Throwback Thursday – The Last Continent by Terry Pratchett

The Last Continent Cover

Publisher: Doubleday and ISIS Audiobook (1 May 1998)

Series: Discworld – Book 22

Length: 9 hours and 57 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This is 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.  For this Throwback Thursday I take a look at one of my absolute favourite books of all time, the incredibly funny and always enjoyable The Last Continent, by legendary author Sir Terry Pratchett.

I have never made it a secret that I absolutely love the works of the late, great, Terry Pratchett, who I consider to be one of the best authors of all time.  I love and adore every single one of Pratchett’s hilarious and captivating novels, especially the entries in the wacky and wild Discworld series, a comedy fantasy series set in an absolutely insane world of magic, monsters and outrageous personalities that lies upon a disc shaped world, borne through space on the back of four elephants, who themselves are on the back of a giant turtle.  I have so much love for this outstanding and hilarious series, and I have read each and every entry in multiple times.  Heck, even the name of my blog, The Unseen Library, is taken from a fictional institution in the Discworld series!  However, despite how much I love the series, I have so far only reviewed one Discworld novel on this blog so far (Shame! Shame! Shame!), Moving Pictures, and this is something I have been meaning to rectify for some time.

I recently did a Top Ten Tuesday list where I looked at some of the funniest books I have ever read, which included several Discworld novels, and this inspired me to do a review for another Pratchett read.  I ended up going with one of my favourite Discworld novels of all time, the incredible and wildly entertaining The Last Continent, which places one of the author’s most iconic characters into the most dangerous places imaginable, Australia.  I am reviewing this book slightly out of the order I originally planned, but I figured reviewing this one now may encourage me to get to others in the future.  I should admit that I have not read The Last Continent recently, but this is one of the many Discworld novels that I have read multiple times, either in its paperback (I’ve actually got a signed copy of this book) or its audiobook format, and at this point I have it pretty much memorised. 

So the first thing I should cover is:

“This is not a book about Australia.  No, it’s about somewhere entirely different which just happens to be, here and there, a bit…Australian.

Still…no worries, right?”

Welcome to EcksEcksEcksEcks (XXXX), the Discworld’s last continent.  Made by a rogue creator who snuck in after the rest of the Disc was created and kept hidden away from its other civilisations by a series of massive storms, XXXX is a deadly and dangerous place.  Filled with some of the most lethal and confusing creatures on the entire Disc and populated by a friendly, if occasionally murderous, group of people, XXXX is a hell of a place to live.  Unfortunately, everything in it is about to die as the water dries out and even the beer is getting hard to find.

Luckily for the people of XXXX, a hero has been found, one who is battling his way through the wastes and towns of the country, his legend growing all along.  But who is this road warrior, sheep shearer, horse wrangler, beer drinker and ballad-worthy bush ranger, and why is he apparently so determined to run away from his heroic destiny?

That man is Rincewind, the Discworld’s most cowardly and inept wizard, who has been bounced from one end of the Disc to the other and been chased by every sort of monster, maniac and seller of regional delicacies you can imagine.  All Rincewind wants to do is go home, and he is determined to avoid any new adventures as a chosen hero, no matter what the talking kangaroo stalking him tries to tell him.  Despite his best efforts, Rincewind once again finds himself caught up in the special craziness of the locals, and if he wants to survive, he needs to find a way to save everyone.  What’s the worst that could happen???

So, as you may be able to tell from the above synopsis, this is a bit of a crazy novel, but it is one that is always guaranteed to make me laugh, especially with its fantastic Australian-based humour.  The Last Continent is the 22nd overall entry in the Discworld series and the sixth book to focus on the character of Rincewind.  I personally have a lot of love for this particular Terry Pratchett novel, and it is probably one of my all-time favourite Discworld novels. 

Pratchett came up with a pretty clever and fantastic story for The Last Continent, which sees several of his established characters get involved in wackiness all around a newly discovered continent.  The main story follows Rincewind as he tracks across the wastelands of XXXX after getting sent there at the end of his previous novel, Interesting Times (there was an accident with a butterfly), and he is now primarily concerned with trying to find a way home.  However, mysterious forces soon work to turn him into the hero who will save XXXX from a thousand-year crippling drought.  Rincewind, who is more concerned with reaching the nearest port, soon gets involved with all manner of road bandits, deadly creatures, drunken locals and an annoying talking kangaroo, all of which lead him to the secrets at the heart of this lost continent.  At the same time, the wizard faculty at Unseen University are faced with a serious problem when their trusty orangutan colleague, the Librarian, falls ill, and they require his real name to work a spell to save him.  However, the only person who knows the Librarian’s real name is Rincewind, and so the faculty blunder their way through a magical portal to find him.  However, in predictable fashion, they find themselves trapped on a weird island thousands of years in the past and forced to deal with an immature and slightly beetle-obsessed god of evolution.  

