Tag Archives: troubled hero

Review of Indie KINDLE Ebook Subversive by Paul Grzegorzek

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London, 2123. A century after ebola-bombs decimated the population, PC Sean Weaver of the Combined Police Force is a drone operative tasked with enforcing the Government’s dictatorial rule. Nearly anything and everything is considered Subversive and the people huddle behind ever-watched walls, under threat of forced labour on The Farms for the smallest infraction. Trust is nearly impossible to come by and terrorists could be anywhere. Trapped within this oppressive regime, Sean has to make do with small, secretive acts of rebellion lest he end up on The Farms himself. Until, that is, the day he witnesses the mass murder of hundreds of civilians. Events quickly spiral out of control, propelling him into a bloody and brutal conflict where he finds himself faced with the ultimate choice. Accept his fate and bury the truth, or fight back and become… Subversive.

I reviewed Grzegorzek’s apocalyptic adventure Flare – see my review here – which I thoroughly enjoyed. But this sci fic dystopian thriller hits the ground running and the pace doesn’t ease up until the climactic ending. Sean is one of the novel’s strength’s – he is a likeable chap who can certainly handle himself in a scrap and quite right, too, as he is a trained PC. However, while he is at the heart of all the action and manages to attract trouble like a magnet attracts iron filings, Grzegorzek manages to avoid his depiction of Sean becoming too invincible. While he is horrified at the wanton slaughter of fellow Londoners and wants to do the right thing, he is also reluctant to risk his own family or endure too much physical pain. In other words, he is just like you and me – which made me warm to him and care about what happens to him.

The other outstanding aspect of this book is the twisting plot, which kicks off when Sean sees something he shouldn’t. Immediately, he finds himself hauled into the middle of a plot to wipe out the terrorists who are held responsible for the incident and I settled into the book, thinking I knew how it was all going to play out – only to find within the next handful of pages, it all flips around and something else is going on. The speed at which Sean experiences reverses and finds himself in the middle of desperate situations reminded me of Darrow’s struggles in Pierce Brown’s Red Rising series.

Grzegorzek’s depiction of a ravaged London, particularly the grim state of the underground stations, are memorable and provide a suitable backdrop for the desperate battles that are played out. The technology is believable and I was also pleased at Grzegorzek’s explanation of why a fair proportion of the population are now behaving like mindless sheep and showing slavish obedience to a corrupt and unpleasant form of government.

All in all, this was a cracking read – and as the first book of 2018, I was delighted it was such an entertaining book. Recommended for fans of dystopian and post-apocalyptic thrillers.
9/10

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Friday Faceoff – Hubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble…

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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 and is currently hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog. This week the theme is a cover featuring a potion or perfume bottle, so I’ve stretched the idea of a potion a little further and selected Strong Poison – Book 6 of the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers.

 

This cover, produced by HarperCollins Publishers in October 1987, is boring given the fabulous premise and what is at stake in this stunning book. Wimsey’s unexpected burst of passion for a desperate woman fighting for her life doesn’t remotely factor into this vanilla cover. There’s nothing innately wrong with it, other than its complete lack of excitement or connection with the gripping content.

 

This edition was produced by Open Road Media in July 2012 and looks as if it took all of 10 minutes using an off-the-shelf graphics program. This book deserves better.

 

Published in March 1995 by HarperTorch, this cover is deliberately harking back to the 1930s when this book first appeared. The large title font and relatively small area given over to the artwork may not be to my taste, but I can at least respect the care and attention that has gone into the drawing, which takes three crucial scenes from the book and illustrates them.

 

This HarperCollins offering, published in 1993, ticks all the boxes as far as I’m concerned. I love the punchy colours and strong art deco feel, along with the detailed depiction of the crucial medium scene in the book. This is my favourite – I even like the black edging, which is unusual for me. But this time around, it has the period styling and small details that turn it into part of the cover rather than a blank interruption of the artwork that so many of these solid blocks of colour and bordering tend to do.

 

Produced in October 2009, this pink and grey effort by Hodder & Stoughton will certainly draw the eye and is clearly designed to work as a thumbnail. The imagery is stark and crude in comparison to some of the earlier efforts and the colour garish, but I suppose it grabs the attention. However, it doesn’t do the book justice in my opinion. Which is your favourite?

