My Top Ten Games of the Past Two Years


Welcome to My Top Ten of the Past Two Years series, where I look back at my favourite books, games and TV series (amongst other things) during my blogging hiatus.


| My Top Ten Games of the Past Two Years: July 2018 – July 2020 |

A long overdue welcome to My Top Ten Games of the Past Two Years!

It had been my intention to post a series of favourites gathered during my hiatus, kicking off with My Top Ten Books of the Past Two Years, but time, work and other commitments always conspired to delay my posts. In anticipation of going on holiday last week, however, I actually finished my gaming post and only had to up my game time for Apex Legends by another thirty-four hours!

As this post has been partially drafted since my return at the beginning of July, there are also a number of games I’ve recently picked up which deserve an honourable mention and will more than likely feature on next year’s list – I’m looking at you Red Dead Redemption 2, No Man’s Sky and GTFO. I’m sure there are also plenty of other brilliant games that I’ve either forgotten or am yet to play so let me know of any of your favourites in the comments.

In no particular order, here are My Top Ten Games of the Past Two Years!


| 1. |

Kingdom Come: Deliverance

Play Time: 174 Hours

Rating


| My Thoughts |

Kingdom Come: Deliverance is a phenomenal open-world RPG set in medieval Bohemia. With interesting mechanics, an expansive and detailed medieval world, a gripping storyline, and some of the best graphics I have seen, every hour spent in this world seems to lead to yet one more. This is quite simply a masterpiece.

Favourite Quest – Poverty, Chastity and Obedience

Favourite Location – Sasau Monastery

Favourite Skill – Alchemy


| About This Game |

Game

You’re Henry, the son of a blacksmith. Thrust into a raging civil war, you watch helplessly as invaders storm your village and slaughter your friends and family. Narrowly escaping the brutal attack, you grab your sword to fight back. Avenge the death of your parents and help repel the invading forces!

Story

Bohemia – located in the heart of Europe, the region is rich in culture, silver, and sprawling castles. The death of its beloved ruler, Emperor Charles IV, has plunged the kingdom into dark times: war, corruption, and discord are tearing this jewel of the Holy Roman Empire apart.

One of Charles’ sons, Wenceslas, has inherited the crown. Unlike his father, Wenceslas is a naive, self-indulgent, unambitious monarch. His half-brother and King of Hungary, Sigismund the Red Fox, senses weakness in Wenceslas. Feigning good will, Sigismund travels to Bohemia and kidnaps his half-brother. With no king on the throne, Sigismund is now free to plunder Bohemia and seize its riches.

In the midst of this chaos, you’re Henry, the son of a blacksmith. Your peaceful life is shattered when a mercenary raid, ordered by King Sigismund himself, burns your village to the ground. By bittersweet fortune, you are one of the few survivors of this massacre.

Without a home, family, or future you end up in the service of Lord Radzig Kobyla, who is forming a resistance against the invasion. Fate drags you into this bloody conflict and shoves you into a raging civil war, where you help fight for the future of Bohemia.

Massive realistic open world: Majestic castles, vast fields, all rendered in stunning high-end graphics.

Non-linear story: Solve quests in multiple ways, then face the consequences of your decisions.

Challenging combat: Distance, stealth, or melee. Choose your weapons and execute dozens of unique combos in battles that are as thrilling as they are merciless.

Character development: Choose your equipment, improve your skills and earn new perks.

Dynamic world: Your actions influence the reactions of the people around you. Fight, steal, seduce, threaten, persuade, or bribe. It’s all up to you!

Historical accuracy: Meet real historical characters and experience the genuine look and feel of medieval Bohemia


| 2. |

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Play Time: 161 Hours

Rating


| My Thoughts |

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is an expansive, detailed and thoroughly addictive game which follows the life of a mercenary in Ancient Greece during the Peloponnesian War. It may diverge from the original AC games but it is a worthy contender in its own right. With stunning locations, and a multitude of quests, side quests and DLCs, Odyssey is a game that I couldn’t put down until I completed Every. Last. Thing.

Played As – Kassandra

Favourite Location – Greece (There are too many wonderful locations to choose from!)

Favourite Ability – Rush Assassination


| About This Game |

Become a legendary Greek hero – In a first for the Assassin’s Creed franchise, you can choose which hero to embody throughout this epic journey, Alexios or Kassandra.

Choose your own path – Your decisions shape the world around you with over 30 hours of choice dialogue and multiple game endings.

Fight epic battles – Demonstrate your extraordinary warrior abilities and shift the tides of battle during the Peloponnesian War.

Sail across the Aegean sea – Find uncharted locations, uncover hidden treasures or cleave your way through entire fleets in naval battles.

A Land of myths & legends – Discover a world rich with myths and legends. From ancient rituals to famed statues, come face-to-face with Greece’s legendary figures.


| 3. |

Apex Legends

Play Time: 494 Hours

Rating


| My Thoughts |

Before Apex Legends, Battle Royale style first-person shooters just weren’t my thing, but this game is seriously addictive. With numerous legends, weapons and drop sites to choose from, this is a heart-pounding, infuriating and inexplicably exciting FPS that always has me going for ‘just one more game’.

Favourite Legend – Wattson

Favourite Weapon – Spitfire

Favourite Map – King’s Canyon


| About This Game |

Conquer with character in Apex Legends, a free-to-play Battle Royale shooter where legendary characters with powerful abilities team up to battle for fame & fortune on the fringes of the Frontier. Master an ever-growing roster of diverse Legends, deep tactical squad play and bold new innovations that level up the Battle Royale experience—all within a rugged world where anything goes. Welcome to the next evolution of Battle Royale.

A Roster of Legendary Characters – Master a growing roster of powerful Legends, each with their own unique personality, strengths and abilities that are easy to pick up but challenging to truly master.

Build Your Crew – Choose your Legend and combine their unique skills together with other players to form the ultimate crew.

Strategic Battle Royale – Use your abilities–and your wits–to make strategic calls on the fly, adapting your crew’s strengths to meet new challenges as the match evolves.

Genre-Evolving Innovation – Experience a brand-new array of innovative features that level up the Battle Royale genre, including Respawn Beacons, Smart Comms, Intelligent Inventory and an all-new way to drop into the action with Jumpmaster deployment.

Sweet, Sweet Loot – Drop in and loot up with a host of powerful weapons, diverse attachments and useful armor to protect you in battle. After the fight, collect a wealth of cosmetic options for personalizing your character and weapons, and unlock new ways to show off during the match.


| 4. |

Rise of the Tomb Raider

Play Time: 36 Hours

Rating


| My Thoughts |

Written by Rhianna Pratchett, the daughter of Sir Terry Pratchett himself, Rise of the Tomb Raider is an action-packed adventure game which balances puzzle games with both face-to-face and stealth combat. With a brilliant story, beautiful graphics, and perilous and frozen landscapes, Rise of the Tomb Raider is a seriously addictive adventure.