I really enjoyed both story arcs contained within this book, and Pratchett did an amazing job bringing them together.  Both have some fantastic and weird elements to them and they make great use of the particular adventures and attitudes of their relevant characters.  While Rincewind is forced to run away from all manner of deadly situations you typically see here in Australia (let me tell you, the dropbears and road gangs are murder), the wizard faculty blunder their way through all manner of unique situations, mostly by ignoring what is happening to them.  Each storyline is unique and has some fantastic highlights, but the real strength is the way in which Pratchett combines them together into one cohesive narrative.  Not only are both distinctive arcs perfectly spread out and separated throughout the course of the book, but Pratchett does a fantastic job combining them together in a clever way.  This ended up serving as a great near-final adventure for Rincewind (he’s more of a supporting character in his following appearances), and I think it did a wonderful job wrapping up his main arc.  While readers should probably read some of the earlier Discworld novels featuring Rincewind (especially the preceding Interesting Times), The Last Continent can easily be read alone, and readers will have an outstanding time reading this fun and compelling comedic adventure.

In my opinion, The Last Continent is one of Pratchett’s funniest novels, although I might be somewhat biased by my own personal humour and background.  I always have an outstanding time reading this book and there are so many clever jokes and amusing references that I cannot help but laugh, no matter how many times I hear them.  This book has a lot of Pratchett’s classic humour elements to it, such as the unusual quirks of his various characters and the funny little footnotes, filled with great references and punchlines.  The author goes off on some very entertaining segues during this book, and I love some of the great jokes he came up with, especially those that make fun of Australia.

Now, despite what the author says at the front of this book, The Last Continent is clearly a parody of Australia, and Pratchett clearly enjoyed utilising every single Australian reference or cliché he could think of to craft his funny book.  The continent of XXXX is an over-the-top fantasy version of Australia, with many of the outrageous stereotypes that you would expect, as well as some more subtle choices, and it serves as a truly amusing setting for this book, especially as Rincewind perfectly plays the part of clueless tourist.  While you could potentially discount The Last Continent as merely satirising Australia, I have always seen it as something cleverer, as I think that Pratchett was more making fun of the stereotypes that outsiders came up with rather than Australia itself.  That being said, Pratchett, as a Brit, did take a few good shots, although that’s only to be expected.  As an Australian myself, I always enjoy when comedy writers try to encapsulate Australia in their works, as it is quite amusing to see what they reference.  I always thought that Pratchett did this the best with The Last Continent, as he really dived into so many aspects of Australia life, nature and culture, and there are some truly funny jokes contained within.  Australian historical or cultural icons like Mad Max, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Skippy, The Man From Snowy River, Crocodile Dundee, and Ned Kelly are utilised in this book to great effect throughout The Last Continent, and there are some truly outrageous and clever references and jokes here.

While The Last Continent is filled with many, many funny Australian jokes, a few really stick out to me.  I personally always laugh so hard when Death, wanting to learn more about the continent his elusive prey Rincewind has landed on, decides to ask his library for a list of all the deadly animals on XXXX.  However, this results in him being buried by a massive pile of reference books, including “Dangerous Mammals, Reptiles, Amphibians, Birds, Fish, Jellyfish, Insects, Spiders, Crustaceans, Grasses, Trees, Mosses and Lichens of Terror Incognita: (Volume 29c, Part Three).  This is followed up by a request for a list of harmless creatures on the continent, and a single card appears bearing the sentence “some of the sheep”.  I love that over-the-top joke about how dangerous Australia’s wildlife is (it is honestly not that bad, although my editor was bitten by a sheep the other day), and that was one of the best ways I have seen it bought up.  I also loved the references to Australian hero worship of notorious criminals such as Ned Kelly or the jolly swagman from Waltzing Matilda.  There are some amazing jokes here, from people attempting to make catchy ballads, to the prison guards providing advice and help on last words and escape possibilities, all of which capture the rebellious Australian spirit.  I particularly liked Pratchett’s version of Waltzing Matilda, which was perfect in its rhyme, its satirical analysis of the original poem, and how it fit into The Last Continent’s narrative:

“Once a moderately jolly wizard camped by a waterhole under the shade of a tree that he was completely unable to identify.  And he swore as he hacked and hacked at a can of beer, saying ‘what kind of idiots put beer in tins?’”

Other great Australian comedic sequences for me include the scene where the Unseen University wizards attempt to design a duck by committee, resulting in the mighty platypus, an impromptu Mad Max road chase with horse-drawn carts and the constant references to a certain line in our national anthem.  All of these jokes, and more, were pretty amazing and I really enjoyed seeing some of the outrageous and over-the-top elements that British culture picks up about Australia.

While I really enjoyed all the fun references to Australia, some of Pratchett’s best jokes in The Last Continent occurred during the secondary storyline that followed the faculty of Unseen University as they go back in time and encounter the god of evolution.  The author uses this part of the book to make comedic observations about time travel, evolution and advanced biology.  Not only does include a particularly hilarious sequence in which someone tries to explain the grandfather paradox to a group of wilfully ignorant wizards, but there are some truly funny jokes about evolution and biology which cleverly reference some advanced concepts and historical basis of the science.  While I read this book years ago, it wasn’t until I took some specific biology classes that I fully grasped just how intelligent some of the jokes in this part of the book are.  I personally love a book which you can come back to time and time again and find some new joke or layer to, and this is the case with The Last Continent, which no doubt still contains elements or references I’ve missed.  All of this results in a comically brilliant read, and The Last Continent remains one of my favourite Disworld reads as a result.