ANNDDD…

Chuckles at Chuckles Book Cave is promoting both Running Out of Space and Dying for Space

ANNDDD…

Mello & June, It’s a Book Thang are featuring an except from Dying for Space

Review of The Medusa’s Daughter – Book 1 of The Mask of Medusa series by T.O. Munro

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I met the author during a late-night session at the bar at Bristolcon 2016 – a marvellous evening and it ended up with him giving me a review copy. I’m ashamed it’s taken me so long to get around to reading it…

Haunted by very different pasts, three travellers journey together across a continent riven by clashes of faith and race. Odestus, the war criminal flees from justice. Persapha, new to all things human, yearns for a way and a place to belong. Marcus Fenwell, schooled in diverse talents, seeks a future beyond a wine bottle. But past and future entwine to snare them all, for the Medusa has not been forgotten nor her daughter forgiven.

As it happens, that very snappy, non-spoiler blurb neatly sums up the ongoing structure of the book. We follow the fortunes of all three of these interesting characters as events unspool around them. This is complicated by the fact that one of the characters is in a very tricky position in a timeline ahead of when the rest of the action takes place.

Munro certainly knows how to wind up the tension as we witness one of the protagonists being interrogated in fairly dire circumstances – before switching to one of the other characters. The focus of the book is the title heroine, Persapha, who has had a very peculiar start in life, having been hatched from an egg and raised by reptiles. We are alongside as she starts to pick her way through a busy city filled with humans, who she finds difficult to understand. I found myself genuinely concerned on her behalf as the dangerously innocent girl uses her mother’s mask to try and discover what happened to her.

The magic system is skilfully handled and I really enjoyed the world, which works well. There are some nice twists in the political landscape that I appreciated and the characterisation is convincing with plenty of depth. However, I was more distanced from the main protagonists than I would have liked as Munro tends to drift out of viewpoint and into a semi-omniscient point of view. While I am aware that plenty of readers still enjoy this story-telling structure, it gives the book a slightly old-fashioned feel and left me a little frustrated. Given the depth and complexity of the characters, I would have appreciated a more immersive approach to fully hook me into the story, though this is very much a personal preference.

That said, it is still very well written with plenty going on and a gathering momentum towards the end. Before it all comes to a juddering halt. Not a single storyline is resolved – every single one of the main plotlines is left on a cliffhanger after reading over 600 pages. I am aware that a second book is in the works, but I would have liked some payoff for getting to the end of the first volume in this series.
8/10

Friday Faceoff – Do not go gentle…

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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 and is currently hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog. This week the theme is a cover featuring night, or the dark, so I’ve chosen Knights of the Borrowed Dark – Book 1 of Knights of the Borrowed Dark trilogy by Dave Rudden.

 

This cover, produced by Puffin in April 2016, is not my favourite, but like all these covers it is a strong contender. I like the fact that Denizen looks the right age and as the light pours from his hands, the creatures lurking in the gloom are suitably menacing, thus accurately reflecting the content in this outstanding children’s fantasy series. I love the strapline, but I’m not a fan of the title font, which is rather boring.

 

This edition was produced by Puffin in January 2017 has a more grandiose backdrop, though the boy looks older which I think is a bit of a shame. That said, the excellent writing and great adventure ought to be enjoyed by anyone in their early teens, as well as younger children. The title font is still rather boring, but reasonably inoffensive and the cover still accurately reflects the content.

 

Published in August 2016 by Random House, I really like this cover. The sword wreathed in blue coruscating fire glows from the cover, as the dark roils in the background. As for the title font – that’s just what a cool title like this needs! The title now delivers depth and suitable awesomeness that promises – and delivers – a cracking adventure you won’t easily forget. This is my second favourite cover.

 

This German offering, published in April 2016 by Sauerländer ticks all the boxes as far as I’m concerned. I love the cover as it features the depth and breadth of the world, with Denizen standing in the middle. I also like the font, which is attractively displayed and again, reinforces the impression that this is a strong series with a gritted struggle between Light and Dark. This cover is my favourite. What about you – which of these is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Deadly Dance – Book 1 of the D.I. David Vogel by Hilary Bonner

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I was drawn to this one because it is set in Bristol and the fact it is the first in a series, so I requested the arc.

