The Stardust Thief – by Chelsea Abdullah (Review)

The Sandsea Trilogy #1

Fantasy, Retelling

Orbit Books; May 17, 2022

538 pages (ebook)

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9.5 / 10 ✪

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

After reading this the only thing I regret is not trying to get a physical ARC of it. Although, I suppose that’s what money is for, right?


King of the Forty Thieves, they called him. Hero. But the strangest was the third title, which he’d never heard before: the Stardust Thief. It was worse than the other titles because it was proof that everyone knew what Omar truly was: a man who stole jinn lives. A killer dressed in silver blood. ‘

In a world of desert and shifting sands, Loulie al-Nazari is the Midnight Merchant—a collector and dealer in rare and illegal magic items. As her trade implies, Loulie avoids the spotlight, doing business on the black market or in the shadows. Something she and her enigmatic jinn bodyguard Qadir have been managing for years. But when she inadvertently saves the life of the sultan’s youngest son, her trade is brought to the forefront. Forcibly.

The sultan—grateful for the Merchant saving his son (twice, in fact)—offers her a reward: her life, in exchange for a mythical jinn artifact lost somewhere in the Sandsea, its sands the border between jinn and human lands. The artifact, a wish-granting lamp, is worth a kingdom—if it exists at all. And should she returns with the lamp, Loulie will be showered with gold—you know, if it exists. Return with out it, however, or attempt to flee, and her life will be forfeit.

To aid the Merchant in this endeavor—as well as make certain she doesn’t try to flee—the sultan sends his youngest son, the same Loulie twice saved, along with an elite guard.

But surprisingly, the lamp turns out to be more trouble than just being mythical, lost, and infamous. And Loulie’s path more treacherous. Ghouls, rogue jinn, demons from the past, jinn hunters, enemies and allies, and the shifting and enchanted sands of the Sandsea are but some of the obstacles the foursome face. Yet Loulie really has no choice but to press on, lest this quest be her last.


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

It was beautiful, and it was horrible.

In the Stardust Thief, jinn bleed silver. Wherever their blood falls, life blossoms. It has the power to paint the desert green, heal wounds, or even restore the dying to life. This twist, along with so many others, prevented the book from being both a straightforward retelling, and a facsimile of so many others.

It also prevents the landscape from becoming too… dull. Tans and browns and reds and oranges aren’t necessarily dull, but after a while they do kinda make one long for a blue or two to break up the monotony. Maybe that’s why kohl was so popular. Point is, bleed a jinn or ten around one spot and you’ve got yourself a new forest. Or an everlasting river, as seen in the above excerpt.

As with really good reads, it’s hard for me to talk about what exactly I loved most about the Stardust Thief. I mean… there are just soooo many things! The retelling of various legends especially—not only those incorporated into the plot, but also those included as legends in their own right and told via storytellers, or in interludes—gave the world a tenuous connection to our own, while never confusing just which side of the looking glass the reader was on. It’s good to see so many tales from One Thousand and One Nights included in a single work, not just a retelling of Ali Baba or Aladdin or Shahrazad or the like. Yes, I know that other books aimed to do the same, but I’d argue that by in large, the results were nowhere near as good.

I feel like I should mention the characters too, but I’ve no idea where to start on them. Their depth is impressive, as each and every lead has a thorough backstory—both based in legend and written lore. I was really impressed at just how well they all worked together; amidst the chaos and battle there were hints of unlikely friendship and romance, though you could never tell just who was threatening to fall in love with whom.

TL;DR

This seems entirely worthless, as the review part wasn’t very long and mostly had to do with me gushing about how much I loved the story. Yeah, so that’s pretty much it. Whole-hearted recommendation, hands down. But is it worth the…? Yes. Are you sure? What about the…? Yes, that too. And the audiobook? Not sure about that, exactly. This one supposedly features a full cast, and even one terrible voice-actor can ruin the whole thing. But if I could just direct you back to the other forms of text, maybe try one of those.

Yeah, so I’m gonna wrap this up, as it’s pretty much just me rambling. Read this. It’s sooo good! The only downside I can think of is that you’ll have to wait another year for Book #2.

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

The Frost Files #1

Paranormal, Scifi

Orbit Books; June 18, 2019

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

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3.5 / 5 ✪

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which it is.

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

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

TL;DR

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

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

Chinese New Year 2022 – Year of the Tiger

恭喜發財!新年快樂!

The Year of the Tiger starts today, so if you’re celebrating I hope you have a good day! I was trying to decide what kinda New Year’s feast to have, but then I started having stomach issues, so it’s probably not going to happen. Even worse, there’s no moon cake!

But I’ll live.

It’s been a terrible January. Stress from my job, my family, my friends, my life… I’m really sick of it. Here’s hoping that this month (and this year) is better.

Currently Reading

Somehow I read NINE books in January. Don’t expect that to happen in February, Lunar New Year or not. I also DNFed one that I’ve mostly seen glowing reviews for. Currently I’m working on three books, which is my limit at once, provided each is in a different format.

