Ghostwater by Will Wight (Book #5 Cradle Series)

To see book 4 Skysworn go here.

Ghostwater by Will Wight is #5 in the Cradle series. If you’re here I’m sure you’ve already become vested in this universe.  Sorry it took so long to get this out. Let’s get into it. So, once again I feel like each book is going to be my new favorite. The interesting thing about this one though compared to the past ones is Lindon pretty much is in a brand-new pocket world (Ghostwater) inside the world we already know. It’s quite brilliant in finding a way to create new lands, creatures, and adventure without having to find a way to whisk the characters off to new geographic locations. It’s a fun way to flex your creativity and level up the characters to do better in the situation they’re still in. I always love new lands or in this case pocket dimensions to explore. 

This book is where I am 100% in on the character of Lindon. I mean I’ve been liking him more with each book; I just feel he made broad strides in this one. He and Orthos are essentially trapped in this pocket world as the weaker of the people there. No one to bail him out. They draw the ire of Ekerinatoth, a gold dragon, on the path of the Flowing Flame. There are also some crazy swarms of giant fish too. Sounds kind of delicious. Ok, so Lindon and Orthos have to find a way to survive as they look to get out of this mess. Having sealed themselves in in some underground bunker they explore to find…pretty much someone has looted the area already. Though interestingly Lindon finds a memory construct chilling in some high-grade mental elixirs. It seems to have given the construct a consciousness. It knows everything about Ghostwater. Sweet deal. This construct ends up with the name Dross helps form a plan for our duo…or trio now I suppose…no foursome because we have little blue too! Lindon doesn’t just get out of it, but he kills her which has repercussions. Unfortunately, she lives long enough to get back to her people, so they know she was killed and by what kind of path. BLACKFLAME.

This leads to chaos for Yerin and Mercy. Oh, side note, I really enjoy those two hanging out together, fun dynamic. Anyways they try to get to Lindon by pissing off the Skysworn and some angry dragons. Lindon kicked the proverbial dragon nest..roost? Yerin has to hide a lot which makes her quite unhappy. Yerin and Mercy get beaten down pretty badly. They too have to find a way to deal with their situation. I don’t have much to say about them in this, but they are fun.

This very much felt like a Lindon adventure though. There are a lot of cool and also deadly things left behind by the Monarch who built Ghostwater. Lindon comes across many valuable elixirs, meat, books, and overall knowledge. Leveling Up, Scott Pilgrim has nothing on you. We also meet Emo warrior Ziel of the Wasteland. Seemingly bored with life he doesn’t mind lending his oversized Warhammer to help out the weaker. Ziel manages to help not only Lindon in Ghostwater, but helps save Yerin and Mercy on the outside. Cheer up bud, the world needs you. 

After Ziel is gone we of course have the arrogant Akura Harmony who comes along to steal Dross from Lindon. This was not very nice. Lindon and Orthos go after him even though Harmony is part of a Monarch faction and was the most powerful person in the pocket world in the beginning of this book. Lindon, Orthos, and Dross manage to beat him with a mix of power, quick thinking, and strategy. Lindon offers to take Harmony out of Ghostwater before it collapses. Harmony instead threatens retaliation and revenge. What can you do? Lindon leaves him behind with Orthos breaking off his chance of escape. SAVAGE. Harmony seems to be trapped when the pocket world collapses. Gone forever? Who knows? This will have repercussions in Lindon’s relationship with the mighty Akura family. Oh, Harmony was also Mercy’s ex-fiancé. AWKWARD. Lindon is great at making enemies. Excellent skill to have my man. It certainly makes things more entertaining for us readers. 

Lindon reconnects with Yerin and Mercy. Yerin and Lindon seem to be connecting more especially now that Lindon is closing in on becoming her equal. Hmmm. Will their arc lead to more than best friends? Stay tuned you Cradle lovers. Wait, that sounds weird. Cradle Fans!!!


Dark Matter: A Ghost Story by Michelle Paver

Well, this review was meant to be up for Halloween, but my computer decided to kick the bucket. I now have a new one which was a few years overdue anyways. The end result is that I’m back. I read a shorter Ghost Story called Dark Matter by Michelle Paver. When it comes to horror my preference is strong characters in a supernatural setting.  I went into this book blind; never heard of it. Let’s get going.

This story takes place in 1937 within a gloomy Britain which at this time is filled with rumors of war coming. Enter the journal of Jack Miller; a specialist wireless operator who works a menial dead end job. As he drops further into poverty and merely going through the motions, he has a chance to join an arctic expedition to Gruhuken on the northeast coast of Svalbard. It wasn’t long ago these lands were unclaimed with people looking for fortunes there. Now Gruhuken is oddly vacant of human life trying to find some way to make wealth there. Jack goes on this journey of course and this book is his journal Jack documents along the way.

This story starts off with so much excitement and hope then slowly gives a feeling of creeping dread. Michelle must have done some research or had experience in how it would be to live in the arctic in 1937. I believed this could be a real journal. It was interesting to get a real feeling of traveling to and surviving in such a cold and eventually dark desolate place. The party starts off with 5 people, but bad luck causes only 3 to actually make it to gruhuken and start the expedition. I’m sure there’s no ill omen in this right? I will say they did bring sled dogs with them so that actually pushed back some of the dread I was feeling. When it comes to ghosts, dogs are a great warning. 

The first sign something may be wrong is the Swedish captain tries to talk them out of going to Gruhuken and to land their expedition somewhere else. When this doesn’t work he tries to claim he wasn’t planning on going that far to drop them off. The man is clearly trying to look out for these scholarly Englishmen with no idea of the lands they are going to. Of course eventually they talk him into bringing them to their destination. His uneasy crew helps them set up a cabin then flee from there as fast as possible. The expedition is of course ill fated or else this book would just be a science journal of the arctic. 

