Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 28 March 2019.
Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 28 March 2019.
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.
For this week I look at Spaceside by Michael Mammay, the sequel to one of my favourite books from 2018, Planetside. Planetside was an incredible debut from Mammay, who blended together mystery and science fiction elements to create an outstanding space military thriller with an absolutely explosive ending that I still cannot get over. As a result, I have huge hopes for Spaceside, which is set to be released in August, and I am very excited to see how Mammay tops his amazing first book.
Following his mission on Cappa, Colonel Carl Butler returns to a mixed reception. To some he is a do-or-die war hero. To the other half of the galaxy he’s a pariah. Forced into retirement, he has resettled on Talca Four where he’s now Deputy VP of Corporate Security, protecting a high-tech military company on the corporate battlefield—at least, that’s what the job description says. Really, he’s just there to impress clients and investors. It’s all relatively low risk—until he’s entrusted with new orders. A breach of a competitor’s computer network has Butler’s superiors feeling every bit as vulnerable. They need Butler to find who did it, how, and why no one’s taken credit for the ingenious attack.
As accustomed as Butler is to the reality of wargames—virtual and otherwise—this one screams something louder than a simple hack. Because no sooner does he start digging when his first contact is murdered, the death somehow kept secret from the media. As a prime suspect, he can’t shake the sensation he’s being watched…or finally succumbing to the stress of his past. Paranoid delusion or dangerous reality, Butler might be onto something much deeper than anyone imagined. But that’s where Butler thrives.
If he hasn’t signed his own death warrant.
I have to say that the plot for this new book sounds really intriguing. I am looking forward to seeing Butler investigate another complex science fiction crime. I like that that author has taken the story into a somewhat new direction, focusing on a corporate crime, but I hope the story spends a good amount of time exploring the repercussions of his actions in the first book. There are so many ways that the awesome story that was started in the first book could be continued, and I look forward to seeing if the conspiracy he uncovered in Planetside plays into this new mystery.
I am very confident that this book will be pretty epic, and Spaceside is currently sitting at the top of my must-read list for 2019. I have not decided if I will get a physical copy of this book or try and get the audiobook version. R. C. Bray did an incredible job narrating the audiobook version of Planetside, so I would like to listen to the sequel. However, if I get an advanced copy of the trade paperback of this book, I very much doubt I will be able to restrain myself enough to wait for the audiobook version. Sigh, life is so hard when it comes to awesome upcoming books.
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. This week participants get an Audio Freebie week, so I get to choose any audiobook topic that I want. Regular readers of my blog will know that I love audiobooks, so I was very keen to participate in this topic. Because of some recent long books that I have read and listened to, I have gotten very curious about the top ten longest audiobooks I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.
Therefore, I have decided to go back and list of all the audiobooks I have listened to and their run times to see which ones were the longest. For consistency’s sake, I will use the run times as stated on either Audible or Amazon, and I will only use the versions and narrators that I listened to. For example, I have only listened to the Harry Potter audiobooks narrated by Jim Dale and not the Stephen Fry versions, which are apparently longer, so I will therefore list the run times for the Jim Dale versions.
I am very curious to see what makes up my Top Ten List. I have an idea of what will be at the top, but I am expecting quite a few Harry Potter books in the top ten. Let us have a look:
2. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, narrated by Nick Podehl – 42 hours and 55 minutes
3. Magician by Raymond E. Feist, narrated by Peter Joyce – 36 hours and 14 minutes
Technically two books combined together (Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master), but as I will always listen to them together, I am counting it as one book.
4. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice – 33 hours and 45 minutes
9. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, narrated by Nick Podehl – 27 hours and 55 minutes
10. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale – 27 hours and 2 minutes
This was a very surprising result for me. While I was expecting books such as The Way of Kings and The Wise Man’s Fear to make the cut, I really did think that Order of the Phoenix would be higher up on the list. I was also very surprised that two books from Feist and Wurst’s The Empire Trilogy made the list, and I really did not think that Inheritance and Brisingr were that long. Still, it’s a good result, which I have no doubt will change in the future, especially as some of the books I am keen to listen to, such as The Ember Blade (30 hours and 40 minutes long) would make it onto this list, knocking Order of the Phoenix off. I am sure that with a different narrator or production company, some of these audiobooks would be longer or shorter; still, it was quite interesting to see.
As a bit of bonus material, and because I already had the run times listed, here are the next top ten books as an Honourable Mention.
11. Red Seas under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page – 25 hours and 34 minutes
12. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page – 23 hours and 43 minutes
14. Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie, narrated by Steven Pacey – 22 hours and 38 minutes
15. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, narrated by Steven Pacey – 22 hours and 15 minutes
16. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page – 21 hours and 59 minutes
17. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale – 21 hours and 36 minutes
18. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale – 21 hours and 12 minutes
So that is where some of the other Harry Potters are. With all 20 books being fantasy, I think it is obvious that I need to branch out into some longer books from other genres in order to break up this fantasy monopoly. While I have reviewed some of the books on this list, I am planning to get to the rest at some point in the future. However, I think most of those require a re-listen before I am able to do proper review of them; now I just have to find the time to fit them into my reading schedule. I was quite happy with the interesting result of this Top Ten Tuesday, and I will have to revisit this list at some point in the future. Feel free to comment below about the longest audiobook you have ever listened to.
Publisher: Zaffre (Trade Paperback Format – Australia – 3 March 2019)
Series: Tom Wilde – Book 3
Length: 317 pages
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Historical thriller and murder mystery author Rory Clements returns with the third book in his electrifying and clever Tom Wilde series, Nemesis.
August 1939. War is on the horizon, and while most of the world is preparing for the next great conflict, Cambridge Professor Tom Wilde is enjoying a holiday in France with his partner, Lydia. That is, until a mysterious man alerts him to the fact that one of his former students, an idealistic young man by the name Marcus Marfield, is currently being held in an internment camp on the France-Spain border after his involvement in the Spanish Civil War. When Wilde finds Marfield at the camp he moves quickly to secure his release, and they flee the country just as the Germans begin their invasion of Poland.
