August 2021

To say we have a busy month is an understatement. This month is so packed with releases that I forgot about a few of the ARCs I’d received. I mean, there is NO WAY I’m finishing them all this month. Heck, I might not get to them all before the end of the year. So there will be some picking and choosing which to read—which is something I really like to avoid. But, oh well. Can’t avoid it sometimes.

ARC

The Godstone – by Violette Malan (8/03)

Untitled Series #1 / Standalone

Goodreads

Fenra Lowens has been a working Practitioner, using the magic of healing ever since she graduated from the White Court and left the City to live in the Outer Modes. When one of her patients, Arlyn Albainil, is summoned to the City to execute the final testament of a distant cousin, she agrees to help him. Arlyn suspects the White Court wants to access his cousin’s Practitioner’s vault. Arlyn can’t ignore the summons: he knows the vault holds an artifact so dangerous he can’t allow it to be freed.

Fenra quickly figures out that there is no cousin, that Arlyn himself is the missing Practitioner, the legendary Xandra Albainil, rumored to have made a Godstone with which he once almost destroyed the world. Sealing away the Godstone left Arlyn powerless and ill, and he needs Fenra to help him deal with the possibly sentient artifact before someone else finds and uses it.

Along the way they encounter Elvanyn Karamisk, an old friend whom Arlyn once betrayed. Convinced that Arlyn has not changed, and intends to use Fenra to recover the Godstone and with it all his power, Elvanyn joins them to keep Fenra safe and help her destroy the artifact.

Shards of Earth – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (8/03 US)

Final Architects #1

Goodreads

Idris has neither aged nor slept since they remade him in the war. And one of humanity’s heroes now scrapes by on a freelance salvage vessel, to avoid the attention of greater powers.

After earth was destroyed, mankind created a fighting elite to save their species, enhanced humans such as Idris. In the silence of space they could communicate, mind-to-mind, with the enemy. Then their alien aggressors, the Architects, simply disappeared—and Idris and his kind became obsolete.

Now, fifty years later, Idris and his crew have discovered something strange abandoned in space. It’s clearly the work of the Architects—but are they returning? And if so, why? Hunted by gangsters, cults and governments, Idris and his crew race across the galaxy hunting for answers. For they now possess something of incalculable value, that many would kill to obtain.

Devil’s Fjord – by David Hewson (8/05)

Faroe Islands Mystery #1

Goodreads

If the new District Sheriff, Tristan Haraldsen, thought moving to a remote village on the island of Vagar would be the chance for a peaceful life with his wife Elsebeth, his first few weeks in office swiftly correct him of that notion.

Provoked into taking part in the village’s whale hunt against his will, Haraldsen blunders badly, and in the ensuing chaos two local boys go missing. Blaming himself, Haraldsen dives into the investigation and soon learns that the boys are not the first to have gone missing on Vagar.

As Tristan and Elsebeth become increasingly ensnared by the island’s past, they realise its wild beauty hides an altogether uglier and sinister truth.

Paper & Blood – by Kevin Hearne (8/10)

Ink & Sigil #2

Goodreads

There’s only one Al MacBharrais: Though other Scotsmen may have dramatic mustaches and a taste for fancy cocktails, Al also has a unique talent. He’s a master of ink and sigil magic. In his gifted hands, paper and pen can work wondrous spells.

But Al isn’t quite alone: He is part of a global network of sigil agents who use their powers to protect the world from mischievous gods and strange monsters. So when a fellow agent disappears under sinister circumstances in Australia, Al leaves behind the cozy pubs and cafes of Glasgow and travels to the Dandenong Ranges in Victoria to solve the mystery.

The trail to his colleague begins to pile up with bodies at alarming speed, so Al is grateful his friends have come to help—especially Nadia, his accountant who moonlights as a pit fighter. Together with a whisky-loving hobgoblin known as Buck Foi and the ancient Druid Atticus O’Sullivan, along with his dogs, Oberon and Starbuck, Al and Nadia will face down the wildest wonders Australia—and the supernatural world—can throw at them, and confront a legendary monster not seen in centuries.

Bloodless – by Preston & Child (8/17)

Agent Pendergast #20

Goodreads

A fabulous heist:
On the evening of November 24, 1971, D. B. Cooper hijacked Flight 305—Portland to Seattle—with a fake bomb, collected a ransom of $200,000, and then parachuted from the rear of the plane, disappearing into the night…and into history.

A brutal crime steeped in legend and malevolence:
Fifty years later, Agent Pendergast takes on a bizarre and gruesome case: in the ghost-haunted city of Savannah, Georgia, bodies are found with no blood left in their veins—sowing panic and reviving whispered tales of the infamous Savannah Vampire.

A case like no other:
As the mystery rises along with the body count, Pendergast and his partner, Agent Coldmoon, race to understand how—or if—these murders are connected to the only unsolved skyjacking in American history. Together, they uncover not just the answer…but an unearthly evil beyond all imagining.

The Pariah – by Anthony Ryan (8/24)

Covenant of Steel #1

Goodreads

Born into the troubled kingdom of Albermaine, Alwyn Scribe is raised as an outlaw. Quick of wit and deft with a blade, Alwyn is content with the freedom of the woods and the comradeship of his fellow thieves. But an act of betrayal sets him on a new path – one of blood and vengeance, which eventually leads him to a soldier’s life in the king’s army.

Fighting under the command of Lady Evadine Courlain, a noblewoman beset by visions of a demonic apocalypse, Alwyn must survive war and the deadly intrigues of the nobility if he hopes to claim his vengeance. But as dark forces, both human and arcane, gather to oppose Evadine’s rise, Alwyn faces a choice: can he be a warrior, or will he always be an outlaw?

Twenty-Five to Life – by R.W.W. Greene (8/24)

Standalone

Goodreads

Julie Riley is two years too young to get out from under her mother’s thumb, and what does it matter? She’s over-educated, under-employed, and kept mostly numb by her pharma emplant. Her best friend, who she’s mostly been interacting with via virtual reality for the past decade, is part of the colony mission to Proxima Centauri. Plus, the world is coming to an end. So, there’s that.

When Julie’s mother decides it’s time to let go of the family home in a failing suburb and move to the city to be closer to work and her new beau, Julie decides to take matters into her own hands. She runs, illegally, hoping to find and hide with the Volksgeist, a loose-knit culture of tramps, hoboes, senior citizens, artists, and never-do-wells who have elected to ride out the end of the world in their campers and converted vans, constantly on the move over the back roads of America.

Inhibitor Phase – by Alastair Reynolds (8/26 EU)

Revelation Space Universe

Goodreads

Miguel de Ruyter is a man with a past.

Fleeing the ‘wolves’ – the xenocidal alien machines known as Inhibitors – he has protected his family and community from attack for forty years, sheltering in the caves of an airless, battered world called Michaelmas. The slightest hint of human activity could draw the wolves to their home, to destroy everything … utterly. Which is how Miguel finds himself on a one-way mission with his own destructive mandate: to eliminate a passing ship, before it can bring unwanted attention down on them.

Only something goes wrong.

There’s a lone survivor.

And she knows far more about Miguel than she’s letting on . . .

Ranging from the depths of space to the deeps of Pattern Juggler waters, from nervous, isolated communities to the ruins of empire, this is a stealthy space opera from an author at the top of his game.

Other Releases

Nolyn – by Michael J. Sullivan (8/03)

Rise and Fall #1

Goodreads

After more than five hundred years of exile, the heir to the empyre is wary about his sudden reassignment to active duty on the Goblin War’s front lines. His assignment to rescue an outpost leads to a dead-end canyon deep inside enemy territory, and his suspicion turns to dread when he discovers the stronghold does not exist. But whoever went to the trouble of planning his death to look like a casualty of war did not know he would be assigned to the Seventh Sikaria Auxiliary Squadron. In the depths of an unforgiving jungle, a legend is about to be born, and the world of Elan will never be the same.

