WWW Wednesday – 29 January 2020

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Highfire, Russian Cover
Highfire by Eoin Colfer (Trade Paperback)

I have been powering through this amazing book and should hopefully knock it off tonight.

The Russian by Ben Coes (Audiobook)

I meant to read The Russian last year but didn’t get a chance, so when I felt like listening to a thriller this week, The Russian was on the top of my list.  I have been making a ton of progress with this audiobook so far and it has a really exciting story.

What did you recently finish reading?

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


Star Wars: Dark Disciple
by Christie Golden (Audiobook)

 

What do you think you’ll read next?

To the Strongest by Robert Fabbri (Trade Paperback)

To the Strongest Cover

I had initially planned to read The Museum of Desire by Jonathan Kellerman next, but I received a copy of To the Strongest today and now this is at the top of my to-read list.  I am really looking forward to checking this one out and I am expecting another excellent book from one of my favourite authors.

That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.

Waiting on Wednesday – Providence by Max Barry

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings. Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them. For this week’s edition of Waiting on Wednesday, I check out an upcoming science fiction novel that sounds like it is going to be a compelling read: Providence by Max Barry.

Providence Cover

Barry is an Australian author who has written several books since his 1999 debut, Syrup. Barry has created some very interesting-sounding science fiction novels over the last two decades, most of which appear to have some form of social commentary attached. I have not yet had the pleasure of reading any of Barry’s works before, although I would really like to check out a couple of his previous books, such as Lexicon and Jennifer Government. While I have not read any of his Barry’s novels before, I fully intend to grab a copy of Providence when it comes out as it sounds like a particularly awesome bit of science fiction.

Providence, which is set for release on 31 March here in Australia, is Barry’s first book since 2013’s Lexicon. This new book has a highly captivating plot synopsis that I fell in love with the moment I read it, mainly because it sounds like 2001: A Space Odyssey with social media influencers and a destructive alien-killing spaceship.

Goodreads Synopsis:

It was built to kill our enemies. But now it’s got its own plans.

In the future, the war against aliens from the dark reaches of space has taken a critical turn. Once we approached the salamanders in peace… and they annihilated us. Now mankind has developed the ultimate killing machine, the Providence class of spaceship.

With the ships’ frightening speed, frightening intelligence and frightening weaponry, it’s now

the salamander’s turn to be annihilated… in their millions.

The mismatched quartet of Talia, Gilly, Jolene and Anders are the crew on one of these destroyers. But with the ship’s computers designed to outperform human decision-making in practically all areas, they are virtual prisoners of the ship’s AI. IT will take them to where the enemy are, it will dictate the strategy in any battle, it will direct the guns….

The crew’s only role is to publicize their glorious war to a skeptical Earth. Social media and video clips are THEIR weapons in an endless charm offensive. THEIR chief enemies are not the space reptiles but each other, and boredom.

But then everything changes. A message comes from base: the Providence is going into the VZ, the Violet Zone, where there are no beacons and no communications with Earth. It is the heart of the enemy empire – and now the crew are left to wonder whether this is a mission of ultimate destruction or, more sinisterly, of ultimate self-destruction…

Wow, now that is a very cool-sounding plot basis. I love the idea of a war being fought by an AI controlled ship while its human crew’s only job is to provide social media updates, and I am really intrigued to see what Barry’s take on social media and influencers will be. There is so much potential for humour, drama, character development and potentially even horror (if the ship’s AI turns on them) that I am really looking forward to checking it out. So, purely based on the awesome synopsis above (the cover is also amazing), I am going to make sure I get a copy of this book when it comes out. I am extremely confident that Providence is going to turn out to be an outstanding novel, and I cannot wait to read it.

Book Haul – 29 January 2020

Another week, another awesome haul of books for me to read.  Now I don’t mean to gloat (well maybe a little a bit of gloating is appropriate), but I have managed to pick up a pretty incredible collection of books in the last week.  I have featured several of the below books in my Waiting on Wednesday articles so I am very excited to have picked them up.  That being said, each of the below novels sound really amazing and I cannot wait to get through all of them.

Highfire by Eoin Colfer

Highfire Cover 3

I have already started reading Highfire and I am nearly finished.  It is really good and I will try to get a review up for it soon.

Alexander’s Legacy: To The Strongest by Robert Fabbri

To the Strongest Cover

The first book in a brand new series by one of my favourite historical fictional authors.  I am probably going to check this one out next.

