Beautiful World of Books – The Wyndham & Banerjee Mysteries

After last weekend’s review of Smoke and Ashes, I thought I’d do the Wyndham and Banerjee Mysteries on this week’s BWoB, as many feature quite pretty (or if not, interesting) covers. While a few I find disappointing—for they seem to cast Colonial India as a drab (which it wasn’t), depressing (which it very much was, depending on who you were) place—through their use of unflattering yellows and browns, in general it’s a bunch of lovely covers depicting an even lovelier series. And I do so love when a good book is matched with an equally good cover!

A Rising Man

Vintage (2016) • PegasusVintage (2020)

I have no idea who did any of the cover art for these, so if you do please do let me know. As much as I love both the first two, I hate the 2020 release from Vintage enough to make up for that. I won’t go into the reasons why—I just don’t like it. The 2016 Vintage is probably my favorite, but the Pegasus is a close second. This is the only book in the series I didn’t prefer the Pegasus covers on.

A Necessary Evil

Harvill SeckerPegasus

I had to uncrop this specifically to get the flowers to show. So they won’t match up, something that is kinda driving me nuts. But the addition of red blooms here to break up the green and brown of the jungle is what makes this one of the loveliest covers in the series, in my opinion. While there’s nothing wrong with the opposing cover, the Pegasus one features a character shrouded in the shadows of the jungle around him, something that lends itself directly to the lead’s experience in the text.

Smoke and Ashes

PegasusHarvill Secker

The most recent book in the series I’ve read is always my favorite to date. But—other than possibly the most recent Shadows of Men—I’d say it has the blandest covers. Though the smoke and indistinct shadows of the Pegasus copy did relate very nicely to the actual text.

Death in the East

Harvill SeckerPegasusVintage

The strongest covers of the series feature in Book #4—Death in the East. I’m not sure which one I like the most, and that’s okay. They’re all good, and all for the enjoying! While I’ll probably never own this in physical form, ideally I’d like to have all three of these covers (provided I also had somewhere to put them).

The Shadows of Men

VintagePegasus

The most recent release from Abir Mukherjee finds Wyndham and Banerjee traveling to Mumbai (Bombay) investigating a murder. Here, both covers go for the same stylized arch, the so-called “Gateway of India” (yes, I had to google the name). The background colors are a little different, but neither instills any real feeling of hope. One feels very much overshadowed by dread (at least that’s what I think of when I see the red and black clouds like wildfire), while the other’s drab overtones speak more of hopelessness.

My favorites here by far are the Pegasus covers—the shadowy figure, the cursive text done in an opposing color, the use of color and light. What do you think?

Engines of Empire – by Richard S. Ford (Review)

Age of Uprising #1

Fantasy, Epic, Steampunk

Orbit Books; January 18, 2022

575 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

4.4 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Orbit Books for providing me with an ARC! All opinions are my own.

While Torwyn was once a nation based on the will of the Wyrms—five great dragons that granted men magic and ruled the doors of life and death—it is now powered by the might of industry.

And industry is booming.

But industry is only as good as the people that run it—and in Torwyn, industry is run by the Guilds; chief among them the Archwind Guild, whose guildmaster now occupies the Emperor’s throne. Only a step below them sit the Hawkspur Guild, run by the Emperor’s only sibling, Rosomon. It is around Rosomon that the story resolves—her and her three children.

Conall, the eldest son, is dispatched to the frontier, where he hopes to earn honor and fame through military valor. Instead he finds a desert full of enemies, be they human or demon. The sands also hide a conspiracy, one that hints of a coming revolution, one that may shake the empire to its core.

Tyreta, the eldest daughter, the future Guildmaster of the Hawkspurs, is sick of duty. She’s not her brother, and constantly feels the weight of responsibility. A webwainer, she can control and wield the power of pyrestone—a geological component vital to the Empire’s burgeoning industry. When Tyreta is dispatched to visit Torwyn’s overseas colony of New Flaym, it might be just the escape she has been seeking. Or it might change everything for her, including in ways she never thought were possible.

Fulren, youngest son and brightest star of the family, is a talented artificer, one that is destined to lead the Guilds into the new age of industry. If he survives to see it. After being assigned as an escort to a foreign dignitary, he soon finds himself accused and condemned of murder he didn’t commit. A crime that may just start a war.

Industry drives the future of Torwyn. And the future seems bright, for now. But whispers in the Empire’s darkest corners tell of something more: of revolution, of rebirth, of the rise of an enemy long forgotten.

