I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Orbit and NetGalley for the eARC! Any quotes are for demonstrative purposes only, included to help showcase the level of detail and writing style that the author employs, and may not be included in the final, published version. All opinions are my own.
The gods are dead. The world is broken.
Three hundred years have passed since the old gods fell, breaking and reshaping the world in their passing. Monsters roam the land—a remnant of the world before. Petty kings and queens have seized control and now vie for whatever power has been left behind. Myths and legends, bones of the fallen gods, and children born of their tainted blood—the Jarls compete for whatever will distinguish them from the rest, all with the same aim: to write their story to be told alongside the old gods before them.
Orka has had her fill of power. Having long since escaped the world of blood and kings, she and her husband now live in the wilds with their young bairn. But she can’t escape the past, nor the machinations of those seeking more power.
Varg has worn a collar his entire life, since both he and his sister were sold to a wealthy landowner as thralls. Ever since Varg has been satisfied to survive—until his sister was killed. His quest to avenge Frøya’s murder will take him to places he never imagined, and find family he never knew existed.
Elvar is a mercenary, seeking to write her own saga in the blood of her enemies. Hired to find an escaped thrall, her band comes into possession of the man’s wife and child, who eventually lead them on a quest to unearth a myth—and the power and glory that it holds.
It seems that the better a book is, the harder it becomes for me to talk about it. And this one is absolutely amazing. Surely by now you’ve seen some hype for it, some 5 star reviews and—if you’ve yet to experience it yourself—are wondering if it’s really all that good. Well, it is. It really, really is.
Shadow of the Gods is truly a masterclass in execution. The world-building is on par with that of the Banished Lands, as the Bloodsworn Saga introduces us to a lush land of Vikings, monsters and gods—all seeking power and glory. While I wouldn’t call SotG a dark fantasy, the descriptions do lend quite a bit of darkness to the story, so much so that in my imagination, the world always carried a bit of a dusky cast. Shadowy forests, deep fjords, seedy taverns and slums, brochs, longhouses and earthworks all added to the dark, Viking feel so much that the entire thing rendered in my head like some ambient Wardruna video.
They were moving through a land of tree-cloaked hills and shadow-dark valleys, of sun-drenched meadows and rivers winding and glistening like jewel-crusted serpents that coiled through the land. The new-risen sun blazed bright as Arg stepped out on to a hillside of rolling meadow and left the trees behind him.
Above her rainclouds shredded and blew across the sky like tattered banners.
The description really is amazing. Each setting is rendered in such detail that I felt as if I’d been there and was just reliving the memory.
As with most of his books, SotG emphasizes the dishonor of the bow, so all combat is restricted to a close-quarters brawl. This, combined with the description and style of writing, made everything feel so much more immersive, almost as if I was experiencing something from memory rather than reading about it. Through the setting and world-building and detail, this one really came alive, and I can’t find the right words to convey just how amazing this was!
While I’m not sure yet if I loved it quite as much as Ruin, Shadow of the Gods is certainly one of the best books of the year and on the shortlist of my all-time favorites. I mean, I’m sure I could rave about this for another page or two and it wouldn’t convey anything more than “you should read it, it’s really that good”—so I’m going to leave it at that. But, yeah, you should read it. It’s really THAT good.
If you don’t believe me and need some more convincing, here’re some other reviews that you might want to look at:
A man of the Dawn Claw will be the Always King. It will ever be so. They will always rule… but they will not always lead.
Prince Oliver Dawn Claw, heir to the Kingdom of the Four Claws, is thrust into a world he doesn’t understand as he waits for his father to die. Away from home, with few allies, and too many enemies, he faces a new and otherworldly threat to the Eastron from beneath the sea. Alliances break and masks fall, as the Dark Brethren reveal their true master.
Meanwhile, Adeline Brand, called the Alpha Wolf, refuses to wait, and becomes the edge of the sword that swings back at the Dreaming God. Assembling allies and crushing resistance, she enters a fight she doesn’t know if she can win, as the sea begins to rise.
After the gods warred and drove themselves to extinction, the cataclysm of their fall shattered the land of Vigrið.
Now a new world is rising, where power-hungry jarls feud and monsters stalk the woods and mountains. A world where the bones of the dead gods still hold great power for those brave—or desperate—enough to seek them out.
Now, as whispers of war echo across the mountains and fjords, fate follows in the footsteps of three people: a huntress on a dangerous quest, a noblewoman who has rejected privilege in pursuit of battle fame, and a thrall who seeks vengeance among the famed mercenaries known as the Bloodsworn.
All three will shape the fate of the world as it once more falls under the shadow of the gods . . .
This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whatever.
The whateverpocalypse. That’s what Touré, a twenty-something Cambridge coder, calls it after waking up one morning to find himself seemingly the only person left in the city. Once he finds Robbie and Carol, two equally disoriented Harvard freshmen, he realizes he isn’t alone, but the name sticks: Whateverpocalypse. But it doesn’t explain where everyone went. It doesn’t explain how the city became overgrown with vegetation in the space of a night. Or how wild animals with no fear of humans came to roam the streets.
Add freakish weather to the mix, swings of temperature that spawn tornadoes one minute and snowstorms the next, and it seems things can’t get much weirder. Yet even as a handful of new survivors appear—Paul, a preacher as quick with a gun as a Bible verse; Win, a young professional with a horse; Bethany, a thirteen-year-old juvenile delinquent; and Ananda, an MIT astrophysics adjunct—life in Cambridge, Massachusetts gets stranger and stranger.
The self-styled Apocalypse Seven are tired of questions with no answers. Tired of being hunted by things seen and unseen. Now, armed with curiosity, desperation, a shotgun, and a bow, they become the hunters. And that’s when things truly get weird.
I got granted this one just a couple days ago, requesting it after reading Rebecca’s review on Powder & Page.