Music

Not aware of any interesting releases this month, but I don’t follow music like I obsess about books—often I don’t pay attention to what’s happening until they’re already out. So here are a couple songs that came out last week. The first is by German alt-rock band Flash Forward, the second by Italian EDM-Celtic-Folk outfit The Sidh. While Syl is a good song and all, if you’ve never thought “what would happen if I added bagpipes to EDM” then Utopia is a must-listen!

btw I’ve noooo idea what’s going on in this video, so don’t ask me, eh?

Gaming

Still working on Disco Elysium as I had a system crash which wiped out all my saves from all my games and I had to start over from scratch. Which… not ideal. It’s taken me some time to get back into it. So four days into my first impression of Disco Elysium I had to restart it. “Disappointment” is an understatement. And not just for this game, but about 90% of my library on the PS4. I have a few online backups but for the most part it’s all gone.

Anyway, I’ve taken to some other Indie games to distract me—a number of which I’m working on posting something about, but we’ll see how it goes. I’ve been playing through Islanders, This War of Mine, Northgard, Fez and Hyper Light Drifter based entirely on what I feel like at any given time. Hopefully more to come on these later!

Currently Reading

The Godstone – by Violette Malan

So far this has been a good read—I’ve some issues with it, I must admit, but I’ll probably still recommend it (at least, judging by how it’s going right now I would). I’m at ~70% mark so probably no review out by the 3rd, though hopefully it won’t be too long a wait.

A Gathering of Ravens – by Scott Oden

This month’s audiobook is sure an uplifting one. A well reviewed grimdark fantasy, it’s something I’ve been after for a while now. Unfortunately, I’m not sure this is the right time for it. The world over here is looking slightly bleak, and this isn’t exactly going to cheer me up. But then, who says that’s what I’m after?

Life

Pretty apocalyptic out west. I’ll have to remember to include a photo later this week. There’s a major drought going on, and recently we’ve been plagued with the fires that have been running rampant in California since last year. The only reason it isn’t worst is that winter is a thing here. But as fire season rolls around in 2021 we find that fire season actually started a month earlier than usual and likely won’t be over any time soon. Maybe not even after the first snow—which I genuinely pray happens in August this year. Last year first snow waited til September 5th, but this year we need it more.

The smoke has been awful. In the unhealthy range straight for the last two weeks, it doesn’t look to be letting up any time soon either. Not a great time to work outside. But with half our staff leaving on August 1st, it’s just going to get busier. And I’m behind on reading as it is. With the nine releases this month I’m anticipating—all of which I have copies for—…well, it’s going to be a challenge for me to finish probably around three. At the moment I’d guess the Godstone, the Pariah and… maybe Paper & Blood? I’ve no idea. I guess we’ll see.

And I didn’t even mention COVID yet. Actually, I’m going to skip it. It ain’t looking good—enough said.

Any of these or other releases you’re excited about? Books, games, music, whatever really. How’s the smoke where you live? Anything else new—let me know!

The Coward – by Stephen Aryan (Review)

Quest for Heroes #1

Fantasy, Dark Fantasy

Angry Robot; June 8, 2021

411 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Angry Robot (#AngryRobot) for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

First, I owe an apology to Angry Robot (who kindly provided me with the ARC)—because I thought I’d published this review but just flat out didn’t. Whoops. My bad!

I first read Battlemage half a decade past—my introduction to Stephen Aryan—and immediately fell in love with the world he’d created. Now, six books and 5 years later, The Coward takes us outside of that original world that Aryan had created and on to a new one. And a new adventure.

A decade ago Kell Kressia set out with the greatest heroes of his generation to stop the Ice Lich and save the world. They succeeded, but the cost was great. He returned alone, scarred and broken, haunted by the things that he had seen and had done. Now, ten years later Kell lives as a simple farmer, hidden in the corner of Algany with only his horse Droga for company. But recently even he has heard tell of stirrings in the frozen north, and a rumor that something has taken up residence in the Ice Lich’s old castle.

It’s not long before the King sends envoys to summon Kell to the capital. They want him to return to the north and defeat this evil once again. The first journey nearly broke him. Only after ten years and hundreds of miles separating him from it has Kell managed to recover—though the horrors he faced continue to haunt his dreams. Another journey would destroy him. Even still, a shadow stirs in the north. And it’s up to Kell Kressia to stop it.

The Coward includes a pair of quest lines, drawn out across multiple POVs. One involves the legend that is Kell Kressia as he makes his way north once again. The other, Mother Britak in the city of Lorzi. Now the one with Kell is quite obvious. The title character upon his titular quest. It is this quest line that the story lives and dies on. Mother Britak however…

I mean, I know what her POV is for. It’s in there to set up Book #2. But has fuck all to do with #1. I mean that literally—apart from a few details of note, mostly in Part 1 (there are 3 Parts to the book; Part 1 takes about 120 pages)—Britak’s storyline has nothing to do with Kell’s own quest, and doesn’t even have the decency to resolve itself by book’s end. And it’s got one of those “One True Faith” tropes, where the church ends up being completely wrong and borderline evil, which I find overused nowadays. As I said, I’m sure it’s setting up the second half of this duology, but in terms of the here and now: it really doesn’t have much to do with the story.

In the last twenty years there had been a steady decline in the number of faithful. People were busier than ever with family and other commitments. That was the reason he’d heard most often but those were just excuses. The truth was, believing in something abstract was difficult.

Luckily, the Coward isn’t about Mother Britak. It’s about Kell Kressia, and Kell’s story kills. It’s quite enjoyable. I really liked it. The world, the characters, their motivations and intentions—it’d be a borderline 5 / 5 from me without all that Britak nonsense. Honestly I have no notes regarding Kell’s storyline. None. Outstanding fantasy. A bit dark, a bit epic—and a whole lot of adventure!

TL;DR

The Coward is an outstanding adventure fantasy following hero of the land, Kell Kressia, on his return voyage to the north. He will save the world, or die trying. Or, alternatively, he’ll just piss off and let the kingdom solve it themselves. I really have no issues with the storyline revolving around Kell. A little darkness, a wee bit of danger, a pinch of epicness—and one borderline worthless POV following Mother Britak. Her story rarely intersects with Kell’s, and can only be setting the table for the followup plot in Book #2. As good as I found Kell’s story, her’s was simply pointless. I mean, it’s written well and she’s interesting enough—but it barely connects and it’s Kell’s that steals the show. Luckily, it’s Kell’s that takes up the overwhelming majority of the novel. Still, there’s more than enough here for me to heartily recommend the Coward. A great adventure with excellent characters, heroes, action, and adventure. The one misstep that is Britak is not enough to ruin the good time.

A Desert Torn Asunder – by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Review)

Song of the Shattered Sands #6

Fantasy, Epic

DAW; July 13, 2021 (US)
Gollancz; July 22, 2021 (UK)

528 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to DAW and Gollancz for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

Beware spoilers for the Shattered Sands #1-5

Where can we go when all is lost?

The reign of the Kings has been interrupted, but not all is lost. Though Queen Alansal of Mirea now sits atop the Tauriyat, two of the original Twelve Kings still draw breath in the desert. And both Husamettín and Ihsan remain with the Royal Fleet, committed to retaking the city.

