Category Archives: troubled hero

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Children of Ruin – Book 2 of the Children of Tim series by Adrian Tchaikovsky #Brainfluffbookreview #ChildrenofRuinbookreview

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I absolutely loved the Children of Time – it’s one of my all-time favourite science fiction books. So was thrilled to hear that there was a sequel on its way and even more thrilled when I was approved to read and review it.

Thousands of years ago, Earth’s terraforming program took to the stars. On the world they called Nod, scientists discovered alien life – but it was their mission to overwrite it with the memory of Earth. Then humanity’s great empire fell, and the program’s decisions were lost to time. Aeons later, humanity and its new spider allies detected fragmentary radio signals between the stars. They dispatched an exploration vessel, hoping to find cousins from old Earth. But those ancient terraformers woke something on Nod better left undisturbed. And it’s been waiting for them.

Once more, this is an ambitious, well-written epic adventure featuring humans, spiders and octopuses all as intelligent, sentient beings. Not only does this book encompass three species and convincingly depict their struggles to communicate with each other and amongst themselves, it sprawls across a brain-achingly long timespan. Furthermore, it does so whilst fracturing the timespan, so that some of it is told out of sequence…

I am a solid fan of Tchaikovsky’s work and familiar with the recurrent themes in his writing. I particularly love his knack of giving us unintended consequences, which is exactly what happens when a bored, rather lonely terraforming scientist decides to uplift a species of octopus to act as maintenance crews to the underwater equipment altering the planet for human use. No one writes non-human species better, in my opinion. I was completely convinced by what drove the spiders and the octopus societies, while the humans caught up in the middle of the crisis were also convincingly portrayed.

You might be sensing a but – and yes… there is one. For all that, I found the first half of this book rather a trudge. It might well be me – right now I’m tired and extremely stressed, although that doesn’t usually impact upon my reading. But while I was enjoying the slices of the adventure, I found the scrambled timeline really frustrating and at times, difficult to follow.

Once the stakes were clear and the action lined up for the desperate denouement, which was entirely gripping and held me throughout, the book rolled forward to a triumphant conclusion that will leave me pondering what happened for weeks and months to come. Tchaikovsky’s books tend to do that to me – it’s why I love reading them so much.

However, this one was a struggle and while it probably is more me than the book, I have to be honest about my reading experience. However, don’t be put off – especially if you loved Children of Time. Recommended for fans of well-written, first contact adventures with big, thought-provoking themes. The ebook arc copy of Children of Ruin was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
7/10

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Poison Song – Book 3 of The Winnowing Flame Trilogy by Jen Williams #Brainfluffbookreview #ThePoisonSongbookreview

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I have thoroughly enjoyed the ongoing adventure in this excellent trilogy – read my reviews of The Ninth Rain and The Bitter Twins. The progression of this story, taking it from a straight epic fantasy adventure into a science fiction mash-up was masterfully handled, as are the steady revelations of new twists about aspects that we previously understood to be facts…

The very nature of the way Williams crafts her books makes it unlikely that you will be able to fully enjoy what is going on unless you read them in order – and as those of you who are regular visitors to my site know, I habitually crash midway into series without turning a hair. However, I wouldn’t want to make such a move with this series and strongly recommend that you don’t attempt it.

Jump on board a war beast or two with Vintage, Noon and Tor and return to Sarn for the last installment of this epic series where the trio must gather their forces and make a final stand against the invading Jure’lia.

And that’s the blurb. It won’t make much sense if you haven’t already read the previous books… I had thought that this final episode wouldn’t be able to deliver yet more surprises about the key figures in this full-on adventure – but I was wrong. We learn a lot more about the winnowing flame through Noon, the rebellious young fell-witch whose actions deeply affect those similarly cursed or gifted, depending on your viewpoint… And once more, Hestillion and the Queen of the Jure’lia manage to shock and repel me by their actions. I’ve grown very fond of all the characters in this adventure over the duration of this series – but for me, it’s Vintage who is my absolute favourite.

