Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 2 September 2021.
This review can also be found on the Canberra Weekly website.
Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Trade Paperback – 31 August 2021)
Length: 454 pages
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Impressive Australian author Sarah Bailey returns with The Housemate, an outstanding and intense murder mystery that takes a complex protagonist through a dark journey as they attempt to solve an infamous murder.
It was the crime that shocked all of Australia: one night, after a fractious party in the suburbs of Melbourne, three female housemates would become infamous for all the wrong reasons. In the morning, one of the housemates is found brutally murdered, another is found covered in her blood, while the third goes missing and her body is never found. Dubbed the Housemate Homicide, the unexplained murder, the mysterious disappearance, and the subsequent controversial court case has baffled and enthralled the country for years. This includes Olive Groves, a journalist who got her first big break covering the murder and who then became obsessed with cracking the case.
Nine years later, the body of the missing housemate is found in a remote property in the Victorian countryside. Despite dealing with her own dark personal issues, Olive is assigned to cover the story, and soon finds herself once again dragged into her deepest obsession. Teamed up with millennial podcaster Cooper Ng, Olive begins to immerse herself in the details of the murder, reigniting her fiery obsession.
As Olive and Cooper work to uncover new details about the case and the three women at the heart of it, they start to make some startling discoveries. None of the housemates were what they seemed, and all had dark and terrible secrets that have remained hidden for years. What really happened to these three friends, and what secret was so terrible that they would kill to protect it? Olive is about to discover that there is a dark conspiracy at work throughout this case, one whose roots may lay far closer to home than she ever imagined, and whose discovery may end up breaking her.
This was an incredible and extremely clever dark murder mystery from Sarah Bailey, who has previously produced some impressive and compelling pieces of Australian fiction. The Housemate was pretty exceptional read and I quickly found myself getting really caught up in this remarkable and well-written piece of crime fiction. The author weaved together a dark and compelling tale of betrayal, murder and tainted love, featuring an extremely damaged protagonist and multiple epic twists.
The Housemate has a pretty amazing and memorable murder mystery narrative that follows a reporter as she attempts to uncover the truth behind an infamous cold case. Bailey does a great job setting up the plot of this book in the early pages, showing the protagonist’s involvement in reporting the initial discovery of the murder, before initiating a time skip nine years in the future. Once there, the author spends a little time exploring how the protagonist’s life has changed in the intervening years, before swiftly starting the next stage of the mystery, with the discovery of a body out in the Victorian countryside that has connections to the murders. The rest of the book flows by at a quick pace after this, as the reader gets stuck into the re-opened investigation. Bailey starts the various twists flying early, and the reader is soon struck with a series of theories, leads, potential suspects and connected side characters, all of which add to the overall tapestry of the mystery, while also serving to keep you guessing about who is responsible for the murder, and that isn’t even mentioning the compelling flashbacks from the surviving housemate.
As the investigation continues, The Housemate’s story continues to get even more complex, as the personal life of the protagonist, Olive, gets dragged into the plot, especially as Olive is in a complex relationship with the widower of the primary police investigator of the original case. This results in some extremely intense moments as Olive begins to suspect everyone, which has a major impact on her grip on reality. I deeply appreciated the psychological thriller aspects that were worked in, as the reader starts to really question Olive’s grip on her sanity, and it helped to make the story even darker and more unpredictable. Everything really kicks off in the final third of the novel, especially after the case becomes even more potentially convoluted and connected to a wider conspiracy. There were some great reveals in this final third of the novel, and a pretty major and surprising event that really changes everything. I found myself absolutely glued to this book in the final stages, as I couldn’t wait to see what happened. While I did think that the author was a little too heavy handed when it came to suggesting that one particular character was the murderer, I thought the eventual reveal of who was behind everything was extremely clever. The solution to the historic murder was very impressive, especially as some of the elements were set up extremely early in the novel and you didn’t even realise it. I really loved the impressive way the case was wrapped up, although the end of the final confrontation was a tad too coincidental for my taste. Still, it was a really great way to finish the novel, and I was well and truly hooked by this awesome and dark tale of murder.
You can’t talk about The Housemate without mentioning the author’s great characters, especially protagonist, Olive Groves (a fun name). Olive is a complex and damaged woman, who has been obsessed with the novel’s central case ever since she saw the suspected killer and the various family members emerging from the house during the initial media coverage. Years later, Olive now has a complex life, as she is living with the controlling widower of the cop who was originally investigating the crimes, something she is immensely guilty and conflicted about. Her already fragile mental state is put at risk when she starts working on the latest developments in the Housemate Homicides case, which reawakens her long-dormant obsession. This obsession drives her to investigate the case by any means and takes her to some dark spaces as she tries to get into the head of the three housemates and figure out what happened to them. Olive slowly goes downhill as the novel progresses thanks to a combination of stress, obsession, anger, and multiple personal reasons, such as the actions of her emotionally abusive partner and her own massive guilt for sleeping with him while his wife was still alive. Olive has a big breakdown towards the end of the novel, especially after a major surprise event, and it was fascinating to see such a dramatic and powerful burst of emotion. This compelling personal crisis is perfectly worked into the plot of the book, and it really helped to enhance the main murder mystery storyline, especially as you become really concerned for Olive’s mental and physical safety. I appreciated the way in which Bailey wrapped up Olive’s character arc by the end of the novel, and I cannot emphasise what an impressive bit of character work Bailey did around her.
Aside from Olive, there is a great collection of complex side characters throughout the novel, each of whom play a vital role in the case. The main one is Cooper Ng, the socially shy tech expert and social media whiz who is assigned to help Olive investigate, with the two required to develop a new podcast for their paper. Cooper is a fun and energetic figure who stands as the complete opposite to Olive’s gruffer and irritable personality. Cooper and Olive make for an interesting partnership throughout the book, and it was fun to see them combine their vastly different skills and experiences. The author also spends a bit of time examining each of the three housemates who were at the centre of the book’s mystery. It initially appears that all three were bright and optimistic students when the fateful night occurred. However, as the book progresses you begin to see that they are a lot more complex than that, with all three involved in something dodgy. Seeing how they were driven to the events that occurred the night of the killing is pretty fascinating, and I really appreciated the dark and intense storyline that Bailey weaved around them. All these characters, and more, added a lot to the story, and I loved the fantastic and realistic interactions that occurred within.
The final thing that I wanted to highlight about The Housemate was its interesting examination of Australian journalism. I have always rather liked journalist protagonists in fiction, due to their less formal way of investigating crimes, and this worked very well in the context of The Housemate, with Olive employing some interesting methods to get answers. The focus on obtaining information for a story rather than attempting to bring someone to justice is very compelling and I loved seeing the protagonists setting up stories and podcasts. I also quite enjoyed the interesting examination of the evolving form of journalism that was represented by the two main characters, Olive and Cooper. Olive is the more old-school reporter, who just wants to do good journalism without resorting to popular gimmicks. Cooper, on the other hand, is the flash new kid, focusing on social media and podcasting, which he sees as the future of journalism. This fun comparison between reporting styles formed an interesting basis for their partnership, especially as they are brought together to do a podcast on the murders, and I felt that this was a great inclusion to an already exciting and entertaining narrative.
The Housemate by Sarah Bailey was an exceptional and captivating read that I had an outstanding time reading. Featuring a dark and thrilling mystery storyline, this Australian murder mystery was incredibly addictive, especially once you get caught up in the unique investigation and complex personal life of the protagonist. I really enjoyed seeing this fantastic story come together, and I was really impressed with how Bailey tied her brilliant mystery together. Easily one of the best pieces of Australian fiction I have read all year, The Housemate gets a full five-star rating from me and is a very highly recommended read.
WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?
So, let’s get to it.
Viral by Robin Cook (Trade Paperback)
I have not made a lot of progress on Viral since last week as I have been mostly focusing on getting through some audiobooks. I will try to finish it off in the next few days as I am curious where this cool medical thriller is going.
I finally got the opportunity to start The Bone Ship’s Wake by R. J. Barker, one of my most anticipated releases of 2021. The Bone Ship’s Wake is the third and final book in The Tide Child trilogy, and follows on from the outstanding The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships, both of which were exceptional five-star reads. I only just started listening to this book a few minutes ago, but I am already pretty hooked on its intense and compelling dark fantasy story about bone ships, revolutions and sea dragons. I cannot wait to see what impressive twists and unique fantasy elements that Barker throws into this novel but it is sure to be one of the best novels of the year.
Fire Made Flesh by Denny Flowers (Audiobook)
That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.
Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy. I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings. Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them. For my latest Waiting on Wednesday, I highlight some incredible upcoming thriller novels that I feel are going to be some of the best books of the next few months.
