Ketchup Month 2022

Well, it’s December.

Sigh.

My expectations for Ketchup Month this year are not high. In fact, I’ve had a hard time lately focusing on anything. Think I finished four books in November: an audiobook it took me over a month to get through, one reread, a novella, and an actual novel (which again took me well over a month to finish). Additionally, I published three reviews (one of which was a DNF). As such, while I had some grand scheme in mind for this year, I’m not sure just how much of it will come to fruition.

I suppose we’ll see.

ARC

The Light Pirate – by Lily Brooks-Dalton (12/06)

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Florida is slipping away. As devastating weather patterns and rising sea levels gradually wreak havoc on the state’s infrastructure, a powerful hurricane approaches a small town on the southeastern coast. Kirby Lowe, an electrical line worker; his pregnant wife, Frida; and their two sons, Flip and Lucas, prepare for the worst. When the boys go missing just before the hurricane hits, Kirby heads out into the high winds to search for them. Left alone, Frida goes into premature labor and gives birth to an unusual child, Wanda, whom she names after the catastrophic storm that ushers her into a society closer to collapse than ever before.

As Florida continues to unravel, Wanda grows. Moving from childhood to adulthood, adapting not only to the changing landscape, but also to the people who stayed behind in a place abandoned by civilization, Wanda loses family, gains community, and ultimately, seeks adventure, love, and purpose in a place remade by nature.

Told in four parts—power, water, light, and time—The Light Pirate mirrors the rhythms of the elements and the sometimes quick, sometimes slow dissolution of the world as we know it. It is a meditation on the changes we would rather not see, the future we would rather not greet, and a call back to the beauty and violence of an untamable wilderness.

City of Last Chances – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (12/08)

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There has always been a darkness to Ilmar, but never more so than now. The city chafes under the heavy hand of the Palleseen occupation, the choke-hold of its criminal underworld, the boot of its factory owners, the weight of its wretched poor and the burden of its ancient curse.


What will be the spark that lights the conflagration?


Despite the city’s refugees, wanderers, murderers, madmen, fanatics and thieves, the catalyst, as always, will be the Anchorwood – that dark grove of trees, that primeval remnant, that portal, when the moon is full, to strange and distant shores.

Ilmar, some say, is the worst place in the world and the gateway to a thousand worse places.

Ilmar,
City of Long Shadows.
City of Bad Decisions.
City of Last Chances.

Just the two ARCs this month, both of them out this first week. Haven’t cracked either of them yet, but hopefully I’ll get to one before the start of 2023.

Missed 2022 ARCs

Locklands – by Robert Jackson Bennett (6/21)

The Founders #3

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A god wages war—using all of humanity as its pawns—in the unforgettable conclusion to the Founders trilogy.

Sancia, Clef, and Berenice have gone up against plenty of long odds in the past. But the war they’re fighting now is one even they can’t win.

This time, they’re not facing robber-baron elites, or even an immortal hierophant, but an entity whose intelligence is spread over half the globe—a ghost in the machine that uses the magic of scriving to possess and control not just objects, but human minds.

To fight it, they’ve used scriving technology to transform themselves and their allies into an army—a society—that’s like nothing humanity has seen before. With its strength at their backs, they’ve freed a handful of their enemy’s hosts from servitude, even brought down some of its fearsome, reality-altering dreadnaughts. Yet despite their efforts, their enemy marches on—implacable. Unstoppable.

Now, as their opponent closes in on its true prize—an ancient doorway, long buried, that leads to the chambers at the center of creation itself—Sancia and her friends glimpse a chance at reaching it first, and with it, a last desperate opportunity to stop this unbeatable foe. But to do so, they’ll have to unlock the centuries-old mystery of scriving’s origins, embark on a desperate mission into the heart of their enemy’s power, and pull off the most daring heist they’ve ever attempted.

And as if that weren’t enough, their adversary might just have a spy in their ranks—and a last trick up its sleeve.

Eversion – by Alastair Reynolds (8/02)

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A dark, mind-bending SF adventure spread across time and space, Doctor Silas Coade has been tasked with keeping his crew safe as they adventure across the galaxy in search of a mysterious artifact, but as things keep going wrong, Silas soon realizes that something more sinister is at work, and this may not even be the first time it’s happened.

In the 1800s, a sailing ship crashes off the coast of Norway. In the 1900s, a Zepellin explores an icy canyon in Antarctica. In the far future, a spaceship sets out for an alien artifact. Each excursion goes horribly wrong. And on every journey, Dr. Silas Coade is the physician, but only Silas seems to realize that these events keep repeating themselves. And it’s up to him to figure out why and how. And how to stop it all from happening again.

Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence – by Rebecca F. Kuang (8/23)

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1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation — also known as Babel.

Babel is the world’s center of translation and, more importantly, of silver-working: the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation through enchanted silver bars, to magical effect. Silver-working has made the British Empire unparalleled in power, and Babel’s research in foreign languages serves the Empire’s quest to colonize everything it encounters.

Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairytale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down?

Babel — a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal response to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell — grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of translation as a tool of empire.

From My TBR

Black Heart, Part III: The Sacrificial Altar

Artesia #2 / Black Heart #3

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As this is the third part of the story around Black Heart, I’ll just give you the blurb from Part #1. So far, I’ve quite enjoyed the story and can’t wait to finish it out!

The last survivors of the raid on the Barrow of Azharad have scattered to the four winds, each walking a separate path. For some, it is the path of noble service, as the households of great kings and warlords beckon, offering a chance to enter the fray of politics with the fate of nations on the line. For others, it is the path of secrets and magic, as the veil of the world parts to reveal the hidden truths that dwell in shadow and spirit.

And for Stjepan Black-Heart, royal cartographer and suspected murderer, it is the path of battle and sacrifice, as he is summoned to attend the household of the Grand Duke Owen Lis Red, the Earl Marshal to the High King of the Middle Kingdoms, on his latest campaign to find and kill Porloss, the Rebel Earl: an elusive quarry lurking behind an army of ruthless renegade knights in the wild hills of the Manon Mole, a land where every step could be your last, and where lie secrets best left undisturbed.

The Winter Road – by Adrian Selby

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The greatest empire of them all began with a road.

The Circle – a thousand miles of perilous forests and warring clans. No one has ever tamed such treacherous territory before, but ex-soldier Teyr Amondsen, veteran of a hundred battles, is determined to try.

With a merchant caravan protected by a crew of skilled mercenaries, Amondsen embarks on a dangerous mission to forge a road across the untamed wilderness that was once her home. But a warlord rises in the wilds of the Circle, uniting its clans and terrorising its people. Teyr’s battles may not be over yet . . .

All roads lead back to war.

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn – by Tyler Whitesides

Kingdom of Grit #1

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Think I’ll ever actually get to any of these? I’ve been talking about Ardor Benn for at least a solid year at this point, but am no closer to reading it. Maybe now’s the time.

“I’m hiring you to steal the king’s crown.”

Ardor Benn is no ordinary thief. Rakish, ambitious, and master of wildly complex heists, he styles himself a Ruse Artist Extraordinaire.

When a priest hires him for the most daring ruse yet, Ardor knows he’ll need more than quick wit and sleight of hand. Assembling a dream team of forgers, disguisers, schemers, and thieves, he sets out to steal from the most powerful king the realm has ever known.

But it soon becomes clear there’s more at stake than fame and glory -Ard and his team might just be the last hope for human civilization.

2nd Chance ARCs

Have you seen some of the shit that I’ve been DNFing this year? Seriously, it’s insane. The sheer amount of my most anticipated books for this year, several that I KNOW must be good, that I SWEAR are good—and I can’t get through them for one reason or another. Thus, here are a few that I burned out on (not because I hated them, but just because THIS YEAR), that I’d like to take a second shot at—one of them while 2022 is still at present. The others will have to wait.

