Review: Ashes of the Sun by Django Wexler

Ashes of the Sun

Book One of Burningblade & Silvereye

by Django Wexler

Fantasy | 592 Pages | Published by Head of Zeus on 21st July 2020

| Rating |

| TL;DR |

This vibrant, rich and detailed novel tells the tale of two siblings on either side of an ages old war. As Maya, agathios of the Twilight Order, attempts to clear her mentor’s name and Gyre, Maya’s brother, searches for a powerful artefact to help him bring about the the Order’s destruction, their two intertwining narratives dramatically converge in this exciting and action-packed epic.

With strong characters, a unique magic system and a beautifully rendered landscape, Ashes of the Sun straddles the line between good and bad, right and wrong, and paints this broken empire in exquisite shades of grey.

| Synopsis |

Long ago, a magical war destroyed an empire, and a new one was built in its ashes. But still the old grudges simmer, and two siblings will fight on opposite sides to save their world in the start of Django Wexler’s new epic fantasy trilogy.

Gyre hasn’t seen his beloved sister since their parents sold her to the mysterious Twilight Order. Now, twelve years after her disappearance, Gyre’s sole focus is revenge, and he’s willing to risk anything and anyone to claim enough power to destroy the Order.

Chasing rumors of a fabled city protecting a powerful artifact, Gyre comes face-to-face with his lost sister. But she isn’t who she once was. Trained to be a warrior, Maya wields magic for the Twilight Order’s cause. Standing on opposite sides of a looming civil war, the two siblings will learn that not even the ties of blood will keep them from splitting the world in two.

| Review |

The ages old war between the Chosen and the ghouls has obliterated the landscape and left it in ruins. Spearing from the earth and tunnelling under mountains, relics from the past are now home to the ever expanding towns and cities of man, and all that was left behind has either been salvaged, scavenged or stolen.

But more than one war continues in this shattered landscape. From the Forge, the Centarchs of the Twilight Order, powerful champions of the Chosen, are charged with keeping order and fight to eliminate dhakim – those who practice ghoul magic and use it to create the abominable plaguespawn. In the cities, the rebellion fight for freedom and against those who would suppress the tunnelborn, a subjugated people living on the outskirts of society, even if it means taking on the local militia, the Legions of the Dawn Republic, and the Twilight Order itself.

Born to one household but raised apart, Maya and Gyre find themselves on opposite sides of this insurmountable divide. Maya, an agathios – or novice – of the Twilight Order is gifted with a connection to the deiat, and wields the unimaginable power of Creation. Gyre, driven by this troubled past and his burning hatred for the Order, fights for the rebellion under the pseudonym Halfmask. As trouble brews across the realm, Maya and Gyre’s lives converge in an explosive and action packed tale where the line between good and evil are hopelessly blurred.

Told form two entirely different perspectives: one which champions discovery, order and the power of good and the other that champions vengeance, liberation and, ultimately, destruction; Ashes of the Sun pulls the reader into the midst of a conflict which questions the very nature of good and bad, right and wrong, for a non-stop, whirlwind of a tale. Narrated by two distinct voices and personalities, these two opposing viewpoints work together to paint a vivid picture of a world that, in reality, comprises shades of grey.

With ruined constructs, great metropolises and fallen skyships, this post-apocalyptic and fantastic vision unveils a colourful world with a unique and inventive magic system. The weight of history is woven into the landscape in the ages old struggle between the forces of chaos and order, and in the people and their struggle to survive under such deprivation. The divide between the rich and the poor, between the repressed and their suppressors, is depicted with a clear and direct vision which emphasises Maya’s naivety, her steadfast belief that the Order are solely good, and Gyre’s bitterness, that the world’s ills stem from the likes of the irredeemable Order.

From auxiliaries and legionaries to dogmatics and pragmatics, Wexler has created a strong foundation on which to build his series; the two tangled narratives threatening to derail plans, destroy hope and eliminate what little respect Maya and Gyre had for one another in the first place. This is a tale that thrives on its worldbuilding, that celebrates its diverse characters and that is all the better for its use of politics and intrigue throughout its plot.