Back in England, the country moves to a war footing, as the Allies attempt to persuade America to join them against the Nazis. While many Americans oppose joining the war, the sinking of the passenger ship the SS Athenia may be the spark that brings them into the war. With the Nazis attempting to convince the world that Churchill orchestrated the sinking of the Athenia to galvanise American support against Germany, Wilde and his companions return to Cambridge.
Once back in the city, Wilde begins to notice a change come over Marfield. At first attributing it to his shell shock following his battles in Spain, a series of mysterious deaths around Cambridge all seem to link to the recently returned Marfield. These events are tied to a deadly conspiracy to keep America out of the war for good. A spy ring is active in Cambridge, and Wilde must find a way to uncover it before it is too late. Can Wilde once again avert disaster, and what role does Marfield play in this conspiracy?
After the excellent first two books in his Tom Wilde series, Corpus and Nucleus, Clements continues the adventure of his series’ titular character, Tom Wilde, as he investigates a series of Nazi espionage activities around Cambridge in the lead-up to World War II. I have quite enjoyed this series in the past and was looking forward to continuing the story in Nemesis. The latest book is a thrilling story that takes place just at the outset of the war and utilises the several historical events and figures to turn this into quite an intriguing tale.
Nemesis is a really good historical thriller which combines a great spy story with the historical context of early World War II. The previous books in the Tom Wilde series have all contained compelling and complex mysteries with huge implications for England and the allies, and Nemesis is no different. Clements has crafted together an excellent mystery that has massive, worldwide implications, and I really enjoyed unravelling the mystery, especially as the author presents all sorts of doublecrosses, twists, cover-ups and mysterious deaths to confuse the reader away from the main goal of the antagonists. The antagonists’ master plan is quite out there, and it is one of those plots that would have had massive historical implications. I quite like the role that new character Marcus Marfield played in this plot, as the protagonists and the reader are constantly trying to work out what his secrets are and what kind of person he truly is. Overall, I found the thriller and mystery elements of this book to be quite clever and captivating, and readers will enjoy uncovering the full extent of the antagonist’s overall plot.
One of the most interesting parts of the Tom Wilde series so far was its setting during the chaotic pre-World War II period. In Nemesis, Clements sets his story right at the start of the war and immediately shows all the panic and preparation that followed this declaration of war. Clements did a fantastic job portraying the low-key sense of dread and paranoia that the inhabitants of England would have felt in the build-up to the war in the previous books in the series, and in Nemesis these feelings are realistically amplified now that the war has begun. The author has quite a good grasp on a number of historical events and feelings during this period, and I quite liked seeing the Cambridge viewpoint of the war. The Cambridge setting has always been a fantastic highlight of this series, but it was quite intriguing to see the author incorporate all the various changes to the city that occurred as a result of the war into his novel. Clements dives deep into the Cambridge lifestyle when it comes to the war, whether it involves the removal of the rare books from the colleges, the preservation of the stained glass windows, the roles that the professors were being assigned in the war effort or even the many Communist professors throwing away their party membership cards when it became clear that the Soviets were supporting the Nazis.
Clements also ties his story in quite closely with one of the more interesting early events of World War II: the sinking of the passenger liner the SS Athenia as it sailed across the Atlantic. I was deeply fascinated not only with the depictions of this event, but the discussions and conspiracy theories that resulted from it. This was especially true when it came to the examination about the sinking of the ship being used to bring the United States into the war. The likelihood of America joining in the war became a major part of the story, and it was interesting to see what the European characters thought about America’s reluctance to enter the war, especially as one of the protagonists is an American character, and one of the chief architects of America’s isolationist policy, Joe Kennedy, was the United States Ambassador to England at the time. I thought that the historical elements that Clements explored were a real highlight of this book, and readers will enjoy his literary examination of these events.
While the main focus of the book’s story is a conspiracy and the start of the war, Clements does take his time to continue to develop a number of the characters introduced in the previous books. For example, Wilde continues to deepen his relationship with his romantic partner, Lydia, and I quite liked the role that Lydia played in investigating the case alongside Wilde. There is also a significant focus on Wilde’s American friend Jim Vanderberg and his family, especially as Vanderberg’s family are passengers aboard the Athenia. Phillip Eaton, the British spy who was hit by a car in the last book of the series makes a return in Nemesis, and the reader gets to see his struggles to recover from his horrific injuries while still working as an intelligence officer. A number of intriguing new characters are introduced in this book and it will be interesting to see what role they and the existing characters will play in any future entries in this series.
In the latest book of his enjoyable Tom Wilde series, Nemesis, Rory Clements once again delivers a captivating historical thriller that brings the reader into the early days of World War II. Featuring an incredible overarching mystery and some detailed examinations of intriguing historical events and settings, Nemesis is a deeply interesting book that is well worth checking out. I am very curious to see where Clements takes the series next, and I look forward to seeing what impact Thomas Wilde will have on the rest of World War II.
Publishers: Disney Lucasfilm Press and Listening Library (5 March 2019)
Series: Star Wars Extended Universe
Length: 8 hours 22 minutes
My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
The female protagonist of the Star Wars prequel movies, Padmé Amidala, gets a story mostly worthy of her, as young adult fiction author E. K. Johnston attempts to bridge the character gap between the first two Star Wars prequel movies in Queen’s Shadow, the first Star Wars novel of 2019.
While The Phantom Menace had its flaws, one of the things that the first Star Wars prequel film did right was the character of Queen Amidala, the young, fierce and strong democratically elected Queen of Naboo, who was able to lead her people to freedom. Portrayed by a young Natalie Portman, the character appeared in the other two prequel movies, where her relationship with Anakin Skywalker became a key plot point of the entire series. While I am not the biggest fan of how Padmé was portrayed in the second and third prequel films, I was quite excited to read a novel that explored the character in more detail, especially one written by Johnston, who did such a fantastic treatment on the popular character Ahsoka Tano in her one previous foray into Star Wars fiction. After my previous awesome experiences with Star Wars audiobooks, such as Ahsoka, I chose to listen to this book’s audiobook format, which was narrated by Catherine Taber.
