the simulacrum is in fact acting as one herself by capturing a single moment of memory and replaying it over and over until the real person no longer remains.

The Regular is one of the highlights of this collection and showcases the diversity in Liu’s writing. A dead prostitute, body mutilation and an unknown killer on the loose; The Regular is a dark sci-fi thriller following the story of Ruth Law, private investigator, as she tracks down a murderer who is targeting the city’s working girls. Tense and exciting, this is a longer piece which touches on sorrow as Law’s cybernetic improvements become a necessity to take away the pain of her past.

The Paper Menagerie is  heart-breaking tale of a young boy of half American and half Chinese heritage who struggles to accept his shared culture. In a tale woven with enchantment and magic – a magic that comes with innocence and one which is almost lost in the desire to be something and someone else – Liu explores the themes of cultural identity, acceptance and the consequences of not realising what we have until it’s gone.

An Advanced Readers Picture Book of Comparative Cognition is a lyrical exploration of time and space which showcases the breadth and beauty of Liu’s writing through the vastness of the universe and the human desire to discover. In the same vein as The Book Making Habits of Select Species this is a tale which, through a number of fascinating literary sketches, explores a myriad of alien species in something akin to a field guide for the universe.

The Waves is a story about humanity and their existence, growth and evolution as they sail through time aboard The Sea Foam. As technology advances and immortality is within our grasp, this is a tale which asks how difficult it would be to let go of our pasts and become something new.  In a narrative which explores stories of creation, The Waves illustrates how the choices we make can lead to our adaptation and evolution, and how such growth may spark our transcendence from humanity to creators.

Mono No Aware is an incredibly beautiful but sad tale about the last days of humanity and the chance of survival given by the Hopeful. In a narrative which showcases the strength and beauty of a people who accept their fate and will do all they can for the survival of the whole, Mono No Aware tells the story of the survivors of an asteroid impact through the voice of the last Japanese man in the universe. This man, who has seen the loss of both his family and his entire people, finds that it is his decisions which will ensure either the destruction or survival of humanity.

All The Flavors is a long and sprawling tale of the Chinamen of Idaho. In a narrative which weaves together history, folklore and mythology, All the Flavors is both a story of cultural identity and acceptance, and the strength and adaptation of tradition. Despite the fascinating tales of China and its history told by Lo Guan, this tale was perhaps my least favourite in the collection and failed to capture my imagination as readily as the other stories.

A  Brief History of the Trans-Pacific Tunnel is a short alternative history which tells the tale of a great tunnel built between the Americas and Asia and its impact on the history of the twentieth century. This story demonstrates that no matter how much we change history, there will always be people who make the wrong choices and who will discriminate and subjugate others to their own ends. History may have changed but the players remain the same, ensuring the survival of the same prejudices and the same oppression which comes so readily to mankind.

The Litigation Master and the Monkey King is a tale about a cunning litigation master who makes his living aiding peasants in their troubles with the law; a litigation master who can both speak to and see the Monkey King. In a dark and distressing tale which resounds with history, truth and bravery, The Litigation Master and the Monkey King weaves together the story of the Yangzhou Massacre and how one man may change the course of the future by the revelations of the past.

The Man Who Ended History: A Documentary closes this anthology with a science fiction narrative which bears witness to a horrific truth. A terrible and traumatic tale, this is a story which details the horrors of Unit 731 at Pingfang and the atrocities committed by the Japanese against its Chinese prisoners during the Second World War. Denied, covered up and used by those who claim to fight for justice to further their own ends, this narrative reads like a future documentary where individuals are taken back in time to witness the shocking brutality, and raises the question of who, if any of us, has a claim on history.The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories is a wonderfully inventive, beautifully composed and impressive collection of stories which weaves together history, fantasy and science fiction with a thoughtful and moral undertone. Ken Liu has an effortlessly engaging and lyrical style which is almost poetic in its transmission, and constructs tales which explore both the vastness of the universe and the breadth of our own history. Evocative and intelligent, this is an anthology which I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending.

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Review: Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner



Dragon Hunters

Book Two of The Chronicles of the Exile

by Marc Turner

Fantasy | 496 Pages | Published by Titan Books in 2016


| Rating |


This book was received from the author in return for an honest review

Having not read the first novel in the Chronicles of the Exile, When the Heavens Fall, I was a little reticent about embarking on a literary adventure which began with its sequel, Dragon Hunters. But with two phenomenal covers and an incredibly intriguing premise, it wasn’t long before I fell under its spell and into a world of power struggles, rising tides and deadly dragons.

In a narrative which can essentially be read as a standalone novel, Dragon Hunters conjures up a vibrant and magical world where deadly assassins stalk the streets and terrifying dragons rule on the high seas. With a sprawling cast of sea farers, mages and the strong arm of the law, Marc Turner has created an absorbing, creative and entirely unique world on which to enact this intricate drama  – a drama which had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish.

