Throwback Thursday – Star Wars: Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber

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Publisher: Random House Audio (Audiobook Edition 13 October 2009)

Series: Star Wars Legends

Length: 6 hours 42 minutes

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

 

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

In this week’s Throwback Thursday, I look at an entertaining blend of horror and Star Wars with Death Troopers, a book from the Star Wars Legends collection which I listened to in its audiobook format.

Death Troopers is set a short time before the events of Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.  The Imperial prison barge Purge is the temporary home of the galaxy’s worst criminals, rebels and murderers.  Carrying over 500 prisoners, as well as guards, stormtroopers and other personnel, the ship is a floating hive of scum and villainy, where the guards are just as bad as the inmates.  En route to a permanent prison facility, the engines fail, stranding the Purge in an uninhabited area of space.  Rescue appears to be weeks away, unless the crew can fix the engines.  The discovery of an apparently deserted Star Destroyer offers hope to the Purge’s crew, but the ghost ship contains a dark secret.

A boarding party sent to scavenge parts for the Purge inadvertently brings back something lethal: a virus that spreads incredibly fast and soon infects everyone aboard the ship.  Within hours, only a few survivors are left alive: the ship’s compassionate doctor, the sadistic captain of the guards, two young teenage brothers and a certain pair of smugglers.  However, these survivors soon discover that the sudden and bloody death of everyone on the ship is the least of their problems.  Shortly after dying the bodies of the Purge’s crew and passengers violently reanimate.  These creatures are driven, unstoppable and have a hunger for the flesh of the living.  As the survivors attempt to flee the Purge, they soon find that the Star Destroyer above is not as abandoned as they had believed.  The dead have risen, and their greatest desire is to infect the entire Star Wars universe.

Zombies!  In a Star Wars book!  How can I possibly resist that?  No seriously, tell me how it is even possible not to check out a book with that sort of premise.

Death Troopers is a 2009 release from horror, thriller and tie-in novel author Joe Schreiber, who wrote several fun-sounding books between 2006 and 2015.  These novels include two additional Star Wars novels, all of which fall in the Star Wars Legends line of novels.  Indeed, his third Star Wars novel, 2014’s Maul: Lockdown, was actually the last novel released in the Star Wars Legends series of books.  His other Star Wars novel, 2011’s Red Harvest, is a prequel to Death Trooper, and is set in the Old Republic, thousands of years before the events of Death Troopers.

The Star Wars Legends series of books is the current incarnation of the old Star Wars expanded universe, which, in addition to the six Star Wars movies that George Lucas produced, included all the books, comics, video games and television series that were endorsed by Lucasfilm.  All of these entries were considered canon, so at one point there were actually proper zombies in the Star Wars canon.  While the original expanded universe did have a dedicated fan base, it did not survive the Disney buyout of Lucasfilm intact.  In order to allow for the new movies, Disney declared that, with the exception of the films and The Clone Wars television show, everything created before 25 April 2014 would no longer be considered canon.  However, rather than disavow all of these previous Star Wars media items, Disney rebranded this original expanded universe as the Star Wars Legends collection and kept it as a deep pool of ideas and characters for any future writers of the franchise.

It’s no secret that I am a bit of a Star Wars fan, having reviewed several tie-in books and comics in the last year.  While my current interest mostly lies within Disney’s expanded universe, I did grow up with a number of books and games in what is now the Star Wars Legends range.  Star Wars books and comics are going to form a significant part of my upcoming Throwback Thursday entries, but I had not intended to dive back into the Star Wars Legends range until I had gotten through all the books in the Disney expanded universe, as I wanted to stick with what is currently canon.  However, I happened to come across the cover and plot synopsis for Death Troopers the other day, and the moment I saw it I knew that I had to read it.  I immediately grabbed an audiobook copy, narrated by Sean Kenin, and started listening to it.

While I loved the plot synopsis, I was worried that Death Troopers was going to be a Star Wars novel first that featured some light zombie elements and minimal gore.  However, what I was not expecting was an extremely terrifying and well-written zombie novel that makes full use of its Star Wars setting to create a dark, gruesome and somewhat scary story.  I was very impressed with Schrieber’s ability to craft an amazing zombie novel.  His creations are pretty darn terrifying, especially as the author paints some detailed and horrifying descriptions to go along with his story.  The introduction of the zombies is done perfectly, in my opinion, as Schreiber goes for a slow burn approach.  Following the introduction of the virus, the book’s survivors slowly explore the ship, searching for a way to escape.  The author slowly builds up the tension by having things move around out of the characters’ sight, the bodies slowly disappear, bloody handprints appear in places and the characters hear all sorts of noises.  The characters of course have no idea what is happening, and blame their imagination or paranoia, but the reader knows full well what is happening.  Even when the first zombie is actually seen, panic and realisation still does not immediately set in for the rest of the characters, much to the reader’s frustration.  It is not until well after halfway through Death Troopers that the zombies are revealed in all their horror, and from there the pace of the book picks up, as the characters must find a way to quickly get away from the creatures hunting them.  This slow introduction of the zombies was a fantastic part of the book and represents some outstanding horror writing from Schreiber.