Four years after ensuring the defeat of the Trade Federation on Naboo, Queen Padmé Amidala has served the last elected terms of office and is no longer Queen. Now free of the responsibilities of ruling, Padmé and her loyal handmaidens now have time to think about a new future. However, before Padmé can put any plans in place the new Queen of Naboo presents her with a job she cannot refuse: become the new representative of Naboo in the Galactic Senate.
Accepting the role, Senator Amidala travels to Coruscant, the capital of the Galactic Republic, to take up her seat, accompanied by a completely new support staff. She is quick to discover that her experiences as a ruler have not prepared her for the demanding and treacherous world of galactic politics. The Senate is a hotbed of corruption and bureaucracy, and Padmé is already considered by many to be a puppet of Chancellor Palpatine. She also has number of powerful enemies throughout the galaxy who seek not only to discredit her but also to kill her.
However, Padmé Amidala is used to being underestimated, and with Sabé, her former decoy and shadow, watching her back, she begins to forge the political alliances she needs to finally bring some change the galaxy.
This was an interesting piece of Star Wars fiction that I quite enjoyed. However, it is not without its flaws, and there were a few things that I disliked about the story that resulted in me dropping my overall rating slightly. But before I talk about the parts of the story that I had issue with, I want to mention the elements of this book that I enjoyed quite a bit.
Queen’s Shadow is an amazing Padmé Amidala story that helps redeem the character after her less than stellar showings in the second and third Star Wars prequel movies. This book helps make people forget about the helpless, pregnant damsel from Revenge of the Sith (although some deleted scenes from that movie do show some of the politics she was involved with), and instead focuses on her role as a canny political operator. I was also quite happy that Anakin did not appear as a character in this book; I preferred to see Amidala stand on her own without being defined by her relationship with a Jedi.
Johnston did a spectacular job of creating a novel that bridges the gaps in Padmé’s story between the first and second prequel movies. At the end of The Phantom Menace Padmé is still queen of Naboo, but by the start of Attack of the Clones she has become a senator, with very little discussion in the movies concerning how this came about. While I am sure that some of the books and comics in the old Star Wars extended universe would have covered this period of Padmé’s life, Queen’s Shadow is one of the first stories to explore this in the new Disney owned and operated Star Wars extended universe.
The author spends a significant amount of time focusing on Padmé’s early days in the Galactic Senate, including how she formed some of her early alliances, such as with Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, and how she became such a significant force in the Senate. In addition to this, we get to see how and why several of the minor Naboo characters from The Phantom Menace left Padmé’s side, and how several new characters, such as her new handmaidens and her security guard, Gregar Typho, came into her service. In addition to serving as a bridge between the two prequel movies, Queen’s Shadow also ties into The Clone Wars animated television show, showing Padmé’s first contact and initial relationships with some of the characters who originated in the animated show, such as Senators Rush Clovis and Mina Bonteri. While the book does spend time setting up events for Attack of the Clones, Johnston ensures that Padmé and the other main characters reflect on the events that occurred during The Phantom Menace, and the people that helped them during these adventures, such as Qui-Gon Jinn and little Anakin Skywalker. Overall, I felt that this really helped tie in the events between the two books and is an excellent new piece of Star Wars cannon.
In my opinion, one of the cleverest parts of The Phantom Menace was the revelation towards the end of the film that Queen Amidala was actually being played by two separate actresses: Natalie Portman and Keira Knightley. In the context of the film, Natalie Portman’s character, Padmé, was the real queen of Naboo, while Keira Knightley’s character, Sabé, was a decoy used for security purposes. While Padmé portrayed the Queen at the start of the movie, when the Trade Federation invaded there was a subtle switch and Sabé took on the role while Padme could be seen disguised as a nondescript handmaiden in the background. The two characters would then switch between portraying Queen Amidala throughout the film, with Sabé taking on the role whenever there was a chance the Queen could be captured or killed, while Padmé took on the role herself when official discussions or speeches needed to be made. Handmaiden Padmé also got her own scenes when Sabé was taking on the role as Queen, allowing the viewers to see this side of the character. This was and still is an amazing and ingenious part of the movie, which worked due to the similarity in appearances between the two then relatively unknown actresses, a downplaying of Knightley’s role in the film, as well as because of the elaborate makeup, hairstyles and dresses that Queen Amidala wore. As a result, the general audience were quite surprised at the time, especially as cast lists were not as easily available on the internet at the time.
As a result, I was extremely happy that Johnston chose to explore the utilisation of the queen’s decoy in some detail throughout this book. Quite a lot of time is spent discussing the techniques behind the Amidala persona, from the distracting makeup and costumes, to the quick-change techniques that Padmé and her handmaidens utilise, and even several discussions about the ‘Amidala voice’, the imperious tone that Portman and Knightly both performed in The Phantom Menace. I found this entire exploration of this decoy angle incredibly fascinating, and it gave me a completely new appreciation for how the decoys were utilised in the first prequel film. The decoys were also a key part of Queen’s Shadow, as Padmé still continues to utilise them as a senator, allowing her to avoid danger and slip away at social gatherings so she can undertake other covert tasks. The scenes where they utilise them are quite intriguing, and I liked the author’s thoughts on the psychology behind the effectiveness of the decoys and how they are still an effective technique in an advanced science fiction society. It was interesting to note that both of Padmé’s decoys who appear the films, Sabé and Cordé (who was blown up at the start of Attack of the Clones), have major roles in this book, with both taking on the Amidala persona at some point in the story.
While it was intriguing to see Cordé learn to take on the role of Amidala in this book, the original decoy, Sabé, was a much bigger part of the plot. Sabé has a significant role within the book and is actually Queen’s Shadow’s secondary protagonist, performing undercover work on Padmé’s behalf. The relationship between Padmé and Sabé was a really interesting and emotional subplot to explore, as Sabé is quite loyal to the former queen. How Sabé defines herself as Padmé’s friend and confidant is a significant part of Sabé’s story, and Johnston spends time attempting unravel this complicated relationship. The overall result is a fascinating inclusion to this story, and one that adds some real emotional depth to the story.
