Shadowdance – the Beautiful World of Books

With the release of The Bladed Faith coming next week, I thought it might be nice to take a look back at some of David Dalglish’s previous series to see just how far we’ve come. Now, as the author has written and published waaay more than just a handful of books, we have quite a few options for this. The the most recent Keepers trilogy, preceded by the Seraphim one. Then there are the shared universe ones. In chronological order: the Breaking World trilogy; then the Shadowdance hexalogy (that’s 6—not including the Cloak and Spider prequel), whose own timeline overlaps the Paladins’ tetralogy (that’s 4); and at last the Half-Orcs heptalogy or septology (which is 7). That’s… a lot of books.

Now, it’s fair to say that Dalglish is one of my favorite authors, but even I haven’t read all his stuff. And while I’ve read and reviewed at least some of his stuff on here, I’m willing to bet that many of you are only kinda aware that he exists. And likely weren’t aware that he’d published nearly 30 books.

To be fair, a lot of these were self-pubbed, and haven’t been repubbed by any major outlets. But they still carry the same quality as most of the rest of his works—although the early ones are a bit rough around the edges.

Anyway, while I’ll try to work through these series fully, for now let’s focus on my original favorite, my first introduction to Dalglish—the Shadowdance series.

This was a tricky one, as only four of the books were self-published before being picked up fully by Orbit, so there are four self-pubbed entries—plus the Cloak and Spider novella. Also, two of them have different names. Though actually, it’s more than just that. Books #3 & 4—A Dance of Mirrors and A Dance of Shadows—were originally published as A Dance of Death and Blood of the Underworld, books where Dalglish changed the titles on because he did significant restructuring and rewriting so that the stories don’t really match up anymore. They’re actually quite different than the others, if I remember correctly, though it’s been a while since I read them. You used to be able to find the two self-published versions on Dalglish’s website for free—if you were curious—though I’m not sure if that’s still a thing.

Self-Published Shadowdance

Orbit Shadowdance

So, which do you like better: the classic fantasy vibe that the self-published ones have, or the more uniform, if stylized decoration upon the Orbit ones?

Taken – by Benedict Jacka (Review)

Alex Verus #3

Urban Fantasy

Ace Books; August 28, 2012 (US)
Orbit; September 6, 2012 (UK)

313 pages (paperback)

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Author Website

8 / 10 ✪

Please beware possible minor spoilers for Alex Verus books #1 and 2

Once, Alex Verus could go weeks without seeing another mage. Kept behind the counter of his Camden shop, he cared little for Council society, dark mages, light mages, or anything beyond his little corner of the world. But now everything has changed.

As Luna’s master, Alex is expected at apprentice events. As a known diviner to the Council, Alex—while not exactly trusted—still manages to get some side work from Talisid, and from the Council itself. Additionally, more and more independents have begun approaching him with divination requests. One such request comes courtesy of Crystal, who wants a tournament at Fountain Ridge monitored. But he has bigger things on his plate. Apprentices have been disappearing, and the Council has no idea how.

Unfortunately, Alex has no idea how either. Not only can he find no trace of them, there’s no evidence, no witnesses, and no suspects. But that’s not the end of his problems.

When someone takes a shot at Anne—one of the other apprentices in the program—Alex steps in to help her. And in doing so involves himself in something he might’ve left very much alone. Someone really wants Anne dead. And Alex can’t rule anyone out. The Council, Anne’s Rakshasa master, the other apprentices, dark mages, light mages, wild dogs, muggles, trees, waffle house employees—everyone seems to want Anne dead. And yet in helping her, Alex is pointed to a very interesting coincidence. As when the Council finally does come up with a suspect, it’s her. Now Alex has to decide whether she’s a friend or foe. And why everyone is trying so hard to see her dead.

Fortunately, he has a clue—albeit a vague one.

The answer you seek is at Fountain Reach.

And that’s it.

Though while Alex has no idea why he’d look to Fountain Reach, he has no better ideas.

Whoever had designed the block of flats had obviously worked to a clear set of priorities. Unfortunately, while cost, size, and low-maintenance had made it to the top of the list. aesthetics, good escape routes, and shelter from gunfire hadn’t.

While Taken isn’t Benedict Jacka’s best work, it’s definitely a step in the right direction. The mystery is strong in this one, with an interesting, complex, and thoroughly entertaining story. Unlike the previous two installments, this one has a bit more going on than what’s immediately obvious. With two main plot points, it comes down to what’s happening to the apprentices, and what’s happening with Anne. Neither make sense on their own, but together… yeah, they still don’t make immediate sense. Fortunately, the further we go down the rabbit hole, the more things start to clear up. And while it may not seem like it at first, everything fits together quite nicely—even if there’s not an easy explanation for all of it.

The story isn’t the only thing that gets a leg up come Taken. The character development, particularly that of some of Alex’s allies, starts paying dividends. Though Alex’s own development continues to strengthen, it’s not him that I want to focus on. Even in the first two books, the character development of Alex was strong. But while Verus’ backstory was getting filled in, others were missing out. Luna (primarily) and Sonder as well, get their chance here. Now, while we don’t learn a whole lot about either, what we are given is certainly up from the zero established in earlier books. In addition to these two, another few potential allies begin to emerge. One, Talisid, whose motives have been obscure to this point, starts to get more solidly in Alex’s corner. While the Council man’s a far cry from going out of his way to help Verus, he’s good for a “favor for a favor” trade. Anne, on the other hand, is a bit more mysterious. But over the course of Taken we see a lot of her, and she and Alex work quite well together.

