The Twisted Ones – by T. Kingfisher (Review)

Horror

Standalone

Saga Press; October 1, 2019

381 pages (Paperback)

Goodreads • Author Website

4 / 5 ✪

I’m usually one for horror. In movies, I find the genre boring, and a waste of a couple hours. In games, I find it annoying, if worthy of jump-scares (which also isn’t my thing). I’m more accepting of horror books, but only comparably. I’ve read some few—a couple that I’ve loved, none that blew me away. So that’s where I’m coming from.

Enter Mouse, the unfortunate lass who’s task it is to clean out her Grandmother’s house. Now, Mouse didn’t much care for the old bag when she was alive—actually, she thought the old woman was a horrid human, really more of a demon than anything—but she now thinks a deal less of her father’s mother now that the woman’s dead.

See, Grandma was a hoarder, her house stuffed with useless trash.

There’s rooms upon rooms filled with leaning towers of junk: plastic bins full of soap edging up next to stacks of china and silverware, bags scented candles and used disposable chopsticks piled among heaps of expired coupons and PennySaver ads yellowed with age, even a room filled with plastic dolls, you know, the imitation baby ones that blink? Hell, if this’d been a book about THAT, I think I’d’ve been too terrified to read it.

And so Mouse buckles down to clean out the house. Alone in the woods with only her dog, Bongo, for company. In a holler where cell signal is spotty and the only neighbors are a half-mile away. In all honesty, it was creepy enough to start with. But that was before Mouse finds her Grandmother’s second-husband’s old journal.

Ramblings. Rants. Impossible and nightmarish things. Fantasies of a broken mind—that’s what Mouse assumes. A result driven upon the old man by marriage to a horrible woman. And so Mouse discounts the journal, and gets on with her cleaning.

Until she begins to see impossible things on her walks about the holler. Hills that don’t exist. Stones that seem to move when she looks at them. Effigies of blood and bone, hanging from the trees. These and worse make Mouse question her sanity. And question the journal. And these are just the beginning.

The Twisted Ones starts out easy enough, with a middle-aged, —a freelance editor fresh off a bad breakup. Mouse proves a likable enough lead right from the start—especially when she introduces her dog Bongo, the star of the show—she’s independent, reasonably confident, somewhat insecure and really just… average. She’s not an ex-Marine, she doesn’t fight crime in her off-hours, she’s just… normal. A person. A regular person. Plus she has an adorable dog. The only real problem I have with Mouse is that she’s not the brightest lead. She often doesn’t see things until she walks right past them—often not even then. She’s a bit slow on the uptake. It makes for a frustrating adventure.

The mood of this turns creepy quickly. Not scary, not dark and forbidding. Just… strange. Eerie. With the somewhat slow, affable narrator it’s hard to see the mood shift—as it does right off the start—and by then the story is already on. The weirdness sets in and takes off. Pretty soon I was sitting up wondering if the owls I heard at night were keeping the nocturnal woodpeckers at bay. Or if they were even owls at all. I hoped they were (we get a lot of owls (or pseudowls) out here).

It certainly wasn’t difficult to read—though it took me longer than I would’ve liked to finish, but see I went and got COVID in the middle and that ruined things for a bit. Honestly, it’s probably the kinda thing I could’ve made it through in a couple days: easy and quick to read, nothing too advanced or mysterious, just a creepy air that snowballs out of control in a hurry.

The ending proved a bit of a letdown, but that may just have been me. See, my proclivity for horror is restricted to the weird bits, the strangeness, the mystery, all with a bit of thrill. But when we eventually reach the exciting conclusion, everything just got a bit blasé. The build was good, the execution as well—but the ending could’ve been better. Otherwise, I really have no complaints.

TL;DR

The Twisted Ones is an atmospheric horror novel with a likable lead, a likable dog, and a nice, slow build that’s equal parts totally normal and weird. Then it starts to get creepy. The atmosphere really sells this; the house packed with junk, the journal filled with nonsense, the impossible things in the woods—all in a holler completely separate from everything, a world all of its own. It’s all nice and easy to read, and cruises right along, something you could probably speed through in a day or two (so long as you don’t mind staying up nights). The ending is a bit of a letdown (or was to me), but nothing else jumps out as a dealbreaker. A solid horror story from T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon)—someone I hope to read more of in the future!