In many ways Engines of Empire is high fantasy at its best. A rich, immersive world, built on the backs of its strong leads, and equally strong characters. A lovely steampunk setting that blends magic with technology, and that pits the new ways against the old. A plot that plays at speculation, at fears, at rumors of revolution, and even darker whispers of unknown evil at its edges. It all comes together to tell an amazing story, one that I had absolutely no trouble tearing through once I got into it.

The problem is that I didn’t get into it right away. While I appreciated that the story was driven by alternating POVs of the same one family, it was this style that somewhat dampened my enjoyment. See, in a story of technology, one that tells of discontent and possible revolution, of an industry built on the backs of the working class, it’s important to see at least some of what the working class is dealing with. The Hawkspurs are each different, each see the world their own way and each want something different for their place in it—but if there’s one thing they’re not it’s underprivileged, downtrodden, working class. I would’ve liked to see at least one POV from the commonfolk, to see what life was like out of a position of inherent power. This is my main issue with the plot, one that really kept me from getting immersed in the story sooner.

That said, it’s also really my only complaint.

The story is a great one—interesting, entertaining, faced-paced at times and slow-built tension at others. There’s not a lot I can say about Engines of Empire, other than you really should read it. There was a lot of hype surrounding the release of this book, and I’m happy to say it was entirely warranted. I’ve read R.S. Ford before; his first series, Steelhaven, was a bit of a mixed bag—partial world-building and mostly human characters, some combination of dark and epic fantasy that never quite figured out what it wanted to be. It’s a good story, but one that leaves something to be desired. It’s been seven years since Steelhaven finished, and it seems that Ford has spent his time since well. Engines of Empire begins a much different series, one with stronger leads, stronger world-building, and a more immersive plot. It’s not that I hated his previous works—it’s more how much I love this new universe. Can’t wait to see where the story goes from here!

The Age of Uprising continues with Book #2, Engines of Chaos, presumably out 2023.

Battle Ground – by Jim Butcher (KK’s Review)

Dresden Files #17

Urban Fantasy

Ace; September 29, 2020

432 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.5 / 5 ✪

Beware spoilers for the Dresden Files up to date!

Recap

So many events have led to this moment. Destruction of the Red Court of vampires. Never-ending conflicts with Order of the Blackened Denarius. Winter Court. Summer Court. Za-Lords Guard. Friends and foes have now come together and Harry Dresden is now against a supernatural opponent like no other. A Titan! And to think this is just because everyone wanted to gather for some Peace Talks. 


Rambling Review (unspecific spoilers ahead)

I was extremely excited when it was announced that Peace Talks and Battle Ground would be released only months apart. And then I made the huge mistake of NOT READING Battle Ground immediately upon arrival. I’d even purposefully reread the entire series to prepare for Peace Talks because I had a feeling that these two books were leading to another major change in the Dresden universe. However, when I finally got to the book, I couldn’t remember anything from the previous one. Internal monologue: “So…who’re we fighting again? Right, right…big bad Titan. Okay. Wait, what happened to Thomas again? Oh yeah. Ok, I think I remember every-WAIT WHO IS THIS CHARACTER? Oh…yeah they’re from that book. And whatabouthatitem…???” And on and on and on….Books that focus heavily on battles are not my favorite. I have a hard time picturing how the characters move through a space and I’m more interested in what happens after the fight. I’m ashamed to admit I COMPLETELY MISSED Butters turning into (essentially) a Jedi in a previous Dresden because my brain was saying, “Fight, fight, punch punch…okay, what’s next?” And Battle Ground is essentially one massive fight. Sure, there are some mini side events and conversations that provide a brief respite from the battle, but it’s mostly fighting. And it’s not my favorite. And I probably missed something, again….Major character death in this book. I’m not sure how I feel about it yet. The death happened, Harry reacted to it in the moment, but he had to deal with big baddy. At the end of the book, there were pages of Harry talking about the death with other characters. Perhaps I was caught up in the main battle to truly feel the impact of the character’s passing or maybe it was the way the character passed, but the end of the book was more emotional for me than the moment the character died….Bob is one of the best characters. More Bob, please. Let Bob stay with Harry!…  Mab’s deadline was unnecessary. It felt like a way to justify some character relationship in future books. Don’t force me to think about that when I’m still processing another major emotion. Again, unnecessary….The ending of the book was the best part. Some family reconciliation (FINALLY). A bit of mystery to tickle the brain. Harry takes back something that’s his. I like all of that. The whole story shouldn’t rely on a solid ending though. Perhaps on a reread I’ll find more enjoyment in the battle arc, but at this time I’m pleased enough with the book to know I’m still excited to continue with the series.