In the quiet streets of Prague all manner of otherworldly creatures lurk in the shadows. Unbeknownst to its citizens, their only hope against the tide of predators are the dauntless lamplighters – a secret elite of monster hunters whose light staves off the darkness each night. Domek Myska leads a life teeming with fraught encounters with the worst kind of evil: pijavice, bloodthirsty and soulless vampiric creatures. Despite this, Domek find solace in his moments spent in the company of his friend, the clever and beautiful Lady Ora Fischerová– a widow with secrets of her own.
When Domek finds himself stalked by the spirit of the White Lady – a ghost who haunts the baroque halls of Prague castle – he stumbles across the sentient essence of a will-o’-the-wisp, a mischievous spirit known to lead lost travelers to their death, but who, once captured, are bound to serve the desires of their owners.
After discovering a conspiracy amongst the pijavice that could see them unleash terror on the daylight world, Domek finds himself in a race against those who aim to twist alchemical science for their own dangerous gain.
Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission – and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.
Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.
All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.
His crew mates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realises that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that’s been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it’s up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.
And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.
• Son of the Storm – by Suyi Davies Okungbowa (5/11)
In the ancient city of Bassa, Danso is a clever scholar on the cusp of achieving greatness—only he doesn’t want it. Instead, he prefers to chase forbidden stories about what lies outside the city walls. The Bassai elite claim there is nothing of interest. The city’s immigrants are sworn to secrecy.
But when Danso stumbles across a warrior wielding magic that shouldn’t exist, he’s put on a collision course with Bassa’s darkest secrets. Drawn into the city’s hidden history, he sets out on a journey beyond its borders. And the chaos left in the wake of his discovery threatens to destroy the empire.
Kas is a junior researcher on a fact-finding mission to old Earth. But when a con-artist tricks her into wagering a large sum of money belonging to her university on the outcome of a manned robot arena battle she becomes drawn into the seedy underworld of old Earth politics and state-sponsored battle-droid prizefights.
Is it time to get back to the books, yet?
• The Blacktongue Thief – by Christoper Buehlman (5/27)
Kinch Na Shannack owes the Takers Guild a small fortune for his education as a thief, which includes (but is not limited to) lock-picking, knife-fighting, wall-scaling, fall-breaking, lie-weaving, trap-making, plus a few small magics. His debt has driven him to lie in wait by the old forest road, planning to rob the next traveler that crosses his path.
But today, Kinch Na Shannack has picked the wrong mark.
Galva is a knight, a survivor of the brutal goblin wars, and handmaiden of the goddess of death. She is searching for her queen, missing since a distant northern city fell to giants.
Unsuccessful in his robbery and lucky to escape with his life, Kinch now finds his fate entangled with Galva’s. Common enemies and uncommon dangers force thief and knight on an epic journey where goblins hunger for human flesh, krakens hunt in dark waters, and honor is a luxury few can afford.
• The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn – by Tyler Whitesides
Ardor Benn is no ordinary thief. Rakish, ambitious, and master of wildly complex heists, he styles himself a Ruse Artist Extraordinaire.
When a priest hires him for the most daring ruse yet, Ardor knows he’ll need more than quick wit and sleight of hand. Assembling a dream team of forgers, disguisers, schemers, and thieves, he sets out to steal from the most powerful king the realm has ever known.
But it soon becomes clear there’s more at stake than fame and glory—Ard and his team might just be the last hope for human civilization.
In a city dissolving into an infected sprawl of ideas, where words come to life and reality is contaminated by stories, John Nyquist wakes up in a room with a dead body… The dead man’s impossible whispers plunge him into a murder investigation like no other. Clues point him deeper into an unfolding story infesting its participants as reality blurs between place and genre.
Only one man can hope to put it all back together into some kind of order, enough that lives can be saved… That man is Nyquist, and he is lost.
After ten years on the run, dodging daemons and debt, reviled magician Edrin Walker returns home to avenge the brutal murder of his friend. Lynas had uncovered a terrible secret, something that threatened to devour the entire city. He tried to warn the Arcanum, the sorcerers who rule the city. He failed. Lynas was skinned alive and Walker felt every cut. Now nothing will stop him from finding the murderer. Magi, mortals, daemons, and even the gods—Walker will burn them all if he has to. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s killed a god…
I gave it a once-over but couldn’t find anything I was interested in releasing this month. Now, there’ll probably be some album releasing that I missed, and there will doubtless be singles dropping, but for the moment I’ll just share a couple of my favorite singles from April.
Both are from Europe, I think. Smash into Pieces is Swedish. I’m not sure where Cosmodrome is from, but they speak English in what sounds like a Slavic tongue so… Russian? Lithuanian? They actually have a single out on May 1st, so I’ll probably feature it sometime next week assuming it’s any good.
A brand new Starset single came out while I was editing this piece. It’s a good song (not their best, but), a bit of a callback to Vessels. Not Transmissions level good, but not bad by any rate.
The second Sam Wyndham mystery returns to 1920’s India, a land full of different religions, ethnicities and beliefs all thrown together and tucked under British Rule. Fresh off ruining his chances with Annie, Sam of course can’t get her out of his head. Meanwhile, the murder of a Maharajah’s heir pulls Sam and Banerjee out of Kolkata and north into the jungles of the Indian subcontinent. Here, in a somewhat autonomous kingdom, conspiracy and tension abound, and Wyndham and Banerjee must unravel the mystery before they become mere footnotes in yet another murder.
So far I’m quite enjoying my return to Colonial India. Hopefully the series’ll continue to deliver!
The conclusion to the Keepers trilogy finds all the threads come together at the most uncertain time. Though Adria and Devin have always lived for each other, Adria’s changing nature and Devin’s standing in the Order is straining their bond. And will her latest actions bring the two closer or tear them apart? And as the lines continue to blur, just whose side is each on?
