BOOK REVIEW | PRIEST OF GALLOWS BY PETER MCLEAN

Good Afternoon Bookish Folk!

I figured it was about time I reviewed this book. I actually thought I had but this book deserves more than the original temporary review I wrote 🙈😂

Which was…

“Holy fucking wow! I have been way ill and have finally been well enough to finish this incredible book and just wow! I freaking love this series.”

What can I say? I have a way with words.

A few facts about this book:

  • Title: Priest of Gallows
  • Author: Peter McLean
  • Series: War for the Rose Throne | Book Three
  • Published by Jo Fletcher Books
  • Pages: 400

Synopsis:

Review:

Here are a few things you can expect from this book…

  • Gritty and authentic violence
  • Gang warfare
  • Political intrigues
  • Fantastic characters and bonds of brotherhood

On to the full review…

Priest of Gallows is as addictive as its two previous books and satisfies my fix for Tomas perfectly. I finished Priest of Gallows back in June and I find that I am still reeling waiting for Priest of Crowns.

If you don’t know already the War for the Rose Throne series started out heavily inspired by the TV show Peaky Blinders and is set in a fantasy world. It definitely falls in low fantasy in my opinion but do not think for a second that this book doesn’t stand out amongst its peers. In many cases, it exceeds and outshines other books in its genre. A bold statement I know but once you have read these books you will be inclined to agree. McLean writes gang warfare and violence like you wouldn’t believe, though he doesn’t sprinkle it in glitter no he packs all the emotional grit into it and I’m doing so showcases some of the best character relationships I have read while maintaining a single POV.

This being is the third book of the series and it has grown so much, and while McLean has retained all the elements I appreciated in the previous books he has also upped several other ones. For instance, in this book, we see more political maneuverings and intrigue as we explore new sprawling locations. The shift in this book was well done and completely natural.

“The world of intrigues wasn’t my natural environment. I was a soldier and businessman, for Our Lady’s sake. Politics was a foreign country to me, and I would have been quite happy for it to stay that way, but it seemed that wasn’t going to be the case.”

I don’t plan to go much into the areas I have already covered in my previous reviews but know this book stands out and deserves all the praise. Tomas is one of my favourite characters read, as it Bloody Anne. These characters are multi layered and fully fleshed out they are expertly written. The world is vast and interwoven into the plot with a finesse I rarely see.

Gritty and thought provoking Priest of Gallows is an incredible addition to an already addictive and captivating series.

“People may revere the idea of heroic veterans, but they very seldom have the time or the charity for the broken, battle-shocked men and women that are the reality of what war produces.”


THE RANKS: 

BUY THE HARDBACK | BUY THE PAPERBACK | BUY THE EBOOK | LIBRARY RENTAL OR SALE PURCHASE

I would buy the hardback for this whole series and probably any future book McLean writes. Though, I highly recommend the audiobook for this series too as the narrator is perfect and increases the wow factor that comes with this books main character, Tomas.


AGAIN Thank you for reading AND SEE YOU SOON!


The Threat Below: 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.


Team Space Lasagna’s Week 8 reading round threw The Threat Below, first book of the Brathius Legacy series, by J. S. Latshaw, to the literary wolves next.

The opening chapters of this book will either put you off or draw you in, I think. In my case, I was drawn in. And I wasn’t expecting to be! The style of storytelling and characterisation somehow reminded me of Jane Eyre, with a dash of Bridget Jones’ Diary, and all of it taking place on top of a mountain like if the soccer team from Alive had just stayed up there and built a village and leaned into the class divide for like three hundred years. And if that has either put you off or drawn you in, then I guess I’ve accurately summarised what the start of this story was like.

But yeah, I really quite enjoyed it and found that I liked the characters and cared about their strange, vaguely unsettling little lives. The use of Latin, starting with the labelling of the Before Times people as the Apriori, was very neat. It gave a sort of intellectual timelessness to the setting, which made sense given the way society had been divided into the upper-class Cognates (the intellectuals) and the essentially slave-class Veritas (the muscle). And no, that doesn’t go the way you’re thinking and it’s actually really well thought-out and constructed. The Latin also subconsciously planted the idea that modern civilisation as we know it is a fleeting and doomed thing, and that this is what the future holds. Full circle. Kind of. It’s weird. And it gets weirder.


“I’d rather something else, but this had to be.”

– hilarious yet very meaningful Brathius family motto

So I was drawn in, and with every new chapter came a new and slightly disturbing piece of information, all nicely woven into an almost joyously tropey “sheltered princess forbidden love set against backdrop of post-apocalyptic world gone mad” story. We find out that the average lifespan is little over forty years. We are left uncertain as to whether “ultralions” and “ultrabears” are terrifying new genetic hybrid monsters or something else (I won’t spoil it but it’s fucking great). We’re introduced to this broken-arse mountaintop community living in fear behind a log wall and weird mist-ring, telling stories about the horrors that destroyed the word that was.

And then of course our protagonists go down there because that’s the story. By that stage, I was already invested. I cared about Ice and Ad, and even (God help me) Rainy towards the final act. That’ll fucking teach me, I guess.

But yeah, it was a good read! I was not expecting any of what happened, and that’s super cool. When (again, not to spoil but) you start seeing point of view sections from characters you would not have expected to get any kind of point of view, it gets interesting. And then it continues to get more and more interesting from then on. And, as a brief aside, “mountain madness” (the Threat Below cannot get to the people on the mountaintop because of the lack of oxygen, that’s all you need to know) is the best name for altitude sickness ever. I’m going to call it that from now on, although admittedly my day-to-day life does not typically include much mountain climbing so it’s going to be an effort to slip it into conversations.


