WWW Wednesday – 26 January 2022

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?

The Burning Road by Harry Sidebottom (Trade Paperback)

The Burning Road Cover

I just started reading this cool new novel from one of my favourite Roman historical fiction authors, Harry Sidebottom.  The Burning Road brings back Sidebottom’s main protagonist and places him in the middle of a brutal slave rebellion on Sicily.  I am only a little bit in this book at the moment but I having fun with it so far.

 

The Twice-Dead King: Reign by Nate Crowley (Audiobook)

The Twice-Dead King - Reign Cover

I also started listening to another awesome Warhammer 40,000 novel this week with the second book in The Twice-Dead King series, Reign, by Nate Crowley.  Serving as a sequel to his great 2021 novel, Ruin, this is a brilliant and compelling tie-in novel that follows the ancient Necron race as they attempt to survive both external and internal attacks.  I am making some major progress on this novel and at the pace I’m going, I should finish it off in the next few days.

What did you recently finish reading?

Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie (Trade Paperback)

Unforgiven Cover

 

Star Wars: The High Republic: The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray (Audiobook)

Star Wars - The Fallen Star

What do you think you’ll read next?

The Noise by James Patterson and J. D. Barker

The Noise Cover

 

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

Waiting on Wednesday – The Omega Factor by Steve Berry

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For my latest Waiting on Wednesday, I look at a cool upcoming thriller centred around a historical conspiracy that I know is going to be a ton of fun, The Omega Factor by Steve Berry.

The Omega Factor Cover

Over the last few years, I have been having an awesome time reading the extremely clever and entertaining novels from thriller author Steve Berry.  Berry, who has been writing for nearly 20 years, is best known for his Cotton Malone series, which follows the titular protagonist as he investigates multiple crazy conspiracies and mysteries from histories which have the potential to impact the modern era.  His last three Cotton Malone novels, The Malta Exchange, The Warsaw Protocol and The Kaiser’s Web, have all been extremely amazing, and I had a lot of fun exploring their complex and fascinating narratives and historical content.

As such, I was very excited when I saw that Berry had a new novel coming out in 2022, The Omega Factor.  This new novel is not part of the Cotton Malone series, but instead will introduce a new protagonist, UNESCO investigator Nicholas Less, who will get caught up in a conspiracy involving the Ghent Altarpiece and a civil war between a secret order of nuns and the Vatican.  Naturally, this crazy plot idea is extremely appealing to me, and I cannot wait to see how it turns out.  The Omega Factor has a current release date of 7 June 2022, and I will probably try and grab an audiobook version of it.  Based on my prior experience with Berry’s great writing, and the crazy synopsis below, I already know I am going to have an incredible time with this upcoming thriller, and I am very excited to fully explore The Omega Factor’s unique and entertaining historical conspiracy storyline.

Synopsis:

The Ghent Altarpiece is the most violated work of art in the world.  Thirteen times it has been vandalized, dismantled, or stolen.
Why?  What secrets does it hold?

Enter UNESCO investigator, Nicholas Lee, who works for the United Nations’ Cultural Liaison and Investigative Office (CLIO).  Nick’s job is to protect the world’s cultural artifacts—from countless lesser-known objects to national treasures.

When Nick travels to Belgium for a visit with a woman from his past, he unwittingly stumbles on the trail of the twelfth panel for the Ghent Altarpiece, stolen in 1934 under cover of night and never seen since.  Soon Nick is plunged into a bitter conflict, one that has been simmering for nearly two thousand years.  On one side is the Maidens of Saint-Michael, les Vautours, Vultures, a secret order of nuns and the guardians of a great truth.  Pitted against them is the Vatican, which has wanted for centuries to both find and possess what the nuns guard.  Because of Nick the maidens have finally been exposed, their secret placed in dire jeopardy—a vulnerability that the Vatican swiftly moves to exploit utilizing an ambitious cardinal and a corrupt archbishop, both with agendas of their own.

From the tranquil canals of Ghent, to the towering bastions of Carcassonne, and finally into an ancient abbey high in the French Pyrenees, Nick Lee must confront a modern-day religious crusade intent on eliminating a shocking truth from humanity’s past.  Success or failure—life and death—all turn on the Omega Factor.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Australian Books of 2021

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, participants were supposed to list their top new-to-me authors that they read in 2021, however, I am going to do something differently here at The Unseen Library.  I already completed and published this list last week as I knew in advance that I would be doing an alternate list today.  The reason for this is because tomorrow, 26 January, is Australia Day, so I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight some of the top pieces of fiction written by Australian authors that I read in 2021.

Each year talented Australian authors produce an impressive and exciting range of fiction from across the various genres, many of which I am lucky enough to get copies of from the local publishers.  I tend to read and review a ton of novels by Australian authors, most of which turn out to be some outstanding reads that I deeply enjoy.  As such, for the last few years on Australia Day I have taken to highlighting my favourite pieces of Australian fiction for the last few years (check out my 2019 and 2020 lists).  I really love how much awesome Australian fiction there is out in the world, and this list is the perfect way to highlight some of the best recent Australian authors.

Now I tend to take a bit of a different approach to Australian fiction than some other bloggers, as I focus on Australian authors rather than those purely set in Australia or featuring Australian casts.  To qualify for this list, a novel had to be released in 2021 and written by an Australian author, which I am defining as anyone born in Australia or who currently lives here (Australia is very good at adopting talented people as our own).  This resulted in a long list, including several novels that I considered to be some of the best reads of last year.  I was eventually able to whittle this novel down to the absolute cream of the crop and came up with a fantastic top ten list (with my typical generous honourable mentions).  I really enjoyed how this list turned out, especially as it features novels from a range of different genres, all of which were very awesome Australian books.

Honourable Mentions:

The Colonial’s Son by Peter Watt

The Colonial's Son Cover

One of the best Australian historical fiction authors, Peter Watt, started a great new series last year with The Colonial’s Son.  The sequel to his amazing Colonial series (made up of The Queen’s Colonial, The Queen’s Tiger and The Queen’s Captain), this was a fun and action packed novel that continued some great storylines from the first series.

 

Prisoner by S. R. White

The Prisoner Cover

A taut and clever bushland murder mystery that saw a determined investigator methodically solve a murder through smart police work and multiple interviews with the suspects.

 

The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry

The 22 Murders of Madison May Cover

An extremely exciting novel from awesome author Max Barry that sees a resourceful journalist follow a serial killer throughout the multiverse as he attempts to kill every version of his crush.

 

The Paris Collaborator by A. W. Hammond

The Paris Collaborator Cover

An intense and compelling historical thriller set in occupied Paris; The Paris Collaborator was a great read with a fantastic story to it.

Top Ten List:

Kill Your Brother by Jack Heath

Kill Your Brother Cover

Let us start this list off with the incredibly cool Kill Your Brother by amazing author Jack Heath.  Kill Your Brother is a dark and very clever read that follows an infamously damaged protagonist as they are given a choice to either kill their brother or be killed themself.  Set in rural Australia and loaded with great twists, this was an outstanding and awesome novel that was one of the most entertaining and addictive books I read all last year.

 

The Councillor by E. J. Beaton

The Councillor Cover

Australian author E. J. Beaton had one of the best debuts of 2021 with her excellent fantasy read, The Councillor.  Set in a divided and besieged fantasy realm, The Councillor follows a palace scholar who is given ultimate power and must decide the fate of her kingdom through politics, treachery and deceit.  An impressive first book that is really worth checking out.

 

The Housemate by Sarah Bailey

The Housemate Cover

One of the most incredible reads of 2021 was the intense and captivating murder mystery novel The Housemate by Sarah Bailey.  Set in Melbourne, this book sees an infamous murder case reopened after one of the supposed victims reappears and then dies again.  Following a conflicted journalist whose past connections to the crime is slowly driving her crazy, this was an awesome read that I honestly could not put down.

 

The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer

The Warsaw Orphan Cover

Impressive author Kelly Rimmer produced one of the absolute best historical dramas last year with her moving book, The Warsaw Orphan.  Set in occupied Warsaw, this novel followed two very damaged protagonists as they attempt to save as many Jewish babies as possible from the Nazis.  Grim, intense, and loaded with tragedy, this is an excellent historical drama that comes very highly recommended.

