WWW Wednesday – 28 December 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?

Lion by Conn Iggulden (Trade Paperback)

Lion Cover

I just started reading the compelling historical fiction novel Lion by bestselling author Conn Iggulden and it is so far proving to be a fantastic read.  The sequel to his previous novels, The Gates of Athens and Protector, Lion continues to chronicle the history of ancient Athens, this time focusing on the exploits of Pericles.  Loaded with a ton of awesome historical detail and a compelling narrative, Lion is one of the best historical fiction books of the year and I am glad I was able to get into it before the end of 2022.

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The Voyage of the Forgotten by Nick Martell (Audiobook)

The Voyage of the Forgotten Cover

I have made a ton of progress with The Voyage of the Forgotten by Nick Martell this week and I only have a few hours left on it.  The third and final book in Martell’s The Legacy of the Mercenary Kings trilogy, which follows on from The Kingdom of Liars (one of my favourite booksaudiobooks and debuts of 2020) and The Two-Faced Queen (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021), The Voyage of the Forgotten continues the adventures of reluctant hero Michael Kingman, who finds himself in the middle of a secret war between hidden immortals. I am absolutely loving this outstanding book and every time I listen to it there is another epic scene that drags me in.  I will hopefully finish The Voyage of the Forgotten off in the next couple of days, but I have already had such a great time with this book that I added it to my Favourite Books of 2022 list last night.

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What did you recently finish reading?

Hunting Time by Jeffery Deaver (Trade Paperback)

Hunting Time Cover

An excellent and fun thriller from legendary author Jeffery Deaver, Hunting Time was a great read and I loved how twisty and intense the story turned out.

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What do you think you’ll read next?

Red Dirt Road by S. R. White

Red Dirt Road Cover

I am planning to dive into some awesome Australian fiction next with the compelling murder mystery book, Red Dirt Road.  Set in the Australian outback, this new novel from talented author S. R. White will see a determined detective forced to find a killer in a remote town where every resident is a suspect.  Sure to be a gripping read, I can’t wait to dive into Red Dirt Road and I am sure I am going to have an amazing time with it.

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Khaos by Jeremy Robinson

Khaos Cover

I am still planning to listen to the audiobook version of Khaos by Jeremy Robinson next.  The intriguing follow-up to his awesome books, TribeThe Dark, and Mind BulletKhaos will bring together the protagonists of these three novels and force them to travel to the ancient Greek hell of Tartarus and summon the banished Gods and Titans to war.  I am very excited to listen to this crazy book next and I am sure it will be an ultra-fun and highly compelling novel.

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

Waiting on Wednesday – Seven Faceless Saints by M. K. Lobb

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 week’s Waiting on Wednesday, I look at an intriguing upcoming fantasy novel that I think has a lot of potential with Seven Faceless Saints by M. K. Lobb.

Seven Faceless Saints Cover

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We are just around the corner from 2023 and already the new year is starting to look very promising in terms of awesome books.  I am already quite excited for the next novels from some of my favourite writers, but I am also keeping an eye out for new authors who are going to be making their debut in 2023.  One debuting author who has already caught my attention is M. K. Lobb, who is set to release her first novel in a few months’ time with Seven Faceless Saints.

Seven Faceless Saints, which currently has a release date for February 2023, is a fantasy novel with some excellent thriller and murder mystery elements to it.  Set in a new fantasy city, the book will follow two protagonists on opposite ends of the cities corrupt ruling class, with one acting as a rebel seeking revenge, while the other serves as the head of the government’s security.  However, both are dragged into a murder investigation when a dangerous serial killer stalks the streets, forcing them to dive deep into the dark heart of their city.  I already really love the sound of this awesome book and I think that it could turn out to be an excellent and highly enjoyable read.  Blending murder mystery, rebellion and two fantastic sounding characters in a new fantasy setting is a great starting point for an amazing read and I have a strong feeling that Seven Faceless Saints is going to be one of the top debuts of 2023.

Plot Synopsis:

 In the city of Ombrazia, saints and their disciples rule with terrifying and unjust power, playing favorites while the unfavored struggle to survive.

After her father’s murder at the hands of the Ombrazian military, Rossana Lacertosa is willing to do whatever it takes to dismantle the corrupt system—tapping into her powers as a disciple of Patience, joining the rebellion, and facing the boy who broke her heart. As the youngest captain in the history of Palazzo security, Damian Venturi is expected to be ruthless and strong, and to serve the saints with unquestioning devotion. But three years spent fighting in a never-ending war have left him with deeper scars than he wants to admit… and a fear of confronting the girl he left behind.

Now a murderer stalks Ombrazia’s citizens. As the body count climbs, the Palazzo is all too happy to look the other way—that is, until a disciple becomes the newest victim. With every lead turning into a dead end, Damian and Roz must team up to find the killer, even if it means digging up buried emotions. As they dive into the underbelly of Ombrazia, the pair will discover something more sinister—and far less holy. With darkness closing in and time running out, will they be able to save the city from an evil so powerful that it threatens to destroy everything in its path?

Discover what’s lurking in the shadows in this dark fantasy debut with a murder-mystery twist, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Kerri Maniscalco.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Books of 2022

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 final Top Ten Tuesday for the year, I am going to list my absolute favourite books of 2022, which is something I look forward to every year.  This is a bit of a continuation of a series of lists I have been doing over the last month which have highlighted some of the authors and books I have been most impressed with this year, including my favourite audiobooksfavourite debuts and my top pre-2022 books I read this year.  However, this list here is the big one as it covers my absolute favourite releases of the year, of which there are quite a few.

I think we can all agree that 2022 has been another roller-coaster year for the world, but thankfully readers got a bit of solace from the fact that this was an amazing year for books, with a huge range of incredible releases coming out across the genres.  Not only did several outstanding new series start but we had some exceptional debuts and several incredible trilogies conclude in a big way.  I have had an amazing time reading or listening to so many outstanding books this year and quite a few releases have become instant favourites.  I must admit that I somewhat struggled to pull this list together, as there were so many books that deserved to be mentioned.  Therefore, because I am a very soft touch, and because the quality of the books I read this year was so impressive, I have decided to expand this list out to 20 entries (just like I have the last three years).  These 20 books are my absolute favourites from 2022, and I would strongly recommend every one of them to anyone interested in a great read.

To make it onto this list a book needed to be released here in Australia during 2022 and I had to have read it.  I have naturally excluded anything I haven’t read yet, even if there were quite a few awesome-sounding books I sadly didn’t squeeze into my reading schedule for this year, although I am sure that several of those would have made the cut.  I decided to leave off my usual Honourable Mentions section as the extra 10 entries kind of make it unnecessary.  There will be a bit of crossover between the below entries and some of my previous lists.  Several novels also appeared on my Top Ten Favourite Audiobooks of 2022 list and my Top Ten Favourite Books from the First Half of 2022 list which I ran back into July.  Overall, I am fairly happy with how this Top 20 list turned out and I think it contains a pretty good range of novels that really showcases the different types of books that I chose to read this year.  So without further ado, here is the list.

Top Ten List (no particular order):

The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman

The Bullet That Missed Cover

The first entry on this list was a real no-brainer with the new Thursday Murder Club novel, The Bullet That Missed by British comedian Richard Osman.  The Bullet That Missed follows on from The Thursday Murder Club (one of my favourite books, audiobooks, and debuts of 2020) and The Man Who Died Twice (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021) and might be one of Osman’s best novels yet.  Featuring his deeply likeable cast of pensioner crime solvers, The Bullet That Missed introduced another compelling murder investigation, loaded with intrigue, comedy and some deeply human moments.  Impossible to put down once you start, The Bullet That Missed was a very easy entry for this list and comes extremely highly recommended.

