New Games for 2021 Q1

There’s actually not a ton that I’m excited about in the first quarter of this year. I haven’t decided yet on a next-edition console (plus they’re all sold out anyway), so it’s time to focus entirely on my current backlog of games

…and a couple new titles.

First off, though, have you seen the new Harvest Moon game? Now, I’m a sucker for Harvest Moon, but uh. Well, give it a looksee, eh?

Seriously though.

The art looks like an N64-era game and the concept is pretty lame. Also, it doesn’t look big. Or even interesting. I guess if I have a craving for some farming I’ll just play Friends of Mineral Town or Stardew Valley. Or wait til spring and plant my own.

Either way, there’s no way I’m recommending this.

As for the things I AM excited for…

Hitman 3

1 / 20 / 21

IO Interactive

Now, obviously I don’t condone the wanton murder of anyone. Or the any kind of murder of anyone. But as a stealth gamer I have very limited options. Options that are as distasteful as… well, um I actually quite ADORE the Hitman series. The first was pretty entertaining. The second was monumentally entertaining. The third I have great hopes for.

Warning: the following footage contains some violence and spoilers for the game itself

The amount of options, of disguises, of new and unique places and people, of stealth capabilities—even more so, the fact that you get rewarded for using stealth, minimizing casualties and collateral damage, and exploration. I think it’s a very well rendered and executed concept, and a very entertaining game in general. In addition, I’ve always found its replayability to be quite high, just from the number of different ways to play, secrets to discover, and side-stories to interact with.

Little Nightmares II

2 / 11 / 21

Tarsier Studios

I’m not a huge fan of horror. Only occasionally do I read the genre. Generally, I find horror movies boring. Horror games… no thank you.

Welcome to the exception (well, one of them). Maybe it’s the art-style or the setting or the non-specific lore, but I loved the first of these, though the trial and error nature of it and the less than stellar controls sometimes frustrated me. But after gameplay footage of #2 from one of my favorite outlets, I’m totally on board.

Warning: the videos/links do contain some language and minor spoilers for the game itself

It’s not going to be a long game, though #2 seems like it’ll be a bit longer than the first one. If you’re a more casual, less interactive gamer with a penchance for horror, I urge you to give it a shot. The story’s a bit light, but there’re more than enough secrets and clues throughout for you to come to your own conclusions. Also, if you haven’t heard of these before, maybe check out some footage from the first one to see if it’s something you might be into.

And that’s it! I still have a fair amount of backlog to dig through (which I’ll mock up something for in a little), including Cyberpunk, which I’ve only just scratched the surface of—and which I’ve yet to find any bugs. But there’re these two gems (or, I hope they’re gems) which I figure I’ll likely play one or the other around their release.

Have you heard of either? Are you excited for anything else coming out before April rolls around? Does anyone that reads this even PLAY video games (I won’t hold it against you if you don’t but I know one or two of you occasionally need to escape from your children or spouses, so…)

Doors of Sleep – by Tim Pratt (Review)

The Journals of Zaxony Delatree #1

Scifi

Angry Robot; January 12, 2021

251 pages (Paperback)

4 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Huge thanks to Angry Robot #AngryRobot for the ARC!

Every time Zaxony (Zax) Delatree falls asleep, he travels to a new reality. He has no control over his bearing and never revisits the same place twice, making his life a constant, spontaneous adventure. One that he can neither stop nor control. Sometimes he’ll wake in paradise, with plenty of food and a no worries beyond his next nap. Others he’ll wake in hell; worlds of brimstone or desert or glass, worlds at war or apocalypse, worlds filled with monsters or fire or death. Sometimes he’ll even wake in space. But wherever he wakes, Zax does what he must to survive. Survive and move on. On and on and on.

But isn’t all bad.

Zax lives a life some would kill for. A new world each day, an adventure that never stops. Worlds mortal eyes have never seen, worlds of paradise, utopia, or orgies (if that’s your thing). And he can take a companion—something to stave off the loneliness. All Zax must do is fall asleep holding them, and asleep or awake, willing or unwilling, his passenger will follow. But there are often serious consequences of Traveling, not just the monsters and war. The first companion Zax brought along was driven insane by what she saw in-between, a moment that has haunted him since.

But now Zax is being haunted by another former companion—one that has somehow followed him through time and space. Someone who is after the power in Zax’s blood, the ability to Travel between worlds. And where Zax would simply Travel, his former companion would conquer.

“Every time Zax falls asleep, he travels to a new reality.” I was sold from this very first line. Doors of Sleep mostly delivered on my expectations—an adventure that doesn’t quit; new world after new world, each one rendered for but a glimpse; a hunt through time and space. I actually could’ve done with more adventure—more worlds to see, more unknown to explore. Anyone who knows me will know that’s my thing. My favorite part of games like Civ are the exploration, the first few dozen turns, when the world is shrouded in fog and ANYTHING could be out there. But I realize the need for a plot, and this one works pretty well.

After all, how does one follow a Traveler through time? Not even Zax knows where he’s heading, after all. This mystery was part one—one that really could’ve been drawn out longer, in my opinion. The second part was what happens when the second Traveler catches the first. Where one would explore, the other would conquer—and it’s very difficult for those two points of view to coexist.

Zax can use sedatives to escape the nightmare worlds, and stimulants to extend the utopias—but he has to measure each world’s worth/danger against the desire to prolong/escape it. It’s resource management; the supplements aren’t limitless, and he also has to eat, hydrate, and take care of his body and mental health throughout. While there is a strong survival element to the text, it’s mostly in the background. I would’ve liked to see it take more of a central role.

The story takes place relatively late in Zax’s travels. His 1000th world sees him surviving, but not yet thriving under the weight of his “gift”. I honestly could’ve done with a little more of his earlier adventures. Maybe see him make his way through several companions, see him adapt and survive, see how he combats the loneliness, the uncertainty. It seemed to me that Doors of Sleep kicked off too early to enjoy the adventure. And while the plot was good and the story was good and the concept was good, that was the key element holding it back. “Every time Zax falls asleep, he travels to a new world.” So we catch but a glimpse of these worlds. And unfortunately we catch but a glimpse of this glimpse when the hunt takes center stage.

My biggest issue had to be the end. Doors of Sleep is a fairly short book—only 250 pages—and one can essentially read it in a day. The plot to this adventure takes a bit of time and a bit of doing once it gets started but the conclusion takes a chapter. Less, even. You could blink and—it’s over. I also expected this to be a one-off, a standalone: it’s not. The conclusion sets up a sequel, something I confirmed before reviewing it. At first both my rating and review were going to be a great deal more negative due to the abruptness of the ending and the lack of resolution for certain elements I dare not spoil. But instead it’s just a cliffhanger. Which is… better, but still annoying.

TL;DR

A rollicking read, Doors of Sleep is a bit like Edge of Tomorrow. But instead of repeating the same day over and over, Zax must survive a new world each time he awakens—one that could hunger for his blood, or simply make his tum-tum hungry. Add in a little bit of Twoflower, a little Pincer Martin, a touch of An Idiot Abroad, and Doors of Sleep become the best forced, spontaneous adventure you never knew you needed. The first in a new series, DoS is here and gone again entirely too soon—both in that it’s somewhat short and concludes everything abruptly in under a chapter. Still, I heartily recommend it for anyone who likes adventure, science fiction, or just a good one- or two-day read (I mean, it took me five, but who’s counting). In addition, it was the escape I needed from the truly awful first week of a new year. Come escape with me!