The discovery of the partially-clothed body of a teenage girl in the heart of Bristol’s red light district indicates a tragic yet familiar scenario. But this marks the start of a baffling murder investigation where nothing is as it first appears. Fourteen-year-old Melanie Cooke told her mother she was visiting a school friend. Who was she really going to meet? Detective Inspector David Vogel is led towards three very different principal protagonists, each of whom grows increasingly chilling. But are they what they seem? And is any one of them capable of murder? A darkly complex secret lies behind Melanie’s death – and its ultimate revelation will shock Vogel and his team to the core.

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure whether I’d done the right thing in requesting this murder mystery thriller. There are four narrators throughout this tense thriller – D.I. Vogel’s point of view, which is in third person and three first-person viewpoints, who are three tormented young men who are struggling to fit into society – Leo, Al and Saul. As we keep returning to their ongoing battles to come to terms with their impulses, I found myself feeling some sympathy with the crippling loneliness that is evident within all three of them.

By comparison, I found David’s character rather pallid – he isn’t exactly Mr Charisma anyway, but while it becomes increasingly imperative that he solves the mystery, I was tempted to skim his scenes at home with his wife. The third person viewpoint simply doesn’t have the punch and immediacy of the three antagonists – I’m assuming this device is a deliberate ploy, but I don’t think it is wholly successful. It seems to me that one of the major tasks of a first book is to establish the protagonist as a strong, sympathetic character, even if he isn’t completely likeable and I’m not sure that Bonner has ticked that box with this book.

Where she triumphantly succeeds however, is in delivering a gripping page-turner. For as the story progresses, each of these three characters are increasingly mired in a mess of their own making. I was watching each of them begin to unravel and there was no question of my putting the book down until I discovered who did what to whom. The gathering tension as the stakes are steadily raised and the handling of the denouement and resulting fallout is beautifully handled. This book is recommended for those who like their police procedural thrillers tense and gritty. While I obtained the arc of Deadly Dance from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review
8/10

Friday Faceoff – The Pen is Mightier than the Sword

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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 and is currently hosted by Lynn’s Book Blog. This week the theme is a cover featuring a fancy font, so I’ve chosen Assassin’s Apprentice – Book 1 of The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb.

 

This cover, produced by Spectra in March 1996, is not my favourite, however I still like it. The content is directly applicable to the cover and I particularly like the shadowed stag and birds wheeling in the air. While my preference is not to have the main character featured on the cover – it always jars with my mental image – this depiction isn’t offensively different, other than being rather better fed and groomed than the scrawny, feral character I always imagined Fitz to be.

 

This edition was produced by Voyager in March 1996 and is far less eye-catching. The generic ship in a rough sea could be headed anywhere and the small inset headshots don’t really add very much. I do like the design around the title and author fonts, which are at least an improvement on the usual wretched rectangular blocks plonked in the middle of the artwork. However, the overall greyness wouldn’t encourage me to pluck this one off the shelves.

 

Published in November 2002 by Spectra, edition manages to evoke the sense of magic. The deep blue is attractive and I like the fact that Fitz is stroking a dog while Spymaster Chade has his hand upon the boy’s head in a somewhat threatening manner. The castle in the background emphasises the sense that Fitz isn’t free to come and go as he pleases. Overall, I think this cover works really well and is a close contender.

 

This edition, published in 2011 by Voyager fulfils the brief as far the fancy font is concerned and also happens to be my favourite. Given that Fitz is writing his memoirs throughout this trilogy, I really like the effect that this is an old parchment and the lovely flowing font is both beautiful and eye-catching.

 

This Spanish edition also caught my eye – and this time the fancy font is featuring Robin Hobb’s name, which seems a smart marketing move, given just how famous she is. Published in June 2014 by Plaza & Janés México, I love the layers of action fading into the sky as the boy on horseback trots through the landscape, looking rather lonely. Which one is your favourite?

