Tag Archives: apocalyptic science fiction

Teaser Tuesday – 24th January, 2017

Standard

tuesdayTeaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by The Purple Booker.
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 Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter
49% These toiling others, the hair on their legs caked in mud, looked back at us with a kind of furtive themassacreofmankindboldness. And I thought I heard them mutter to each other in an odd, high-pitched, almost gurgling sing-song. It occurred to me that I had not heard the tall humanoids utter a word to each other, and did not even know if they were capable of it; perhaps language had been bred out of them too by their monstrous masters.
‘Then if not from Mars – where, Frank?’
‘They’re from Venus,’ Frank said flatly. ‘The Martians went to that planet, and brought them here to the earth. I think they’re from Venus, Julie. Here in England!’

BLURB:It has been 14 years since the Martians invaded England. The world has moved on, always watching the skies but content that we know how to defeat the Martian menace. Machinery looted from the abandoned capsules and war-machines has led to technological leaps forward. The Martians are vulnerable to earth germs. The Army is prepared. So when the signs of launches on Mars are seen, there seems little reason to worry. Unless you listen to one man, Walter Jenkins, the narrator of Wells’ book. He is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, understood their defeat.

He is right.

This is the sequel of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds by one of the most established, respected science fiction authors writing today. Has Baxter managed to provide a suitably exciting story with sufficient references to the original book, yet respectful enough that this isn’t just some parody? Oh yes. I think he’s made a cracking job of it and I will be reviewing this book in due course.

My Outstanding Books of 2016

Standard

Last year was an amazing year for reading. I cannot recall when I last read so many exciting, engrossing and well crafted books. Below are the ones which have left a niche in my inscape so they may not have initially got a 10/10, but nevertheless these are the ones that have stayed with me…

The Just City – Book 1 of the Thessaly series by Jo Walton

thejustcity

This amazing, thought provoking series is essentially examining Plato’s ideas for an ideal society striving towards excellence as propounded in The Republic. It’s quirky, imaginative and clever – vintage Walton in other words. She has to be one of the most exciting, talented writers of our age.

 

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted

This is a variation of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story that is filled with mystery, magic and a strong sense of place. The isolation and brooding sense of being at the whim of someone who is perhaps not wholly stable permeates the book.

 

The Many Selves of Katherine North by Emma Geen

manyselvesofkatherine

This hard science fiction tale of a shape-shifter is an extraordinary book, rich with techie detail and some of the most vivid sensory writing I’ve read. In addition, the story takes you in one direction – until you suddenly realise it is about something else altogether. Clever and original, this impressive debut novel marks Geen as One to Watch.

 

The Star-Touched Queen by Roshani Chokshi

thestartouchedqueen

The cover of this book is lushly beautiful – which is also an accurate description of the prose spinning this story into a classic tale that wouldn’t be out of place if it turned up as one of the tales of Scheherazade. What really sold it, though, was the carnivorous horse with smart mouth…

 

The Annihilation Score – Book 6 The Laundry Files by Charles Stross

theannihiliationscore

Unlike the rest of this clever, readable series, this book is told in the viewpoint of Bob Howard’s wife, Mo. She has a bone violin as a weapon to battle the Lovecraftian monsters emerging from another dimension and threatening life on Earth as we know it. You won’t be surprised to learn that wielding such an instrument exacts a heavy cost. Stross has depicted a heartbreaking heroine who leaves a lump in my throat.

 

The House with No Rooms – Book 4 of The Detective’s Daughter series
by Lesley Thomson

thehousewithnorooms1

I love Thomson’s clever, layered writing that assumes her readers are capable of joining the dots and her leisurely pacing that steadily builds a creeping sense of wrongness. Stella’s quirky world view prevails and in amongst the tragedy and pain, there are welcome shafts of humour. I’ve dreamt about this book…

 

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

mebeforeyou

This book, rightly, has garnered a huge amount of attention and I nearly didn’t read it because of the fuss. Which would have been a real shame, because the story is gripping, funny and painful and without an ounce of sentiment. I certainly didn’t think it would end the way it did.