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A Practical Guide to Conquering the World by K. J. Parker

A Practical Guide to Conquering the World Cover

One of the very first books I read in 2022 was another easy pick for this list with the awesome fantasy comedy novel, A Practical Guide to Conquering the World.  The third and final book in K. J. Parker’s loosely connected Siege series, A Practical Guide to Conquering the World is an addictive and wildly funny read that sees a scholar become ruler of a fantasy world through a series of schemes and strange coincidences.  Featuring another wildly unreliable narrator, A Practical Guide to Conquering the World is a brilliant continuation of the outrageous tales told in Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City (one of my favourite books of 2019) and How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It and it is easily one of the most hilarious and cleverest books of the year.

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Usagi Yojimbo: Tengu War! and Usagi Yojimbo: Crossroads by Stan Sakai

Usagi Joint Cover

Ok, so I am slightly cheating by combining two books into one entry, but when it comes to one of my favourite comic book series, the excellent Usagi Yojimbo comics by Stan Sakai, I have a hard time picking favourites.  Usually this isn’t an issue as Sakai generally only releases one volume of his comic a year.  However, in 2022, there were two Usagi Yojimbo volumes, the intense and compelling 36th volume, Tengu War! and the fast-paced 37th volume Crossroads.  Loaded with clever stories, complex characters, and some absolutely gorgeous artwork, both of volumes were extremely good and there was no way I could exclude either from this list.

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Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh! by Nate Crowley

Ghazghkull Thraka - Prophet of the Waaagh! Cover

2022 was a very, very good year for Warhammer 40,000 fiction and I have had an outstanding time getting through some of the best additions to this delightful extended universe.  Out of all this year’s releases, one of the best was Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh! by Nate Crowley, which features a unique and hilarious take on an iconic and ultra-destructive ork character.  A brilliant story told across multiple narrators (something that really pops in the audiobook format), Crowley featured all the right notes of action, comedy, dark treachery, and a clever examination of one of the game’s most iconic alien factions.  I had such an amazing time reading Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh!, and this is an absolute must-read for all fans of Warhammer fiction.

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Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry

Kagen the Damned Cover

I doubt anyone is too surprised that the new Jonathan Maberry novel has shown up here.  I have featured several of Maberry’s recent releases on previous iterations of this list, although usually they are either horror or science fiction thriller releases, such as Ink, Rage and Relentless, however, in 2022 Maberry made the jump to epic fantasy fiction in a big way with the dark and despair-laden novel, Kagen the Damned.  The first book in an epic new series, Kagen the Damned follows a broken and devastated former hero who, after his royal charges are brutally murdered, finds himself damned by the gods.  But even hunted and damaged beyond all believe, he is still the deadliest man in the kingdom, and he sets off on a bloody mission of revenge.  Intense from the very first scene, Kagen the Damned was an exceptional read that gives you Maberry’s usual serving of blood, traumatised characters and dark deeds, this time in a great new fantasy setting.  I deeply enjoyed this exceptional read and I look forward to the next book which is being released very, very soon.

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Desperate Undertaking by Lindsey Davis

Desperate Undertaking Cover 2

The master of the historical mystery, Lindsey Davis, came up with another wonderful entry in her long-running Flavia Albia series this year with Desperate Undertaking.  A compelling murder mystery set in ancient Rome, Desperate Undertaking follows intrepid and clever investigator Flavia Albia as she tries to catch a deadly serial killer who stages their kills to mimic iconic scenes from ancient plays.  A very entertaining, compelling and dark tale, Desperate Undertaking is one of Davis’s best books yet and I was hooked almost instantly with it.

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The Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne

The Hunger of the Gods Cover

I was very excited to read the new fantasy epic from John Gwynne, The Hunger of the Gods, this year, and it was a very worthy addition to this best-of-2022 list.  The sequel to last year’s exceptional novel, The Shadow of the Gods, The Hunger of the Gods continues Gwynne’s Norse-inspired fantasy tale, which follows several distinctive protagonists as they embark on multiple epic quests across a war-torn world whose destructive gods are re-awakening.  The Hunger of the Gods perfectly continued the amazing story started in the first book, and I once again fell in love with the detailed battles, intriguing dark fantasy world and the brilliant characters.  I had such an incredible time with this book and I cannot wait to see how Gwynne continues this awesome story in the future.

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Desert Star by Michael Connelly

Desert Star Cover

I have a very hard time excluding Michael Connelly from this list ever year and 2022 is no exception as I had a fantastic time with his latest book, Desert Star.  Once again teaming up two of his best characters, Desert Star was a complex and captivating crime fiction read that featured two great and emotionally charged cases.  I loved how this amazing book came together and I was especially impressed with the deeply personal tale Connelly told of his long-running protagonist, Harry Bosch, as he becomes obsessed with solving a murder that has long haunted him.  An excellent crime fiction book with a rich, character-driven narrative, Desert Star was an easy choice for this list and I am really intrigued to see what happens with this book’s main characters next.

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Sierra Six by Mark Greaney

Sierra Six Cover

Mark Greaney continues to shine with another great entry in his ambitious Gray Man series this year.  Following on from impressive reads like The Gray Man, Mission Critical, One Minute Out and Relentless, Sierra Six was another outstanding read that I really got drawn into.  Telling a multi-layered story set in both the past and the present, Sierra Six followed protagonist Court Gentry as he attempts to get revenge for one of his first missions with an enemy, he long thought was dead.  A tight, captivating read that makes excellent use of multiple timelines, Sierra Six was an amazing read that is highly recommended for all fans of the spy thriller.

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Against All Gods by Miles Cameron

Against all Gods Cover

Miles Cameron continues to showcase his writing range in 2022 with another five-star read in Against All Gods.  Set in a unique, bronze-age inspired fantasy world were angry gods rule humanity with an iron fist, Against All Gods follows a group of rebel humans who are dragged into a deadly, divine conspiracy by a crazed god of chaos who seeks the end of all her fellow deities.  A powerful and captivating read, Against All Gods was so much fun and I look forward to the upcoming sequel.

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Assassinorum: Kingmaker by Robert Rath

Assassinorum Kingmaker Cover

The other outstanding Warhammer 40,000 entry I had to include on this list was the incredibly epic Assassinorum: Kingmaker by Robert Rath.  This non-stop book follows three elite assassins as they must plot to assassinate a king, bonded to a massive mecha suit, while also ending an insidious conspiracy.  Extremely over-the-top, but with a compelling and well thought out narrative, Assassinorum: Kingmaker was a very addictive read that had so many great elements to it, from intense mecha warfare, to some complex and enjoyable characters.  An easy five-star read; this was one of the best Warhammer books I have ever read.

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The German Wife by Kelly Rimmer

The German Wife Cover

Last year I was extremely wowed by the deep and captivating historical drama, The Warsaw Orphan by Australian author Kelly Rimmer, which was such an exceptional read.  As such, I was very happy to receive a copy of Rimmer’s new book this year, The German Wife, which also blew me away.  Another complex historical drama, The German Wife examined the compelling story of the family of a former Nazi rocket scientist who are relocated to America as part of Operation Paperclip.  Facing prejudice from their new neighbours who only see them as the enemy, Rimmer reveals the true story behind this troubled family and the various evils they faced during the Nazi reign.  Heartbreaking, incredibly touching and a timely examination of the insidiousness of evil, The German Wife was a powerful and poignant book that I had to include on this list.

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In the Shadow of Lightning by Brian McClellan

In the Shadow of Lightning Cover

Another amazing and highly addictive fantasy read was In the Shadow of Lightning by Brian McClellan.  The first book in an intriguing new series centred around glass-based magic, In the Shadow of Lightning was a very compelling read that followed four great characters as they get involved with elaborate conspiracies, deadly politics and a massive war.  Near impossible to put down, In the Shadow of Lightning was such an incredible read and I cannot rave about this new series enough.