One Minute Out by Mark Greaney

One Minute Out Cover

The Shadow Saint by Gareth Hanrahan

The Shadow Saint Cover

The God Game by Danny Tobey

The God Game Cover

Now this one sounds like quite the epic book and I am planning to read it very soon.  I have heard some very good things about The God Game and I am really excited to check it out.

House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas

House of Earth and Blood Cover

The latest novel from one of the biggest names in young adult fiction, Sarah J. Maas, House of Earth and Blood is an absolutely massive piece of fantasy fiction that I am going to have to really buckle down and read as soon as possible.

Agency by William Gibson

Agency Cover

This is an awesome sounding science fiction thriller involving alternate timelines, time travel and a rogue AI.  I reckon that this one is going to be a fantastic read and should prove to be very interesting.

The Museum of Desire by Jonathan Kellerman

The Museum of Desire Cover
That’s it for this latest Book Haul.  As you can imagine, I am very, very happy with all the above books I was lucky enough to receive, although I really need to pick up my reading speed if I am to get through them all.

Top Ten Tuesday – Unseen Library’s Top Australian Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday the assigned topic was a freebie associated with book covers; however, I decided to do something a little different. Because it was Australia Day on Sunday, I thought it would be good to highlight some of the best pieces of Australian fiction I have read in the last couple of years. To that end, I am raiding the Australian fiction category of the Unseen Library and presenting my Top Ten favourite entries from it.

Each year Australian authors produce a huge range of amazing fiction across the various genres, and I am usually lucky enough to receive copies of some of these from the local publishers. As a result, I tend to read a lot of Australian fiction (which I am defining here as either fiction written by an Australian author or fiction with an Australian setting) most of which turn out to be pretty awesome reads which I review either here on in the Canberra Weekly. I am happy to once again highlight some of the top pieces of Australian fiction I have reviewed since I started the Unseen Library, as several of these outstanding books might not have gotten the international attention they deserved.

Due to huge plethora of fantastic Australian fiction that has fallen into my lap over the last couple of years, this list actually turned out to be a really hard one to pull together. I had way too many choices when it came to the best pieces Australian fiction I have read from the last couple of years, so in a few places I have combined a couple of books into one entry. In the end, I was able to work out what my top ten favourite pieces were, although I did also have to include a generous honourable mentions section. So let us see how this list turned out.

Honourable Mentions:


In a Great Southern Land
by Mary-Anne O’Connor

In a Great Southern Land Cover


Aurora Rising
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Aurora Rising Cover


Ghosts of the Past
by Tony Park

Ghosts of the Past Cover


Blood in the Dust
by Bill Swiggs

Blood in the Dust Cover

Top Ten List (No Particular Order):


Tomorrow
series by John Marsden

51eYr9CzIAL

There was absolutely no way that I could write a list about my favourite Australian fiction without having John Marsden’s Tomorrow series at the very top. Individually the books in the Tomorrow series are amongst some of the best pieces of Australian fiction I have ever read, and together they are a perfect series. Words cannot describe how much I love this amazing series (although I tried really hard in the review linked above) and I have no doubt that it is going to remain my favourite Australian series for a very long time.

Deceit by Richard Evans

Deceit Cover

Deceit is an extremely clever thriller revolving around Australian politics that came out in 2018. Thanks to its incredible realism and excellent story, I really enjoyed this book when it came out, and it ended up getting an honourable mention in my Top Ten Favourite Books of 2018 list. I absolutely loved this book and I have been meaning to read the sequel, Duplicity, for a little while now, especially as I suspect I will be just as good as this first fantastic book.

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

City of Lies Cover

Another book that featured on my Top Ten Favourite Books of 2018 list. City of Lies was an incredible fantasy debut which featured a superb story about a family of poison experts trying to keep their king alive during a siege. This was an awesome read, and I cannot wait for the sequel to this book, which is hopefully coming out later this year.

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

The Escape Room Cover

The Escape Room was the second book from rising thriller star Megan Goldin, who has gotten a lot of positive attention over the last couple of years. The Escape Room was a very compelling novel that contained a clever revenge plot against a group of ruthless Wall Street traders. Goldin did a fantastic job with The Escape Room, and her upcoming book, The Night Swim, will hopefully be one of the reading highlights of the second half of 2020.

