Tag Archives: adventure

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Heartless by Marissa Meyer

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When browsing NetGalley – which is becoming something of a vice – I noticed this offering and after thoroughly enjoying Cinders, I put in a request to read it.

Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of heartlessHearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen.

If you have read and enjoyed Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, then do consider tracking down this YA prequel to his madcap world. Catherine is a joy. I immediately bonded with her open-hearted approach to life and her interest in baking. Meyer has done an excellent job in depicting her privileged life that, nevertheless, is rather empty when it comes to close, loving relationships to the extent that her closest friend is her maid. This first person narrative is harder to pull off than Meyer makes it look, given that she also has to nail Carroll’s peculiar world.

For me, this is the book’s real strength – as a girl I loved the world Lewis presented and Meyer’s depiction of it is both clever and respectful. The kingdom of Hearts has its own quirky rules, which Meyer presents with minimum fuss or explanation so that we fully accept the idea of playing cards running around the place. Neither has she glossed or ignored any of that quirkiness – I enjoyed the Cheshire cat, whose sudden appearances and perceptive comments are entirely in keeping with Lewis’s world. While the account of the croquet game, complete with hedgehogs and flamingos, is funny and bizarre. This is a large part of the book’s charm – while there is a dark undertow, the amusing Lewis-inspired episodes throughout had me grinning, both at the humour and Meyer’s skill in weaving her own narrative within this complex and very odd world.

The catch with prequels is that you generally know the outcome, apart from some minor details, so there has to be something other than the plotline to keep you reading. The ongoing romance throughout this book was well handled – I cared for the couple and hoped they would prevail. Given I’m not a fan of lurve stories (yawn) the fact that I found myself rooting for this one is a testament to Meyer’s excellent writing. And part of the game in these retellings is recognising key characters that featured in the original classic and seeing what Meyer has done with them. Like the original, there is amongst the surreal oddity a sense of wrongness to this world which on occasions breaks into violence – the Jabberwock attacks are a shock in this mannered world where what you wear and how you wear it is the one of the yardsticks to social success. Meyer’s pacing, where she steadily increases the momentum of the story to that amazing climax, is pitch perfect, providing us with the world we now recognise from Alice’s own visit in Lewis’s classic. As you may have gathered, I loved this one and it comes highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of Heartless from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
10/10

Review of KINDLE Ebook of A Symphony of Echoes – Book 2 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s by Jodi Taylor

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We are back at St Mary’s, a top secret, government establishment where historians travel back in time to investigate what really happened. It’s an exciting and dangerous occupation that requires a certain attitude, which our protagonist Max has in spades…

asymphonyofechoesThe sequel to the hit book Just One Damned Thing After Another. Follow the adventures of those tea-sodden historians at St Mary’s as once again they dance on the edge of disaster.

And there you have it – the blurb certainly doesn’t venture anywhere near spoiler territory, does it? Once again, Taylor’s punchy prose scoops the reader up into Max’s world and catapults us into the middle of St Mary’s, where Max feels she belongs for the first time in her life. If she didn’t have such a desert-dry sense of humour, this could be a very grim read as plenty goes wrong. I keep thinking, as I read all the sudden reverses and nasty surprises that constantly assail our adventurers, that this series would transfer very well to TV. In the meantime, it’s a joy to read it as the rain lashes down outside and I feel comfortably happy I’m not in the middle of these disasters.

A routine journey to check out the Hanging Gardens of Babylon goes wrong to the extent that I realised why so many of the time-travelling historians die and then an antagonist from the first book pops up, causing yet more mayhem. Having said that – Taylor has written this one, so that if you did pick it up unaware it was part of a series, you wouldn’t flounder for long.

For all her snarky asides – which I love – Max has had a dire childhood which has left her with scars and vulnerabilities and it is this mix of gutsy derring-do and sudden, painfilled fury that makes her such an engrossing protagonist. She regularly gets things spectacularly wrong and never fails to come out swinging when her back is against the wall, being brave to the point of foolhardiness.

