Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry

Kagen the Damned Cover

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (Audiobook – 10 May 2022)

Series: Kagen the Damned – Book One

Length: 20 hours and 53 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

One of my favourite unusual thriller writers, the legendary Jonathan Maberry, enters the world of fantasy in a big way with Kagen the Damned, a dark fantasy masterpiece with a brutal heart to it.

I have made no secret of the fact that I am a huge Jonathan Maberry fan.  I got into Maberry’s writings when I chanced upon a copy of his 10th Joe Ledger novel, Deep Silence, a few years ago, which introduced me to both Maberry’s unique writing and his iconic protagonist, the titular Joe Ledger, a badass action hero who saves the world from crazy and dark science creations.  I deeply enjoyed Deep Silence (it was one of my favourite books of 2018) and quickly moved onto his other Joe Ledger books, diving back to the start of the series with Patient Zero, and then working my way through the rest of the awesome entries, such as The Dragon Factory, Code Zero, Predator One and Dogs of War.  I also kept up with his latest releases, including the two entries in the follow-up Rogue Team International series, Rage (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2019) and Relentless (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021), and his standalone novel Ink (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2020).  I have been very eager to see what awesome novel Maberry releases in 2022, and, luckily for me, that materialised in the form of Kagen the Damned.

Kagen the Damned is an interesting and unique read from Maberry, as it is his debut foray into the fantasy genre.  While many of his other books have had fantasy elements to them (albeit with a horror edge), this is his first pure fantasy fiction novel, as well as the start of his Kagen the Damned series.  Naturally I was rather curious about how Maberry would transition to a new genre, and while I was a tad disappointed that the Rogue Team International series isn’t getting a new entry any time soon, Kagen the Damned ended up pretty high on my most anticipated reads for 2022 list.  After a few weeks of other books getting in the way, I finally got the chance to listen to Kagen the Damned, and it turned out to be quite an impressive novel.

Kagen Vale was once one of the most trusted and revered fighters in the entire Silver Empire.  A scion of the legendary Vale family, who have served the Silver Empire for generations, Kagen was a beloved member of the royal court and so highly regarded that he was entrusted as the guardian of the Seedlings, the Empresses’ children.  That was until the fateful night when, out drinking and whoring, he was drugged and left for dead.  Awakening in a daze, Kagen found himself in the midst of hell as the capital of Silver Empire, Argentium, was besieged by a foe long thought dead, the dread nation of Hakkia, whose dark magic has once again emerged to blot out the world.

Arriving to the palace too late to save anyone, including the Seedlings, Kagen falls into despair at failing his sacred duty and can only watch in horror as the Gods of the Garden, the deities of the Silver Empire, turn their back on him and damning him for all time.  Now with everything and everyone he has ever known lost forever, Kagen the Damned wanders the ruined countryside a broken drunk, dreaming of revenge on the one man responsible for all his ills, the mysterious and feared Witch-king of Hakkia.

However, not everything is as lost as it seems, as shadowy figures across the world being to formulate their plans to repel the Witch-king’s evil.  As two young women embark on a deadly quest to awaken a sleeping, ancient god from beneath the waves, a covenant of resistance attempts to find their own magic to oppose the Witch-king with.  Determining that Kagen may bear the best chance of recovering the tools needed to succeed, they manipulate events to set him on his path to revenge.  However, what price will a doomed man truly pay to get the revenge he so desperately seeks, and will Kagen be ready for the terrible secrets he uncovers along the way?  Only the gods and the damned know for sure!

Well, it is now more apparent than ever that there is no Jonathan Maberry book I will not enjoy to the extreme.  Kagen the Damned is an incredible and very memorable novel from Maberry, who puts the ‘dark’ in dark fantasy, with this barbaric and action-packed journey into hell.  Making use of his trademark style, flair for horror and exceptional character work, Maberry pulls together a deeply addictive and extremely exciting story that I fell in love with very, very quickly.  This was another easy five star read for me, and I loved every single second I spent reading it.

Maberry once again blew me away with an outstanding and high-action narrative, and I quickly got very attached to Kagen the Damned.  This book has an extremely memorable start to it, showing the bloody fall of Argentium from the perspective of Kagen, who awakens from a drunken haze to find a vast army in his supposedly impenetrable city, destroying and killing everything they see.  This was a very compelling and brutal start the novel, and its one that I quite enjoyed, especially as you see just how dangerous the enemies are and the chaos they have unleashed.  Maberry does a great job of setting up multiple key storylines, settings and characters in this early section, and while the focus is primarily on Kagen, you get some interesting insights into other figures that will impact the rest of the book.  The entire first part of the book is very distinctive and really showcases how dark this novel is going to get, especially when it comes to the character of Kagen and the fate of the royal children.  This whole first section ends on a brilliant note, with Kagen left broken and damned, while the once great Silver Empire, which you only saw glimpses of, is destroyed and replaced with a new world order.

Following this epic start, the narrative slows down a little, as Maberry works to set up some alternate storylines and characters, while as taking the time to do some compelling and extended word building.  Set in the direct aftermath of the opening sequence, the story primarily splits into three different streams at this point, with the main one following a despondent Kagen as he traverses the former Silver Empire, lost in grief and drink.  At the same time, two separate storylines tell some great connected narratives, with one following two young women as they journey off into the unknown, while the rest focuses on the Hakkian takeover back in Argentium.  This focus on the Hakkians and their plans, as told by the Witch-king’s advisors, as well as a resistance group, is very awesome, and it was fascinating to see some impressive political intrigue going on behind the scenes as the antagonists work to consolidate power through various methods.  While the rest of the narrative continues in a straight line, the story around Kagen slowly adapts as he meets some new friends and begins his mission of revenge as planned, with some detours.

This leads up to the excellent final part of the book, which I powered through extremely quickly to see how everything ended.  All three major storylines are reaching there climax here, and they start to blend a lot more closely, especially the ones focusing on Kagen and the Hakkians.  Everything leads up to a highly anticipated confrontation that sees Kagen finally face his enemies, and it is just as epic as I was hoping.  There is a ton of action, tragedy, twists and revelations here, as many of the plot elements and storylines come full circle.  I loved the various reveals that happen here, and most have been set up really well throughout the extended course of the narrative.  I really should have seen the identity of the Witch-king coming, but it was the right choice by Maberry, which leaves some big questions open for the future.  Everyone will come away from Kagen the Damned extremely satisfied, as Maberry leaves everyone on a brilliant note, that ensures that readers will definitely come back for more.  This is an outstanding and deeply addictive narrative that is guaranteed to grab your attention early one and refuse to let go.

I really enjoyed how well Kagen the Damned was written, as Maberry brought his unique style to bear to help create an outstanding story.  In many ways, this novel proved to be essentially one of Maberry’s thrillers set in a fantasy universe.  Indeed, there were a lot of similarities in the style, the structure of the chapter, the pacing and even the use of familiar horror elements that I have previously seen and loved in the Joe Ledger books and I think this cool style worked well to tell an intense fantasy narrative.  As such, Kagen the Damned is a swift and well-structured book that pushes the story along at a swift pace, while also taking the time to build up the universe and the multitude of characters.  Maberry utilises a great range of story elements throughout this novel, and the readers are treated with a fantastic blend of action, intrigue, dark, over-the-top moments, horror, despair and humour, as the characters experience all manner of devastating trials and oppositions.

I also have a lot of love for the way that the author sets up the story and showcases the elaborate events that are occurring.  Maberry makes excellent use of a huge number of shorter, focused chapters told from a variety of viewpoints.  These briefer chapters really increase the pace and intensity of the book, and I deeply appreciated how the narrative quickly jumped across the various characters.  The interplay between the three central storylines, which are primarily anchored around Kagen, is extremely good, and I loved seeing the characters react to some of the same events or actions of their fellow cast members.  These storylines are also joined by a series of interludes that show the various impacts that the Hakkian invasion has on the wider world, especially those attuned to magic.  These interludes are usually very fascinating, and they are often used to introduce some minor supporting characters in a fun and unique way.  I loved the complexity that these interludes usually have, and the often self-contained stories are well structured and always feature a distinctive or chilling conclusion.  Maberry uses these interludes cleverly, often inserting them between major or extremely powerful chapters to help relieve tension, or to remind the reader of the wider stakes or events occurring around the main story.  I definitely enjoyed this larger look at the world that Maberry provided through them, and it was an outstanding part of Kagen the Damned’s story.