Restoration by Angela Slatter

Restoration Cover

Restoration was the third book in Slatter’s Verity Fassbinder series (following on from Corpselight), which follow the titular character of Verity Fassbinder as she investigates magical crimes in modern day Brisbane. Restoration was a really fun read that got an easy five stars from me due to its incredible story, great use of an Australian setting and fantastic humour. Slatter outdid herself with Restoration, and I hope we get more Verity Fassbinder novels in the future.

All-New Wolverine series by Tom Taylor

All-New Wolverine Volume 1 Cover

Tom Taylor is an Australian-born author who has been doing some amazing work with some of the major comic book companies over the last few years. While I have read a bunch of his stuff (such as his run on X-Men Red), my favourite piece of his work has to be the All-New Wolverine series. All-New Wolverine was a deeply entertaining series that placed one of my favourite characters, X-23, into the iconic role of Wolverine. Not only did this series do justice to both X-23 and Wolverine’s legacy (before his inevitable resurrection) with some well-written and heavy storylines, but it was also a lot of fun, especially thanks to the introduction of Honey Badger.

The Queen’s Colonial and The Queen’s Tiger by Peter Watt

Peter Watt Covers

Peter Watt has long been one of the top authors of Australian historical fiction, and I have been a big fan of his work for a couple of years now. While I was tempted to include his Frontier series (make sure to check out my reviews for While the Moon Burns and From the Stars Above), in the end I thought it would be better to feature his current Colonial series. The Queen’s Colonial and The Queen’s Tiger are excellent pieces of historical fiction containing an exciting and compelling story.

After the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson

After the Lights Go Out

After the Lights Go Out is one of the few pieces of Australian young adult fiction which I feel matches up to the Tomorrow series in terms of quality and substance.   This book about a family of survivalists being thrust into an actual doomsday scenario was extremely captivating, and I loved this extraordinary novel. Really worth checking out.

Half Moon Lake by Kirsten Alexander

Half Moon Lake Cover

Half Moon Lake is an amazing historical drama that was one of my favourite debuts from 2019. This book is a clever historical drama that was inspired by the real-life historical disappearance of a child and the tragic events that followed. A gripping and memorable book that comes highly recommended.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

The Last Smile in Sunder City

The most recent addition to my Australian fiction category, The Last Smile in Sunder City is another impressive debut which I had an incredible time reading. Arnold has come up with an excellent mystery set in an inventive new fantasy world with a conflicted central protagonist. This was an amazing first book from Arnold and I will hopefully be able to read his follow-up books in the future.

Well, that concludes my list. I am so happy that I got the chance to highlight some of the great pieces of historical fiction I have been fortunate enough to enjoy over the last couple of years. Each of the above books are exceptional reads, and I had a wonderful time reading all of them. While I was a little disappointed that I had to leave a few great books off this list, such as Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson, DEV1AT3 by Jay Kristoff and The Secret Runners of New York by Matthew Reilly, I really like how my list turned out. I think that I will come back and update this list in the future, probably close to next year’s Australia Day. I am highly confident that this next version of my list will contain some new books from 2020, and I look forward to seeing which pieces of upcoming Australian fiction I am really going to enjoy next. In the meantime, I hope all my fellow Australians had a great long weekend and please let me know which pieces of Australian fiction are favourites in the comments below.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

The Last Smile in Sunder City

Publisher: Orbit (Trade Paperback – 6 February 2020)

Series: Fletch Phillips Archives – Book One

Length: 318 pages

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

From debuting Australian author Luke Arnold comes The Last Smile in Sunder City, an absolutely superb piece of fantasy fiction that presents a unique and powerful story of loss, redemption and despair in fantastic new universe.

The Last Smile in Sunder City is the debut novel of Australian actor Luke Arnold. Arnold, who has appeared in a number of Australian television shows and movies, is probably best known internationally for playing Long John Silver in the pirate adventure series Black Sails. Arnold has now made the rather interesting career change to writing fantasy fiction with this first book, which is the start of a new series known as the Fetch Phillips Archives. I have actually been looking forward to The Last Smile in Sunder City for a little while now, as I liked the intriguing-sounding plot synopsis and I thought that this book had some real potential.