I have always enjoyed the great character choices contained within this book, as Pratchett brings together some old favourites, as well as a few entertaining new ones, to tell the story.  The main character of The Last Continent is Pratchett’s original Discworld protagonist, Rincewind, the cowardly and inept hero who cannot even spell “wizard” properly, but who has served as a world-saving hero on multiple occasions.  Rincewind is always a particularly fun character to follow, not only because he constantly finds himself caught in all manner of unique situations which he heroically tries to run away from (he has become quite the expert at running away), but he has a certain realistic approach to life that allows him to see through the ridiculousness around him and address it in a funny manner.  At this point in the series, Rincewind has been bounced around from adventure to adventure against his will so much that he has developed a bit of knack for knowing when it is going to happen again, including figuring out all the signs someone gives off when they are trying to con him into being a hero.  It proves to be quite entertaining to see Rincewind try to escape from people trying to drag him into the narrative, especially as all his attempts to get out of dangerous situations generally put him in even worse trouble.  It is also really worth seeing Rincewind’s reactions to the various elements of XXXX life, especially as he soon begins to realise that everyone there has some very unusual ideas about how to live and die, most of which he is very opposed to.  I really enjoyed this more mature and somewhat resigned version of Rincewind and I have to say that this is one of my more favourite adventures of his (either this or Interesting Times).  It was definitely great to see the character get a happy ending towards the end of the book for once, which he frankly deserved after his last few adventures.

While Rincewind is tearing it up in not-Australia, Pratchett also dedicates around half of The Last Continent to the characters who form the faculty of the Disc’s premier wizard school, Unseen University.  Many wizard characters have featured in the Discworld books, but this current iteration of the faculty (with the exception of the Librarian) was originally introduced in the 10th book, Moving Pictures, and has remained pretty constant ever since.  This group includes the hunting-obsessed Archchancellor, Mustrum Ridcully; the quite insane Bursar; the incredibly obese Dean; the amusing team of the Senior Wrangler, the Chair of Indefinite Studies and the Lecturer in Recent Runes; the orangutan Librarian (working in a library is dangerous work); and the long-suffering Ponder Stibbons, the youngest member of the faculty and the only one with any common sense.  Pratchett had previously done an amazing job building up all of these characters in prior books, highlighting their unique quirks and issues, including the overwhelmingly stubborn, childish and traditionalist personalities of the older wizards.  This excellent blend of personality types really makes the older wizard characters really amusing and their adventures, especially when encountering strange gods and creators who they generally ignore, are extremely funny.  While an entire book about these characters would potentially be a bit overwhelming, I think that Pratchett got the balance right in The Last Continent, and they ended up serving as a fun counterpoint to Rincewind.  Stibbons was also a particularly good straight-man to his fellow wizards, and the contrast between keen intellectualism and entrenched “wisdom” is a fantastic part of the book.  I rather enjoyed Stibbons arc in this book, especially as you get to appreciate the true depth of his frustration with his fellow wizards, although he does gain a deeper appreciation for them as the book progresses.  Other amusing storylines with the wizards includes the Senior Wrangler’s obsession with housekeeper, Mrs Whitlow, which eventually gets shared with some of the other wizards, and the uncontrollable shapeshifting infecting the Librarian, which makes for some entertaining gags.  I also really enjoyed the fact that much of the book’s plot revolves around the fact that no-one actually knows the Librarian’s name, a fun feature from the previous books, and it was interesting to see the reasons why this was the case.

Aside from this fun collection of wizard characters, Pratchett makes great use of a fine selection of supporting characters, each of whom add some fantastic fun to the overall story.  This includes a very inventive group of new characters, each of whom represent various parts of XXXX life, whether they be depressed operatic chefs, police officers more concerned with getting their charges ballads and famous last stands, bushland drovers, belligerent drinkers, desert-wandering crossdressers in a princess-themed cart and even a crazed road warrior named Mad.  Despite most of them being the result of a punchline or extended joke, Pratchett sets each of these characters up really well and ensures each of them has a fun and satisfying character arc in the book.  I also quite enjoyed the return of fan favourite character, Death, who goes on a bit of a tourist phase through the book.  I really liked Death’s random appearances throughout The Last Continent, especially as he drops some amusing anecdotes about dying in XXXX, and it was also great to see his current viewpoint on Rincewind.  Whereas before he was always determined to catch and kill Rincewind, as he was the one mortal who constantly got away from him, in this book, Death, who no longer has any idea of when Rincewind is actually going to die and is now quite fascinated by him, keeps himself appraised of his progress and is generally friendly to him, even if that freaks Rincewind out.  I also loved the appearance of another member of the extended Dibbler clan, even if the XXXX version was a parody of a certain unpleasant right-wing political figure here in Australia.  The appearance of another ruthlessly mercantile hot-food dispenser with inedible food is a great continuation of a running joke Pratchett has been using for several books, and it is one that really pays dividends in The Last Continent, when Rincewind recounts all the terrible foods he’s eaten over the years from the various Dibblers he has encountered, which then runs into a fantastic diatribe about the dangers of national delicacies, especially XXXX’s meat pie floater (a real meal here in Australia, although there is no way in hell I would ever eat one).  All of these characters add so much to the book’s story, and I love the inventiveness that Pratchett puts into them.