In other news, I’m still planning a “The Best Books I DNFed, 2022 Edition” for later in the month.

In the Shadow of Lightning – by Brian McClellan (6/21)

Glass Immortals #1

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I’m not going to lie, there’s a 90% chance the book I choose will be this one. The reason I burned out on it was that I got it as an audiobook and didn’t quite love the reader. But now I have it in physical form, well…

Demir Grappo is an outcast—he fled a life of wealth and power, abandoning his responsibilities as a general, a governor, and a son. Now he will live out his days as a grifter, rootless, and alone. But when his mother is brutally murdered, Demir must return from exile to claim his seat at the head of the family and uncover the truth that got her killed: the very power that keeps civilization turning, godglass, is running out.

Now, Demir must find allies, old friends and rivals alike, confront the powerful guild-families who are only interested in making the most of the scraps left at the table and uncover the invisible hand that threatens the Empire. A war is coming, a war unlike any other. And Demir and his ragtag group of outcasts are the only thing that stands in the way of the end of life as the world knows it.

The Hunger of the Gods – by John Gwynne (4/14)

Bloodsworn Saga #2

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Lik-Rifa, the dragon god of legend, has been freed from her eternal prison. Now she plots a new age of blood and conquest.

As Orka continues the hunt for her missing son, the Bloodsworn sweep south in a desperate race to save one of their own – and Varg takes the first steps on the path of vengeance.

Elvar has sworn to fulfil her blood oath and rescue a prisoner from the clutches of Lik-Rifa and her dragonborn followers, but first she must persuade the Battle-Grim to follow her.

Yet even the might of the Bloodsworn and Battle-Grim cannot stand alone against a dragon god.

Their hope lies within the mad writings of a chained god. A book of forbidden magic with the power to raise the wolf god Ulfrir from the dead . . . and bring about a battle that will shake the foundations of the earth.

Empire of Exiles – by Erin M. Evans (11/08)

Books of the Usurper #1

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Twenty-seven years ago, a Duke with a grudge led a ruthless coup against the empire of Semilla, killing thousands. He failed. The Duke was executed, a terrifyingly powerful sorcerer was imprisoned, and an unwilling princess disappeared. 

The empire moved on. 

Now, when Quill, an apprentice scribe, arrives in the capital city, he believes he’s on a simple errand for another pompous noble: fetch ancient artifacts from the magical Imperial Archives. He’s always found his apprenticeship to a lawman to be dull work. But these aren’t just any artifacts — these are the instruments of revolution, the banners under which the Duke lead his coup. 

Just as the artifacts are unearthed, the city is shaken by a brutal murder that seems to have been caused by a weapon not seen since the days of rebellion. With Quill being the main witness to the murder, and no one in power believing his story, he must join the Archivists — a young mage, a seasoned archivist, and a disillusioned detective — to solve the truth of the attack. And what they uncover will be the key to saving the empire – or destroying it again.

Age of Ash – by Daniel Abraham (2/15)

Kithamar #1

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This one, more than any of the others, is a gamble. Because I did find Age of Ash a bit of a snooze. But I remember being intrigued by the story and—unlike Dead Silence—didn’t find the protagonist completely unrealistic. Not likely to try this one in 2022, but it’s possible, I suppose.

Kithamar is a center of trade and wealth, an ancient city with a long, bloody history where countless thousands live and their stories unfold. This is Alys’s.

When her brother is murdered, a petty thief from the slums of Longhill sets out to discover who killed him and why. But the more she discovers about him, the more she learns about herself, and the truths she finds are more dangerous than knives.

Swept up in an intrigue as deep as the roots of Kithamar, where the secrets of the lowest born can sometimes topple thrones, the story Alys chooses will have the power to change everything.

Advance ARCs

The Shadow Casket – by Chris Wooding (2/16/23)

Darkwater Legacy #2

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The follow-up to my Book of 2018, I CANNOT WAIT to get into this one!! And at 852 pages, I’m sure to need a decent start on it…

A BAND OF REBELS.
A TRAITOR IN THEIR MIDST.
A REVOLUTION ABOUT TO BEGIN.

It’s been three years since Aren seized the Ember Blade. Three years since they struck the spark they hoped would ignite the revolution. But the flame has failed to catch. The Krodans have crushed Ossia in an iron grip of terror. The revolution seems further away than ever.

Far in the north, the Dawnwardens seek to unite the fractious clans of the Fell Folk and create a stronghold from which to retake their land. But even if they can overcome the danger of treachery from within, they still have to contend with the dreadknights. Only the druidess Vika can resist these near-unstoppable foes, and there’s only one of her.

But what if there was a weapon that could destroy the dreadknights? A weapon of such power it could turn the tide? A weapon that, if it fell into the wrong hands, might mean the end of all hope?

The Shadow Casket has returned from out of the past, and it will save or damn them all.

Episode Thirteen – by Craig DiLouie (1/24/23)

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I was actually planning to start this at the beginning of the month, but it’s taken me longer than I’d figured to finish All of Our Demise. Granted, I also had halfassed plans of reading this in October, so wtf knows.

Fade to Black is the newest hit ghost hunting reality TV show. It’s led by husband and wife team Matt and Claire Kirklin and features a dedicated crew of ghost-hunting experts.
 
Episode Thirteen takes them to Matt’s holy grail: the Paranormal Research Foundation. This crumbling, derelict mansion holds secrets and clues about the bizarre experiments that took place there in the 1970s. It’s also, undoubtably, haunted, and Matt hopes to use their scientific techniques and high tech gear to prove it. 

But, as the house begins to slowly reveal itself to them, proof of an afterlife might not be everything Matt dreamed of. 
  
A story told in broken pieces, in tapes, journals, correspondence, and research files, this is the story of Episode Thirteen — and how everything went horribly wrong. 

The Sanctuary – by Katrine Engberg (2/07/23)

Kørner & Werner #4

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Jeppe Kørner, on leave from the police force and nursing a broken heart, has taken refuge on the island of Bornholm for the winter. Also on the island is Esther de Laurenti, a writer working on a biography on a female anthropologist with a mysterious past and coming to terms with her own crushing sense of loneliness in the wake of a dear friend’s death. When Jeppe lends a helping hand at the island’s local sawmill, he begins to realize that the island may not be the peaceful refuge it appears to be.

Back in Copenhagen, Anette Werner is tasked with leading the investigation into a severed corpse discovered on a downtown playground. As she follows the strange trail of clues, they all seem to lead back to Bornholm. With an innocent offer to check out a lead, Jeppe unwittingly finds himself in the crosshairs of a sinister mystery rooted in the past, forcing him to team up with Anette and Esther to unravel the island’s secrets before it’s too late.

Antimatter Blues – by Edward Ashton (3/14/23)

Mickey7 #2

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Summer has come to Niflheim. The lichens are growing, the six-winged bat-things are chirping, and much to his own surprise, Mickey Barnes is still alive—that last part thanks almost entirely to the fact that Commander Marshall believes that the colony’s creeper neighbors are holding an antimatter bomb, and that Mickey is the only one who’s keeping them from using it. Mickey’s just another colonist now. Instead of cleaning out the reactor core, he spends his time these days cleaning out the rabbit hutches. It’s not a bad life.

It’s not going to last.

It may be sunny now, but winter is coming. The antimatter that fuels the colony is running low, and Marshall wants his bomb back. If Mickey agrees to retrieve it, he’ll be giving up the only thing that’s kept his head off of the chopping block. If he refuses, he might doom the entire colony. Meanwhile, the creepers have their own worries, and they’re not going to surrender the bomb without getting something in return. Once again, Mickey finds the fate of two species resting in his hands. If something goes wrong this time, though, he won’t be coming back.

Life

Life: it’s that thing that keeps going and going, even if you get sick and need to get off. And lately it’s been a bit rude.

Sigh.

My headspace has been rather poor lately, which has made it really hard to focus on anything. Sufficient to say you’ll probably hear less from me until it settles.

