Guest Review – The Power by Naomi Alderman

After reviewing some of 2019’s most intriguing reads with Pan’s Labyrinth, The Testaments and The Fowl Twins, my amazing editor/wife Alex (editor is the important part there) attempts to muscle in on my Throwback Thursday territory in her latest Guest Review by checking out The Power by Naomi Alderman.

The Power Cover

Publisher: Penguin (Trade Paperback – 27 October 2016)

Series: Stand Alone/Book One

Length: 341 pages

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I’m on a mission to conquer my habit of buying more books than I can read. I picked up The Power because I recognised Naomi Alderman’s name from one of my favourite apps, Zombies, Run!, for which she is the lead writer. Zombies, Run! is primarily an exercise app, but its best feature is its compelling and immersive narrative about a community of survivors of a zombie apocalypse. So when I stumbled upon a copy of one of Alderman’s books I was immediately keen to check it out. Unfortunately, my reading of it was interrupted and it has been sadly shelved for the last year and a half. When I resolved to tackle my collection of unread books this year, I knew The Power had to be first on the list.

The Power chronicles a world in which young women develop a biological power to create and manipulate electricity. There are four main threads in the story, following a small collection of key characters on their adventures during the first decade of the change. The first is Roxy Monke, the child of an English gangster, who uses her power with devastating effect to build and control a vast criminal empire. Tunde Edo is a young Nigerian man who discovers a passion for photojournalism when he happens to capture video of an early attack using the power. He travels the world documenting the great upheavals and rebellions that the power inspires. Margot Cleary is an American politician, and through her we see how the change affects government. Allie is a young American runaway with perhaps the greatest control over her power of any woman in the world, which she uses to establish herself as a respected and feared cult leader of women. There is also an extensive cast of excellent side characters, including Margot’s daughter Jocelyn, who struggles as a young woman without a fully developed power, and Tatiana Moskalev, the wife of the president of Moldova.

What I always enjoy most about speculative fiction with several narrators is the way that readers get to experience so much of the world that has been created. This is particularly true in The Power, since each of the characters (especially Tunde) is very well travelled, and as a result we get a glimpse of how the power affects societies all over the world, as well as how the world changes over the 10 years covered in the book. We see the initial scepticism of women spontaneously evolving the power to emit and control electricity. We see the fear set in as it becomes clear how dangerous the power can be, both when it is used as an attack against individuals and when women band together to challenge misogynistic and oppressive regimes and governments. We see how cults and societies develop as the status quo is forever changed and the new power imbalance between men and women becomes firmly established. The events that unfold in Moldova are particularly fascinating. All in all, there’s not a dull moment in the whole book, and though it is at times brutally violent it is always deeply compelling.

I really loved the way the narrative is framed as a dramatisation of historical events, in a fashion similar to that of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Testaments. The book begins and ends with correspondence between Neil, who appears to be a budding historian and author, and Naomi, who is surely his mentor or perhaps his publisher. Neil and Naomi speculate on the accuracy of the story, given that they are removed from these events by several hundred years and have only the archaeological record to guide them. I was also very pleased to find chapters interspersed with illustrations and interpretations of artefacts from the time of the change, such as idols, grave sites and internet forum threads. These elements in particular made the archaeologist in me very happy.

The Power is a fantastic exploration of a world suddenly and dramatically shaken to its core. I’m going to have to check out some more of Naomi Alderman’s work, and I’m only sorry I hadn’t read this one sooner.

WWW Wednesday – 22 January 2020

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.

What are you currently reading?

Ember Queen, Dark Disciple
Ember Queen by Laura Sebastian (Trade Paperback)

Ember Queen is the final book in Sebastian’s Ash Princess series, which follows on from Ash Princess and Lady Smoke.  I am about a quarter of the way through this novel and so far it is a really good conclusion to this excellent debut trilogy.


Star Wars: Dark Disciple
by Christie Golden (Audiobook)

I was in the mood for another Star Wars audiobook and thought I would check out the intriguing sounding Dark Disciple.  This is another outstanding part of the expanded Star Wars canon and I am really glad that I decided to listen to it.  I should hopefully finish it off in the next couple of days and I will get a review up shortly after that.


What did you recently finish reading?

Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell (Trade Paperback)

Sword of Kings Cover

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold (Trade Paperback)

The Last Smile in Sunder City
Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steve Parker (Audiobook)

Deathwatch Shadowbreaker Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?


Highfire
by Eoin Colfer (Trade Paperback)

Highfire Cover 3

I only just got this book and I am hoping to start reading it soon.  I better get a move on though, my editor/wife is already making moves to steal it for herself, especially after she recently reviewed Colfer’s last book, The Fowl Twins.


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.

Waiting on Wednesday – The Grove of the Caesars and The Return

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 article I take a look at two upcoming historical murder mysteries which I believe are going to be really incredible. Both of these historical mysteries have amazing-sounding plots set in the ancient Roman Empire, and they have been written by two of my current favourite historical fiction authors, Lindsey Davis and Harry Sidebottom.

The Grove of the Caesars Cover

The first of the books I will be looking at is The Grove of the Caesars by legendary Roman historical fiction author Lindsey Davis. The Grove of the Caesars is set for release in early April 2020 and will be the eighth book in Davis’s Flavia Albia series, which is itself a sequel to Davis’s long-running Marcus Didius Falco series. The Flavia Albia series follows its titular protagonist as she investigates a series of murders and other crimes in ancient Rome, and is distinctive thanks to its intriguing mysteries, fantastic depictions of the city and its often humorous tone. I have long been a fan of the Flavia Albia series, having been lucky enough to receive a copy of the first entry, The Ides of April, back when it was first released. I have since gone on and read the rest of the books in this series, and I currently have reviews for the last three books in the series, The Third Nero, Pandora’s Boy and A Capitol Death, on my blog. For this upcoming book in the series, Davis has come up with another amazing sounding plot premise, which is sure to result in an excellent and enjoyable read.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Too many people tell Flavia Albia, ‘Don’t go to the Grove’. Such warnings will only lure her to the place she is warned away from, Julius Caesar’s Gardens, where she finds more than one intriguing mystery.

Someone has buried tattered scrolls here, by unreadable ancient philosophers. Hardly has she taken an interest in what looks like book collecting fraud, when far worse happens. A present evil stirs in the undergrowth. A man holds a birthday party that goes terribly wrong, exposing a long series of neglected crimes.

Albia learns that a serial killer has haunted the gardens and grove for years targeting women. It isn’t her place to investigate; that’s the job of a dubious vigiles cohort, beefed up by the sinister imperial agent, Julius Karus who she thinks is vile. But sympathy for the dead women and their grieving relatives resonates with Albia. Even if she has to work with Karus, nothing will stop her until the serial killer in the sacred grove is at last caught and brought to justice.

I really like the sound of this great book and cannot wait to get my hands on it. Not only has Davis apparently come up with an intriguing story which sets its fun protagonist against a deadly serial killer, but it looks like she will weaving some interesting historical details about Ancient Rome throughout the book. Davis has featured a number of fascinating and unique aspects about parts of ancient Rome into her books before, and I look forward to learning more about Caesar’s gardens, as well as how ancient book collecting fraud would apparently look.

Based on my previous experiences with Davis’s work, the moment I heard that there was going to be another Flavia Albia novel coming out I knew that I was going to enjoy it. This series is extremely entertaining, and I always have a great time unravelling the clever mysteries that Davis comes up with, especially as they often result in large-scale farcical fights. This new story sounds particularly fascinating, and cannot wait to see how it unfolds.

The Return Cover

The second book is The Return, the latest novel from the innovative author Harry Sidebottom, who has been doing some cool things with the Roman historical fiction genre in the last couple of years. Sidebottom is an excellent historical fiction author who has primarily written Roman historical fiction since his debut in 2008. While I am a big fan of his original Warrior of Rome series, his most recent work has been particularly interesting to me, as he has been mixing in distinctive thriller elements to his books. This started with his 2018 release, The Last Hour, which was essentially 24 in ancient Rome as his main protagonist races against the clock to stop the assassination of his Emperor. He followed this up last year with The Lost Ten, which utilised military thriller elements to create quite a compelling story about a group of Roman soldiers infiltrating an impregnable Persian fortress. Both of these books were amazing pieces of fiction and I really enjoyed reading them. His upcoming book, The Return, sounds like it is going to be an intense and compelling read, as Sidebottom is apparently attempting to work elements usually associated with Scandi-noir fiction into this historical fiction tale.