 

An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows

anaccidentofstars

This portal fantasy gripped me from the first page and still hasn’t let go. I was completely caught up in the adventure, which quickly took me out of my comfort zone and captivated me. I still find myself wondering what I’d do if confronted with the same circumstances and hope that Meadows writes quickly, because I badly want to know what happens next.

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of the Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin

thefifthseason

I love her Inheritance series, but blogging buddy Sara Letourneau kept banging on about this one, so I got hold of it. And I’m so very glad I did… The writing is extraordinary. Jemisin takes all the rules about writing by the scruff of the neck and gives them a thorough shaking. I stayed awake to read this one, caught up with Essun’s furious grief and felt bereft once I came to the end of it.

 

Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

spiderlight

This clever, unsettling adventure takes the classic fantasy trope of the band of heroes and bounces it off the walls. The result is funny, creepy and poignant by turns – and absolutely engrossing. It also raises some tricky moral questions.

 

Spellbreaker – Book 3 of the Spellwright Trilogy by Blake Charlton

spellbreaker

This fantasy adventure vividly depicts a family where every one of them is lethally powerful such that it seriously gets in the way of their love for each other. The result is riveting and original – it has lodged itself in my brain like a burr, because if you have the power to level cities or predict your father’s death, then it’s probably going to make the inevitable family tiff somewhat tricky.

 

The Summer Goddess by Joanne Hall

thesummergoddess

I’ve always enjoyed Hall’s writing – but this particular tale of abduction and slavery tugged at my heart from the first chapter and kept on doing so throughout. Her heroine is painfully fallible and yet doggedly courageous – and the writing is always so well crafted. It’s another one that won’t leave me in peace…

 

Songs of Seraphina by Jude Houghton

songsofseraphine

This disturbing portal novel is about revenge and bloodshed – and how those that pay the price often are innocent. It grabbed me from the beginning as we learn about the three sisters and I read through the night to learn what befalls them – and I’m really hoping that Houghton is busy writing a sequel, for I want more of this savage, magical world.

 

A Natural History of DragonsBook 1 of The Memoirs of Lady Trent series
by Marie Brennan

anaturalhistoryofdragons

What’s not to love? A dogged, adventuring Victorian lady who defies convention to go adventuring to learn more about dragons in their habitat. The book is written after the style of a 19th century novel and enchanted me – happily there are more in the series and I’m going to be plunging back into this world just as soon as I can.

 

Just One Damned Thing After Another – Book 1 of The Chronicles of St Mary’s
by Jodi Taylor

jsutonedamnedthing

This time travelling novel is set in a Government-run establishment that has the same feel I imagine Bletchley would have done during WW2 – though the attrition rate is definitely higher at St Mary’s. The time-travelling historians – or ‘disaster-magnets’ as they are described in this punchy, amusing adventure – tend to die rather a lot.

So there they are – my outstanding reads of 2016. I highly recommend each and every one of them as offering something special and unique. And if you insist on forcing me to choose only one of them, then you’re a cruel, unfeeling monster – but if I HAD to, then it would have to be N.K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season. The intensity of the writing, the cool premise and the way she builds on the characters has this one etched into my mind.

Sunday Post – 28th August

Standard

Sunday Post

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

It’s been a vile week – a heartbreaking week. When a single issue pounced from the corner, ambushed and overwhelmed me. And just to crown it all – my writing, which is my refuge and defence when Life smacks me around, isn’t going all that well. I’m in the process of ripping apart one of my manuscripts and rewriting it. It’s not the first time I’ve done this, but cutting out a major character is a messy process. It might work but right now the remnants of the damn thing are lying in shards around my ankles and as I’m on the last stages and reaching the climactic final stage – it feels like I’ve ruined it. I’ve worked so very hard all through this year – putting in hours and hours. And for what? Right now, I don’t know. Nothing makes sense or feels worth it. Anyway – enough with the whining.