Teaser Tuesday – 28th November, 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:

Bound – Book 8 of the Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka
p. 60 I started walking south, along the towpath and Talisid matched my pace. ‘I understand that your current situation is less than ideal,’ he offered when I didn’t speak.
‘That’s something of an understatement.’
‘We’d be willing to offer compensation.’
‘Do you know what Richard would do if he found out that I was spying on him?’
‘No.’
‘Nothing,’ I said. ‘Not personally. He’d give me to Morden instead. Or if he was feeling really sadistic, to Vihaela. Do you know what they would do?’

BLURB: Alex Verus can see the future. But he never thought he’d see this day. Manoeuvred by forces beyond his control, the probability mage has made a terrible choice: he’s agreed to work for his old master once more.
Richard Drakh, the sadistic dark mage Alex escaped as an apprentice, has him in his clutches again. And this time, he won’t let go so easily.

I love this series – see my review here of the first book Fated. Benedict’s depiction of a  mage with prescient abilities is outstanding. So when I saw this one on the library shelves, I had to have it. And it’s immediately pulled me into Alex’s dire situation… I’ll be reviewing this one in due course.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of INDIE arc The Hidden Face – Book 1 of The Fifth Unmasking series by S.C. Flynn

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This puzzle-driven epic fantasy was offered to me by the author as I had read and reviewed his debut novel Children of the Different. Would this one impress me as much?

A face without a face – an unmasking that leaves the mask. Once every few hundred years the sun god, the Akhen, takes on human form and descends to earth. Each Unmasking of the Face of the Akhen ends one era and begins another; the last one created the Faustian Empire. Where and when will the Face next appear, and who will he – or she – be?

Dayraven, son of a great hero, returns to Faustia after years as a hostage of their rivals, the Magians. Those years have changed him, but Faustia has changed as well; the emperor Calvo now seems eccentric and is controlled by one of Dayraven’s old enemies. Following the brutal murder of his old teacher, Dayraven is drawn, together with a female warrior named Sunniva, into the search for an ancient secret that would change the fate of empires.

I liked both protagonists, Dayraven in particular. In common with a lot of high-born children, he has been sent to a neighbouring kingdom as surety for good behaviour and brought up in their court. But while he expected to return home within a handful of years, he has to wait a lot longer before returning home to discover all is changed – and not in a good way. Flynn’s unfussy writing style quickly drew me into the story as Dayraven finds out just who his enemies are, while he hurries to meet up with his former tutor and mentor.

And from then, the story nocks up another notch and we are whisked along with Dayraven, who begins to appreciate there is a lot more at stake than Emperor Calvo’s current mental confusion. Once he encounters Sunniva and they form a team, they begin to try to unpick the trail of clues left behind by the two guardians of these vital secrets. Together, they manage to uncover part of the mystery – but a number of formidable antagonists are in close pursuit.

I have seen this book rated as YA – do be aware that while the puzzle-solving aspect may appeal to teens, this one isn’t suitable for a younger age-group. I would not be happy to discover my thirteen-year-old granddaughter reading it as there is a fair amount of sexual content, including a rather explicit sex scene.

Other than that concern, I enjoyed this one. I particularly appreciated the depiction of the antagonists as we discover their motives and why they are trying to find out where the Fifth Unmasking will take place. This works well in powering the story forward as the reader is left in no doubt as to what will happen should the secrets fall into the wrong hands.

The storyline comes to a climactic denouement with plenty of action and drama that had the pages turning and bringing this particular slice of the adventure to a satisfactory close – though there are several major plotpoints left dangling as the story evidently will be continued in the next book. Recommended for epic fantasy fans with a taste for arcane mysteries embedded within the worldbuilding.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of NETGALLEY arc Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang

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I liked the look of the cover and the sound of the first part of the blurb – which is far too long
and chatty for my taste – so requested this one from Netgalley. I’m so glad I did.

Orphaned, raised by wolves, and the proud owner of a horned pig named Merlin, Weylyn Grey knew he wasn’t like other people. But when he single-handedly stopped that tornado on a stormy Christmas day in Oklahoma, he realized just how different he actually was.

This wasn’t remotely what I was expecting. What I thought I was getting was an urban fantasy tale of a werewolf with something of a Jungle Book twist. What this book actually covers is the life of Weylyn Grey, mostly through the viewpoint of people who come into contact with him and whose lives he affects. From the time he is found roaming around the forests with a pack of wolves, he is clearly unusual. But other odd things continue to happen around him.

