Where the Waters Turn Black – by Benedict Patrick (Review)

Yarnsworld #2

Dark Fantasy, Horror

Self-published; November 16, 2016

218 pages (ebook)

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8.5 / 10 ✪

”It’s safe?”
Yam laughed. “No, of course not. Have you ever heard a good story that’s safe? What’d be the point?”

Welcome to Crescent Atoll, a remote string of emeralds in a sea of sapphire blue.

Islanders eke out an existence on this atoll, using canoes to travel the archipelago. To exist on the isles is to pay respect and homage where it is due: to the gods and taniwha in turn. Though Leinani they respect and fear the most—the goddess taking the shape of a beautiful woman of fire and flame, or a gigantic volcano at the atoll’s edge.

Kaimana is a young ocarina player, left home young to perform with a traveling troupe in pursuit of her Knack rather than stay and live and die a fisherman’s wife. But when she returns home after two years, she finds something has changed.

A monster—a taniwha—now inhabits her former home. And Kaimana must see it.

When she sees the monster for the first time, Kaimana finds herself inspired, the inspiration sparking behind her eyes, a song burning bright trying to find its way out. She is overjoyed—until the taniwha turns up again. And again.

Soon Kaimana is certain it is not just following her, but protecting her as well. Cast out by her troupe, she and the taniwha must learn to cooperate if they are to survive. Especially after they earn the attention of Nakoa, the god of war, former lover of Leinani herself. Formidable the taniwha may be, but to attract the gaze of a god is surely death. Unless the two overcome it—together.

It’s not safe, out there. There are cannibals, gods, and yes, taniwha. And more. All of which will not let a young woman travel safely alone.

A pretty simple setup: a boy and his dog against the world. Or, well, pretty much that. My favorite Yarnsworld story to date features a girl that befriends a monster, and their adventures together. Honestly, even before the intervention of Nakoa I was hooked. The archipelago setting, the travel, the exploration, the world of gods and demons—it was all I could’ve ever wanted. I probably would’ve loved to have just read about their adventures regardless of any hook.

The two characters that make this a story worth reading are undoubtedly Kaimana and Rakau, her taniwha. This pair, and their interactions, their relationship, is basically one of the two sides of the story—the gods and the atoll covering the other. Interspersed between the chapters again are the tales of the gods. We learn about Leinani, Nakoa, the Birdmen of Broken Island, the atoll’s origin story, and more fables that flesh out the archipelago’s lore. There might even be a few familiar faces—if you’ve read previous Yarnsworld stories.

I’d say that this shows a definitive improvement over the author’s debut—They Mostly Come Out At Night—in both writing and storytelling technique. The pacing is smoother, the language consistent, the characters recognizable, the world deep as the author warms to each in turn. It’s not perfect, but certainly a step in the right direction. The gods and taniwha are so colorful and unique; from Yam, the god of yams, to Rakau, a talking log-dog, to Leinani, a goddess of heat and flame, hot and fiery in equal parts. It’s really quite a nice world the author’s invented—I can see why he returns to it.

Three Yarnsworld novels down—and though most aren’t intended to be read in any certain order, this does have a sequel. I’m definitely looking forward to continuing Kaimana and Rakau’s adventures in the latest entry, To Dream and Die as a Taniwha Girl.

The Sapphire Altar – by David Dalglish (Review)

The Vagrant Gods #2

Fantasy, Epic

Orbit Books; January 10, 2022

518 pages (paperback)

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7.5 / 10 ✪

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

Please beware spoilers for the Bladed Faith, Book #1 of the Vagrant Gods. Or you can check out my review of it HERE

Newly crowned as the Vagrant—the self-proclaimed protector of Thanet—and well on his way to becoming a god, Cyrus has had enough, storming out on the rebellion and refusing to speak to Thorda ever again. On his own now, he stalks the capital streets, still enacting the Vagrant’s vengeance, driven by the grinning mask and silver crown and an ever-growing bloodlust.

More worrying still, Cyrus can now manifest the grinning mask even when he’s not wearing it. Not to mention the voices that whisper to him in the dark.

But the Vagrant isn’t the only god on Thanet.

The Heir Incarnate has arrived on the isle, ready to begin his ascendance. Rumors persist of resurrected Lycaena, now a goddess of blood and death. The slain Endarius still lives on through Mari, battling gods humbled by the Everlorn Empire. And somewhere on the island, the ghost of Dagon lurks, the former god of Thanet ready to once more reclaim his rightful place.

So many gods on such a little island. Surely they’ll play nice.

“ Some gods live on after their deaths, and some die while they yet live. “

A decent followup to the Bladed Faith, the Sapphire Altar continues the telling of Cyrus and the Vagrant’s tales in an interesting manner—however, not quite in the way I was hoping.