Journal formats can be quite tricky to write. It needs to feel natural and you need to make the reader believe the writer knows how to wield words to fascinate us. Michelle is quite good at setting up Jack as an educated man of words despite his low standing in life and the prose feel natural. Jack makes the world around him feel wondrous, dangerous, beautiful, and deadly as the story unfolds. I believe this man could be writing like this as it goes from a mission of science to a mystery of what is happening to the expedition. I do not want to spoil too much, but something doesn’t want other people on these lands; not even for science. 

I cannot say this book felt like it did anything really new, but it did everything exceptionally well. I was invested in Jack’s journey and what his fate would be. There is definitely a point in the book when you really are not sure how the story will end. It certainly did not go the way I thought. The slow building of dread I thought could use a bit more payoff, but overall I was satisfied with the mystery of this land. Jack could have avoided much of what happens with different decisions, but his decisions made sense in the long run. It was not contrived to keep the story going. In fact it seemed realistic. 

Overall I feel like Michelle nailed the gloomy British ghost story in journal form. I was marveled by her attention to detail and making the world around Jack feel alive. The few characters in the story also felt distinct and real from Jack’s PoV. Even the sled dogs felt organic and believable in how Jack viewed their behavior. It would certainly take a lot of guts to go out in the arctic even nowadays not to mention in 1937. Jack definitely was stupidly brave. It was a fascinating shorter read in the world of ghost stories. 


Skysworn by Will Wight

I apologize for my delay in getting, well, anything up. At work I’m alone in a unit of what should be four people. It’s been exhausting to say the least. Enough of that though. Here we have another review on the Cradle series by Will Wight. This will be a continuation on my journey with book 4 Skysworn. I have to say before I get started each book is better than the last. I’m behind on writing so I have actually also got through book 5, so that still stands.

Will Wight’s magic system and character depth grows with each passing book. In book one I was pretty eh on Lindon, but the kid continues to develop into an impressive character. Yerin also goes through the mental ringer as well. Of course, the big event in this book we have been waiting on is Lindon vs. Jai Long. This does not disappoint. Interesting enough an even bigger issue that turns this story sideways is Jai Daishou, Patriarch of the Jai Clan. He seemingly is losing his mind wanting revenge against Eithan for defeating him, ok and Eithan did temporarily kill him. I mean sometimes you got to let things go Daishou!

Let’s get to the book which is called Skysworn. The military elite of the Blackflame Empire. Apparently, they do not like anyone using the actual power of Blackflame though, oops. I mean it is based on fire and destruction, what’s the problem? Sooo Lindon is imprisoned, but that doesn’t stop Eithan from breaking into every jail cell Lindon is locked in so he can keep training him. Its comically amusing to see him casually get into prisons, stay, and aggravate the Skysworn to make certain Lindon is ready to fight Jai Long. I really thought that battle was going to be the icing on the cake. The finale of the book. However, it comes faster than expected. While it is a great battle sequence and use of sacred arts by Lindon; the stakes get wilder and more dangerous at the end of their duel. In case you haven’t gotten into it this book fully the results will be left hidden here. I’m happy it went the way it did for character development reasons. That said Lindon was impressive.

As the battle ends Jai Daishou is off his rocker and tries to kill Eithan but ends up awakening a Dread God instead. Can’t be too bad right? Jai Daishou uses an artifact that could kill everyone at the site, but luckily for them Jai Chen puts an end to it. A favorite side character of mine that I’m not sure we will see ever again after this book, but way to go girl. Unfortunately, the followers of this Dread God, Redmoon Hall, are inspired to invade the Blackflame Empire. They just wholesale slaughter anyone in their path. They are pretty freaky people, definitely don’t invite to dinner parties. Their invasion is swiftly moving across the land and an Underlord of Redmoon Hall arrives to where our protagonists are working on a plan of escape. This Underlord and his army use blood madra. They can use spilled blood to create bloodspawn to fight for them. Imagine your own wounds not just being a detriment to you, but then your blood is used to attack you. That is damn horrifying. No thanks, I’m out of there.

They eventually escape battered and beaten. I mean if they didn’t the series would end. After they get safely to the flying fortress Stormrock (cool name) Eithan is sent on a mission to get help from the Akura family Monarch. The Akura are essentially the real power in the area that protects places like the Blackflame Empire from even bigger threats. The emperor is more of an overseer of the Blackflame territory because they could replace him in an instant if they so wished. That leaves Yerin and Lindon with Orthos on their own for now. What do these crazy kids and a dragon turtle do?….well the title of the book, they join the Skysworn. The Skysworn don’t trust them so unsurprisingly they are put into a special group with another character that is quite intriguing, Mercy of the Akura. She is caste out from her family to survive on her own, I guess? Honestly, she seems quite clumsy and very much the opposite of Yerin. I enjoy her character so far for very different reasons. They get sent out which causes Yerin’s Blood Shadow to gain strength. I mean she has a Blood Shadow; we have Bloodmoon Hall attacking? What could go wrong? Well, alot apparently. The Skysworn even try to toss Yerin away, pun intended! Chaos ensues, but luckily the Akura Monarch comes help one of the territories under her family’s domain. This was not guaranteed and will not be in the future. So much going on and it seems multiple Dread Gods are starting to stir on this world. That sounds a tiny bit ominous.

All in all a riveting read. Honestly because of the expected ending being in the middle, this book felt like the longest in a good way. A lot happened here that was fascinating in terms of learning more about the magic system, battling, political landscape, but also character growth all around. We get to learn more about the mysterious Eithan and his connection to Ozriel an ancestor of his. I don’t talk much about the the Abidan and what is happening there because its just so far above this one world with its own mechanizations I’m kinda just letting that story unfold, focusing more on our main group of world bound characters.

