Category Archives: new release special

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Sorcerer’s Edge – Book 3 of The Tethered Citadel series by David Hair #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #SorcerersEdgebookreview

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I loved the first two books in this highly readable epic fantasy adventure – Map’s Edge and World’s Edge, so I was delighted when the publisher contacted me and asked if I’d like an arc of this final book.

BLURB: After all they’ve suffered, rebel sorcerer Raythe Vyre and his fortune-seekers are still empty-handed, but they’ve found real treasure: peace.

Deep inside the Ice wastes, Raythe’s people stumbled upon Rath Argentium, the legendary Aldar city, and the long-lost Tangato people. After fighting through betrayal, treachery and powerful magic, they forged a hard-won treaty with the Tangato and their extraordinary queen, Shiazar. Now they’ve put aside their dreams of wealth and revenge and embraced something better: a life outside the tyrannical Bolgravian Empire. But the Bolgravian Empire never gives up.

The empire hasn’t forgotten Raythe Vyre, and his enemies know where he is. Guided by Toran Zorne, the implacable imperial assassin, they are coming to claim Rath Argentium for themselves. Raythe and Shiazar know all too well that courage and cunning won’t be enough this time: they are outnumbered, out-gunned and out of time. Faced with total annihilation, it’s up to Raythe to find an edge . . .

REVIEW: In many ways, this epic fantasy has a slightly old-school feel. That isn’t bad by any means – I’ve loved the strong story-telling, the constant plots twists and intelligent character progression throughout. And I particularly enjoyed The Story So Far… summation at the start, which nicely reminded me of a number of details that I’d have forgotten. A pity that other authors don’t do it – though I suppose they are worried about readers coming across this one without having read the previous books and thinking that a condensed account would suffice. If you do encounter this one without having read the previous books, despite the handy catch-up notes, my firm advice would be to put this offering down and track down Map’s Edge instead. This classy, well-written adventure is far too good to compromise by not reading it in its entirety.

Over the previous two books, there are a handful of outstandingly unpleasant antagonists that I’ve loved to hate. So it was enjoyable to be confronted with them again – and this time around in far more detail, so that I got to know exactly what their motivations were. Once more, Hair has taken some of my assumptions, played with them and bounced them on their head, which put a certain powerful woman in a completely different light. I love it when that happens. The story starts with a bang and goes on delivering yet more surprises and shocks so that instead of going to bed at a reasonably sensible time, I stayed up faaar too late into the night to discover what happened next.

The setting is vividly realised, the characters nicely complex and changing in reaction to the privations and danger they’ve been undergoing, and the plotting masterfully handled. All in all, this is a cracking ending to an excellent epic fantasy adventure that I’ve loved from start to finish. Very highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of Sorcerer’s Edge from the publisher via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK Death Among the Diamonds – Book 1 of the Cressida Fawcett Mystery series by Fliss Chester #BrainfluffNETGALLEYAUDIOBOOKreview #DeathAmongtheDiamondsaudiobookreview

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I have a real weakness for 1920s era cosy mysteries, so I was delighted when this one popped up on the Netgalley dashboard – and I was even more chuffed when I was approved to listen to it.

BLURB: Everyone in 1920s London knows the Honourable Cressida Fawcett: fiercely independent (though never apart from her little pug Ruby), lover of martinis and interior designer extraordinaire. She’s solved many crimes of fashion… so how about murder?

Cressida Fawcett is heading to the English countryside for a weekend of cocktails and partying at her friend’s glamorous mansion, the location of a recent diamond heist. But just hours after her arrival, Cressida is woken by an almighty scream. Rushing to the landing, she looks down into the great hall to find a trembling maid standing next to the body of Harry, the friendly young chandelier cleaner…

REVIEW: I’ve cut the rather chatty blurb short, as it gives away too much of the storyline. I was expecting an enjoyable slice of country house life in a glamorous era that I recall hearing a lot about when I was young, as my grandmother had been a flapper. What I hadn’t been expecting was quite such a twisty plot, full of events and all sorts of shenanigans. At one point, I was getting a bit fed up – as I knew exactly where the diamonds were hidden and was irritated that Cressida hadn’t put it together. Until it transpired that they weren’t there after all… I do love it when that happens!