“In order to survive, you may someday be forced to take the form of a worm. But at least try to be an eagle first.”

– this book is very quotable

I had my doubts. When I found out the mountaintop folks didn’t even know what a hammer was, I had to wonder how they’d managed to last three hundred years. When the story seems to Shyamalan on us at the 45% mark, I groaned a little but kept reading. When Adorane desperately needed to get his head pulled off and shoved up his arse to symbolise the way he lived, but that didn’t happen, I clenched my teeth and fantasised about it until the end of the page, and then the next, and then the next. Sometimes you just have to do that, okay? It’s fine.

The love triangle was silly but oddly compelling, and at least there wasn’t a clear OH MY FUCKING GOD ARE YOU BLIND YOU DEFINITELY NEED TO GO WITH THAT ONE in there. I mean, like most love triangles the answer was “feed the male / males into a wood chipper and just go off and be awesome,” but while the uncertainty existed it was at least readable uncertainty. What was even more uncertain was whether that kiss that happened was actually a fuck, and I guess we can debate that until the next book and the arrival of the baby because it was definitely a fuck. But whatever.

Now, following the not-exactly-Shyamalan (or Shyamalanalike) at 45%, by the 70% mark this book kind of becomes fucking amazing, and the whole backstory and setting falls into place. This, of course, sets us up for a heartbreaking ending I really should have been ready for but wasn’t. It was gut-wrenching, but at the same time strangely liberating. I have to know more! Fortunately, there is more.

Sex-o-meter

Well like I said, there was a kiss in it that I think a case can definitely be made for actually being a fuck, but aside from that there was a bit of teenage canoodling and a bit of fun non-human “ah, this is the thing we call the mating grapple” style clinical deconstruction. I’ll give this a “mountain madness” out of a possible “ocean madness … aqua dementia … the deep-down crazies … the wet willies … the screaming moist…”

Gore-o-meter

Considering this is a post-apocalyptic survivor-story featuring biogen-hybrid killing-machine beasties that have wiped out most of humanity, there wasn’t a huge amount of gore in here. Just enough, really. Two-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five for The Threat Below.

WTF-o-meter

Look, I said the same thing during Waterworld and I’ll say it here. Three hundred years is not long enough for sharks to have gotten bigger. They’ve been pretty much the same for a decent chunk of a quarter-billion, they’re not about to change now. But I’m just saying that because I couldn’t think of anywhere else to put it. This was a deliciously WTFfy story and I really enjoyed it. At every turn, the reader will at once think they know what’s happening but also know there’s more to it. Frequently, when I read a story and feel this way, I know I’m going to be disappointed and there will turn out not to be anything going on under the surface, so I’ll have to make shit up. Not so this time! I’ll give this a furrythief out of a possible ultrabear. If you know, you know.

My Final Verdict

This story was actually amazing, but you do have to be drawn in by the small-scale and slow-burn social / personal stuff at the start, because it takes a while for that pay-off. It was different enough not to be boring, and even though it had a lot of clichés in there, it was self-aware and showed some solid chops. Also, since I already referenced Futurama, I’m with Bender. Kill all humans. For fuck’s sake. Four stars!


The Last Watch | Book Review

J. S. Dewes knocks her debut out of the park with her first entry in the The Divide series. I remember seeing this cover last year and being super excited and curious what this Science Fiction novel would bring to the genre. It’s no secret that Sci-Fi is my favorite genre so I had to read it! I’m glad this was my first read in 2022! This review will be spoiler free.

Synopsis

This story follows two main characters, Adequin Rake and Cavalon Mercer. Adequin commands a crew of Sentinels that protect the edge of the universe called The Divide. Cavalon finds himself being stationed on the ship called the Argus. Anomalies start to happen with the Divide and force the crew to fight to survive.

World Building

I found that world building was one of the strongest attributes about The Last Watch. J.S. Dewes masterfully crafts believable backstories for the characters. She successfully gives great moments where we learn about the characters life through the stories Adequin and Cavalon share between each on their adventure. I found this didn’t feel like large information dumps for the sake of needing something but it felt like natural moments in which people would share their life in a meaningful way. I liked the Universe was lived in on the level of a series like Lord of the Rings or The Wheel of Time. We know of other stations that crews like Adequin’s are working on. We hear about the Inner Core and Outer Core of the galaxy. The story might take place in a small area of the universe but it feels like there is so much happening everywhere. There are mentions of wars the galaxy and even the main character went through. It wouldn’t be a Sci-Fi story with out a different species that inhabits the Universe as well. I thought The Last Watch represented World Building magnificently!

Plot

I enjoyed using a similar idea like the Wall from Game of Thrones and putting it in space. It’s an interesting concept that I think works really well. I always thought there could be amazing side stories or events that happen that could take place there. This certainly filled that void for me. I found myself turning the page and wondering what will happen next and how will they solve the problems that arrived. The Last Watch is certainly a fast paced story with lots of interesting twist that kept me on the edge of my seat.