Favourite Location – Geothermal Valley

Favourite Feature – Challenge Tombs

Favourite DLC – Blood Ties


| About This Game |

Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration includes the base game and Season Pass featuring all-new content. Explore Croft Manor in the new “Blood Ties” story, then defend it against a zombie invasion in “Lara’s Nightmare”. Survive extreme conditions with a friend in the new online Co-Op Endurance mode, and brave the new “Extreme Survivor” difficulty. Also features an outfit and weapon inspired by Tomb Raider III, and 5 classic Lara skins. Existing DLC will challenge you to explore a new tomb that houses an ancient terror in Baba Yaga: The Temple of the Witch, and combat waves of infected predators in Cold Darkness Awakened.

Key Features

Lara’s Journey – Lara uncovers an ancient mystery that places her in the cross-hairs of a ruthless organization known as Trinity. As she races to find the secret before Trinity, the trail leads to a myth about the Lost City of Kitezh. Lara knows she must reach the Lost City and its hidden secrets before Trinity. With that, she sets out for Siberia on her first Tomb Raiding expedition.

Woman vs. Wild – In “Rise of the Tomb Raider,” Lara battles with not only enemies from around the world, but the world itself. Hunt animals to craft weapons and scavenge for rare resources in densely populated ecosystems. You’ll encounter beautifully hostile environments, full of treacherous conditions and unstable landscapes that will require Lara to push her limits to the very edge.

Guerilla Combat – Use the environment to your advantage, scale trees and dive underwater to avoid or takedown enemies, configure Lara’s gear, weapons, and ammo to suit your play style from stealth to guns blazing, craft explosives on the fly to sow chaos, and wield Lara’s signature combat bows and climbing axe.

Return to Tomb Raiding – Tombs are back, and they’re bigger and better than ever. In “Rise of the Tomb Raider” you’ll explore huge, awe-inspiring ancient spaces littered with deadly traps, solve dramatic environmental puzzles, and decipher ancient texts to reveal crypts as you take on a world filled with secrets to discover.


| 5. |

Warhammer: Vermintide II

Play Time: 37 Hours

Rating


| My Thoughts |

Warhammer: Vermintide II is an action-packed combat game in which you must join up with others to vanquish the Skaven horde. With a wonderful array of characters with a wide range of builds, alternating skills, talents and difficulties, Vermintide II is an incredibly fun game which is reminiscent of the mechanics for Left 4 Dead 2.

Favourite Character – Victor Saltzpyer

Favourite Career – Witch Hunter

Favourite Quote – “The power of Sigmar compels thee!”


| About This Game |

Warhammer: Vermintide 2 is a 4-player co-op action game set in the Warhammer Fantasy Battles world. Sequel to the critically acclaimed Vermintide, Vermintide 2 is the latest instalment in a franchise best known for its intense and bloody first-person melee combat.

Our five heroes have returned to take on an even greater threat than before – the combined forces of a ruinous Chaos army and the swarming Skaven horde. The only thing standing between utter defeat and victory is you and your allies. If you fall – so too will the Empire.

Fight through endless hordes of enemies together with up to 3 friends in this visceral co-op action experience

Choose between 5 different characters, each with 3 branching careers to master

Evolve your skill and climb the difficulty ladders, from Recruit, Veteran, Champion to Legend

Customize your own unique style of play with 15 different talent trees and 50+ Weapon Types

Explore the war-ravaged lands of a dying world with a wide range of stunning levels to experience


| 6. |

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Play Time: 157 Hours

Rating


| My Thoughts |

An utterly compelling story (thank you Andrzej Sapkowski), brilliant combat, beautiful graphics and amazing DLC, combine to make The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt one of the most brilliant, beautiful and detailed games of all time. This is, most definitely, an undisputed favourite which needs no more introduction.

Favourite Location – Novigrad

Favourite Sign – Igni

Yennefer or Triss – Yennefer


| About This Game |

Play as a highly-trained monster slayer for hire

Trained from early childhood and mutated to gain superhuman skills, strength and reflexes, witchers are a counterbalance to the monster-infested world in which they live.

Gruesomely destroy foes as a professional monster hunter armed with a range of upgradeable weapons, mutating potions and combat magic.

Hunt down a wide range of exotic monsters — from savage beasts prowling the mountain passes, to cunning supernatural predators lurking in the shadows of densely populated towns.

Invest your rewards to upgrade your weaponry and buy custom armour, or spend them away in horse races, card games, fist fighting, and other pleasures the night brings.

Explore a morally indifferent fantasy open world

Built for endless adventure, the massive open world of The Witcher sets new standards in terms of size, depth and complexity.

Traverse a fantastical open world: explore forgotten ruins, caves and shipwrecks, trade with merchants and dwarven smiths in cities, and hunt across the open plains, mountains and seas.

Deal with treasonous generals, devious witches and corrupt royalty to provide dark and dangerous services.

Make choices that go beyond good & evil, and face their far-reaching consequences.

Chase down the child of prophecy

Take on the most important contract to track down the child of prophecy, a key to save or destroy this world.

In times of war, chase down the child of prophecy, a living weapon foretold by ancient elven legends.

Struggle against ferocious rulers, spirits of the wilds and even a threat from beyond the veil – all hell-bent on controlling this world.

Define your destiny in a world that may not be worth saving.


| 7. |

Assassin’s Creed Origins

Play Time: 89 Hours

Rating


| My Thoughts |

Assassin’s Creed Origins combines a beautiful, heart-wrenching story, a vast and beautiful open-world, and an incredibly addictive combat system to create a brilliant game in one of my favourite franchises. Ancient Egypt is conjured in wonderfully atmospheric detail and Bayek of Siwa is undoubtedly one of my favourite AC characters of all time.

Favourite Weapon – Predator Bow

Favourite Location – Alexandria

Favourite Ability – Attack and Push


| About This Game |

Ancient Egypt, a land of majesty and intrigue, is disappearing in a ruthless fight for power. Unveil dark secrets and forgotten myths as you go back to the one founding moment: The Origins of the Assassin’s Brotherhood.

A Country to Discover – Sail down the Nile, uncover the mysteries of the pyramids or fight your way against dangerous ancient factions and wild beasts as you explore this gigantic and unpredictable land.