Reader Remarks

As previously noted, I’m a fast reader. I’ve always liked the Dresden books because the flow of conversation and pacing of the book always keeps me entertained. But, I will never get over completely missing Butters using the sword as a lightsaber. Greatest reader shame of my life.   

How to Forage for Mushrooms Without Dying – by Frank Hyman (Review)

Guide

Story Publishing LLC; October 5, 2021

256 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.7 / 5 ✪

I was kindly granted an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my opinion. All opinions are my own.

I don’t review a whole lot of guides.

In fact, I don’t review a whole lot of non-speculative fiction. Mostly what I read is science fiction or fantasy. Then come mysteries, thrillers, or young adult, which I do every now and then. Then the occasional horror, or adventure. Very occasionally I read science books, mostly astronomy or archaeology. The point is… Don’t think I’ve ever reviewed a guide before.

Well, this’ll be a first.

“How to Forage for Mushrooms Without Dying” is quite the mouthful, but most guides are. Yes, it even has a longer name—did you want to see that? Sigh, well. It’s “How to Forage for Mushrooms Without Dying: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Identifying 29 Wild, Edible Mushrooms”. Now that’s a title. But again, most are. Otherwise they’ll be just one word, like “Change” or “Dust” or “Mushroom”, that sound cool and chic and all, but don’t actually explain what it is they focus on. Usually these will keep you in the dark until you’re halfway through—or have given up and moved on to something less abstract. This title here isn’t too abstract. In fact, it tells you exactly what this book is about, and what wisdom it hopes to impart. Namely, how to forage for mushrooms. Without dying.

Originally, I had just planned to review this by saying I’d foraged for mushrooms and not died. Problem is, I read this at the start of winter. And I live in the Rockies. Most mushrooms in this book aren’t found in the Rockies. Like, at all. The ones that are have seasonal availability, but uniformly aren’t present in winter. Except for Oyster Mushrooms. I know they grow in winter because I’ve found them before. The thing is, I’m not about to go out in the cold and snow just to find them. Guess I’m just not that dedicated. Plus I get cold easily.

I received a free ebook copy of this in exchange for an honest review. But… I liked what I saw so much that I wanted an actual print copy. To like, take with me. While foraging. (Also, I kinda thought that color pictures would be nice, and with mushrooms I don’t like to take chances.)

Luckily, the author of this doesn’t like taking unnecessary chances either. As such, he’s only included mushrooms that are easily identified, plentiful, and don’t share characteristics with any poisonous fungus. See, this isn’t an end-all guide. It’s very much a beginner’s guide—for beginners. I may have been foraging before, but I’m very much not an expert.

In the beginning, the author (Frank Hyman) explains the concept of mushrooms. Their structure, growth, reproduction—things like that. It’s all very basic, and he doesn’t go into great detail. Again, this is a beginner’s guide. If you want to know more, ask a mycologist. Or get a thicker book. Or both. After the chapter on getting to know mushrooms, there’s a “how to” chapter on foraging. It turns out that even with mushrooms that are edible, you need to be careful about how you cut them, store them, otherwise they might still make you sick. Three important points I picked up from this include: 1) if you’re not sure what it is, don’t eat it. This one seems straightforward, but bears repeating. Don’t eat it unless you’re as sure as sure can be. 2) even if you are sure you know what it is, only eat a little. At first, at least. If it doesn’t kill you, doesn’t make you sick, you can always try more. But there’s no reason to overdo it. In mycology, as in most things, a little caution can’t hurt. 3) try to store your mushrooms in a paper poke, or on ice. This will keep the fungus fresh longer. You know when you get mushrooms from the store and put them in the fridge for a few days and after a little, they get these soft, greyish, bad looking spots on them? Yeah, those are actually another kind of fungus or mold that can make you sick if you eat it raw. It’s more prevalent on wild mushrooms, but still. Anyway, there are more tips and tricks inside.

The third chapter gets to the heart of the matter. Foraging. Mushrooms. What to look for, how to identify, how to double-check, where to find and in what season, how to cut, cook, and preserve. The next three chapters deal with foragables—detailing different kinds of mushrooms and what will help you find them.

The next chapter is brief, but important. It shows you some commonplace, but vital, mushrooms to avoid. Ones that will make you sick if eaten. Or maybe even kill you. I would’ve liked to see this section farther away from the edible mushroom one, though it still slaps icons and X’s all over the place to help avoid confusion.