 

The Enemy Within by Tim Ayliffe

The Enemy Within Cover

Australian journalist turned crime fiction author Tim Ayliffe had an excellent release in 2021 with The Enemy Within, the third book in his John Bailey series.  Following on from the great stories told in The Greater Good and State of Fear, The Enemy Within had a brilliant story that perfectly utilised recent, controversial Australian events and places Ayliffe’s nosy reporter protagonist right in the middle of them.

 

Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie

Unforgiven Cover

One of the latest Australian books of 2021 that I have read, Unforgiven is an exceptionally dark and powerful novel that follows a former victim of child abuse who has grown up and now hunts the monsters who ruined her childhood.  Containing an exceptional mystery and some brilliant characters, this is an impressive, if grim, thriller that I deeply enjoyed reading.

 

Aurora’s End by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Aurora's End Cover

The Australian dream team of Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff finished off their amazing young adult science fiction Aurora Cycle series last year with the impressive Aurora’s End.  This awesome and extremely fast paced novel featured a very clever multi-time period storyline that did a fantastic job of wrapping up the compelling story of the previous two novels (Aurora Rising and Aurora Burning).  One of the better young adult series of the last few years, I am really glad that Kaufman and Kristoff saw it off in amazing fashion.

 

2 Sisters Detective Agency by James Patterson and Candice Fox

2 Sisters Detective Agency Cover

Ok, so I know that James Patterson isn’t Australian, but his cowriter for this novel, Candice Fox, is one of the best Australian crime fiction authors out there at the moment, and I loved her work on this entertaining and fun book.  Following two very different sisters as they attempt to solve crimes in Los Angeles, this was an extremely exciting and hilarious book that features a really good story.  I had an amazing time reading 2 Sisters Detective Agency and I really hope that this collaboration between Patterson and this rising Australian author continues in the future.  Make sure to also check out Candice Fox’s other 2021 release, The Chase, which had a great prison-break storyline.

 

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun Cover

Another epic debut by an Australian author last year was the highly regarded She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan.  This bold and addictive read follows a young girl from rural China who takes her dead brother’s destined greatness and starts a journey to take back China from the Mongolian dynasty and become Emperor.  Featuring a unique and clever story that utilises historical fiction and fantasy elements, this was an amazing read from an impressive new Australian author.

 

Blood Trail by Tony Park

Blood Trail Cover

The final book on this list is the latest novel from one of Australia’s premier thriller authors, Tony Park.  Park’s new novel, Blood Trail, once again journeys to Africa and follows several great characters as they attempt to capture near-magical poachers and kidnappers in a game preserve.  An amazing adrenalin ride from start to finish, Blood Trail was an outstanding read, and I cannot wait to see what Park will release in 2022.

 

 

Well, that is the end of this latest list and I am really happy that I got a chance to highlight some of the cool Australian releases of 2021.  The above books represent an outstanding collection of fiction from talented Australian authors, and each of them comes highly recommended by me.  I had a lot of fun coming up with this list and I cannot wait to find out what the best Australian books of 2022 are going to be.  Until then, stay tuned for more epic reviews and lists, and make sure you let me know who your favourite Australian authors are in the comments below.

Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie

Unforgiven Cover

Publisher: HQ (Trade Paperback – 1 December 2021)

Series: Standalone/Book One

Length: 480 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Talented Australian author Sarah Barrie presents one of the darkest and best Australian thriller novels of 2021 with Unforgiven, a powerful and captivating read that sets determined protagonists against the very worst of human monsters.

Years ago, the city of Sydney was haunted by a terrible paedophile and murderer known as the Spider, who kidnapped, molested and killed young girls, all on camera.  His reign of terror was ended suddenly one violent night thanks to two women, a determined rookie police officer, Rachael Langley, and one of the Spider’s young victims, Lexi Winter, who disappeared never to be seen again.

Now, after years of living on the street, Lexi has grown up tough and hard, determined to escape the tortures of her childhood through alcohol while trying to reconnect with the sister she was forced to leave behind.  However, Lexi is still obsessed with taking down monsters, and with her impressive hacking skills she spends her days tracking paedophiles, entrapping them, and ensuring they are captured by the police.  However, when her latest target proves to be particularly illusive online, she makes a fateful decision to break into his house, only to witness him being murdered.

At the same time, Rachael Langley is now a successful detective inspector, solving some of the toughest crimes in Sydney.  Still lauded for her role in stopping the Spider, Rachael lives in regret for being unable to save Lexi all those years before.  However, everything changes when a man calls her, claiming to be the real Spider and providing proof by horrifically murdering another child on camera.  Quickly establishing a police taskforce, Rachael and her team must determine if the killer is a copycat or whether Rachael captured the wrong man all those years ago.  To solve this case Rachael is going to need help from the last person who wants to see her, Lexi, but can these women work together after everything they have been through?  And what happens when their killer learns that Lexi is still alive and hunting for him?

This was an intense, grim and deeply compelling Australian crime fiction read from Barrie, who has written an amazing and powerful story that proves very hard to put down.  Unforgiven was the first of Barrie’s books that I have read, although several of her other Australian crime fiction novels are quite intriguing and I might try and read them at some point after being so captivated by this epic and moving read.  This was such an addictive novel that it gets a full five-star rating from me.

Barrie has come up with a very impressive and intense narrative for Unforgiven that sees several damaged characters dragged into the web of a dangerous and clever criminal.  The story has a great start that showcases the lives of the main protagonists, Lexi, Rachael and Rachael’s nephew and fellow police officer Finn, as well as giving some hints at the events of the original Spider case that so deeply impacted the female main characters.  After this quick set-up, the story advances in all its dark and powerful glory, as two fascinating plot lines develop.  Lexi, who has become an online vigilante hunting paedophiles on the dark web, finds herself caught up in a brutal murder when one of her targets is murdered by a mysterious figure while she is sneaking into his house.  Most of her early story involves her continued attempt to hunt paedophiles while also trying to find a way to hide the body of the murdered man, for which she gains some help from an interesting source.  At the same time, Rachael and Finn become involved in a brutal case when the man claiming to be the real Spider calls Rachael and leads them to murdered young girl, forcing them to once again dive into the unsettling world of paedophiles.

Both storylines advance at a quick and compelling pace, with each of the main protagonists facing massive challenges as they attempt to achieve their objectives.  I liked this initial separation of the storyline, and the two plotlines work well together in tandem, with the reader getting pretty caught up in both narrative threads.  At the same time, the author drip-feeds in bits and pieces of Lexi and Rachael’s pasts, especially the events that led up to the arrest of the Spider and the disappearance of Lexi.  This deepens the audiences’ connections to the two protagonists so that when their storylines inevitably connect it really enhances the impact of the scene.  Unforgiven shifts into high gear once these plotlines are joined, with all three protagonists working towards the same goals, although Lexi maintains her secrets.  Barrie starts throwing in some real curveballs here, providing a complex and intriguing case that throws the protagonists through the emotional wringer as they get closer to the big and powerful conclusion of the novel.  There are some great twists in the last half of the book and while I saw a couple of things coming, there were some fantastic surprises that really threw me.  This ends up being an outstanding and complex story, and the readers will be left wanting more, especially as Barrie leaves it open for a sequel, which I really hope she does.

While I deeply enjoyed the captivating and intense story contained within Unforgiven, this was a bit of a hard novel to read at times due to its very, very dark content.  Unforgiven focuses on the hunt for a murderous paedophile and his child exploiting friends, which inevitably leads to some depictions of the terrible acts they commit, not only to children in the current storyline, but to the protagonist Lexi back in her childhood.  Barrie really does not pull any punches here, and the book contains some very dark and grim moments that really stick in the mind.  These powerful and shocking scenes really raised the stakes of the book and ensured that the reader becomes extremely invested in seeing the protagonists achieve justice through their actions.  While I really appreciated that Barrie was trying to raise awareness and showcase just how evil some people can be, I will admit that some of these scenes did get to be a bit much at times, forcing me to stop and put the book down.  Readers are warned that Unforgiven has very strong themes of violence and abuse against children and young people.  However, if you can get past that, it is worth it, as Barrie does an excellent job telling this rough story about true human evil.