Given this is set in contemporary America, these unusual talents don’t encourage Weylyn to don a spandex suit featuring a cape and his underpants over his tights – instead they are a constant concern as they often put those around him in acute danger. There is a particularly poignant scene just over halfway through the book where we learn why he hates snow so much.

There are a number of viewpoint characters throughout this book – something I’m not normally a huge fan of. Some of them only feature for a single section, while others return more than once. But each one plays a role in Weylyn’s life as they come into contact with him and become aware of his strangeness. While it has been done before, building the characterisation of the main protagonist through the various viewpoints of a series of transitory characters is a risky strategy. This normal structure most often occurs in murder mysteries where we gradually learn about the victim through the eyes of those who knew her and the investigating team looking into her murder. If we don’t like the victim all that much, it doesn’t really matter – the issue powering the narrative drive in such stories is discovering who killed her. However, for this book to work on almost any level, we need to like and empathise with Weylyn and his plight, because if we don’t care then there’s no point in continuing to read on.

While this may be her debut novel, Lang clearly is an experienced, competent writer with a clean, unfussy writing style that quickly drew me into this book and kept me engrossed until the end. I was sufficiently invested that despite the fact that I could predict the probable ending some way off, I was perfectly happy to relax and go with the flow. And when the ending finally did come, I was left with a lump in my throat.

There is a warmth and gentleness about Weylyn that drew me to him. Lang doesn’t actually sugarcoat his life – some harsh things happen, but there is a steel core of optimism running through this book that swept me up and had me believing that in the end, the right folks would prevail. If you are looking for something a bit different with plenty of heart and adventure, along with a splash of magic realism, then this comes highly recommended.
8/10

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Netgalley arc novella Ironclads by Adrian Tchaikovsky

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I was intrigued when I saw this on the Netgalley dashboard – and obviously went for it…

Special limited edition science fiction hardcover novella by the Arthur C. Clarke Award-winning author. Only 1000 copies.

Scions have no limits. Scions do not die. And Scions do not disappear.
Sergeant Ted Regan has a problem. A son of one of the great corporate families, a Scion, has gone missing at the front. He should have been protected by his Ironclad – the lethal battle suits that make the Scions masters of war – but something has gone catastrophically wrong. Now Regan and his men, ill equipped and demoralised, must go behind enemy lines, find the missing Scion, and uncover how his suit failed. Is there a new Ironclad-killer out there? And how are common soldiers lacking the protection afforded the rich supposed to survive the battlefield of tomorrow?

This year has marked an outpouring of creativity by this talented author, who is clearly relishing flexing his writing muscles. The last book I reviewed only a few weeks ago was in the first-person viewpoint of a wardog. This offering features battle-hardened Sergeant Ted Regan, who has improbably managed to keep himself and his small team from being killed thus far in a war where ordinary troops are regarded as fodder for the scary fighting machines and near-impregnable Ironclads.

I found that once I picked this one up, it was difficult to put down. I’m not a huge fan of novellas. It takes a degree of technical skill to downsize plot progression, characterisation and worldbuilding, particularly in science fiction and fantasy settings, so that the pacing and story flow doesn’t suffer. In my frank opinion, relatively few authors can successfully pull this off – and while I think the denouement was just a tad hurried so that I had to go back and reread it to ensure I completely understood what was going on, it certainly didn’t make a major dent in my overall enjoyment of this cracking tale.

The world is a grim one. Now resources are increasingly limited, the major corporations are fighting for control of governments and land in order to continue to make money. Most people have been knocked down to subsistence levels with only the privileged few able to live in any kind of luxury. However, as is often the case, the true motivations of the savage fighting are wrapped up in grander-sounding motivations – like freedom and democracy. Those at the sharp end know only too well what a hollow sham that turns out to be and I loved Ted’s world-weary take on what is happening around him.

It means that when it all kicks off, I care about him and the small band of outmatched underdogs tasked with a Mission Impossible job. Knowing Tchaikovsky’s form, I was genuinely worried that we might lose one of the team. In the event, as the action unspooled I wasn’t going anywhere until I discovered what happened and the ending came as something of a shock. I am really hoping that this proves to be the start of a new series – I’d love to see more of this world.
9/10