I’m feeling increasingly despondent about my job; I like it well enough, but my hours and shifts have been cut again, which has put me in a few niche positions that I can’t exactly advance from. In short, it’s no longer the career that I’d hoped it might become. And even if it was… I’m no longer the person that might accept it. Something has to change. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what it is I want, so it’ll take some time and some patience—two things that are typically my strong suits, yet at the moment… I’m not finding them easy. I’ve been trying to figure out what I want since I lost my archaeology gig five years back.

I’m just getting tired of waiting. Searching. Coming up empty.

Geez that was depressing—sorry bout that. Been in and out of it more and more lately. I really need a change. We’ll just have to wait and see what that is exactly.

Dunno what the future holds for me exactly, but I know I’m going to have to explore a bit more before I find my place in it.

Note: Can you tell I was in two rather different moods when I wrote and edited this? I stopped reading it after a bit, as I figured that if I kept on, I’d just end up rewriting everything.

So, how’s your year been? Or your November? Any radical plans for December? Any ideas for what I want to do with my life? I’d love to hear.

The Dark Between the Trees – by Fiona Barnett (Review)

standalone

Horror, Gothic

Solaris/Rebellion; October 11, 2022

304 pages (ebook)

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6 / 10 ✪

Please beware minor spoilers for the Dark Between the Trees.

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Solaris/Rebellion, and NetGalley for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

In 1643, two soldiers from the Roundhead company—a unit of Parliamentarian soldiers—stumble into the small village of Tapford, wounded and shaken. Here, the men are taken and gaoled for desertion. Only one man, Thomas Edgeworth, sees the sunrise the following day, his companion, Josiah Moody, having succumbed to his injuries during the night. Upon asking to speak with a local priest, he tells his tale, the one that eventually drew Dr. Alice Christopher to him—and to the Corrigal.

Onto the present day, which finds five women heading into the confines of Moresby Wood in an effort to trace the footsteps of the Roundhead company, as provided by Edgeworth, the sole survivor of the incident. In addition to the stories and legends passed down by locals over the years, the history of Roundhead company remains one of the most promising pieces of the puzzle—a tale that Alice has staked her entire career on.

And so, while Dr. Christopher leads her team of wardens and grad students into the Wood, some 350 years prior, Captain Alexander Davies leads his company of seventeen men into Moresby as well. Neither know what they’ll find here—though one has a much better idea.

Something dark lurks in Moresby Wood. Something ancient, something unnatural.

The Corrigal.

I was surprised by just how much of this book wasn’t about the Corrigal. I mean, the starring, almost titular villain, and it plays just a footnote to the real mystery of Moresby: that of the… what exactly?

There’s a witch in there—or so it’s said, as we never see one. Like the Corrigal, after a time it’s just abandoned in place of… a mystery.

But let’s not get too far ahead.

The Dark Between the Trees starts out as a gothic, atmospheric horror story, set in the disorientating and often claustrophobic confines of Moresby Wood—a place that might’ve been lightened up somewhat had anyone had the idea of climbing a tree. Plastered by rain and often choked by mist, the two groups follow more or less the same pathways along their journey to the center of the mystery—one to find what has befallen the other. There are two main POVs: that of Dr. Christopher’s group, and that of Captain Davies. They are told in alternating form, with the two groups progressing at around the same rate. It actually works quite well, for a time, as the tension and atmosphere of the tale plays well in the confines of the Wood.

The dueling legends of the Corrigal and the Witch wreak havoc with each group, albeit for different reasons. The scientists are divided in two on the legend—between skeptics and believers. The soldiers, on the other hand, are divided into three—those that fear the Witch (and through her the Devil), those that fear the Corrigal (an ancient beast predating religion), and those that scoff at both notions. It’s honestly hard for me to pick which group I related to more, as I think they’re all a bit disillusioned. The Witch never really materializes into anything. The Corrigal does, but likewise is dropped in favor of the more mysterious mystery. A mystery which I still don’t really understand even though it was the center of the last handful of chapters.

Okay, so what am I saying here? I realize it’s a bit confusing, as even I’m a bit confused. The story was good until it wasn’t. The atmosphere, the tension, the plot all start off strong, but wither long before the end. I experienced some genuinely terrifying moments when we are at last confronted by the Corrigal, but then it’s whisked away and never really holds the same place in the story again. The end was confusing. And a letdown. Not to mention a complete departure from the rest of the book. The pacing—again, which started off quite well, and continued that way for most of the tale—went to pieces near the close. The characters followed its lead.

So… pretty much what I’m saying is that the Dark Between the Trees is 50-80% of a good book. After that it’s a book, and after that it’s just confusing and dark. I… wouldn’t recommend it, but I’d keep an eye on the author, as this was her debut, and there’s a lot to like in this story. Just maybe not enough.

My Favorite Scifi Books of 2022 (So Far) #ScifiMonth2022

So, as my first—and possibly only—contribution to Scifi Month 2022, here are my six favorite science fiction releases from 2022 (thus far). In no particular order, since I really do enjoy giving my top books of the year.

I would like to mention that there are several appealing books that I haven’t yet gotten around to reading this year. As opposed to links and titles, I’m just going to throw a bunch of covers up at the end.

“It is a supremely cruel thing to have your mind conjure a desire which it is functionally unable to realize.”

Upgrade is another Blake Crouch thriller—this one centering around Logan Ramsay, federal agent, and son of the most infamous gene criminal in history. Everything he’s done following his arrest has been to distance himself from his family’s shadow, and from the child he once was. But when he’s infected by what surely is the evolution of his late mother’s work, a virus that makes him smarter, faster, stronger, Logan must confront his past demons. And do it all while trying to keep the virus from spreading across the globe.

Training was one hundred percent about dying. I don’t remember them dedicating much time at all to staying alive.

Mickey7 is the sixth iternation of Mickey Barnes, the only expendable on the ice world Niflheim. His job is simple: do whatever dangerously stupid jobs still require a human, or those that are so insanely irresponsible as to void the insurance on any equipment that might break in the process. Which, as you might expect, means he dies a lot. Luckily, there’s a printer on-site ready to pop out another clone whenever Mickey fails to return from a mission. Unluckily, Mickey7 just returned from his latest mission to find Mickey8 in his bed—a mistake that could see both clones die painfully and for good, if anyone else ever finds out.

“My fellows are really not happy with you, Torquell.”
It’s such an understatement you blink. “Good?” you try.

Ogres are bigger than you. Ogres are stronger than you. And that’s why Ogres rule the world. From an idyllic corner of the world comes Torquell: precocious scoundrel, son of the headmaster, next in line to lick the boots of the overlords. But Torquell’s not in the mind to lick any boots. Not when he kills the Ogre in charge of his corner of the world. And no human kills a Master and lives. Indeed, Torquell may just be another footnote in the margins of history—or maybe he can rewrite it.

“The screens in the hall are all glitching red, and judging by the frantic way Miles and his father are assaulting their keypads, this isn’t a marketing stunt; it’s a breach.
We’re being hacked.”

18-year-old Sil Sarrah is the pride of the Mindwalker program—her perfect record a shining beacon to any would-be client, or a well-deserved shiner to any would-be competition—at least, until she fails a mission and is forced to go rogue. Now, alone and hunted, Sil must risk the only course that can get her reinstated: infiltrate the Analog Army—a terrorist group and the biggest thorn in Syntex’s side. The only hope she has of returning home is to find something—anything!—that will help take the cell down. And she’s working against a clock; no Walker lives past the age of 20, most die at 18 even. Lucky for her there are no complications and the assignment is straightforward and romance-free. Lucky Sil Sarrah. Lucky…

“They invented multidimensional travel but they haven’t figured out how to make guns?”