Unforgiven’s already brilliant and powerful narrative is enhanced by the impressively written and complex central characters contained within.  Barrie has gone out of her way to introduce several very damaged and compelling protagonists, each of whom add so much to the overall plot thanks to their excellent backstories and substantial development.  The most prominent and interesting of these characters are the two female leads of the book, Lexi Winter and Detective Inspector Rachael Langley, whose lives became irreparably entangled all those years ago.  These two characters serve as two of the three main point-of-view characters, with most of the story told from their perspectives.

Lexi was a great character, and I was deeply impressed with the amount of work that Barrie put into her complex and damaging past, as well as her distinctive current personality.  There were so many interesting aspects to Lexi, who immediately stands out as a protagonist thanks to her damaged personality, strong sense of deduction and observation, her badass ability with a computer and the fact that she is the only character whose chapters are told in the first person.  I loved the intriguing contradictions in her life as Lexi makes a living as an escort while devoting most of her personal life to being an online vigilante/hacker extraordinaire who specialises in taking paedophiles down.  This makes for such a distinctive character, especially once you figure in all the major impacts of her childhood that has left her such an emotional mess.  Barrie does a good job of slowly revealing all the horrors of her early life, and while some of the scenes are pretty brutal, it is amazing to see everything that the character has risen above to still be such a strong figure.  The reader swiftly gets attached to Lexi as a protagonist and it will be fascinating to see what happens to her next if Barrie decides to turn this into a series.

The other central character that I must talk about is Rachael, the veteran detective inspector whose career was built off the success of the Spider case.  Rachael is a great police protagonist, a confident, intelligent and strong figure who is able to keep most of her people in line and pursue a vigorous investigation.  However, Barrie builds in several great aspects to her character that really impact this protagonist throughout the course of Unforgiven.  Firstly, there is the guilt that Rachael still feels over her past with Lexi, especially as Rachael failed her in a way which is slowly revealed over the course of the book, especially once the two reunite and have an awkward relationship.  The other aspect is the doubt that slowly creeps into Rachael as the case proceeds, especially as the possibility that the original person convicted in the Spider case might be innocent.  This doubt, coupled with the guilt over the fact that she could be responsible for the latest deaths by not actually catching the real Spider, starts to impact her throughout the book and proves to be an intriguing motivator for some of her decisions.  These complex aspects really helped enhance the emotional power of Unforgiven and I really appreciated the intense storyline that Barrie wrote about people living in the past and accepting one’s mistakes.  I really enjoyed seeing both Lexi and Rachael in this novel, and they had some great storylines in this book.

Aside from Lexi and Rachael, there are several other great characters in Unforgiven I should mention.  The most prominent of these must be Detective Senior Sergeant Finn Carson, Rachael’s nephew and second-in-command of the investigation, who ends up being the third major point-of-view character.  Finn was an excellent male police character who serves as an interesting counterpoint to the two female protagonists.  While not as damaged as the other two, Finn has his own issues, and his viewpoint really added to the overall quality of the book.  I was also a big fan of Lexi’s neighbour Dawny, an eccentric older woman who assists Lexi in several matters, including disposing of a body (what are good neighbours for?).  Dawny was one of the funniest characters in the book and it was great to see the protagonists be completely baffled by her knowledge and ability to come up with effective solutions to problems while maintaining the batty old lady routine.  I quite liked the eventual reveal of who Dawny really was, as it fit in well with the other characters in the book, and it will be fun to see if Barrie brings her back at some point in the future.  Finally, I definitely need to highlight the villain of the book, the Spider, who is one of the most despicable fictional antagonists I have seen: a sordid child abuser and murderer who films their grisly crimes.  You quickly feel a lot of hate towards this character, even if you don’t know who they are for most of the story.  The eventual reveal and the various twists around them were quite clever and I had an amazing, if disturbing, time finding out who this monster was.  An overall exceptional character driven novel, you will quickly find yourself getting stuck following all these fascinating and compelling figures.

Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie is an outstanding and impressive read that takes the reader of a gritty and vicious ride.  Filled with a disturbing narrative and some brilliantly damaged central characters, Unforgiven is an utterly captivating read that is near impossible to put down or forget about.  Easily one of the best Australian thrillers of 2021, Unforgiven comes highly recommended and I am extremely excited to see what other incredible novels Barrie comes up with in the future.

Amazon     Book Depository

Warhammer 40,000: Steel Tread by Andy Clark

Steel Tread Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 5 January 2022)

Series: Astra Militarum – Book One

Length: 9 hours and 50 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Prepare to dive back into the brutal chaos of the far future of the exceptional Warhammer 40,000 universe with the powerful and intense Steel Tread, a fantastic tank novel by Andy Clark.

At this point in its existence, the Warhammer 40,000 canon has advanced far from just a tabletop game and has turned into quite the complex extended universe that features a range of interesting factions, species and unique narratives.  From fantastic stories about crusading genetic Space Marines (check out my review for Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker), to unique underworld stories about warring gangs (Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty and Fire Made Flesh), and narratives about ancient metal aliens (The Twice-Dead King: Ruin), this franchise has it all.  However, to my mind some of the best Warhammer 40,000 books are compelling war stories that pit ordinary human soldiers against the very worst monsters in this distinctive universe.  Examples of this include the awesome Gaunt’s Ghosts series by Dan Abnett, (check out my review for First and Only), which is pretty damn awesome.  As such I was very excited to check out the new novel from talented Warhammer author Andy Clark, Steel Tread, which looked to follow a group of tank soldiers in the worst of situations.

Following the fall of Cadia, war reigns across the universe as the forces of Chaos push further and further into Imperial space.  There are many battles occurring in this new warzone, but none are more desperate or destructive than those on the world of Croatoas, where the armies of the Astra Militarum, better known as the Imperial Guard, face off against twisted forces serving the Ruinous Powers of Chaos.

Following a devastating campaign, veteran tank gunner Hadeya Etsul is reassigned and consolidated into a Cadian regiment and placed in command of the ancient Leman Russ Demolisher tank, Steel Tread.  Already haunted by the events that destroyed her last tank and crew, Etsul is forced to adapt to her new command whilst immediately getting thrust into the midst of a new offensive.  However, rather than the well-run team she is used to, Etsul finds herself leading a dysfunctional and aggrieved crew who don’t believe she has earned the right to be either their commander or a member of a Cadian regiment.

As the campaign takes a turn for the worst, the crew of Steel Tread will need to find a way to work together if they are to survive.  The enemy has unleashed vast and terrible horrors against the Imperial forces, from dark sorcery to mutated machines, and only the very best crew will have a chance to hold out and fight back.  Can Etsul gain the respect of her crew in time, or will Steel Tread be yet another victim of the unrelenting forces of Chaos?

Wow, that was awesome!  I knew that I was going to have an amazing time reading Steel Tread, especially as it had a great synopsis, but I was unprepared for just how enjoyable it was.  Clark, who has previously written several Warhammer 40,000 novels, including his Imperial Knights books (which he makes certain homages to here), did a fantastic job with this latest novel, producing a grim and powerful tank novel that proves near impossible to stop reading.

Steel Tread has a powerful and action-packed narrative that sees a dysfunctional tank crew thrust into the middle of a hellish warzone (literally hellish) and forced to come together to face their foes.  Clark does a great job of setting the scene for this novel, introducing the conflict, the main characters, and the Chaos based antagonists, in quick succession and ensuring all the key aspects of the book are well established.  The first part of the narrative is mostly dedicated to setting up the crew dynamics and exposing the major personal conflicts that arise when a new commander appears.  This dysfunctional crew mentality continues as the characters are thrust into their first conflicts, before a major battle occurs that separates them from the rest of their command.  Surrounded by all manner of foes, including magical zombies and a terrifying giant war machine (a corrupted Imperial Knight), the crew are forced to come together, especially after overcoming some losses and major personal conflicts.  This all leads up to the big finale, in which the crew are once again thrust into a do-or-die battle and must overcome immense odds with little hopes of success.  This finale really pays off, as the readers are on the edge of their seats during the entire conclusive sequence and beyond as they wait to see what happens to the crew they’ve come to know and love.  This novel is brilliantly paced out and constantly in motion, ensuring that there are no slow spots to stumble across as they move from one excellent sequence to the next.  I loved the great combination of intense action and character moments, which results in a powerful and impressively thrilling read.

