Waiting on Wednesday – The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  In this latest Waiting on Wednesday article, I highlight an awesome upcoming novel that is probably going to be one of the best crime fiction reads of 2021, The Dark Hours, by Michael Connelly.

The Dark Hours Cover

While I tend to read a wide range of murder mysteries and thrillers, one of my favourite crime series at the moment are the wonderful and captivating novels that appear in Michael Connelly’s connected universe.  Starting in 1992 with The Black Echo, Connelly’s long-running crime universe has featured a range of murder mystery and thriller novels, focusing on protagonists such as homicide detective Harry Bosch, the Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller, and reporter Jack McEvoy.  His series currently includes 34 novels, and he is coming off a bumper year, having written two great books, the fast-paced The Law of Innocence and the outstanding Fair Warning, which was one of my favourite books of 2020.  I was very excited to see that Connelly was releasing a novel later this year, especially as he is returning to his impressive Ballard and Bosch subseries with The Dark Hours.

The Ballard and Bosch books are an awesome series that follow the intriguing team of LAPD detective Renée Ballard and retired detective Harry Bosch.  Ballard is one of Connelly’s more recent creations, having been introduced in the 2017 novel, The Late Show.  A female detective who was screwed over by the LAPD after filing a sexual assault claim against a superior officer, Ballard has been assigned to the night shift of Hollywood division as a punishment.  Bosch on the other hand is the central protagonist of this extended crime fiction universe and is one of Connelly’s most famous and utilised characters, having appeared as the lead protagonist in 22 novels and the Bosch television show.  The Ballard and Bosch novels have focused on these two detectives from different generations teaming up to solve cold cases, in addition to their own current investigations and personal lives.  This unique team-up has produced some excellent novels, including the first book, Dark Sacred Night and its sequel, The Night Fire, which was one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2019.

The Dark Hours will be the third Ballard and Bosch novel and it is currently set for release on 9 November 2021.  I have very high hopes for this fantastic upcoming novel, especially as it looks like Connelly has come up with a clever and unique case for these two detectives to investigate.

Synopsis:

Has a killer lain dormant for years only to strike again on New Year’s Eve? LAPD Detective Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch team up to find justice for an innocent victim in the new thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author Michael Connelly

There’s chaos in Hollywood on New Year’s Eve. Working her graveyard shift, LAPD Detective Renée Ballard seeks shelter at the end of the countdown to wait out the traditional rain of lead as hundreds of revelers shoot their guns into the air. As reports start to roll in of shattered windshields and other damage, Ballard is called to a scene where a hardworking auto shop owner has been fatally hit by a bullet in the middle of a crowded street party.

It doesn’t take long for Ballard to determine that the deadly bullet could not have fallen from the sky. Ballard’s investigation leads her to look into another unsolved murder—a case at one time worked by Detective Harry Bosch.

Ballard and Bosch team up once again to find out where the old and new cases intersect. All the while they must look over their shoulders. The killer who has stayed undetected for so long knows they are coming after him.

Wow, I really love the sound of the above story and I am now even more confident that The Dark Hours is going to be an awesome book.  Firstly, the idea of the protagonists having to investigate a murder after New Year’s Eve revellers shoot their guns up into the air is really cool.  I must admit that the whole concept of people firing guns randomly into the sky seems pretty damn crazy to little old Australian me, but I can see its potential as a story backdrop, especially as it serves as a great cover for the main case.  It will probably also result in several intriguing smaller investigations or pieces of police work that Ballard will have to work through, and I am sure those will cleverly support the main mystery.  I love stories that feature compelling unsolved cases with interested suspects keen to keep their misdeeds hidden, and it will be interesting to see how the current murder intersects with older case, as well as what the killer will do to stop the investigation.

I am also looking forward to seeing more of the great interaction between the two central characters.  Not only does the split narration that Connelly utilise for the Ballard and Bosch books work particularly well, but the two detectives have made a great team in their previous novels.  I love the fantastic dynamic between the two detectives, especially as both have seen the bad side of the LAPD, resulting in a similar, cynical sense of justice.  I particularly like the great character arc surrounding Ballard, as she is forced to deal with police officers who look down on her for reporting her superior, and it will be interesting to see how that impacts the story in The Dark Hours.  Bosch also has a great arc, especially as, thanks to the authors determination to realistically age up his characters, he has mostly retired from active duty, although he still finds plenty of ways to get into trouble.  Bosch has an intriguing mentor role in these novels, and I think that Connelly is actually grooming Ballard to take over from Bosch as his primary protagonist.  Whether that results in some sort of tragic or heroic ending for Bosch in this novel or a future Ballard and Bosch book is hard to tell, but I will try not to get too heartbroken if that happens.

Based on how much I have enjoyed Connelly’s last several novels, I already knew that I was going to love The Dark Hours when it comes out.  However, after seeing the incredible synopsis above, I am now exceedingly confident that this is going to turn out to be a fantastic and captivating read.  There is so much potential for a cool mystery amid the wild celebration and I cannot wait to see what clever story Connelly weaves around it.  This is easily one of the books I am most looking forward to in the second half of 2021 and I am extremely excited to get my hands on it.

