Shepherds: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

This week I dived into Shepherds, by J. Drew Brumbaugh. It’s a near-ish-future aquatic sci-fi so that’s the level I’m at with the whole ‘dived in’ thing. I’m not even sorry.

This was a really interesting and suspenseful action drama, let down by one tiny thing that I think would probably be pretty easy to write out of the story or otherwise minimise. The author is just a little bit too keen on describing the female characters. Specifically, their boobies.

Now look, I like boobies. So do a lot of readers. All up and down the gender and sexuality spectrum, boobies are a thing that unite an awful lot of us. Boobies are great.

Just … you know.

Anyway, if it was just the hopeless sleazy hapless villain Captain Poddington who was obsessed, that would be one thing, but it was fairly widespread. That being said, it was a really small and fixable thing, and probably also down to personal taste as well, so let’s move on. It certainly didn’t spoil the story for me.

I immediately loved that the male protagonist was a Finnish guy. No idea where it came from (Brumbaugh appears to be from the US), but Toivo was repressed, melancholy, fatalistic and deeply conflicted about his feelings regarding Russians. It’s written with knowledge. Toivo is a great, tragic, triumphant protagonist. And his boat being named Sisu is just perfect.

I know I said we were moving on but this meme demanded to be included.

Anyway, what the villains of the story lack in complexity and relatability, they more than make up for in being giant shitbags who keep you turning the page and angry-reading about until they finally get their comeuppance. The world of the late 21st Century is well-realised and (depressingly) all too plausible. The developments, in the ecology and fisheries and sociocultural / bio-science issues … all really nice. Subtle, and not infodumped too extensively, but that gives it an intimate feel. Like the Pacific ocean isn’t all that big, really (when, you know, by the end of the 21st Century if anything it’s probably going to be even bigger than it is now).

The dolphin sub-plot is nice, understated and clever, not overblown and somehow not silly despite the fact that it lands somewhere between Flipper and Seaquest DSV. The revelation of the deep history and mythos of the dolphin species, as well as their ‘religion’, was really interesting. Their use, as scouts and helpers, swung between extremely effective and kinda pointless, but it was far more often the former.

The action kept the pages turning, the ending was darn exciting, and the human drama was refreshingly innocent. People are people, no matter whether they have webbed fingers or are Russian!

I think we can all learn something from that.


A couple of raunchy old sex scenes in this one, and an awful lot of male gaze, for better or worse … but for all that, I think the emotional connections between the characters were more important than the physical ones – and that came through in the story. One Nemo and eight hundred and fifty assorted Wendy Juniors and Marlon Juniors out of a possible mass shoal spawning that turns the ocean to cold chowder with its explosive, instinct-driven passion.


Shepherds boasts some brutal murders, but what hit hardest for me was the hate behind a lot of the killing, the fear of the alien, and of course the senseless butchery-for-profit of the sweet and Douglas-Adamsian dolphins (the main difference being these ones didn’t fuck off when Earth was about to be destroyed). It was a gut punch every time. It just … wasn’t all that gory. Let’s give it two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.


It all hung together quite nicely, the genetic engineering and the cultural and religious backlash against it, the future of human farming and drug-running and corporate greed and all the rest of it. Not really much in the way of WTF at all, I was just left reading about a world with a history I wanted to learn more of. I’ll award this one 17% of a Kyle MacLachlan out of a possible David Lynch production.

My Final Verdict

Shepherds was interesting to read and while a lot of its characters could have used a bit more rounding out, I cared about them and was happy with how it all went. I’ll give it a very solid three stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale, although I would have been inclined to give it three-and-a-half if I could. Good stuff!

The Blogger Squad – What we are reading update

Hello!  Welcome to the first feature post from the new crew at The Book in Hand!  Westu hal!  I am delighted to be kicking this document off and showcasing what I am reading at the moment and what everyone else is reading as well.

While we are telling you, why don’t you let us know in the comments about what you are reading?  It was always interesting and great to learn about other readers and add to the TBR pile as well (not that mine isn’t worryingly high) but anyway let us begin!


Well I am very excited at the moment, my reading has gone so well this month that I was able to get to my bonus September read early and thoroughly enjoyed re reading Northern Wrath by Thilde Kold Holt, book 1 of The Hanged God Trilogy. This was mostly in anticipation of the sequel Shackled Fates which I was granted a physical ARC for by the publisher.  I am at this moment reading another eARC, The Bone Ships Wake by R.J Barker and seriously enjoying my return to this amazing world but sad because it is coming to an end.  I am also beta reading A Skeleton’s Eye for Michael Baker – and if you have never read anything by this chap then I highly suggest you do as he is an author to watch. 

Anyway I now turn the table to the next member of the squad 

Arthur / nocrackedspines

Hi everyone! I am excited to be stepping back into the Wheel of Time this month with book number 7 – A Crown of Swords! I started my journey through the series for the first time last March. With all of the excitement around the Amazon series, I have been itching to get back into the world. I recommend picking up Wheel of Time if you haven’t read it yet especially if you love Lord of the Rings and Dune! I picked up an eARC this month from an author for a book called Scion of the Oracle. Looking forward to reading in the next couple of weeks!

I will turn the table once to the next member of our squad

Edpool / Hatboy’s Hatstand

By the time you read this, it will be out of date. I’m currently churning through three books a week as a judge for the first ever Self-Published Science Fiction Contest, the SPSFC. Each book I read gets a review and I’m posting them on Amazon, Goodreads, The Book In Hand and my own blog. I tried Reddit but it turned out to be Reddit. So look for those books as they pop up! There’s some mithril to be found in the self-published mine. I’m currently just finishing up with Week 7 out of 10 for round one of the contest, and then I will have a little break to read a couple of books written by the contest organisers: Wool by Hugh Howey (soon to be a live action show on Apple+, I believe!) and Monstre by Duncan Swan. I’ve been looking forward to them!