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine is a narrative-adventure game developed by Dim Bulb Games and Serenity Forge. Set in mid-20th century America, it finds a rough luck drifter stuck with a debt to some supernatural being. As the game’s lead protagonist, you’re tasked with collecting stories of the people that roam the land. Myths and legends come from somewhere, and over the course of the 15-30 hours you spend in the world, you’ll see how these tales originate and how they evolve through the telling. It’s an interesting premise and employs a few intriguing mechanics that I’d like to dig further into at a later time. I’m only about 5 hours in right now and… it’s fun so far. It’s keeping my attention, mostly. The travel mechanic seriously needs an overhaul, and it seems like there’s not enough consequence to one’s actions (or it doesn’t feel like it), but the gameplay is fun and interesting, and collecting all the stories and seeing how they evolve is becoming somewhat addictive.
Got my second vaccine recently, and life came to a standstill while I got over the mini-COVID burst it instilled. Montana is one of the leading states in the nation in vaccine availability—due in large part to the number of anti-vaxers, deniers, anti-government types and COVID hoax people. Most places that have the vaccine here have started offering door prizes, gift cards, or other incentives to encourage people to get vaccinated. Furthermore, there’s be a marked rise in those that got their first dose only to skip their second. I understand their hesitation (I mean, I understand the hesitation to get something that has been largely untested on a large populace and may or may not have long-term side effects that haven’t manifested yet), but COVID and its recent strains are quite frankly terrifying. I’ve lived here long enough that I kinda even get some people’s hesitance to trust the government (to a degree), or accept the official story to anything.
Montana is roughly the size 380,000 sq. kilometers, which makes it slightly bigger than Japan or Germany. But where those other nations have 125 and 83 million people, respectively, we’re sitting at just over a million. Big, wide open spaces. Lots of undeveloped land, pasture, and forest. Small communities, spread out; between 15-20 towns of more than 5,000 people, 7 over 10k, and only 1 at around 100,000. People here spent the first half of 2020 hearing about the deadly pandemic without really seeing any effect of it. Some people here have a… unique mindset. Not everyone, mind. But especially those in rural communities, hundreds of miles from any town pushing 5,000, might go the entire year without getting COVID or meeting someone who had. Most towns here don’t have a police station, a hospital, or a fire station. They really on their own resources with help from their neighbors. The government doesn’t really play into day-today life. And so when the government came out telling people to beware the deadly deadly virus, most people didn’t take notice. Because they didn’t see it.
I live on the outskirts of one of the most liberal cities in my state. Missoula is a college town pushing about 80k. Most folks around here are better at masking, distancing, getting the vaccine, and usually vote blue. The rest of the state… not so much. Ever since these things became political we were doomed. I’m not really political. Half my friends bleed red and the other bleed blue. This last year divided everyone terribly. With the vaccine being deployed a bunch of us thought maybe those tensions could dial down a bit—but… nope, apparently not. Oh well.
Sorry that turned into a bit of a geography lesson but… “the more you know”, right?
I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Subterranean Press and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.
Times are tough. Even as a dispatcher, Tony Valdez is forced into taking some gigs he otherwise might not have. Jobs in a legal grey area. After one of these, Tony takes his earnings to the bank, only to get himself embroiled in a robbery. A robbery involving a person Tony is quite familiar with—a dispatcher, like himself.
But it’s only when the robbery goes wrong that this peculiar fact is brought to light. When the dispatcher dies—he doesn’t come back.
It’s only then that Tony finds out that this particular death may not be so peculiar after all. In fact, several dispatchers have died recently. Died and stayed dead. And for reasons neither Tony nor anyone else seems aware of, he may soon join them. But how do you kill someone when 999 out of 1000 people murdered are magically restored to life? The answer is to murder them… by other means.
The second Dispatcher novella, John Scalzi returns us to a world without murder. A recession has infected this dystopia, and Dispatchers aren’t the only ones struggling to get by. Tony Valdez plays lead fiddle in this once again, with some few returning characters from the first entry. Again the text is dialogue heavy, but this doesn’t flow quite as well as the first one did. The story isn’t quite as immersive, nor does it seem as polished as it did the first time around. In fact, it seems a little like a rush-job. The premise itself is still a good one, however. And given this interesting world to explore—especially how one goes about murdering someone without actually doing the murdering—even a less polished product will do.
The detective story itself, ironically, I found better than the first. There was more suspense and intrigue, as opposed to the first where I called the ending inside the first half hour. This time I hadn’t a clue what was going on until at least the halfway mark, which made it all the more interesting. It was the back and forth with Detective Langdon that ruined it for me. In fact, I didn’t like either of their characters as much this time around. Tony acts a bit too much of a little-goody-two-boots, despite his less-than-legal behavior throughout much of the books. I found it more than a bit hypocritical.
Now, it’s still a good story, still a good read, still a good time—I just didn’t like it as much as the original. As far as whether I’d recommend it… mostly, yeah? The Subterranean Press copy is quite nice, but I don’t think it’s worth $40. The ebook version comes in at $6 (or £4.35) which is much better. The audiobook is free on Audible—and it’s hard to beat free.
I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Angry Robot and Watkins Media for the ARC! All opinions are my own.
Fresh off my first Pratt novel Doors of Sleep, I decided to give his Axiom universe a go. This omnibus collects three novellas all set in said universe, and presents a debatably good intro to the series itself. Or does it?
The Augmented Stars
Delilah Mears joins the crew of the Golden Spider, a scout vessel on a hush-hush mission out onto the fringes of known space. To her, the Axiom are nothing more than a myth: a race of pseudo-Reapers that haunt the galaxy, laying waste to any civilization they come across. So when it turns out that the mission itself is to investigate a cosmic anomaly—one that may or may not be an Axiom death trap—she’s caught a bit off guard. But upon setting out, the mission parameters aren’t the only surprise in store for Mears. Space pirates, rogue A.I.s, and myths come to life feature in this action-packed novella.