One of the major highlights of the writing in Kagen the Damned is the intricately described and fast-paced action, which is a major hallmark of Maberry’s writing style.  Maberry has always excelled at writing brutal fight scenes in a way that paints a vivid mental picture for the reader, and this was once again the case for Kagen the Damned.  The many, many action and fight sequences are brought to life in exquisite and bloody detail, and the reader is easily able to imagine every strike and slice as they happen.  This makes the action sequences really pop, and they were a particularly awesome highlight of this great book.  This focus on action and combat was really effective in this fantasy novel, and it was very cool to see Maberry bring his knowledge of combat and the accompanying writing skill to bear on large scale battles between armed and armoured fighters, while magic and gods blow stuff away around them.  There are some really great fight scenes loaded throughout this book, and I loved every skirmish, battle and duel that was featured within it.

While I did really love the action and brutal combat sequences within Kagen the Damned, I probably should add a warning about how dark and gruesome it can get in places.  Maberry’s writing style has always relied on over-the-top violence, cruelty and brutality to a degree, and this was once again the case in Kagen the Damned, which not only featured a ton of killing but also gruesome scenes of torture, corpse desecration and depictions of sexual violence.  While I think that these ultra-violent moments do work to showcase just how dark and savage the new world order is, they are often a bit hard to witness.  I will note that Maberry did take the time to discuss the emotional and social impacts of the various acts of sexual violence in the book, rather than just including them for gratuitous effect.  There are also some great scenes where the protagonist calls out and belittles several characters willing to commit such acts, before delivering his own violent justice, and I think that the author did his best to show have damaging it can be in his own way.  However, readers should probably be aware that these scenes exist, as people might find them to be a bit shocking.

I was also a major fan of the cool new fantasy universe that Maberry cooked up with Kagen the Damned, mainly because it is such a distinctive creation of the author.  Set on a giant continent made up of various nations, this is an impressive and compelling world, filled with a unique history, gods, people and settings.  The author does a great job of swiftly introducing this world and some of the key parts of its history in the early parts of the book, mainly so that readers can be a little more shocked at the early events and full appreciate the destruction and change that the Hakkian nation brings with it.  Maberry is clearly emulating some classic fantasy novels and settings throughout Kagen the Damned, and I loved seeing this bold new world that he has created.  There are some unique and cool elements featured within, and I liked how there are certain shades of grey shown when it comes to the morality and righteousness of the various factions.  Maberry also takes the time to highlight the changes that are coming to the world, thanks to the return of the Hakkian Witch-king, and the slow and steady resurgence of magic and the death of a certain pantheon of gods, are highlighted really well, both in the main story and the interlude chapters.

Perhaps one of the most distinctive features of this new world is the horror elements that Maberry worked into the plot.  I really should not have been surprised at the strong Lovecraftian elements that featured, as the author has used them strongly in some of his previous books.  However, it is even more explicit here in Kagen the Damned, with several notable Elder Gods playing key roles in the plot and even appearing in some epic scenes.  While I am not personally a fan of Lovecraft, I did quite like how Maberry utilised these elements throughout this book, and they gave parts of the book a darker and more eldritch quality that I quite enjoyed.  This, and certain discussions about other worlds and alternate realities, potentially links this series to some of Maberry’s existing works, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there were some form of crossover in the future, although it would have to be handled well.  I had a great time exploring this new fantasy world in Kagen the Damned, and I look forward to seeing what other surprises and dark gods appear in future entries of this series.

I also must highlight the incredible character work featured with Kagen the Damned, as Maberry went all out to create an excellent and unique cast of characters, whom the excellent narrative revolves around.  There are some amazing characters featured within this novel, and the author works hard to feature all of them in some impressive roles.  I had a lot of fun with the huge cast of Kagen the Damned, and there are deep and emotional figures featured here.

The most prominent and intriguing character is the titular Kagen, who takes on the moniker of Kagen the Damned.  Maberry really does a number on his central protagonist early on, as Kagen awakens from a drunken haze to find that everything he cared about and held dear had been lost while he slept.  Despite his best efforts to redeem himself in the battle that follows, he still fails miserably, and manages to escape the conquered capital in a fractured haze.  Broken, dazed and emotionally destroyed, Kagen becomes even more despondent when he sees his gods in the sky turn their back on him due to his failure to maintain his sacred oaths, which convinces him that he is damned.  Naturally, these events leave him severely emotionally damaged, and he spends most of the book trying to come to terms with his failure while also trying to find some way to get revenge on the Witch-king for all he has done.  A large amount of the book is dedicated to Kagen falling into despair, and Maberry presents a realistic depiction of a man who has lost everything and who is barely able to survive, relying heavily on drink and violence to get through his days.  While Kagen is eventually able to throw off much of this despair, it is still lurking within him, and he is often shown living in regret at his failure, even though no one else blames him as much as he does.  Kagen working through these complex feelings of failure results in much of the novels emotional strength, and Kagen serves as a moving and powerful heart for the entire novel.

While I did deeply enjoy this intriguing central character and his rough and emotional journey through this book, it is hard not to notice some similarities between Kagen and another one of Maberry’s protagonists from another series.  Kagen is in many ways a fantasy version of Joe Ledger, with similarities including a propensity for violence, extreme skill with knives (technically short-swords in Kagen’s case), and even a similar sense of humour during some of the lighter moments of the books.  There is also the same high level of mental damage brought on by extreme trauma, with both characters often seeking revenge against the people who wronged them and those they loved.  Despite these similarities, I still really appreciated Kagen as a protagonist, and I felt that some of his additional elements, such as his complex familiar bonds and strong sense of failure, did set him apart in some key ways.  No matter what, Kagen is a pretty awesome character to follow, and I loved seeing him continue to go through all his dark moments to keep going.

Aside from Kagen, there are several other amazing characters featured in this novel, all of whom have some outstanding storylines around them.  Two of the most prominent are Ryssa and Miri, who were in Argentium when the Hakkians invade.  Both junior members of the Silver Empire’s clergy, the two women initially appear to be primarily concerned with surviving the invasion.  However, it soon becomes apparent that Miri, whose knowledge of the gods and creatures of this world are far greater than they should be, has a different agenda.  Taking Ryssa with her on a big journey to a remote island nation, Miri soon engages in a plot to save the world her way.  Ryssa and Miri make up a fun combination that Maberry weaves some interesting storylines around.  While these characters aren’t explored as deeply as Kagen, you still get a great sense of who they are, particularly Ryssa, who is the primary point-of-view character between them.  Their entire storyline is covered in mystery and uncertainty as Ryssa is left in the dark about what is coming her way.  I liked the religious world-building that went into this character storyline, and there are some excellent moments in it loaded with tragedy and despair.  Even with their storyline being mostly separated from the rest of the characters, and it was a little predictable that Maberry would turn them into a lesbian couple, they had a compelling relationship and I felt that they added a lot to the narrative.

I also had a great deal of fun with the primary Hakkian characters featured in Kagen the Damned.  While they are ostensibly the antagonists of the book, Maberry takes the time to really establish the main four characters and presents them as a lot more complex and even sympathetic in places.  The main Hakkian character is their leader, the Witch-king, a character shrouded in mystery for most of the book.  A previously unknown figure, the Witch-king uses his magic to defeat the entire Silver Empire in a night and then spends the rest of the book trying to set himself up as the legitimate ruler of the land while also advancing the position of his brutal god.  I loved the way that Maberry kept the details about the Witch-king’s past and identity hidden for most of the narrative, although there is some great foreshadowing of his identity scattered throughout the novel.  The Witch-king cuts a fantastic and menacing figure for most of the book, and it was intriguing to see him present himself as a fair and loving ruler, while simultaneously exuding an aura of menace and dark magic.  It was pretty hilarious to see him terrify his key advisors for much of the book, and I loved all the hints about his true objectives.  An overall excellent central antagonist, I look forward to getting more details about him and his history in the rest of the series, especially after the revelations at the end of this book.