2021 TBR – A Constant Struggle

So, only 51 weeks of 2021 left!

In other news my TBR this year has been terrible. I’ve literally mocked up dozens of lists. There’re a few mainstays, but mostly it’s chaos. I’ve a decent amount of actual books that I want to read and already own—and then an absolute quagmire of other titles that I WANT to read but don’t have a copy.

I tried and tried, but I just can’t settle on one 18 book list. And I don’t want it to be too long, as it’ll just seem overwhelming. Moreover, I couldn’t even settle on a single, shorter list because I kept wanting to add other titles.

And so here we are.

TBR 2021

Shorefall – by Robert Jackson Bennett (The Founders #2)

One of the ARCs I missed in 2020 joins the TBR in 2021. I can’t wait to get back to this world!

Having narrowly saved the metropolis of Tevanne from destruction, Sancia Grado and her allies have turned to their next task: sowing the seeds of a full-on magical-industrial revolution. If they succeed, the secrets behind scriving—the art of imbuing everyday objects with sentience—will be accessible to all of Tevanne’s citizens, much to the displeasure of the robber-barons who’ve hoarded this knowledge for themselves.  
 
But one of Sancia’s enemies has embarked on a desperate gambit, an attempt to resurrect a figure straight out of legend—an immortal being known as a heirophant. Long ago, the heirophant was an ordinary man, but he’s used scriving to transform himself into something closer to a god. Once awakened, he’ll stop at nothing to remake the world in his horrifying image.
 
And if Sancia can’t stop this ancient power from returning? Well, the only way to fight a god…is with another god.

Forest of Souls – by Lori M. Lee (Shamanborn #1)

Sirscha Ashwyn comes from nothing, but she’s intent on becoming something. After years of training to become the queen’s next royal spy, her plans are derailed when shamans attack and kill her best friend Saengo.

And then Sirscha, somehow, restores Saengo to life.

Unveiled as the first soulguide in living memory, Sirscha is summoned to the domain of the Spider King. For centuries, he has used his influence over the Dead Wood—an ancient forest possessed by souls—to enforce peace between the kingdoms. Now, with the trees growing wild and untamed, only a soulguide can restrain them. As war looms, Sirscha must master her newly awakened abilities before the trees shatter the brittle peace, or worse, claim Saengo, the friend she would die for.

Babylon’s Ashes – by James S.A. Corey (The Expanse #6)

The only returning title on my main TBR, with the series conclusion Leviathan Falls dropping this year, I will prioritize it. Y’know, maybe.

A revolution brewing for generations has begun in fire. It will end in blood.

The Free Navy – a violent group of Belters in black-market military ships – has crippled the Earth and begun a campaign of piracy and violence among the outer planets. The colony ships heading for the thousand new worlds on the far side of the alien ring gates are easy prey, and no single navy remains strong enough to protect them.

James Holden and his crew know the strengths and weaknesses of this new force better than anyone. Outnumbered and outgunned, the embattled remnants of the old political powers call on the Rocinante for a desperate mission to reach Medina Station at the heart of the gate network.

But the new alliances are as flawed as the old, and the struggle for power has only just begun. As the chaos grows, an alien mystery deepens. Pirate fleets, mutiny and betrayal may be the least of the Rocinante‘s problems. And in the uncanny spaces past the ring gates, the choices of a few damaged and desperate people may determine the fate of more than just humanity.

A Man of Shadows – by Jeff Noon (Nyquist Investigations #1)

A mystery based in the strangeness of a world of fixed light and darkness, I started this last year but then my library loan ended and COVID hit and closed it so I never got it back.

Below the neon skies of Dayzone – where the lights never go out, and night has been banished – lowly private eye John Nyquist takes on a teenage runaway case. His quest takes him from Dayzone into the permanent dark of Nocturna.

As the vicious, seemingly invisible serial killer known only as Quicksilver haunts the streets, Nyquist starts to suspect that the runaway girl holds within her the key to the city’s fate. In the end, there’s only one place left to search: the shadow-choked zone known as Dusk.

Infernal – by Mark de Jager

Another ARC from last year—I’ve heard great things about Infernal, and the first chapter is AMAZING the reason I requested it in the first place.

Stratus wakes in an unfamiliar place, with nothing but the knowledge that he is not human, with no memories of his past but possessing great strength, a powerful sorcery and the burning instinct to survive at any cost.

Embarking on a journey of self-discovery, he sets out across a landscape torn apart by the ten year war between the Kingdoms of Krandin and Penullin, now reaching new levels of savagery as a dark magic drives the world to the brink of destruction.

As his personality grows with each step he slowly uncovers the truth of what he has become and the unquenchable thirst for vengeance that has led him there.

Cage of Souls – by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Half Fallout, half Matrix—all Tchaikovsky. I featured this in my Christmas book buying guide: books that I hadn’t read, and I’d really like to change all that.

The Sun is bloated, diseased, dying perhaps. Beneath its baneful light, Shadrapar, last of all cities, harbours fewer than 100,000 human souls. Built on the ruins of countless civilisations, surviving on the debris of its long-dead progenitors, Shadrapar is a museum, a midden, an asylum, a prison on a world that is ever more alien to humanity.

Bearing witness to the desperate struggle for existence between life old and new, is Stefan Advani, rebel, outlaw, prisoner, survivor. This is his testament, an account of the journey that took him into the blazing desolation of the western deserts; that transported him east down the river and imprisoned him in verdant hell of the jungle’s darkest heart; that led him deep into the labyrinths and caverns of the underworld. He will treat with monsters, madman, mutants. The question is, which one of them will inherit this Earth?

Flight of the Darkstar Dragon – by Benedict Patrick (Darkstar #1)

Included in the Kickstarter I backed last year, the Darkstar Dragon is the first in a new series by weird horror author Benedict Patrick. I’ve mostly enjoyed my time with his Yarnsworld books, but am also ready to see what else he had to offer.

Impossible world. Impossible dragon. Impossible adventure.

Lost with her ship and crew in an unfamiliar land, Min’s first command could be her last.

Nothing here behaves the way it should:

The magic that powers her skyship has been drained, rendering it immobile.

The sky is an endless twilight, lit by the luminous fish that swim in it.

Off starboard, there’s also the country-sized dragon that is looking particularly hungry.

It will take all of Min’s training and experience to get her people safely back home, but as the truth about the Darkstar Dimension begins to be revealed, Min will have to prove to her crew – and to herself – that she is still the best person for the job.

A Rising Man – by Abir Mukherjee (Sam Wyndham #1)

I was actually shopping for books for my father for Christmas when I came across this. Though I ultimately didn’t end up buying it for him, it sounded so interesting I kept coming back to it myself. Supposedly it’s really quite good…

Captain Sam Wyndham, former Scotland Yard detective, is a new arrival to Calcutta. Desperately seeking a fresh start after his experiences during the Great War, Wyndham has been recruited to head up a new post in the police force. But with barely a moment to acclimatise to his new life or to deal with the ghosts which still haunt him, Wyndham is caught up in a murder investigation that will take him into the dark underbelly of the British Raj.

A senior British official has been murdered, and a note left in his mouth warns the British to quit India: or else. With rising political dissent and the stability of the Raj under threat, Wyndham and his two new colleagues–arrogant Inspector Digby, who can barely conceal his contempt for the natives and British-educated, but Indian-born Sargeant Banerjee, one of the few Indians to be recruited into the new CID–embark on an investigation that will take them from the luxurious parlours of wealthy British traders to the seedy opium dens of the city.