A much better entry to the series, Taken still falls a bit short on originality. I hate to admit it, but the above message about Fountain Reach—while vague, obscure, and not terribly creative—it’s a key plot point. Without it, I’m not sure the investigation shifting to Fountain Reach would make any sense at all. Which is kind of disappointing. It all works out well enough in the end, but getting to that point really could’ve been accomplished… better. The thing is, that although immersive and immediately readable, the mystery of Taken is a bit of a convoluted mess. A bit. Again, I did legitimately enjoy it, and it all worked out quite nicely in the end, but looking back on it—it is sort of a mess. But hey—it works, and that’s the important part.

TL;DR

All in all, Taken may be the best example of the Alex Verus series to its point, but the best is yet to come. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big fan of this series (especially the second half dozen), and even though this isn’t the best that Jacka’s capable of, it’s moving in the right direction. Better than the first two; still more than enough reason to pick it up; definitely recommended!

Seven Deaths of an Empire – by G.R. Matthews (Review)

Standalone

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Solaris/Rebellion; March 29, 2022 (paperback)
Solaris/Rebellion; June 22, 2021 (ebook/hardcover)

550 pages (paperback)

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Author Website

9.5 / 10 ✪

“There is no right and wrong, no black and white. Life is not such a simple thing.”

Think Gladiator, but with magic.

General Bordan was born into nothing, but after a life dedicated to the Empire, he has achieved what little thought possible. He governs the army, the might of the Empire. Other than the Emperor and his kin, he may well be the most powerful man in the Empire. But he is also its most loyal servant.

When the Emperor is killed fighting the tribes in the north, Bordan must do all he can to protect the heir to the throne until the Emperor’s body is returned to the city. Then, with the amulet of office in hand—and the powerful magics within under their control—the heir can ascend the throne and assume control of the Empire. But until then nothing is guaranteed. Rebellion is brewing in the countryside. Assassins lurk in every shadow. And worse, politicians surround the royal family, hiding forked-tongues behind their honeyed words and silky smiles.

Apprentice Magician Kyron and his master are assigned to the late Emperor’s honor guard, tasked with seeing the body home to the capital. Mistrusted and feared by many of their own folk, the magicians are both revered and hated in equal measure. But magic is necessary for this task, for keeping the body from decay requires it. And so their presence is tolerated, if little else. But with many leagues between them and the capital, Kyron and the guard face the greatest danger of all. For whomever controls the Emperor’s amulet controls the succession—and the Empire is not lacking in those hungry for power, be they foe, or friend.

“If you stopped struggling to get free, the guards would not beat you,” Astenius pointed out.
“Life is struggle,” the warrior said.
“We only stop when we are dead,” Emlyn finished and the warrior’s gaze snapped around to her.
“Who are you to know the sayings of the forest?”
“I am of the forest,” she answered.
“Yet you stand with them,” he accused.
“Not through choice.”
“Then you struggle.”
“I am not dead yet,” she answered.

“Why attack us?” Astenius asked once more.
“You are here to be attacked,” the man answered.
“How many of your warriors were with you?”
“Not enough,” the warrior answered.
“How many more are there?”
“More than enough.”

“Are you sure you wish to do this?” Astenius said to the trapped warrior.
“I struggle,” the man replied, gritting his teeth.
“I applaud your bravery,” Astenius said, sweeping his hand to point at the brazier, “but your stupidity astounds me.”
“Life is disappointment,” the man said.

Seriously, Seven Deaths of an Empire reminded me so much of Gladiator that I often found my self picturing events from the book overlaid with scenes from the movie. The battle against the tribes in the forest. The legion’s return to the capital. While there’s no fight in the arena, the novel does include a Colosseum, even though we never get a good look inside. Fact is, Seven Deaths of an Empire was ripe for the picturing beneath scenes of Gladiator in no small part because—as you will see once you read it—the world was inspired heavily by the Roman Empire.

Only with magic.

The magic system is quite a basic one, but as enthralled as I found myself with the story, its lack of creativity never really bothered me. This adheres to the law that the only ones who can wield magic are those born with it. This in part seems to be why magic users are hated, feared. Jealousy breeds resentment, they say. And the church and magic never really gets along—in this world or any other.

The two POVs were quite good at getting the story across, each in their own way. Kyron is a bit young, a bit whiny—but this is his coming-of-age tale, and he’ll grow on you once you get used to him. His character might even develop over the course of the story. Bordan, on the other hand, is an old hand. He’s guided the heirs to the Empire for years, as he once was like kin to their father. He is patient and humble, and though his faith is not what it once was, he has faith in the Empire above all else. This is his true strength, but also his greatest weakness. Unlike Kyron, this story does not serve as Bordan’s beginning. It is his swan song. But will he live to see the Empire crumble, or die keeping it intact?

There are a lot of questions that come up over the course of the story, as the past is hinted at and slowly revealed; as loyalties are tested and friendships forged; as the Empire is caught in the wind, and teeters on its foundations. There are many vines in this, and not all will end up bearing fruit. Still, it was quite a thing to see them all come together at the end—and, while not all is cleared up, the overwhelming majority of my questions were answered. All the big and burning ones are, at least. In writing this review a week or two later I was able to come up with a couple that weren’t returned (though I really had to think about it), but none kept me up at night after finishing the story.