The other three key Hakkian characters are the Witch-king’s advisors, the chamberlain Lord Nespar, necromancer Lady Kestral, and newcomer Jakob.  Nespar and Kestral are fantastic characters who spend most of the book administrating the Witch-king’s will, running his empire, hunting for Kagen, and setting up the upcoming coronation of the Witch-king to become emperor.  While they are initially shown to be quite dangerous and evil, mainly due to their role in destroying the Silver Empire and Kestral’s disturbing magic, you eventually see that there is a lot more to them.  In particular, you see that they are actually extremely terrified of the Witch-king and are desperately obeying his will in order to survive.  You actually end up feeling a bit sympathetic for the pair of them, even after you see Kestral tear a corpse apart for a ritual, and I enjoyed the intrigue and politics they got involved with to rule the new empire.  The other character is Jakob, a Silver Empire historian who is drafted into the Witch-king service as his minister for propaganda.  Rechristened as Jakob Ravensmere, he becomes fully compliant in the Hakkian takeover and proves to be a very competent advisor and political mind while also working to rewrite history to increase the legitimacy of the Witch-king.  It was extremely fascinating to see Jakob discussing the control given by those who control history and propaganda, and I really enjoyed his role in the new empire.  It was also fun to see his rather quick slide towards the dark side as he fully embraces the Hakkian lifestyle and even starts to develop a taste for a power.  I always love seeing Maberry’s narrative unfold from the antagonist’s point of view, and this worked out extremely well again in Kagen the Damned.

The final characters I need to highlight are some of the excellent supporting cast surrounding Kagen.  Kagen has two excellent companions who work with him throughout the book, Tuke and Filia.  Tuke is a giant professional thief who recruits Kagen for a job that will help an anti-Hakkian resistance movement.  Tuke serves as the comic relief for much of the book, and I loved the outstanding chemistry he had with Kagen.  The two play off each other extremely well, and their excellent camaraderie and humour were pretty fun to see.  Not only does Tuke have some of the best lines (and the funniest curses) in the book, but he also serves as an emotional sounding board to Kagen, helping him get better after all the tragedy he experienced.  Filia is a strong-willed warrior and former associate of Kagen who finds herself dragged into the chaos around the war and Kagen’s wild adventures.  Filia’s no-nonsense attitude and sarcasm are a great counterpart to the other characters in Kagen the Damned, and I especially liked it when it combined with the humour of Kagen and Tuke.  These characters, and more, really enhanced the overall quality of this impressive narrative, and I loved seeing their powerful storylines unfold in some excellent and enjoyable ways.

There was no way that I was going to check out the new Jonathan Maberry novel in any format other than audiobook.  I have had some outstanding experiences with Maberry’s audiobooks over the years, and all of them have been deeply impressive and extremely enjoyable.  This again proved to be the case with Kagen the Damned, as I had an outstanding time having this dark epic read out to me, especially as it really helped me to absorb all the details of the characters and the impressive new universe.  With a runtime of just under 21 hours, this is a pretty lengthy audiobook to get through, but it is well worth the time investment, especially as it delivers the story in such an awesome way.

Easily the best thing about this audiobook is the outstanding narration from the very, very awesome Ray Porter.  Porter, who is one of my favourite audiobook narrators, who has previously narrated Maberry’s books, as well as contributing his voice to other works like The Apollo Murders and The Sandman audio adaptation.  As such, the moment I heard that Porter was also going to narrate Kagen the Damned, I knew that I had to get this audiobook.  Porter has an amazing ability to move the story along, and his voice is perfect for all the intense action, world-building and intrigue Maberry features in his novels.  I love the way that Porter dives into the various characters featured in the books, with every single person getting their own distinctive voice, while Porter also effortlessly emotes all their emotion to the listener.  This includes a very sinister voice that Porter saves for when the villains are talking or some incredibly dark moments are happening, and having him use variations of this voice to highlight just how brutal a moment is being, is always a great experience.  It also works well when the characters start speaking in the languages associated with the Elder Gods, and the resultant ceremonies and spells are quite spooky to hear in Porter’s voice.

Porter also did a particularly good job at inhabiting the voice of Maberry’s central protagonist, Kagen, and you get a real sense of who he is and the intense pain he is feeling throughout the book.  While the voice Porter uses from Kagen is a little like that of Joe Ledger from Maberry’s other audiobooks (a side effect of Porter ensuring that the main protagonist’s voice matches the tone he uses for basic narration), Porter does add a little more of a growl to it here, which helped to a degree.  This was another incredible performance from Porter, and I am so very glad that they got him back to narrate Maberry’s new series.  I cannot emphasise how outstanding the Kagen the Damned audiobook turned out to be (although I did feature it in my recent best audiobooks from the first half of 2022 list before I’d even finished it), and this is the absolute best way to enjoy Kagen the Damned.

Well, after rabbiting on for nearly seven pages, I think it is exceedingly obvious that I loved Kagen the Damned.  Jonathan Maberry’s latest novel was extremely compelling and deeply exciting, and I was really impressive with the author’s jump to the fantasy genre.  Featuring a clever, complex, and action-packed narrative loaded with destruction, thrilling revenge and some great, damaged characters, Kagen the Damned was an outstanding read and its one that I absolutely flew through.  Kagen the Damned is easily one of the top books of 2022 and this is a favourite new series for me.  I am extremely excited to see where the Kagen the Damned series will go in the future, and the next book, Son of the Poison Rose, is out in a few months’ time, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

Amazon     Book Depository

WWW Wednesday – 27 July 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?

Warhammer: Vampireslayer by William King (Audiobook)

Vampireslayer Cover

Many people will be unsurprised that I have once again drifted back to the world of Warhammer with Vampireslayer, another entry in the Gotrex and Felix series by William King.  Set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe, Vampireslayer is the sixth entry in the Gotrex and Felix series, which follows a mad dwarf slayer and his human companion as they travel across the land seeking out every deadly monster they can find.  As the name suggests, Vampireslayer will see them face off against the hordes of the undead after a deadly vampire takes one of their companions. I have been deeply enjoying this epic series over the last few months, will all the previous entries (Trollslayer, Skavenslayer, Daemonslayer, Dragonslayer and Beastslayer), being extremely fun and loaded with action.  I have only just started Vampireslayer, but it is already proving to be a compelling and awesome read for me and I look forward to seeing what violence and death lies in wait for me.

What did you recently finish reading?

The Lawless Land by Boyd and Beth Morrison (Trade Paperback)

The Lawless Land Cover

 

The Omega Factor by Steve Berry (Audiobook)

The Omega Factor Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

Stay Awake by Megan Goldin

Stay Awake 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 Boys from Biloxi by John Grisham

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 latest Waiting on Wednesday I check out the next brilliant novel from legendary author John Grisham, The Boys from Biloxi.

The Boys from Biloxi Cover

There are many great and impressive crime fiction writers out there now, but one whose work tends to shine over the vast majority is the critically acclaimed John Grisham.  The author of a vast library of novels and with a career spanning over 30 years, Grisham has definitely entered the crime fiction hall of fame, and his focus on legal thrillers has produced some exceptional reads.  I am fairly new to reading Grisham’s work, having only checked out two of his novels so far, last years The Judge’s List and the recent short-story collection Sparring Partners.  Both books were exciting and fun pieces of fiction from Grisham, and I deeply enjoyed their unique and powerful stories.  As such, I have been keeping an eye out for Grisham’s next book and I was pretty pleased to see that he has a new one coming out in a few months with The Boys from Biloxi.

The Boys from Biloxi, which is set for release on 18 October 2022, is a fantastic and gripping sounding crime fiction novel that will combine legal thriller elements with intense character interactions.  Set in the depths of Mississippi, The Boys from Biloxi will follow two lifetime friends who find themselves on opposite sides of a massive family feud.  One protagonist will be the son of the town’s fierce prosecutor, while the other will grow up as part of the criminal underworld.  Throughout the course of this book, this friendship will break down and the two families will face off for survival and pride, with everything eventually being settled in the courtroom.  I love the sound of this awesome book, and I cannot wait to see what sort of elaborate and deeply personal story Grisham will weave together here.  I have no doubt that The Boys from Biloxi will be another exceptional novel from John Grisham, and this may end up being one of the best books of the year.