Goodreads Synopsis:

145BC – CALABRIA, ANCIENT ROME. Gaius Furius Paullus has returned home after years of spilling blood for Rome. One of the lucky few to survive a lifetime of brutal battle, he intends to spend his remaining days working quietly on the family farm.

But it seems death has stalked Paullus from the battlefield. Just days after his arrival, bodies start appearing – murdered and mutilated. And as the deaths stack up, and panic spreads, the war hero becomes the prime suspect. After all, Paullus has killed countless enemies on the battlefield – could he have brought his habit home with him?

With the psychological effects of combat clouding every thought, Paullus must use all his soldier’s instincts to hunt the real killer. Because if they are not brought to justice soon, he may become the next victim.

The Return is set to be another amazing and intriguing read from Sidebottom, and I am looking forward to seeing how he combines historical fiction with a dark murder mystery. The whole idea of a troubled and traumatised Roman solider returning home and being forced to try and investigate a crime is pretty darn cool, especially as the after-effects of war start to have an impact on his psyche. I have to say that I am very curious about this one, and I am expecting The Return to be one of the most unique novels of 2020. The Return is due to be released in early June 2020, and I will have to make sure I get it as soon as I can.

Both of these amazing sounding upcoming books should prove to be real highlights of my early 2020 reading year. The Grove of the Caesars and The Return have some extremely awesome plot concepts behind them, and I am really excited to read the latest books from two of top historical fiction authors in the world today.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I Wish I read in 2019

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, I am going to take a look at the top ten books I wish I had read in 2019. 2019 was an absolutely great year for books and I managed to get through a massive pile of fantastic reads (make sure to check out my top reads of 2019 list). However, there are always going to be some outstanding releases that you miss, and 2019 was filled with some amazing books that I wish I had gotten a chance to read. So, I thought I would take the time to highlight which 2019 releases I most regret not getting the chance to read. Hopefully by including them on this list, I will encourage myself to read some of them throughout this year.

Readers of my blog might remember that I did a similar list to this at the start of last year, with my Top Ten Books I Wish I Read in 2018 list. For this earlier list, I looked at which books I most regretted not reading in 2018, and made it a priority to try and get through them at some point. I actually made a little bit of progress getting through the books on this list last year, as I ended up reading three out of the 10 books that featured on this earlier list (like I said, a little bit of progress). Each of these three books that I ended up reading in 2019, which included Cold Iron by Miles Cameron, The Ember Blade by Chris Wooding and King of Assassins by R. J. Barker (review still pending), were extremely epic books, and each of them received a full five out of five stars from me. I am still going to try and read some of the other books that were featured on this 2018 list in the future, but it is definitely time to look to the releases of 2019. Hopefully I will enjoy some of the inclusions on this new list as much as the books I went back to check out last year.

For this list any book with a 2019 release date that I have not yet read is eligible to be included. I had a feeling before I started that this will be a pretty diverse list as there were quite a few intriguing-sounding novels out there that I did not get a chance to try out. It turned out that there were quite a few books out there that I wish I had read last year, but I was eventually able to work out what my top ten were. I think that each of the novels featured on this list have a great amount of potential, especially those where I have already read an earlier book in the series. So, let us get to the list.

Honourable Mentions:


Grave Importance
by Vivian Shaw

Grave Importance Cover


The Russian 
by Ben Coes

The Russian Cover


Nottingham
by Nathan Makaryk

Nottingham Cover


The Second Sleep
by Robert Harris

The Second Sleep Cover

Top Ten List:


The Institute
by Stephen King

The Institute Cover 1

For the second year in a row, the latest Stephen King tops my list of books I wish I had read. While The Institute sounded extremely interesting, I just could not fit it into my reading schedule. I think that I will really have to try and get through this book at some point this year.