Salvation – by Peter F. Hamilton (Salvation Sequence #1)

So far this seems to be a strangely connected story of strange flashbacks and stranger events. But I can’t stop reading it. So… good?

In 2204, humanity is expanding into the wider galaxy in leaps and bounds. A new technology of linked jump gates has rendered most forms of transportation–including starships–virtually obsolete. Every place on earth, every distant planet mankind has settled, is now merely a step away from any other. And all seems wonderful…until a crashed alien spaceship is found on a newly-located world 89 light years from Earth, harboring seventeen human victims. And of the high-powered team dispatched to investigate the mystery, one is an alien spy…

Jade City – by Fonda Lee (Green Bone Saga #1)

A read I missed one, two years back? Now’s the time. Why? Three words. Overdue Audible credits.


The Kaul family is one of two crime syndicates that control the island of Kekon. It’s the only place in the world that produces rare magical jade, which grants those with the right training and heritage superhuman abilities.
The Green Bone clans of honorable jade-wearing warriors once protected the island from foreign invasion–but nowadays, in a bustling post-war metropolis full of fast cars and foreign money, Green Bone families like the Kauls are primarily involved in commerce, construction, and the everyday upkeep of the districts under their protection.
When the simmering tension between the Kauls and their greatest rivals erupts into open violence in the streets, the outcome of this clan war will determine the fate of all Green Bones and the future of Kekon itself.

One, the Other, or Both

So, I’ve copies of both of these, each one by the same author. Initially, I was just going to go one or the other as a way to keep my numbers for the year reasonable, but really—I’m going to read both Sanderson’s anyway, so there’s that. Do you have a suggestion for which of the others I read and which I ignore? Let me know (please)!

Once and Future Witches / Ten Thousand Doors of January – by Alix E. Harrow

A book about love, adventure, danger and a story untold mingles with a tale of the return of magic and three sisters with a past that needs afixing.

The Builders / Those Above – by Daniel Polansky

A war against the gods or a grimdark redwall, which sounds better?

Rhythm of War / Dawnshard – by Brandon Sanderson

Yeah, I’m definitely gonna read these both, just as soon as I finish my Stormlight reread.

AAAAAUUUUGGGHHHHH I want to read them now!

Gates of the Dead / Seven Forges – by James A. Moore

The Tides of War is actually pretty underrated but Seven Forges began it all, plus I got the entire series (to date at least, Book #5 comes out later this year) for about a $1 over Christmas.

Some Additional TBR

Warrior of the Altaii – by Robert Jordan

Draw near and listen, or else time is at an end.

The watering holes of the Plain are drying up, the fearsome fanghorn grow more numerous, and bad omens abound. Wulfgar, a leader of the Altaii people, must contend with twin queens, warlords, prophets and magic in hopes of protecting his people and securing their future. Elspeth, a visitor from another world, holds the answers, but first Wulfgar must learn to ask the right questions.

But what if the knowledge that saves the Altaii will also destroy them?

Great North Road – by Peter F. Hamilton

This is one intimidating brick of a book. I feel more embarrassed carrying it around to read than I would building a wall out of them. I only have the one, though, and one does not a wall make.

A century from now, thanks to a technology allowing instantaneous travel across light-years, humanity has solved its energy shortages, cleaned up the environment, and created far-flung colony worlds. The keys to this empire belong to the powerful North family – composed of successive generations of clones. Yet these clones are not identical. For one thing, genetic errors have crept in with each generation. For another, the original three clone “brothers” have gone their separate ways, and the branches of the family are now friendly rivals more than allies.

Or maybe not so friendly. At least that’s what the murder of a North clone in the English city of Newcastle suggests to Detective Sidney Hurst. Sid is a solid investigator who’d like nothing better than to hand off this hot potato of a case. The way he figures it, whether he solves the crime or not, he’ll make enough enemies to ruin his career. Yet Sid’s case is about to take an unexpected turn: Because the circumstances of the murder bear an uncanny resemblance to a killing that took place years ago on the planet St. Libra, where a North clone and his entire household were slaughtered in cold blood.

The convicted slayer, Angela Tramelo, has always claimed her innocence. And now it seems she may have been right. Because only the St. Libra killer could have committed the Newcastle crime. Problem is, Angela also claims that the murderer was an alien monster.

Now Sid must navigate through a Byzantine minefield of competing interests within the police department and the world’s political and economic elite…all the while hunting down a brutal killer poised to strike again. And on St. Libra, Angela, newly released from prison, joins a mission to hunt down the elusive alien, only to learn that the line between hunter and hunted is a thin one.

The Bone Shard Daughter – by Andrea Stewart (Drowning Empire #1)

I’ve heard great things and the story kinda reminds me of a mashup of the Empire of Storms and Gods of Blood & Powder, yet unique.

The emperor’s reign has lasted for decades, his mastery of bone shard magic powering the animal-like constructs that maintain law and order. But now his rule is failing, and revolution is sweeping across the Empire’s many islands.

Lin is the emperor’s daughter and spends her days trapped in a palace of locked doors and dark secrets. When her father refuses to recognize her as heir to the throne, she vows to prove her worth by mastering the forbidden art of bone shard magic.

Yet such power carries a great cost, and when the revolution reaches the gates of the palace, Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to claim her birthright – and save her people.

The Trouble With Peace – by Joe Abercrombie (Age of Madness #2)

Is there anything I need to say about this? It’s Jabercrombie. Of course I’m gonna read it. Not sure how I missed it last year anyhow.

Savine dan Glokta, once Adua’s most powerful investor, finds her judgement, fortune and reputation in tatters. But she still has all her ambitions, and no scruple will be permitted to stand in her way.

For heroes like Leo dan Brock and Stour Nightfall, only happy with swords drawn, peace is an ordeal to end as soon as possible. But grievances must be nursed, power seized and allies gathered first, while Rikke must master the power of the Long Eye . . . before it kills her.

The Breakers still lurk in the shadows, plotting to free the common man from his shackles, while noblemen bicker for their own advantage. Orso struggles to find a safe path through the maze of knives that is politics, only for his enemies, and his debts, to multiply.

The old ways are swept aside, and the old leaders with them, but those who would seize the reins of power will find no alliance, no friendship, and no peace, lasts forever.

The Twisted Ones – by T. Kingfisher

When Mouse’s dad asks her to clean out her dead grandmother’s house, she says yes. After all, how bad could it be?

Answer: pretty bad. Grandma was a hoarder, and her house is stuffed with useless rubbish. That would be horrific enough, but there’s more—Mouse stumbles across her step-grandfather’s journal, which at first seems to be filled with nonsensical rants…until Mouse encounters some of the terrifying things he described for herself.

Alone in the woods with her dog, Mouse finds herself face to face with a series of impossible terrors—because sometimes the things that go bump in the night are real, and they’re looking for you. And if she doesn’t face them head on, she might not survive to tell the tale.

Last Mortal Bond – by Brian Staveley (Unhewn Throne #3)

With Staveley’s next epic on the horizon, I really need to knock out his first series if I ever want to worry about the second. Plus it’ll be good to finish another series versus stalling in the middle.

The ancient csestriim are back to finish their purge of humanity; armies march against the capital; leaches, solitary beings who draw power from the natural world to fuel their extraordinary abilities, maneuver on all sides to affect the outcome of the war; and capricious gods walk the earth in human guise with agendas of their own.