Despite this being a Star Wars novel, Schreiber does not dial back on the blood, gore or horror, and there are quite a few dark scenes throughout the book.  I was on the edge of my seat for quite a lot of it and felt that this was a great piece of horror fiction.  There are quite a few dark scenes, such as cannibalism, jaunts in rooms full of body parts and some fairly gross surgical scenes, all of which Schreiber describes in shocking detail.  I did find the story to be a bit predictable in places, and it was pretty easy to predict which of the characters would live or die.  There were also quite a few unanswered questions (what the hell was the lung room for?), although they may be answered in the prequel book Schreiber wrote a couple of years later.  I also thought that the way Schreiber ended the plot line about the zombies attempting to escape the Star Destroyer and infect the rest of the universe was a bit of an anti-climax, but overall this was a pretty fun story that I quite enjoyed.

I felt that Schreiber was quite clever in his use of the Star Wars elements throughout Death Troopers.  It is quite obvious that Schreiber is a fan of the franchise and he has a wonderful understanding of the history, technology and characters that have appeared in other Star Wars works.  As a result, he is able to craft an excellent Star Wars setting for this story that presents the reader a good idea of how this book appears in relation to the rest of the franchise.  However, what I really liked was how Schreiber did not overuse the Star Wars elements, and the reader’s focus was never taken away from the zombie part of the book.  I also felt that several of the Star Wars elements really helped to enhance the horror aspects of the book.  Having the familiar turn into something different can often be quite scary for people, and to see the often-ridiculed Imperial Stormtrooper turned into a ravenous, mutilated zombie was quite something.  The inclusion of fan favourite characters Han Solo and Chewbacca was also a nice touch.  Not only do you have some familiar characters for the readers to enjoy but you also raise the stakes of the story when both of these beloved characters come close to being eaten by zombies.

Another benefit of combining Star Wars and zombie fiction is that for once characters are completely justified in not knowing what a zombie is.  There are quite a few other major zombie movies or television shows set in fictional worlds that are supposed to mirror ours, and yet the protagonists have no idea what zombies are, despite how much they are used in fiction.  This always frustrates me, and while it was a minor thing, I was very happy to read a book where the character’s lack of understanding about zombies is completely understandable.  Overall, I really liked how the author presented the Star Wars elements within the book, and I was impressed by the way he used it to make the zombie elements even scarier.

If you are tempted to check this book out, I would highly recommend that you listen to the book in its audiobook format.  At just over six and a half hours, this did not take me a long time to get through, but I was absolutely amazed at how much the audiobook format enhanced the story.  This is mainly down to the fantastic sound effects that were scattered throughout the story.  The producers of this book did a superb job inserting a range of zombie sound effects throughout the background of the book’s narration.  This includes sounds such as screams, disturbing eating sounds, moans and other assorted sounds of horror, with the continued screams being particularly off-putting.  None of these sounds overwhelm or totally distract from the narration, but I found hearing them when the narrator describes a horror scene really enhanced the tension and dread I experienced.  I also thought that the disconnected, whispered and screamed echoes of the chapter names was a very nice touch and it really added to the overall atmosphere of the book. In addition to these horror based sound effects, there are quite a few classic Star Wars sound effects for the reader to enjoy and get nostalgic about, including some of the classic music from the movies.

Sean Kenin’s narration was also extremely well done, as the narrator was able to create a series of fun and distinctive voices.  I thought that Kenin’s Han Solo was very convincing, and it sounded a lot like the movie version of the character.  I also found that having this horror story narrated to me helped bring me into the centre of the action and really experience the horror and dread that was present there.  The narration of the descriptions can be a bit disturbing at times, and I would recommend not eating during one or two scenes; trust me on that.  As a result, I would highly recommend that people wanting to check out Death Troopers should definitely use the audiobook version of it, as in my opinion it does an amazing job enhancing this already fun story.

I am happy to say that I was not disappointed by this entertaining combination of zombie literature and the iconic Star Wars universe.  This was a pretty dark story, which also includes some familiar elements from a franchise that I truly love.  Because of this I had an outstanding time reading Death Troopers and felt that it was a great example of both a zombie novel and a piece of Star Wars fiction.  In my mind the book itself is four stars out of five, but I had so much fun with its audiobook format that I am raising it up to four and a quarter stars.  An overall fantastic and unique read, Death Troopers is really worth checking out for fans of either zombies or Star Wars and is perfect for those who love both.  I am very curious to check out Schreiber’s other Star Wars books in the future, as both of them sound like a lot of fun.

Waiting on Wednesday – God of Broken Things by Cameron Johnston

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.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.
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This week I will be looking at God of Broken Things, by Cameron Johnston, the follow-up to one of the best dark fantasy books of 2018.  Last year, Johnston knocked it out of the park with his debut novel, The Traitor God, which featured his delightful rogue magician protagonist, Edrin, embarking on a revenge mission to his old stomping ground.  However, his plans for revenge transformed into a massive battle for the survival of the city of Setharis and set him up against gods and demons.  Needless to say, I found The Traitor God to be pretty epic and I had an absolute blast reading it.  I have been looking forward to the sequel for a while now, especially as God of Broken Things also sounds like it will have another intense and explosive plot.

Goodreads Synopsis:
An outcast magician must risk his body and mind to save the world from horrifying demons, in the heart-pounding epic fantasy sequel to The Traitor God.