Will Wight seems to write better with more experience he gets under his belt. It is a steady thing I have noticed with each read. I’m looking forward to this steadily curving upward. Again, though Will Wight’s strength is his devotion and evolution of his magic system; it’s impressive. As Lindon levels up we learn more about the intricacies of madra, sacred arts and aura that surrounds everything. I mean honestly, living in this world sounds awesome and terrifying all at once. Besides our characters working hard to become better sacred artists, I’m never quite sure what craziness they will get into next. If I wrote this before book 5 I would never have even guessed what happens in that book. Wight’s world seems to have endless wonders and things to discover. I mean the Blackflame Empire is a second-rate territory that we are still in. Who knows what else Lindon and the gang will get up to in the future? So, stay tuned as I report my thoughts until I catch up to book 10.

See Previous Blackflame Post


Blackcoats: Dead Man Walking: 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 next SPSFC read was Blackcoats: Dead Man Walking, by Michael Lachman.

Adam is a normal teen, who likes *checks notes* failing to talk to attractive member of opposite sex, getting bullied by jock, and debating merits and continuity of extended book and movie intellectual properties big in early 21st Century popular culture with friends. But don’t worry, that window-dressing is just the set-up. Indeed, considering the ghoulish (literally) showdown in the prologue, you know some shit’s about to go down and you didn’t pick up a novelisation of Dawson’s Creek by mistake. Although you may have picked up a novelisation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I don’t know what Dawson’s Creek is about. Don’t overthink it, it was a throw-away joke.

Anyway, from this intriguing prologue and endearingly geeky opening, the reader is thrown headlong into Teenagers Survive In World Full Of Adults Making Bad Choices, and it’s really rather fun. Forget Buffy (I mean actually don’t, Buffy is awesome, but just for now as an intellectual exercise), this story has enough elements of Hellboy and Men In Black to be highly engrossing, while at the same time retaining its originality.

C.H.E.S.S. – the Cryptid Handling and Extranormal Secret Service – is funny and the only note I would offer on the “someone really wanted our acronym to spell S.H.I.E.L.D.” cumbersomeness of it would be basically the only note I would offer for the whole story in general – Lachman should have leaned into it more. Yes, there were Blackcoats (enforcement) and Whitecoats (research), and that was a lovely little chess reference. But make the different roles within C.H.E.S.S. reflect the pieces on the board. Make the leaders of each department Kings and Queens. Make a “take rook’ here with you / he’s really more of a pawn” joke. Go on. Live a little.

Okay, maybe that only would have tickled me and Lachman made the right call by not overblowing it. I’m not here to tell you dad jokes are a substitute for a good story. Or am I?

No, what we got here was a good story, and a good setup for a promising series. We even circle back around to the school and have some solid fish out of water / 21 Jump Street style antics, which we love to see. For a while I was theorising that Holly was older than she looked, but the story kept me guessing and I was ultimately satisfied with the reveal.

Speaking of things I was attempting to predict, this story’s setting is rich with potential and I was only mildly disappointed by how it was realised in this specific book. The cryonics lab? I actually made a note here: “If those old agents don’t get thawed out sometime to do old school shit, it’s gonna be a huge waste.” I won’t spoil anything but there’s still (I think) potential there, to say nothing of the labs and the catacombs. It’s all very neat. And it’s a series, so of course you don’t want to use up all of the cool set-ups in book one.

Some of it was a little illogical but it hangs together. Frankly if you’re trying to hide a valuable super-serum and you can’t inject it into yourself because that’s too obvious, then the lone solitary other person in your life at that time is also too obvious and – yeah, that could have been plotted a bit better? On the other hand, there are still things we don’t know about this origin story. It’s all fine.

Sex-o-meter

It’s a teenage high school setting with an undercurrent of paranormal secret agents (only science instead of spooky). So there’s a certain amount of hormones and awkwardness, but no sex. I’ll award it a warm, dry handshake with eye contact out of a possible just the word ‘moist’.

Gore-o-meter

Blackcoats has a nice little showcase of violence but nothing very harrowing. A lot of its grosser moments are conceptual rather than visual. Nature is awful, and I appreciate this more science-oriented look at a lot of classic fantasy and horror staples. Nevertheless, two flesh-gobbets out of a possible five for this one.

WTF-o-meter

Like I was saying, there could have been more embracing of the things that distinguished this story from others in the sub-genre (the worms were amazing, never let anyone tell you they weren’t). I understand the desire to play it safe, but a vampire and werewolf odd couple buddy cop trope really needs to play up its differences. Personally I loved the bat-hybrid concept, and hope there will be more development of the echolocation and other things in later stories. Hollow bones for lightness was a nice idea but it felt like it was ignored when convenient. Adam should have been fast yet fragile, and perhaps his knowledge of pop culture and things could have been used as a strength, leaving martial arts and brute force to Holly to create a perfect symbiosis. Albino bat boy and gothy wolf girl could also have been played a lot more visually and to greater effect, and an aversion to sunlight being dealt with using sunscreen is just – nah, that’s a lot of work. And vampire bats don’t burn in sunlight so why would that be a thing? In any case, these aren’t so much WTFs as missed opportunities to be WTFs, y’know? I’ll give Blackcoats a templar knights’ tentacle monster dungeon in Hobo With A Shotgun out of a possible elven royal court in an alley in Hellboy: The Golden Army.

My Final Verdict

I’ll give Blackcoats: Dead Man Walking a good solid three stars on the Amazon / Goodreads scale, for the very cool protagonist and villain concepts, the cute ending and lead-in to the series, and the enjoyable misfit-kids nerd-talk. Only thing standing in the way of more stars is … I don’t know, just something indefinable about how all those things could have been amplified more, and tied together better. Still, thanks for a good story!