Characters

The characters were written in a way I felt drawn to them. I really enjoy Cavalon and his storyline as it unfolded. The opening line of the book really sets the expectation for tone with Cavalon’s character. Maybe it was a little too convenient that he could answer or solve a lot of answers but I still enjoyed the value he brought to the crew. Adequin was a character I fell in love with right away. I liked how she was the hero who had fallen from grace. I felt her story resembled the likes of Ender from Ender’s Game. Adequin is definitely on the hero’s journey. There are a lot of things she is still trying to overcome and I loved that about a main character.

The one thing that made the characters – main characters and side characters – stand out in the story was everyone felt like they were distinct. They came from different background and different walks of life. They had many different personalities. This made it easy to remember who was who as the story continued to move and add new characters to it.

Final Thoughts

The Last Watch was hard to put down! I found myself invested in the story from the opening line to the last page. As soon as I put down The Last Watch, I ordered The Exile Fleet. I am excited to see where the story will go from here and can’t wait to get back into this series very soon! If you are looking for a gripping space opera with tons of drama, intrigue, mystery and suspense this is the story for you. I highly recommend The Last Watch!


The Binding Tempest: 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.


Next up for the #SPSFC we have The Binding Tempest, first book of The Luminance Saga, by Steven Rudy. For the purposes of this contest, let’s agree that it was sci-fi but I’ll go into more detail below.

I felt for this book, I really did. I identified with it. This book … this book is me. Complete with the arguably unnecessary padding. More of us to love, that’s the justification.

There’s more of us to love.

Okay, this started weird, so let’s get into it. The Binding Tempest is not a science-fiction story, but then it’s not a fantasy story either. It’s kind of a steampunk outing but that’s just because of the New World and Revolutionary War theme, not to mention the horses and guns and zeppelins. Don’t be misled by the horses and guns and zeppelins, as the old Aztec saying goes. They exist only to lead you into strange rooms where men with odd facial hair

This is not getting any less weird. Sorry. I blame the Aztecs. My point is, this is a distinctly genre nonbinary story and I love that. It’s inspiring. When I read a book and it makes me want to get back to my own writing, it’s either because the book is terrible (this wasn’t) or because the book reminds me of why I love to read, and love to write. This was that.

So, there was magic and early industrial stuff as well as high energy weapons and portals and automatons. Awesome! There were different lands and histories and relics and politics and the whole tapestry was so incredibly rich. And the maps! I loved them. Extra credit for the maps, I want an A3 glossy print edition of this book just for the maps, the Kindle really didn’t do them justice (who zooms? Not me).

There were a couple of great characters in it. Qudin, from the moment he first does his quantum magic thing and bleeds from the ears, absolutely charmed me. The setup of his backstory with the Sagean Emperor felt a little bit like Szeth in the Stormlight books by Sanderson, but so what? Tali, and her magic pressure-blowouts, well she’s just purely epic. Loved it. And Ellaria Moonstone, aka Ms. Moonstone, is amazing (in fact compared to her, most of the other characters were a bit run-of-the-mill and she could have been edited into being the most central, perhaps even lone, point of view). And she’s in her late fifties! Mature female protagonists, represent.

So what was the problem?

Okay, so I have to say there was a bit of clumsy language throughout, that made it difficult to engage with. The story had a lot of exposition and description, and you have to combine that with readability or it’s going to be really obvious there’s pages and pages of exposition and description. Take it from a known waffler. It’s nothing a round of good hard editing couldn’t improve, but this is a very big and very dense book so said edit would be a large undertaking. The story needs the exposition, because ultimately this book is an exploration of a world and its history set against the backdrop of a motley hero group on a quest, rather than the other way around. But that means a lot of it needs to be stripped and cut down and washed out.

I am a big fan of the Massive Worldbuilding Infodump metagenre, so keep in mind that I suspect my tolerance will be higher than average. This book is a very deep, very loving tour of a world that obviously took a ton of creative effort. Our heroes seem to do a lot of treasure hunting and digging up of old knowledge, which to me was quite enjoyable to read for its own sake – but it does tend to leave the overall plot feeling messy and difficult to quantify. The titular Binding Tempest is the result of the Quantum Man and the Sagean fighting, which generated the power to unleash the Wrythen, and I think that’s what they were trying to do something about? Considering that the action keeps clipping along, it is at once busy and aimless. Also it’s a part one, so the ultimate story arc is incomplete anyway.

I had a smile at the Hex-like computer and I definitely enjoyed the big old guard robot thing towards the end, that was when it really started to feel like a science fiction story (the epilogue was almost entirely sci-fi) but like I say – I don’t believe in stories having to be one thing or another. Stories don’t work that way. Sorting machines do.

After all the build-up, the final showdown and revelations seemed strange and abrupt. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is a symptom of the Massive Worldbuilding Infodump metagenre. Overall, I quite enjoyed this but I think maybe the best way to tell the story would be to just have the characters exist in that world, and let the reader know the author is intimately familiar with it rather than attempting to upload the same level of familiarity to the reader. That will happen organically over time and (I hope) many books.

Sex-o-meter

This, again, wasn’t that sort of story. Stop trying to have sex with me, we’re in the middle of a deep dive through an entire science fiction / fantasy atlas, history book and encyclopaedia here! Goodness, there’s a time and a place, okay? Anyway yeah, you get the point. The Binding Tempest gets an atlas, a history book and an encyclopaedia out of a possible one sexual intercourse.