So… given that the first two books were so very good – has this finale lived up to expectations? Oh yes. Once more, we are immediately whisked right up into the middle of the action, so I’d also recommend that if you read The Bitter Twins a while ago and can’t quite recall exactly what is going on – flit back and remind yourself of who is doing what to whom – Williams doesn’t give you much breathing space before plunging you back into the thick of the plot.

In amongst all the mayhem, the recurring theme is about identity. Are we who we are because of what befalls us, or because of our genetic heritage? I was interested to note that Williams answers this question quite firmly by the end – and I was also interested to see which side of that discussion she favours. Not that the plot drifts off as this is discussed in any way – there simply isn’t room in amongst all the world-changing battles and soul-searing adventures.

As I don’t want to give away any spoilers, my comments regarding the unfolding story are necessarily vague, but I can report that the handling of the pacing, the conclusion of all the main character arcs and the climactic final battle is brilliantly done. I loved the bittersweet nature of the ending, though I was a tad devastated by the outcome regarding one of the main characters. And finished this one feeling a bit shattered, uplifted and with a lump in my throat. That doesn’t happen to me all that often, these days. But despite the fact that I have over half of 2019 still to run – I know I have just completed reading one of my outstanding reads of the year. While I obtained an arc of The Poison Song from Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Middlegame by Seanan McGuire #Brainfluffbookreview #Middlegamebookreview

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I was intrigued by the Hand of Glory featured on the cover and I also liked the premise, so requested this one and was delighted when I was approved.

Meet Roger. Skilled with words, languages come easily to him. He instinctively understands how the world works through the power of story. Meet Dodger, his twin. Numbers are her world, her obsession, her everything. All she understands, she does so through the power of math. Roger and Dodger aren’t exactly human, though they don’t realise it. They aren’t exactly gods, either. Not entirely. Not yet. Meet Reed, skilled in the alchemical arts like his progenitor before him. Reed created Dodger and her brother. He’s not their father. Not quite. But he has a plan: to raise the twins to the highest power, to ascend with them and claim their authority as his own.

Godhood is attainable. Pray it isn’t attained.

And that’s the blurb. Reed is definitely the villain you love to hate – he is completely amoral and fully focused on attaining the highest power that all alchemists are seeking. He has created several sets of twins, who are designed to perfectly complement each other’s strengths. Some are brought up together in the laboratory where they were created, while others are split and brought up separately until they grow into their powers. Roger and Dodger fall into the second tranche.

However, they manage to find each other, even though they are both very young and living hundreds of miles apart. Once their connection is discovered, they are split up again – causing anger and trauma to both… Initially, the viewpoint jumps around a bit as McGuire establishes the stakes and demonstrates just what the hapless twins are up against. But once the action centres on Roger and Dodger and we follow their highs and lows as they grow up, I was pulled into the story and became engrossed in the unfolding action.

I liked both of them – Dodger is the more sensitive and brittle personality, who grows up holding people at arm’s length, while Roger is more comfortable in his own skin. I enjoyed watching their development – and the various twists as first they are separated and then get together.
Meanwhile Reed is always lurking in the background, monitoring their progress and comparing it with his other experiments… And yes, the Hand of Glory features throughout the book. Because we get to know the characters well, I really cared and found this one difficult to put down once it hit its stride. I’m not sure that opening section is necessary as I found it distracting while waiting for that particular shoe to drop, which I think interfered with my enjoyment somewhat.

However, the climax was suitably convincing and brought this epic story to a strong conclusion – although there is potential for another book in this world. While I obtained an arc of Middlegame from the author via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Deathless – Book 1 of The Deathless series by Peter Newman #Brainfluffbookreview #TheDeathlessbookreview

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I had seen this one on Netgalley and then was invited to review it – and accepted. I liked the premise and assumed he’d be a solidly good writer, after all, he’s married to the great Emma Newman…

The demons… In the endless forests of the Wild, humanity scratches a living by the side of the great Godroads, paths of crystal that provide safe passage and hold back the infernal tide. Creatures lurk within the trees, watching, and plucking those who stray too far from safety.
The Deathless… In crystal castles held aloft on magical currents, seven timeless royal families reign, protecting humanity from the spread of the Wild and its demons. Born and reborn into flawless bodies, the Deathless are as immortal as the precious stones from which they take their names. For generations a fragile balance has held.
And the damned… House Sapphire, one of the ancient Deathless families, is riven by suspicion and madness. Whole villages are disappearing as the hunting expeditions holding the Wild at bay begin to fail.

