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

Yarnsworld #2

Dark Fantasy, Horror

Self-published; November 16, 2016

218 pages (ebook)

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8.5 / 10 ✪

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most Anticipated Books of Q1 2023

There are A LOT of books out this spring! Now I’m not going to be reading all of these on release, probably not even this year (maybe not even ever)—and my production will likely be down next year—but I’ll try to get through at least a few of them. I’m shooting for… maybe three in January, three more in February, and two or three in March—but we’ll see how it goes. I’m sure there’ll be additional releases and news to follow, but for now, let’s see if we can get rid of 2022 okay and start 2023 off right!

January

The Tress of the Emerald Sea – by Brandon Sanderson (N/A) – Secret Project, Book #1

The Sapphire Altar – by David Dalglish (January 10th) – Book #2 of the Vagrant Gods

Saint – by Adrienne Young (UK Release) (January 10th) – Fable, Book #0.5

Godkiller – by Hannah Kaner (UK Release) (January 19th)

Episode Thirteen – by Craig DiLouie (January 24th)

February

The Sanctuary – by Katrine Engberg (February 7th) – Kørner & Werner, Book #5

Wild Massive – by Scotto Moore (February 7th)

The Last Grudge – by Max Seeck (February 7th) – Book #3 of Jessica Niemi

Frontier – by Grace Curtis (February 14th)

The Last Tale of the Flower Bride – by Roshani Chokshi (February 14th)

The Shadow Casket – by Chris Wooding (February 16th) – The Darkwater Legacy, Book #2

Murder at Haven’s Rock – by Kelley Armstrong (February 21st) – Haven’s Rock, Book #1

Emperor of Ruin – by Django Wexler (February 28th) – Silvereye & Burningblade, Book #3

March

Send a Ranger – by Tom Habecker (March 1st)

The Adventures of Amina al-Sirafi – by S.A. Chakraborty (March 2nd)

The Sea Rises – by A.J. Smith (March 8th) (UK Release) – Form & Void, Book #3

Antimatter Blues – by Edward Ashton (March 14th) – a Mickey7 novel

The Lies of the Ajungo – by Moses One Utomi (March 21st) – Book #1 of the Forever Desert

A House with Good Bones – by T. Kingfisher (March 28th)

And Put Away Childish Things – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (March 28th)

Infinity Gate – by M.R. Carey (March 28th)

Ketchup Month 2022

Well, it’s December.

Sigh.

My expectations for Ketchup Month this year are not high. In fact, I’ve had a hard time lately focusing on anything. Think I finished four books in November: an audiobook it took me over a month to get through, one reread, a novella, and an actual novel (which again took me well over a month to finish). Additionally, I published three reviews (one of which was a DNF). As such, while I had some grand scheme in mind for this year, I’m not sure just how much of it will come to fruition.

I suppose we’ll see.

ARC

The Light Pirate – by Lily Brooks-Dalton (12/06)

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Florida is slipping away. As devastating weather patterns and rising sea levels gradually wreak havoc on the state’s infrastructure, a powerful hurricane approaches a small town on the southeastern coast. Kirby Lowe, an electrical line worker; his pregnant wife, Frida; and their two sons, Flip and Lucas, prepare for the worst. When the boys go missing just before the hurricane hits, Kirby heads out into the high winds to search for them. Left alone, Frida goes into premature labor and gives birth to an unusual child, Wanda, whom she names after the catastrophic storm that ushers her into a society closer to collapse than ever before.

As Florida continues to unravel, Wanda grows. Moving from childhood to adulthood, adapting not only to the changing landscape, but also to the people who stayed behind in a place abandoned by civilization, Wanda loses family, gains community, and ultimately, seeks adventure, love, and purpose in a place remade by nature.

Told in four parts—power, water, light, and time—The Light Pirate mirrors the rhythms of the elements and the sometimes quick, sometimes slow dissolution of the world as we know it. It is a meditation on the changes we would rather not see, the future we would rather not greet, and a call back to the beauty and violence of an untamable wilderness.

City of Last Chances – by Adrian Tchaikovsky (12/08)

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There has always been a darkness to Ilmar, but never more so than now. The city chafes under the heavy hand of the Palleseen occupation, the choke-hold of its criminal underworld, the boot of its factory owners, the weight of its wretched poor and the burden of its ancient curse.


What will be the spark that lights the conflagration?


Despite the city’s refugees, wanderers, murderers, madmen, fanatics and thieves, the catalyst, as always, will be the Anchorwood – that dark grove of trees, that primeval remnant, that portal, when the moon is full, to strange and distant shores.

Ilmar, some say, is the worst place in the world and the gateway to a thousand worse places.

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

Just the two ARCs this month, both of them out this first week. Haven’t cracked either of them yet, but hopefully I’ll get to one before the start of 2023.

Missed 2022 ARCs

Locklands – by Robert Jackson Bennett (6/21)

The Founders #3

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A god wages war—using all of humanity as its pawns—in the unforgettable conclusion to the Founders trilogy.

Sancia, Clef, and Berenice have gone up against plenty of long odds in the past. But the war they’re fighting now is one even they can’t win.

This time, they’re not facing robber-baron elites, or even an immortal hierophant, but an entity whose intelligence is spread over half the globe—a ghost in the machine that uses the magic of scriving to possess and control not just objects, but human minds.

To fight it, they’ve used scriving technology to transform themselves and their allies into an army—a society—that’s like nothing humanity has seen before. With its strength at their backs, they’ve freed a handful of their enemy’s hosts from servitude, even brought down some of its fearsome, reality-altering dreadnaughts. Yet despite their efforts, their enemy marches on—implacable. Unstoppable.

Now, as their opponent closes in on its true prize—an ancient doorway, long buried, that leads to the chambers at the center of creation itself—Sancia and her friends glimpse a chance at reaching it first, and with it, a last desperate opportunity to stop this unbeatable foe. But to do so, they’ll have to unlock the centuries-old mystery of scriving’s origins, embark on a desperate mission into the heart of their enemy’s power, and pull off the most daring heist they’ve ever attempted.

And as if that weren’t enough, their adversary might just have a spy in their ranks—and a last trick up its sleeve.

Eversion – by Alastair Reynolds (8/02)

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A dark, mind-bending SF adventure spread across time and space, Doctor Silas Coade has been tasked with keeping his crew safe as they adventure across the galaxy in search of a mysterious artifact, but as things keep going wrong, Silas soon realizes that something more sinister is at work, and this may not even be the first time it’s happened.

In the 1800s, a sailing ship crashes off the coast of Norway. In the 1900s, a Zepellin explores an icy canyon in Antarctica. In the far future, a spaceship sets out for an alien artifact. Each excursion goes horribly wrong. And on every journey, Dr. Silas Coade is the physician, but only Silas seems to realize that these events keep repeating themselves. And it’s up to him to figure out why and how. And how to stop it all from happening again.

Babel, Or the Necessity of Violence – by Rebecca F. Kuang (8/23)

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1828. Robin Swift, orphaned by cholera in Canton, is brought to London by the mysterious Professor Lovell. There, he trains for years in Latin, Ancient Greek, and Chinese, all in preparation for the day he’ll enroll in Oxford University’s prestigious Royal Institute of Translation — also known as Babel.