The next two chapters deal with cooking and preserving, and an overview of the various tools of the trade that will help with mushroom harvest. These are more of an afterthought to the beginner (to me, at least), as you can only get so into something before you’ve actually done it. Foraging comes first. If you’re serious about it, you can worry about the tools and the recipes later. The final chapter concerns where to go from here. If you enjoyed the book and the foraging, it suggests further guides, books, and reference materials. If you didn’t, well, you’ll still have this one guide in case you ever want to try again!

I’d definitely recommend this guide (though only so much as I haven’t used it in the field yet) to anyone interested in the basics of foraging. I’ll be sure and post a followup once I actually do use it in the field, but in this one case I think I can definitely say that I’d prefer the physical copy over the ebook. Ease of access is import here; being able to flip through the book without having to worry overly about the wet or damp or dirt (there are some nice water-resistant glossy pages in its paper form), but a more important aspect is the pictures themselves. My e-reader, while useful, doesn’t do color. I put a copy on my phone, but it wasn’t great for showing the whole picture, the text, and the detail in a helpful manner. A tablet would work, but would also be clunkier. Nope, I’d recommend the paper copy if you mean to use this in the field—without dying.

That’s it for now, but I’ll definitely get back to you after using this to forage in the wild. Hopefully still with no dying.

Note: Frank Hyman also has a book about ways to keep your chickens happy and laying. There’s more on his website if you want to check it out. I didn’t, but there are way too many wild predators in my neighborhood to keep any chickens happy. Also, like, alive.

Fantasy from Richard S. Ford – Beautiful World of Books

In anticipation of the upcoming release of Engines of Empire, I’ve decided to move some things around and feature the fantasy novels of Richard S. Ford on this week’s BWoB. To date the English author has published 7 fantasy novels (including the forthcoming Engines) under an extensive variation of Richard S, R.S., or Richard Ford. He also has an ongoing historical series out under the pseudonym Richard Cullen, but we’re going to skip those for now.

Steelhaven

As some of you are no doubt aware, I’ve recently finished Steelhaven—to mixed opinions. Anyway, there are six English language covers for these books: two for each. The colored ones grace the original Headline covers, while the white ones one from the reissued kindle editions.

War of the Archons

War of the Archons is the second series from Ford, and one—while languishing on my TBR—that I’ve yet to get around to actually reading. Thus I can only judge these books by their covers alone, and… well, I judge them to be a little better than the first series. So, by the transitive property… the books must be a little better? I’m sure that the math there is solid, so it must be true.

Age of Uprising

Now going into the most recent book here, I was curious to see if any of these series connect. If they’re set in the same universe, or involve any of the same characters however, I haven’t seen any indication of it. So I’m pretty sure they’re all different. And this IS probably my favorite of them all, so I guess it stand to reason that this would be my favorite book of his to date!

But I guess you’ll have to check back Tuesday the 18th to find out;)

Have you read any of these? Which do you think you would, if any? And how do you like those covers?

Lord of Ashes – by Richard S. Ford (Review)

Steelhaven #3

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Headline Publishing; May 7, 2015

341 pages (Paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.5 / 5 ✪

Beware spoilers for Books 1 & 2 of the Steelhaven trilogy. Also language and violence.

Review of Herald of the StormReview of The Shattered Crown

One very important note on this series: it’s called the Steelhaven trilogy for a reason. Yes, the characters take center stage, but wherever they are and whatever they’re doing—the city is always around them. It is in every shot, every scene, every moment. While the story may wend back and forth between the POV of all the characters, it’s the City of Steelhaven that the series is concerned with. And this is more important than ever, for the moment we’ve been waiting the entire series to see has arrived: Amon Tugha, displaced prince and would-be King of the Riverlands has come to pluck the jewel for his crown.

As his army sets up before the city gates, despair covers Steelhaven like a blanket. There is no escape from this battle. For there will be a battle; Amon Tugha’s forces are not content to simply starve the defenders out. They mean to take the city by force—whatever the cost.

Waylian hasn’t slept in days. But with the army on the city’s doorstep, there is much to do—not that he understands any of it. But his mistress thinks it’s important, so Waylian is quick enough to try it. The worst that can happen is he’ll die painfully, and after all, there’s always been a pretty good chance of that happening.

Rag has survived, somehow. But with the city sure to fall, it can’t be for much longer. When the Guild calls on her to complete a task, what can she say? While this new job will most likely get her killed, with the city locked up tight there are even less places to hide than usual—and nowhere to run.

Nobul and Regulus stand on the city walls. Around them the defenders quake in their boots, one loss away from a complete massacre. But each man means to fight til the end—one for honor, the other for blood.