Tyrant magus Edrin Walker destroyed the monster sent by the Skallgrim, but not before it laid waste to Setharis, and infested their magical elite with mind-controlling parasites. Edrin’s own Gift to seize the minds of others was cracked by the strain of battle, and he barely survives the interrogation of a captured magus. There’s no time for recovery though: a Skallgrim army is marching on the mountain passes of the Clanhold. Edrin and a coterie of villains race to stop them, but the mountains are filled with gods, daemons, magic, and his hideous past. Walker must stop at nothing to win, even if that means losing his mind. Or worse…


Based on the above synopsis, it looks like this new book will have a number of intriguing plot points to explore.  The protagonist’s loss of his powers will be an interesting change of pace for the character, especially as he spent the entirety of the first book bending everyone he met to his will.  I am hoping that this new limitation will force Edrin to rely on his cunning, tricks and influence.

I also like the idea of Edrin leading a band of ‘villains’ to save his city, especially as I imagine it will lead to some fun character dynamics and some form of betrayal and back stabbing.  A great feature of the first book was the inclusion of several likeable side characters, and I am curious to see if any of these surviving characters (quite a few died in the last book) will accompany him on this mission.  If not, I look forward to some great new relationships with characters I will try not to get too attached to.

Finally, I have to say that the overall storyline of a group of rogue adventurers racing against the clock in an extremely hostile environment sounds like it will be a superb plot in a setting with several imposing obstacles and antagonists.  I am curious to see what the gods outside of Setharis are like, but I also hope we get some more details of the character’s past, perhaps around the years he spent running around the country as a drunk and a con man.

Overall, this sounds like it will be an incredibly fun book, and I am really looking forward to seeing the sequel to The Traitor God, which was one of my favourite books from last year.  God of Broken Things is out in June of this year and will high on my list of books to grab.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I Wish I Read in 2018

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  A couple of days ago I noticed the latest edition of Top Ten Tuesday on one of the blogs that I follow and it really got me thinking about what books from last year I wish I had read.  Unfortunately, I am arriving at this topic a bit late in the game, so my Top Ten list is a week later than everyone else participating in this meme, but I am still going to go ahead with it.  I’m planning to participate in a few more of these in the future because some of those topics sound like fun.

The challenge from last week was to list the top ten books I did not get a chance to read in 2018 that I wish I had been able to check out.  While there are a ton of amazing novels that I wanted to check out last year, these are easily the top ones that I should have made the time to read.  I have to admit this is a rather eclectic mixture of books, but something about each of these spoke to me in some way, and I did make some effort to read this last year.  I will probably try and read these books in the future, especially if they are part of a series or sound particularly amazing, so keep an eye out for these books in my Throwback Thursday series of reviews.

There are a few 2018 releases that I am excluding from this list.  This is mostly because they are late 2018 releases that I will hopefully get a chance to read or review in the next month.  These books include The Winter Road by Adrian Selby, Empress of all Seasons by Emiko Jean or Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch.  I have also decided to exclude a few big sequels or later instalments of a series from this list.  It is not that I do not want to read these books, it is just that I intend to read the earlier books in the series first in order to get the full benefit of these books.  For that reason, I have not included books like Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas, Vengeful by V. E. Schwab or Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence.

Honourable mentions:

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Top Ten List (no particular order):

The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

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Knowledge is power. So when an unassuming Manhattan bassist named Will Dando awakens from a dream one morning with 108 predictions about the future in his head, he rapidly finds himself the most powerful man in the world. Protecting his anonymity by calling himself the Oracle, he sets up a heavily guarded Web site with the help of his friend Hamza to selectively announce his revelations. In no time, global corporations are offering him millions for exclusive access, eager to profit from his prophecies.

He’s also making a lot of high-powered enemies, from the President of the United States and a nationally prominent televangelist to a warlord with a nuclear missile and an assassin grandmother. Legions of cyber spies are unleashed to hack the Site—as it’s come to be called—and the best manhunters money can buy are deployed not only to unmask the Oracle but to take him out of the game entirely. With only a handful of people he can trust—including a beautiful journalist—it’s all Will can do to simply survive, elude exposure, and protect those he loves long enough to use his knowledge to save the world.

Delivering fast-paced adventure on a global scale as well as sharp-witted satire on our concepts of power and faith, Marvel writer Charles Soule’s audacious debut novel takes readers on a rollicking ride where it’s impossible to predict what will happen next.

I am a big fan of Charles Soule’s comics, so not only was I intrigued by this absolutely awesome-sounding story but I was also curious to see what his novels would be like.  Unfortunately, I was unable to get a copy of The Oracle Year, so I did not get a chance to read it when it was released.  I am still really keen to check it out, but for this one in particular I am thinking of listening to the audiobook version of this book, as I imagine this will enhance what promises to be a rather amusing story.

The Soul of a Thief by Steven Hartov

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In the spring of 1944, I realized that I was not going to survive the war…

Shtefan Brandt, an adjutant to a colonel of the Waffen SS, has made it through the war so far in spite of his commander’s habit of bringing his staff into battle and in spite of the heritage that he has so far managed to conceal. Instead, his growing interest in his commander’s mistress may be the end of him, were Colonel Erich Himmel to notice. Colonel Himmel has other concerns, however. He can see the war’s end on the horizon and recognizes that he is not on the winning side, no matter what the reports from Hitler’s generals may say. So he has taken matters into his own hands, hatching a plan to escape Europe and the Allies only after stealing a fortune from them. A fortune that Shtefan, in turn, plans to steal from him…

Steven Hartov captures the turbulent emotional rush of those caught behind the lines of occupied France, where one false step could spell death and every day brings a new struggle to survive.