For audio I’m reading The Butterfly House by Katrine Engberg, the second installment in the Kørner & Werner series (the 3rd is out later this month), which is included with subscription to Scribd—the audio streaming service that I’ve only recently discovered. I’ve just started Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham, which the lovely folks at Orbit were kind enough to send me a physical ARC of! It starts a new series which I’m very much looking forward to getting into; Book #1 here centering upon a woman named Alys. And finally there’s Return of the Whalefleet by Benedict Patrick, which I have early in ebook form via the Kickstarter that ran last summer. It’s the second book in the Darkstar Dimension, and one that I’ve been eagerly anticipating for some time (so much so that I couldn’t wait for my physical copy to arrive and decided to start it early).

ARC

Bluebird – by Ciel Pierlot (2/08)

Standalone

Goodreads

Many thanks to Angry Robot for the lovely and unexpected copy of Bluebird! I’m not sure when I’ll get to this one, but hopefully before Scifi Month in November. I’m not well versed on this, but I seem to remember there are four factions, one of which is Rig, a gunslinger, lesbian, and lone entity fighting against the control of all three others. Despite my disquiet surrounding this, the book may very well have the best cover of any releasing this month.

Dead Silence – by S.A. Barnes (2/08)

Standalone

Goodreads

A horror story. A ghost ship. A mystery that longs to be solved.

When the crew of a deep space maintenance ship stumble upon the ruins of a starship lost centuries ago under mysterious circumstances, their first thoughts are of how this will best line their pockets. After attempting to return the hulk to known space, however, they have very much different things on their mind.

So… I recently gave up on this one. For now, at least—I will try to revisit it later. The ghost ship and the mystery and the history are compelling—but the lead I cannot fathom. Claire just… shouldn’t be here. It’s beyond reason that anyone would have made her a captain, with her history. I know, I know, you haven’t read it. But I can’t not complain about this a little because I really wanted to like this and just… couldn’t.

Age of Ash – by Daniel Abraham (2/15)

Kithamar #1

Goodreads

The latest fantasy epic from Daniel Abraham starts in a city on the brink. Kithamar has remained free from three hundred years, but when their Prince suddenly dies, it may be high time for a change in power. Told from three perspectives—one in three different books, all set during the same time-frame—this is epic fantasy at its best. Or so I’ve heard.

Mickey7 – by Edward Ashton (2/15)

Standalone

Goodreads

After a mission gone very wrong, Mickey7 somehow returns to base to find that sometimes there are worse things than dying alone on an alien world. First among these is Mickey8, who is already out of the tank and sleeping in his bed. A clone and the colony’s only Expendable—the one human that gets all the most dangerous assignments and missions, because there’s always another where he came from—this might well be Mickey’s last mistake. The base’s commander already hates him, and that was before he laughed in the face of God by having two of himself. For philosophical and spiritual connotations aside, having two of oneself is NEVER a good thing. If there’s one bright spot, it’s that with Mickey’s job, he might just get lucky and die before anyone finds out. A funny thing to hope for.

Deepest of Secrets – by Kelley Armstrong (2/15)

Rockton #7

Goodreads

I only kinda skimmed this because I’m still on Book #5, but I’m pretty sure there’s another murderer in Rockton. Not too surprising when half the town are criminals, but inconvenient to say the least. As always, it’s up to the police force of 3 to bring the killer down, before the entire town turns on one another.

Diablo Mesa – by Preston & Child (2/15)

Nora Kelly / Corrie Swanson #3

Goodreads

Well, the spinoff has reached its third installment, and it’s already better than the main series itself. Probably a reason—but we won’t get into that. When Nora Kelly quits the Institute instead of heading a humiliating dig focused on aliens at Roswell, she manages to fall into a new gig almost immediately. And the first thing she has to do is… excavate the crash site in Roswell.

At least this time it pays better. And of course with a “conspiracy” this storied and phony, it’s not like it’ll be dangerous…

Other Releases

The Harbour – by Katrine Engberg (2/22)

Kørner & Werner #3

Goodreads

This third (in English, at least) entry in the Kørner & Werner Nordic noir crime series features another less than typical Copenhagen day in the world’s happiest country. I missing person, a worrying note, a potential murder, and no other leads for any of it. This is what confronts our pair this time and based on their past experiences… well, I’m not sure I’d anticipate the happiest of endings.

MUSIC

Two albums on my radar this month, but I’m sure there’re more plus singles I haven’t heard of yet. Finnish metal band Amorphis has a full-length album Halo coming on the 11th, and Australian celtic punk outfit The Rumjacks have a rather long EP, Brass for Gold, out the same day.

There’s also an Infamous Stringdusters album, Toward the Fray, releasing the next week, February 18th. I wasn’t in love with either of their first two singles off said album, but luckily I’m enjoying the 3rd one much more!