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The Lawless Land by Boyd and Beth Morrison

The Lawless Land Cover

One of most entertaining reads of 2022 had to be the very fun historical adventure novel, The Lawless Land, by new-to-me writing duo, Boyd and Beth Morrison.  Set in the 14th century amongst war and plague, The Lawless Land follows a disgraced knight and a runaway bride as they attempt to keep a precious holy relic out of the hands of a corrupt cardinal and a deranged English noble.  A continuously exciting and historically detailed book, The Lawless Land really grabbed my attention and I had such an amazing time reading this awesome historical novel.  I hope this great writing team present more fantastic books in the future and I look forward to reading them.

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The Martyr by Anthony Ryan

The Martyr Cover

Few books impressed me as much this year as The Martyr, the gripping and action-packed sequel to Anthony Ryan’s 2021 book, The Pariah.  Continuing the tale of Alwyn Scribe, a former outlaw who now works for a religious zealot, The Martyr is an elaborate tale of war, politics and fate as Alwyn finds himself amid a deadly war for the future.  Filled with some amazing action, including two exceptional sieges, The Martyr was a blast the entire way through, and I had such an incredible time reading it.

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Death of the Black Widow by James Patterson and J. D. Barker

Death of the Black Widow Cover

I had so much damn fun this year reading the cool thriller, Death of the Black Widow, written by the superb writing team of James Patterson and J. D. Barker.  Following a cop who becomes obsessed with a mysterious woman he meets his first night on the job, Death of the Black Widow sees the protagonist get caught in a decades long investigation to find her and stop the strange deaths that follow her appearance.  An excellent and highly exciting thriller that features some clever horror elements, I had a fantastic time reading this amazing read and I just had to include it on this list.

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The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

The Golden Enclaves Cover Better

After really showcasing her skills in the last two years with her excellent, dark homages to the magical school genre with A Deadly Education and The Last Graduate, Naomi Novik brings her Scholomance trilogy to an incredible end with The Golden Enclaves.  Now set outside of the magic school, The Golden Enclaves sees main protagonist, Galadriel “El” Higgins, attempt to save the magic world while also getting over the traumatic cliff-hanger Novik left us on at the end of The Last Graduate.  Living up to all its potential, The Golden Enclaves had a fantastic story that perfectly wrapped up the series while hitting the reader with some well-foreshadowed twists and revelations.  I cannot wait to see what Novik will write next, but I know I am going to love it.

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Amongst Our Weapons by Ben Aaronovitch

Amongst our Weapons Cover

I was very lucky to receive a copy of the latest Rivers of London book by Ben Aaronovitch this year, Amongst Our Weapons, and it quickly became a favourite 2022 read of mine.  Seamlessly blending a classic police procedural story with a unique fantasy setting, Amongst Our Weapons sees main character Peter Grant investigate a series of magical murders across London that were apparently committed by an angel.  The book’s tight mystery and well-thought-out fantasy elements are expertly combined to produce an exceptional narrative that I had a blast with.  An outstanding read that once again shows why Aaronovitch is one of the best urban fantasy writers now.

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The Unbelieved by Vikki Petraitis

The Unbelieved Cover

There were many amazing debuts in 2022 but one that I found particularly impressive was the gritty Australian crime fiction read, The Unbelieved by Vikki Petraitis.  Set in rural Australia, The Unbelieved follows a damaged cop as she attempts to investigate a series of sexual assaults in her seemingly quiet small town, only to run into a wall of silence from the locals.  A slick and powerful read that contains a great story, The Unbelieved also served as a commentary on the perception of sexual violence in modern society which really hits you hard.  Petraitis really showed herself to be an outstanding new writing talent this year and I am very glad I was able to include The Unbelieved on this list.

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The Voyage of the Forgotten by Nick Martell

The Voyage of the Forgotten Cover

The final entry on my list is another slightly cheeky entry, mainly because I haven’t finished it yet.  This book is The Voyage of the Forgotten by Nick Martell, one of my most anticipated fantasy reads of 2022 which I only just started listening to last week.  The third and final book in Martell’s Legacy of the Mercenary King trilogy, The Voyage of the Forgotten follows on from the exceptional novels, The Kingdom of Liars and The Two-Faced Queen, which introduced and expanded a massively complex and elaborate fantasy tale of betrayal, world-ending plots, magic, and battles between hidden immortals.  I had such a great time with the previous two books in the series and I am deeply intrigued to see how Martell wraps everything up in the final book.  I am about halfway through The Voyage of the Forgotten and it is proving to be a particularly epic and captivating read that I am having a very hard time putting down, especially as every scene seems to reveal a new secret or answer a question from the previous books.  I cannot wait to find out how Martell ends this incredible trilogy and based on how good the first half of this book has been, there was no way I could exclude The Voyage of the Forgotten from this best of 2022 list.

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Well, those are my 20 favourite books of 2022. It turned out to be quite a good list in the end, and I am very glad that I was able to highlight so many fantastic books.  2023 is set to be another excellent year for amazing reads, and I will be examining some of my most anticipated books for the first half of the year next week.  In the meantime, let me know what your favourite books of 2022 were in the comments below, and make sure you all have a happy and safe New Years.

The Golden Enclaves by Naomi Novik

The Golden Enclaves Cover Better

Publisher: Del Rey (Trade Paperback – 20 September 2022)

Series: Lesson Three of the Scholomance

Length: 408 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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Naomi Novik ends her addictive and clever Scholomance trilogy in a big way with the very impressive The Golden Enclaves, which takes the protagonists out of the school and into a whole new world of trouble.

For the last few years I have been having an epic time with the exceptional Scholomance series by acclaimed author Naomi Novik.  Novik, who is best known for her Temeraire series, as well as the standalone novels Uprooted and Spinning Silver, has been absolutely killing it with the Scholomance books, which serve as a compelling, dark homage to classic magical school fantasy novels.  Set within the deadly magic school, the Scholomance, the trilogy follows a group of teenage magic users who are attempting to hone their skills while surviving the school and the many dangerous magical creatures, known as maleficaria (mals) who inhabit it.  The first book, A Deadly Education, introduced the reader to protagonist Galadriel “El” Higgins, a loner student who has a big secret, she is an unbelievably powerful magic user, capable of easily unleashing destructive magic that could level cities.  Teaming up with Orion Lake, a mal hunter with a hero complex, El attempts to survive the school and ensure her and her friends survive.  A Deadly Education was an excellent read and it ended up being one of my favourite books of 2020.  Novik followed it up perfectly last year with The Last Graduate (one of my favourite books of 2021), which brilliantly continued the story while also ending it on a traumatic cliff-hanger which I may never forgive Novik for.  Needless to say, I have been extremely excited for The Golden Enclaves and it was one of my most anticipated reads for 2022.

After trapping most of the worlds mals in the Scholomance and untethering it from reality, El looks to have finally defeated fate.  Instead of turning into the city-destroying dark witch she was prophesied to become, she is now a hero who has saved generations of young magic users from needing to hide in the deadly school.  However, her victory has come at a great cost, as the love of her life, Orion Lake, chose to stay behind in the dying school to wage his eternal war against the mals, including the ravenous maw-mouth that finally claimed him.

Traumatised, El attempts to regain her sanity at home, her only plan to one day implement her dream of ending the elite enclave system and using the Golden Stone sutras book she liberated from the school to bring about a new era of magical communities.  However, fate still has other ideas in store for her, and El is about to come face-to-face with the full horrors that her world has in store for her.

Someone is attacking the previously protected enclaves, striking at their very cores, and inflicting untold damage on those who rely on them for shelter.  When two fall within days of El coming back into the real world, she is recruited to find out who is responsible and hunt them down before an all-out enclave war erupts amongst the world’s magic users.  However, El is far more concerned with finding a way back into the Scholomance, the school she fought so hard to destroy, and attempt to either save Orion or kill the maw-mouth that ate him.  However, her mission will lead her to a dark truth that lies at the very heart of the enclave system and which will turn the entire world on its head.  Worse, it will finally force El to face the truth, that she really is destined to be a destroyer, no matter how much she hates it.