Gore-o-meter

There was some good action, some thrilling and violent wolverack attacks (loved the critters in this book!), some blood and fighting. But overall there wasn’t much more gore than there was sex. It was fine, one flesh-gobbet out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

A rich, heavy vein of WTF runs through this story, as it should when we’re talking a genre-defying spray of unconstrained creative juicery. Most of the WTF is explained, of course, so TF is quite solidly quantified by the time we’ve explored Rudy’s impressive world. We know exactly WTF TF is all about, if we’ve paid attention while TF is being outlined for us. So stop asking. The WTF-o-meter gives this a Spearpoint / Godscraper out of a possible Dark Tower.

My Final Verdict

I can only admire the scope and ambition of this story, and reiterate how great the maps and illustrations were. Ultimately there was just so much worldbuilding and exposition to fit into the story, the story itself got lost in the woods. And that’s saying something, coming from me! Three stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.


Earthweeds: 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 also brought me into the strange world of Earthweeds, first book of the Sons of Neptune series, by Rod Little.

This book was a lot, so let’s get started.

We begin our adventure up in a forested mountain national parky type area, where brothers Sam and Shane are enjoying a hiking / camping vacation to escape their woes for a time. Things go awry when they find a man who has committed suicide by gunshot sitting dead against a tree. He’s left a suicide note in his other hand that really got me intrigued, even if the couple of lines of Sam’s and Shane’s dialogue immediately following said note over-explained it all and kind of spoiled the effect. Less is more, people!

Anyway. Sam, who is six feet one inch tall and has been ever since he was a kid in high school when it was weird but isn’t so weird now he’s a college freshman, and his older brother Shane who is five feet eleven and more athletic, are distressed by the discovery of the dead body and return to town – and that’s where everything starts to go really crazy.

I admit, at the outset I got a bit of a Supernatural vibe from the two brothers, but that was only because one of them was named Sam and was quite tall (6’1″, as stressed a couple of times in the opening chapters) and his older brother is less tall but a bit of a tough guy who says “awesome” and calls his car “sweetheart” and doesn’t let Sammy drive it and their parents are dead. But these moderately amusing similarities took a back seat, if you will, to the fact that Sam can also summon electricity from his hands.

Why do we learn that Sam is a prematurely 6’1″ freakazoid before we find out about the lightning hands? One of life’s mysteries. And speaking of one of life’s mysteries, Sam and Shane are about to get all the rest of life’s mysteries thrown in their faces, one and two at a time, some of them wrapped in enigmas and some of them just damp and balls-out naked, so strap the fuck in.

The result is a highly entertaining, action-packed, twist-and-turn-filled adventure of a truly boggling scope and intensity. I may make light, but I was genuinely entertained and who can really ask for more than that? There were legitimately creepy moments (like the suicide and the things in the basement) and interesting premonitions (a narrator telling us what’s to come) and a whole lot of craziness (too much to do parenthetical justice to) folded into an apocalyptic monster thriller that keeps the beats coming.

We have a horde of flesh-eating lizards. We have monster spiders. We have a band of heavily-armed doomsday preppers and some creepy scientist-types. We have a guy who communicates with animals. We have electric powers. We have flying saucers from Neptune (this might constitute a spoiler but come on, look at the name of the series and try to keep your eye on the ball here). We have a lot. And this is just the beginning!

A few things didn’t add up, but they were mostly little things. The way a … certain event … occurred “over a millennium ago” and yet predated the dino-killer asteroid is one of those things that’s technically true but still sounds odd. It took them way too long to realise putting on Tina’s perfume was a good solution to the scent issue they were facing, rendering them “invisible” to the lizards. And once they did figure it out, it stopped being a plot point shortly afterwards. There was comedy gold to be dredged out of that … but I get it. There was too much else going on, no time to stop to pick up loose nuggets. I also didn’t get why words like Earth and Neptune were part of the lexicon when their etymology … gah, never mind. There’s a few little nits to pick but they’re not a big deal. What’s the odd nit when we have so much going on?

Sex-o-meter

There’s a lot of lingering and insistent description of the … three? … female characters, two of whom need to be rescued from a doom prepper rape cage at the start, but there’s no actual rape and not really any sex. It’s all about the action, not the action, you know? It’s kind of charming in its own way. One perfectly normal attractive step-sibling who just does normal stuff out of a possible set of attractive step-sibling triplets who get themselves trapped in implausible sexually vulnerable positions all the time because the plot demands it.

Gore-o-meter

Y’know, for a violent apocalyptic horror action story with killer lizards, there’s surprisingly little gore. A bunch of people and a whole fuck-ton of lizards get killed in an assortment of ways, some of them reasonably bloody, but we can’t get the gore-o-meter to go above two-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five no matter how hard we whack it.

WTF-o-meter

Overall this book was an amazing, dizzying festival of WTFery. What a trip. At every point Little had a chance to say “this is it, this is what the story’s about, let’s continue,” Little instead said “fuck it, that happened, now something even more balls-to-the-wall crazy is going to happen.” I don’t know if the WTF-o-meter could handle the rest of the books in this series. As it is, it’s giving Earthweeds a Percy Jackson out of a possible Samuel L Jackson. I think … I think you broke it. Yep, it’s broken. Well that’s not going to be cheap.

My Final Verdict

The words Earthians from the Earthian Empire moved to Earthus should be absolutely stupid … but I really like it. And I don’t know why. I’m sitting here covered in smoking pieces of WTF-o-meter, and I don’t know why. What a wild ride. Lot of fun. Four stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale.