…which was generally interesting—and served as a good intro to the Axiom universe, even though I’m told it contains spoilers for the books. The novella starts off on the right foot; an adventure to the edge of space, a mysterious captain with quite a sense of humor, an interesting new galaxy to explore. From here, we go to the equally mysterious anomaly, get boarded by space pirates—enough to tie off any adventure nicely. The ending was a bit of a letdown, and I do think Pratt could’ve drawn out the suspense (and length of the novella) a bit more, but all in all it was an enjoyable adventure told in a bite-size portion.
3.5 / 5 ✪
The Artificial Stars
A.I. and Trans-Neptunian Alliance President Shall receives a strange message from a past version of himself that he thought had been re-absorbed into his consciousness and destroyed. The request: come to the edge of the universe to see something important—if he doesn’t, the universe will be destroyed. So Shall convenes his cabinet to decide how to handle the threat before ultimately setting out to meet it.
I just could never take this one seriously. From the outset, it runs like a cheesy scifi series one-off. An AI splits his personality and it eventually gets away from him and decides that it is the real consciousness and he the copy, so we get the gang together and set out on a harebrained adventure to stop it. But first, the presidential cabinet rehashes some of their past adventures together, like a full-on knockoff of the A-Team. From there everything carries on predictably. This is something that fans of the series will ultimately probably enjoy, but I found it ridiculous, cheesy, and stupid.
1.0 / 5 ✪
The Alien Stars
Lantern, an important figure among the aliens known as “the Free” or “the Liars”, recounts a harrowing personal journey she undertook to confront her ghosts from her past, nightmares from the present, and specters that only the future could hold. The story is told via a number of letters sent to her star-crossed love and human friend, as she goes up against a threat to the galaxy—one that she is uniquely designed to fight, one that she fully expects to claim her life.
It’s actually quite touching, this one. Again, I felt like Pratt could’ve really drawn it out a bit more: heightened the tension, atmosphere, mystery—and that the story would’ve been better for it. As it is, the Alien Stars reads reasonably well, and ends much better than either of the others before it, but not before tugging a bit on the heartstrings on the way out. This one I found had the slowest build, but ultimately the best conclusion.
4.25 / 5 ✪
All in all, I would like to reassess my previous statement that this omnibus would be a good jumping-off point for the Axiom universe. The novellas all contain spoilers for the main series, so it’s probably not a good place to start if you think you’d like to read the Axiom trilogy. Also, while there’s a bit of hand-holding, this is more the type of thing that existing fans will enjoy more than newcomers. But for a newcomer like myself: one decent read, one good read, and one dud. I suppose it’d not bad, but if you’re really interested you should probably start with the Wrong Stars.
I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Tor, Tor.com & NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.
Warning: Contains spoilers for Murderbot Diaries #1-5
Fresh off Murderbot’s first full-length novel, Fugitive Telemetry returns to the novella format which takes place prior to the events of Network Effect, but after those of Exit Strategy. So just forget about all the things you’ve probably forgot about already and let’s get started.
When a dead human is left in the middle of one of the main corridors of Preservation, it’s up to Murderbot to find the culprit before they kill again. Or, you know, before more humans whine to it.
The first question: did Murderbot kill the human?
No, it didn’t. And if it did, it wouldn’t leave the dead human out in the open.
But—in a shocking twist—since Murderbot has the most experience with dead humans, it is tasked with helping the port authorities discover the real killer before they kill again.
I’d forgotten how much I missed this. It’s really hard to remember just what the first couple novellas really excelled at (as they both presented a likable, antisocial non-human, yet oh-so human lead) when there’s been no letdown. All the novellas were good, as was the feature-length novel. But Fugitive Telemetry exceeds all expectations. Here is a Murderbot in its native habitat—solving a mystery with some would-be allies who don’t trust it, stalking a shadowy killer before they strike again.
It gives the same vibe as All Systems Red or Artificial Condition—the first few novellas, back when it was still a Rogue SecUnit surrounded by enemies—but with more pert and polish to the writing, the story. For who could be the murderer? It could be anyone: GrayCris, come to finish the job; another rogue SecUnit, come to meet the legend; random humans, serial killers, aliens—it could literally be anyone. Except Murderbot. At least… it doesn’t THINK it did it, but how would it know? It’s named MURDERbot, after all. And if its human “allies” were to learn this, they’d probably suspect it to. And so it has to find the killer so it can go back to watching media in peace, without being interrupted for every dead human that turns up.
The last thing that I’m going to mention is Murderbot’s character arc. It went on quite the progression through the original four diary entries. From a nameless, faceless AI soldier to a rogue and killer. Then to a would-be savior, a freedom fighter, a mercenary, a consultant, then finally a trusted friend. Network Effect rather missed out on adding to this arc. Now, there’s some progression there, sure, but there’s almost as much regression. Fugitive Telemetry—set before the events of Network Effect—continues the original character arc, presenting a character more reminiscent of what appears in the later novel. And, as much as I’d like to know what happens after the events of the novel itself, I think Murderbot still has a bit more to tell before we come to that.
And yet, there’s an problem. I have one problem with Fugitive Telemetry. ONE. The price is ridiculous. $12 ebook, $18 physical for a 170 page novella is just stupid, no matter how good it is. Ebook prices being what they are… it’s not the time or place to get into this. Sufficient to say that $12 is too much for an ebook, a novella—even one as outstanding as this.
Picked this one up via Patrick’s Kickstarter last year, and finally found a minute to give it a try. As he has another Kickstarter launching for the Darkstar books (later this month), figured it was high time I give it a go. While I’m only 1/3 through, the plot combines fantasy and mystery with a lovely-rendered setting, and highly immersive story. I’m absolutely loving it thus far!
Min’s first command out of the academy might just be her last. When a routine mission goes arwy, Min and her crew are deposited in a mysterious world with no idea how they got there or how they can escape. But they must survive the Darkstar first to have any hope of returning home. Oh, and there’s a country-sized dragon waiting to eat them if they let their guard down.
