Tag Archives: epic science fiction

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc The Last Emperox – Book 3 of the Interdependency series by John Scalzi #Brainfluffbookreview #TheLastEmperoxbookreview

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I’m a real fan of Scalzi’s writing – I enjoyed his Old Man’s War series and absolutely love the Lock In series, which has redefined crime fiction, by putting a futuristic spin on it, so that crimes are committed and solved in ways that right now are impossible – see my review of Lock In and Head On. So I pounced on this epic space opera series – see my reviews of the first two book in this trilogy – The Collapsing Empire, and The Consuming Fire. Has this third and final book in this interesting trilogy managed to bring this ambitious adventure to a satisfactory end?

BLURB: The collapse of The Flow, the interstellar pathway between the planets of the Interdependency, has accelerated. Entire star systems—and billions of people—are becoming cut off from the rest of human civilization. This collapse was foretold through scientific prediction… and yet, even as the evidence is obvious and insurmountable, many still try to rationalize, delay and profit from, these final days of one of the greatest empires humanity has ever known. Emperox Grayland II has finally wrested control of her empire from those who oppose her and who deny the reality of this collapse. But “control” is a slippery thing, and even as Grayland strives to save as many of her people from impoverished isolation, the forces opposing her rule will make a final, desperate push to topple her from her throne and power, by any means necessary. Grayland and her thinning list of allies must use every tool at their disposal to save themselves, and all of humanity. And yet it may not be enough. Will Grayland become the savior of her civilization… or the last emperox to wear the crown?

Unusually I’ve included the complete blurb, because you need to understand the extent of Scalzi’s ambition in depicting this world. The Interdependency has existed for a thousand years, after a series of wars that nearly snuffed out humanity – and Rachela, the very first Emperox, put in place a system on which each planet or colony outpost needs supplies and raw material from elsewhere in order to exist. So the Interdependency continues to thrive on mutual dependence – which has worked well enough, until now, when the space pathways that allow ftl travel are starting to collapse…

There is a really nifty Prologue with nicely reminded me of the situation and the main characters in the frame, without feeling like an info-dump, and once more I was scooped up into the middle of the infighting and social shark tank that is Grayland II’s court. Though despite this helpful update, I would strongly advise that if you’ve picked this one up without having read the previous two books, then put it down again and go hunting for them first. This book is essentially a continuation of the overarching story, so if you don’t actually flounder, you’ll be missing far too much of the backstory to be able to fully appreciate the scope of what is going on.

There is an interesting dynamic, wherein Scalzi has ticked all the boxes for writing an epic space opera adventure, but at the same time has included the kind of snark and edged humour more commonly encountered in urban fantasy. There are a couple of characters who are very sweary, so if you are offended by liberal use of the f-word, among others, then you’d be better off giving this one a miss. But dear Emperox Grayland II isn’t one of them and I love her principled stand, refusing to take the easy way out by saving just the nobility, but attempting to ensure the billions of her subjects also stand a chance, too.

This one buckets along at a fair clip, with some major plot twists that I simply didn’t see coming and left me reeling. To be honest, I’m still trying to process the ending… because it really, really isn’t the conclusion I was looking for, or wanted. Yet, as it was explained, I have to accept that realistically speaking – it was the only possible outcome. Does it work? Oh yes. It’s also really clever. But, even so… 

That said – I don’t feel I’ve been cheated, or short-changed in any way and I certainly don’t regret having dived into the rambunctious world of the Interdependency, even if I’ve surfaced a tad dazed and battered. Recommended for fans of enjoyable, well-written epic space opera. The ebook arc copy of The Last Emperox was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.
9/10


Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 19th September, 2018 #Brainfluffbookblog #Can’tWaitWednesday

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40276268 – vintage old pocket watch and book

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – The Consuming Fire – Book 2 of The Interdependency series by John Scalzi

#epic science fiction #political thriller #space travel

The Interdependency, humanity’s interstellar empire, is on the verge of collapse. The Flow, the extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible, is disappearing, leaving entire star systems stranded. When it goes, human civilization may go with it—unless desperate measures can be taken.

Emperox Grayland II, the leader of the Interdependency, is ready to take those measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But nothing is ever that easy. Arrayed before her are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth—or at the very least, an opportunity that can allow them to ascend to power.

While Grayland prepares for disaster, others are preparing for a civil war, a war that will take place in the halls of power, the markets of business and the altars of worship as much as it will take place between spaceships and battlefields. The Emperox and her allies are smart and resourceful, but then so are her enemies. Nothing about this power struggle will be simple or easy… and all of humanity will be caught in its widening gyre.