THE LAST KING OF OSTEN ARD | THE WITCHWOOD CROWN & EMPIRE OF GRASS (Spoiler Free)

New York Times-bestselling Tad Williams’ ground-breaking epic fantasy saga of Osten Ard begins an exciting new cycle! • Volume One of The Last King of Osten Ard

The Dragonbone Chair, the first volume of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, was published in hardcover in October, 1988, launching the series that was to become one of the seminal works of modern epic fantasy. Many of today’s top-selling fantasy authors, from Patrick Rothfuss to George R. R. Martin to Christopher Paolini credit Tad with being the inspiration for their own series.

Now, twenty-four years after the conclusion of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, Tad returns to his beloved universe and characters with The Witchwood Crown, the first novel in the long-awaited sequel trilogy, The Last King of Osten Ard.

Thirty years have passed since the events of the earlier novels, and the world has reached a critical turning point once again. The realm is threatened by divisive forces, even as old allies are lost, and others are lured down darker paths. Perhaps most terrifying of all, the Norns—the long-vanquished elvish foe—are stirring once again, preparing to reclaim the mortal-ruled lands that once were theirs….

Review

Many of you will have read MST some time ago so this is really more of ‘why you should read’ post, more than it is a straight review. I felt that i would cover some of the questions that think you may have and try and inspire you to pick up this series after such a lengthy break.

Should you return to this Osten Ard after all this time ?

Absolutely yes !!! Many of you may be apprehensive about the follow up to such a hugely successful series such as this, but this instalment delivers and will likely exceed you’re expectations !! I can tell you that i was totally overwhelmed when i began these books and i was so drunk on being back in this world and re-joining the cast of beloved characters, that i just couldn’t put these books down. As you would expect from Tad Williams, the prose was as sharp and as flawless as MST, the world building was even more immersive and the characterization was just phenomenal. Every aspect of this book felt polished and sharper and I can definitely say that this Duology does not suffer with middle book syndrome at all. What i really like about reading the middle books essentially is that the world is obviously very much established and means that you can just absorb the parts of this world that were formerly unseen and just makes you appreciate the scope of the world that Williams has created. I was hugely captivated by new cast of characters and I was totally engaged from the moment that i picked it up The Witchwood Crown. Williams is so consistent in every aspect of his story telling and the pacing for a Duology of this size is amazing.

The Cast new and old…..

Williams characterization always has a huge impact on me as its always to the point of being as close to perfect as you’re gonna get! I love the meticulous attention to detail with the development of the characters and the way he describes them, they’re always so stylized and totally vivid in there description that they really burst into life within your imagination. The character development of the original cast is portrayed incredibly well and the progression of their characters felt natural and provoked a feeling nostalgia in that it was almost just like seeing old friends again. But as they didn’t over shadow the new characters it really put the focus on the new cast and it was really balanced. The multiple character POVs served as well as they did in MST and provided intimate insights into these complex characters and by the end of the duology, the new characters were as engaging as the original cast. The new cast members that we’re introduced to are Morgan, Nezaru, Jarnulf, Tanahaya, Tzoja, Viyeki and Unver and we spend most of our time with these characters. I felt that each of their POVs had hugely emotive themes which really helped me to connect with them and the tone changed when we shifted from one to the other. This was something that i felt really kept me engaged and something that i feel is so important with books of this size. At no point did feel that the pace drag at all and as always the intrigue surrounding these characters was hugely captivating. I’d say my favourite characters were Unver and Nezaru. The majority of the characters development was a slow burn, each having a cliff hanger towards the EOG. But I liked the above characters more as I felt that there PoVs definitely had the most impact, especially Unver, with one of his scenes being amongst my favourite scenes of any novel that I’ve ever read. I definitely gravitate towards the darker more tortured characters.Some people might find some very common character tropes in these novels, but I found all the characters to be quite nuanced in so many ways.

How does the History/Lore of this world progress in this Duology?

The Lore and the history of this world is as spellbinding as its always been and over the course of these books it unfolds perfectly. I’m more engaged in this series now more than ever and this is mainly because we find out so much more about the garden born and their origin story. After reading MST i was so eager for the expansion on the history and the lore of this world and these books delivered and it was so worth the wait. But in general terms all of the different races of Osten Ard bloom in this part of the story, especially the Norns, the Thrithings men and the Nabbanai. This duology clearly defines the cultural identities of all the of the races within Osten Ard with much more depth. This is very much the build up to the concluding part of the series and the wealth of history and Lore that comes with it. The deeper dive into the Nabbanai culture really brought a new level of political intrigue which really made the the Italian, Roman catholic, almost Machiavellian influences on the politics abundantly clear. In MST we did nt spend that much time with the Thrithings clans, but in this Trilogy we see a much broader picture of their Nomadic culture and with it and there place within this worlds history and their major role in the story going forward. So as you can imagine by far the biggest focus is with the Norns and by the end of this duology you’re fully immersed in there complex culture, which really ushers in a much darker atmosphere to these books. Their culture is the polar opposite to the Sithi culture and so we see a very brutal, dark and unforgiving nature to their world, that is completely structured in a way that serves there queen Uttuk’ku. They really represent a large portion of the magic users of this world and really turn these books into a high magic fantasy compared to its MST. It does have that traditional feel to the magic system as it did before and the mystery surrounding it really suits the series so well. Towards the end of the book we’re guided towards the history of the Tinukeda’ya which grows in importance the further we go into the series. You will have known them from MST as the Niskies and the Dwarrows. In this duology you understand that they too have a huge part in what’s to come in the final conclusion of this story. So despite finishing everything that has been released thus far, there is still so much more to know about this world. I can’t wait to find out more in The Navigators Children, which will be realeased in 2022.

Its a huge Duology. Is there a big pay off ?