TL;DR

Seven Deaths of an Empire may be 550 pages, but to me it went by in a blink. Although it did take a little while to get going. But where it took me 3-4 days to read the first hundred pages, it took me one day to read the rest. Two very strong leads (though they’re both men; it didn’t bother me, but then I typically connect better with male characters, being a guy and all) made the story no effort at all to get into. It’s so reminiscent of Gladiator that I found myself overlaying scenes from the film with the world I’d constructed in my mind. The forests of Germany. The roads of the Empire. The obelisks and Colosseum and wonders of the capital. It really is quite like the Roman Empire but with magic. A thoroughly engrossing read, almost the whole way through. I took a couple points off for the build-up, but clearly nothing that ruined the story for me. Thoroughly recommended! Just don’t expect a happy, sunny story—as this is a dark fantasy, very occasionally bordering on grim.

Stars and Bones – by Gareth L. Powell (Review)

Stars and Bones Universe #1

Scifi, Space Opera

Titan Books; February 15, 2022

352 pages (ebook)
8hr 28m (audiobook)

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Author Website

6.0 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Titan Books for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

When worst came to worst, the Angel stepped in to save us. Not an actual Angel mind, but super advanced aliens that stepped in in humanity’s last hour and saved it from destruction. So, kinda an actual Angel. Something that saved humanity. Or, rather, saved the Earth from humanity.

Now, cast out upon the stars, humanity exists on a multitude of great Arkships, where everything is provided and no one is left behind—a true paradise. And so the fleet wanders, knowing that the eye of the Angels will forever remain on them, and knowing that they can never return to Earth.

Eryn is a scout pilot. Together, she and her ship, the Ferocious Ocelot, scout the edges of the Arkships’ path as they wander through space. When her sister Shay disappears while responding to an alien distress call, Eryn insists on being part of the crew to find her.

Candidate-623 is a lonely rock, but harbors something both terrifying and deadly. Something that might spell humanity’s doom should it reach the Arkships. When the crew is attacked, Eryn races to warn the fleet, all the while dreading whether or not this certain something might have followed her home…

“Holy shit,” she breathed, “You are not going to fucking believe this.”

And she was right, I didn’t. At least, not at first. Because high above the atmosphere, something vaster and older than the Earth had reached down and snatched every ICBM from the sky, every torpedo from the ocean, and every tank shell, mortar round, and bullet from every battlefield on the planet.

And is was not at all amused.

Man, this was a weird one.

First off, if you’re put off by language, LGBTQ+ representation, and/or terribly done romance—maybe skip this one, eh? Otherwise, read on.

It started out like a house on fire: an extraterrestrial attack right out of the gate that quickly transformed into a desperate race against time. That transformed into a… mystery? Whereupon suddenly introducing several new characters and plot-lines around the third- or halfway mark. The last third read a bit like the latest Star Wars movies, where they just ran with whatever thing first came to mind (despite it making little sense in the overall narrative) and made sure to add plenty of action sequences.

Beware spoilers ahead for the romance! If you want to avoid them just skip the next paragraph.

The romance was… cringeworthy. What happens between Eryn and Li isn’t so much a will-they-or-won’t-they as it is a why-is-something-going-on-i-hadn’t-noticed. What starts out as a one-night stand (or, a not-even one-night stand) in the face of a certain-death mission, slowly resolves into… nothing. There are a couple of kisses, interspersed by long gaps where Eryn looks at Li like a guest, but a stranger. Seriously, they talk only a handful of times—and it actually equates to anything meaningful once. And yet I’m supposed to believe that they’re madly in love by the end? That Eryn is so smitten with the person she routinely describes as a stranger that she actually says “I realized that I was always going to love her unconditionally and forever” at the end. Now I realize that some people can go head over heels damn quick but… were they reading the same book I was, or did I just miss something? Because this romance seems so forced it literally made me cringe, and gape when they so unexpectedly ended up in love.

In addition to a truly cringeworthy romance, the conclusion to the story was a bit of a blur. By which I mean confusing. I’m not going to get into it because of spoilers, but… I spent half of the time lost and the other half either experiencing deja vu or wondering how it’d possibly come to this point. But despite all odds when the end actually came, all my questions had been answered. As far as I could tell, all major threads had been tied up. It was extremely odd, but extremely impressive.

Yes, there was a talking cat, no, I don’t want to talk about it.

Despite it all, Stars and Bones wasn’t bad. It had a solid story, so long as you overlooked all the tangents, pseudo-parenting, and the romance (ye gods, don’t get me going on the romance again). A race against the clock as humanity faces extinction. Where Eryn must do everything she can to save the human race, despite the fact that all of it should be so, so far over her pay grade. From an action and adventure stand point: it was a decent read; there was a lot of both action and adventure. As an existential crisis: it wasn’t bad; it tackled several surprising issues like the nature of love and friendship, parenting, existence, and perseverance. As a mystery: it was crap; a bit like playing pin-the-tail while ignoring any and all hints or clues—you’re bound to get it eventually, monkeys and Shakespeare and all. As a book though… Stars and Bones was certainly a mixed bag. It had a lot of strong points, but some weak ones as well. And there was a lot to unpack.

I believe that was the biggest problem I had with Stars and Bones: its identity. This is simply a case of trying to do to much. In its bones, this was a Science Fiction/Space Opera. But with a little bit of thriller thrown in. Political thriller too. Romance, as well. Mystery. Adventure. Allegory for life. Philosophical endeavor.