Newman tips us right in the middle of the action – to the extent that at one point, I flipped back to ensure I was reading the first book in the series. But that’s okay – seeing as one of my hobbies is crashing midway into series, this approach works for me. I certainly prefer it to those stories that take forever to wind up into anything approximating an adventure. The world is overrun with demonic creatures who attack humanity – even the vegetation in the wild forests exact a price to keep them from attacking those desperate enough to seek refuge within such a lethal landscape. What stops the world from being completely overrun are the immortals who live in floating castles powered by crystalline power and the godroads, also crystal-enhanced which attacks and repels all demon-touched flora and fauna.

There are seven main dynasties who maintain their borders and keep all within them safe by their regular hunting expeditions. Until one House doesn’t and a village goes under… The House Sapphire is a mess after one of its most important representatives is accused of consorting with The Wild and is disgraced, before being driven out to fend for herself. Even more devastatingly, the vessel that houses her immortal soul is broken, so that once her current life ends – that’s it – she won’t be reborn into a young, healthy body, again.

The worldbuilding is fabulous – Newman manages to evoke a real sense of tension and menace once outside the castle walls, while providing an insight into what it’s like to live within the castle. I also liked the progression of the story and the pacing, which is really well-handled. The only problem I had was that while there were multiple viewpoints – only one of those characters really appealed, and that was Lady Pari, who is brave and sufficiently wilful to break the rules so she can be with her lover.

I appreciate the characters are not all good or bad – but most of the scions of the crystal families seem to be selfish and vengeful. They certainly seem to have forgotten that their primary vocation is to keep the wild safe for the mortals not fortunate enough to live in a floating castle. But as the adventure unspools, people are pushed to their limits outside their comfort zones and we get to see what they are made of.

I became increasingly absorbed in the story as it wore on and by the end, I was thoroughly engrossed – and I’m keen to read the next slice of the adventure. Because, as things stand – I have no idea where Newman will next take it. While I obtained an arc of The Deathless from the author via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own. Recommended for fans of well written, fantasy with a strong, unusual world.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Oracle’s War – Book 2 of the Olympus series by David Hair and Cath Mayo #Brainfluffbookreview #OraclesWarbookreview

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I loved Athena’s Champion which I reviewed last year. I have a really soft spot for Greek god retellings and this classy debut left me wanting more – so I was thrilled when I had the opportunity to get hold of Oracle’s War

When Prince Odysseus is sent on a quest to recover his family honour, he’s led to Delos where a mysterious new prophecy has captivated the gods. Caught in a tangled web of intrigue, he discovers that this prophecy is tied to his own destiny and the fate of his patron goddess, Athena.

The action starts a few months after the events in Athena’s Champion at the occasion of Odysseus’s sister’s wedding – which doesn’t go according to plan and sends him off on a quest to avenge a wrong. I am really fond of this clever young man, whose quick wits save him from death more than once in this fast-moving adventure, where gods are amoral beings, intent on widening their pool of worshippers by any means at their disposal. Being one of their champions isn’t the privileged position you might think, given their nasty habit of using their half-human offspring as disposable agents to influence or alter events to their advantage. We meet up once again with a number of the characters first featured in Athena’s Champion – most notably Bria, another of Athena’s champions, who accompanies Odysseus on this quest. She is inhabiting another body and her lusty, cynical attitude, along with her careless attitude to the body she has invaded, sets Odysseus’s teeth on edge.