I deeply enjoyed the exquisite writing style that Clark utilised for this great novel, especially as it was written in the style of a tank based military thriller.  Clark is an amazingly detailed writer and he perfectly captures the claustrophobia of a classic tank movie.  It was brilliant to watch the six main characters crammed together inside Steel Tread as they face all manner of hell, often by themselves.  You really get a feel for all the stress, rage and fear that the characters are feeling, especially during the amazing action sequences.  All the battle scenes are written extremely well, and the author ensured that you are placed right in the middle of the action.  I really loved all the epic fights, and I really must highlight the scary and insane enemies they faced, including cultists, zombies and that awesome Chaos Knight.  I deeply appreciated the work that Clark put into describing that Chaos Knight into a fearsome and freaky war machine, especially its spider-like walking style, and it easily stole every scene it was in.  This impressive writing style really helped to enhance an already amazing story and I loved how the author was able to tell such a brutal and complex war story.

This proved to be an exceptional entry in the Warhammer 40,000 canon, and I deeply enjoyed the way in which Clark was able to transplant his impressive tank story into this universe.  While there are a few references to events in Warhammer history that set the scene for the plot, this ended up being one of those tie-in novels that can easily be read by people unfamiliar with the franchise.  Anyone who loves a good science fiction war novel can have a lot of fun with Steel Tread, although there is also a lot that Warhammer fans will really appreciate.  I loved all the references to the fall of Cadia featured throughout the book, especially as the characters are part of a Cadian regiment.  Clark spends a lot of time examining the psyche of a typical Cadian soldier, and there is an interesting focus on members of other regiments being consolidated into the usually insular and elite Cadians.  As such, you get some great insights into the different Imperial Guard regiments, including their unique traditions, and it was fascinating to see several characters, including the main protagonists, try and find acceptance with her new Cadian colleagues and subordinates.  This book does feature a ton of awesome Imperial Guard and Chaos troops, and it was great to see Steel Tread caught in the middle of it, especially as Clark does a great job of describing how the various units move and fight.  I also really loved seeing this story unfold from the common soldier’s perspective, and it was very insightful to see the tank crew when confronted by Chaos sorcery, corruption, mutations and other insanities, especially as half the time they don’t really know what they are.  Clark has produced a great tie-in to the Warhammer 40,000 universe, and this is honestly an excellent first novel for any reader interested in exploring this massive franchise.

Another feature of Steel Tread that I enjoyed was the amazing array of characters featured within.  Clark has come up with an interesting and diverse central group of protagonists for the book, with the primary six being the crew members of Steel Tread.  I had a lot of fun with these great characters, and I liked the interesting mix of personalities and backstories.  The author has hit on a few military stereotypes here as you have a new and untrusted officer, a grouchy sergeant, a religious zealot driver, a strong and mostly silent loader with a mysterious past, a young rookie eager to prove himself and a rebellious former street thug turned soldier who constantly tests the new commander.  While some of these character types seem a tad familiar, there is a reason that they work in a military fiction novel such as Steel Tread, as these diverse personalities play off each other extremely well.  There is the requisite hardship and clashes you would typically expect from this sort of crew, but they soon develop into a strong team, especially once their new commander finally gains their trust and respect.  Clark does a great job of setting all six of these main characters up and it was great to see them slowly come together through their joint experiences.  Most of the narration is done by central character Etsul, who is still dealing with the aftermath of her last devastating mission and must overcome her memories and doubts to lead the team.  This intense and compelling narration is perfectly complemented by the second narrator, the young rookie Garret Verro, who offers a slightly more hopeful counterpoint to the rest of the characters in the novel.  I really liked seeing this great group of characters come together and you really come to care for the whole crew by the end of the book.

Aside from the central six characters, there are a few other interesting figures that Clark features throughout the novel.  The main one of these is probably Steel Tread itself, as the author works to give the tank its own personality (which is helped by the fact that machines in the Warhammer 40,000 universe have their own souls, known as machine-spirits).  The old but still deadly tank (an Agamemnor-pattern Leman Russ Demolisher), really feels like a member of the crew, especially with how the other characters interact with it, and you end up feeing just as attached to the tank as you do to its human passengers.  Another great character was Lieutenant Horathio Aswold, a fellow tank commander who is consolidated into the Cadian regiment at the same time as Etsul.  Aswold is a fun and slightly eccentric character who bonds with Etsul over being the newest members of their Cadian regiment.  Aswold proved to be a fun counterpoint to Etsul, and I liked how he was a great soundboard for her concerns and doubts, especially when it comes to their new regiment.  The rest of the Imperial characters in this book are only really featured briefly, and due to most of the action occurring inside the tight confines of Steel Tread, there aren’t a lot of extended interactions between the main cast and supporting characters.  I think this smaller cast worked extremely well in the context of a tank-based novel, and it allowed the readers to get to know the main characters.  The fact that the reader never really sees the main antagonist of the novel was an interesting choice from Clark, but it honestly didn’t detract from how awesome the story was.  While it might have been cool to see a powerful traitor Space Marine attack the tank, I think that keeping him away from the protagonists and letting them face only opposing soldiers, machines and monsters helped to emphasise the fact that the characters were only a small part of a much larger war.  I hope we see more of Steel Tread and its crew in the future.

I ended up listening to the audiobook version of Steel Tread, which came in at just under 10 hours, which I ended up listening to in a few short days once I got caught up in the impressive narrative.  I felt that the audiobook format was an excellent way to enjoy this book, especially as the amazing narration really highlighted all the impressive action scenes.  The intensity, complexity and brutality of the various combat sequences is really emphasised in this format and I was engrossed in all the elaborate firefights.  Thanks to this great translation of Clark’s detailed writing style, I found myself practically seeing every shot as the book was read out, and it really helped bring me into the narrative.  I need to highlight the fantastic narration of Remmie Milner, who moved the book along at a quick and enjoyable pace.  Milner had an excellent voice for this thrilling science fiction novel and I loved the great voices she provided to each of the characters.  Not only did these amazing voices really help the reader to appreciate the emotions and thoughts of the protagonists but they highlighted the cultural differences that existed amongst the multiple Imperial Guard regiments, with the newcomers having different accents to the established Cadians.  This excellent voice work was also enhanced in a few places by some clever sound effects, such as the enhancement given when a radio was being utilised by a character.  This great voice work and design elements of the audiobook really helped to bring me into the story and I had a brilliant time listening to it.  Easily the best way to enjoy Steel Tread, this audiobook format comes highly recommended.

Overall, Steel Tread by Andy Clark was an exceptional and impressive Warhammer 40,000 tie-in novel that takes the reader on a wild and compelling ride with a great group of characters.  I loved the brilliant combination of the Warhammer universe with a brutal and grim tank-based military story.  Filled with all the awesome action any science fiction fan could want, Steel Tread was an extremely thrilling and very fun novel that is really worth checking out.  One of the best and most enjoyable Warhammer novels I have had the pleasure of reading.

Amazon     Book Depository

WWW Wednesday – 19 January 2022

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?

Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie (Trade Paperback)

Unforgiven Cover

I started the awesome Australian thriller Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie this week.  This is a dark and shocking novel that follows a former child molestation victim turned vigilante as she is forced to once again confront the serial killer that tormented her as a child.  A grim but captivating novel, I cannot wait to see where this novel goes next.

Star Wars: The High Republic: The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray (Audiobook)

Star Wars - The Fallen Star

I am still going with The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray.  It is a pretty awesome Star Wars story, I just haven’t had as much time to listen to it.  I should hopefully finish it off in the next week or so.

Never by Ken Follett (Audiobook)

Never Cover

I still haven’t made any progress with Never yet, but I am hoping to get to it this week.

What did you recently finish reading?

Beastslayer by William King (Paperback)

Beastslayer Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

The Burning Road by Harry Sidebottom

The Burning Road Cover

 

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

Waiting on Wednesday – The Bladed Faith by David Dalglish

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 I check out an upcoming fantasy novel with immense potential, The Bladed Faith by David Dalglish.

The Bladed Faith Cover

I recently mentioned that I thought 2022 was going to be an awesome year for fantasy fiction, especially with so many cool and impressive novels coming out.  Well, one of the upcoming fantasy novels that I am most excited for is The Bladed Faith by established author David Dalglish.  Dalglish is an exciting fantasy writer whose novels I have been meaning to check out for the while, especially with interesting works like his Half-Orc, Shadowdance and Paladins series.  It looks like I will finally have the opportunity to try one of Dalglish’s books this year as he is starting a brand-new series with the epic sounding The Bladed Faith.