The continent of Archetellos has always had magic, with nearly every race or being having some access to the power that ran through the lands, extending their lives and giving them rare and amazing abilities. With these powers, the magical races ruled Archetellos, until the humans, the only race not gifted with magic, attempted to steal it for themselves. This resulted in the event known as the Coda, which saw all magic erased from the world. Overnight, the multitudes of beings who relied on magic for their very existence either died or were stricken down. The few survivors of these former magical races are now deformed, crippled and slowly dying in pain.

Fetch Phillips has been many things in his life (a guard, a peacekeeper, a soldier and a criminal) but now he is barely eking out a living as a man for hire in the former magical industrial hub known as Sunder City, which has been suffering ever since its magical fires went out. For a small fee Fetch will help you with whatever problem you have, although his sobriety will cost you extra. He only has only one condition: he won’t work for humans; his only clients are those former magical beings who need his help, because it’s Fetch’s fault that their magic is gone and never coming back.

Fetch’s latest case sees him hired by a school that specialises in teaching the children of former magical creatures. One of their professors, an ancient vampire who is slowly turning to dust, has gone missing, and the school is desperate to find him. Diving into the shady underbelly of the city, Fetch attempts to find some trace of the vampire or anyone who wanted to hurt him. But when one of the vampire’s students, a young siren, also disappears, Fetch needs to step up his game to find them. However, even without magic there are still monsters in Sunder City, and Fetch may not be able to survive his encounter with them.

This was a really impressive piece of fantasy fiction. With The Last Smile in Sunder City, Arnold has absolutely nailed his debut, presenting a clever and captivating fantasy mystery which makes full use of its inventive setting and excellent central protagonist to create an impressive and memorable book. This is a truly enjoyable story that contains a fascinating central mystery that blends extremely well with the book’s fantasy elements. I had a great time unravelling the full extent of this intriguing story, and Arnold takes the plot in some very interesting directions, producing some excellent twists and clever false leads. This is less of an action-based novel and more of an exploratory story which sets out the world and features a man of the city running through his contacts to investigate a curious disappearance. I think this worked out extremely well for this book, as it fitted into the book’s classic PI vibe while serving as a great introduction to the city which is no doubt going to be the main setting for any future books in this series. Arnold has also created a couple of fantastic subplots which not only help to explore the world but also help to expand on the compelling darker tone that has been injected into this book.

Without a doubt, the major highlight of this book is the deeply inventive and fascinating new world that Arnold has produced. When I first read The Last Smile in Sunder City’s plot synopsis about a world where magic no longer existed, I was intrigued and thought that it sounded like an interesting idea. However, I was not prepared for just how impressive and creative this turned out to be. In order to tell his story, the author first created a detailed fantasy world that was filled with a huge variety of classic magical creatures of all shapes and sizes, where magic was the ultimate power and in which humans, who have no access to magic, are second-class citizens. While this would have been an interesting place to set a fantasy mystery, the author immediately flips this setting on its head by showing how humans attempted to steal the magic from its source (via an animation intended for children that was cut across by the protagonist’s memories, which was a fantastic way to introduce this plot point), and how their intrusion resulted in the complete destruction of magic.

This of course leads to a very interesting world, as now all the creatures and beings who previously survived on magic have had their lives irreversibly altered. Arnold spends a good part of the book exploring the impact of this loss of magic, examining the impacts on the previously immortal elves who all suddenly died from old age, the werewolves and other shapeshifters who found themselves deformed and stuck at the halfway point between human and animal, the vampires who all lost their fangs and are slowly crumbling to dust, sirens whose human husbands all simultaneously left them, and so much more. There are also some cool examinations of the change in status quo, with humans now becoming the dominant species on the continent thanks to their superior numbers (humans were not affected by the Coda) and their ability to use technology as a substitute for the magic that used to run everything. Of course, humans being humans, there are a couple of examples of humanity taking revenge against the magical creatures that previously dominated the continent, which the author does a good job of working into the plot. All of this proves to be an extremely fascinating and enjoyable overarching backdrop to the story of The Last Smile in Sunder City, and I really have to congratulate Arnold on his amazing imagination. Every detail about this creative world was really cool, and I loved seeing how his vision of a fantasy realm bereft of magic come to life.