I know I’ve said this before, but I’m going to try to have something of my favorite songs released in the last month up, but I’m not sure if it’ll happen. Because me, because life, because effort. But I wanted to highlight songs by the Veer Union, Smash into Pieces, Wardruna, Shinedown, Infected Rain, Hermitude, and others. And hey, maybe it’ll happen;)

Gaming

I’ve been playing Biomutant lately, which—if you’ve heard anything about it all all—didn’t sell as well as expected on release because of publishing delays, poor pre-order incentives, somewhat repetitive combat, and a narrator who won’t shut up until your ears start to bleed.

I’ve been quite enjoying myself though, to be honest.

An open world adventure through the decaying ruins of the old world, you’re tasked with defeating the four Worldeaters, that are destroying the roots of the Tree of Life, which will result in the world’s destruction. Or… you could help them along, because the world is dying anyway, and nothing short of the end of everything is going to change that. The point is you have options.

You have the option to save or doom the world. You have the option to follow the main quest lines and unite the tribes, marshaling all forces under your rule to save/kill the Tree of Life and complete your destiny. You also have the option to get lost and wander around in the ruins of the old world, collecting loot and meeting interesting characters, while occasionally stumbling onto things from the main story (often entirely out of order), before resuming your globetrotting adventures in exploration. While I have no problem with doing the former options, I’ve primarily been doing the latter. In my defense, I get easily distracted, and the world itself is pretty and mutated and post-apocalyptic—and I really can’t resist that type of thing.

The narrator can be quite annoying and as he’s pretty much the only voice in the game, you’ll be hearing his voice A LOT interpreting everything or just inserting random comments because. You can turn his frequency down, which is quite nice—or, alternatively, you can just mute him entirely.

Otherwise, I have no complaints. I love adventure and exploration games, and I knew in advance that all I really had to do was put up with the narrator, so I’m thoroughly enjoying myself. I’m only 23 hours in, but am hoping that I’ll get at least 60 total before I lose interest. Anything more than that would be a bonus. Anything less… well, I did get it on sale, at least.

MISC

In terms of plans for the month… I’ll pretty much be sticking to the schedule I’ve been following lately. Reviews Sunday and Tuesday, cover love on Thursdays (or I may switch that around and put the Beautiful World stuff on Tuesdays instead). My friend KK is still sending me the occasional review that I’ll be posting myself, randomly, and I may do some lists or musics or other things as well. I’ll also be doing a TBR sometime this month, but it’ll be more low key than what I was trying to do in years past.

Life-wise… I didn’t get fired. Which I kinda thought I would, so… yay! My direct boss left, and since I’ve just been filling a bunch of random positions under her I was worried I might just be left without anyone to report to, assign me shifts, or pay me. And while I don’t exactly have either of those first two worked out, I DO have someone to pay me—at least at first. I would be more worried, except I don’t really love my job anymore. There’s a lot of politicking recently and the focus has shifted from making sure everyone is having fun and being safe to making sure we’re making money and aren’t liable for anything bad that happens. But since I haven’t found anything better yet…

The last month sucked. Anxiety. Lots of it. Also gut and food and sleep troubles. Let’s not get into that. Here’s hoping that February is better! (Though I’m pretty sure everyone’s been saying that for the last two years straight…)

So what does everyone think of the books? Or the games? Oh, and what’s your lunar animal? I’m going to ask everyone this so don’t be surprised when it’s the first thing I follow up your comments with. I’m a rabbit. A FIRE rabbit. Pretty sure most rabbits don’t like being on fire, but whatever, maybe some Eurasian ones do? But uh anyway books and games and stuff…

Fated – by Benedict Jacka (Review)

Alex Verus #1

Urban Fantasy

Ace; February 28, 2012 (US)
Orbit; March 1, 2012 (UK)

278 pages (paperback)

Author Website

Goodreads
StoryGraph

3.5 / 5 ✪

Alex Verus is part of another world hidden in plain sight. A mage himself, he owns a magic shop in Camden, a little on the nose perhaps, but not unheard of—much like a certain guy who advertises in the phonebook under “Wizard”. Comparatively, Verus’ life is quiet by comparison—something he’s quite a fan of. See, for years Alex has done his best to remain under the radar, out of everyone’s business but his own.

But when the Council comes calling, it seems there’s little chance of that continuing. See, Alex is a diviner, meaning that while he doesn’t have access to any kind of flashy magic like the ability to shoot flames or ice or force, the ability to raise the dead or create vast armies of constructs, the ability to heal or snuff out life with a touch and a thought—he does have the ability to make people very, very nervous by reading their every move for every interaction. Now, divining isn’t a science or anything like you see on TV; he can’t foretell anyone’s death (unless it happens to be in the very close future), he doesn’t tell fortunes, and no, he can’t predict the lottery. What it is is probability and chance—two things Verus has extensive experience with, and have not only kept him alive, but made him very good at his job.