The sequel to When the Heavens Fall features gritty characters, deadly magic, and meddlesome gods.

Once a year on Dragon Day the fabled Dragon Gate is raised to let a sea dragon pass from the Southern Wastes into the Sabian Sea. There, it will be hunted by the Storm Lords, a fellowship of powerful water-mages who rule an empire called the Storm Isles. Alas, this year someone forgot to tell the dragon which is the hunter and which the hunted.

Emira Imerle Polivar is coming to the end of her tenure as leader of the Storm Lords. She has no intention of standing down graciously. She instructs an order of priests called the Chameleons to infiltrate a citadel housing the mechanism that controls the Dragon Gate to prevent the gate from being lowered after it has been raised on Dragon Day. Imerle hopes the dozens of dragons thus unleashed on the Sabian Sea will eliminate her rivals while she launches an attack on the Storm Lord capital, Olaire, to secure her grip on power.

But Imerle is not the only one intent on destroying the Storm Lord dynasty. As the Storm Lords assemble in Olaire in answer to a mysterious summons, they become the targets of assassins working for an unknown enemy. When Imerle initiates her coup, that enemy makes use of the chaos created to show its hand.

As mysterious earthquakes threaten to send Olaire under the sea, the Storm Lord capital marches on in earnest with its Dragon Day traditions. Once a year when the Dragon Gate is raised, one of the great sea serpents is allowed to pass into the Sabian Sea as the great and (not often) good of the lands gather to participate in the momentous hunt.

But this year marks the end of Emira Imerle Polivar’s tenure as leader of the Storm Lords, a tenure she is not willing to leave quietly. As dangerous Chameleon Priests vie to wreak havoc on the Dragon Day celebrations, and merchant seafarers, mysterious prisoners and powerful mages are caught up in the machinations of the Storm Lords, this is one day which is sure to change the course of history forever.

The world depicted in Dragon Hunters is one ruled by the sea. With islands, harbours, and the cities themselves falling to the steady rise of tides, Marc Turner has created a stunning seafaring world where not even the twisted alleys and decaying architecture of Olaire, the Storm Lord capital, are safe from the ever encroaching seas. In a narrative which revels in sumptuous description and phenomenal action, the intricacies of this world are strung out on a tightly woven plot which only benefits from this supremely well-imagined landscape.

As the flooded districts of Olaire become home to less salubrious characters, the narrative winds through this evocative urban landscape giving chase to assassins, uncovering treacherous plots and doing bloody battle against enemies unknown. But whilst the cityscape is undoubtedly impressive, it is the sheer power and brute force of the titular dragons of this tale who provide some of the most stunning moments. Captured in action-packed prose and descriptive detail, these monsters of the deep are tireless and destructive predators, great sea serpents who provide a deadly and unpredictable enemy in this antagonistic tale.

Dragon Hunters is undoubtedly a tale where enemies abound, playing host to an extensive cast of characters whose personalities vie for attention as the complex narrative unfolds. With perspectives from Chameleon Priests, battle-hardened warriors and the all-powerful Storm Lords, these characters create a detailed picture of a world which is always on the brink of action. From the enigmatic Mazana Creed to the scheming Imerle Polivar, from the long-suffering Septia Kempis Parr to the dangerous but naïve Karmel Flood, Dragon Hunters details an impressive assortment of personalities who drive the story along at a relentless pace.

Dragon Hunters is a complex and intricate tale which forms a world which is breathtakingly real. Turner’s command of the narrative and well thought out plot distinguishes the many characters caught in its web and allows the myriad threads of the tale to break apart and come together in frequent and spectacular style. In a torrent of evocative language, generous description and unimpeded action, Marc Turner doesn’t drop the thread once, creating a spellbinding and fully fleshed out world which layers intrigue upon intrigue and leaves me in great anticipation for the next instalment.

If you’re looking for a unique and captivating world, and are undaunted by a sprawling cast of characters and a complex narrative, then Dragon Hunters is certain to impress. Marc Turner has succeeded in blowing me away with this sumptuous and intricate world and his incredibly compelling writing style. This might be the second book in the Chronicles of the Exile, but I’m certain that it won’t be long before I’ve read and devoured When the Heavens Fall in eager expectation of the third in the series.

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Review: Envy of Angels by Matt Wallace



Envy of Angels

Book One of Sin du Jour

by Matt Wallace

Fantasy | Novella | 225 Pages | Published by Tor in 2015


| Rating |


In this madcap introduction to Sin du Jour – the most exclusive and eccentric caterers in town – Matt Wallace throws the reader head-first down a wilfully chaotic, potentially disturbing and really rather entertaining path. Envy of Angels is a wonderfully formed novella which impresses with its quirky storyline and its buffet of colourful characters who delight and disgust in equal measure. With a distinctive culinary twist to its urban fantasy label, the narrative is a non-stop riot from beginning to end and takes a refreshing look at a genre which often falls back on the same familiar tropes.In New York, eating out can be hell.