Plot Synopsis:

#1 New York Times bestselling author John Grisham returns to Mississippi in his most gripping legal thriller yet, the riveting story of two sons of immigrant families who grow up as friends, but ultimately find themselves on opposite sides of the law. Grisham’s trademark twists and turns will keep you tearing through the pages until the stunning conclusion.

For most of the last hundred years, Biloxi was known for its beaches, resorts, and seafood industry. But it had a darker side. It was also notorious for corruption and vice, everything from gambling, prostitution, bootleg liquor, and drugs to contract killings. The vice was controlled by small cabal of mobsters, many of them rumored to be members of the Dixie Mafia.

Keith Rudy and Hugh Malco grew up in Biloxi in the sixties and were childhood friends, as well as Little League all-stars. But as teenagers, their lives took them in different directions. Keith’s father became a legendary prosecutor, determined to “clean up the Coast.” Hugh’s father became the “Boss” of Biloxi’s criminal underground. Keith went to law school and followed in his father’s footsteps. Hugh preferred the nightlife and worked in his father’s clubs. The two families were headed for a showdown, one that would happen in a courtroom.

Life itself hangs in the balance in The Boys from Biloxi, a sweeping saga rich with history and with a large cast of unforgettable characters.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books From My Past Seasonal TBR Posts I STILL Haven’t Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  In this latest Top Ten Tuesday participants need to go back to their old Seasonal TBR lists and see which books from them they have still not read.  This was a very interesting and useful topic to look at as this once again reminds me about all the awesome books out there that I was excited for but which I never got around to reading.

There are quite a few books out there now that I have been meaning to read for a very long time.  Many of these books have been featured to a degree on my blog either through optimistic Waiting on Wednesday posts or in shameful “I wish I had read” Top Ten lists, where I air my great regrets about not checking out a certain release (to be fair, I only have so much time and there are so many awesome books out there).  So now again it is good to go back and see which ones I have missed to remind me of what I need to read and provide some motivation for it.  I just did a similar post last week regarding books from the first half of the year that I still need to read, however, I like the idea of going back and looking at some previous Top Ten Tuesday posts and seeing what other books lie there.

To appear on this list, a potential book needed to be both unread by me and have appeared on a previous Top Ten Tuesday Seasonal TBR post that I have done.  I chose to exclude a couple of my more recent Seasonal TBR posts, namely those from 2022, as that would have just doubled up my list from last week.  Despite these exclusions, there were still several lists to scour for potential entries and I was able to determine several books that would be appropriate for this list.  However, this wasn’t as easy as I had thought, as it turns out I’m pretty good at getting through the books on these TBR lists, and most had been read and reviewed by me.  In the end, I did manage to find 10 entries, as well as a few honourable mentions, and the results below are quite intriguing.  So let us see what made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Providence by Max Barry

Providence Cover

 

Star Trek: Rogue Elements by John Jackson Miller

Star Trek - Rogue Elements Cover

 

The Liar’s Knot by M. A. Carrick

The Liar's Knot Cover

Top Ten Tuesday:

The Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston

The Maleficent Seven Cover 2

 

Gamora & Nebula: Sisters in Arms by Mackenzie Lee

Gamora and Nebula - Sisters in Arms Cover

 

The Righteous by David Wragg

The Righteous

 

The Devil and the Dark Water by Stuart Turton

The Devil and the Dark Water Cover

 

A Fool’s Hope by Mike Shackle

A Fool's Hope Cover

 

Star Trek: The Dark Veil by James Swallow

Star Trek Picard The Dark Veil Cover

 

The Obsidian Tower by Melissa Caruso

The Obsidian Tower Cover

 

Eagle Station by Dale Brown

Eagle Station Cover

 

Shorefall by Robert Jackson Bennett

Shorefall cover

 

Daughters of Night by Lauren Shepherd-Robinson

Daughters of Night

 

 

Well, that ended up being a rather interesting list.  As you can see from the above, there are still several outstanding novels that I really need to read, and I hope that I get the chance at some point in the future.  All 10 of the above sound like incredible reads, and I honestly have not purposely chosen not to read any of them, I just haven’t had the time or ability to check them out.  Hopefully that will eventually change, as I am extremely keen for several of them, and I have no doubt they will be epic reads.

Sparring Partners by John Grisham

Sparring Partners Cover

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (Trade Paperback – 31 May 2022)

Series: Standalone/Short Story

Length: 306 pages

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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In the mood for more legal thriller awesomeness from the mind of legendary author John Grisham?  Then make sure to grab a copy of his new short story collection, Sparring Partners.

John Grisham is an author who needs very little introduction, especially after dominating the thriller field for over 30 years.  However, I must admit that I only recently checked out his work with the 2021 book, The Judge’s ListThe Judge’s List was an extremely captivating novel that saw a determined investigator dive into allegations that a sitting judge was also a devious serial killer.  I really enjoyed this fantastic book and it definitely convinced me that I needed to read more of Grisham’s books.  Well, I recently got the opportunity to do so when I picked up a copy of Grisham’s latest release, the short story collection Sparring Partners.

Sparring Partners is an intriguing book that contains three of Grisham’s compelling short stories.  Made up of Homecoming, Strawberry Moon and the story Sparring Partners, this collection was an awesome and fun read that will really appeal to established Grisham fans.  I personally had a great time with it, and I ended up getting through it in three short intervals, knocking off one story at a time.  All three stories are quite entertaining in their own right, and together they prove to be an excellent and awesome exploration of Grisham’s style and love of the legal thriller.

The first of these stories is Homecoming, which takes the reader back to Ford County, which has served as the fictional setting of many of Grisham’s novels.  This story follows a small group of lawyers who find themselves in a unique situation when a disgraced former colleague returns to the fold.  Homecoming starts when small-time lawyer Jake Brigance suddenly receives a letter from long-lost friend and fellow lawyer Mack Stafford.  Years ago, Mack suddenly and unexpectantly fell off the grid, taking a stack of money from his clients and vanishing to parts unknown.  Considered a legend by the local legal community, Mack left behind a wife and two kids, and no one has ever understood the reasons for his disappearance.  Now, Mack is determined to return to Ford County and wants Jake and his friend Harry Rex Vonner to help navigate the waiting legal difficulties.  But as Jake and Harry work to secure Mack’s return, some members of Ford County are less than eager to see him come back and will ensure that retribution is waiting for him if he does.

Now I must admit that the first entry in this book is probably the weakest, as Homecoming does not have the most gripping narrative of the three short stories in Sparring Partners, mainly due to its low stakes.  However, it still proves to be a very compelling and interesting narrative that sees a disgraced fugitive lawyer who went through a major mid-life crisis attempt to return to the scene of the crime.  Loaded with characters with big personalities, this proves to be a very entertaining entry, and I enjoyed the unique and character-driven narrative that it contained.  Grisham provides some intriguing insights into small-town lawyering, while also taking the time to dive into some of the more significant characters.  There is a great focus on the character of Mack, especially around why he did what he did, and I really enjoyed the moving moments that looked at the impact his actions had on his family.  However, I did think that the story, while fast paced and interesting, was a bit bland and it never really went anywhere.  Still, this was a great introduction to the sort of stories you can expect in Sparring Partners and I had a wonderful time reading it.

The next entry in Sparring Partners is the powerful and intimate story, Strawberry Moon.  Set inside a death row of a prison, Strawberry Moon follows Cody Wallace, a young inmate with only three hours left until his execution.  Waiting for his final moments while his lawyer tries and fails to save him, Cody reminisces on his life and the poor choices, tragedies, and an unfair system that led him there.  But as the last minutes of his life tick away before him, Cody has just one request to the guards around him, one that will make all the difference in the world to him.