The second book on this list was probably the historical fiction book I most regret not getting in 2018.  There are some great pieces of heist fiction set during World War II, and one told from the perspective of a German solider, especially one who might have conflicting loyalties with the Nazis, sounds like it would have a lot of potential.

The Soldier by Neal Asher

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In a far corner of space, on the very borders between humanity’s Polity worlds and the kingdom of the vicious crab-like prador, is an immediate threat to all sentient life: an accretion disc, a solar system designed by the long-dead Jain race and swarming with living technology powerful enough to destroy entire civilizations.

Neither the Polity or the prador want the other in full control of the disc, so they’ve placed an impartial third party in charge of the weapons platform guarding the technology from escaping into the galaxy: Orlandine, a part-human, part-AI haiman. She’s assisted by Dragon, a mysterious, spaceship-sized alien entity who has long been suspicious of Jain technology and who suspects the disc is a trap lying-in-wait.

Meanwhile, the android Angel is planning an attack on the Polity, and is searching for a terrible weapon to carry out his plans – a Jain super-soldier. But what exactly the super-soldier is, and what it could be used for if it fell into the wrong hands, will bring Angel and Orlandine’s missions to a head in a way that could forever change the balance of power in the Polity universe.

In The Soldier, British science fiction writer Neal Asher kicks off another Polity-based trilogy in signature fashion, concocting a mind-melting plot filled with far-future technology, lethal weaponry, and bizarre alien creations.

Another one I was not able to get a copy of, although I do remember eyeing it off in a book store.  I have heard really good things about Neal Asher before and this sounded like it would be an intriguing introduction into an exciting new science fiction universe.  With a sequel to The Soldier coming out in May, I may have to move this book up my reading list and enjoy it in the next couple of months.

The Ember Blade by Chris Wooding

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A land under occupation. A legendary sword. A young man’s journey to find his destiny.

Aren has lived by the rules all his life. He’s never questioned it; that’s just the way things are. But then his father is executed for treason, and he and his best friend Cade are thrown into a prison mine, doomed to work until they drop. Unless they can somehow break free . .

But what lies beyond the prison walls is more terrifying still. Rescued by a man who hates him yet is oath-bound to protect him, pursued by inhuman forces, Aren slowly accepts that everything he knew about his world was a lie. The rules are not there to protect him, or his people, but to enslave them. A revolution is brewing, and Aren is being drawn into it, whether he likes it or not.

The key to the revolution is the Ember Blade. The sword of kings, the Excalibur of his people. Only with the Ember Blade in hand can their people be inspired to rise up . . . but it’s locked in an impenetrable vault in the most heavily guarded fortress in the land. All they have to do now is steal it. . .

Designed to return to classic fantasy adventures and values, from a modern perspective, this is a fast-moving coming-of-age trilogy featuring a strong cast of diverse characters, brilliant set-pieces and a powerful character and plot driven story.

For some reason I had no idea that The Ember Blade was even coming out last year until I saw it in the bookstores, and by then I had so much else going on I was unable to fit it into my reading schedule.  This always struck me as a darn shame, as the synopsis sounds extremely epic and I always love travelling into new and impressive fantasy worlds.  To be honest, the main reason I have not managed to get around to reading it since its release is because of its length.  At over 800 pages long, or 30-plus hours in its audiobook format, this is a massive reading commitment for me.  However, I know that I will be able to make some time for this book at some point this year, and I am looking forward to when I get a chance to check out this book.

The Deathless by Peter Newman

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From one of fantasy’s biggest recent breakthrough authors comes an exciting, brand new series.

The demons…

In the endless forests of the Wild, humanity scratches a living by the side of the great Godroads, paths of crystal that provide safe passage and hold back the infernal tide. Creatures lurk within the trees, watching, and plucking those who stray too far from safety.

The Deathless…

In crystal castles held aloft on magical currents, seven timeless royal families reign, protecting humanity from the spread of the Wild and its demons. Born and reborn into flawless bodies, the Deathless are as immortal as the precious stones from which they take their names. For generations a fragile balance has held.

And the damned…

House Sapphire, one of the ancient Deathless families, is riven by suspicion and madness. Whole villages are disappearing as the hunting expeditions holding the Wild at bay begin to fail.

Then, when assassins strike, House Sapphire shatters.

Nothing lasts forever.

The Deathless is the first novel in an astonishing new series from Gemmell award-winning author Peter Newman.

This is another that I have currently sitting at home, cluttering up my coffee table.  The plot of The Deathless always struck me as being particularly unique out of all the books from last year, and I was really keen to dive into this curious sounding universe.  Newman has a sequel to this book coming out in June, so I will have to try and read it by then.

Dark State by Charles Stross

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Dark State is the second book in an exciting series in the same world as Charles Stross’ Merchant Princes series, following Empire Games.

In the near-future, the collision of two nuclear superpowers across timelines, one in the midst of a technological revolution and the other a hyper-police state, is imminent. In Commissioner Miriam Burgeson’s timeline, her top level agents run a high risk extraction of a major political player. Meanwhile, a sleeper cell activated in Rita’s, the Commissioner’s adopted daughter and newly-minted spy, timeline threatens to unravel everything.

I was sorry to not get a chance to read Dark State because I really enjoyed the prior book in the series Empire Games in 2017.  I loved the concept of two alternate timelines getting into a conflict with each other, and I loved reading about the espionage that would result in this situation.  I am definitely going to read Dark State in 2019, as the third book in the Empire Games series is coming out in November.