Heading towards the ending I didn’t expect that it was going to be as impactful as it was given that these are the middle books of a huge series and it’s not something I expected. I can tell you that the intrigue leading up to the dramatic conclusion was earth shattering. The pacing and the general execution a series of this size really has meant that in no way was it a slog to read. The way that Williams has sets up the final leg of this series is perfect. It leaves you with the impression that what’s to come is going to be magnificent! I just think that after all this time and given that Tad Williams is better than he’s ever been, I cannot even imagine how amazing The Navigators Children will be !! I’m more than confident that we will get an equally satisfying ending as we did with Green Angel Tower, perhaps better… Much better, which totally melts my mind.

My final thoughts….

This was quoted as being one of the seminal works of modern Epic Fantasy and in my opinion this installment is another glowing example of why Tad Williams is one of the most respected Epic fantasy writers working today. I was so excited to return to Osten Ard after becoming obsessed with Memory, Sorrow and Thorn and i cannot emphasize how satisfied i was with The Last King of Osten Ard. I think fans that have read MST will not regret returning Osten Ard and will be as excited as I am for what’s to come. Everything that has come before has convinced me that this series when completed will be revered as one of the definitive works of epic fantasy ever to hit the shelves. It is totally captivating and I consider it to be a stand out series that towers over most epic fantasy from that era . Tad Williams is without doubt amongst my favourite authors within the fantasy genre and has managed to improve on something that I all ready considered to be near perfect.


Outpost by W. Michael Gear

Today I bring you some Science Fiction; Outpost by W. Michael Gear is book 1 of the Donovan Trilogy. I have some mixed feelings as I read/listened to it and as I write this. I’m glad I don’t rate books because this one would be tough. Let’s just jump into A rundown of the synopsis. In the future humans live in a corporate run solar system, but this book takes place on a colonized far-off alien world named Donovan. Unfortunately, after around 23 years after humans set foot here, starships have been vanishing after going there. This left colonists alone to create their own society where our main protagonist Talina Perez is one of the leaders. Seven years after the first ship vanished A corporate vessel has finally made it there again; only to find a colony that is supposed to have their rigid rules and regulations along with the corporate supervisor all gone. This vessel is led by corporate Supervisor Kalico Aguila, a up and comer in the corporate world. The ship also has a Captain of the Marines Max Taggert. There’s another major player too, but we will get there. I will however quote the final paragraph of the synopsis that hooked me into giving this one a try along with the cool cover you see above.

“Just as matters spiral out of control, a ghost ship, the Freelander, appears in orbit. Missing for two years, she arrives with a crew dead of old age, and reeks of a bizarre death-cult ritual that deters any ship from attempting a return journey. And in the meantime, a brutal killer is stalking all of them, for Donovan plays its own complex and deadly game. The secrets of which are hidden in Talina Perez’s very blood.”

So, here I go to do my best in dissecting how I feel about this book. What Gear does brilliantly is create a new alien planet with its own unique biome. This planet is very predatory. Humans are not at the top of this world even being there for around thirty years already. They still have much to learn even by the end of this book. Gear makes this planet feel alien and unique. We also get a great sense of how the main earth solar system operates as well even though we never go there. It’s kind of like a corporate run resource-based economy, but people do earn credits. Though people have no understanding of property ownership outside of Donovan now. No poverty or hunger, but a corporation decides on work contracts and how resources are dispersed. World/universe building is top notch.

Long range space travel is also quite fascinating. In Gear’s universe long range vessels must rely on artificial intelligence to invert space. The issue is that no one knows where the vessel actually goes when this happens and there’s a 20% chance the ship may never be heard from again. The fact this dropped to 100% chance going to Donovan for 7 years until Kalico’s ship arrives is of great concern. It was assumed the ships would be at Donovan taken over by a hostile colony force, but alas that is not the case. Those ships are just missing. The colonists welcome Kalico and Max with no violence.

There are two big mysteries that are the most interesting throughout and unfortunately didn’t give me enough in this book. There’s an alien creature on the planet that seems animal like but displays higher cognitive functions. It also seems to be able to bond with humans in a way and they decide what humans they kill or leave alone; mysterious. We also have a ship that was only missing for 6 months show up with a crew that died long ago of old age and created a death cult on board. These mysteries are why I stuck through this story until the end but left unsatisfied. I need more investigation into these mysteries if you wish to sink the hooks into me, so I pick up book 2 right away. I may someday, but not anytime soon.

The characters have interesting and strong personalities. I think Kalico and Talina were the best from start to finish. Max has quite the journey that felt pretty straightforward but made sense. Now my least favorite character PoV is Dan Wirth. This guy is a textbook archetype psychopath. He is a boring character who talks crudely of women. He’s a misogynist looking to manipulate people to become powerful on this new frontier. Dan is also not good at even hiding this for long stretches of time. He will tell you how great he is, but it is not shown. He exposes himself quite easily. Dan brings frustration to the story, but nothing interesting. What he does bring is a lot of obnoxious language and crude thoughts. He works hard to makes manipulative plans others can see through, but that no one tries hard to stop. Couldn’t stand his PoVs. There are other characters in the series that are interesting which does help deal with having Dan round, but he gets far too much page time.

This brings me to another huge distraction in the book. Grown adults on a hostile planet trying to kill them and a ghost ship above the planet, but there’s constant reminder of how sexual attractive other characters are to them. Men and women alike need to take some cold showers in this book. I don’t need a constant reminder of sexually desirable characteristics all the time. I don’t have an issue with sex and hormones in books, but it sometimes felt like it was written from the perspective of a horny high schooler. Show sexual interest through flirtation and actions instead of constant thoughts of sexual appeal of others. Gear does this at other times as well; tells instead of shows. His prose is way above average for a science fiction book, just not always used to enhance the readers experience. I do want to give a shout out to the Audible narrator, Alyssa Bresnahan . She was brilliant.