Cressida is a feisty, headstrong young woman with an independent income and a nice life with no intention of spoiling it all by becoming someone’s wife. Her loving companion is her little pug dog, Ruby, who accompanies her in all her adventures and often is helpful in unravelling clues. I liked the fact that in amongst all the action, Ruby is never forgotten or overlooked, which can happen at times to fictional pets. And I’m also prepared to bet that Chester has owned or owns a little pug, as her descriptions of Ruby’s behaviour and appearance are always spot on.

I liked Cressida’s impulsiveness and constant curiosity. She is an adventurous soul who got into a number of scrapes at school and has been known to cut loose in memorable ways at certain London nightclubs, when the champagne cocktails are flowing. I enjoyed Chester’s habit of never spelling out exactly what she gets up to, giving the reader the opportunity to fill in the gaps. She is also innately kind with a strong sense of justice, despite a blithe disregard for authority if it doesn’t suit her. Daphne Kouma’s excellent narration brought her vividly to life, along with all the goings-on at a house party memorable for all the wrong reasons.

The denouement works well, making absolute sense – which isn’t always the case in whodunits where more than one murder has occurred – and bringing the whole affair to a satisfactory conclusion. All in all, this is a thoroughly entertaining country house whodunit featuring a pleasing protagonist and her loyal canine companion. Recommended for fans of 1920’s murder mysteries. While I obtained an audiobook arc of Death Among the Diamonds from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Book Eaters By Sunyi Dean #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheBookEatersbookreview

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Being a huge fan of books, a story about a mysterious race being able to actually eat them seemed an intriguing premise, so I was delighted to be approved to read this one.

BLURB: Out on the Yorkshire Moors lives a secret line of people for whom books are food, and who retain all of a book’s content after eating it. To them, spy novels are a peppery snack; romance novels are sweet and delicious. Eating a map can help them remember destinations, and children, when they misbehave, are forced to eat dry, musty pages from dictionaries.

Devon is part of The Family, an old and reclusive clan of book eaters. Her brothers grow up feasting on stories of valor and adventure, and Devon—like all other book eater women—is raised on a carefully curated diet of fairytales and cautionary stories. But real life doesn’t always come with happy endings, as Devon learns when her son is born with a rare and darker kind of hunger—not for books, but for human minds.

REVIEW: I enjoyed the prospect of reading a book about beings who snacked on books to become their own walking libraries – though the premise that Dean presents is less cosy than the one I envisaged. Essentially, these are vampiric creatures whose superior strength and speed make them formidable opponents. And while they do absorb the knowledge of the books they read, there isn’t a sense that they put it to particularly good use. Indeed, they are portrayed as a dying breed desperately trying to avoid extinction as the handful of surviving Families farm out their rare daughters in arranged marriages to try to ensure the next generation. As for the girls, they are force-fed a diet of fairy tales featuring princesses waiting for their princes in an attempt to make them compliant about their fate.

However, Devon has never been the compliant sort – and when she produces a son with undesirable traits, she refuses to allow the patriarch to tidy him away according to the custom. She is an engaging protagonist – headstrong, courageous and passionate in her loyalty and love. It was refreshing to come across a book where the love story is all about the maternal bond – even if that takes Devon into some very dark places. I am always fascinated by the dynamic of power – who has it, the lengths they go to in order to keep hold of it, and who also craves it. So it was a huge treat for me that one of the major themes of this book is an exploration of power.

This dystopian fantasy proved to be a gripping read, full of tension and drama. But do be warned – it does tip into horror and there is an upsetting scene where a baby is harmed. While it was difficult to read in places, I liked Dean’s unflinching refusal to ever tip into sentimentality regarding the relationship between Devon and her young son, Cai. Highly recommended. While I obtained an arc of The Book Eaters from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheMonstersWeDefybookreview

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It was the cover of this offering that caught my eye – it’s just so very attractive. But then I read the blurb and knew I wanted to read it. I’m a sucker for the 1920s era – and I loved the spiritualist element of this fantasy heist adventure.