A New Story Every Time You Play – Engage into multiple quests and gripping stories as you cross paths with strong and memorable characters, from the wealthiest high-born to the most desperate outcasts.

Embrace Action RPG -Experience a completely new way to fight. Loot and use dozens of weapons with different characteristics and rarities. Explore deep progression mechanics and challenge your skills against unique and powerful bosses.


| 8. |

A Plague Tale: Innocence

Play Time: 15 Hours

Rating


| My Thoughts |

A Plague Tale: Innocence is a beautiful and terrifying tale of a world ravaged by plague. This short and captivating game sees Amicia and her brother Hugo flee across France as disease, swarms of rats and the Inquisition vie to capture or destroy them both. Gripping and heart-wrenching with a brilliant narrative, A Plague Tale is nothing short of incredible.

Favourite Location – The University

Favourite Projectile – Ignifer

Favourite Villain – Lord Nicholas


| About This Game |

Follow the grim tale of young Amicia and her little brother Hugo, in a heartrending journey through the darkest hours of history. Hunted by Inquisition soldiers and surrounded by unstoppable swarms of rats, Amicia and Hugo will come to know and trust each other. As they struggle to survive against overwhelming odds, they will fight to find purpose in this brutal, unforgiving world.

Story

1349. The plague ravages the Kingdom of France. Amicia and her younger brother Hugo are pursued by the Inquisition through villages devastated by the disease. On their way, they will have to join forces with other children, and evade swarms of rats using fire and light. Aided only by the link that binds their fates together, they will face untold horrors in their struggle to survive.As their adventure begins… the time of innocence ends.

Characters

Amicia De Rune – At just 15 years old, Amicia is already a strong woman, independent and physical, trained by her father in the art of hunting. She had little contact with her brother while they were growing up, but soon their bond will be keeping them alive.

Hugo De Rune – The younger Hugo is a frail child of just five years, afflicted with an unknown disease that has kept him locked in his room for much of his lonely childhood. He has little knowledge of the outside world, but prefers even its dangers to his previous confinement.

The Inquisition – As war and sickness engulf 14th Century France, the Inquisition pursue the De Rune children for unknown reasons, out to capture their younger targets. Lacking the strength to defeat fully-grown knights, Amicia and Hugo will require guile and stealth to escape.

The Rats – Rats swarm in uninterrupted waves throughout the territory of France. In the plague-ridden villages, countryside and battlefields, this uncontrollable and voracious mass advances relentlessly devouring everything in their path. Only the light of the flame seems to slow down this swarming menace.


| 9. |

Warframe

Play Time: 237 Hours

Rating


| My Thoughts |

This free to play, sci-fi action game is expansive and detailed with a huge variety of warframes, weapons and companions to choose from. The storyline is interesting, the combat and abilities are wonderfully creative, and the movement is so fluid that it’s hard not to expect other game characters to bullet jump or sprint across levels.

Favourite Warframe – Trinity Prime

Favourite Sentinel – Helios Prime

Favourite Location – Lua


| About This Game |

Choose your warframe – With more than 30 Warframes, each fully customizable with their own unique abilities, you can create the perfect Warframe for you.

Assemble your arsenal – Katanas. Crossbows. Flamethrowers. Expand your Arsenal with more than 300 diverse Weapons, then modify each one to match your playstyle.

Experience fast-paced combat – Slice and dice through hordes of enemies, or go in guns blazing, or sneak your way in — the choice is yours.

Explore open worlds – Explore, discover, fight, and fly in massive open landscapes within Warframe.

Fluid parkour movement – Seamlessly leap, slide and glide through capital ships and underground compounds with a robust movement system.

A solar system in ruin – In the far-future world of Warframe, grotesque clones and capitalist machines dominate our solar system. Fight back against greed and corruption as you explore 18 worlds filled with techno-organic horrors.

Squad up – You don’t have to work alone. Invite three friends or fight alongside the 38 million strong in our Tenno community.

Ninjas play free – Warframe is entirely free-to-play. With no barrier to entry, there’s nothing to stop you and your friends from joining our world. Welcome to the Origin System, Tenno.


| 10. |

Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Play Time: 38 Hours

Rating


Continuing the narrative of Rise of the Tomb Raider, Shadow of the Tomb Raider is another brilliant addition to the franchise which sees Lara venturing to the tropical regions of The Americas and to the lost city of Paititi. With brilliant challenge tombs, puzzles and combat, and beautiful graphics and locations, I only hope it won’t be too long before before another Tomb Raider is underway.

Favourite Location – San Juan

Favourite Mission – Via Crucis / Mystery of the White Queen

Favourite Challenge Tomb – Howl of the Monkey Gods


| Back of the Box |

n Shadow of the Tomb Raider Definitive Edition experience the final chapter of Lara’s origin as she is forged into the Tomb Raider she is destined to be. Combining the base game, all seven DLC challenge tombs, as well as all downloadable weapons, outfits, and skills, Shadow of the Tomb Raider Definitive Edition is the ultimate way to experience Lara’s defining moment.

Survive and Thrive In the Deadliest Place on Earth: Master an unforgiving jungle setting in order to survive. Explore underwater environments filled with crevasses and deep tunnel systems.

Become One With the Jungle: Outgunned and outnumbered, Lara must use the jungle to her advantage. Strike suddenly and disappear like a jaguar, use mud as camouflage, and instill fear in enemies to sow chaos.

Discover Dark and Brutal Tombs: Tombs are more terrifying than ever before, requiring advanced traversal techniques to reach them, and once inside they are filled with deadly puzzles.

Uncover Living History: Discover a hidden city and explore the biggest hub space ever found in a Tomb Raider game.


Stay tuned for my follow up posts:

My Top Ten TV Series of the Past Two Years 


What have been your favourite games of the past few years?

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Review: The Ashes of London by Andrew Taylor



The Ashes of London

Book One of Marwood and Lovett

by Andrew Taylor

Historical Fiction | 496 Pages | Published by Harper Collins in 2016


| Rating |


| TL;DR |

As the Great Fire rages and the utter devastation of London becomes ever more apparent, murder, mayhem and conspiracy abound. In order to protect both himself and his father, James Marwood must solve the unfolding mystery as it cuts dangerously close to both home and the crown.

Wonderfully descriptive and incredibly evocative throughout, The Ashes of London is a feast for the senses that had me guessing to the very end.

| Synopsis |

London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, and reluctant government informer.

In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated and his thumbs have been tied behind his back.

Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters – and across the path of a determined, beautiful and vengeful young woman.

| Review |

A raging inferno. A mysterious young woman. A cold-blooded murder. As the Great Fire consumes all in its path, James Marwood, the son of a former traitor and a government clerk, becomes embroiled in murder and conspiracy as a body is pulled from the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral. With the circumstances surrounding the victim’s death going well beyond the inferno, and talk of dark and dangerous conspiracies abound, Marwood must unravel a mystery which comes uncomfortably close to home.

Written with historical and atmospheric detail, The Ashes of London weaves a tale of freedom, murder and rightful vengeance amidst the flames and destruction of The Great Fire of London. Six years have passed since Charles II returned to the thrown and the pursuit of those who sentenced his father still holds the country in a vice of fear and distrust. As tales of murder and violence emerge from the ruins of the city, it becomes ever more apparent that a dark and dangerous conspiracy may be gaining traction in the heart of London itself.

Amidst the crumbling ruins of the old city, a tale of old enemies, bitter betrayals and freedom emerges as the protagonists, James Marwood and Catherine Lovett, vie to survive in the death throes of the old city and escape the sins of their fathers. From the raging inferno and crumbling city, to the ensuing fear and chaos, Andrew Taylor has written a rich and evocative novel which breaths life into the 17th century and conjures an atmosphere of tension, fear and suspicion.

With Utopian visions of Christopher Wren’s London, and the frightening, desolate comparison of a devastated city, the true strength of The Ashes of London is the evocative quality of Taylor’s writing as Restoration England comes to life. The plot steadily winds its way through these stark descriptions, which in no way hinders the tension developed in the ensuing chaos, to portray a city of profound corruption, excessive greed and unexpected optimism.

James Marwood, our first-person point of view character, is a likeable and interesting protagonist who finds himself in a number of hopeless situations as he hunts for a killer across the crumbling ruins of London. Whisked into plots far beyond his control, he must jump to the whims of his masters whilst protecting his ageing and ailing father who, as an ex-prisoner of the crown, often lets slip his treasonous views to the detriment of both himself and his son. As the narrative weaves a complex tale of treachery and murder, James must skilfully navigate both the dangerous streets of London and the upper echelons of society.

In alternating chapters, the story shifts from the first person perspective of James Marwood to the third person perspective of Catherine Lovett, daughter of a puritanical traitor. Cat is a gifted and unusual female (for her day), who whiles away the hours drawing and reinventing London under the watchful of eye of her aunt and uncle. But all is not as it seems in their household as Cat undergoes cruel manipulation and abuse at the hands of her family. Strong, forceful and fiercely independent in a world where she has few friends, Cat is a character whose traumatic life spurs her to live, to survive and to pursue those passions which give her both hope and a reason to live.

Andrew Taylor has written an incredibly vivid tale which relishes in detail, description and atmosphere. As James and Cat’s narratives circle one another in a tense and skilfully plotted tale, their stories converge in a satisfying conclusion which leaves neither king nor pauper untouched. With characters portrayed with as much verve as the city itself, The Ashes of London undoubtedly proves that Taylor’s reputation for both historic and crime fiction is unashamedly deserved.

The Ashes of London is a beautifully detailed and skilfully written novel which had me guessing to the very end. With a narrative paced by its descriptive and atmospheric journey through London, this is a novel to be savoured as the lines between good and evil, right and wrong, and noble and ignoble are hopelessly blurred.

Amazon Book Depository | Goodreads

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Review: Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie



Sharp Ends

by Joe Abercrombie

Fantasy | 287 Pages | Published by Gollancz in 2016


| Rating |


| TL;DR |

Sharp Ends is an anthology of thirteen stories set in the world of The First Law. With brilliantly dark humour, action packed battles, and frequent blood-lettings throughout, this is a collection which delights in introducing new faces amongst familiar friends and enemies, and is nothing short of a thrill ride from beginning to end.

| Synopsis |

The Union army may be full of bastards, but there’s only one who thinks he can save the day single-handed when the Gurkish come calling: the incomparable Colonel Sand dan Glokta.

Curnden Craw and his dozen are out to recover a mysterious item from beyond the Crinna. Only one small problem: no one seems to know what the item is.

Shevedieh, the self-styled best thief in Styria, lurches from disaster to catastrophe alongside her best friend and greatest enemy, Javre, Lioness of Hoskopp.

And after years of bloodshed, the idealistic chieftain Bethod is desperate to bring peace to the North. There’s only one obstacle left – his own lunatic champion, the most feared man in the North: the Bloody-Nine…

Sharp Ends combines previously published, award-winning tales with exclusive new short stories. Violence explodes, treachery abounds, and the words are as deadly as the weapons in this rogue’s gallery of side-shows, back-stories, and sharp endings from the world of the First Law.

| Review |

Introducing characters old and new, Sharp Ends is a chronological set of short stories that mark events both significant and insignificant, told and untold, from the world of The First Law.

Exciting and darkly humorous throughout, this collection displays Abercrombie’s wit, clever writing style and skilful characterisation as he forges links throughout the Circle of the World. And whilst knowledge of the other novels is not essential, overall enjoyment is likely to be increased by an understanding of the overarching events, backstories and familiar names and faces that comprise much of this anthology.

With a theme of two new central characters running throughout this collection, in Small Kindnesses, Skipping Town, Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd and Tough Times All Over, Shev and Javre prove a brilliant and engaging comedic duo who are thoroughly deserved of a series of their own. And with other favourites including A Beautiful Bastard and Made a Monster, which bring us face to face with familiar and long loved characters, this is an anthology which truly does have a story for all fans.

A Beautiful Bastard

[ Kadir, Spring 566 ]

A Beautiful Bastard takes us to a time before The First Law, when Sand dan Glokta was a swaggering cavalier whose skill was only outweighed by his ego. Told from the perspective of a blubbering and gushing Salem Rews, or Superior Pike as we now know him, this is a brilliant tale of Glokta’s magnificence before his destruction at the hands of the Gurkish. A thoroughly enjoyable and amusing tale, this short story is made all the more brilliant by the knowledge of Glokta’s and Rews’ futures and also features a cameo by Corporal Tunny.

Made a Monster

[ Carleon, Summer 570 ]

Logen Ninefingers returns to Sharp Ends in Made a Monster; a wonderfully brutal tale which showcases his bloody, brutal violence and features almost none of his redeeming qualities. Told from the perspective of Bethod, with more than a few glimpses of Scale, Calder, The Dogman and Curnden Craw, we see the Bloody Nine in all his fearsome glory from the side of those who dread the edge of his sword. A brilliantly bloody tale, Made a Monster provides a glimpse of Bethod’s determination to right his terrible wrong in creating the Bloody Nine.