Taylor keeps the pace up, often skipping the preparation or lead-up to an expedition so one moment it is being proposed – and the next we are right in the middle of Babylon or at the court of Mary, Queen of Scots. I found myself at the end of the book with something of a jolt, wanting yet more and convinced the slight lull in between the action was merely a precursor to yet another hair-raising adventure. And it won’t be long before I return to this series, for it has wormed its way into my head so I often find myself thinking of Max, Leon and Peter and wondering what will next go wrong for them. If you enjoy time travelling tales with plenty of action, then don’t start here – go looking for Just One Damned Thing After Another, which is a quote about the way some historians view history, apparently. It certainly seems to be the case at St Mary’s.
10/10

Review of KINDLE book The King’s Peace – Book 1 of the Tir Tanagiri series by Jo Walton

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This detailed and engrossing historical adventure novel is the start of a retelling of the King Arthur story, though not necessarily from any viewpoint you instantly recognise…

Sulien ap Gwien was seventeen when the Jarnish raiders came. Had she been armed when they found her, she could have taken them all. As it was, it took six of them to subdue her. She will never forgive them. Thus begins her story—a story that takes her back to her family, with its ancient ties to the Vincan empire that once ruled in Tir Tanagiri, and forward to Caer Tanaga, whethekingspeacere the greatest man of his time, King Urdo, struggles to bind together the squabbling nobles and petty princes into a unified force that will drive out the barbarian invader and restore the King’s Peace. King Urdo will change Sulien’s life. She will see him for what he is: the greatest hope the country has. And he will see her for what she is: the greatest warrior of her day. Together they will fight and suffer for an age of the world, for the things that the world always needs and which never last.

Regular visitors to Brainfluff will know that one of my all-time favourite authors is Jo Walton, so why this offering has been languishing unread in my TBR pile for so long, I’m unsure. Walton has, once again, created a vibrant and rich world where upheaval, raids and constant food shortages are commonplace. Therefore the kind of attack Sulien is subjected to is also not infrequent – what is unusual is the fact that she survived and how she managed to do so. But it leaves scars that define the rest of her life and what she decides to do next. Once more, Walton’s writing swept me up so that I was immersed in a world where the new religion is beginning to force out the older, land-based beliefs. Where might is right is the way of life and those with the healing powers of the old gods regularly call upon them for help.

I love Sulien – an unusually powerfully built woman with strong reasons to dedicate herself to learning the craft of fighting. From her viewpoint as one of the most gifted fighters and battle commanders of her age, she tells the story of how she is part of a movement trying to restore a measure of peace to a land battletorn since the retreat of the Vincan Empire years before. As ever, there are layers of detail and political infighting within Walton’s writing that bring extra focus to the inevitable action scenes, with no guarantee of success. There are upsets and reversals that had me brimming with emotion and anyone who loves epic fantasy and has enjoyed George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire should give this one a go.

The story ends with some of the major plotpoints dangling, though the current crisis has – sort of – been averted and it is a given that I shall continue reading this amazing historical fantasy series early in the new year.
10/10

Teaser Tuesday – 29th November, 2016

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Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
The Banished Craft – Book 1 of The Shkode Trilogy by E.D.E. Bellthebanishedcraft
75% WHAT ARE THESE CREATURES DOING? I MUST TRY HARDER TO REACH THEM. WHATEVER THEY HAVE DONE, THEY ARE ON A COURSE TO DESTROY THEMSELVES FASTER THAN I WOULD HAVE IMAGINED.

I AM SORRY, LITTLE CREATURES. I AM SORRY.

BLURB: Struggling to solve the mystery of her parents’ murder, Cor comes across a mystery much deeper—a secret society who predicted that someday their world would be devastated. That time is now. In a world where women are not allowed to read, live alone, or pursue knowledge Cor presses forward, discovering a new magic and the power to wield it.

A world away, Atesh works in the Imperial Labs, devoting his study to the turmoil destroying his home and endangering dragonkind. Instead he discovers a long-hidden truth. Humans are real.

This is another offering from my TBR pile. I reviewed the sequel, The Fettered Flame, to this genre mash-up earlier in the year. This epic science fiction/fantasy adventure is set across two worlds, which have been accidentally sundered by one of the children belonging to Mother, who is featured in my teaser. I really enjoyed the quirky otherness of The Fettered Flame – and although I’m reading them back to front (not necessarily to be recommended) once more, I’ve fallen under the spell of Bell’s unusual take on the fantasy genre.

Review of Clover Moon by Jacqueline Wilson

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I love Wilson’s books. They helped my granddaughter come to terms with her parents’ breakup as she was able to read about other children facing the same devastating issue. We also started the awesome Hetty Feather books, set in Victorian England, so when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I pounced on it with glee…

clovermoonClover Moon’s imagination is her best escape from a life of hardship in poverty-stricken Victorian London. When tragedy plunges her into a world of grief, Clover realizes that everything she loved about the place she called home is gone. Clover hears of a place she could run to, but where will she find the courage – and the chance – to break free? And could leaving her family be just what she needs to find a place that really feels like home?