TL;DR

There’s a lot to love about Stars and Bones, partly due to the fact that there’s just so much going on in it. Too much, I’d argue. A science fiction/space opera by nature, the story tries to hit up every single genre on the way from start to finish. Thriller. Romance. Mystery. Philosophy. Existentialism. The list goes on. And in the end, there was just too much going on. Stars and Bones couldn’t seem to make up its mind on what it wanted to be. And while it pulled some of these transitions off seamlessly, others it definitely didn’t. The mystery and romance, to start. But either way a number was done on the pacing; what started out as a house on fire quickly transformed to a barnburner, then an… allegory for life? A decent read, but one that I just never could get a handle on. I promise you—there’s a good story in here somewhere, even if I could never find it.

Audio Note
I suffered a few burnouts reading this. I started it only to lose interest fairly quickly. Part of this could be down to timing—early March is a busy time of year for me, then I got the flu immediately after. But then these both happened in the early part of the story, when it’s all action all the time in Eryn’s POV, and we’re just learning the fate of Earth in Haruki’s. Eventually, I picked it up as an audiobook and read it to fruition. Rebecca Norfolk did a great job—most of the time. While her reading of Eryn and most other POVs proved excellent, whenever she contrived to do an accent it… just sounded ridiculous. Frank was passable; Sheppard and Ginet were decidedly not. The AIs were night and day; the Ocelot was great, while any others were flat and emotionless, even when they seemed to be expressing emotion.

Curfew – by Jayne Cowie (Review)

Standalone

Mystery, Thriller, Dystopian

Berkley Publishing; March 22, 2022

320 pages (ebook)

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5.5 / 10 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Berkley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Curfew takes place in a near-future Britain where women dominate the workforce, police, wealthy, important, and government. Where the gender pay gap is a thing of the past. Where motherhood opens doors rather than closing them. Where women are no longer afraid to walk the streets alone after dark, dress how they like, or have a few too many drinks while out with their friends.

A world where—from 7pm to 7am—all men are tagged and kept under a strict curfew.

But while the Curfew has fixed some problems, it has just exacerbated others.

Sarah is a single mother whose life started anew when her husband Greg was sent to prison for breaking curfew. After three-months inside, Sarah isn’t expecting a warm reunion—and doesn’t want one. If it were up to her, neither she nor her daughter would ever see Greg again. Though her daughter Cass doesn’t see it that way. She misses her father terribly—and blames her mother for his arrest. And she hates living in a world that restricts her best friend, Billy, simply because he’s a boy.

Helen works as a teacher at a local school. Secretly desperate for a baby, she’s applied for a Co-hab certificate for her and her boyfriend, Tom, and is terrified they won’t get it. All her friends hate Tom, but to Helen, he’s the most perfect man in the world.

But nothing is ever perfect, and perfection never lasts. The town is shocked when a woman is found violently murdered in the middle of town. Evidence suggests that she died late at night—long after Curfew came into effect. And yet, is Curfew as foolproof a system as they all think, or has a man somehow managed to trick the system and kill one of their own, again?


Women kill in self-defense, or because they have psychiatric problems. Men kill because they can.


Curfew was an interesting read for a number of reasons, but there were a fair amount of issues I had with it as well. I’m a little worried that my review will come off as a bit misogynistic, or dismissive of domestic violence, or how some men treat some women. So let me just say up front that domestic violence and crimes committed by men against women are horrible. OBVIOUSLY horrible. What I objected to was the author’s view of how certain laws would completely change the world. Take out the… shall we say “most dangerous predator” in any system, and a new one is going to rise to fill the gap.

First off (and I know how this is going to sound), I found it a bit misandristic (that’s the opposite of misogynistic, FYI). I mean, women being full equal members of society sounds amazing, but then, equality isn’t really equality at all. Now men are treated as second-class citizens. The pay gap swings the other way. Little boys are commonly aborted before birth while girls are seen as an incredible blessing. I would’ve liked to see more on this side of things, but it really wasn’t addressed. A male perspective would’ve helped us see the story from another angle, and perhaps opened up a more interesting debate on the subject. Furthermore, non-binary genders weren’t addressed at all. By itself though, the premise is definitely intriguing: a society that favors the lives of women over men—in opposition to so many of the historical patriarchies and patrilineal kinship systems favored by cultures around the world. Though it’s interesting to see what might’ve happened if a historically patriarchy flipped to a matriarchy, I would’ve liked to see a bit more done on the history of it. As it was there was mention of one particular murder, a few vague references that aren’t well explored—and nothing else. I realize that some crime—particularly violence against women would be down during the 12 hours that men are under curfew—would be down, but it certainly wouldn’t eliminate most crime. Likewise, I think the idea that murder was “a thing of the past” was a bit ridiculous. Because of course, not only men kill people.

The story itself goes along pretty quick. While I got more and more disillusioned by the male characters—well, by most of the characters—the farther we got into it, Curfew was never a very difficult story to read. It flows quite well, and quite quickly. I think that I finished it in a couple of days. But it wasn’t so much the whodunnit that kept me reading, exactly—more on that later.

Throughout the story, we are confronted by several asshole male characters, as well as a few grey-area ones. The further and further we move into the story itself, the less room for interpretation there is. The male characters are one-sided, have no depth, no development, and are either detestable and forgettable. The female characters honestly aren’t that much better—with only a couple showing any sort of depth or growth. The ending is more than a bit bleak, to be honest. The story itself boils down to the conclusion that most men are just evil—an illation that the author doubles-down on come the her post-note, to the point that I wasn’t actually sure whether she believed it or not. Really. It just… it sure sounded like she did. Even after glancing at the author links above, I still couldn’t tell whether or not she ACTUALLY believed that men are just evil, and to be blamed for all the world’s problems. Which is… worrying.