Babel is the world’s center of translation and, more importantly, of silver-working: the art of manifesting the meaning lost in translation through enchanted silver bars, to magical effect. Silver-working has made the British Empire unparalleled in power, and Babel’s research in foreign languages serves the Empire’s quest to colonize everything it encounters.

Oxford, the city of dreaming spires, is a fairytale for Robin; a utopia dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. But knowledge serves power, and for Robin, a Chinese boy raised in Britain, serving Babel inevitably means betraying his motherland. As his studies progress Robin finds himself caught between Babel and the shadowy Hermes Society, an organization dedicated to sabotaging the silver-working that supports imperial expansion. When Britain pursues an unjust war with China over silver and opium, Robin must decide: Can powerful institutions be changed from within, or does revolution always require violence? What is he willing to sacrifice to bring Babel down?

Babel — a thematic response to The Secret History and a tonal response to Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell — grapples with student revolutions, colonial resistance, and the use of translation as a tool of empire.

From My TBR

Black Heart, Part III: The Sacrificial Altar

Artesia #2 / Black Heart #3

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As this is the third part of the story around Black Heart, I’ll just give you the blurb from Part #1. So far, I’ve quite enjoyed the story and can’t wait to finish it out!

The last survivors of the raid on the Barrow of Azharad have scattered to the four winds, each walking a separate path. For some, it is the path of noble service, as the households of great kings and warlords beckon, offering a chance to enter the fray of politics with the fate of nations on the line. For others, it is the path of secrets and magic, as the veil of the world parts to reveal the hidden truths that dwell in shadow and spirit.

And for Stjepan Black-Heart, royal cartographer and suspected murderer, it is the path of battle and sacrifice, as he is summoned to attend the household of the Grand Duke Owen Lis Red, the Earl Marshal to the High King of the Middle Kingdoms, on his latest campaign to find and kill Porloss, the Rebel Earl: an elusive quarry lurking behind an army of ruthless renegade knights in the wild hills of the Manon Mole, a land where every step could be your last, and where lie secrets best left undisturbed.

The Winter Road – by Adrian Selby

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The greatest empire of them all began with a road.

The Circle – a thousand miles of perilous forests and warring clans. No one has ever tamed such treacherous territory before, but ex-soldier Teyr Amondsen, veteran of a hundred battles, is determined to try.

With a merchant caravan protected by a crew of skilled mercenaries, Amondsen embarks on a dangerous mission to forge a road across the untamed wilderness that was once her home. But a warlord rises in the wilds of the Circle, uniting its clans and terrorising its people. Teyr’s battles may not be over yet . . .

All roads lead back to war.

The Thousand Deaths of Ardor Benn – by Tyler Whitesides

Kingdom of Grit #1

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Think I’ll ever actually get to any of these? I’ve been talking about Ardor Benn for at least a solid year at this point, but am no closer to reading it. Maybe now’s the time.

“I’m hiring you to steal the king’s crown.”

Ardor Benn is no ordinary thief. Rakish, ambitious, and master of wildly complex heists, he styles himself a Ruse Artist Extraordinaire.

When a priest hires him for the most daring ruse yet, Ardor knows he’ll need more than quick wit and sleight of hand. Assembling a dream team of forgers, disguisers, schemers, and thieves, he sets out to steal from the most powerful king the realm has ever known.

But it soon becomes clear there’s more at stake than fame and glory -Ard and his team might just be the last hope for human civilization.

2nd Chance ARCs

Have you seen some of the shit that I’ve been DNFing this year? Seriously, it’s insane. The sheer amount of my most anticipated books for this year, several that I KNOW must be good, that I SWEAR are good—and I can’t get through them for one reason or another. Thus, here are a few that I burned out on (not because I hated them, but just because THIS YEAR), that I’d like to take a second shot at—one of them while 2022 is still at present. The others will have to wait.

In other news, I’m still planning a “The Best Books I DNFed, 2022 Edition” for later in the month.

In the Shadow of Lightning – by Brian McClellan (6/21)

Glass Immortals #1

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I’m not going to lie, there’s a 90% chance the book I choose will be this one. The reason I burned out on it was that I got it as an audiobook and didn’t quite love the reader. But now I have it in physical form, well…

Demir Grappo is an outcast—he fled a life of wealth and power, abandoning his responsibilities as a general, a governor, and a son. Now he will live out his days as a grifter, rootless, and alone. But when his mother is brutally murdered, Demir must return from exile to claim his seat at the head of the family and uncover the truth that got her killed: the very power that keeps civilization turning, godglass, is running out.

Now, Demir must find allies, old friends and rivals alike, confront the powerful guild-families who are only interested in making the most of the scraps left at the table and uncover the invisible hand that threatens the Empire. A war is coming, a war unlike any other. And Demir and his ragtag group of outcasts are the only thing that stands in the way of the end of life as the world knows it.

The Hunger of the Gods – by John Gwynne (4/14)

Bloodsworn Saga #2

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Lik-Rifa, the dragon god of legend, has been freed from her eternal prison. Now she plots a new age of blood and conquest.

As Orka continues the hunt for her missing son, the Bloodsworn sweep south in a desperate race to save one of their own – and Varg takes the first steps on the path of vengeance.

Elvar has sworn to fulfil her blood oath and rescue a prisoner from the clutches of Lik-Rifa and her dragonborn followers, but first she must persuade the Battle-Grim to follow her.

Yet even the might of the Bloodsworn and Battle-Grim cannot stand alone against a dragon god.

Their hope lies within the mad writings of a chained god. A book of forbidden magic with the power to raise the wolf god Ulfrir from the dead . . . and bring about a battle that will shake the foundations of the earth.

Empire of Exiles – by Erin M. Evans (11/08)

Books of the Usurper #1

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Twenty-seven years ago, a Duke with a grudge led a ruthless coup against the empire of Semilla, killing thousands. He failed. The Duke was executed, a terrifyingly powerful sorcerer was imprisoned, and an unwilling princess disappeared. 

The empire moved on. 

Now, when Quill, an apprentice scribe, arrives in the capital city, he believes he’s on a simple errand for another pompous noble: fetch ancient artifacts from the magical Imperial Archives. He’s always found his apprenticeship to a lawman to be dull work. But these aren’t just any artifacts — these are the instruments of revolution, the banners under which the Duke lead his coup. 

Just as the artifacts are unearthed, the city is shaken by a brutal murder that seems to have been caused by a weapon not seen since the days of rebellion. With Quill being the main witness to the murder, and no one in power believing his story, he must join the Archivists — a young mage, a seasoned archivist, and a disillusioned detective — to solve the truth of the attack. And what they uncover will be the key to saving the empire – or destroying it again.

Age of Ash – by Daniel Abraham (2/15)

Kithamar #1

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This one, more than any of the others, is a gamble. Because I did find Age of Ash a bit of a snooze. But I remember being intrigued by the story and—unlike Dead Silence—didn’t find the protagonist completely unrealistic. Not likely to try this one in 2022, but it’s possible, I suppose.

Kithamar is a center of trade and wealth, an ancient city with a long, bloody history where countless thousands live and their stories unfold. This is Alys’s.

When her brother is murdered, a petty thief from the slums of Longhill sets out to discover who killed him and why. But the more she discovers about him, the more she learns about herself, and the truths she finds are more dangerous than knives.