BLURB: Washington D. C., 1925

Clara Johnson talks to spirits, a gift that saved her during her darkest moments in a Washington D. C. jail. Now a curse that’s left her indebted to the cunning spirit world. So, when the Empress, the powerful spirit who holds her debt, offers her an opportunity to gain her freedom, a desperate Clara seizes the chance. The task: steal a magical ring from the wealthiest woman in the District.

Clara can’t pull off this daring heist alone. She’ll need help from an unlikely team, from a jazz musician capable of hypnotizing with a melody to an aging vaudeville actor who can change his face, to pull off the impossible. But as they encounter increasingly difficult obstacles, a dangerous spirit interferes at every turn. Conflict in the spirit world is leaking into the human one and along D.C’.s legendary Black Broadway, a mystery unfolds—one that not only has repercussions for Clara but all of the city’s residents.

REVIEW: This is a cracking read. I thoroughly enjoyed Clara’s spiky character. She is short-fused and in the habit of pushing away people, though that doesn’t stop her from helping those who seek her out. Given her gift, she could so easily have been portrayed as a noble, self-sacrificing heroine, brimful of the desire to help her fellows. While that is what she does – because she is so crotchety about it, I found her far more appealing. Especially when those around her make it their business to break through the façade she has erected – and we are shown just how vulnerable she actually is.

As well as Clara being a thoroughly sympathetic protagonist, the pacing was pretty much perfect. In any historical adventure, there is always a balance between giving the reader sufficient period details to make the background believable and ensuring the narrative moves along at a reasonable clip. Penelope nailed it, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve read several books recently featuring a POC protagonist and this was right up there with the best in portraying the casual and unthinking racism that was rife at that time. Indeed, it is part of the ongoing difficulty stacking up against Clara and her associates that a black person finds it hazardous to try and travel to certain parts of the city. Not only does this aid the narrative in upping the stakes – it is a visceral reminder of the extra burden the black community were coping with in their daily lives just because of the colour of their skin. I’d love to think such attitudes were consigned to history – but sadly, daily racist crime shows this isn’t the case, so reading entertaining, well-written fiction that highlights the issue can only help.

The spirit world was also well portrayed. There is a real sense of menace around those who want agency within the mortal world in order to steal human destinies. I liked the way Penelope gradually revealed the enormity of the threat, making this one of those reads that was very difficult to put down. All in all, this was a thoroughly engrossing tale that had me reading far later than I should. Highly recommended for those who like their fantasy within a compelling historical setting. While I obtained an arc of The Monsters We Defy from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Daughter of Dr Moreau By Silvia Moreno Garcia #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheDaughterofDrMoreaubookreview

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I am a fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my reviews of Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, The Beautiful Ones, Prime Meridian and Velvet Was the Night. So when I saw this one appear on Netgalley, I immediately requested it and was delighted to be approved.

BLURB: Carlota Moreau: a young woman, growing up in a distant and luxuriant estate, safe from the conflict and strife of the Yucatán peninsula. The only daughter of either a genius, or a madman.

Montgomery Laughton: a melancholic overseer with a tragic past and a propensity for alcohol. An outcast who assists Dr. Moreau with his scientific experiments, which are financed by the Lizaldes, owners of magnificent haciendas and plentiful coffers.

The hybrids: the fruits of the Doctor’s labor, destined to blindly obey their creator and remain in the shadows. A motley group of part human, part animal monstrosities.

All of them living in a perfectly balanced and static world, which is jolted by the abrupt arrival of Eduardo Lizalde, the charming and careless son of Doctor Moreau’s patron, who will unwittingly begin a dangerous chain reaction. For Moreau keeps secrets, Carlota has questions, and in the sweltering heat of the jungle, passions may ignite.

REVIEW: Silvia Moreno-Garcia is very comfortable writing across an impressive range of genres and styles. The one common theme throughout all her books is that they either feature Mexican protagonists, or they are set in or around Mexico – and this one is no exception. While the original story by H.G. Wells is set on an island, this version is set on the Yucatán Peninsula on an isolated estate well off the beaten track. Moreno-Garcia is masterful at scene-setting and the world-building in this story is no exception. Through both protagonists, we get a vivid sense of the intense, humid heat, vegetation and creatures inhabiting the estate – particularly when in Carlota’s viewpoint as she loves the place with a deep-seated abiding sense of belonging. And as the story progresses, we begin understand just why she is so very comfortable living in the heart of the wilderness.