The Ruin of Kings and The Name of All Things by Jenn Lyons

Jenn Lyons COver

I’m going to do a double feature for this second entry and feature the first two books in Jenn Lyons’s A Chorus of Dragons series. Both of these books were released last year, and they sounded like particularly intriguing pieces of fantasy fiction that I really wanted to read. Unfortunately, I had to prioritise other books in front of The Ruin of Kings, and I did not want to take a look at The Name of All Things until I’d gotten through the first book. The end result is that I didn’t read either of them, which is a real shame. I must try and have a go at reading both of them this year, especially as the third book in the series, The Memory of Souls (which has a rather cool picture of an elephant on its front cover), is set for release in August.

Salvation Lost by Peter F. Hamilton

Salvation Lost Cover

This is probably the most surprising novel I did not read last year. Salvation Lost is the sequel to 2018’s Salvation, which was one of my favourite books in 2018. I have been meaning to read this sequel since about July, and yet somehow, I keep completely failing to even pick it up. I will hopefully get to this one very soon, and it is probably the book on this list I am most likely to read next.

The Bear Pit by S. G. MacLean

The Bear Pit Cover

The Bear Pit is another book whose preceding novel, Destroying Angel, I found to be pretty spectacular. I was really looking forward to The Bear Pit, especially as it featured a really cool sounding mystery in a fascinating historical period. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get a copy of this book (the one copy I saw in the shop was damaged, the horror, the horror) and so didn’t get around to reading it. I will read this book at some point in the future and I cannot wait to dive into another one of MacLean’s compelling and complex murder mystery storylines.

Alien: Echo by Mira Grant

Alien Echo Cover

An Alien book, written by horror extraordinaire Mira Grant! How have I not read this book yet? I was really looking forward to Alien: Echo earlier in the year, especially after I enjoyed Grant’s last novel, Into the Drowning Deep. I actually have a copy of this book currently sitting on my shelf, silently judging me, and I will have to carve out some time to get through this one.

We Are the Dead by Mike Shackle

We are the Dead Cover

We Are the Dead was a rather intriguing-sounding 2019 fantasy debut that I very much regret not getting a copy of. I have heard some pretty amazing things about this book, and I really wish that I had managed to check it out. The sequel, A Fool’s Hope, is set for release in July, and I will have to make an effort and read We Are the Dead before this second book comes out.

Duplicity by Richard Evans

Duplicity Cover

This was the second book in Evans’s Democracy series, the first book of which, Deceit, was also featured on my favourite reads of 2018 list. Deceit was an excellent political thriller that expertly portrayed chaotic events that occur within Australia’s Parliament House. I was really looking forward to the sequel, especially as it was going to look at Australia’s electoral process, but unfortunately I just didn’t get a chance to read it. This is another one I am probably going to try and read in the next couple of weeks, and I think it is going to be a really outstanding piece of Australian fiction.

The Taking of Annie Thorne by C. J. Tudor

The Taking of Annie Thorne Cover

This was fantastic-sounding novel that I heard some good things about from other reviewers. The Taking of Annie Thorne, also titled The Hiding Place, was another dark thriller from Tudor, acclaimed author of The Chalk Man, which featured another of the author’s clever-sounding plots. I really want to check this one out in its audiobook format as it was narrated by Richard Armitage, and I look forward to hearing him tell the story.

Star Wars: Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott

Dooku - Jedi Lost Cover

Somehow I failed to read all the Star Wars books that were released last year, which is just disappointing. Dooku: Jedi Lost is a deeply intriguing Star Wars novel that somehow failed to turn up on my radar until after its release. This piece of Star Wars fiction began life exclusively as an audio production, although a printed version has since been produced. The book examines the life of Star Wars antagonist Count Dooku and shows why he left the Jedi Order and how he was seduced by the Dark Side of the Force. Because it is a Star Wars novel, I already know I am going to love it, and it is pretty much guaranteed that I will listen to this at some point. I am really looking forward to learning more about the history of Count Dooku, and from the sounds of it, this book will have some strong ties to one of my favourite Star Was book of 2019, Master & Apprentice.

The Wolf’s Call by Anthony Ryan

The Wolf's Call Cover

The final book on this list is The Wolf’s Call by bestselling fantasy author Anthony Ryan. The Wolf’s Call is the first book in Ryan’s new Raven’s Blade series, which follows the adventures of a legendary warrior forced to fight another bloody war. This book has a really intriguing-sounding plot and received some very high praise from reviewers, so I will have to try and read it at some point. I might actually read the three books in Ryan’s Raven’s Shadow series first, as they are set in the same world.