Preparing to turn the table to the next member of our squad, turning the table, table turned


Hello everyone! I’m not reading anything. 

JOKE! I am actually at the very start of The Shadow Throne by Django Wexler, which is book two of The Shadow Campaigns books. Book one was fantastic so I jumped straight into book two. I also had to due to peer pressure of my buddy reading companions who finished the book way sooner than me 🙈😂 Yes, David and Eleni I’m talking to you!

I am also currently listening to The Providence of Fire by Brian Staveley, which is also the second installment of its series. Again book one was really good and I thoroughly enjoyed my listening experience. I’m liking the change in pace in book two and also more time with other characters!

Turning table to the next squad member…


Hey Folks !! I am currently embroiled in the dark and sordid goings on of Earwa. I’m reading The Great Ordeal By R Scott Bakker.This series remains to be completely consistent in every way and i do think that this series has reached new heights and surpassed the first half of the series in some ways. Bakker is one author that doesn’t pull any punches and I would say that some of the content is not for the faint of heart, but it’s totally uncompromising in every way, as intended. It’s writers like this that really have a lasting impact on me and I love that he goes near subjects that most writers won’t and still manages to write something that’s completely credible.. His character work still continues to blow me away and im currently so impressed with one character that he’s created, as he is by far one of the most psychotic characters that ive read in fantasy and this is a seven year old boy… Enough rambling lol  I will be continuing with The Aspect Emperor series and finishing the series with The Unholy Consult coming up next! Its looking like I will be starting my journey into the Mazalan book of the Fallen series after I finish Bakkers series. My Erikson and Esselmont collection seems to be growing at an alarming rate in the last few days…. I cannot wait !!!

Turning table to the next squad member…


The final entry here is me, William. I have quite the world of chaos going on. The deepest read I’m in right now is Rise of the Ranger, book 1 of The Echoes Saga by Philip C. Quaintrell. This is the first book I have read by him and color me impressed. The best way I can describe this book is classic fantasy with Peter’s own twist. We have elves, dwarves, humans, dragons, and magic. The twist is that Elves are in quite a dark place. Peter’s writing is in the classic vein, but it is more action oriented than grand epic feel. It does have an ultimate evil. I’m enjoying this book and would be done, but this is my first Kindle Paperwhite read so I’m still adjusting to using it. As for my Audible book I have just finished one and will continue on with The Sandman production with Act II. Hoping Kat Dennings as Death is around more because she kills it. I also have ventured into The Obelisk Gate, book two of the Broken Earth Trilogy. I have moved slowly on it because its post apocalyptic fantasy which just hasn’t really hit my current mood. It’s brilliantly written just as The Fifth Season was, I’m just not exactly sure where it’s going yet. I do like the new PoV of our protagonist’s daughter though. Anyways. I will probably steer towards a horror read for October as well. 

Blackflame: Book 3 of The Cradle Series

Who else has kids and adjusting to the school year along with their extracurricular activities? Cause I have been off kilter in trying to get back into balance. I’m getting close though so I thought I would drop a quick review on the Cradle series by Will Wight. So far there are ten books out. If you want to see what I had to say about the first two books, then go HERE. This will be a continuation on my journey with book 3, Blackflame.

Will Wight has drawn me further into his world with this entry. I feel extremely invested in Lindon, Yerin, Eithan, and now A giant dragon turtle as well. You’re probably either saying yes Orthos is awesome or what the hell are you talking about Will!? I don’t want to spoil too much, but I never knew I needed a giant black flame spewing Giant Turtle in my life until now. Orthos is a new animal companion that’s not just powerful, but talks and has an attitude. It is the most original animal character I have encountered. Its absurdly brilliant in the context of this story. If you do the audio book, the narrator is perfect in how a giant dragon turtle should sound. So yah.

We last left Lindon with quite the predicament. Our boy needs to level up quickly. Luckily or unluckily for him he has Underlord Eithan Aurelius to push him beyond his limits. Lindon of course still has my favorite character Yerin by his side. She’ still deadly, smart, and looking out for our boy Lindon. Eithan brings our characters to the city of Serpent’s Grave within the Blackflame Empire. Serpent’s Grave is literally built in a grave of Dragons using their skeletons as buildings. It’s as awesome as it sounds! I promise. The Blackflame Empire is of course named from the now extinct Blackflame technique, a path of the sacred arts used by Dragons and the human rulers who came after them. So….you know, nothing crazy.

What I love about Will Wight is his complete dedication to his magic system and fleshing it out. It may be the most intricate system I have encountered in fantasy. I feel like if we had the sacred arts in this world, that I would have an idea of how to use it. It’s fascinating to see characters really work out how to better themselves in the rules of the magic system Wight developed. Of course, nothing is easy for our protagonists. Yerin is dealing with her own issues of trying to become better in her path but can’t seem to let go of her Master. Lindon is trying to figure out what path in the sacred arts to follow in order to become as powerful as possible. He of course got a late start in life thanks to his backwards community. What path should Lindon follow? It’s quite the mystery where this could go…nothing dangerous, I’m sure!!