This week I’ve managed to read:

The Obelisk Gate – Book 1 of The Broken EarthTrilogy by N.K. Jemisin
theobeliskgateTHIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.
The season of endings grows darker as civilization fades into the long cold night. Alabaster Tenring – madman, world-crusher, savior – has returned with a mission: to train his successor, Essun, and thus seal the fate of the Stillness forever. It continues with a lost daughter, found by the enemy. It continues with the obelisks, and an ancient mystery converging on answers at last. The Stillness is the wall which stands against the flow of tradition, the spark of hope long buried under the thickening ashfall. And it will not be broken.

I was delighted to learn that The Fifth Season won the Hugo Award for the best novel – and deservedly so. This sequel of an extraordinary novel whose world is an amazing feat of imagination, scoops the story up and takes it further. I’m still reeling and buzzed from it… Thank God for books like this, there’s times when they are lifesavers. Though DON’T pick it up until you’ve read The Fifth Season or you’ll flounder. I reviewed this gem yesterday.

 

American Monsters – Book 3 of The Demon Road trilogy by Derek Landy
americanmonstersBigger, meaner, stronger. Amber closes in on her murderous parents as they make one last desperate play for power. Her own last hopes of salvation, however, rest beyond vengeance, beyond the abominable killers – living and dead – that she and Milo will have to face. For Amber’s future lies in her family’s past, in the brother and sister she never knew, and the horrors beyond imagining that befell them.

The action and violence ramps up another notch in this last book with some truly creepy moments – and the climax holds a poignant sting in the tail that completely winded me. This YA offering should be vetted, as I wouldn’t be happy letting any of the younger teens in my life read it.

 

 

 

Unraveled – Book 15 of the Elmental Assassins series by Jennifer Estep
What could go wrong when you’re trying to unravel a decades-old conspiracy?unraveled
As the current queen of the Ashland underworld, you would think that I, Gin Blanco, would know all about some secret society controlling things from behind the scenes. I might be the Spider, the city’s most fearsome assassin, but all my Ice and Stone elemental magic hasn’t done me a lick of good in learning more about “the Circle”. Despite my continued investigations, the trail’s gone as cold as the coming winter. So when Finnegan Lane, my foster brother, gets word of a surprising inheritance, we figure why not skip town for someplace less dangerous for a few days? That place: Bullet Pointe, a fancy hotel resort complex plus Old West theme park that Finn now owns lock, stock, and barrel. At first, all the struttin’ cowboys and sassy saloon girls are just hokey fun. But add in some shady coincidences and Circle assassins lurking all around, and vacationing becomes wilder—and deadlier—than any of us expected. Good thing this assassin brought plenty of knives to the gunfight …

The perky first person viewpoint is accurately portrayed in the blurb. While this offering is full of death and mayhem, it is unabashedly classic urban fantasy with snarky dialogue, plenty of action and dollops of humour. Estep’s bouncy approach provided some much-needed solace and I’ll reviewing this book during the coming week.

 

The Thousandth Floor – Book 1 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee
the1000thfloorWelcome to Manhattan, 2118.
A hundred years in the future, New York is a city of innovation and dreams. But people never change: everyone here wants something…and everyone has something to lose. Leda Cole’s flawless exterior belies a secret addiction—to a drug she never should have tried and a boy she never should have touched. Eris Dodd-Radson’s beautiful, carefree life falls to pieces when a heartbreaking betrayal tears her family apart. Rylin Myers’s job on one of the highest floors sweeps her into a world—and a romance—she never imagined…but will her new life cost Rylin her old one? Watt Bakradi is a tech genius with a secret: he knows everything about everyone. But when he’s hired to spy by an upper-floor girl, he finds himself caught up in a complicated web of lies. And living above everyone else on the thousandth floor is Avery Fuller, the girl genetically designed to be perfect. The girl who seems to have it all—yet is tormented by the one thing she can never have.