Over the last few years, I have really been getting into the thriller genre, having read a great number of awesome and fast-paced novels across the various sub-genres. I have had a particularly awesome time with the spy thrillers, and I love a novel that follows a dangerous and talented intelligence agent facing off against a range of clever opponents and outrageous odds. Two of the best series I have been getting into are the Orphan X and Gray Man spy thriller series, which contain complex protagonists and fantastic storylines, and I thought I would take this opportunity to look at their next amazing sounding entries.
The first of these books is the fun sounding Dark Horse by Gregg Hurwitz, which will be the seventh Orphan X novel. The Orphan X series follows the titular Orphan X, Evan Smoak, a legendary agent who has gone rogue and taken up the persona of the Nowhere Man, a vigilante who helps people that have nowhere to turn to. I got into this series a few years ago when I read Out of the Dark, an amazing book that saw Orphan X attempting to kill the President of the United States. I had a fantastic time with this cool concept, and I made sure to check out the next two books in the series, both of which were five-star reads. The first of these, Into the Fire (one of the best audiobooks of 2020), saw a concussed Orphan X tearing through a sinister criminal organisation in LA, while the latest book, Prodigal Son, forced a semi-retired Evan to go up against a crazy weapons developer. All three of these novels were really good, and I loved the high-concept fights, complex antagonists and the interesting personal issues surrounding the former orphan who was raised by a group of killers.
The next book in the series, Dark Horse, also sounds really good, as the protagonist faces another impossible challenge, while also dealing with secrets from his past. Dark Horse is currently set for release on 8 February 2022, and it looks like it will be a deeply impressive read.
Gregg Hurwitz’s New York Times bestselling series returns when Orphan X faces his most challenging mission ever in Dark Horse.
Evan Smoak is a man with many identities and a challenging past. As Orphan X, he was a government assassin for the off-the-books Orphan Program. After he broke with the Program, he adopted a new name and a new mission—The Nowhere Man, helping the most desperate in their times of trouble. Having just survived an attack on his life and the complete devastation of his base of operations, as well as his complicated (and deepening) relationship with his neighbor Mia Hall, Evan isn’t interested in taking on a new mission. But one finds him anyway.
Aragon Urrea is a kingpin of a major drug-dealing operation in South Texas. He’s also the patron of the local area—supplying employment in legitimate operations, providing help to the helpless, rough justice to the downtrodden, and a future to a people normally with little hope. He’s complicated—a not completely good man, who does bad things for often good reasons. However, for all his money and power, he is helpless when one of the most vicious cartels kidnaps his innocent eighteen year old daughter, spiriting her away into the armored complex that is their headquarters in Mexico. With no other way to rescue his daughter, he turns to The Nowhere Man.
Now not only must Evan figure out how to get into the impregnable fortress of a heavily armed, deeply paranoid cartel leader, but he must decide if he should help a very bad man—no matter how just the cause.
Unsurprisingly I love the sound of this cool new novel, especially as the main plot will revolve around the protagonist storming the impregnable fortress of a Mexican cartel. This book has an awful lot of potential and I cannot wait to see what surprising and outrageous schemes that the protagonist will utilise to save the kidnapped girl. I am also very curious about the inclusion of a drug kingpin being Evan’s client, as he usually only helps normal, innocent people. Working to help a rich criminal will be an interesting change for the Nowhere Man, and I look forward to seeing his inner conflict around it. The character of Aragon Urrea will also make for a compelling alternate narrator (each of Evan’s clients are usually featured pretty heavily), and he should have a pretty unique take on the events occurring around him. Based on the events of Prodigal Son, it is likely that Aragon will have connections to Evan’s past, and it wouldn’t surprise me if you see the protagonist’s family grow just a little more. All this sound pretty amazing, and I am extremely keen to check Dark Horse out.
The next book is Sierra Six, the 11th novel in the impressive Gray Man series by bestselling author Mark Greaney. The Gray Man series follows Court Gentry, an elite spy and killer known as the Gray Man. I got into this series back in 2019 when I checked out the fantastic Mission Critical. This was an awesome read that saw Gentry hunting a team of Russian spies who planned to cripple the Western intelligence community. Greaney has since followed this book up with two exceptional five-star reads, One Minute Out (one of the best books of 2020) and Relentless (one of the best books and audiobooks I have so far read this year). I also recently went back and checked out the first novel in the series, The Gray Man, which was incredibly awesome and contained an epic storyline that saw Gentry square off against 100 elite killers across Europe.
The 11th Gray Man novel, Sierra Six, currently has a release date in February 2022 and looks set to examine some terrible secrets from Gentry’s past, with a compelling look at his first mission with the CIA.
It’s been years since the Gray Man’s first mission, but the trouble’s just getting started in the latest entry in the #1 New York Times bestselling series.
Before he was the Gray Man, Court Gentry was Sierra Six, the junior member of a CIA action team.
In their first mission they took out a terrorist leader, but at a terrible price–the life of a woman Court cared for. Years have passed and now The Gray Man is on a simple mission when he sees a ghost: the long-dead terrorist, but he’s remarkably energetic for a dead man.
A decade may have gone by but the Gray Man hasn’t changed. He isn’t one to leave a job unfinished or a blood debt unpaid.
This sounds like such an awesome read, and I really love the idea of Greaney going way back into his protagonist’s past. I’m assuming that Sierra Six will have a split narrative, with a good portion following Gentry’s first mission, and I looking forward to learning more about this character’s backstory. It will also be interesting to see how Gentry is going after the events of Relentless when he was blackballed by the CIA again, and I will be quite intrigued to find out what happens with some of the series’ ongoing storylines. I am very excited for this novel, although I might try and check out one or two earlier Gray Man novels beforehand, just to build up some more context.
I also must take the time to talk about Greaney’s other big upcoming release, Armored. Armored is a standalone audiobook written by Greaney that currently has a release date of 9 December 2021. This fantastic sounding audiobook will be voiced by a full cast of narrators, including the impressive Jay Snyder, and it has the potential to be one of the most intense and action-packed releases of the year, especially as Mr Explosion himself, Michael Bay, has already obtained the film rights for it.
A team of military contractors fights for its life in this high-adrenaline, full-cast drama from Mark Greaney, author of the Audible and New York Times best-selling Gray Man series.
Josh Duffy is staring into the abyss.
A decorated army veteran turned military contractor, his last mission went sideways, leaving him badly injured and his career derailed. Now, he’s working as a mall cop, trying to keep his family one step ahead of the bill collectors.
So when a chance at redemption – and a big pay day – comes his way, Duff eagerly jumps in.
The job – to ride shotgun on a motorcade of heavily armed and armored vehicles as they roll into Mexico’s cartel country. The mission – to find a notorious drug lord and bring him to the negotiating table with the Mexican government and the UN.
But Duff’s employer, Armored Saint, has a track record that’s sketchy, at best. And from the moment the motorcade hits the dusty roads, the danger only increases.
It’s a suicide run – and for Duff, the violent forces of the cartels may not be the biggest threat.
So, another book set down in cartel country, Armored also sounds pretty damn cool, and I think that I am going to have an amazing time with this book. Based on the synopsis, it looks like the protagonist and his friends will be forced to endure a gauntlet of death and destruction, along with a traitor in their ranks and some dodgy dealing from the corporation running them. I cannot wait to check this book out, and I have very high hopes for the audiobook format, especially with its comprehensive and intriguing cast. I must admit that I am pretty excited to get multiple books from Greaney is so short a time frame, and I look forward to seeing what madness is featured in both his upcoming reads. I have also heard rumours that a sequel to Red Metal, which Greaney cowrite with H. Ripley Rawlings (one of the best books and audiobooks of 2019), is on its way, and I will make sure to feature that in another Waiting on Wednesday entry when I get some more details.
As you can from the above, I have quite a lot of thrillers to read very soon. All three of these books have an immense amount of potential, and based on my experiences with their authors, I already know that I am going to have an outstanding time getting through all of them.
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. The official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was around favourite book settings (a shout out to magical schools), however, I am going to something extremely different (it’s very, very off topic) and instead have a go at listing and ranking my favourite lightsaber duels from the Star Wars franchise.
Anyone who has ever seen a Star Wars movie or television show will know the amazing cultural phenomenon that is the lightsaber duel. Inspired by the duels from Japanese samurai films, a classic lightsaber duel features two opposing enemies, one armed with a brilliant blue or noble green energy blade, fighting against their evil opponent wielding a menacing red blade. First appearing in the very first Star Wars film all those years ago, the lightsaber duel is an essential staple of the franchise, and something about the clashing blades of light has resonated with fans throughout the years. Naturally, every new filmmaker or animator has attempted to put their own unique spin on the classic duel, with many different variations of fighting style, number of opponents and lightsaber types, featured in the subsequent films and extended media. However, no matter how complex or unique it gets, the fans always appreciate these epic flashes of combat, even if most are brief by design to keep up the emulation of samurai sword fights or pistol duels from Westerns. After enjoying the cool new show, Star Wars: Visions, which featured multiple inventive lightsaber duels, I thought I would take this opportunity to try and list some of my favourite duels from the Star Wars franchise. This is a topic I have been considering for a while, and it fits nicely with some recent lists I have done, such as my recent list ranking the various Star Wars films, and my previous list about my favourite anime series.