Maya and Gyre are two siblings defined by their differing experiences and entirely disparate lives, with Maya’s comfort and innocence contrasting sharply with Gyre’s hardship, anger and resentment. With unique and memorable viewpoints, neither protagonist outdoes the other in either drama, suspense or action, with the endearing qualities of one complementing the bravado of the other.

Similarly, the supporting characters provide an interesting and diverse backdrop to the protagonists. Those of the Order – Bec, Tanax and Varo – show the complex hierarchy of the Order and their devotion to the Inheritance, and those of the rebellion – Yora, Lynnia and Harrow – show a driven and like-minded community who will fight for the rights of their people at almost any cost. Providing plenty of interest, intrigue and diversion throughout the narrative, these characters are only surpassed by the enigmatic and ultimately dangerous Kit Doomseeker who steals more than just the show.

Well written and highly-enjoyable throughout, this series opener succeeds in setting a perfect scene from which to read the remainder of the series. While there may be a lot of new terminology to absorb throughout the novel, the steady pace and the intricacies of the narrative give plenty of time to fully absorb the different terms – in between bouts of plaguespawn, skirmishes and bar fights, of course.

Ashes of the Sun is a well-written, exciting read that I barely put down over its six hundred pages. While I could have lived without many of the romantic aspects of the storyline, these remained only secondary to the narrative and didn’t inhibit my enjoyment of the story as a whole. With more fights, skirmishes and powerful artefacts than you can shake a stick at, the first in Burningblade & Silvereye promises the start of something quite special.

Thank you to NetGalley and Head of Zeus for providing a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

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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: Best Left in the Shadows by Mark Gelineau and Joe King

Best Left in the Shadows

An Echo of the Ascended

by Mark Gelineau and Joe King

Fantasy | Novella | 80 Pages | Published by Gelineau and King in 2015

| Rating |

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

Gelineau and King take precedence over my reading pile as once again we return for a flying but highly satisfying visit to the world of Aedaron. Following the story of Alys, we are treated to another sub-genre shift as we enter Prionside in this fantastical detective noir, where the inhabitants of Highside and Lowside are divided by more than just distance.

Following my ever increasing enjoyment of the previous novellas, A Reaper of Stone and Rend the Dark, I had high hopes for another different but equally dazzling exploration of this dark and varied world. And Best Left in the Shadows does exactly this; with a feisty heroine and gritty urban setting, this short and satisfying read ticks another box for these talented and instantly addictive authors.

A Highside girl. Beaten. Murdered. Her body found on a Lowside dock. A magistrate comes looking for answers. For justice.

Alys trades and sells secrets among the gangs and factions of Lowside. She is a daughter of the underworld. Bold. Cunning. Free. When an old lover asks for help, she agrees. For a price.

Together, they travel into the dark heart of the underworld in search of a killer.

Best Left in the Shadows follows the story of Alys, an intelligent and street-wise young woman who earns her living trading secrets amongst the underworld of Lowside. But when a daughter of the Highside nobility is found murdered on the docks in Prionside, and the magistrate called in to investigate is a man whose past is entangled with her own, Alys must lead him through a maze of canals, alleyways and underworld politics to solve the case and find justice for the murdered girl. But with a complicated past and secrets of their own, there is more to discover than just the author of this crime.

This latest novella introduces yet another aspect of the diverse and rich world of Aedaron, where this time we venture into a city of crime and vice, providing the perfect backdrop to this detective noir. Twisted and narrow alleyways, dark and dirty canals, sewerworks and sumpworks, brothels and taverns, all play an intrinsic role in building up this grimy, industrial landscape where if its not for sale, it can and will be taken by force. With a knife in the back or a bolt to the neck an ever present possibility, the narrative conjures a dangerous setting for any criminal investigation.

Gelineau and King once again do not fail to impress with their effortless depiction of this slum-like city; one which is entirely different to its predecessors but an intrinsic part of the whole. Their descriptions are effortless, their humour ever-present, and the introduction to new characters in a new corner of the world make for an excellent, if short, read. The brief but enticing mentions of Highside also leave an intriguing impression and will no doubt come into play during future novellas. I certainly cannot wait to see a clash between these two opposing sides of the city and society.