I came to this book with high expectations and I wasn’t disappointed. Clover is a spirited, tough little girl living in a Victorian slum, spending her days looking after her younger brothers and sisters and cooking and cleaning alongside her abusive step-mother, Mildred. Her character pings off the page as we learn of her daily life, busy entertaining the smaller children and her spirits and vivid imagination often getting her into a great deal of trouble. Back in Victorian times, that meant beatings. And Clover gets more than her fair share of those.

However, Wilson has perfectly judged the tone. Clover could so easily have become a victimised, downtrodden little waif, undernourished, poorly dressed and dirty as she is. But she’s as tough as nails, not averse to scrapping for what she needs and in her own words, regularly lies to avoid getting into trouble.

I picked up this book, intending to read a couple of chapters before putting it back down and then getting on with my work. Only I didn’t. It simply would not be put down – the story gripped me and wouldn’t let go until the end. Wilson takes me right into the heart of Victorian England and having studied history as part of my teaching degree, I would have become quickly irritated if the facts and depiction had jarred. They didn’t. Like the companion books about Hetty Feather, Wilson has clearly immersed herself in this period and every character bounced off the page and into my imagination.

I’m not the target audience for this book, being too old by far too many decades – but if you are ever looking for a book to make the Victorian era fully spring to life for children between the ages of nine and twelve, then I recommend Clover Moon. And for fans of Hetty Feather, she also makes a brief appearance in this page-turner, too. A useful, informative addition – at the back of the book are some facts about how children lived in Queen Victoria’s reign, a potted history of how child protection gradually became law and details of how children today can contact Childline. This book is highly recommended and the fact this arc was provided by the publisher via NetGalley has not affected my honest opinion of Clover Moon.
9/10

Review of How To Be a Pirate – Book 2 of the How To Train Your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell

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Oscar and I completed this book together this last weekend when the grandchildren were staying and once more, I was struck at just how funny and anarchic the storyline is…

howtobeapirateHiccup Horrendous Haddock III was a Viking Hero–dashing, brave, and ever so clever. But even Viking heroes have to begin somewhere. In this rip-roaring adventure he recounts his early days–when he still had a lot to learn about swordfights, shipwrecks, and homicidal dragons….

And that’s the blurb. Of course, it doesn’t begin to give you an idea of the story, where Alvin, the poor-but-honest-farmer pops up and beguiles the Hairy Hooligan tribe with tales of Grimbeard the Ghastly’s treasure and how to find it. Hiccup has a sinking feeling this is a very bad idea, but his chieftain father, Stoick the Vast, is determined to track it down. After all, he is Grimbeard’s heir.

What I particularly love about this books – and loathe about the film – is that Hiccup and Fishlegs are undersized, average-to-homely in the looks department and are regularly beaten up by Snotlout and Dogsbreath. While the other boys occasionally are happy to follow Hiccup’s lead after he’s managed to pull them out of yet another disaster by virtue of yet another cunning plan, they’ll jeer and join in the laughter quickly enough once the memory of that particular victory fades – which generally takes a couple of days. In other words, Hiccup isn’t the good-looking and capable character portrayed in the film with the cool, rare dragon. Toothless is only remarkable in being the smallest dragon in the village with the manners of a spoilt two-year-old. Hiccup’s constant sense of not measuring up to his strong chieftain father has us rooting for him. Under all the humour there is a real sense of poignancy over his feelings of inadequacy.

Events quickly stack up, as Hiccup, Toothless and Fishlegs, his best friend, trail along in their wake. Sure enough it all goes from dodgy to disaster fairly quickly as the Hairy Hooligans sail off in Stoick’s ship, the Lucky Thirteen. There are adventures, fights, treasure, shipwrecks, more fights and more treasure sufficient to thrill the heart of a child of any age. I was enthralled.

However, it’s all very well piling on the action and winding up the narrative tension until it is pinging off the page – but then comes the moment when there is the payoff. And where children are concerned, there can be no half measures. The final denouement has to pack a sufficient punch to wind up such a twisting plot so that when we close the book for the final time, we all still feel the tingle of excitement yet are thoroughly satisfied with the ending of this particular adventure. Cowell pulls this off magnificently. It didn’t take much to persuade Oscar to immediately start reading the third book in this enchanting series, How To Speak Dragonese. I want more of this world.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

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Those of you who are regular visitors will know that I am a real fan of Hall’s writing – see my review of Spark and Carousel here. Would this latest offering also please?

thesummergoddessWhen Asta’s nephew is taken by slavers, she pledges to her brother that she will find him, or die trying. Her search takes her from the fading islands of the Scattering, a nation in thrall to a powerful enemy, to the port city of Abonnae. There she finds a people dominated by a sinister cult, thirsty for blood to feed their hungry god. Haunted by the spirit of her brother, forced into an uncertain alliance with a pair of assassins, Asta faces a deadly choice – save the people of two nations, or save her brother’s only son.