Small Kindnesses

[ Westport, Autumn 573 ]

Small Kindnesses introduces us to Shevedieh, the best thief in Westport, as her life on the straight and narrow is brought to an abrupt end when a large, red-headed woman washes up on her doorstep. Accompanied by Severard – yes, that’s Practical Severard of Inquisition fame – her life is turned upside down by a job gone wrong, with her small act of kindness ending up her saving grace. This introduction to our recurring characters, Shev and Javre the Lioness of Hoskopp, is a funny, bloody and somewhat grim beginning that paves the way for a strange and wonderful relationship.

The Fool Jobs

[ East of the Crinna, Autumn 574 ]

The Fool Jobs tells the tale of Curden Craw and his dozen as they accept a contract to retrieve a mysterious item of value – a thing, let’s say – from the village of Fox Clan prior to the events of The Heroes. With nostalgic cameos from Wonderful, Whirrun of Bligh, Jolly Yon Cumber, Brack-i-Dayn and Scorry Tiptoe, The Fool Jobs is a funny snatch and grab tale that’s equal parts messy, bloody and hilarious.

Skipping Town

[ The Near Country, Summer 575 ]

In Skipping Town we return to Shev and Javre as they complete a job for Tumnor at The Weeping Slaver. Only there’s something not quite right, the job is more than likely a double cross and it’s high time they skip town. This action-packed and blood thirsty addition is brilliantly brutal and develops the powerful. warrior-like character of Javre as she is pursued by a mysterious and dangerous order from which she has fled.

Hell

[ Dagoska, Spring 576 ]

Hell tells the tale of the Siege of Dagoska from the perspective of Temple, who later features in Red Country alongside Shy South. A brutal, fiery and chaotic tale, Hell captures the dangerous atmosphere of a city under siege and the terrifying arrival of the Eaters.

Two’s Company

[ Somewhere in the North, Summer 576 ]

Two’s Company rejoins Shev and Javre as they meet Whirrun of Bligh on a flimsy bridge over a remote canyon. In a humorous and brutal bout between warriors, the Lioness of Hoskopp and Cracknut Whirrun find themselves treading over familiar, sword swinging ground as they are pursued by both Bethod and the Fifteen. Two’s Company is a funny, engaging and brilliantly bloody tale that could easily hold its own outside of this anthology. 

Wrong Place, Wrong Time

[ Styria, 580 ]

Wrong Place, Wrong Time tells the tale of three somewhat innocent bystanders who find themselves swept up in the wholesale destruction wrought by Monzcarro Murcatto as she enacts her revenge in Best Served Cold. From the Banking House of Valint and Balk, to Cardotti’s House of Leisure and the battlefields of Ospria, no one walks away untouched by The Snake of Talins’ vengeance. Wrong Place, Wrong Time is an exciting and bloodthirsty tale that showcases three brilliant alternative perspectives in the ensuing torrent of chaos, flames and blood.

Some Desperado

[ The Near Country, Summer 584 ]

Some Desperado tells the tale of Shy South before the events of Red Country. As she flees from three bounty hunters armed with nothing but a bag of gold and the clothes on her back, she must use all her cunning to fight, trick and escape her pursuers before she ends up hanging from the gallows. Some Desperado is an action packed, gritty tale which is a wonderful return to a familiar favourite.

Yesterday Near a Village Called Barden

[ Near Barden, Autumn 584 ]

In Yesterday Near a Village Called Barden, Pale-as-Snow is preparing an ambush against a troop of Union soldiers accompanied by Bremer dan Gorst in his position as Royal Observer – a position he’s been forced into after the disaster at Cardotti’s House of Leisure (which appears in Wrong Place, Wrong Time). Written during the events of The Heroes, this story is an action-packed and bloody skirmish told from numerous perspectives and proves that there’s nowhere safe when the swords start swinging.

Three’s a Crowd

[ Talins, Autumn 587 ]

Shev and Javre return in Three’s a Crowd after Shev’s lover, Carcolf, is abducted by Horald the Finger as a consequence of the events in Small Kindnesses. In a story laden with familiar faces – Vitari, Lieutenant Forest, Corporal Tunny and Lance Corporal Yolk to name but a few – Shev and Javre must embark on a rescue mission which unveils some uncomfortable truths for the Lioness of Hoskopp.

Freedom!

[ Averstock, Summer 590 ]

Freedom is an extract from Nicomo Cosca’s biography written by Spillion Sworbreck as he accompanies the Company of the Gracious Hand during the events of Red Country. A exaggerated, farcical and glorified narrative ensues which paints Cosca in hilariously flowery and heroic language as his company sack (nay, save!) the hillside town of Averstock. Freedom is a ridiculously funny tale which reads as though Cosca had written it himself.

Tough Times All Over

[ Sipani, Sping 592 ]

Tough Times All Over tells the tale of a mysterious package, which could well be the thing from The Fool Jobs, as it changes hands across the city of Sipani. The narrative is exciting and well written with the POV changing character each time the package is picked up, handed over or pilfered in its journey across the city. Joined by faces both old and new, Tough Times All Over is a fitting end to a brilliant anthology.


 

Darkly humorous with brilliant characterisation throughout, Sharp Ends is a wonderfully witty, nostalgic and exciting look at the stories between stories, alternative perspectives and unrecorded events that make up the Circle of the World.

I highly recommend reading this collection whilst already immersed in the universe of The First Law as each story weaves subtle links and ties through almost every other Abercrombie novel and discovering new connections heightened my enjoyment throughout. Consequently, this literary device may be lost on new readers or those who haven’t returned to Abercrombie’s writing in some time.

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Review: The Man with One Name by Tom Lloyd



The Man with One Name

A Tale of the God Fragments (Book 0.5)

by Tom Lloyd

Fantasy | 68 Pages | Published by Gollancz in 2018


| Rating |


| TL;DR |

Offering a gritty and Western style adventure, The Man With One Name introduces a younger, more sober Lynx before he finds himself a part of Anatin’s Mercenary Deck. Action-packed, exciting and just a little bit on the short side, this prequel is a fitting introduction to a series that always leaves the reader wanting more.

| Synopsis |

Salterin is a town full of fear. Fear and sheep. But mostly fear.

It lies in the north of a principality recently shattered by the Hanese war, cut off from its neighbours and warily watching the advance of winter. Bandits and wolves haunt the woods, but something worse lies within. A monster named Therian has installed himself as lord of the manor and no one is foolish enough to oppose him.