It’s this that the Council is after. And they’re desperate.

So when Alex turns them down, they don’t take it well. Fortunately for the Council, the next group to come calling are a group of Dark Mages, and they ask a great deal less politely. See, Dark mages are consumed with power beyond anything else—anything they want, they take, and if you’re not strong enough to resist them, then it’s not anything you deserve having. The strong lead; the weak follow.

So when Alex turns them down, they take it even more poorly. Soon he has cause to rethink the Council’s offer, but there’s still concern. Because when Verus sees the object in question, he has great misgivings giving such a thing to either side. In a perfect world, Alex might just walk away and let the two go to war over it. But this isn’t a perfect world. So it begs the question: just what is he going to do now?

‘ “What’s motivating you?”
“Well… right now, staying alive would be good.”
Morden shook his head. “ Oh, I think you can do better than that.”
“Um, staying alive is a pretty big motivation for me.” ‘

Thus begins the Alex Verus reread!

With part 1 of 12 successfully complete, I’ve slightly better hopes of accomplishing this feat in 2022, though most of the challenge is still ahead of me. And I have quite an ambitious idea for just what it may entail. While I’m a big fan of the series, I’ve only actually read one of the entries before—and it wasn’t Fated.

So here it is: a return to the roots of one of my favorite urban fantasy series. And… it’s okay. Pretty decent, even. The first book, at least.

Fated isn’t the greatest read ever, nor is it the best beginning to a series that I’ve ever read. It’s okay—though obviously the work of a relatively new author. There’s not much depth, not much character development (although we spend most of the time exploring Alex and his history, so that’s not any great surprise). The first great disappointment is in the supporting cast. They’re… kinda shallow. By which I mean they don’t have a whole lot of substance to them, or any kind of development or history that’s worth caring about. As a returning reader I can tell you that some of them flesh out quite nicely in the future—just not in Fated.

The first time I read this, I stumbled regularly over the first 100 pages or so. It took me much longer to get into the story, which is a bit of an issue in a 300 page book. This time, I had no such trouble getting into the story. I really moved along quite quickly once the plot got rolling—and I managed to get into it much easier since I had a vague idea of where it was headed.

“ If there’s one thing all diviners share, it’s curiosity. We can’t really help it; it’s just a part of who we are. If you dug out a tunnel somewhere in the wilderness a thousand miles from anywhere and hung a sign on it saying, Warning, this leads to the Temple of Horrendous Doom. Do not enter, ever. No, not even then, you’d get back from lunch to find a diviner already inside and two more about to go in.

Come to think about it, that might explain why there are so few of us. “

As I said, this is obviously an early effort by a recent author. But what does that mean? Well, in this case it means that it’s not as polished, not as refined, not as immersive as their later work, once they’ve established their writing style and have some experience under their belt. It does seem to be thought out and written according to some plan, as such not wandering around waiting for something to happen. There’s a story pretty much straight out of the gate, and while it’s not very innovative (at least at first), it certainly doesn’t lack for creativity either. The language is also a bit fiddly, but it’s not like there are grammatical or punctuation errors or anything. It just… sometimes takes the long way to say things. And hell, some authors do that more as their career expands. It’s not even something you’d certainly notice. It’s just not… the same language the author uses in later books—once he’s really developed a feel for these things.

The thing that didn’t change was its entertainment value. I found this just as entertaining—if not more—the second time around. When I first read Fated back in 2016, it took just short of two weeks (but then there are many reasons for that). This time around, it took me about three days. And while I have to admit it was a very straightforward plot (at least at first)—it was quite enjoyable. Even more so knowing how the story grows from here. It’s honestly a bit like Storm Front (by Jim Butcher, first entry in the Dresden Files) in that it’s not the author’s best story, but it’s definitely enjoyable, certainly entertaining, gets the series off on solid footing, and sets the stage for what’s to come. And there is in fact a nod to the Dresden Files in the early pages: ‘ I’ve even heard of one guy in Chicago who advertises in the phonebook under “Wizard”… ‘—so there’s that.

TL;DR

For those of you who didn’t want to read my jaunt down memory lane—yeah, whatever. The short of it is that Fated isn’t the best book out there. It smacks of being written by a relatively new author—characters don’t have a whole lot of substance, and aren’t developed much; the plot was straightforward and far from innovative; and, in my first time through at least, I had trouble getting in to the story. But while not terribly innovative, the world is certainly creative and well-told. Another world hidden within our own, but this one not entirely out of sight. Alex Verus isn’t a flashy mage, but a thoughtful one. And he’s not without his skill. It’s a great intro, as these things go, and the series only gets better from here!