The main location of this book is the titular Sunder City. Sunder City is a former magical metropolis which has suffered in the post-Coda period. Once a place of marvels and magically-powered industry, the city is now a shell of its former self, with most magical beings now living in slums and struggling to get by without their abilities. There is a bit of a Depression-era vibe to Sunder City, especially as Arnold does an excellent job of imbuing much of the city with a sense of despair, resentment and hopelessness. This really turned out to be a fantastic city to serve as the book’s primary setting, and I really enjoyed the protagonist’s exploration of it as he attempts to find the missing people. There are some really intriguing elements to this city which are worked into the overarching mystery plot extremely well, such as a hostile police force, businesses catering to former magical creatures and gangs of humans trying to cause trouble. All of this is pretty amazing, and I look forward to seeing more adventures and mysteries take place in Sunder City, especially if the author spends time looking at new types of former magical creatures that weren’t featured in this first book.

In addition to the compelling story and outstanding settings, Arnolds rounds out this awesome book with an intriguing central protagonist, Fetch Phillips. Fetch, who also serves as the book’s narrator, is a drunk, depressed and broken man, who is essentially a classic noir PI in a fantasy world. While Fetch can at times be funny or entertaining, mostly due to his sarcastic and confrontational style, his defining characteristics are his overwhelming guilt and despair. This is due to the fact that he is largely responsible for the humans destroying magic, which resulted in so much death and suffering. The full story behind Fletch’s involvement in this atrocity is chronicled in the book through a series of flashbacks which show his origin, the friendships he formed and the events and emotions that led up to his darkest moment. Due to his role in the causing the Coda, and the fact that he betrayed the trust of several friends, Fletch is filled with all manner of self-loathing and must now deal with his complicated emotions towards other humans, who he detests, and the former magical creatures he is compelled to help, most of whom now hate him. Despite all this darkness, there is a little bit of light within Fletch as he struggles against his demons and his past to find redemption and live up to a promise he made. I thought that this portrayal of Fletch was a great part of the book, and I loved the complexity that Arnold has imparted on his protagonist. I also really enjoyed the way that the author showed off the character’s past, centring the flashbacks on the four tattoos he has on his arm, and exploring the meaning behind them. This mixture of the mystery in the present and the look at the events in the character’s past worked really well together, and they help show off an amazing central protagonist who is going to be a fantastic centrepiece for this series going forward.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold is a superb and highly addictive fantasy mystery that presents the reader with a fantastic and thrilling story. While the book is mostly a clever and enjoyable mystery, its true strengths are the unique and captivating settings and the complicated, well-written protagonist, both of which help to transform this amazing novel into a first-rate read. Thanks to this excellent debut, Arnold has proven that he is a talent to be reckoned with in the fantasy genre, and I am looking forward to seeing what he produces next. The Last Smile in Sunder City comes highly recommended, and I think many people are going to enjoy this exciting new Australian author.

Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steve Parker

Deathwatch Shadowbreaker Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 25 April 2019)

Series: Warhammer 40,000/Deathwatch – Book Two

Length: 16 hours and 37 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Prepare to dive into the extended universe of Warhammer 40,000 (Warhammer 40K or 40K), as science fiction author Steve Parker presents Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker, an action-packed and exceedingly exciting sequel to his 2013 novel, Deathwatch, which pits the deadly Deathwatch Space Marines against an entire planet full of T’au.

Thousands of years in the future, the galaxy is constantly at war. Humankind has survived as the massive Imperium of Man, under the divine protection of their long-dead Emperor. However, this beacon of humanity is under constant threat from all sides. Destructive alien races, demons from the warp and the traitor forces of Chaos continuously assault its borders, whilst heretics, mutants and witches attempt to destroy it from within. Over the millennia, the Imperium has created many different forces to protect their worlds from these threats; however, none is more feared or revered than the Adeptus Astartes, the Space Marines. Space Marines are legendary warriors genetically modified to become significantly stronger, larger and faster than a normal man. Swathed in power armour and armed with the deadliest of weapons, the Space Marines are a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield, bringing the Emperor’s wrath down on all who oppose them.

But even amongst these deadliest of soldiers, there is one organisation of Space Marines who are respected above all others for their fighting ability and skill, Deathwatch. Deathwatch is an elite group made up of best Space Marines veterans from across the Chapters, trained to become the ultimate tools in one of the Imperium’s holiest missions, the extermination of the xenos, the alien. Utilising the most advanced technology in the Imperium and receiving specialist instruction in the strengths and weaknesses of their foes, Deathwatch work in small kill-teams under the Ordo Xenos of the Imperial Inquisition in order to hunt down and destroy the most dangerous xenos threats in the galaxy.