After the revelations of Book 1, I was hoping for a deep-dive into just what it meant to be a god. With Cyrus competing with the Vagrant’s growing influence, I expected a much more internal struggle, one that was only partly addressed in text, and not with any semblance of urgency. What I was hoping for was a spiritual journey, a mystical journey, and a reflection on what it means to be human. I had hoped this would combine with the burgeoning story of revenge to create something new and unique, and highly immersive. As it is, we get really none of the spiritual journey, glimpses of the mystical one, and the continued bloody swath of revenge from the first book. Don’t get me wrong—the Sapphire Altar is still a good read, I’d just hoped that the series was going in a different direction.

Whereas Cyrus is the focal point in the first book, in the second he splits the stage with Keles—Rayan’s daughter and former Paladin of Lycaena. Her story seemed to be… hasty. Not as well written or thought out as previous arcs; I found some of her decisions brainless if not nonsensical, but I suppose such is the same of humanity.

While I wasn’t enjoying this read as much as its predecessor, there was still the inclusion of interesting characters Rayan and Eshiel and Sinshei that kept me reading. Fortunately, at the… 65% mark everything devolved into chaos (the good kind of chaos). It was then that the story finally hit its stride. And drank me in. As weak as I found the middle of the Sapphire Altar, the end was strong enough to make up for it. Multiple jaw-dropping twists, lies and betrayal, mystery, mayhem, and more—the conclusion is packed with content. It’s just a shame that more wasn’t done to flesh the early and middle bits out; the book went from a borderline snooze to heart-pounding in just a few chapters. Needless to say, this makes the pacing seem wild and strange, and the story itself a bit episodic in its portrayal.

TL;DR

While it isn’t shaping out to be the author’s greatest series ever (I’d vote for both the Shadowdance and Keepers’ over it to be honest—though Book #3 maaay change my mind;) ), Book #2 of the Vagrant Gods delivers an interesting, ofttimes exciting adventure—immersive if you enjoyed the events of the first book and wanted nothing more than more of the same. For me, it was a bit of a letdown. I expected so much more from the relationship of Cyrus and the Vagrant: a spiritual journey into what it meant to be mortal or a god. Instead it’s the continuing tale of rebellion, with some metaphysical bits thrown in. Which is fine, just not what I was hoping for. Either way, it’s a good, entertaining, interesting read that I’d recommend for returning fans of the author and/or the Bladed Faith. Looking forward to the series’ conclusion, expected in 2024!

Episode Thirteen – by Craig DiLouie (Review)

standalone

Horror, Paranormal

Redhook; January 24, 2023

433 pages (paperback)

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8 / 10 ✪

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

Episode Thirteen takes us on an adventure with a professional ghost-hunting team as they delve into the depths of the holy grail of the paranormal. Now, while the horror genre isn’t usually my thing, this is very much my jam. And I don’t mean the ghost-hunting bit; I find those kinds of reality show boring, to be honest. I mean the depiction of a ghost-hunting TV show. From Danny Phantom to the X-Files to Cassidy Blake—I love that kinda thing.

Husband and wife duo Matt and Claire Kirklin may look like the perfect team, but beneath the surface tension is brewing. The rest of the team isn’t much better.

With an axe hanging over the show and their future unknown, these explorers get what could be their big break—the holy grail of ghost-hunting: the Paranormal Research Foundation. For Matt, this is it: the big leagues, the holy grail, the be-all and end-all. A place he’s obsessed over since his first experience with the paranormal back when he was young. He’s like a kid in a candy shop—and he can’t wait to share it with his wife, and the rest of the team.

Claire Kirklin is done. She’s sick of the gimmicks, the show, of not being taken seriously as a scientist. She just wants to quit and take a legitimate job and explore the universe of physics. She just doesn’t know how to tell Matt.

Kevin is ready to step into the spotlight. Ex-Cop turned paranormal investigator, he’s been pushing Matt to let him do things his way for years. And with the axe coming down, his boss is finally ready to listen. Jessica is the only professional actor on the team, having taken the job to bolster her resumé. She doesn’t know what to think of the crazy white people and their ghosts—she just wants to make enough money to support her little one and make a name for herself in the process. So she smiles and screams and plays nice for the camera, all while nothing happens all around them. Jake is a professional. The cameraman, filming is his bread and butter. He’d follow Matt into Hell for a good shot, though he doesn’t really buy into the paranormal. At least, not yet.

But then the Paranormal Research Foundation comes a’calling. And everything goes to shit.

When it comes to the spirit world, I accept that nothing is certain. I also accept that anything is possible.

Told through a series of journals, interviews, b-roll, research files, and assorted bits and pieces, Episode Thirteen was not hard to read, nor to fall into. Like the Themis Files (by Sylvain Neuvel) in structure, I found it to be much easier to become immersed in, as I’d typically binge for a hundred pages or so after sitting down to read a chapter or two. But while there are outliers, most chapters are short. And easy to speed through. The whole book goes fairly quickly once you get into it.