The series continues with Cursed, which—to be honest—I’m drawing a blank on. I mean, I remember liking it, but not any specifics. Huh. I guess you’ll have to check back in February to learn more. Or… you could always just read it yourself first:)

Q&A with Richard S. Ford – Author of Engines of Empire

I was fortunate enough to get a little Q&A with Richard S. Ford, author of Engines of Empire and the Steelhaven series—each of which I’ve featured here—but also much more! Mostly it’s talk about his new book and the upcoming sequels, but also there’s a glimpse into the past: concerning books already published, sequels not yet written, worlds not yet realized. I learned a few things—and even made an addition to my TBR.

I was hoping to get this out last week, in time for the release of Engines of Empire, but these last few weeks have been insane—busy, stressful, everything happening at once. So… here it is now!

Many, many thanks to Orbit for making this happen, especially Angela Man, and of course Richard S. Ford for taking the time to answer some of my burning questions!

As is my style, I mostly stayed on task and asked questions about his latest release, but also snuck in some about his other books, other series, ones that we might not have had an adequate resolution to (ahem, Steelhaven). Luckily he didn’t seem to mind, and here’s the result!

Well, this is your fourth series (three as Ford, one as Cullen), and (unless I’m mistaken) your fourth different world (five including Kultus). Though some authors stay in one world their whole career, you’ve decided to do the opposite. So, do you have just so many ideas for different worlds, or feel the need to get started on something new after spending three straight books in one place, or some third option?

I hate to shatter the illusion that I’m some kind of creative dynamo, but the main decision to jump in and out of different worlds has mostly been made for me. I wrote Kultus back in 2010 with the intention it would be part of an ongoing series of 5 or 6 novels. However, Headline made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and my focus had to shift away from Blaklok’s story to Steelhaven. When, after a couple of years, Headline then decided to cancel its SFF imprint (and fire my editor) I was forced to move on to something else, which would eventually become the War of the Archons series. Due to the fact my previous books had been left hanging in the wind as far as ongoing narratives were concerned, I decided WotA would be a self-contained trilogy with a definite beginning, middle and end.

Before I even finished that trilogy I’d had ideas for other stories percolating in my head for a while. I wanted to write something truly epic, but I’d also wanted to dip my toe into historical fiction for years. So which one to write? I decided, why not do both at the same time?

And do you think you’ll ever revisit any of your other fantasy worlds in the future?

I have toyed with the idea of finishing the Blaklok books, perhaps via self-publishing (I now have the rights back from Solaris) but it’s quite a difficult series to market. Self-publishing relies on being able to promote your books by leveraging established genres, and Blaklok doesn’t comfortably fit in one, since it’s an occult, steampunk, action-adventure, with an ultra-violent, potty-mouthed protagonist. But who knows?

There are also lots more stories to be told in the world of Steelhaven (what has happened to Nobul Jacks?), but while Headline still clings onto the rights for the original trilogy they’ll never be written.

Saying that, the two trilogies I’m working on at the moment may well spin out into longer series, though that will entirely depend on their popularity.

I quite enjoyed the book, but really would’ve liked to see a bit of the revolution from outside the Hawkspur family. Did this worry you at all when you wrote the book? And do you think we’ll see any more diversity from the characters moving forward?

No, it didn’t worry me. The first book establishes the world through the eyes of the Hawkspur family, and adding too may external POVs would have diverted the narrative focus. Saying that, book two will bring a couple of minor characters from the first book to front and centre. You’ll just have to wait and see who they are.

And which character was your favorite to write? And the most challenging?

Conall was the most fun to write, mainly due to his snarky interactions with Sted, his stalwart lieutenant. In my original draft he wasn’t even featured, but on revising the MS I realised I needed a character with a bit of ‘bite’.

Every character brings their own unique challenges. Usually finding logical motivations for your villains, without making them moustache twirling bounders, is the most difficult part.

Could you explain the magic system to me? Without spoilers, of course. I never quite wrapped my head around it. If it was interconnected or different or based on the different gods or… there was a lot going on!

The magic system is sort of interconnected, but not really. In Torwyn traditional ‘magic’ has been outlawed since the war of the Archmages a thousand years before the story begins. The only magic that’s allowed is the use of pyrestone, which can be harnessed as a power source for artifice, and manipulated by webwainers.

Across the Drift in Malador, magic is much more traditional, but with a slightly demonic bent. In Nyrakkis they use necroglyphs – magical sigils ritually scarred into the skin – to harness demon-magics, though they would call them gods. In Iperion Magna magic is even more sinister, but its use is mostly reserved for the Scions and their servants.

Due to various cultural taboos, few people have ever (in recent years anyway) tried to combine the two. But, perhaps soon, someone will…

There are some hints that we’ll be going somewhere new in Book #2, which I can’t get into because of spoilers, but what can we expect from the series looking forward?

Rumour has it that in the coming year or two, more novels are going to focus on ‘joy’, so I thought I’d embrace that and have everyone make friends and live happily ever after in this next book. Only kidding – there’ll obviously be much more violence, betrayal and rip-roaring adventure!

And what can we expect from you looking forward?