There is a lot to unpack here with The Golden Enclaves and it is partly one of the reasons why it has taken me so long to write a review for it.  I honestly did not know what to expect when The Golden Enclaves was released, especially as it was missing the great dark magic school setting which was one of the things that I most liked about the first two books.  It was also clear that Novik would have to work very hard to follow on from her last book after she left it on such a major and heartbreaking cliff-hanger, and I did not know if this book would live up to all these expectations.  Despite these concerns, I dove into The Golden Enclaves as soon as I got my hands on it, as I desperately wanted to see how everything was going to end.  I quickly powered through the book itself and I found the final product to be extremely interesting and not at all what I was expecting.  I did end up giving this book a full five-star rating, but this rating comes with some caveats.

Firstly, I should state that I really loved The Golden Enclaves and I felt that it perfectly wrapped up the series.  Not only do the main characters get some further interesting development, as well as even more trauma and emotional damage, but the story goes in some very unique directions which ties together all the various loose ends.  The story itself is pretty fast paced, if loaded with a lot of fantasy exposition, and follows on right from the events of The Last Graduate.  The impact of Orion Lake’s decision to stay behind in the Scholomance really messes with El and she spends a good part of the book attempting to come to terms with it, often in some very unhealthy ways.  However, before she can get too bereaved, she is forced to help the enclaves (magical communities that offer protection from mals to magic users) to try and discover who is responsible for destroying them.  This results in a compelling, multi-continent trip where she visits various magic communities, gets involved with deadly world politics, as well as checking in with the supporting cast from the first two books, trying to discover answers.  El also searches for a way to rescue Orion from the Scholomance, which culminates in her visiting the mostly destroyed school and finding out some heartbreaking revelations about the man she loves.  Those aren’t the only big secrets El and her companions uncover as they soon discover the true terrible price of the enclave system, as well as who is truly behind the destruction of the enclaves and why.  Novik layers these revelations perfectly, so each new one is even more impactful than the last, culminating in a particularly major gut punch regarding El and her prophesied destiny.  All this leads up to a fantastic and complex final confrontation where El is faced with a terrible choice and must try to find a way out of it.  Everything ends on an interesting and mostly satisfying conclusion, which I think ended the series on the right hopeful note, especially after all the dark trauma the characters have witnessed.

While the story itself is pretty compelling, I personally don’t think it stood on its own legs as much as the first two books in the series.  Not only does it get a bit slow in places, but parts of the big conclusion are a little weak and not as impressive as I was expecting.  Readers also really need to have read the first two books in the series; The Golden Enclaves would be pretty hard to appreciate without some context going in.  For these reasons and a few more (I really missed the school), I might have been tempted to give this a lower rating if not for the big revelations which are deeply connected to the events of the first few books.  Novik expertly ties the entire series together in The Golden Enclaves and if you look at this novel from a larger series perspective, than it is a pretty exceptional book with some very awesome moments to it.  You soon release just how clever Novik has been with her first two novels as she previously set up every big revelation in The Golden Enclaves extremely well.  The various discussions about the enclaves, the outside world and the character’s history comes full circle in this final entry and every lingering question you ever had is answered completely here.  I was so damn impressed with how everything was wrapped up, especially with some emotionally devastating discoveries that were in line with the darker tone of this series, that I honestly could not put this book down.  Novik really is an extremely talented author with an exceptional ability for planning out long-term storylines and this book really proves it.

In addition, I also deeply appreciated how Novik expanded and explained various fantasy elements that she introduced in the previous books and merged them into her outstanding story.  While many of these fantasy elements, such as enclaves, maw-mouths, the creation of the Scholomance and the magical politics that dominate the world, have been discussed in the prior novels, Novik brings everything about them together in this final read and it works extremely well.  The secret histories and crazy lore behind these events are fully revealed in The Golden Enclaves, and the true horror about magic and what people have done to hold onto it is pretty damn shocking.  Novik does a remarkable job in filling in all the gaps she purposefully left out of the first two books and the reader finally gets to appreciate just how complex and integral to the plot they truly were.  She also has a lot of fun expanding out the magical universe substantially in this final book as the reader is finally introduced to some settings outside of the magical school.  I loved the elaborate international enclaves that the protagonist visits throughout this final book and the subsequent political squabbles, discussions of magical castes and the larger worldview of magic becomes a fascinating part of the book.  All this intriguing expansion, as well as the impressive revelations about certain magical elements in the previous books, mostly make up for the lack of the magical school setting you’ve come to love so much, and I think that Novik handled a story outside of the Scholomance extremely well.

The final thing I want to mention is the outstanding character work contained within The Golden Enclaves.  While I don’t want to go into too much detail here, I think that Novik hit the main characters out of the park in this final book and I loved the brilliant examinations of trauma, grief and deep psychological damage that many of them had after spending years inside a hellish death school.  El continues to shine as the main protagonist and only point-of-view character, and her expansive, if highly cynical worldview, helps you get stuck into the narrative.  El goes through a huge emotional roller coaster in The Golden Enclaves, as she is wracked with guilt, grief and anger for much of it, especially after her perceived failure to save Orion from himself.  Watching her break down at the start of the book is extremely heartbreaking, and she never really seems to recover as she keeps finding herself getting dragged into crazy events in the real world.  Many of these events impact her even further, especially once she realises just how evil many of the enclavers are, and she must work very hard to not unleash her destructive fury.  However, one major final revelation really knocks her around, especially as it ties into her extended family who have long abandoned her, as well as her destined place in the world.  I deeply appreciated the outstanding work that Novik put into El, and I also really enjoyed the supporting cast who were featured here as well.  Many of your favourite characters from the first two books make another appearance here, and it was very interesting to see how they were dealing with the aftermath of their Scholomance education, as well as seeing their place in the wider world.  There are a few surprising choices for major supporting characters in The Golden Enclaves, and some interesting interactions that resulted.  Without spoiling too much, I will say that Orion does appear in The Golden Enclaves, and the storylines around him, especially the deep dive into his past, prove to be an outstanding and traumatic part of the plot.  An exceptional expansion of the amazing character work that was such as distinctive feature of the first two novels.

Overall, The Golden Enclaves proved to be an epic final chapter in Naomi Novik’s amazing Scholomance series and I had an outstanding time reading it.  While I did think that The Golden Enclaves had a few flaws, the way that Novik used it to tie the entire series together blew my mind and I was so deeply impressed with how every loose thread and inventive fantasy element was dragged together to create an outstanding final inclusion.  The subsequent shocking and dark revelations, powerful character work and the compelling expansion of Novik’s fantasy universe help to make this a pretty incredible book and it is one that I had a wonderful time reading.  I really cannot get over how well set up this final novel was and I think that it serves as a brilliant conclusion to one of my most favourite recent fantasy series.  As such, I have to award The Golden Enclaves a five-star rating as one of the better books of the year, especially as I don’t think Novik could have written a more powerful and moving end to the incredible Scholomance books.

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Quick Review – Retribution by Sarah Barrie

Retribution Cover

Publisher: HQ (Trade Paperback – 30 November 2022)

Series: Lexi Winter – Book Two

Length: 349 pages

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

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Australian author Sarah Barrie brings back her awesome vigilante protagonist, Lexi Winter, for another intense and dark crime fiction read in Retribution.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the 2021 Australian crime release, Unforgiven.  An amazing novel by a talented Australian author, Unforgiven told the story of a former child abuse victim turned effective vigilante, Lexi Winter, who used her skills as a hacker to hunt down abusers online and bring them to justice.  Initially keen to do her own thing, Lexi is forced to work with the police detective who failed her as a child when evidence at a series of murders suggests that the monster who ruined her childhood might still be out there.  Unforgiven ended up being a shocking and captivating read that made great use of its darker subject matter to produce an addictive narrative.  Unforgiven ended up being one of my favourite Australian fiction releases of 2021, and I have been keen to see how Barrie would follow this book up.  Luckily, I received a copy of her sequel, Retribution, a few weeks ago, and it proved to be an outstanding read and a worthy sequel to Unforgiven.