I have read the preview chapters, provided by Netgalley and mostly enjoyed them, after loving the first book. Scalzi uses omniscient pov in this book, which gives it a slightly old fashioned feel, harking back to those epic adventures written in the last century. He manages to pull it off successfully, which isn’t all that easy to do. That said, there is a rather indigestible info-dump in the first chapter. Fortunately, it doesn’t last all that long, because Scalzi’s more usual, bouncy, irreverent voice punches through and whisks us up into this unfolding catastrophe. I’m really looking forward to getting hold of the whole book…

Review of Library book Breach of Containment – Book 3 of the Central Corps series by Elizabeth Bonesteel #Brainfluffbookreview #BreachofContainmentbookreview

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I’ve read and enjoyed the previous two books in this engrossing, action-packed space opera adventure and very much looked forward to getting hold of this third book.

Hostilities between factions are threatening to explode into a shooting war on the moon of Yakutsk, and the two major galactic military powers, Central Corps and PSI, have sent ships to defuse the situation. But when a strange artefact is discovered, events are set in motion that threaten the entire colonized galaxy – including former Central Corps Commander Elena Shaw.

You can pick this one up and get involved in the adventure without reading the previous two books, but in order to get the very best out of it, I recommend that you go looking for The Cold Between and Remnants of Trust. Not only do these previous books give you a great insight into the world, Bonesteel tends to write her characters with layers and you will miss out on a fair amount if you aren’t aware of some key moments in their backstory.

It was with great pleasure and anticipation that I found myself back in this riven world, where the colonies, Earth, their appointed peacekeepers – the Corp and the shadowy PSI are all at odds with each other. And that doesn’t factor in some of the worrying moves made by a major terraforming mega corporation. So there is a complicated political standoff where tensions are running high. I love the way that Bonesteel juxtaposes these large major concerns with the issues in the lives of her major characters. As ever, the stage is set for a major adventure to kick off – and this time the domed human settlement of Yakutsk is the hub where the action initially begins. However, it isn’t where it ends…

The plot rackets along at a fair lick, which each character in this multi-viewpoint story giving their slice of the adventure. As ever, my main attention is snagged by the two main protagonists, Elena and Greg, who have been at the heart of the story since the first book. But I also really enjoyed learning more about Admiral Herrod, who was one of the main antagonists in the previous book. I always appreciate a writer who gives me a villain who isn’t your typical evil character, but someone trying to do the best they can while making morally wrong decisions along the way – which is the case for most of the ‘bad’ people I’ve encountered in my own lifetime.

This adventure held me until the end and in places really pulled at my heartstrings – it will be a long time before I forget the scene where Greg accompanies Captain Bayandi on his final mission… All in all, this was another storming addition to an excellent series. I note, with hope, that the ending leaves the way open for more adventures – so fingers crossed, Bonesteel is even now, planning the next slice in Greg and Elena’s lives. Highly recommended for space opera fans.
9/10

Teaser Tuesday – 19th September, 2017

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Teaser 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:
Empire of Dust – A Psi-Tech novel by Jacey Bedford

p. 112 “Didn’t you know him then?” Marta asked.
Not wanting to lie, Cara just shook her head.
“He had a tough time on the Rim. You ever hear of the Londrissi hijack?”
It had been big news, galaxy-wide. A big Trust liner, held to ransom in an unpressurized docking bay of the Londrissi Leisure Station. The hijackers had started to jettison victims into the vacuum. The team that went in to end it took heavy losses.

BLURB: Mega corporations, more powerful than any one planetary government, use their agents to race each other for resources across the galaxy. The agents, or psi-techs, are implanted with telepath technology. The psi-techs are bound to the mega-corps — that is, if they want to retain their sanity.

Cara Carlinni is an impossible thing – a runaway psi-tech. She knows Alphacorp can find its implant-augmented telepaths, anywhere, anytime, mind-to-mind. So even though it’s driving her half-crazy, she’s powered down and has been surviving on tranqs and willpower. So far, so good. It’s been almost a year, and her mind is still her own. She’s on the run from Ari van Blaiden, a powerful executive, after discovering massive corruption in Alphacorp. And he wants her back… Badly.