 

It looks like I have a lot catch-up reading to do if I am going to make a dent in this list. There are some truly amazing-sounding novels on this list and I fully intend to get through all of them at some point, although with all the outstanding books coming out in 2020, it might take me a little time. In the meantime, let me know what books you most regret not reading in 2019 in the comments below.

Book Haul – 20 January 2020

Welcome to my first Book Haul post of 2020, where I look at some of the cool books I have been lucky enough to receive in the last couple of weeks.  So far this year I have already picked up several great novels that I am really looking forward to read, and I will hopefully get reviews up for them soon.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

The Last Smile in Sunder City

The first book in this post is The Last Smile in Sunder City by debuting Australian author Luke Arnold.  I have been looking forward to this book for a little while now and I actually just finished it a few hours ago.  It was really good and I am so glad that I received a copy of this book.

Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz

Into the Fire

Another book that I have been looking forward to for a bit, Into the Fire is the latest book in Hurwitz’s Orphan X series.  I really enjoyed the previous book in the series, Out of the Dark, last year and I am interested to see where Hurwitz takes the series next.

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray

The Last Day Cover

This is another interesting sounding debut that I am looking forward to trying out. The Last Day is an intriguing sounding thriller that is set in a future where the Earth has stopped turning.  This has all the ingredients for a pretty epic read and I am hoping to check it out soon.

Riptide by Kirsten Alexander

Riptides Cover

From Kirsten Alexander, the author of Half Moon Lake, one of my favourite debut novels of 2019, come this intriguing sounding new piece of Australian fiction.  It looks like Alexander has produced another compelling historical drama novel and I look forward to seeing how this one turns out.

Ember Queen by Laura Sebastian

Ember Queen Cover

The final book in Sebastian’s debut Ash Princess trilogy.  I really liked the first two books in this young adult fantasy series, Ash Princess and Lady Smoke, and I am quite excited to see how Sebastian concludes this amazing trilogy.

Well that is the end of my first Book Haul of 2020.  Not a bad start to the year in my opinion.  I am expecting some additional great books in the near future, so stay tuned to see what goodies I manage to pick up.

Lost by James Patterson and James O. Born

Lost Cover

Publisher: Century (Trade Paperback – 7 January 2020)

Series: Stand Alone/Book One

Length: 328 pages

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

From the excellent crime fiction team of James Patterson and James O. Born comes Lost, an enjoyable and thrilling novel that sets a fun new protagonist against the scourge of international human trafficking.

Detective Tom Moon is a Miami man, born and bred, who loves to protect his city. Assigned to lead a new FBI joint task force that’s been set up in the city, his new job is to tackle international crime. However, their job gets very complicated when they receive a tip about a man coming in through Miami International Airport from Amsterdam. Upon arresting their suspect, they find that he was attempting to smuggle in several children from Europe and that he is part of a notorious human trafficking ring.

Working closely with Dutch Detective Marie Meijer, Moon and his team work to uncover the full extent of the trafficking ring in both Amsterdam and Miami. However, the traffickers are being led by a ruthless pair of Dutch siblings who are desperate to succeed and even willing to target the police hunting them. Worse, the traffickers are working with a powerful syndicate of Russian gangsters who have a strong foothold in both Europe and Miami. When Moon and his team receive news that a massive shipment of people is being smuggled into Miami, they know that this is the break they need to bring down the entire operation. But with money and family on the line, both the Russians and the traffickers are desperate to claim their cargo and will go to any lengths to secure it, even if that means killing Moon and everyone he cares about.

Lost is the latest novel from co-writers James Patterson and James O. Born. Patterson is an author who needs very little introduction, having contributed to well over 100 crime fiction novels since his debut in 1976, including his bestselling Alex Cross series. Patterson has a longstanding tradition of collaborating with other crime fiction authors to create some intriguing reads, including the Detective Harriet Blue series with Candice Fox, the Women’s Murder Club series with Andrew Gross and Maxine Paetro, the Michael Bennett series which he has mostly done with Michael Ledwidge, the NYPD Red series with Marshall Karp and the Private series co-written with several different authors. James O. Born has been writing since 2004, when he debuted with the intriguing-sounding Walking Money. Born has written several novels in his career so far and has been collaborating with Patterson since 2016. Patterson and Born have already written several together, including the Mitchum series (the third book of which, The River Murders, was released only a few days ago) and the latest two entries in the Michael Bennett series. The two writers are also releasing a third Michael Bennett novel, Blindside, in the next week, which actually sounds pretty interesting and I might have to try and check out.