Swept up in an intrigue as deep as the roots of Kithamar, where the secrets of the lowest born can sometimes topple thrones, the story Alys chooses will have the power to change everything.

Advance ARCs

The Shadow Casket – by Chris Wooding (2/16/23)

Darkwater Legacy #2

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The follow-up to my Book of 2018, I CANNOT WAIT to get into this one!! And at 852 pages, I’m sure to need a decent start on it…

A BAND OF REBELS.
A TRAITOR IN THEIR MIDST.
A REVOLUTION ABOUT TO BEGIN.

It’s been three years since Aren seized the Ember Blade. Three years since they struck the spark they hoped would ignite the revolution. But the flame has failed to catch. The Krodans have crushed Ossia in an iron grip of terror. The revolution seems further away than ever.

Far in the north, the Dawnwardens seek to unite the fractious clans of the Fell Folk and create a stronghold from which to retake their land. But even if they can overcome the danger of treachery from within, they still have to contend with the dreadknights. Only the druidess Vika can resist these near-unstoppable foes, and there’s only one of her.

But what if there was a weapon that could destroy the dreadknights? A weapon of such power it could turn the tide? A weapon that, if it fell into the wrong hands, might mean the end of all hope?

The Shadow Casket has returned from out of the past, and it will save or damn them all.

Episode Thirteen – by Craig DiLouie (1/24/23)

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I was actually planning to start this at the beginning of the month, but it’s taken me longer than I’d figured to finish All of Our Demise. Granted, I also had halfassed plans of reading this in October, so wtf knows.

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

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

The Sanctuary – by Katrine Engberg (2/07/23)

Kørner & Werner #4

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Jeppe Kørner, on leave from the police force and nursing a broken heart, has taken refuge on the island of Bornholm for the winter. Also on the island is Esther de Laurenti, a writer working on a biography on a female anthropologist with a mysterious past and coming to terms with her own crushing sense of loneliness in the wake of a dear friend’s death. When Jeppe lends a helping hand at the island’s local sawmill, he begins to realize that the island may not be the peaceful refuge it appears to be.

Back in Copenhagen, Anette Werner is tasked with leading the investigation into a severed corpse discovered on a downtown playground. As she follows the strange trail of clues, they all seem to lead back to Bornholm. With an innocent offer to check out a lead, Jeppe unwittingly finds himself in the crosshairs of a sinister mystery rooted in the past, forcing him to team up with Anette and Esther to unravel the island’s secrets before it’s too late.

Antimatter Blues – by Edward Ashton (3/14/23)

Mickey7 #2

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Summer has come to Niflheim. The lichens are growing, the six-winged bat-things are chirping, and much to his own surprise, Mickey Barnes is still alive—that last part thanks almost entirely to the fact that Commander Marshall believes that the colony’s creeper neighbors are holding an antimatter bomb, and that Mickey is the only one who’s keeping them from using it. Mickey’s just another colonist now. Instead of cleaning out the reactor core, he spends his time these days cleaning out the rabbit hutches. It’s not a bad life.

It’s not going to last.

It may be sunny now, but winter is coming. The antimatter that fuels the colony is running low, and Marshall wants his bomb back. If Mickey agrees to retrieve it, he’ll be giving up the only thing that’s kept his head off of the chopping block. If he refuses, he might doom the entire colony. Meanwhile, the creepers have their own worries, and they’re not going to surrender the bomb without getting something in return. Once again, Mickey finds the fate of two species resting in his hands. If something goes wrong this time, though, he won’t be coming back.

Life

Life: it’s that thing that keeps going and going, even if you get sick and need to get off. And lately it’s been a bit rude.

Sigh.

My headspace has been rather poor lately, which has made it really hard to focus on anything. Sufficient to say you’ll probably hear less from me until it settles.

I’m feeling increasingly despondent about my job; I like it well enough, but my hours and shifts have been cut again, which has put me in a few niche positions that I can’t exactly advance from. In short, it’s no longer the career that I’d hoped it might become. And even if it was… I’m no longer the person that might accept it. Something has to change. Unfortunately, I’m not sure what it is I want, so it’ll take some time and some patience—two things that are typically my strong suits, yet at the moment… I’m not finding them easy. I’ve been trying to figure out what I want since I lost my archaeology gig five years back.

I’m just getting tired of waiting. Searching. Coming up empty.

Geez that was depressing—sorry bout that. Been in and out of it more and more lately. I really need a change. We’ll just have to wait and see what that is exactly.

Dunno what the future holds for me exactly, but I know I’m going to have to explore a bit more before I find my place in it.

Note: Can you tell I was in two rather different moods when I wrote and edited this? I stopped reading it after a bit, as I figured that if I kept on, I’d just end up rewriting everything.

So, how’s your year been? Or your November? Any radical plans for December? Any ideas for what I want to do with my life? I’d love to hear.

My Favorite Scifi Books of 2022 (So Far) #ScifiMonth2022

So, as my first—and possibly only—contribution to Scifi Month 2022, here are my six favorite science fiction releases from 2022 (thus far). In no particular order, since I really do enjoy giving my top books of the year.

I would like to mention that there are several appealing books that I haven’t yet gotten around to reading this year. As opposed to links and titles, I’m just going to throw a bunch of covers up at the end.

“It is a supremely cruel thing to have your mind conjure a desire which it is functionally unable to realize.”

Upgrade is another Blake Crouch thriller—this one centering around Logan Ramsay, federal agent, and son of the most infamous gene criminal in history. Everything he’s done following his arrest has been to distance himself from his family’s shadow, and from the child he once was. But when he’s infected by what surely is the evolution of his late mother’s work, a virus that makes him smarter, faster, stronger, Logan must confront his past demons. And do it all while trying to keep the virus from spreading across the globe.

Training was one hundred percent about dying. I don’t remember them dedicating much time at all to staying alive.

Mickey7 is the sixth iternation of Mickey Barnes, the only expendable on the ice world Niflheim. His job is simple: do whatever dangerously stupid jobs still require a human, or those that are so insanely irresponsible as to void the insurance on any equipment that might break in the process. Which, as you might expect, means he dies a lot. Luckily, there’s a printer on-site ready to pop out another clone whenever Mickey fails to return from a mission. Unluckily, Mickey7 just returned from his latest mission to find Mickey8 in his bed—a mistake that could see both clones die painfully and for good, if anyone else ever finds out.

“My fellows are really not happy with you, Torquell.”
It’s such an understatement you blink. “Good?” you try.

Ogres are bigger than you. Ogres are stronger than you. And that’s why Ogres rule the world. From an idyllic corner of the world comes Torquell: precocious scoundrel, son of the headmaster, next in line to lick the boots of the overlords. But Torquell’s not in the mind to lick any boots. Not when he kills the Ogre in charge of his corner of the world. And no human kills a Master and lives. Indeed, Torquell may just be another footnote in the margins of history—or maybe he can rewrite it.

“The screens in the hall are all glitching red, and judging by the frantic way Miles and his father are assaulting their keypads, this isn’t a marketing stunt; it’s a breach.
We’re being hacked.”