I really enjoyed this book. It started to further develop Lindon from a more passive personality to really push his journey to the next level. It also builds up Yerin’s struggles and fleshes out her character development. They go through quite the trials in this to build up Lindon and help Yerin overcome some of her emotional blocks to better herself. We also get to know Eithan more. He’s a fascinating character with quite the mischievous bravado. Its hard to really pin down his motives in this book, but wow does he impress as the story unfolds until the end. I mean how often can a character make a broom and scissors seems deadly? Do not make Eithan take out the broom, its no joke. There are great battle sequences in this book.

The great thing about this series is the books are shorter compared to many long series so you can jump in and out of this world whenever you want without having to devote a lot of time into it. If you love magic systems, slow burn world building, and characters who need to struggle in order to become more powerful, then continue on this journey. I’m having a fun time as Wight brings us along on a journey to the unknown. Stay tuned as I report my thoughts until I catch up to book 10.

Silicon Override: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

My latest read was Silicon Override, by Shawn Ketcherside. Let’s take a look, shall we?

This action-packed techno thriller started in a fairly muted way, with a nice buildup of sympathetic and relatable characters (Chase and Abbey, and arguably Doctor Edwards who I immediately pictured as Sigourney Weaver and to be honest that was a difficult one to shake so I just went with it). Maybe a bit more of a hook is needed to pull the reader in. If you’re going to have a Jurassic Park-style Hammond-video intro that the protagonist doesn’t listen to, then make either the information in the video or the protagonist not listening to it the main point of the chapter. And if you go with the latter, the protagonist needs to do something else interesting, like eat a bunch of sunflower seeds and spit the husks all over the exposition-giver.

What am I talking about?

Well, Chase has a backstory and it’s important to the narrative, but at the point we were just starting out I had to wonder why he had worked so desperately to get in on the ArcSIS project and was so desperate to work there (in ‘app development’, which … okay I’ll get to that), but then so aggressively refused to take part in viewing the introductory video, or any kind of preparation for the job, or the orientation even though he was being given a personal orientation tour and assistance by the female protagonist he was definitely kind of super into at first sight, or … well, any of it. Just didn’t make sense to me why Chase’s motivations and actions were so unclear and he was going into ArcSIS with such a vague yet churlish yet super-keen yet meh attitude. That did fold kind of nicely into his ultimate fate and his lack of an emotional aura (I’ll get to that too), though. So, okay.

Also, I’m afraid I completely missed what ‘ArcSIS’ stood for or meant. It’s a cool name and stuff but I somehow managed to not see it expanded anywhere. I’m pretty sure that’s on me, though.

ArcSIS is a little city under the sea, a technological wonderland isolated from the world. The potential of its construction and setup is unlimited. The things all the scientists who live there could be doing is very exciting. And the inclusion of all the necessary behind-the-scenes people (and making them into main characters) was really great the more I think about it. Those people are necessary, and often forgotten, and you can tell that Ketcherside gets that. It could have been … okay, stay with me on this.

You know how, in Gremlins 2, there was this high-tech self-sustaining smart tower with a bunch of office grunts but then also a freaky lab run by Christopher Lee where they were doing, just, tons of weird shit? This was that, only it was also the ocean lab in Deep Blue Sea.

So, as tradition demands in such a setting, a bunch of gung-ho mercenaries go full Dennis Nedry on that shit and everything goes to Hell in a handbasket. Their appearance and interaction with Sigourney Weaver, and everything that happens with them, is weird but oddly readable nonsense. I had fun.

Should Chase have sat down at some point and explained clearly why he wanted to work in app development in this incredible sci-fi lab? Maybe. Should Doctor Edwards have explained why Chase needed to be reassigned to some kind of management role? Sure. Should Abbey … okay, you know what? No notes on Abbey, she was great. Her weird superpower was perhaps somewhat surplus to requirements, but damn it, it was interesting.

I loved that, for a while there, it seemed like the day was going to be saved by the junior analyst grunt who was actually reading the boring data and double-checking figures and actually spotted a catastrophic problem. That was a cool little side / intro drama and definitely made me like Abbey way more than Chase.

I was less fond of the fact that, considering the fact that this was an undersea super-lab, very little of the story seemed to focus on the fact that they were under the ocean. I’m not saying there had to be a genetically engineered hyper-intelligent security octopus (although there objectively should have been), but the main point was that they had no easy way to get to the outside world or communicate with anyone, and that could have been done underground, or in space, or in Clamp Tower in the middle of New York City. The ocean needs to be a character in an undersea sci-fi setup.

As I was reading this story, I thought to myself that it definitely wouldn’t be out of place in a lineup of TV shows and movies where there are intricately-set-up and dangerous settings, lots of dudes with guns, and a gross but unique zombie outbreak scenario. There are good examples and bad examples of such adaptations, but Sigourney Weaver would definitely have to carry any TV show or movie that got made out of this one. I’d still watch the shit out of it, though.


The male and female protagonist have an immediate thing for each other and eventually share a tender kiss. The beefy head of security is doinking the male protagonist’s mum off-page. I award Silicon Override one very small piano player and accompanying musical instrument out of a possible Carry On movie.


The gore wins the day in this one, even if it wasn’t too explicitly written. Lots of firefights and cold-blooded executions, tons of zombie violence. Four flesh-gobbets out of a possible five for Silicon Override.