To pull this list together, I started writing down all my favourite lightsaber duels from films, television shows and animated series to see how many there were. I decided early on to exclude duels from static media such as comics or tie-in novels, which I might explore in a later Top Ten Tuesday. I also limited this list to proper lightsaber duels, where all the key participants have a lightsaber, so this excludes a few cool moments, such as Vader cutting down rebels in Rogue One or Luke destroying those droids in The Mandalorian.
Despite these limitations, I ended up with an extremely substantial number of fights, so I ended up turning this into a Top 20 list, just to show off how nerdy I can be (I mean, how much I appreciate the franchise). I still had to cull a few good fights out, but I was able to come up with 20, which I eventually ranked based on a range of considerations, from the quality of the duel, the emotions or story surrounding it, the impacts of the duel on the wider film or series and a range of other factors. I am also marking for cool uses of the Force or other techniques, if they don’t take too much away from it primarily being a lightsaber duel. I am pretty happy with how the below list turned out, and it should be interesting to see how my opinion’s rank up compared to other Star Wars fans out there. Be warned that I might go into some details about some key moments in the Star Wars films and shows, so be aware that a Spoiler Alert is in effect.
The first entry on this list comes from an intro cinematic from the Star Wars: The Old Republic computer game. Set thousands of years before the Skywalker Saga, this battle sees two Jedi facing off against two Sith in an epic battle on a space station. Beautifully rendered and extremely well-coordinated, this is a particularly impressive fight, with the four combatants facing off in a brilliant and brutal fight, moving across a hanger bay. This battle features a range of awesome moves and techniques, including one Jedi throwing his lightsaber to block a blow about to kill his apprentice, as well as some awesome dual wielding moments. I love this fight so much as it is beyond awesome, however, it does gets marked down for being a cinematic in a non-canon game that I never played and featuring some characters with no introduction. However, it is still an amazing fight, and it is well worth looking up on Youtube if you want some outstanding Star Wars excitement.
“Unexpected, but not unwelcome.” Ever since her dramatic resignation from the Jedi Order at the end of the fifth season of The Clone Wars, fans were eager to see Ahoska in action again, which happened halfway through the second season of Star Wars: Rebels. Appearing in a heroic burst of light to save Kanan and Ezra from two Imperial Inquisitors, Ahsoka calmly ignited her new white lightsabers for the first time and set to work against the two Jedi-hunters. Ahsoka easily takes her opponents out, even using the Force to overpower her opponent’s control of their red lightsaber. This impressive display of skill and technique really showed viewers how much better Ahoska had gotten over the years and made us anticipate her next major fight even more.
Next we have the very first lightsaber duel ever, with the iconic encounter between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in the original Star Wars film. This fight pits the former master and apprentice against each other for the first time in years, and eventually ends with Obi-Wan opening himself up to a blow to merge with the Force: “You can’t win, Darth; if you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.” While this is a major moment in the franchise and I still get chills when Obi-Wan dies, it suffers from rather lacklustre choreography compared to their clashes in the prequel films. Still, this set the template for all future duels and showed the world how amazing a battle between two space wizards with laser swords could be.
The only duel on this list that features a participant who wasn’t a Force user, this cool duel takes place in the fifth season of The Clone Wars. After forming an alliance with the Mandalorian splinter faction, Death Watch, to take over Mandalore, Darth Maul eventually tires of his new partners and challenges the head of Death Watch, Pre Vizsla, to a duel for the planet. Bound by his society’s martial traditions, Vizsla accepts the duel and fights using the ancient Mandalorian relic, the black-bladed lighsaber known as the Darksaber. What follows is an intense fight to the death between two skilled foes, with Vizsla also using all his Mandalorian weapons and jetpack to even the fight. This was a very fun and brutal duel, with both combatants pushed to the limits. There are some very cool elements to this, from the great contrast of the black and red blades to the fantastic use of Mandalorain weaponry and fists to try and win. While the result of the fight is never in doubt, it is a much closer battle than you would imagine and shows just how badass a determined Mandalorian could be.
The climactic battle of the first season of Star Wars: Rebels, this fight pitted the big bad of the season, the Grand Inquisitor, against Jedi Kanan and his apprentice Ezra in the engine room of a Star Destroyer. Relying on trickery and strategy to compensate for his own lack of skill, Kanan is eventually able to beat the Inquisitor after gaining focus from seeing Ezra fall to the Inquisitor’s spinning lightsaber. I loved the cool range of techniques in this fight, and it was cathartic to see Kanan finally get his groove back and face his demons. The snipping of the handle of the Inquisitor’s lightsaber was clever, and it leads to one of my favourite lines in the entire series: “There are some things far more frightening than death”, a statement that was proven true in a recent comic. A great fight that set the tone for some other epic duels later in the series.
This one mainly makes the list for the sheer laughter and amusement it generates. After Sith Lord Count Dooku soundly thrashes Anakin and Obi-Wan, he encounters his former master, Yoda. Unable to defeat him using the Force, Dooku resorts to his blade, but is severely outmatched when Yoda pulls out his own lightsaber and proceeds to do some elaborate and fast-paced flips around him, whirling his green lightsaber like a demon. This is a really entertaining scene and I still remember the sheer excitement and amusement I had in me when I saw Yoda first appear and pull out his lightsaber. However, the CGI really hasn’t held up too well with this fight, and it is one of the more ridiculous moments in an already silly film. Still, it was a very entertaining duel, so I had to feature it on this list.
Another entry from The Clones Wars animated show, this duel features Obi-Wan and fellow Jedi Adi Gallia facing off against a recently resurrected Darth Maul and his apprentice/brother Savage Opress. This is a brutal fight, as the two Jedi find themselves severely outmatched, with Opress quickly killing Adi with his horns. Obi-Wan is then forced to fight by himself, fleeing to a nearby pirate ship and facing his opponents with two lightsabers, something rarely seen from Kenobi. This fight gets really close and personal in the narrow corridors of the ship, and Kenobi is only just spared from being eviscerated by a last-minute kick to the shin. A really great fight that shows off how dangerous these two Sith brothers could be, it was an excellent inclusion on this list.
In the sequel series we have the duel between Rey and Kylo Ren on the ruins of the Death Star. Now both fully trained in the Force, the two have a swift and deadly fight, which only ends when Kylo freezes as he feels his mother dying. This is a beautifully shot scene, and I love the great use of environment and both opponents’ use of the Force to block blows and even control a lightsaber remotely. However, I think the finale of the fight was a bit lame and not cut together well, which takes a little lustre off the entire duel. Still a great entry though.
Another fight featuring Darth Maul and Savage Opress against two opponents, this duel sees Kenobi reluctantly teaming up with an old enemy, the former Sith assassin Asajj Ventress, who has her own issues with Opress. Forced to use one of Ventress’s blades, you get the unique visual of Kenobi wielding a red saber, and the fight quickly devolves into a close brawl in a cargo ship. The range of different styles and moves on display in this fight is great, and I love seeing the slippery Ventress facing off against the powerful blows of Opress. The fight between Kenobi and Maul is extremely personal, especially once Maul starts taunting his opponent about the death of his master. Emotionally unbalanced, Kenobi is unable to keep up with Maul, and he and Ventress are eventually forced to flee. I love the blend of character moments, animation, and ferocity in this fight, and it is a particularly impressive moment from this great series.
Next up we have a duel between the preeminent Jedi and Sith of their era, Yoda and the newly crowned Emperor Palpatine. Confronting Palpatine in his office, Yoda and his foe face off with blades in an impressive ballet of laser sword. The two fighters quickly end up in the iconic and massive Senate chambers, with both opponents jumping from platform to platform before eventually resorting to throwing parts of the room at each other. A fantastic and brilliant duel that displays just as much mastery of the Force as skill with the lightsaber, this was a climatic moment and a great alternate main fight for the finale of the prequel trilogy.
I had to include this awesome duel from the recent Star Wars: Vision series. Featured in the first animated feature, aptly titled The Duel, this fight takes place in an alternate universe and sees a wondering Ronin facing off against a bandit leading a raid on a village. It is soon revealed that both the Ronin and the Bandit Leader are Sith warriors and face each other with their lightsabers in a complex and beautiful duel around the village and down a river. This is an outstanding and compelling duel, which really was one of the best bits of the entire Visions range. I love the incredible blend of Star Wars and classic Japanese imagery, and the whole thing felt like something out of a samurai film. One of the most unique duels on this list, I had a lot of fun with this one and it was really cool to see.