Plot Synopsis:

Once a vigilante, she’s now a cop … but she still plays by her own rules. A fast-paced, suspenseful thriller for readers of Candice Fox and Sarah Bailey.

Ace hacker, ex-prostitute, Jack Daniels drinker and part-time vigilante Lexi Winter returns, now working with the police – mostly – with a new enemy in the target and an old foe at the back of her mind.

Most probationary constables would baulk at chasing a drug dealer into a train tunnel in the dead of night. Not Lexi Winter. She emerges injured but alive, to face the wrath of her boss. Lexi may now be in uniform, but she has as much trouble with authority as ever, and is quietly using her hacking skills to investigate a notorious drug-dealing Sydney crime family with links to her old prey, the paedophile Damon Vaughn.

Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Finn Carson investigates a death on a Sydney building site … which oddly enough, leads him to the picturesque Wondabyne station on the Hawkesbury River, and Inspector Rachael Langley oversees an investigation that could tie it all together. Lexi holds the key … if only she’ll toe the line …


Retribution
is an excellent follow-up to Unforgiven that provides the reader with an interesting continuation of the main character’s journey.  Starting out about a year after the events of the first book, Barrie immediately introduces a new element to the story by having Lexi now an official member of the New South Wales police.  However, despite her position, Lexi is the same reckless rebel who is using her spare time and hacker skills to mess with members of the infamous Hamill crime family, who are actively hiding her nemesis, the paedophile Damon Vaughn and his former police officer accomplice, Debbie Reynolds.  Her efforts soon tie into the work of her friends, Detective Sergeant Finn Carson and Inspector Rachael Langley, who are not only involved with the official search for Vaughn and Reynolds but are investigating the murder of a successful businessman in a Sydney building site that has connections to the main case.

Barrie features a ton of distinctive plotlines in Retribution, and I really appreciated how she was able to keep up the darker tone that was such a distinctive feature of the previous book.  The central focus on Lexi’s attempt to take down a notorious crime family was an awesome part of the book’s plot, and I felt that Barrie did a good job tying them into the previous book and making them a sensible continuation target for the protagonist.  While they weren’t as despicable as the original antagonists of this series, they proved to be just as dangerous, and Barrie did an amazing job building them up quickly and making them a major threat.  At the same time, the murder investigation that the other characters are involved in adds some fantastic mystery elements to the book.  Not only does this result in a very compelling investigation with additional bodies, but it also ties into the rest of the story extremely well, especially when it is revealed that the murders have connections to the Hamill family.  These two major storylines, as well as some interesting character development, blend well as the story continues and then end up becoming a fantastic joint case.  The Hamills prove to be extremely impressive villains with some deadly plots they unleash against the police, and I loved seeing the protagonist take on a family, rather than a single potential threat.  At the same time, the murder investigation slowly reveals a fantastically dark motivation that results in some great and memorable twists that I particularly enjoyed.  Everything pulls together for an explosive conclusion which not only wraps up this narrative extremely well but also sets up a great potential sequel that I am quite excited for.

There was some good character work in Retribution as Barrie carries over all the major characters from the first book and keeps developing her central protagonist.  As I mentioned before, the main character, Lexi Winter, goes through some major changes in this book as she moves from being a lone investigator to a member of the New South Wales police force.  However, she still maintains her rebel attitude and her determination to solve everything herself.  This, and her own deep trauma and desire for revenge, sees her attempt her own rogue mission against the Hamills, with some deadly consequences.  I felt that this was a good natural progression of Lexi’s character, especially as she finds herself relying on other people especially after experiencing even more trauma in this second book.  While I feel that Barrie is making some progress with Lexi, she still maintains a lot of rough edges, which I am sure will get addressed in the future.  I did think that the repetitive reckless actions did get a little tiring as the book continued, but it generally results in some excellent storylines.  The rest of the characters form an amazing supporting cast to Lexi, and there are a few interesting new characters that I really enjoyed.  I must admit though that I didn’t massively care about Finn’s personal issues regarding his ex-wife, and I felt it was a bit of a distracting story element.  I’m also not sure why Barrie introduced a hostile rivalry between Lexi and the new female member of the main police team, especially as it didn’t result in any major revelation or come to a good conclusion.  Apart from that, I had a great time with the characters in Retribution and I look forward to seeing what happens to them in the next book.

Sarah Barrie’s excellent dark Australian crime fiction series gets an outstanding second book in Retribution.  Combining some of the fantastic thriller elements from Unforgiven with a very clever murder mystery, Retribution continues the Barrie’s compelling narrative and results in a captivating and powerful read that will keep you hooked right up until the end.  I had an incredible time with Retribution and I can’t wait to see how this intense series continues in the future.

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WWW Wednesday – 21 December 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?

Hunting Time by Jeffery Deaver (Trade Paperback)

Hunting Time Cover

I just started reading the interesting thriller novel, Hunting Time by Jeffery Deaver.  Bringing back his established protagonist Colter Shaw, Hunting Time features an elaborate fugitive narrative as a desperate woman attempts to outrun Shaw, her abusive cop husband, and several hitman.  I have only made a little progress on Hunting Time so far, but I am really enjoying it, especially as it has a compelling story behind it.  I am hoping to finish it off in the next few days and I can’t wait to see how everything comes together.

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The Voyage of the Forgotten by Nick Martell (Audiobook)

The Voyage of the Forgotten Cover

I finally got a chance to start listening to one of my most anticipated books of 2022, with The Voyage of the Forgotten by Nick Martell.  The third and final book in Martell’s The Legacy of the Mercenary Kings trilogy, The Voyage of the Forgotten continues the adventures of reluctant hero Michael Kingman, who finds himself in the middle of a secret war between hidden immortals.  I only just started this audiobook a few minutes ago, but I am having a great time with it, especially as there are some outstanding details up front.  I already know that I am going to love this book, especially after I have had such an incredible time with this series and both of the preceding books, The Kingdom of Liars (one of my favourite booksaudiobooks and debuts of 2020) and The Two-Faced Queen (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021). I have very little doubt that The Voyage of the Forgotten is going to be one of the top books of 2022 and I cannot wait to explore all its mysteries, revelations, and inevitable tragedies in the next week.

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What did you recently finish reading?

Red Winter by Marc Cameron, based on the books by Tom Clancy (Trade Paperback) 

Red Winter Cover

A fantastic and intense spy thriller that takes readers back to the classic adventures of Jack Ryan.

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Star Wars: The High Republic: Convergence by Zoraida Cordova (Audiobook)

Star Wars - Convergence Cover

The second phase of The High Republic looks set to be one of its strongest, especially if we have more outstanding books like Convergence by Zoraida Cordova.  An epic and powerful read, this was one of the best Star Wars novels and audiobooks of 2022, and I am extremely glad I listened to it. 

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The Perfect Assassin by James Patterson and Brian Sitts

The Perfect Assassin Cover

I absolutely powered through the new James Patterson novel, The Perfect Assassin, this week.  Co-written by Brian Sitts, The Perfect Assassin had an excellent and fast-paced story that takes the reader on a wild ride.  Compelling, exciting, and featuring a great connection to some old-school pulp novels, this was a lot of fun, and I am hoping to get a review up of it soon.

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What do you think you’ll read next?