Queen Meryam’s blood magic has been burned from her, yet her ambition still burns strong. Armed with the body of Goezhen and the blessing of the younger gods, she seeks out the Hollow—where the elder god Ashael was bound eons prior. But will waking him deliver her all the power she’s ever desired, or will the god’s wrath fall upon the desert instead?

Elsewhere in the desert Çeda and Emre prepare to confront the Alliance about Hamid’s betrayal, but to their horror the tribes have agreed to unite under his banner. Even as the pair arrive, the Alliance readies to sail to Sharakai—to raze the city to the ground.

Even as the Kings, Mirea, Malasan, the Tribes, and Ashael all converge on Sharakai—the gateway beneath the city continues to expand. Though Davud and his allies are attempting to close it, so far they’ve had no luck. And soon nothing will stop the younger gods from stepping through into Further Fields, leaving the mortals to pick up the remnants of they shattered world.

‘ When at last the fields do wither,
When the stricken fade;
The Gods shall pass beyond the veil,
And the land shall be remade. ‘

Well, it’s been a long and immersive voyage—one that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed! With the sixth and last book in the Song of the Shattered Sands—A Desert Torn Asunder—so many threads that’ve been built up over six books (and more novellas) set to converge for the first and final time. As with all grand fantasy adventures, so much COULD happen that it’s next to impossible to know just what will. Going into this I had a general idea—one that proved to be somewhat correct, albeit pathetically limited in imagination. There was just so much going on here! And when it all came together… it was amazing.

This was the perfect ending.

Okay, okay, it wasn’t absolutely PERFECT, but after six books and so many hours of growth and imagination, a few minor issues along the way couldn’t derail it. In fact, there were so many touches and details that I loved, to be honest I don’t remember what any of my gripes were.

As with the previous books, I would rave about the characters, the world-building, the intricacies of the plot, the attention to detail, and more, but instead let’s focus on the gods. Up to this point we’ve known the gods (the younger ones, that is) are the ones pulling the strings. They’ve been behind the scenes until now, but lately have begun to assume center stage. And as such, there are so many details about them in A Desert Torn Asunder that I loved. Let’s begin with Ashael. He was so much more than what I’d expected. So different—and yet not. The elder gods are all more than I’d’ve guessed—detailed yet mysterious.

This holds true for the younger ones as well. They’re still mysterious, albeit less so, with their deeds now at the forefront of the story and their intentions well known. There are so many things I could talk about, but I want to focus on one little (non-spoilery) thing. The way they come and go, each in their own way. Bakhi slashes a line in the air, which he departs through like a portal. Rhia arrives in a flash of moonlight, and Tulathan departs the same way, except hers is done by sunlight. Thaash turns to stone which crumbles to dust as he departs—dust that is scattered by the desert winds. Nalamae appears and vanishes in a swirl of sand. Each of these touches I found incredibly imaginative and had no problem picturing them. As with so much in this series, my imagination hardly knew where to stop; the story ran wild through my mind.

TL;DR

I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed the Shattered Sands, especially this conclusion to the series. A Desert Torn Asunder is the end this series deserves. So many threads come together that literally anything could happen and frequently does as the desert people all attempt to save their home. Save it, or rule it. If you haven’t started this series yet (perhaps waiting for all the books to be released), well, now’s the time. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I have. But I can only hope. Whether this is the final time Bradley Beaulieu will revisit Sharakai I cannot say—though there’s still room for more in this world. As for myself I know that I’ll return to the series time and again.

Infernal – by Mark de Jager (Review)

Chronicles of Stratus #1

Dark Fantasy, Fantasy

Solaris; November 26, 2020

450 pages (ebook)
12hr 54m (audio)

GoodreadsAuthor Twitter

4 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Rebellion, Solaris 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.

Stratus wakes in an unfamiliar body, an unfamiliar place, with no memories of how he got there, where “there” is, or who he even is. All that he knows is that his name is Stratus—and that a demon lives within him.

Armed with just this knowledge—and a powerful yet volatile innate sorcery—Stratus begins a journey of self-discovery. This journey will take him through Krandin, recently decimated by war. A land that proves less than welcoming to a hulking dark-skinned stranger with amnesia and a powerful hunger. One that includes both horse- and human-flesh.

As Stratus slowly pieces together his history, he discovers a land full of both allies and enemies, some of them from his very past. He also discovers a dark power threatening to engulf the land—a land that despite himself he has begun to care about. But is it worth enough to him that he will help save it, or will Stratus let all fall to darkness to slake his thirst for vengeance?

‘Evil is motivation. You cannot ward against motivation, only the acts that they motivate.’

I’m a bit of a sucker for the amnesiac trope: the one where the main character has no idea who they are and has to piece it together while the world tries to kill them. Interesting enough at the outset, the mystery just ramps up when Stratus’s demon emerges and starts compelling him to strangle horses or describe just how familiar (and tasty) human flesh is.

The narration really helps bring the story to life however, and I can’t rave enough about how great Obioma Ugoala is as Stratus. It lends an impressive voice to this very personal tale, one that just fits so well!

Over the course of the story, Stratus is tested and developed as a character as he slowly discerns his identity. He isn’t alone in this but his is by far the most extensive. It makes sense as this is his tale, but I would’ve liked to see more from the characters of Infernal other than just the two or three that really evolve over the course of the story. Still, those few are strong enough to carry the tale—as most of it falls squarely upon the shoulders of Stratus himself.

The only real issue I had with Infernal was the ending. Yes, I see why it ended in the manner it did (and you will too, should you read it). It makes perfect sense, and really cuts out on the right foot to set up Book #2. That being said—we left a decent amount unresolved. Part of the story is complete, yes, and part of it is just starting. But part cuts out in the middle, with no real resolution even hinted at.

TL;DR

Infernal is an excellent new addition to the fantasy genre, one that makes very few mistakes over the course of its 13ish hours. Stratus is a strong and fascinating character, one whose story you’ll surely become invested in over the course of the tale. The places he goes, things he does are not widely done in fiction, but are passed off as if they’re completely normal. The narrator is excellent and I cannot recommend the audio version of this enough! The only real issue I had was with how much is resolved at its end. Yes, there is an excellent reason it ends like it does; and yes, part of the story is concluded while still setting up Book #2—but I still feel more could have been resolved. It was just very abrupt.

Despite this hiccup I’m definitely looking forward to the Chronicles of Stratus #2—Firesky—due out November 23, 2021.

Also thanks to Rebecca at Powder & Page for recommending this! I thoroughly recommend it further.

July 2021

June was a super busy month in which I accomplished waaay less than I would’ve liked, but as the summer marches on it doesn’t appear that I’ll be getting much more done in July. I guess it’s good that I don’t have a ton of ARCs for this month (of which I’ve already finished one, and am a quarter through another), so maybe I can catch up a little on last month while preparing for the slightly more eventful August beyond.

ARC

Death and Croissants – by Ian Moore (7/01)

Follet Valley Mysteries #1

GoodreadsReview

Richard is a middle-aged Englishman who runs a B&B in the fictional Val de Follet in the Loire Valley. Nothing ever happens to Richard, and really that’s the way he likes it.

One day, however, one of his older guests disappears, leaving behind a bloody handprint on the wallpaper. Another guest, the exotic Valérie, persuades a reluctant Richard to join her in investigating the disappearance.

Richard remains a dazed passenger in the case until things become really serious and someone murders Ava Gardner, one of his beloved hens … and you don’t mess with a fellow’s hens!

A Desert Torn Asunder – by Bradley P. Beaulieu (7/13 US • 7/22 UK)

Song of the Shattered Sands #6

Goodreads

The plans of the desert gods are coming to fruition. Meryam, the deposed queen of Qaimir, hopes to raise the buried elder god, Ashael, an event that would bring ruin to the desert.