In addition to the focus on the decoy characters, Johnston also spends time looking at the role of Padmé’s royal handmaidens, the young hooded women who followed Padmé around in the first film. I had never really given the handmaidens much thought before this book, apart from how Padmé was able to hide her identity by taking up a handmaiden’s garb for several parts of the film. However, Johnston does a fantastic job of explaining the actual role of these characters as Padmé’s confidants, covert operatives, undercover bodyguards and potential body doubles. I really liked how Johnston was able to turn these minor characters from the films into a significant part of her book, and it was quite interesting to see them be deployed to help with Padmé’s political moves. Each of the handmaidens, both those who only appeared in The Phantom Menace and those who only appeared in Attack of the Clones, are explored in some detail throughout the book. The reader gets a real sense of each of the characters personalities, what skills they bring to Padmé’s table and the fates of those handmaidens who served Padmé during the invasion of Naboo are also explained by this book. This look at the handmaidens is an excellent part of the book, and one that I actually found quite fascinating.
Aside from the look at Padmé and her associates, Queen’s Shadow also examines a number of other aspects of the Star Wars universe during this time period. For example, there is quite a large focus on politics, both on Naboo, and within the Galactic Senate. The galactic politics in particular is quite intriguing, and I liked seeing Padmé’s initial impression of Senate procedure and its many shortcomings. Johnston has also included some fun media articles throughout the book, showing how negative news coverage is being used to disadvantage or advantage Padmé’s political ambitions, which I found to be quite amusing. There are also some hints at the coming Separatist movement, as several planets are showing discontent with the Republic and certain actions are taking place to undermine security throughout the galaxy. All of the features are pretty interesting, and I had fun reading about them throughout this book.
Now, while I obviously quite enjoyed many of the elements that Johnston explored in this book (having gone on about them for over two pages), I have to admit that the overall story is actually a bit boring in places and the story really does not go anywhere. There are some big points, including a quick assassination attempt, piracy, large-scale disasters and potential political crisis, but many of these events has any real significance, follow through or any sort of actual conclusion. This could potentially be alright if Queen’s Shadow is the start of a larger storyline or a new book series, but I am not too sure how likely that is. Not only is there no real indication that Johnston will be continuing this story, but the epilogue of the book kind of puts a damper on that, which I will discuss below.
BEWARE SPOILERS BELOW:
The epilogue of the book shows Padmé’s funeral, as shown at the end of Revenge of the Sith. While I did like how Johnston alluded to the funeral at the start of Queen’s Shadow’s by using the same descriptions of Padmé’s floating flower-covered body, and the funeral does put a final end to the story. The epilogue did show Sabé talking with Senator Organa, so this book could potentially set up a follow-up book focusing on the former decoy either joining the Rebel Alliance or investigating Padmé’s death. However, this does not really fit with some of the open story points from this book, as the Trade Federation are the most likely people behind the assassination attempts and the piracy, and who cares about the Trade Federation after Revenge of the Sith? In addition, this book only really explored around a year of Padmé’s life as a senator, and I think it would make more sense to follow more of Padmé’s early political career, especially as there is still around five more years until Attack of the Clones begins. I suppose you could maybe do a split-timeline story that follows Padmé and Sabé before and after Revenge of the Sith, with the two storylines coming together, although I am not sure how well that would work. I would like to see Johnston explore this more and give her overall story more shape, I just do not know how likely that is at this point.
END OF SPOILERS
While the somewhat pointless story does bring Queen’s Shadow rating down a bit, its audiobook features really help raise it up again, especially with its excellent narrator Catherine Taber. The audiobook version of Queen’s Shadow runs for around eight hours and 20 minutes, so it is an easy book to get through quickly. Catherine Taber is the actress who voiced Padmé in The Clone Wars animated show and is also the most recent person to portray the character on screen. As a result, she is the perfect narrator for this book, as she already perfected a great Natalie Portman imitation voice for the show. Taber did a fantastic job narrating this book, as she not only is the perfect voice for Padmé but also has an amazing range for the other characters featured in the book. I appreciated how she was able to craft similar voices for the handmaiden characters, many of whom were chosen to be handmaidens because they were physical and audible matches to Padmé. This is particularly true of Sabé, and as a result Taber ensures she has pretty much the same voice that Padmé does. Other high points of Taber’s narration include her rendition of the Amidala voice, as well as the creepy tones she utilises for Chancellor Palpatine, especially when he kept saying “my dear”. As always, the producers of this Star Wars audiobook load up this version with all sorts of sound effects and classic Star Wars music. I felt that these sound effects and music really helped enhance the story, and gave it some real atmosphere, and I liked the way that certain things, such as holo-messages between the characters, were altered to make them sound more realistic. I would strongly recommend the audiobook format of Queen’s Shadow as the best way to enjoy this story, and I thought it was just wonderful.
Queen’s Shadow is marketed as a young adult novel, and it is quite a good novel for a younger audience to enjoy, with only minor sexual references, coarse language, drug use and violence throughout the book. However, there really is not any upper age limit on enjoying this book, and older readers can just as easily explore Johnston’s story. While there is no age limit, readers should ideally be a Star Wars fan to fully enjoy Queen’s Shadow. At the very least, readers should have watched all of the prequel films first to get a full handle on what is happening. While I imagine someone with no prior knowledge of Star Wars might be able to enjoy reading this, it is probably not the best young adult science fiction book to pick out. As a result, this book is recommended more for established fans of the franchise, and as a pretty hard-core Star Wars fan myself, I know I enjoyed all of the references and character exploration that Johnston did a lot more.