Whilst the myriad ne’er-do-wells of Prionside make for a colourful cast of characters that intrigue, excite and lend more than a handful of tension and drama to this fantastical crime novella, it is the protagonists of this tale which truly shine. Alys has a fantastic and almost comedic voice; her tone conveying a light-hearted side to a novella which would otherwise seem much darker. Along with Dax, our investigating magistrate, the two play off one another to leave an impression of two fascinating characters whose tangled web of history and secrets provide an intriguing aside to the main narrative and which are slowly revealed over the course of the novella. And with a great deal more still to discover about the pair, we’re left with an enticing hook for the next Alys novella.

Best Left in the Shadows in another fantastic addition to the authors’ repertoire and, with the creation of another distinct and well-realised aspect of an already impressive world, had me hooked on Alys’ story from the very start. Whilst the thought of formulating an intriguing detective story over so short a read seems nigh impossible, Gelineau and King manage to craft a mysterious and satisfying tale which wraps up neatly at its conclusion and leaves enough personal intrigue to draw you onto the next novella. As a lover of crime and detective fiction, I can only hope that this theme is here to stay.

If you love being able to slip into a world in a multitude of sub-genres, experience it through the eyes of different characters, explore its different towns and cities and meet its varied inhabitants, then I couldn’t recommend the Echoes of the Ascended novellas enough. Best Left in the Shadows is another fantastic addition to this highly enjoyable series and can either be read on its own or as part of the whole. Once again, I’ve come away impressed and even more addicted to this dangerously compelling world, and I cannot wait for my next adventure with Alys!

Miss the author interview with Mark Gelineau and Joe King? Check it out here

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Review: A Reaper of Stone by Mark Gelineau and Joe King

A Reaper of Stone

An Echo of the Ascended

by Mark Gelineau and Joe King

Fantasy | Novella | 62 Pages | Published by Gelineau and King in 2015

| Rating |

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

As a firmly established cover art magpie, I took one look at the beautiful artwork for A Reaper of Stone and thought ‘this is the novella for me!’; a novella which turned out to be extremely well written, incredibly enjoyable and had me on the hunt for more literary creations by Gelineau and King. This is a fast-paced fantasy novella which succeeds in drawing you into a world which appears intricate and fully realised, all in less than a hundred pages.

A Lady is dead. Her noble line ended. And the King’s Reaper has come to reclaim her land and her home. In the marches of Aedaron, only one thing is for certain. All keeps of the old world must fall.

Elinor struggles to find her place in the new world. She once dreamed of great things. Of becoming a hero in the ways of the old world. But now she is a Reaper. And her duty is clear. Destroy the old. Herald the new.

A Reaper of Stone follows the story of Elinor, a Reaper for the King who fells keeps and brings lands under his dominion. Elinor journeys with a team of engineers, a retinue of tiresome and entitled nobles, and a company of deadly Razors, those who are skilled with weapons and trained in magic fuelled combat. As they make their way through the lands of Aedaron, strongholds are razed to the ground, claimants are removed from power and the will of the King (and often his petty nobles) is at all times enforced.

There are some things in this new world they are creating, however, that weigh heavily on Elinor’s shoulders and, fuelled by her dreams of the heroes and valiant deeds of legend, the mission on which she is sent may not be the one she fulfils.

The world of Aedaron appears to have the depth and scope of a much lengthier narrative and, together with its inhabitants, is described in enough detail to keep the story flowing and give it a sense of realism that is sometimes lost in novellas. There is a sense of a greater world beyond what we read, a world full of history, myth and legend which lurks beneath the surface and works together with the narrative to create the impression of reading a much longer novel.

The people and monsters which inhabit Aedaron are extremely well depicted, and the characters, whilst reminiscent of those who grace the pages of many fantasy epics, use this recognition to connect fully with the reader. Elinor is a multifaceted protagonist who makes a charming fantasy heroine – a heroine who stands up for what is right whilst wielding a mace like a badass – and the side characters are suitably detailed to become firmly established in the imagination.

Gelineau and King have created a multi-layered world which resounds with the influence of epic and traditional fantasy yet unfolds in the fast-paced and action-filled narrative which we’ve come to expect from modern fantasy. The language used throughout is lyrical and descriptive, giving depth to the world and its creatures whilst driving the story and the action forward at all times. Gelineau and King have fashioned a universe I would wish to return to time and time again.