Another duel featuring Rey and Kylo Ren, this was their first fight, featured at the end of The Force Awakens. As one of the first lightsaber duels of the sequel trilogy, this fight had a lot riding on it, and did not disappoint. This fight pits an injured and emotionally unbalanced Kylo Ren against an untrained Rey as the planet falls apart around them. While their styles and abilities are not as polished as in their later fight, it still has a physicality and rawness to it that was missing from all the preceding live action lightsaber fights. The blend of colours and movements was outstanding, as was the decision to feature it in a snow setting, which really made the whole fight pop. A great and amazing fight that was a fantastic conclusion to an outstanding movie.
There was no way I could exclude this awesome gem from the list, especially as it is one of the best things featured in the entire The Clone Wars series. Set during the fifth season, this fight occurs when Palpatine makes a rare transition into his Darth Sidious persona and travels to Mandalore to bring his former apprentice to heel. Breaking into the palace, Sidious confronts Maul and his apprentice Savage Opress and quickly engages them in a battle. Dual wielding two lightsabers, Sidious, who is voiced by Tim Curry for some extra sinisterness, is a machine, combining his superior lightsaber skills with his amazing powers of the Dark Side. Despite some strong opposition, he makes short work of the two brothers, killing Opress and torturing Maul with his lightning. This was a high-octane fight that really adds to the presence and power of Sidious, showing everyone why he is the ultimate Sith Master who no one should cross.
I have featured several battles between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul on this list, but their final duel is one of their best. Set in the third season of Star Wars: Rebels, long after the events of their last encounter in The Clone Wars (when Maul killed the woman Kenobi loved), Maul succeeds in tracking Kenobi to Tatooine. Reluctant to face Maul again, Kenobi is drawn into the fight when Maul threatens to find whoever he is protecting on Tatooine. Facing off at night across a dying fire, the two meticulously take their position before finally striking. Evoking the feel of a classic samurai film to the extreme, their fight is lightning fast and over after only a few strokes, with Maul falling to ground in Kenobi’s arms. While this is a short duel, the whole point is that is serves as the final note in the conflict between two epic rivals. I love all the imagery and subtlety of this scene, and it shows that a good fight really does not need to be chock full of flips and counters. The last moments between Kenobi and Maul are great, and Maul finally at peace after years of trying to kill Kenobi was the perfect way to end their rivalry.
The final clash between father and son is the next entry on this list, with the climatic duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the second Death Star. Provoked by Vader and the Emperor, Luke eventually takes up his blade and faces off in the throne room. Despite some reluctance to face his father, Luke is eventually called to action after Vader discovers that Luke has a sister. The anger and ferocity in the subsequent sequence is brilliant, especially when combined with the epic score loudly blaring in the background. You can feel the strength and hatred of the blows as Luke teeters towards the Dark Side and it was an amazing fight that ended up being the last live-action lightsaber duels for nearly 20 years.
The moment that Anakin’s apprentice was introduced, we knew that one day Ahsoka Tano would face off against Darth Vader, we just didn’t know when, especially after The Clone Wars was prematurely cancelled. It finally happened at the end of the second season of Star Wars: Rebels, when Ahsoka and Vader encounter each other in a Sith temple. Already convinced that Vader is her former master, Ahsoka confronts him, only for Vader to declare he had killed Anakin long ago: “Anakin Skywalker was weak, I destroyed him” (which was true, from a certain point of view). Desiring vengeance, Ahsoka engages in a fast-paced duel around the temple, proving to be a match for Vader with her incredible skill. There are actually a few parts to this fight (including some of it shown in a later fourth season episode due to time travel), but it leads up to the big finale where Ahsoka blindsides a distracted Vader and partially destroys his helmet. The subsequent “Ahsoka!” from Vader chills me every time, especially with the background score, and because Vader’s voice changes midway through from that of James Earl Jones to Matt Lanter, who voiced Anakin in The Clone Wars. The confirmation that Anakin was Vader is heartbreaking to see for Ahsoka, especially as her attempts to reach him fall on deaf ears. They continue to fight in the temple as it falls apart, with both barely coming out of it. Not only is this a beautifully choreographed fight that showcase both fighter’s differing abilities, but it is one of the most emotional duels on this list. I love this fight so much, especially as it is a perfect conclusion to a long-awaited moment in Star Wars history.
While the final duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader is impressive, I personally prefer their first fight. Taking place in the bowels of Cloud City, the unprepared Jedi in training attempts to defeat Vader and quickly shows off some of his new skills. However, he is outmatched by Vader and is soon forced to endure a one-sided beating. The duel ends with Luke losing a hand and being confronted by the ghastly truth that his opponent is his father. Easily one of the most iconic moments in all of film history, and all thanks to a powerful and brutal lightsaber duel.
The final animated duel on this list is the epic fight between Ahsoka Tano and Darth Maul that recently occurred in the seventh and final season of The Clone Wars. After returning to the Jedi, Ahsoka leads a battalion of clones to help liberate Mandalore from Maul. Eventually confronting him in the throne room, the two discuss the menace of Sidious and the fate of Anakin, before engaging in their fight. Due to this being the set-piece of the entire anticipated seventh season, the showrunners and animators dedicated a lot of time to getting this scene perfect. This included bring backing the original Darth Maul, martial artist Ray Park, to provide motion capture for the duel to ensure the character moved properly. All this preparation paid off, as the fight is beyond epic, containing some fast and furious action, with some witty dialogue from Ahsoka. Broken into two parts, including a vertigo-inducing scene on some thin rafters, this was a brilliant duel with an insane amount of skill and precision featured throughout.
While there were several glaring issues with The Phantom Menace, the one thing that everyone could agree was awesome, was the epic and extensive duel between Darth Maul and the Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn. The moment \ Maul reveals his dual-bladed lightsaber and the incredible Duel of the Fates musical score starts blaring, all bets are off as the three combatants engage in one of the best fights ever seen in cinema. The three fighters fight across the palace, right down into the heart of the city. Maul eventually succeeds in killing Qui-Gon when the fighters are separated by a series of force fields, only for an anguished Kenobi to finally beat him and cut him in half (although even that’s not enough to keep a good Sith down). This brilliant duel easily outshone anything that viewers had seen before, and it set the tone for every single movie or television lightsaber fight that was to follow.
I don’t think anyone is going to be too surprised about what my final entry is; it had to be the epic fight between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker at the climax of Revenge of the Sith. Set up throughout the entire prequel trilogy, this fight was a long time coming and saw the former master face his corrupted pupil in a brutal fight on the volcanic planet of Mustafar. Despite some terrible dialogue, this was a perfect duel, with both fighters giving it their all in an extended and utterly captivating fight. The two are evenly matched and use every technique and move to fight their enemy. Throw in a hostile environment of flying molten rocks, rivers of lava, and even some classic rope swing shenanigans. Thanks to another epic musical score, there is a not a single moment of this fight that is dull or unexciting and every blow is laced with emotion and hatred as the two former brothers try their hardest to kill each other. Look, if you’re reading this list, you know how awesome this fight is, and frankly to this day, nothing has come close to beating it.
Well that’s the end of this list. As you can see from the above, I clearly have too much time on my hands, but I think it was worth it. I had a lot of fun coming up with this list, and all of these epic lightsaber duels are so damn awesome. This might be another list I will update over the years, especially if some of the upcoming Star Wars shows have some cool fights in them. Let me know what you think of my list in the comments below, and make sure to tell me your opinions about the best Star Wars lightsaber duels.
Publisher: Orbit (Audiobook – 24 August 2021)
Series: The Covenant of Steel – Book One
Length: 19 hours and 57 minutes
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Bestselling fantasy author Anthony Ryan returns with the first book in an epic, brand new series, The Pariah, a massive and captivating tale of one young man destined to alter an entire kingdom.
Anthony Ryan is an impressive and highly regarded fantasy author who has been a leading figure in the fantasy fiction landscape for the last 10 years. Ryan has already written several compelling series, including the Raven’s Shadow trilogy (succeeded by the Raven’s Blade duology), the Slab City Blues series, the Draconis Memoria trilogy and his Seven Swords series. All these series sound pretty awesome, and I have been meaning to check out some of Ryan’s works for years, especially his Raven’s Shadow books. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to go back and read any of them, which I really regret. So when I was lucky enough to receive a copy of The Pariah a couple of weeks ago, I was very interested in checking it out, especially as it serves as the first book in the brand new The Covenant of Steel series, which I thought would be a good way to experience Ryan’s writing style. I am very glad that I did as The Pariah was an outstanding and powerful fantasy read that I had a wonderful time getting through.
Alwyn is a young outlaw, trained by his band to steal, kill, spy and deceive. Raised in the massive and forbidding forest known as the Shavine Marches, in the heart of the kingdom of Albermaine, Alwyn serves the notorious Deckin Scarl, a feared and revered bandit king who rules the forests with an iron fist. Following a deadly civil war, Deckin finds himself with an opportunity to eliminate a recently installed duke and his family and seize his power and lands. However, before he can enact his ambitious and murderous plan, the bandit horde is betrayed, Deckin is executed and Alwyn is imprisoned, sent to work a lifetime in the labour prison known as the Pit Mines.