Set for release in April, The Bladed Faith will be the first book in the planned The Vagrant Gods series.  I have had my eye on The Bladed Faith for a while and I was mostly just waiting for the cover to be released before I featured it in a Waiting on Wednesday article (it did appear on my recent most anticipated reads of 2022 list).  Well, the wait is finally over as Orbit just released the official cover for The Bladed Faith and I must admit it looks pretty impressive and definitely matches the outstanding and exciting narrative.

Synopsis:

A usurped prince prepares to take up the mantel of a deadly assassin and reclaim his kingdom, his people, and his slain gods in this epic fantasy from a USA Today bestselling author.

Cyrus was only twelve years old when his gods were slain, his country invaded, and his parents—the king and queen—beheaded in front of him. Held prisoner in the invader’s court for years, Cyrus is suddenly given a chance to escape and claim his revenge when a mysterious group of revolutionaries comes looking for a figurehead. They need a hero to strike fear into the hearts of the imperial and to inspire and unite the people. They need someone to take up the skull mask and swords and to become the legendary “Vagrant”—an unparalleled hero and assassin of otherworldly skill.

But all is not as it seems. Creating the illusion of a hero is the work of many, and Cyrus will soon discover the true price of his vengeance.

Wow, this sounds like such an incredible book.  The entire story of The Bladed Faith is just so epic, and with a ton of cool suggested content, from the murdered gods to the upcoming rebellion.  The whole deposed prince who takes on the mantle of a mysterious, mystical assassin storyline is loaded with potential, and I cannot wait to see what kind of awesome carnage and intrigue this entails.  I love the hints that his attempts to get vengeance and taking on the mantle of the Vagrant are going to have some major consequences, and it will be fascinating to see who betrays who and what issues the protagonist will have to fight with.  An overall extremely amazing story, this plot synopsis alone is one of the main reasons that I have been really excited for this upcoming book.

The-Bladed-Faith-Cover-2

Based on the awesome story, impressive cover and some of the pre-release buzz I am already hearing about it, I think that The Bladed Faith is going to be an epic and incredible read that I am extremely confident I am going to enjoy.  This great novel has loads of potential and I am looking forward to seeing how it turns out.  Sure to be one of the best books of the year, I honestly believe that The Bladed Faith and The Vagrant Gods series will be a cornerstone of the fantasy genre for years.  A final callout to the cover art associated with this upcoming novel which looks absolutely gorgeous.  Thanks to Petrik at Novel Notions for showcasing the extended covers on Twitter after hosting the cover art reveal on his blog earlier in the week.

The-Bladed-Faith-Cover-3

Top Ten Tuesday – Favourite New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2021

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was 2021 releases I was excited to read but didn’t get to, however, I addressed that topic in my post last week.  So instead of covering that, this week I will look at my favourite new-to-me authors that I discovered in 2021.  This is a list I have covered for the last couple of years (make sure to check out my 2019 and 2020 versions), and it is one that I always have fun doing.

Each year I am lucky enough to read a great number of awesome novels and this often includes some that were written by authors whose work I was previously unfamiliar with.  2021 was a good example of this as there were an incredible collection of amazing novels written by authors who were completely new to me.  This included some debuting authors, as well as more established writers whose work I only got around to this year.  Many of these new-to-me authors produced some truly exceptional reads, some of which I consider to be some of the best books released in 2021, and I really feel the need to highlight them here.  As a result, this list may feature a bit of overlap with my top books, pre-2021 books and audiobooks lists of 2021 that I have previously published on this blog.

To appear on this list, the book had to be one I read last year and be written by an author who I was unfamiliar with before 2021.  If I had not read anything from this author before last year, it was eligible for this latest list, although I did exclude debut novels as I had another list prepared for them.  Despite this, I ended up with a massive list of potential inclusions on this list, as it appears that I read a ton of great new authors in the last year.  Despite my best efforts, I had a very hard time whittling this list down, so in the end I decided to face the inevitable and leave it as a top 20 list.  While I still had to exclude several great authors whose books I really liked, I think that I came up with a good overall list that represents which authors I am really glad that I decided to try out for the first time last year.

Top Twenty List:

William King – Trollslayer, Skavenslayer, Daemonslayer, and Dragonslayer

Slayers Coveres

Well, let us start this list off with an author I read multiple books from in 2021 with William King.  I was in a real Warhammer mood in 2021, and as part of the that I decided to check out the iconic Gotrek and Felix series that was initially written by King.  This great series follows a deranged dwarf Slayer and his reluctant human companion as they travel around the Warhammer Fantasy world looking for a monster bad enough to give Gotrek the heroic death he desperately wants.  I really love this amazing series and I ended up reading the first four of King’s Gotrek and Felix books in 2021, Trollslayer, Skavenslayer, Daemonslayer and Dragonslayer, each of which were a lot of fun.  I have even kept reading King’s books in 2022, having only recently read and reviewed the fifth Gotrek and Felix novel, Beastslayer.  I fully intend to keep reading this series this year when I get a chance, and I reckon I will finish off King’s entire run on this series extremely soon.

 

Jeremy Robinson – The Dark and Mind Bullet

The Dark and Mind Bullet Cover

The other new-to-me author who I read more than one book from in 2021 was Jeremy Robinson, an awesome author known for his over-the-top science fiction and horror books.  I was initially drawn to Robinson’s interesting dark horror read, The Dark, which sets a group of protagonists against a deadly demonic invasion, and which had a brilliant story to it.  I ended up enjoying it so much that I decided to check out any other books that Robinson had coming out in 2021 and that led me to his latest release, Mind Bullet, which follows a psychic assassin who finds himself being hunted by a cadre of unconventional and superpowered hitmen.  I had an absolute blast reading these cool books, and the both received easy five-star ratings from me.  Due to how much fun I had with these books I plan to read a hell of a lot more from Robinson this year, especially as he has some cool releases on the way.

 

Tess Sharpe – The Girls I’ve Been

The Girls I've Been Cover

One of the more interesting authors I checked out in 2021 was young adult author Tess Sharpe who wowed me with her cool novel, The Girls I’ve Been.  This fantastic novel followed a teenage former con-artist who is forced to revert to her old ways to save herself and her friends from vicious bank robbers.  Clever, compelling and deeply thrilling, I have so much love for this novel and I cannot wait to see what cool books Sharpe rights in the future.

 

John Gwynne – The Shadow of the Gods

The Shadow of the Gods Cover

One of the best new-to-me authors I read last year was legendary fantasy author John Gwynne.  Gwynne, who has written some very highly regarded dark fantasy books in the past presented The Shadow of the Gods last year, which was the first book in his new Bloodsworn Saga series.  I initially hadn’t planned to read this book but after hearing so many positive reviews about it I changed my mind and was extremely glad that I did.  The Shadow of the Gods was an epic and captivating read that featured action and adventure in an awesome, Viking-inspired fantasy landscape.  This was such an incredible book (with a really amazing cover) and it made me an instant fan of this author.  I cannot wait to see where this series goes next, and I really need to go back and read some of Gwynne’s earlier series.

 

Mara Timon – Resistance

Resistance Cover

I was also lucky enough to read the fantastic historical thriller Resistance towards the end of last year written by relatively new author Mara Timon.  Resistance was a sequel to Timon’s 2020 debut City of Spies and contains a great story about a female spy dropped into occupied Normandy shortly before the D-Day landings.  This was an excellent spy thriller and I look forward to seeing what other cool books Timon writes in the future.

 

Nate Crowley – The Twice-Dead King: Ruin

The Twice-Dead King - Ruin Cover

Another great new-to-me author of Warhammer fiction I read last year was the insanely talented Nate Crowley who presented his first The Twice-Dead King novel, RuinRuin followed a banished Necron prince as he attempts to save his former empire from internal corruption and destructive outside forces.  Breathing amazing life into essentially dead characters, this was a fantastic and intense Warhammer read that I had a great time with.  I cannot wait to see how the series continues in 2022 and I will also try to read some of Crowley’s other cool Warhammer releases.