Everyone loves a well-catered event, and the supernatural community is no different, but where do demons go to satisfy their culinary cravings?

Welcome to Sin du Jour – where devils on horseback are the clients, not the dish.

When Lena and Darren are offered a job by one of the most prestigious chefs in town, they jump at the chance to work for his exclusive catering company, Sin du Jour. The trifling fact that said gastronome was supposed to have died several years ago does little to dissuade them from accepting such a unique opportunity – after all, what could possibly go wrong?

But there are only so many canapés two cooks can make before the strange and exotic ingredients liberally stuffed, rolled and baked into their dishes raise more questions than are answered. With a clientèle of dangerous demons and horrifying hellspawn renowned for their voracious appetites, just what on god’s green earth are Sin du Jour cooking? 

With unimpeded curiosity come disturbing revelations – and none more so than in Envy of Angels. Wallace’s culinary take  on the world of urban fantasy opens up a whole new avenue of delectable delights and disgusting creations for the reader to feast on. In a narrative where the clientèle and the main course compete for strangeness, Wallace concentrates only on the details required to drive the narrative forwards and to nail every disturbing picture and ridiculous situation home. With descriptions of entrées, appetisers, and various vile dishes taking the fore, Envy of Angels is a mêlée of madness, monsters and tasty morsels (apparently) which paints a vivid picture of a really rather disturbing world.

The cast of Envy of Angels are an insane assortment of the strange who burst into the narrative wielding knives, forks and copious amounts of zeal. From the rough and ready collection squad and the super chill bus-boys, to the ‘resigned-to-their-fate’ kitchen crew and the head chef himself, this is a novella which delights in throwing every one of its characters into the culinary equivalent of a warzone. And though these characters often slip into the style of caricatures, these quick snap-shot introductions go a long way to providing a clear picture of a world populated with an enormous cast of characters in a compact and driven narrative.

And into this world are thrust our two protagonists, Lena and Darren, whose lives are irrevocably changed when they come under the attention of the renowned gourmet, Bronko. Lena is a tough, self-assured ex-soldier who succeeds effortlessly but will always make certain that Darren is by her side. Darren meanwhile is a character who has hidden strengths, whose bravery may be smothered beneath an outer shell of cowardice but is nevertheless there. This duo are the anchor points in this strange new world, going hand-in-hand with the reader on a path of culinary enlightenment and around whom much of the action and chaos orbit.

The first novella in the Sin du Jour series provides a distinctive and refreshing outlook from an author who takes great pains to unceremoniously thrust the reader into unimpeded chaos. Constructed in succinct and direct prose, this self contained adventure succeeds in keeping the reader on the brink of the action in a world which is surprisingly familiar but retains an utterly unique (and slightly crazy) quality throughout. Wallace’s engaging style, undeniable wit and quirky narrative make this this strange foray into hell’s kitchen an effortlessly fun and disturbing joy to read.

If you’re craving a dash of the strange then Envy of Angels is the perfect dish – compact and amusing, this is a novella which takes the reader on an entertaining journey through Wallace’s wonderfully surreal mind. A short and wickedly sweet read, this is a story which all urban fantasy fans should try sinking their teeth into; but if you find yourself dining with a battalion of hellspawn, try not to think what it is you’re eating – the truth may be a little more than any human can stomach.

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Review: Stranger of Tempest by Tom Lloyd



Stranger of Tempest

Book One of The God Fragments

by Tom Lloyd

Fantasy | 320 Pages | To be published by Gollancz on 16th June 2016


| Rating |


This book was received from Netgalley in return for an honest review

With a premise which promised action and grit by the spadeful, and a dramatic cover boasting an awesome Diablo-Balrog mash-up, it didn’t take me long to crack open Stranger of Tempest once I got my hands on it. Having already impressed with the first in his Twilight Reign series, a book which spent a leisurely nine years on my bookshelf before its eventual dusting off, Tom Lloyd has surpassed himself with this action-packed and enthralling tale of mercenary misadventure.

Stranger of Tempest is an intense thrill-ride across disreputable cities, sprawling plains, and the deepest dark; where conflicts of power, marauding bands and the deadly unknown reign supreme. With a cast of colourful characters, and a blisteringly bloody pace throughout, this novel is a thrilling and high-octane opener to what promises to be a spectacular new series.

Being an honest man in a lawless world is never easy…

Lynx is a mercenary with a sense of honour; a dying breed in the Riven Kingdom. Failed by the nation he served and weary of the skirmishes that plague the continent’s principalities, he walks the land in search of purpose. Bodyguard work keeps his belly full and his mage-gun loaded. It might never bring a man fame or wealth, but he’s not forced to rely on others or to kill without cause.