The backdrop for this horror-story is definitely its strongest suit. Think of the most haunted place you can, throw in a bunch of spooky experiments and supernatural shit, ghosts, LSD, and pentagrams—and you’ll be hard-pressed to come up with a better candidate than the aptly-named Paranormal Research Foundation. I mean, that’s probably why the author invented it—though the name is rather dull. A creepy, abandoned husk full of graffiti and broken bottles and a disturbing history of fringe science. The atmosphere only ups the tension and desperation, perfect for such a tale.

The characters of Episode Thirteen are just a bonus. No, I didn’t like them all. Honestly, I didn’t really love any one of them too much. Matt and Kevin are true believers, while Claire and Jessica are beyond skeptical. Jake is just there to film. While we’ll get further and further into their backstories and lives later in the book, for a while they’re just bland specters rounding out a doomed TV team. Only they do flesh out. And then everything just kinda… clicks. The tension, the atmosphere, the creepiness—even the excitement is infectious.

As is typical with horror stories, I found the ending a bit of a letdown. But that’s a common thing for me; I like the build-up, the tension, the atmosphere, the world-building, and then the big reveal comes about and it just… loses me. I will say that this big reveal was a doozy. While I was disappointed with the aftermath, I legitimately can’t say I saw that certain twist coming. It was crazy! I’m just not sure how exactly I felt about it.

For as strange a read as this was, the pacing was equally weird. Sometimes it raced along at breakneck speed—but then we fucked off for doughnuts. And drank and talked about our feelings and insecurities and… I mean, it was normal, everyday life stuff in many ways, but… as a book plot? And then something eerie came out of nowhere and the pace shot back up to breakneck in a heartbeat. It was just… odd.

TL;DR

Read Episode Thirteen for the paranormal, the supernatural, the ghouls and ghosts (mainly the ghosts), the LSD, the experiments, the fringe science, the tension, the atmosphere, the darkness and depth of it all. Don’t read Episode Thirteen is you hate horror. I mean, horror usually bores me, but I can’t deny it has a powerful atmosphere. Which the specific way of telling lends an air to. Told through a series of journal entries, b-roll, interviews, and more, Episode Thirteen was never hard to read, easier to get immersed in, and one heck of a ride from start to finish. While horror isn’t usually my jam, I’d be hard-pressed not to recommend this one to both the long-standing fans and the uninitiated.

Below the Edge of Darkness – by Edith Widder (Review)

standalone

Memoir, Science

Random House; July 27, 2021

325 pages (ebook)
11hr 56m (audiobook)

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7.5 / 10 ✪

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

Below the Edge of Darkness serves a dual purpose. Intended both as an introduction to the world of bioluminescence and the deep ocean depths, it also serves as a memoir of one Edith Widder—one of the pioneer marine biologists exploring the ocean deep, deep down below the sight of visible light.

I came into this one with no real expectations. Well… okay, I expected the science. I showed up for the science. I started with an expectation of science. What I got (at least initially) was not science. As anyone would in a memoir, Edith Widder spends a lot of time talking about herself. About her childhood, her schooling, the things that made her want to get into marine biology in the first place. I kinda figured that there would be an element of this as well, but maybe not to such an extent. What I did not expect—and what actually turned me off the book at first—was the hook.

Every story starts with a hook. Fiction, at least; thriller, mystery, fantasy, ya, some other variety of book people might read… Even some non-fiction like case-studies and biographies start with a hook. Something to draw the reader in, get them asking “and what happened next?”, something to keep them around. So yeah, I expected a hook. But what I expected was for it to be something on the nature of a dwindling resource, pollution, lack of funding—something about the science. I didn’t expect the hook to be about the author or her life.

No reason why, I guess. Not that I can think of now, at least. Sufficient to say, however, that back when I first started this book—in the late summer of 2021—I didn’t care. About the author, about the reason, about the hook. I wanted some science. To lose myself in the beauty of nature, the technical world, in an attempt to catalogue and understand the very nature of creation itself.

Come 2022, I was struggling to read anything, and found this in the backlog. I already had the audiobook—figured I might as well give it a shot. And, while I didn’t love it, I did enjoy Below the Edge of Darkness.

From what you can probably tell, I’m not a big memoir person. I don’t obsess over unknowable people and their lives to the point that I don’t care to read about some random person that I’ll likely never meet. (And yes, this includes Gandhi, Mother Theresa, or Alfred Noble—I’m never going to meet any of them, so their day to day workings kinda bore me. Read from this what you will, but hey—there’s a reason I mostly read fantasy books.)

Still, while I didn’t show up for the memoir part, I found it mostly interesting. And I’m… somewhat intolerant of this subject in general. I find Cosmos just pretentious and boring. I’m a hard sell.

At the time she was in school, the whole idea of women in science was laughable. After all, the world was still iffy on the idea of “women in the workplace”. But science—science is for men. Women had no capacity to understand or comprehend most of it and blah blah blah. Just… I’ll never understand this, but whatever. So much of Edith Widder’s life was spent just trying to convince some people that she belonged. That she was just as capable as her counterparts. What she overcame in her life to actually make it to the sea floor was quite impressive. What she ranted and raved about constantly was mostly interesting, but again, my brain craved science, and in the end that’s what kept me around.