Cold Iron by Miles Cameron

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Aranthur is a student. He showed a little magical talent, is studying at the local academy, and is nothing particularly special. Others are smarter. Others are more talented. Others are quicker to pick up techniques. But none of them are with him when he breaks his journey home for the holidays in an inn. None of them step in to help when a young woman is thrown off a passing stage coach into the deep snow at the side of the road. And none of them are drawn into a fight to protect her.

One of the others might have realised she was manipulating him all along . . .

A powerful story about beginnings, coming of age, and the way choosing to take one step towards violence can lead to a slippery and dangerous slope, this is an accomplished fantasy series driven by strong characters and fast-paced action.

I have not had the pleasure of checking out Cameron’s fantasy work before, but I have read a few of his historical fiction books that he writes as Christian Cameron.  As a result, I am curious to see what his fantasy writing is like, and this new series seemed like the perfect opportunity.  Cold Iron’s story sounds like it could be a lot of fun, and I like how Cameron is apparently focusing on a protagonist who is not a ‘chosen one’ but just some random person off the street.  I might be reading this book very soon, as the second book in this series, Dark Forge, has just been released, and I would prefer to have read Cold Iron before I try and get a copy of it.

Star Trek Discovery: Drastic Measures by Dayton Ward

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It is 2246, ten years prior to the Battle at the Binary Stars, and an aggressive contagion is ravaging the food supplies of the remote Federation colony Tarsus IV and the eight thousand people who call it home. Distress signals have been sent, but any meaningful assistance is weeks away. Lieutenant Commander Gabriel Lorca and a small team assigned to a Starfleet monitoring outpost are caught up in the escalating crisis, and bear witness as the colony’s governor, Adrian Kodos, employs an unimaginable solution in order to prevent mass starvation.

While awaiting transfer to her next assignment, Commander Philippa Georgiou is tasked with leading to Tarsus IV a small, hastily assembled group of first responders. It’s hoped this advance party can help stabilize the situation until more aid arrives, but Georgiou and her team discover that they‘re too late—Governor Kodos has already implemented his heinous strategy for extending the colony’s besieged food stores and safeguarding the community’s long-term survival.

In the midst of their rescue mission, Georgiou and Lorca must now hunt for the architect of this horrific tragedy and the man whom history will one day brand “Kodos the Executioner”

What would a list on my blog be without a tie-in novel?  I am not the biggest Star Trek fan out there, but I did really enjoy Star Trek Discovery last year and I have been thinking about checking out some of the associated tie-in novels.  Out of all of them, Drastic Measures struck me as sounding particularly outstanding, as not only does it focus on two of the show’s best supporting characters (both played by exceptional actors), but it also ties into one of the most serious episodes of the original Star Trek series.  This has been on my to-read list (and my bookshelf) for nearly a year now, and I hope I eventually get around to reading it.

King of Assassins by R. J. Barker
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Many years of peace have passed in Maniyadoc, years of relative calm for the assassin Girton Club-Foot. Even the Forgetting Plague, which ravaged the rest of the kingdoms, seemed to pass them by. But now Rufra ap Vthyr eyes the vacant High-King’s throne and will take his court to the capital, a rat’s nest of intrigue and murder, where every enemy he has ever made will gather and the endgame of twenty years of politics and murder will be played out in his bid to become the King of all Kings.

Friends become enemies, enemies become friends and the god of death, Xus the Unseen, stands closer than ever – casting his shadow over everything most dear to Girton.

To be honest, I am still surprised that I have not read this book yet.  I really enjoyed Barker’s previous two books, Age of Assassins and Blood of Assassins, and I fully intended to read this book when it was released.  Unfortunately, fitting it into my reading schedule has somehow proven to be impossible, and the copy I have at home keeps giving me hurt looks from my coffee table.  It does not help that every fantasy reviewer I follow has been talking this book up like crazy, and the general consensus is that King of Assassins is apparently better than the first two books in the series, both of which were already pretty awesome.  I really want to see how this series ends, so I think I might grab this version on audiobook and check it out in the next month or so.

The Outsider by Stephen King
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An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. At a time when the King brand has never been stronger, he has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories.

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.

This has to be one of the books of 2018 that I most regret not reading.  I did get a copy of it but I did not get a chance to read it because of other review commitments that I made.  I am still extremely curious to find out how the suspect could be in two places at once and I really want to find out how this mystery ends.  Luckily, I have managed to avoid any spoilers about it and I hope to check it out in the next few months.

Out of the Dark by Gregg Hurwitz

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Publisher: Michael Joseph (Paperback Edition – 5 February 2019)

Series: Orphan X (Book 4)

Length: 435 pages

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

 

The Orphan X series returns with a bang as thriller extraordinaire Gregg Hurwitz sets his long-running protagonist against his most dangerous opponent yet in this fun and exciting new novel.

Evan Smoak is an orphan in every way that matters.  Taken from his foster home as a child and inducted into a top-secret espionage program, Evan was given a new name, Orphan X.  The Orphans are the most lethal secret agents the United States ever produced, taking on missions around the world.  But after years of killing and being lied to, Evan had enough and left the program.  Now using his abilities to stay hidden, Evan has taken on a new identity, The Nowhere Man, a mysterious vigilante who helps people placed in terrible situations.  While Evan is satisfied with his new life, there is one threat from his old life that he needs to kill.  Unfortunately for Evan, that one man is now the President of the United States of America.