Çeda and Emre sail for their ancestral home to bring the traitor, Hamid, to justice. To their horror, they discover that the desert tribes have united under Hamid’s banner. Their plan? A holy crusade to annihilate Sharakhai, a thing long sought by many in the tribes. In Sharakhai, meanwhile, the blood mage, Davud, examines the strange gateway between worlds, hoping to find a way to close it. And King Ihsan hunts for Meryam, but always finds himself two steps behind.

When Meryam raises Ashael, all know the end is near. Ashael means to journey to the land that was denied to him an age ago, no matter the cost to the desert. It now falls to Çeda and her unlikely assortment of allies to find a way to unite not only the desert tribes and the people of Sharakhai, but the city’s invaders as well. Even if they do, stopping Ashael will cost them dearly, perhaps more than all are willing to pay.

Below the Edge of Darkness – by Edith Widder (7/27)

Goodreads

Edith Widder grew up wanting to become a marine biologist. But after complications from surgery caused her to go temporarily blind while at university, she became fascinated by light, and her focus turned to bioluminescence. On her first visit to the deep ocean, in an experimental diving suit that took her to a depth of 250 metres, she turned off the suitʼs lights and witnessed breathtaking explosions of bioluminescent activity. Why was there so much light down there?

Below the Edge of Darkness takes readers deep into the mysteries of the oceans as Widder investigates one of nature’s most widely used forms of communication. She reveals hidden worlds and a dazzling menagerie of creatures, from microbes to leviathans—many never before seen or, like the giant squid, never before filmed. Alongside Widder, we experience life-and-death equipment malfunctions, and breakthroughs in technology and understanding, set against a growing awareness of the deterioration of the world’s largest and least understood ecosystem.

This engaging memoir, imbued with optimism and a sense of wonder, is an adventure story as well as a science story. Edith Widder shows us how exploration is the key to conserving the oceans—and our future on this planet.

Other Releases

Empire’s Ruin – by Brian Staveley (7/06)

Ashes of the Unhewn Throne #1

Goodreads

The Annurian Empire is disintegrating. The advantages it used for millennia have fallen to ruin. The ranks of the Kettral have been decimated from within, and the kenta gates, granting instantaneous travel across the vast lands of the empire, can no longer be used.

In order to save the empire, one of the surviving Kettral must voyage beyond the edge of the known world through a land that warps and poisons all living things to find the nesting ground of the giant war hawks. Meanwhile, a monk turned con-artist may hold the secret to the kenta gates.

But time is running out. Deep within the southern reaches of the empire and ancient god-like race has begun to stir.

What they discover will change them and the Annurian Empire forever. If they can survive.

Half Sick of Shadows – by Laura Sebastian (7/06)

Goodreads

Everyone knows the legend. Of Arthur, destined to be a king. Of the beautiful Guinevere, who will betray him with his most loyal knight, Lancelot. Of the bitter sorceress, Morgana, who will turn against them all. But Elaine alone carries the burden of knowing what is to come–for Elaine of Shalott is cursed to see the future.

On the mystical isle of Avalon, Elaine runs free and learns of the ancient prophecies surrounding her and her friends–countless possibilities, almost all of them tragic.

When their future comes to claim them, Elaine, Guinevere, Lancelot, and Morgana accompany Arthur to take his throne in stifling Camelot, where magic is outlawed, the rules of society chain them, and enemies are everywhere. Yet the most dangerous threats may come from within their own circle.

As visions are fulfilled and an inevitable fate closes in, Elaine must decide how far she will go to change fate–and what she is willing to sacrifice along the way.

A Psalm for the Well-Built – by Becky Chambers (7/13)

Monk & Robot #1

Goodreads

It’s been centuries since the robots of Earth gained self-awareness and laid down their tools.
Centuries since they wandered, en masse, into the wilderness, never to be seen again.
Centuries since they faded into myth and urban legend.

One day, the life of a tea monk is upended by the arrival of a robot, there to honor the old promise of checking in. The robot cannot go back until the question of “what do people need?” is answered.

But the answer to that question depends on who you ask, and how.
They’re going to need to ask it a lot.

Purchases

Lord of Ashes – by Richard Ford

Steelhaven Book #3

Goodreads

FIGHT TO THE DEATH…

The queen of Steelhaven has grown in strength. Taking up her dead father’s sword, she must defend the city from the dread warlord Amon Tugha and his blood-thirsty army now at the gates. A vicious, unrelenting four-day battle ensues, the most perilous yet.

…OR BOW TO THE ENEMY

No side is immune from danger as all hell breaks loose, with the threat of coups and the unleashing of the deadliest and darkest magick. Loyalty, strength and cunning will be put to test in the quest for victory. What fate awaits the free states?

Hard Reboot – by Django Wexler

Goodreads

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?

Music

Make It Through – Ends With a Bullet (7/01)

Ends With a Bullet is a Swedish metalcore band from Gothenburg (metalcore being a blend of metal and hardcore punk). Make It Through is their sixth album since being formed in 2013, and they’re most notable for releasing five good (to my ear anyway) albums in the last five years.

fever – Against the Current (7/23)

Against the Current is an American pop-rock band from New York. Around since 2011, fever is their third EP and fifth album altogether.

Gaming

Disco Elysium

Developed by ZA/UM

10-15 hours in / 8% Trophy Completion

I’ve been playing quite a lot of Disco Elysium lately. An RPG where you take control of a down on his luck detective currently at the end of an all week bender, the game would have you redeem him, double down on being an asshole, or just do what you can to survive til the end of the investigation. The investigation itself centers on an apparent lynching—a dead body hanging from the lone tree in a war-torn neighborhood. The fictional Revachol is a bit reminiscent of the setting from This War of Mine, albeit five or ten years after the events of the game. A city recovering from a war that decimated the local economy, scarred its citizens, wrecked its infrastructure. After the war ended and its final king died, Revachol is a district on the precipice of change, and in need of a new identity. Throughout it you will have the option to deal with various thoughts and ideas, either subscribing to certain political, socio-economic, or racist theories, or turnign your nose up on the lot altogether. Doing nothing might make it next to impossible to do your job however, so a clever officer might just pick one side—or many. The locals don’t care what you want or why, and mostly treat your presence with disbelief, sarcasm, or outright disgust. Whether or not you have any real power to make an arrest is beside the point—the investigation will lead somewhere, it’s up to you to find out where.

Disco Elysium is a game where the outcome relies on a potential dice roll, making almost anything possible. Or impossible. In my fist game I died a lot. I set my strength/endurance to base 1, which basically meant that whenever I failed a check I had the potential to die. Which I did—a lot. Before I got out of my hotel room (where you start the game), I’d died no less than three times. I reached for my tie on the ceiling fan and had a heart-attack. The next time I tried to turn the fan off first and suffered another. I saw my reflection in the mirror and had a third. Since then I’ve learnt a bit, started a new game (my system crashed and needed resetting—which cost me all my save data for all my games, which was super disappointing), but still died a lot. Disco Elysium is full of humor, whether it be outrageous or dark in nature, but it also makes you think. There’s a decent amount of political theory, racism, sexism, and just human nature, all competing for your attention. The voice acting is mostly strong—with some (like the narrator) featuring amazing performances—though others are just hilariously bad. Obviously I haven’t finished the game yet (hell, I haven’t gotten through four days yet), but I’ve quite enjoyed my time with it and feel like I can almost recommend it already based on the fact that I had to drop it and start all over and somehow not lose interest.

Currently Reading

A Desert Torn Asunder – by Bradley P. Beaulieu

The conclusion to the Shattered Sands is here! I actually lost track of time or else I’d’ve probably started this one sooner! The Song of Shattered Sands has been one of my favorite fantasy series of the past five years and I cannot wait to dig further into the final book. But so far, so good!