The phrases you’re kidding / joking, and you can’t be serious, were used just a little too regularly and at a certain point I started to get a funny surreal jolt every time a character said it. At no point in the story was shit not serious, so why anyone would be joking … I know it’s a figure of speech but it’s – anyway. I also liked the fact that different people were using different terms – Trax, Initialized – instead of zombie. Which nobody seemed to even lampshade as a term they could be using (except one time, someone throws the z-word, but that’s it). Also out of nowhere they decided the group noun for the zombies was pod, which was at least sort of aquatic even if it was the only thing that was. Adrian’s increasingly cataclysmic inability to take responsibility for his own actions was hysterical. And the cyber-sphere and AI point of view stuff was fascinatingly imaginative. I’ll give this a Lawnmower Man movie out of a possible Lawnmower Man Stephen King short story. That is, very close to one another in WTF terms, but on inspection nothing alike in any way.

My Final Verdict

When you decide to combine mundane-conflict office narratives, a mother-son drama, an undersea lab getting overthrown by mercenaries, a greedy multinational corporation with dark motives, a bunch of utopia-seeking scientists, a zombie outbreak with a nanocyte twist, a junior analyst who can see people’s emotions and a lovable-nerd IT Guy plucky comic relief, that’s definitely a choice. With so much going on, the result was at once page-turning and cacophonous. I’ve got to give Silicon Override two and a half stars, which I’ll bump to three for the Amazon and Goodreads scale for the sake of the endearing banter between Chase and Rider.

The Awakening: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

My latest #SPSFC book was The Awakening, by Adair Hart. Book 1 of the Evaran Chronicles.

Man, where to start? At the beginning, I guess. And bear with me because this doesn’t sound great but it’s crucial to remind you that it all works.

This book opens hard, and it doesn’t apologise for it. There’s a space thug named Jerzan Graduul, there’s Dalruns and Bilaxians and Greers, oh my! There’s a whole lot of information all at once – not so much an info dump as an info tommy gunning – and there’s a space anomaly, and…

And then, in a switchover that made me wonder if we were about to read the novel equivalent of Critters (or even worse [better?], Alien vs. Predator), we were whisked away to a sleepy little college campus on more-or-less-present-day Earth, where we meet mild-mannered Dr. Snowden and his niece Emily. Only it turns out they’re in a simulation of Earth after they were abducted by aliens, and the simulation is breaking down, and they’re pulled out of it and back into crazy over-the-top space by a mysterious alien named Evaran. As in Book 1 of the Evaran Chronicles Evaran.

Then, of course, we skip across to meet another couple of humans who were abducted and are in the same situation as Emily and Dr. Snowden. Including the real hero here:

I’m talking about Jay Beerman.

This army vet truck driver introduces himself to the reader by shitting his actual pants, pulling over at a truck stop to wash the clinkers off, then responds to the deactivation of the alien abduction simulation and the encroaching dark of utter existential negation by balling up his fists and shouting, “Well c’mon then, you pussy-ass darkness!”

Needless to say, I was smitten. Jay Beerman, the hero we deserve.

This book has a bit of everything. Alien monsters, cool tech, time travel and reality-hopping and worldbuilding on an incredible scale, and Jay Beerman. We circle back around to the characters from the prologue after a few chapters of complete, relentless immersion and the result is a very satisfying ohhhh, now I get what’s going on here. You suddenly see Evaran in a new light, and as the story fills out it is just very cool. I never did quite get the CrittersThe Last Starfighter imagery out of my head, even when I realised this was really more like the R-rated Doctor Who we could have gotten but we got Torchwood instead (and Torchwood was fine, I guess, but – and this is important – it didn’t have Jay Beerman in it so fuck Torchwood), but that’s okay. It’s all good.

You get a distinct, if a little hackneyed-slaver-pirate, sense of menace from the mercenaries, and the rest of the characters are nicely relatable and you definitely get invested in their fates. Oh, and the universal translator, with its “nearest available colloquialism” function? Nothing short of brilliant. It provides a perfect explanation for dialogue that might otherwise pull the reader out of the story. All in all this was a really enjoyable read.

Let’s get down to brass tacks.


The space mercenaries were a bit on the rapey side, but it was mostly talk and soliloquy – there was not really any sex in the story itself. Which is good, because the gang-rape of lesbian character trope is pretty on the nose. I mean, rape of any kind but you know. Like I said elsewhere, I’m saving up for some grimdark here and I know what comes with that territory so I’m toughening up. Anyway, the mercenaries were gross but it was fine (as long as you’re “okay” with reading that sort of thing). Let’s give this story a single dried-out scrap of melon rind out of a possible five melons of assorted firmness and pulpiness, with a variety of different-sized and -shaped holes cut in them.


Plenty of gore, lots of death and dismemberment and gross alien killing methods, severed limbs and stinky decomposing corpses. I was mildly disappointed the worm pit didn’t get used for one of the bad guys but I’ll cope. Can’t ask for much more than this without the gore becoming the point of the story, so nicely done. I’ll award The Awakening four flesh-gobbets out of five.


The Farethedan and the Matter Mages, the timelines and alternate realities and the different variants of people, all of it, it’s very big and very cool and very WTF. Evaran fixes things in some cases but doesn’t undo or prevent disasters (like the massacre of Neoparene) … I wondered why that was, but the explanation holds up. We veered a little bit derivative particularly towards the end, with the sonic screwdriver and the TARDIS stuff Evaran was working with, but considering some of the incredible revelations Hart springs on us in the closing chapters of the book, I’m going to allow it. And the similarities are earned. Evaran’s couple of closing lines to the main bad guy are just brilliant, and just serve to add a juicy WTF cherry to the top of the WTF sundae. Which is what I will give this story, out of a possible same thing but with some sprinkles. And honestly, I don’t care for sprinkles.