If you want a short read to break up those long tomes then look no further; A Reaper of Stone has the essence of a traditional fantasy epic, full of adventure and beautiful, lyrical prose, in well under a hundred pages. And luckily for us, Gelineau and King plan on publishing many more ‘Echoes’ with the promise of another Elinor Ascended novella in the near future. I for one cannot wait.

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Review: Superposition by David Walton

The 2016 Sci-Fi Experience


by David Walton

Science Fiction | Thriller | 300 Pages | Published by Pyr in 2015

| Rating |

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

After reading numerous excellent reviews for Superposition and hearing excellent things about David Walton’s writing, I snapped up the chance to read and review Superposition when it was presented. I love science fiction. I love crime thrillers. So I’m willing to bet that I sure as hell am going to love a combination of the two. And Superposition really didn’t disappoint. This is a fast paced sci-fi thriller which unfolds like a crime drama. Completely unpredictable – anything could and does happen – and  utterly absorbing, David Walton has created a world which makes you think, makes you dream and makes you believe. 

Jacob Kelley’s family is turned upside down when an old friend turns up, waving a gun and babbling about an alien quantum intelligence. The mystery deepens when the friend is found dead in an underground bunker…apparently murdered the night before he appeared at Jacob’s house. Jacob is arrested for the murder and put on trial.

As the details of the crime slowly come to light, the weave of reality becomes ever more tangled, twisted by a miraculous new technology and a quantum creature unconstrained by the normal limits of space and matter. With the help of his daughter, Alessandra, Jacob must find the true murderer before the creature destroys his family and everything he loves. 

Jacob Kelley life is changed irrevocably when an old friend and colleague shows up at his house presumably deranged and spouting wild scientific theories. When events escalate and the impossible starts to happen, Jacob realises that Brian’s theories may not be so wild after all. Only Brian has been murdered and Jacob is the number one suspect. On trial for a murder he couldn’t possibly have committed, and on the run from an alien quantum intelligence which seems intent on hunting him down, Jacob must find a way to prove his innocence before it’s too late for both himself and his family.

Walton writes a highly convincing plot, fast paced and brimming with tension. The narrative twists and turns and keeps you guessing until the very end – and for this sci-fi crime thriller, absolutely anything is possible. The narrative is split into two through the ‘Up-Spin’ and the ‘Down-Spin’ chapters which separate the past from the present – the events which led from the opening scenes from the murder trial itself – which gives breathing space to the action, keeps the pages turning and provides two fascinating perspectives on these impossible events from one man who is completely out of his depth.

The science behind Superposition is conveyed excellently throughout the murder trial. Walton relies on the testimonies of expert witnesses to explain the science in layman’s terms without having to resort to lengthy information dumps which would have broken the tension and pace of the novel. This is hard sci-fi, there’s no getting away from that (if it’s the sort of thing that puts you off), but the narrative is so compelling and draws you in so completely that the scientific details are unlikely to overwhelm even the biggest sceptic of hard sci-fi.

Jacob Kelley is a convincing narrator whose alternating chapters from past to present give a sympathetic view of his character. The characterisation was also perfect for this style of novel. Where usually I prefer a certain amount of depth to all characters, the depiction of the bit players fell in line with what I’ve come to expect from crime novels where the protagonist is fleshed out fully but the side characters are open to all possibilities – and all can be suspected. This helped to keep the focus on both the protagonist and the action, and aided in making the surprises even more surprising.

Superposition is a fascinating, exhilarating and truly absorbing read which left me wanting more. Recommended to all fans of science fiction – expect wild scientific theories, surprises aplenty and heart-thumping tension from a sophisticated sci-fi thriller. David Walton is certainly an author I will be keeping an eye on.

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Review: Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Broken Homes

Book Four of the Rivers of London / Peter Grant Series

by Ben Aaronovitch

Urban Fantasy | 357 Pages | Published by Gollancz in 2013

| Rating |

Broken Homes continues the story of Peter Grant which began with Rivers of London/Midnight Riot and continued with Moon Over Soho and Whispers Under Ground.