Merrick has joined the Wyvern Guard, while Kaira remains beside the Queen. Together they form the elite guard for the castle itself; essentially the last line of defense. But while the Raven’s Guard may be content to wait for the enemy in their castle, Janessa is not. She has picked up her father’s sword and means to lead the city’s defense—no matter the danger.

“I think we’re fucked.”

All in all, it was a pretty good end. But it’s important to note that the trilogy is about the city itself. Vital, even. So much so that I’ve mentioned it again. See, if you go into the final book thinking that there will be a certain amount of resolution at the end… well, you might be disappointed. Steelhaven’s fate will definitely be decided. The other characters… less so. Yes, there is some resolution—most, even—but it is not universal.

Going in I thought that this was the last nail in the trilogy, but upon reaching the end I figured that it had to be like one of the JAbercrombie efforts—where subsequent books help expand upon the story of Steelhaven, and resolve some of the characters’ destinies that don’t end here. But while Ford has a couple more trilogies in the works, neither seems to have anything to do with this world. Now I could be wrong (hope I am, in fact), but I don’t think I am.

So while the end itself is a tad disappointing, the journey there is an entertaining one. Again, the characters feed off one another; their threads overlapping and interlinking and weaving in and out while coming together to complete the tapestry itself. It really is quite something to see how it all comes together. We find a few familiar (if surprising) faces, and many of our old faithful ones. Most of the sub-plots are resolved, and nothing too great is left hanging at the end. This was a good read, an entertaining one, but by no means perfect. I know I’ll see more from Ford in the future, and hope that his quality of storytelling can only improve from now on.

A must-read for readers who’ve made it this far, or for fans of the author. For anyone still on the fence… not sure what to tell you. Do you like dark, realistic fantasy where there’s no such thing as “happily ever after”? Then you might like this. But only time will tell.

If you’re interested, Engines of Empire, the first book in Ford’s new series—the Age of Uprising—comes out next week: on January 18th! Maybe check it out.

Smoke and Ashes – by Abir Mukherjee (Review)

Wyndham & Banerjee Mysteries #3

Mystery, Historical Fiction

Harvill Secker; June 7, 2018 (UK)
Pegasus Books; March 5, 2019 (US)

352 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.5 / 5 ✪

Please beware minor spoilers for previous Wyndham and Banerjee mysteries, or just skim the reviews of them below:

A Rising Man Review

A Necessary Evil Review

Kolkata, British India – 1921

India has become more of a home to Sam than England ever was. After his return from the Great War, at least. Still haunted by the memories of war, his friends dying all around him, and the wife he barely knew, Wyndham has known vices to cope. What started out as morphine has turned to opium, and what was initially a habit has become a full-blown addiction. But before he can attempt to kick this vice, he must see the error of his ways.

For Sam, this error takes the form of a dead Chinese man in an opium den.

At first he thinks this corpse a figment of his drug-addled imagination, but once he touches it, examines it, Wyndham is forced to reconsider. Though he can’t consider it for very long. There are police in the den, and Sam must escape unseen if he wants to keep his job. Still, even after leaving, he can’t get the corpse off his mind. Nor his obligation to the man.

And so Wyndham returns to the opium den. But there’s no corpse to be found. Instead, Sam is summoned to the scene of another grisly murder, this one an Englishman. And yet he’s struck by the manner in which the man was killed—the same that the Chinese man had been struck down the night before.

It smacks of a ritualistic killing—and is not the last body to drop before the week is out. Now Wyndham and Banerjee must find the killer and unravel the case before more bodies drop, and the killer slips away into the chaos.

As with the two British India novels before it, I was once again impressed by the scope of Smoke and Ashes, and just how well early 20th century Kolkata is reproduced. Racism and apartheid rule the city, with the Indians (treated as a lump sum) seen as generally decent workers—for colored barbarians—and bodies to die in war, but little more. The British are the undeniable saviors of the Raj, unless of course one were to ask the natives. Which one wouldn’t, of course. It’s just the kind of attitude I’d expect from the days of the Empire (or the US at that time, to be fair)—and comes across quite well in the text. The tensions, the opposition to British rule, the start of a movement against it. While the roots of this were evident in previous novels—the non-cooperation, the protests—really take form in this book. It’d be an interesting time to revisit even without the undercurrent of a murderer loose in the crowds.