My Final Verdict

The Awakening could use a bit more polish, there are still some parts that read more clumsily than others and Hart has some quirks that take a bit of getting used to. I admire the fact that this was a second edition and it was clear that a lot of issues had been patched up and re-worked and new scenes added. The improvement is somehow noticeable even without having seen the first edition. This story concludes with a nice lesson about not judging people on first impressions, and showing your emotions, but it doesn’t get preachy. The whole thing, I want more. And there’s a ton of these books, so it’s an absolute win! I can only assume Jay Beerman will continue to…

*Word-searches for Jay through the Evaran Chronicles product pages*


Anyway, four stars for The Awakening. Great stuff!

Eos: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

Oh hi there. Today I’ve mostly been reading Eos, by Jen Guberman.

I’m torn when it comes to characterising this book as a young adult dystopian sci-fi in the vein of Maze Runner and The Hunger Games, but those were the stories I was reminded of as I was reading. That’s just a risk of this subgenre, and I know it will read as a point in favour to some and a point against to others. Personally, even though I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of young adult dystopian sci-fi, it’s solid entertainment and Eos Dawn can easily stand next to Katniss Whatsherface without feeling self-conscious.

And just for the record, I didn’t hate the Hunger Games series as I read it. It was good escapist fun and said some interesting things about humanity. Eos, in my opinion, might say even more (potentially) – and that’s pretty darn cool. I’d watch movies of this, and I’d definitely snoot about how I read the book first, and the book is better. Also I read it before it was cool.

Anyway, let’s get into the meat a bit more.

Eos tells the story of a post-cataclysmic-war world where the known population is restricted to a handful of cities because of the radiation and other devastation. Travel between cities is strictly controlled, and society frighteningly regulated. Any threats to this regulated existence, from violent crime to just kind of being a sassmouth, are neatly removed and placed in “exile towns” according to their category of non-conformity. This is a rather cool concept and makes for a nice self-contained story map (literally) with lots of potential for expansion. And the names of the exile towns are clever.

Eos Dawn is, at least on initial impression, an extraordinarily gullible and naïve thief who puts up with people being shits to her at least three more times than she should at the outset. And she’s given one, what, half-hour job to do each day and somehow forgets to do it after two days? Fuck me. But here’s the thing: that’s a very human and relatable set of failings (and it doesn’t really matter, since we don’t get bogged down in that bullshit pseudo-normal nine-to-five thing anyway). I’m just saying, it’s not hard to water a garden if that’s the one thing you have to do the entire day. I just – fine. Bygones. Moving on.

Eos isn’t your typical hero, who after an obligatory period of angst immediately sets about righting wrongs and taking names. No, Eos is a big dumb-dumb who isn’t really great at anything, and even a couple of learning curves and a training montage later, she’s still getting herself needled with knockout drugs (which seem to be everywhere, but are we even surprised? This is an authoritarian Everybody Be Nice dystopia after all). Everything she does is kind of seat-of-the-pants and she doesn’t seem to get bitter and broody about it. She just sighs and throws up her hands and goes you see what I have to deal with here? Her quest isn’t for justice and unity or anything else. It just seems like something she’s doing because it’s slightly more interesting than watering the goddamn – fine.

Yeah, I thought it was a fun read. There are some clumsy segments of dialogue and inserted thought-statements explaining what is going on in the story – they looked to be added in to clarify what had just happened in case the reader missed it, and in some cases they’re necessary because the scene was misleading, and in some cases they’re not necessary and serve to pull the reader out of the moment … but none of it ultimately interferes with the simple and highly imaginative narrative and setting.

Sure, there’s a few issues with the world Guberman has created here. It all seems very flimsy and prone to security breaches, and with all the apparent malcontents and people with … let’s be generous and call them skills … outside in the exile towns, it’s hard to believe they haven’t just busted out and overthrown the cities before now. Maybe the second and third books in the trilogy go into more detail about this. The nature of the war that destroyed everything is also unexplored, but that’s not a deal-breaker. We only need to know it happened. It wiped out things like birds and rabbits, but the hunting teams still bring in game … I’m not certain about that, but eh. It all works. The Fabian set-up and pay-off, once we get to it, seemed a little too miraculous to me. Some more earning of that coincidence would have been nice, but the ultimate ending of that thread helped me get over it.

And what’s with the daggers? They definitely mean something and we need to know.

As I said, this is the first book in a trilogy – it had a nice cliffhanger ending, leaving the reader all too ready to one-click purchase the next instalment for the ol’ kindle, but did not leave the first book wanting for a proper beginning, middle and end. I like the symmetry of the clickclick storytelling device.

So what else have we got?


Solid and rather innocent young adult fare, barring the occasional assault-and-near-rape one should probably expect when detailing a journey through dystopian penal settlements populated almost entirely by specific types of violent criminals. Hey, at least there wasn’t a Fiddlerville[1]. I award Eos twelve and a half shades of grey out of a possible you know the fuck how many shades don’t make me say it.


Not much violence in this story – a throat-slashing, a gut-stabbing and a head-on-floor bashing, along with some random fights and stuff … okay I guess it had its share of gore but I’m aware that we probably have some grimdark still to come in this contest so I’m leaving myself space to expand. Two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.


How did this whole world happen? What was the nature of the war and is there anything left outside the (apparently) inhospitable nuclear wastelands? How are they feeding people now that Eos stopped watering the carrots (no I will not let this go)? How did they even start with the truck routes and lockup system and where are the rations coming from? Are they people? Is the mystery meat people? Why all the fuss over a key that can open stuff that can generally be opened in other ways? What are we missing from this story’s past? There’s a lot of WTF here, to be sure, but it’s mostly unanswered-questions WTF rather than the higher-grade uncut surreal WTF I need in my veins. Nevertheless, I’ll give it a polar bear dressed up as The Fonz out of a possible The Fonz dressed up as a polar bear.