While I have enjoyed all the Discworld novels in their physical paperback format at one point or another, my preferred way to experience a Pratchett novel these days is in its audiobook form.  All of the Discworld novels have been turned into excellent audiobooks over the years, and The Last Continent is no exception.  Narrated by the outstanding Nigel Planer, who ended up narrating over 20 Discworld novels (The Last Continent was the penultimate Discworld book he leant his voice to), and with an easily enjoyable runtime of just under 10 hours, this is a pretty fantastic audiobook that I regularly rush through in not time at all.  I find that all the awesome jokes in this book come across in the audiobook format extremely well, even the jokes traditionally contained within the book’s footnotes, and Planer’s witty voice is always pitched at the best tone to bring out the joke’s potential.  I really appreciate the way in which Planer utilised the same voices for the various recurring characters he has used in all their previous appearances, and each of the voices fit the characters very well.  I also really enjoyed the voices he came up with all the new characters, and it was exceedingly amusing to see him come up with a range of Australian voices and accents and have them belt out a variety of outlandish slang terms.  All in all, this turns out to be an excellent audiobook version of The Last Continent and it is pretty much the only way I enjoy this novel at the moment.

As you can see from the huge review I pulled together above (I have written university essays that were shorter), I really love The Last Continent.  This fantastic Australian parody is easily one of my favourite Discworld novels, and I deeply enjoy the outstanding and entertaining story that Pratchett wove around this outrageous version of my country.  Anyone who is familiar with anything Australian is going to have an incredible time reading this book, and I honestly do not think I could give this anything less than five stars.  A highly recommended read from one of the funniest authors of all time.

WWW Wednesday – 7 April 2021

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?

Turn a Blind Eye by Jeffrey Archer (Hardcover)

Turn a Blind Eye Cover

I just started reading the latest book in Jeffrey Archer’s William Warwick series, Turn a Blind Eye, which follows on from Nothing Ventured and Hidden in Plain Sight.  This is a great crime fiction series with some fun historical fiction elements to it and I am really enjoying this latest entry in the series.  I am hoping to finish it off in the next few days and I am looking forward to seeing how it ends up.

The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell (Audiobook)

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

I wasted no time in listening to The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell when it came out and I am deeply enjoying it so far. The Two-Faced Queen is the sequel to Martell’s outstanding 2020 debut, The Kingdom of Liars, which was easily one of my favourite books, audiobook and debut novel of 2020, and continues the epic and captivating story started in the first novel.  I am just over halfway through The Two-Faced Queen at the moment and so far it is just as awesome, if not better than The Kingdom of Liars.  I cannot wait to see how all the intricate storylines unfold and this is definitely one of the better books I have read so far this year.

What did you recently finish reading?

The Chase by Candice Fox (Trade Paperback)

The Chase Cover

The Three Paradises by Robert Fabbri (Trade Paperback)

The Three Paradises Cover

Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron: Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed (Audiobook)

Star Wars - Victory's Price Cover

Later by Stephen King (Audiobook)

Later Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

A Prince and a Spy by Rory Clements (Trade Paperback)

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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 – 2021 Star Trek Tie-in novels

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  In this latest Waiting on Wednesday article, I highlight three amazing sounding upcoming Star Trek tie-in novels that I am particularly excited for.

Now, those people familiar with my blog will know that I like a good tie-in novel and I routinely read and review novels and comics that are extensions of several popular fandoms, including Star Wars, Warhammer, and Firefly.  While I have been a major fan of a number of franchises for years, one particular fandom that I have only really gotten into in the last couple of years is Star Trek.  Thanks to some of the recent mainstream Hollywood movies, a flurry of reruns on Australian television and some of the newer shows appearing on Netflix, I have started watching more Star Trek stuff in recent years, and I have quickly gotten drawn into this fun franchise.  For example, last year I ended up probably watching the most Star Trek I ever have, especially with some of the awesome new shows that came out, (I really enjoyed both Picard and Lower Decks).  Unsurprisingly, this increased interest in Star Trek shows and movies has also resulted in me checking out more and more Star Trek novels and even some comics, most of which I have then reviewed on this blog.  Many of these, such as The Captain’s Oath by Christopher L. Bennett, Agents of Influence by Dayton Ward and the Star Trek: Boldly Go comic by Mike Johnson and Tony Shasteen, have been very impressive reads, and I am now actively trying to find and review any new Star Trek novels that come out.

2021 is shaping up to be another awesome year for Star Trek tie-in fiction, and I have been keeping a keen eye out for several upcoming Star Trek books.  While I still need to check out Star Trek: Picard: The Dark Veil by James Swallow, which came out in January, there are several further books coming out in the next few months that I am quite excited for.  Each of these upcoming books sound pretty cool and I am rather keen to check them out, especially as two have been written by some of my favourite authors of Star Trek fiction.