As the head of the Orphan program, Jonathan Bennett used the Orphans to promote his illegal and corrupt agendas around the world.  Now that he has achieved his ambition to become President, to cover his tracks he has ordered the death of all the remaining Orphans, as well as the man who was the closest thing Evan had to a father.  Now Orphan X is at the top of his hit list, and the only way to protect himself and the other orphans is to do the impossible and kill Bennett first.

Residing in the most impenetrable building in the world and with the full force of the Secret Service protecting him, Bennett looks to be untouchable, especially as he has unleashed the vengeful Orphan A to hunt Evan down.  However, Orphan X has a plan and is determined to take everything from the President.  Can Evan succeed?  Why is Bennett so concerned with covering up the details of Orphan X’s first mission?  One thing is for sure: all hell is about to break loose in Washington.

Hurwitz is a veteran author whose work mostly fits into the thriller and mystery genres.  He has written a couple of series, including the young adult zombie series, The Rains Brothers, and the thriller-based Tim Rackley series.  In addition, Hurwitz has also written a number of interesting sounding standalone books, including his debut novel, The Tower, as well as a number of comics for DC and Marvel, including Penguin: Pain and Prejudice, 19 issues of Batman: The Dark Knight and even a run on Marvel’s excellent 2004 The Punisher series.  Aside from the two The Rains Brothers novels, Hurwitz’s main work in the last three years has been his Orphan X series.  Out of the Dark is the fourth novel in this series and continues a number of storylines set out in the earlier books.

With the exception of some of his comics, I have not had the pleasure of reading any of Hurwitz’s previous books before, although several do sound very interesting; for example, his 2001 release, Minutes to Burn, has been recommended to me before due to its fun premise.  However, upon hearing that the plot of this book was going to set an elite rogue operative against the President of the United States, I knew that I had to check this book out.  Luckily my propensity for falling for and checking out books with amazing and out-there plot synopsis paid off once again, as I had a lot of fun reading this action-packed thriller.

After some bad experiences in the past, I am always a little apprehensive about coming into a series several books in, and Out of the Dark was no exception, especially as it was the fourth book in the series.  However, Hurwitz does a fantastic job setting out the events leading up to this story, and I did not find myself lost in the slightest as I read this book.  Therefore, I have no hesitation in recommending this book to readers who, like me, were intrigued by the intriguing story concept and want to start the series here.

The main story focuses on Orphan X’s and the President’s attempts to take each other out, and it results in a fast-paced and action-packed thrill ride, as the two sides unleash everything to win.  This main storyline is split between several characters, including Orphan X, the President, the head of the President’s security detail and Orphan A.  Hurwitz spends time exploring each of these characters’ backgrounds, personalities and motivations, allowing for a richer overall story rather than a typical all-action adventure.  In addition to this main storyline, there is also a secondary storyline where Evan, as The Nowhere Man, helps out a person being targeted by a drug lord.  I was a bit uncertain about the necessity of this second storyline, as I was quite enjoying the focus on assassinating the president.  However, I did appreciate how this second storyline was used to convey Evan’s continued search for humanity and redemption after years as an assassin.  Fans of the previous books in the Orphan X series will enjoy a number of inclusions thrown into Out of the Dark, including several characters from the previous books, a continuation of some storylines, and an opening scene that shows Evan’s first mission as Orphan X back in the 1990s.  All of this comes together into an amazing and captivating story that is not only exciting, but which also has some emotional weight backing it up.

Hurwitz takes his plot focus of an elite agent targeting the President and really runs with it.  The protection surrounding the President of the United States of America is legendary, both inside and outside of fiction.  Therefore, the idea that one man can take him out is a crazy idea, especially as Hurwitz makes it clear the sheer amount of resources and firepower that the President’s security detail has on his side.  Indeed, there are several comparisons made throughout the book, showcasing the Secret Service’s tools and resources, and then counterpointing it to the few resources the protagonist has access to.  Despite this, at no point does the reader feel like Orphan X is the underdog, even with Orphan A and his less than savoury cohorts chasing after him.  Indeed, as the book progresses, the President and his security get more and more nervous, especially as Evan makes his various moves.  The protagonist’s overall plan for getting to the President is pretty clever, and I love how this storyline ended.  This was an extremely fun story focus, and I was not disappointed by how Hurwitz showcased it.

It should go without saying that this book is chocked full of action, as there are a number of high-intensity scenes where the protagonist takes it to his opponents.  Hurwitz can write a really good action sequence, and there were some really fun details throughout the book.  The author really uses these scenes to show off what a badass Orphan X is, including an early scene where the protagonist tells several police officers exactly how he is going to take them out and then proceeds to beat the thus-prepared officers in what has to be the ultimate power play.  These action scenes also show off what the Secret Service can do and how impressive their presidential security is.  With plenty of explosions, gunfights, full-on assaults of strongholds and violent hand-to-hand combat sequences, there is plenty in this book for those readers who love a bit of action in their fiction.

Overall, Out of the Dark by Gregg Hurwitz is an amazing read that I had an absolute blast with.  Orphan X continues to reign supreme as one of modern thriller fiction’s most badass protagonists, as he takes on the whole Secret Service.  This is an extremely exciting and clever read that also takes the time to dive into the emotional motivation of its characters.  Out of the Dark is an absolutely stunning blast from Hurwitz and I loved this latest addition to the entertaining Orphan X series.