My Final Verdict

Eos was an enjoyable read and was a great introduction to a fascinating and troubling world where society comes at the cost of all the things that make society robust and vibrant (but I mean, yeah, if people could stop stealing and killing, that’d be nice). A little more exploration of the different interwoven threads – the thieves who steal out of poverty and oppression, the noise polluters who are just speaking out against injustice, the privileged joy-riders who just got kicked out because therapy is hard – might have been nice to see, but there’s a lot going on under the surface. I remain uncertain just how much of a video game MacGuffin the assorted keys and boxes and the final goal were, but it was fun to watch it unfold. Solid three stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.


[1] For … people who play the violin badly. What? What did you think I was going to suggest? Yeesh.

“By the maiden, Mother and Hag!” A review of the Bone Ships by R J Barker

Welcome to my first review here at The Book in Hand!  Westu hal, I am delighted to be here contributing reviews to this amazing blog, it’s an honour to be here helping this blog grow.  I do hope that you are staying safe and well and reading something awesome as well.

I am bringing a review to you today of an amazing book, it was easily one of the best opening books of a trilogy that I have ever read. This is my review of The Boneships by R.J Barker and by the Maiden, Mother and Hag this is why you should read it.

First of all, check out the premise.

The Premise


For generations, the Hundred Isles have built their ships from the bones of ancient dragons to fight an endless war.

The dragons disappeared, but the battles for supremacy persisted.

Now the first dragon in centuries has been spotted in far-off waters, and both sides see a chance to shift the balance of power in their favour. Because whoever catches it will win not only glory, but the war.

The Review

This is a great story, it takes a hold of you in the first few pages and this is testament to R J’s flowing writing style. It is easy to read and wonderfully descriptive, and immerses you in this brutal world.  The story begins with one Joron Twiner, Shipwife (Captain) of the Tide Child being confronted by “Lucky” Meas Gilbryn and a changing of Hats happens.  Hats are an important symbol in this world as you will discover, this event is an important one for the story as well.

Meas is about to take over “Tide Child” a black ship of the Hundred Isles fleet.  Black ships are ships of the dead, those who serve aboard are sentenced for crimes I would rather not mention here, needless to say it is not a happy place to be.  As the book progressed I began to see the ship as home, it was very much a home for the crew and each battle fought they came more and more together.

The world that R J has created is wonderful as well, a brutal and unforgiving world though which is sharply divided by birth.  Let R J take you around this world, a brilliant example of secondary creation with it’s own creation myth (I loved this), religion (the Maiden, Mother and Hag) and ways of life. One of the most unique aspects ( I know I should have mentioned this before) are the ships, the tall ships, the bone ships.  Carved from the bones of dragons, the hundred isles fleet of this world “fly the ocean” on great Bones Ships in their war against the Gaunt Islands.

An issue that R J brings into the book is that of class, and how sharply divided the Hundred Isles is.  It is very simple, your class is determined by birth, if you are born okay and your mother does not die in this world, you join the “Bern”, if you are not or your mother dies then you join the “Berncast”.  R.J addresses very sharply in the book, it plays a key aspect and comes to the fore when the “Tide Child” and it’s crew are given a mission of great importance to the Hundred Isles.

You are introduced to many characters, but my favourites were Joron Twiner and Meas Gilbryn.  Joron is an interesting character, he is not sure of his place in the world but gradually finds he has a place and a role.  Meas Gilbryn is charismatic and she will draw you to her, her determination to succeed against the odds is an endearing factor to both the reader and her crew.  Other characters such as Farys, Barlay and Solem Mufffaz will greet you, tell you their stories and hopefully like me, draw you in.  R J really does write some wonderful characters, charismatic, determined, fearful and with shameful and storied pasts they are all here.

Putting it simply, I loved this book, as soon as I finished the first chapter I became immersed in this world and it really rewarded me as a reader.  As a fantasy book, the fantasy is there in the world as it’s a secondary created world, but be prepared to meet some of the stranger creatures of this world, The Guilame, those who control the wind.  

This really was a great book, one of my best reads of the year so far and a book and a series that I really recommend that you read.  R J really is a writer to watch, I loved his first trilogy and this trilogy could be something special with it’s wonderfully created world, intriguing and charismatic characters and glorious sea battles because those scenes (for me) are extra special.

By the Maiden, Mother and Hag, this is why you should read “The Bone Ships” by R J Barker, one of the best reads of the year for me, a book I highly recommend and an excellent start to a trilogy!  I couldn’t wait for book 2!

All that remains is for me to say westul hal, stay safe and enjoy what you are reading.

Book Review: Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Welcome to my first addition to the site. The five people who read my blog may know me already, but if you do not, my name is William, a life long rural New Yorker in the United States. I love Fantasy, but am also a fan of Science Fiction & Horror. For my introduction here I bring you my review of Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. This is book one of Muir’s Locked Tomb series. I have to say, I’m impressed. Gideon the Ninth is such a unique story. It combines Soft Science Fiction, Necromantic Fantasy, and Punk Rock Insanity. I honestly cannot come up with a more suitable description than that. I had wanted to read this before it was even available. I only put it off so long because it seemed so insane and knew more books were going to follow it. Finally, needing something different to dive into, I give you my review of Gideon the Ninth.

“One flesh, one end, bitch.”