Little could compel Lynx to join a mercenary company, but he won’t turn his back on a kidnapped girl. At least the job seems simple enough; the mercenaries less stupid and vicious than most he’s met over the years.

So long as there are no surprises or hidden agendas along the way, it should work out fine.

An ex-soldier of So Han on the run from his past, Lynx is a mercenary who travels the Riven Kingdom taking contracts and drinking heavily – whilst accepting general contempt for the legacy of his people, of course. When his path crosses that of Anatin’s Mercenary Deck, a band of seemingly honourable mercenaries widely known as The Cards, he throws in his lot and embarks on a quest to free a kidnapped girl from the clutches of an unknown rogue.

But the intentions of mercenaries are seldom clear cut. When everything that could go wrong blows up in spectacular fashion, Lynx and his new found band of brothers – along with a stray and said damsel in distress – attempt to flee across the Riven Kingdom whilst hunted by the Knights-Charnel. But when this pursuit pushes them into the deepest dark, a band of militant zealots hot on their heels is likely to be the least of their problems.

In an explosion of burners, icers and sparkers, Stranger of Tempest is marked by its gorgeous descriptions, its witty dialogue and a driven storyline which beats a bloody path through the ensuing chaos. This is a land where cultures have been thrown together through war and conquest; a land where people do what they can to carve out an existence under the shadow of the militant orders. From underground ruins from long gone civilisations, to the vibrant and debauched cities of the Riven Kingdom, Tom Lloyd has created a wonderfully diverse world which is fleshed out with the solid weight of history and conflict.

The mysterious and much sought-after God Fragments, the rare powers of the mages, and the creatures of the deepest dark come together to make the first in The God Fragments series an incredibly inventive, infinitely mysterious and highly addictive concoction of fantasy delights. With a unique and well thought out magic system, Stranger of Tempest unleashes a whirlwind of innate elemental powers across the storyline which give rise to dangerous elemental monsters and fuel the weaponry whose inventiveness becomes the driving force behind much of the action in the novel.

And if the thought of beautiful – if bloody – descriptions, inventive weaponry and a unique magic system weren’t enough to whet your appetite then the Mercenary Deck might just push you over the edge. With a varied assortment of gamblers, drinkers and debauchers, The Cards live for the fight but maintain a vague sense of collective morality throughout. From the gigantic and terrifying Reft, to the infinitely likeable Himble and their calculating leader Anatin, Stranger of Tempest is driven forwards by its cast of colourful characters, where everyone has a past and nothing is ever as it seems.

However, whilst The Cards and their associates may present an entertaining front, it is Lynx – our aforementioned protagonist – who steals the show throughout this novel. Past his prime but incredibly dangerous, he is a man whose anger and rage boils beneath the surface but are dampened by his sense of honour and his determination to do the right thing even if it costs him. A man with a complex past, one which slowly unravels over the course of the novel, Lynx is a memorable character who remains captivating throughout and retains enough mystery and intrigue to carry over to the next novel.

Told in alternating chapters from the recent past to the present, this novel builds a detailed picture of the world and its characters before crashing together in spectacular style in a richly imagined centre. And whilst at times the switch between character’s thoughts and the main body of the narrative may have been a little confusing, the narrative style is incredibly engaging and the quality of the writing is apparent throughout. From the incredible opening chapter to its tense conclusion, Stranger of Tempest is truly a non-stop thrill-ride from beginning to end.

With flawed characters, a fascinating world, and a veritable cornucopia of antagonists throughout, Stranger of Tempest is a powerful and impressive series opener. Tom Lloyd has crafted a captivating and well imagined world which promises great things to come in what is set to be a storming new series. Fantasy fans who have yet to discover Tom Lloyd: Now is the time!

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Review: Occupy Me by Tricia Sullivan



Occupy Me

by Tricia Sullivan

Science Fiction | Fantasy | 266 Pages | Published by Gollancz in 2016


| Rating |


This book was received from Netgalley in return for an honest review

As soon as I finished Occupy Me, the latest novel from sci-fi author Tricia Sullivan, I knew that I would have a hard time writing a review for it. At its best, Occupy Me is a beautiful, twisted and chaotic novel which sings with wonderful prose and an obvious depth of skill and imagination. At its worse, however, it is confusing, utterly strange and left me at times thinking ‘what was the point?’

Written in a distinctive voice, with a healthy dose of imagination, Sullivan’s talents as a writer are undeniable. However, this is a book which I can only imagine will be loved or loathed in equal measure by those who embark on unravelling those mysteries which are held between its pages. I’m afraid that after a promising start, by it’s conclusion, my feelings fell more in line with the latter.

A woman with wings that exist in another dimension. A man trapped in his own body by a killer. A briefcase that is a door to hell. A conspiracy that reaches beyond our world. Breathtaking SF from a Clarke Award-winning author.