In the end, I decided to award Queen’s Shadow four stars out of five. While I really loved all the intriguing elements that Johnston explored in this book, the lagging story did make it a little harder to enjoy. That being said, I would not hesitate to grab another Star Wars book from Johnston, as she has an outstanding understanding and appreciation of the Star Wars universe. I do hope that this story is continued in some way, and if it does, I will definitely check out the audiobook version of it, especially if it is narrated once again by Catherine Taber. Interesting reading, Queen’s Shadow is worth checking out, especially if you are an established fan of the Star Wars franchise.
Publisher: Pan Macmillan Australia (Trade Paperback Format – 26 March 2019)
Series: Standalone/Book 1
Length: 328 pages
My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
The end of the world has nothing on the horrors of high school in this fast-paced and widely entertaining new book from bestselling Australian author Matthew Reilly.
When Skye Rogers and her twin brother, Red, are forced to move to New York city, they are enrolled in the prestigious The Monmouth School, learning institute of choice for the city’s ultra-wealthy and social elite. Even among the children of the rich and powerful there exists a well-established hierarchy, and in The Monmouth School, the top of the social ladder are the friends and cronies of the Collins sisters, Misty and Chastity. Despite only wanting a quiet existence in her new school, Skye finds herself drawn into their orbit against her better judgement.
Skye soon discovers that hanging out with the Collins sisters is very different from the usual high school cliques. The social group is probably the most exclusive in New York, and it comes with certain privileges. Thanks to an ancient family secret, the Collins sisters are able to activate an ancient tunnel beneath Central Park that allows teenagers to run through an alternate version of New York: a post-apocalyptic nightmare littered with ruined buildings and filled with crazed survivors.
When Skye and her fellow runners find evidence that the New York they are visiting is actually a future version of their own timeline, they need to find a way to come to terms with the end of the world, especially as the apocalypse appears to be only days away. As society starts to crumble and the poor rise up against the rich, Skye tries to find a way to use her knowledge of the future to save everyone she loves. However, Skye is about to learn that her new friends are far more concerned with revenge and are planning to use the end of the world to take her down.
Matthew Reilly is a veteran author of weird and electrifying fiction, having written a number of intriguing books in the last 20 years, many of which fall within the techno-thriller or science fiction genres. In addition to a number of fun sounding standalone novels, Reilly has also published two substantial series, the Shane Schofield series and the Jack West Jr series. Matthew Reilly is one of those authors that I have been meaning to check out for some time, as a number of his novels sound absolutely bonkers and really creative. I am particularly drawn to his 2014 release, The Great Zoo of China, which essentially sounds like Jurassic Park with dragons; his 2013 historical thriller The Tournament; and the books in the Jack West Jr series, which features secret organisations fighting for control of ancient artefacts with world-and universe-ending potential.
I was therefore very excited to get an advanced copy of The Secret Runners of New York, due to its intriguing time travel and armageddon concepts. I actually really enjoyed The Secret Runners of New York and had a lot of fun reading it. The book features a surprisingly entertaining use of over-the-top high school drama that actually combines really well with the interesting science fiction elements mentioned above. The result is an unpredictable and amusing overall story that I had a very hard time putting down and which I powered through in very short order.
The book revolves around the students at The Monmouth School (you have to say the “The”; it’s that type of place), New York’s premier high school for the rich and snooty. Please remind me to never send any of my theoretical children to any school thought up by Reilly, as the author creates a learning institution that is essentially a viper’s nest of bitchiness, enforced social hierarchy and petty revenge, all of which is enhanced by the fact that the characters are all ultra-rich or have massive superiority complexes. The quote below from main character Skye, one of the few well-adjusted characters in the book, shows her experiences within the first few minutes at The Monmouth School:
“In the space of a few minutes I’d seen a taunt about sluttiness, a threatened punch to the uterus, some humble bragging by the Head Girl about the school’s social status and a dose of good old-fashioned mean-girl passive aggressiveness from Misty. School, I reflected sadly, was school no matter how high the tuition fees were.”
I have to admit I did find Reilly’s portrayal of most of the rich teenage girls in this book to be a tad extreme and unrealistic (yes, in a book featuring time travel, that’s what I am finding unrealistic). I have never been and never will be a teenage girl, but I hope that teenage girls in high school couldn’t possibly be as petty and vicious as the girls portrayed within this book, even if they are the daughters of the uber-privileged. That being said, I found this over-the-top viewpoint of high school life to be extremely entertaining and it was a fantastic element throughout the book. Watching the level-headed and somewhat cynical protagonist have to deal with this insanity was a lot of fun, especially when you would imagine most people would be more concerned with the end of the world than with who made out with which guy. An unbelievably amusing part of the story, these high school elements are great, just try and avoid thinking about it too much.
In addition to the look at the mean girls of high school, I did quite enjoy Reilly’s critique of the ultra-rich and powerful in New York City. The protagonist finds herself drawn into the world of debutant balls, society politics and the other classy responsibilities of being rich in New York. Again, this is an interesting part of the story, and the rich characters with their extravagant lifestyles do offer a nice disconnect from reality. I liked Reilly’s examination of how the rich would be targeted during apocalyptic events such as the one portrayed within this book, and it played nicely into some of the current protests and perceptions of the 1%. it’s another glorious over-the-top element for this book that provides the reader with a lot of entertainment and a real dislike of most of the privileged characters.
The science fiction parts of this book are incredibly well done and are an excellent part of this book. Not only is there a devastating cosmic storm that will wipe out most of humanity in hours, but there is an unrelated magical tunnel that the protagonists can use to visit the future. Reilly does an amazing job creating a devastating and crazy post-apocalyptic New York City for the readers to explore. I was really impressed with all the brutal descriptions of how the city was in ruins and had been dramatically reclaimed by nature as the infrastructure falls into disrepair, and the whole thing is an amazing setting that Reilly uses to full effect. I really liked how the author uses the time travel elements within the book. Watching the protagonists slowly work out that this world is a future version of their own timeline is amazing, and it was great seeing them see all the testimonials and letters from their families describing the events that are yet to happen in their future. The various time travelling shenanigans used by both the protagonists and antagonists of this book helped enhance this already exciting story, and I loved the way that the characters are able to see the consequences of their actions in both timelines before they actually happen.