Outpost – by W. Michael Gear

Not sure how the Donovan series escaped my notice until now, but here we are. Only recently it made it onto my radar, and I took my sweet time locating a copy of Outpost (found one at the public library, which has only recently reopened—yay!). But now that I’ve started it I can’t wait to get into the story. Unfortunately it has to compete with my love of the Shattered Sands, and so is on the backburner for now, but hopefully I’ll get into it soon enough!

Thanks to Tammy (Books, Bones & Buffy) and Mogsy (Bibliosanctum) for the rec!

Life

So, it’s been hot these last few weeks, eh? We’ve had about 6 of the past 10 days over 100˚F and forecasting for a few more in the coming week. This, combined with the lack of any humidity or precipitation, makes for a good oven-like atmosphere. Fire weather is here already. And as usual people are ignoring all the firework warnings as we approach the 4th of July. I hate the 4th, personally. Fireworks have caused enough fires here that I’ve started to associate the sound of them, the smell of gunpowder with the sight of those flames rolling over the ridgeline burning towards me. The destruction of Lytton just this last week has done nothing to ease this feeling. I’ve only been evacuated 2-3 times because of fires here, but they’re something that continue to haunt my dreams. So fireworks make me cringe, make me panic, make me stress. I HATE THEM.

Um, anyway… the heat has made outside sports super fun to suffer through, as our events carry on despite the high temperatures. My job has gotten decidedly less enjoyable lately, but that’s a rant for another time. One per post, eh?

Anyway, that’s where I’m at right now. Want to talk about the books or games or music aspect of July? I would love to hear from you! I don’t really want to talk about fireworks, politics, or people. I do occasionally need to vent about them, but I really don’t need to follow-up on it. Unless someone really wants to. I’m not the only one who needs to vent, after all.

Death and Croissants – by Ian Moore (Review)

Follet Valley Mysteries #1

Mystery, General Fiction

Farrago; July 1, 2021

230 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

2.5 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Farrago and NetGalley for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

Richard Ainsworth is a middle-aged Englishman running a bed and breakfast in the Loire Valley of France. He has a fairly boring life—no excitement or mystery ever entering into it. Which is just the way he likes it.

But that’s about to come to an end.

For one day a guest disappears from his B&B in the middle of the night, leaving only a bloody handprint behind him. Enter Valerie Dorçay, an exotic and enigmatic woman that coincidentally happens to be staying the same night that the guest vanishes. Eager to solve the caper, the Frenchwoman drags Richard on the ride of his life as they rove around the fictional hamlet of Val de Follet in pursuit of the mystery that so binds them.

But by the time they find out the truth, will Richard be sick of this life or smitten with it? Or will he instead fall victim to the very murderer he hunts?

Instead of the “Charming, witty, brilliant, relentless rollercoaster” of a read that Death and Croissants was billed as, another term comes to my mind when describing it.

Generic.

A reluctant host is dragged into a murder investigation and manages to solve it in a fun, hilarious, and roundabout way, all thanks to a mysterious and sexy stranger and a ragtag band of misfits blah blah blah. It’s the kind of book that would’ve been better served with a laugh-track and a live studio audience. Sitcoms like this are a dime a dozen, and books even more so. Now maybe if the comedy had been profound, the lead deep and relatable, the setting vivid and unique, or the mystery extra mysterious and immersive—this could’ve been great. But none of these things are the case. The world itself is rather blasé. The mystery itself does feature a few interesting twists, but they’re small and far between. Richard is just some bloke—maybe relatable, but certainly not deep. The comedy simply tried too hard, never really succeeding.

Even a few days removed from this, I’m already struggling to remember it. The characters aren’t exactly bland, but neither are they exciting or unique. The plot isn’t dull, but neither is it particularly interesting. The humor is hit-and-miss. It’s not bad, nor is it terribly good.

TL;DR

It’s as if the Death and Croissants is trying very hard not to take itself too seriously, which it ultimately fails at. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not a bad read. It’s okay. The story shows some heart later on, some character, the mystery does eventually try to avoid being predictable. Which it mostly succeeds at. A rather lackluster finish ruins what could’ve been a decent turnaround, cementing Death and Croissants’ status as okay, if generic and forgettable.

Rabbits – by Terry Miles (Review)

Standalone

Thriller, Scifi

Del Rey; June 8, 2021

432 pages (ebook)

Goodreads
Author Website
Rabbits Podcast

4 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Penguin, Del Rey 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.

Jeff Goldblum does not belong in this world.

Rabbits is the debut novel by Terry Miles. Based in the universe of a 10-part podcast by the same name, Rabbits (the book) is a standalone adventure that can be enjoyed without prior knowledge of the game. The game is everything here—not that it makes any sense. At least, not at first.

Enter K.

K is our tour guide to the world of Rabbits—a world that he’s somewhat obsessed with. Ever since the eighth iteration of the game, K’s been trying to find a way in. But with the tenth recently ended, his wait may be over.

Enter Alan Scarpio. The reclusive billionaire—also known as Californiac, winner of the 6th iteration of the game—is in Seattle, looking specifically for him. He needs K to help him fix Rabbits before the 11th iteration begins, or else the entire world may pay the price.

Only a few days after their first meeting, Scarpio disappears. And shortly after that, the 11th iteration of Rabbits begins. But something is undeniably different. Within days several experienced players have gone missing, and something begins to lash out at causality. But is it the game, or is it the universe itself that is broken? And even if K can win the game that’s not a game—will it matter?

But, as they say: Win the game, save the world.

Rabbits, above all else, is utterly addictive, entirely readable, totally immersive, and borderline nonsensical. Honestly, I’ve read few things like it. Books that I needed to keep reading—without fully understanding what the hell was going on.

At the center of this stands Rabbits (the game). It’s basically a series of incredibly unlikely events or concurrences occurring in a pattern, a pattern that leads its players down a particular path that—if they’re good enough—will lead them to something impossible. And this impossibility will do two things: first, provide them with another clue that will allow them to progress in the game; and second, make certain that they will never turn their back on Rabbits again. As I said—Rabbits is utterly addictive. No more so than to its players.

My first impression of Rabbits is that it’s like The Matrix crossed with the God Game, combined with a heavy dose of Fringe. Shortly after finishing Rabbits, I did two things. One—I started rewatching Fringe (if you haven’t seen it I can’t recommend this enough). And two—I watched the Matrix. If you haven’t seen Fringe, that’s bad enough, but if you haven’t seen the Matrix, you’ve been wasting your life. Right. Anyway. Here’s an example.

Enter the Matrix.

About six and a half minutes in, the following iconic scene begins.

Wake up, Neo…

The Matrix has you…

Follow the white rabbit.

You know what happens next. But let’s say it doesn’t. Instead of following the rabbit to a club playing Rob Zombie, let’s say he follows it to a Blockbuster. There, after losing sight of her, a display of an original copy of Michael Collins catches his eye. Of course, he buys the VHS of Michael Collins because lead man Liam Neeson once played the lead in another period piece—Rob Roy, about the folk hero, Rob Roy MacGregor. “MacGregor” being the Scottish spelling for “McGregor”. As in “Mr. McGregor”. Neo takes home the movie and watches it, but instead of Michael Collins, the tape turns out to be a copy of Looney Tunes episode “Haredevil Hare”, the cartoon which famously introduces Marvin Martian. From there, everything proceeds as you’d expect. Or does it? For after watching Haredevil Hare for the 3rd time, Neo notices a disparity between the episode he remembers and what he sees. You see, in the mockup of the Daily Snooze, the fictional newspaper which once proclaimed “Heroic Rabbit Volunteers as First Passenger”, Neo instead sees the headline “Seattle Bar Reopens After 16 years as a Mime studio”, which he uses to go to a bar, order a Harvey Wallbanger, go home with a redhead girl named Jessica, and find the “Night of the Lepus” poster she has in her flat. A movie also known as “Rabbits”. Upon removing the poster from the wall, Neo is confronted by a strange phrase, scratched into the wallpaper: “The Door is Open.” (After which, presumably he takes the blue pill, falls asleep, wakes up, and then the regular movie begins.)