Lost is a standalone novel that features a brand-new protagonist, Tom Moone. Lost is a fantastic piece of crime fiction with a massively enjoyable story that was a lot of fun to check out. This was an exceedingly accessible novel from this writing pair, which requires no prior knowledge of any of the books in Patterson’s extensive library of works. Patterson and Born have produced an entertaining and very fast-paced story that I was to power through in a very short period of time. The story is told in a series of extremely short chapters, which helps to move the plot along at a quick clip, which I really appreciated. The authors also cleverly utilise multiple character perspectives to create a richer and more compelling overall novel. Around half the novel is told from the first-person perspective of the book’s protagonist, Tom Moon, while the rest of the novel is told from the third-person perspective of several other characters. The most prominent of these characters are the smuggler team of Hanna and Albert Greete, who serve as some of the book’s main antagonists. This great use of perspective has some real advantages for the story, as it allows a deeper look at this new exciting protagonist whilst also providing the reader with an enticing view of the dark underbelly that is the world of human trafficking.

The authors’ decision to focus this book on human trafficking was an interesting choice and one which I felt really payed off for this book. This whole criminal enterprise is both fascinating and despicable, and results in a number of fantastic sequences throughout Lost. The two authors do an excellent job of covering all the angles surrounding the human trafficking and their inclusion of multiple character perspectives is really useful here. Not only do we get to see the viewpoints of the police who are trying to stop these crimes but we also get to see the perspective of the traffickers and some of the people they are smuggling. This allows the authors to show some of the tricks and techniques that human traffickers use to smuggle people into the United States, and we also get to see the eventual fates of several people who are successfully trafficked (it doesn’t go well for them). We also see what has driven several smuggled people into the arms of the traffickers; whether they are there by choice or whether they have been forced their against their will, their story is generally a bleak one, and I liked that the authors tried to examine the victims of this crime in some detail. The use of international human trafficking as the central crime also allows this novel to have more of a multinational fair to it, as police from two separate countries, in this case agents of a United States FBI taskforce and the Dutch police, work together to solve the crime. I liked the various scenes set in Amsterdam, and it was really interesting to see the author’s interpretation of the city and how it has been impacted by international crime. It was also fun to see the two main police characters in the book, Miami cop Moon and Amsterdam police officer Meijer, spend time learning more about the cultures of their international counterpart, as both characters get tours of the other’s respective cities. I personally really enjoyed this captivating aspect of the book, and it really helped make this cool crime fiction novel even more enjoyable.

Patterson has a fantastic habit of coming up with a number of memorable protagonists for his works. The bestselling author and his co-writers have created some truly compelling protagonists to help helm their books, many of whom are then utilised as the central character of long-running series. In Lost, Patterson and Born have come up with another interesting main character in the form of Detective Tom Moon, who was an excellent protagonist for this new novel. Moon is a pretty distinctive police officer, whose large physical appearance clashes with a number of character traits featured within this book, such as his calm, philosophical nature, his soft spot for children and his dedication to his family. Moon is a truly nice guy who has earned the trust of the Miami street community and even some criminals thanks to his status as a local, his well-known past as a poor college athlete and his sense of fair play. I really enjoyed the whole man-of-the-streets vibe that the authors came up with for Moon, and it was fun seeing several examples of local people helping him out with his enquires, even the criminals. While we mainly see Moon being nice and helpful, he is not always such a laid-back guy, especially when his family is being threatened. He can actually get quite vicious at times, especially in one club scene when his sister is around, and he really doesn’t get intimidated, choosing to go after several dangerous people, often in fairly tactless ways (there is one entertaining scene where he calls out a criminal in a very public way). All of this adds up to another distinctive and enjoyable protagonist, and I quite enjoyed the combination of charm, humour and street smarts that made up Detective Moon. That being said, I think that the book would have survived without the continued stream of philosophically meaningful quotes he was spouting, and it really wasn’t my favourite thing in Lost.