Lyandro Karras, Codicier of the Death Spectres, is a powerful Space Marine Librarian serving in the Deathwatch as the leader of the kill-team, Talon Squad. Barely recovered from the disastrous events of their last mission, Karros and Talon Squad once again find themselves under the command of the mysterious Inquisitor Sigma. Their new mission takes them to a former Imperial world that has been conquered by the alien T’au, who have indoctrinated the majority of the human population into their society and philosophy. An Imperial Inquisitor, Epsilon, has gone missing in T’au space, and Sigma believes that she is being kept prisoner on the planet. Desperate to free her before the T’au extract vital secrets about the Imperium from her, Talon Squad and a force of Ordo Xenos Storm Troopers are deployed to find her. Working with the local human resistance, Talon Squad identify the prison she is located in and must work to release her before the massive T’au garrison knows they are on planet. But what happens when Epsilon refuses to accompany Talon Squad back to the Imperium?

Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker is part of the massive extended universe which has formed up around the Warhammer 40K tabletop miniature game produced by Games Workshop. Warhammer 40K, which was first released in 1987 and pits armies of science fiction miniatures against each other, has always contained an interesting and grim science fiction narrative to serve as a background to the game. With every new edition of Warhammer 40K that was released, this background narrative got more and more detailed, resulting in an extremely deep, compelling and gothic-themed fictional history surrounding all of the different races, armies and characters featured within this tabletop game. Due to the popularity of the Warhammer 40K universe, a huge amount of expanded material has also been released over the years, including several videogames, comics, board game spinoffs, an animated movie (with a remarkably good cast of British actors) and there is currently a television series in production. However, the main medium that has been utilised as part of this expanded universe is books.

Over the years, there has been a tremendous amount of Warhammer 40K books produced, featuring the works of a number of skilled and talented science fiction authors. There are now hundreds of Warhammer 40K books currently published, covering the different periods and races featured in the tabletop game. In 2019 alone there were nearly 20 different novels, anthologies and audio dramas associated with Warhammer 40K. This is a very impressive amount of material, and I have not even mentioned the multiple book releases associated with the separate Warhammer Fantasy universe.

While I am a man of many, many different fandoms, the products of Game Workshops are among the earliest fantasy and science fiction products that I was a major enthusiast of. I was extremely into Warhammer Fantasy when I was a kid and I have many fond memories of painting and battling with the models, reading the company’s monthly White Dwarf publication and playing some of the Warhammer 40K computer games, such as Dawn of War. While I was solely playing with Warhammer Fantasy models, I did learn a lot about Warhammer 40K at the same time, especially as I really enjoyed reading all the lore and background of the various Games Workshop products. I have been meaning to read some Games Workshop fiction for a while now, and I have previously mentioned that I want to read the cool-sounding Gaunt’s Ghosts series. However, I ended up reading the recently released Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker instead, mainly because it featured two of my favourite groups from the Warhammer 40K lore, Deathwatch and the T’au, facing off. Shadowbreaker is the latest book from Steve Parker, a science fiction author, who has primarily written Warhammer 40K fiction. Shadowbreaker is his first release since 2016, and it is actually a sequel to his 2014 novel, Deathwatch, which featured the same group of primary characters.

I am actually really glad that I chose to read and review Shadowbreaker, as this excellent 40K novel contains an awesome and extremely entertaining story that features all manner of action, adventure and intrigue, while also diving deep into several fascinating parts of 40K’s lore. Shadowbreaker is an excellent sequel to the author’s previous book, Deathwatch, and Parker does an amazing job of continuing the story that was started in this prior book, while at the same time setting up some intriguing potential directions for the series to go next. Prior knowledge of the events of Deathwatch is not a necessity to enjoy this book, as Parker does a good job of re-introducing all the relevant events of the previous novel, and readers should be able to follow Shadowbreaker’s story without any real issues. Parker has created a rich narrative for this book that utilises a huge number of character viewpoints to not only examine the development within several characters but also explore a number of different angles and features of the harsh gothic universe in which this book is set. These multiple viewpoints work especially well during Shadowbreaker’s extended action sequences, as they allow Parker to show off every aspect and side of the brutal battles, resulting in some exciting and detailed combat set pieces. Shadowbreaker’s story ends up going in some rather intriguing directions, featuring some fun twists and reveals, and this was an overall fantastic and exciting story to check out.