Those who have come to Moreno-Garcia’s writing after having read Mexican Gothic or Certain Dark Things might have found this a slightly frustrating read. While readers who have also read Velvet Was the Night or Prime Meridian will be aware that the author is equally capable of delivering a slow-burn story full of pent tension and an increasing sense of wrongness as she is of providing full-on action. That said, there is action – an explosion of violence that I found all the more shocking due to the slow build-up. I enjoyed the manner in which the climax also provides answers regarding Dr Moreau, which expose him for the real monster in this story.

The characterisation of both main protagonists is pitch perfect. Each of them is flawed and trapped. I was rooting for both of them to find a way out of the murky wrongness caused by Moreau’s poisonous influence – and was also relieved that Moreno-Garcia didn’t go down the predictable route that I feared she would. Their relationship is beautifully nuanced, complicated and utterly believable. As ever, the pages turned themselves in this lush, memorable read and is highly recommended for those who like their historical science fiction adventures finely written in a vivid setting shot through with tension. While I obtained an arc of The Daughter of Dr Moreau from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Last Feather by Shameez Patel Papathanasiou #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #TheLastFeatherbookreview

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I always love feathers on book covers – and when I stopped to read the blurb, I thought this one sounded intriguing. So I was delighted to be approved.

BLURB: Twenty-two-year-old Cassia’s sister is dying, and she doesn’t know why. Soon after, Cassia wakes up in another realm, not only does she find her missing best friend, Lucas, but he knows how to save her sister.

Meanwhile Lucas is part of a community of Reborns, people who were born on earth and after death, were reborn in this realm with magical abilities. The original beings of the realm, the Firsts, rule over them.

But, to keep the Reborn numbers manageable, the king of the Firsts releases a curse to cull them and Cassia finds herself in the middle of it. She needs to break the curse before her time runs out, otherwise she will be trapped there forever.

REVIEW: Firstly, despite Cassia being twenty-two and having taken responsibility for caring for her ailing younger sister, she often behaves more like a mid-teen than a twenty-something. This sets the tone for the book, which reads like a YA adventure, with the emotions dialled high and many of the characters still unsure of who they are and their role in life. This isn’t in the way of a criticism – I regularly read and enjoy YA fantasy adventures, but it is important for other readers to know whether this is one they’d enjoy, or not.

I very much liked the poignancy of the separation between Lucas and Cassia at the beginning of the novel, which is powerfully written. So I assumed that the developing romance would feature the two of them – and it came a nice surprise when this wasn’t the case. Given that this is the relationship that drives the narrative throughout the book, I was delighted that it came from an enduring, close-knit bond that didn’t evolve into smouldering looks and all the sensations around physical attraction. Although there is all of that going on – it is far more confusing and difficult and fortunately for me, it didn’t upstage the ongoing issue of Cassia’s urgent task while in the magical realm.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. Plenty is going on throughout, with lots of action and drama and while at times I found Cassia annoyingly stubborn and self-centred – they were flaws I could live with. However there were aspects of the world that I did find irritating. Because of the ongoing pace of events, people need to be able to move around fast in a world where there is no mechanised transport. The author has decided to use a magical strain of wolf which are ridden and can travel very fast. Having chosen such a quirky form of transport, she then proceeds to treat these strong, powerful creatures like cars. They promptly bound up and allow anyone at all to clamber on board, they don’t appear to get tired, or ever act up. And once at the destination, everyone jumps down and they politely wait around for the return journey. Just like a car… I find it inconceivable that such apex predators would tamely submit to such treatment and it bugged me throughout the book.