Overall, Lost by James Patterson and James O. Born is another great piece of crime fiction that is bound to keep a lot of readers entertained. These two authors have come up with another intriguing story, which dives deep into the world of international human trafficking to produce an excellent read. I very much enjoyed this new novel, and I would love to see more of Tom Moon in the future, especially if the authors come up with some other fascinating examples of international crime to investigate. Lost is worth checking out, especially if you are in the mood for a compelling, fast-paced crime fiction novel with a fantastic protagonist.

Magnus and the Crossroads Brotherhood by Robert Fabbri

Magnus and the Crossroads Brotherhood Cover

Publisher: Corvus (Hardcover – 3 December 2019)

Series: Crossroads Brotherhood – Collected Edition

Length: 369 pages

My Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5 stars

From the mind of one of the most entertaining authors of historical fiction, Robert Fabbri, comes Magnus and the Crossroads Brotherhood, a superb collection of fun and exciting short stories set in the same universe as Fabbri’s bestselling Vespasian series.

Over the last couple of years, Fabbri’s Vespasian series has been one of my absolute favourite historical fiction series out there, so much so that Fabbri is now one of those authors whose works I will automatically buy, no questions asked. The Vespasian books, which ran between 2011 and 2019, examined the life story of the titular character, Vespasian, and showed the events that eventually led to him becoming emperor of Rome. Fabbri utilised a mixture of historical facts and a number of fictionalised potential adventures to tell an entertaining story which also mixed in some of the wildest and most over-the-top recorded tales of ancient Rome and its Emperors. This series featured a huge cast of figures from Roman history and it also made use of several fictional characters of Fabbri’s own design to move the story along. While the books featured several great fictional characters, the most significant of these was Magnus.

Marcus Salvius Magnus, mostly referred to as Magnus in the series, was Vespasian’s best friend, confidant and fixer throughout the series and was at his side for most of the wild adventures Vespasian found himself on. Magnus was the leader of the South Quirinal Crossroads Brotherhood, one of the major criminal gangs in ancient Rome, but he also worked for his patron, Vespasian’s uncle, Gaius Vespasius Pollo, and helped him and his nephews rise politically. Magnus appeared in all nine Vespasian books and was a major part of the series. Fabbri evidently enjoyed featuring him in his stories as he was also used as the protagonist of the Crossroads Brotherhood series of novellas, which featured six separate novellas released between 2011 and 2018.

Magnus and the Crossroads Brotherhood is the first full collection of the six Crossroads Brotherhood novellas, which follow the adventures of Magnus and his brethren as they navigate the dangerous criminal underbelly of ancient Rome. Set out in chronological order across several points in the Vespasian series (which was set over the course of 40-plus years), these various short stories each feature a different criminal enterprise, including fixing a chariot race, manipulating an arms dealer, and property speculation, all whilst trying to stay on top of the city’s rival criminal organisations and surviving the crazy whims of Rome’s rulers.

This was a fun and exciting book that I really enjoyed, and I am exceptionally glad that I was able to read all these great novellas inside a single book. Fabbri has produced some truly entertaining tales which not only tie in with and close up some gaps in the Vespasian series but also provide a much more in-depth look at one of the series’ more amusing characters and the criminal undertakings he was getting up to in ancient Rome.

The featured novellas were a lot of fun to read, and I really liked the clever and fast-paced stories contained within them. Fabbri did an exceptional job of using the short story format to introduce and conclude a compelling tale as this book features some absolute rippers, each of which is around 60 pages long. The author has come up with some very intriguing scenarios for each of these short stories, all of which follow Magnus as he embarks on a new scheme or implements elaborate and at times brutal plans to gain power and wealth and address some form of threat to his criminal organisation. The sheer variety of criminal enterprises that Fabbri came up with is very impressive, and I enjoyed seeing how the author imagined Roman politics and crime would have intersected. I also liked how some of the crimes that the protagonists engaged in had a more modern flair to them, such as engaging in the lucrative opium trade. Out of all of these short stories, I think my favourite was the second one featured in this book, The Racing Factions. The Racing Factions followed Magnus as he attempted to fix a chariot race, to not only make himself and his associates a lot of money but also get revenge on a crooked bookie who foolishly tried to cheat Magnus out of his winnings. This story was filled with all manner of double-crosses, plotting, manipulations and intrigue, as Magnus put all the pieces into place for his revenge, resulting in a chaotic and entertaining story that can be quickly read in a short period of time. While The Racing Factions was my favourite short story, there were honestly no weak links in this book, and I loved every novella that was included, especially as I was able to easily read their entire stories in a single session each.