While Shadowbreaker is an amazing novel, it might not be as appealing to those readers who are not familiar with the Warhammer 40K universe. This book is pretty lore heavy, containing a whole lot of references to history, technology, alien races and other unique aspects of this fictional universe. While I felt that Parker did a great job of explaining most of the Warhammer 40K elements that are relevant to the story, a certain amount of prior knowledge about this massive universe will really help readers understand what is going on. Do not get me wrong; readers unfamiliar with the franchise will easily be able to follow and enjoy Shadowbreaker’s story, but they may have trouble appreciating all the interesting lore references or depictions from the miniatures game. As a result, I would probably recommend this book more to established fans of the 40K universe, although casual science fiction readers are definitely going to have a good time reading this. That being said, I note that some other readers of this book who are more familiar with the actual tabletop game than me were put off by a couple of apparently incorrect depictions of weapons, armour and vehicles. While these apparent anomalies in no way impacted my enjoyment of the book (honestly, I am not knowledgeable enough about battle gear to have really picked up on this), I can imagine that this could annoy some hardcore 40K fans, so fair warning about that.

For me, one of the major appealing aspects of this book was its excellent examination of fascinating elements from the Warhammer 40K universe. As I mentioned above, the universe of the 40K games are filled with all manner of fantastic, complex and unique features which are all backed up with a ton of lore and fictional history. Parker does an awesome job of setting Shadowbreaker within this universe and he ends up utilising quite a lot of detail from the games in the story. There is actually quite a lot going on within this book. Not only do you have the primary storyline of Space Marines versus T’au but you also have storylines that relate to infighting and intrigue within the Ordo Xenos, examination of the constant threat that is the Tyranid, the machinations of the Eldar, and the long-term plots of a demon lord thrown in on top. All these various storylines actually come together really well into an outstanding story, and fans of the 40K franchise are almost guaranteed to have some mention or discussion about their preferred army or race in the game (with a couple of exceptions).

However, the thing that really excited me the most about this book was the central conflict between Deathwatch and the T’au. I am a major fan of both of those groups and have always been really intrigued by the cool lore and background that surrounds them. When I started reading this book, I was half-expecting the story to be shown purely from the perspective of the Deathwatch characters. If this had been the case, the author would have been forced to do a classic humans versus aliens storyline, where aliens are automatically the bad guys due to the Space Marines’ inherent hatred of all things alien. Therefore, I was pleasantly surprised when Parker presented a much more complex storyline which showed neither side as “good” or “evil”. Instead, thanks to the author’s excellent use of multiple perspectives, it is shown that both sides of this conflict are dominated by dangerous fanatics driven by their beliefs, either in the purity of destroying all things alien or the defining T’au philosophy of the “Greater Good”. This belief results in both sides doing some very questionable things in order to achieve their objectives, most of which result in large amounts of destruction and death. Interesting enough, it is Lyandro Karras and some of the members of Talon Squad who are the most reasonable characters in this book, and all of them have been heavily indoctrinated about the evils of the alien. This all makes for a much more intriguing and clever story, and I loved how it helped highlighted how complex this universe can get.

Shadowbreaker contains quite a bit of information about how the legendary Deathwatch operates, which is just downright fascinating, and I can imagine a lot of readers would be really interested to learn more about. While there was a lot more about the layout of the organisation and their training in the initial Deathwatch book, readers of Shadowbreaker learn a lot about them in this book. For example, Shadowbreaker contains information about Deathwatch’s unique relationship with the Inquisition, their skills in battle, their knowledge of the aliens they fight and the fact their ranks consist of Space Marines from various chapters. All of this is really cool, and there were a fantastic central organisation to centre the book on.