Overall, the world building, science, and mysteries are captivating. Seeing humans work hard to survive on the frontier of space travel is always interesting. The story just gets bogged down with less interesting nonsense and PoV. I just want to know more about this planet Donovan and what is happening when ships invert space in this system. What we have is a quintessential mixed bag of a story in my opinion.


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.

Sex-o-meter

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.

Gore-o-meter

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.

WTF-o-meter

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!


BOOK REVIEW | THE WINTER ROAD BY ADRIAN SELBY

Good Morning, Good Afternoon, Good Evening

Hi, I’m Dan contributor to the thebookinhand.com and today I will be sharing my review of ‘The Winter Road’ by Adrian Selby.

BOOK SYNOPSIS:

Add It To Your Goodreads!

A gritty and epic adventure to appeal to fans of Mark Lawrence, Andrzej Sapkowski and Joe Abercrombie – The Winter Road is a fantasy novel which remembers that battles leave all kinds of scars.

The greatest empire of them all began with a road.

The Circle – a thousand miles of perilous forests and warring clans. No one has ever tamed such treacherous territory before, but ex-soldier Teyr Amondsen, veteran of a hundred battles, is determined to try.

With a merchant caravan protected by a crew of skilled mercenaries, Amondsen embarks on a dangerous mission to forge a road across the untamed wilderness that was once her home. But a warlord rises in the wilds of the Circle, uniting its clans and terrorising its people. Teyr’s battles may not be over yet . . .

All roads lead back to war.

DAN’S REVIEW:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I will begin by saying this has become one of my favourite standalone fantasy novels and that this novel is the very definition of a grim dark novel!! It’s one few books that have made it onto my list of a select few, that really achieve the grim dark style successfully.

This is exactly the kind of fantasy that I’ve been seeking out since the beginning of my journey into the fantasy genre. It’s darker, more violent and does push the boundaries more than most mainstream fantasy writers. I love the totally uncompromising approach Selby has to his writing and I think he’ll have a real cult following going forward. What he’s achieved in a short novel is truly astounding. I enjoyed the format of the novel, going from past to present for the first half of the book and then taking a more linear approach towards the final conclusion, which was very different approach and it was skilfully delivered. It really did feel like a a really well rounded, fully fleshed out novel. Selby is one author that has mastered the art of saying more with less.

The plot in a nutshell…..We follow our main protagonist Teyr Amondsen is a vetran soldier and and wealthy merchant. Teyr’s intentions are to unite the clans, to build the infrastructure and rebuild old relationships amongst the warring the clans. But but the path to prosperity is most definitely paved in blood. Her plans are thwarted by a ruthless warlord with his band of psychotic white boys who have similar intentions for the circle and there methods are beyond ruthless. What she encounters is a horror that she thought existed only in her nightmares but has now become her reality. She’s now faced with the brutal reality of life within circle and she’s being lead back down the road to war.

The world that Selby has created is one of the most beautiful, but brutal worlds that that I’ve encountered in a some time. The corruption and the sense of hopelessness is rife within this world and it’s hard to distinguish between the hero’s and the villains within the power structures of this world. So yes the majority of the cast is just filled with very morally grey characters as you would expect. What I found really interesting is the focus on the biggest commodity in this world which is Botanical trade. The various mysterious plants are used for medicinal purposes and other practical uses, but by far the most interesting was it’s uses in warfare. So this is what gave this novel a very unique angle and was the first time I’ve encountered something like that in a fantasy novel. It was also presented as a magic system almost, which i found quite innovative, but I’ll talk about that later in the review. There are magic users present within this story are the Oskoro who live deep within the Amulet forest and they have mysterious history surrounding them. They’re part of Teyr’s story and are the only significant thing that introduces those fantasy elements into this novel and served there purpose really well. That aspect of the book was very much shrouded in mystery which made it feel like it had a heavier presence in the novel. I would definitely love to read another novel and puts a focus on them, because they are fascinating.

The characterisation is as amazing as the world that Selby has created. We follow Teyr Amondsen who is one of the strongest female leads that I’ve encountered for some time. Her character totally pushes the boundaries of the female hero character trope. As we get to know her, it was clear that she had the noblest of intentions with her mission and her tenacity to succeed was overwhelming. Her journey really does push her to the very limits of the human experience. What her character goes through is truly horrific and more than any human should be able to withstand. It was hugely emotive seeing that suffering through her eyes, but made the experience feel so real and and I was overwhelmed with compassion for her character. She’s not without her flaws and her ambition sometimes blinds her from making the right decision and has truly devastating consequences for herself and those she loves. Selby does really paint the picture of a very majestic view of her family life, which deepens your appreciation of her complex character and it adds another dimension to her. The character development is incredibly skillful in its delivery and it’s an emotional roller coaster from start to finish and you really need to prepare for heartbreak. But you really understand her motivations and everything that has lead her to that point, making her a fully fleshed out character. But it is her maternal nature, that makes her a balanced character and really humanised her. It creates a real contrast between who she’s was, to who she has the desire to become. In crafting Teyr’s character he’s managed to create a totally unforgettable leading lady. It’s without doubt some of the best character work I’ve ever read.

The entire cast was phenomenal and they felt totally authentic and believable in the roles that they served. Our villain Khiese was a wonderfully crafted character and Selby delivered as much character development that was necessary and still managed to conjure a very menacing presence in this world in the early stages of this tale. We’re privy to a lot of very interesting war torn heroes in the latter part of the novel, that had there place in Teyr’s past, which really added more depth to Teyr’s back story. So as I mentioned earlier Selbys achieved so much with his character work in this short novel.

The world building isn’t hugely extensive but this is very much a character driven novel. But as I mentioned earlier it does still feel like a fully fleshed out world, mainly with the format Selby used. It does put a lot of focus on our characters which is its main focus. We do spend most of our time in a harsh snow covered forests and in amongst small settlements and homesteads as we follow the path through the circle. Selby really does capture the harsh reality and the unforgiving nature of life within the circle and it feels so real. But the minimal world building, is a less is more scenario and is still very easy to get lost and feel totally immersed in this world. Everything in this world is deeply captivating and flows effortlessly and feels authentic.