I’ve been really looking forward to tucking into this one – and it’s great. A sympathetic protagonist on the run from an unscrupulous executive… space station chases… starships… colonists looking for a new start… What’s not to love?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Wolf Moon – Book 2 of the Luna duology by Ian McDonald

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I thoroughly enjoyed McDonald’s depiction of this aggressively capitalist society in the first book, Luna: New Moon set in a near future where an exhausted Earth is relying on the Moon to keep the lights on. So it was a no-brainer that I was immediately going to request this sequel when it appeared on Netgalley.

Corta Helio, one of the five family corporations that rule the Moon, has fallen. Its riches are divided up among its many enemies, its survivors scattered. Eighteen months have passed. The remaining Helio children, Lucasinho and Luna, are under the protection of the powerful Asamoahs, while Robson, still reeling from witnessing his parent’s violent deaths, is now a ward – virtually a hostage – of Mackenzie Metals. And the last appointed heir, Lucas, has vanished from the surface of the moon. Only Lady Sun, dowager of Taiyang, suspects that Lucas Corta is not dead, and – more to the point – that he is still a major player in the game. In an unstable lunar environment, the shifting loyalties and political machinations of each family reach the zenith of their most fertile plots as outright war between the families erupts.

What the above blurb may not make clear is that Luna: New Moon left the story on a major cliffhanger – nothing at all was resolved. So if you haven’t read it, then my firm advice would be to go away and track down the first book before tucking into this one, because there is no ‘Story So Far’ and with the large cast of characters, multiple viewpoints and odd names, I think anyone coming cold to this world is going to flounder.

The gamechanger that flung everything up in the air at the end of the first book continues to have consequences. Major consequences. And as ever, when turmoil and catastrophe occurs, it is often surviving children who suffer more than anyone else. McDonald is very good at showing rather than telling and in this fast-moving, action-packed epic, he starkly portrays the ravages of war and violence. I could see this being made into a cracking film.

And there would be nothing wrong if he left it at that, but what elevates this book to something more than a slice of escapist enjoyment, is that he continues to show what happens after the initial violence dies down. Because the people involved don’t forgive and forget. That drive and aggression that drove them to forge industrial empires on the Moon morphs into something a lot darker and vengeful when their own families are attacked and their homes and businesses gutted.

Inevitably, in such a wide-ranging story with a scattered cast of characters, this is more of an action-driven story. However there are a handful of protagonists who have lodged in my head – Marina, a ‘Jo Moonbeam’ who came up from Earth in the first book to make her fortune gets pulled right into the heart of the conflict and then has to make an agonising decision. Does she stay on the Moon for the rest of her life, or return to Earth? There is a window in which she can return – but after then, her body will have adapted to the lighter gravity such that it will be impossible without massive and expensive medical intervention. Two children particularly tugged at my heart – Robson, who ends up living on the streets and Darius, another boy caught in the middle of the ruling family feuds, is manipulated into perpetuating their ongoing war…

Apparently McDonald has described this epic political power struggle set in space as the ‘Game of Domes. I’ve found myself often thinking about the first book and the brilliant, fragile infrastructure he wrought – and this book is every bit as thought-provoking and disturbing. Highly recommended.

While I obtained the arc of Wolf Moon from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
9/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Collapsing Empire – Book 1 of The Interdependency series by John Scalzi

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I mostly thoroughly enjoy Scalzi’s writing and was delighted when I saw this offering on Netgalley. Sadly though, it wasn’t much fun to read – and that was nothing to do with the author. The Kindle arc looked as though it had been mugged by a binary monster as every page was spattered with zeroes and ones amongst the prose – and if that wasn’t bad enough, the majority of the polysyllabic words were split up into their syll ab les. Fortunately, I very much liked the story, otherwise I wouldn’t have persevered – but I did end up with a thumping headache after a couple of reading sessions and I would plead with publishers to consider their hapless reviewers before letting arcs go out in that state.

Our universe is ruled by physics and faster than light travel is not possible — until the discovery of The Flow, an extra-dimensional field we can access at certain points in space-time that transport us to other worlds, around other stars. Humanity flows away from Earth, into space, and in time forgets our home world and creates a new empire, the Interdependency, whose ethos requires that no one human outpost can survive without the others. It’s a hedge against interstellar war — and a system of control for the rulers of the empire.

