Top Ten Tuesday – Books on my Summer 2021-22 TBR

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 Top Ten Tuesday topic for this week was around Bookish Memories, however, I decided to instead move up my quarterly post about the best upcoming books to be read (TBR) for the following three months.  This is a regular post I do at the start of each season, and as this is the first week or Summer (Winter for you folks up North), this is the ideal time to put this up.

For this list, I have come up with 10 of the most anticipated novels that are coming out between 1 December 2021 and 28 February 2022.  There are quite a few very cool novels set for release in the next few months that I am very excited for, including some highly anticipated reads.  I was eventually able to whittle these down into a Top Ten list (with a few honourable mentions).  I have primarily used the Australian publication dates to reflect when I will be able to get these awesome novels, and these might be somewhat different to the rest of the world.  I have previously discussed a number of these books before in prior Top Ten Tuesdays and Waiting on Wednesday articles and I think all of them will turn out to be some really impressive and enjoyable reads.  I am incredibly excited for the next three months as there are some incredible novels coming out, several of which I already know are going to be amongst the best books of 2021 and 2022.

Honourable Mentions:

The Liar’s Knot by M. A. Carrick – 9 December 2021

The Liar's Knot Cover

 

Outcast by Louise Carey – 25 January 2022

Outcast Cover

 

Warhammer 40,000: Day of Ascension by Adrian Tchaikovsky – 1 February 2022

Day of Ascension Cover

 

Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham – 22 February 2022

Age of Ash Cover

Top Ten Tuesday (by release date):

Armored by Mark Greaney – 9 December 2021

Armored Cover

 

The Starless Crown by James Rollins – 4 January 2022

The Starless Crown Cover

 

Star Wars: The High Republic: The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray – 4 January 2022

Star Wars - The Fallen Star

Over the last year, some of the best Star Wars novels have been part of the awesome High Republic publication range.  Set hundreds of years before the films, High Republic fiction covers a whole new era of the Star Wars universe and has an extremely distinctive feel and some great new antagonists.  The Fallen Star will be the third adult novel in this series and will continue the major storylines set up in Light of the Jedi and The Rising Storm.  I am really looking forward to this new novel, especially as the plot suggests that the villainous Nihil will be launching an attack on the Jedi stronghold of Starlight Beacon, which will force the various characters into a desperate life and death struggle.  I cannot wait to see how this book plays out, and I am excited to see another book from author Claudia Gray, especially after how her impressive last two novels, Into the Dark and Master & Apprentice (one of my favourite Star Wars books).

 

A Practical Guide to Conquering the World by K. J. Parker – 11 January 2022

A Practical Guide to Conquering the World Cover

I had to include the third and final entry in K. J. Parker’s brilliant Siege trilogy, A Practical Guide to Conquering the World, on this list.  The Siege trilogy features three loosely connected fantasy novels that depict the comedic defence of a besieged city through unconventional tactics.  This outstanding fantasy comedy series has so far featured Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City (one of the best books of 2019) and How to Rule an Empire and Get Away With It (one of the best books of 2020).  While there are only minimal details about this novel now, I already know that I am going to laugh myself silly reading it and that it will be one of the most entertaining novels I will check out in 2022.

 

Dark Horse by Gregg Hurwitz – 8 February 2022

Dark Horse Cover

 

City of the Dead by Jonathan Kellerman – 8 February 2022

City of the Dead Cover

 

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 36: Tengu War! by Stan Sakai – 15 February 2022

Usagi Yojimbo - Tengu War!

 

Sierra Six by Mark Greaney – 15 February 2022

Sierra Six Cover

 

The Misfit Soldier by Michael Mammay – 22 February 2022

The Misfit Soldier Cover

 

The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan – 22 February 2022

The Justice of Kings Cover

 

 

Well that is the end of my Top Ten list.  I think it turned out pretty well and it does a good job of capturing all my most anticipated books for the next three months.  Each of the above should be extremely epic, and I cannot wait to read each of them soon.  Let me know which of the above you are most excited for and stay tuned for reviews of them in the next few months.  In the meantime, it looks like I have quite a few books to get through soon and they should all be pretty awesome.

Throwback Thursday: Green Arrow (2001): Volume 3: The Archer’s Quest by Brad Meltzer, Phil Hester and Ande Parks

Green Arrow Archer's Quest

Publisher: DC Comics (Paperback – 1 September 2004)

Series: Green Arrow Vol. 3 – Volume Three

Writer: Brad Meltzer

Penciller: Phil Hester

Inker: Ande Parks

Colourist: James Sinclair

Letterer: Sean Konot

Length: 175 pages

My Rating: 5 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 this week’s Throwback Thursday I check out an all-time favourite comic of mine, the third volume of the epic 2001 Green Arrow relaunch, The Archer’s Quest.

The late 1990s and early 2000s were an outstanding time for DC Comics, who produced an amazing number of epic and fascinating comic series that combined brilliant storytelling with fantastic artwork.  While there are several great series I enjoy from this period (Teen Titans comes to mind), one of my absolute favourites was the awesome 2001 relaunch of Green Arrow.  Also recorded as Green Arrow Vol. 3, this series resurrected the original Green Arrow, Oliver Queen, some years after his death.  I have an amazing amount of love for this comic; not only was it one of the first series I ever really got into but it still really stands up after all this time.  This is easily one of my all-time favourite comic book series, and the absolute pinnacle of this series was the simple, yet amazingly effective fourth volume, The Archer’s Quest.

While I probably should review some of the proceeding volumes of this series first before talking about The Archer’s Quest (such as the first volume, Quiver by Kevin Smith), I recently re-read this fantastic comic, so it has been on my mind all week.  Containing issues #16-21 of this outstanding series, The Archer’s Quest is a brilliant and captivating comic tale that really gets to grips with the protagonist as he embarks on a journey vital to his identity and history.  Featuring the brilliant writing of bestselling author Brad Meltzer (author of several amazing thriller novels, as well as some impressive DC Comics), and the artistic stylings of Phil Hester and Ande Parks, this is an exceptional comic which gets a five-star rating from me.

Green Arrow - #16

Following his unexpected resurrection after his violent death, Oliver Queen, the Green Arrow, has been returned to Earth, ready to continue the good fight.  However, no man can come back from the grave without a heavy heart, and Oliver Queen has more skeletons in his closet than most of his fellow heroes.  A chance discovery that the villain, Catman, attended his funeral leads Oliver back to his old friend, Shade, the immortal being Green Arrow trusted to round up certain artefacts of Oliver’s superhero career that could reveal his secret identity. 

Discovering that Shade failed to get several of Oliver’s most precious keepsakes, Oliver embarks on a cross-country road-trip to recover them himself.  Accompanied by his former sidekick, Roy Harper, Oliver begins visiting some of the locations most important to himself and his career as a superhero.  From the ruins of the Arrowcave to the Justice League’s orbiting Watchtower and even the Flash Museum in Central City, Oliver and Roy will attempt to find these items from the past in order to safeguard their future.

However, this will be no simple road trip, as the two heroes encounter some unexpected dangers and surprising opposition, including fellow hero the Flash and the angry zombie Solomon Grundy.  Worse, this journey will uncover some dark secrets from the past that Oliver has long hoped to keep quiet.  Can Oliver recover his treasures without his friends and family discovering who he really is, or has the past finally come back to destroy this resurrected hero?

Green Arrow - #17

The Archer’s Quest is a fantastic and powerful Green Arrow comic that takes the protagonist and his former sidekick on a wild and extremely personal adventure.  Before reading this, if you had ever pitched me a comic based around the idea of a recently resurrected superhero going on a road trip, I might have been a little dubious.  Well, it turns out that I would have been dead wrong, as Brad Meltzer produced an intense, captivating and emotionally rich narrative that is not only extremely entertaining but which contains some excellent character work, some brilliant references to the classic Green Arrow comics, and which dives deep into the psyche of a troubled and complex protagonist. 

The narrative of The Archer’s Quest starts extremely strong, with Green Arrow meeting Superman at Oliver Queen’s grave.  This is a fantastic opening scene, especially once Superman hands over a series of photographs of the funeral, and I loved the focus on the harrowing realities following a resurrection.  The sombre mood is broken when Green Arrow notices a stranger in his photo amongst his closest friends.  This leads him to hunt down Catman, which also reveals the hand of Shade and the revelation that certain items from Oliver’s past are still out in the open.  This forces Green Arrow into a road trip, hunting for his artefacts and dealing with friends, enemies and family.  The first chapter packs in some much-needed action, as Green Arrow goes toe-to-toe with Solomon Grundy in an epic and brutal fight, that ends with a surprising, and gruesome, win from the protagonist.  From there, Meltzer and the artists pile up the emotional and the feels by having Oliver encounter several fellow heroes who he has complex relationships with, while also building up the nostalgia factor, with the reveal of classic Green Arrow items, locations and characters.  All this leads to some major moments, from an attempted proposal to a moving and long-awaited conversation between father and son.  However, Meltzer saves the absolute best for last with a startling revelation about the past that shows Oliver’s true character and serves as a powerful end to the entire story.  This was a beautiful, character driven story, and I think Meltzer hit all the right notes.  The pacing is perfect and there is a fantastic blend of action, character development and emotional discovery, which all comes together into one outstanding story.  The Archer’s Quest is addictive and dramatically intense from start to finish, I can read and re-read this comic for years (and I probably will).