Tricia Sullivan has written an extraordinary, genre defining novel that begins with the mystery of a woman who barely knows herself and ends with a discovery that transcends space and time. On the way we follow our heroine as she attempts to track down a killer in the body of another man, and the man who has been taken over, his will trapped inside the mind of the being that has taken him over.

And at the centre of it all a briefcase that contains countless possible realities.

Tricia Sullivan returns to the genre with a book that will define the conversation within the genre and will show what it is capable of for years to come. This is the best book yet from a writer of exceedingly rare talent who is much loved in the genre world.

Sullivan paints a strange picture of a world where angels nudge humanity in a favourable direction and which is coloured by both the innocence and the disenchantment of the protagonists. These protagonists – one angel: Pearl; and one doctor: Kisi Sorle – spin the narrative into something akin to a chase across the globe, where aims are not always clear and the hunter and the hunted are often interchangeable. This is a novel where, should it be undertaken, the utmost attention should be paid to the very least of strings lest the reader get mired in the cacophony of madcap themes and schemes which undoubtedly unfold the moment one’s attention drops.

Occupy Me, however, benefits from an assortment of strange, repulsive and somewhat amusing characters who, whilst providing a diverse cast, failed to make me truly care for any by its conclusion. Unfortunately, with little connection to the majority of the cast, it became increasingly difficult to care about their place in the narrative even when I understood what was going on at all. But whilst these may not have been characters I ‘liked’, they were all rather interesting, if not entirely bizarre, and often became the driving force behind the plot, heaping moments of excitement and utter confusion on the reader in equal measure.

And not least Pearl. An angel whose memories of her past are lost and whose present and future are uncertain, Pearl is an oddity in this world and beyond. Her interactions are strange and amusing, her view of the world is both innocent and all too knowing, and her life is entwined with mystery and a sense of the unknown. Her attachment to ‘the briefcase’ and her failed attempts at its retrieval are, when not entirely confusing, some of the most nonsensical, absurd and enjoyable moments in the novel, and her almost alien composition keep the level of intrigue and mystery at a peak throughout.

Dr. Kisi Sorle on the other hand is a good man who, in a strange case of possession and an unusual attachment to a certain briefcase, finds himself complicit in murder, crime and other nefarious acts. In his – or rather the other his’ – attempt at causing instrumental global change, the world as we know it is broken apart in a torrent of chaos, flashes of bright light and the apparition of prehistoric monsters at inconvenient moments.  The strange which surrounds Dr. Sorle is entirely more my cup of tea and his chapters, whilst equal in absurdity, were entirely more comprehensible and provided welcome intervals throughout the novel.

However, it would be an unfair review to say there were no parts of this novel which I enjoyed from start to finish, including an interesting play in perspective writing which made for one of the highlights of the novel. These sections, written in second person perspective (an idea which would usually give me nightmares), were some of the most enjoyable chapters and their increase in frequency would have been of benefit throughout. Similarly, Sullivan’s prose is relatively distinctive and is one of the few novels I’ve felt compelled to read in an American voice. Her passages are often marked by interesting, amusing description and surprising observations, and Sullivan’s obvious love for the strange is something which I would be eager to read in her future work.

Despite these aspects of the narrative which I enjoyed all the way through, a lack of clarity and a firm sense of confusion seemed to grip me by its end. The strange questions raised throughout the novel failed to yield the answers I was so desperate to find out; the science came with little explanation and even less sense; and the characters shifted from being interesting if a little strange to being almost unbearably confusing. This novel, which began with an intriguing and incredibly readable opening chapter, started to weigh heavily over its course and became something of a chore to read by its conclusion. Occupy me is, altogether, a book which has left me in more than one state of confusion.

Whilst Occupy Me may not have been the read I had hoped it would be, and whilst it may not have been the best introduction to Tricia Sullivan,  there were still positives and enjoyable moments to pull from its pages. I may have felt a little too much relief as I drew to its conclusion but, you never know, it may just take you by surprise. Be open to the strange and the strange may just open up to you… just take care that the strange in question isn’t a briefcase.

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Review: Broken Banners by Mark Gelineau and Joe King


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Broken Banners

An Echo of the Ascended – Elinor Book Two

by Mark Gelineau and Joe King

Fantasy | Novella | 70 Pages | Published by Gelineau and King in 2016


| Rating |


This book was received from Netgalley in return for an honest review

Mark Gelineau and Joe King continue on their quest to bring bitesize fantasy to the masses with the fifth novella in their Echoes of the Ascended series. Broken Banners, which continues the story of Elinor following the events in A Reaper of Stone, is an engaging and beautifully written fantasy epic which captures the spirit of its predecessor whilst introducing new characters and themes to this increasingly diverse series.