18-year-old Sil Sarrah is the pride of the Mindwalker program—her perfect record a shining beacon to any would-be client, or a well-deserved shiner to any would-be competition—at least, until she fails a mission and is forced to go rogue. Now, alone and hunted, Sil must risk the only course that can get her reinstated: infiltrate the Analog Army—a terrorist group and the biggest thorn in Syntex’s side. The only hope she has of returning home is to find something—anything!—that will help take the cell down. And she’s working against a clock; no Walker lives past the age of 20, most die at 18 even. Lucky for her there are no complications and the assignment is straightforward and romance-free. Lucky Sil Sarrah. Lucky…

“They invented multidimensional travel but they haven’t figured out how to make guns?”

Prison of Sleep wraps up the Journals of Zaxony Delatree (at least for now), with a thrilling if yawn-inducing chase through the æther. One day, Zax was forced to watch a patient kill herself. He fell asleep covered in her blood. And woke up somewhere else. One thousand worlds later Zax has found true love, only to lose it—twice. While he’s no closer to discovering his own place in the multiverse, he does know his purpose. At least, the one he’s decided on: to help save the multiverse from the tunneling-horror trapped outside of time, and its legion of followers trying to free the great Worm once and for all. Zax just hopes he can have a nice, quiet sleep afterwards.

They gathered in doorways and crouched beside the dresser, and in the dead of night they came out and gathered around her beside like viewers at a funeral while she lay paralyzed.

A decade ago, Sean Wren had a family, a future, and a home. And then the Ministers came to Krystrom. A dozen years and one disastrous mission later, Sean is forced to once again confront these immortal aliens—albeit in a place where they’re not the most terrifying thing around. Probably don’t make the top five, even. Aboard an abandoned ship circling a dying star, Sean must do what no human has managed in the millennia before him: unravel the secrets of immortality. And he must do it before the star supernovas, something kills him, or the Immortality Thief comes to a close. Tall order, that.

Death in the East – by Abir Mukherjee (Review)

Wyndham & Banerjee Investigations #4

Mystery, Historical Fiction

Pegasus Books; November 14, 2019

414 pages (hardcover)

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8 / 10 ✪

Where there are witches, should we not hunt them?

Please beware spoilers for the Wyndham and Banerjee Investigations Books #1-3.

Review of A Rising Man
Review of A Necessary Evil
Review of Smoke and Ashes

London, 1905

As a young constable, Sam Wyndham walks the streets of the Jewish quarter, his assigned beat, only to come across an assault. Two men assailing one woman. Only after chasing the men from the scene does Wyndham recognize her—Bessie Drummond, a former flame, brutally beaten and left for dead. He hails a cab and rushes her to the hospital, where Bessie recovers.

But only days later, Bessie is attacked again, this time in her own rooms. And this time, she is not so lucky.

The resultant investigation goes far deeper than Wyndham could possibly imagine, and will test his desire to see it through to the end.

India, 1922

Death in the East finds Sam Wyndham departing Calcutta, hopping a train bound for the jungle interior of Assam, seeking out an ashram in the hopes of curing him of his long-standing opium addiction. The monastery takes all; natives and Europeans, young and old, rich and poor. But there’s a catch. The monks of this ashram seek to cure men of their addiction, but should any relapse, they are turned away. In short: there are no repeat customers.

The Harvill Secker cover of Death in the East

The trial is hell, that much is certain, but it’s a worthy price in escaping addiction. Only amidst the throes of withdrawal and hallucination, Wyndham sees a ghost from long before. A man he assumed dead, one he thought he’d never see again, and hoped he wouldn’t. But when Wyndham recovers from the episode, there is no sign of the man. He pushes it to the recesses of his mind, trying to tell himself it was all a dream. But doubt gnaws at him.

The doubt reasserts itself when another addict from the ashram turns up dead, one that looks very much like Wyndham. Now Sam must pursue this spectre in the hopes of preventing another murder—and to finally put his own ghosts to rest.

“I have noticed,” said Surrender-not as we walked back up the hill towards the club, “that wherever you go, people tend to die.”
“That’s nonsense.”
“What about that railway sub-inspector out near Bandel last year? You ask him for a railway timetable and twenty minutes later he’s dead.”
“He was hit by a train,” I said. “I don’t see how that was my fault.”
“I didn’t say it was your fault. Just that people seem to die around you. Remember my paternal grandmother? She died two days after she met you.”
“She was eighty-nine years old.”
“You have to admit, it’s curious. I’m thinking I should introduce you to my uncle Pankaj. I’ve never liked him.”

And so we come to the novel that every detective/mystery author must write: that with a pair of interconnected mysteries, happening at different time periods. I swear, there are so many of these there should really be an easier way of defining them. Pastbacks? Dual timeline mysteries? Overlapping post-time cases? I dunno—I’m really hoping that someone will just tell me what they’re called. Although I kinda liked “pastbacks”.

Anyway, despite the cliché that these types of mysteries have become, we enter Death in the East, the fourth Wyndham and Banerjee, and the second outside the city of Kolkata. While Wyndham enters the story alone, don’t fret—Banerjee will join him before its end. After the crowded, chaotic beauty that is Calcutta, the countryside ashram is a whole new setting entirely. And unlike A Necessary Evil, England still rules this corner of India; the local natives cowed, despite whatever sway Gandhi has elsewhere.

It’s a new setting, one that the author brings to life just as effectively as the choked and diverse streets of Colonial India. Out here the Europeans have taken to the countryside, only to find it wanting. Instead of adapting, they’ve carved out their own little England, while duly complaining about how it’s not the same. It’s quite a different backdrop to the tale, though one equally as enthralling as any that preceded it.

The mystery itself—of course—takes place in two parts. One set in 1905 London, the other in 1922 India. The two alternate chapters for a time, though each begins to repeat as we come to both the meat of their respective tales. I found that this worked quite well, and was relieved to see that the book didn’t just stick to the alternating style the whole way through, as some novels do. In general, I’m not a fan of the dual timeline kinda mystery. Again, I find it overdone and cliché, but Death in the East was at least told and constructed well—not getting into any of the nitty gritty details of what went on. Both mysteries were entertaining, and when they came together, the resulting conclusion was well done.

The book has a good sense of humor, while still maintaining the atmosphere of a good murder mystery. The series continues to poke fun at all things England while underlining some of the positives of the Empire, and its many underlying failures with racism, bigotry, and colonialism. My favorite such point was made somewhere in the middle and complains that what “godforsaken place” would see the sun rise in the middle of the night—poking fun at the fact that for quite a while, the entire Empire was managed by one timezone. That’s India, Fiji, the Bahamas, and England—all on Greenwich time.

TL;DR

Honestly, the main complaint I have with Death in the East is the whole dual timeline mystery thing—they’re overdone and overused to the point that everyone and their sitcom has to have at least one. Otherwise, it was a good entry to the series, one that sees Wyndham address his long-running opium problem, while still managing to get some work done. Banerjee joins him, of course, but we are left with out some fantastic running characters from Calcutta, and provided with a few throwaways that probably won’t feature in any additional tales. The mystery—BOTH mysteries—were solid, interesting, entertaining, deep. Even though there aren’t any compelling new additions to the series (character-wise), those replacements we do get are unique and interesting enough to see us through this entry. Plus, it’s good to get out of the city once in a while and stretch your legs, right? Go to an ashram in the jungle to puke your guts out and take in a lovely murder. It’s almost as though you never really left.