Green Arrow - #18

One of the things that I really enjoyed about this amazing comic is the way in which Meltzer and the artists turned it into a homage to the Green Arrow comics.  The creative team spend a substantial amount of time diving back into the history and lore of the character and his comics, working them into the story in very meaningful ways.  So many key aspects of the Green Arrow comics are referenced or alluded to in some way, as the characters journey around some iconic locations, including the Arrowcave, to obtain the artefacts.  Through this dive into the past, the creative team manage to perfectly capture the various eras of Green Arrow, including the classic Golden Age comics, the grittier Silver Age comics, the road trip era with Green Lantern (which this comic really tries to emulate), and The Longbow Hunters period.  This wide range of references makes for a very intriguing and compelling comic, and it helps turn The Archer’s Quest into a must-read for all Green Arrow fans.  I loved the clever range of different artefacts that protagonists are trying to recover, including the diamond-tipped arrow from Green Arrow’s first appearance in Justice League of America, his official invitation to the Justice League, and the truck that he and Green Lantern used in their iconic road trip.  These cool artefacts really help to ramp up the nostalgia while simultaneously including key modern story elements hidden within.  The cool funeral sequence at the start of the comic also allows the creative team to reference and include a vast range of supporting characters and allies from the original comics, with a range of different figures from Oliver’s career appearing to pay their respect.  I deeply appreciated the modern analyses and descriptions of the items, locations, complex relationships, character designs, weaponry (why all the boxing gloves?) and prior adventures included in this comic, and it helps to produce a comprehensive account of these iconic events, while also bringing them up to speed with more modern comic lines.  You can really tell that the creative team behind The Archer’s Quest had a lot of affection for the preceding Green Arrow comics, and this outstanding comic proves to be an amazing and captivating love-letter to the Emerald Archer.

I deeply enjoyed the epic characters that this amazing comic followed, especially as Meltzer uses this story to dive deep into the psyche and relationships of the protagonists, especially Oliver Queen, the titular Green Arrow.  This version of the character is only recently returned from the grave, and this becomes a major part of his identity throughout the comic, driving him to fix some of the mistakes of his past while also ensuring that he never hurts his family again.  Thanks to the entire comic being narrated by Oliver, you get some very intriguing insights into Green Arrow’s mindset during this period, and you really get to know who he is and what his motivations are.  Rather than some of the typical portrayals of him as a liberal, generic arrow slinger, the creative team attempt to show him as a complex veteran hero, still deeply impacted by his resurrection and uncertain about his place in the world.  A lot of The Archer’s Quest’s narrative involves Green Arrow attempting to find pieces of his past that are significant or potentially damaging to him, and as such you get an amazing look into key events of Oliver’s past, as well as his current priorities and concerns.  I really enjoyed the storylines involved with him trying to reconcile or repair relationships with his former friends and allies, as well as an interesting development in his romantic partnership with Black Canary.

Green Arrow - #19

One of the best things about this comic is the way that Meltzer portrays Oliver as a more morally ambiguous figure, willing to make a deal with a supervillain, lie to those closest to him, and initiating undercover actions to protect identities.  There is also some great evidence of the self-destructive tendencies that would be a major defining feature of this series, as well as the complex decisions that affect those closest to him.  As such, he keeps many secrets, even from his former sidekick, such as his main motivation for recovering his old truck is to secure the Green Lantern ring Hal Jordan hid in there years ago.  However, the biggest secret involves the revelation that he always knew that his son, Conner, existed, and that he pretended he did not know who he was when they first met.  This revelation is slowly and cleverly revealed throughout the comic, first with Oliver subtly making the recovery of its hiding place his main priority, and then in the final scenes after he has a heart-to-heart with Conner, when he reveals the secret photo.  The narration during this scene sums up Green Arrow in this series perfectly: “You’re a bastard Oliver Queen.  You knew.  You always knew.  And the worst part is…. it’s still your secret.” and the entire sequence ensures you will never look at this character again in the same way.  I also musty highlight the great inclusion about Green Arrow secretly coming up with plans to protect secret identities if a hero died.  Not only is this vital to the plot of The Archer’s Quest, but it also hints at the great storyline that Meltzer would eventually use in his epic Identity Crisis, which features a proactive team of heroes mind-wiping villains and destroying personalities.  This outstanding and layered portrayal of Green Arrow in this comic is one of the defining characteristics of The Archer’s Quest, and I am blown away with this brilliant character work every time I read this volume.

The other major character of this novel is Roy Harper, his former sidekick (now Arsenal), who Oliver calls in to help him hunt down Catman.  I really enjoyed the inclusion of Roy in this comic, especially as he had been overly featured in this series (he was mostly appearing in Titans).  As such, we had not really gotten a glimpse at the current relationship between former mentor and sidekick, which has always been strained since the infamous heroine incident.  The Archer’s Quest did an amazing job bringing them back together again, and Roy really gets into the swing of the adventure, with the two characters getting back into their adventuring groove.  However, the comic also deals with the inherent mistrust between the two characters, with Roy upset that Oliver trusted Shade more than him to protect his identity after his death.  The two end up working through these issues throughout this comic, and it ended up being a fun and powerful reunion that long-term Green Arrow fans will deeply enjoy.

Green Arrow - #20

Aside from Green Arrow and Roy Harper, this comic also makes great use of several other supporting character who either bring the protagonist back to his past, or help to add some emotional weight to the story.  This includes brilliant inclusions of two fellow superheroes, Kyle Rayner and Wally West, the versions of Green Lantern and the Flash who were active at the time.  Both these younger heroes bear a major legacy that results in some complicated and moving interactions with Oliver.  One of the most important is Kyle Rayner, who has taken over the mantle of Green Lantern following the corruption and eventual death of Green Arrow’s best friend, Hal Jordan.  Since Oliver’s resurrection, their relationship has been strained, with Oliver having trouble accepting him.  This all finally comes to a head with Oliver travels to the Watchtower and encounters the young Lantern, and they have a massive heart-to-heart.  The revelations that Oliver has trouble accepting a new Lantern instead of his best friend, as well as the emotional burden Kyle also bears, especially around his first loss as a superhero (women in refrigerators man, that stuff will mess you up), all comes out, and leads to an amazingly moving scene.

I also loved the great interaction that Oliver had with Wally West outside the Flash Museum, after Wally is warned that Oliver is planning to break into it.  The two characters have a great stare-down, which sees the usually jovial Flash incredibly serious at Oliver’s attempted trespass.  Oliver’s narration about this event is pretty great, especially noting that Wally’s usual short attention span is overridden by his love of Barry Allen’s memory.  These two interactions with Green Lantern and Flash are short but extremely powerful, and it was amazing to see the strain on Oliver at being still alive, while the roles of his friends have been passed on to the next generation.  Despite the serious nature of these scenes, both had an entertaining ending with Oliver managing to outsmart his younger colleagues: “That old, lying son of a b…”.  I also liked the inclusion of Superman at the start of the comic, which was both entertaining, and played into the resurrection storyline perfectly with Superman feeling guilty about not being able to save Oliver when he died, while also being a bit of an expert on coming back to life himself.  I also enjoyed the fantastic conclusion of the Flash arc, especially as the entire break-in was to retrieve a costume-filled ring that the Flash made for Green Arrow years before, and which was a nice nod to the great friendship they used to have.

While this volume of Green Arrow does not have an antagonist per se (except for Solomon Grundy and Oliver’s self-destructive behaviour), it does feature a couple of great supervillains in a supporting role.  The first of these is Shade, the immortal shadow-powered gentleman who, despite being a villain, gained Green Arrow’s trust years ago, and was entrusted by Oliver to fulfil his post-death wishes (always chose an immortal).  Shade is a fantastic inclusion to this comic, especially as his inclusion enhances the implication that Green Arrow is a much more morally grey hero than you would initially believe.  The interactions between Shade, Green Arrow and Roy Harper are really good, and I liked the explanations for why he was unable to fulfil all his duties (I wouldn’t want to annoy Jay Garrick either).  I also really need to highlight the excellent inclusion of Thomas Blake, better known as Catman, in his first appearance in comic form in years.  Catman has always been a bit of a joke character due to his gimmick (which simultaneously rips off Catwoman and Batman at the same time), but in this comic he is shown to be a shell of even his previous ridiculous self, who is looked down on by the entire supervillain community.  Hired by Shade as his agent, Catman is hunted down by Green Arrow after attending his funeral, only to show him as an overweight and unthreatening loser.  This entire comic paints him as quite the pathetic figure and shows the downsides of being a fourth-rate villain who turned on some very powerful people.  While his appearance in this comic was more entertaining than deep, it does beautifully set up his later appearances in such comics as Villains United and Secret Six and serves as his inspiration for becoming the ultra-badass we see there.  These two villains perfectly rounded out the main cast of The Archer’s Quest, and both inclusions were fantastic and intriguing additions to the overall plot.

Green Arrow - #21

This amazing and complex narrative is perfectly backed up by some excellent artwork from the team of Hester and Parks, who really bring this story to life in exquisite detail.  This entire comic is drawn in fantastic detail with some beautiful scenes, fantastic backdrops (including some iconic Green Arrow locations, lovingly brought to life) and entertaining sequences.  This includes some brilliant and powerful action sequences, and the artists pay particular attention to the flight, movement, and destructive potential of the arrows.  I particularly liked the awesome fight scene between Green Arrow and Solomon Grundy, which was filled with some brutal action in the tight confines of the former Arrowcave and featured some great narration from the protagonist.  I loved the character designs featured in the comic, and the classic look of Green Arrow and his companions was great.  The artists do a great job portraying emotion on the face of the characters, especially surrounding Oliver and his multiple examples of anguish and conflict.  I also appreciated the play of emotion on some of the other characters faces, especially Flash when Oliver arrives at the Flash Museum.  Seeing the grim and dark look on Flash’s face as he tries to stop Oliver is really surprising and impactful, and the artists do a fantastic job of showcasing a tense stare-down between the two as the sun starts to rise.  However, in my opinion, the best drawn sequence in the entire comic occurs at the front of the volume, when Oliver contemplates his funeral.  Shown in a series of polaroids, you see the various grieving mourners and it was fantastic to see several obscure figures from Oliver’s past appear to pay their respect.  This beautifully drawn scene is short, but it sets the scene for the rest of the volume extremely well and is an excellent way to start this fantastic comic.  I loved the way the comics in The Archer’s Quest were drawn, and they ensured that the outstanding story reached its full potential.

Overall, I have an insane amount of love for this third volume of this classic Green Arrow series, and it comes highly recommended.  The Archer’s Quest is a brilliant and powerful comic arc that perfectly combines a clever and nostalgic story, with some intense character development and a fun and enjoyable art style.  Meltzer’s narrative in this fantastic Green Arrow comic so damn amazing, and I deeply enjoyed his take of this iconic character.  I deeply enjoyed The Archer’s Quest, and it easily one of my favourite comic volumes of all time.  I am hoping to review the rest of this Green Arrow series in some future Throwback Thursday series, and I look forward to highlighting all the amazing storylines that were contained in this incredible run.