I’ll be continuing both my ongoing series. Shield Breaker, book two in my historical fiction series (writing as Richard Cullen) will be release around July. I’ve almost finished the first draft of Engines of Chaos, and once that’s nailed and sent to the editor I’ll be jumping straight into book three. So pretty busy really!

Congratulations on the release of Engines of Empire, and best of luck in the future! I already can’t wait for Book #2!

Hope you enjoyed this little peek into the mind of Richard S. Ford/Richard Cullen. If you haven’t already, feel free to check out my various reviews of his stuff, and then maybe go check out his books. It sucks about Headline and the Steelhaven stuff. Having recently finished that series, I’m still a bit frustrated by wondering about Nobul Jacks. But there are still other books yet to discover. I know I’m definitely interested in reading Kultus!

Richard S. Ford — Website

Kultus — Goodreads

Engines of Empire — Review • Goodreads

Herald of the Storm — Review • Goodreads

The Shattered Crown — Review • Goodreads

Lord of Ashes — Review • Goodreads

Engines of Empire – by Richard S. Ford (Review)

Age of Uprising #1

Fantasy, Epic, Steampunk

Orbit Books; January 18, 2022

575 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author Website

4.4 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Orbit Books for providing me with an ARC! All opinions are my own.

While Torwyn was once a nation based on the will of the Wyrms—five great dragons that granted men magic and ruled the doors of life and death—it is now powered by the might of industry.

And industry is booming.

But industry is only as good as the people that run it—and in Torwyn, industry is run by the Guilds; chief among them the Archwind Guild, whose guildmaster now occupies the Emperor’s throne. Only a step below them sit the Hawkspur Guild, run by the Emperor’s only sibling, Rosomon. It is around Rosomon that the story resolves—her and her three children.

Conall, the eldest son, is dispatched to the frontier, where he hopes to earn honor and fame through military valor. Instead he finds a desert full of enemies, be they human or demon. The sands also hide a conspiracy, one that hints of a coming revolution, one that may shake the empire to its core.

Tyreta, the eldest daughter, the future Guildmaster of the Hawkspurs, is sick of duty. She’s not her brother, and constantly feels the weight of responsibility. A webwainer, she can control and wield the power of pyrestone—a geological component vital to the Empire’s burgeoning industry. When Tyreta is dispatched to visit Torwyn’s overseas colony of New Flaym, it might be just the escape she has been seeking. Or it might change everything for her, including in ways she never thought were possible.

Fulren, youngest son and brightest star of the family, is a talented artificer, one that is destined to lead the Guilds into the new age of industry. If he survives to see it. After being assigned as an escort to a foreign dignitary, he soon finds himself accused and condemned of murder he didn’t commit. A crime that may just start a war.

Industry drives the future of Torwyn. And the future seems bright, for now. But whispers in the Empire’s darkest corners tell of something more: of revolution, of rebirth, of the rise of an enemy long forgotten.

In many ways Engines of Empire is high fantasy at its best. A rich, immersive world, built on the backs of its strong leads, and equally strong characters. A lovely steampunk setting that blends magic with technology, and that pits the new ways against the old. A plot that plays at speculation, at fears, at rumors of revolution, and even darker whispers of unknown evil at its edges. It all comes together to tell an amazing story, one that I had absolutely no trouble tearing through once I got into it.

The problem is that I didn’t get into it right away. While I appreciated that the story was driven by alternating POVs of the same one family, it was this style that somewhat dampened my enjoyment. See, in a story of technology, one that tells of discontent and possible revolution, of an industry built on the backs of the working class, it’s important to see at least some of what the working class is dealing with. The Hawkspurs are each different, each see the world their own way and each want something different for their place in it—but if there’s one thing they’re not it’s underprivileged, downtrodden, working class. I would’ve liked to see at least one POV from the commonfolk, to see what life was like out of a position of inherent power. This is my main issue with the plot, one that really kept me from getting immersed in the story sooner.

That said, it’s also really my only complaint.

The story is a great one—interesting, entertaining, faced-paced at times and slow-built tension at others. There’s not a lot I can say about Engines of Empire, other than you really should read it. There was a lot of hype surrounding the release of this book, and I’m happy to say it was entirely warranted. I’ve read R.S. Ford before; his first series, Steelhaven, was a bit of a mixed bag—partial world-building and mostly human characters, some combination of dark and epic fantasy that never quite figured out what it wanted to be. It’s a good story, but one that leaves something to be desired. It’s been seven years since Steelhaven finished, and it seems that Ford has spent his time since well. Engines of Empire begins a much different series, one with stronger leads, stronger world-building, and a more immersive plot. It’s not that I hated his previous works—it’s more how much I love this new universe. Can’t wait to see where the story goes from here!

The Age of Uprising continues with Book #2, Engines of Chaos, presumably out 2023.