Determined to escape the mines and get revenge on the person responsible for the death of everyone he knew and loved, Alwyn finds himself under the sway of an inspirational cleric imprisoned alongside him. Under her tutelage, Alwyn learns a subtler art and becomes a scribe of great skill. However, his desire for freedom and revenge is never far from his mind, and he soon leads the inmates of the pit in an ambitious escape attempt, and so sets forth a series of events that will change Albermaine forever
Managing to escape from the prison and find sanctuary, Alwyn learns much and finds himself taking on many guises including that of scribe, scholar, advisor, and thief, as he attempts to find safety, wealth, and revenge. However, fate never appears to be on Alwyn’s side, and his bad luck eventually forces him to join a military company serving a noble lady who believes herself touched by the gods. Pledging himself to this company to save his life, Alwyn traverses battlefields and warzones across Albermaine, encountering some of the unusual people who inhabit this chaotic realm. His adventures will place him at the centre of the formative events of the kingdom and the church, but how will this scribe of bastard birth rise to become one of the most infamous figures of the age?
This was an outstanding novel from Ryan and one that makes me really regret not checking out some of his previous novels earlier. The Pariah contains an epic and comprehensive fantasy tale that sees a flawed protagonist traverse a compelling and well-established new fantasy realm. I had an amazing time getting through this impressive novel and it gets a full five-star rating from me.
The Pariah has a really great story that I got pretty damn addicted to. This latest book from Ryan is told in the chronicle form, as penned by its protagonist, Alwyn Scribe, who recounts his life story, including the early events which are the focus of this book. Ryan dives right into The Pariah’s narrative extremely quickly, with details of the setting and history weaved in as the tale progresses. The story has an intriguing start to it, showing Alwyn as the young member of a bandit crew with an ambitious leader. However, the story goes in some very interesting and devastating directions fast, with a brutal massacre changing the entire status quo for the protagonist and forcing him onto a new path. The rest of the story follows Alwyn as he becomes mixed up with a series of inspirational leaders, mysterious magic users, and fun side characters, whose plans and beliefs forces the protagonist into great adventure and intrigue. This leads to some awesome and memorable scenes, including a dangerous prison break, some epic battle sequences, and innumerable mysteries and revelations, several of which are left open for the author to explore in the rest of the series. This all leads to an intriguing and action-packed conclusion that showcases the protagonist’s growth, while also setting up the future entries in the series pretty well.
I deeply enjoyed the author’s impressive writing style in this novel, especially with the entire novel set out in the form of first-person chronicle. Due to the cool stories that it can tell, I have a lot of love for the chronicle format, and I felt Ryan did a really good job of utilising it in The Pariah. The post-examination of Alwyn’s story from his older self provides a unique and compelling view of the events unfolding around him, and I enjoyed the various notes from his older self that hint at future events and hidden secrets. These discussions of future events help to add a certain amount of anticipation and suspense at various points at the novel, such as the early hints about the ambush at the bandit camp or mentions about future dark meetings with certain characters. I also found the focus of this book to be quite interesting, especially as a large portion of the novel was more concerned with setting up future storylines, rather than moving the story along at a quicker pace. This is a very classic epic fantasy move from Ryan, and it quite enjoyed the way in which he took the time to establish the protagonist, the supporting cast, and the settings, with a particular focus on some of the formative events of Alwyn’s life. While I enjoyed this set-up, it does steal a little excitement and momentum from the narrative, although I think the sheer amount of interesting setting detail and the intriguing potential of several established, long-term storylines more than makes up for it. All these interesting writing elements helped to turn The Pariah into a very exciting and compelling read, and I really loved the way in which they enhanced the already awesome narrative.
I also quite enjoyed the new setting that Ryan set up for The Covenant of Steel series, which has an interesting medieval European feel to it, equipped with knights, forest-dwelling bandits, and religious crusades. The entire novel is set within the Western Duchies of Albermaine, a nation riven by civil war, invasion and religious instability. This proves to be an outstanding and compelling background to the awesome story contained with The Pariah, especially as the protagonist finds himself visiting some of the more unique locations of this setting during major historical events. I personally enjoyed the cool forest lair portrayed in the start of the novel, mainly because Ryan was trying to emulate a darker version of the Robin Hood tale, but there is also a deadly prison mine and an elaborate cathedral that serve as major settings which I thought were really good.
There is also a great focus on the political and religious makeup of Albermaine, and this results in some fascinating storylines. I really liked the focus on the martyr-based and corrupt overarching religious organisation that has substantial control of the kingdom, as that forms a driving point of the plot, with the protagonist becoming involved with several unorthodox clergy members, who bring down the wrath of the rest of the church for their actions. Also, I am kind of curious to see if a prophesied end-of-the world event that multiple characters preach about actually occurs in future novels, especially as it would be a pretty fun story moment if it did. The protagonist also seems drawn to several people with magical abilities considered heretical by the church, which offers an interesting counterpoint to his other threats, especially as each of these magical characters produce impressive mysteries and potential dark storylines. I was impressed with how much time the author takes to imbue his setting with a massive amount of detail and after the quick start to the narrative, the reader is given a crash course in the history and politics of the realm. Despite the level of detail, I think that Ryan spread the world building out to an acceptable degree, and I never felt too overwhelmed with the various explanations and world expansions. I had a wonderful time traversing Albermaine with the protagonist and I look forward to seeing what additional developments and storylines occur within it in the future novels.
As I mentioned above, the novel is solely told from the perspective of protagonist Alwyn, later known as Alwyn Scribe once he takes up his profession, who is penning the events of his younger life. Alwyn is an interesting protagonist to follow and thanks to the author’s use of the chronicle style, you really get a sense of the character’s personality, motivations, and intentions as the novel progresses. Initially starting off as a young thief with immense loyalty to his chief, Alwyn goes through a lot as the novel progresses, forced to make hard decisions and encountering horrors, mistakes and a load of enemies as his tale progresses. I found Alwyn to be a complex and compelling figure, and I didn’t always like him or his decisions, especially when he was reckless and rash. However, he does grow as the novel progresses and, while he still has a lot more development to go, I felt that he was a better character at the end of the novel. I liked the various talents that Alwyn develops throughout the novel, and it was fun to have a more complex and less noble figure, thanks to his past as a thief and conman. I especially enjoyed his transition into a scribe, which the character soon sees as his primary profession, and it certainly is an interesting and compelling role for a fantasy protagonist. I liked the way in which the older version of the character tells the story, especially as there are some great reflections about his actions and his personality during that time, and you can often hear the protagonist’s regret over what he did and what is to come. I cannot wait to see what happens to this character in the future, and I kind of suspect that his tale is not going to come to a very happy end.
Aside from Alwyn, The Pariah is filled with a massive contingent of side and supporting characters who Alwyn meets throughout his adventures. These characters are featured perfectly throughout the narrative and I loved the unique and compelling ways in which they influenced the overall story. Ryan invests a lot of time into developing many of these characters, even some who had more minor roles, providing interesting personal histories and personality traits to make them stand out, and I appreciated how complex and compelling their storylines could turn out to be. I found it interesting that there was a focus on inspiration leaders, with Alwyn falling in with three separate figures in this novel, each of whom commanded his loyalty through different means and whom he became close with in different ways (one is a surrogate father, another a teacher, while the third has a very complicated and constantly evolving relationship with the protagonist). There were also some interesting antagonists featured throughout the novel, and while a couple died before their time, Ryan made sure to leave some of the better ones alive for the next entry in the series, and I am sure they will have an impact there. Each of the characters featured in The Pariah added a lot to the plot, and I cannot wait to see what unique figures are featured in Ryan’s next entry.
While I did receive a physical copy of The Pariah, I decided to try out the audiobook format instead. I am glad that I did as this was an excellent and enjoyable audiobook that was really fun to listen to. Due to its massive story, The Pariah has a decent run time of just under 20 hours, although I managed to get through it in less than a week as I really got into the amazing story. The audiobook moved at a great pace, ensuring that there were never any dull or slow moments for the listener to get bogged down in. I also found that the audiobook format was a great way to absorb the intense amount of world-building, and it also lent itself to some of the exciting fight scenes extremely well. I was also impressed by the narration of Steven Brand, who brought a wonderful energy to this format. Brand has an amazing voice and he quickly leapt into the role of the narrator, telling the unique tale of the protagonist’s life and inhabiting the character seamlessly. I loved the distinctive and well-fitted voices that Brand used throughout The Pariah, and he really helped to turn this format into something special. As a result, the audiobook version of this book comes highly recommended and I will probably end up listening to the rest of this series in this format.