The author has also utilised some eye-catching visual elements throughout the book to enhance the story being told. There are a number of maps used to show the key locations of the book, and there are even a couple of diagrams used to explain the potential time travel issues in this book. I personally liked the way that the font changed to signify the characters going into a different timeline and thought it was a nice touch. A range of other text techniques are used to signify angry or desperate messages on different locations, such as walls or the entirety of buildings, often conveying the emotion behind these messages. All these visual treats are great, and they really make this book stand out.
The Secret Runners of New York is currently being marketed to the teen and young adult audiences, but this book is really on the edge of what young adult fiction is. While it is focused on teenage characters in high school, there are a significant number of very adult inclusions throughout the book. It is interesting to note that in an interview at the back of the book, Reilly himself indicates that he does not see this story as being as a piece of young adult fiction, and I think that is shown in the way that he wrote this over-the-top story. There is a high level of violence, drug use, coarse language and sexual references featured throughout this book, and as a result, I would say it is not really appropriate for the younger audiences and is probably more suited for older teenage readers. This is definitely one of those young adult marketed books that adult readers can really enjoy, and there is no upper limit on enjoying this crazy tale.
This was an incredibly entertaining and captivating book that I had a lot of fun with. Matthew Reilly pulls no punches when it comes to portraying the book’s petty and vicious teenage rich girl antagonists, which turns an already intriguing science fiction book into a wild thrill ride of revenge, betrayal and insanity. I have to say that I quite enjoyed my first taste of Matthew Reilly’s writing and I am extremely keen to check out some of his other works in the future. At the moment The Secret Runners of New York is a standalone book, although the author leaves a number of storylines open for sequels or prequels, and I would be interested to see where he takes the story next.
Yay, another week, another series of awesome books, including four great books from some Australian publishers and two volumes that I purchased myself.
This sounds like a great piece of Australian crime fiction.
The last book in the Bernie Gunther series from the late, great Philip Kerr.
Not my usual sort of book, but it has an intriguing concept and could be fun.
I only just got this one today and I am stoked. I have been looking forward to it for a couple of months now and it should be pretty epic. Expect a review for it soon.
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.
Originally published in the Canberra Weekly on 6 June 2017.
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.
This week, I look at War of the Bastards by Andrew Shvarts, the third book in the incredibly entertaining and addictive Royal Bastards young adult fantasy series.
Before I start talking about the series and why I want to read this book, can I just say how much I love this cover. It is an incredibly eye-catching piece of artwork, and I think it matches the dark tone of this series extremely well.
The Royal Bastards is Shvarts’s debut series, and it follows the adventures of a group of rebellious teenagers as they attempt to save the fantasy nation of Noveris. The series is told from the perspective of Tilla, the bastard daughter of a powerful western lord, whose life changes when she forms an unexpected friendship with the princess of Noveris, Lyriana. In the first book in the series, Tilla finds out that her father, Lord Elric Kent, is plotting a rebellion against Lyriana’s father, and acts quickly to save Lyriana’s life. In the second book, after escaping from the west, Tilla, Lyriana and Tilla’s love interest, Zell, arrive at the Lightspire, the capital of Noveris, and attempt to start new lives in the city. However, the western forces, led by fellow royal bastard Miles Hampstedt, manage to enact a brutal takeover of the city utilising a powerful new form of magic.
To be honest, I have been really looking forward to this book for months, ever since I finished City of Bastards, the second book in the series. City of Bastards had one hell of an ending, with the sudden and bloody death of the entire royal family and court, from which the protagonists were only just able to escape. I also really enjoyed Shvarts’s writing style in the second book, and I hope that War of the Bastards is written in a similar manner, but potentially with a darker tone. I am deeply intrigued to see where the story goes from here and I am already excited about the book’s awesome plot summary.
A year has passed since the fall of Lightspire. The Inquisitor Miles Hampstedt has usurped the throne and rules Noveris with a blood-soaked iron fist. Tilla and her friends have become hardened rebels in the Unbroken, a band of guerilla fighters hiding out in the fringes of the Kingdom. Tilla is plagued with doubt and regret; Lyriana struggles with the burdens of being a fugitive Queen; Zell atones for his guilt by killing for the cause. And even as they all fight, they know their cause is doomed, that with very passing day Miles’ power grows, his army of Bloodmages spreading to cover the continent.
Then a raid on an outpost produces two unexpected prisoners: Lord Elric Kent himself, now a prisoner obsessed with revenge, and Syan See, a strange girl from the Red Wastes. Tilla struggles with the emotional weight of confronting her father, but it’s Syan that offers the true revelation. She demonstrates a new incredible kind of magic, and speaks of a secret civilization hidden in isolation in the mysterious Wastes. With Miles’ forces closing in, Tilla and her friends (alongside a hostage Lord Kent) set out to make contact with Syan’s people, to make an pact that could turn the war. The journey will test their character, forge unlikely alliances, reveal the horrifying true nature of magic, and set in motion a battle that will determine the fate of Noveris itself.
There are quite a few amazing-sounding plot elements contained within this synopsis. The year-long gap since the last book in the series is going to be extremely interesting, and I am looking forward to seeing the main characters evolve once again into hardened resistance fighters after all the betrayals of the second book. A hopeless fight against impossible odds followed by a dangerous quest for lost magic is always a winning story combination in my book, and I will look forward to seeing how Shvarts portrays this in War of the Bastards. I believe that this will be the final book in this series, so I am expecting some massive twists and possibly one or two major character deaths to round out the story.