Inhibitor Phase – by Alastair Reynolds (Review)

Revelation Space Universe
Inhibitor Sequence #4

Scifi, Space Opera

Orbit; October 12, 2021 (US)
Gollancz; August 26, 2021 (UK)

454 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many thanks to Gollancz and many, many thanks to Orbit Books for providing me with a lovely, physical ARC! This in no way affects my partiality, or my cynicism. All opinions are my own.

Please Beware Minor Spoilers for the Revelation Space Universe.

224 years after the reappearance of the Inhibitors, humanity has become an endangered species, hiding in the galaxy’s darkest corners. Miguel de Ruyter lives on the airless world of Michaelmas—a godforsaken, pockmarked world at the edge of known space. Here, hidden in caves deep below the surface, humanity ekes out an existence. Three thousand people call Sun Hollow home, making it the largest known human settlement in space. Though for de Ruyter, it’s the only known human settlement.

But things are about to change.

When de Ruyter heads topside to destroy a colony ship—worried that the Wolves (the Inhibitors) will detect the presence of so many humans, the people of Sun Holloware prepared to destroy the newcomers before the they bring the Wolves down on Michaelmas—he comes away from the ship with a startling discovery. A lone sleeper casket, fortunate to survive the explosion. More fortunate still, the occupant, a woman known only as Glass, seems in good health if rattled by the experience. But when de Ruyter returns her to Sun Hollow all that changes.

It appears that Glass was not the desperate refugee that de Ruyter had taken her for. Within days of landing on Michaelmas, she has the colony on its knees, defenseless before her. They can refuse her nothing, but Glass only wants one thing from Sun Hollow: Miguel de Ruyter.

One man in exchange for the colony. And if de Ruyter agrees to go quietly, they’ll undertake the mystery that Glass came to Michaelmas to solve. The enigma of the Knights of Cydonia, a way to defeat the Inhibitors, a lost world known only as Charybdis, and the long-dead Nevil Clavain.

“Why’d you shoot it?”
I glared at him. “Would you rather I
hadn’t shot it?”
“I’d rather those other ones weren’t suddenly taking an interest in us.”

On the whole, Inhibitor Phase was an excellent read, just what I was hoping for for my return to the Revelation Space universe. I’ve only read the opening novel, Revelation Space, which only just hints at the wolves’ existence—but I still found this a satisfying continuation of the universe. Additionally, I think that new readers won’t have to hard of time of things. Inhibitor Phase doesn’t throw you in the deep end; instead building the universe from the ground up from the safety of an isolated haven before introducing the universe and history at large. If you’re a fan of the series you’ll probably know all these things already, but shouldn’t be too put off by the amount of hand-holding it does in the opening Part One.

Inhibitor Phase is written in first-person POV, and told over seven distinct Parts, which take place over a total of about 60 years. There’s a helpful glossary and timeline at the end, as well as a list of key characters and note on chronology. I used these all the time to square what I remembered with what I was being told—and it’s an incredibly helpful detail to have along. The events within are set after most of what happens in Absolution Gap (which I’ve heard is depressing), and while the tone isn’t completely positive, it’s certainly more so than not at all.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Inhibitor Phase! The story flows along really nicely after it departs Sun Hollow, and I had absolutely no problem getting along with the story. It reads quick and to the point, with a bit of flair, a bit of drama, and a bit of pace. In all honesty, I think it could get away with being 50% longer. I actually kinda felt that it glossed over some things in the interest of time; things that could’ve really become an adventure all in their own right instead of a footnote in another. But I know why it was done this way, and it’s really quite a good read the way it was written. But the best stories always leave you wanting more, and that’s what Reynolds does here. The plot flows quite nicely, with barely an issue—until the events of Part 6 (which will remain nameless in anticipation of spoilers). Then it takes some interesting license. And the story loses some of its cohesion. And don’t get me started on the ending. So… I know what they were trying to do. It all makes sense, in general, generally, on the whole. But explicitly… I have no idea what was going on. Everything just starts leaping all over the place.

While Inhibitor Phase is somewhat of a serious book—I mean, it has to do with the possible extinction or survival of humanity—it’s not without its fair share of humor. Which I found… good, I guess? Funny. Entertaining. Reynolds doesn’t do humor like Andy Weir. Or like Peter F. Hamilton. Or like Becky Chambers. Like so many other authors out there, he has his own peculiar brand of humor which you’ll either like or hate, either have to get used to or won’t.

“It isn’t as bad as it sounds.”
“You’re not stupid, and I’m reasonably sure you’re not suicidal. Explain how this helps us.”
“Good—at least you’re being open-minded. The fact is, we’re only considering a brief dip into the photosphere of the star: barely different to skimming the atmosphere of a planet.”
“Except it’s a star.”
“Don’t get too hung up on that. The photosphere is merely a transitional zone where the mean free paths for photon collisions undergo a large change. From
Scythe’s point of view, it will be no different to moving from plasma environment to a somewhat denser, more excited environment containing the same plasma.”
“Except it’s a
star,” I repeated.