Prison of Sleep wraps up the Journals of Zaxony Delatree (at least for now), with a thrilling if yawn-inducing chase through the æther. One day, Zax was forced to watch a patient kill herself. He fell asleep covered in her blood. And woke up somewhere else. One thousand worlds later Zax has found true love, only to lose it—twice. While he’s no closer to discovering his own place in the multiverse, he does know his purpose. At least, the one he’s decided on: to help save the multiverse from the tunneling-horror trapped outside of time, and its legion of followers trying to free the great Worm once and for all. Zax just hopes he can have a nice, quiet sleep afterwards.

They gathered in doorways and crouched beside the dresser, and in the dead of night they came out and gathered around her beside like viewers at a funeral while she lay paralyzed.

A decade ago, Sean Wren had a family, a future, and a home. And then the Ministers came to Krystrom. A dozen years and one disastrous mission later, Sean is forced to once again confront these immortal aliens—albeit in a place where they’re not the most terrifying thing around. Probably don’t make the top five, even. Aboard an abandoned ship circling a dying star, Sean must do what no human has managed in the millennia before him: unravel the secrets of immortality. And he must do it before the star supernovas, something kills him, or the Immortality Thief comes to a close. Tall order, that.

One Dark Window – by Rachel Gillig

standalone

Fantasy, Gothic, Romance

Orbit Books; September 27, 2022

392 pages (paperback)

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DNF at 92 pages

As is usual for my DNFs, this will be a fairly quick review. If I don’t like something—unless it annoys or offends me on a truly rant-worthy level—my thoughts on it are typically pretty succinct. In this case, I just didn’t meld well with it. It never claimed my attention in the first place and then just couldn’t hold it as the pages began to turn.

I mean…

Well, this was an absolutely frustrating book. Strange, uneven pacing. A plot told in starts and stops. I never understood the cards, which were such a big part of the plot (in the beginning at least). I didn’t like the romance—which had barely even begun by the time I DNFed it.

I’ve seen an incredible variation in the ratings for One Dark Window among people that I know (and whose opinions I really, actually, somewhat care about). Among the rest of everyone—it’s a hit. Overwhelmingly praised, albeit with quite a few non-rating DNFs. If you read this to the end, odds are you’ll like it. Love it, even. But if you don’t love it, it probably won’t hold your attention.

I’m actually tempted to believe that there’s a decent read here, if you can find it. But I didn’t, and it wasn’t for me. And if I’m not enjoying something, I won’t push through it in search of what everyone else can see. I don’t see it—and that’s enough for me.

I can’t thank Orbit enough for—not only granting me access to a digital ARC—but also providing me with a lovely physical copy. Sorry I didn’t like it, but that’s the chance you take, I suppose. This particular copy will be donated to my local library so that it will hopefully fall into the hands of someone(s) who will give it the love that it deserves.

Tread of Angels – by Rebecca Roanhorse (Review)

novella / standalone (?)

Fantasy, Mystery, Novella

Gallery / Saga Press; November 15, 2022

208 pages (ebook)

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5 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Gallery Books, Saga Press, and NetGalley for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

The year is 1883. Goetia is a boom town that draws the rich and poor, the ambitious and desperate, miners and prospectors, doves and demons alike in search of work, wealth, and a life to call their own. The town’s main source of income is not gold nor iron, silver nor lead, but Divinity. Goetia is a town gotten rich on mining the long dead corpses of angels and demons, fallen in the age old war that defined heaven and hell.

Celeste is a card sharp. Goetia’s native daughter, she grew up in the poorest slums but has since managed to make a name for herself, at least among some. She is also part Fallen herself, though she bears none of its marks. Something that would relieve Celeste, if not for their presence about her sister.

Mariel is a singer accused. Arrested and charged with the murder of a Virtue—law and morality enforcers who can trace their blood back to divinity as well, they despise the Fallen and their descendants purely on principle—Mariel is hauled off to a pit for execution, and it’s up to Celeste to save her. Something that may yet cost her more than just the life of her only sister.

Angels and demons, guns and dusters, corruption and ambition collide in Goetia—and it’s important to know: there are no innocents in this story.

Sadly, the mystery wasn’t terribly mysterious. As a whodunnit, it never really gets off the ground. There’s really only one person it could be and even the lead doesn’t really try to spread the blame overly long. From then it’s less of a who and more of a why. Unfortunately, this too is cleared up rather easily. Honestly, I found what happened next more entertaining than the entire mystery.

Not enough world building. The set dressing is nice enough, but the world behind is might as well be a cardboard cutout. There’s very little depth, and I’m entirely lost on much of the history and rules. Everything we know is what is told on the fly, as there’s nothing granted up front. It’s not exactly that every term or concept worth knowing has its own info-dump, however. Some things we’re just expected to figure out—but mostly, yeah, everything has its own info-dump.

Goetia reminds me of Landfall (the Boy with the Porcelain Blade). Just as Landfall is covered in a dense fog, anything outside of immediate purview in Goetia is ignored as unimportant. The outside world may as well not exist. Certainly don’t remember it being mentioned, except as a vague concept like, “I’ve stayed here too long, there’s an entire world to see”—but that’s it. I’m not getting any kind of sense of either the city or the world as a concept. They’re simply ignored unless absolutely pertinent to the story. I understand keeping the novella on track, but occasionally you can do that while giving the slightest peeks into the world beyond.

I could do without some of the references to Jesus, such as Calvary or Golgotha. In a world still reeling from an open war between heaven and hell, where angels and demons live openly alongside the humans, well, surely Jesus wouldn’t be a thing? They’re only really mentioned as descriptions, place names, but still. The story is listed as taking place in 1883—in the blurb—though this seems more about setting up the western narrative more than anything else.

Despite my criticisms of this book, I would actually be interested in seeing more of this world. Not the characters from Tread, however. I’m a fan of the angels and demons, western aesthetic. Tread of Angels reminded me quite a bit of Golgotha (from R.S. Belcher), only with a more openly biblical presence. Anyway, same concept, different story, different cast?—sure, I’m on board, let’s do this.

TL;DR

While I feel Tread of Angels—as a concept, at least—has promise, the novella itself came off a bit half-cocked. Actually, instead of the concept itself being solid—I’d say the proof of concept has promise. That’s because the chosen setting of Goetia falls a bit flat. It needs more world-building. Like, anything outside the story’s immediate purview. The entire outside world is ignored. I’m honestly not sure if it was entirely destroyed or just not designed in the first place. The mystery isn’t terribly mysterious, as the whodunnit quickly devolves into a whydunnit more than anything. The best thing I can really say about this is that as a read, it wasn’t bad. I moderately enjoyed the majority of the time I spent in Goetia, and while there’ll have to be a number of improvements to lure me back in the future, it is a world I would consider revisiting. But it needs work.

Mindwalker – by Kate Dylan (Review)

standalone (?)

Scifi, Cyberpunk, YA

Hodder & Stoughton; September 1, 2022

320 pages (ebook)
10hr 42m (audiobook)

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8.5 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Hodder & Stoughton and NetGalley for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

I apologize in advance if this is a bit rougher and more… rambly (?) than my other reviews. I’ve been struggling with my headspace for months now, and it’s affected my ability to word properly.

Eighteen-year-old Mindwalker Sil Sarrah is the best of the best at what she does. Shame she’s due to die in under twelve months, when the supercomputer grafted to her brain burns out. But while she may die young, Sil is determined to go out on top.

The Mindwalker program: the pride of the Syntex Corporation. This secret program is dedicated to commandeering agents minds from afar (with the agents’ consent, of course) and using their Walkers’ supercharged skills and supercomputer intellect to extract the agents from whatever situation they’ve gotten themselves into. After ten years in the program, Sil retains a perfect record—not a single agent lost, not a single mission failed.

A record Sil’s determined to keep; a way to ensure that her legacy survives her.