One of the best things about City of Bastards was Shvarts’s examination of the emotional trauma and damage experienced by the protagonists following their adventures in the first book. The synopsis seems to support that this interesting inclusion will be a major feature of War of the Bastards, and after the events of the second book, you have to imagine that the trauma and guilt that each character will be experiencing is going to be amplified even further. Tilla will no doubt feel guilty about the terrible things her father has made possible, and the impacts it has had on her friends. Zell, whose actions in the second book partially led to the bloody coup, is also going to have massive regrets. I also expect that Lyriana is going to be suffering quite a lot in this book. She already experienced severe survivor’s guilt in the second book following the death of her love interest, Tilla’s half-brother Jax, and now with most of her family killed, this is likely to be amplified by a significant degree. I am also curious to see what will happen to side-character Ellarion in this book. Ellarion is Lyriana’s cousin and he inherited the role of Royal Archmagus following the murder of the previous Royal Archmagus in the first book. As he avoided most of the trauma in the first book, he was one of the more buoyant characters in City of Bastards. However, at the end of the book, his attempted to shield his friends from a massive magical explosion and lost his hands as a result. I am very curious to see how Ellarion is portrayed in this final book, as not only has he lost most of his family like Lyriana but the loss of hands will also be extremely devastating to him, not just because of their physical use but because it will have a negative impact on his magical ability.
I have a feeling that Tilla’s character relationships will be a key part of War of the Bastards, and I am looking forward to seeing what happens when she is forced to team up with her father. The two characters have always had a complex relationship due to Tilla’s status as a bastard, but following all the revelations of the first two books, I think that their relationship in this book will be incredibly dramatic. I am also curious to see how Tilla’s love angle with Zell goes. Despite coming together in the first book, their time in Lightspire really affected their relationship, as the two lied to each other. I imagine that they will get back together in this final book, but we will have to see what happens (especially as Zell is the main character most likely to die in my opinion). I am also expecting an appearance from antagonist Miles Hampstedt in this book. Miles was once a friend of Tilla, but his extreme jealousy after she chose Zell over him resulted in him betraying the group. Since then he has taken control of the west and the entirety of Noveris with complete dominance over the blood mages. No doubt, he will appear at some point, portray himself as the victim because Tilla did not choose him and be an extra despicable villain as a result.
I have a strong feeling that War of the Bastards will be an amazing and thrilling piece of fantasy fiction, and I am really looking forward to getting my hands on this book. Shvarts is an exceptional new fantasy author, and I have high hopes that he will do an outstanding job with this final book in the Royal Bastards series.
Publishers: Gollancz and Orion Audio (Audiobook format – 15 November 2018)
Series: Rivers of London – Book 7
Length: 10 hours 25 minutes
My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Prepare to dive headfirst into one of the best urban fantasy series in the world today, with the seventh book in Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series, Lies Sleeping.
London is a magical place, especially for Peter Grant, Detective Constable and apprentice wizard. Peter is a member of an elite unit of the London Metropolitan Police, known as the Folly, which is tasked with investigating magical crimes and protecting the city from all sorts of magical threats. The person at the top of the Folly’s most wanted list is Martin Chorley, also known as the Faceless Man, a magical criminal mastermind who is determined to do whatever it takes to gain power. However, despite the Met and the Folly’s considerable resources, Chorley is always able to stay one step ahead of those chasing him.
During a routine attempt to subtly panic several of Chorley’s known associates, a magical creature attacks a potential witness. Peter’s investigation soon reveals that the witness had ordered the forging of a large and mysterious bell, which Chorley is desperate to get his hands on. As Peter and his team dig deeper in the bell’s construction, they quickly begin to realise that Chorley is the final stages of his master plan, a plan tied deeply into the heart of London’s dark and bloody history, and one which could cause untold disaster for the entire city.
As the clock ticks down, Peter needs to work out the connection between London’s past and the mysterious magical events occurring all over the city. Can Peter and his team once again save the day, or will their adversary finally obtain the power he has always desired? Moreover, what will Peter do when he comes face to face with the woman who betrayed him to Chorley, his old partner in the Met, Lesley May?
Ben Aaronovitch is a highly regarded author with an interesting writing history to his name. His writing career began back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when he wrote a couple of Doctor Who television serials, including the highly regarded serial Remembrance of the Daleks, as well as three entries in the Virgin New Adventures series of Doctor Who books. The Virgin New Adventure series chronicled the adventures of the Doctor after the television show’s hiatus in 1989. Aaronovitch’s three entries in this book series sound incredibly interesting, although they were considered to be somewhat controversial at the time due to their more adult content. Aaronovitch did not get around to writing his fantasy work until 2011, when he wrote the urban fantasy Rivers of London. This was the first book in the author’s Rivers of London series of books (alternatively known as the Peter Grant series or the PC Grant series), for which the author is best known for. The Rivers of London series is very highly regarded, and Aaronovitch has worked hard to expand on the story and universe of this series, writing a number of novellas, short stories and graphic novels on top of the series’ main seven books.
Before Lies Sleeping, I had never got around to reading any of Aaronovitch’s books, despite hearing good things about his main series. As a result, I was very happy that I finally managed to check out the series earlier this year. I did receive a trade paperback edition from Hachette Australia, but in the end, I chose to listen to the audiobook version of this book, narrated by Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. I have to say that I was extremely impressed with this brilliant book and found that I really enjoyed the excellent and captivating story. Lies Sleeping easily gets a full five-star rating from me, and I fully intend to go back and check out the other books in this series. This book is an excellent blend of the fantasy and crime fiction genres, both of which come together perfectly to create an extremely compelling and complex read.
Lies Sleeping will prove to be extremely appealing to huge range of people; not only pre-existing fans of the series but also those readers who have not read any of the Rivers of London books before. As a first-time Aaronovitch reader, I found that it was incredibly easy to step in and enjoy this series, as the author did a fantastic job making Lies Sleeping accessible to everyone. While Aaronovitch has created a huge amount of lore around his series, including in his novellas and comics, the reader does not need to have any knowledge of these or the previous six books in the series to fully understand the entirety of Lies Sleeping’s story. However, those readers who do have experience with this series will love how the story continues to development, as well as the massive and surprising twists that occur throughout the book.