TL;DR

Inhibitor Phase continues the Revelation Space Universe and Inhibitor Sequence Arcs in a very different way than the previous de facto concluding Absolution Gap (which, to be fair, I haven’t read but I’ve heard many things about—mostly that it’s depressing). Inhibitor Phase is a serious book, but there’s humor in it too. In fact, if the survival of humanity wasn’t at stake, I’d class it as a story about adventure, or a mystery to to solved. And solve it it does—to a quite satisfying degree over the course of its 7 separate Parts, 34 chapters and 450-odd pages. While a little artistic and scientific license is taken at the end, on the whole this is an immensely entertaining, satisfying read that I have no issue recommending to both old-timers and those new to Revelation Space. And I can’t wait to see where the series goes from here!

Blood of the Chosen – by Django Wexler (Review)

Burningblade & Silvereye #2

Fantasy, Scifi, Epic

Orbit Books; October 5, 2021

415 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsAuthor Website

4.8 / 5 ✪

I was kindly furnished an advance copy in return for a fair and honest review. Many, many thanks to Orbit Books for providing me with a lovely, physical ARC! This in no way affects my partiality, or my cynicism. All opinions are my own.

Please beware minor spoilers for Ashes of the Sun.

No need to reread or browse Ashes of the Sun just because you’re a bit foggy on the details! I mean, you certainly could—it’s still a damn good read—but should you not wish to, Blood of the Chosen comes with a series recap and character cast up front. Love these; even if you’re up on the series, I love them being there, so the author doesn’t have to spend the first few chapters intermittently setting the stage while recapping the previous.

Where Ashes of the Sun was my favorite book from last year, Blood of the Chosen is a letdown—it’s not quite as good. This is pretty much like finding a golden idol buried in your backyard and complaining that unlike the last one, this one isn’t quite as shiny. Blood of the Chosen is an amazing read in its own right! (Just not quite as good).

Fresh from the battle for control of Deepfire (and possibly the continent), Gyre returns to the ghouls a failure. Their leader dead; Kit mostly, pretty much dead; and the plans to overthrow the Order pretty much just as likely. But not only does he aim to spin this defeat off as a minor setback, Gyre thinks that he can even talk them into giving him a ton of ancient tech and weapons and money and turning him loose on the southlands to gain allies and blacken some Order eyes. He even may succeed in doing so, after a fashion. But even if he convince the ghouls, uniting the rebel factions in Khirkhaz won’t be so easy. And defeating the Order—less so.

Maya remains with the Order, although she’s a bit unsure of her position there. Meeting with Gyre seems to have caused some cracks, however slight. These are only widened after Maya is sent on a mission to the Forsaken Coast, north and west of Deepfire, to find an Order archive long lost. Lost after the region was overrun by plaguespawn. What she finds here may yet renew her faith in the Order—or shake it to the core. For while she might doubt some of their policies, Maya knows the Order holds the world’s best interests—as well as her own—at its forefront. Unless of course, they don’t.

Where Ashes of the Sun began this amazing journey of brother and sister, Blood of the Chosen continues it. Like Deepfire, Khirkhaz has its own share of ancient relics—both those with obvious meaning and others whose use has been lost to time. The backdrop (the setting) may be different, but is no less vibrant. A few familiar faces come along for the ride, too. In addition to Beq, Varo, and Tanax on Maya’s end, Sarah and Kit have joined Gyre as well. Along with these old characters come new ones—each carrying an interesting amount of mystery and depth as well. While the siblings remain center stage and the cast around them fluctuates, it’s still unclear as to just who may steal the show.

It didn’t take me any more time to get into this than its predecessor, but unlike Ashes of the Sun, there was a small but noticeable lag in the middle. A minor side mission, for each character. While Maya’s did actually pertain to the overarching plot, I can’t say for sure that Gyre’s did. Instead, this stands out as the one baffling choice amidst an otherwise tremendous sequel.

There are some heart-pounding moments in this entry, but some hilarious ones as well. I loved, I laughed, I… never cried, but I did have a lovely time regardless. The action, the romance, the… whatever Gyre and Kit have—all of it was interesting and immersive and exciting. There was a heavy dose of mystery in the air, and not all of it from Maya. While her turn through the archive did sort of steal the spotlight away from Gyre’s second revenge crusade, the two managed to share the focus more or less evenly otherwise. And with that ending…! (The ending was quite good) I can’t wait to see what they get up to in the third!

Supposedly this is just a trilogy, but I’d quite like to see a bit more of the world. While Gyre and Maya’s story might be about to come to fruition, I hope the world itself will have more stories to tell. Unless it up and ends in the third book. In which case, if it’s anything like the rest of this series, it’s sure to be an incredible, bloody, steamy, heartwarming ride! I can’t recommend Burningblade & Silvereye enough—anymore than I an wait until Book #3 is out: at the moment titled Emperor of Ruin, release date TBA.