For so much of the text, especially later on, Curfew boils down to an “Us vs. Them” (men vs. women). It is actually quite the motivator in the big reveal, though I won’t reveal how. It’s also something I found stupid—a poor attempt at tying up a loose end. The murder case itself I found to be clumsy. The police aren’t terribly competent. Or professional. For the most part they bumble around trying to pin the murder on one suspect after another, without paying much attention to, like, evidence. They seem convinced that the Curfew is completely infallible—except for one lone officer, Pamela, who’s on the brink of retirement.

My biggest issue with the mystery is with the body itself. The story takes place in two parts: a flashback starting three weeks earlier and including several POVs (which takes up most of the story), and a present day (and intermittent chapter) following a single POV, Pamela. One of the most important aspects of a whodunnit is to not give too much away at any given point. You really want to parcel information out at increments, let the reader guess and try to puzzle it out for themselves. But Curfew provides contrasting information up front, and it all gets a little muddied come the end. Early on a body is discovered, and it’s noted that the fingerprints of the victim don’t match any in their database. The problem is that all the main characters in Curfew (save one) are police, government employees, or teachers—all professions which require fingerprinting. Which meant that the corpse could really only be one person. Only that it couldn’t be that simple. And so by the time the Big Reveal eventually came, I’d been assuming that the author was going to completely ignore the whole fingerprint thing from earlier. It doesn’t count as a plot twist if you just provide false information up front.

Oh—and this is just a note—at one point a detective visits a woman’s cohab flat and judges that a gaming console is out of place in her place and must therefore belong to man. Thus perpetuating the stereotype that women don’t play video games. Which is ridiculous.

TL;DR

Curfew raises many good points about sexual assault, domestic violence, and unequal pay. But so much of it comes across as misandristic that it’s hard for me to fully untangle the two. Honestly, I’m not convinced that the author doesn’t actually believe that most men are evil. The story itself runs along quite nicely, though there are more than a few holes in the plot and hiccups in the story. It’s a fairly quick read, but profoundly disappointed me with the execution of the mystery and the bleakness of the message such that I never felt that I really enjoyed it. The history and lore could’ve done with a bit of expanding, as I never really felt that enough had been done to steer humanity down this path. And maybe most importantly: I’m not saying that men aren’t assholes. Some of them are, definitely. I’m just saying some people are assholes—there’s no need to be so restrictive about it.

Rockton by Kelley Armstrong – The Beautiful World of Books

You’d be forgiven for not realizing it, but Kelley Armstrong’s Rockton series came to a close in February of this year with the release of the Deepest of Secrets. February was jam-packed with releases, so I almost missed it myself. In fact, it wasn’t until Mogsy’s review of it that I found out it was the final book.

Though I guess it makes sense. Just how many murders can one stage in the remote Yukon wilderness, where the population of moose almost surely exceeds that of humans? Now I haven’t read the latest book yet (or #6, for that matter), but does that mean that we can’t take a look back on the seven covers that have led us to this point?

Well, I’m doing it anyway.

Now I’m going to post two separate sets of seven. The first are those covers from Minotaur Books. The others… are… kind of a collected set from other publishers in English. I don’t know why, but there were some that I couldn’t find covers for from one certain publisher that I’d never heard of. So… yeah, two sets of seven.

Rockton (Set #1)

Rockton (Minotaur Books)

So, which do you like better? The Minotaur ones or the… others? Personally, I’d pick most of the others, but not absolutely all of them.

Well… maybe all of them.

By the way, just in case you were curious, check out my reviews for the first 3 books in the series below! I uh kinda skipped #4, Watcher in the Woods (as in I DNFed it), but my review of Alone in the Wild should be out sometime soon—maybe by the end of March.

• Review of City of the Lost

• Review of A Darkness Absolute

• Review of This Fallen Prey

Until next time!

The Girl Who Could Move Sh*t with Her Mind – by Jackson Ford (Review)

The Frost Files #1

Paranormal, Scifi

Orbit Books; June 18, 2019

497 pages (ebook)
13hr 24m (audiobook)

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3.5 / 5 ✪

If you hadn’t guessed already by the title, and you’re not the kind of person who reads books that swear, like, a lot, maybe skip this one. Just saying—I did warn you.

Being a secret agent isn’t a bad gig, but it’s not the life Teagan Frost wants. Sure, she can move shit with her mind—but she’s so much more than just that. She’s got hopes and dreams and ambitions, and being a sideshow for the government isn’t one of them. Still, it’s better than being dissected, which is the only other legitimate “life” she has access to. But at least that option is closed off—at least for now.

But when a body turns up on site at her last job, killed in a way only she could ever have managed, dissection is—somewhat literally—back on the table. Now, the ambitious telekinetic has 20 hours to clear her name, a deadline not even the government seems likely to honor. Soon enough, her team is on the run, with only Teagan and her PK the reason they haven’t been caught yet.

At least it’s only the government that’s chasing them.

Or it would be if not for the rogue telekinetic she’s chasing, the notorious LA gang she’s pissed off, and the army of police that have been on the lookout for her ever since the murder. Now if only she could focus on that and not worry about her love-life getting in the way, or her past coming back to haunt her, or her friends falling into danger because of her own choices… she could maybe have a normal life. Maybe.

I’ve never actually finished a book by Rob Boffard before. Figures that the first one I do get through, it’s written under a pseudonym.

The Girl Who Could Move Shit with Her Mind isn’t exactly a literary masterpiece. It’s a good bit of high-octane, heart-pounding action. It’s a thriller that doesn’t let up, but a thriller all the same. Swearing ain’t exactly an art form, but even if it were, this book wouldn’t exactly be a work of art. Still, the writing’s not bad, the dialogue isn’t bad, and the plot sure isn’t bad either. None of these things are terribly innovative, but it’s still an entertaining read.