I loved the idea that dark matter includes The Flow which allows humanity to escape from Earth and colonise space. The Interdependency is a nifty idea that has managed to – more or less – keep the empire from fracturing and allows an elite to make a very, very good living, with the rest more or less managing. In other words, capitalism is alive and kicking…

And then there is a gamechanger and a new ruler all at the same time. Said gamechanger is going to shake everything up in such an extreme manner, the information isn’t even accepted without a lot of hard evidence – which means there isn’t a lot of time left to do anything about it…

I loved the premise – it was every bit as interesting as I had hoped. I particularly enjoyed the fact that not only did we get a ringside seat when the new emperox finds herself landed with a job she didn’t want, we also got to see exactly what motivates the main antagonist as they manoeuvre for more power and agency. The plotting and double-crossing going on results in plenty of action – some of it nicely unexpected, which is why I’m keeping my comments reasonably general.

Scalzi’s easy style keeps this book barrelling along at a fair pace, so that while the pages didn’t fly by quite at the speed I would have liked – it was taking too much effort to decode the abysmal formatting in my Netgalley arc – nevertheless the story unfolded with pleasing ease. The finale brought the main story arc to a satisfactory conclusion, though there are sufficient dangling plotpoints such that I will be looking out for the sequel in due course. After a number of great standalone reads, such as Lock In, I’m delighted Scalzi has now embarked upon another major series.

While I obtained the arc of The Collapsing Empire from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.

8/10

Teaser Tuesday – 14th March, 2017

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Teaser 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:

Wolf Moon – Book 2 of the Luna series by Ian McDonald
64% Hypatia is a hope, a haven. They may reach it on the dregs of power. There may be something at Hypatia that can deal with a score of killing bots. There may be something between their current position and Hypatia that will save them.
Or their batteries may fail, despite the careful husbanding. Then the bots pounce and annihilate them. Every ten minutes Wagner runs up the radar mast to peep over the horizon. They are always there. They are always closer. No hope of losing them: the two rovers leave indelible fresh tracks, aimed like arrows at Hypatia.

BLURB: Corta Helio, one of the five family corporations that rule the Moon, has fallen. Its riches are divided up among its many enemies, its survivors scattered. Eighteen months have passed. The remaining Helio children, Lucasinho and Luna, are under the protection of the powerful Asamoahs, while Robson, still reeling from witnessing his parent’s violent deaths, is now a ward – virtually a hostage – of Mackenzie Metals. And the last appointed heir, Lucas, has vanished from the surface of the moon. Only Lady Sun, dowager of Taiyang, suspects that Lucas Corta is not dead, and – more to the point – that he is still a major player in the game. After all, Lucas always was a schemer, and even in death, he would go to any lengths to take back everything and build a new Corta Helio, more powerful than before. But Corta Helio needs allies, and to find them, the fleeing son undertakes an audacious, impossible journey – to Earth. In an unstable lunar environment, the shifting loyalties and political machinations of each family reach the zenith of their most fertile plots as outright war between the families erupts.

Last year I read the first book in this series, Luna: New Moon, and thoroughly enjoyed McDonald’s rich evocation of an individualistic society where there is no state intervention and everyone has to pay for air, food and water from the moment they step off the shuttle. Now it’s all gone pear-shaped, it’s riveting stuff…

Friday Faceoff – Diamonds are a girl’s best friend…

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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 week the theme is diamons, so I’ve chosen Diamond Mask – Book 2 of the Galactic Milieu Trilogy by Julian May.

This is the offering produced by Pan Books in 1994 is for me, the best. I love this cover – beautiful and otherworldly. It doesn’t hurt that this is the cover of the book we own which absolutely blew me away when I read it and I still don’t think I’ve read anything else quite like it.

diamondmask1

This cover produced by Del Rey Books in January 1995 could be every bit as strong as the above offering – the artwork is detailed and beautiful with that stunning diamond in the centre of the cover. And then they go and ruin it by sticking that horrible block of red across the top and a lot of blather over some of the remaining landscape *sigh*…

diamondmask2

This more modern cover, produced by Tor in 2013 is reasonably effective. I’m always a sucker for a cool-looking spacescape. I find it fascinating that they figure – correctly, I suspect – that May’s name is the one which will influence the buying public, rather than the book title. The only thing that jars for me is the mask that looks as if it’s a complete afterthought.