An ARC I completely forgot I had! Many thanks to the people over at Angry Robot for this one! A collection of three novellas set in the Axiom Universe, supposedly interconnected at that—I haven’t read anything of Pratt besides the Doors of Sleep, but I liked that, so… here we are. One in and so far I needn’t’ve worried. The plot was fairly straight forward, and an interesting read. Here’s hoping the rest continue to impress!
The second Sam Wyndham mystery returns to Colonial India with the assassination of a Maharajah’s son. The events surrounding the prince’s death lead the Englishman and his deputy into a kingdom riven with internal conflict. Where they must find the murderer before the murderer finds them.
Just started this one, so I can’t speak to how it is yet. But the narrator, Malk Williams, really brings the character of Wyndham to life!
Note: In reviewing the narrator’s name for this, I discovered that apparently this is the last Wyndham novel with him as the voice of our hero which is a tremendous disappointment. While I know Simon Bubb is an excellent narrator as well, I be sad to see Williams go.
I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Skybound Books and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.
Welcome to Silvertown, Washington, population 602.
Actually no, scratch that.
Welcome to Silvertown, Washington, population 665.
I honestly have no idea who wrote the official blurb. Clearly, they didn’t read the book.
Officer Mary Whittaker is the town’s latest resident, and was the 666th resident when she moved two months back. A few of the more superstitious townsfolk still avoid her on the street and cast dirty looks as they mutter behind her back. Most didn’t take the omen at face value.
But perhaps they should’ve.
As the population of Silvertown begins to decline.
The story begins with a funeral. Johnny Rogers, a certified homebody falls to his death after a spontaneous midnight hike. A few weeks later, a hiker terrified of animals dies after trying to hug a bear. Then a helicopter parent ditches her toddlers to have lunch with a complete stranger.
From there, things… just get weirder. It seems as if many of the townsfolk—Mary included—have lost their survival instincts. But as Whittaker continues to dig into the investigation, a conspiracy begins to take form. One that threatens not only Silvertown, but the world itself. And it’s up to Mary to stop it.
Wow. So this one was… quite something.
Up to the 2/3 mark, I was quite invested. Instinct contains a fairly interesting mystery, with a slow build that had me wrapt up through the first big reveal. The revelation that the townsfolk were losing their instincts due to something unknown was an interesting turn, if a bit confusing. The tense and mysterious atmosphere that permeates the text through its 75% mark is nothing short of masterful, and provided me with more than enough reason to keep going even after things got a little… weird.
The main issues start around the halfway mark. Let’s begin with the first big reveal. It was too revealing. It was so obvious who was behind the conspiracy that I knew inside of the first few chapters. So when the curtain is pulled back late in the story—well, mind-blowing it was not.
My second issue was with the setting. A small and isolated town in the mountains is a picture perfect backdrop for a grassroots conspiracy, but it has to actually feel like a small, mountain town in Washington. And to me it didn’t. Now the author lives in Seattle. And I’m not sure he did enough research on the setting before he dove right in. Early on, there’s a hiker that gets mauled by a bear. Now that’s definitely strange, yeah, as bears are usually more afraid of you than you are of them. And they point this out. But mostly they focus on “What was the bear even doing here?” Bears are all over the Pacific Northwest. For one to turn up on the outskirts of a small, rural, mountain town is hardly new. But this is a big clue, apparently. And gets revisited more than once. Our town has one main street. And six-hundred odd people. Which is pointed out. But then a lone car leaves the middle of town, the townsfolk lose sight of it before it reaches the end. A majority of the tale involves roughly two dozen people, with the rest of the community conspicuously absent. In the beginning Silvertown is billed as “one of those towns where everyone knows everyone”, but by the end 95% of the townsfolk remain AWOL.
Speaking of the end, you know how in some stories there’s a lot of jumping from one outlandish conclusion to the next, only for our heroine to hatch an insane plan that probably shouldn’t work but somehow does, and then pass out only to wake up and have everything be magically solved for them. They’re patted on the back, good guys win, life back to normal. It’s done all the time. And I’m sick of it. It’s convenient, sure, but lame. Now, I’m not saying that Instinct does this, but if it did, it probably would’ve soured me on the whole ending.
The real problem with Instinct is its consistency. Now, it was pretty consistent in the first half. The second half less so. As the plot makes the turn for home however, it really goes to pieces. Previously held rules about the conspiracy are broken. It’s going to be hard to get into this with no spoilers, but I’ll give it a shot.
Let’s say we have a Coke. It can only be called a Soft drink so long as it has carbonation and sweetener. And it can only be called a Cola if it is a soft drink that has the proper flavorings. It can only be called a Coke if it is a cola that is made and distributed by the proper company (yes, I know these are generalizations—please bear with me). Now suppose all of these things were rules everyone adhered to. And that all the people of Silvertown prefer to drink Coke. Over everything. They’ll drink other cola, but only if there’s no Coke. They’ll even drink other soft drinks, so long as there’s neither any Coke or other colas around. Get it? Good, but in the latter half of Instinct, all we thought we knew about soda is thrown out the window. There’s a chase scene. Our heroine snags an RC out of the mini-fridge despite the fact that there’s a Coke right next to it. There’s an angry mob. Armed with pitchforks and ginger ale, the citizens storm the town—ignoring the gigantic truck full of Coke parked by the side of the road. There’s a celebration at the bar. Citizens raise mugs of beer in toast while their bottles of Coke go flat beside them.
Get the picture? While for the first half of Instinct everyone eschews Pepsi in favor of dying of thirst while in the second half people are eyeing Mr. Pib with intense longing. And in the back half people are even occasionally drinking water. The rules are forgotten, but in the end they’re back, and no one seems to notice they’d been broken at all.