There’s just enough about the nature of bioluminescence to make this work in a scientific journal. Not enough for a case-study; it reads more like an autobiography with bits of science thrown in to round out the reader’s perspective. I probably would’ve liked more, but it still served as a crash course into the world of bioluminescence, investigating the giant squid, and exploring the deep ocean. I know I ranted way more about the memoir part than I should’ve, but I’m not going to change it now.

Read it if you’re into that kinda thing: memoirs, bioluminescence, the ocean deep, the majesty of nature and the lives of folk you’ll likely never meet. Or if you’ve just grown upset at my blasé review of it. As I said before, it’s mostly pretty good. I’d recommend it.

City of Last Chances – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Review)

standalone

Dark Fantasy, Fantasy

Head of Zeus; December 8, 2022

545 pages (ebook)

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9 / 10 ✪

” You’re a learned man. Please tell me where the word ‘negotiate’ can be found within ‘unconditional surrender’. “

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

Adrian Tchaikovsky is one of the more frustrating authors I can think of, as I’m constantly thinking “I need to read more of his stuff”, only to go and acquire some and then give up halfway through. You see, he has an issue of letting his politics and personal beliefs bleed too heavily into his fiction. From there the book just becomes one gigantic rant—which is not something I need more of in my life. It’s not that I disagree with his opinion; it’s that I don’t need to hear it constantly justified in a supposed escapist fantasy.

Enter City of Last Chances, a dark fantasy set in a city of the brink of revolution.

Ilmar, some say, is the worst place in the world. A city swollen with refugees, the once-great metropolis has fallen on hard times, even before it fell to the Palleseen Empire. With the heavy-handed occupation now in its third year, the populace

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

An industrial city swollen with refugees, Ilmar is truly a melting pot. Or, it was—before the war. Three years prior, Ilmar fell to the Palleseen Sway. Since then, their heavy-handed occupation has begun to chafe. Religion of any kind is forbidden in the Sway, and all priests and clerics are rounded up and summarily executed. Only after their faith is decanted and used to eliminate their deities.

Language is censored as well, with Palleseen officially replacing all other tongues as the staple in businesses, schools, and streets. The Pals seek perfection in all things, and under their rule all the messy differences of the world shall become one.

There are two exceptions, however, problems that the Pals are desperate to snuff out. The first, is the Anchorwood: a once great forest now reduced to but a single grove. This copse holds the secret of another place, for when the moon is full and the shadow of the trees stretches to its greatest point the boscage becomes a portal to another place—an escape for those desperate, or an opportunity for those ambitious enough to take it. Somewhere, on the other side of this portal, lies a city. A realm set at the edge of the world. Or maybe, set on an entirely different world entirely. This place is the home of the Indwellers—and it’s a place the Sway will do anything to reach. Except the path is not an easy one, and is inhabited by monsters—which can only be held at bay through the use of highly specialized wards, which are both rare and expensive.

When a Palleseen higher-up dies in the Anchorwood, there’s more than enough blame to go around. Specifically the whereabouts of his stolen ward and the thief that took it. Also, there is the issue of his assistant—who fled the Wood, followed by a certain kind of monster only found in nightmares. The two were last seen headed towards the Reproach: the second of Ilmar’s dirty secrets.

Where the Anchorwood is a portal to another place full of monsters, the Reproach is a homegrown monstrosity. A borough of Ilmar corrupted and cursed, a place even the Pals fear enough to avoid so much as mentioning it. But now an expedition is assembled to rescue the assistant and (hopefully) retrieve the wards. Only these two acts can hope to right the ship before the city boils over. But only a fool, a wretch, or a madman would venture willingly into the Reproach. Luckily, If it’s one thing that Ilmar has a surplus of, it’s the desperate.

There has always been a darkness in Ilmar. You cannot live with those neighbors without taking something of the dark between the trees into you.

At some point in the middle of this, I had to stop and try to remember what the heck the plot was. In general, this isn’t a good thing, but in this case it was. Or rather… it wasn’t bad. Especially because I couldn’t recall and just had to go back to reading. City of Last Chances is a thoroughly immersive and enjoyable fantasy escape—no matter what’s going on. And there’s a lot.

Between the impending revolution and the dead bigwig there’s actually a lot. The missing wards and the resulting search plays a large role, but there’s tension in Ilmar that has nothing to do with either. Distrust and resentment abound between the factions of the city; the factory workers, the students, the various faithful, those that have given in to the Sway, the gangs and underworld, the refugees, and more. Then there’s the Anchorwood—a nice little twist, that. That on its own makes this a great story, but when you add the Reproach—that’s a wrinkle that helps turn this from a good story to a great one. There’s just so much chaos, so much going on, so many desperate and so much desperation to go around that you never know what’s going to happen next. Indeed, it’s like that with the characters too; for a while I assumed we’d never have the same POV twice, but it’s not like that. It’s just Tchaikovsky establishing that anyone can die at anytime, so don’t get too attached to anyone.