Khaos by Jeremy Robinson

Khaos Cover

I’m not entirely certain what physical book I’ll read after finishing off The Hunting Time, but I do know that the next audiobook I will be listening to is Khaos by Jeremy Robinson.  The intriguing follow-up to his awesome books, Tribe, The Dark, and Mind Bullet, Khaos will bring together the protagonists of these three novels and force them to travel to the ancient Greek hell of Tartarus and summon the banished Gods and Titans to war.  I am very excited to listen to this crazy book next and I am sure it will be an ultra-fun and highly compelling novel.

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

Waiting on Wednesday – Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 38: The Green Dragon by Stan Sakai

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 get excited again for another exciting addition to my favourite comic series with the 38th volume of Stan Sakai’s epic Usagi Yojimbo comic, The Green Dragon.

Usagi Yojimbo - Volume 38 - The Green Dragon Cover

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I know I have made this point quite a few times this year, but boy do I love the Usagi Yojimbo series by Stan Sakai.  A unique, long-running series, the Usagi Yojimbo comics follow a rabbit ronin in an alternate version of feudal Japan as he battles deadly enemies, rival samurai and creatures from Japanese mythology.  Featuring excellent art, amazing characters, and some fantastic and well-written stories, I have been a fan of the Usagi Yojimbo series for a very long time and every single volume quickly finds a place in my heart.

Now usually I must wait a whole year for a new Usagi Yojimbo volume to appear, but luckily for me Sakai has been on a real role lately and two volumes dropped in 2022.  This included the brilliantly written Tengu War! and the very fun Crossroads, both of which were five-star reads in my opinion.  I had such an epic time with these comics, and I was once again overjoyed when I found out that a whole new volume is coming out extremely soon.

This next volume is The Green Dragon, which is currently set for release in February 2023.  The 38th volume of the series, The Green Dragon will present the reader with two multi-issues stories that place Usagi, and his new companion Yukichi, in great danger as they go up against dangerous opponents, both mortal and spiritual.  This new volume sounds pretty damn cool and I am very excited for the stories they contain.

Synopsis:

The rabbit ronin’s newest adventures continue in this fifth volume that sees Usagi and Yukichi on a mission to deliver a valuable object!

But first, in “A Ghost Story,” Usagi and Yukichi come upon a young woman, Shizuye, praying at a shrine to a girl murdered fifty years ago by her married lover. Shizuye is in the same predicament, and Usagi and Yukichi take it upon themselves to become her protectors. However, all is not what it seems as the local priest warns them to beware of ghosts in the area.

Then, in “The Secret of the Green Dragon” Usagi and Yukichi are obligated to deliver a priceless jade dragon to a merchant. During their journey they witness a runner delivering a parcel of jewels to the same merchant killed on the road ahead. However, the killers left the jewels and escaped with the container leading them to the realization that the box they carry may be even more valuable than the jade within.

Collects issues #27–31 of the all-new full-color Usagi Yojimbo series published by IDW.

This looks set to be another exceptional entry in this series and I really love the two stories listed above.  Some of the very best Usagi Yojimbo stories feature supernatural or spiritual elements, so I have very high hope for the first entry, A Ghost Story, especially as you going to spend a good part of the story wondering if they are encountering real ghosts or some sort of elaborate fakes.  The main story, The Secret of the Green Dragon, sounds like a typical Usagi Yojimbo escort narrative, and it is usually a good basis for one of these comics.  However, it looks like Sakai is going to throw in a few twists here, especially as they will have to work out the mystery surrounding their cargo and try to work out what they are really being paid to defend.  Throw in an appearance from the Komori Ninjas, the ninja bats shown on the cover, and The Green Dragon looks set to be quite an impressive read and one that I am extremely excited for.

To be honest, I already know that I am going to grab this comic the moment it comes out and I will love it unconditionally.  I have such a great respect and appreciation for this exceptional series, and I refuse to believe I will find anything to hate in the new upcoming volume, especially if Stan Sakai keeps up all the skill and creativity he’s been putting into the last few volumes.  I cannot wait to see the elaborate stories contained within The Green Dragon, as well as the brilliant art which is now in colour thanks to publisher IDW (which has looked very cool in volumes such as Bunraku and Other Stories and Homecoming).  This is already one of my most anticipated reads for the new year and I have no doubt Usagi Yojimbo: The Green Dragon will get another five-star rating from me.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Audiobooks of 2022

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 list was Books I Hope Santa Brings, and, while this did sound like a fun topic, I instead decided to continue my annual end of year wrap up of some of the best books of 2022.  In previous weeks I have highlighted some of the best debuts of 2022, as well as the best pre-2022 novels I read in the last year, but this week I am going to look at something near and dear to my hear, the best audiobooks of 2021.

Readers of my blog only need to check out my extensive audiobook category to know that I have a lot of love for the audiobook format.  In my opinion, the audiobook is often the best way to experience a good book, and in many cases, this format makes a book a lot more enjoyable for me.  As a result, I listened to quite a few audiobooks this year, and while several of them are books that had been released before 2022 and featured in my Throwback Thursday posts, a large majority of them were released this year. There were some truly outstanding and impressive audiobooks released this year, and I already know that I am going to have an extremely hard time coming up with the final version of this list. 

For this list I have only included audiobooks released in 2022 that I have listened to and completed, so I am excluding a few audiobooks that were probably pretty awesome, but which I didn’t have a chance to listen to.  Despite this, I still ended up with a long list of extremely good audiobooks, all of which were extremely worthy of appearing on this post.  To help cut this down, I too into account a range of consideration, including quality of the original novel, skill of the narrator, production value, pacing and other factors, including any featured music or sound effects.  Looking at all this I was eventually able to cut the list down to the absolute best 10 audiobooks (as well as an extended honourable mentions section).  I had to make some very hard decisions here, and I ended up losing several extremely good audiobooks from this list.  Still, I think it really represents the best audiobooks I enjoyed this year, and there are some amazing productions down below.  So let us see what made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Sylvanas, written by Christie Golden and narrated by Patty Mattson

World of Warcraft - Sylvanas Cover

An outstanding tie-in audiobook to the Warcraft video game franchise, Sylvanas provides a fresh retelling of the origins of one of the game’s most complex characters, Sylvanas Windrunner, all narrated by the voice of Sylvanas herself, Patty Mattson, in an awesome performance.

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Steel Tread, written by Andy Clark and narrated by Remmie Milner

Steel Tread Cover

The first of many Warhammer 40,000 novels that are going to appear on this list, Steel Tread is a dark and gritty war story that follows a ragged tank crew into the hell of war, all of which is deeply enhanced by a fantastic audiobook format.

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Star Wars: The High Republic: The Fallen Star, written by Claudia Gray and narrated by Marc Thompson

Star Wars - The Fallen Star

Star Wars audiobooks are always pretty damn awesome, but the one for The Fallen Star, which details a disastrous day in the High Republic, was exceptionally good, especially as the music, sound effects and excellent narration, helped to bring the listener right into the heart of the chaos.

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Outgunned, written by Denny Flowers and narrated by Phillip Sacramento

Warhammer 40,000 - Outgunned Cover

Denny Flowers continues to grow as an author with his second Warhammer 40,000 novel, Outgunned, this time following a propaganda expert as he follows a chaotic pilot into a strange new warzone.  This entire compelling scenario, as well as the distinctive main characters, are perfectly showcased in this audiobook, which is really worth a listen.

Amazon

Top Ten List:

The Hunger of the Gods, written by John Gwynne and narrated by Colin Mace

The Hunger of the Gods Cover

After really wowing me with the first book in The Bloodsworn Saga series, The Shadow of the Gods (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021), John Gwynne returns with the epic sequel, The Hunger of the Gods.  Perfectly continuing the incredible narrative from the first book, The Hunger of the Gods was an exceptional book, which really comes to life in the audiobook format.  Featuring amazing narration by Colin Mace, The Hunger of the Gods was a remarkable listen that I cannot recommend enough.