And that’s a crash course on how to play Rabbits. You follow seemingly random yet somewhat connected clues around the city, until they lead you to another clue, an impossibility, or a mention of the word “Rabbits”. The phrase “The Door is Open” is also popular, so that’s there too. And on and on the rabbit-hole goes until eventually you either win, die, go insane, or crash from lack of sleep, malnutrition, scurvy, and whatever else.

But with the uncertainty here regarding the improbability of patterns and events, just how sure can you be that you’re playing the game? Well… you can’t. At all. And while the patterns and clues and chase makes Rabbits an intoxicating read, the uncertainty and obscurity makes it incredibly frustrating.

For the longest time, I had no idea what exactly was going on in Rabbits. I had absolutely no trouble reading on, because I wanted to figure out where it was all leading. The good news is that as the story progresses, you’ll eventually get a better sense of how Rabbits works. Once you do, it’s a pretty thrilling adventure.

That is, until the conclusion, which goes a bit strange. Well, stranger. Think the Matrix: Revolutions crossed with the later seasons of Fringe strange. Yeah—it’s that bad. Don’t get me wrong, the ending is good. But the conclusion is nuts.

Other than the story (which I think I’ve covered quite enough), the characters are what makes a book great. The characters of Rabbits are… pretty good, actually. K is the only POV, and he’s a pretty good one. I actually came to care a good bit about K and what happened to him. The supporting cast is… a mixed bag. Mainly it’s Chloe, who is equally strong. I would’ve liked a little bit more backstory on her, but she has more than enough depth and development that I cared about her right alongside K. Otherwise, nobody else really stands out. I mean, most of the supporting cast is made up of hipsters—so “depth” might be asking too much. Or it could be that no one other than those two is around long enough to make a lasting impression. Not that they die or anything; they just fade in and out.

TL;DR

While at times a bit complex and convoluted, Rabbits is an immersive and entertaining thriller set in a near-present Earth. Though it only really features two main characters (and one POV), both are written and fleshed out quite nicely. Even after it’s over, Rabbits leaves a lasting desire for more—so much so that I immediately watched the Matrix, and then started bingeing Fringe (two of the outlets that it most reminded me of). The reason to read Rabbits, however, lies in its story. A story surrounding a game that’s so exclusive, so obscure, that it’s difficult to even know for sure that you’re playing it. But once you figure out the game that’s not a game (which you will, if you stick with it), Rabbits provides a fast, intoxicating chase down the narrow alleys and rain-slick Seattle streets. A thirst for adventure mingles with the sense of impending doom. If you fail, you might just die. But if you win—win the game, save the world.

June 2021

ARCs

Rabbits – by Terry Miles (6/08)

Goodreads

Rabbits is a mysterious alternate reality game so vast it uses our global reality as its canvas. Since the game first started in 1959, ten iterations have appeared and nine winners have been declared. Their identities are unknown. So is their reward, which is whispered to be NSA or CIA recruitment, vast wealth, immortality, or perhaps even the key to unlocking the secrets of the universe itself. But the deeper you get, the more deadly the game becomes. Players have died in the past–and the body count is rising.

And now the eleventh round is about to begin. Enter K–a Rabbits obsessive who has been trying to find a way into the game for years. That path opens when K is approached by billionaire Alan Scarpio, the alleged winner of the sixth iteration. Scarpio says that something has gone wrong with the game and that K needs to fix it before Eleven starts or the whole world will pay the price.

Five days later, Scarpio is declared missing. Two weeks after that, K blows the deadline and Eleven begins. And suddenly, the fate of the entire universe is at stake.

The Coward – by Stephen Aryan (6/08)

Goodreads

Kell Kressia is a legend, a celebrity, a hero. Aged just seventeen he set out on an epic quest with a band of grizzled fighters to slay the Ice Lich and save the world, but only he returned victorious. The Lich was dead, the ice receded and the Five Kingdoms were safe.

Ten years have passed Kell lives a quiet farmer’s life, while stories about his heroism are told in every tavern across the length and breadth of the land. But now a new terror has arisen in the north. Beyond the frozen circle, north of the Frostrunner clans, something has taken up residence in the Lich’s abandoned castle. And the ice is beginning to creep south once more.

For the second time, Kell is called upon to take up his famous sword, Slayer, and battle the forces of darkness. But he has a terrible secret that nobody knows. He’s not a hero – he was just lucky. Everyone puts their faith in Kell the Legend, but he’s a coward who has no intention of risking his life for anyone…

The Jasmine Throne – Tasha Suri (6/08)

Goodreads

Imprisoned by her dictator brother, Malini spends her days in isolation in the Hirana: an ancient temple that was once the source of the powerful, magical deathless waters — but is now little more than a decaying ruin.

Priya is a maidservant, one among several who make the treacherous journey to the top of the Hirana every night to clean Malini’s chambers. She is happy to be an anonymous drudge, so long as it keeps anyone from guessing the dangerous secret she hides.

But when Malini accidentally bears witness to Priya’s true nature, their destinies become irrevocably tangled. One is a vengeful princess seeking to depose her brother from his throne. The other is a priestess seeking to find her family. Together, they will change the fate of an empire.

Artifact Space – by Miles Cameron (6/24)

Goodreads

Midshipper Marca Nbaro has achieved the near-impossible. She’s made it from an orphanage to the Athens—one of the incomparable Greatships—escaping her upbringing and seizing a new life for herself among the stars.

All it took was thousands of hours in simulators, dedication, and pawning or selling every scrap of her old life in order to forge a new one.

But though she’s made her way onboard with faked papers, leaving her old life—and scandals—behind isn’t so easy.

She may have just combined all the dangers of her former life, with all the perils of the new…

Other Releases

For the Wolf – by Hannah Whitten (6/01)

Goodreads

As the only Second Daughter born in centuries, Red has one purpose-to be sacrificed to the Wolf in the Wood in the hope he’ll return the world’s captured gods.

Red is almost relieved to go. Plagued by a dangerous power she can’t control, at least she knows that in the Wilderwood, she can’t hurt those she loves. Again.

But the legends lie. The Wolf is a man, not a monster. Her magic is a calling, not a curse. And if she doesn’t learn how to use it, the monsters the gods have become will swallow the Wilderwood-and her world-whole.

Broken Web – by Lori M. Lee (6/15)

Goodreads

The Soulless has woken from his centuries-long imprisonment. Now, he lurks in the Dead Wood recovering his strength, while Sirscha and her allies journey east to the shaman empire of Nuvalyn. Everyone believes she is a soulguide—a savior—but Sirscha knows the truth. She’s a monster, a soulrender like the Soulless, and if anyone discovers the truth, she’ll be executed.

But there’s nothing Sirscha won’t risk to stop the shaman responsible for the rot that’s killing her best friend. While the Soulless is formidable, like all shamans, his magic must be channeled through a familiar. If Sirscha can discover what—or who—that is, she might be able to cut him off from his power.