This book is so well written, and there are so many good quotes—so many!

She screamed, and Lemya was screaming too—not in pain but at him. Because this was a rescue, and if there was a Rule One of rescuing, it was not to shoot the rescuee.

While City of Last Chances is a standalone at the moment, there’s so much here that Tchaikovsky could very easily churn out a couple of sequels—either direct or set in the same world—based on the Reproach or the Anchorwood, or even the Sway and its efforts. That said, if you’re new to the author maybe don’t expect it to come to this. I mean, it might, but he writes so much standalone stuff that I wouldn’t expect it. So try to take this novel as it is: a tremendous tale set in an illustrious and darkly imagined world, full of interesting and relatable characters—…who might all perish at a moment’s notice.

It’s true, there’s very little that feels certain in this novel. The characters, the setting, the events; with everything liable to change at a moment’s notice, it lends a real sense of impermanence to everything, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. While it certainly distracts from the getting invested in any one particular character’s story, what it does is provides a feeling of desperation to every action, every move. As if it were really the character’s last chance. Maybe not ideal for a fun adventure, but just the kind of thing for a dark fantasy set in a desperate city.

TL;DR

From its characters to its setting, its plot to its setup, its events to its darkness, to all its amazing quotes—City of Last Chances is Adrian Tchaikovsky at his best. A tense, immersive, and often political fantasy that doesn’t get too political, nor too fantastical—though it certainly has its moments, such as the copse of trees that becomes a portal when the moon is full, or the section of the city possessed by an unknown entity from the city’s past. It’s a dark, industrial fantasy done right; the right amount of fantasy, the right amount of realism, and certainly enough escapism to get truly lost in—even if you lose track of what exactly is going on. I can’t recommend this one enough, and can only hope that this signals a turn for the coming future Tchaikovsky novels.

Misses, No-go’s & DNFs 2022

In addition to my favorite books of the year, there were quite a few titles that I passed on, missed, DNFed, rage quit, or just never got around to. So the following will be settled into three camps: those I missed—which will be added straight to my TBR for future perusal. Those I DNFed—which may still have some potential to be reread. And those I DNFed—never to be read or heard from again. There were quite a lot of odd misses this year, including a high number of my most anticipated releases that (for one reason or another) just didn’t pan out.

Let’s get started.

Misses

The first mockup of this I did, I just lumped all my misses/skips into one. However, I decided it’d be preferable to separate the two into those that I legitimately regret not making time for (the Misses), and those that I just skipped in the interest of time, or series completion, (the Skips).

SKIPS

DNF

Hunger of the Gods was without a doubt the biggest-named title I burned out on. And it definitely was burnout—but still, the followup to last year’s Book of the year, and I never broke the two-hundred page mark. Another burnout was In the Shadow of Lightning, which I only got an audio ARC of and just couldn’t focus on enough to finish. Not to worry, now I have it in hardback and am ready to go again. Dead Silence is probably the biggest-named title I won’t be returning to. I did not understand how the lead was in the position she was in—after so many red flags in her past failed to disqualify her from her role. At the end of the day, it simply created a scenario that didn’t work for me. I’m not getting into the Ballad of Perilous Graves. If you want to see my thoughts on this trainwreck, check out my review.

+TBR

Of these, my top priorities are somehow the two that I kept forgetting about even as I edited this piece. Those being Farilane and Black Heart Part III. The issue I had with the Sullivan entry was that after I actually caught up enough on the series to read it I was suffering some intense reading-burnout, while Black Heart Part II I only got through at the end of the year. In addition to these two, obviously I’m looking forward to the Lost Metal, which wraps up Mistborn Era 2. Sequels Locklands, Reckoning, and One Foot in the Fade. Standalones Babel, Eversion, the Broken Room, and Never the Wind. All in all, this year I added 18 new books to my TBR—a number that I’m never, ever going to get through before I die.

Oh well.

Want/need to sell me on another book that came out in 2022? Let me know! Otherwise, did you read any of these? DNF any? Hate any that you wished you’d have just DNFed? Loved any? Again, do let me know.

Wormhole – by Eric Brown & Keith Brooke (Review)

standalone

Scifi, Mystery

Angry Robot; November 22, 2022

433 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 Angry Robot for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

The world has changed. A combination of climate change, overpopulation, and resource shortage has led to mass migration of humanity and the need to explore outside the bounds of Earth’s gravity well. Thus an expedition has been launched to Mu Arae, an earth-like planet and trip of about 80 years. The crew are to be kept in suspended animation for the duration, and expected to investigate the planet before deploying a highly experimental contraption as a means of creating a stable wormhole back to Earth.

London, 2190

Gordon Kemp is a former homicide detective, stuck investigating cold-cases as his career winds down. Assigned to a high-profile case named top priority, he and his partner Danni Bellini are surprised to discover that the main suspect—long since departed on the Mu Arae expedition—is not as out of range as they once believed. In fact, with the wormhole expected to be opened within the week, the Kemp’s superiors have instructed him to be ready to depart and retrieve the suspect at first convenience.