Gelineau and King have proven themselves to be masters of deception as the captivating world of Aedaron is once again brought to life in surprisingly short format. This is a world which becomes ever more substantial with each addition and which consistently leaves you hanging on for more. And with this latest novella, these authors look set to start a tradition of successful and thoroughly engaging successors to their varied sub-series of novellas.Slaughtered and left for crows, soldiers of the King’s Army lay dead in a field. A grim reminder: the king’s law ends at the gates of the capital.

Elinor fought for what she believed and now she is an outcast. No soldier will follow her. No officer will stand with her. Yet when she finds her brothers and sisters slaughtered, she cannot turn her back on them. 

Long ago, they swore an oath. Not to the king, but to each other.

And woe to those who break that bond.

Saved from prison by the machinations of powerful men, Lieutenant Aldis Janen, Reaper of the King and leader of the company of the Ninety-Fifth, must make his way to Cragswatch March on a mission of importance; a mission which could mean elevation in the ranks for Aldis and glory for the men and women of the Ninety-Fifth.

But when Elinor, Conbert, and their contingent of Engineers attempt to assist Aldis in the Reaping at Height’s Ward Keep, they soon realise all is not as it should be. Half the Ninety-Fifth lie dead, and the other half are missing – of Aldis no sign remains.

Finding themselves embroiled in a war of succession, Elinor and Con must fight their way to the usurper and his pack of turncoat Razors; but can they rescue Aldis and the remainder of the Ninety-Fifth before it’s too late? In this battle of wills and arms, a Reaper’s work is never simple.From the outset it is clear that this will be a story of both discovery and adventure, a story where Elinor and Aldis, past friends and compatriots, will be reacquainted as the battle lines are drawn. However, Con’s obvious dislike of the Lieutenant shows that his reputation as a rogue and troublemaker extend far beyond his current situation and into the mystery of their combined past – a mystery which runs a line of intrigue throughout the novella. Often finding himself in situations unbefitting of his station, and from which he often must beg, bribe or cheat his way out, Aldis Janen brings both drama and humorous relief to the narrative, giving this second Elinor novella a distinctive modern fantasy flavour.

Broken Banners continues in the same vein as A Reaper of Stone with Elinor’s passages marked by their beautiful and atmospheric descriptions, a quality that lends itself to the vivid depiction of a darkly alluring fantasy world which resonates with the tradition that so clearly marks this series. In addition to this, Broken Banners builds on the success of its predecessor by splitting its perspective between Elinor’s observations and Con’s practical realism, along with the introduction of Aldis’ roguish verve and humour; a tactic which adds a refreshing tone to an already impressive sub-series.

Janen is a reactionary character who inspires love, loathing and despair in equal measure to those who cross his path and who, despite good intentions, manages to break Elinor’s calm serenity on more than one occasion. Elinor, whilst accepting of Aldis, is able to show her strength of personality by insisting that he face the consequences of his actions with the firm resolve which she consistently displays throughout the narrative. An excellent addition to this small cast of characters, Aldis Janen gives Elinor’s Echoes a certain flair and sense of unpredictability which consistently builds tension and excitement and which looks set to continue in the Elinor novellas to come.

From an amusing introduction, to a dramatic core, Broken Banners is a thoroughly exciting novella from start to finish. The narrative and its alternating perspectives give a wide view of Aedaron from a varied, if small, cast of characters. With a touch of conspiracy and a good dose of humour, this second Elinor novella showcases the varied skillset of these talented authors and left me in no doubt of the quality of this beautiful, if dangerous, fantasy series.With delicious hints of strange powers, a narrative which is at all times beautiful and compelling, and fantastic battles which are more than worthy of a mention, Broken Banners is a wonderful addition to this addictive fantasy series. Fans of the Echoes of the Ascended will not be disappointed by this latest Elinor novella and, for those who have yet to discover the writing of Gelineau and King, surely you can spare an hour to become submerged in this dark, dangerous and beautifully imagined world.

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Review: Legend by David Gemmell



Legend

Book One of the Drenai Saga

by David Gemmell

Fantasy | 337 Pages | Published by Orbit in 2012


| Rating |


There can be few who venture the wilds of fantasyland who have never crossed paths with David Gemmell, whether through his own masterful creations or the countless authors he’s influenced over the years. Despite this father of heroic fantasy having an extensive catalogue to his name, and the shameful fact that he has been woefully absent from my bookshelf of late, his legacy inevitably conjures up one series time and time again: The Drenai Saga.

And every series must start somewhere. Legend, the first book of The Drenai Saga, is a heart-thumping, axe-wielding, battle-crying spectacular of military might; a fantasy masterpiece which couldn’t fail to live up to its name. Legend is a seamless combination of wholesome traditional fantasy blended with the grit and wit of modern grimdark; a novel which, despite some minor teething issues, captivates and thrills to the very end and always leaves you wanting more.