Until she fails a redacted mission on the public stage, disobeying a direct order in the process. Forced to flee the company she’s called home for over half her life, Sil is completely cut off: no way to contact her friends, no reason to contact her family, and with no resources to bring to bear—though at least she still has access to her CIP (Cerebral Intelligence Processor), Jarvis. And at least she has a plan to regain her standing, and return home.

To do so she must infiltrate the Analog Army—the biggest thorn in Syntex’s side—and do whatever she can to bring the terrorists to justice.

But after a few days on the lam, Sil already has a mounting list of problems. Not the least of which is the cocky smile and good looks of Ryder, an AA cell leader. Though there’s also the conspiracy she’s stumbled upon. “Mindjacking”, so-called as it focusses on hijacking the unwilling minds of anyone connected to the net and wearing their body like a meat-suit. Which, in this enlightened future, is pretty much anyone at all. A conspiracy that apparently centers on the one place Sil can’t go—the Syntex Corporation.

Mindwalker came out back in September to rave reviews. While it wasn’t initially on my radar—or the radars of any of my friends or followers, really—after maybe a week of scrolling through the endless praise and comments, I knew I had to read it. Set in a dystopian world where a fractured United States (yeah, I know those terms contradict one another) rules only by outsourcing so much of their process to corporate contractors, the setting for this evokes a dystopian sphere, heavy with science fiction and cyberpunk themes.

Fresh into its pages I was immediately taken with the world—albeit… less so with the plot. While done in an interesting way, Mindwalker is essentially a new take on an old classic; a dystopian world where our corporate protagonist joins up with the ragtag rebels to expose a conspiracy and win the day! I mean, it’s not exactly breaking the mold here. That said, despite this far-from-unique model, and a somewhat lacklustre romance, Mindwalker is really quite a good read.

The setting makes the story, but the characters keep the focus—and Sil is far from the eminently hatable corporate rat that I initially took her for. Stubborn, distrusting, but somehow full of emotion and passion (no, not that kind), she makes a good lead, even through the romance which usually bores me. That said, the romance in this is only really heavy at the close, and even then it never takes the pace from the overarching story completely. Lena, Jondi, Miles, even Lin and Risler help set the plot up as believable, a world made up of human characters in a plausible setting. Before long this list includes Ryder and more, but never expands beyond the memorable handful of faces, leaving a sea of nameless, faceless masses without a story or purpose. Despite the world supposedly being massive, it doesn’t feel like it from the handful of characters. I’d’ve liked to see a few more (even) throwaway characters, or randoms. Instead, we get a few bullet-sponges, soon-to-be dead’uns, and nameless guards, that Sil—despite her decade in the program—doesn’t recognize. Neither does she recognize (or at least mention) any other Walkers beyond her two friends. So, to recap: characters—great main, good supporting, but anything after that is a complete wash.

All in all, I had little problem getting into Mindwalker and—despite the fact that it took me a month to read (which I ascribe more to the goings-on in my personal life than anything of the text itself)—was never of the illusion that I’d not finish it. Though my opinion of the book isn’t exactly the golden standard that I’ve seen set for this title, it does speak well to its success. Currently on Goodreads, only 13% of all ratings are under 4 stars (9% of these are 3). Which means that even the people who don’t absolutely love this really enjoy (or quite) it.

Where was I going with this? I guess that I’d recommend it? Because I would. Pretty good read.

November 2022

If I was into the idea of lengthy titles, this would’ve been called “November 2022: the Curse of the Unplanned Hiatus”—though the hiatus in question was really just a case of reading burnout. After October 7th, when I finished the tremendous Immortality Thief, I worked on portions of five separate books. Two I eventually abandoned: one I simply couldn’t care about, the other I didn’t enjoy (and didn’t care to try). Two more, I’m still kinda working on—the Dark Between the Trees and Mindwalker—though the latter is the only one I feel any investiture in. And while I haven’t snapped out of this funk, I have finally managed to finish something.

This month has been reading hell. I had a rough idea of doing some Halloween themed lists and reads, none of which I even started on, let alone saw through. My mind wandered. The words and sentences blurred together. I couldn’t focus. The plot was fuzzy and indistinct. I couldn’t remember who any of the characters were, or why I should care. The settings still came through, for the most part, but it’s hard to read a book (and care) when all you have is a setting. Yet while I couldn’t focus on reading anything, neither did I care for writing about them. I have a few books on the backburner—ones I’ve read but don’t have reviews for. Additionally, there are some old favorites or latest reads in a series that I could’ve written up, but whenever I tried I just found my attention absent.

I’ll admit, it’s possible that this is related to something in my personal life. Hard to say; hasn’t been helping, at any rate. Could also be because my anxiety has been worse lately, or my circadian rhythm is out of whack. Again, I’d say while neither of these have been helpful, neither are they the root of the problem.

I’m pretty sure this is just a case of burnout, made worse by those other factors. It’ll pass—but it will probably take some time. As such, while I do have a few ARCs for November lined up, I probably won’t get to many (or any) of the science fiction themed reads I’d considered for Scifi Month. Also, it’s a good bet my posts will be a bit sparse for the month. But I’ll be back to it in time.

ARC

The Hollows – by Daniel Church (11/08)

Standalone

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In a lonely village in the Peak District, during the onset of a once-in-a-lifetime snow storm, Constable Ellie Cheetham finds a body. The man, a local ne’er-do-well, appears to have died in a tragic accident: he drank too much and froze to death.

But the facts don’t add up: the dead man is clutching a knife in one hand, and there’s evidence he was hiding from someone. Someone who watched him die. Stranger still, an odd mark has been drawn onto a stone beside his body.

The next victims are two families on the outskirts of town. As the storm rises and the body count grows, Ellie realises she has a terrifying problem on her hands: someone – or some thing – is killing indiscriminately, attacking in the darkness and using the storm for cover.

The killer is circling ever closer to the village. The storm’s getting worse… and the power’s just gone out.

Reckoning – by W. Michael Gear (11/08)

Donovan #6

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The sixth book in the thrilling Donovan sci-fi series returns to a treacherous alien planet where corporate threats and dangerous creatures imperil the lives of the colonists.

Three years after Ashanti spaced for Solar System, Turalon reappears in the Donovanian sky. The Corporation has returned. Donovan’s wealth is a lure for the powerful families who control the Board. Unburdened by morals, they are bringing their battle for supremacy to Port Authority and a showdown that could tear The Corporation apart.

Much to her disgust, Falise Taglioni has been chosen to ensure that her family emerges triumphant; she comes with instructions for her brother, Dek. After all, she could always manipulate him to her will. And she will again, even if she has to destroy Talina Perez in the process. And if her war with the Grunnels, Xian Chans, and Radceks destroys Port Authority in the process? Who cares?

But nothing on Donovan is static, and in the three years since Ashanti’s departure, life on the planet has hardened Kalico Aguila and the scrappy inhabitants of Port Authority. Life in the bush breeds a different kind of human, genetically altered, tough, and self-reliant. And on Donovan, determining who is predator, and who is prey has never been easy.

Meanwhile, for Kylee Simonov and her bonded quetzal, Flute, there will be a final comeuppance. Because on Donovan, blood vendetta needs to be paid. And then she’s going to town. After which, nothing will be the same.

Empire of Exiles – by Erin M. Evans (11/08)

Books of the Usurper #1

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Twenty-seven years ago, a Duke with a grudge led a ruthless coup against the empire of Semilla, killing thousands. He failed. The Duke was executed, a terrifyingly powerful sorcerer was imprisoned, and an unwilling princess disappeared. 

The empire moved on. 

Now, when Quill, an apprentice scribe, arrives in the capital city, he believes he’s on a simple errand for another pompous noble: fetch ancient artifacts from the magical Imperial Archives. He’s always found his apprenticeship to a lawman to be dull work. But these aren’t just any artifacts — these are the instruments of revolution, the banners under which the Duke lead his coup. 