Instinct is a tense, atmospheric mystery that quietly transforms into an interesting and thought-provoking thriller that makes your head hurt as you try to wrap it around just what it is that’s going on in Silvertown. At least, the first half is, anyway. Up to the 65% mark, I was pretty well invested in it. But wow did it ever go to pieces quick. Among the issues include an unrealistic setting, a strange pacing, a conspiracy that doesn’t really work, a cheap and disappointing ending, and an instigator so diabolically and comically evil they might as well have horns. My biggest problem was with the consistency. Instinct works, until it doesn’t. Until the rules are bent to make some of the more outlandish ideas work. Until the same rules are broken, and then reinstituted again like nothing happened. I asked for a Coke—and got a dozen raw eggs. Better in some ways, but not in others.
Well, Spring is here! It might even stop snowing soon. April kicks off a decently busy couple of months reading-wise; not a ton of ARCs to get through this month, but I’ve a little prep reading for things that release next month, and then four books that drop between April 27th and May 4th.
Welcome to Silvertown, Washington. Population 602 (for now).
Despite its small size, the small mountain town is home to more conspiracy theories than any other place in America. Officer Mary Whittaker is slowly acclimating to the daily weirdness of life here, but when the chief of police takes a leave of absence, she is left alone to confront a series of abnormal incidents–strange even by Silvertown standards.
An “indoor kid” who abhors nature dies on a random midnight walkabout with no explanation.
A hiker is found dead on a trail, smiling serenely after being mauled by a bear.
A woman known for being a helicopter parent abandons her toddler twins without a second thought.
It’s almost as if the townsfolk are losing their survival instinct, one by one…
As Whittaker digs deeper into her investigation, she uncovers a larger conspiracy with more twists and turns than a mountain road, and danger around every corner. To save Silvertown, she must distinguish the truth from paranoia-fueled lies before she ends up losing her own instincts…and her life!
The Galaxy, and the Ground Within – by Becky Chambers (4 • 20)
Well, I don’t have the US cover here (because I prefer the UK one), and I realize this has already come out in the UK, but this return to the Wayfarers universe comes out in the US this month, so here it is. I was actually provided copies of this by both Harper Voyager and Hodder & Stoughton, so prepare for a second review of this around the 20th. It maaay look quite familiar, actually.
With no water, no air, and no native life, the planet Gora is unremarkable. The only thing it has going for it is a chance proximity to more popular worlds, making it a decent stopover for ships traveling between the wormholes that keep the Galactic Commons connected. If deep space is a highway, Gora is just your average truck stop.
At the Five-Hop One-Stop, long-haul spacers can stretch their legs (if they have legs, that is), and get fuel, transit permits, and assorted supplies. The Five-Hop is run by an enterprising alien and her sometimes helpful child, who work hard to provide a little piece of home to everyone passing through.
When a freak technological failure halts all traffic to and from Gora, three strangers—all different species with different aims—are thrown together at the Five-Hop. Grounded, with nothing to do but wait, the trio—an exiled artist with an appointment to keep, a cargo runner at a personal crossroads, and a mysterious individual doing her best to help those on the fringes—are compelled to confront where they’ve been, where they might go, and what they are, or could be, to each other.
When Murderbot discovers a dead body on Preservation Station, it knows it is going to have to assist station security to determine who the body is (was), how they were killed (that should be relatively straightforward, at least), and why (because apparently that matters to a lot of people—who knew?)
Yes, the unthinkable is about to happen: Murderbot must voluntarily speak to humans!
This second entry in the Dispatcher series is already out in audio, but is getting its own lovely release in physical and ebook formats from Subterranean Press.
Welcome to the new world, in which murder is all but a thing of the past. Because when someone kills you, 999 times out of 1,000, you instantly come back to life. In this world, there are dispatchers—licensed killers who step in when you’re at risk of a natural or unintentional death. They kill you—so you can live.
Tony Valdez is used to working his job as a dispatcher within the rules of the law and the state. But times are tough, and more and more Tony finds himself riding the line between what’s legal and what will pay his bills. After one of these shady gigs and after being a witness to a crime gone horribly wrong, Tony discovers that people around him are dying, for reasons that make no sense…and which just may implicate him.
Tony is out of time: to solve the mystery of these deaths, to keep others from dying, and to keep himself from being a victim of what looks like murder, by other means.
The Girl and the Mountain – by Mark Lawrence (4 • 13)
The second Book of the Ice, even though I haven’t read the first one, I’m still excited about the release of #2.
On the planet Abeth there is only the ice. And the Black Rock.
For generations the priests of the Black Rock have reached out from their mountain to steer the fate of the ice tribes. With their Hidden God, their magic and their iron, the priests’ rule has never been questioned. But when ice triber Yaz challenged their authority, she was torn away from the only life she had ever known, and forced to find a new path for herself.
Yaz has lost her friends and found her enemies. She has a mountain to climb, and even if she can break the Hidden God’s power, her dream of a green world lies impossibly far to the south, across a vast emptiness of ice. Before the journey can even start, she has to find out what happened to the ones she loves and save those that can be saved.
Abeth holds its secrets close, but the stars shine brighter for Yaz and she means to unlock the truth.
Way of the Argosi – by Sebastien de Castell (4 • 15)
I’m quite excited about this prequel to the Spellslinger series, and will have to read it once it gets a US debut. That said, I absolutely LOVE the Hot Key Book covers.
Stealing, swindling, and gambling with her own life just to survive, Ferius will risk anything to avenge herself on the zealous young mage who haunts her every waking hour.
But then she meets the incomparable Durral Brown, a wandering philosopher gifted in the arts of violence who instead overcomes his opponents with shrewdness and compassion. Does this charismatic and infuriating man hold the key to defeating her enemies, or will he lead her down a path that will destroy her very soul?
Through this outstanding tale of swashbuckling action, magical intrigue, and dazzling wit, follow Ferius along the Way of the Argosi and enter a world of magic and mystery unlike any other.
The Queen of Izmoroz – by Jon Skovron (4 • 20)
Though I only made it through a quarter of Book #1 of the Goddess War, I’m still somewhat interested in this. I’d have to… well, not “read” it, so much as “skim” it to catch up in time for Izmoroz.