 

Kotaro Isaka – Bullet Train

Bullet Train Cover

I was very excited to check out a book from Japanese thriller author Kotaro Isaka last year with Bullet Train.  A translation of his 2010 novel Maria Beetle, this book featured a complex and quirky tale about several assassins trapped on the same bullet train.  I had an incredible time with this book, especially as Isaka loaded it with some amazing twists and very unique characters.  Thanks to the success of this book, and the cool upcoming (if somewhat whitewashed) film adaptation of Bullet Train, several of the author’s other novels are being translated and I look forward to seeing what other crazy adventures he has come up with.

 

Kelly Rimmer – The Warsaw Orphan

The Warsaw Orphan Cover

Another great new author I found in 2021 was historical drama writer Kelly Rimmer whose latest book, The Warsaw Orphan, was an outstanding and powerful read.  Set in Warsaw during the Nazi occupation, this book follows a group of people who attempt to save Jewish children from the Ghetto.  A heartbreaking and riveting read, The Warsaw Orphan was an amazing book and I will be keeping an eye out for more of Rimmer’s stuff in the future.

 

Andy Weir – Project Hail Mary

Project Hail Mary Cover

One of the best books I had the pleasure to read in 2021 was Project Hail Mary, an impressive and clever science fiction novel by bestselling author Andy Weir.  I have been meaning to read some of Weir’s books for years, especially after seeing the movie adaptation of The Martian, but I never got the chance.  As such I was extremely keen to read his latest book when it came out last year and boy did Project Hail Mary deliver.  Containing an epic and brilliant story filled with realistic science, I loved every second I spent reading this book and I honestly could not put it down.  I am now a firm fan of the author and I fully intend to read the rest of Weir’s works as soon as possible.

 

Josh Reynolds – Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty

Kal Jerico - Sinner's Bounty Cover

There was no way that I couldn’t check out fantastic author Josh Reynolds this year especially after I saw that he had brought back one of my favourite Warhammer 40,000 characters, Kal Jerico.  This cool new book, Sinner’s Bounty, sets the titular bounty hunter and his friends on an insane journey into the depths of their Hive City to retrieve a wanted man.  Forced to contend with rival bounty hunters, monsters, mutants, and gangs, this was an amazing read and I will be checking out more of Reynolds’ Warhammer books in the future, especially if they feature Kal Jerico.

 

Sarah Bailey – The Housemate

The Housemate Cover

I was very lucky to grab a novel from amazing Australian author Sarah Bailey this year.  Her latest book, The Housemate, was a brilliant novel that saw a disturbed reporter attempt to solve a notorious crime that had been haunting her for years.  Incredibly powerful, compelling and intense, this was one of the best Australian books of 2021 and I will be very interested to see what other cool books Bailey writes in the future.

 

Steve Cavanagh – The Devil’s Advocate

The Devil's Advocate Cover

Easily one of the more entertaining books I read in 2021 was the fun and wildly addictive legal thriller by Steve Cavanagh, The Devil’s Advocate.  The sixth book in his Eddie Flynn series, The Devil’s Advocate was a great novel that saw its former conman turned defence attorney protagonist attempt to stop a murderous prosecutor determined to send an innocent man to death row.  I had an amazing time with this compelling and over-the-top read, and I now really want to go back and read the rest of the awesome novels in this cool series.

 

Anthony Ryan – The Pariah

The Pariah Cover

Another instant favourite new author I checked out last year was impressive well-established fantasy author Anthony Ryan.  Ryan is another author who I have been meaning to read for a while and it turns out I have been really missing out.  His latest book, The Pariah, was an excellent and compelling first entry in a great new series that follows a young scribe as he journeys around a fantasy world trying to find his purpose.  An epic first book, I cannot wait to see how this series continues and I know I am going to love it.

 

John Grisham – The Judge’s List

The Judge's List Cover

Perhaps one of the biggest names on this list is bestselling author John Grisham, who has been at the top of the crime fiction genre for decades.  Grisham is one of those massive authors whose work I have been meaning to read for a very long time but never got the chance.  Well, that all changed last year when I received a copy of his latest book, The Judge’s List, which sets some clever protagonists against a dangerous serial killer who is also a sitting judge.  I had an incredible time with The Judge’s List, and I am fully planning to check out the rest of Grisham’s catalogue to see what I have been missing out on.

 

Dan Abnett – First and Only

First and Only Cover

Wow there were so many awesome new-to-me Warhammer authors I checked out last year and one of the best was Dan Abnett.  Abnett has written a ton of awesome Warhammer novels over the years, but the first book of his I decided to check out was First and Only, the initial book of his iconic Gaunt’s Ghosts series.  Following a regiment of Imperial Guard soldiers as they fight through a gauntlet of traitors, rivals and conspiracies, this was an outstanding novel and I cannot wait to see what happens in the rest of this impressive series.

 

A. W. Hammond – The Paris Collaborator

The Paris Collaborator Cover

I had a great time checking out thriller author A. W. Hammond for the first time in 2021.  Hammond, who also writes under the name Alex Hammond, produced an exceptional and fun historical thriller last year with The Paris Collaborator.  Set in the last days of the German occupation of Paris, this cool book follows a French investigator who is hired to find several missing men around the city.  Filled with cool action, intense twists and some excellent historical moments, this was a great read and I will be keeping an eye out for more of Hammond’s novels in the future.

 

Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman – All of Us Villains

All of us Villains Cover

I am slightly cheating here by including two authors in the one entry, but as this was the first time I had read anything from either of them and they were collaborating on the same book, I think I can make an exception.  These two authors were Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman, a great team of established authors who collaborated for the first time to create the amazing All of Us VillainsAll of Us Villains was an excellent and entertaining young adult fantasy book that followed seven champions forced into a magical death tournament with the entire world watching.  Loaded with amazing characters and brutal magic, this was an awesome book and I am extremely glad I decided to check out this intriguing team of authors last year.

 

Max Barry – The 22 Murders of Madison May

The 22 Murders of Madison May Cover

I had been meaning to read something from talented Australian author Max Barry for a while, especially as he has written some great and compelling sounding science fiction reads.  I finally got a chance last year when I received a copy of Barry’s latest book, The 22 Murders of Madison May.  This was a cool book that saw a women attempt to stop a deranged stalker from killing every version of his obsession, actress Madison May, in the multiverse.  I deeply enjoyed this complex and entertaining story and I will have to grab some more stuff from Barry in the future.

 

Grady Hendrix – The Final Girl Support Group

The Final Girl Support Group Cover

One author I have been hearing a lot of buzz around over the years is Grady Hendrix, who has written several intriguing and unique horror hybrid novels.  Due to all the positive stuff I have heard about this author I decided to check out one of their books last year with their 2021 release, The Final Girl Support Group.  Set in a world were the survivors of iconic slasher scenarios have formed a support group, this cool novel follows these paranoid and damaged protagonists as they attempt to survive a new monster who is determined to kill them.  An impressive homage to iconic slasher films that cleverly deconstructs the genre, this was a very fun read and I am extremely glad I decided to check out Grady Hendrix last year.

 

S. R. White – Prisoner

The Prisoner Cover

The final top new-to-me author I read last year was Australian author S. R. White, who released their second novel Prisoner.  This was an enjoyable and captivating Australian murder mystery novel that had a very gritty and realistic feel to it, especially in some impressive interrogation scenes.  An excellent novel from a great new author I will have to read more of in the future.

 

 

Well, that’s the end of this latest Top Ten list.  I think it turned out rather well and it encapsulates some of the best new authors I checked out in 2021.  I look forward to reading more books from these authors in the future and I have no doubt they will produce more epic and incredible reads.  Make sure to let me know which new authors you enjoyed in 2021 in the comments below and make sure to check back next week for another exciting list.

The Judge’s List by John Grisham

The Judge's List Cover

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (Trade Paperback – 19 October 2021)

Series: Standalone/The Whistler – Book Two

Length: 359 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Those interested in a tense, complex and brilliant thriller should definitely check out the latest novel from legendary crime fiction author John Grisham, The Judge’s List.

Grisham is an exceedingly talented author who has been producing impressive and distinctive legal-based thrillers since his 1989 debut, A Time to Kill.  Grisham has since written over 40 novels, made up of mostly standalone reads with a couple of series thrown in, such as his Theodore Boone children’s thrillers.  Most of these books have been absolute hits, with several being turned into massive films or other adaptations such as The Firm, The Pelican Brief, The Rainmaker, and The Runaway Jury.  While I have enjoyed some of the movies that came out of his work, I haven’t actually ever read one of Grisham’s novels before.  So when I received a copy of Grisham’s latest book, The Judge’s List, I decided to check it out, not only to finally see how this author writes but because I really liked the sound of its awesome plot.