In their hour of need comes a man with one name. A man who will not suffer monsters. Or mutton. But mostly monsters.

| Review |

More than a year has past since the Hanese war, and Therian, a thug and self-appointed lord, has assumed control of the town of Salterin where cruelty and lawlessness now prevails.

Lynx, a drifter and a gunslinger, blows into the troubled town just when it needs him most. Striking up an unlikely friendship with local sheep farmer Sulay, a hardened old woman with a love for herding dogs, Lynx sets out to right the wrongs that fall at his doorstep and protect Salterin from the mounting trouble within.

A troubled town. A strange drifter. A convenient job opening as lawman. In a tale where even the title is an homage to Eastwood and the Western genre, The Man With One Name proves a fun and engaging twist on familiar Western tropes. And with only a hint of the gambling, drinking and debauchery we have grown accustomed to in The God Fragments, this prequel provides both a fitting introduction and an interesting background to Tom Lloyd’s brilliant protagonist.

Lynx, an ex-soldier of So Han, is a man with a past who strives to do the right thing even when it could cost him his life or his freedom. As he falls into the position of Salterin’s lawman, a position that reflects both his honour and his affinity for trouble, we are granted a brief but fascinating insight into his character before his association with Anatin’s Mercenary Deck.

With more than a hint of the Wild West, and described with the familiar richness we’ve come to expect from Lloyd’s writing, this novella introduces us to the untamed, rustic lands that lie between bustling towns. And with characters comprising an intriguing array of the good, the bad and the undoubtedly ugly, we are given a fascinating snapshot of those inhabiting this beautifully rendered frontier town turned dictatorship.

With particular favourites in Sulay, a grizzled and feisty sheep farmer, along with her herding dogs, whose lovable and dangerous nature quite often steal the show, this short novella manages to field both interesting characters and maintain more than a hint of the action-packed, bloody and descriptive writing that Stranger of Tempest wields with abandon.

Highly entertaining, if a little short, The Man With One Name provides a fitting, Western style introduction to The God Fragments that is entirely self-contained.  And, after whetting my appetite for a meaty, mercenary caper, I believe it’s high time that I added Princess of Blood to my library.

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Review: To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers



To Be Taught, If Fortunate

A Novella

by Becky Chambers

Science Fiction | 136 Pages | Published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2018


| Rating |


| TL;DR |

To Be Taught, If Fortunate tells the tale of the crew of the Merian as they explore the universe in a quest to understand life as no one yet knows it. Following their passions, their hopes, and their dreams, this is a tale that binds us to their mission in an exploration of exhilarating highs and terrifying lows.

In a narrative suffused with joyful discovery and mounting despair, To Be Taught, If Fortunate warms the heart and sets the soul soaring to the stars.

| Synopsis |

In the future, instead of terraforming planets to sustain human life, explorers of the galaxy transform themselves.

At the turn of the twenty-second century, scientists make a breakthrough in human spaceflight. Through a revolutionary method known as somaforming, astronauts can survive in hostile environments off Earth using synthetic biological supplementations. They can produce antifreeze in sub-zero temperatures, absorb radiation and convert it for food, and conveniently adjust to the pull of different gravitational forces. With the fragility of the body no longer a limiting factor, human beings are at last able to explore neighbouring exoplanets long suspected to harbour life.

Ariadne is one such explorer. On a mission to ecologically survey four habitable worlds fifteen light-years from Earth, she and her fellow crewmates sleep while in transit, and wake each time with different features. But as they shift through both form and time, life back on Earth has also changed. Faced with the possibility of returning to a planet that has forgotten those who have left, Ariadne begins to chronicle the wonders and dangers of her journey, in the hope that someone back home might still be listening.

| Review |

Ariadne O’Neill is an astronaut and flight engineer aboard the OCA spacecraft Merian. After near three decades of sleep, she and her crew awake above their vessel to complete their mission amongst the stars – an ecological survey of exoplanets known or suspected to harbour life.

The development of somaforming has enabled astronauts to adapt their bodies to new environments; to survive crushing gravity, sweltering heat, dangerous levels of radiation and below freezing temperatures. Under the protection of this genetic supplementation, the research team are able to adapt, survive and survey their surroundings in earnest; cataloguing planets, ecological habitats and ensure there is a record of all sentient life.

Written in the form of a communications report to earth, Ariadne condenses the journey and experiences of the Merian and her crew into four equal parts, each telling a tale of discovery and wonder as the crew explore a different planet. These linked journeys are overflowing with worldbuilding and scientific details, both of which form the backbone of this novella and allow Becky Chambers to showcase her beautiful, literary prose – a quite different experience to that aboard the Wayfarer.

The descriptions of the Merian – the inflatable habitat modules, the close internal quarters, the interconnecting spaces – are some of my favourite in the whole novella, and give a sense of home in a vast and endless wilderness. Similarly, the descriptions of somaforming are well thought out and provide a considered explanation for how humans have been able to endure space travel and commence their exploration of new worlds. The science, however, is developed with a light touch and never overwhelms the narrative.

While this novel focuses more on the exploration of worlds rather than the characters inhabiting them, there is still a drive and goodness behind Chambers’ creations which give the reader hope and an emotional connection to the narrative. Ariadne, Elena, Jack and Chikondi are interesting yet relatable creations, albeit ones whose jobs are intertwined with their hobbies and their passions. and their unique shared experience aboard the Merian makes for a fascinating read.

There is a simple beauty to Chambers’ writing and To Be Taught, If Fortunate is a unique and memorable novella with a focus on joy and discovery, and the impact of the journey on the crew. Told from the single point of view of Ariadne, Chambers skilfully unravels a meaningful narrative which has been written with nothing short of warmth and love for the human condition and our seemingly in-built desire to explore the stars. This is a novella that seems real, feels real and, though fairly light on the science fiction, is effortlessly engaging throughout.

To Be Taught, If Fortunate can best be described as a love letter to the stars, to space exploration and to the people who make it all possible. It eloquently captures the joy of space travel, the awe of discovery, and new possibilities that can only be imagined a world away from home. While this novella is perhaps not the equal of Chambers’ Wayfarers series, it has a beauty and a charm all of its own that captures the imagination and sets our minds soaring through the universe around us.

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Review: Going Postal by Terry Pratchett



Going Postal

Book Thirty-Three of the Discworld Series

Book One of Moist von Lipwig

by Terry Pratchett

Fantasy | 352 Pages | First published by Doubleday in 2004


| Rating |


| TL;DR |

Going Postal tells the tale of Moist von Lipwig – con artist, thief and professional liar. When his innumerable crimes finally catch up with him, he is offered the position of Postmaster General in return for his life, a position which might just be trying to kill him anyway. Tasked with restoring the defunct Ankh-Morpork Post Office, Moist von Lipwig has one chance to prove himself as he goes head to head with Discworld’s biggest corporation.