That said, I did get caught up in the story and was sorry when it came to an end. There isn’t any mention on Goodreads or Amazon of a sequel – and there should be, because there are far too many dangling plotpoints waving in the wind. I, for one, want to know what happens next. Recommended for fans of YA portal fantasy adventures featuring a headstrong and plucky heroine. While I obtained an arc of The Last Feather from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY AUDIOBOOK The Gilded Wolves – Book 1 of The Gilded Wolves series by Roshani Chokshi #Brainfluffbookreview #TheGildedWolvesbookreview

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I was delighted to see this offering in Netgalley’s audio section, as I’d read the ebook and really enjoyed it – see my review. So I expected to be completely engrossed in the audiobook.

BLURB: Paris, 1889. The city is on the cusp of industry and power, and the Exposition Universelle has breathed new life into the streets and dredged up ancient secrets. Here, no one keeps tabs on dark truths better than treasure hunter and wealthy hotelier Séverin Montagnet-Alarie. When the elite, ever-powerful Order of Babel coerces him to help them on a mission, Séverin is offered a treasure that he never imagined: his true inheritance.

To hunt down the ancient artifact the Order seeks, Séverin calls upon a band of unlikely experts: an engineer with a debt to pay; a historian banished from his home; a dancer with a sinister past; and a brother in arms if not blood.

Together they will join Séverin as he explores the dark, glittering heart of Paris. What they find might change the course of history—but only if they can stay alive.

REVIEW: I knew exactly what I was getting with this one and expected to tuck right into it. But I hit an unexpected snag with this fantasy heist adventure – I found narrator P.J. Ochlan’s narration rather difficult to listen to. While his command of the various character voices is excellent, his delivery of the text tended to fall into a slightly sing-song cadence that I found very irritating. While there were times when it worked for me – for instance when I felt it matched the rhythm of the writing. But particularly during some of the descriptive passages, I felt Ochlan’s delivery diminished the lushness of Chokshi’s prose. This led me to limit the length of time I listened to the story, especially in the early stages when there is a significant amount of scene-setting and description. Fortunately as the book progressed, this issue became less of a problem due to the gathering pace of the story and the heightened tension as the stakes grew ever larger. Once again, I was struck by Chokshi’s deft characterisation as each one of the gang was well drawn, with both strengths and weaknesses that were highlighted throughout the story.

I would mention that this story definitely falls within the YA genre – the young protagonists are still struggling to discover who they are within the wider world. Emotions within the team are ramped up as they also are trying to work out how they feel about each other. Interestingly, listening to this story had me far less sympathetic to Séverin than when I read it. In fact, I wanted to shake him until his teeth rattled to snap him out of his self-pitying fugue, whereby he seemed to think it was fine to hurt others around because he was also in pain.

However, despite my issues with one of the narrators, I still became caught up in the twisting plot and enjoyed the vivid depiction of a fantastical Paris where magic and a decadent pursuit of pleasure collide to produce a bright world, full of colour and enchantment. Now I have once again been drawn into the story, I want to discover what happens next to this disparate group. Recommended for those who enjoy a richly depicted fantastical world and a magical heist adventure full of twists and turns. While I obtained an audiobook arc of The Gilded Wolves from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Augusta Hawke – Book 1 of the Augusta Hawke series by G.M. Malliet #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AugustaHawkebookreview

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I’ve been reading a lot of murder mystery series recently – and my attention was snagged by the concept of a writer of detective novels turning amateur sleuth. Yes… I know it’s not remotely original, but I’ve recently thoroughly enjoyed a TV series based on that premise and wanted to see if Malliet’s version would be similarly entertaining.

BLURB: Where are Niko and Zora Norman? Crime writer Augusta Hawke puts her sleuthing skills to the test to solve the mystery of her disappearing neighbors in the first entry in a new series. While Augusta Hawke is a successful author of eighteen crime novels, since her husband’s death she’s been living vicariously through her Jules Maigret-like detective Claude and his assistant Caroline. Then a handsome police detective appears investigating a real-life mystery.

Where are her neighbors, the Normans? No one has a clue what’s happened – except Augusta. Although she isn’t nosy, spending all day staring out the windows for inspiration means she does notice things. Like the Normans arguing. And that they’ve been missing a week.