I love Asta’s character. She is plunged into the middle of a horrific situation and copes brilliantly, without turning into a Mary Sue, which is a far harder balancing act than Hall makes it look. As she is pulled into the middle of the politics of two colliding societies she knows very little about, she has to exist on her wits to cope. Fortunately, Asta is intelligent and resourceful – and she also has her brother’s spirit to aid her. However, this proves to be a mixed blessing… One of the things I really enjoy about Hall’s writing is the sharp-edged reality to her writing. While this isn’t the type of grimdark where every other word is an expletive and the overall tone is sharply sarcastic and bleak, it doesn’t give any quarter. So Finn, Asta’s brother, has sibling issues that now have far greater resonance given that he’s inside her head and they regularly squabble. While sometimes there is affectionate humour in their exchanges which helps Asta cope, there are also occasions when their quarrels get in the way of her ability to deal with her situation.

As the adventure gallops forward and Asta is catapulted into the middle of a complicated political situation, I appreciated how Hall completely side-steps the inevitable info-dump. Asta discovers the nuances going on around her the hard way – if she gets it wrong, she’ll be beaten or worse, as we learn what is going on alongside her. It’s a nifty trick to pull off  successfully. Her search for her nephew takes her into some dangerous situations and we meet a cast of supporting characters who ping off the page with their vividness and varying attitudes. No one is portrayed as completely good, or all bad, as Asta also makes some major mistakes along the way, too. This nuanced approach particularly applies to the major antagonist, who I found myself pitying even while hoping Asta is able to escape his clutches.

During the fight scenes, I was holding my breath – for Hall isn’t afraid to kill off some of her more major characters and a couple of times the death of a character caught me unawares. So at no point could I predict what would happen next. The story held me right to the end, where it was tied up without being too neat. You don’t get the sense the survivors will live happily ever after in Hall’s world, as Life is too precarious and chancy for any such tidy ending. This story is standalone, although it does loosely connect with Hall’s  The Art of Forgetting duology. For me, this is the best book yet. I loved this adventure and it comes very highly recommended to anyone who enjoys epic Fantasy at its sizzling best.

My copy of The Summer Goddess was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review.
10/10

Teaser Tuesday – 27th September, 2016

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Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
Aveline – Book 1 of the Lost Vegas novella series by Lizzie Ford
74% Arthur finished checking the gelding’s girth and turned to face his unhappy friend. “If I do not avelinereturn by dawn, you know what you are to do.”
“Return to the city and your sister.”
“Good.”
“But I will search for you first.”

BLURB: In post-apocalyptic America, five hundred years in the future, famine, war, and chaos have created a hell on earth. Outside the isolated city of Lost Vegas, violent skirmishes among the Native Americans – who have retaken their ancestral homes – claim lives by day, while ancient predators awakened during the Age of Darkness hunt humans by night. Inside the city, criminals, the impoverished, and the deformed are burned at the stake weekly.

Among those ruthless enough to survive is seventeen-year-old Aveline, a street rat skilled in fighting whose father runs the criminal underworld. On the night of her father’s unexpected death, a stranger offers to pay off her father’s debts, if she agrees to become the guardian of Tiana Hanover, the daughter of the most powerful man in Lost Vegas. Caught between her father’s debtors and his enemies, Aveline reluctantly accepts.

Ignore the very wafty cover – this novella is far more gritty and adventurous than it suggests. Aveline is gutsy, sharp and streetwise, whereas Tiana hasn’t so much as set foot in a Lost Vegas street. So far, I’m thoroughly enjoying the story and hope it will resolve satisfactorily at the end, which seems to be coming up far too fast.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Age of Heroes Book 8 of the Pantheon series

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The first thing to say is – like all the other books in this entertaining godpunk series – Age of Heroes is entirely standalone. The only thing linking these books is they feature gods or, in this case, demigods. So there is nothing to prevent you plucking this one off the shelves and diving straight in.

ageofheroesCHILDREN OF THE GODS!
Born of the Gods, created to be their champions, their names echo in eternity: Theseus, Perseus, Hippolyta, Heracles, Helen of Troy and all their half-mortal ilk. But the Age of Heroes is long past, and no more epics are told of their deeds. Blessed – and cursed – with eternal life, they have walked the Earth for millennia, doing their best to fit in among ordinary humans, taking new names and living new lives. And one by one, the demigods are meeting terrible, bloody ends. Now it’s up to Theseus, comfortably ensconced in New York and making his living as a crime fiction writer, to investigate the deaths. His search for the culprit draws him back into the lives of his dysfunctional extended family, and into a world of tragedy and long-held grudges that he thought, and hoped, he’d put behind him.