Nolyn – by Michael J. Sullivan (Review)

Rise and Fall #1

Fantasy, Epic, High Fantasy

Grim Oak Press; August 3, 2021 (physical)
Riyria Enterprises; August 3, 2021 (ebook)

480 pages (ebook)

Goodreads • StoryGraph
Author WebsiteSocials

9 / 10 ✪

After over 500 years spent in exile managing a salt mine, the heir to the Nyphronian Empyre has been reassigned—to the frontlines of the Goblin War. Nolyn is somewhat wary, as the wars have somewhat stalled over the centuries, and the front lines are not the safest place to be. He is further perturbed when the stronghold he is tasked with capturing turns out not to exist, and the route to it dead-ends in a canyon deep inside enemy territory. Now night is coming, and he and his men are trapped deep in the jungle with no backup.

All Nolyn knows is that it was the Emperor’s order that brought him here—it seems his father is trying to kill him.

Very effectively, one might add.

So when Nolyn walks from the jungle some days later, it’s not just a surprise. It’s a legend in the making.

Abandoned and hunted by the legion, Nolyn and his men must take the fight to the one place that will end it for good—the Emperor Nyphron himself.

“Need to kill the stupid weasel. He knows where we went, how many us there are…”
“You’re probably right,” Nolyn said. “But I’m not in the habit of killing innocent people.”
“Perhaps it’s a tradition you should consider adopting, now that you’re embarking on a life of crime and all.”

After the ups and downs of the Legends of the First Empire, I was both excited and concerned by this new trilogy exploring some of the most enshrined legends of Elan not discussed in the previous series. It could be great—like so much of the author’s works—or it could be terrible—like some few I dare not even mention.

Well, while I’ve heard some dissent from around the fantasy-sphere regarding Nolyn, I at least thoroughly enjoyed it.

The book starts out following two primary protagonists (though a third antagonist will be added later on to fill out their ranks) with a series of alternating POVs. The product of relations between a Rhune and a Fhrey, Nolyn is somewhat unique in the world—with only one other famed coupling producing a child. His friend and lover, Sephryn. Gee, I wonder who the second POV follows…

While you’ll know much of Nolyn’s story from the blurb, Seph’s is in many ways more intriguing. Blackmailed into stealing the Horn of Gylindora, Sephryn is in a no-win scenario, which is growing more dire by the day. While Nolyn’s journey will become legend, it’s Seph’s tale that will help sort the myths and legends from the cold, hard truth.

And from what I’ve seen, it’s really these characters that will make and break the book for you. If you’re a newcomer to the series: welcome! And don’t worry, you don’t have to know any of the backstory; it’ll be explained, just like any other. But if you’re familiar with the author’s prior work, this is where the trouble starts. See, for some people, I’ve heard that his first series—the Riyria Revelations—sets the bar, with Royce and Hadrian the gold-standard for fantasy characters. For others, this early duo was too polarizing, too rough around the edges, while his writing later showed more polish, if less heart.

I… can see both points. I thoroughly enjoyed Royce and Hadrian (particularly in their later appearances, like Death of Dulgath and the Disappearance of Winter’s Daughter) but am readily willing to admit that some of their adventures (especially Rose and Thorn and Crown Conspiracy) were a bit rough and underwhelming. Furthermore, I maintain a love-hate relationship (mostly though I hate them) with some of Sullivan’s later characters—especially Gifford, Roan, and Tesh—and didn’t enjoy either the Age of Swords or War. There was also a bit of distance to these characters. They didn’t have the same heart that the original duo had, though I felt their actions were more realistic that some of those from before. In addition, the final three books of that same hexalogy were tremendous, with the Age of Death remaining one of my favorite books ever. I just hope the tradeoffs are sufficient to cancel one another out, without proving divisive enough to distract from the story itself.

The problem remains that if you’re a continuing fan of the world of Elan, and you come into Nolyn prepared to compare its characters to others throughout the series’, well, you’re probably going to be disappointed by something. That said, if you’ve read as many of them as I have (like, all of them), that’s going to be very difficult to avoid.

So… well, I don’t have a good answer. While I initially compared Nolyn’s quest to both of the author’s sets of fellowships, at some point the story itself drank me in and I ended up forgetting about all that. Hopefully it will be the same with you; the story will drink you in, and you’ll end up having a wonderful time and looking for more. In this at least, one can hope.

September 2022

Well, it’s September.

Huh, that happened quick.

I’ve had some digestive/stomach issues lately, (also insomnia, yay) so I haven’t done quite as much with my late summer as I’d’ve hoped. Did get a lot of reading done, though.

A reasonable haul this month—4 arcs, 3 of which I’ve already finished. So September will likely be used to prepare for the fall haul (yay, rhymes), catch up on overdue summer reads, and maybe finish some series! Or… not. Maybe September will be my burnout month, who knows?

Right, pessimism aside, let’s get into it:

ARCs

One Dark Window – by Rachel Gillig (9.27)

Unnamed Series #1

GoodreadsStoryGraph

Elspeth Spindle needs more than luck to stay safe in the eerie, mist-locked kingdom of Blunder—she needs a monster. She calls him the Nightmare, an ancient, mercurial spirit trapped in her head. He protects her. He keeps her secrets.

But nothing comes for free, especially magic.

When Elspeth meets a mysterious highwayman on the forest road, her life takes a drastic turn. Thrust into a world of shadow and deception, she joins a dangerous quest to cure Blunder from the dark magic infecting it. And the highwayman? He just so happens to be the King’s nephew, Captain of the most dangerous men in Blunder…and guilty of high treason.

Together they must gather twelve Providence Cards—the keys to the cure. But as the stakes heighten and their undeniable attraction intensifies, Elspeth is forced to face her darkest secret yet: the Nightmare is slowly taking over her mind. And she might not be able to stop him.

Excited to start this one! The press release states that Orbit acquired the rights to this and its sequel, so presumably this will begin some sort of as-of-yet unnamed series.

Spells for Forgetting – by Adrienne Young (9.27)

Standalone

GoodreadsStoryGraph

Emery Blackwood’s life changed forever the night her best friend was found dead and the love of her life, August Salt, was accused of murdering her. Years later, she is doing what her teenage self swore she never would: living a quiet existence on the misty, remote shores of Saoirse Island and running the family’s business, Blackwood’s Tea Shoppe Herbal Tonics & Tea Leaf Readings.

But when the island, rooted in folklore and magic, begins to show signs of strange happenings, Emery knows that something is coming. The morning she wakes to find that every single tree on Saoirse has turned color in a single night, August returns for the first time in fourteen years and unearths the past that the town has tried desperately to forget.

August knows he is not welcome on Saiorse, not after the night everything changed. As a fire raged on at the Salt family orchard, Lily Morgan was found dead in the dark woods, shaking the bedrock of their tight-knit community and branding August a murderer. When he returns to bury his mother’s ashes, he must confront the people who turned their backs on him and face the one wound from his past that has never healed—Emery.

The town has more than one reason to want August gone, and the emergence of deep betrayals and hidden promises spanning generations threaten to reveal the truth behind Lily’s mysterious death once and for all.