WWW Wednesday – 24 November 2021

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

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

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

It Ends in Fire by Andrew Shvarts (Hardcover)

It Ends in Fire Cover 2

I just started reading It Ends in Fire by Andrew Shvarts, a fantastic and compelling young adult fantasy novel that serves as a fun deconstruction of the classic magical school narrative.  I have been looking forward to this book for a while, mainly because Shvarts’ last series, the Royal Bastards trilogy was pretty damn amazing (check out my reviews of City of Bastards and War of the Bastards).  I am about 100 pages in It Ends in Fire at the moment, and the plot so far features a young rebel who infiltrates a fantasy nation’s premier magic school (essentially an evil Hogwarts) to kill everyone.  I look forward to seeing how it turns out and I am expecting a fun and thrilling story.

 

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil by Timothy Zahn (Audiobook)

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Lesser Evil Cover

I was also extremely excited to start listening to the third and final book in the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy, Lesser Evil, by Timothy Zahn.  Serving as a prequel to the author’s outstanding Thrawn trilogy (Thrawn, Alliances and Treason), Lesser Evil follows on from the great Thrawn Ascendancy novels Chaos Rising and Greater Good and seeks to wrap up this complex tale. I have been powering through this novel in the last few days and I am hoping to knock it off very soon.  I am having a blast with this final book, especially as a lot of the overarching series storylines are starting to come together in some amazing ways.  I am extremely excited to see how this trilogy ends and Lesser Evil looks set to be the best book in this fantastic trilogy.

What did you recently finish reading?

Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn (Trade Paperback)

Among Thieves Cover

 

The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield (Audiobook)

The Apollo Murders Cover

 

Kill Your Brother by Jack Heath (Trade Paperback)

Kill Your Brother Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

Cytonic by Brandon Sanderson

Cytonic 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 – Rise of the Mages and The Justice of Kings

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 article, I look at two fun upcoming fantasy debuts that I think have an immense amount of potential.

Here at The Unseen Library, we have a lot of love for debut novels, and it is always awesome to read and review the first book a new author has produced or to see a writer break into a completely new genre.  I have had a brilliant time reading some great debuts in recent years, with some proving to be quite exceptional reads.  For example, two amazing debut novels of 2020, The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell and The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, ended up being some of the best books (and audiobooks) of the year.  This year has been no different, as I had read some exceptional debuts in 2021, such as The Councillor by E. J. Beaton and The Frenchman by Jack Beaumont.  I have some other glowing reviews for debut novels coming up shortly, and I am planning to do a Top Ten List highlighting some of the best debut novels of 2021 in a few weeks.  However, before I do any of that, I thought I would take the chance to look at two exceptional upcoming fantasy novels that are likely to be some of the best debuts of 2022.

Rise of the Mages Cover

The first of these books is Rise of the Mages by Scott Drakeford.  Currently set for release on 25 January 2022, Rise of the Mages in an interesting epic fantasy novel that will serve as the first book in The Age of Ire trilogy.  Rise of the Mages has an outstanding story of blood, magic and rebellion, as well as an awesome cover, and I really like the sound of this cool novel.

Synopsis:

Scott Drakeford’s epic fantasy debut, Rise of the Mages combines gripping, personal vengeance with compelling characters for an action packed first book in a trilogy.

Emrael Ire wants nothing more than to test to be a weapons master. His final exam will be a bloody insurrection, staged by corrupt nobles and priests, that enslaves his brother.

With the aid of his War Master tutor, herself an undercover mage, Emrael discovers his own latent and powerful talents.

To rescue his brother, Emrael must embrace not only his abilities as a warrior but also his place as last of the ancient Mage Kings—for the Fallen God has returned.

And he is hungry. 

This book has an awesome synopsis, and I am deeply intrigued by the fantastic sounding story that Rise of the Mages looks set to have.  Dark rebellions, rogue wizards and fallen gods are all excellent bases for great fantasy books and I very interested in the idea of a “Mage King”.  Based on this synopsis, it sounds like Drakeford is looking to produce a pretty epic and intense read, and I look forward to seeing all the magic-fuelled action, adventure and blood shed that Rise of the Mages contains.

The Justice of Kings Cover

The other book I really want to highlight in this post is the brilliant sounding The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan.  Set to be the first book in his proposed Empire of the Wolf trilogy, The Justice of Kings is Swan’s debut fantasy novel, after he previously wrote several intriguing science fiction novels, such as The Art of War trilogy.  The Justice of Kings currently has a release date of 22 February 2022 and I think it has the potential to be one of the best books of next year.

Synopsis:

The Justice of Kings, the first in a new epic fantasy trilogy, follows the tale of Sir Konrad Vonvalt, an Emperor’s Justice – a detective, judge and executioner all in one. As he unravels a web of secrets and lies, Vonvalt discovers a plot that might destroy his order once and for all – and bring down the entire Empire.

As an Emperor’s Justice, Sir Konrad Vonvalt always has the last word. His duty is to uphold the law of the empire using whatever tools he has at his disposal: whether it’s his blade, the arcane secrets passed down from Justice to Justice, or his wealth of knowledge of the laws of the empire. But usually his reputation as one of the most revered—and hated—Justices is enough to get most any job done.

When Vonvalt investigates the murder of a noblewoman, he finds his authority being challenged like never before. As the simple case becomes more complex and convoluted, he begins to pull at the threads that unravel a conspiracy that could see an end to all Justices, and a beginning to lawless chaos across the empire.

This sounds like such an outstanding and compelling read, and I am deeply intrigued by the proposed combination of crime fiction, legal thriller, and epic fantasy fiction elements.  The Justice of Kings’ plot about an honourable knight concerned only with justice, hunting through an elaborate conspiracy with magic and a sword has an amazing amount of promise, and I cannot wait to see what clever and complex mystery Swan has written around this.  I have already heard some substantial buzz around this book, with several reviewers I follow raving about The Justice of King’s story and fantasy elements after receiving advanced copies.  As such, I am extremely excited for this novel and I cannot wait to see if it lives up to all the hype.

2022 is already shaping up to be an excellent year for debut fantasy novels, especially with Rise of the Mages by Scott Drakeford and The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan.  Both these exceptional sounding novels have an immense amount of potential and promise, and I know I am going to have a great time reading them.  These two novels have amazing synopses, and I am extremely interested to find out how these compelling plots turn out.  Out of the two, I think that I am a little keener for The Justice of Kings, due to what I have already heard about it, but I am sure that Rise of the Mages will prove to be just as epic and fantastic.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Literary Trilogies

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  While the official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday required participants to list the 10 characters they would love an update on, I have decided to do something a little different, and instead will be listening my favourite literary trilogies.

Trilogies in literature are a long-running and deeply fun tradition that packs an epic connected tale, into three consecutive novels.  There are some truly amazing trilogies out there, from the classics, like The Lord of the Rings, to some recent trilogies that I have been deeply enjoying.  Indeed, 2021 alone has seen the end of several epic and outstanding literary trilogies.  I just finished one particularly incredible trilogy, and it got me thinking about some of the other amazing three-book series I have read.  That inspired me and I thought I would take this opportunity to try and list my 10 favourite novel trilogies of all time.  I have had the great pleasure of reading some truly awesome and exciting trilogies over the years, and I feel this is the perfect time to highlight them, especially if anyone is looking for a new trilogy/series to get addicted to.

This proved to be a fun list to pull together, especially as I had a great wealth of potential trilogies to feature on this list.  To be eligible for this list, the proposed trilogy must consist of three, inter-connected novels.  I only included series that were intended to end after three novels, rather than by happenstance, so that means that series like The Gentleman Bastards will not be featured (it technically has a fourth novel on the way).  I also excluded trilogies that I have not yet completed, even if I have already read and deeply enjoyed the first two novels.  This is because I really need to see how the third book turns out, as a bad third entry can easily spoil a trilogy that starts out with some fantastic novels.

Even with these restrictions, I ended up with a descent list of trilogies, which took me a little while to cull down and which resulted in a good honourable mentions section.  I am judging these trilogies on several factors, including how complete their story is, how well connected the novels are, and whether the component novels provide good introductions, conclusions and connections to the other books in the trilogy.  I am pretty happy with how this latest Top Ten Tuesday turned out, and I think that perfectly represents the best trilogies that I have so far finished.

Honourable Mentions:

The Wounded Kingdom trilogy by R. J. Barker

Wounded Kingdom Trilogy

A fun and awesome dark fantasy trilogy that follows an assassin as he finds himself fighting for the future of a kingdom.  Featuring a great first novel (Age of Assassins), a powerful middle entry (Blood of Assassins) and an epic ending (King of Assassins), this debut series from R. J. Barker was pretty damn awesome and really worth a read.

 

DiscworldMoist von Lipwig trilogy by Terry Pratchett

Moist von Lipwig Trilogy

Terry Pratchett’s exceptional Discworld series featured several interconnected sub-series and standalone reads, but only the Moist von Lipwig books can really be considered a trilogy.  Made up of Going Postal, Making Money and Raising Steam, these are some of Pratchett’s final books, and have a different, but still entertaining, writing stye to them.  While I love these three novels, I have decided to leave this trilogy as an honourable mention due to its potential premature ending and its complex status within the larger Discworld series.

 

Royal Bastards trilogy by Andrew Shvarts

Royal Bastards Cover

A fantastic and clever young adult fantasy series that followed the illegitimate children of treacherous nobles as they try to right the wrongs of their parents.  Consisting of Royal Bastards, City of Bastards and War of the Bastards, this is an impressive and captivating trilogy with some dark storylines and complex characters.

 

The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Hunger Games Trilogy

I had to include the iconic Hunger Games novels by Suzanne Collins on this list.  Made up of The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay, this is a great and fast-paced dystopian series that I have read a few times now.  All three novels are a lot of fun, although the first book is probably the best.  A recent prequel novel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes came out last year and is also worth a read.