The Pariah by Anthony Ryan is an epic and deeply compelling piece of fantasy fiction that is really worth reading. Perfectly setting up Ryan’s intriguing new series, The Pariah was an awesome outing from this talented author, and I loved the brilliant story, complex characters and chaotic setting that was featured throughout it. I cannot wait to see how this awesome series is going to turn out, and The Covenant of Steel novels look set to be one of the most iconic fantasy series of the next few years.
WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):
What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?
So, let’s get to it.
Viral by Robin Cook (Trade Paperback)
I just started this intriguing novel from the master of the medical thriller, Robin Cook. Viral features a compelling and relatable look at an outbreak of a viral infection. However, it also takes a look at the lack of affordable health care, and the lengths some people will go to get justice. A fast-paced and detailed novel, I am hoping to get through this one quickly.
The Pariah by Anthony Ryan (Audiobook)
I have been listening to The Pariah by Anthony Ryan for the last few days and I am really getting into the outstanding narrative. Featuring a cool story about a young bandit dragged into a massive conspiracy affecting the entire realm, this book has a lot of action, intrigue and fun, and I am having a great time getting through it. An awesome and highly recommended read.
The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik (Trade Paperback)
That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.
Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy. I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings. Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them. In this latest Waiting on Wednesday I take a look at two great sounding upcoming young adult fantasy novels that I think have a lot of potential and could be some great reads.
We only have a few months left in the year, so many reviewers are looking to 2022 when it comes to upcoming books. I am always on the look out for fun new series, so I was quite intrigued when I came across two fantastic sounding upcoming young adult fantasy novels that are set for release in the first few months of next year. Both these books sound really fun and have awesome sounding stories that focus on illegal magic in two very different ways.
The first of theses book is League of Liars by Astrid Scholte, a relatively new author who got a fair bit of attention with her two previous novels, Four Dead Queens and The Vanishing Deep. Her next novel is an intriguing fantasy thriller that follows four teens in a world where illegal users of extradimensional magic are arrested, tried, and sent to a maximum-security prison. Set for release on 22 February 2022, this book has a very awesome story to it which has really grabbed my attention.
In this fantasy thriller, four teens charged with murder and the illegal use of magic band together to devise the ultimate jailbreak. Perfect for fans of Six of Crows and How to Get Away with Murder.
Ever since his mother was killed, seventeen-year-old Cayder Broduck has had one goal–to see illegal users of magic brought to justice. People who carelessly use extradimensional magic for their own self-interest, without a care to the damage it does to society or those around them, deserve to be punished as far as Cayder is concerned. Because magic always has a price. So when Cayder lands a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to apprentice under a premier public defender, he takes it. If he can learn all the tricks of public defense, the better he’ll be able to dismantle defense arguments when he’s a prosecutor. Then he’ll finally be able to make sure justice is served.
But when he meets the three criminals he’s supposed to defend, it no longer seems so black and white. They’re teenagers, like him, and their stories are . . . complicated, like his. Vardean, the prison where Cayder’s new clients are incarcerated, also happens to be at the very heart of the horrible tear in the veil between their world and another dimension–where all magic comes from.
League of Liars is a dark and twisty mystery set in a richly-drawn world where nothing is as it seems, rife with magic, villains and danger.
Ok, so an inventive fantasy tale that features both legal drama and a magical prison break, I think you can count me in on this one. This is one of the more unique plot synopses that I have seen, and it is one that I found to be extremely intriguing. I love the idea of a world where magic has appeared and is heavily regulated and criminalised, and I have no doubt this will be a cool setting to check out. Everything in League of Liars sound really cool, and I have no doubt that I will have an amazing time getting through this book.
The other book I want to highlight is the fascinating sounding Echoes and Empires by bestselling author Morgan Rhodes. Rhodes, who has previously found great success with her Falling Kingdom series, has come up with another compelling book, which will also serve as the first novel in her Echoes and Empires series. With a release date in early January 2022, this book sounds extremely awesome with an excellent story to it.
A snarky seventeen-year-old must team up with an enigmatic criminal to cure herself of dangerous forbidden magic in the first book of a new fantasy duology from Morgan Rhodes, the New York Times bestselling author of the Falling Kingdoms series.
Josslyn Drake knows only three things about magic: it’s rare, illegal, and always deadly. So when she’s caught up in a robbery gone wrong at the Queen’s Gala and infected by a dangerous piece of magic—one that allows her to step into the memories of an infamously evil warlock—she finds herself living her worst nightmare. Joss needs the magic removed before it corrupts her soul and kills her. But in Ironport, the cost of doing magic is death, and seeking help might mean scheduling her own execution. There’s nobody she can trust.
Nobody, that is, except wanted criminal Jericho Nox, who offers her a deal: his help extracting the magic in exchange for the magic itself. And though she’s not thrilled to be working with a thief, especially one as infuriating (and infuriatingly handsome) as Jericho, Joss is desperate enough to accept.
But Jericho is nothing like Joss expects. The closer she grows with Jericho and the more she sees of the world outside her pampered life in the city, the more Joss begins to question the beliefs she’s always taken for granted—beliefs about right and wrong, about power and magic, and even about herself.
In an empire built on lies, the truth may be her greatest weapon.
This is another really cool sounding book that has a fantastic sounding plot loaded with potential and interesting features. Echoes and Empires is set in a more classic fantasy world where magic is illegal, I love the idea of someone being infected by magic and must try and find a way to get rid of it without alerting the authorities. Throw in a handsome roguish criminal and a newly gifted magical ability that is slowly turning her evil, thanks to the influence of infamous warlock, and you have the recipe for a really awesome read.
Both these young adult fantasy novels sounds extremely good and I love the captivating and impressive stories they contain. Both these books have a lot of potential and I cannot wait to see what unique and thrilling tales these two talented authors have come up with in these great upcoming books.
Publisher: Viking/Penguin Audio (Audiobook – 14 September 2021)
Series: The Thursday Murder Club – Book Two
Length: 12 hours and 30 minutes
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Following on from his epic crime fiction debut last year, writer and television personality Richard Osman presents the second book in his Thursday Murder Club series, The Man Who Died Twice.
Richard Osman is an awesome comedic talent and personality who I have enjoyed for many years on Pointless, Would I Lie to You and other fun British panel shows. Known for his clever wit and immense height, Osman has a great sense of humour, and I was pretty excited last year when I saw that he had written a crime fiction novel, The Thursday Murder Club, which followed a group of true crime loving retirees who investigated a nearby murder. While I knew I was likely to have a great time reading The Thursday Murder Club, I was truly blown away and it ended up being one of the best books, audiobooks and debuts I enjoyed in 2020. Due to this, and the fact that my review for The Thursday Murder Club received a lot of attention this year, I have been really looking forward to reading the sequel for some time and I was very excited when details about The Man Who Died Twice were finally revealed. This awesome sequel was one of my most anticipated releases for 2021 and it did not disappoint, presenting another clever and impressive character driven mystery.
Welcome back to Coopers Chase, the sprawling aged-care community near the town of Fairhaven, England, where peace and serenity is guaranteed for all its residents, aside from the thrill-seeking members of the Thursday Murder Club, a small group of friends who spend their Thursdays investigating cold cases and gruesome murders. Made up of the intrepid Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron, the Thursday Murder club has already had great success solving the murder of the previous owner of Coopers Chase, and they are now looking for their next batch of excitement.
Their wish appears to be granted when former spy Elizabeth receives a letter from a man she thought was dead, her former colleague and ex-husband, Douglas Middlemiss. Douglas has recently run afoul of a dangerous English mobster and an international criminal cartel after stealing a bag of valuable diamonds and securing them in a secret hiding place. Reluctantly put into witness protection by MI5, Douglas is keeping a low profile in Coopers Chase while he plans his escape and new life in retirement. But when an assassin breaks into his flat and tries to kill him, Douglas turns to Elizabeth for help.
Rallying the Thursday Murder Club to her side, Elizabeth attempts to figure out which of Douglas’s enemies is trying to take him out and who knew he was hiding at Coopers Chase. But when tragedy strikes and an unknown enemy appears to have made off with the diamonds, everything seems lost. But this opponent is unprepared for just how relentless the Thursday Murder Club can be, as Elizabeth and her friends put an ambitious plan in place. However, this time the Thursday Murder Club aren’t just going after a killer; now they are facing down hardened criminals and assassins with a substantially less compunction about killing senior citizens. Will the Thursday Murder Club once again solve the unsolvable, or will this be their final case?
Wow, this was amazing novel from Osman that I had an outstanding time getting through. Featuring another epic and captivating mystery set around a fun group of characters, and featuring Osman’s amazing subtle humour, The Man Who Died Twice was an excellent read that I powered through in a few short days, and which gets another five-star rating from me.