This book aptly follows Gideon Nav, an indentured servant of the Ninth House within a Galactic Empire. She is the young adult ginger warrior of this series, complete with skull face paint, dark cloak, sword, and snarky attitude. Quite the picture painted for you there. Even as an indentured servant of a Necromantic space faring empire with an Immortal God Emperor, she gives zero shits about angering anyone. To say she is confident would be an underrepresentation of an amazing character.

“Why was I born so attractive?”

In the beginning of this, depending on your sense of humor, Gideon may overwhelm some readers. Her humor hits me just fine, but others maybe not. Do not fear though dear readers. Gideon has to adjust quite quickly, based on new circumstances that forces her to alter how she interacts with others. You will find much of her over the top attitude is directed toward our other major character, Harrow, the Ninth House’s Heir. While Gideon is a master with the sword. Harrow is a master of Necromancy. Quite the dysfunctional duo. What they do have in common is that they are both amazingly written. A servant and an heir. Completely different statuses. Different personalities. Different viewpoints. A great adventure for us.

“Because everyone would have throttled you within the first five minutes otherwise”

While this is a very character driven story there is much going on in the backdrop. This galactic empire has nine noble houses. The Ninth house guards a locked tomb for the empire and are essentially a death cult. You will get to meet and learn about all the houses in this book though. Muir does this without revealing much about the wider universe. She’s super tricky here. Another thing she is quite good at is there is not much future tech, or weapons in this book…yet you won’t care. The only thing that really lets you know there is space travel, are spaceships. Even then we do not get much of even them. This is a brave choice, but one that works exceptionally well in this book.

“I cannot conceive of a universe without you in it”

This space faring empire relies heavily on Necromancy and swords as their primary fighting tactic. Though how they wage war will be interesting to see. I cannot imagine other civilizations rely on necromancy and swords. We get teased that there is a war against someone out there, we will need to wait on that it seems. This intro book is mostly a complex mystery that takes place in a huge, haunted structure, perfect! All the heirs and their cavaliers (specially trained bodyguards) are invited to this place to seemingly compete to become a Lyctor.  Lyctors are powerful immortal Necromancers that work directly with the emperor. This is of course Harrow’s seemingly main goal and as for Gideon, well, she just wants her freedom. Well actually she also wants to be awesome. These characters grow exceptionally well throughout this mysterious place full of death and intrigue. You will be trying to figure out what is happening and every time you think you might know, you’re wrong!

“Yes you can, it’s just less great and less hot”

The fact that Muir combines fantasy and science fiction but doesn’t reveal too much about either while giving you amazing character work shows me that she is an author to watch. The characters in Gideon the Ninth feel extremely unique, special in their own right, they really come alive. You would think a bunch of noble necromancers would be similar, but they’re oddly not. Muir is able to break apart fields in necromancy and types of house personalities exceptionally well. I cannot wait to read book two to see how she expands on this. Of course, I should also warn people as a world of necromancers there will be a lot of gross descriptions of blood, sinew, corpses, bones…well you get the idea.

“Maybe it’s that I find the idea comforting…that thousands of years after you’re gone…is when you really live. That your echo is louder than your voice is.”

Personally, the most important thing I took from this book, is that we are not all so different. As a thirty-nine-year-old heterosexual male, I felt connected to this young gay warrior woman in a futuristic landscape. Representation in media is important for this very reason. We’re all not so different as we believe. I digress though. Gideon and Harrow are two characters that have shot up my favorites list. Not just as individuals, but as a duo. Book two I know will be from Harrow’s perspective and I’m betting it will be quite wild to get the PoV of a necromancer in this world. If you’re looking for something quite different in the SFF genre I highly recommend this book. I will be keeping an eye on Tamsyn Muir as her career grows.

Thank You for choosing to read my first write up for the site. If you wish to connect with me more I’m quite active on Twitter @thatdarkrogue.


Hi everyone! I am Arthur, also known as nocrackedspines on instragam! I’m really excited to be working with Sam and her team over here at The Book in Hand blog! I will be reviewing Dune by Frank Herbert!

Years ago one of my closest friends recommended Dune because I like Sci-Fi but I never really got around to reading it until now. I am really disappointed I slept on this book for as many years as I did. This past July and August, I held a large read along on Instagram for Dune since the new movie is being released in October. After finishing Dune, I can see how it has influenced so many books, stories and movies like Star Wars, Wheel of Time, Tremors and even the popular miniature wargame Warhammer 40K.

Dune was written by Frank Herbert in 1965. It is the first book in his 6 book series. Beyond the original six books, Brian Herbert (Frank Herbert’s son) has published many books in the Dune Universe alongside sci-fi author Kevin J. Anderson.


We follow young Paul Atreides and his family’s quest to govern the desert planet of Arrakis. Melange, the coveted “spice” of Arrakis, drives the Houses to conspire against each other. Dune explores different cultures, religion, a unique planet ecology and interesting sci-fi technology.


Dune has a rather large cast of characters. Despite not being excited about some of the names of the characters like Paul or Jessica, I quickly discovered how much I really enjoyed following their story. Even side characters like Duncan Idaho, Gurney Halleck and Stilgar were fleshed out, enjoyable characters. Frank Herbert succeeded in creating great relationships between many of the characters. Some of my favorites were the interactions between Paul and his mother Lady Jessica and Duke Leto and Lady Jessica.

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will not permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain”

World Building

Arrakis is a essentially a waste desert planet with only one unique item – Melange or “spice” – that makes it so popular among the houses in the empire. Frank Herbert dug into the ecology of the planet Arrakis from the giant sandworms to the importance of water and how the empire wants to terraform the world into a green planet. I never thought about how interest ecology would be in a sci-fi / fantasy story. Even though Dune was written in 1965, it reads like a fantasy story feels like a modern sci-fi. Dune has aged incredibly well.