Top Ten List:

The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

First Law Trilogy

Let us start this list off with the dark fantasy masterpiece that is Joe Abercrombie’s epic and exceptional The First Law trilogy.  Consisting of The Blade Itself, Before they are Hanged and Last Argument of Kings, this amazing trilogy follows a group of extremely complex and damaged characters as they attempt to navigate a dark world filled with betrayal, uncontrolled ambition, and all manner of monsters.  All three books are pretty incredible, with The Blade Itself providing an outstanding introduction, while Last Argument of Kings wraps everything up perfectly and leaves the reader with a troubling but memorable conclusion.  I powered through this trilogy in a very short time, and it remains one of my all-time favourite pieces of fantasy fiction.

 

Star Wars: Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn

Thrawn Trilogy

Next, we have an amazing and complex Star Wars series by the legendary Timothy Zahn, who brings back his iconic extended universe character, Grand Admiral Thrawn.  Based in the new Disney canon, the Thrawn trilogy seeks to expand on the character’s appearances in Star Wars: Rebels and presents a complex and intriguing picture of this master tactician.  Featuring Thrawn, Alliances and Treason, this is a very well balanced and fascinating trilogy that is a must read for all Star Wars fans and is probably worth checking out before the character’s live action debut next year.  I was also tempted to include Zahn’s Thrawn Ascendancy novels (made up of Chaos Rising, Greater Good and Lesser Evil), but I am only halfway through the final book, and I really want to see how it concludes first.

 

The Icewind Dale trilogy by R. A. Salvatore

Icewind Dale Trilogy

Iconic fantasy author, R. A. Salvatore, has made a career out of writing trilogies, and there were several I could have included, especially his Dark Elf trilogy.  However, I think that his debut Icewind Dale series, is his most consistently impressive trilogy.  While the first novel, The Crystal Shard is a tad rough, the second and third books, Streams of Silver and The Halfling’s Gem, more than make up for it, and produce a brilliant overall story.  This series expertly introduces several of Salvatore’s key protagonists (who he is still writing about to this day) and sets up some outstanding plot points.  High fantasy at its very best, The Icewind Dale trilogy is an intense, classic trilogy that I can read again and again.

 

The Century trilogy by Ken Follett

Century Trilogy

Another author with some big series under his belt is talented thriller and historical fiction author Ken Follett.  My personal favourite Follett series is The Century trilogy, a massive and comprehensive historical fiction trilogy, made up of Fall of Giants, Winter of the World and Edge of Eternity.  This book takes place throughout the 20th century and follows three generations of several families as they navigate the century’s big historical events, including two world wars and the Cold War.  Some of the best historical fiction writing you are ever likely to see; this is a powerful and captivating series.

 

The Tide Child trilogy by R. J. Barker

The Tide Child Trilogy

The trilogy that inspired me to write this list was the exceptional The Tide Child trilogy by rising fantasy fiction start R. J. Barker.  Barker did some incredible work here producing an intense and addictive dark fantasy series that takes place primarily on a naval vessel made from dragon bones.  With some exceptional character work, beautifully written scenes, and some truly unique fantasy features, The Tide Child series is one of the absolute best fantasy trilogies out there.  All three novels, The Bone Ships (one of the best books and audiobooks of 2019), Call of the Bone Ships, and The Bone Ship’s Wake, are exceptional and enchanting reads, which come together to form a brilliant and highly recommend trilogy.

 

Planetside trilogy by Michael Mammay

Planetside Cover

Another great trilogy I finished this year was Michael Mammay’s outstanding Planetside science fiction thriller trilogy.  Consisting of Planetside (one of the best books of 2018), Spaceside and Colonyside (one of the best books and audiobooks from the first half of this year), this epic trilogy follows a cynical military veteran who is dragged in to investigate a series of conspiracies, which continually forces him to commit genocide.  One of the cleverest series I have read in recent years, Mammay is an exceptional author, and I had a lot of fun getting through this trilogy.

 

The Age of Madness trilogy by Joe Abercrombie

Age of Madness Trilogy

Not content with only having one exceptional fantasy trilogy, Joe Abercrombie had to double down and write the epic sequel trilogy, The Age of Madness.  Set a generation after The First Law trilogy, the three Age of Madness novels, A Little Hatred, The Trouble with Peace and The Wisdom of Crowds, contains another outstanding dark fantasy tale following a whole new group of complex and troubled protagonists.  This brilliant trilogy has only just come to an end and featured three outstanding five-star reads.  These amazing novels form a deeply thrilling and powerful trilogy, and The Age of Madness books are some of the best pieces of fantasy fiction of the last three years.

 

The Empire trilogy by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts

The Empire Trilogy Cover

I was spoiled for choice when it came to Raymond E. Feist and his multitude of great trilogies, from his iconic Riftwar Saga to his current The Fireman Saga (King of Ashes and Queen of Storms).  However, I think his most consistent and impressive trilogy was The Empire trilogy he cowrote with Janny Wurts.  Set at the same time as the Riftwar Saga, this trilogy explored an alien fantasy world with some major Japanese influences.  An intense and action-packed fantasy trilogy loaded with political intrigue, family feuds and a female ruler battling for control in a male-dominated world, The Empire books, Daughter of the Empire, Servant of the Empire and Mistress of the Empire, form an exceptional trilogy that is really worth reading.

 

Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron trilogy by Alexander Freed

Alphabet Squadron Cover

Another exceptional trilogy that finished this year was the amazing Star Wars: Alphabet Squadron series by Alexander Freed.  Made up of Alphabet Squadron, Shadow Fall and Victory’s Price, this trilogy followed a group of pilots in the immediate aftermath of Return of the Jedi, as they continue to fight the brutal war to claim the universe.  This trilogy combined a gritty and complex war story with the iconic Star Wars universe to create three impressive novels that work brilliantly as an overarching series.  All three books are really good, although Victory’s Price proved to be an exceptional conclusion that brought everything together perfectly.  A great read for Star Wars fans looking for some darker tie-in content.

 

Swords and Fire trilogy by Melissa Caruso

Swords and Fire Trilogy

The final entry on this list is the debut trilogy from talented fantasy author Melissa Caruso.  Featuring The Tethered Mage, The Defiant Heir, and The Unbound Empire, the Swords and Fire trilogy tells the tale of the unlikely partnership of an ambitious noble and a reckless, ultra-powerful mage, whose fates are literally bound together.  This is an amazing and inventive fantasy trilogy that pits this duo against conspiracies, a nation of terrifying magical users, and their own substantial personal issues.  I deeply enjoyed this cool trilogy and I really need to start reading the sequel series Caruso is currently working on.

 

 

Well, that’s the end of this list.  As you can see, I have read some awesome trilogies over the years, and I think this list does a great job highlighting them all.  I will probably end up coming back to this list at some point in the future, especially as there are some outstanding trilogies, I am currently in the middle of that will easy make this list in the future.  In the meantime, let me know what your favourite trilogies are in the comments below.

The Bone Ship’s Wake by R. J. Barker

The Bone Ship's Wake Cover

Publisher: Orbit/Hachette Audio (Audiobook – 28 September 2021)

Series: The Tide Child Trilogy – Book Three

Length: 20 hours and 49 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

One of the fastest rising fantasy authors in the world today, the brilliant and exceedingly talented R. J. Barker, brings The Tide Child trilogy to an end in epic fashion with the exceptional and powerful The Bone Ship’s Wake, one of the best fantasy reads of 2021.

There have been some really impressive fantasy authors producing great reads over the last few years, but in my opinion none have been as consistently amazing and addictive as R. J. Barker.  Barker burst onto the scene in 2017 with Age of Assassins, the first book in The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, and soon followed it up with two additional outstanding reads, Blood of Assassins and King of Assassins.  While I have a lot of love for this brilliant trilogy, especially the final novel King of Assassins, Barker has since eclipsed it with his second series, The Tide Child trilogy.

The Tide Child trilogy is a grim and powerful series that follows a unique set of characters in an exceptional, character driven, adventure tale.  The Tide Child books are set in a dark fantasy world, primarily made up of deadly oceans and seas which have produced a harsh breed of warring humans.  The inhabitants of this world traverse these oceans in ships made of the harvested bones of sea dragons, known as the keyshans, the creation of which led to the mass extinction of these dragons.  The first novel in this series, The Bone Ships, set the scene for this great series and introduced the primary characters as they set out on an epic quest to hunt the last sea dragon aboard the boneship, Tide Child.  This was an exceptional read that ended up being one of the best books and audiobooks of 2019.  Barker followed this up in 2020 with Call of the Bone Ships, a great sequel that saw the crew of Tide Child engage in a rebellion against the established order.  Call of the Bone Ships ended on a pretty massive cliffhanger that set the scene for an exceptional and stunning conclusion.  As such, the final entry in this trilogy, The Bone Ship’s Wake, was one of my most anticipated reads of 2021, and Barker did not disappoint here, as he produced an epic and captivating read.

It has been a year since the climactic battle that saw the boneship Tide Child and the rebel fleet barely escape the wrath of the Hundred Isles after being forced to abandon shipwife Meas Gilbryn.  In that time, loyal deck keeper Joron Twiner has taken on the mantle of leadership for the rebel black ships and turned them into a fleet of marauding pirates.  Now known by all as the feared Black Pirate, Joron constantly raids the Hundred Isles, determined to weaken its fleet and devastate its defences for an invasion from the rival Gaunt Islands, Joron’s only true priority is to discover the location of his lost commander and rescue her.

After a particularly vicious raid nearly sees the destruction of Tide Child, Joron is only more determined to find the shipwife before the entire fleet is lost.  With time running out for Joron thanks to the insidious keyshan’s rot that is slowly eating away at his body, Joron embarks on an ambitious plan to find and rescue Meas by returning to the most dangerous place in the world, the capital city of the Hundred Isles.