I had an issue with the premise of this one; it was a personal reason, nothing more—but you wouldn’t know it from my review. This was one of my favorite books thus far this year for so many reasons. Please come back to hear me gush about it! Review coming September 5th.

Friends Don’t Lie – by Nell Pattison (9.29)

Standalone

GoodreadsStoryGraph

My name is Isabel Butterworth. Your name is Isabel Butterworth.

We’re around the same age. We live in the same town.

But your life is more exciting than mine, isn’t it? Richer, dramatic, more fulfilling.

Imagine if I’d never found out about you…

But I have. Because someone mistook me for you.

And now I can’t stop thinking about you because I know you’re in trouble. You need my help.

And I need a way to get to know you.

To save you.

To be you…

An all-consuming thriller with one problem—a twist that was too big! I know, right? If this has piqued your curiosity, be sure and check back for my review of Friends Don’t Lie, coming September 25th! Bonus points if your mind went to Stranger Things just like mine did:)

To Blackfyre Keep – by Anthony Ryan (9.30)

The Seven Swords #4

GoodreadsStoryGraph

GUYIME—DEMON CURSED WIELDER OF THE NAMELESS BLADE—FOLLOWS THE TRAIL OF THE FABLED SEVEN SWORDS INTO THE TROUBLED NORTHLANDS, A REALM WHERE HE WAS ONCE CALLED KING…AND RAVAGER.

Magically guided to enlist in the retinue of a lovesick knight, Guyime and his companions journey to the haunted ruin of Blackfyre Keep, a castle legend tells cannot be held. But a far deadlier threat than mere ghosts awaits. An ancient evil has been conjured and to defeat it Guyime may be forced to become the monster he used to be—the Ravager reborn.

Continuing the epic adventure of The Seven Swords, To Blackfyre Keep is an enthralling tale of creeping menace and pulse pounding action from New York Times bestselling author of the Raven’s Shadow and Draconis Memoria trilogies.

Another great entry to the series! If you enjoyed the first three up to this point, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t like this. A bit episodic, but there’s no reason that must mean “bad”. Check back for my review on September 22nd!

Additional Releases

The Godbreaker – by Mike Brooks (9.27)

The God-King Chronicles #3

GoodreadsStoryGraph

The triumphant third and final part of the God-King Chronicles. The Godbreaker is the unmissable culmination of the series, filled with war-dragons, armoured knights, sea-faring raiders, dangerous magic and battle scenes.

War comes to Narida and Nothing Will Be The Same Again. 

As the Black Keep Council prepares for war, journeying far to protect their lands and friend, The God-King and his sister try to keep Narida together in the face of betrayal while the Splinter King remains at large.

The Golden and his hordes of raiders press their advantage and sweep across the land with unholy powers.  

Sacrifices will be made, and not everyone will make it back to Black Keep alive… 

I’m only part-way through volume #2 of this (as in… 5%?), so no Godbreaking (Godbreakering?) for me yet! Had no idea this would be the end of the series, though. I could’ve sworn he said it’d be a large scale fantasy on par with GoT or Stormlight or such. Note: This is the US release. It’s been out in the UK/EU since the early summer, I believe.

Purchases

Didn’t buy many books this month, but I picked up Black Heart: Part II: In the Coils of a Horned Serpent, and will hopefully get to it soon. I quite enjoyed Part I—though the pacing was a bit inconsistent—and I’ll post a quick summary of my thoughts sometime soon. It won’t be a full review; I’ll save that til I finish all three parts.

Currently Reading

Got an early start on Station Eternity, by Mur Lafferty. Early signs indicate that I probably won’t love this quite as much as Six Wakes, but it’s definitely interesting and entertaining thus far! Instead of the hard-boiled thriller, the author seems to have gone more light-hearted this time around, and I’m curious to see where it takes her.

Upcoming Posts

In addition to the ARCs listed above, I have a few reviews that I should be posting soon. Black Heart: Part I, The Straits of Galahesh, Alone in the Wild, City of Stairs, and more. Books that I read over the summer and didn’t review, along with more series stuff that I’ve been hoping to finish up; hopefully these reviews/summaries will serve as a recap for you and me both.

I’ve also some posts I’m hoping to get through—more stuff I wanted to have out this summer but delayed when I didn’t have the time or energy to get to them. Included in these are a TBR for Autumn, some of the strange DNFs I’ve had this year, and maybe even a couple outdoor/gardening things. We’ll see.

Music

I’m usually the kind of person that learns about music only after it’s already come out. Now in the past I’ve posted some of my anticipated albums of the month, but these usually result in me doing a 1-2 hour search through various band sources while writing said post. This month, I don’t even have to bother. There are several releases I’ve been waiting all summer for out in September, and I’m excited to share them!

We start with Rumble of Thunder courtesy of The Hu, out for streaming on September 2nd (though physical copies aren’t due for another two weeks). While I haven’t pre-ordered the entire album, I’ve picked up Black Thunder Extended which I’ll share here. Early indications are good, but I found their debut, The Gereg, a bit hit-and-miss, so we’ll have to wait and see. If you haven’t heard of them before, the Hu incorporates classic Mongolian music into their metal for a truly one-of-a-kind experience.

Smash Into Pieces comes in next with their album, Disconnect, dropping on September 9th. Not a ton of info regarding this one yet, like number of tracks or included EPs, but the band has repeatedly assured that the album will come out as planned. While I like Smash Into Pieces, their albums have the issue of seeming a bit filler-y—with strong singles surrounded by weaker filler tracks. It helps that they seem to release something every year or two. Disconnect joins A New Horizon, Arcadia, and Evolver as the band marks their fourth consecutive year with an album. Smash Into Pieces is somewhere between electronic rock, hardcore, and alternative on the general scale (don’t ask me what all these things mean).

Band-Maid fills this next spot with their EP Unleash, due out on September 21. This 8-track release is set to include two recent singles and six new songs. Band-Maid albums have been pretty solid listens when compared to the other two bands on this list, as I can usually listen to an entire album on repeat for weeks before weeding out anything. Band-Maid is classed as rock, or J-Rock.

The Reckoning is the 5th album from alternative rock band Icon for Hire, legitimately one of my favorite bands. If you haven’t heard of them before, I’d definitely recommend checking them out—starting with their sophomore effort, the self-titled Icon for Hire, out since 2013. The Reckoning is set to release September 30th, and includes four previously released singles and nine brand-new tracks.

Gaming

Not much on the whole gaming front. My to-play list is still pretty long, but I just haven’t been in the mood lately. Earlier in August I finished Journey to the Savage Planet which was good fun despite it being somewhat repetitive and having an instantly forgettable story. Still, I enjoyed the idea of some random person being sent to a random planet with no training and just told: Have at it.

September (and late August) marks the release of I was a Teenage Exocolonist, a game I discovered from Caitlin at Realms of My Mind, which… I can’t play, because my computer is too old. Ah well.

Also supposedly Tunic releases on console.

Life

Not too much to say on the personal side of things. Autumn is usually my favorite time of year, but I’ve been having some health issues lately that have kept me from enjoying it quite as much. But hopefully I’ll get over this enough to do some of the things I’ve been wanting to all summer. Stay tuned, I guess.

At least the reading side of things is going well.