The suspect: Rima Cagnac, wife of the illustrious Sebastien White—one of the richest and most influential people on Earth. Accused of killing her husband, she was somehow allowed to leave Earth on the expedition, having been cleared of suspicion. For roughly a century, at least.

While what Kemp and his partner uncover while investigating this case may well change the course of history, what Rima Cagnac discovers on the distant Mu Arae will well shape the future.

Let’s start with the investigation. A cold-case into one of the most prolific unsolved murders in history, dismissed due to lack of evidence, the main suspect allowed to walk (to another planet no less)—and pretty much assumed off-limits afterwards. But instead of focusing on solving (or framing up) the crime that they had eighty years to perfect, they decide to half-ass it on the spot a week before the wormhole is set to open. The conspiracy—because obviously the new evidence is bogus—is so thin that it can be picked apart by two down-on-their-luck detectives and their hacker friend in about a week.

Despite this, the story is actually not terrible. Engaging, interesting (if not deep), and at least somewhat mysterious and immersive. While I developed issues with the plot somewhere around the three-quarters mark—and while I was never absolutely in love with every aspect of the story—it wasn’t a hard book to get into. A decent plot; there were problems with it, but they could be overlooked (early on). The characters, at least those of Danni and Gordon and Rima, were interesting and relatable. But when we stray from the main cast… the depth peters out in a hurry.

Enter Edouard Bryce: key story element and unrepentant chauvinistic ass. Unveiled as Danni’s love interest halfway through the story, he doesn’t change to attract the independent, modern professional that she’s portrayed as. Instead, she changes to suit him. I know it’s very much possible and realistic, but it was still frustrating. He’s probably likable to someone, but that someone was never me.

Okay, now let’s address the twist. It’s… well, it’s too much.

The main issue with Wormhole is that it tries to do too much. A detective story quickly becomes a space exploration—a planet exploration event with potential first contact. With a wormhole added as an afterthought. With a conspiracy that draws secrets from the plot that it can’t even know. There’s just too much going on, too much continually competing to be the center of attention, especially as we approach the latter half of the novel.

TL;DR

Wormhole is a mystery, exploration, adventure, thriller, that tries to appeal to all genres equally yet ultimately manages to succeed in none of them. The reason? It continually tries to do too much. A mystery becomes a space exploration, which becomes a scientific wonder, which begets conspiracy, revolution, dystopia, thriller, aliens, romance, memoir, philosophy… yeah, you get the idea. It’s a bit like Great North Road—the Peter F. Hamilton novel, only crammed into about one-third of the space. Too much, too hectic, not well-enough thought out or built or explained. While there is a decent story within, it’s not going to appeal to everyone. Think about any one element for too long and everything breaks down. All in all, a disappointment for sure.

Enter 2023 – January

ARC

Saint – by Adrienne Young (UK Release – 01/10)

The Narrows #0.5

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As a boy, Elias learned the hard way what happens when you don’t heed the old tales.

Nine years after his lack of superstition got his father killed, he’s grown into a young man of piety, with a deep reverence for the hallowed sea and her fickle favor. As stories of the fisherman’s son who has managed to escape the most deadly of storms spreads from port to port, his devotion to the myths and creeds has given him the reputation of the luckiest bastard to sail the Narrows.

Now, he’s mere days away from getting everything his father ever dreamed for him: a ship of his own, a crew, and a license that names him as one of the first Narrows-born traders. But when a young dredger from the Unnamed Sea with more than one secret crosses his path, Elias’ faith will be tested like never before. The greater the pull he feels toward her, the farther he drifts from the things he’s spent the last three years working for.

He is dangerously close to repeating his mistakes and he’s seen first hand how vicious the jealous sea can be. If he’s going to survive her retribution, he will have to decide which he wants more, the love of the girl who could change their shifting world, or the sacred beliefs that earned him the name that he’s known for―Saint.

The Sapphire Altar – by David Dalglish (01/10)

Vagrant Gods #2

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Cyrus wants out. Trained to be an assassin in order to oust the invading Empire from his kingdom, Cyrus is now worried the price of his vengeance is too high. His old master has been keeping too many secrets to be trusted. And the mask he wears to hide his true identity and become the legendary “Vagrant” has started whispering to him in the dark. But the fight isn’t over and the Empire has sent its full force to bear upon Cyrus’s floundering revolution. He’ll have to decide once and for all whether to become the thing he fears or lose the country he loves.

Godkiller – by Hannah Kaner (UK Release – 01/19)

Godkiller #1

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Kissen kills gods for a living, and she enjoys it. That is until she finds a god she cannot kill: Skediceth, god of white lies, who is connected to a little noble girl on the run.

Elogast fought in the god war, and helped purge the city of a thousand shrines before laying down his sword. A mysterious request from the King sends him racing back to the city he destroyed.

On the way he meets a godkiller, a little girl and a littler god, who cannot find out about his quest. 