The plot is fairly straightforward. Teagan has been falsely accused of murder and has one day to prove her innocence. She has to call in every favor, cut every corner, and make every gamble she can in order to yada yada yada. Again, it’s not that this is a bad read, it’s just that it’s not very inventive or creative. Other than the bit about a telekinetic, it’s basically every thriller that’s ever been written. Which is all just a way to say that it better at least be entertaining.

Which it is.

I got through The Girl That Could in about a week, listening to it in my downtime approaching Christmas, partly because I was stuck at home with little else to do but read. And it was interesting, entertaining, and immersive. I didn’t pick it up because I was after something deep or thought-provoking, which is good, because it’s really not those things. This was a good, quick, entertaining thriller that does a lot of things right, despite not being terribly creative nor having an immaculate prose.

That said, the romance was a bit of a miss. With everything leading up to it, and everything else going on, I didn’t feel like there was really a chance for anything all that romantic to get a foothold. And the way that it ended, when it was finally given some time to, like, be romantic, was a joke. In some sense, it’s good that I didn’t sell out on the romance from the very beginning, because when it finally was given some time—and fell flat—I wasn’t surprised.

TL;DR

I’m going to keep this pretty short. If you’re after a thoughtful, intricate, and drawn out mystery, complete with deep, erudite characters and an innovative plot—this ain’t it. If instead you’re after a quick, entertaining thriller, with enough violence, language, and action to keep you immersed—yeah, this certainly fills that void. I wouldn’t expect it to win any literary awards or anything. I would buy this one, and the next (which I have, by the way), and schedule the two for sometime when I needed something quick, entertaining, and not too deep.

Audio Note: I quite enjoyed the narration of Lauren Patten! In fact, I doubt that I’d have enjoyed this book as much as I did without her behind the mouth of Teagan. She really sold Frost’s casual do-not-give-a-fuck attitude, even in the points where her character was completely freaking out. And I hear that she’s returned in the second installment, Random Sh*t Flying Through the Air, which I’ve already gone out and purchased.

Ogres – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Review)

Standalone

Dystopian, Novella

Rebellion/Solaris; March 15, 2022

144 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly granted an advance copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way affects my bias. Many thanks to Rebellion/Solaris for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

Torquell is a troublemaker. Young, impulsive, foolhardy—he is often treated like a precocious scamp by the people of his village. His father is less than pleased with this as he is the village headman, who would someday like his son to take over for him. But Torquell shows no interest in that, choosing instead to escape into the forest and spend time with the landless outlaws that roam the wood. And his father has made his peace with this, because there’s more dangerous things than those in the wood.

Those things are their landlords, their masters, their betters. The Ogres are larger than life, with great hulking bodies and strength and appetites to match. They are often ruled by these appetites, and their temperaments, which can shift to fury in a moment. For unlike ‘men, Ogres have a wild fury about them, often stoked by the foolish things mortal ‘men do. They might kill these monkeys on a whim, but they only rarely eat them.

Well, semi-rarely. Ish.

When Torquell lifts his hand to the landlord’s son, he calls down the Ogres wrath upon his kin. With nowhere left to turn, Torquell flees before the might of the masters, but finds it is often difficult to run from one’s destiny. For most ‘men are content to cower and serve, but Torquell is not most men.

He is a hero.


“My fellows are really not happy with you, Torquell.”

It’s such an understatement that you blink. “Good?” you try.

Ogres is a bit of an oddity as it’s written almost exclusively in the 2nd person. While that’s something that is often difficult to pull off, this novella handles it quite nicely. Part of this might be its small size (which at least helped), but the writing style and story also pair nicely with this choice, combining to convey Torquell’s tale as something of a legend, or epic. Which makes perfect sense, as Torquell is a hero.

Ogres starts as many other stories (especially dystopians) do: with an assertion. “This is how the world is”. And the point of the tale—at least in part—is to discern just how or why the world is this way, and what’s to be done about it. In this particular world, Ogres rule over their flock like gods; masters uncrossed and unequaled by ‘man, culling and controlling the populace to ensure no one rises above their place. With all the climate-change novellas that Tchaikovsky has put out recently, it’s refreshing to see a new tact. But while this may not be the obvious connotation (of a world ruined), it isn’t not that. I won’t spoil the mystery, as to just how or why this came to be, I’ll just say that you shouldn’t be surprised if there’s an allegory for life somewhere within. If you’re familiar at all with Tchaikovsky however, this will hardly shock you.

It’s quite a good read, honestly. Tchaikovsky’s short fiction is surprisingly good—often stronger than his novel-length works of late. And he’s been very consistent—pumping out 1-2 novellas a year like clockwork. One of the best parts about them is that they don’t read like a novella, and Ogres is no exception. Although it is a shorter read, the text does not skimp on world-building; the world is well-formed, detailed, and well-rounded, set up, and executed. While it loses some of this depth in the later stages, by then the plot is firmly int he driver’s seat and the audience isn’t going anywhere. I had absolutely no trouble reading this, and I hope you’ll prove the same. While I didn’t spend much time within its pages, Ogres left a long lasting impression, somewhat in contrast to its smaller size. The only negative I can give this is its price tag—which has become all the more common of late. $10 is too much for an ebook, particularly one that will probably only last 3-5 hours. But it’s no less expense than anything else nowadays, and is actually cheaper than a comparable story from the likes of Tor.com.