How was your August? What’re you excited for in September? Music/book/ game recommendations are always welcome!

The Winds of Khalakovo – by Bradley P. Beaulieu (Review)

Lays of Anuskaya #1

Steampunk, Fantasy

Night Shade Books; March 8, 2011

464 pages (ebook)

Goodreads • StoryGraph
Author WebsiteSocials

6.5 / 10 ✪

Behold the Grand Duchy of Anuskaya, a collection of windswept archipelagos off the continental shelf of Yrstania. Here eyries serve the Landed, windships bearing goods and passengers amongst the isles as trade connects each duchy in the sea. But it is not so simple as just that. And while the duchies are at peace for the time, this will not always be the case.

Indeed, when the Grand Duke and his retinue are murdered by an elemental spirit, dissent threatens to tear the Grand Duchy apart. The Maharraht—a fanatical fringe group with the indigenous Aramahn—are widely suspected, but not all see the two as distinct. In fact, most Landed do not.

Nikandr is the heir of Khalakovo, a collection of seven isles in the center of the Great Northern Sea. When the Grand Duke falls, and the Maharraht spread their message, he is tasked with finding and retrieving Nasim, the boy believed to be a conduit for the elemental spirit. But this is easier said than done, as Nasim is one of the Landless—and a child prodigy who often exists more in Adhiya than he does in the material realm.

But when Nasim turns out to be more than just a prodigy, Nikandr is left with an impossible choice. To turn the boy over to the Grand Duke’s heir, or to use Nasim to try to cure the wasting plague that has been ravaging the isles. Either way, war is coming, but on which side does Khalakovo fall? And what does it mean for Nikandr and the two women in his life, each representing a different would-be foe?

It’s been several years since I first read the Winds of Khalakovo, and even now when it comes to mind I picture a flurry of images. Of walrus-tusk shell casings and complex magic. Of windships coasting above rough seas, windswept eyries and rugged archipelagos. Of stratified society and torrid affairs. And of a plot I still don’t fully understand.

Now, everything gets a bit clearer after the second installment, but is that really what you want to hear from a new series? That after the second book, you’ll kinda understand a bit more of what was happening in the first book, even if you may not have at the time. No, right? And though WoK certainly wins points for a complex and intricate, highly political plot—it also loses points for the inability to grasp said plot, even by the time the story ends. I mean, at its base level, I understand the book. Find the kid before anyone else does. Save the cheerleader, save the world. But where the stability of the duchies, the wasting disease, the political and cultural hierarchies fit into everything didn’t completely fall into place until after more glimpses of the world.

On one hand, it’s nice that the book evokes a deeper and more significant meaning even after you finish it. That you can come back and enjoy its hidden complexities down the line, when you’re working through Book #2 and 3. But on the other hand, that you pretty much HAVE TO read Book #2 to understand just what is going on in Book #1 is ridiculous. It’s a bit like World War II. You can take a glance and understand that Nazis are bad, but once you get into the history of it—the futility of the Weimar Republic, the anger and resentment it created in the youth, the destabilization of world markets during the Great Depression—everything gets a bit more blurry. Now imagine that instead of starting with “this is a Nazi” introduction to WWII, you started with the fluctuation of the price of grain in 1920’s Eastern Bloc and the effect that had on the monarchies of Europe. I mean, you’ll reach the same destination in the end, but the journey there is remarkably different.

What can I say about the world-building, though? Rich and evocative, like an autumn breeze raising goosebumps along your arms as the lingering scent of wood-smoke fills your nose and you swear you can just taste cherry and apple cider even as you picture curling up in bed while a wicked wind whips through the darkened forest. I mean, it’s pretty much amazing. It’s everything I said in the opening paragraph and more. Wood and bone. Leather and ivory. Cinnamon and clove. Towering mountains and crashing seas. Airships and wind magic. Landed and landless. It’s… I can’t adequately explain how amazing I found the world-building. Very few worlds have ever drank me in quite like this one. That was why it hurt all the worse when I crashed out of it to puzzle out the plot.

The characters are mostly quite good. Very well written; complex, human, relatable—with one pretty glaring exception. But every story needs a villain, right? And often the villain’s motivations don’t have to make sense at first, that’s what hindsight and flashbacks are for. Nikandr, Rehada and Atiana are probably the strongest characters—which makes perfect sense, especially with the whole love-triangle going on. Ashan is remarkably strong considering he probably won’t be fully appreciated until the latter half of the tale, while Nasim is a bit weak, which again, is to be expected.

TL;DR

This is one where I completely want my opinion to be proven wrong. I want you to go out, pick this up, and love it. I want you to leave a glowing review, tell me how wrong I was. Only… I don’t really expect it. Over 1600 ratings on Goodreads, Winds of Khalakovo holds a 3.3 rating, meaning that it was firmly in the realm of Meh. Some people love the plot but hate the world. I loved the world, but was constantly infuriated with the plot. But I still want people to go out and read this—especially if you enjoyed the Shattered Sands, especially if you enjoy steampunk. What I absolutely do not want is for you to just look at the rating and then swear off reading it, for the world itself is an achievement that needs to be experienced. However, there is always more to read, and more out there for the enjoyment. And, at the end of the day, this just may be too divisive for that.

The story continues in The Straits of Galahesh, Book #2 of the Lays of Anuskaya.

Abandoned – by W. Michael Gear (Review)

Donovan #2

Science Fiction

DAW Books; November 27, 2018

436 pages (paperback)

GoodreadsStoryGraph
Author WebsiteSocials

9 / 10 ✪

Please beware spoilers for Donovan #1—Outpost.

Welcome to Donovan.

Supervisor Kalico Aguila has been on fragile terms with Port Authority since she decided to remain planetside, rather than inverting on the Turalon. Rather than join the settlement and perpetually butt heads with the council, Aguila has chosen to carve out a mine in the wilds—one the wilderness is slowly but surely reclaiming. The trees take a more active approach on Donovan, often rootching forwards, covering miles in a single day. To make matters worse, a murderer is hanging out in Aguila’s camp, one pushing Dan Wirth’s agenda. As if Donovan wasn’t enough.

Mark Talbot is a dead man walking. Marooned in the middle of the bush, he’s alive at all solely because of his armor, which thus far has survived every threat Donovan has thrown at him, from quetzals, to nightmares, to death-fliers. But what it can’t do is feed him, or—something that’s his larger issue—keep a charge. The battery packs were tested and maintained for combat; somewhere around 1000 hours. So far Talbot’s has seen twice that, and the cells are slowly depleting. So when he sees his first sign of human habitation, Talbot has no choice but to throw himself on their mercy. What he’s confronted with, however, are three scientists with a flock of children—and the quetzal that one of them has bonded.

Lieutenant Deb Spiro is losing it. A marine with a head for taking orders but not giving them, she has been suddenly thrust into command, a position that sees her instability and lust for violence take center stage. In Port Authority she sees everything that’s the problem with Donovan, especially one Talina Perez. And Spiro isn’t great at talking through her problems.

Talina Perez has made mistakes. In this case it’s the woman whose husband she killed during her time as the supervisor’s assassin. A mistake she’s desperate to atone for. But she’ll have to do far more than that if she wants to survive what Donovan has in store.