Accompanied by a small crew, Joron hopes to infiltrate the city and force Meas’s location from the ruthless rule of the Hundred Isles, Meas’ estranged mother.  However, all Joron will discover is blood and betrayal, as dangerous forces seek to take control of the oceans for their own nefarious ends.  Worse, Joron must continue to struggle with the dangerous legacy of the magical gullaimes, who believe that he is the Caller, the man who can sing up the keyshans and use them to destroy the world.  Will Joron and his crew succeed against impossible odds, or will the final voyage of the Tide Child result only in the death of everyone and everything Joron loves and cares about?

Well damn, now that was an incredibly awesome book.  I have said time and time again that Barker seems to get better with every book he writes, and I honestly believe that The Bone Ship’s Wake is the very best so far.  The Bone Ship’s Wake has an exceptional narrative filled with emotion, tragedy and powerful action on the high seas, which perfectly wraps up this epic series and provides the reader with an emotional and captivating goodbye.  Easily one of the best books of the year, The Bone Ship’s Wake gets a full five-star rating from me.

This final entry in The Tide Child trilogy has an extremely powerful, character-driven narrative to it, which perfectly continues the epic tales told in the preceding novels while also providing an extremely satisfying and moving conclusion to the entire series.  Told nearly exclusively from the perspective of central protagonist Joron Twiner, The Bone Ship’s Wake starts one year after Call of the Bone Ships, with some major changes occurring to the world and the characters during this period.  Told in three parts, this book has a bit of a slower introduction, which Barker uses to full effect to highlight the situation the characters find themselves in, while also reintroducing all the key elements of the fantasy world.  The first part of the novel is primarily used to show how far Joron has come, placing him in command of a ship as he faces off against his enemies.  This outstanding introduction sets up several key storylines while also featuring a tense and detailed chase out on the seas, with deadly and monstrous consequences.  The second part of the novel follows a desperate Joron, after leaving his ship and most of his crew behind, as he embarks on a dangerous all-or-nothing quest to save his shipwife and bring her back to the fleet.  This second part is loaded with some major dramatic moments, intrigue, treachery, and politics, which does an outstanding job expanding the already captivating storylines, while also serving as a great buffer from the nautical heavy start and end of the novel.  The story goes in some amazing directions here, and Barker throws in some captivating and surprising twists that alter everything you thought about how the story would end.

All this leads up to the conclusion of the novel, which sees the surviving primary characters caught in a desperate situation on the high seas.  After some daring actions and clever plans which have some unfortunate costs, all the characters are perfectly set up for their final places the series’ brilliant storyline.  This last part of the novel is deeply thrilling and powerful, and it honestly proves impossible to put it down as you wait to see how everything comes to an end.  Barker really amps up the desperation and hopelessness during this part of The Bone Ship’s Wake, as the crew of Tide Child and its allies are pressed in some destructive naval actions.  It all leads up to one final gambit, with the lives and the hopes of the survivors held in the balance.  This epic conclusion is extremely dramatic and powerful, with some big sacrifices and major character moments that will leave you breathless and deeply moved.  I thought that this amazing conclusion perfectly wrapped up the entire series, with all the key storylines and character arcs coming to a very satisfying and emotional end.  I loved every single second I spent getting through this exceptional story, and every brilliant turn, clever revelation and powerful character moment is still firmly engrained in my mind.

I really need to highlight Barker’s fantastic writing style, which brings this brilliant story to life.  It has been an absolute pleasure to see Barker grow as an author throughout the last few years, especially as he utilises more and more complex techniques with each passing novel.  The Bone Ship’s Wake is a particularly good example of this, as an amazingly well paced novel that slowly builds momentum as the story requires, with the intensity of the book turning on a dime, from the deep slowness of sailing to the fast pace of an epic nautical battle.  This is often accentuated by the author’s great use of repetition, with key sentences throughout the novel repeated multiple times to build up tension or to highlight the rapidity of duty aboard a ship.  This pacing and repetition almost gives The Bone Ship’s Wake a pulse, and you can feel the rhythmic build towards the high points of a novel.

I was once again deeply impressed by Barker’s incredible ability to produce a nautically focused novel.  Nautical novels require an insane amount of detail and dedication to work, and Barker has done that in spades throughout The Tide Child trilogy.  Thanks to Barker’s ultra-detailed writing style, life aboard the boneships is brought to life for the reader, showcasing every single action of the crew or movement of the ship.  The reader gets an amazing sense of what is happening aboard Tide Child, and you feel that you are aboard the ship itself, watching the crew in action.  This works particularly well during some of the intense, high-concept naval battles, where the actions of multiple ships are followed, ensuring that the reader gets a great idea about what is going on.  Barker also works in a lot of ship details that are unique to the series’ fantasy universe, allowing for a much more distinctive and compelling time at sea.  The combination of traditional nautical elements and fantasy features, such as ships crafted from dragon bone, ultra-powerful bolt throwers, wind calling bird men and the various monsters stalking the deeps is particularly striking and really helps this cool trilogy stand out.  This is honestly one of the best series set on a ship you are ever likely to read, and I am still so impressed with how well Barker was able to feature it in his novels.

I also must highlight the cool, dark fantasy world that Barker has created for this series.  Throughout this trilogy Barker has put an amazing amount of work into crafting this complex and deadly fantasy world, containing hostile oceans with only a few small islands, where the inhabitants are forced to fight on ships made from dragon bone.  I have had an outstanding time exploring this complex and compelling landscape, and I have a lot of love for some of the more unique details, including the enslaved gullaime (bird-like windtalkers), crazy monsters, the gender reversed human society which includes subtle changes like ships being consider male by their crews, and the constant naval warring and raiding such a landscape has created.  Barker does some very interesting expansions in this final entry, resulting in some substantial changes and journeys to new locations within the world.  There are some cool new creatures, including a mist-spewing kraken, as well as some fascinating and intense developments amongst the established creatures, including the gullaimes and the keyshans.  I similarly appreciated the way Barker examined the troubles with his female dominated society, especially as the motivations for some of the antagonists are closely tied into it.  Overall, I had a wonderful time with my last exploration of this unique and dangerous setting, and I cannot wait to see what sort of distinctive setting Barker comes up with next, although I already know it will be pretty incredible.

You cannot talk about any novel in The Tide Child series without praising the outstanding character work that Barker has done.  Each of these novels has done an exceptional job of building up all the major characters, from the central point-of-view perspective, to the various supporting characters found upon the central ship setting.  I have deeply enjoyed seeing each of these characters develop into better and well-rounded figures as this series has progressed, and Barker makes sure to give them an impressive send-off in this final entry.  Pretty much all the key surviving characters get some great moments throughout The Bone Ship’s Wake, and most of their associated storylines come to an end, one way or another.  This naturally results in some intense emotional moments throughout the novel, especially as readers of this series will have become deeply attached to a lot of these characters, and you will not be prepared for how some of these characters go out!

Just like in the previous two novels, the central focus of The Bone Ship’s Wake was on Joron Twiner, the deck keeper (first mate) of Tide Child, who has grown from scared drunkard to experienced officer within the course of the series.  Twiner has gone through an incredible amount during the last two books, and when we first see him again in The Bone Ship’s Wake, he is a very different person.  Joron has since lost a leg and is now infected by the keyshan’s rot, an incurable disease that is slowly eating him alive.  Despite this, he has finally taken on command of his vessel and an extended fleet and fashioning himself a new persona, that of the Black Pirate, a notorious killer of ill-repute.  This is a fascinating change for Joron, and it is absolutely amazing to see how the differences between this character and the one we first saw in The Bone Ships.  While this change is substantial, it has been well built up in the last few books, and it was great to finally see Joron take on the command he was always meant to have.  Despite this, Joron still has some uncertainty dogging his steps that proves great to explore, especially as he is hesitant to risk the lives of those under his command on his missions.  Joron is also forced to deal with the insane prophecy and power hanging over his head, as he is forced to contemplate his ability to summon the sea dragons and potentially end the world.  Throw in his unwillingness to take on the role of his mentor, and the extreme guilt he feels for all the lives he has taken in her name since the conclusion of the last book, and you have a quite a conflicted figure, desperate to do anything to redeem himself.  This makes for some amazing character moments, and I really appreciated the sheer amount of development that went into Twiner in this novel.  A lot of Twiner’s storylines come full circle in this novel, and there are some extremely satisfying moments  between him and the other characters in the novel.  I deeply enjoyed this flawed and uncertain protagonist throughout this series, and Baker ensures that he is given a fitting and powerful ending.

The novel also spends a lot of time examining Tide Child’s shipwife, Meas Gilbryn, also known as Lucky Meas.  When we last saw Meas, she was surrendering herself to the Hundred Isles to give her fleet a chance to escape.  In the year that follows, she has been brutally tortured by her captors, who are attempting to gain all her secrets, especially regarding the sea dragons.  Due to her capture, and the primary focus on Joron, we don’t see that much of Meas for the first half of The Bone Ship’s Wake, and when we finally do, she is very different.  Rather than the always confident captain we are used to, we have a broken and brooding figure, unsure of the correct actions to take and unprepared for how much her legend has spread in the year she has been gone.  This makes for a very interesting counterpoint to the growth in Joron, and it is fascinating to see the slight role reversal that occurs between them.  I loved this exceptional character change that occurred around Meas, and Barker uses it to full effect to create some dramatic and emotionally charged moments.  The author also ensures that several lingering questions about Meas are answered, especially as she finally gets some closure with members of her family, such as her mother.  It was also amazing to see the unique relationship she forged with Joron come full circle, as the man she chose to be her second surpasses her.  The outstanding character work surrounding Meas, especially when it comes to her connection to Joron, added so much to the overall quality of this novel, and it was great to see how Barker altered and explored this character in The Bone Ship’s Wake.

I have to highlight the outstanding storylines surrounding the Gullaime, the ship’s windtalker of legendary power, who is destined to destroy the world alongside Joron.  This humanoid bird creature is always an entertaining figure in the novel, due to their unique appearance and outrageous behaviour and Barker does an exceptional job giving unique avian features to it.  However, like the other characters, the Gullaime goes through some big events in this final novel, especially once certain species detail is revealed, as well as the full scope of its powers and prophesised responsibilities.  Out of the all the characters in this series, the Gullaime is probably the easiest to like, and the end of its story cuts deep to the heart.