This intriguing book starts with one of the girls featured in this ensemble piece plummeting to her death – and then the narrative timeline jumps back two months to show why she ends up falling off the roof… This YA offering could have so easily descended into an angsty mess – but McGee’s slick handling makes this futuristic thriller a real page-turner that I thoroughly enjoyed and will be reviewing it in the coming week.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 21st August

Review of Across the Universe – Book 1 of Across the Universe series by Beth Revis

Teaser Tuesday – featuring Unraveled – Book 15 of the Elemental Assassins by Jennifer Estep

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Spellbreaker – Book 3 of The Spellwright Trilogy by Blake Charlton

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of American Monsters – Book 3 of The Demon Road Trilogy by Derek Landy

Friday Faceoff – Looking Out on All I Own featuring The Poison Throne – Book 1 of The Moorhawke Trilogy by Celine Kiernan

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Obelisk Gate – Book 2 of The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin

Other interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

I Went to a Funeral, and I Never Went Home https://mommyisawidow.com/2016/08/17/i-went-to-a-funeral-and-i-never-went-home/ A beautiful, heart-wrenching piece on bereavement

Tales of the Wellspring 5 – the White Spring of Glastonbury https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/tales-of-the-wellspring-5-the-white-spring-of-glastonbury/ Another wonderful article from a gifted writer…

Day #15 – Doors closing, doors opening #30 Days Creative http://mhairisimpson.com/2016/08/day-15-doors-closing-doors-opening-30dayscreative/
A reminder that sometimes all you can do is just keep putting one foot in front of the other – and if you are lucky there are fab friends to help…

Saying Goodbye to the Sun https://richardankers.com/2016/08/24/saying-goodbye-to-the-sun/
A steady stream of short and micro fiction pours from the pen of this quirky, original author – the very hardest writing to get right. And this is a gem…

Writer’s Music: Ramin Djawadi https://jeanleesworld.com/2016/08/25/writers-music-ramin-djawadi/ Though you don’t HAVE to be a writer to want to get your hands on this music – I’m guessing one or three Game of Thrones fans might also like it…

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Sunday Post – 31st July

Standard

Sunday Post

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

Me and my mouth… I should have kept quiet about the sudden appearance of sunshine, because during this week it has become steadily cooler, more overcast, windy and rainy. Of course it has – the schools have broken up and we have the grandchildren for an extended visit.

I’m still timelining The Sunblinded trilogy and am now three-quarters of the way through Breathing Space though inevitably progress is slower as I am in granny mode. And grannies get black marks for spending extended spells on their computers when those precious children want their attention.

This week I’ve managed to read:
An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical anaccidentofstarsrealm on the brink of civil war. There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

Once more NetGalley came through – I requested this intriguing book and I’m very glad I did – it’s a cracking adventure that manages to take some of the main tropes in portal world stories and thoroughly shake them up. I’ll be reviewing it at the beginning of August.

 

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin
thefifthseasonTHIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.
A season of endings has begun. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

I’ve had several people busy recommending this book for a while (yes, Sara Letourneau – I’m talking about you…) and now I know why. Though it sounds like it, this isn’t an account of some grim dismantling of the world after the style of The Passage or a bleak examination of what happens once the apocalypse has descended, as in The Road. It’s something else. With passages in omniscient viewpoint and one main character presented in second person pov, it’s a remarkable read. It has been nominated for a Hugo Award, Nebula Award and Locus Award, which should give you an idea of the quality of this book. It’s certainly one of my outstanding reads of the year, so far.

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 24th July

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Machinations – Book 1 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone

Teaser Tuesday – featuring The Fifth Season – Book 1 of the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

London-based Spec-Fic Tales – Part 1

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Shift by Em Bailey

Friday Faceoff – The Hooded One Featuring The Summoner – Book 1 of the Chronicles of the Necromancer by Gail Z. Martin

Review of Vowed – Book 2 of The Blackhart Legacy by Liz de Jager

Other interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

How To Annoy a Reader https://livinginthepagesz.wordpress.com/2016/07/28/how-to-annoy-a-reader/ This hilarious rant from an avid reader on some of the things her non-reader friends sometimes say made me grin.