BOOK REVIEW | STONES OF LIGHT BY ZACK ARGYLE

Hey there sweet thannngggg!

I am back with another review because your girl here is playing some serious catch up.

It is about time I reviewed this book for Zack! He is an incredibly writer and such a nice chap. I have actually read this book twice, once via paperback and once via audio. Which is FREAKING EXCEPTIONAL.

Anywho, onto the book..

A few facts about this book:

  • Title: Stones of Light
  • Author: Zack Argyle
  • Series: Threadlight
  • Published by Zack Argyle
  • Pages: 342

Synopsis:

Add It To Your Goodreads!

The coreseal is shattered and a new darkness is rising.

Chrys swore to never again let the Apogee take control but, in a moment of desperation, he gave in. Now, he will learn what the Apogee truly wants.

In Alchea, Laurel will do anything to get her threadlight back, even if it means working for the leader of the Bloodthieves. But she has no choice…she can’t live a life without threadlight.

To the west, Alverax travels with the Zeda people to the large port city of Felia, where they seek refuge after the fires in the Fairenwild. But he shattered the coreseal, and no one quite knows what the consequences will be. They only know it won’t be good.

Together, they changed the world…now, they must save it.

Review:

Here are a few things you can expect from this book…

  • A book that keeps on getting better;
  • Brilliant character growth;
  • Faster pace;
  • More intense battles; and
  • Stunning prose!

On to the full review…

This book ticks so many boxes for me it isn’t even fair! Ahh who am I kidding? Of course it is fair because Zack can write!

Let’s start with box number one that has been ticked…THE COVER!

Oh. My. Word. Give me a moment…

This book cover has me thirsting to get into it pages like…mmm, well never mind. Imma keep this PG. Where were we? Oh yes, THE COVER! It is quite literally perfection, not so different to its contents too I might add. The style, its stunning colours and the art itself. It is a fantasy book nerds wet dream. Annnnnd the cover for book three has been revealed to which quite frankly is just as stunning…

I think one of the biggest strengths of this book is that the writing is so accessible. This story has a fairly complex plotline and has several elements that all go their own ways, but these always manage to link back and at no point is the writing or the story overbearing. You can see the work that Zack has put into this book and ensuring it all works coherently. Which is essential considering how much more we learn in Stones of Light. We see more of this incredible world. We witness more of its magic and lore. Zack gives us ALL the goods!

Zack’s writing is also beautiful, it isn’t too flowery, nor is it bland or boring. It falls perfectly on the scale of descriptive. Oh, and if you like highlighting your kindle, chances are you will find several gems in Zack’s writing. There is without doubt lessons to be learnt in this book, which brings me on to the characters because these are all lessons they are facing.

In this instalment we also see more to all of our characters. Each one has grown that much more, even some of the smaller characters have shown delightful growth. I think this goes hand in hand with the increase in pace this book. The characters are constantly moving and being tested, which in turn shows us more of their minds. How they deal with the situations and what their responses are. Their interactions with new people and threats and revisiting those we were teased of in book one!

I think it is safe to say this is another series which shows you just how a second book should be done!

In summary, I loved this book. I read it when it first came out and listened to it when the audio became available and I have to say it gets better with every read!

Now, if you read my review of Voice of War you will know I ADORE Adam Gold’s narration. This still stands, he once again created a masterpiece.


THE RANKS: 

BUY THE HARDBACK | BUY THE PAPERBACK | BUY THE EBOOK | LIBRARY RENTAL OR SALE PURCHASE

I have this and Book One in HB and they are so dang beautiful! I cant wait to get Book Three!


AGAIN Thank you for reading AND SEE YOU SOON!


Isoldesse: 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.


Up next was Isoldesse, of the Aevo Compendium series book 1, by Kimberly Grymes.

Banna idir dufiur et gohdeo … hey, I think I know this one. Something about there being a frog in my bidet, isn’t it?

I kid. I really enjoyed the uncompromising, deep-end plunge that Isoldesse pushes on the reader right from page one. It made me feel like one of the characters, confused and lost and overwhelmed. And at least we get a glossary! Yeah, there was a little world-by-world glossary of terms at the start of the book, so we have a little more information than the protagonists, but it is just enough to keep our heads above water. And, like I mentioned, the quasi-incantations of the sci-fi space magic were delightfully fantastical and reminded me of John Carter of Mars.

Yes, this story opens hard, with a lot of study material by way of an intro, and overall the narrative read like a science-fantasy in the John Carter or even Flash Gordon style. High fantasy with planets instead of ye olde realms, and while these may all add up to a problem for some readers, I liked it.

That being said, I did very nearly hurl my Kindle across the room early on – and I only didn’t because it was a pretty expensive little doodad. See, each world being studied for the Aevo Compendium (which I consistently failed to imagine as anything but Megadodo Publications, one of the great publishing corporations of Ursa Minor, and their renowned guide for hitchhikers) is divided into four regions and a researching agent – well, look:

Spiaire – (spy-ir) A Sendarian who lives a double life on an alien world during an Aevo Compendium trial. There are four total Spiaires assigned to four different regions of whatever world is undergoing observation. A Spiaire’s job is to befriend the subjects without revealing their true identity and prepare the subjects for extraction to Priomh.