Strawberry Moon was the most powerful and heartbreaking of all the three stories contained within Sparring Partners and it serves as the emotional heart of the entire volume.  Grisham paints a grim and realistic picture of a young man who is about to be executed, by examining this remarkable figure’s remaining three hours.  Grisham has produced a deeply compelling and concise narrative that reader will swiftly get drawn into.  The story of Cody Wallace is beyond tragic, and the slow reveal of what he did and why he is about to die really gets to you, especially as it is interposed with scenes from his current existence and mentality, which has resulted in spending half his life in death row.  Watching Cody take pleasure in some of the little things he has as he waits to die is extremely moving, as are his final interactions with some of the more important people in his life, even if they are only passing acquaintances.  This story also serves as a rather blistering indictment of the death penalty system, and Grisham really got his point across extremely well, showing a mostly innocent person get killed for reasons outside of his control.  Easily the best of the three stories contained within Sparring Partners, I had an incredible time with Strawberry Moon, and you will get hit hard in the feels when you read this one.

The final story is the amusing and fast-paced story Sparring Partners, which shares the name of the volume.  Sparring Partners follows the unusual firm of Malloy & Malloy, a storied, family-operated law firm that is going through its greatest challenge.  With the Malloy family patriarch currently in prison for murder, the two remaining Malloy lawyers, brothers Kirk and Rusty, attempt to manage the firm in his stead.  However, the two brothers are polar opposites of each other and have very different ideas about how the firm should be run.  With their feud reaching an all-time high, the firm is in dire straits, and only their neutral colleague, Diantha Bradshaw, seems capable of saving it from ruin.  But Diantha has very different plans, and the firm of Malloy & Malloy may be in some real trouble.

This final story is a great entry as well, and it is definitely the most entertaining piece in the entire book.  Following a law firm in crisis, this was a fantastic and fun blend of legal thriller and family drama, as the entire lawyer family goes at each other trying to win.  Grisham sets the entire scenario up extremely well and shows the multiple conflicts, manipulations and twists in an awesome way.  None of the characters in this story are likeable, and it proves quite enjoyable to watch them fight and bicker throughout Sparring Partners, especially as many of them get what they deserve at the end.  While this entry did feature an extremely convoluted murder and investigation, which was a bit silly, there were a lot of good elements in Sparring Partners, and I had an awesome time getting through it.  A fantastic concluding story for this excellent book!

Overall, Sparring Partners was an interesting read to get through, and I quite enjoyed the various snapshots into Grisham’s imagination and writing style.  All three stories have some excellent merits, and while they aren’t the author’s best work they were very entertaining and compelling.  I loved the mixture of legal scenarios and interesting characters featured within this book, and Grisham’s ability to craft together a concise story even in shortform was on full display.  While Sparring Partners is very accessible to readers unfamiliar to Grisham’s previous works, this is probably best enjoyed by those fans of the author who are hankering for more of his unique stories in between books.  I had a great time reading it and it gave me some more insights into an author I am still not amazingly familiar with.

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The Law by Jim Butcher

The Law Cover

Publisher: Podium Audio (Audiobook – 5 July 2022)

Series: The Dresden Files – Book 17.5

Length: 3 hours and 22 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Amazon

Prepare to dive back into the wild world of Jim Butcher’s iconic Dresden Files series with the latest impressive novella, The Law.

Readers of this blog might have noticed that I usually don’t go out of my way to read too many novellas or short stories and instead usually focus on full-length novels and comics.  This isn’t so much a deliberate choice as I just prefer whole books I can really sink my teeth into.  However, I had to make an exception for the latest Dresden Files novella that Jim Butcher just dropped, as I have been deeply enjoying this epic series.

The Dresden Files are a long running series of urban fantasy novels that follow protagonist Harry Dresden, a wizard who protects the people of Chicago from the magic beings and creatures they don’t even know exist.  People may remember that I first got into the Dresden Files back in 2020 when I checked out the 17th entry in the series, Battle Ground.  While I did enter this series late in the game, I still had an outstanding time with Battle Ground and it ended up being one of my top books and audiobooks of 2020.  In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I went back and started reading the series from the beginning.  So far, I have been able to read the first four Dresden Files novels, Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril and Summer Knight, all of which have been pretty impressive and captivating reads.  This dive into the older novels, plus my lingering enjoyment of Battle Ground, ensured that I was ready and eager for any new Dresden Files content that came my way, and Butcher just delivered with his latest novella, The Law.

Set a month after the events of Battle Ground, The Law sees Harry Dresden and the city of Chicago still recovering from the invasion of the Titan Ethniu and her forces, which resulted in significant destruction.  However, Dresden is primarily mourning the tragic death of his love, Karrin Murphy, and even his new responsibilities as lord of a castle and protector of Chicago isn’t enough to keep his mind off his loss.  Determined to snap Dresden out of his funk, his friends decide to get him back to basics and introduce him to someone in need of a good investigator.

Enter Maya, a former prostitute turned tutor whose grassroots education company helps to supplement the education of Chicago’s working-class children.  Working hard, Maya has managed to turn her tutoring business into a viable, if low-profit, franchise that prioritises helping as many children as possible.  However, Maya’s past life is about to come back to haunt her in the form of her former pimp, Tripp Gregory, who initiates a bogus lawsuit against Maya’s company for a ridiculous sum.  Unable to afford a lawyer and desperate for help, Maya has no choice but to turn to Chicago’s resident miracle worker, Harry Dresden.

Deciding to the take on the case and hoping to quietly warn Tripp away from Maya, Dresden soon discovers that sometimes the most dangerous opponent is a greedy idiot concerned only for themselves.  Worse, Tripp and the case have unexpected connections to the magical world, with dangerous players taking an interest in its outcome.  Forced to deal with old and new foes of considerable power, Dresden will need all his wit and will if he is to save Maya’s business and ensure that justice is found.

Well, that has gone a long way to convincing me to check out more novellas in the future.  The Law was an epic read that took Butcher’s always outstanding Dresden File’s protagonist on a short, but extremely sweet, adventure.  Bringing Butcher’s usual flair and style, while also expanding on events from the last book, The Law was a great read that gets a full five-star rating from me.

Butcher pretty much teaches a master class on how to do a short, concise and captivating story here in The Law as, despite its length, this novella had an impressive and fun narrative that I found to be utterly addictive.  Not only does it serve as a great follow up to Battle Ground but it showcases some amazing character work while presenting the protagonist with an intriguing new adventure.  The story is so much fun, and I loved how it started as seemingly non-magical job and then morphed into something more dangerous and problematic as Dresden finds that it has connections with the magical world that forces him to deal with some of Chicago’s key players, including some old enemies.  Bringing a small but enjoyable amount of legal thriller aspect to the series’ usual urban fantasy crime fiction style, The Law goes in some fantastic directions, as Dresden attempts to placate all the players while also serving his client.  There is a great bit of action, a ton of humour, some intriguing revelations, and even some pretty dark moments, which combine extremely well to create quite the impressive narrative.  I loved how Butcher wrapped the entire novella up, especially with that one conference scene near the end, and the reader comes away very satisfied and entertained with the entire affair.  I cannot emphasise how great this story was, and I was so damn enthralled by it that I nearly finished it in an entire sitting.

One of the things that I particularly liked about The Law is the way that it serves as a bridging novella between Battle Ground and any future entries in the series.  Butcher spends a lot of time in this story looking at the aftermath of the previous novel, especially as Battle Ground featured that epic battle that saw Chicago nearly levelled.  As such, Butcher packs The Law with a ton of callbacks to the events of the last book, and there is a huge focus on how the various characters are dealing with the aftermath, especially Dresden.  There is also a very fascinating look at the rebuilding that is occurring during this time, as well as the current state of the citizenry, many of whom are traumatised or damaged because of a battle most of them couldn’t even fully comprehend.  I really appreciated seeing the various figures featured in The Law remembering or trying to understand the events of Battle Ground, whether they are a magical person who lost someone, a normal person who went through hell, or even one of Dresden’s Knights of the Bean, who now bear a dark connection with the protagonist.  Some of the details that came out as a result are deeply fascinating, and there are even a few hints about where some potential future storylines might go, such as increased Government awareness of magic (you see evidence of them covering up the events of Battle Ground here), or the increased fear that might lead to humans attacking magic kind in the future.  All of these are featured heavily in The Law, and I liked how it was well utilised for the current story, while also showing fans of the series how different the landscape of Chicago will be in the future.  I would say that this focus on the aftermath of Battle Ground did make The Law a little less accessible to those readers who haven’t read the latest Dresden Files novel, however, I think that if you are interested in reading this, then you should definitely read Battle Ground first.