With Junior Postmen, golems and letters aplenty, Going Postal is a madcap tale that delights in absurdity and is nothing short of a joy to read from beginning to end. Exquisitely written and absurdly funny throughout, the thirty third addition to the Discworld series couldn’t be more highly recommended.

| Synopsis |

Moist von Lipwig is a con artist…

… and a fraud and a man faced with a life choice: be hanged, or put Ankh-Morpork’s ailing postal service back on its feet.

It’s a tough decision.

The post is a creaking old institution, overshadowed by new technology. But there are people who still believe in it, and Moist must become one of them if he’s going to see that the mail gets through, come rain, hail, sleet, dogs, the Post Office Workers Friendly and Benevolent Society, an evil chairman . . . and a midnight killer.

Getting a date with Adora Bell Dearheart would be nice, too.

So perhaps there is a shot at redemption in the mad world of the mail, waiting for a man who’s prepared to push the envelope . . .

| Review |

Con-artist, swindler and thief – Moist von Lipwig was extremely good at his job, that was until he wasn’t. Arrested and sentenced to death for his innumerable crimes, he no longer has any tricks left up his sleeve.

But as the hangman’s noose tightens around his neck and the world turns black, a new opportunity emerges. Lord Vetinari, supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork, will grant Moist a reprieve if he should accomplish a deceptively simple task. As Ankh-Morpork’s new Postmaster General, Moist von Lipwig must restore the Post Office to its rightful position as the preeminent messenger service of the city – a job easier said than done.

The Post Office is a tired, derelict building overflowing with thousands of undelivered letters; his staff amount to one ancient Junior Postman and one Apprentice Postman with an unhealthy obsession for pins; his predecessors have all met untimely and often gruesome deaths; and he must go in direct competition with the business behemoth, The Grand Trunk Semaphore Company

But if anyone can con an entire city into believing he actually knows what he is doing, then Moist von Lipwig can. Aided by his unfortunate staff, an ever watchful golem, and the chain-smoking Adora Belle Dearheart, Moist von Lipwig may just be able to deliver. His life most assuredly depends upon it.

Discworld is ever an analogy for our own world and our own human failings, and Going Postal is no exception. It pokes fun of petty bureaucracy, of unnecessary rules and regulations, and of our inclination towards the absurd. It is a brilliant satire that feels all too British and all too familiar, and acutely demonstrates the genius of Terry Pratchett’s wit and observation.

From pin collectors to stamp collectors to clacks enthusiasts, Going Postal turns the mundane into a bright and witty narrative that becomes ever the more humorous the closer to reality it gets. Refreshing in both its plot and in its delivery, this is a novel that revels in the ridiculous as it takes the reader on a not entirely sane journey through Ankh-Morpork’s establishment.

The city of Ankh-Morpork, its crumbling Post Office and its ever more deficient postal service are described in vivid detail from the perspective of an outsider to the city. And in this somewhat derelict building occupied by the (perhaps quite literal) ghosts of thousands of undelivered letters, Moist von Lipwig more than proves his mettle in a surprising narrative that is laced with phantoms, intrigue and the occasional letter.

The progressive and prosperous clacks towers – something akin to a gargantuan version of Chappe’s Telegraph – thread their way across the city and out to destinations afar, and provide the reader with a sense of the enormity and impossibility of the task at hand. They – the unforgiving Grand Trunk Semaphore Company and their prolific director Reacher Gilt – also play the role of chief adversary in this tale, stirring up long held anger and providing Moist with an unpleasant reflection of his own unsavoury past.

And even if the insanely brilliant plot and richly developed world weren’t enough, Mr. Pratchett suffuses his tale with a myriad of madcap, brilliant characters that more than steal the show throughout. Our protagonist, Moist von Lipwig is a conman, a thief and a liar but he also plays an important role as the eyes – and sometimes the voice – of the reader as he experiences Ankh-Morpork, the Post Office and the strange people who inhabit it.

Supported by the ageing Junior Postman Tolliver Groat, who has a penchant for the Regulations and dangerous home remedies, Apprentice Postman Stanley, who has an unhealthy obsession with pins, and Adora Belle Dearheart, Manager of The Golem Trust, the character of Moist von Lipwig is only made more brilliant, more astute and more likeable by their apparent absurdity.  And the ever watchful and knowing presence of Lord Vetinari, who plays the role of puppet master so deftly and in such an eloquent manner, unashamedly charms with his darkly manipulative character.

Terry Pratchett has a created a flawlessly brilliant novel with a vibrancy and humour that suffuses the narrative from beginning to end. His wit is sharp, his writing is punchy and to the point, and his prose conjures a world of sheer bureaucratic brilliance that both mocks and endears us to The Ankh-Morpork Post Office, and perhaps even our own real-world equivalent.

The thirty-third addition to the Discworld collection is anything but stale, providing a refreshing and brilliantly witty tale that both surprised and captivated me throughout. For fans of Discworld old and new, Going Postal couldn’t come more highly recommended. Never have three hundred odd pages felt so few.

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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: A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers



A Closed and Common Orbit

Book Two of the Wayfarers Series

by Becky Chambers

Science Fiction | 385 Pages | Published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2016


| Rating |


| TL;DR |

The second in the Wayfarers series picks up the narrative of Lovelace and Pepper after the conclusion of The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. Following the story of Pepper’s past and Lovelace’s present, A Closed and Common Orbit is a tale of love and hope, friendship and family, and the struggle for identity in a vast and sometimes unforgiving universe.

This is a sequel that not only surpasses its predecessor in its richness of setting and depth of character, but opens up a beautiful and terrifying world of possibilities for the ongoing series. Utterly captivating from beginning to end, raising thought-provoking questions throughout, this is a series that really shouldn’t be missed.

| Synopsis |

The stand-alone sequel to the award-winning The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.

Lovelace was once merely a ship’s artificial intelligence. When she wakes up in a new body, following a total system shut-down and reboot, she has to start over in a synthetic body, in a world where her kind are illegal. She’s never felt so alone.

But she’s not alone, not really. Pepper, one of the engineers who risked life and limb to reinstall Lovelace, is determined to help her adjust to her new world. Because Pepper knows a thing or two about starting over.

Together, Pepper and Lovey will discover that, huge as the galaxy may be, it’s anything but empty.

| Review |

Lovelace, once the AI of the Wayfarer, has a new body. She can move and speak and interact as other humans do, but she is not human and the vastness of the world around her is an intimidating prospect. Supported by Pepper, a human unlike any other she has seen, and armed with a new name – Sidra – she must learn to live a life that she is already railing against.