Connecting the two murders takes some time, but that time is thoroughly enjoyable. Wyndham sees the Indians as people in their own right (helps that he’s in love with one of their own), and the rightful rulers of the continent besides. But while they may have a point about who should lead them, fact is that the British do. And Sam’s a native son of England, after all. So, while he’s become conflicted, it’s not difficult to tell where his loyalties lie. Banerjee is a much more conflicted case. While he and Sam are friends, the young man’s Kolkata-born and a native of the peninsula. He may work for the Empire, but it’s really hard to go against one’s family, one’s people, one’s loved ones. But so long as he and Wyndham agree on one thing, they can still work together. That the murderer must be stopped.

The mystery element of Smoke and Ashes may just be the best it’s ever been. Ritual killings. Interconnected murders. How do a Chinese man, an Englishman, and a Portuguese nurse fit together? And why would someone want them dead? This is what drives the tale. And, if I may say so, it has a satisfying conclusion. So many times you’ll reach the end of a mystery/thriller only to find the antagonist has some psychopathic logic, something that only adds up if you have one too many screws loose. The conclusion of Smoke and Ashes reveals a rather normal, human assailant, albeit one who would resort to murder.

The mystery itself, the conclusion, the ending all support the continuation of the Wyndham and Banerjee mysteries, as this may well be their strongest case yet. Still not sure it justifies the price, however. But I can do very little to ever rationalize a $17 ebook. At least in the UK it’s more reasonable: £5. But if I were you, I’d pick it up in paperback (where you can probably find it under $10), or audio, or at your local library. But you do need to pick this up—that much is for certain.

TL;DR

Smoke and Ashes is the best Wyndham and Banerjee yet. With the movement of noncooperation in the background, the race to catch a killer is all the more desperate and all the more difficult in the crowds of natives. And if India does one thing well, it’s CROWDS. A nation of over a billion (well, ~300 mil in the 1920’s), the subcontinent is packed with so many different beliefs, ethnicities, cultures, and histories that it was a powder keg even before the British arrived. Especially when factoring in that it was an incredibly RICH powder keg. The series continues to illustrate this quite well—especially when capturing the heightening tensions between all the sides. The Indian people may agree on the British Empire, but it’s only a temporary truce, and a partial one at that. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Death in the East, the 4th Wyndham & Banerjee book, is out already, although I may have to find another format to read it in, as the audio isn’t out in the US (in the Audible store, at least). As usual, the audio performance is strong, albeit with Simon Bubb replacing Malk Williams as the sole reader worldwide (Williams had previously read the US version). While I still prefer Williams’ narration (as a grittier, weathered Wyndham), Bubb is very hard to dislike.

Alex Verus – Beautiful World of Books

For this year’s series reread, I’ve selected Alex Verus, a series of a dozen urban fantasy novels written by Benedict Jacka. It’s pretty much perfect as there are 12 books: one for each month. While I’m not 100% sure how closely I can stick to it, I at least hope to get through the first nine (those that I haven’t posted reviews for), and coordinate each for its own separate month. That said, there’s a decent chance I’ll end up bingeing a few in a row (or maybe the whole series)—but I guess we’ll see. For now, let’s just look at the covers and dream.

Ace

These are the US covers for the Alex Verus series. All twelve are here—Fated, Cursed, Taken, Chosen, Hidden, Veiled, Burned, Bound, Marked, Fallen, Forged, and Risen. While I don’t have a strong preference as to which covers I like better, I am partial to these because they’re the ones that bedeck my own shelves:)

Orbit

The UK (Orbit) covers often have two styles, but they weren’t different enough that I considered separating them into alternate blocks. Also as far as I can tell, one doesn’t span the entire series. This is the style that you’ll see in Fated, Taken, Chosen, Hidden and Veiled; with the entire cover the same hue and shading and the Jim Butcher quote adorning the bottom half. The others take this bottom and slap on a map of London which I quite like, albeit one tinted in whatever color the book features. If you look closely you’ll find the alternate covers have this map as well—though it’s much more indistinct. But as I said, I don’t think this style spans the entire series; I could only find it for the first half or so. Personally I like the later style better. More character, or something.

And that’s all 12 books of the Verus series! Have a favorite, or do you like both of them? Have you read this series, and if so, how many times have you been through them? Mostly I’ve only read each once, though I’ve reread Bound twice, somehow. If you haven’t heard of them/read them by now, do you think this might change your mind? Honestly, this is probably my favorite urban fantasy series, just based on the level of consistency. Both it and the Dresden Files are amazing, but some of the latter weren’t nearly as good as others. A few in the Alex Verus weren’t as strong as others, but never dipped below four stars, while Dresdens’ (particularly some of the later ones), ranked around three.