His name is Druss.

The stories of his life are told everywhere. But the grizzled veteran has spurned a life of fame and fortune and retreated to the solitude of his mountain lair.

His home is Dros Delnoch.

And it is the only route through the mountains for the army laying waste the country around them. Once the stronghold of the Drenai, the fortress of Dros Delnoch will now be their last battleground. And Druss will be its last hope.

His story is LEGEND.

The Nadir tribes, now united under the formidable Ulric Wolfshead, are gathering in the north, their eye fixed on the lands of the Drenai. But the Drenai, once a great force who fought daring battles and brought low great empires, are now a shadow of their former selves. Unable to defend their lands against the northern horde which threatens to descend, the Drenai must make a stand. Holding Dros Delnoch might just buy them enough time to gather their forces; holding Dros Delnoch might just be the key to their survival.

But those who remain are weak. The Earl is dying, his leaders have little experience at war, and their numbers are but few. With such little chance of success, the Thirty can only see death in the mists. But rumour has it that Druss the Legend, a living hero of countless battles of old, can still wield a blade. With the odds in favour of the northmen, can the Legend hold the walls of Dros Delnoch against the greatest force ever gathered? Can one man turn the tide of battle?

Gemmell has carved a world out of action; his stage is the battlefield and his players the soldiers who wage bloody war to live just one more day. With the barest hints of the world at large, the only place that matters in Legend is the here and now. Where most fantasy plots benefit from a layering of the inhabited world throughout, this skilful lack of diversion creates an addictive concentration of knowledge, characters and plot on a relatively small playing – or battle – field, narrowing the focus and tightening the plot around the central theme.

With ample descriptions of the fortifications of the Dros, a place which lends hope and despair in equal measure to those who stand vigil or fight upon them, Gemmell has built a world which he fully intends to pull down stone by stone and man by man. For this master world builder, the true beauty in the descriptions are lent more to the world’s destruction than its creation, and it is in these sections of the novel, where people and places are remorselessly snuffed out, that the narrative truly comes to life.

With a bloodthirsty and barbarous enemy who delights in the wholesale destruction of those beyond their borders, the Drenai are given a foe which will stop at nothing to bring their lands under their sphere. Through their leader Ulric, and the snapshots of the lives of his loyal tribesmen, the Nadir are given a complexity which stops them short of becoming a faceless and two dimensional enemy, and succeeds in making them an integral part of the plot.

Legend isn’t just about the battalions and the hordes however, it is about the individuals who will face unprecedented odds and through bravery, hard work and battle are forged into new people. And this surfeit of characters certainly throws some interesting personalities into the mix; The Thirty, warrior priests who will fight to all ends; Bowman and Caessa, noble but dangerous outlaws; Orrin, whose growth over the course of the novel shows a deep strength rooted in this people; and Rek and Verai, two lovers whose converging storyline becomes the embodiment of hope and, that at the end of it all, there was something worth fighting for.

Legend is defined by this plethora of weary soldiers, battle-hardened warriors and powerful mystics which inhabit its pages. As farmers, leaders, noblemen and outlaws come together to fight for their ultimate survival, the comradery which grows between them adds an intriguing dimension to the plot. Whilst motivations are not always made clear, and character developments and relationships can sometimes appear rushed, Gemmell manages to tease out the hope, bravery and despair which rules the minds of the populace throughout the seige, a skill which more than makes up for this lack of realism and adds much appreciated depth to the novel.

But whilst this novel certainly describes a sweeping assortment of characters, Legend is and can only be about one man – Druss the Legend; a character who couldn’t fail to live up to all expectations. His power as an inspiration, his brilliance in battle, and his status as a true hero of the ages are all undeniable. But after all this he’s just a man – and an old, worn out one at that. His entanglement with death, which has become a long drawn out game of cat and mouse, lends itself to his fearless and furious prowess in battle and, if anything, it is those sections of the novel where Druss takes centre stage which truly made this an unputdownable read.

Legend is a novel which is held together by a solid, intense and exciting core. Whilst at its outset I would have preferred greater development of character motivations, and at its conclusion I would have preferred a more open ending, the middle of the novel was exceptional in its structure, storytelling and pace. The worldbuilding is suited to the narrative, the characterisation is varied and interesting, and the battle is sublime. Skilfully written and expertly plotted, this is a tale which is sure to stand the test of time to delight and thrill generations to come, and leaves you in no doubt of David Gemmell’s place in the fantasy hall of fame.

Legend is more than deserved of its title as a fantasy classic. A powerful and intense tale, this is a novel which boasts one of the most glorious heroic centres possible. A truly absorbing read from start to finish, there is little doubt as to why it serves as inspiration for so many authors today. For those who have yet to discover Gemmell, there is no time like the present – you will not regret it. 