At the core of this book lies a series of intriguing mysteries that take place throughout London. In order to achieve his villainous goals, the antagonist has embarked on a series of seemingly random and chaotic crimes and ventures, all of which apparently form part of his master plan. These various mysteries or criminal events were really interesting, and I liked trying to work out how they would all come together. I particularly liked how various parts of these mysteries were deeply tied into the history of London, and the protagonist needed to gain a historical understanding of some of various myths and legends surrounding London. Watching the protagonist attempt to unwind the complex plan of the book’s villains was extremely compelling, and I had a great time trying to work out what was happening myself. One or two threads of these mysteries did go unsolved in this book, and I will be curious to see if they are picked up in any of the future entries in this franchise.
Aaronovitch is clearly a very creative writer, as he utilises a huge range of different and fairly unique fantasy elements throughout this book. While there are a large number of wizards, spells and elvish beings throughout the book, the main focus is on the titular rivers of the series. The more common magical beings encountered in this series are the personifications of the various rivers and waterways (current and historical) that flow through and around London. These beings are similar to gods, although the term genius loci may be more appropriate, and have a huge range of powers. These are a really intriguing addition to the book, and it was interesting to see the protagonist attempt to deal and interact with the various river characters, including his girlfriend, Beverly Brooke (yes, the main character of this series is dating a river). There is also a huge range of other genius loci, or similar beings, that are featured within the story, including the mysterious and insane Mr Punch. The magic that the human characters utilise is complex and slightly less ostentatious than some classic pieces of fantasy, but when the master wizards get to work it can be quite impressive.
One of the things I liked best about this book is how the author could create a realistic British police narrative and ensure magic became part of the procedure. The Folly may be a special branch of the Metropolitan Police, but it is still part of the police force, and as such the characters are forced to follow standard procedure when investigating magical crimes. Having these elite magical characters fill out paperwork and other various elements of day-to-day police life was deeply amusing. I did like seeing how regular law enforcement tactics, anti-crime strategies and police combat techniques could be utilised against magical opponents. The overall fantasy elements of this book are really enjoyable, but I really liked to see them be blended with a classic British police story.
Aaronovitch has done a fantastic job creating a huge and intriguing group of characters for this series. The protagonist of Lies Sleeping and the Rivers of London series is Peter Grant, police officer and official wizard’s apprentice. Peter is the sort of protagonist I really enjoy (sarcastic, funny and determined) so I quite enjoyed having him narrate the story, making a number of great jokes throughout. The other police characters make up a great supporting and diverse cast, with a range of different abilities and characteristics. I especially liked the classy and wise Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the last officially sanctioned English wizard and Peter’s mentor. He is an extremely charming and old-fashioned character who has a huge amount of magical power at his fingertips and who can be quite intimidating if he puts his mind to it. I also quite enjoyed the other magical characters that appeared throughout the book, as Aaronovitch has created a bevy of river gods and associated genius loci characters. I liked how many of these ancient characters portrayed modern characteristics and ways of speaking, even when talking in a historical context. Long-time readers of the series will also enjoy the further exploration of several recurring characters, including finally revealing the backstory of the mysterious Mr Punch.
While the protagonists and supporting cast are great characters, I really liked the antagonists in this story. The main villain of the story is Martin Chorley, also known as the Faceless Man. He is an excellent antagonist who is built up as a master planner, master magician and crazy villain before you even see him in the book. His master plan was fairly complex, and the character’s overall arc in this book featured some massive twists that I did not see coming. Lesley May is another really complex character who is a great addition to the series. Her relationship with Peter is one of the best parts of the book, as even after her betrayals earlier in the series, he is still trying to save her from herself. The way this works out in the end is quite dramatic, and it will be interesting to see where it goes from there.
While a large part of this book is set out more as a slow and steady police procedural, there are some fantastic action sequences within Lies Sleeping. These come about when the protagonist attempts to stop the plans of the Faceless Man, and all manner of chaos erupts. Nothing highlights this better than an extended action sequence which involves Peter chasing after a van on a bicycle, throwing fireballs, while all manner of debris is magically flung at him and several pursuing police vehicles. The magical duels between some of the participants, mainly Nightingale and Martin Chorley, can be particularly impressive, but I personally liked how many of the confrontations devolved into fist fights as both sides attempt to distract the other and disrupt their castings. Plus, where else are you likely to see British police with truncheons attempt to fight evil wizards? These amazing action sequences really added to the story, and it was great to see all this magic in action, rather than being theorised the entire time.
While I would have already been tempted to give Lies Sleeping a five-star review, the thing that definitely clinches it for me is the amazing audiobook adaption of the novel, narrated by actor Kobna Holdbrook-Smith. At nearly 10 hours and 30 minutes, this is a moderately easy audiobook to get through, and I had an absolute blast listening to it. Holdbrook-Smith has an amazing voice and his work narrating this audiobook was just incredible. His voice for protagonist and story narrator Peter perfectly encapsulated the character and got the full force of his witty and enjoyable personality across to the reader. I really liked all the voices that Holdbrook-Smith created for the various characters featured throughout Lies Sleeping, especially for some of the magical creatures, who had an air of ancient wisdom in their voices. However, without a doubt my favourite voice was the one for Nightingale. The voice chosen for Nightingale is full of all sorts of old British class, and I thought it fit the character perfectly and was one of my favourite parts of this whole audiobook. Aside from the outstanding voice work, I also quite liked the jazzy music that was played at the start of each chapter. It gave the book a real noir private investigator feel, and I like how it added to the tone of the book as a whole. The audiobook version of this book also helped me understand the story a bit better as an outsider to the series, and that, combined with Holdbrook-Smith’s brilliant voice work, makes me completely happy to recommend the audiobook format of Lies Sleeping.
Aaronovitch once again delivers a spectacular read that expertly combines amazing fantasy and crime fiction elements into one widely outstanding narrative. There are so many excellent elements to this book, and I had absolutely loved my first foray into the Rivers of London series. I strongly recommend listening to the Lies Sleeping audiobook, narrated by the very talented Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, but those readers who prefer to read their books will also find much to enjoy about this fantastic book. This is one of the best urban fantasy books I have ever had the pleasure of reading. I fully intend to go back and check out all the preceding books in this series, and I can’t wait to see where the series goes next. Five stars all the way.