I also really appreciated Cwell’s storyline in this novel, especially after all the changes that occurred around her in this series.  Cwell initially started as a secondary antagonist who led a mutiny against Joron in the previous novel.  Despite this, Joron spared her life and kept her as his shadow, a silent bodyguard always watching his back.  This final book really explores the extent of this bond forged between them, as Cwell’s loyalty is tested multiple times throughout the course of the novel.  Barker is such a canny writer when it comes to Cwell, and it was fascinating to see some of her final depths in this book, especially as you honestly have no idea what she is going to do and whether she will end up betraying Joron.  It was also great to see more of Farys, the young woman Joron mentored through the series, and who now finds herself as his second.  Farys has a complex and compelling storyline in this novel, and I really appreciated how much time Barker put into enhancing her role in this final novel.  I also want to give callouts to recurring characters Mevans, Solemn Muffaz and Aelerin the courser, who all have some great moments in this novel, and whose roles each had their own emotional weight.  There is also a certain interesting reveal about one side character, right at the end of the novel that was a little surprising to me, but which I really appreciated, especially as Barker set up some great hints about them as the novel progressed.  Overall, all the side characters in this book are extremely awesome, and I am so deeply impressed with the work that Barker put into them, and the outstanding impacts that had on this already epic and captivating tale.

While I did receive a physical copy of The Bone Ship’s Wake, I ended up enjoying this novel in its audiobook format, not only for scheduling reasons but because I knew that I would have an amazing experience with it.  The Bone Ship’s Wake’s audiobook format has a substantial runtime of just under 21 hours, which does require a substantial time investment to enjoy.  I can guarantee that the time spent is well worth it, as the audiobook format perfectly gets the reader into the flow of the story and the detailed fantasy world of the series, and I found myself really absorbing all the many details Barker places into his writing.  I was also deeply impressed with the narration of Jude Owusu, who really threw himself into voicing the various books in The Tide Child trilogy.  Owusu has a brilliant voice that perfectly fit the epic, marine based tale, and which perfectly translated every single action and move to the listener.  Owusu has an excellent range of voices for the various characters featured throughout the novel, and each character ended up with a distinctive voice that perfectly fit their personality and demeanour.  I particularly enjoyed the weird and hyper-excited voices he utilised for the various gullaime characters, fully highlighting their birdlike characteristics in his voicing.  I felt that the narrator did an amazing job of injecting all the relevant emotion into the tale, and you have no doubt what the characters are feeling as they speak.  This brilliant and powerful voice work really helped to bring this epic tale to life, and I loved every single second of this fantastic audiobook.  This format comes very highly recommend, and it was easily one of the best audiobooks I have had the pleasure of listening to in 2021.

With The Bone Ship’s Wake, the final incredible and epic entry in The Tide Child trilogy, the unstoppable R. J. Barker has once again shown the world he is the future of the fantasy genre.  This outstanding and captivating nautical fantasy novel masterfully wrapped up one of the best trilogies I have ever read, ensuring that the reader will be emotionally blasted by this brilliant and clever tale.  The entire story came together perfectly, and fans of this series will be amazed and moved by the fates of so many well-established characters.  Not only was this Barker’s best book to date, but The Bone Ship’s Wake is also one of the most impressive novels I have enjoyed all year.  An exceptional five-star read that comes very highly recommended, especially in its audiobook format.  Anyone who loves fantasy needs to read this series!

WWW Wednesday – 17 November 2021

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

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

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn (Trade Paperback)

Among Thieves Cover

I started reading the awesome fantasy debut, Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn, this week and it is proving to be an outstanding and excellent read.  Set in a compelling new fantasy world, Among Thieves follows a group of rogues as they attempt a dangerous heist to steal a powerful magical item. I am deeply enjoying this fantastic novel and I look forward to all the fun twists and intense betrayals that are to come.

 

The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield (Audiobook)

The Apollo Murders Cover

I also started the intriguing science fiction debut, The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield, this week, and I have nearly finished it already. The Apollo Murders is an intense and clever alternate history thriller that follows a fictional Apollo mission to the moon, which involves murder, espionage, a stowaway Russian, and a ton of detail about spaceflight and moon landings.  I have had an outstanding and incredible time listening to this novel, and I should hopefully finish it in the next day or so.

What did you recently finish reading?

The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly (Trade Paperback)

The Dark Hours Cover 2

 

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

The Twice-Dead King - Ruin Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Lesser Evil by Timothy Zahn

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Lesser Evil 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 – Upcoming Warhammer 40,000 Novels

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For my latest Waiting on Wednesday column, I look at four awesome upcoming novels set in the turbulent and grim future of the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

Readers familiar with this blog will know that I am a massive sucker for tie-in novels, and I am very well acquainted with several fandoms who have extensive expanded universes.  One of the more interesting ones that I have recently been getting into are the amazing and deeply exciting Warhammer extended universes.  Built around the various table-top games of Games Workshop and published by the Black Library, the Warhammer novels, are a massive collection of compelling and action-packed novels that add some outstanding backstory and extended universe inclusions to the already well-established lore introduced in the background of the various races and factions.

Throughout the last year or so I have been really getting into the Warhammer fiction, having read some incredible and fun novels, including the first three Gotrek and Felix novels, Trollslayer, Skavenslayer and Daemonslayer, from the Warhammer Fantasy franchise.  However, I have primarily been getting into the incredible science fiction adventures that make up the Warhammer 40,000 universe.  Warhammer 40,000 fiction is set far in the future and envisions a dark and gothic universe, filled with constant warfare between a range of colourful and chaotic groups.  I have had an outstanding time with several great books set in this universe, including Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker, Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty, Fire Made Flesh and The Twice-Dead King: Ruin.  Each of these novels has been pretty epic, and I am very much in the mood to read more of these books.  Luckily for me, there are huge number of new releases on the horizon, and four interesting books coming out here in Australia in the first half of 2022 have already caught my attention.

The first of these books is the intriguing and intense sounding Steel Tread by Andy Clark.  Steel Tread will be part of the Astra Militarum series, and will follow a group of Imperial Guard, the basic human soldiers, as they face off against the forces of Chaos.  In particular, the book will follow a tanker who is transferred to a new unit and must learn to command a new tank with an unusual crew.

Steel Tread Cover

Synopsis:

The Astra Millitarum are a blunt instrument of violence, wrought on a galactic scale. This new series from Black Library will explore some of their regiments.

On the war-torn world of Croatoas, the armies of the Astra Militarum do battle with the twisted servants of the Ruinous Powers. Against the backdrop of this increasingly desperate conflict, tanker Hadeya Etsul finds herself consolidated into a Cadian regiment, and placed in command of the Leman Russ Demolisher Steel Tread. Haunted by nightmares, surrounded by a dysfunctional crew and striving to find her place amidst a proud and insular regiment with a culture so different from her own, Etsul must guide her crew to victory. But, as her regiment rolls out beneath the poisonous light of the Great Rift to join a death-or-glory offensive, the crew of Steel Tread are about to face the fight of their lives. If they cannot learn to work as one, how can they hope to survive?

This cool first novel has a lot of potential and is set for release right at the start of 2022.  Steel Tread looks set to be a classic and powerful war story and I am extremely excited to once again get to grips with the common human solider in this universe of gods, monsters and demons.  I love the idea of an awesome tank-based story, especially as the author, Andy Clark, has a great deal of experience writing some cool science fiction and fantasy Warhammer stories.  I cannot wait to see how this book turns out, and I am expecting a dark and brooding science-fiction version of Fury.

The next Warhammer 40,000 novel that I want to read is The Bookkeeper’s Skull by Justin D. Hill.  The Bookkeeper’s Skull will be an inclusion in the Warhammer Horror sub-series, which sets terrifying and creepy horror tales in the wider Warhammer universe.  This is a bit of a win-win for me, as I have been keen to read more horror and Warhammer books, so this should be a good opportunity for me.  The Bookkeeper’s Skull will be set on an agricultural world in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, which has descended into madness as one young man attempts to stop the horrors and blasphemy of Chaos.

The Bookkeeper's Skull Cover

Synopsis:

Spine-chilling tales set in the Worlds of Warhammer.

On the capital world of Potence, young enforcer cadet Rudgard Howe is caught up in a bitter internecine feud to inherit his father’s position of Chief Enforcer. As the tithe fleets approach, he is sent on his first mission to ensure that the planet’s distant agri-facilities fulfil their quotas to the God-Emperor.

Farmed with serfs and managed by ex-Militarum soldiers, the agri-facilities are places of shocking brutality and hopelessness. But when he is sent to the outlying farmstead of Thorsarbour, Rudgard discovers a community where the crops are left to rot as the inhabitants indulge in the bloody ecstasy of a sanguinary cult.

As Rudgard imposes the strict Lex Imperialis upon the farmstead, he begins to uncover a place where sanity is rapidly slipping. But he is just one step along this nightmarish mission when a series of cruel deaths threatens to dismantle everything he has ever known about the Imperium, his faith in the Emperor, and the strength of his very soul.

This is another awesome sounding novel with a really interesting plot to it.  Deranged Chaos cultists are a fantastic part of Warhammer lore, and I am extremely intrigued to see a dark and trippy horror novel written around it.  The Bookkeeper’s Skull is a relatively short novel, so this will no doubt be an extremely fast-paced read, with a lot of nightmares and insanity compressed into it.  I am very keen to read my first Warhammer Horror novel, and I cannot wait to see how dark and scary a horror novel in this universe can be.

The third book I wanted to highlight in this article is Day of Ascension by bestselling science fiction author Adrian Tchaikovsky.  Tchaikovsky is an extremely highly regarded science fiction author best known for his epic Shadows of the Apt series, and I have been really keen to read some of his work for a while.  Day of Ascension will be Tchaikovsky’s first Warhammer 40,000 novel and will examine one of the more unique and terrifying creatures in Warhammer canon, the Genestealers.

Day of Ascension Cover

Synopsis:

Exciting new Warhammer 40,000 novel from Adrian Tchaikovsky

On the forge world of Morod, the machines never stop and the work never ends. The population toil in the mines and factoria to protect humanity from the monsters in the void, while the Adeptus Mechanicus enjoy lives of palatial comfort.