Sonya has brought a foreign army to free her country from imperial rule, but her allies may have other goals in the second book of this thrilling epic fantasy trilogy from Jon Skovron.
The first battle is over, but war yet looms on the horizon. Sonya and her allies–the foreign Uaine and their armies of the undead–have beaten back the imperial soldiers from the capital city. Now they have the rest of the country to free.
Meanwhile, her brother the famed wizard Sebastian has retreated with the imperial forces to regroup and lick his wounds. Betrayed by his sister and his wife, the beautiful noblewoman Galina, he will regain control of his life and his country at any cost.
Vultures Die Alone – Arion (4 • 09)
Again, while I’m sure I’ll find other music I love this month, Arion is the only band I recognize with an album out. This power metal band has a more melodic style and almost no death growls compared to so many of their Finnish metal compatriots. So glad that they made it through 2020 without disbanding.
Seventeen-year-old Duncan Greenfire is alive. Three hours ago, he was chained to the rocks and submerged as the incoming tide washed over his head. Now the waters are receding and Duncan’s continued survival has completed his initiation as a Sea Wolf. It is the 167th year of the Dark Age, 167 years since the Sea Wolves and their Eastron kin arrived from across the sea. The Sea Wolves and Eastrons can break the glass and step into the void, slipping from the real world and reappearing wherever they wish. Wielding their power, they conquered the native Pure Ones and established their own Kingdom. Walking between the worlds of Form and Void, the Sea Wolves glorify in piracy and slaughter. Their rule is absolute, but young Duncan Greenfire will discover a conspiracy to end their dominion, a conspiracy to shatter the glass that separates the worlds of Form and Void and unleash a primeval chaos across the world.
So after the second half of March ended with me reading nothing for two weeks only to finish two books in the last three days, we’re taking things a little more slowly to start April. Only reading the one book, and my third by A.J. Smith: the Glass Breaks. About halfway through and I have to say I’m enjoying it a lot more than I expected to given my struggles with his last series. Book #2—the Sword Falls—(which I thought was coming out last month) actually comes out on May 1st. I have this nasty habit of requesting the second book in a series I’m interested in before I read the first one, which uh… Well, here’s hoping it pays off.
Even though I did manage to finish Hitman, March was pretty much a bust. I had so much trouble concentrating on ANYTHING and EVERYTHING. And so I ended up watching past streams of PUBG on Eurogamer. I then I was like “well, I got the game for free at some point, might as well try it”. And… it’s okay. I suck at FPS, especially multiplayer ones, but this one is… okay. I mean, I’m never completing it and I’m never going to get anywhere near half the achievements for it, but it is kinda entertaining me at the moment, which is the important bit.
Not playing much and not reading much at the moment. Not sleeping much, either. Which has been especially problematic with regards to the first two.
Been trying to recruit another person to help me out here during those periods I have no motivation. My sister didn’t catch on, which was disappointing, but oh well. Should have another trial review here in a… well, sometime, which hopefully will work out better. My friend is incredibly skeptical and stubborn about the whole thing though, so I’m not holding my breath. She’s always been really stubborn, though.
Spring has sprung here, and the weather continues to fluctuate wildly between sun and snow. Which it does a lot of in Montana, to be fair. We routinely get snow 10-11 months of the year. And the weather is a fickle thing, often changing on a dime. If nothing else, it’s been a bit warmer when I have to work outside. Though not much.
I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Del Rey and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.
Warning: Contains spoilers for Foundryside (and, oddly enough, Gears of War 2)
In Foundryside, Sancia Grado and her ragtag team of allies managed to save the city of Tevanne from destruction, carving out a chunk of it for themselves in the meantime. Three years later, the Mountain lies in ruin and the campos feud with one another to fill the power vacuum left following its destruction.
I’ll be honest though. Don’t remember a ton of what happened in the first book. I remember Sancia—the master thief able to see scrivings—and I remember Clef—the talking key with the heart of gold (because he’s made of gold you see). There was something with one of the campos, a fire, infiltrating the Mountain and… that’s about it.
Anyway, skip ahead three years and you’ll find Sancia passing time within the scriving firm of Foundryside, intermittently stealing, innovating, and making out with her girlfriend, Berenice. None too soon after we rejoin Sancia, the Foundrysiders execute a bold play to steal from one of the campos in a desperate attempt to secure their future and the first step in their plan to liberate Tevanne from the grip of the merchant houses.
But no sooner do they return home in triumph—ready for a drink and a quick toss—then a new threat looms on the horizon. A new, and infinitely larger threat.
In a stunning move, the Dandolo campo has seen fit to resurrect Craesedes Magnus, First of the Hierophants, basically a god in all but name. And the legendary scriver is coming straight to Tevanne. While the Foundrysiders aren’t sure why the Dandolos have done this, or what exactly it is that the First Hierophant intends, they are sure that they don’t want to know anything about it. But instead of fleeing the city, they decide to stay and fight.
For while the Foundrysiders can’t match the legendary hierophant himself, they may know someone who can. Though to save their city Sancia and the gang may just have to tie themselves to an even greater threat than Craesedes Magnus—for what can stand up to a god but another god?
Straight out of the gate the story got rolling with a thrilling heist. It was great to see Sancia and the gang doing what they do best—stealing things and running away. And it gave us time to reconnect with the characters we might’ve somehow forgotten. Be it Orso, former campo child and the outfit’s brains; Bernice, the beautiful and genius scriver Sancia has fallen for; Gregor, strong and silent, another scrived human with blood staining his shadow; and Clef, pretty much just a key now. A key that won’t open any door.
From there we get on to the meat of the matter—resurrecting a god. Or attempting to stop one. Turns out, it’s not an easy thing to do. Through this part the atmosphere grows tense, the story mysterious, dark. Then everything kicks off for good when Craesedes Magnus rolls up.