Note: Probably not something to read during isolation. The fever really killed any enjoyment I had for reading this, or well… reading anything. And pretty much doing anything. But if you’re asymptomatic or just bored: go for it.

Extraterrestrial – by Avi Loeb (Review)

Science, Astronomy

Houghton Mifflin; January 26, 2021

240 pages (ebook)

5 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Life is absurd. “

In October 2017, astronomers at the Haleakalā Observatory in Hawaii discovered something not of our solar system. The object—since named ’Oumuamua after the Hawaiian word for scout or first—had already rounded the sun, only detected after it sped past Earth and was on its way out of our system once more. It was quickly determined that this was something we as people had never seen before; an interstellar visitor to our solar system, the first ever detected.

But this was something we had never seen before for another reason.

Instead of rotating smoothly, the object tumbled and spun through space, albeit at an incredible rate of speed. It was fairly small; under 1 km in length and maybe a tenth of that in width and thickness. It showed no signs of a coma—the nebulous envelop surrounding a comet which gives it its fuzzy appearance—nor did it share the shape of any asteroid that scientists knew of. It left no trail of gas or debris, and showed signs of non-gravitational acceleration (it sped up attempting to escape getting trapped in our Sun’s orbit), neither of which are heard of for an asteroid or comet. So what was it?

Scientists initially waffled between asteroid or comet, but once it was identified as an extrasolar object, they began pitching wilder theories. In addition to the remnant of a planet, a rogue satellite, or an exocomet (a comet that escaped orbit from another star)—astronomers began to speculate it might be an alien object.

Now, if you don’t know much about serious astronomers, know this: they generally don’t react well to the topic of alien life. Most don’t even take it seriously. Others take it as a joke, or an insult, or a stigma. Other scientists that genuinely suggest or search for extraterrestrial life are often regarded with derision, pity, skepticism, and even hostility. I know I’m generalizing this a bit, but it’s not an uncommon reaction for astronomers to scoff at the mention of alien life.

So in the summer of 2019, when scientists affirmed that ‘Oumuamua was of a purely natural origin, effectively closing the manner, it was no surprise. But by then Avi Loeb was already writing his book.

Israeli born American Avi Loeb is the former Chair of Astronomy at Harvard, an astronomer of renown, and proponent of extraterrestrial life. His book, Extraterrestrial, is an examination of ‘Oumuamua as Loeb sees it as: proof of alien life.

Honestly, I started out bashing this book. The ostentatious tone, the use of academic language, the fact that he introduces his biography in the second chapter, whatever. But by Chapter 3, Extraterrestrial how already won me over.

Mostly because Loeb makes a really good case.

I’ve always been fascinated by the unknown. That’s what led me astronomy, archaeology, and the other pursuits I’ve taken in my professional life. It’s what has drawn me to scifi and fantasy in my personal life, mostly in the form of books and games. So, maybe I’m not impartial on the existence of aliens (I believe in them, for the same reason that Loeb points out: “With billions upon billions of worlds in our galaxy alone, it seems arrogant not to”). But it’s still enough to recommend the book on the basis of scientific curiosity alone.

I mean, it’s a really thorough argument. While Loeb does tell us a decent amount about his life—his upbringing in Israel, his early professional work, and research papers and investigations of late—everything colors his opinion of the existence of extraterrestrial life. More to the point, why he gravitates toward the idea that so many of his colleagues shun. In addition to his life, there’s quite a bit of background into techniques and events that common folk may not be well read on. But it is a science book, and there’s quite a bit of science in it. If you’re not strong on astronomy, math and physics, some parts of Extraterrestrial might be over your head. There were a few paragraphs that were borderline for me, and, I’m not going to lie, I had to look some things up. But if you’re interested in potential scientific evidence of aliens, anything astronomy, or science fiction with grounds in reality, I’d implore you to check this out. It’s really quite good.

TL;DR

Is ‘Oumuamua proof of extraterrestrial life? The exosolar object whizzed through our system in late 2017, but left a trail of questions in its wake. But is this the evidence of aliens that we’ve been waiting for? While most of the scientific community would scoff at the idea, Avi Loeb would have you believe it is. Through this book he argues his case—through math, astronomy, history, events, circumstance, and more—so that by the end, either you leave more swayed to his opinion, or thoroughly pissed at his arrogance. Personally, I quite liked it, and would recommend. While it may not be for the faint of heart (or the unscientific and uninitiated), Extraterrestrial is a deep and fascinating read that pushes the bounds of imagination, and births way more questions than it provides answers, keeping you curious for days, weeks or even years to come.