Episode Thirteen – by Craig DiLouie (01/24)

Standalone

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

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

A rare read that I’ve actually finished ahead of time, expect a review of this somewhere around the release date!

Others

The Tress of the Emerald Sea – by Brandon Sanderson (Release TBA)

Secret Project #1

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The only life Tress has known on her island home in an emerald-green ocean has been a simple one, with the simple pleasures of collecting cups brought by sailors from faraway lands and listening to stories told by her friend Charlie. But when his father takes him on a voyage to find a bride and disaster strikes, Tress must stow away on a ship and seek the Sorceress of the deadly Midnight Sea. Amid the spore oceans where pirates abound, can Tress leave her simple life behind and make her own place sailing a sea where a single drop of water can mean instant death?

Gifts/Purchases

The Sholomance Trilogy – by Naomi Novik

Book #1Book #2Book #3

A Christmas gift from my sister—I don’t get a whole lot of books, as my family never quite seems to know just how many I already have or have already read—I can’t wait to get into these! I’ve heard really only good things from the trilogy (except maybe Books 1 & 3, but nobody’s perfect), so hopefully I’ll like them.

Umm, if my sister is reading this: Hi Megan! I love them and know I’ll love them and am sure that I’ll be reading them right now probably!

Dayworld – by Phillip José Farmer

Dayworld #1

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A classic that I’ve always wanted to read, I got this one on sale and hope to get into it sometiiiime this… year?

Dayworld leads a sf trilogy by Philip José Farmer set in a dystopian future in which an overpopulated world allocates people only one day a week. The other six days they’re in suspended animation. The focus is on Jeff Caird, a daybreaker living more than a day a week. He’s not like most daybreakers. He belongs to the radical Immer group working to create a better government. Not all Immers are daybreakers, but send information from one day to the next they’ve daybreakers like Jeff. Immer daybreakers assume seven different personalities & jobs, slipping from culture to culture in seven different worlds. While Jeff & the other six go day to day, they run into problems while working as Immer daybreakers. They must cover their tracks while trying to keep up with seven different lives, families & jobs. It could drive a man crazy. It does & the Immers must dispose of Jeff to keep the rest safe. Jeff, wanting to live, tries to escape, but they have undercover Immers in every job & government level. Jeff is caught & put in an asylum, classified with multiple personality disorder. If considered incurable he’ll be killed. But Jeff has an escape plan.

Life

Meh.

Not ready to talk about life just now. I’ll be around the blogosphere at least a bit this month. Check back to December or November or so and you’ll get the gist.

Top 12 Books Released in 2022

In the last list I went over my top novellas released this year. In this final list, as an homage to 2022, we’ll cover my 12 favorite new releases for this year, complete with a few honorable mentions, just before it comes to a close.

12th

Mindwalker – by Kate Dylan

ReviewGoodreads

We begin with Mindwalker, a book that I initially skipped, only to pick up on the recommendation of several reviewers touting its YA and cyberpunk themes. While it barely cracks the Top 12, this is a very good read—though maybe not as great as the rest.

11th

Return of the Whale Fleet – by Benedict Patrick

ReviewGoodreads

The latest Darkstar book was actually the one that shook up my first draft of the Top 12, as I’d completely forgotten that it released THIS year. Yeah, I know. While not quite as good as its predecessor, Return of the Whale Fleet was still an immersive and vivid ride through the Darkstar Dimension and parts beyond, while harboring an unexpected bit of darkness behind.

10th

The Martyr – by Anthony Ryan

ReviewGoodreads

“Devotion is inherently nonsensical.”

Sequel to last year’s Pariah—which snuck into the Top 5 at #4—the Martyr wasn’t quite as good, but still managed to deliver on a brilliant fantasy followup, and one of only three sequels on this year’s list (compared to five in 2021).

Honorable Mention: Black Heart

I haven’t completed all three parts of Black Heart, and as such it won’t make this list. While I did enjoy the first two parts enough that it could have been on here, I’d really like to have a somewhat sensical review of it up first—which I won’t until I finish the damned thing. So just know that yes, it’s out, and yes, it’s good, and yes, I’ll have a recommendation on what to do with/how to handle this news when I do eventually finish it. In the meantime I’d say, maybe go check it out yourself? Or have a look at the Barrow, the comics, or my reviews of any of the parts under Mark Smylie’s name here?

9th

Hide – by Kiersten White

ReviewGoodreads

In the end, twelve contestants get massages. They wear beaded masks, so they can’t see the older woman massaging then cries the whole time. She wishes the other two had allowed her to perform this kindness. It’s the only thing she can offer them, the final gift of gratitude for what they’re going to do.

A supernatural thriller from YA fantasy author Kiersten White, Hide was one of my most anticipated releases this year—and one of the rare few that I thought lived up to the hype. Sure, the characters were sometimes a bit over the top, and occasionally the choices they made weren’t great either, but humans do do stupid things and this definitely related that through. The setting—and abandoned amusement park—and the supernatural elements more than made up for anything the characters lacked, however, and I’d gladly read this one again anytime!