While each of the novellas can easily be enjoyed as standalone stories, there are some real benefits to reading all of them within this collected edition. The main advantage is that the reader gets to see each of the stories progress in chronological order over the course of many years. This allows us to see how Magnus slowly evolves over the years, becoming more devious as he ages, and it is interesting to see what happens to the various side characters in the novellas. While some of Magnus’s companions age with their leader and seem ready to retire with him, you also get to see the rise of Magnus’s successor, Tigran. Tigran is introduced in the first novel as a street urchin, and he rises up the ranks each story, eventually becoming a viable contender for Magnus’s throne. The slowly building tension between Magnus and the ambitious Tigran is quite intriguing, and it makes for a really fun confrontation in the final book. I also liked how having all the novellas in one place allowed Fabbri to showcase the continued street war between the South Quirinal Crossroads Brotherhood and their rivals the West Viminal Brethren. The West Viminal Brethren make several plays for Magnus’s interests throughout the course of the books, and many of the criminal plans featured where Magnus’s destructive retaliation, which caused some real trouble for the West Viminal Brethren and their leader.

While the character of Vespasian only briefly appears in a couple of stories within Magnus and the Crossroads Brotherhood, this book has some major connections to the Vespasian series. While each of these novellas has their own self-contained adventures, one of the main reasons they were written was to help fill in the gaps between the various Vespasian books. As a result, some of the novellas provide background on how Vespasian or his brother came to be in some key position of power or unique place at the start of certain books within the series. There were also some examinations of how Magnus was able to readily come up with key ideas that were later used in the main books, such as how he came up with a certain inventive murder technique that was necessary to eventually eliminate one of Vespasian’s opponents. These novellas also helped explain the reasons why Magnus was often away from Rome in the company of Vespasian rather than staying in the city running his criminal brotherhood. Through short introductions that appear in front of each novella featured in this book, Fabbri explains the context of each of these and details what gaps he was trying to fill. This of course means that Magnus and the Crossroads Brotherhood is going to hold a lot more appeal to those readers who are already familiar with the Vespasian series, especially as they will have a much better appreciation for each of these novella’s backgrounds. That being said, no knowledge of any of the Vespasian books is really required to enjoy the fun stories contained within this collected edition, and Magnus and the Crossroads Brotherhood would actually be a fantastic introduction to Fabbri’s excellent historical fiction series.

I quite enjoyed the intriguing snapshots of ancient Rome that Fabbri included in each of the novellas. There are some truly fascinating aspects of Roman life explored in this book, from the popularity of the chariot races for all levels of society, the various forms of law enforcement patrolling the streets, the role criminal organisations may have played and many other cool historical elements. I personally really liked how most of the stories were centred on some form of ancient Roman festival or celebration. There are some obscure and weird festivals occurring here, from one celebration that sees organised mobs from the various neighbourhoods fight over the head of a sacrificed horse, to another festival where the Rome’s dogs are brutally punished for failing to stop an ancient invasion of the city. These prove to be distinctive and interesting backdrops for several of the stories, especially as the protagonist uses several elements of these celebrations in his schemes, in often entertaining ways. As a result, this is a great read for fans of ancient Roman fiction, and I guarantee you will find some intriguing and entertaining portrays of Roman culture and society in this book.

Magnus and the Crossroads Brotherhood is a fantastic new addition from the amazing Robert Fabbri, which proved to be an exceedingly entertaining book. I really loved being able to read all of these excellent novellas in one place and I deeply enjoyed every one of their exciting and captivating stories. This is a perfect companion piece to Fabbri’s outstanding Vespasian series, and there is quite a lot to love about this collection of fun novellas. Compelling pieces of fiction like this is one of the main reasons why Fabbri is one of my favourite historical fiction authors at the moment, and I cannot wait to get my hands on his upcoming book, To the Strongest.