But the three imperial siblings at the heart of it all–Valyn, Adare, and Kaden–come to understand that even if they survive the holocaust unleashed on their world, there may be no reconciling their conflicting visions of the future.

Planetside – by Michael Mammay (Planetside #1)

War heroes aren’t usually called out of semi-retirement and sent to the far reaches of the galaxy for a routine investigation. So when Colonel Carl Butler answers the call from an old and powerful friend, he knows it’s something big—and he’s not being told the whole story. A high councilor’s son has gone MIA out of Cappa Base, the space station orbiting a battle-ravaged planet. The young lieutenant had been wounded and evacuated—but there’s no record of him having ever arrived at hospital command. 

The colonel quickly finds Cappa Base to be a labyrinth of dead ends and sabotage: the hospital commander stonewalls him, the Special Ops leader won’t come off the planet, witnesses go missing, radar data disappears, and that’s before he encounters the alien enemy. Butler has no choice but to drop down onto a hostile planet—because someone is using the war zone as a cover. The answers are there—Butler just has to make it back alive…

Kingdom of Liars – by Nick Martell (Legacy of the Mercany Kings #2)


Michael is branded a traitor as a child because of the murder of the king’s nine-year-old son, by his father David Kingman. Ten years later on Michael lives a hardscrabble life, with his sister Gwen, performing crimes with his friends against minor royals in a weak attempt at striking back at the world that rejects him and his family.

In a world where memory is the coin that pays for magic, Michael knows something is there in the hot white emptiness of his mind. So when the opportunity arrives to get folded back into court, via the most politically dangerous member of the kingdom’s royal council, Michael takes it, desperate to find a way back to his past. He discovers a royal family that is spiraling into a self-serving dictatorship as gun-wielding rebels clash against magically trained militia.

What the truth holds is a set of shocking revelations that will completely change the Hollows, if Michael and his friends and family can survive long enough to see it.

Stormtide – by Den Patrick (Ashen Torment #2)

While I was annoyed with the 2nd half of #1, I figure it probably time to give #2 a try. If nothing else, I’ll DNF it and not regret anything.

Steiner, blacksmith, hero, has taken a hammer to the Empire, freeing the dead and children with witchsign alike from their fiery prison. Now he plans to finish what he started.

Kimi, dragon-speaker, princess, must seek her father’s court and win the support of his armies before news of her escape dooms her people.

Silverdust, ancient, dead, journeys to the heart of the empire as a prisoner – to meet the Emperor for what he hopes will be the final time.

Kjellrun, witch, killer, still reeling from the loss of her uncle when she is ripped from her family, fears this power within her. But she must harness that force – and soon – if she hopes to survive.

Scattered by fortune, plagued by danger, Steiner’s crew rise against the dark rule that has cost them so much.

The old gods are waking.

The dragons are free.
May gods help those who bear the sign of the witch.

Returning from 2020

You can find my 2020 TBR here, or we could just forget it and pretend it no longer exists 😉

After Atlas – by Emma Newman (Planetfall Universe #2)

The Spider’s War – by Daniel Abraham (Dagger & Coin #5)

Vengeful – by V.E. Schwab (Villains #2)

The Grey Bastards – by Jonathan French (Lot Lands #1)

The Flames of Shadam Khoreh – by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Lays of Anuskaya #3)

Metro 2035 – by Dmitry Glukhovsky (Metro #3)

So, do our TBR shelves share anything? Or do you need to gush/rage about any of these? Or have you read some and should I peruse your own reviews? Let me know (please)! And good luck to everyone on a successful year of reading (remember: 2022 is only 50 1/2 weeks away 🙂

Book Loot – Christmas 2020 & January 2021

Didn’t get a ton of books for Christmas this year, for whatever reason. Combined with the amount I was working over the holidays and an inherent lethargy on my part, I didn’t get a haul post done for December. Not that I bought a bunch of books during Ketchup Month anyhow (nor did I get much in the way of catch-up done). So we’ll just combine December and January here.

ARCs for January

The Scorpion’s Tail – by Preston & Child (1/07 UK • 1/12 US)

The second Nora Kelly/Corrie Swanson spinoff features our favorite duo in the wastes of New Mexico and includes a gold cross, a mummified corpse, a missing gold mine, and a famed event in US/World history.

Doors of Sleep – by Tim Pratt (1/12)

My first Pratt book, Doors of Sleep features capital-T Traveler Zaxony Delatree, who travels to a new universe every time he falls asleep. Seriously, that’s all I needed to hear about this one to want to read it. If that’s not enough for you, there’s also an enemy, the fate of the multiverse, and a talking crystal.

Fable – by Adrienne Young (1/26 UK)

A title I thoroughly regretted missing in 2020 despite its mixed reviews gets a release in the UK, which allows me to score a review copy. This survival YA features 17-year-old trader Fable in a quest to find her missing father and reclaim her place at the head of his trading empire. There’s some pirates, a desert island, and a good quest—always solid.

Extraterrestrial – by Avi Loeb (1/26)

The science entry well-known astrophysicist Avi Loeb examines the possibility that the first extrasolar object that we know of to enter our solar system—’Oumuamua, which passed through in 2017—was in fact a sign of extraterrestrial life. Though it’s not a common theory in academia, it is quite the hypothesis, and one that made highly interesting read!

Purchases

I decided to re-up Audible this year, but had a few credits to use before they expire later this month. Enter a flurry of new books:

A Rising Man – by Abir Mukherjee

Set during Colonial India, Captain Sam Wyndham arrives in Kolkata to investigate the murder of a senior crown official, whose death comes at a time of rising tensions and dissent between the empire and the colony. Taking him luxurious palaces to seedy opium dens, the mystery will test all of Wyndham’s skill set—and may just prove too much for him altogether.

Warrior of the Altaii – by Robert Jordan

Meant to be the first in a brand new series, this standalone was published posthumously in 2019. As the plains dry up, Wulfgar of the Altaii must lead his people past dangers, wizards and prophets in order to secure their future.

Trail of Lightning – by Rebecca Roanhorse

The rise of the sea has wrought an apocalypse but also somehow returned gods and daemons to once more walk the land. Maggie Hoskie is a monster hunter tasked with returning a missing girl to her small town. But the truth behind the girl’s disappearance may well unearth secrets better left buried—particularly those of Maggie herself.

Great North Road – by Peter F. Hamilton

What do a murdered clone, a convicted killer, and an alien monster have in common? Well, for one, they’re all featured in the blurb for this book. An absolute brick of a tome, this Hamilton novel features an investigator, wormhole tech, and maybe some aliens. It’s a lengthy one—that I’ve had on my TBR for years but has always intimidated me with its sheer size.

Gifts

Rhythm of War – by Brandon Sanderson

I’m not even going to introduce this one. It’s self-explanatory. Might take me a bit to get to what with the Stormlight reread and all—but I WILL GET THERE. And I can’t imagine it won’t be worth the wait, but I still kinda want to read it straightaway.

Made Things – by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Coppelia is a street thief, one very good at making friends. But instead of flesh, some of her friends are made out of wood or steel. Their partnership is sometimes tenuous, but mostly solid. But when a threat threatens (“threat threatens”, yeah I know) their city, these friends must solve it together, or die apart. Not a huge novella fan, but Tchaikovsky is an obvious exception to that.

So, these are the swags for this January/December. As of writing this, the world is… I seriously have no words. I just… I just don’t know anymore. Anyway, lemme know if you’ve read any of these, or if there’re others I should have on my radar. Everyone keep safe and be well!