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This Italian cover, produced in 1996 by Nord, might be another strong piece of artwork – but your guess is as good as mine, given they smothered a chunk of it with a vile bilge-brown frame, then plastered that peculiar metallic wing affair across the top of the main detail with a rather shocked-looking face peering out. Probably the original artwork designer horrified at the horlicks they’ve made of his cover.

diamondmask4

This effort, produced by Knopf in March 1994, is plain bizarre. Nothing on the cover to denote this is science fiction, at all. The monochrome image of a rather androgynous young man is ruined by slapping a bright yellow slatted band across his eyes – apparently to denote the diamond mask of the title. Could it be more jarringly ugly? Oh yes – they then excel themselves by sealing his lips with a bright red box that informs the reading public that this is A Novel. I hope no one got paid for producing this crime-against-design, because if they did it’s daylight robbery.

diamondmask5

I think that given the quality of the writing and the importance of this amazing series to the genre, some of these covers are a disgrace. Perhaps you feel I’ve been a tad harsh – what do you think?

Friday Faceoff – Slipped the surly bonds of earth…

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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 week the theme is spacecraft – yay! I’ve chosen the third book,  Abaddon’s Gate, in the space opera series The Expanse by James S.A. Corey

 

abaddonsgateThis is the cover produced by Orbit in June 2013. I love the colour, the action and the vibrancy of this cover. It clearly has eye appeal as do all The Expanse covers and plenty of drama. However I’m not a fan of all the chatter, which I think makes it look rather untidy and takes away from the effectiveness of the strong design.

 

abaddonsgate1This German cover produced by Heyne in February 2014 has a completely different colour palatte and is far simpler in design. I do like the relatively uncluttered look which gives me the opportunity to fall in love with the spacescape.

 

abaddonsgate2This Serbian edition, produced in June 2015, has really grown on me. Once again, it is relatively free of all the chit-chat silting up the UK offering and the image is arresting and effect – but I also particularly like the title font which sings out of the darker background. I also think said gate is beautifully depicted here.

 

abaddonsgate3The cover design on this Russian edition, produced in August 2014, is nicely complex and an intriguing angle, so that I stop every time to see if I can figure out exactly where all those worrying pieces floating about have come from. Unfortunately it is ruined by those clunky thick bands enclosing the fonts, giving the cover an old fashioned look and obscuring far too much of the lovely artwork.

 

abaddonsgate4This Italian edition, published in August 2016, has used the same colours as the original but changed the angle of the ship. Sadly, the other detail copied across from the UK editions are all the words cluttering up the cover.

Which is your favourite? Mine is the Serbian edition, but I’d love to know if this one will divide everyone as thoroughly as last week’s offering.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Obelisk Gate Book 2 of The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

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I’ve recently reviewed the first book in the series, The Fifth Season, here and was delighted to hear that it has garnered the 2016 Hugo Award for best novel. While I haven’t read the rest, it blew me away and is certainly my favourite read of the year so far. So will The Obelisk Gate be able to live up to the very high bar Jemisin set with The Fifth Season?

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.

The first recommendation I’d make is DON’T pick up this one if you haven’t already had the pleasure of reading The Fifth Season, what with the continuation of the unusual pov – in second person ‘you’ for one of the main protagonists, the slightly fractured nature of the narrative time and the density and richness of this odd, dystopian world, I think it would be an almighty struggle to work out what was happening. The Obelisk Gate pretty much takes up the story where The Fifth Season finishes and Jemisin doesn’t hold up the action to explain the story so far… So if it was a while ago you read the first book, then I’d have a quick skim just to remind yourself of exactly what was going on, just so you can fully appreciate this extraordinary story.

I was slightly concerned that the unfolding story might slide into a more predictable pattern, or the intensity of The Fifth Season might slump. Nope. I was immediately whisked back into this desperate situation, bonding with these spiky, difficult characters. They are people I’d rather never encounter in my daily life – all carrying emotional baggage and scrabbling to survive, they are lethal. However, I found them all engrossing, such that several times I read with a lump in my throat and on one occasion had to blink back the tears – not something that happens all that often to me, these days.

Any grizzles? Nassun is only ten years old and during the first part of the book, I never forgot that fact, but as she is steadily pulled further into the middle of the action, I don’t think she continues to realistically act like a ten-year-old. Even an amazingly talented, traumatised child surrounded by people she knows want to harm her… That said, it isn’t a dealbreaker and if I didn’t spend a chunk of my normal life around that age-group, I probably wouldn’t have even registered it as an issue.

Other than that, the story of the Earth, whose constant geological instability has spawned new species adapted to this state of affairs, continues to unwind as humanity struggles to avoid extinction. Marvellous, momentous stuff demonstrating a wonderful imagination that had me buzzing with excitement long after I finished the book. I’m now desperate to read the third one…
9/10