Finally! After a several-year-interlude, I got around to reading the fourth book in Ben Aaronovitch’s excellent urban fantasy series, Rivers of London. Set on the dark and dangerous streets of London, Broken Homes is an exciting and addictive tale, where the schemes and plots of rogue magicians and a faceless enemy endeavour to make life difficult for Police Constable Peter Grant. With a backdrop of brutalist architecture, grimy streets and urban sprawl, Broken Homes is a fun and refreshing read, and an excellent addition to the series. And, having read the first three books in this series whilst on a university field trip to London where I visited a brutalist architecture exhibition, this entire book was clearly meant to be!

A mutilated body in Crawley. Another killer on the loose. The prime suspect is one Robert Weil; an associate of the twisted magician known as the Faceless Man? Or just a common or garden serial killer?

Before PC Peter Grant can get his head round the case a town planner going under a tube train and a stolen grimoire are adding to his case-load.

So far so London.

But then Peter gets word of something very odd happening in Elephant and Castle, on a housing estate designed by a nutter, built by charlatans and inhabited by the truly desperate.

Is there a connection? And if there is, why oh why did it have to be South of the River.

As usual, Ben Aaronovitch manages to plot a very witty and highly gritty tale of magical misadventure vs. the strong arm of the law. London is brilliantly illuminated and Aaronovitch manages to capture the magical and whimsical side of urban fantasy whilst throwing you head first into a dark and unsettling tale of rogue practitioners, mischievous fae and The Faceless Man. Broken Homes is a tale of strange magics and even stranger characters where trust is hard to come by and loyalties are too often tested.  This book, in all its urban glory, is easily devoured, thoroughly enjoyable and incredibly hard to put down.

London is described in effortless detail and the premise of the story is so rooted in our own past and present (minus the hocus pocus… perhaps) that you could almost believe it was real. The narrative is fast-paced and humorous, the dialogue snappy and to the point and Aaronovitch writes an incredible action scene – I can almost see the walls cracking, glass shattering, bricks crumbling and dust choking the air. The narrative also manages to  convey the social and environmental impact that numerous brutalist architectural schemes have had on the urban environment with attention to detail and a good dose of  magic and humour.

Peter Grant is a fantastic protagonist whose narrative gives an excellent portrayal of his character, and Nightingale’s role as resident antique and gentlemanly badass provides a perfect and often hilarious contrast. These are characters who always keep me reading, and always leave me wanting more. Plot might be the driving force behind these novels but the other characters, both magical and mundane, are captured with that ready wit and with the brief descriptions required to provide an accurate snapshot for a fast-paced and fantastical tale.

Ben Aaronovitch is an author who can weave the fantastic through a very human world and, though the subject matter was right up my alley, I would recommend his books to all those who love their urban fantasy gritty and real, yet fast-paced and funny. Broken Homes is an inventive and fun read which leaves you on a cliff edge for the next novel… now I just need to get my hands on Foxglove Summer!

Bookish Beats Suggestion
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Review: The Few by Nadia Dalbuono


The Few

by Nadia Dalbuono

Crime | Thriller | 356 Pages | Published by Scribe in 2014

| Rating |

This book was received from Scribe Publications as part of the Goodreads giveaway scheme in return for an honest review

Just when I was having Italian crime novel withdrawal symptoms – thank you Donna Leon – Nadia Dalbuono’s debut novel, The Few, comes along to send me spiralling into the murky underworld of murderers, drug pushers and human traffickers. As the bodies start to pile up, Detective Leone Scamarcio must navigate his way through mafiosi, corrupt politicians  and drug lords to get to the root of the crime.  With a shadowy past of his own, secrets will be spilled, blood will be shed and one question remains: can those above the law be brought to justice?

Detective Leone Scamarcio, the son of a former leading Mafioso, has turned his back on the family business, and has joined the Rome police force. He may be one of the last honest men in Italy. 

But when Scamarcio is handed a file of extremely compromising photographs of high-ranking Italian government officials, and told to ‘deal with it’, he knows he’s in for trouble. And when a young man is found stabbed in his apartment in Rome and a little girl disappears on a beach in Elba, Scamarcio’s job gets a whole lot more complicated. 

Worst of all, every lead seems to implicate the prime minister — a multi-media baron, and the most powerful man in Italy. 

As the case spins out of control, and his own past catches up with him, Scamarcio must navigate the darkest currents of Italian society — only to find that nothing is as it seems, and that the price of truth may be higher than he can pay.