The Scorpion’s Tail – by Preston & Child (Review)

Nora Kelly #2

Thriller

Grand Central; January 12, 2021 (US)
Head of Zeus; January 7, 2021 (UK)

400ish pages (ebook)

3.5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Grand Central, Head of Zeus and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

The Scorpion’s Tail is the second in the Nora Kelly spinoff, a collaboration between the archaeologist and FBI newbie Corrie Swanson. As both are prominently linked with Special Agent Pendergast, the man still crops up from time to time, solving mysteries and annoying law enforcement.

Note: The length of the book is suspect. The ebook version claims to be 309 pages, while the hardcover is 416, and the large print is 592. Short answer: I have no IDEA how long this is.

All Sheriff Watts wanted was a day off. A nice, lonely stream; a quiet bit of fishing. What he got was a wounded looter and a mummified corpse. High Lonesome was once one of the premier gold mining towns in the West. Like most early Western mines, it busted out and was left as little more than a ruin. Due to its remote, inaccessible locale, the ghost town is pristine, rarely looted, and intact. But when Watts comes upon a mummified corpse, the ruin is about to become the site of an FBI investigation.

Enter Corrie Swanson, junior agent. She in turn enlists the help of Nora Kelly, to ID the body and determine cause of death. It’s going along well enough at first—due to the lonesome nature of High Lonesome, the pair (plus Nora’s brother, Skip) don’t have to contend with a large team or crowd of reporters—until two unexpected details come to life. The first is that the mummified man died in horrible agony—in a fetal position, skin falling off in sheets, rictus of horror plastered on his face.

The second is the solid gold, 16th century Spanish cross hidden on the corpse.

When these details emerge, they expose Kelly and Swanson to the dangerous world of looters and treasure hunters, conspiracies and cover-ups. Throw in a mystery so strange it involves the Army, the Pre-Columbian city of Teotihuacan, a certain sexy sheriff, a terrible secret, and the most explosive moment in American history.

If nothing else, this will be a case neither Swanson nor Kelly will ever forget—should they live long enough to solve it.

The story of Scorpion’s Tail is a good one, for the most part. The author combo can sure spin an addictive yarn. As usual, the story, the setting, the mystery drinks you in in its early stages. And when the story really gets rolling you’re already heavily invested. I had no problem reading—again, up to a point.

The main issue (and my main complaint with the recent Preston & Child books) concerns the ensuing conspiracy theory and ridiculous leap of faith that always follows. In theory, there’s nothing wrong with a conspiracy theory. They can be practical, ridiculous, and sometimes even true. The first several times can even be a fun adventure. But eventually the fun stops. Now if 2020 taught us anything, it’s that everyone loves a good conspiracy theory, and that everyone has their own point of disillusionment. Scorpion’s Tail eventually leads me past my own. It’s… absurd. And honestly, neither terribly intricate nor well formed. On the positive side, it waits until the 2/3 mark to kick in, when I was already invested in the story. So, while it soured things, I still wanted to finish the book. Whether it does the same for you is the question.

The details—usually Preston & Child’s bread and butter—aren’t as sound in this one. From referring to Spanish Friars (Jesuits don’t have friars, and they were the choice of Colonial Spain), to cutoff words in Spanish translating to cutoff words in English, to the change in language for a few key characters at the 2/3 mark—everything seems a little less polished, a little less cared for.

The pace is as amazing as ever. The mystery begins with an action-packed opening chapter and keeps upping the ante throughout, so that there’s never a dull moment. Hiccups in the plot aside: I never had trouble reading this book. And I never thought about putting it down. So, while there may be some less than stellar action sequences, there were also those that were genuinely heart-pounding. The conspiracy theory soured my opinion, but the mystery redeemed it. The characters are a nice contrast of likable and unlikable that the authors write so well, and every character has their own history and motives. No cardboard cutouts here.

Now, let’s talk about the ending.

So, as spoiler free as possible, without getting into specifics, let’s say that there are two mysteries to solve. The former is settled through most of the book. The latter is summed up in its conclusion. The latter mystery is annoying as we’re provided almost none of the details such that I was expecting it would be the premise of the next book. But then it’s summed up and solved in but a few pages. The way this was done, the manner of it… was annoying.

Also, not all characters get resolution at the end. In fact, one of the two leads (Corrie and Nora) doesn’t. The fledgling romance is left completely in the wind, and isn’t even addressed in the conclusion. It was like: here’s the wrap-up, oh and this second mystery solved, then a brief snapshot of one character’s resolution—the end. I was on-board throughout; the leap of faith, the absurd bits, the annoying bits, the action, mystery, tension, romance—but this lost me. It was an incredibly disappointing and abrupt ending. And I really expected better.

TL;DR

Once again, Preston & Child deliver a heart-pounding, gut-wrenching thriller with an intricate mystery, fascinating location, and highly believable characters. Unfortunately, while I never had a problem reading it, Scorpion’s Tail suffers from a lack of polish, a ludicrous leap of faith, absurd conspiracy theory, and a disappointing lack of resolution for most of its characters. While there’s no denying that this is a very good ride, the final third sours what could’ve been a really good book. And the conclusion tests even that. For fans of the first, I’d still recommend Nora and Corrie’s follow-up. For fans of the Pendergast series, I’d still recommend Scorpion’s Tail as there’s no Constance. For people looking for a book to read on a plane, yeah, you could do much worse. For people who are looking for a intricate, believable, amazing, or inventive thriller—keep looking. For the bottom line: I had no trouble reading this. And while the ending was a disappointment, at the end of the day it was still a mostly good read.

On Tap 1/6/21

Well, welcome to the new year! If you were one of those people who were hoping the magic of a fresh year would calm tensions, restore friendships, cure the virus, and cause humanity to come together instead of becoming increasingly divided… well, it didn’t. Honestly, I’d guessed as much, but I was hoping for it still.

Oh well, maybe next year.

Currently Reading

The Way of Kings – by Brandon Sanderson

2021 begins with a reread of one of my favorite books ever, the Way of Kings. I honestly hadn’t planned on a reread of the Stormlight Archive this year, but my sister changed my mind. Notably, her reluctance to read Oathbringer, Edgedancer or the rest because she doesn’t remember what happened to this point and stubbornly refuses to reread them herself. Therefore I will read them in her stead and recap each part (there are 10) from the first two books—and maybe #3 and the two novellas—and post those here. But since WoK is reeeaaally long, and I’ve other stuff I want to read concurrently, I’ll probably be on it for a while. Oh well; I’d like to complain, but it’s really hard as they’re all SOOO GOOD!

Salvation – by Peter F. Hamilton

The latest Peter F. Hamilton series features a crashed alien spaceship and the mysterious, surprising cargo it contains. As the wreckage is 89-light-years distant, a special team is dispatched—but it’s going to take them some time to get there. And so, the POVs kinda fracture randomly. Tbh I kinda forgot what this was about until I read the prompt a minute ago, but so far I haven’t minded terribly because it’s still pretty interesting and entertaining.

Extraterrestrial – by Avi Loeb

My science (non-fiction science) read for the quarter examines the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua (yes, that’s a glottal—it’s Hawaiian for “scout”) and explores the theory that it is proof of extraterrestrial life. If you were ever super interested in the universe, astronomy, aliens and math as much as I was, this is actually quite an interesting read. While I don’t agree with all the author’s hypotheses, I’ve been quite enjoying the book so far.