I liked learning more of the young man’s rocky relationship with the man who brought him up as his father, King Laertes of Ithaca, in this next slice of the adventure. And I also very much enjoyed the worldbuilding which Hair and Mayo weave in amongst all the double-dealing, life-changing prophecies, sorcery and thrilling fights. They effectively set out the political situation where the rise of the eastern cities, particularly Troy, is destabilising the scattering of states and islands further to the west. Not only is their culture under attack – their gods are in the process of being altered or swallowed up by their eastern counterparts – their financial future is also in jeopardy as traders increasingly drop off their goods at Troy, whose added tariffs are making life increasingly difficult.

We are currently around five years before the Trojan War and a sudden new prophesy has caused a major upset. The young woman who has delivered it is in great demand – and not all those seeking her are wellwishers, so Odysseus finds himself looking after her after she has been snatched. While he is impressed with the grey-eyed young woman, his heart has been stolen by a Trojan princess. This next slice of Odysseus and his adventures is every bit as exciting and vital as the first book. Recommended for fans of well-told Greek myth retellings. The ebook arc copy of Oracle’s War was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10

Friday Faceoff – Better to fight and fall than to live without hope… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoff

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is a LONGBOAT, so I’ve selected Half the World – Book 2 of The Shattered Sea series by Joe Abercrombie.

 

This edition was produced by Del Rey in February 2015. I like the design – the huge wave rising out of the sea, with the breaking surf at the crest morphing into edged weapons. However, I don’t like the monochrome treatment – it looks rather drab and gives the impression that the book is a lot darker than it actually is. And other than that small flourish on the tail of the R, the title font is unforgivably boring.

 

Published in February 2015 by Harper Voyager, this cover makes my point. I think this one looks sooo much better than the bleak version above. We can fully appreciate the detailing of all those cool weapons, while the deep green water on the face of the wave gives a sense of the power of the sea, even without the plucky Viking boat fighting up it. And the title font is far more appropriately eye-catching – altogether a much better version. It never fails to surprise me how much changing colours can affect the whole feel and tone of a design. This is my favourite.

 

This edition, published by Harper Voyager in June 2015, is another strong offering. This time around we are on the longship, alongside the heroes as they negotiate a tricky strait. I love the prow of the boat, the back of the protagonist and the ominous sky, giving a sense of tension. The title font is both appropriate and eye-catching – I really like this one.

 

Produced by Arqueiro in January 2017, this Portuguese edition chooses to focus on the characters rather than the setting. While I think it is well executed and I very much approve of the clean, uncluttered look of the cover – and the fact they choose to let us know that it’s the second book in the series. However, I find the stern-faced, armed female protagonist rather generic.

 

This Romanian edition, published by Nemira in April 2016 is another attractive, well-crafted offering. However I think the scale is wrong. The longship is beautiful – that gold edging of the sail looks fabulous – but it’s too small and the grandeur of that epic landscape is simply lost. I’m itching to apply a zoom option to this cover, which has so much going for it… Which one is your favourite?

Friday? Nope – TUESDAY Faceoff – The pyramids were built to last ten thousand years… – Brainfluffbookblog

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Yes – I know. I’m posting this one on the wrong day! But otherwise I’d miss out taking part and I love, love, love this meme which was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is currently being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and the subject this week featuring on any of our covers is DESERT LANDSCAPES, so I’ve selected Pyramids – Book 7 of the Discworld series by the late, great Terry Pratchett.

 

This edition was produced by Corgi in July 1990. This one is my favourite by a long country mile, given that it was designed by the wonderful Josh Kirby and beautifully captures the sheer knockabout mayhem and humour of this, one of the earlier Discworld novels. Though I would give a whole lot for that textbox to disappear…

 

Published in 2008 by Harper, I suppose I should give them points for effort. At least you know this is a humorous novel by the positioning and type of font and the bright teal against the crimson background is eye-catching. You also know it’s set in Egypt. But frankly, I’m not convinced. There simply isn’t the energy and wit so evident in the previous, original cover and don’t get me started on that ugly blob…

 

This edition, published by Gollancz in January 2014, is a better effort that the previous one. I like the way the great pyramid is clearly affecting the surrounding landscape and the figure leaping up and down on the cliffs. I also very much like the way the title and author name has been handled. While I still don’t think that any of the more modern efforts come close to achieving the excellence of the Kirby cover, this at least doesn’t have me shaking my head in despair at how one of my alltime favourite series is now being packaged.