Music Monday 1/25

Music Monday is a meme created by Drew the Tattooed Book Dude over on his blog. While he’s currently on hiatus, I’m not sure if that includes Music Monday, but I figured I’d share this one as a sorta… homage to his blog.

I’ve had the flu lately (I’m kinda starting to doubt it’s the flu, but… anyway), which has been accompanied by a constant pounding headache. I’ve fallen behind on reading, and I can neither game nor watch any TV. So much of my music is absolutely unpalatable, but there are a few things I like that have proved mostly harmless.

Wardruna is a Norwegian dark (or pagan) folk outfit, whose style involves chanting, traditional instruments, and ambient sound. I find it haunting, thought provoking, and calming. Their new album, Kvitravn, just came out on the 21st. This is their most recent single (released January 15, 2021) off said album.

Fable – by Adrienne Young (Review)

The upcoming cover, from Titan Books

Fable Duology #1

Fantasy, YA

Wednesday Books; September 1, 2020 (US)
Titan Books; January 26, 2021 (UK)

361 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4 / 5 ✪

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

As the daughter of trade magnate Saint, Fable once enjoyed a childhood of love and adventure. With her mother and father, she sailed the Narrows and Unnamed Sea, learning the skills of trading and dredging that Fable once hoped would earn her a place by her father’s side when she came of age.

That all changed the night her mother died.

The next day Saint abandoned her on Jezal, an island and pit of thieves, murderers, the desperate and unwashed. In their final moments together, he told her to survive and seek him out, to trust no one and never make herself beholden to another ‘man. Then—after dragging a knife through the flesh of her arm—he left.

Fours years later, Fable still hasn’t seen her father. She still lives on Jezal, but not for much longer. Using her unique and inherited skillset, she nearly has enough coin to escape the island, and claim her place at Saint’s right hand. But to make this dream a reality, first she must make her way across the Narrows to the mainland. Which forces her to place her trust in an ambitious young captain and his ferociously loyal crew. And even if Fable is able to cross the sea without incident, the dream she’s held to for so long may not prove the reality. But that’s a chance she’s willing to take.

“ You were not made for this world, Fable. ”

This is the story of Fable, pure and simple. It’s not really a dip into a bigger world that’s going to appear in later books (minus the second half of the duology), not is it a story of adventure itself. One of the main complaints I saw beforehand was that there wasn’t enough swashbuckling, action, or tangible fulfillment. And yeah, this is all pretty much true. But the story I was sold on was that of a girl herself, lost in a grander scheme, a grander world, one that she is desperate to find her place in. And with that as a premise, Fable did not disappoint.

Specifically, I found the book boiled down to three major points of emphasis: Fable’s relationship with her father, her place in the world around her, and her growth as a person.

I wonder, did Adrienne Young fall in love at first sight?

Fable’s relationship with her father is the most tricky. While I won’t go deep into this because of potential spoilers, I could write my entire review on her… (I absolutely hate the term “daddy issues”, but) well, you know. She remembers her childhood spent with her parents aboard the Lark as seen through a rose-tinted glasses. She was happy. Her parents were happy. Life was perfect. Until her mother died.

Her father closed off, scarred her, then abandoned her in a pit of thieves. To say she loves him would be accurate; to say she hates him would be accurate. To say she seeks his approval is also true. It’s certainly complicated, and Young devotes a lot of time to this relationship.

Fable’s place in the world around her is another important aspect of this book. I think that all of us at one time or another struggle with this. Who we are, how we fit, what role we have, what our future holds. It’s something that I’ve yet to come to terms with in my own life. And it’s something Fable is constantly challenged with in hers. Is she a thief? Is she a dredger? Is she a daughter, a lover, a friend, all of these, none of them, more? I’d say this is something that helps humanize her, makes her feel real, more than just a character in a book. It’s not a perfect depiction, to say the least, but it’s done well enough.