So as I mentioned earlier, I really like the innovative approach to using botanicals as a functioning magic system of sorts. I just thought it was simple, but very innovative and had a big presence in this novel. The fight brews meant that the individual that’s consumed them is able to exceed their normal human limitations and exhibit sharpened senses and manifested a level of aggression that made them into fiercest warriors imaginable. So yes the fight scenes are totally brutal . Its effects almost seemed comparable to a narcotic and had a detrimental effect if brewed in the wrong hands. Which gives birth to the nature of the white boys.But the reason why I compare it to a magic system is that it functions like one and was presented like one. The rules applied to most modern magic systems were the same in terms of knowing it’s limitations and what it was capable of and also its flaws. I really like this innovation I thought it worked really well and added a unique dimension to this novel. It did really create an almost supernatural quality to the White boys which was truly haunting, the strategies they used were comparable to a wolf pack and the psychological effect on there victims was almost sadistic. It did heighten the impact of the White boys and you genuinely feel the anxiety within the characters and totally made the experience so much more engaging.

I really loved Selbys writing style, he incorporated stylised grammar and language that added to the charm of this world and still managed to show off his pretty flawless prose. In general terms I loved this book because I thought the character work was phenomenal and as huge grim dark fan I felt that it was everything it should have been. This is fantasy that is truly dark and more violent than most mainstream fantasy novels and is not for the faint of heart. So I can see why this book may not be for everyone. But It is in many regards totally uncompromising and I have to say that I have huge respect for Selby for taking that position. This without question one of my favourite grim dark novels!!! But it was balanced, it wasn’t totally hopeless and there are certain elements to Teyr’s journey that shined a little brighter and presented a sense of hope that left me feeling content especially in the latter part of the book.

I’m so excited to get into Snakewood and the Brother Red and going forward I will be reading everything that he releases. I am 110% sold on his work. Also if you’re a fan of Selby I think you will love The legacy of the Brightwash by Krystle Matar. Another unusual Grim dark novel.


BOOK REVIEW | SHARD OF EARTH BY ADRIAN TCHAIKOVSKY

Hello Bookish Folk!

Today I am reviewing Adrian Tchaikovsky’s newest book ‘Shards of Earth’ as a part of TheWriteReads Book Tour!

A few facts about this book:

  • Title: Shards of Earth
  • Author: Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • Series: The Final Architects (Book One)
  • Pages: 560

Synopsis:

Add It To Your Goodreads!

The war is over. Its heroes forgotten. Until one chance discovery . . .

Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade his mind in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers.

Eighty years ago, Earth was destroyed by an alien enemy. Many escaped, but millions more died. So mankind created enhanced humans ­such as Idris – who could communicate mind-to-mind with our aggressors. Then these ‘Architects’ simply disappeared and Idris and his kind became obsolete.

Now, Idris and his crew have something strange, abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects – but are they really returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy as they search for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, and many would kill to obtain it.

Review:

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

  • A vast and immersive world with fabulous races and worlds;
  • An oh so epic space opera;
  • A fairly complex but intriguing and well done;
  • Great characters; and
  • Lots of intriguing elements to keep you wanting more.

On to the full review…

I say this all the time but I apparently never actually make a conscious I effort to do it; but…I WANT TO READ MORE SCI-FI!

So, when the fabulous WriteReads contacted me asking if I was interesting in possibly partaking in their tour I was super excited! I had a quick browse of the book synopsis and was safely intrigued! Having read Adrian’s ‘Doors of Eden’ I felt comfortable going into this book and enjoying it!

I took the plunge into reading Shards of Earth and was glad I did. The thing is with Sci-Fi for me I really struggle to stay immersed if it gets too scientific. I am definitely not alone in this, and I tread a fine line of what I consider to be enjoyable. So, this review will be from a stand point of someone who has read less than 15 science fiction books. I have done well so far, those I have read I have enjoyed immensely with a few exceptions but I’m still grateful for those books because it defined my taste a little more. 

Shards of Earth, yes I am going to actually start my review instead of waffling, was a great read. My initial reaction was a good one. Though, I did feel like I was being given a fair amount of information at the start, it was done well and I was glad for the history of this world but it was still an info dump.

Shards of Earth is filled with so many incredible, unique and utterly captivating races and cultures and it was a thrill to be in such a world! The attention to detail of this world is fabulous, I personally am not actually a massive advocate for expansive worldbuilding. Don’t get me wrong I appreciate it and enjoy it when it is to my tastes but I like to use my own imagination to fill in the gaps, yanno?  However, saying that it was actually the heavier world building element that helped me this time around. I haven’t read too much fantasy, as I said and the world AT has created had such vivid imaginary popping up left right and bloody centre in my mind, even my imagination was heavily influenced by things such as Mass Effect and other SF games and TV shows I have watched. But that ain’t bad!

I really appreciate politics done well in a book, I don’t like politics for the sake of it and it has to be crucial to the story. Well, I am happy to announce AT does politics great! There was such a refreshing balance in SOE because while we had fairly devoted characters they weren’t blindly loyal so I wasn’t constantly frustrated at their decisions. 

I think something I look forward to when choosing to read a book by Adrian is that there is always something that is totally unique to it, in this instance AT created unspace and it was great experiencing it. I won’t say much on it and will let you discover that for yourself but know it is great!

I really enjoyed the character POV’s in Shards of Earth each grew on me more and more, they could have had a wee little it more development but it was by no means lacking. I think Idris was my favourite, but each had something they brought to the story and the team! Even the side character had a pull to them, you bonded with the team and I was constantly wanting to know more.