 

Produced by Piper in May 2015, this German edition has reprised the Kirby feel with this amazing camel, who looks as if he’s about to slobber all over the prospective reader as he gallops away from that lethal pyramid. I love the night-time feel, which gives a great sense of the coruscating lightning building up. My one grumble is that the font could be more playful and exciting. This one is a close contender for my favourite…

 

This Italian edition, published by Sonzogno in May 1994, is – like so many of the editions for this book – is referencing Kirby’s original artwork. I’m interested to see that in thumbnail, this title is still clearly visible. Needless to say, I really like this cover, even though the pyramid isn’t anywhere in sight. Which is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Day 115 on an Alien Planet – Book 1 of the Settler Chronicles series by Jeanette Bedard #Brainfluffbookreview #Day115onanAlienPlanetbookreview

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It was the cover that caught my eye on this one – and the very nifty title. It didn’t hurt that the author is an indie writer, as I know what a struggle it is to gain sufficient reviews to garner any kind of attention in the ocean that is Amazon.

A dishonourable discharge left Margo unable to find honest work on Earth. Signing onto a colonizing mission heading to a new world promised a fresh start. Or at least that’s what she’d thought. Strapped into a crashing colony ship, she realized how wrong she’d been. They hit the ground and the straight forward colonizing mission becomes a scramble for survival.

As you gather from the slightly shortened blurb, this is a colony world adventure where said colonisation plans have gone very badly wrong from the word go. I’m a sucker for these kinds of tales of survival – basically because it gives the author so much scope to take the story in all sorts of interesting directions. Bedard doesn’t disappoint with her vivid evocation of this bleak, airless environment, which nonetheless has been selected as suitable for this plucky group of pioneers to establish a foothold for humanity. The description and world building is believable and effective in producing a strong sense of reality without holding up the pace.

I really liked Margo as a protagonist. While having a troubled and eventful background, she is not too full of angst to be able to respond effectively in the challenging circumstances around her. There was a particular event that happened about a third of the way into the book that absolutely floored me – to the extent that I nearly stopped reading. However, I had an instinct that if I did, so I’d always wonder what happened next and I’m glad I continued. In the interests of providing a spoiler-free review. I’m not going to say more than that, but if you do happen to pick this one up, do be mindful that this is not the place to stop reading in disgust.

Any niggles? Well, there is just one. Part of the story is told through Margo’s journals, which I found more than a bit confusing because at no time did the viewpoint switch to 1st person and she isn’t the sort of character who would talk or think of herself in the third person. This did bother me for a while but as the tale was so genuinely engrossing and the stakes continued to become ever higher, it wasn’t a dealbreaker.

Of course, the difficulty in raising said stakes is that the climax has to give the reader sufficient reward or having stuck by the story in the expectation that the denouement is going to be worth it. I’m glad to say that Bedard managed to pull it off. This one has stayed with me since I finished reading it and I am keen to return to this isolated outpost of humanity to find out what happens next. So I shall certainly be tracking down the second book in the series. Recommended for fans of science fiction murder mysteries in dangerous settings. While I obtained an arc of Day 115 on an Alien Planet from the author via Netgalley, the opinions I have expressed are unbiased and my own.
9/10

Sunday Post – 7th April, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

I have just returned from another wonderful few days away at Bexhill-on-Sea with my sister-in-law on a writing retreat. She is working on her PhD thesis and I managed to add over 11,000 words to Mantivore Prey. We were back in the flat she had previously rented with the fabulous turret room overlooking the seascape as we wrote – such an amazing experience! We were very lucky and mostly had sunny, bright weather – although Wednesday was stormy with dramatic seas, showers, strong winds and regular rainbows, which we were able to watch shimmer across the skies, before disappearing.