But Pepper’s past speaks just as loudly as Sidra’s present and there may be more similarities between them than Sidra initially thought. Through interwoven arcs of past and present, the mirrored narratives reveal moments of joy, pain, heartbreak and success and prove that, in this universe, just about anything may be possible.

Where The Long Way was a character-driven space opera full of excitement, discovery and intrigue, A Closed and Common Orbit is decidedly not. It is instead a study of character, or two characters to be precise, and how their lives, stories and motives intertwine – and it is all the better for it. This is a heart-warming and beautiful read which questions morality and humanity and takes the reader on a character-driven journey of identity, acceptance and freedom.

The transformative journey that Sidra embarks on runs in parallel with the often heart breaking story of Pepper’s – or Jane’s – past. These two timelines draw interesting and surprising parallels throughout the narrative and explore thought provoking questions about identity, family and belonging. It also demonstrates that even in an advanced, universal society that is accepting of a multitude of species, genders and cultures, that there are always those on the outside looking in; those who feel they do not belong or who cannot show their true selves to the universe.

While some readers may be disappointed that the original and familiar crew of the Wayfarer do not appear in this sequel, their absence does not detract from the richness of the story or depth of character portrayal. In fact, A Closed and Common Orbit explores character with a profound depth and focus that just wasn’t possible in the first novel.

Sidra’s arc readily demonstrates the confusion, fear and frustration of coming to terms with her new situation, combining her endearing qualities with a petulance that makes her appear ever more human as the narrative progresses. By contrast, Jane’s story shows the fear, determination and desperation of escaping a past that defined her entire perception of the world and how, through the kindness of unexpected strangers, she became the Pepper we see today.

The interweaving arcs of Jane’s past and Sidra’s present are cleverly written and striking in their reflection of one another, resulting in a beautiful and utterly compelling narrative that sweeps you along at a steady pace and fills you with outrage, joy, sadness and hope at the turn of each page.

Unexpected and surprising, A Closed and Common Orbit took a hold of my heart at the outset and brought tears to my eyes as it closed. This isn’t a book about action or conflict, or about a quest to save a dying world; it is a book about identity, our similarities and differences, and how we can work together to make a better future. But more than that, it is a book about family, friendship and, above all, hope.

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Review: How to Rule An Empire and Get Away With It by K.J. Parker



How to Rule An Empire and Get Away With It

by K.J. Parker

Fantasy | 384 Pages | To be published by Orbit on 18th August 2020


| Rating |


| TL;DR |

How to Rule An Empire and Get Away With It picks up seven years after the events of Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City. Told from the perspective of Notker – thespian, playwright, and son of a late Theme boss – this witty and over-dramatised tale tells the story of his coercion into a seat of power as tensions begin to fray both within The City and beyond its battered walls.

Funny, action-packed, and almost always surprising, How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It is a sequel worthy of its predecessor. Whether just one in a series, or the final chapter, this book is sure to shock, amuse and entertain in equal measure.

| Synopsis |

This is the story of how the City was saved, by Notker the professional liar, written down because eventually the truth always seeps through.

The City may be under siege, but everyone still has to make a living. Take Notker, the acclaimed playwright, actor and impresario. Nobody works harder, even when he’s not working. Thankfully, it turns out that people appreciate an evening at the theatre even when there are large rocks falling out of the sky.

But Notker is a man of many talents, and all the world is, apparently, a stage. It seems that the Empire needs him – or someone who looks a lot like him – for a role that will call for the performance of a lifetime. At least it will guarantee fame, fortune and immortality. If it doesn’t kill him first.

This is the story of Notker, an occasionally good man and a terrible liar. With razor-sharp prose and ferocious wit, K.J. Parker has created one of fantasy’s greatest heroes, and he might even get away with it.

| Review |

How to Rule An Empire and Get Away With It tells the story of Notker, one part thespian, one part crook and two parts in over his head. Seven years have passed since the commencement of the siege. Seven years of enemy bombardments, seven years of death, blood and mayhem, and seven years staring at an enemy encampment turned temporary metropolis. Tensions within The City are frayed and, if the enemy doesn’t get there first, The City’s destruction might just come at its own hand.

With a speciality for impersonating the great and the good on stage, Notker finds himself in the unlikely position of having to impersonate hero and darling of The City, Lysimachus. But this time the world is his stage and life isn’t so easy at the top – pride most definitely comes before a very, hard fall. Notker, along with his grudging partner Hodda, and a whole host of crazed, bureaucratic and megalomaniac puppet masters, must save both The City and his own neck – well, mostly his own neck – before the ruin of all.

Through the Acts of a play, K.J. Parker has woven comedy, tragedy and fantasy tropes aplenty into an engaging and well-paced narrative. This stand-alone novel set in the same world as Sixteen, is often humorous and always charming, yet has an undercurrent of darkness that gives the story both depth and purpose. Told entirely from Notker’s perspective, this is a clever and surprising novel which revels in shocking and surprising its reader.

Throughout the tale Notker, in the true character of a performer, relishes in expounding humorous descriptions of books and plays which tie directly back to his own narrative. These amusing and anecdotal recitals help to develop both Notker’s character and flesh out the world around him, which despite his best intentions, remains a mere backdrop to The City’s leading lady. His own history and engagement with The City, through his familial connections, his work and his somewhat questionable lifestyle, allows The City to grow in tandem with Notker and become the true supporting character to his tale.

The style of narrative, however, lends itself to the caricature-esque development of ‘extras’ to Notker’s narrative; his reluctant partner, his crone-like mother and the rival parties vying for his control. Painted through Notker’s witty observations and unconscious bias, these supporting actors often miss out on the depth of character employed in other works of fiction, but retain their own unique and theatrical charm as a result of it.

In essence, this novel, and Sixteen before it, are books about ordinary folk who find themselves in a city on the brink of destruction, and who find that they have been coerced, tricked, or pulled into positions of power by friend and foe alike. The events may result in shock, laughter, surprise or an eye roll, but these are their stories; imperfect realism of an imagined history.

While the shock conclusion to Sixteen left a little to be desired, How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It does not suffer from the same limitations. The climax is clever, surprising and ties the threads of the narrative together with a verve and panache one can only expect from a true tragicomedy. This is a book which reflects Notker – which is Notker – and the style that the author has chosen to employ can only be applauded.

Whether in The City or another land entirely, I can only hope to return to Notker, or Lysimachus, or whomever he may be impersonating now, once again.

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

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