Just as the artifacts are unearthed, the city is shaken by a brutal murder that seems to have been caused by a weapon not seen since the days of rebellion. With Quill being the main witness to the murder, and no one in power believing his story, he must join the Archivists — a young mage, a seasoned archivist, and a disillusioned detective — to solve the truth of the attack. And what they uncover will be the key to saving the empire – or destroying it again.

I actually started this one a while back. It has a good plot, interesting mystery and concept, and although it starts a little slow, well, I shouldn’t’ve had as much trouble with it as I did. But what can I say? Sometimes it’s just like that.

Such is life.

Tread of Angels – by Rebecca Roanhorse (11/15)

Standalone / Novella

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Celeste, a card sharp with a penchant for trouble, takes on the role of advocatus diaboli, to defend her sister Mariel, accused of murdering a Virtue, a member of the ruling class in the mining town of Goetia, in a new world of dark fantasy.

High in the remote mountains, the town of Goetia is booming as prospectors from near and far come to mine the powerful new element Divinity. Divinity is the remains of the body of the rebel Abaddon, who fell to earth during Heaven’s War, and it powers the world’s most inventive and innovative technologies, ushering in a new age of progress. However, only the descendants of those that rebelled, called Fallen, possess the ability to see the rich lodes of the precious element. That makes them a necessary evil among the good and righteous people called the Elect, and Goetia a town segregated by ancestry and class.

Celeste and Mariel are two Fallen sisters, bound by blood but raised in separate worlds. Celeste grew up with her father, passing in privileged Elect society, while Mariel stayed with their mother in the Fallen slums of Goetia. Upon her father’s death, Celeste returns to Goetia and reunites with Mariel. Mariel is a great beauty with an angelic voice, and Celeste, wracked by guilt for leaving her sister behind, becomes her fiercest protector.

When Mariel is accused of murdering a Virtue, the powerful Order of the Archangels that rule Goetia, Celeste must take on the role of Advocatus Diaboli (Devil’s Advocate) and defend her sister in the secretive courts of the Virtue. Celeste, aided by her ex-lover, Abraxas, who was once one of the rebels great generals, sets out to prove Mariel innocent. But powerful forces among the Virtues and the Elect mining barons don’t want Celeste prying into their business, and Mariel has secrets of her own. As Celeste is drawn deeper into the dark side of Goetia, she unravel a layer of lies and manipulation that may doom Mariel and puts her own immortal soul at risk, in this dark fantasy noir from the bestselling mastermind Rebecca Roanhorse.

Wormhole – by Eric Brown & Keith Brooke (11/22)

Standalone

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2110. Earth is suffering major resource shortages, and the impact of climate change is peaking, with much of the planet’s equatorial regions turned to lifeless desert and populations displaced. Colonies have been established on Mars and the Moon, but these cannot hope to sustain any more than a scant population of hundreds of citizens.

Attention has turned to the need to discover an extra-solar colony world.

European scientists, using discoveries made at CERN, have identified the means of creating a wormhole in the space-time continuum, which would allow interstellar travel. However, to do so they must first physically transport one end of the wormhole to where they want it to be, so settingup a wormhole will always rely on physical travel first of all.

A ship is sent to Mu Arae, earth-like planet discovered 10 years before. It is a journey that will take 80 years, the crew, who will eventually set up the wormhole on the planet, kept in suspended animation. But only a few years into the trip, catastrophe strikes and the ship blows up en route, killing all aboard.

2190, eighty years after the starship set out.

Gordon Kemp is a detective working in the cold case department in London. Usually he works on cases closed ten, twenty-five years earlier. Now, however, he has been assigned a murder investigation closed, unsolved, over eighty years ago. What he unearths will change history and threatens everything we know about what the powers that be have planned for Earth. The tragedy that befell the ship 80 years before is not what it seems and the past and the present are radically different to what everyone on Earth believes. We made the journey. Why has it been kept a secret?

Other Releases

The Lost Metal – by Brandon Sanderson (11/15)

Mistborn #7 / Wax & Wayne #4

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For years, frontier lawman turned big-city senator Waxillium Ladrian has hunted the shadowy organization the Set—with his late uncle and his sister among their leaders—since they started kidnapping people with the power of Allomancy in their bloodlines. When Detective Marasi Colms and her partner Wayne find stockpiled weapons bound for the Outer City of Bilming, this opens a new lead. Conflict between Elendel and the Outer Cities only favors the Set, and their tendrils now reach to the Elendel Senate—whose corruption Wax and Steris have sought to expose—and Bilming is even more entangled.

After Wax discovers a new type of explosive that can unleash unprecedented destruction and realizes that the Set must already have it, an immortal kandra serving Scadrial’s god reveals that Harmony’s power is blocked in Bilming. That means the city has fallen under the influence of another god: Trell, worshipped by the Set. And Trell isn’t the only factor at play from the larger Cosmere—Marasi is recruited by offworlders with strange abilities who claim their goal is to protect Scadrial…at any cost.

Harmony’s vision of future possibilities comes to an abrupt halt tomorrow night, with only blackness after that. It’s a race against time, and Wax must choose whether to set aside his rocky relationship with God and once again become the Sword that Harmony has groomed him to be. If no one steps forward to be the hero Scadrial needs, the planet and its millions of people will come to a sudden and calamitous ruin.

Tor was nice enough to give me the 10 chapter preview (which I didn’t actually request), while rejecting me for the full thing (which I did). That said, I wasn’t really expecting them to give me either, so, I guess… thanks? If the rest of the book is as good as the first 10 chapters, I’m betting it’s going to be one exciting conclusion, though the beginning really could’ve used a bit of zhuzhing up, if I’m honest.

Africa Risen – by Various Authors (11/15)

Omnibus

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From an award-winning team of editors comes an anthology of thirty-two original stories showcasing the breadth of fantasy and science fiction from Africa and the African Diaspora.

A group of cabinet ministers query a supercomputer containing the minds of the country’s ancestors. A child robot on a dying planet uncovers signs of fragile new life. A descendant of a rain goddess inherits her grandmother’s ability to change her appearance—and perhaps the world.

Created in the legacy of the seminal, award-winning anthology series Dark Matter, Africa Risen celebrates the vibrancy, diversity, and reach of African and Afro-Diasporic SFF and reaffirms that Africa is not rising—it’s already here.

Purchases

All of Our Demise – by Amanda Foody & Christine Lynn Herman

All of Us Villains #2

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“I feel like I should warn you: this is going to be absolutely brutal.”

For the first time in this ancient, bloodstained story, the tournament is breaking. The boundaries between the city of Ilvernath and the arena have fallen. Reporters swarm the historic battlegrounds. A dead boy now lives again. And a new champion has entered the fray, one who seeks to break the curse for good… no matter how many lives are sacrificed in the process.

As the curse teeters closer and closer to collapse, the surviving champions each face a choice: dismantle the tournament piece by piece, or fight to the death as this story was always intended.

Long-held alliances will be severed. Hearts will break. Lives will end. Because a tale as wicked as this one was never destined for happily ever after.

Siege of Rage and Ruin – by Django Wexler

Wells of Sorcery #3

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Isoka has done the impossible–she’s captured the ghost ship Soliton.

With her crew of mages, including the love of her life Princess Meroe, Isoka returns to the empire that sent her on her deadly mission. She’s ready to hand over the ghost ship as ransom for her sister Tori’s life, but arrives to find her home city under siege. And Tori at the helm of a rebellion.

Neither Isoka’s mastery of combat magic, nor Tori’s proficiency with mind control, could have prepared them for the feelings their reunion surfaces. But they’re soon drawn back into the rebels’ fight to free the city that almost killed them.

I’m actually still one behind in this series, but I couldn’t resist picking up a used hardcover to complete the trilogy.

Written in Red – by Anne Bishop

The Others #1

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As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.

Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.