With Queen Meilyr bent on destroying the magical kingdoms, Sirscha finds herself caught between a war brewing in the east and the Soulless waiting in the west. She should be trying to unite what peoples she can to face their common enemies, but instead, her hunt for clues about the Soulless leads to a grim discovery, forcing Sirscha to question who her enemies really are.

Other ARCs

These two copies were very nicely provided by the publisher, despite my less than glowing review of Book #1, Witchsign. I’m curious to see if the story’s gotten any more coherent, but were both released a year or more ago, it might take me a little to get to them.

Stormtide – by Den Patrick (5/30/2019)

Goodreads

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

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

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

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

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

The old gods are waking.

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

Nightfall – by Den Patrick (8/20/2020)

Goodreads

The sky is filled with dragons: the people are ready to burn the regime to the ground. The seas churn with monsters and the tide is changing: revolution is coming.

Leaders, all – and all are desperate. For the Emperor will not give up easily. He will rule – and he cares not if his subjects are alive… or if they are dead.

Worlds and outlooks collide, wars begin and lives will end in this spectacular finale by a new master in the fantasy genre. The stakes have never been higher in the roaring conclusion to the beloved Ashen Torment series.

Purchases

Purchases this month include a pair of used books, another bought with of audiobook credits, and then a lone ebook that I keep forgetting I own.

The Corroded Man – by Adam Christopher

Goodreads

Empress Emily Kaldwin leads a dual life, fulfilling her duties as empress while training with her father, Corvo Attano, mastering the arts of stealth, combat, and assassination.

A strange, shrouded figure appears in Dunwall, seeming to possess powers once wielded by the assassin known as Daud. Faced with the possibility that their deadliest foe has returned, Emily and Corvo plunge headlong into a life-and-death race against time. If they fail to learn the truth about this mysterious enemy, the result would be destruction on an unimaginable scale.

Persepolis Rising – by James S.A. Corey

Goodreads

In the thousand-sun network of humanity’s expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace.

In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it.

New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity — and of the Rocinante — unexpectedly and forever…

Nolyn – by Michael J. Sullivan (8/03/21)

Goodreads

I got Nolyn via Kickstarter, and I kinda keep forgetting I have it. Huge thanks to Rebecca at Powder & Page for reminding me!

After more than five hundred years of exile, the heir to the empyre is wary about his sudden reassignment to active duty on the Goblin War’s front lines. His assignment to rescue an outpost leads to a dead-end canyon deep inside enemy territory, and his suspicion turns to dread when he discovers the stronghold does not exist. But whoever went to the trouble of planning his death to look like a casualty of war did not know he would be assigned to the Seventh Sikaria Auxiliary Squadron. In the depths of an unforgiving jungle, a legend is about to be born, and the world of Elan will never be the same.

Smoke and Ashes – by Abir Mukherjee

Goodreads

India, 1921.

Haunted by his memories of the Great War, Captain Sam Wyndham is battling a serious addiction to opium that he must keep secret from his superiors in the Calcutta police force.

When Sam is summoned to investigate a grisly murder, he is stunned at the sight of the body: he’s seen this before. Last night, in a drug addled haze, he stumbled across a corpse with the same ritualistic injuries. It seems like there’s a deranged killer on the loose. Unfortunately for Sam, the corpse was in an opium den and revealing his presence there could cost him his career.

With the aid of his quick-witted Indian Sergeant Banerjee, Sam must try to solve the two murders, all the while keeping his personal demons secret, before somebody else turns up dead.

Gates of the Dead – by James A. Moore

Goodreads

Behold: the final entry in the Tides of War trilogy.

Brogan McTyre started a war with the gods, and he’s going to end it. Raging gods have laid waste to the Five Kingdoms. Only Torema remains, swollen with millions of refugees. Their last hope lies in fleeing by sea, but as storms tear at the coast, even King Opar can’t muster enough ships for them all. Brogan and his warriors must fight the He-Kisshi to reach the Gateway, the sole portal for gods to enter the mortal world – and the only place where they can be killed. But the forces of creation have been unleashed, and they’ll destroy the world to reshape it.

Music

Earlier this month I snagged Soul Extract’s upcoming album on Bandcamp for $1! Even though I typically stream my music, I do love to support the artists I very much enjoy. And well… $1? I mean, really. The artwork is rather nice until you realize it’s just recycled and has been used for not only a number of Soul Extract’s previous releases, but also countless others from the record label.

Gaming

Bit of a down period for gaming. I just haven’t been able to focus lately. So I’ve been playing a bit more of the Long Dark, my favorite survival game. I’ve been working on the sandbox mode again, so there’s no story to distract me/keep me from listening to audiobooks while I’m playing. I’ve been exploring the new areas in the world—now there’re 11! When I started playing this, there was one. It’s amazing how far this game has come since then.

Anyone have any recommendations for anything new to play?

Life

No lessons this time around, sorry. Or… you’re welcome? Summer is just around the corner and as such, the weather here is completely fucked. In the last week it’s snowed once, rained thrice, and somehow had time to hit 90˚F (32˚C).

In other news, I’ve been pulled off all my shifts and written out of the upcoming schedule. Why? I’ve no idea. My boss seems to have picked Memorial Day weekend to do this, which means I have to suffer through four days of anxiety and worrying what I did exactly. Or… maybe it’s just a mistake? Fingers crossed for that—I LOATHE job hunting even more than I resent the higher-ups for the way they handled this mess so far.

Anyway with the lack of sleep and lack of peace and lack of other stuff that I’d remember if not for the lack of sleep, I’m fraying a little around the edges. Hopefully I’ve edited this well enough to avoid any egregious mistakes, spelling errors, or swear words.

The Lights of Prague – by Nicole Jarvis (Review)

Standalone (?)

Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Vampires

Titan Books; May 25, 2021

413 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Twitter

4.25 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Titan Books 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.

Prague, 1868.

The quiet streets of Prague hide a secret, one that haunts these passages in the dead of night. Ancient and mythic beasts lurk in the shadows, preying upon anyone unfortunate enough to be out past sunset. And only those paid to bring light to the city’s dark stand between the monsters and their prey.

Domek Myska is a lamplighter—a profession both dedicated to bring light to the darkened streets of Prague, but also to protect its citizens from the evil that walks it. With the advent of gas lamps, the lamplighter presence in Prague has changed. While the lamps themselves keep the night at bay better and longer, fewer souls are required to keep this army of lights burning. And where there are fewer lamplighters, there are more monsters. With little to no backup, Domek is forced to rely on his own wit and skill to survive the night, with stakes of hawthorn and daggers of silver to help even the odds. But when he discovers a strange jar one night on the corpse of a pijavice (a vampire), the young lamplighter discovers there’s more renaissance in the city then just that of gas lamps.

Lady Ora Fischerová is a permanent fixture amongst the city’s upperclass, but an enigmatic one at that. She’s known as an eccentric widow—having lost her husband a decade prior—albeit a beautiful one who hardly looks as though she’s aged since his passing. That’s because Ora harbors a secret of her own, hidden beneath layers only won by coin and eccentricity. She’s a pijavica, but lives a low-key life for one of her kind preferring venison and pork blood to that of humans. But while she calls some humans friend, some others would only see her as the demon that hunts in the night. Enter Domek, and a mutual hot-blooded attraction between the two. Neither knows about the other’s secret, but with the way things are going, it won’t be long before they find out. And what will happen when the cards fall—will either survive to see another sunrise, or will Prague itself fall into eternal darkness?

For the jar, and its wisp occupant, Kája, represent a new weapon—a hope and danger both. But could these fortunes be reversed? And whom (if anyone) would Domek trust to make that distinction?