Upcoming

I’ve been a bit tardy on my 2021 TBR but I hope to post it soon. Problem has been I’m not 100% what’s going to be on it yet. I’ve made over a dozen lists so far and while there are mainstays, there’re quite a few wild cards too. In addition to that, my 2020 Christmas and 2021 January book hauls. A few reviews, two ARCs and Where Gods Fear to Go, should be out between now and next weekend—including the Scorpion’s Tail by Preston & Child which will be up tomorrow!

So, be safe, sane, and… something else with an ‘s’. Something that means ‘great’. Let me know if you come up with that, please? Oh, and also if you’ve read any of the above, if there’s something I need to check out instead, or if there’s anything in particular I require on my 2021 TBR. Thank you!

Top 10 Existing Books of 2020

So, I did my Top 10 New Books from 2020, so this is my Top 10 that I read this year that AREN’T from 2020. Quite a few novellas and series finales within. A few authors you might recognize from my last list as well. Somehow (I didn’t plan this) all but one of these are from 2019. Pretty much what 2020 taught me was (well, so many awful things but) there were no good books from before 2019.

Yeah. Sure. Suuuuure.

10

Magebane – by Stephen Aryan

2019

The first of several finales, the Age of Dread ends with the fall of magic—or its rise. Hated and fear around the world, mages are done hiding in the shadows. And when a dark god rises to destroy mankind, they may be the only thing standing between humanity and the abyss.

9

Minor Mage – by T. Kingfisher

2019

A heartwarming novella about challenge, hardship, growing up, and that while minor, even a little magic can go a long way. I laughed, I cried—and I want an armadillo familiar of my very own.

8

Where Gods Fear to Go – by Angus Watson

2019

Finn the Deep has defeated mountains, rivers, and big snakes. He has lost friends, comrades, and control of his bladder. But he has gained a new name, new friends, and several sexy female companions. Now all that’s left is to save the world—or die trying.

7

Blood of Empire – by Brian McClellan

2019

The power to make a god is something no man should possess—that is the premise of the final book in McClellan’s latest trilogy. And while Kresimir may not show up in this one, there’s still more than enough action to go around.

6

To Be Taught, If Fortunate – by Becky Chambers

2019

A haunting novella that combines fantastic discovery with overwhelming loss. I laughed, I cried, my mind boggled at the scenes Becky Chambers set upon me. A short but deep, lovely read.

5

The Fall of the Readers – by Django Wexler

2017

Yet another series finale, this finds Alice and the other apprentices fighting for their lives against the old Readers, but even if they win, what then? It turns out the shadow behind the throne might just be more dangerous than anything the old Readers could’ve imagined.

4

The Outlaw and the Upstart King – by Rod Duncan

2019

While I was torn on the first Map book, the 2nd delivered a heck of a bang. Joining Elizabeth is Elias, once of the Blood of Nova Scotia. But as Elizabeth tries to reclaim her life, Elias is trying to do little more than live to see another day.

Honorable Mentions

Those Brave, Foolish Souls from the City of Swords – by Benedict Patrick, The Shattered Crown – by Richard Ford, Senlin Ascends – by Josiah Bancroft, Queenslayer – by Sebastien de Castell

3

Summer Frost – by Blake Crouch

2019

This might just be the best novella I’ve ever read. It starts with a heavy dose of I, Robot, adds a dash of mystery, intrigue and suspense and comes out with something incredible.

2

Crownbreaker – by Sebastien de Castell

2019

A series finale, Kellen and Reichis are going out on a high point. Or are they? Full of guest stars and exciting twists and turns, this might just be the best Spellslinger yet!

1

Age of Death – by Michael J. Sullivan

2019

Death is just the beginning in this penultimate book of the Legends series. Amazing character development blends with incredible world-building, a mix of mystery and adventure runs the plot—this was one of my favorites OF ALL TIME.

The Most Disappointing Titles of 2020

Or should I say the books that I felt summed up 2020 the best? Is that more flattering?

Either way, along with the good comes the bad. Every year there are books we enjoy, and those that we were so disappointed in, sometimes not even the good ones can make up for them. So prepare for a bevvy of low ratings, DNFs, and rants about this or that. Therefore, I scheduled this for one of the most disappointing days of the year—December 28th, the Monday after Christmas, aka the day that I have to go back to work.

8

A Longer Fall – by Charlaine Harris

While I didn’t have a high opinion of its predecessor, I still had hopes that the 2nd Gunnie Rose would deliver where the first failed. It started off well but the action quickly overwhelmed all else so much so that when the pace slowed later on, there was no suspense or mystery or romance to keep the story moving. The ending I had a major problem with. It was as if all the character development and growth went out the window at the 75% mark.

2 / 5

7

Liquid Crystal Nightingale – by Eeleen Lee

A title you may not have heard of, I had high hopes that LCN would be my gem of the year. Alas, this scifi tale of… aliens? did not meet my expectations. With deep politics and complex narratives and so much advancement and subtlety this text felt stuffed to the gills with content. And a plot that I could just not manage to wrap my head around as the story constantly shifted back and forth in time. This is one of those that throws you in the deep end and lets you sink or swim. I sunk.

DNFed at 37%

6

Highfire – by Eoin Colfer

When the master of children’s adventure makes the move to contemporary adult fantasy, lock the doors and shutter the windows. Really. I found this book about a bayou dragon, a troublemaker, and a crooked sheriff to be crude for the sake of crudity, or because that’s what adults are? I also found the characters shallow, the world unfleshed out, the plot lacking depth, the humor over-the-top, and swearing for the sake of swearing. Absolutely not for me.

DNFed at 24%

5

By Force Alone – by Lavie Tildar

A reimagining of the KIng Arthur legend, I read this less than a month after one of my favorite new books of the year, Seven Endless Forests. To say that they were both technically reimaginings of Arthurian legend would be accurate. To say that they had much else in common would not. I found By Force Alone to be a horrible book with awful, wretched characters that I hated. But that may’ve been because of my idealization of Arthurian legend and the fact that this book was more of a grimdark modification of it.

DNFed at 22%

4

Arlo Finch in the Kingdom of Shadows – by John August

The blurb of Kingdom of Shadows has Arlo undertaking the arduous, dangerous task of rescuing his father from exile in China via the Long Woods—kinda a magical shortcut through the shadows. The problem—the main problem—is that this adventure wraps up in the first third of the book, and after that, well… we try something else. Something that kinda fizzles instead of killing it. The adventure and exploration aspects are out the window, and everything that’s defined the series thus far goes with it. The rest of the story is mildly enjoyable right up to the end, which is… abrupt. If this is the end of Arlo Finch, it sucks. If this is another step on the road, it’ll definitely put a hitch in his giddyup.

3 / 5

3

Battle Ground – by Jim Butcher

Now I know you’re surprised with this one. Dresden Files #17 was actually a decent book. But it was so OUT THERE, both with respect to the series and with respect to Peace Talks that I had to include it. There’s also no detective element to it. It’s just a war, but with the same pacing as the detective books. Which… doesn’t work. It’s like an epic boss battle the entire time, which I grew quite sick of quite quickly. Luckily the ending helps assuage some of this disgust, which gives me hope for the future. For a book, Battle Ground was decent. For a Dresden Files novel, it was awful.