The Man Who Died Twice has an impressive and deeply compelling character driven narrative that follows its various protagonists as they attempt to unravel the compelling case of the twice murdered man and the stolen diamonds. This second entry in the Thursday Murder Club series can easily be enjoyed as a standalone read, although fans of the first book will no doubt have an amazing time seeing how the various characters continue to progress throughout this second book. Osman beautifully utilises multiple character perspectives to tell several fantastic stories throughout the book, with the protagonists also involved in several personal battles, as well as attempting to bring down a local crime lord and a vicious young thug. All of these storylines are chock full of mystery, humour, emotion and personal tragedy, as the protagonists work through the issues and challenges in their own unique ways. The author balances all the storylines perfectly throughout the novel, eventually producing a clever and very entertaining conclusion. I loved how the entire narrative came together, and there are some very amusing and compelling moments featured throughout. Thanks to Osman’s ability to provide a great wrap-up to a story, the readers are left feeling incredibly satisfied and happy, especially after every single twist and bit of character development is revealed. Combine that with Osman’s subtle sense of humour, mostly relating to the more outrageous situations these unlikely heroes casually wander in and out of, as well as some amusing jokes about being out of touch, and the barrage of references to British pop culture, and you have a very entertaining and addictive story that proves near impossible to put down.
I really enjoyed the central mystery of The Man Who Died Twice as the Thursday Murder Club and their associates are drawn into the case of Elizabeth’s ex-husband, a MI5 agent who has stolen a bunch of diamonds from a crime lord and is now avoiding assassins in the Coopers Chase retirement community. While the initial hunt is for the location of the hidden diamonds, it soon morphs into another murder when a mysterious killer gets too close to the prize. This is a very interesting and well-crafted mystery, and I loved how Osman moved away from more traditional murder and into the world of espionage and international crime. To help solve this crime, the Club are forced to work with MI5 agents and soon find themselves investigating an influential criminal middleman with ties to the Mafia, who are hunting for the diamonds. However, the nature of the crime also suggests an inside job, and the Club are forced to investigate friends and supposed allies to figure out who is responsible. I had a great time with this mystery, and I loved the clever misdirection and various suspects that Osman featured throughout the plot. I was able to pick up one of the twists pretty early in, but the full scope of the conspiracy was a lot more complex than I realised, with some additional unexpected reveals that I didn’t see coming. I deeply enjoyed the elaborate and entertaining final plan utilised by the protagonists to entrap their opponents, especially when it ends in such a comical and amusing manner. An overall compelling and fantastic mystery, I cannot wait to see what intriguing case appears in the next book.
You can’t talk about a Thursday Murder Club novel without mentioning the outstanding and loveable characters the story is formed around. The Man Who Died Twice follows an intriguing and eclectic mix of characters as they find themselves caught up in the events of the latest mystery. Osman spent a great deal of time in the previous novel introducing these fantastic characters and ensuring that the reader would fall in love with them. This enjoyment for the characters continues in The Man Who Died Twice, as each character continues to evolve, with some excellent new details revealed about them. Osman really does a good job of utilising each of these character perspectives in the novel, and I really appreciated the way in which the tone subtly changes for each of the characters.
The main characters of this book are the two female members of the Thursday Murder Club, Elizabeth and Joyce, who have some excellent moments in this latest novel. The first of these is Elizabeth, the former spy and investigator who is now retired and has formed the Club to keep her mind busy. Elizabeth gets a lot of attention in this novel as the story focuses on her prior relationship with Douglas, which also examines her career in espionage. Elizabeth is a great protagonist to follow, mainly because she is bold schemer even now as an old woman. I always have a fun time seeing her manipulating and outsmarting everyone she comes across, especially now that most of the other characters know her game but still can’t help falling into her webs. While there is a lot of focus on her abilities and unerring talent for danger and deception, you also get a good look at her somewhat tragic personal life. Not only is she impacted by the return of Douglas, which raises a lot of memories from her past, but she is also still trying to hold onto her current husband, Stephen, who is suffering from dementia. I really appreciated the complex storylines around Elizabeth, and I appreciated the way in which Osman did an intriguing dive into her past.
Joyce on the other hand is a pleasant and friendly former nurse who was the last member of the gang to join the Club. Joyce seems like your typical, well-intentioned older lady, and I am sure that many readers will see a lot of parallels between her and their own parents or grandmothers. However, Joyce is a brilliant thinker who uses her brain and her friendly personality to make everyone like her and then help her out. Joyce forms a fantastic partnership with Elizabeth, and the two make an effective double team, with Joyce’s more subtle tactics and insights combining well with Elizabeth’s more direct approach. It is a lot of fun to see Joyce investigating these brutal crimes, especially as she picks up on just as much, if not more, than the experienced spy Elizabeth. I also really appreciate the way in which Joyce’s chapters are written, with her point-of-view shown in a series of diary entries. This different storytelling technique helps Joyce stand out as a protagonist, especially as it highlights her entertaining personality, including the revelations and observations she has about modern technology and younger people (I had so many chuckles at her forays on Instagram).
The male members of the Thursday Murder Club are Ibrahim and Ron, who are a little underutilised compared to Elizabeth and Joyce in this novel, but they both get their intriguing storylines which were really well-written and compelling. This is particularly true for Ibrahim, the group’s shy intellectual, who is forced to deal with a brutal physical attack from a young criminal at the start of the book, a scene which really hit me hard due to how much I got to know this harmless character during the first book. This attack leaves Ibrahim scarred mentally as well as physically, and he spends the rest of the novel feeling quite afraid and unwilling to leave Coopers Chase. Osman does some deep and emotional character work on Ibrahim here, and readers end up getting quite invested in his recovery as well as his intense mental journey. This attack on Ibrahim is also the primary catalyst for Ron’s storyline, which probably gets the least amount of attention out of all the main characters. Ron, the former union leader, who always puts on a classic tough-guy persona, is deeply impacted by the attack on his best friend and spends the early part of the book constantly by his side. However, once it becomes clear that Ibrahim is alright, he then leads the charge against his friend’s attacker, and uses Elizabeth’s contacts to bring the thug to justice. I felt that Osman hit the right notes with Ron in this book, and I appreciated seeing both his emotional side and his vengeful side, and I loved how they both came from the same place of love.
The final characters I want to mention are the associated members of the Thursday Murder Club, younger characters who have been drawn into the orbit of the compelling senior citizens. These include police officers Donna and Chris, both of whom had an entertaining introduction to the Club in the previous novel and are now firm friends with them. Donna and Chris spend most of the book attempting to bring down a Fairhaven crime lord while also dealing with their personal issues. Chris, who was a bit of a sad-sack character in the first novel, has been revitalised by his blooming relationship with Donna’s mother. While happy and now health conscious, this results in a lot of soul-searching by Chris, who is unsure how to pursue the romance, especially once his girlfriend is threatened by the criminal they are hunting. Donna, on the other hand, continues her unlucky hunt for love and purpose in this novel, going from one bad date to another while also being suitably horrified by her boss sleeping with her mother. While Donna does not get as much focus in this novel as she did in The Thursday Murder Club, she still had some great character moments, and I deeply appreciated that touching scene she had with Ibrahim. I also need to mention Bogdan, who, after being a major suspect in the first novel, has moved on to a supporting role in this book due to his firm friendship with Elizabeth and her husband. Simply put, Bogdan is the coolest person in Fairhaven and a true friend, helping Elizabeth with her projects by doing all manner of unusual requests, from looking after Stephen to buying a large amount of cocaine. He has some really good scenes in this book, and Osman sets him up as quite the bright, mysterious action man with a heart of gold. Throw in some other well-established and explored side characters in addition to the above and you have an exciting and compelling cast with a great story around them.
One of the key things about this series that I really appreciate is the way in which Osman attempts to champion the aging process and show how capable and interesting older members of the community can be. The Man Who Died Twice is another great example of this, as it contains multiple amazing examples of older protagonists doing impossible things and manipulating people half their age in some elaborate and entertaining ways. It was a lot of fun once again seeing these older characters taking charge, and Osman has a very unique and entertaining take on the aging process and the mindset of older people. However, not everything is about the positives of aging, as the author once again presents some sad and dark elements that added some powerful drama to the narrative. Throughout the course of the story, there are plenty of discussions about illness, living with regrets, and the growing realisation that death is just around the corner. There was a particular focus on the vulnerability of the elderly, especially with Ibrahim’s storyline, as it shakes both the victim and all his friends. There is also a compelling look at Stephen’s battle with dementia, which includes Elizabeth’s attempt to keep him in their apartment despite what may be medically best for him, resulting in some touching and emotional scenes, especially once the double meaning of the novel’s title becomes clear. I really appreciated the author’s unique and compelling take on the aging process, and it was great to see more of the novel’s fun senior protagonists.