The Gutter Prayer by Gareth Hanrahan

The Gutter Prayer Cover.jpg

Publisher: Orbit (Paperback Edition – 17 January 2019)

Series: Black Iron Legacy (Book 1)

Length: 512 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

 

From debuting author Gareth Hanrahan comes the grimdark fantasy book that everyone has been talking about, The Gutter Prayer.  This debut novel has been getting some serious hype from a lot of fantasy reviewers, so I was very happy when I got my copy earlier in the week, as it will give me a chance to check it out for myself.

For thousands of years, the large, sprawling city of Guerdon has survived against all manner of attacks and calamity.  In recent years, the city’s alchemical industry has taken off, producing powerful weapons and twisted creations to sell to Guerdon’s warring neighbours, involved in the destructive Godswar.  But with the rival nation’s eyes on Guerdon, refugees flooding into the city and the city’s various factions fighting for power, the potential for chaos is great.

In the middle of all this, three mismatched young thieves – stranger to the city, Cari; the Stone Man, Spar; and Rat the ghoul – find their lives changed forever.  Hired by the leader of the city’s criminal element, these three thieves attempt to break into an important civic building, only to be nearly killed by a massive explosion and framed for the crime.  Pursued by the Alchemist Guild’s murderous enforcers, the Tallowmen, and the relentless thief-taker, Jere, the three friends attempt to escape their pursuers, but find themselves entangled in a terrible plot to bring destruction to the city.

Ancient creatures are rising from the city’s bloody past, and the city’s old gods are prepared to rise once again.  As Cari, Spar and Rat uncover the full extent of these gods’ power, they must contend with others who seek to use the chaos for their own ends.  With everything on the line, can the three friends find a way to stop the events unfolding, or will their failure result in the destruction of everything they hold dear?

This is Hanrahan’s first fictional book, although the author has written a number of gaming manuals and fantasy guides over the years.  However, with the evident popularity of The Gutter Prayer among the fantasy community, it seems extremely likely that this will not be Hanrahan’s only book.  Indeed, the author already has plans for a sequel, and The Gutter Prayer will form part of this planned Black Iron Legacy series.

I thought that The Gutter Prayer was an ambitious and intriguing new entry to the fantasy genre, and it is definitely worthy of the hype around it.  Hanrahan presents a wide-ranging and dark story of magic, religion and betrayal, and he sets it within an imaginative new fantasy landscape with a ton of unique fantasy elements and creatures.  The story is then based around several great characters, each of whom has their own compelling arc within the narrative.  The result is an excellent and memorable novel that showcases Hanrahan’s creativity and serves as an amazing introduction into a bold new fantasy universe.

This book contained a fantastic and intense story which focused on a variety of different characters and follows their attempts to investigate and forestall the strange events occurring around them.  I really enjoyed this story, although I had a little bit of a hard time getting into it at the start of the book due to mass of story and fantasy elements I was bombarded with.  However, I am extremely glad that I powered past this first part of the book because once I was able to place all the story elements together I appreciated the book’s wild and intricate plot.  One of the main things that I really loved about this book was the inclusion of a significant number of different characters and factions, each with their own motivations and hidden secrets.  As a result, you have no idea who is going to do what next and who is going to betray the protagonists to serve their own needs, creating an unpredictable story.  The narrative is also extremely dark, and readers should be prepared for characters dying or being altered in some way or another.  This is some fantastic storytelling from Hanrahan, and an overall clever narrative.

One of the most talked-about elements of this book is the author’s use of a huge range of unique fantasy elements.  Hanrahan has come up with and expertly utilised a ton of creative, inventive and at times just plain creepy new fantasy elements.  The best example of this has to be the Tallowmen, humans that have been turned into living candles, often as punishment for crimes.  These creatures are strong, lethal and fast, serving as the guards and law enforcers of the Alchemist Guild.  Their terrifying appearance, distinctive abilities and the glow of their candle flames as they hunt down the protagonists are extremely memorable.  Another terrifying inclusion is the Ravellers, servants of the city’s ancient gods who have the ability to unravel people out of existence and take on their appearance.  There are also the ghouls and Stone Men.  Stone Men are humans infected with a disease that slowly turns them into stone, although their condition can be held back by an alchemical compound.  The depictions of their condition are pretty horrific, and there is the interesting double-edged sword of the disease: they become stronger the more their condition progresses, but they also become less able to live normal lives.  The ghouls, humanoid creatures who feast of the dead flesh of humans, are an element that most fantasy fans will be familiar with, but Hanrahan has made some clever alterations to these creatures by expanding on their life cycle and making them a key part of the city’s history.  Another awesome creation is the Crawling Ones, a sentient hive of worms who take a human shape and are powerful magic users.

In addition to the above unique fantasy creatures, The Gutter Prayer also introduces the author’s great new twist on fantasy gods.  The world of the Dark Iron Legacy is filled with a vast pantheon of powerful gods, which forms a critical part of this universe.  Many of the deities outside of the city are engaged in a massive conflict known as the Godswar, where these gods and their followers are involved in battles against each other for supremacy.  While we get a brief look at this in The Gutter Prayer, most of the focus of this book is on the gods of Guerdon.  While a few other religions are mentioned within the city, the main two pantheons are the Kept Gods and the Black Iron Gods.  Both of these different gods are extremely intriguing, and I particularly loved the concept of the Kept Gods, who are chained and whose intake of prayer is controlled by their church to limit their power and control their actions.  The Black Iron Gods are a darker and more ancient pantheon with a great history, a horde of sinister followers and a captivating physical presence.  I also liked this universe’s concept of saints, those humans gifted power by their connection to the gods.  There are a couple of saints featured throughout the book who form an integral part of the plot, powering through the story with a range of different powers and abilities.  Quite frankly, all of these unique fantasy elements are deeply intriguing, and Hanrahan uses all of them perfectly to enhance his outstanding story.  I do hope that the Godswar will be explored in future books, as that sounded like a really fun concept that I would be deeply interested in.