The Butterfly House – by Katrine Engberg (Review)

Kørner & Werner #2

Mystery, Detective, Nordic Noir

Gallery/Scout Press; January 5, 2021

349 pages (ebook)
10hr 1m (audiobook)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author InstagramTwitter

8 / 10 ✪

Beware minor spoilers for the Tenant by Katrine Engberg, Book #1 of the series.

My Review of the Tenant – by Katrine Engberg

An overworked and under-appreciated nurse in Copenhagen’s national hospital takes upon herself to rid the ward of a nuisance. An older patient overdoses on his heart medication and enters cardiac arrest, releasing him and everyone around him from his very vocal suffering. She slips out, stealthily, sure to close the door upon exit.

Six days earlier, a body was discovered in a fountain in central Copenhagen. The dead woman was naked and posed, with small and precise incisions marking her arms and nary a speck of blood to be found. Cause of death: exsanguination—not that it’s clear. From what the first on the scene can tell, the woman might as well have never had any blood at all.

Or there are vampires loose in Denmark.

Lead Investigator Jeppe Kørner arrives on the scene, albeit without his erstwhile partner, Anette Werner, now on pregnancy leave. And so it is up to Kørner to solve this himself. Which he must do with the entire attention of Copenhagen tracking his progress, as the cause and manner of death soon draw media attention.

While Jeppe is struggling with the press of a major case, Anette is struggling with a newborn she never asked for, never expected to have. Pregnancy leave is boring, it turns out, with nothing to do but assess and reassess how exactly this came to pass. She wants—needs—to do something, anything else. And so Werner throws herself into Jeppe’s new case, albeit with no backup, no departmental approval, and no way to tell her husband the truth of the matter. After all, who would believe that she is just avoiding the attentions of her newborn, and the relaxation having a baby demands?

But the case itself is no escape. Soon the pair uncover the greed and ambition that lurks beneath the surface of the shockingly lucrative practice of caregiving to mental health patients. And just what some will do for power, wealth, or status. And when a person decides to drain another of blood, it’s not likely to be a one-off. The first life is always the hardest to take, so the saying goes.

The dynamic duo return! If you’re not familiar with the Nordic languages, Werner and Kørner go quite well together, if not exactly rhyming. Feel free to look it up, or just take my word for it. While the Tenant focused on the issues the two had while working a case together, the Butterfly House instead focuses on the two working apart, each one tackling the case alone. Because of course Anette Werner can’t exactly tell her partner she’s investigating an open (and classified) police case rogue, and neither can Jeppe talk through his theories with her. And if the Tenant demonstrated just how well these two work together, this is indicative of how much worse they are apart. Not that that’s a spoiler; it’s common that in matters such as these, two heads are better than one. And Kørner and Werner, despite their faults—or perhaps because of them—work quite well together. So it’s very interesting to see how poorly they work on their own, apart.

In the last novel, Kørner was struggling through a particularly nasty divorce. And while he had his oldest and best friend helping him through it, it was more than enough to keep his body and mind functioning amidst the overwhelming heartache and depression. But it’s been a whole book since, and Jeppe is back on more solid ground. Back, but not fully healed. He is seeing someone—his colleague, Detective Sarah Saidani—but is it for casual sex, or is there something more? While not everyone may agree, I like the inclusion of a detective’s personal life in a mystery such as this. It helps paint them as human; with strengths and weaknesses that affect their professional lives the same as anyone else.

This mystery was about the same level of Nordic Noir as the last: that being… somewhat, but not overwhelmingly so. It still isn’t exactly sunny and warm, but also nowhere near the dark and oppressive atmosphere found in similar works by Ragnar Jónasson or Jo Nesbø. Additionally, the Butterfly House ties up all loose ends quite nicely—even the most obscure ones. I left the novel feeling a sense of fulfillment, with no lingering questions to answer.

Well, almost.

My two biggest problems with the text center around the inclusion of some characters while others are left out. Esther de Laurenti and her friend Gregor (the landlady and tenant from Book #1) are back—for some reason. I mean, they kinda relate to an offshoot of the overarching plot, but just at the end. For the most part, I found their inclusion baffling, and their chapters a meander from the otherwise greatly immersive main mystery. But with their inclusion, comes a bizarre absence. Johannes—Jeppe’s oldest and best friend, who helped him through the lowest lows of his divorce in Book #1—is gone. I mean, we still see quite a lot of Jeppe’s personal life, but there’s just one offhand mention of the man—nothing more.

There’s one other thing I wanted to address. One of my biggest issues with the Tenant was the division of the partnership. That being—while Kørner and Werner shared the headliner, it was Kørner who hogged the spotlight. I mentioned that I’d quite like to see this addressed in Book #2. And it was. Jeppe Kørner and Anette Werner much more equally share the spotlight. It’s great! And a pattern I hope will continue as we approach Book #3, the Harbour.