Throughout America’s long judicial history, no judge has ever been convicted or charged with murder, but that is about to change.  In Florida all criminal accusations against judges are handled by the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct, and their chief investigator is Lacy Stolz.  Still recovering from her ordeals during her last big case and forced to deal with the chronic underfunding affecting her agency, Lacy is strongly considering a new career path.  However, an intriguing new case may relight the fire within her when a mysterious woman contacts her, wishing to report a serious crime.

For years, Jeri Crosby has been hunting the man who murdered her father using every investigative trick and avenue she can find, while concealing her identity behind a series of elaborate aliases.  Jeri finally believes that she knows who killed her father, and her prime suspect is a sitting judge in Florida.  While this judge appears to be a dedicated legal professional, Jeri believes that he is the most dangerous form a serial killer capable of concealing his identity and using his vast legal and forensic knowledge to hide his tracks and keep his very existence secret from the police.

Determined to stop this killer no matter what, Jeri provides all her evidence to Lacy, who she believes can connect the pieces she cannot.  While initially reluctant to investigate a murder, even one potentially committed by a judge, Lacy is eventually dragged into the case by her own curiosity and sense of justice.  However, the suspected killer is no easy target; he is a compassionless psychopath capable of hunting down anyone who has ever wronged him and permanently ending them.  Now he has both Lacy and Jeri on his list of potential victims, and he is coming for both of them!

This was an amazing novel from Grisham which proves that I really should have read some of his stuff a long time ago.  The Judge’s List has a captivating and clever narrative that pits two determined women against a lethal and brilliant killer determined to survive no matter the costs.  Serving as a sequel to Grisham’s previous novel, The Whistler, The Judge’s List was an outstanding thrill ride that I had an incredible time reading.

I deeply enjoyed the amazing story of The Judge’s List as Grisham came up with an extremely clever and impressive thriller narrative.  The author starts things off extremely quickly, reintroducing the protagonist of The Whistler, Lacy Stoltz, and bringing her into contact with new character Jeri Crosby, who tells Lacy the story about the man who murdered her father.  Grisham drip feeds the details of who the killer is and what they have done to the reader, ensuring that they have just enough to whet their curiosity, without overloading them.  Thanks to the compelling and unique story that the clearly fearful Jeri tells, the readers are swiftly wrapped up in the plot, and this brilliant introduction ensures that they will come back for more.  The novel swiftly continues from here as Jeri reveals more details about the murderer she is stalking, setting him up as a real monster who is seemingly supernatural in his ability to avoid detection and destroy those hunting him.  As Lacy gets closer to starting the investigation, you start to get some scenes shown from the perspective of the killer, whose intense and chilling point of view serves as a grim counterpoint to that of the protagonists.  While Grisham initially keeps the identity of the killer hidden during his scenes to help cast doubt on Jeri’s story, you soon get a very good picture of who the killer is and why they are committing their crimes.

This proves to be an exceptional setup for when the killer become aware of the investigation and starts to take some drastic measures to eliminate their pursuers and fulfil their master plan.  I loved the impressive and clever cat-and-mouse game that soon develops as the killer attempts to stay one step ahead of the protagonists while also discovering who they are and how they can be eliminated.  There are some powerful and brutal moments in this second part of the book, and I honestly had a very hard time putting it down once I got concerned for the characters.  This second half of the book was just outstanding and it all leads up to an intriguing and surprising conclusion.  While I might have preferred a more legal-based ending, perhaps with some sort of trial, I appreciated the brilliant moves that the antagonist pulled and it was an overall satisfying and fantastic way to wrap this excellent story up.

I had a great time with the impressive writing style in this book and it has definitely made me want to check out more of Grisham’s work in the future.  The author tells a clever and sharp story, and there are some amazing twists and turns that I didn’t see coming.  I appreciated how the author revealed the identity of the killer quite early in the book and the rest of the narrative follows the protagonists’ attempts to prove it and then catch him, which was a refreshing change.  Thanks to the cool plot point of the killer being a well-respected genius judge, this proves to be a very complex and intense investigation, and you are honestly uncertain if the protagonists will succeed in their investigation.  I found the inclusion of a judicial conduct board to be an interesting investigative base for the narrative, and it was fascinating to see Grisham utilise his legal knowledge to make this organisation and the characters associated with it feel very realistic.  The author’s use of various perspectives worked well here, especially as you get some amazing shots from the antagonists’ point of view, and you really end up with a full and distinctive plot.  I can say with confidence that readers need no knowledge of any of Grisham’s previous books to enjoy The Judge’s List despite it being a sequel to The Whistler.  I deeply enjoyed the story this book contained and the way that Grisham told it, and it proved to be very addictive.

I also need to highlight the great characters contained within The Judge’s List, especially its two central protagonists, Lacy Stoltz and Jeri Crosby.  Lacy is the returning protagonist from The Whistler, and Grisham introduces some great storylines around her that impact how she investigates the case in this book.  Lacy is still traumatised and damaged after the murder attempt that occurred in the first book, which makes her reluctant to get involved with another dangerous case, especially with the increased profile her previous success has given her.  Lacy has also reached a bit of a mid-life crisis here as she is facing stagnation in both her career and her romantic life.  This becomes a major part of her character as the book progresses, and it was interesting to see her try and balance them with her role in the case.  I also liked the intriguing reluctant investigator angle that Grisham worked into this character, as Lacy isn’t convinced that she should be involved with a murder case.  However, her inherent curiosity and sense of justice keep dragging her back into the investigation despite her better judgement, and it makes for an intriguing story angle.  I had a great time getting to know Lacy in this book and I would love to see more of her in the future.

The other major protagonist is Jeri Crosby, who has been hunting the book’s killer for years.  The author does an amazing job with this character, and you soon get introduced to a dedicated woman deeply obsessed with finding the person who murdered her father.  I loved the great storylines written around Jeri, and it was amazing to see the various impacts of her obsession, including failed relationships and estrangements from family.  Despite her obsession, Jeri is a very collected and cautious person who has adapted to hunt the monster that killed her father.  For most of the book Jeri appears to be extremely paranoid, due to her belief that the killer can track down any pursuer and make them disappear, and I loved how Grisham justified her concerns.  Watching this character finally get to bask in the success of her lifelong venture is pretty cool, although I do question some of Jeri’s choices during the final stages of the case.  Still, this was a brilliant bit of character work here and I deeply enjoyed diving into the psyche of this obsessed character.

While I deeply enjoyed the protagonists of The Judge’s List, the true standout character must be its complex and dangerous antagonist who serves as a brilliant counterbalance to Lacy and Jeri.  Grisham has gone out of his way to produce a truly impressive and distinctive antagonist here, and I loved the concept of a murderous judge who uses their position and knowledge to get away with their crimes.  The author sets them up perfectly, first introducing the idea of the killer through Jeri’s eyes, and then fleshing them out in person with several excellent and thrilling chapters shown from their perspective.  From there, you find yourself caught in the mental web of an unrepentant killer, who acts on petty grudges for their own self-satisfaction.  You really get a sense of what this villain is capable as the book continues, and I found myself really starting to hate him, which is enraging as he manages to slip a lot of nets and proves to be near impossible to catch.  Grisham does a brilliant job diving into the head of this great antagonist, and the reader is given a powerful view into their motivations and history, ensuring that they know how and why he became a killer.  I really enjoyed following this excellent antagonist, and I thought that his character arc went perfectly, and it was fascinating to see the lengths they will go to win, no matter the personal cost.

Overall, The Judge’s List was an intense and impressive novel from John Grisham, which is making me really regret not checking out any of his books sooner.  This latest novel had a brilliant and powerful plot that takes the reader deep into the mind of a demented killer.  Filled with complex and compelling character moments and a thrilling and twist-filled narrative, I had an exceptional time reading The Judge’s List and it comes extremely highly recommended.  I will definitely be reading more books from Grisham in the future, and I cannot wait to see what other outstanding novels he has written.

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Throwback Thursday – Beastslayer by William King

Beastslayer Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Paperback – February 2001)

Series: Gotrek and Felix – Book 5

Length: 275 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Welcome back to 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 my latest Throwback Thursday I continue to examine the awesome and exciting Gotrek and Felix series from the Warhammer Fantasy range with the fifth book, Beastslayer by William King.