I also must talk about the great character work featured in The Law.  Despite its shorter length, Butcher manages to fit a decent number of characters in The Law, and there are some impressive character arcs and development that occurs as a result.  Naturally, most of this is focused on series protagonist and central point-of-view character, Harry Dresden, who puts on his usual brave face for most of this novella, bringing his usual insights and wicked humour to the new case.  However, it soon becomes very apparent that Dresden is still heavily traumatised by the events of Battle Ground, where he lost so much because of the war.  Despite his best efforts to hide it, Dresden is a wreck for much of the story, and it was quite confronting and moving to see him experience blackouts and emotional strains due to the tragedies he has experienced.  I think that Butcher covered his protagonist’s trauma and grief in a pretty realistic way, and I liked how he tried to use an old-fashioned investigatory case as a coping method for Dresden.  It was great to see Dresden going back to his roots as a private investigator after the chaotic and world-altering events of the last few books, and it was interesting to see how much the character’s powers, methods, insights and choices have changed as a result of everything he’s seen.  The Law ended up being quite an intense and fantastic look in the recovering Dresden and readers will like seeing his emotional damage, his recovery, and even some of his darker moments that are contained within this excellent novella.

Aside from Dresden, The Law features an excellent array of supporting characters, who bring a lot to the narrative.  Butcher made sure to include a combination of new faces and existing characters to fill out the cast, and I had a blast with how they were utilised throughout.  Several of the funniest and most interesting recurring figures from the series had substantial roles here, including Bob, Gentleman John Marcone, and even Mab, and each of their appearances and interactions with Dresden were entertaining and fitting with their previous appearances.  I enjoyed many of the great new characters that Butcher introduced here.  Some of them, including a devilish lawyer with a shrouded identity, may come back in the future, and it will be interesting to see how they are utilised.  I also enjoyed main antagonist, Tripp Gregory, mainly because he was so different that Dresden’s usual antagonists.  Rather than being a magical creature or a major threat, Tripp is a normal and rather idiotic criminal, who has a surprising power: he’s too stupid to believe in magic and too self-centred to avoid all the trouble Dresden is bringing his way.  Dresden’s reactions to having to deal with such a selfish and unusual opponent makes Tripp’s inclusion totally worth it, and I had fun seeing his arc unfold.  These characters, and more, were awesome inclusions to The Law, and their unique inputs added a lot the quality and entertainment value of the entire novella.

Finally, a quick note on the audiobook format, which was how I enjoyed The LawThe Law audiobook has a very short run time of just over three hours and is a relatively easy audiobook to get through.  I always find myself really getting into Butcher’s excellent stories in this audio format, and this continued here with The Law, and it really helped me enjoy all the novella’s fun and entertaining details.  Probably the biggest thing about The Law audiobook was the choice of narrator.  I was deeply, deeply shocked when I discovered that long-time Dresden Files voice actor, the legendary James Marsters, wasn’t narrating The Law, and instead Butcher himself took over and voiced the entire thing.  Surprisingly, this ended up working out rather well and Butcher turned out to be a pretty competent and enjoyable audiobook narrator.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s no James Marsters (a point Butcher makes up-front, after promising Marsters would come back for future novels), but he does a really good job considering his lack of experience.  All the characters are given good, distinctive voices that fit their personalities and showcase their emotions and reactions perfectly.  His voice for Dresden was particularly good, and Butcher captured his creation’s cocky nature and damaged inner self perfectly.  While some of the accents he did were a little iffy, this was an overall fantastic performance from Butcher, and it was fun to see him contribute to his work in this way.  The Law audiobook ended up being an excellent and impressive way to enjoy this fantastic story, and it is easy the format I would most strongly recommend.

Jim Butcher continues to expand his epic Dresden Files series in some fantastic ways with the new novella, The Law.  Containing a compact, but highly impressive story loaded with some of Butcher’s best characters, The Law proved to be extremely entertaining and a lot of fun to get through.  Serving as a perfect follow-up to the major events of the last novel, The Law was an excellent and powerful entry in this long-running series that is a must read for all Dresden Files fans.

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Throwback Thursday – Warhammer: Van Horstmann by Ben Counter

Van Horstmann Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Paperback – 1 February 2013)

Series: Warhammer Fantasy

Length: 415 pages

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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 review another awesome Warhammer Fantasy novel, the compelling and unique Van Horstmann by Ben Counter.

Another week, another Warhammer tie-in novel that I must review.  I have been really diving into this franchise over the last year; to be fair, there are some incredible books there, including the two 2022 Warhammer 40,000 releases that got a full five-star rating from me, Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh! by Nate Crowley and Assassinorum: Kingmaker by Robert Rath.  Some of the best of these books are tie-ins to the now destroyed Warhammer Fantasy universe, including the novel from last week’s Throwback Thursday, Runefang by C. L. Werner.  Well, my current obsession with all things Warhammer continued again as I recently read the awesome Van Horstmann by Ben Counter.  Counter is a well-established author of Warhammer fiction, having made a ton of impressive contributions to the franchise, including his Grey Knights and Soul Drinkers series, as well as his entries in the massive Horus Heresy series.  I was really drawn to Van Horstmann when I picked it up, not only because it has a great cover (love a cover with a dragon on it), but because of its intriguing plot, which sounded extremely awesome.

In the human realm known as the Empire, magic has been feared and mistrusted through most of its history, with practitioners hunted down and burned at the stake.  However, following the Great War against Chaos, the elven mage Teclis was allowed to train various talented humans in the use of magic, establishing the eight Colleges of Magic that train scholars and battle mages to help the armies of the Empire.  Out of all the colleges that were formed, the most revered are the College of Light, whose powerful light magic can be used to push back the darkness of Chaos.

Years after its formation, a young wizard manages to find the College of Light, hidden behind a magical barrier in the Imperial capital, Altdorf.  This wandering wizard, Egrimm van Horstmann, is a talented young mage whose desire for knowledge and skill at manipulating the Wind of Hysh immediately impress his new teachers, and many believe that he will rise high in the order.  However, van Horstmann has a dark secret that burns deep within him, and knowledge, power and ambition aren’t the only reasons for his joining the Light Order.

As van Horstmann rises in the ranks of his order, it soon becomes apparent that he has a diabolical plan.  Working with dangerous forces, including daemons, cursed items and even the Chaos god Tzeentch, van Horstmann begins to manipulate his order, the other colleges, and even the emperor to get what he wants.  But the closer he gets to achieving the goal, the more enemies he makes, and soon factions within the Light Order and the greater Empire begin to move against him.  Can van Horstmann succeed in his mission before his dark purpose is discovered, or will his dastardly designs unleash the great and uncontrollable power hidden at the very heart of the College of Light?

This was an impressive and deeply captivating Warhammer Fantasy novel, and I absolutely loved the elaborate and clever narrative that Counter came up with.  Focusing on an intriguing villainous figure and crafting an addictive story around him that also explores key aspects of the franchise’s lore, Van Horstmann was an outstanding novel, and it was probably the best Warhammer fantasy novel I have read so far.

Counter has come up with an excellent and impressive narrative for Van Horstmann, which, as the name suggests, is completely focused on the character of Egrimm van Horstmann.  For those who don’t know, van Horstmann was a minor special character for the Chaos army in some of the earlier editions of the games, but he didn’t have that much background or lore surrounding him.  I personally knew him due to his name being associated with one of my favourite magical items available to Empire armies in the later editions, Van Horstmann’s Speculum, which is a very fun surprise for an unwary foe (I have fond memories of using Van Horstmann’s Speculum in a game to switch stats between my Master Engineer and my brother’s Manfred von Carstein in a duel.  The look on his face as his ultimate general was suddenly weaker than my minor hero was just hilarious).  However, Counter manages to take the short background summary of the character and uses it as the basis for this novel, expanding on the tale of van Horstmann and showing how and why he infiltrated the Light Order and ended up betraying them, which results in an epic story.