Star Trek Wonderlands Cover

The first upcoming Star Trek novel that I am looking forward to is Star Trek: Discovery: Wonderlands by Una McCormack.  McCormack is a fantastic author who has written several great Star Trek novels over the years, including a previous Star Trek: Discovery novel, The Way to the Stars, and the first Star Trek: Picard tie-in novel, The Last Best Hope.  I was a particularly fan of The Last Best Hope when it came out last year, especially as it provide an amazing bridge between The Next Generation and Picard television series.  As a result, I am very excited to see this great author’s next novel, especially as it is another Star Trek: Discovery novel.

Synopsis:

In a desperate attempt to prevent the artificial intelligence known as Control from seizing crucial information that could destroy all sentient life, Commander Michael Burnham donned the “Red Angel” time-travel suit and guided the USS Discovery into the future and out of harm’s way. But something has gone terribly wrong, and Burnham has somehow arrived in a place far different from anything she could have imagined—more than nine hundred years out of her time, with Discovery nowhere to be found, and where the mysterious and cataclysmic event known as “the Burn” has utterly decimated Starfleet and, with it, the United Federation of Planets. How then can she possibly exist day-to-day in this strange place? What worlds are out there waiting to be discovered? Do any remnants of Starfleet and the Federation possibly endure? With more questions than answers, Burnham must nevertheless forge new friendships and new alliances if she hopes to survive this future long enough for the Discovery crew to find her….

Wonderlands, which is currently has a release date of 18 May 2021, looks set to follow the protagonist of Star Trek: Discovery, Michael Burham, during the period when she was trapped in the desolate future without her friends.  This setting opens up many plot opportunities and it will be interesting to see what sort of cool story that McCormack comes up with for this book.  Based on her previous novels, I am extremely confident that McCormack will come up with an exciting and compelling read, and I am hopeful that she takes full advantage of the darker story elements of the Star Trek: Discovery series to create something truly memorable.

Star Trek - Shadows Have Offended Cover

The next Star Trek novel that I am looking at in this article is the intriguing Shadows Have Offended by Cassandra Rose Clark, which will tie into The Next Generation television series.  Shadows Have Offended, which is currently set for release on 13 July 2021, will be the first Star Trek novel from Clark, an author I am relatively unfamiliar with, although I have been meaning to check out her young adult Halo series, Battle Born.  Based on the plot details that have been released, Shadows Have Offended will primarily follow Dr Beverly Crusher, Deanna Troi and Worf, as they encounter multiple problems during a seemingly routine mission.

Synopsis:

The USS Enterprise has been granted the simple but unavoidable honor of ferrying key guests to Betazed for a cultural ceremony. En route, sudden tragedy strikes a Federation science station on the isolated planet Kota, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard has no qualms sending William Riker, Data, and Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher to investigate. But what begins as routine assignments for the two parties soon descends into chaos: Picard, Worf, and Deanna Troi must grapple with a dangerous diplomatic crisis as historic artifacts are stolen in the middle of a high-profile ceremony… while nothing is as it seems on Kota. A mounting medical emergency coupled with the science station’s failing technology – and no hope of rescue – has Doctor Crusher racing against time to solve a disturbing mystery threatening the lives of all her colleagues…

I quite like the sound of this upcoming The Next Generation novel, especially as Clark has come up with two cool sounding separate storylines, including a medical mystery and a theft, and it will be interesting to see how these come together.  I am also curious to see a novel that focuses more on Crusher and Troi than some of the other Star Trek books I have read in the past and it will be interesting to see this story unfold from their perspective.  Overall, this should turn out to be a great read and I am quite excited to check it out.

Star Trek - Rogue Elements Cover

The final Star Trek novel I am looking at here is the next Picard book, Rogue Elements by John Jackson Miller.  Miller is another veteran author who has written several exceptional Star Trek books over the years.  I absolutely loved Miller’s 2020 release, Die Standing, which, with its complex protagonists and clever plot, was easily one of the best Star Trek books of last year.  His next novel, Rogue Elements, is possibly the 2021 Star Trek book I am most excited for, as it will feature one of the best new characters from the Picard show, Cristóbal Rios.

Synopsis:

Starfleet was everything for Cristóbal Rios—until one horrible, inexplicable day when it all went wrong. Aimless and adrift, he grasps at a chance for a future as an independent freighter captain in an area betrayed by the Federation, the border region with the former Romulan Empire. His greatest desire: to be left alone.

But solitude isn’t in the cards for the captain of La Sirena, who falls into debt to a roving gang of hoodlums from a planet whose society is based on Prohibition-era Earth. Teamed against his will with Ledger, his conniving overseer, Rios begins an odyssey that brings him into conflict with outlaws and fortune seekers, with power brokers and relic hunters across the stars.

Exotic loves and locales await—as well as dangers galore—and Rios learns the hard way that good crewmembers are hard to find, even when you can create your own. And while his meeting with Jean-Luc Picard is years away, Rios finds himself drawing on the Starfleet legend’s experiences when he discovers a mystery that began on one of the galaxy’s most important days… 

This sounds like it is going to be particularly impressive Star Trek read and I am looking forward to this book.  As I mentioned above, I really enjoyed the character of Cristóbal Rios, the damaged private starship captain and his crew of emergency holograms, each of them an alternate version of his own personality and distinctive accent, and I am very keen to see a book follow his early exploits.  Rogue Elements also looks to explore some fun crime elements in this darker period of Star Trek history and I love the idea of seeing Rios going up against gangsters, power brokers and relic hunters.  Based on the cool sounding plot, the great source material in Picard and Miller’s outstanding writing history, I know I am going to love Rogue Elements and it should be an awesome read.