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Review: Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart




Girl Waits With Gun

by Amy Stewart

Historical Fiction | Crime | 416 Pages | Published by Scribe in 2016


| Rating |


Welcome to the next stop in the ‘Girl Waits With Gun’ Blog Tour. Please check out the other fantastic blogs along the way!


The eye-catching cover and the headline title – Girl Waits With Gun – may have drawn me to Amy Stewart’s new novel, a work of fiction based on the life of the first female deputy sheriff in the US, but its contents have proven to be just as enchanting as its wrappings as Stewart recounts a vivid and decidedly captivating tale.

In this charming tale of the early twentieth century, feisty and formidable heroines are pitched against furtive criminal elements in the pursuit of reparations, peace and justice as three sisters are dragged into events which soon spiral out of control. In a narrative which skillfully captures the nuiances of the time, an endearing historic figure is pulled out of obscurity and put into play on this marvellous fictional stage; a stage which echoes with a resounding and remarkable truth. 

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Drunken Botanist comes an enthralling novel based on the forgotten, true story of one of the USA’s first female deputy sheriffs.

Constance Kopp doesn’t quite fit the mould. She towers over most men, has no interest in marriage or domestic affairs, and has been isolated from the world since a family secret sent her and her sisters from the city to the country fifteen years before. When a powerful, ruthless factory owner runs down their buggy, a dispute over damages turns into a war of bricks, bullets, and threats as he unleashes his gang on their farm. The sheriff enlists her help, and it turns out that Constance has a knack for outwitting (and disarming) the criminal element, which might just take her back out into the world and onto a new path in life.

Through Amy Stewart’s exuberant storytelling, Constance Kopp catapults from a forgotten historical anecdote to an unforgettable historical-fiction heroine — an outsized woman not only ahead of her time, but sometimes even ahead of ours.

1914, New Jersey -Whilst travelling into town, the horse drawn buggy driven by the Kopp sisters is hit broadside by a belligerent man in an automobile. But when Constance, the eldest of the Kopp sisters, seeks reparations for the damages, she soon realises that not everyone is driven by the same sense of honour and justice as her and her siblings.

As a case of simple payment turns into a battle of wills, threats and gun fights in the night, Constance Kopp is determined to do all she can to protect her home and her family, even if it means going after the criminals herself. With the aid of the Sheriff, and armed with a revolver, Kopp is one woman even the gangsters will be loath to cross.

Early twentieth century America is brought to life in this exciting depiction of Constance Kopp, a woman who continually questions the stereotypes forced upon her and shows the hidden strength and determination of a generation raised under a cloud of gender inequality and strict social etiquette. This is a novel which surprises with its storyline and spins a wonderful tale of one woman’s unrelenting pursuit of justice.

Amy Stewart creates a vivid stage on which to play her spirited cast of characters; from the rural farm in Hackensack, to the silk dyeing mills of Paterson and the crowded streets of New York City, each setting is brought to life with eloquence and humour, and the depth of history which inextricably goes before it. This is a novel which, despite the ever-present danger and foreboding potential, retains its quaint and charming outlook and benefits because of it.

The driving force behind the plot, however, are the three Kopp sisters and their consistently complicated relationship with their deceased mother, a woman whose strict upbringing still has an overbearing presence in their household, and their cloistered existence on the farm in Hackensack. Whether by poverty, the unwelcome attention of criminal gangs or by unpredicted change in circumstance, their lives are destined to change, but the determination and independence of these three women will see them fight for their continued survival no matter the obstacle.

Constance Kopp, our narrator and heroine, is a woman who brings a great deal of wit and vivacity to the role. Her personality is conflicted by both her modern ideals and her strict upbringing, but her inner strength shows that her lifestyle and unmarried status are a strength to her, fuelling her determination when faced with injustice. Her thought and observations maintain a steady balance of humour throughout the narrative and the revelations of her past injects a considerable amount of surprise and intrigue into the storyline.

Constance’s resolute personality is balanced by that of her younger sister Norma, a stern and direct character whose subtle eccentricities are full of dry wit. With a penchant for carrier pigeons and newspaper clippings which bear ill tidings, her steadfast and determined personality brings a solid dimension to a household which is in an almost constant state of flux and excitement.

Fleurette, the youngest of the three sisters, is responsible for a considerable amount of said excitement. A girl prone to wild bouts of imagination and with a remarkable capacity for exaggeration, she brings out a protective side in her sisters which would make them risk everything to keep her safe. Together, the three Kopp sisters are strong, wilful personalities and remain the most captivating and endearing element of a novel which also retains a flair for excitement and a good sense of humour throughout.Amy Stewart has brought early twentieth century America to life with her charming narrative and wonderfully depicted characters. Whilst aspects of the novel remain entirely fictional, the strength and determination of Constance Kopp remains without question. Girl Waits With Gun is exciting, endearing,  and altogether a thoroughly enjoyable read.

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