I hate to say it, but my favorite character in Shorefall is probably the dark god himself. He certainly acts like an ancient immortal—someone who’s seen and done everything and lived through worse. But also there’s a hidden agenda to him. And his endgame turns out to be a twist I ddi not see coming, something truly surprising for something so close to invincible and powerful as he. Moreover, it’s his relationship with Sancia herself—also Gregor, and some of the others from the Dandolo campo—that makes his character so interesting. I won’t give any more about him away, but to say he’s a truly great character with a depth that profoundly surprised me.
I don’t have too many issues with Shorefall. Mostly it’s a lot of fun. A great read with a lovely world and interesting characters. But I do miss Clef. His banter with Sancia was one of the things that made Foundryside such a great read (and pretty much the only thing I remembered about the book prior to reading its successor). While Bennett does attempt to do a similar thing in Shorefall using some of the other characters, it just doesn’t have the same appeal that the Sancia-Clef relationship had. The dialogue here is more cumbersome, and more empty. While I never got sick of Clef and Sancia no matter what the pair were discussing, that doesn’t hold true for Sancia and pretty much anyone else.
The tale is more rollicking fun, but with a darker, more somber mood to it. The world is changing, and not necessarily for the better as all Foundrysiders hoped. With an awakened god looming on the horizon the team feels more powerless than ever before. It’s like the moment in Gears 2 where they use a gigantic rock worm to sink Jacinto, and fly away knowing that while they “won”, their one and only home now lies in ruin. Even when there is brightness and joy in Shorefall, there is also some sorrow.
With a darker, somber atmosphere, Shorefall is the predecessor that makes you feel, makes you care about the world of Tevanne. While it doesn’t have the same back-and-forth, carefree dialogue of the original, Shorefall takes you to a few more grey areas, a few more moments of weakness on its journey of hope and despair. It’s not exactly a dark book, but it does have its moments. It’s a tale of love and friendship, but also of half-truths and two evils. It’s half mad-dash, half atmospheric thriller, and half powder keg. See? This book gives you 150% and doesn’t disappoint—if that’s not a reason to read it I don’t know what is.
I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Angry Robot #AngryRobot for the ARC! All opinions are my own.
In the mountain village of Heyne Town, there exists a tree known as the Hope Tree. Here, before they are due to give birth, women will leave blankets, food or provisions outside the village—just in case. In case their children are born as stryga.
Stryga (or strzyga or strzygón in Slavic mythology) are children born with two hearts. The first heart is their primary, human one—tying them to humanity and the path of normalcy and righteousness. The second is a much darker heart connected to a second soul, one that indulges its evil desires and preys on humanity. If a stryga were to follow the darker desires of its second heart even once, it would never be able to stop, turning this human into a dark demon. Although, in Heyne Town, all born with two hearts are considered evil and banished upon birth. Thus their parents faced a choice—to abandon their child outside the village; to dispose of them some other way; or to join their inhuman offspring in seclusion, never to set foot in the village again on pain of death.
Nineteen years ago, Miriat and her newborn Salka were exiled from Heyne Town, and taken to the remote haven where all exiled stryga live. Here they live in squalor, unable to leave and hated by the outside world. Here they are taught to control their darker nature, to never once listen to their second heart.
But Salka is young and headstrong. When she is exiled to the far off Windry Pass for a moment of weakness, she must do everything she can just to survive. But as the snow piles high and the temperature plummets, food becomes scarce and predators start to hunt humans as prey, Salka will be forced into a no-win situation: will she use her second heart to survive, or pay the ultimate price for the sake of her human soul?
By in large I really enjoyed the Second Bell. While I’d heard of strygas before, Gabriela Houston introduces a fresh take on the creature more often depicted as a monster in other media. In Slavic lore, it refers to a child born with two hearts and two souls, the second pair of which transforms it into a demon much alike a vampire. In the Witcher, a striga is a child cursed before birth. It is born a demon—a foul-smelling, heavily-muscled monster that runs about on all fours and violently attacks anything that wanders too near its lair. Houston’s take on the stryga humanizes it tremendously compared to these, as the child must only suppress the desires of its second heart in order to retain its humanity. Even so, not all parts of the legend seem to hold true. As with any other story, what is fact and what isn’t is open to interpretation. The villagers in Heyne Town fear and loathe all strigoi in equal measure. Whether or not they have ver indulged their second heart is immaterial. All are evil.
Note: I’ve been talking a lot about stryga being cursed children, born with two hearts. This is true, but not complete. While the affliction dooms from birth, strigoi will grow up like anything does. The only cure (in this book, at least) is death. Likewise, one can’t catch stryga. You’re either born one or you’re not—there’s no in-between.
The Second Bell is all about the story and its characters. Salka and Miriat share a unique relationship that should be quite relatable, and yet unlike any other. While they are obviously kin, only one is human. Her mother is Salka’s link to her humanity—by refusing to indulge her second heart, she feels closer to her mother, to her humanity, but in denying it she feels like she is cutting off a part of her own soul. The Second Bell is therefore a tale of what it means to be human. Salka is Miriat’s child and her whole world. But if her daughter were to listen to her demon heart, would she lose her humanity, the main connection she has to her mother? The Second Bell is also a tale of a mother and a daughter, and their bond.
While the world-building of this story was a bit patchwork, I understand the choice was instead to focus on the story of Salka and Miriat, the story of what it means to be human. Still, I would’ve liked to see a bit more from the world. There are some things—like the tree and the dola and more—though the entire world seems like it was built for ‘men and strygoi, but nothing more. While the story centers on the strygoi, they cannot possibly by the only legend in this land: I would’ve liked to hear about some of the others, if only just in passing. The land itself was often painted in greens and browns and white, rather than showing any real detail.
Otherwise, I really have no other notes. The story was good and thorough and made for a quick and immersive read, while still leaving lasting connotations after the book is finished. I hope to see more from the author and this world!