Okay, so the “four different regions” of Earth were Florida, California, the Midwest, and “north” – and I’m pretty sure it wasn’t talking about beyond-the-US north. I decided this was a hilarious surreal joke of some sort, and laughed rather than angry-purchasing a paperback just so I could throw it into the Gulf of Finland. Well played! But seriously, the rest of the planet exists, y’all.

Anyway, from this rocky but endearing start, I found myself rapidly overtaken by events and was left with a persistent feeling that I was reading a young adult drama like Beverly Hills 90210 but with some characters randomly swapped out for alien researchers and others swapped out maybe for some opposing alien group that’s hunting the researchers, and one of the humans is bonded with an alien ghost in a crystal and also the aliens seemed to have alien parents / handlers? I was quickly lost, but like Darci and Gemma and Meegan and Kenna (I’m afraid their names and descriptions made them all a teensy bit interchangeable to me) I was dragged along from one scene to the next and ultimately it was rather enjoyable even though it gave me a mild arrhythmia.

Through it all, I was able to focus on a couple of things. First, the Beast was an utterly disgusting character and the only implausible thing about him was that he was somehow employed by the Aevo Compendium people. There’s more to his story but frankly the fact that he wasn’t shot in the face and buried out back somewhere to enrich Priomh’s biosphere before the book even began was a real danger to my suspension of disbelief. Also, not to spoil things, but towards the very end of the book we find out that he sports a man-bun (it is mentioned briefly around the halfway point but it’s easy to miss) and I’m going to be honest, the reader deserves to know this a lot sooner. Like, a lot sooner. I’m just saying.

Other highlights included drunk Ally calling Xander a poopy-head, the Beast and his sudden but inevitable betrayal, and the moment I found out basically an entire alien species (or at least the females thereof) were redheads. That’s almost certainly someone’s idea of fun, but it’s not great when you’re trying to tell characters apart and hair colour seems to be the main characteristic mentioned each time.

Anyway, it was great. Let’s see what the meters have to say about it all.

Sex-o-meter

A chaste and thoroughly decent outing, Isoldesse had a few traces of leery nastiness and one genteel curtain-drop to cover a hypothetical hour-long human-on-alien boinkfest. I’ll give it an “isn’t that technically bestiality?” out of a possible “oh boy, that’s definitely bestiality, get that sheep out of here and why do you have a man-bun you’re just the worst” on the ol’ sex-o-meter.

Gore-o-meter

One-and-a-half flesh-gobbets out of a possible five for this one. There wasn’t much gore or violence, although the story didn’t want for action. Nicely balanced.

WTF-o-meter

Like I said, this story had some excellent surreality and a colourful Flash Gordon aesthetic and John Carter system of high-tech space magic. The absolute relentless speed at which life comes at Julianna and Prue and Rian and Sabine (and Nick and Matthew and Liam and Ben…) adds a whole new level of enjoyment to this highly imaginative roller-coaster of a story.

My Final Verdict

Well now look, I just said “highly imaginative roller-coaster of a story,” so I can hardly do better than that here, can I? Isoldesse is Grymes’s debut novel and may she write many more! It was never boring, it showed a butt-ton of creative prowess and introduced us to a very complex series of worlds. Three stars! Thanks for a fun read.


Children of Vale: 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.


The next book on my #SPSFC list was Children of Vale, by D. A. Anderson.

Reading this book was like having sex right down in the back corner of a Sean Connery video library. Yes, it’s fucking close to Zardoz. But that’s a good thing! No wait, hear me out. Come baaack…

Look, it really was just nailed into my head the moment our protagonist, Tyana, is born in a Matrixian artificial womb field and then spat out of a giant Goddess-head into a compellingly agendered future world where advanced and enlightened people (living in a city with another big giant carved head motif) are struggling with their own stagnation and the incursions of “barbarians” outside. It just immediately struck me as a kind of homage, and that’s actually part of why I liked it all so much.

The story itself is fascinating, as we follow Tyana’s point of view literally from before birth and learn – as she does – about the strange world she lives in.

Tyana’s culture is divided into castes, from the lowly worker-class Artificers to the holy order of the Vestals. Each person is assigned a caste on a genetic level, and it is expressed in the colour of her hair. Tyana is a rare dual-class  anomaly – and unlike various other combinations that have popped out in the past, she is a blend of two castes that has never before occurred.

What follows is an exploration of the concepts of acceptance, respect, tradition, tribalism and one’s place in a world that abhors the not-readily-categorisable. And really a very interesting one. Each caste among the androgynous, female-pronoun-adopting higher race is given strengths and weaknesses – blessings and burdens, gifts and sins – but it swiftly becomes clear that not all burdens are equal. And not all sins are necessarily evil. And that some practices have been set in place entirely as a means of controlling a potentially dangerous population.

This was a philosophy that … definitely resonated with me.


“Our burden is to work. If we don’t, our muse – our madness, as she puts it – will take over. The work is meant to stave that off, to keep us busy and distracted.”


As Tyana learns more about her world and the shaky foundations on which it is built, her surroundings and her dreams become steadily more disturbing. There’s enough metaphor and symbolism in it to make the most coked-up, mushroom-addled Zardoz analyst throw away his red mankini, put some pants on and take a good long look at himself in the mirror. Presumably for the first time since he put on the mankini. But I digress. And I don’t know why. Stop me next time, I have regrets.

Tyana’s dream of a bleached and homogenised humanity, drained and safe, is unsettling to read. The action and events taking place in the narrative ultimately fail to live up to the imagery occurring on the higher plane of Vale’s and Thea’s ideological battleground … but isn’t that so often the way, with dreams?