Fantasy: The (Not So) Easy Genre http://melfka.com/archives/1875 An excellent article debunking this myth by Joanne Maciejewska

I really enjoyed this intriguing photo… https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/untitled-78/ by Photolicioux

Book Blogger Blind Date Presents: UK vs US Slangdown https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/book-blogger-blind-date-presents-uk-v-us-slangdown/ This is fun – and highlights why the Yanks and Brits so often get their wires crossed.

This coming week I’ll be entertaining my young grandson on his own, so we plan to do some swimming, crazy golf, lots of playing games and colouring. If it’s fine we’ll go to the beach, so the reading and blogging will be taking more of a back seat. Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Edition Machinations – Book 1 of Machinations series by Hayley Stone

Standard

The machines have risen, but not out of malice. They were simply following a command: to stop the endless wars that have plagued the world throughout history. Their solution was perfectly logical. To end the fighting, they decided to end the human race. A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a machinationsrescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone . . . of herself. Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.

I loved the opening and thought the passage where she died was very strong. Stone has a memorable, effective writing style and especially in the earlier scenes, I felt her characterisation of Rhona was effectively layered – the dilemma of a clone with an impaired memory was movingly depicted. There was a strong supporting cast – Samuel and Camus both bounced off the page, although I did slightly wince at the love triangle aspect. Not only has it been done to death, it really jarred in the context of the story arc, I felt.

Given this was an apocalyptic scenario, the world had to be convincing and Stone’s description of a shattered landscape where people are holed up, eking out a minimal existence worked well. What was less successful was the depiction of the machines. While it is mentioned there are a variety of them, there only seemed to be one sort and they appeared to be very easy to disable. I also found it difficult to visualise what they looked like, apart from the red eyes and the whirring noise they made. While I didn’t expect huge swathes of information about the rise of the machines and the original premise made entire sense, there wasn’t a particularly strong sense of how they went about attacking or what the higher echelons consisted of, which I found slightly frustrating.

The other problem I had with the story in the latter stages was that Rhona became the poster girl for the human uprising on the strength of one inspirational speech. She didn’t quite tip into being a Mary Sue – the protagonist who can do it all perfectly – but it came uncomfortably close, which was a shame, given the nuanced, clever characterisation at the beginning of the book when she was coming to terms with being a clone.

However, both these issues were more irritations than dealbreaking flaws, and they don’t take away from the fact that this is an interesting beginning to the series, with a strong protagonist. I look forward to seeing what Stone does with this world in future books.
8/10

Teaser Tuesday – 12th July, 2016

Standard

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:
Machinations – Book 1 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone
47%: This is how the memory looks in my head, but there’s no way of knowing whether it’s accurate; I machinationscould be filling in the blanks with what makes sense to me, what I’d like the past to look like, warm and friendly. I’ve begun to wonder how much I recall is actually real, and how much is stuff I’ve made up, cushioning the loss in my head.

BLURB: The machines have risen, but not out of malice. They were simply following a command: to stop the endless wars that have plagued the world throughout history. Their solution was perfectly logical. To end the fighting, they decided to end the human race.

A potent symbol of the resistance, Rhona Long has served on the front lines of the conflict since the first Machinations began—until she is killed during a rescue mission gone wrong. Now Rhona awakens to find herself transported to a new body, complete with her DNA, her personality, even her memories. She is a clone . . . of herself. Trapped in the shadow of the life she once knew, the reincarnated Rhona must find her place among old friends and newfound enemies—and quickly. For the machines are inching closer to exterminating humans for good. And only Rhona, whoever she is now, can save them.