I was in rather desperate need of a break – and this was what I got. I had a fabulous time that not only helped recharge me emotionally, but was enormously beneficial creatively.

Last week I read:
Breaking the Lore – Book 1 of the Inspector Paris Mystery series by Andy Redsmith
Inspector Nick Paris is a man of logic and whisky. So staring down at the crucified form of a murder victim who is fifteen centimetres tall leaves the seasoned detective at a loss… and the dead fairy is only the beginning. Suddenly the inspector is offering political asylum to dwarves, consulting with witches, getting tactical advice from elves and taking orders from a chain-smoking talking crow who, technically, outranks him.
This is great fun! I thoroughly enjoyed Nick’s laconic humour and his struggle to get his head around all the magical creatures suddenly pitching up on his patch in a smart Manchester. Review to follow.

 

Oracle’s War – Book 2 of the Olympus Trilogy by David Hair and Cath Mayo
When Prince Odysseus is sent on a quest to recover his family honour, he’s led to Delos where a mysterious new prophecy has captivated the gods. Caught in a tangled web of intrigue, he discovers that this prophecy is tied to his own destiny and the fate of his patron goddess, Athena.
I loved the first book in this series, Athena’s Champion, and this one triumphantly continues with the same panache and wonderful worldbuilding – this is fast becoming one of my alltime favourite series… Review to follow.

 

My post last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* – Review of Murder Served Cold – Book 6 of the Langham and Dupré series

Many thanks for taking the time to comment, like and visit my blog – I will catch up with you as soon as I can, so thank you also for your patience. In the meantime, have a wonderful week!

Review of INDIE Ebook Star Carrier – Book 3 of the Lost Colonies series by B.V. Larson #Brainfluffbookreview #StarCarrierbookreview

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I read the first book in this series, following the exploits of William Sparhawk in Battle Cruiser here for Sci Fi Month and I was hooked. In short order, I read Dreadnaught and now need to know what happens next…

The greatest warships ever constructed in known space rise up one by one, soon dominating our skies. They strike fear into the hearts of every citizen and rebel colonist alike. Captain William Sparhawk, the very man who convinced the secretive Council to build this terrifying fleet, now has doubts about the project. What is their exact mission? How could anyone have built these huge ships so quickly? And most puzzling of all, what’s happening out at the isolated laboratory complex on Phobos, Mars’ lop-sided moon?

I very much like William, which is important as this trilogy is told in first person viewpoint throughout through his point of view. Rather unbending and more than a bit socially awkward, William is partly cloned from his father’s genes, not that it means they get on – they don’t. And due to what happens during this event-filled foray, as William sets off on a mission he isn’t sure he’ll return from, he discovers the chilling reason why his father is so closed off.

There are plenty of ingredients vital to the success of a cracking series – a likeable protagonist with several character flaws that endear me to him; lots of action that has me turning the pages, providing plenty of excitement; sufficient worldbuilding that means I care about the stakes and situation putting the protagonist in peril and sufficient variety in the way in which our plucky character struggles so that it doesn’t become repetitive.

But what sets apart other series – including this one – is that as it progresses, situations and issues the character and reader thought were fact become something else. There are other layers underneath the apparent structure, which gives a completely different angle to what is actually going on. As a result, this is a series you really must read in the right order to get the very best out of it – and for my money, the best is very, very good.

I loved the dynamic that continued playing out at the end of Dreadnaught and continues on into this book that provides strong answers to all sorts of questions, such as – why is the political situation on Earth quite so stagnant? Why doesn’t the power structure morph and change into something else? Some of those answers are shocking.

I found it hard to put this one down as I was driven to discover how this plays out, hoping that the ending wouldn’t be a disappointment, after all the tension and adventure. I was enormously relieved – and sad – when Larson successfully tied up all the loose ends and brought the book and trilogy to a triumphant conclusion. Highly recommended.
10/10