As you can see, there are some very cool Star Trek books coming out later this year and I truly believe that I will enjoy all three of the above entries.  Each of these books sounds extremely impressive and I look forward to seeing what unique stories they contain.  I will have to keep an eye out for any addition Star Trek novels later in the year (I know that there is a new Deep Space Nine novel coming out called Revenant, although only limited details are available at this time).  Until then, make sure to check out some of my reviews for other Star Trek novels and let me know which Star Trek tie-in books are your favourites.

Book Haul – 6 April 2021

It has been a while since I have done a Book Haul post, but seeing that I received several interesting books today, I thought I would quickly do one to highlight some of the best books I have gotten in the last few weeks, especially as I am expecting some additional books in the coming weeks.  Each of the below books sound extremely cool and captivating, and I cannot wait to see how they all turn out.

The Chase by Candice Fox (Trade Paperback)

The Chase Cover

The first book on this haul is the impressive new release from Australian author Candice Fox, The Chase, a cool thriller set around a mass escape from a maximum security prison.  I have actually already read this book and it was pretty amazing, containing a clever and exciting story with some great twists to it.  I will hopefully get a review together for this one soon but it is really worth checking out.

Turn a Blind Eye by Jeffery Archer (Hardcover)

Turn a Blind Eye Cover

Next up we have the latest novel from bestselling author Jeffrey Archer, Turn a Blind Eye, the third book in the William Warwick series.  The William Warwick books are a fantastic and entertaining series which follows the titular character, William Warwick, a notoriously honest copper, as he attempts to stop some of the worst criminals in London.  The first two entries in this series, Nothing Ventured and Hidden in Plan Sight, have both been fun reads and I look forward to seeing Warwick attempt to solve his latest crime.

Judas Horse by Lynda La Plante (Trade Paperback)

Judas Horse Cover

I was also lucky to receive a copy of the new Lynda La Plante crime novel, Judas Horse.  La Plante is an author whose work I have been really enjoying in recent years, mainly with her Jane Tennison series (check out my reviews for Good Friday, Murder Mile, The Dirty Dozen and Blunt Force).  Judas Horse is the second book in La Plante’s new Jack Warr series and features an intriguing plot about detectives using an informer to lure out a group of bank robbers.  I am rather keen to see what La Plante’s other series are like and I cannot wait to see what happens in Judas Horse.

Artifact Space by Miles Cameron (ebook)

Artifact Space Cover

I was incredibly grateful to recently receive an advance proof of Mile Cameron’s upcoming science fiction debut, Artifact SpaceArtifact Space is an intriguing and fantastic sounding science fiction read that features mysterious disappearances, impossibly large ships and alien races.  I am hoping to dive into this one soon and based on how amazing some of Cameron’s latest fantasy novels have been (Cold Iron and Dark Forge), this should prove to be quite an exceptional read.

A Prince and a Spy by Rory Clements (Trade Paperback)

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This is another book that I have been looking forward to for a while. A Prince and a Spy is the latest book from excellent historical crime fiction author Rory Clements, and will be the fifth book in the Tom Wilde series of World War II novels (check out my reviews for Nucleus, Nemesis and Hitler’s Secret). This latest book contains a fantastic sounding mystery, centered around the mysterious real-life death of the Queen’s uncle.  I cannot wait to see how this story unfolds and I am expecting an impressive and clever read.

Brother Red by Adrian Selby (Trade Paperback)

Brother Red Cover

I was also lucky enough to receive a copy of Brother Red, the latest novel from intriguing fantasy author Adrian Selby.  I am not as familiar with Selby as I am with most of the other authors featured in this post, but I have heard some great stuff about his previous books from other reviewers.  Brother Red looks set to be a captivating standalone fantasy adventure and I look forward to learning some more about this cool author.

Crusader by Ben Kane (Trade Paperback)

Crusader Cover

The final book in this Book Haul post is Crusader from top historical fiction author Ben Kane.  Crusader is the second book in Kane’s latest series which follows the life of the legendary Richard the Lionheart.  The sequel to last year’s impressive Lionheart, Crusader should be another amazing read and I look forward to checking it out.

Well that’s the end of this latest Book Haul post.  As you can see I have quite a bit of reading to do at the moment thanks to all these awesome books that have come in.  Let me know which of the above you are most interested in and make sure to check back in a few weeks to see my reviews of them.

Bullet Train by Kōtarō Isaka

Bullet Train Cover

Publisher: Harvill Secker (Trade Paperback – 16 March 2021)

English translation by Sam Malissa

Series: Standalone

Length: 415 pages

My rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Thriller is a genre that I have only really started reading in the last couple of years and it is swiftly growing to become one of the top types of novels I tend to check out.  While most of the thrillers I read are somewhat mainstream and from authors I have read before, I occasionally branch out and check out something from an unfamiliar author if it has an unusual-sounding plot synopsis which really grabs my attention.  One of the most recent of these was Bullet Train by bestselling Japanese author Kōtarō Isaka, which I was lucky enough to receive a copy of a little while ago.  Bullet Train, which is the first English translation of Isaka’s 2010 standalone novel, Maria Bītoru (Maria Beetle), is a unique and clever thriller which follows five very unusual killers who find themselves aboard the same ill-fated train ride.