The blurb gives a flavour of this mystery whodunit with a divine spin on it. These ancient demigods and goddesses have, more or less, managed to fit in with modern society and scattered across the globe. I haven’t read every book in the series, but Age of Aztec – see my review here – is one of my most memorable and enjoyable reads and Lovegrove is a favourite author anyhow. So this was a must-have book and I was delighted when Netgalley approved my request. Did it fulfil my expectations? Oh yes.

Lovegrove has a knack of writing enjoyable protagonists I care about, even when they shouldn’t be all that likeable. One of the main characters is a hired killer, but I found myself rooting for him. In contrast, the antagonists are suitably nasty and formidable, particularly the vile Holger Badenhorst, who I loathed as a racist, sexist pig. As for the demigods, once more I am impressed how Lovegrove manages to depict ancient beings who aren’t quite human, yet keep them sympathetic – it’s harder to pull off than he makes it look. Plenty of humour in the exchanges between the characters leavens the inevitable violence, while the action drives forward at a brisk clip, making this one hard to put down.

As for the denouement – I didn’t guess who the perpetrators were until the reveal and enjoyed the full-on action and the subsequent poignancy of the demigods’ existence revealed as the dust settled. While this adventure hasn’t achieved the heights of Age of Aztec – not many books do – it is an accomplished, satisfying read that made me chuckle in places and had me reading late into the night to discover what happens next. And I surfaced from the adventure wishing I could do it all over again… a familiar feeling when reading a book written by Lovegrove.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Autonomy by Jude Houghton

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I was offered the opportunity to read this Autonomy by Grimbold Books, in return for an honest review should I enjoy it. I’m so grateful they did…

autonomyBalmoral Murraine works in a Battery, assembling devices she doesn’t understand for starvation pay. Pasco Eborgersen is the pampered son of an Elite, trying to navigate the temptations of the Pleasure Houses, the self-sacrifice of the Faith, and the high-octane excitement of Steel Ball. They never should have met, and now they will rip the world apart.

What happens when ninety percent of the world lives on skaatch – a jellyfish and insect composite? What happens when mankind spends more time in alternative life sims instead of in the “real” world? What happens when economic interest is the sole determinant of global decision making? What happens when a single secret is discovered that calls into question everything we have ever believed? Welcome to the Autonomy. Welcome to your future.

And yes, folks, this really could be your future… In Houghton’s dystopian vision, our civilisation implodes in 2020 during a welter of environmental and political upheavals that sweeps away the old order. Autonomy emerges from the ruins after the death of millions, while the rest of the population are battling lawlessness and famine. And Autonomy’s solution is runaway capitalism to provide the bare necessities for the bulk of humanity and a far better standard of living for the chosen few. So, in essence, nothing really changes – I just love the ironic title…

I’m not sure if Houghton has ever studied the Industrial Revolution, or read The condition of the working class in England in 1844 by Friedrich Engels, but some of the details he produces about the wretched lives of Balmoral’s family were scarily reminiscent. However, this isn’t some polemic rant about how awful it’s going to be if we don’t get our act in gear and I wouldn’t have bothered reading it if it was. It’s a strong story crackling with narrative tension, vivid characters and a snaking plot that drew me in.

Structured as an epic, with a variety of third person viewpoints, Houghton isn’t afraid to kill off a number of his characters along the way – with some of them I saw their imminent demise coming, but there are several that pulled me up short. The plot spans the two worlds represented by Balmoral and Pasco. Initially, my sympathy was all with Balmoral and I rather despised Pasco – but as the book wore on, I found myself warming to Pasco despite the fact that he isn’t our classic lantern-jawed, action hero, which is a slot taken by his twin brother.

In amongst all the mayhem, Houghton raises some interesting questions – if you are enmeshed in a truly undemocratic, brutal regime, are you justified in inflicting violence on passing innocent bystanders in the struggle to overthrow said brutal regime? If by inflicting a brutal undemocratic regime you can keep millions alive on subsistence level, is it justified, given that without that skimped, grudging infra-structure they’ll all die anyhow?

However, in the end, it was all about the story. The climactic finale had to have plenty of action and drama, given the heightened tone throughout – I was wondering whether Houghton would be able to ramp this up another notch, and I pleased that he managed to pull it off, tying up and bringing together all the elements in the narrative in a satisfying ending. All in all, this is an entertaining near-future thriller with a thought-provoking message embedded amongst all the action. It’s what science fiction does best.
9/10