This book starts with a bang as Rhona dies – and doesn’t let up. The writing is strong, the characterisation layered and sophisticated, making Rhona a great protagonist. I was expecting an exciting adrenaline-filled tale of adventure and action – and have found something more profound and satisfying. Fingers crossed the ending of this first book in a very promising series manages to deliver.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Nightmare Stacks – Book 7 of The Laundry Files by Charles Stross

Standard

I was delighted when I realised last month after reading the awesome The Annihilation Score – see my review here – that the next book in this outstanding series was due for release. And even more delighted when I managed to get hold of a NetGalley arc…

thenightmarestacksAlex Schwartz had a promising future – until he contracted an unfortunate bout of vampirism, and agreed (on pain of death) to join the Laundry, Britain’s only counter-occult secret agency. His first assignment is in Leeds – his old hometown. The thought of telling his parents that he’s lost his old job, let alone them finding out about his ‘condition’, is causing Alex more anxiety than learning how to live as a vampire secret agent preparing to confront multiple apocalypses. His only saving grace is Cassie Brewer, a student appearing in the local Goth Festival, who flirts with him despite his awkward personality and massive amounts of sunblock. But Cassie has secrets of her own – secrets that make Alex’s night life seem positively normal . . .

First, a warning. For fans of Bob and Mo Howard, who are keen to catch up on them after their roller-coaster journey during the last two books – you’ll have to wait a bit longer to discover how they’re doing. This instalment is all about Alex, who we first met in The Rhesus Chart – see my review here. While Alex doesn’t have the dry wit of Bob, the storyline soon whisked me up and held me as we have the Charles Stross version of elves making a dramatic appearance and like his version of vampires, they are far more lethally compelling and unpleasant than Tolkien suggests.

I really enjoyed this break with the normal London setting, as Leeds is where Alex finds himself entangled in the latest incursion from another dimension in this smart fantasy/science fiction mash-up. Although I did miss Bob’s dry, world-weary commentary, there are still some lovely touches of humour – particularly enjoyable is Alex’s meal with his parents as they reel under the combined onslaught of his apparent demotion, Cassie’s oddness and his sister’s bombshell.

But the tone is a lot darker and those odd splashes of humour were very welcome in the final act, where there is chaos and mayhem in full measure. The battle scenes are full of drama and I found myself unable to put the book down as I needed to know what would happen next – I wasn’t sure that Alex would survive, for starters, as Stross is perfectly capable of mowing down a major character.
I thoroughly enjoyed this one, though for me, it didn’t have the emotional punch of The Annihilation Score which is my all-time favourite in this series, so far. However, there is plenty of compelling action and those elven warriors rampaging across the English countryside on lethal battle steeds, wielding magical weaponry will stay with me for a while.
9/10

Review of The Passage – Book 1 of The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin

Standard

Before tackling Cronin’s final book in this trilogy, The City of Mirrors – see my review here – I decided to scoop up The Passage from my teetering TBR pile to ensure I gave the book a fair chance.

Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she’s the most important person in the whole world. She is.
Anthony Carter doesn’t think he could ever be in a worse place than Death Row.
He’s wrong.
FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming.
It is.

thepassageAnd there you have the blurb. Very short and terse – which is exactly what this book is not… Coming in at 766 pages and with a punchy, yet often lyrical prose style, this book sprawls across a number of characters in a variety of situations as we see the world unravel due to a scientific investigation going disastrously wrong. Yep. One of those. We’ve all read the scenario. Some arrogant idiot in a white lab coat decides he knows better than everyone else and plays God – and what do you know? It goes wrong… Such stories tend to be long on the gory chaos that ensues and short of characterisation, because – let’s face it, most of the poor souls die anyway, and often not in a good way.

This one is different. Really. Oh yes, there is gory chaos, alright. The world really does go to Hell in a handcart. But Cronin has an uncanny knack of managing to get right to the heart of someone’s character in an amazingly short space of time. His depiction of Amy’s teenage mother near the start of the book is heartbreakingly familiar – and made me really, really care about her. It is that skill he has, for creating characters full of flaws, contradictions, odd motivations – and managing to create lost little Amy without lapsing into sentimentality, which kept me turning the pages.