Guerdon is a decent grimdark fantasy city, and it serves as the primary setting for most of the city.  The city’s range of interesting and unique residence allows for a fascinating overall story and makes this a fantastic setting.  I really like how the city is home to a range of competing factions, such as the Alchemists, the Church, the criminal organisation known as the Brotherhood, politicians and the city’s non-human races, each of whom have different plans for the future of the city.  This is a pretty typical dark, crime-ridden fantasy city, but it works really well as a setting for this story.  The author’s deep exploration of the history of his fantasy city served as a useful plot point, and I love how the city’s past came back to haunt it in a number of ways.

I have to say that I was really impressed with Hanrahan’s character work within this book.  The author introduces a number of amazing characters, most of whom get deep and satisfying story arcs.  The main three characters are particularly great.  I really liked Spar, who is not only the son of one of the city’s most famous criminals, but who is also a Stone Man.  It is through this character’s eyes that we get the best view of the living hell of life as a Stone Man, as Spar is forced to deal with all the unpleasant side effects that his condition brings.  At the same time he must deal with his family legacy as he fights to achieve his father’s dream of a more noble Brotherhood while forced to work for its current corrupt leader.  Rat the ghoul is another interesting character.  As a ghoul, he is generally supposed to live under the city, but he likes living above the streets with his friends.  Rat is constantly conflicted between loyalty to his friends and to his race’s ancient promises, as well as dislike for the traditional ghoul lifestyle.  Finally, there is the mysterious young thief, Cari, who holds a dark secret in her past.  Cari is a rebellious young female protagonist who is developing strange new powers.  The exploration of her past and her abilities is a key part of the book and a good basis for a large portion of this plot.  I liked the way that these three characters cared for each other and how their stories remain interconnected even as they have their own unique adventures within the story.

While these three main characters serve as an extremely powerful narrative base for The Gutter Prayer, the author also focuses on a couple of additional point-of-view characters, including the veteran thief-taker, Jere; Cari’s cousin, Eladora; and the saint of the Kept Gods, Arla.  These characters do not get as large a focus as the book’s three main characters, but their parts of the book are quite significant.  Each of them also has a full character arc within the book, and they all develop or change in substantial ways.  Jere is a grizzled private investigator obsessed with taking down the Brotherhood, and his investigations for the first two-thirds of the book provide the reader with some vital plot detail.  I really liked the end to Jere’s character arc, which was both dark and satisfying.  Eladora is a sheltered scholar who gets a rather rude awakening about life throughout the course of this book.  Eladora is not my favourite character, but I did like her gradual transformation from damsel in distress to something more useful.  Finally, there is Arla, who would have to be my favourite side character.  Arla is a saint of the Kept Gods blessed with fiery powers as a result.  Arla is a badass and entertaining character who spends most of the book fighting her opponents with her fiery sword and generally not acting in a way most people would consider saint-like.  I especially love when she utilises her god-empowered voice to command people, as she is usually swearing while doing this.  This comes up in the text in all caps, and you have to imagine it sounds pretty impressive in this book’s audiobook format.  There were a number of other entertaining side or minor characters throughout the book that the author put to good use, and I will enjoy seeing what role they will play in any future books in the series.

Overall, I truly enjoyed The Gutter Prayer and was impressed by Hanrahan’s magnificent debut.  This was an excellent piece of grimdark fantasy which expertly combined some very inventive fantasy elements together with a fantastic story and some excellent characters.  With this first book Hanrahan has shown some incredible talent as a fantasy storyteller whose outstanding imagination is his biggest asset.  This is a highly recommended book which lives up to the substantial hype surrounding it.  I am already extremely keen for any additional books in the Black Iron Legacy, especially as the interview at the end of the book implies that Hanrahan has some brilliant ideas for the rest of the series.

New book blog – Murder, Mayhem and Long Dogs

My fellow reviewer at the Canberra Weekly, Jeff Popple, has just started up a blog of his own.

Murder, Mayhem and Long Dogs is a great blog for those people interested in the latest murder mysteries and thrillers out there.  Jeff will also be checking out Trashy Book Covers from his large collection of pulp crime fiction novels.

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In addition, Jeffrey will also be showing off photos of his absurdly cute miniature dachshunds on this blog, so there will be something for everyone.

So head on over to Murder, Mayhem and Long Dogs and check it out. I am looking forward to seeing how much Jeff agrees or disagrees with any of the books we both read.

From All The Tears in China by Sulari Gentill – Back Cover and Inner Page

I just started reading the new Sulari Gentill book, All the Tears in China and found that both the back cover and inner page quoted one of my old reviews:

rowland sinclair previous review 2

rowland sinclair previous review

This was my review for the seventh book in the Rowland Sinclair series, Give The Devil His Due, which I reviewed back in 2015.

Pretty chuffed that my review was the top one in the inner page.

Review of All The Tears in China to appear here and in the Canberra Weekly in the next couple of weeks.