I also quite enjoyed the examination of the different Space Marines that make up the various Deathwatch kill-teams featured within this book. Thanks to the author’s use of multiple character perspectives, the reader gets to see through the eyes of a number of Space Marine characters. Parker cleverly utilises this to show off the varied personalities of the Space Marines, and it was interesting to see how diverse these genetically enhanced and indoctrinated killing machines can really be. A lot of this is due to the specific Chapters that they come from, as each character seems to reflect the traits of their Chapter and their founding father. I liked how the multiple perspectives helped highlight he different fighting styles of the various members of the Deathwatch kill-team, especially as each of them utilises different weapons and tactics to achieve their goals, reflecting the defining skills of their original Chapter. For example, the Raven Guard character continuously utilises a jump pack and lightning claws in his fights, while the Imperial Fist preferred to use heavy weapons. These different combat techniques add an extra layer of spice to the various fight sequences, and I really liked seeing the different characters in action. I was also really intrigued by the author’s deep dive into the history and peculiarities of two of the lesser-known Space Marine chapters, the Death Spectres and the Exorcists. Parker reveals some really interesting facts about these two Chapters, mostly when these respective characters think back on their past or their Chapter. I really didn’t know that much about these two Chapters before this book, and I really enjoyed learning more about them, especially as they have some very cool and unique traits (one summons and betrays demons for an initiation test; the other has a mysterious glass throne hidden on their home planet). As a result, fans of Space Marine history and lore are really going to love this book, and even non-fans will appreciate the world-building associated with them.

In addition to the intriguing examination of Deathwatch and other Space Marine Chapters, Parker also features an excellent look at one my favourite races in the Warhammer 40K universe, the T’au (or Tau). The T’au are probably the newest race in 40K canon (although that was quite a few years ago) and have been featured in a couple of books and have even had their own video game, Fire Warrior. T’au are a young race of aliens whose empire has quickly expanded in recent years thanks to their advanced technology and wiliness to incorporate alien races into their empire. Their sudden expansion has made them a real threat to the stagnant Imperium of Man. Parker does an amazing job incorporating the T’au into this book, and there are some fantastic depictions of their technology and unique physiology. The T’au serve as excellent primary antagonists for this book, and Parker takes an interesting view of them, diving into the darker side of their empire. Thanks to the various character perspectives contained within Shadowbreaker, the reader gets to see more than their typical depiction as a beatific race who merely wish to share their technology and their message of the “Greater Good” throughout the universe. Instead, you get to understand how slavishly devoted to their philosophy they really are, and the lengths that some of them will go to achieve their race’s goals. There are some really interesting discussions about how they control the populations they conquer, as well as some brief but curious mentions of T’au who do not follow the Greater Good and are persecuted or punished for this. I also really liked the detailed examination of a human world that is being ruled by the T’au, especially as you get to see all the various benefits and downfalls of this control. The fact that neither the T’au nor the Imperium actually care about the planet or its people is a bit of a dark spot in the novel, and some of the conclusions of the book reveal just how much better off this planet would have been on its own. If I had one complaint about Parker’s depiction of the T’au, it would be that they went down way too easily in a fight. While a couple of their units and commanders were able to hold their own for a bit, the rest of the T’au forces were pretty much slaughtered in one-sided battles throughout the book. While I appreciate that the author was probably trying to demonstrate Deathwatch’s skill at killing aliens, I think he could have perhaps added in a bit more of a fight from this popular race. Still, I really enjoyed this inclusion of the T’au, and I need to check out some other books that feature them.

I ended up listening to the audiobook format of Shadowbreaker, which was narrated by Andrew Wincott. Shadowbreaker clocks in at just over 16½ hours, so it is a fairly substantial audiobook which takes a little bit of effort to get through. I was very impressed by this format of the book, and I personally found it a great way to absorb all the amazing things occurring in the story. Wincott is a really good narrator, coming up with some distinctive and appropriate voices for the huge raft of characters that were featured in this book. I really liked how Wincott was able to capture the emotion and mood of the various characters, and I was especially impressed with the harsher tone that he took for many of the Imperial characters, which fitted perfectly into the gothic style of the Imperium. As a result, I would highly recommend the audiobook format of Shadowbreaker to anyone who is interested in checking this book out, and it is a wonderful way to enjoy this great piece of Warhammer 40K fiction.

Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steve Parker was an incredible read which I found to be extremely entertaining and which proved to be a perfect reintroduction for me to the Warhammer 40,000 franchise. Parker presents an exciting and compelling story that dives deep into the universe’s lore while also exploring some of the complexities of the various featured races and armies. Overall, this is an outstanding novel and I am really glad that I checked it out. I fully intend to read more Warhammer 40K fiction in the future, especially after enjoying this book so much, and I hope that Parker continues his Deathwatch books in the future as well.

Guest Review – The Power by Naomi Alderman

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

The Power Cover

Publisher: Penguin (Trade Paperback – 27 October 2016)

Series: Stand Alone/Book One

Length: 341 pages

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

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