Hopefully you’ll check back at least once a month to hear my thoughts on each book, assuming everything with the reread goes well. This month’s review of Fated will probably come at the end of the month, as I have a couple ARCs to make it through first!

Crank Palace – by James Dashner (Review)

The Maze Runner #3.5

Dystopian, YA, Novella

Riverdale Avenue Books; November 23, 2020

109 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

1 / 5 ✪

May contain minor spoilers for the Maze Runner series.

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review (I thought). Many thanks to Riverdale Books and NetGalley, through which they provided me an ARC! All opinions are my own.

For every outstanding, glowing, 5-star review, there will be a dissenting opinion. These two will help a reader on the fence decide if a book is ultimately right for them. So you see, I’m providing an important service.

I picked this up because I wasn’t fully on board with the Flare, and everything that happened in the original trilogy. I wanted the closure, that the final book failed to provide. I was hoping that this would help fill in some gaps, help us understand the Flare, and provide some insight into Newt’s motivations behind his departure and his friends’ journey without him. If by chance you picked this up for the same reasons, you’re out of luck.

Crank Palace is the story of Newt, a six-year old who has lost his friends, but is still stuck in the same imaginary world of a disease that not only drives people insane, but also kills them. Or, he’s a teenager with the emotional range of a six-year old. Or the author just didn’t put enough effort into his story.

I’ve never been a fan of Dashner’s writing style, something I complained about throughout the original series, but came in hoping that it was something that he’d honed with time and practice.

Newt wished the Flare was a person so he could kick its arse.

Well, that was a mistake.

There is actually a journey in Crank Palace, and some decisions that don’t entirely contradict all the others, unfortunately these are few and far between. While Newt’s attitude towards his friends from the Maze remain constant, nothing else shows nearly the same consistency. Of all the characters in this, Newt is the only one that shows even a hint of growth, and it is counteracted at almost every turn by the rest of the stupid s*** he does.

The other main character, Keisha, is just a walking contradiction. In one scene she shoots someone in a desperate attempt to defend her only child, Dante. Immediately afterwards she attempts to defend Newt as well, someone who she literally just met, and was never suspicious of for a second. Then she worries over staying with him since he has the Flare, and wonders if her kid will be safe. Right after that she leaves Dante with Newt while she heads off on her own.

The whole story is based on the letter from the series which sees Newt abandon his friends so that they don’t have to watch him slowly descend into madness, so that they can focus on their mission and cure the Flare. But his range of emotions don’t ever transcend this one moment, and neither does his plan. It’s repeated over and over that he’s leaving them so that they can focus without him acting as a burden, otherwise he may distract them. This is a sentiment I can understand. Literally the only one from him over the entirety of the tale.

The man’s name has finally been revealed as Terry—the most unlikely name Newt could imagine.

He will occasionally remember things from his previous life, but they are few and far between, and won’t mention them until after he’s already exhibited some knowledge he shouldn’t have, only to say “oh yeah, I just remembered it”. It’s an entirely too convenient way of telling the story, and one that mostly just annoyed me. At one point a cell phone becomes central to the plot, when our heroes receive a message from someone in their past they thought was dead. But not only does no one have cell phones anymore, but the cell towers shouldn’t even work. Not to mention that the phone is stolen, so there’s no possible way they could have received a message from anyone they knew. But it becomes a huge plot device, which basically defines the story.

This 100 page novella took me over a week to get through, despite its length. More than once I had to go back to see what the characters were talking about, only to find no mention of it. It’s been a little since I finished the series, but reviewed the specifics before I began this novella. I had originally planned to read it much earlier, but was immediately put off by a note I received from the publisher when it kindly granted me a copy.


Your request has been approved on the basis that you have a strong interest in the book’s subject matter and that you review books.  If you request a book that turns out not to based on your interests or the genres you read, and find that it is not to your liking, or you chose not to finish reading the book (DNF), the author would appreciate it if you did not review it.

Asking me not to review it because I DNFed it is one thing, but asking me not to if I didn’t like it sounds a lot like the publisher/author is looking for “only positive feedback”. Which is ridiculous. After all, it granted me a review copy in exchange for a fair and honest review—unless I didn’t like it, in which case they would appreciate if I kept my mouth shut.

So, I took a year to calm down (which I did, until I read it again). Sadly, it doesn’t help that the book is nonsense.

Crank Palace is currently selling for $7 in the US and 5£ in the UK. It somehow has a rating of over four stars on Goodreads. I would suggest that you go check out some other reviews of it, unless you weren’t a fan of the original series. In which case maybe just forget it.