Van Horstmann has a bit of a slow start to it, as Counter takes the time to set up key parts of the story, including an intriguing prelude that examines the first wizards of the Empire and their darkest secret.  From there, the story introduces the main character, van Horstmann, and shows his entry into the Light Order and his start as a student.  The story gets quite interesting after this, especially as you see van Horstmann involved in a demonic exorcism, which quickly highlights just how ruthless and cunning he can be.  The story picks up pace from there as you begin to witness van Horstmann’s inevitable rise to power as the full scope of his desire and despicable nature become fully apparent.  Most of the middle of the book showcases the characters careful and evil manipulations, as he manages to fool everyone and become more and more powerful through deals with daemons and the Chaos gods.  There are some brilliant scenes here as you witness the full scope of his plans, from a great battle scene against the skaven, to organising several duels between the various magical factions, all in the name of gaining power.  Counter really does a good job of showcasing this viewpoint through multiple perspectives, and while much of the focus is on the gloating van Horstmann, you also see how his actions impact several supporting characters, many of whom start to get suspicious.  The entire narrative has a great dark fantasy edge to it, that occasionally borders on horror (especially when the character interacts with some of the daemons and their dark gods), and I found myself really getting drawn into this story once everything had been set up.

This leads up to the epic conclusion that sees van Horstmann’s master plan enter its final phase while his enemies begin to realise his evil nature.  This ended up being an extremely impressive conclusion, and it really becomes apparent just how much stuff Counter had set up in the first two-thirds of the book.  Everything comes together here, as compelling story elements such as van Horstmann’s long-term plans, his troubled past, all his terrible actions while part of the order, the revelations about the foundation of the Light Order, several great secondary character arcs, and the attempted investigation by van Horstmann’s enemies, all pay off.  I really appreciated the brilliant and dark way that these storylines worked out, and there are some great revelations, especially around van Horstmann’s motivations and the full scope of his careful actions.  I loved the deep and very personal reasons behind the events, especially as van Horstmann has some extremely fantastic revenge planned, which was pretty epic to behold.  The entire novel ends on a brilliant note that sets up the character for his future appearances as a special character in the tabletop game, while also stabbing home that van Horstmann isn’t the absolute master manipulator that he thought it was.  This clever conclusion was the perfect ending to this gripping plot about a conniving and dangerously intelligent villain, and it was so much fun to see how everything ended.  These final pages and the outstanding conclusion they contained, definitely increased the overall awesomeness of the entire narrative, and seeing just how well every great twist and turn was set up is incredibly awesome.

This ended up being an excellent addition to the overall Warhammer Fantasy canon, and Counter did a wonderful job of working this elaborate and impressive story into the wider universe.  As I mentioned above, Van Horstmann adapted basic character notes from an older game book, and I felt that Counter expanded on all these details extremely well, working them into the wider history of the Empire.  There are some great explorations of several key factions throughout this novel, particularly the Empire and some of the forces of Chaos, and the reader really gets an impressive view of the iconic setting of Altdorf, where much of the narrative takes place.  However, the most detailed and fascinating part of Counter’s dive into the Warhammer Fantasy world revolves around the exploration of the Colleges of Magic in the Empire.  Without a doubt, Van Horstmann contains some of the best explanations of how human wizards perceive magic that you are every likely to see in a Warhammer novel and Counter spends a ton of time examining this.  While some of the explorations surrounding magic do get a bit overly metaphysical for their own good, they are always pretty compelling to see, and I loved how there is a fun focus on the various different orders of magic, especially Light and Gold magic, as there are some awesome fights between these groups.  However, it is the Light Order that gets the most attention in this novel, as the main character is nominally a member of this group.  There is so much detail put into showcasing the Light Order’s elaborate, hidden headquarters, as well as how their particular brand of magic works, and you come away with a pretty intense understanding of this, which I deeply enjoyed.

Now, due to the sheer level of intriguing detail and Warhammer Fantasy lore contained within this novel, Van Horstmann is a book best enjoyed by those already a fan of the franchise.  Counter dives into some fantastic and occasionally obscure parts of the lore, and established Warhammer fans will really appreciate the clever touches and revelations featured within.  That being said, Counter also spends time ensuring that new readers will be able to follow the narrative rather easily, and a lot of the book’s exposition is spent establishing the history, magical elements, and some of the key factions for new readers.  As such, pretty much anyone who loves a good dark fantasy story can easily enjoy Van Horstmann as a novel, and I am sure that most people will have an excellent time with its very clever and intense narrative.  However, Warhammer fans are going to get the most out of it, and this probably isn’t the best first book for those readers interested in exploring the Warhammer Fantasy universe (the Gotrek and Felix novels, such as Trollslayer, would be my recommendation).  Nevertheless, this is an exceptional Warhammer Fantasy read that will appeal to a wide cadre of readers.

There is some great character work featured in Van Horstmann, which naturally focuses primarily on the titular character.  Counter really gets into the mind of van Horstmann in this book, and while most of the time you only see the supremely confident wizard who delights in manipulating men, wizards and daemons, there is a lot more under the surface.  This includes a tragic backstory that serves as the motivation that drives him to do all the terrible things he wants to do here.  While it would be rather easy to hate this character, especially with his inherent arrogance, I found myself getting drawn into his multiple plots and machinations, and you end up rooting for him just to see how all his plans unfold.  Despite that, it is also quite fun to see misfortune strike him, especially the fun twist at the very end of the book where his overconfidence comes back to bite him in a big way.  I had an outstanding time following van Horstmann in this fantastic novel and he proved to be a very fun central figure in this book.

Due to the massive focus on van Horstmann, Counter doesn’t spend a lot of time building up a lot of the side characters.  Despite that, there are a few interesting supporting characters and storylines that add a fair bit to the narrative and which have some compelling connections to the main plot.  Various members of the Light Order are featured throughout, and I liked the way that Counter portrayed them as mostly being quite full of themselves and unable to consider treachery from within their order.  Watching them get taken down a massive peg by van Horstmann is a little satisfying at times, especially when their fates are well deserved, although there are a few tragedies thrown in at the same time.  Other great characters include the manipulative Skull of Katam, a sentient magical skull who guides van Horstmann for its own reasons, and who served as an untrustworthy accomplice for a good part of the book.  Finally, there is also the interesting character of Witch Hunter Argenos, a rabid religious zealot who hunts agents of dark magic and the Chaos gods.  Argenos serves as a good counterpoint to many of the more magical characters, and his deep drive and desire for religious justice, helps to turn him into an excellent threat to van Horstmann.  These side characters, and more, have some interesting moments in the book, and I liked their excellent contributions that combined with Van Horstmann’s main tale in some fantastic ways.

Containing an addictive, powerful and brilliant story, Van Horstmann by Ben Counter is an incredible and awesome Warhammer Fantasy novel that follows a fantastic villain as he dives deep into the world of magic.  I loved the elaborate and captivating tale of revenge and dark power that Counter came up with here, and readers will swiftly get drawn into this amazing novel.  An excellent in the Warhammer Fantasy canon, Van Horstmann is an exceptional read that comes very highly recommended.

WWW Wednesday – 20 July 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 Lawless Land by Boyd and Beth Morrison (Trade Paperback)

The Lawless Land Cover

I just started reading this impressive new historical fiction novel from the excellent team of Boyd and Beth Morrison.  Set in 1351, The Lawless Land follows an honourable and skilled knight who finds himself dragged into a massive conspiracy that seeks to engulf all of Europe.  I am already a major fan of this intense and captivating novel, and it is proving to be an excellent overall read.

 

The Omega Factor by Steve Berry (Audiobook)

The Omega Factor Cover

I have also just started listening to the new Steve Berry novel, The Omega Factor.  Berry, who has previously impressed me with his Cotton Malone novels (including The Malta Exchange, The Warsaw Protocols and The Kaiser’s Web), has returned with another intriguing modern thriller focused on historical events that follows a new protagonist who gets caught in a war between two ancient and secret religious orders.  I haven’t gotten too far into The Omega Factor yet, but it is shaping up to be a very interesting and fun book.

What did you recently finish reading?

Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry (Audiobook)

Kagen the Damned Cover

 

Conviction by Frank Chalmers (Trade Paperback)

Conviction Cover

 

The Law by Jim Butcher (Audiobook)

The Law Cover

 

The Crimson Thread by Kate Forsyth (Trade Paperback)

The Crimson Thread Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor

Dirt Town 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 – Downfall by Louise Carey

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.  Is this week’s Waiting on Wednesday I check out an awesome upcoming science fiction thriller with Louise Carey’s third book, Downfall.