On a seemingly normal day, a bullet train is setting out from Tokyo, making its regular trip to Morioka, with several stops planned along the way.  As the train leaves, everything appears quiet, except for the fact that five dangerous killers are on-board, each of them with a very different mission in mind.  The youngest killer, Satoshi, looks like an innocent schoolboy, but in reality his is a psychotic master manipulator, easily able to get people to do what he wants.  His latest victim was Kimura’s young son, who is now in a coma after being thrown off a building.  Kimura, a former hitter turned alcoholic, has tracked Satoshi to the train and intends to kill the youth in revenge.  However, when Kimura underestimates his opponent, he soon finds himself in the middle of a dangerous game of survival, as he and Satoshi encounter some of the other passengers on board.

Nanao, the self-proclaimed ‘unluckiest assassin in the world’, has a relatively simple retrieval job that requires him to spend only a few minutes on the train.  However, when his unnatural bad luck conspires to keep him trapped aboard, he is forced into a desperate battle for survival.  At the same time, the lethal and unconventional assassin partners, Tangerine and Lemon, are also travelling to Morioka, until an untimely death puts them in the crosshairs of a notorious crime lord.  When a suitcase full of money also disappears, all five killers are forced to show their hands, beginning a desperate battle aboard the moving train.  However, as things get serious, the killers begin to wonder why all of them are aboard the same train and who is really pulling their strings.  As the bullet train pulls closer to its destination, betrayals, manipulations and secrets are revealed, and not everyone will survive to reach the last station.

Now this was an extremely awesome and deeply impressive novel that I am so very glad I decided to check out.  This translated novel from Isaka, an author who has written a massive collection of mystery and thriller novels over the last 20 years, including several that have been adapted into films, was a clever, fast-paced thrill ride that follows several awesome and captivating assassin characters.  This resulted in an epic and compelling read which proved to be extremely addictive and is one of the most entertaining books that I have read this year.

I absolutely loved Bullet Train’s slick and clever story that quickly dives between the book’s various characters.  Split between the five central killer protagonists, as well as a few intriguing supporting characters, Bullet Train has a particularly intricate narrative that is heavy on the twists, rapid turns and unique moments.  Isaka does an exceptional job setting the scene and introducing each of the great characters, and the reader is soon engrossed in seeing how the story and individual character arcs play out.  It does not take long for all five main characters to find themselves involved in some surprising and dangerous situations, which they must work to extricate themselves from.  As each character attempts to deal with their own problems, be they a dead client, stolen money, blackmail or being suddenly forced to deal with a dead body, their various storylines soon begin to intersect.  The way in which the individual storylines come together works extremely well and it proves to be extremely entertaining to see to the vibrant and distinctive personalities of each of the protagonists clash against each other when they meet.  Their intriguing interactions include some intense action sequences, clever manipulations and even some amusing confrontations that include anything from philosophical debates to discussions about a certain children’s show.  At the same time, the characters are also forced to contend with several additional complicating factors, including other killers aboard the train, seemingly oblivious onlookers, secrets from the past and a dangerous long-reaching plot.  All of this leads to an epic and clever conclusion that sees several protagonists die and a number of clever twists come to fruition.  I honestly did not see some of these cool twists coming and I ended up on the edge of my seat waiting to see what would happen next and which of the characters were going to survive the whole thing.  I ended up being really impressed with this cool book and I really enjoyed this thrilling and compelling read.

While Bullet Train’s narrative itself is extremely cool, the true highlight of this epic book is the five killer main characters of the story.  All of these main characters are a lot of fun and the author has imbued them with some excellent and memorable traits and personalities.  All five characters add so much to the story in their own right, but their real strength is the way in which they interact with each other.  The way in which these unique protagonists play off each other is just perfect and it was great to see them get the measure of each other and fully understand just whom they are dealing with.  You really get invested in each of these five characters fates and it is rather interesting to see who survives until the end and who comes out on top.

The first two major characters featured within the book are the interesting combination of vengeful former hitman Yuichi Kimura and teenage manipulator Satoshi Oji.  Kimura is a recovering alcoholic who is hunting Satoshi due to the teen’s role in Kimura’s son getting pushed off a roof and ending up in hospital.  However, his attempts at revenge are quickly thwarted by Satoshi, whose nickname “the Prince” tells you pretty much all you need to know about the kid.  Using threats towards his comatose son, the Prince manipulates Kimura into helping him investigate the strange events occurring on the train, and the two quickly find themselves in the middle of the dangerous situations, with Kimura attempting to find a way to save his son while the Prince attempts to work the situation to his own advantage.  Both fantastic killers are well-written and compelling characters who add a significant amount to the tale.  You really get invested in Kimura’s struggle to save his son and overcome his own inner demons, while Satoshi serves as a particularly unlikeable villain, who you really want to suffer, even if he is a teenager.  Isaka also throws in a few intriguing flashbacks which highlight how the rivalry between the two started, and which helps to dive into both insecurities and fears.  Both end up having fantastic story arcs within this book, and I really enjoyed the complex web that the author wove around the two.