3.5 / 5

2

The Adventures of Rockford T. Honeypot – by Josh Gottsegen

From the blurb, look and feel of this book, I expected it to be the return to Redwall that I’d been hoping for ever since the untimely death of Brian Jacques. Alas, if that’s what the author was going for too, they missed by a mile. Nothing made sense in the world. Trees are regular size except when they’re not, except that they’re still treated as regular sized even though they fit inside tiny greenhouses and grow fruit the size of chipmunk paws. All of the animals can talk to one another, except when they can’t. There’s a huge amount of law in this book. Like, A LOT. Are children now fascinated with lawyers and suing people nowadays? Because this is supposed to be a children’s book, and if so I’m pretty sure our society’s headed in the wrong direction.

2 / 5

1

The Ranger of Marzanna – by Jon Skovron

I was a big fan of Skovron’s Empire of Storms trilogy, so when I saw the announcement of a new series about a brother and sister on either side of a civil war, I was automatically in love. Bearing a similar tag-line to Ashes of the Sun by Django Wexler, Ranger of Marzanna begins with a murder, a kidnapping, and a rescue attempt. And then the plot goes stale. In two weeks I made it little more than a quarter through this tome (it’s 530 pages), and it felt like I was rereading Bleak House. It was dry, dusty, and painful. Sonya was by far the more interesting of the two siblings—as her chapters were just plain boring. Sebastian, her brother’s, were borderline unreadably dull. I’m unlikely to ever come back to this, but if I do, my expectations are only a fraction of what they were.

DNFed on page 160

Well that was quite something, eh? Were there any books that you were super hyped about only to be smashed in the face with a frying pan? Let me know what I should (or should not) be reading! And stay tuned for another list, coming soon!

My Top 10 New Books of 2020

I was actually a bit surprised by how this all shook out. Several of my choices were extremely easy ones (1-7), and then slightly more difficult (8), and then really chaotically hard (9-10). I’m honestly a little shocked that the Black Song by Anthony Ryan didn’t make it onto this list, but when I finished ranking them, it’d somehow ended up at #11. Anyway, let me explain.

Welcome to the first (second) wrap-up list of the year. These are ten of the best new books (books that came out in 2020) I read this year. In part they are ranked based on the rating I gave them, but also I took into account the lasting memory of each read as well. So, like, I initially rated The Black Song as 4.2 / 5 and Seven Endless Forests as 4 / 5, but while I certainly enjoyed the story of the second Raven’s Blade, I better remembered SEF as having a lovely world with an interesting story to boot. And in part since this was a hard year for everyone, the more light, adventurous of the two seems to’ve won out. Maybe that makes sense and maybe it doesn’t, but here we go anyhow:

10

Seven Endless Forests – by April G. Tucholke

One of the more carefree and generally fun stories of the year, SEF also provides such a lovely cover (did I mention I like green?).

On the heels of a devastating plague, Torvi’s sister, Morgunn, is stolen from the family farm by Uther, a flame-loving Fremish wolf-priest who leads a pack of ragged, starving girls. Torvi leaves the only home she’s ever known, and joins a shaven-skulled druid and a band of roaming Elsh artists known as the Butcher Bards. They set out on a quest to rescue Torvi’s sister, and find a mythical sword.

9

Age of Empyre – by Michael J. Sullivan

The final entry in the Legends of the First Empire comes in at #9 after concluding a fantastic six-book story with some twists I didn’t see coming.

A DOOR OPENS. AN ARMY OF DRAGONS ADVANCES. AND THE FATE OF THE LIVING RESTS WITH THE DEAD.

After obtaining the secret to creating dragons, the leader of the Fhrey has turned the tide of war once more—but gaining the advantage has come at a terrible price. While Imaly plots to overthrow the fane for transgressions against his people, a mystic and a Keeper are the only hope for the Rhunes. Time is short, and the future of both races hangs in the balance. In this exciting conclusion to the Legends of the First Empire series, the Great War finally comes to a climactic end, and with it dawns a new era—The Age of Empyre.

8

Peace Talks – by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Drought ends in a big way! Peace Talks features a return to the same world we readers have loved for 15 books. Yes, Harry Dresden’s back—plus a mystery, a battle, and a world to save.

When the Supernatural nations of the world meet up to negotiate an end to ongoing hostilities, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional wizard, joins the White Council’s security team to make sure the talks stay civil. But can he succeed, when dark political manipulations threaten the very existence of Chicago–and all he holds dear?

7

Network Effect – by Martha Wells

The first full-length Murderbot novel delivers on the level of sarcasm and awkwardness I’ve come to love, while existing for twice the usual duration.

You know that feeling when you’re at work, and you’ve had enough of people, and then the boss walks in with yet another job that needs to be done right this second or the world will end, but all you want to do is go home and binge your favorite shows? And you’re a sentient murder machine programmed for destruction? Congratulations, you’re Murderbot.

6

The God Game – by Danny Tobey

Probably the most addictive thriller I’ve read in some time, I read the God Game in two days, and enjoyed every second of it.

You are invited!
Come inside and play with G.O.D.
Bring your friends!
It’s fun!
But remember the rules. Win and ALL YOUR DREAMS COME TRUE.™ Lose, you die!

With those words, Charlie and his friends enter the G.O.D. Game, a video game run by underground hackers and controlled by a mysterious AI that believes it’s God. Through their phone-screens and high-tech glasses, the teens’ realities blur with a virtual world of creeping vines, smoldering torches, runes, glyphs, gods, and mythical creatures. When they accomplish a mission, the game rewards them with expensive tech, revenge on high-school tormentors, and cash flowing from ATMs. Slaying a hydra and drawing a bloody pentagram as payment to a Greek god seem harmless at first. Fun even.

But then the threatening messages start. Worship me. Obey me. Complete a mission, however cruel, or the game reveals their secrets and crushes their dreams. Tasks that seemed harmless at first take on deadly consequences. Mysterious packages show up at their homes. Shadowy figures start following them, appearing around corners, attacking them in parking garages. Who else is playing this game, and how far will they go to win?

5

The Fugitive and the Vanishing Man – by Rod Duncan

Hailing from all the way back in January, I’d actually forgotten that this came out THIS YEAR. The conclusion to the Map of Unknown Things rounds out the Top 5, with a literal bang.

Ladies and gentlemen, for the very final time, Elizabeth and Edwin Barnabus will perform the grand illusion of the Vanishing Man.

Elizabeth Barnabus is a mutineer and a murderer. So they say. The noose awaits in Liverpool as punishment for her crimes. But they’ll have to catch her first.

Disguised as a labourer, Elizabeth flees west across America, following a rumour of her long-lost family. Crossing the border into the wilds of the Oregon Territory, she discovers a mustering army, a king who believes he is destined to conquer the world, and a weapon so powerful that it could bring the age of reason crashing down.

In a land where politics and prophecy are one and the same, the fate of the Gas-Lit Empire may come to rest on the perfect execution of a conjuring trick…

4

Ravencaller – by David Dalglish

The second book in the Keepers trilogy introduces ravencallers, a whole lot of monsters, and even more drama. With the final book out in 2021, if you haven’t tried David Dalglish yet, when’s a better time?

When ancient magic suddenly returns to his land, a warrior priest must protect his world from monsters that were once only legend in the second book of USA Today bestseller David Dalglish’s epic fantasy trilogy.

Magical creatures are attacking the capital city, seeking to retake what was once theirs, and no one is safe. Ancient cultists have cursed the highest members of the Church, turning them into twisted abominations. The only hope for a cure lies with Adria Eveson. To learn the cure, she must befriend an imprisoned cultist, and guard her heart against his seductive promises and twisted logic.
The fate of all races, human and magical, rests in her hands, and in the choices she makes. Should she choose wrong, only one person stands in her way: her brother, the Soulkeeper Devin Eveson.