I’m not a huge fan of horror, or any kind of gory chaos for that matter. I get plenty of nightmares all on my own, without any help from someone else’s apocalyptic vision – it’s part of the reason I don’t sleep all that much. And if I’d appreciated just how bad it was all going to get and just how much mayhem was going to be occur, I probably would have passed on this one. But, once I got started I found I really wanted to know what was going to happen next to Amy and Sara and Peter and Michael and… a whole lot more. Yes, I cared about them all. Cronin wheeled each one on in swift succession and I don’t recall minding about the switches at all. The only really jarring moment came at page 260 when the first section ends and we jump forward 97 years. But I didn’t even really mind about that one, either – because I’d just about had enough of all the gory chaos, by then.

And the reason I’m telling you this? Because I loathe constant jumps from one character to another. I find being yanked about from one viewpoint to another thoroughly messes with my enjoyment of the overall story and makes me care a whole lot less about any of them. But Cronin breaks the rules, switching characters several times in a single page – something I regularly tell my creative writing students is a complete no-no – and pulls it off. If you enjoy apocalyptic science fiction or fantasy, then this is a must-read. And if you don’t generally enjoy all that end of the world stuff, but appreciate well-written books with plenty of adventure and action in them, give it a go. I can guarantee you won’t have read anything before quite like it.
10/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The City of Mirrors – Book 3 of The Passage trilogy by Justin Cronin

Standard

The hardback edition of this book has recently been released and I’d read a lot of very positive comments about it, so when I had the chance to scoop it up on NetGalley, I couldn’t resist it.

thecityofmirrors“The world we knew is gone. What world will rise in its place?”
The Twelve have been destroyed and the hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon the world has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew and daring to dream of a hopeful future. But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy – humanity’s only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him. One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.

A firm warning – while there is a quick roundup at the start of this book, I do think that if you haven’t read either The Passage or The Twelve you are going to flounder. This book dives right into the middle of the action, featuring an extensive cast of characters and drives the narrative forward by flipping from one character’s pov to another with only a paragraph break to denote the viewpoint change. It means you have to stay sharp and pay attention. And I wouldn’t want to grapple with who was whom if I hadn’t already just finished The Passage immediately before starting to read The City of Mirrors.

Apart from anything else, this series is such an interestingly different take on the apocalyptic genre, you’ll gain so much more from this slice of the adventure if you have a greater appreciation of what went before. Cronin whisks us up and changes gear once more – the only common thread being a handful of the main characters as the threat of the dracs or virals appear to be gone for good. Humanity in North America is once more spreading out from the floodlight fortresses where they’d been penned up and families are yearning to farm, instead of patrol with weapons.
However, a handful of folk are not convinced it’s all over… The tension is palpable from the beginning of this book and continues to grow. We follow the fortunes of Amy, Fanning and Carter – as well as the Jaxon family and their friends. Cronin is a remarkable writer, managing to weave lyrical passages about the landscape, their way of life, the sense that it’s not over in amongst the ever-rising action. This book also gives us a sustained close encounter in first person viewpoint with the ultimate antagonist in this catastrophe – Fanning. I found myself enjoying his self-deprecating humour and sad that his lack of confidence prevented him from reaching out for the love of his life when he had a chance. This is a masterclass in how to humanise the inhumane and make the reader sympathise with a monster.

I was all set to give this book an unqualified 10 – and then we got to the final section. It simply doesn’t work for me. I was disturbed by how very 21st century life is, right down to motorised transport and dress codes although clearly very little has survived from before the apocalypse. And when we got to the very final act… nope. For once, I felt Cronin allowed his affection for his remarkable character override the natural story arc as it slid into a rather sentimental finale. That said, I’ll forgive him that. Because of the very episodic nature of the story, the unsatisfying conclusion isn’t the dealbreaker it would have been in a continuous narrative timeline. It is still a remarkable book and if you enjoy apocalyptic fiction and haven’t yet encountered this series, go and track down The Passage. Even if you aren’t all that keen on apocalyptic fiction, but like well-told science fiction, then still track down The Passage. This series is something special.
9/10