When a number of compromising photographs end up in police hands and a series of clues links the investigation to the abduction of a young child on Elba, Detective Leone Scamarcio soon finds himself entangled in a case far more complicated and infinitely more serious than he could have predicted. From Rome, to Naples and to the island of Elba, Scamarcio must navigate his way through a tide of corruption and dishonesty to solve a number of connected crimes and uncover the web of corruption which lies at the heart of Italian politics.

The Few is a darkly disturbing thriller which transports you into a world of sex workers, corrupt politicians and child traffickers,  a world which is both horrifying and disturbingly real. Dalbuono writes with skill and detail and, as the investigation grows and the number of suspects lengthens, the plot twists and turns to create an intricately woven narrative. The complexity of the plot coupled with almost constant tension lend themselves to a highly sophisticated and wholly convincing novel.

The Few opens at a steady pace, gathering momentum as links and connections are uncovered which take Scamarcio from the heart of Rome to the beaches of Elba in an increasingly complicated investigation. Dalbuono captures both the romanticism and the gritty reality of Rome and Elba in an unobtrusive flow of description which finely balances the contradictory beauty of the country with its dark conspiratorial undercurrents. Whilst the narrative is always to the point and remains tense throughout, the short descriptive passages slot in seamlessly to lend depth and realism to the narrative.

Detective Leone Scamarcio is a convincing and likeable character. He is a man who has worked hard to escape his past and who finds himself confronted with it on one too many occasions. He is the emotional connection to the novel, the guiding hand who exhibits the reactions the reader is likely to experience. The other characters are created to draw suspicion – law enforcers, politicians and civilians alike – everyone is a suspect, everyone is linked and everyone is utterly suspicious. The Few might not be so few after all.

The Few is a fantastic debut with a charm all of its own and a suitably mysterious protagonist who is sure to draw readers back for more. Fans of crime thrillers should find this a well-paced, exhilarating read and, having only amplified my cravings for more Italian crime fiction, I can only wait for The American’s release next year. Thoroughly enjoyed. Heartily recommended. Want more.

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Review: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

A Court of Thorns and Roses

by Sarah J. Maas

Young Adult | Fantasy | 415 Pages | Published by Bloomsbury in 2015

| Rating |

four star

Just the thought of a young adult romance is usually enough to have me running for the hills but I couldn’t seem to read two book blogs without coming across one name – Sarah J. Maas. Not willing to invest in a longer series just yet, I picked up a copy of A Court of Thorns and Roses, the first in a new series which has generally received very good reviews. I couldn’t quite ignore my scepticism when I first opened this book… but by god! It was actually rather an enjoyable read!  This is a tale of beauty and magic and of love in a strange and dangerous land. And damnit… it even made me cry! But shh. While this book certainly won’t be for everyone, there is a lot to enjoy – so sit back, set aside your misgivings and be swept along by this enchanting tale.

The world of humanity is cold and cruel but the world of fairies is much worse, or so we’re told. Feyre is a huntress; the youngest daughter of a now impoverished family, she lives her life hand to mouth, providing for her family in their hardship. But there are far more dangerous creatures than wolves in the dark hunting grounds of the land and after killing a monstrous wolf, she finds herself entangled in the dangerous world of the fairies. Taken from her home, Feyre is forced into exile in a new world, a world which is slowly succumbing to a dark and terrible power. As new friendships bloom and passions stir, she must decide whether to stand and fight or whether to hide with the rest of humanity as the tide of darkness washes over them.

This novel is written in a beautiful style which was very easy to get carried along with; no sooner had I opened it than I found myself a good chunk of the way through. The storyline, whilst somewhat predictable (and bordering on the cliché during the ‘destiny moment’), unfolds in a rather delicate and satisfying way and I soon forgot my reservations to become thoroughly entranced by the world of Prythian. And though the tale takes place in a relatively small portion of the map, the stage has been set for more works to come and I can only hope we get to explore it further.