Another of the main characters is Nanao, a young professional killer with a conscience who has only recently entered into the game.  Nanao is an absolute sweetheart whose most defining characteristic is his abysmal bad luck, which plagues him throughout the course of the book.  It proves rather amusing to see all the dramatic and amusing setbacks that happen to Nanao during Bullet Train, and it quickly becomes apparent that he is actually cursed, a fact that he faces with particular sadness and a certain amount of fatalism.  You cannot help but feel for Nanao as the book progresses, and there is something about his general unhappiness with the situation that draws the reader to him.  Thankfully, he is also a particularly skilled operative, especially in dangerous situations, which gives him a fighting chance against his opponents, and the times when this resourcefulness appears are pretty awesome.  I personally felt that Nanao’s story arc was one of the best in all of Bullet Train and I really loved seeing the other side of the characters’ unluckiness eventually come into play, even if the protagonists never realised just what happened to him.

The final two killers featured within Bullet Train are the memorable partnership of Tangerine and Lemon.  Despite their similar appearance which makes many people believe that they are twins, Tangerine and Lemon are very different people, both with unique personalities that clash with one and other.  While Tangerine is the well-organised professional with a love for classic literature, Lemon is the wild card, a seemingly flaky and eccentric killer with an unnatural appreciation for the children’s show Thomas and Friends.  This makes for a very entertaining odd-couple pairing, as the two characters, who at times appear not to even like or understand each other, need to sort through the chaotic situation about the train.  While Tangerine is an enjoyable character who serves as a good straight man to some of the more outrageous personalities aboard, I definitely enjoyed Lemon way more.  Lemon is a wildly entertaining and captivating character whose unique viewpoint on life, which is inspired by Thomas and Friends, is both childlike and clever at the same time.  I really enjoyed seeing some of Lemon’s reactions and solutions to the problems he encounters, especially as he mainly draws on lessons from the characters in Thomas in Friends, when it comes to judging people (you really do not want to be a mean old Diesel).  This leads to some great scenes, especially as he can see through manipulations that have tricked some of the other characters.  It was also great to see the full breadth of the friendship between Tangerine and Lemon become clear as the book continued, especially as it leads to one of the best scenes in the entire book.  Each of these character arcs ended up being truly spectacular and I had an outstanding time seeing each of their unique tales unfold.

Bullet Train by Kōtarō Isaka was an epic and immensely captivating read that comes highly recommended.  I deeply enjoyed the unique and exciting tale told within it, loaded as it was with all manner of cool twists and surprise reveals, and I cannot emphasise how awesome the main five characters were.  This was a superb read and I will have to keep an eye out for English translations of any of Isaka’s other books.  I am also quite excited for the upcoming film adaption of this book, also titled Bullet Train.  I assume that this English translation novel is the result of the major Hollywood adaption of Maria Bītoru that is currently in production, and which looks set to feature an impressive array of actors including Brad Pitt, Joey King, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Zazie Beets, Lady Gaga and Sandra Bullock.  While I am a little uncertain about why a film set on a bullet train in Japan is going to feature a primarily American cast, this looks set to be a fun movie, especially if it lives up to this impressive and clever novel.

Waiting on Wednesday – The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox

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 Waiting on Wednesday, I look at a fantastic and fun sounding upcoming debut, The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox.

The Dying Squad Cover

I have mentioned a few times recently that 2021 seems to be shaping up to be a particularly great year for literary debuts and I have already read or highlighted several impressive examples in the last three months.  This trend of awesome debuts looks set to continue later in the year with the release of the intriguing and compelling novel, The Dying Squad by Adam Simcox.

The Dying Squad is an amazing sounding urban fantasy crime novel that is currently set for release in July 2021.  This will be the first book from English filmmaker Simcox, and will follow a murdered detective who attempts to escape purgatory by solving his own recent murder as part of the “Dying Squad”, helped by a spirit guide named Daisy May while slowly losing his memories.  I love the sound of this cool plot idea and I am curious to seeing how Simcox combines the fantasy and mystery elements together and I am hoping for an impressive and captivating read.  Based on the synopsis below, I think that this book has a fair bit of potential and I look forward to seeing how it turns out, especially as it seems the sort of novel that could  evolve into a great, long-running series.

Synopsis:

DYING IS HELL . . . SOLVING YOUR OWN MURDER IS PURGATORY

When Detective Inspector Joe Lazarus storms a Lincolnshire farmhouse, he expects to bring down a notorious drug gang; instead, he discovers his own dead body and a spirit guide called Daisy-May.

She’s there to enlist him to the Dying Squad, a spectral police force made up of the recently deceased. Joe soon realises there are fates far worse than death. To escape being stuck in purgatory, he must solve his own murder. A task made all the more impossible when his memories start to fade.

Reluctantly partnering with Daisy-May, Joe faces dangers from both the living and the dead in the quest to find his killer – before they kill again.