REVIEW: Let’s get one thing straight – if you’re looking for an action-packed, foot-to-the-floor thriller, then pass on this one. Instead, you get a slow-burn building sense of wrongness that gradually develops into an investigation – although Augusta is the first to admit that she largely started looking into her neighbours’ disappearance because she’d hit a bit of a wall with her latest manuscript. Indeed, it’s debatable whether the pacing is a tad too slow at times, though I was never in any danger of abandoning this one. Augusta’s dry humour held me throughout. Her personality and my liking for her is the outstanding aspect of this book – I definitely am looking forward to reading more in the series.

Not in the first flush of youth, Augusta was widowed when her beloved husband died in a car crash. Upsettingly, the circumstances of his death led to very hurtful discoveries about him hand the double life he was leading. And since his death, she has retreated into her writing, watching the world from her window and her regular walks with her dog. I liked how the devastation of Marcus’s death slowly is revealed – this aspect of the story could have so easily slid into a self-pitying whine. However, Augusta uses humour as her defence and refuge, which had me grinning and thoroughly rooting for her. The writing is accomplished and Malliet is clearly an experienced storyteller with a particular talent for writing a strong, sympathetic protagonist capable of engaging this reader’s affection – I really cared about Augusta.

That is particularly important when the stakes suddenly become a whole lot higher as the book suddenly shifts up a couple of gears during the climactic denouement. And while I’d a suspicion about the actual villain – the backstory and extent of the antagonist’s wrongdoing came as a shock. Recommended for fans of contemporary mysteries that aren’t too gritty or dripping with gore and feature a strong female protagonist. While I obtained an arc of Augusta Hawke from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Against All Gods – Book 1 of The Age of Bronze series by Miles Cameron #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #AgainstAllGodsbookreview

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I’m a fan of Miles Cameron’s writing – see my reviews of The Traitor Son series – The Red Knight, The Fell Sword, The Dread Wyrm and The Fall of Dragons – as well as his space opera adventure Artifact Space, which I very much hope he is going to continue. So when I saw this one on Netgalley, I was delighted to be approved for it.

BLURB: The gods play their games, looking down on the mortal realm and moving men as pawns. Sacrificing lives, towns, even civilisations as they make moves against each other, oblivious to and uncaring of the suffering it causes. They are above it all: worshipped, emulated and admired.

Yet there is one among them who exists to sow chaos, to challenge the way of things, and to stir up trouble. One who sees the gods growing indolent and contented and selfish . . . and who is ready to meddle in the world of men. Not as part of the immortal game, but because they believe it’s possible for men to challenge . . . and even topple . . . the gods themselves.

REVIEW: I’ve seen this book compared to Madeline Miller and her novels set within the Greek pantheon and I’m rather uncomfortable with that comparison – this one is far closer in tone and style to Dan Simmons, the other author cited in the strapline. While the Greek gods are certainly a self-absorbed lot, who don’t treat their mortal worshippers with much regard – they are frankly paragons of virtue when set against the sorry lot who feature in Cameron’s Heaven. Every single one of them is busy plotting to gain power or in revenge against another of their number. Most look upon humanity as merely insects to be disposed of with as little thought or care. And some of the bloody deeds that are suffered by said humanity are horrible – all the more so because the gods simply don’t care.

It took me a while to get through this one, despite it being well written with an engrossing plot – because I found the sheer bloodiness a bit of a problem at times. I’m well aware that is probably more about my own mindset at present, rather than an issue with the storytelling. But I’m giving it a mention because if you are a tad squeamish about scenes of senseless brutality and torture, then this one might not be for you. That said, out of the carnage stagger a number of characters who somehow survive the sacking of a city and terrible punishments designed to act as a deterrent. There is a dancer, an orphan boy and his donkey, a warrior, a former warlord and a scribe who end up on a boat managed and crewed by a merchanting family who belong to a sect of pacifists. And when together, there is a fair amount of humour within their interactions, albeit sometimes on the grim side. Some of these characters also have magical abilities they can wield with varying amounts of skill and strength. I do like the fact that any magic is very draining and can only be wielded for a finite amount of time, before it uses up the practitioner. They also have an extraordinary passenger – one of the Bright Ones, who often attack and kill travellers in the desert, except this creature seems intent on saving their lives.