This story combines fascinating sci-fi visuals and worlds with a delightful surreal aesthetic, and a compelling series of moral and sociological questions that really stayed with me after reading. It drew me in, and it kept me turning the pages as Anderson revealed the world a little bit at a time, in all its complex and often disturbing glory. Its solid sci-fi world and plot will appeal to some, while its out-there premise and artistry will appeal to others. It was all rather seamless and well-structured as far as I’m concerned, only a couple of little things really jumping off the page and yanking my moustache.

I loved the way the Artificers were introduced and discussed, the almost literal morlocks in this weird hypnopunk future, and the way they studied and synthesised the hallowed goddess-goo to the ultimate conclusion (which I won’t spoil, but it was very cool). Creativity and industry live on, even among a perfect theocratic utopia someone needs to keep the plumbing operational, and woe betide the theocrats when those poor grubby fucks finally look up from their labour and go “hang on.”

There was a throw-away reference to a “warp-capable” ship right at the very end, when the rest of the discussion of space travel had been either kept interestingly vague, or else seemed to use different terminology altogether. This abrupt bounce to (forgivable in its ubiquity) Star Trek lingo was jarring, but since it was basically the end of the story by that point it was easy enough to let it slide. Still, odd. But honestly, that was it.

Sex-o-meter

We’re confronted with a swift and furtive bit of androgynous self-touchy – oh, the wicked burdens of those pallid, slender Vestal hands! – but this is a pretty cerebral and asexual affair. And that’s fine. The sex-o-meter is detecting trace elements of whatever was going on in Zardoz, but not enough for me to give Children of Vale more than one-tenth of a whatever was going on in Zardoz out of a possible whatever was going on in Zardoz.

Gore-o-meter

There’s plenty of Warrior-caste violence and fight scenes, some pitched battles, the strange gryphons and the brutality with which the Artificers are treated, but all in all it’s fairly bloodless. Unless you count the ichor and the assorted black and white fluids of the Vale and Thea dreamscapes. And I don’t. And neither does the gore-o-meter. So there. One flesh-gobbet out of a possible five.

WTF-o-meter

Downright psychedelic, this one. Really cool, almost pure high-grade WTF from cover to cover. Children of Vale gets a great big bowl of slimy black ichor dribbling out of the face-holes of a tormented Vestal godpuppet out of a possible … I don’t even know what this thing is trying to show me. The same thing only a slightly larger bowl? Yeah. Yeah, that’s what it is.

My Final Verdict

I thoroughly enjoyed this story, a really artistic piece of work that left me feeling thoughtful and slightly detached for some time afterwards. Four stars for Children of Vale.


The Dinosaur Four: 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.


Next up on Team Space Lasagna’s plate is The Dinosaur Four, by Geoff Jones.

For some hilarious reason this book was misattributed as “time travel dinosaur erotica” among the SPSFC reviewers and as such we have all been looking forward to reading it. As it happens, we were right to be anticipating it – but not because it was a titillating carnal romp through the Cretaceous era. I mean, what would that even be like? Maybe Jones can take up his pen and get to work on that, because apparently reviewers be horny.

But no. What we got was goddamn brilliant and make no mistake, I was far happier that the leprous hadrosaurs didn’t fuck anyone.

What am I talking about and why am I still making it weird?

The Dinosaur Four opens in the Daily Edition Café where Lisa, the owner, is soliloquising about taxes and liquor licenses and the absurdity of being allowed to sell alcohol before you can drink it. The barista, Beth, flirts briefly with a delivery man named William and makes reference to his large package. Please keep in mind, at this point I still thought I was reading erotica so I had a really solid idea of where this was heading. The only question in my mind was whether William was a Chuck-Tinglian T-Rex delivery man with abs for days, or Beth was going to turn out to be a saucy Madame Vastra type. Or both, to the lyrical but total detriment of the protagonist’s ass.

Anyway, that didn’t happen.

The café, along with a fun little crowd of positively Stephen-King-worthy employees and customers, is abruptly transported to the distant past where they all get absolutely fucking bodied by dinosaurs (not in that way) for a couple of hundred pages.

It’s fucking glorious.

I was, as I said, immediately reminded of Stephen King – specifically The Mist, The Langoliers, and other neatly contained dramas. My initial thought was that maybe King would make more compelling or grimy characters more instantly identifiable and distinctive (Tim remained something of a nonentity for a while but – and this is the great bit – I’m pretty sure he was meant to), but there’s no shame in being out-grimy-charactered by Stephen King. However, as I read on, I realised that Jones had actually just gone a more slow-burn and subtle road with his protagonists. They may not have been as gross, but they were all just as distinctive and – if anything – more relatable, making everything that much more horrific.

I can’t say much more without spoiling various plot points and revelations, so I won’t – except to say that Lisa could probably have remembered and mentioned certain things a bit sooner and more readily than she did, and to wonder whether I missed a part that explained how “invisibility cloak” became “time travel” – was the former just a cover and I just missed the discarding of said cover? Anyway, read the book and you’ll see what I mean.

The characters were really great. Don’t be discouraged by the take-off – once they’re airborne, they really soar. Patricia is a giant Karen, Callie and Hank are a complete goddamn train wreck, and Al … Jesus Christ, Al. But for me, perhaps my favourite part of the story was just when you start thinking things are going to settle down for the Act III coast, and one of the characters … how to put this? They give their little group a name and it’s not the name of the book and you realise things are about to get so much worse.