Honorable Mentions

The Kraken’s Tooth – by Anthony Ryan, The Black Song – by Anthony Ryan, The Constant Rabbit – by Jasper Fforde, Every Sky a Grave – by Jay Posey, The Seventh Perfection – by Daniel Polansky, When Jackals Storm the Walls – by Bradley P. Beaulieu.

3

Forged – by Benedict Jacka

One of my more recent reads, the penultimate (I love that word) in the Alex Verus series delivers exactly where Fallen left off. A darker, more powerful Alex surprises and shocks, while maintaining the status of greatest British action hero since Daniel Craig.

To protect his friends, Mage Alex Verus has had to change–and embrace his dark side. But the life mage Anne has changed too, and made a bond with a dangerous power. She’s going after everyone she’s got a grudge against–and it’s a long list.

In the meantime, Alex has to deal with his arch-enemy, Levistus. The Council’s death squads are hunting Alex as well as Anne, and the only way for Alex to stop them is to end his long war with Levistus and the Council, by whatever means necessary. It will take everything Alex has to stay a step ahead of the Council and stop Anne from letting the world burn.

2

Automatic Reload – by Ferrett Steinmetz

Part of me views this as just the right book at the right time—but most of me doesn’t care. A heavy dose of action and cyberpunk, panic attacks, and just the right amount of romance, I definitely enjoyed this more than anyone I know. And I’m okay with that.

In the near-future, automation is king, and Mat is the top mercenary working the black market. He’s your solider’s solider, with military-grade weapons instead of arms…and a haunted past that keeps him awake at night. On a mission that promises the biggest score of his life, he discovers that the top secret shipment he’s been sent to guard is not a package, but a person: Silvia.

Silvia is genetically-altered to be the deadliest woman on the planet–her only weakness is her panic disorder. When Mat decides to free her, both of them become targets of the most powerful shadow organization in the world. They go on the lam, determined to stop a sinister plot to create more super assassins like Silvia. Between bloody gunfights, rampant car chases and drone attacks, Mat and Silvia team up to survive…and unexpectedly realize their messed up brain-chemistry cannot overpower their very real chemistry.

1

Ashes of the Sun – by Django Wexler

So it’s Number 1, is it? Could’ve probably told you this when I read it. I adored this new fantasy by Wexler, combining a brother-sister combo with a shot of vengeance and a added punch of adventure. Nothing seems to go as planned and everything surprises. Loved it! Can’t WAIT for the next one!

Long ago, a magical war destroyed an empire, and a new one was built in its ashes. But still the old grudges simmer, and two siblings will fight on opposite sides to save their world, in the start of Django Wexler’s new epic fantasy trilogy

Gyre hasn’t seen his beloved sister since their parents sold her to the mysterious Twilight Order. Now, twelve years after her disappearance, Gyre’s sole focus is revenge, and he’s willing to risk anything and anyone to claim enough power to destroy the Order.

Chasing rumors of a fabled city protecting a powerful artifact, Gyre comes face-to-face with his lost sister. But she isn’t who she once was. Trained to be a warrior, Maya wields magic for the Twilight Order’s cause. Standing on opposite sides of a looming civil war, the two siblings will learn that not even the ties of blood will keep them from splitting the world in two.

And so concludes our broadcast day. Stay tuned for many more lists, maybe a couple reviews, and a cookie or two. Hope you’ve enjoyed this year—I sure haven’t. But maybe your Christmas will help you forget all that. Happy Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and more everyone!

Forged – by Benedict Jacka (Review)

Alex Verus #11

Urban Fantasy

Ace Books; November 24, 2020

294 pages (Paperback)

5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

Warning: Contains minor spoilers for the Alex Verus series through Book #10, major spoilers for Fallen (Book #10).

Fallen introduced us to a new, darker Alex Verus. Recently blacklisted by the Council, he acquired the Fateweaver in a desperate attempt to stay alive, managing not only to do so but also becoming a major power player in the process. A confrontation at the end of Book #10 sees him survive a shootout with Richard, Anne, Deleo and Sal Sarque—while also somehow managing to affect events such that each of these agents either become unaligned or very, very dead.

Our favorite new antihero returns in Forged, the penultimate installment of the Alex Verus saga. When we were introduced to Alex in Fated, he was a former dark mage of middling power, trying to do nothing more than stay off the Council’s radar. It’s safe to say that his life has changed quite a bit since. Once he tried to do the right thing, avoiding conflict at all costs. Now an outlaw, Alex has embraced his darker side. So, when Anne goes rogue and uses the power of her Djinn to settle some scores, Alex decides to do the same, starting with his nemesis from Book #1—Levistus.

And with Council death squads hunting him and his former lover, the Fateweaver slowly devouring his right arm, and Deleo now using every scrap of her power (and time) to find and kill him—the time has never been better. Um, apparently.

But the path to Levistus is not an easy one. Nor do you become one of the most powerful mages in the land by mere happenstance. But Alex’s plan—nay, his very life itself—rests on his ability to take Levistus down. Which he will—or die trying.

I quite like the abrupt change of pace in the last few books. The darkness and depth of Alex’s soul has been hinted at from Day 1, but to see him come full circle has not only been impressive and a little bit terrifying—it’s been gratifying as well. In the Dresden Files, it seems Harry’s always struggling with the evil within. Be it from the Blackened Denarius, the Winter Mantle, the darkness he’s seen and the power he’s gained, Dresden always seems to repress and overcome it. Now, while I’m not complaining about him controlling his darker urges, I AM calling him a little goody two-boots. And where the Dresden Files leads, many more series have followed. Thus it’s refreshing to see someone finally embrace their darker side, if only to see where it leads.

And the darker Alex Verus is cold and calculated. Not to mention a little scary. But with Alex embracing the “darkness” within, there’s something more terrifying on show than just his coldness or lack of emotion—and it’s his efficiency. When there’s little holding him back, Alex is scary good. Both definitely good and definitely… scary. There’s definitely something of a Ludonarrative Dissonance to it. For Alex has no shortage of bodies in his wake. Yet still I found myself rooting for him. And relating with him none too little. Far from denying it, Alex actually takes time to address the dissonance within himself—and does so in a way that genuinely surprised me.

Storywise… I have very few notes. And even fewer complaints. This isn’t the first book that has been Levistus-heavy. Several in the series have centered on Alex’s nemesis trying to capture and kill either him or someone he cares for. While you can definitely overdo something like this, I actually can’t complain about it here. For while Levistus hasn’t changed, both the circumstances and Alex Verus himself have. I’ve certainly enjoyed where the plot has led thus far—and am incredibly excited to see where it ends up.

TL;DR

Forged, the penultimate release of the Alex Verus series, continues where Fallen left off. A changed, darker, more powerful Alex Verus takes center stage, and finally looks for some payback against those that have wronged him. If you haven’t yet hopped on the bandwagon, might I suggest this is the year for it? Forged, any, or even all of the series leading up to it would make great last minute gifts. Or consolation prizes for the gifts you should have gotten this year. We’re roughly 3000 pages into my favorite urban fantasy series—with one book remaining. Anything can happen. Anyone is expendable. Everything is on the table. I cannot recommend Forged enough. I cannot recommend the series enough. And I cannot WAIT for the final entry to see how it all turns out.