For when Spiro makes a mistake that might just threaten to kill them all, Perez will gamble everything on an outcast, an alien, and an infection in her TriNA. As sides are chosen and tensions run high it becomes very clear that the two sides can’t live together. But with Donovan mounting an offensive, neither might survive at all.

On Donovan, only humans are more terrifying than the wildlife.

“At this rate, how long before the forest reclaims the whole farm and smelter?” Kalico asked woodenly.

“Maybe a couple months?” Ghosh hazarded. “But that’s just a guess. I’m not a biological science kind of guy.”

“Remember how you laid out a line of that toxic smelter waste?” Ituri gave her a sidelong glance. “I don’t know what to say except this is Donovan. The trees never even hesitated. Radioactive or not, they just rootched their way across.”

“Rootched?”

“That’s what we’ve been calling it. Sort of a mix between roots and ruts and wiggling through the ground.”

A great return trip to Donovan, Abandoned tells an excellent followup story to the science fiction debut, Outpost. Turalon has departed. The planet is once again on its own. It’s up to the people to band together—us against them—and survive all the planet has to throw at them.

Only, people are, well, people. They don’t always get along. Honestly, I feel like this is an understatement. Just look at the history of humanity: I don’t see why it should be any different on an alien world.

And neither, it appears, does W. Michael Gear. Humans are the most terrifying part of Donovan, though the planet tries hard to give them some competition. A conspiracy of quetzals, on a molecular level. A horde of death-fliers. Trees that eat people, spaceships, and, apparently, toxic waste. And yet even in the face of all that, the humans continue to squabble and kill one another.

The problem, such that it is, is Dan Wirth. The best villain you love to hate. And yet NOT the villain of Abandoned. I guess the author thought it was too early in the series to put a bullet in the bastard’s head. A shame, that.

Anyway, instead of Wirth, we’re given Spiro, who is a bit one-sided as villains go. Or indeed, as people. Now, I’m not saying Spiro is poorly written, as I’ve met a number of marines I feel could encapsulate her perfectly. Suited to violence, good at taking orders, but little else. And no, this is not me saying that all marines are psychos—just some of them. Some very, very few of them. The point is that Spiro, while being a bit boring as a villain, isn’t a bust as a character. Nor is she poorly written. Just I think we could’ve done better.

Spiro aside, I flew through this book! I loved the addition of Talbot (especially given his circumstances), the return of Talina and Trish and Kalico and others. I binged the final 250 pages in a night, and had to resist going immediately to the next one as it was 6am and I needed to sleep. But I wanted to go back to Donovan. And that’s what I’d recommend you doing; don’t just GO to Donovan, go back, time after time. I sure hope this series continues to deliver like I expect it to!

Titanshade – by Dan Stout (Review)

The Carter Archives #1

Urban Fantasy, Mystery, Detective

DAW; March 12, 2019

416 pages (ebook)
12hr 50m (audiobook)

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8 / 10 ✪

Welcome to Titanshade, an oil boomtown grown up, struggling to find its identity in a new era, lest it collapse in on itself, just another footnote on the path of history. Cater is Titanshade’s native son, a local become homicide cop, one who knows his way around the sleazy, corrupt underside of the city that makes up his beat. But the city is so much more than that, as he is soon to learn.

Looming over the sleazy, corrupt underside exist the sleazy, corrupt businessmen and politicians that run it all. Men, women, creatures Carter has known of his whole life, but were always far too high profile for him to concern himself with.

Enter the Squib—a squat, amphibian being—a political delegate involved in funding a project aimed to save the city from itself, providing alternative energy to the dwindling oil business. While such a high-profile case would normally have been above Carter’s station, it’s all-hands on deck, as the more than just the city turns its gaze to the murder. Because in addition to being a high-profile political target, the fact that the delegate was a Squib could have dire consequences to inter-species relations. See, when a Squib bleeds, it releases a highly odorous pheromone along with its cinnamon-scented blood—the combination more than enough to drive many a human mad with lust. Many such Squibs have been killed before, but none in so gruesome a fashion or so bright a spotlight.

To make matters worse, the police already have a suspect: Carter’s adopted daughter Talena, who was in the wrong place at the very wrong time. And with such a high-profile murder already filling the news, tensions between the races of Titanshade at their highest point—the pressure is on to tie everything up as quickly as possible.

And so Carter has only a short amount of time to prove Talena’s innocence, find the true killer, and do it all before the city tears itself apart. Throw in a rookie Mollenkampi (named Ajax) assigned to keep an eye on the wildcard Carter; a second Mollenkampi, Angus, who’s essentially Carter’s nemesis while still managing to be a good cop in his own right; gritty commissioner Bryyh, Carter’s boss; and the feeling even before the mystery starts, that he’s already missing something vital.

Even if he manages to pull everything together in the nick of time, Carter may still alienate everyone and everything important to him, and end up eating his gun in the process. It’s just that kind of day in Titanshade.

I’d heard good things, yet Titanshade still managed to exceed my expectations. Instead of the underwhelming mashup between a high urban fantasy and a detective/mystery, I got a thought out mystery/detective urban fantasy not unlike the Dresden Files, but one set in its own fantasy world—one with its own rules and fantastical beings and creatures and magicks. Now, this is quite an Earth-like world, but still there are key and unique differences. The different races of beings are one; Mollenkampi alongside Squibs (which are called something different that I can’t remember right now) alongside Humans alongside still others, all packed together into the same society.

Honestly, I expected this to go together a bit like the SyFy show Defiance: a unique and interesting idea, but one where all the classes of humanoids basically blend into one when you get right down to it. Instead, the author has them written and designed his creations well—with their own diets and characteristics and languages and ideals. So much so that I’ll say it again: I’m surprised that this went together so well.

The story itself is a gritty detective one, full of morally ambiguous characters and two-faced diplomats, politicians, cops, witnesses, and more. And Carter is just the gritty, hard-nosed detective to handle it. For a guy that most people seem to hate (and everyone seems to be annoyed by), Carter makes a pretty good lead. I was pretty much in his corner from the outset—though if I’d hated him too (being the sole POV), I’d’ve probably quit reading. Twists and turns affect everyone in the plot differently and this is where Carter’s interactions with his new partner, Ajax, take center stage. Carter is a hard-nose detective who’s set in his ways and doesn’t play by the rules. Ajax is a bit fresh faced, but not enough to put up with his partner’s bullshit. He bends at times, stands firm at others, but never really breaks one way or the other. This pairing actually works quite well—and makes the story.

I’d like to see where the story goes next (and if the 2nd installment is just as solid), and will hopefully get to it later in the year. While I listened to Titanshade as an audiobook—and while Books #2 & 3 are out in print—it is thus far the only book in the series that’s been professionally narrated. Not that that’s an issue. I just decided to take a wee break before switching from audio to print. I’d definitely recommend this in either format, really, but I really enjoyed the audiobook. Mikael Naramore does an excellent job bringing both Carter and the world around him to life—complete with its gritty feel and moral ambiguity. If you were after more of him, you’re in luck! I hear Book #2, Titan’s Day, is due to be recorded and/or released sometime soon; just COVID went and delayed its production. Whether or not you enjoy this via audio, print, or digitally, I’d certainly recommend its reading. Especially if you’re a fan of urban fantasy or mystery, or even gritty cop dramas.