Very good. Very, very good.

Sex-o-meter

For all the sweet-to-gross spectrum of human interpersonal relations taking place in this story, the horniest thing in it was the triceratops. Am I right? *goes up for high five and is left hanging, and deservedly so*. Fuck it. I guess my point is there wasn’t really any sex in this. Two desperately sad and awkward mother-shamed Al-boners from accidentally-on-purpose side-boob contact while hugging out of a possible five. I would have awarded it one desperately sad and awkward mother-shamed Al-boner from accidentally-on-purpose side-boob contact while hugging, but I just remembered that the T-Rex does in fact eat a giant bag of ticks, so there’s that. And no, that wasn’t a typo.

Gore-o-meter

Amazing. No notes. Four and a half flesh-gobbets out of five. I’m still giving us a final half-gobbet to fill out if an absolute fucking bloodbath crosses my Kindle because recalibrating the gore-o-meter isn’t cheap and I’m doing these reviews for free, but something tells me we’re not going to get much more gory than this one.

WTF-o-meter

This is a time travel adventure with a solid dose of causality and timeline-crossing and all of that. It would be weird if it didn’t register on the WTF-o-meter. One thing I was really interested in at the start of the story was how gross and diseased the dinosaurs were, and for a while I wondered if that was a plot point that was going to end up being significant. But I think in the end it just turned out to be a gritty, realistic look at how fucking disgusting giant feathery lizards would actually be, with an emphasis on the stuff we tend to sanitise out of our dinosaur lore. Jones is clearly an enthusiast and he’s done his research. I give The Dinosaur Four an Al’s mother out of a possible Toomey’s father (and that’s not as minor a reading as you might think).

My Final Verdict

Glorious. Just fantastic. I have no more words. Okay I lied; five stars.


BOOK REVIEW | THE LEGION OF FLAME BY ANTHONY RYAN

Good Evening Bookish Folk!

Fuck! It has been a while…I don’t really have an excuse other than LIFE! Lets just say I needed a break, I have had a break and now I’M BACK!

And what a return review…The Legion of Flame by Anthony Ryan. This is the second book in the Draconis Memoria series and I think it is easily one of my favourite seconds in a series. Lets be honest many can fall flat. Not all, don’t shoot me.

Anywho, onto the book..

A few facts about this book:

  • Title: The Legion of Flame
  • Author: Anthony Ryan
  • Series: The Draconis Memoria
  • Published by Orbit
  • Pages: 638

Synopsis:

Add It To Your Goodreads!

Survival is the only currency…

For centuries, the vast Ironship Trading Syndicate relied on drake blood–and the extraordinary powers it confers to those known as the Blood-blessed–to fuel and protect its empire. But when the drake blood lines began to fail, a perilous expedition was mounted to secure them.

Claydon Torcreek survived the fraught mission through uncharted lands in pursuit of a myth that might have secured his people’s future. Instead he found a nightmare. The legendary White Drake was awoken from a millennia-long slumber, with a thirst to reduce the world of men to ashes, and the power to compel an army of Spoiled slaves to do it.

Spurred on by a vision he desperately hopes he can trust, Clay and rebel naval officer Corrick Hilemore hijack a warship and head towards the icy southern seas, searching for an ancient secret that may give them and their allies a fighting chance.

They are aided on another front by Blood-blessed agent Lizanne Lethridge. The spy and assassin will use her diplomatic status to infiltrate deep into enemy territory on a quest for a device to save them all.

As the world burns around them, and the fires of revolution are ignited, these few Blood-blessed are the last hope for all of civilisation.

Review:

Here are a few things you can expect from this book…

  • Fantastic character development;
  • An example of how a middle book should be;
  • Exceptional plot advancement and world building; and
  • A THOROUGHLY immersive and enjoyable ride!

On to the full review…

As I mentioned earlier, this book is the second book in this series and it was a brilliant middle book. I don’t feel like it lulled and dipped but in fact kept pace, if not exceeded its predecessor! While I adored book one and praised its ability to mix several elements one wouldn’t think go together, I appreciated the consistency in this instalment. The book felt as though is fell more securely into where it wanted to go and what direction it was heading you in.

Each chapter gave me all the things I didn’t know I wanted or needed. This isn’t a book you can pause at to make a brew, something always has you thinking ‘just a few more pages…chapters’. This isn’t just in respect of the plot either, the world-building is another constant tease! I am not a huge worldbuilding fan, I find it one of the more boring elements but Ryan proved me wrong on this front. Every world element, piece of lore or detail as to the origins of the drakes was fun to read. I wasn’t just reading a book, I was fully immersed in this world and exploring it with the characters.

I also fell even more in love with the characters, which doesn’t take much when I enjoyed them as much as I did in book one. With characters I can love them straight away purely on their potential so it was so excited to continue the journey with these and all of them fulfil that potential!

We even get a new POV and boy oh boy is it an new, insightful and fascinating POV!

This instalment was such a beautiful blend of character development, word building and plot progression and did not fall victim to middle book syndrome!


THE RANKS: 

BUY THE HARDBACK | BUY THE PAPERBACK | BUY THE EBOOK | LIBRARY RENTAL OR SALE PURCHASE

Fuck. I wish I had this in HARDBACK!


AGAIN Thank you for reading AND SEE YOU SOON!