Genetor Gammat Triskellian seeks to end this stagnant corruption. When he learns of a twisted congregation operating within the shadows, one which believes that the tech-priests are keeping the people from their true salvation – a long-prophesied union with angels – he sees in them an opportunity to bring down Morad’s masters and reclaim the world in the name of progress.

But sometimes, the only hope for real change lies in the coming of monsters.

Now this sounds like a very intriguing novel, and it will probably end up being one of the more unique and compelling Warhammer reads of 2022.  I absolutely love the plot for Day of Ascension described in the synopsis above, especially as Tchaikovsky will be combining a planned revolution with the introduction of a Genestealer Cult.  Genestealer Cults are the forerunners of the Tyranids, an insidious and unstoppable alien species, that range ahead of the wider Tyranid fleets infiltrating societies, infecting human populations, and causing rebellion and chaos.  The Genestealers are some of the most dangerous and scary Warhammer creatures, and storyline about an idealistic revolutionary becoming involved with them while not realising that they are planning to consume the entire planet and kill everyone, sounds pretty damn awesome.  This novel has an insane amount of potential, especially in Tchaikovsky’s very capable hands, and I cannot wait to see this fantastic and incredible story unfold.

The final book in this article is the very cool Gaunt’s Ghosts prequel novel, The Vincula Insurgency by one of the most highly regarded and prolific authors of Warhammer fiction, Dan Abnett.  The Gaunt’s Ghosts books are wildly considered to be one of the best and most iconic pieces of Warhammer 40,000 fiction, perfectly highlighting the many battles and issues surrounding the Imperial Guard.  Following a small and tragic Imperial Guard regiment, the Tanith First and Only, the Gaunt’s Ghost series ran for years, and only finished in 2019 with the release of the 16th and final book.  I read the first book in this series, First and Only, earlier this year, and it was an exceptional and clever military read, perfectly capturing the many issues of the common solider in the trenches.  As such, I am extremely keen to read a new entry in the series, especially as it contains an interesting prequel narrative.

The Vincula Insurgency Cover

Synopsis:

 Gaunt’s Ghosts are back in a fresh new look at the beginning.

The war may be over, but duties remain for the brave soldiers of the Astra Militarum. In the ruined border town of Vincula, the newly formed Ghosts of Tanith, along with their commander Ibram Gaunt, find themselves in a thankless police action, trying to establish a permanent peace. But what exactly is stalking them through the shadowed streets, and what dark secrets will the untested, new-founded Ghosts learn about themselves? The Vincula Insurgency is an intense new combat thriller of the Ghosts’ early days, pulled directly from the ultra-classified Ghost Dossier.

This should be another captivating and interesting inclusion in the Warhammer 40,000 canon from Abnett.  Another relatively shorter entry, this first book in the Ghost Dossier series, is currently set for release in May 2022 (although a version was released earlier this year) and will no doubt be a fantastic, fast-paced read.  I love the idea of a very early Gaunt’s Ghosts story set right after the tragic loss of their planet and before they fully come together as a regiment.  There should be some really interesting and compelling storylines in this novel and I cannot wait to see what early horrors the Ghosts were forced to face.

As you can from the above, there are some extremely cool Warhammer 40,000 novels coming out in the next few months.  Each of the above sound extremely amazing and I am really keen to check them all out.  I think the above collection of books really highlights the fascinating and fantastic range of this franchise, and I look forward to expanding my Warhammer 40,000 knowledge very soon.

Enemy at the Gates by Kyle Mills (based on the series by Vince Flynn)

Enemy at the Gates Cover

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (Audiobook – 14 September 2021)

Series: Mitch Rapp – Book 20

Length: 8 hours and 36 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Ready for another down-and-dirty spy thriller with America’s most violent secret agent, then make sure to grab a copy of the 20th book in the bestselling Mitch Rapp series, Enemy at the Gates, by the series’ current author Kyle Mills.

One of the most consistently entertaining thriller series of the last few years has been the long-running Mitch Rapp series.  The Mitch Rapp series is an iconic collection of thriller novels originally written by author Vince Flynn, and more recently by Kyle Mills, who took over the series after Flynn’s death.  Mills has been doing an outstanding job with this series, and I have had an incredible time with some of his recent books, including Red War, Lethal Agent and Total Power.  Now, 22 years after Mitch Rapp’s first appearance in Transfer of Power, the 20th book in the series, Enemy at the Gates, has been released, and it was another dark and compelling novel with an awesome story.

Following the resolution of a coordinated terrorist attack aimed at taking down America’s entire power infrastructure, the lights are finally back on across America, and the country seems ready to return to its usual problems.  A new president, Anthony Cook, has been installed in the White House, and many believe that he has the potential to turn the country around.  However, the old guard of American intelligence, CIA Director Irene Kennedy and legendary agent Mitch Rapp, believe that there are dangerous ulterior motives behind many of Cook’s actions.

In Uganda, a high-tech research facility belonging to the world’s first trillionaire, Nick Ward, is attacked by a dangerous and deranged warlord, aiming to capture and ransom the lab’s brilliant head scientist.  Ward, the richest man on the planet, claims to want to make the world a better place, and the research being undertaken by his Ugandan team is rumoured to have the potential to save billions of lives.  Determined to save his people and against the wishes of President Cook, Ward hires Rapp and his friend Scott Coleman to recover his scientist before it is too late.  However, their desperate battle in the jungle soon turns out to be the least of their problems.

As Rapp and Coleman brave the skilled militia in the jungle, a mysterious mole has managed to infiltrate the CIA’s secure computer network, stealing data on Nick Ward and his current security arrangements.  To keep Ward safe and to flush out the source of the leak, Kennedy instructs Rapp to stay close to Ward, just in case.  However, following a vicious and coordinated attack, it soon becomes clear that some very powerful people are determined to kill Ward at any cost.  With all intelligence and communications with their usual sources in the CIA potentially compromised by the mole, Rapp and his team embark on an elaborate scheme to flush the true architects of the attacks out.  But what happens when their plan puts them right in the cross of the ambitious new president who is determined to shape the chaotic world no matter the cost?

This was a high-intensity, action-packed thriller from Mills, who has produced another awesome and fun read.  Enemy at the Gates contains a great narrative that sees its aging but deadly protagonist caught between the very powerful forces of the world’s richest man and the President of the United States.  This is a very fast-paced story, with Mills quickly introducing the new characters, mainly Nick Ward and President Chisholm, as well as some of their key allies, and showcases the first stages of the president’s proxy war against Ward.  From there, Mitch Rapp and his team are drawn into the conflict on Ward’s side, thanks to CIA director Irene Kennedy, resulting in a fun dust-up in the jungle.  The story quickly moves on from there, forcing Rapp to face off against a crazed Ugandan warlord while also trying to uncover the mole in the CIA.  This is an extremely fun story, with the story moving at a very quick and entertaining pace.  Mills writes a great espionage story, and I loved the usage of tradecraft, over-the-top action and general dislike of politicians throughout the story.  The author introduces a couple of great twists, especially around the identity of the mole, and it was excellent to see Rapp and his allies forced to deal with a crooked United States President.  There is a ton of intensely violent scenes throughout this novel, and readers should be prepared for a couple of torture sequences and somewhat disturbing methods of killing (let us just say there is a strategically placed explosive).  Just like all the previous Mitch Rapp novels, Enemy at the Gates is an easy book to enjoy, even for readers unfamiliar with the series.

One of the things I have enjoyed about Mills’s Mitch Rapp novels is the unique insights that the characters have about the world and the United States, and Enemy at the Gates is no exception.  Most of the characters in this novel have been engaged in the political or espionage game for a long time, and all of them share a similar, cynical view about the state of America and its potential future.  While you would mostly expect an ultra-positive American outlook from this sort of thriller novel, Mills apparently has a pretty grim view of the future, which is reiterated multiple times throughout the book.  Making references to a lot of recent events and political schisms, the characters in this novel envision a future filled with increased factionalism, chaos, and political uncertainty, with many of these characters subsequently wondering how they will fit into such a potentially destructive future.  This grim and surprisingly honest viewpoint from Mills sets the stage for the major conflict of this novel, with the president attempting to kill the richest man on the planet, who may be the best chance of saving America.  It was certainly very fascinating to see the author’s views on the role of the uber-rich and corporations will have on the power structure in the future, and the introduction of a trillionaire philanthropist, certainly changed the scales around.  All this political introspection gives Enemy at the Gates an extremely dark and brooding feeling to it, especially as most of the characters full accept this reality and are just waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I personally found Mills’s views to be extremely fascinating and particularly realistic, and I think that he did a great job working them into the narrative and highlighting the impact these opinions could have on modern espionage and world events.

This was another interesting book for protagonist Mitch Rapp, the legendary spy feared throughout the world, especially by all rival intelligence operatives.  Rapp continues to show off his credentials as a genuine badass in this novel, and I liked the fun storylines around the spy getting older and being forced to reconsider his methods and techniques.  It was interesting to see Rapp more on the outs with the American intelligence community in this novel; with the new president in power, he is forced to use some alternative means to complete his missions.  The author also introduces a few interesting storylines in Enemy at the Gates that examine Rapp strongly considering retiring.  This allows the author to include a few emotionally rich scenes of Rapp attempting to settle into the quiet life with his family.  However, despite his best efforts, he is eventually dragged back into the game by a new employer and some old friends.  I liked these inclusions of the character’s personal life, and it was great to see him as a more conflicted figure.  Despite all that, nothing can really disguise the fact that Rapp is a raging psychopath, even for a spy thriller protagonist, whose complete disregard for human life results in some major violence and natural fear and hatred from his enemies.  While this does result in some entertaining moments, it is a bit hard to root for Rapp at times, which does slightly lessen the impact of some of the storylines.  Still, Rapp is a fun character to follow, and it will be intriguing to see what happens to him and his family in the future.