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Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh!, written by Nate Crowley and narrated by Kelly Hotten, Paul Putner and Jon Rand

Ghazghkull Thraka - Prophet of the Waaagh! Cover

I had a lot of success listening to Warhammer 40,000 novels in 2022, so it is no surprise that a few are going to show up on this list.  Easily one of my favourites would have to be the new novel by Nate Crowley, who previously did such a great job with The Twice Dead King books, Ruin and Reign.  His latest release was Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh!, which retold the tale of the legendary ork warlord from a crazy new perspective.  While the story itself is pretty damn clever and highly entertaining, the real joy came from the amazing audiobook production which featured three talented narrators.  I loved how the narrators switched around multiple times throughout the production to correspond with which character was telling the story and it made for a distinctive and highly exciting listen that was a great deal of fun.

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Sierra Six, written by Mark Greaney and narrated by Jay Snyder

Sierra Six Cover

Mark Greaney had a very good year in 2022 as, in addition to his Gray Man movie and action-packed novel, Armored, he also produced another impressive Gray Man thriller with Sierra Six.  I have had an amazing time with Greaney’s previous Gray Man novels, including The Gray Man, Mission Critical, One Minute Out and Relentless, and Sierra Six was another excellent addition to the series.  Featuring an intense and highly addictive narrative that set protagonist Court Gentry against a dangerous threat in India while also diving into his deadly, tragic past, Sierra Six was an exciting and powerful read that I had a wonderful time listening to.  The audiobook format of this book was extremely good, primarily thanks to the excellent narration of Jay Snyder, and I was dragged right into the middle of the action when I listened to Sierra Six on audiobook.

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Assassinorum: Kingmaker, written by Robert Rath and narrated by Gareth Armstrong

Assassinorum Kingmaker Cover

Another exceptional Warhammer 40,000 audiobook I enjoyed in 2022 was the brilliant and high-octane Assassinorum: Kingmaker by Robert Rath, which saw three elite assassins travel to a feudal Knight World and attempt to reign in the mecha-suit wearing elite by killing a deranged king permanently bonded to a massive war machine.  This book was as awesome as it sounds and Rath wove together an exceptional and complex story of politics, conspiracies and assassins, focused around several impressive characters.  I deeply enjoyed the elaborate and powerful plot of this great book, which was further enhanced by the exceptional audiobook format.  Not only did narrator Gareth Armstrong perfectly encapsulate the fantastic characters, but his amazing tones allowed you to envision all the epic carnage in amazing detail.  I had so much damn fun listening to this audiobook and it is a must read for all Warhammer fans, as well as anyone who is interested in seeing assassins go up against mechas.

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Kagen the Damned, written by Jonathan Maberry and narrated by Ray Porter

Kagen the Damned Cover

One of my absolute favourite authors, Jonathan Maberry, made an interesting leap this year from science fiction thrillers to dark epic fantasy with Kagen the Damned.  Combining his typical writing style with a compelling new fantasy world, Maberry wove together the captivating tale of Kagen Vale, a once noble warrior and hero who is broken and damned after the royal children he was sworn to protect are ruthlessly murdered during a sudden and destructive military invasion.  An exceedingly intense and brutal fantasy read, I got extremely hooked on this impressive novel, especially as I made sure to grab the audiobook version.  I have always had an exceptional time with Maberry’s audiobooks and I was very excited to see that one of my favourite audiobook narrators, Ray Porter, was returning for this book.  Porter always captures the dark tone of Maberry’s writing perfectly, and Kagen the Damned was no exception as he imparts every gruesome detail of this story in his powerful tones.  At the same time, Porter effortless inhabits the multiple complex characters in this book, and really brings them to life in some amazing ways.  I absolutely loved this amazing audiobook and I cannot wait to grab the sequel, Son of the Poison Rose, in a few weeks time.

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The Bullet That Missed, written by Richard Osman and narrated by Fiona Shaw

The Bullet That Missed Cover

There was no way that the new Thursday Murder Club audiobook by Richard Osman, The Bullet That Missed, was going to be excluded from this list.  Following on from his awesome first two novels, The Thursday Murder Club (one of my favourite books, audiobooks and debuts of 2020), and The Man Who Died Twice, The Bullet That Missed sees your favourite group of crime solving pensioners return for another complex mystery.  Osman came up with another exceptional mystery storyline in this third book and I loved seeing his delightful and utterly hilarious protagonists once again use their unique insights and skills to solve it.  The audiobook version was once again exceptional, and I deeply enjoyed new narrator, Fiona Shaw, who I have been a fan of for years.  Shaw does a remarkable job narrating this third Thursday Murder Club book, and I loved how she provided a great range of fitting accents and tones for the distinctive characters, while also moving the plot along quickly with her fantastic voice.  An incredible audiobook that is near impossible to turn off.

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The Martyr, written by Anthony Ryan and narrated by Steven Brand

The Martyr Cover

Next up we have the outstanding second book in Anthony Ryan’s Covenant of Steel fantasy series, The Martyr.  The sequel to Ryan’s excellent 2021 novel, The Pariah, The Martyr continues to tell the unique story of Alywn Scribe, a former bandit turned scribe, who finds himself in the middle of tumultuous events that will change the world forever.  This time he must accompany his religious fanatic master on a deadly military mission to a foreign land, which will see him get involved in politics, espionage, assassinations and two epic sieges.  I actually held off reading this book until I got the audiobook copy, mainly because of how much I enjoyed the audiobook version of The Pariah last year.  Steven Brand provides some amazing narration for this compelling read and I really found myself absorbing more of the complex details of this fantasy word when listening to it.  Easily the best way to enjoy this exceptional read, I cannot wait to get my hands on the third Covenant of Steel audiobook.

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The Wraithbone Phoenix, written by Alec Worley and narrated by Harry Myers

The Wraithbone Phoenix Cover

The final Warhammer 40,000 audiobook on this list is the gripping Warhammer Crime book, The Wraithbone Phoenix by Alec Worley.  Set in a massive and crime-ridden city, The Wraithbone Phoenix follows an unlikely duo of abhuman criminals as they attempt to pay off their debts by recovering an ancient artefact from decommissioned space ship.  However, when the entire city becomes aware of their scheme, they are soon forced to go up against a range of over-the-top killers, thieves and bounty hunters, all determined to kill them and take the prize for themselves.  This was an extremely fun and captivating read, which was even more enjoyable as an audiobook as narrator Harry Myers had to voice a ton of unusual characters.  I had an outstanding time listening to The Wraithbone Phoenix and I look forward to more fun and fantastic Warhammer Crime audiobooks in the future.

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In the Shadow of Lightning, written by Brian McClellan and narrated by Damian Lynch

In the Shadow of Lightning Cover

One of the best fantasy books of 2022 had to be the epic and captivating In the Shadow of Lightning by Brian McClellan.  McClellan, who already created magic with his Powder Mage novels (such as Promise of Blood), did a remarkable job of creating a new elaborate fantasy universe where all magic is tied into glass.  Following several complex and damaged protagonists as they attempted to navigate war, politics and a dark conspiracy, In the Shadow of Lightning was a remarkable book that perfectly set up McClellan’s planned Glass Immortals series.  I had a wonderful and incredible time with In the Shadow of Lightning, and I absolutely loved how well it came out in its audiobook format.  Featuring the amazing voice of Damian Lynch, who dove right into the complex roles before him, this audiobook is extremely addictive and I powered through it extremely quickly.  A highly recommended audiobook, I am so damn excited for the sequel.