With an atmosphere drenched in darkness and steeped in blood, The Lights of Prague represents the best of historical fantasy, combining a killer story, deep and meaningful characters, with a lush if claustrophobic setting. The backdrop of 1860’s Prague was breathtakingly beautiful: a city on the cusp of change from fire to gas; a city drenched in shadow but clinging to the light; a city built on the ruins of another that came before it, with the beings of the night lurking within. From tight back alleys to gilded opera halls to the mansions of the elite to the slums of the Jewish quarter, Nicole Jarvis sets the stage incredibly well! If not for the strength of its characters, I’d say the setting was the story’s strongest asset.

Prague did not know Domek, did not need him, but his life was overlaid on the ancient streets in watercolor, the patterns sheer and impermanent.

But the characters are quite well done as well. Both Domek and Ora are well-fleshed, with their own history and motivations, intentions and ideals—so that while they may want in one another’s pants and/or gowns, they don’t necessarily want the same thing for Prague. And while the two may fall on the same side now and then, they definitely aren’t that way all the time. I loved their interactions—be they hot and heavy, violent, or even casual—and it was this that kept the story from ever feeling too weighed down or stagnant, even toward the end when the action-sequences sometimes threaten to override the plot. While Domek isn’t the brightest tool in the river, he makes up for it with his deep- and well-thought-out plans, his ingenuity and stubbornness. Ora’s just pretty amazing—no notes! But where these two are so strong, I found the supporting cast was a bit hit and miss. Some characters seemed deep enough to carry their own POVs, while others felt too hollow to be little more than set dressing. The POVs definitely carry the load, however, so there’s relatively little to complain about, story-wise.

TL;DR

1860’s Prague provides an incredible backdrop for any fantasy adventure, at least when one plays it up as well as Nicole Jarvis does. The city was resplendent, despite the story mostly taking place in the dead of night, where the streets are quiet, dark, and claustrophobic, and the atmosphere one of tension. While the story might get a bit iffy later on, the interactions between the two POV leads Domek and Ora provide more than enough of a reason to press on. Turns out, the characters are just as impressive as the world-building. Come for the vampires and dark atmosphere, stay for the romance, action and characters. Heartily recommended!

I’m not sure if The Lights of Prague will remain a standalone or spawn a series, but the ending sets up a possible future if the author decides to go down that road. Best just to read it now.

The Apocalypse Seven – by Gene Doucette (Review)

Standalone (?)

Scifi, Post Apocalyptic

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; May 25, 2021

363 pages (ebook)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Houghton Mifflin, Mariner and NetGalley for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

When the world ended, it wasn’t with a bang. It was with more of a… blah.

Thus passes the Whateverpocalypse—the end of the human race, where cities fall to ruin and the entire planet becomes overgrown. There seem to be no survivors, except those few that overslept the end of the world, awakening only after everything had already ended.

Carol and Robbie are students at Harvard—both freshmen, they awaken to find their dorms deserted and Cambridge around them in ruin. While Carol had spent her last night in, Robbie had gone out drinking. Neither remembered the world ending, but Robbie didn’t even recall stumbling home. And while disoriented, he’s barely in the dark at all compared to Carol—as she’s blind and all.

The two soon run across Touré—a twenty-something coder, and the only person excited by the prospect the end of the world presents. With him in tow, the group soon adds Bethany, a teen with a mysterious past and a helpful skillset (all of which suggesting a record). As they explore the ruins of Cambridge, the group soon discovers that the end of humanity is only the beginning of their poor luck. There’s also the lack of power, the packs of violent boars choking downtown, the freakish weather (including hailstorms, tornadoes, snowstorms and heat waves all in the same week), not to mention the horse-sized wolves.

Elsewhere, the world is little better. Paul is a non-denominational preacher living in backwater Vermont. He awakens to the apocalypse on Monday but it takes the man til Sunday to notice anything wrong. Once he does, he discovers a voice on the radio—the last sign of human life he’s seen. Soon he sets off for Boston, eager to meet Ananda, a former MIT adjunct, who remains picking through the ruins of her former campus for clues. Also there’s Win—an olympic hopeful stranded in the countryside. All leads eventually point to Boston, where the Apocalypse Seven might eventually meet, if they can survive the Whateverpocalypse long enough to find one another.

And even then, it’ll take all their combined effort to not only discover what ended the world, but to survive what comes next.

I do love a good apocalypse now and then. This one does it all without any undead, too, which is impressive. I was getting major Last of Us vibes from this—not so much the story, but the world. Those stolen moments between the cutscenes where nothing’s actively trying to kill you. The decaying, overgrown cities. The wildlife just milling about. The quiet. For the most part, this was a quiet apocalypse. One that provided a good premise, and then just let the story unfurl until The 7 (my shorthand for the survivors) finished filling it in. I can’t say enough about how much I loved the story. It combines a physical sense of loss and deterioration with the struggles of its survivors. Carol is missing her seeing-eye dog. Everyone’s lost family. Some are away from home. None are in their comfort zone. Mental breakdowns co-mingle with physical hardships. Loss with hope. The mystery of what’s befallen the world brings them all together, focuses them on something other than just trying to survive (well, except maybe Touré). And throughout it all there’s an undercurrent of lively—sometimes silly, sometimes dark, always entertaining—humor. Lots of jokes seemingly off the cuff. In conversation. During emergencies. At the literal end of the world. It all goes together exceptionally well—which I loved.

Despite this being the end of the world, it never seems all that hard to survive. I mean, there IS everything that’s trying to kill The 7 all the time, but otherwise. They’re helpfully stocked with Noot Bars—your lembas from LotR, grot from the Faithful and the Fallen, and a number of other things from other places. Noot is basically an foodstuff that never goes bad, has all the nutrients a body needs to live, and leaves something to be desired in the taste-department. So… basically an MRE. And since the young’uns are all stocked up, they’re not likely to starve to death. Win and Paul can hunt, but this is mostly glossed over shortly upon being introduced. Ananda’s nutrition is barely even addressed. I honestly would’ve expected a lot more survival from this story, but there’s comparatively little. It’s a tale more about the mystery, the strange happenings, and the atmosphere.

And the end of the world atmosphere is strong. It kept reminding me of the Last of Us or the like: huge sprawling metropolises empty of people, overrun by animals, overgrown and haunting as hell—except with out all the zombies. No zombies. Just the end of the world, and whatever happened to cause it. I have to say, while I eventually called the ending, the big reveal was nowhere near done after one twist. There were a number of other details that made the whole thing worth it twice-over, even though I did pretty much guess the overarching mystery. And even if you wouldn’t read this for the mystery of what happened, it’s a well-written apocalypse tale with a tense, spooky atmosphere and wolves the size of horses—recommending it is pretty much a no-brainer.

I would recommend skipping the epilogue. While it may provide a little closure, for me it raised more questions than it answered. And as I assume this is a standalone—you don’t need that in an ending. Everything was all well and truly wrapt up before—don’t ruin it.

TL;DR

The Apocalypse Seven is a thoroughly enjoyable post-apocalyptic science fiction dystopian set in a world teeming with life. Just empty of humanity. No undead, no super mutants, no robotic overlords. Just an overgrown world with desensitized wildlife and wolves the size of compact cars. And the mystery of how it got that way. Only seven survived (The 7) and they alone set out to solve this new world or die trying. Possessive of a tense, haunting atmosphere; a strong and immersive mystery; an all-too human cast complete with both strengths and weaknesses; and another twist even when you assume all’s been said and done—the Apocalypse Seven presents an excellent post-apocalyptic scifi and executes it just as well. While there’s comparatively little survival in terms of the Pincher-Martin-level I expected, the mystery and tension carries the story more than well enough. There’s little to hate about this one, and a lot to love.