Currently Reading

As I said, I’m still struggling to get into stories. Therefore, I’m reading somewhere between a lot of books and nothing at all. I just finished a reread of the opener to one of my favorite series—Promise of Blood, by Brian McClellan—and now I’m trying to decide whether or not to jump to the second, or try something else. As such, I’ve included the Crimson Campaign, along with Mindwalker, and the Darkness Between the Trees, which have been on my somewhat-am-reading shelf for a few weeks.

Music

Two more albums out this October—one a collection full of acoustics, covers, and demos; the other an actual album full of new music. The first is Other Worlds from the Pretty Reckless, a collection of various tracks, out this Friday the 4th. The second is Cold Kingdom’s third studio album, Life // Love, out November 18th. I’m not super excited for either album, to be honest, as I’m not a huge fan of collections, nor did I think Cold Kingdom’s sophomore release was particularly good.

In addition, there are likely several singles out that I’m not aware of, but the one I am happens to be Your Frequency from Breathing Theory on the 4th. Obviously no link yet, but I’ll try and remember to update this come the fourth. In the meantime, here’s some artwork:

Life

Yeah, I’ll probably come up with something before tomorrow.

If not, just return to the burnout bit at the top.

How was your month? Any good reading? You know all those releases from October I didn’t read—how were they? Let me know!

Death in the East – by Abir Mukherjee (Review)

Wyndham & Banerjee Investigations #4

Mystery, Historical Fiction

Pegasus Books; November 14, 2019

414 pages (hardcover)

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8 / 10 ✪

Where there are witches, should we not hunt them?

Please beware spoilers for the Wyndham and Banerjee Investigations Books #1-3.

Review of A Rising Man
Review of A Necessary Evil
Review of Smoke and Ashes

London, 1905

As a young constable, Sam Wyndham walks the streets of the Jewish quarter, his assigned beat, only to come across an assault. Two men assailing one woman. Only after chasing the men from the scene does Wyndham recognize her—Bessie Drummond, a former flame, brutally beaten and left for dead. He hails a cab and rushes her to the hospital, where Bessie recovers.

But only days later, Bessie is attacked again, this time in her own rooms. And this time, she is not so lucky.

The resultant investigation goes far deeper than Wyndham could possibly imagine, and will test his desire to see it through to the end.

India, 1922

Death in the East finds Sam Wyndham departing Calcutta, hopping a train bound for the jungle interior of Assam, seeking out an ashram in the hopes of curing him of his long-standing opium addiction. The monastery takes all; natives and Europeans, young and old, rich and poor. But there’s a catch. The monks of this ashram seek to cure men of their addiction, but should any relapse, they are turned away. In short: there are no repeat customers.

The Harvill Secker cover of Death in the East

The trial is hell, that much is certain, but it’s a worthy price in escaping addiction. Only amidst the throes of withdrawal and hallucination, Wyndham sees a ghost from long before. A man he assumed dead, one he thought he’d never see again, and hoped he wouldn’t. But when Wyndham recovers from the episode, there is no sign of the man. He pushes it to the recesses of his mind, trying to tell himself it was all a dream. But doubt gnaws at him.

The doubt reasserts itself when another addict from the ashram turns up dead, one that looks very much like Wyndham. Now Sam must pursue this spectre in the hopes of preventing another murder—and to finally put his own ghosts to rest.

“I have noticed,” said Surrender-not as we walked back up the hill towards the club, “that wherever you go, people tend to die.”
“That’s nonsense.”
“What about that railway sub-inspector out near Bandel last year? You ask him for a railway timetable and twenty minutes later he’s dead.”
“He was hit by a train,” I said. “I don’t see how that was my fault.”
“I didn’t say it was your fault. Just that people seem to die around you. Remember my paternal grandmother? She died two days after she met you.”
“She was eighty-nine years old.”
“You have to admit, it’s curious. I’m thinking I should introduce you to my uncle Pankaj. I’ve never liked him.”

And so we come to the novel that every detective/mystery author must write: that with a pair of interconnected mysteries, happening at different time periods. I swear, there are so many of these there should really be an easier way of defining them. Pastbacks? Dual timeline mysteries? Overlapping post-time cases? I dunno—I’m really hoping that someone will just tell me what they’re called. Although I kinda liked “pastbacks”.

Anyway, despite the cliché that these types of mysteries have become, we enter Death in the East, the fourth Wyndham and Banerjee, and the second outside the city of Kolkata. While Wyndham enters the story alone, don’t fret—Banerjee will join him before its end. After the crowded, chaotic beauty that is Calcutta, the countryside ashram is a whole new setting entirely. And unlike A Necessary Evil, England still rules this corner of India; the local natives cowed, despite whatever sway Gandhi has elsewhere.

It’s a new setting, one that the author brings to life just as effectively as the choked and diverse streets of Colonial India. Out here the Europeans have taken to the countryside, only to find it wanting. Instead of adapting, they’ve carved out their own little England, while duly complaining about how it’s not the same. It’s quite a different backdrop to the tale, though one equally as enthralling as any that preceded it.

The mystery itself—of course—takes place in two parts. One set in 1905 London, the other in 1922 India. The two alternate chapters for a time, though each begins to repeat as we come to both the meat of their respective tales. I found that this worked quite well, and was relieved to see that the book didn’t just stick to the alternating style the whole way through, as some novels do. In general, I’m not a fan of the dual timeline kinda mystery. Again, I find it overdone and cliché, but Death in the East was at least told and constructed well—not getting into any of the nitty gritty details of what went on. Both mysteries were entertaining, and when they came together, the resulting conclusion was well done.

The book has a good sense of humor, while still maintaining the atmosphere of a good murder mystery. The series continues to poke fun at all things England while underlining some of the positives of the Empire, and its many underlying failures with racism, bigotry, and colonialism. My favorite such point was made somewhere in the middle and complains that what “godforsaken place” would see the sun rise in the middle of the night—poking fun at the fact that for quite a while, the entire Empire was managed by one timezone. That’s India, Fiji, the Bahamas, and England—all on Greenwich time.

TL;DR

Honestly, the main complaint I have with Death in the East is the whole dual timeline mystery thing—they’re overdone and overused to the point that everyone and their sitcom has to have at least one. Otherwise, it was a good entry to the series, one that sees Wyndham address his long-running opium problem, while still managing to get some work done. Banerjee joins him, of course, but we are left with out some fantastic running characters from Calcutta, and provided with a few throwaways that probably won’t feature in any additional tales. The mystery—BOTH mysteries—were solid, interesting, entertaining, deep. Even though there aren’t any compelling new additions to the series (character-wise), those replacements we do get are unique and interesting enough to see us through this entry. Plus, it’s good to get out of the city once in a while and stretch your legs, right? Go to an ashram in the jungle to puke your guts out and take in a lovely murder. It’s almost as though you never really left.

Nolyn – by Michael J. Sullivan (Review)

Rise and Fall #1

Fantasy, Epic, High Fantasy

Grim Oak Press; August 3, 2021 (physical)
Riyria Enterprises; August 3, 2021 (ebook)

480 pages (ebook)

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9 / 10 ✪

After over 500 years spent in exile managing a salt mine, the heir to the Nyphronian Empyre has been reassigned—to the frontlines of the Goblin War. Nolyn is somewhat wary, as the wars have somewhat stalled over the centuries, and the front lines are not the safest place to be. He is further perturbed when the stronghold he is tasked with capturing turns out not to exist, and the route to it dead-ends in a canyon deep inside enemy territory. Now night is coming, and he and his men are trapped deep in the jungle with no backup.

All Nolyn knows is that it was the Emperor’s order that brought him here—it seems his father is trying to kill him.

Very effectively, one might add.

So when Nolyn walks from the jungle some days later, it’s not just a surprise. It’s a legend in the making.

Abandoned and hunted by the legion, Nolyn and his men must take the fight to the one place that will end it for good—the Emperor Nyphron himself.