Downfall Cover

Over the last couple of years, I have been really getting into one of the more unique and compelling new science fiction series with the Inscape books by intriguing new author Louise Carey. This fantastic series is set in a dystopian future and follows an impressive pair of protagonists, security agent Tantra and brilliant scientist Cole, as they investigate a dangerous conspiracy in a cyberpunk setting, filled with controlling mega-companies and unique technology hardwired into their brains.  This series started with Inscape, one of my favourite debuts of 2021 which perfectly set up the characters, story and setting, and really grabbed the readers attention.  Carey perfectly followed this great debut off with a sequel earlier this year, Outcast.  This second novel brought back the characters from Inscape and set them to investigate another conspiracy, this time with massive implications for everyone they know.  Ending on a massive and powerful cliff-hanger, Outcast was an extremely awesome book, and I had an outstanding time continuing this brilliant series.

As such I have been quite excited to see how the Inscape books continued and I was very happy to find out some details of the next entry.  It looks like Carey will be concluding this series early next year with the third and final book, titled Downfall.  Set for release in January 2023, Downfall will see Tantra and Cole have their final confrontation with their former company InTech.  This new book has an outstanding plot, and I cannot wait to see how some of the established storylines are wrapped up.  I imagine we’ll be in for a rough and powerful time, as the protagonists will be forced to take on old friends who are now under the complete mental control of InTech, including Tantra’s former girlfriend.  I cannot wait to see how Carey ends everything in this final book and I have a strong feeling that Downfall is going to be a particularly impressive read.  I look forward to getting this book in a few months and I already know I am going to have a great time reading it.

Synopsis:

The exhilarating conclusion to the dystopian thriller series which started with Inscape, described as ‘chillingly plausible’ by Claire North.

THE SAFETY OF INTECH’S RESIDENTS IS PARAMOUNT.

INSURRECTION WILL NOT BE TOLERATED.

Tanta and Cole may have stopped the mass murder of InTech’s residents, but the cost was severe. Despite their efforts, Harlow 2.0 – the update to InTech’s mind-based operating system – fed out. Now its citizens are compliant zombies, and Tanta and her crew are trapped underground.

All except for Fliss, who has no system to update. She alone can go outside, and it’s Fliss the crew are relying on to help get them out.

For only then can they dismantle the damage Harlow 2.0 has done. If Tanta, Cole and InTech’s residents are to truly be free, it needs to be destroyed. But Tanta knows that task will put her on a collision course with the corporation that raised her, her oldest friends, and the woman who was once her soulmate.

And this last mission might ask more of her than she’s able to give.

Top Ten Tuesday –Novels from the First Half of 2022 I Still Need to Read

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 get a freebie so I thought I would continue my literary examination of the first half of 2022 by looking at the top books from the first half of the year that I still need to read.

While I have already enjoyed some amazing reads in 2022, there are still quite a few impressive novels that have come out in the first half of the year that I have yet to read.  Many of these were on my most anticipated reads lists for 2022 (both fantasy and other), and while I was really excited for them, I have honestly not had a chance to check all of them out.  Therefore, I am going to use this freebie session to shame myself in the hopes that it gets me into gear to finally get around to checking out these epic reads.  This was a very easy list to pull together for me, as many of these books had been weighing on my mind for a while.  All 10 novels below (plus honourable mentions) sound really, really good, and I hope I get a chance to read all of them soon.

Honourable Mentions:

Queen’s Hope by E. K. Johnston

Queen's Hope Cover

 

The Bladed Faith by David Dalglish

The Bladed Faith Cover

 

An Empty Throne by Robert Fabbri

An Empty Throne Cover

 

Road of Bones by Christopher Goldin

Road of Bones Cover

Top Ten List:

The Omega Factor by Steve Berry

The Omega Factor Cover

I am probably going to listen to an audiobook version of The Omega Factor next, so hopefully this will not be on my to-read list for too much longer.

 

The Martyr by Anthony Ryan

The Martyr Cover

Following on from last year’s epic read, The Pariah, I have been extremely keen for this book, and I know I am going to love it.  I got a physical copy of The Martyr a few weeks ago but I have not had a chance to pick it up yet.  I was actually holding out for an audiobook version of The Martyr (I really enjoyed The Pariah audiobook last year), although apparently The Martyr’s audiobook isn’t out till September.  Not sure if I will be able to wait that long to find out what happens in this cool sequel, although it might be worth it to enjoy it in audiobook.  No matter what though, I will be reading The Martyr before the end of the year.

 

The Girl and the Moon by Mark Lawrence

The Girl and the Moon Cover

I definitely need to find out how this cool series from the sensational Mark Lawrence ends and this will be a major reading priority for me during the next six months.

 

Star Wars: Midnight Horizon by Daniel Jose Older

Star Wars - Midnight Horizon Cover

I have been trying really hard to keep up with the impressive new High Republic sub-series of Star Wars tie-in novels, and Midnight Horizon ended up being one of the first ones I have missed.  This is a real shame as it is apparently quite a good book, and I am very curious to see what else happened in this universe around the same time as the main novel, The Fallen Star.  I should really carve out a few days to listen to Midnight Horizon before the next batch of High Republic books come out later this year, especially as I know that I am going to have a great time with it.

 

In the Shadow of Lightning by Brian McClellan

In the Shadow of Lightning Cover

I was very excited to check out this new novel from highly acclaimed fantasy author Brian McClellan, and I have plans to read this in the next few weeks.  I am already hearing some excellent stuff about this book though and I am sure that if McClellan keeps up his usually impressive writing style, it will be an outstanding read.

 

Kingdoms of Death by Christopher Ruocchio

Kingdoms of Death Cover

There is no way that I am going to miss out on the fourth book in the Sun Eater Sequence, especially after having such a good time with Empire of Silence, Howling Dark and Demon in White.  However, the trick is finding the time to read or listen to this big book amongst all the other novels on my reading list.  I reckon I’ll have to try soon though, as Ruocchio apparently has the fifth book in the series, Ashes of Man, coming out in December.

 

The Starless Crown by James Rollins

The Starless Crown Cover

Another awesome fantasy novel from the start of the year that I need to check out!  The Starless Crown is supposed to be a very good read, and I will have to try and fit it in at some point in the next few months.

 

Catachan Devil by Justin Woolley

Catachan Devil Cover

I have been having a great time with some of the recent Warhammer 40,000 novels, especially those that focus on the ordinary human soldiers, such as Steel Tread, Krieg, and The Vincula Insurgency.  However, due to the sheer number of Warhammer novels released each year, I haven’t had a chance to read them all (I’m only one man), and this includes the very cool sounding Catachan Devil by Justin Woolley.  Following a regiment of the elite Catachan jungle fighters as they engage in a brutal battle, this sounds like an extremely awesome and action-packed read and I look forward to checking it out as soon as I can.

 

Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham

Age of Ash Cover

One half of the writing team behind The Expanse series returned to his fantasy roots at the start of the year with Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham.  A massive and sprawling fantasy epic that serves as the introduction to a new series, Age of Ash is a key book I missed earlier this year and I will hopefully fix that mistake before the end of the year.

 

The Misfit Soldier by Michael Mammay

The Misfit Soldier Cover

The final book that I most regret not reading in the first half of 2022 is The Misfit Soldier by Michael Mammay, who has previously wowed me with his Planetside trilogy (made up of Planetside, Spaceside and Colonyside).  This latest novel from Mammay, which I have honestly just not had time for, sounds very fun, as it follows a new science fiction protagonist in a Kelly’s Heroes-esque escapade on a futuristic battlefield.  I really need to take the time to read this outstanding book, especially as Mammay has just released a new audiobook that I will also try and enjoy this year.

 

 

Well, that is the end of this latest list.  As you can see, there are a bunch of exceptional novels from the first half of the year that I need to check out.  All the above books sound incredibly epic, and I know that I will have a brilliant time getting through all of them.  So, I am going to have to try a lot harder to start reading through them as soon as I can.  In the meantime, let me know which books released in the first half of the year you most regret not reading in the comments below.