While I was lucky enough to receive a physical copy of The Man Who Died Twice, I decided in the end to listen to the audiobook format of this novel, which was a fantastic choice. The Man Who Died Twice has a runtime of 12 and a half hours, although the last 40 minutes or so is an interesting interview. I found myself getting through this audiobook extremely quickly, not just because of the amazing story but because the audiobook has a great pace to it and some excellent narration by actress Lesley Manville. Manville, who also narrated The Thursday Murder Club, does another wonderful job in this second novel, and it was great to hear her impressive take on this fantastic story. Manville has come up with some amazing voices for the various characters, with each person getting their own distinctive and fitting voice, with some great continuation from the first book. Each of the character’s voices work extremely well, and I really appreciated the way in which Manville can ascribe age, emotion, and personality with her vocal work. I had an outstanding time listening to Manville tell this cool story, and it was made even better by a fun discussion between Osman and Manville at the end of the book. This nice and unique talk between author and narrator was an outstanding and fitting way to finish of this audiobook, especially as it offers some cool insights into the book you have just been enjoying. I particularly enjoyed finally getting an explanation about why Osman doesn’t narrate his own novel, and I actually agree with his reasoning for it. Overall, this was another exceptional audiobook adaptation, and I would strongly recommend this format to anyone and everyone keen to check out The Man Who Died Twice.
With his second entry in the spectacular Thursday Murder Club series, Richard Osman continues to showcase he is just as talented at writing crime fiction as he is at comedy. The Man Who Died Twice is an outstanding and wildly entertaining read that combines an impressive story with a clever mystery, some complex and likeable characters, and a brilliant sense of humour. This was a spectacular read and I had an incredible time getting through this fantastic sequel, especially in its amazing audiobook format. The Man Who Died Twice was one of the best books of 2021 and I cannot wait to see where Osman takes this series next.
Publisher: Zaffre (Trade Paperback – 17 August 2021)
Series: Jane Tennison – Book Seven
Length: 389 pages
My rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars
The reigning queen of British crime fiction, Lynda La Plante, returns with another clever and intriguing murder mystery, with her latest entry in the Jane Tennison series, Unholy Murder.
La Plante is a great author whose books I have featured several times over the last few years. Best known for her work in British television, where she produced and wrote several shows and television movies, La Plante has really started to focus more on her novels recently, producing some awesome and compelling reads. Out of all her recent works, the one I have been enjoying the most is the outstanding Jane Tennison series. Serving as a prequel to the acclaimed Prime Suspect television series, the Jane Tennison novels follow a younger version of the show’s protagonist, the titular Jane Tennison, as she works her way up the ranks of the Metropolitan Police. This series has so far contained several awesome and impressive novels, including Good Friday, Murder Mile, The Dirty Dozen and Blunt Force. The latest entry in the series, Unholy Murder, contained another amazing mystery that sets the protagonist against the dangerous influence of the Catholic Church.
In 1982, Detective Sergeant Jane Tennison has recently been assigned to the Bromley CID, a quieter London beat where she can focus on her upcoming inspector’s exam. However, her knack for attracting the most unusual and deadly murders once again surfaces when construction workers uncover a coffin at the back of a new housing development. Based on the site of an old, deconsecrated convent, it is initially assumed that the coffin could be part of a forgotten graveyard, and the coffin is taken to the local morgue. However, when opened, the coffin is revealed to contain the corpse of a brutally murdered nun.
With no idea who the deceased is or when they died, Tennison is initially unsure how to proceed. With her superiors assuming that the coffin could be decades or even centuries old, there is little desire for the case to continue. However, when Tennison is able to determine that the crime took place just before the convent shut down in the 1960s, she is given permission to investigate and attempts to find who the murdered nun is and how her death was left undiscovered for so long.
Digging into the past of the convent and its attached orphanage, Tennison and her team soon discover a sordid history or abuse, neglect and cover-ups. Convinced that the murder may be related to these charges, the police attempt to find out more about the nuns who lived there. However, the Catholic Church is uncooperative and all their files on the convent are missing or destroyed. With the Pope’s historical visit to London only days away, Tennison is determined to get to the bottom of this terrible case, no matter what, Tennison follows every angle she can to get to the truth. But with someone high up in the church’s hierarchy doing everything to cover up the crime, and with her own superior’s attempting to stop the investigation, can Tennison and her team unmask the killer, or will the secrets of the past came crashing back with unfortunate collateral damage?
This was another pretty awesome novel from La Plante, who has come up with a fantastic and captivating crime fiction story. Unholy Murder has an impressive murder mystery to it, with the premise of a murdered, unknown nun secretly buried on the grounds of a former convent. La Plante sets up this entire mystery perfectly, and the reader is soon invested in the plot. There are some great aspects to the investigation, and I liked the usage of an older crime, with the protagonists forced to dive back nearly 20 years. There are multiple potential suspects, twists and a range of interferences featured throughout the course of the investigation, and I had a wonderful time following through and trying to figure out who did it and who is trying to keep it quiet for their own reasons. It all leads up to an intense and fast-paced conclusion, with a second killing seeming to occur, and several separate story threads coming together and adding in some intrigue and excitement. I was really impressed with the final solutions to the story, and I appreciated the dark and cynical ending that it contained. This was one of La Plante’s more captivating and clever mysteries and it was a lot of fun getting to the bottom of everything.
One of the more interesting aspects of the entire novel was the inclusion of the Catholic Church as a major force in the investigation. While some of the lower-level clergy and staff are initially helpful, once the case is revealed to be a murder, potentially committed by someone working at the convent, senior church members work hard to halt the investigation and try to protect themselves and the reputation of the church. This was a fascinating and intense part of the investigation, and it added in layers of complexities and difficulties that the protagonists are forced to overcome. The case becomes even more complicated, with multiple allegations of abuse or brutality from the sisters at the convent coming to light. I really appreciated the way La Plante worked this aspect into the novel, and it was fascinating to see this in a historical context as I am personally more used to hearing about these sorts of issues in the 21st century. The impacts of the church and its members on the case are pretty fascinating, especially as it makes the solution a lot more clouded, and some resolutions a lot more controversial. While some authors would use this to simply bash the church, La Plante paints a more complex and multifaceted story here, attempting to show that some of the clergy characters were really good people bound by rules, their oaths or the ambitions of others who abuse their roles and responsibilities for their own aims. I felt that they author’s use and inclusion of the Catholic Church in this novel helped to make Unholy Murder a much better novel, and it ensured that the case was a lot more intense and complex.
Jane Tennison is always an interesting character to follow, especially as she is one of the few senior female investigators in the MET during this prequel series. While this is a crime fiction series, a large amount of the plot revolves around Tennison’s personal life, and La Plante has spent a lot of time showing Tennison’s growth as a character, as well as the events that turned her into the hard-edged investigator featured in Prime Suspect. It has been really fascinating to see Tennison claw her way up the ranks over the last few books, and it was great to see her once again take a leading role in a murder investigation. Due to some of her prior experiences with fellow officers, Tennison has a bit of a chip on her shoulder in this book, although she manages to mostly prove that she has what it takes. I do wish that Tennison weren’t portrayed as someone who lets her personal life interfere with the job, especially as she once again gets involved with a person connected to the murder to her own detriment. Still, I enjoyed Tennison in this novel, and she was a great central protagonist to follow.
This novel featured an interesting group of supporting characters, including police officers, suspects, and members of the church. The author’s great use of multiple character perspectives in this novel was perfect to highlight these various side characters, and I liked how it also helped to make some of the people connected to the case seem more suspicious or guilty. While there were several characters I liked, I mostly want to focus on the various police characters featured within Unholy Murder, as they were a major part of the plot. Not only do you have several recurring police characters from the prior Jane Tennison novels but there are also some great new characters who were very fun to follow. I quite liked rookie investigator DC Boon, a young officer that Tennison has taken under her wing. While he initially appears a bit clumsy and clueless, he really starts to grow as a character as the novel progressed, becoming a much more competent investigator. He also becomes a lot more serious, especially once he gets personally involved in the case, and there are some deep and emotional moments that occur around him as the novel progresses.
I also deeply appreciated the inclusion of DCS Barnes, Tennison’s new boss who heads up the investigation. Barnes has previously dealt with cases of child abuse by members of the church whose crimes were covered up by his superiors and the church, and this memory drives him throughout the novel and ensures that he takes the cases extremely seriously. Once it becomes apparent that the murder was likely committed by a member of the clergy, and that the priest he previously attempted to bring down is now a senior figure leading the latest cover-up, he becomes a bit obsessive and refuses to accept any alternate possibilities and suspects. It was really quite intriguing to see an anti-Church police officer in the 1980s, and I really liked the complex and compelling portrayal around him. All these side characters add a lot to the overall story, and La Plante did an excellent job of fitting these intense personal stories into the wider murder mystery.
Unholy Murder is an excellent new novel that continues the excellent Jane Tennison series by the amazing Lynda La Plante. Featuring a clever mystery, some great characters and a really intriguing plot hook, Unholy Murder easily grabs the reader’s attention and ensures that they become deeply attached to the outcome of the story. I had an outstanding time reading this latest book and I look forward to the next instalment of this fun series in 2022.