“Need to kill the stupid weasel. He knows where we went, how many us there are…”
“You’re probably right,” Nolyn said. “But I’m not in the habit of killing innocent people.”
“Perhaps it’s a tradition you should consider adopting, now that you’re embarking on a life of crime and all.”

After the ups and downs of the Legends of the First Empire, I was both excited and concerned by this new trilogy exploring some of the most enshrined legends of Elan not discussed in the previous series. It could be great—like so much of the author’s works—or it could be terrible—like some few I dare not even mention.

Well, while I’ve heard some dissent from around the fantasy-sphere regarding Nolyn, I at least thoroughly enjoyed it.

The book starts out following two primary protagonists (though a third antagonist will be added later on to fill out their ranks) with a series of alternating POVs. The product of relations between a Rhune and a Fhrey, Nolyn is somewhat unique in the world—with only one other famed coupling producing a child. His friend and lover, Sephryn. Gee, I wonder who the second POV follows…

While you’ll know much of Nolyn’s story from the blurb, Seph’s is in many ways more intriguing. Blackmailed into stealing the Horn of Gylindora, Sephryn is in a no-win scenario, which is growing more dire by the day. While Nolyn’s journey will become legend, it’s Seph’s tale that will help sort the myths and legends from the cold, hard truth.

And from what I’ve seen, it’s really these characters that will make and break the book for you. If you’re a newcomer to the series: welcome! And don’t worry, you don’t have to know any of the backstory; it’ll be explained, just like any other. But if you’re familiar with the author’s prior work, this is where the trouble starts. See, for some people, I’ve heard that his first series—the Riyria Revelations—sets the bar, with Royce and Hadrian the gold-standard for fantasy characters. For others, this early duo was too polarizing, too rough around the edges, while his writing later showed more polish, if less heart.

I… can see both points. I thoroughly enjoyed Royce and Hadrian (particularly in their later appearances, like Death of Dulgath and the Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter) but am readily willing to admit that some of their adventures (especially Rose and Thorn and Crown Conspiracy) were a bit rough and underwhelming. Furthermore, I maintain a love-hate relationship (mostly though I hate them) with some of Sullivan’s later characters—especially Gifford, Roan, and Tesh—and didn’t enjoy either the Age of Swords or War. There was also a bit of distance to these characters. They didn’t have the same heart that the original duo had, though I felt their actions were more realistic that some of those from before. In addition, the final three books of that same hexalogy were tremendous, with the Age of Death remaining one of my favorite books ever. I just hope the tradeoffs are sufficient to cancel one another out, without proving divisive enough to distract from the story itself.

The problem remains that if you’re a continuing fan of the world of Elan, and you come into Nolyn prepared to compare its characters to others throughout the series’, well, you’re probably going to be disappointed by something. That said, if you’ve read as many of them as I have (like, all of them), that’s going to be very difficult to avoid.

So… well, I don’t have a good answer. While I initially compared Nolyn’s quest to both of the author’s sets of fellowships, at some point the story itself drank me in and I ended up forgetting about all that. Hopefully it will be the same with you; the story will drink you in, and you’ll end up having a wonderful time and looking for more. In this at least, one can hope.

The Immortality Thief – by Taran Hunt (Review)

Kystrom Chronicles #1

Scifi, Horror, Space Opera

Solaris; October 11, 2022

608 pages (ebook)

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9.5 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Rebellion, Solaris and NetGalley for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

A decade ago, Sean Wren had a family, a future, and a home. And then the Ministers came to Krystrom.

The mysterious, immortal aliens landed in Sean’s home city of Itaka, which had been recently been visited by the Republic, and razed it to the ground. Not content with simply burning the city, the Ministers marched through the streets, killing everyone they came across—every man, woman, and child—effectively transforming Itaka into a graveyard. Sean and his friend Benny escaped that day, now they’re all either has left.

After the last decade spent on the lam, the Republic has come calling again.

Sean’s now in a very different place than before. A refuge, criminal, and linguistic savant, imprisoned and left for dead, he’s given a simple choice—do the Republic a favor, or die behind bars.

Sent to an abandoned spaceship orbiting a dying star, Sean and his crew of four are to retrieve the Philosopher’s Stone—an experimental data set intent on and rumored to unlock the secrets of immortality. Return with the data before the star goes supernova, and he’ll be free to go: record wiped clean, and five million dollars richer.

There’s a problem though. The “abandoned” ship is a bit less abandoned than they’d thought. Inhabited by nameless terrors and dead men, it’s really not the best place to explore. Nor is the nameless ship “forgotten” either. A fact that Sean learns first hand when both the Ministers and more Republic soldiers arrive seeking the data. Now, surrounded by both his worst enemies and an entire ship full of monsters, Sean must find the Philosopher’s Stone, translate the data, unravel the mystery of what happened on the ship, and live long enough to escape before the entire thing vanishes beneath the surface of a dying star.

Simple, right?

The Ministers had turned off their lights, both collar and flash. I could hear them moving around, the soft scrape of boot against the ground, the swish of fabric, or a sword coming free. And something from far off to my right snarled.
That wasn’t a Minister.

The Immortality Thief was an amazing read in a spot I really didn’t expect much out of. Second week in a month I’d covered my big name releases already, this debut science fiction horror story took the zero expectations I came in with and absolutely shredded them.

The setting was a great first start. A “lost” spaceship orbiting a dying star. Only the star is dying quite a bit faster than we’d expected, and the spaceship wasn’t nearly as lost as we’d been told. It was, however, haunted by most of the things that go bump in the night, plus several more no one even had names for yet. Where I’d expected a small, cramped spacecraft to give the story a claustrophobic feel, the resulting behemoth left me awed and more than a little skeptical. Luckily, my fears were assuaged. With tight and crumbling spaces, random walls, pitch black corridors, and a massive assortment of terrors lurking almost anywhere, this was the perfect setting.

The beam of Benny’s flashlight abruptly terminated at a solid wall. He stopped short. “Sean. What is this?”
“It’s a wall, Benny.”
“I know what a wall is, asshole. Why is there a wall in a hallway?”

I often say that it’s the characters that make a story, and again the Immortality Thief got off to a bad start. See, my first several impressions of Sean Wren—the lead and sole POV—were that he was an annoying asshole. A bad thief with a “heart of gold”. A charismatic conman and savant that needed someone else to do the dirty work for him. But upon finishing the novel… yeah, I still kinda agree with this initial assessment. And yet I still came around to Sean somewhere during the tale, enough that not only had I stopped actively rooting for him to die, but also that I almost felt bad for him when he was constantly forced into terrifying situations. Which he was—a lot. I’d feel like this was a spoiler, except it’s a horror novel filled with monsters—what do you expect?

Let’s see… characters, setting, world—all good. Let’s touch on the plot. Solid enough, a simple smash-and-grab takes a twist, and all of a sudden we’re forced to work with our two worst enemies in order to survive. With the secret of immortality at stake. Sounds good, right? Well, you won’t be disappointed.

The humor/horror ration was also a winner. I’m not a huge fan of horror, unless it’s atmospheric and relies more on good story building and less on trying to make its readers actively afraid. In my book this was good horror: creepy, not actively terrifying, but with a tense atmosphere and excellent world-building.

Not much more to rave about, really. The Immortality Thief is the start of a series, so hopefully there’ll be more to fawn over in the future, though! I completely adored my introduction to Taran Hunt and expect great things from her in the future.

TL;DR

In short, the Immortality Thief is a stunning debut from author Taran Hunt. It’s atmospheric horror at its very best. A science fiction story set on a massive spaceship in orbit to a dying star, Sean Wren must recover the Philosopher’s Stone before the sun goes supernova. Unfortunately, literally everything on the ship is out to kill him. It’s a tense, immersive, and thoroughly enjoyable tale, one that you probably don’t want to miss out on. Read it today, read it tomorrow, read it next week, read it for Scifi Month—just pick up a copy if you love science fiction, atmospheric horror, or space opera. Whole-heartedly recommended!!