Shards of Earth was a great read for me, I enjoyed its epic world and its unique characters, and I cant wait for book two. The plot was fairly complex but I am used to that with fantasy so I was able to follow and enjoy it!


THE RANKS: 

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

I enjoyed this book and I am keen to see how it will progress, it was beautiful and creative and was what I needed in a sci-fi!


AGAIN Thank you for reading AND SEE YOU SOON!


BOOK REVIEW | THE SHADOW OF THE GODS BY JOHN GWYNNE

Hello Bookish Beings!

Today I am finally going to review John Gwynne’s newest book The Shadow of the Gods.

I would like to thank Orbit for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, receiving this by no means influences my review but if you don’t know already I am a HUGE John Gwynne fan so…

This review is likely no shock.

A few facts about this book:

  • Title: The Shadow of the Gods
  • Author: John Gwynne
  • Series: The Bloodsworn Saga (Book One)
  • Published by Orbit
  • Pages: 496

Synopsis:

Add It To Your Goodreads!

ORDER HEREAudible | Kindle | Paperback | Hardcover |  Bookshop.Org | The Broken Binding (Use code SAMBOOKINH for 5% OFF)

Review:

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

  • A Norse inspired epic;
  • Phenomenal world building;
  • An incredible first book to what will no doubt be brilliant series; and
  • AMAZING characters and side characters.

On to the full review…

The Shadow of the Gods was easily my MOST anticipated release this year and it did not disappoint. It is just one more example of how spectacular an author John Gwynne is. Set in a brand new norse inspired world it is the start to something incredible and I am desperately excited for book two! AND BOOK ONE ISN’T EVEN OUT YET!

“I am blood. I am death. I am vengeance.”

The Shadow of the Gods is told from three POV’s, we have Orka, Varg and Elvar and as per usual with John Gwynne I loved them all. Usually when reading a book with several POV’s you tend to prefer one to the others and while this is still the case for this book it always changed! The way John Gwynne writes allows for each character to have their limelight, for some chapters I was itching to get back to Elvar and other Varg or Orka. This, in my opinion, is great because you are always on your toes and you are constantly learning more and gravitating to different characters and also to the side characters that surround them.

If you have read any of Gwynne’s work before you will know just how fabulous his characters are, not merely his main characters but also the side characters too. There is such a realness to ALL the characters Gwynne creates and even those with a smaller part to play in the overall story pack a punch and are memorable. There is a curiosity around all the characters you come across and the journey into unraveling their past is such a fun experience. I won’t go into the characters to much because I want you to experience them first hand, but goodness they are fab! Gwynne gives you tiny snippets into their past and following those breadcrumbs is always fun, I loved this in The Faithful and the Fallen so I was so happy to see it in The Shadow of the Gods too.

The depth of all the characters is great, each of our characters brings something to the table and there is such a variety of characters to attract you to the tale. We have battle hardened warriors, retired warriors, a loyal protector, witty and hilarious friends, mysterious witches and so so much more.

Now, for the bloodshed! I have to say this is probably the bloodiest book I have read by Mr. Gwynne and it isn’t like he stays away from it in his other books! There are shield walls, battles, skirmishes, wicked creatures, godly relics and DRAGONS! It is gritty, brutal and oh so good. Every battle in this book was tense and at no point did any character feel infallible, because lets be honest we all know John Gwynne ain’t afraid to kills off his characters! But because of how Gwynne writes his battles I kind of want to tell all fantasy authors to go dabble in battle reenactments just so they can know the weight of a shield, the demands battle has on a person and to know the feeling of bodies throwing themselves again a shield wall! Because these details that Gwynne inserts into his writing will always keep him a step above.

“That is why we fight so hard for each other. We do not abandon the living. We do not abandon those we have sworn oaths to.”

The world that Gwynne has created here is bloody marvellous, and honestly I would like a bestiary just for this world! I was constantly imagining the creatures that fill it and I loved the general world. I spent a weekend in York pre COVID and we went to Jorvik which is an epic recreation of a nordic settlement and I am so glad I went and even more so now because all the world building tidbits we get to see in this book were so on point and ones I had seen at Jorvik. Gwynne truly managed to capture the day to day aspects of this world and it sets the tone of this world brilliantly. I have read quite a few norse inspired books now and none even come close to Gwynne’s ability to capture the authenticity of this time period. Gwynne is meticulous in his world building and none of it is pointless or boring. I am really not a person who needs to much world building but there are books that show me that when it is done right I am all for it! The Shadow of the Gods is one of those books. I could read a whole host of books set in this world!

“Fear can be ice or fire in the veins, freezing the body or setting a blaze within it.”

I am constantly wowed when I read Gwynne’s books because he is just an incredible storyteller, he is constantly building and building to get to the climax and boy when you are there it is nothing short of outstanding. The pace was great for me, the story never felt stale for me and it was constantly moving forward. Another bonus is that I trust John Gwynne implicitly, I was only saying the other day to a friend that Gwynne gets away with some things with me, not errors or flaws but, for example, cliff hangers usually annoy me to no end but I don’t care about that in this book, it has just made me more excited because Gwynne has continually provided and impressed me as a reader. I have utter faith this series will continue to shine and impress me as this book has.

To conclude this review and generally reign in my need to gush even more I will end this review by telling you to pick this bloody book up! It is a brilliant start to the series and is one that gives you so much but lets you know there is also so much yet to come! As per usual Gwynne has created some of the best characters you will read and had me falling in love with them quicker than any other book can.


THE RANKS: 

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

This book is simply brilliant, and lets take a minute to praise the STUNNING cover. If Gwynne’s writing didn’t warrant a BUY THE HARDBACK rank the bloody cover would!

The Shadow of the Gods full cover by Marcus Whinney

AGAIN Thank you for reading AND SEE YOU SOON!