Namesake – by Adrienne Young (Review)

Fable #2

YA, Fantasy, Romance

Wednesday Books; March 16, 2021 (US)
Titan Books; June 22, 2021 (UK)

363 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

3.5 / 5 ✪

Beware minor spoilers for Fable, Book #1! Or, check out my review of Fable first!

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Titan Books, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley, for providing me an ARC! All opinions are my own.

The exciting conclusion to the duology takes no time to get moving, picking up right where Fable left off. It has no trouble entertaining throughout until some frankly odd choices derail it approaching the end.

Ever since she was little, Fable has desired one thing over every other: her father’s love and affection. But that is one thing Saint never gives. And so after her escape from Jevali, everything she has done has been in order to cut ties with the man. Now Fable has her own crew, a man she loves, a place on a ship of her own—having recently bought her way free of Saint’s influence.

But when she is kidnapped by Zola, Fable’s freedom will once again be out of her hands. Confined to his ship, surrounded by enemies and strangers, Fable feels more alone than she ever has before. And it would almost be tolerable, except for one thing.

Clove.

Her father’s navigator and the man that had been more a father to her than Saint ever was. He now heads Zola’s ship, and surely had a hand in her kidnapping. Worse still, he’s one of only a handful that knows of her true parentage—something it seems he’s shared with his new master. Which is undoubtedly the reason she now finds herself confined aboard her enemy’s deck.

But Zola has more on his mind than her father. He needs something from Fable, something that she must help him with if she ever wants to see West and the Marigold again. But it seems that Fable isn’t the only one harboring secrets, and this secret will change her life forever.

Namesake marks the return to Adrienne Young’s sea-soaked Fable, and one young woman’s journey to find her place amongst the waves. Fable has been through a lot in her short life, rising from the shores of Jeval to the Marigold with a man she loves and a tight-knit crew that’s almost family. For the first time since her mother died, Fable has found happiness. But Namesake takes that happiness and shreds it.

Kidnapped and surrounded by enemies, the adventure begins and is automatically immersive. The world itself is unchanged, with the Narrows proving just as interesting as it did in the first book. A sea speckled with islands, ports, and reefs to be dredged. And that’s where Namesake excels, just like Fable before it. On the bottom of the sea. In a land of water and reefs, on the constant hunt for minerals. But there is more to it than that. The mystery of whatever Zola wants with her looms over her head, as does the price the Marigold will have to pay to get her back. We’ll find out much more about West and his crew in this book, but also Fable herself.

I didn’t get the romance at all in this. Yes, I realize that the heart wants what it wants and that love is blind and can’t be reasoned with. Still, Fable spends a majority of the text worrying over it anyway. How she can’t trust West; how there’s a darkness within him that scares her; how he reminds her of Saint in all the bad ways. And predictably, nothing comes of it. I mean, it’s not much of a spoiler who Fable romances—there isn’t a love-triangle in Namesake. It’s Fable trying to rationalize and justify West, something that she never really does. But she keeps at it, right up until the end, where it’s almost magically resolved as a darkness they share (even though there’s really no darkness to Fable, at least not in the same way).

Say what you want about the romance, but the story rolled right along right up to the end and took no effort to read. Which made the ending itself all the more confusing. Yes, I realize that there is another story set in the same world, and the plot choices at the end of Namesake are likely an attempt to set up this next story. But that’s the only reason some of them make sense. There’s one moment in particular. It’s hard to explain without any spoilers, but sufficient to say that if the moment DOESN’T come up in the future stories, then I can’t figure out a single reason why it was included. It makes literally zero sense, and contradicts the entirety of the story that led to it.

TL;DR

Namesake marks the end of the duology, and our introduction to the world of the Narrow Sea. While there is now another book—The Last Legacy—set in this world, Namesake marks the end of Fable’s journey, and her journey to discover what kind of woman she’ll become. As coming-of-age tales go, this was an interesting adventure, with mystery and thrill, emotion and passion, deception and betrayal. I never had any trouble with the story, and was immediately immersed back into the world from the outset. Yes, there’s a lot to love as Fable’s journey comes to a close, but the romance itself was not one of them. It was more of a mystifying tale of contradictions, worry, secrets, and strange, almost contradicting choices. I mean, one could argue that that’s what love is all about, but it’s not something I’m used to seeing in these YA books. Had it been a grimdark romance where everyone is secretly trying to murder and/or seduce each other—that would be another story. But on the whole, I’d recommend it—particularly if you enjoyed the first book before it.

The Last Legacy—out since September 7, 2021—expands on the Narrow Sea, albeit with a new lead.