During our sojourn in Prythian we meet a host of intriguing creatures and characters which inhabit the world of the fairies. Lucien and Rhysand are highly entertaining side characters with a wealth of interesting back story and humour who I hope will given greater precedence in the books to come. Our main man-candy, Tamlin – muscular, golden, beautiful – was actually a bit of a bore in comparison; a veritable Mary Sue. Though I didn’t dislike him, he didn’t capture my interest quite as much as the other characters did (and I still can’t figure out the point at which Feyre went from hating to loving him!).

And this is where it gets complicated. I found Feyre to be a somewhat two dimensional, predictable and ever so slightly annoying protagonist. She is also our narrator.  However the world, from her point of view, is beautiful, dark and dangerous and whilst her own character may have been lacking, her perspective of the world around her certainly isn’t. And though this may have annoyed me at times, my overall enjoyment of the novel was unimpeded. This is, after all, a book full of beautiful description, fascinating characters with plenty of intrigue from the fae courts to boot.

Despite having a few issues with the storyline, this novel was actually very entertaining and I ploughed my way through it in no time at all. Fans of young adult fantasy (with a good dollop of romance) should find this a very enjoyable read. A Court of Thorns and Roses is absorbing, magical and left me with the disturbing notion that maybe I don’t dislike tales of romance so much after all…

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Review: Vicious by V.E. Schwab


by V.E. Schwab

Science Fiction | 340 Pages | Published by Titan in 2014

| Rating |

four star

I am, I’m sorry to say, a sucker for a pretty cover and Vicious found its way into my basket because it was far too eye-catching to escape my notice. However it did have that additional benefit, which a pretty book ought to have, of being a cracking read too. I had no preconceptions about Vicious; I had no idea what it was about and I’d barely even read the synopsis but this novel had me hooked almost as soon as I’d opened it. Vicious is anything but pretty. This is a tense, exciting and refreshing take on the superhero story; incredibly twisted, delightfully evil and gripping until its conclusion.

Vicious follows the lives of two bastards college students, Eli Cardale and Victor Vale. Absorbed in their research into EOs, or ExtraOrdinary people, their discoveries lead them down a dark and dangerous path where morality, ethics and caution are thrown to the wind in their quest of discovery. As they embark on a journey of lethal experimentation, where creation is the goal no matter the cost, death might not be the worst outcome.

Ten years on Eli and Victor are sworn enemies. As the numbers of ExtraOrdinary citizens plummet under systematic execution, fate shows an intervening hand. This is a story of one fanatical, evil sociopath (aided by a beautiful and mysterious woman) versus another violent, evil sociopath (aided by a gentle giant, a small girl and a dog). The purge must end, but only one bastard can come out on top.

Schwab writes a marvellously wicked tale that I found myself unable to put down. Vicious is extremely well crafted, exciting and tense throughout, and though it has more flashbacks than I do after a night out, they occur at just the right moments to carry the momentum and hold interest. The premise of the novel is a good overhaul on what we usually find in a superhero novel, there is no moralising, no good versus evil; this is about two messed up individuals with superhuman abilities who will inevitably use them to meet their own ends.

If you want characters who will sweep you off your feet or overwhelm you with their charm, good looks and charisma then stop! You won’t find any here. Vicious is about the assholes of this world, those selfish, arrogant, sociopathic bastards who couldn’t give a toss about anyone’s lives but their own. And Eli and Victor are firmly placed at the far end of the asshole spectrum. Eli’s religious fanaticism had him firmly placed in my bad books but Victor… Victor, you asshole, I liked you.

Though Vicious has an abundance of disreputable characters stalking her pages, it does not want for any ‘likeable’ characters. Sydney and Mitch are our favourite villain’s sidekicks and, despite some rough edges, are particularly endearing. If you don’t like your protagonist villain-side-up then these two may just win you over. Having said that, the character of Angie felt a little lacklustre. Though imperative to the storyline she almost felt superfluous; the hints of a love triangle seemed pointless and I didn’t care enough about her to be bothered by her fate. This is unlikely to spoil your enjoyment though.

Vicious is a short and highly entertaining read which should appeal to a wide audience. Whilst the ending wrapped the story up quite well and left enough open for a sequel, it did feel a little anticlimactic. My expectations were just for something bigger… and much, much more evil. But don’t let that put you off! This book is incredibly readable and if you like super-anti-heroes, villains, with the dregs of society thrown in to boot, then Vicious will see you right. Onto the next Schwab!

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