Fable’s character development is my third important point, and I’m just going to gloss over it. It’s… there IS development, but it seemed to me it all came too quickly, with no sense of fulfillment. She went from being distrusting, sour, and somewhat badass to swooning and trusting, seemingly overnight. Additionally, there was a romance attached to it, which didn’t feel romantic—minus one or two brief moments—and didn’t really feel real. It’s the same kind of love-at-first-sight story featured in the other Adrienne Young book I’ve read, The Girl the Sea Gave Back. I didn’t buy it there, either. The one in Fable isn’t nearly that bad, but not infinitely better.

When you know it’s love at first sight

TL;DR

Fable is quite literally the tale of Fable, daughter of a big-name trader, cast off on a lawless island hell and told to survive and seek out her father if she manages to escape it. As a tale of a girl growing up and finding her place in the world, Fable is a huge success. As a romance or swashbuckling adventure, it falls a bit short. I mean, there’s certainly adventure, but not a ton. There’s certainly a romance, it just sucks. Not much swashbuckling, though.

I really enjoyed Fable as a fable about Fable. It’s about a girl in search of her father, but moreover searching for her place in the world. There’s a lot to relate with there. It’s an experience, and tells a good and enjoyable story along the way. Fable even introduces a few twists and turns I didn’t see coming. I never had any problem reading this, and thoroughly enjoyed my time doing so. I’ll definitely read the followup, but only hope that the romance has been fixed in it.

Namesake—the second and final book in the Fable Duology—comes out March 16, 2021.

Black Heart Update

Just a quick update on Black Heart. If you don’t know, Black Heart (by Mark Smylie) was due to be the 2nd book in the Artesia series, followup to his 2014 fantasy debut, The Barrow. But then Pyr was sold, the new holding company rescinded the contract for the 2nd book due to their lack of interest, and Smylie has been working on getting it out on his own since then.

I did a post on this back in…. May 2020, reporting that Smylie had written 37 of a projected 47 chapters, 29 of which he’d posted for subscribing members of his Patreon. He went on to routinely publish chapters until about July 29, by which point he had 36 posted. He posted Chapter 37 a month later on August 31.

Then the updates stopped.

No, not completely. Smylie has other projects on his Patreon, mostly consisting of his Sword & Barrow Artesia TTRPG, which he continued posting content for semi-regularly even after Black Heart updates stopped. At this point I just assumed that his mind wanders just as much as mine does and his authorial tendencies do as well, judging the odds that he got back around to it to be 50/50 (as in either he would or he wouldn’t).

Well, on December 31, he posted Chapter 38.

Then on January 11, we got an update. You can read it HERE if you’re so inclined. Otherwise, I’ll give you a TL;DR version:

  1. Black Heart is still on, just delayed a little because COVID
  2. Maybe a dozen chapters left in the book, which will set it at ~400k words total (as compared to the Barrow which was maybe half that)
  3. He hopes to have it completed by MARCH 2021
  4. Announces the sequel to Black Heart, BRIGHT SWORD, which he’ll begin working on sometime following finishing up Black Heart

My reactions to this are mostly positive, but maybe slightly more pessimistic. I’d hope to see Black Heart wrapt up by May-June 2021, but it is heartening to hear that it’s almost finished and to see an actual ETA. (I mean, that being said, THIS was a thing from a couple years back) I was further bolstered about Black Heart’s fate after hearing that he’d actually planned its sequel—and, while I have reservations about the likelihood of that happening anytime soon as well, concrete ideas for a story following the one you’re supposedly finishing are great as they actually indicate the likelihood of you finishing the story that precedes them (if that makes any sense). Dunno if he’ll ever get to Bright Sword, but while I hope he does, my immediate concerns rest with the completion of Black Heart.

TL;DR

So, if the just skipped right to the end, here it is. If you read all that stuff above, congratulations! I apologize if it was a bit rambly, but I’ve been sick (don’t think it’s COVID, but we’ll find out here in a little) lately, and I tend to talk a lot more and make waaaay less sense when I’m not feeling well.

Anyway, take heart friends! Or, at least, some heart. But any is better than none, eh?

So, Mark Smylie’s still working on Black Heart, having posted 38 of a projected 47 chapters on his Patreon page as of the writing of this. He hopes to finish it by March 2021. Additionally, he has announced a sequel, BRIGHT SWORD, which he’ll begin writing after finishing BLACK HEART. There’s also some stuff on the Last Barrow, a new addition to his RPG collection which you can check out in detail if you’re interested. Or if you’re not.

I do really hope Black Heart becomes a thing.

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.