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Star Wars: The High Republic: Convergence, written by Zoraida Córdova and narrated by Marc Thompson

Star Wars - Convergence Cover

Finally, I had to feature at least one Star Wars book on a list about great audiobooks (it is an Unseen Library rule), and boy was I spoiled for choice this year.  While books like Path of Deceit, Midnight Horizon and Brotherhood all had excellent audiobooks, I ended up going with the Star Wars book I am currently listening to, Convergence by Zoraida Córdova.  Despite the fact that I still have a little more to listen to (I’m probably going to finish it tonight), I have been deeply impressed with Convergence and I think it has the best combination of narrative, characters and audiobook features of all the Star Wars novels I listened to in 2022.  The first adult book in the second phase of The High Republic, Convergence has a great story that explores a deadly war between two planets, while simultaneously introducing elements from an earlier period of Star Wars history.  This excellent story is greatly enhanced by the usual outstanding Star Wars production values of cool sound effects, emotionally charged music, and the fantastic voice work of Marc Thompson, who is one of the best audiobook narrators in the world today.  This was a remarkable read and I look forward to seeing how this new phase of The High Republic continues in 2023.

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Well that is the end of this latest Top Ten list, and as you can see, I have been lucky enough to listen to some awesome audiobooks this year (although I clearly focussed a little too much on Warhammer fiction).  All the above audiobooks are extremely good and I would highly recommend each of them in their audiobook format.  There is still a little time for me to listen to a few more great audiobooks this year, and I cannot wait to see how they all turn out.  Let me know what your favourite audiobooks of 2022 were in the comments below, and I will have to try and check them out as well.

Red Winter by Marc Cameron (based on the series by Tom Clancy)

Red Winter Cover

Publisher: Sphere (Trade Paperback – 13 December 2022)

Series: Jack Ryan series

Length: 419 pages

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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Prepare for another adventure from classic spy thriller character Jack Ryan as Marc Cameron once again visits Tom Clancy’s iconic universe for an amazing read with Red Winter.

Now, I am the first to admit that I have more than a few gaps in my reading knowledge, especially when it comes to some of the classic, long-running crime fiction or thriller series.  Perhaps one of the most significant of these are the works of Tom Clancy, whose books, particularly those featuring protagonist Jack Ryan, are very highly regarded and have resulted in many films and other adaptations.  The Jack Ryan novels have continued for years, even after Clancy’s death, with several authors contributing great new stories to the wider series.  Well, I am about to dip my toe into Clancy’s universe for the first time by checking out the new Jack Ryan novel, Red Winter.  Written by established thriller author Marc Cameron, who has already contributed several recent entries to the series, Red Winter was an intriguing and enjoyable read with some great spy thriller elements to it.

Berlin, 1985.  The crushing stalemate of the Cold War continues as the East and the West engage in their usual espionage games.  The most valuable piece on the board is an apparent Stasi source embedded deep within the CIA, providing invaluable information to the East Germany intelligence agency.  However, the espionage balance is about to tip once again, when a young American embassy worker is handed a note in mysterious circumstances, apparently from a high-ranking member of the Stasi who wishes to defect to the West with a trove of information.

Unwilling to trust the CIA team in West Berlin, the traitor requests that a new face journey to East Berlin to discuss his upcoming defection.  Forced to look outside the box of their usual operatives, the CIA decide to send Jack Ryan to make contact.  Accompanied by a talented agent and shadowed by a deadly CIA killer, Ryan begins the dangerous journey to East Berlin to determine the legitimacy of their new source.  However, there are few places more dangerous for a CIA agent like Ryan than East Berlin, and he soon finds himself surrounded by tricky foreign agents, deadly assassins and desperate informers, all of whom pose a dire risk to Ryan and his mission.

However, the plan gets even more complicated when an experimental US military aircraft crashes down in the Nevada desert, right in front of an undercover Stasi agent.  Securing a vital piece of military hardware, the Stasi agent flees across America, aiming for an extraction by his masters while the FBI, Air Force and local police hunt for him.  Desperately needing information on the Stasi agent in America before it is too late, Ryan must work hard to bring the defector to their side and find out where the fugitive is going.  But with the KGB, Stasi, and the CIA traitor moving in for the kill, can Ryan escape East Berlin with the information he needs, or will the stolen technology allow the East to once again heat up the Cold War?

Red Winter was an excellent and highly exciting spy thriller novel that takes readers back to the classic Tom Clancy setting of Cold War Europe.  Marc Cameron has produced a very entertaining and compelling read here, and I was swiftly sucked into the awesome story.  The narrative itself has a lot of moving parts to it as Cameron focuses on several closely related storylines or character arcs at the same time.  While much of the focus is on Ryan and his comrades as they attempt to infiltrate East Berlin and make contact with the defector, you also get familiar with several other great characters in the vicinity.  This included the CIA mole, an East German singer who is being abused by a Stasi agent, members of the various spy agencies working on both sides of the Wall, and a deadly American operative who is shadowing Ryan to keep him alive.  The book also shows the hunt for the fugitive Stasi agent in America, who is attempting to flee with the stolen military equipment.  This American part of the book is further split between different perspectives, with the reader seeing events from the eyes of both the Stasi operative and the FBI agent hunting them.

These diverse storylines come together extremely well, and I really liked the interplay of different characters and plot lines in the second half of the book.  There are some great storylines going on throughout the plot, with my personal favourite being the compelling fugitive scenes in America.  The sequences set in Germany are also very intriguing, especially as Cameron provides some excellent descriptions of tradecraft and the various counterplays by the spies, as both sides battle it out for espionage supremacy.  I really appreciated the dark dive into life within East Germany during this period, and the compelling looks at several East German characters who are attempting to survive added some intensity to the book.  There is also an excellent look at the traitor with the CIA and their complex position and their reasons for betraying their country are an excellent part of the plot.  While the first half of the book is pretty intense, everything kicks up a notch once Ryan and his colleagues arrive in East Germany.  There are a ton of destructive and high-impact action sequences here which really get the blood pumping and keep the story going at a very fast pace.  I deeply enjoyed the cool action sequences, especially as Cameron does a great job of writing them realistically, showcasing the talent of the professionals and Ryan’s lack of fighting ability.  There are a few good twists towards the end and Cameron keeps the conclusion hopeful, but dark, highlighting that there are very few heroes in the Cold War.  Red Winter was an amazing and very fun spy thriller, and I loved how this compelling narrative came together.

I also had a lot of fun coming into to this series as a Tom Clancy newbie.  My only experience with Tom Clancy and the Jack Ryan books comes from some of the film adaptations, such as The Hunt for Red October, Clear and Present Danger and Patriot Games.  However, I found that this was more than enough to enjoy Red Winter, and my lack of any real knowledge of Tom Clancy’s original books didn’t really hamper me at all.  While I am sure that I missed out on a bunch of clever throwbacks, Cameron did a great job of reintroducing all the key characters so that new readers can follow their storylines.  There are multiple references to some of the previous events that occurred canonically before the events of Red Winter, but none of them have any major impacts on the story, and I felt that any thriller fan could dive in here with a minimal amount of knowledge and still enjoy the fantastic story within.  Red Winter also apparently serves as a bridging novel between The Hunt for Red October and The Cardinal of the Kremlin, with Ryan meeting several of the supporting characters from The Cardinal of the Kremlin in advance here.  I felt that this was a very clever inclusion by Cameron, and fans of Clancy’s original work are going to love seeing some of the intriguing hints of the events that are to come.  This also ends up being the first canonical time that recurring character John Clark sees Jack Ryan, having travelled to Berlin to help him, although Cameron uses circumstance and training to make sure they don’t actually talk.  Personally, I thought this was a great introduction to the wider world of Clancy’s writings, and I will have to try and read some of his earlier works when I get a chance.

Overall, I had a wonderful time reading Red Winter and I really enjoyed Marc Cameron’s latest addition to Tom Clancy’s spy universe.  Cleverly adding to the well-established Jack Ryan series, Red Winter features some awesome spy action while perfectly showing off the dangers of Berlin during the Cold War for all spies and government agents.  Fast-paced, action-packed, and loaded with some classic Tom Clancy moments, Red Winter was an intriguing and captivating novel that will appeal to a wide range of readers.

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