TL;DR

Where Anette Werner and Jeppe Kørner united in an unstoppable but entirely human combination in the Tenant, the two return in the Butterfly House to investigate the murder—separately. It’s quite the change of pace, albeit one that sees them more equally share the spotlight—both in their professional and personal lives. But while these highlight several rewarding alterations from the initial entry, there are a couple equally baffling choices. Especially the inclusion of two characters from the murders of Book #1, which have little to nothing to do with those in Book #2. Honestly I felt that their chapters detracted somewhat from the overall flow. But despite this, the story is quite good. And quite immersive. The crime and the detectives are on full display—not just in their investigation, but in their personal lives as well. It does a lot to cast them as human: with their own faults and insecurities, strengths and weaknesses. There’s also a open and ofttimes blunt discussion of mental health. Not only does the plot center on it, but so much of the detectives’ personal lives delve into it as well. From Kørner’s natural anxiety, and depression following his recent divorce; to Werner’s postpartum depression following her pregnancy; to the advantage taken on mental patients in the country’s caregiving programs—it addresses so much of what in my youth was swept under the rug and avoided. While I found this refreshing to bring to light, it was a bit uncomfortable for me as well. I’ve always had terrible anxiety but the overwhelming feeling when I was younger was that it was something best avoided in conversation, something that someone should deal with on their own and best hidden. Nowadays it is much more out in the open—which is great—but it still fills me with the same reluctance and discomfort whenever it’s addressed. Call it habit. Anyway, whether or not you find these things an issue, just be aware that they are front and center, central to the plot of the Butterfly House.

I’d definitely recommend this, and the rest of the series! Especially with the release of the Harbour—Book #3 of Kørner and Werner, out February 22, 2022.

Audio Note: Graeme Malcolm returns from his awesome performance in the Tenant, where he did an amazing job of bringing the Copenhagen crime world to life. I’m happy to report that the Butterfly House is a repeat performance, and I had no trouble drinking in his dulcet tones and immersing myself in the world while this Scandinavian thriller unfolded around me.

The Adams Gambit – by D.B. Jackson (Review)

Thieftaker #5 / The Loyalist Witch #3

Urban Fantasy, Historical Fantasy

Lore Seekers Press; July 27, 2021

107 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

7 / 10 ✪

Contains Spoilers for The Witch’s Storm and Cloud Prison (Loyalist Witch Parts 1-2) and minor spoilers for the Thieftaker series leading up to now.

October 26, 1770 – Boston

The conclusion to the Loyalist Witch finds former thieftaker, Ethan Kaille, once again pitting his magic against the Crown witch, Charlotte Whitcomb. If you’ve read the previous novellas in the trilogy, you’ll be aware that Whitcomb is a lot less bothered by right and wrong than Kaille, and so is willing to do anything and use anyone in pursuit of her aims.

Throughout the series Charlotte Whitcomb has had two primary goals: the death of Samuel Adams, and the dissolution of the Sons of Liberty. In the Loyalist Witch, Whitcomb targeted Kaille and Adams directly. In the Cloud Prison, she moved her attention to his friends and kin. With these avenues now closed to her, the loyalist witch is now forced to her final gambit—an open bounty on Adams’ head.

By now Ethan Kaille is sworn entirely to the side of liberty. But even so, one hundred pounds is a princely sum, sure to even test his loyalties. But even though it fails to sway him, the bounty is sure to bring hunters from all around the colonies upon Boston. And it’s up to Kaille to fend them off.

Luckily, he has friends and allies to assist him in this fight. Unfortunately, he cannot trust them all to stand beside him. As bounty hunters descend on Boston, Kaille must weed out those he cannot trust from those he would, even as a horde of unknown variables enter his city.

Again, Ethan Kaille confronts Charlotte Whitcomb, with the life of Samuel Adams and the cause of liberty on the line. And while Ethan may have let her walk away in the previous two entries, he’s certainly learnt his lesson about being too lenient.

You know, probably.

If you’ve read any of the rest of the Thieftaker books, you know that Ethan is a big softie. He doesn’t like to kill unless absolutely necessary, and won’t even consider it if the foe he happens to be facing is a woman. …You can probably see where this is headed.

But Charlotte Whitcomb is trying his patience. First, she tried to kill Ethan’s best friend, Diver, and his fiancé. Next, she went after his wife, Kandice. Additionally, she’s been doing her best to off him from the start, along with anyone who gets in her way. But as you may expect, he’s still hoping to avoid killing her. But then, his “hope” is seeming pretty thin. And since Whitcomb is a powerful and connected Crown agent, any non-lethal approach won’t be easy.

And sometimes, you have to take a life to save a life.

While this wasn’t quite as good as the first novella in the sequence, the Adams Gambit is still a decent story. But I have to admit, I’m kinda burned out by Charlotte by this point. Throughout four books and three novellas, we’ve really only had two or three real foes. I’m craving something new, rather than the same exact setup as the last story three times in a row. Luckily, because of the short length, this setup goes by rather quickly. Unfortunately, it is basically a rehash of each of the first two beginnings.

In fact, my biggest issue with the Adams Gambit is that it basically reads like a mashup of the first two in the sequence—albeit with a few twists thrown in. Yes, there is the whole issue of whom we can and cannot trust. Yes, Kaille has to decide whether or not he’s going to deal with Charlotte once and for all, or find some other workaround. Yes, the ending is completely different from the others, and it puts the story to rest. But seeing as how I read it not a week ago, I really should be able to remember something else from the first half—except that it just blends into the from the first two. And again, yes, the second half is new and different and undeniably entertaining—but is it enough?

I would argue, yes, it’s entertaining. And if you read the first two, you’re going to want to complete the sequence. But it really could have been better. The whole Loyalist Witch sequence has started to feel a bit stale. I love concept of Thieftaker and the series up til now, but it’s started to fall into a rut. While I’d very much like to see the series continue, I’d also like for the author to take a chance on something new: a new enemy, a new city, a new cause, a new magic, a new… whatever.

So… still recommended, but with a caveat. It’s not perfect, especially the first half—which feels like it’s been done three times over—but it’s entertaining and completes the overarching story in a unique (if not wholly new) manner.