This unlikely group are plunged into all sorts of extreme adventures which are described with verve and vividness. No one writes battle scenes better than Cameron, who is also an experienced historical battle re-enactor who has fought in armour. As the story gained momentum, I got to a point when I found this one difficult to put down – but do be warned, it does end on a cliff-hanger with a number of important plot points left dangling. Recommended for fans of epic fantasy stories featuring gods and plenty of action. While I obtained an arc of Against All Gods from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc What Rough Beast – Book 3 of the Remembrance War by Michael R. Johnston #BrainfluffNETGALLEYbookreview #WhatRoughBeastbookreview

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This is the final book in this tumultuous and action-filled military space opera adventure – and I’m so very glad that I took the time to read the first two books before embarking on this one. Indeed, I listened to the first book on audio, which is very well done and I’m hoping the publishers will produce the next two books in this entertaining trilogy. I’ll definitely be keeping a lookout for Johnston’s next offering.

BLURB: As the Zhen Empire descends into civil war, Tajen, Liam, and Katherine each have their own part to play in the final conflict between the human race and the Zhen Empire. As Tajen searches the outer regions in an attempt to find and recruit Zhen deserters to his side, Katherine heads for Marauder space to seek out technology their Tabran allies need.

Liam, believing his two best friends dead, must keep the human fleet alive as it is pursued across the Empire by Zhen forces. As the final battle approaches, each of them will be tested to their limits.

REVIEW: First things first – if you have picked up this one without reading the previous two books in this trilogy, instead seek out The Widening Gyre, which is the first book. While Johnston provides an excellent ‘Story So Far’ roundup at the beginning, you necessarily won’t get anything other than the bare bones of the story. And one of the main strengths of the narrative is how the main characters grow and change in the face of the challenges confronting them.

Secondly, for those of you who, like me, are interested in such things, I was intrigued by the titles – not least because they rang annoying bells that I know I’d have recalled before being smitten with Long Covid. And sure enough, Johnston helpfully provides a copy of the poem ‘The Second Coming’ by W.B. Yeats from where all his titles originate. It’s a fabulous piece of writing and nicely chimes with the overarching menace facing humanity in this adventure.

I’m not going to claim that this adventure is anything particularly original – the scenario of nasty aliens threatening to expunge humanity from the universe is as cosily familiar as a late-night cup of cocoa. However, the manner in which our hapless species has been done over by the Zhen Empire is particularly nasty. And yet makes absolute sense in a way that the reasoning behind alien hostility all too often doesn’t. I also appreciated the way that Johnston doesn’t simply lump all the nasty aliens together as ‘the baddies’, while put-upon humans are elevated to a minor sainthood. Nope – in his world there are human agents who believe the species can only ultimately survive by being in thrall to the Zhen and work against the fight to free humanity every bit as passionately as the most committed Zhen supremacist. Meanwhile, one of Tajen’s most loyal supporters is one of his former Zhen comrades. It’s enjoyable to see such nuances in play, as it keeps the reader wondering who is truly trustworthy, as well as feeling more believable.

Tajen is the main protagonist and his storyline is the overarching narrative arc. While he is the classic adrenaline-junkie hero who flings himself into risky scenarios, I was interested to note that he is also gay. His relationship with his husband is written with tenderness and conviction, giving it importance in the story, yet without any graphic sex scenes or a sense that Johnston is trying to make a point. So it works really well. Though in this book, Tajen doesn’t get much opportunity to spend time with his friends and family, as our plucky band are scattered throughout the galaxy as they desperately try to prevail against overwhelming odds. Indeed, it’s foot-to-the-floor action throughout and the pages turned themselves as I wanted to discover who was doing what to whom – and whether they would all survive. Space opera is difficult to write well and I enjoy it when I can simply relax and let the author do his thing, because he’s nailed the conventions and knows how to transfer from one scene to another without jarring or annoying the reader – which is a skill far too many don’t manage effectively.

All in all, this book was a thoroughly enjoyable conclusion to an entertaining, well-written space opera trilogy, and comes recommended to fans of the genre. I’m hoping Johnston is going to revisit this world in due course, as there is lots of scope for more adventures with some of the other characters we encountered. While I obtained an arc of The Veiled Masters from the publishers via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10