8th

The Oleander Sword – by Tasha Suri

ReviewGoodreads

He watched his sister walk around the ceremonial wedding fire, garbed in resplendent red, and thought, My country is dying.
He watched her bow for the garland, and thought, Our father is dying.
He watched her as she lowered her head for the wedding garland, and thought, My sister will die.
And there is nothing I can do.

My last—and highest ranked—sequel of the year cracking the Top 12, Oleander Sword capitalizes on the successes of Suri’s Jasmine Throne, while throwing some additional surprises in as well. The most unexpected of them all (for me, at least) was of a romance done right. I’m now highly anticipating the Burning Kingdoms’ finale, due in late 2023.

7th

Our Crooked Hearts – by Melissa Albert

ReviewGoodreads

So. Magic. It is the loneliest thing in the world.

This paranormal novel highlighting witches and oaths also features a mother-daughter dual POV to tell a highly interesting, immersive tale of love, life, and coming of age. If you weren’t aware that Melissa Albert’s stories often harbor a darkness within them, then you must be new or naïve—something you’re sure to grow out of soon enough.

6th

• Mickey7 – by Edward Ashton •

ReviewGoodreads

He runs both hands back through his hair. “I don’t know… I don’t know… they didn’t cover this situation in training.”
That’s the truth, anyway. Training was one hundred percent about dying. I don’t remember them dedicating much time at all to staying alive.

After a piece of science fiction about learning to love yourself, about life, love and… um, double-penetration? Well, look no further than Mickey7, a novel that truly answers the question ‘If you can, then why not?’ In addition to being interesting, often thrilling, immersive, entertaining, and funny Mickey7 doesn’t waste time trying to take itself too seriously or really even trying to address the dark, almost black humor pervading every part of it. Instead, this novel just incorporates all of these aspects into a story that is wrong on so many levels that it’s somehow so, so right.

Honorable Mentions

5th

• The Immortality Thief – by Taran Hunt •

ReviewGoodreads

There were shadows in the room, Brigid had told me; shadows that wanted to do her harm. Little shadow people, only as tall as she was, half the height our parents were. They gathered in doorways and crouched beside the dresser, and in the dead of night they came out and gathered around her beside like viewers at a funeral while she lay paralyzed.

4th

• The Stardust Thief – by Chelsea Abdullah •

ReviewGoodreads

Legend had it that after slaughtering the marid, the humans hung their corpses from the tops of the cliffs, and there had been so much silver blood running down the rocks, it had transformed into a cascading stream of water. Sometimes, when Loulie stared hard at the streams winding through the city, she thought they glittered like stardust.
It was beautiful, and it was horrible.

The second debut in the top five, the Stardust Thief is a gripping fantasy about stories, adventure, love, and finding one’s place in the world. Four and five were so tight it could’ve gone either way, but I gave the edge Chelsea Abdullah’s book on the grounds that while it was released longer ago, it was still able to make the same impact as an entry released months later.

3rd

• Seven Deaths of an Empire – by G.R. Matthews •

ReviewGoodreads

“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.

An unapologetic grimdark about a Roman Empire that could’ve well been, Seven Deaths of an Empire was technically a re-release from last year that I nevertheless included as it was an incredible read that I ended up adoring. My biggest surprise of the year—and a book I ended up requesting on a whim—it creates a vibrant and beautiful world full of deep characters before ultimately tearing everything to shreds. And it provided the (extended) quote of the year for me as well!

2nd

• Spells for Forgetting – by Adrienne Young •

ReviewGoodreads

“There are spells for breaking and spells for mending. But there are no spells for forgetting.”

While this was definitely my book of the second half of the year, it wasn’t quite good enough to take the top spot. I mean, I was definitely splitting hairs at this point, but the fact that I wasn’t completely in love with the true love story ended up costing Spells first place.

1st

• Daughter of Redwinter – by Ed McDonald •

ReviewGoodreads

Friendship is easy to claim and dangerous to test.

What do you really expect me to say about my favorite work of the year? For most stories I give you the good, the bad, and why you should care. For a best of list? I feel like when all the nitpicking is done, I should be able to simply stand back and let this book speak for itself. A fantastic tale about a girl with nothing and no one trying to carve a life for herself out of cold, unyielding stone and red, weeping flesh—all the while dreading to expose her greatest secret, that which literally anyone might kill her over. There, that should be enough—now go read it.

Well, this completes the year! It was… well, it was a whole year that done and happened in 2022, and I’d love to say I won’t miss it at all, but then I said the same for 2019, so who’s to say. I guess I’ll just say that it wasn’t the best year and leave it at that. Luckily, there were some good books—hey like those above, you should really go check them out again!—good games, and good people that made everything worthwhile. Thanks for coming around and reading my nonsense for another year, and stay tuned for more things in 2023, where I’ll probably be less here, but should still be here enough to rant/rave about somesuch. Hope everyone had a good year, and thanks as always for reading!