Just like I have with the last few Mitch Rapp novels, I chose to grab a copy of Enemy of the Gates in its audiobook format.  I must admit that the Mitch Rapp audiobooks, which are narrated by George Guidall, are not my absolute favourite audiobooks out there, but with a run time of just eight hours and 36 minutes, it was a quick way to enjoy Enemy at the Gates, which I managed to do in only a couple of days.  Guidall, who has narrated hundreds of audiobooks throughout his career, has his own unique voice for these novels, with a lot of gravitas and cynicism, which helps translate the story extremely well, although he does sound a bit tired as he narrates, and he really does not try to vary his voice too much to distinguish between the various characters featured in the book.  While I was never uncertain who was talking thanks to Mills’s writing, I do think that Guidall could make a little effort to make his narration a little more passionate and his voices a little more distinctive.  Still, this is a fine way to enjoy this novel, and I did have fun getting through Enemy at the Gates.  Despite some of my concerns about Guidall’s performance, I will probably enjoy the audiobook version of the next Mitch Rapp novel in 2022.

After 20 intense books, the Mitch Rapp continues to reign supreme as one of the most entertaining and captivating spy thriller series currently in print.  This latest novel, Enemy at the Gates by Kyle Mills, is a fantastic addition to the series which sets the violent, titular protagonist on another action-packed adventure, this time diving deep into the political and social spectrum of America.  I had an absolute blast listening to this awesome novel and Enemy at the Gates is a great book to check out if you are in the mood for a fun and exciting read.  An overall very fun story that does a great job of continuing this long running series, while also leaving behind a few interesting storylines for later books.

The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly

The Dark Hours Cover 2

Publisher: Allen & Unwin (Trade Paperback – 9 November 2021)

Series: Ballard & Bosch – Book Three

Length: 391 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The master of crime fiction, bestselling author Michael Connelly, returns with another outstanding Ballard and Bosch novel, The Dark Hours, which sets his iconic protagonists on another intense and captivating case.

Connelly is one of those authors who needs very little introduction, having written an amazing number of crime fiction novels throughout his exceptional career.  I have really been getting into Connelly’s work lately, especially after reading his 2020 releases, Fair Warning and The Law of Everything.  However, my favourite Connelly novels have probably been the Ballard and Bosch sub-series, which follows the team of two of Connelly’s great protagonists.  This includes Renée Ballard, who debuted as the lead character of The Late Show, and Harry Bosch, Connelly’s long-running protagonist who has appeared in nearly every one of Connelly’s books since The Black Echo.  These two protagonists first teamed up in Dark Sacred Night in 2018, and then again in The Night Fire, one of the best books and audiobooks of 2019.  I have deeply enjoyed these two characters, and I was very excited when I saw that Connelly was featuring them again in his latest novel, The Dark Hours, which was one of my most anticipated releases for 2021.  The Dark Hours is the 36th overall novel in Connelly’s overarching crime fiction universe and proved to be another exciting and clever read.

As the clock ticks down the last seconds of 2020, the citizens of Los Angeles celebrate New Year’s Eve in their typical chaotic way, with hundreds of celebrators firing guns up into the air, with a rain of bullets coming down shortly after.  Sheltering under a bridge, LAPD detective Renée Ballard is staking out the nearby neighbourhood in hopes of catching a team of rapists terrorising women during the holidays.  However, she instead finds herself called to the scene of a party where an auto shop owner has been fatally hit in the head with a bullet.

Initially assuming that the death was an accident brought on by the lateral bullets fired in celebration, Ballard soon discovers that the shooting occurred at point-blank range, indicating that someone used the revels to disguise their up-close murder.  Starting her investigation, Ballard soon discovers that the same gun was used in an unsolved murder case which had been investigated by her friend and mentor, retired LAPD detective Harry Bosch.

Working with Bosch, Ballard soon finds herself on the trail of a dangerous killer who may have killed many times before and is at the centre of a deadly conspiracy.  Determined to catch this killer before the case is taken away from her, Ballard is willing to break any rule to catch her suspect, no matter the danger to herself or her career.  At the same time, Ballard becomes obsessed with catching the team of rapists destroying lives in her city, but finds herself fighting against a demoralised and uncaring police department, more concerned with maintaining their image than police work.  Can Ballard and Bosch solve these latest crimes before it is too late, or will the predators they stalk land another fatal strike?

This was another incredible book from Connelly that contains a clever and captivating murder mystery that I deeply enjoyed.  The Dark Hours has a fantastic story to it, that not only takes the reader on an intense and particularly dark couple of cases but which also explores the state of policing in 2021.  A brilliant and powerful read, this was an excellent Connelly novel that gets a full five-star rating from me.

Connelly came up with an exceptional crime fiction narrative for The Dark Hours, which I powered through in a few days.  This latest story, told exclusively from the perspective of Ballard, follows the character as she investigates several horrific crimes.  There are two central cases in this book; the first involves a murder of a mechanic, which sees Ballard connect with her old friend Harry Bosch, who previously worked a connected cold case; and the other is a series of rapes throughout LA, made distinctive by the presences of a two-man team.  These two cases are both pretty compelling and unique in their own way, with Ballard getting quite obsessed with both of them.  The murder case has several outlying threads that see Ballard and Bosch chase down gang connections, dirty cops, and a wide-ranging conspiracy of dentists, all of which results in a tight and powerful investigation story with some substantial dangers to Ballard.  The rape case is a dark and disturbing counterpart to this murder, and Connelly ensures that the full horror of this particular type of crime is on full display.  Both of these cases come together extremely well as the story progresses, and I really appreciated how some of the emotions and consequences stirred up in one case led to the characters doing some rash and dangerous things in the other.  Throw in some major professional drama around Ballard, and you have an intense and powerful narrative that really sticks in the mind.  I loved some of the cool and dark twists associated with these intriguing storylines, and Connelly certainly has the ability to create some major and memorable moments.  The Dark Hours also does a good job of continuing some of the storylines from the previous novels, particularly around Ballard’s many issues as a member of the LAPD, and it sets up some future plot points that will no doubt make for an awesome novel or two in the years to come.

One of the most interesting things about The Dark Hours is Connelly’s compelling and in-depth examination of the LAPD in early 2021, following COVID and the protests of 2020.  Connelly paints a detailed and intriguing picture of the LAPD as a dispirited and defunded organisation which has withdrawn from proactive police work and is instead more concerned with avoiding bad publicity and controversy.  The police characters featured within this novel are notably unmotivated and aggrieved, with many more concerned with their own lives than protecting people.  This is a rather grim but seemingly realistic view of the LAPD, and I really appreciated the fact that Connelly attempted to explore what life as a police officer is like in these controversial times.  The author makes sure to try and show both sides of the debate around policing, made easier by his protagonist’s status as LAPD outsiders, and it was fascinating and moving to see the police perspective.  The apathy of the LAPD comes into play in the story in multiple ways, and it was an exceptional and memorable inclusion to The Dark Hours.  In addition, Connelly spends a lot of time exploring early 2021 Los Angeles, with multiple references to masks, vaccines, unemployment and all the other aspects of COVID-19 that we have come to know and love.  While most people are probably quite sick (ha!) about seeing all the COVID stuff wherever you go, even into book-land, those authors wishing to display modern life need to include it, and I felt that Connelly did a great job showing it from an LA perspective.  Throw in some commentary on other key events of early 2021, and The Dark Hours turns into quite a contemporary novel with some extremely intriguing opinions and insights.

Another aspect of The Dark Hours that I enjoyed was the fantastic use of characters featured within it.  In particular, it was rather interesting to see which protagonists got the most focus throughout the novel.  When I first started reading this novel, I assumed that, like the previous Ballard and Bosch books, the story would be a split perspective narrative featuring the two main characters.  Instead, the entire story ended up being told exclusively from Ballard’s point-of-view, with Bosch featured as a supporting character.  While some long-term Bosch fans might feel a little let down, I personally did not mind this as Ballard has been a really fascinating and relatable protagonist in her last few novels.  Ballard has always been an outcast in the LAPD, following her attempt to report her previous supervisor for sexual harassment, and this sense of being an outsider has only intensified throughout her more recent novels.  This all comes to a boil in The Dark Hours, as Ballard is continually stymied by the new attitude of the LAPD, and is constantly undermined by ineffective, dispirited and politically minded colleagues and superiors.  This eventually forces her to adopt a more Bosch-like mentality and she goes outside the lines multiple times to try and bring her culprits to justice.  I rather liked this more reckless side of Ballard, and it ends up resulting in some major changes to her personality and potential law enforcement future.  It was also very fascinating to see Ballard’s opinions on the recent issues affecting policing, and even she finds herself quite angry with some of the accusations levelled against her and the LAPD, despite harbouring her own negative opinions.  Throw in an interesting new relationship and a fun new puppy friend, and this ended up being a particularly good Ballard story.  I look forward to seeing more of Ballard in the future, and I really think that Connelly is setting her up as his primary police character for the future.

While most of the focus is on Ballard, Bosch still has a significant role in The Dark Hours, serving as the main supporting character and Ballard’s unofficial partner.  While it was a little odd not to see Bosch’s perspective on the two main investigations, he was a great wingman to the protagonist and I liked how Connelly was able to work Bosch’s veteran mindset into Ballard’s way of thinking.  It was fun to see him serve the joint role of being Ballard’s voice of reason while also subtly encouraging her to do some more rebellious moves.  I really enjoyed seeing more of Bosch in the book, and it will be interesting to see what Connelly does with him in the future.  Considering that Bosch is currently a much older, out-of-work detective currently battling leukaemia, you have to imagine that Connelly is planning to retire him permanently some point soon, and I am curious to see how or when that happens, no doubt occurring in heartbreaking fashion.

Overall, The Dark Hours is another exceptional novel from Michael Connelly, who continues to showcase why he is one of the best and most consistent authors of crime fiction in the world today.  This latest novel serves as an excellent continuation of the Ballard and Bosch subseries, and it is always so much fun to travel back into Connelly’s expanded and intriguing crime fiction universe.  The Dark Hours has an outstanding and compelling narrative that follows the authors dogged protagonist as she investigates several major and disturbing crimes.  I was pretty much hooked the moment I picked this book up and it is a must-read for all crime fiction fans.