Beyond just the ecology of Arrakis, I found the different houses and politics to be absolutely fascinating. Normally I have no interest in politics but it was woven into the story extremely well. The conflict between House Atreides and House Harkonnen was well fueled by the “spice” and how everyone wanted to control Arrakis. I can see the influence Dune had on George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. Frank Herbert laid the foundation for so many amazing stories. Dune is a story I think will continue to stand the test of time.

Final Thoughts

I had an absolute blast reading Dune. Honestly, it surprised me. I didn’t think Dune would grab me as well as it did. I was nervous this would feel outdated or difficult to read but I felt it was the complete opposite. Dune was fast-paced, modern and rather easy to read. It definitely took me a few chapters to get used to his writing style. I would definitely recommend Dune to anyone. For me, Dune was a home run. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year!

Ache: An Edpool Review

This review is part of my judging effort for the SPSFC. For a little intro to the whole thing and an explanation of my judging style, see this practice review.

Hey there. I’m here to talk to you today about Ache, by Kelvin Myers, aka. Levi Jacobs (I like him already, he has at least a couple of alternate names). Ache is a creepy and easy-to-read allegory and warning about social media and other technology dependence, with a good dose of zombie apocalypse thrown in.

I started reading this book while waiting in line for my second corona vaccine shot, and then while sitting in the waiting room after my shot to see if I exploded or turned into a 5G signal tower or whatever the vaccine is supposed to do to you. I didn’t – I’m fine, really I am, hold your phone up next to me and see – but just for context, this was a memorable book for me before I even really started. And the story’s subject matter, accordingly, took on even greater significance.

Ache started out a little rocky, but it’s difficult to put my finger on precisely how it was challenging. The introduction of Lance, and then Mari, in respective point of view chapters (more about this later), was … okay, Lance was heavily glazed with the tough guy cyberpunk noir brush, and Mari was all about prettiness and the sexy schoolgirl stuff her friends were into wearing … but. But! It got over that initial characterisation and “grew out of” those tropes. If there’s any way of saying that without sounding just irretrievably condescending, please let me know. I’m just saying, the opening made me go “hmm, what is this.” But then it passed.

The introduction of the characters, and the sheer gulf between Lance and Mari in particular, left me with a lasting impression that Lance was a lot older than he in fact was. So much so that later on, when he was revealed to be twenty, it was really quite disorienting. Still, this could be careless reading as well as the style of the character introductions. It was funny, that’s all.

Speaking of something that could have been my fault or the result of a bit of dodgy editing, this was the exact thought rambling through my head at one point around mid-book:

Why is Ricardo’s nickname Al? Wait, who the fuck is Alfonzo? Did they change names?

It seemed as though Mari’s douchebag brother’s name got changed at some point in the drafting process, but search-replace didn’t catch all the instances and the result was a scattering of Als and a couple of Alfonzos that were confusing. The need for editors strikes again. But oh well. For the most part, the character interactions were clean and emotionally powerful. Simple where they needed to be simple, and with enough complexity to make them believable.

The themes of brotherly and father / son redemption through the story were nice, giving Lance’s character arc a really good base. This did make Mari’s and Ricardo’s arc a little lacking in contrast, but maybe that’s also important? We don’t always get the redemption and reconciliation we expect from our characters. Life doesn’t wrap up in a perfect happy ending. Especially life in a cyberpunk dystopian sci-fi book.

I liked the chapter structure. The switching point of view approach is a good one for keeping a story moving along and giving us solid investment in each thread. And I was even pleasantly caught by surprise a few times as the threads joined up and revealed that this guy was related to this character, and so on. They were simple, but effective and enjoyable. And the use of nicknames and shortenings, while occasionally a bit confusing (“Al“), was an interesting way of keeping the reader from seeing the connections straight away. And, while the ultimate fate of the book’s villain is a bit tucked-away in the final rush of dénouement, this is part one of a series so we can’t wrap up everything.

So what else have we got?


There wasn’t much sex here, hormonal school drama and frontier town prostitution notwithstanding. The story was actually stronger for it because aside from teenagers being horny under literally any circumstances, which we do see here, the events of Ache just aren’t conducive to sex. I give it three-quarters of a honky tonk piano and a single swinging saloon door out of a possible Wild West brothel.


There are plenty of lovingly-described fights here (pretty good ones, too!), and there’s a whole lot of really thought-provoking psychological and sociological exploration of human weakness, but it’s not what you’d call gore. Again, this story isn’t the sort of story that needs it. Two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five.


There wasn’t a whole lot of WTF in this story either! It was as all-too-plausible as any good cyberpunk should be. My main point of contention was actually lampshaded in the story – if you could use nanotech to control people so utterly, find a way to make them infectious to infiltrate people against their will, make nanos that destroy competing companys’ nanos, and you could also just kill people with guns, why bother making killer nanotech? I might have missed it but I really don’t see why it was wanted by the antagonist. It was literal overkill.  Aside from the ultimate ‘playing God’ element of it, I suppose. All the other elements should have been enough. Make EMP-proofing a target. I don’t know. I’ll give Ache seventeen thousand melting clock faces out of a possible elephant with really, really long legs.

My Final Verdict

Ache was a worrying and insightful look at not-too-distant future technological advancements and the risks inherent in mob mentality and human inability to self-police, in every sense of the term. The characters felt real and the stakes kept me coming back to see what would happen next. Ultimately it was a satisfying read. A very solid three stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale. Thanks for a fun read!