Readers of my blog will have no doubt noticed my increased consumption of Warhammer novels in the last year as I have really started to get hooked on this cool franchise again.  One of my absolute favourite series has been the epic Gotrek and Felix books, the earlier entries of which are written by talented William King.  This excellent series is set in the Warhammer Fantasy world and follows two compelling protagonists, doomed dwarf Slayer Gotrek Gurnisson and his human companion Felix Jaeger, as they face the monsters, daemons and evil forces of the world in an attempt to find Gotrek a mighty death.  I have had a lot of fun with this series in 2021 and ended up reading the first four Gotrek and Felix books, Trollslayer, Skavenslayer, Daemonslayer and Dragonslayer.  This fifth book was another great entry in the franchise and pits this legendary team against an entire army of evil.

After their harrowing journey to the Chaos Wastes and their epic quest to slay a monstrous dragon, Slayer Gotrek Gurnisson and his chronicler Felix Jaeger continue their adventures throughout the Old Realm.  Once again determined to journey to the most dangerous place possible, Gotrek and Felix find themselves within the Kislev city of Prague, the great fortress city that serves as a bulwark between the Chaos Wastes and the civilised realms of man.  However, this mighty city is in mortal danger as a massive horde of Chaos descends upon it, led by the fearsome Arek Daemonclaw.

Arek, a ferocious and cunning war leader and sorcerer is determined to destroy Prague and lead his forces throughout Kislev and down into the Empire.  To carry out his goals, Arek has amassed one of the greatest armies of Chaos ever seen, filled with Northern marauders, elite warriors blessed by the dark gods of Chaos, beastmen, mutants, monsters, daemons and two sorcerers of unimaginable power.  Their victory over the people of Kislev seems certain, but Gotrek and Felix are used to fighting such impossible odds.

Accompanied by several powerful friends and allies, Gotrek and Felix are resolute in their determination to save Prague and kill as many followers of Chaos as possible.  However, their opponents are well aware of the threat these two companions represent and are doing everything in their power to destroy them.  Forced to confront both the massive army outside the walls and treacherous cultists from within who are led by a powerful member of the Prague court, can even Gotrek and Felix survive this latest attack from hell?

This was another thrilling and fun entry in the Gotrek and Felix series that I had a fantastic time reading.  Beastslayer has another great, action-packed story, and it was awesome to see the series’ two protagonists embark on another epic adventure.  This fifth novel takes place shortly after the events of Dragonslayer and sees the heroes arriving in the city of Prague just before the invading Chaos army arrives.  The story quickly devolves into a bloody siege novel, with the entire city under threat from the massive army outside.  I have a lot of love for siege stories, and this proved to a pretty good one, especially as some of the battles get quite brutal and over-the-top.  While the focus is naturally on the siege itself, King also mixes things up by installing a cool arc about a traitor within the city who is given the task of eliminating Gotrek and Felix.  This amps up the stakes for the heroes and ensures that they are facing threats from all sides.  While I did think that the identity of the mysterious traitor was a bit obvious (I had them pegged before I even knew there was a traitor), this intriguing arc worked out really well and I had a lot of fun with it.  The real highlight however is the final battle between the protagonists and the invading army.  King produces a truly amazing final battle sequence that sees Gotrek, Felix and their friends in one massive extended battle that really stretches them to their limit.  Although the eventual arrival of various allies seemed a tad predictable, it still ended up being an intense final third of the novel and I could not put the book down the entire time the battle was raging.  Throw in some interesting character development and an entertaining, if slightly disconnected, storyline around recurring antagonist Grey Seer Thanquol, and you have a great Gotrek and Felix novel that is really worth checking out.

I really liked the way that King wrote Beastslayer and I honestly think that it was one of the more consistent and compelling entries in the series so far.  King has moved away from having novels with partially separated storylines (such as the first parts of Daemonslayer and Dragonslayer), and instead presented a strong and very self-contained narrative.  Like most of the entries in this series, readers can easily dive into Beastslayer without having any prior knowledge of the series.  King makes sure to revisit and examine most of the key storylines and character moments from the previous novels, ensuring that new readers can easily follow what is happening here without too many problems.  From a series standpoint this is a key entry, wrapping up storylines from the previous novel in a fun and exciting way.  I loved seeing where some of the long-term story elements went, and by concluding a few of them, King sets up the next novel as a bit of a clean slate for new things.  This ended up being a pretty solid action-adventure novel, and I loved all the brilliant fight sequences that King loaded into the story.  These various action sequences are pretty gritty and brutal, and you get a real sense of the destruction and death being dealt around.  I had an outstanding time reading this novel and I think it was one of King’s stronger books.

One of the things that I liked about the Gotrek and Felix series is the slightly limited degree to which the plot relies on the overarching universe.  While this is clearly set within the Warhammer Fantasy world and features several iconic factions, locations and foes, enjoyment of this book is not dependent on known anything about them.  Any fantasy fan can easily dive into Beastslayer without being familiar with Warhammer lore and still have fun, and indeed this is a great introductory series for people interested in checking out the franchise.  There is of course a lot that will appeal to people more familiar with Warhammer and it was great to see some of the iconic locations, such as Prague and Hell Pit, especially as King does a wonderful job fleshing them out (especially Hell Pit, which is filled with some crazy Clan Moulder mutations).  There are also some great references to key parts of Warhammer history, such as the previous siege of Prague, and I enjoyed the continued focus on the lands of Kislev, which are often overlooked in Warhammer Fantasy fiction.  This ended up being a fantastic tie-in to the wider universe, especially as King went all out bringing in various monsters and Chaos foes, and I cannot wait to see where this series goes next.

At this point in the series, the central characters have been well established, and not only are the readers very familiar with the two main protagonists, Gotrek and Felix, but also with some of the main supporting characters, such as Max Schreiber, Ulrika Magdova and Snorri Nosebiter.  As such, there isn’t a great deal of character development in Beastslayer as King was mostly concerned with keeping the status quo.  As such, Gotrek and Felix are pretty much portrayed in the same entertaining way they have been throughout the entire series, with Gotrek being a grim, taciturn badass and Felix being a more sensible but dangerous ally.  There are a few interesting developments surrounding them, such as some fascinating peeks into Gotrek’s past which partially reveal the reason he became a Slayer, and Felix’s continued transformation into a hardened warrior and leader.  Max and Ulrika end up with a bit more development than Gotrek or Felix, with Max becoming more a sympathetic figure whose knowledge of magic becomes an important part of the novel.  Ulrika also goes through a few changes in this book, and it was great to see that annoying relationship with Felix mostly come to an end.  King still struggles a bit when it comes to writing female characters, especially since Ulrika is the only female character of note in the entire novel.  Several other fun recurring characters pop up throughout Beastslayer, although readers shouldn’t get too attached to some of them, especially during some of the climatic and deadly war scenes.

Aside from this great group of protagonists King has also included some interesting antagonists in this novel.  The most prominent of these is Arek Daemonclaw, the leader of the Chaos army attacking Prague and a follower of the dark god Tzeentch.  King does a lot with Arek in a very short amount of time, and he is soon built up to be a dangerous enemy and a real threat to Gotrek and Felix.  Aside from Arek there are a couple of other interesting villains, including some sorcerer twins who have their own agenda, and a mysterious cultist hidden within the city with some complex motivations.  King also makes sure to include the entertaining skaven character Grey Seer Thanquol, who has his own storyline throughout Beastslayer.  Thanquol once again serves as an excellent comic relief for most of the book, and it was entertaining to see all the fun intrigue and betrayal of the skaven.  I did think that Thanquol’s storylines were bit disconnected from the rest of the plot, especially as this is one of the last time we see Thanquol before he gets his own novel, but I still had a fantastic time following him.

Overall, William King’s fifth entry in the epic Gotrek and Felix series of Warhammer Fantasy books, Beastslayer, was a fun and exciting fantasy tie-in novel that I deeply enjoyed.  Featuring a ton of intense violence, a compelling siege-based storyline and some amazing Warhammer Fantasy elements, Beastslayer continued the cool storylines and character arcs established in the previous novels and made sure the reader was constantly entertained throughout.  I had an excellent time reading this awesome novel and I plan to grab the next few books in this series as soon as possible.

Beastslayer 2

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