Firefly: Life Signs by James Lovegrove

Firefly Life Signs

Consulting Editor: Joss Whedon

Publisher: Titan Books (Hardcover – 15 March 2021)

Series: Firefly – Book Five

Length: 377 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

One of my favourite tie-in series returns with another awesome Firefly novel by bestselling author James Lovegrove.  This time, Lovegrove digs up an intriguing unaired plotline for the epic science fiction series and crafts an outstanding story out of it for Firefly: Life Signs.

Set between the events of the Firefly television series and the Serenity film, Captain Malcolm Reynolds and the crew of Serenity are still scraping by, earning a living from barely legal jobs while also dealing with the consequences of their previous capers.  Life seems to be normal (well, normal for this motley crew) until they receive some shocking news: former crewmember Inara is dying from a terminal illness.

Rushing to her side, a devastated Mal learns that Inara is suffering from Kiehl’s Myeloma, an incurable form of cancer.  With only a few short weeks until Inara’s time is up, Serenity’s crew look set to lose one of their own, until a rumour reaches them of a potential cure.  Esau Weng, a maverick scientist, was rumoured to be working on a medical breakthrough that could potentially treat Inara’s condition.  However, the unethical and secretive nature of his work landed him in trouble with the Alliance, who arrested him and bundled him off to their most notorious prison.

Tracking Esau’s location, the crew are disheartened to learn that he has been sent to the prison planet of Atata, a dangerous and harsh place where the worst criminals and dissidents the verse has to offer are housed.  Inmates are abandoned on its surface and are forced to survive with no guards, no protection, and limited resources.  Worse, the planet is a frozen wasteland, nearly uninhabitable thanks to its failed terraforming, with its snow-covered surface filled with mutated animals.  Determined to save Inara no matter what, Mal organises a desperate infiltration of the prison with Zoe, Jayne and Simon.  However, finding Weng will prove to be harder than they imagined, as they are forced to deal with the deranged ruler of the prison.  Can Mal and his team find Weng before it is too late, and even if they can, will his supposed cure be enough to save Inara?

Over the last couple of years, there has been an excellent resurgence in Firefly/Serenity tie-in fiction as new publishing companies have taken charge of producing content for the franchise.  One of the best examples of this has been the new collection of Firefly novels that introduced some compelling original stories surrounding various members of Serenity’s crew.  All of these novels have been pretty awesome so far, and I have really enjoyed the awesome and impressive stories they have created.

While other authors have been lined up for these books, such as Tim Lebbon (who wrote Firefly: Generations), the MVP of this series has been James Lovegrove, who has written four out of the five novels (including this one).  His previous books have included Big Damn Hero (with Nancy Holder), The Magnificent Nine and The Ghost Machine, all three of which have been exceptional tie-in reads.  In my opinion, each of Lovegrove’s Firefly novels has been better than the last, and this continues to be the case with Life SignsLife Signs was an outstanding and clever read that explores some of the most interesting and compelling aspects of the Firefly universe while also getting to the very core of some of its iconic characters.

For his latest Firefly novel, Lovegrove comes up with an awesome narrative that is both exciting and emotionally powerful, as the crew engage in a prison break to save one of their own.  Like the rest of the Firefly books that I have had the pleasure of reading, Life Signs is an extremely fast-paced novel, which makes great use of multiple character perspectives, including all the members of Serenity’s crew as well as several new characters, to tell a complete and intriguing story.  The novel starts at pace, with the crew receiving the devastating news about Inara’s upcoming death, which hits all the characters, especially Mal, extremely hard.  From there the story splits into two linked but separate story arcs: one on the planet and one in space.  The storyline set on the prison planet is pretty good, and it was a lot of fun to see the more criminally minded Mal, Zoe and Jayne attempt to blend in, along with a faltering Simon.  Their attempts to infiltrate the criminal inhabitants of the prison ends up producing several interesting issues that they need to overcome, and they eventually engage in a desperate battle for survival out in Atata’s snowy wasteland.  There are some great twists associated with this part of the story, including a clever one surrounding an inmate who joins their team, and this was a fantastic part of the book.  At the same time, the three other members of the crew are out in space aboard Serenity and must deal with a fanatical Alliance captain who is determined to capture them, resulting in some amazing space exploits which push River to the fore.  Both these separated arcs are pretty awesome, and they come together extremely well, ensuring the reader gets a fantastic blast of action and character development.  I also enjoyed the additional emotional weight that the life-or-death storyline surrounding Inara has, and it was definitely a powerful and compelling narrative that readers are guaranteed to want to finish off as quickly as they can.

Life Signs is an intriguing and clever addition to the wider Firefly canon.  While the story is quite open to new readers or those who are unfamiliar with the franchise, this is definitely a novel best enjoyed by fans of the Firefly television show and additional tie-in media, as there are a number of fun references and major character moments that they will find particularly appealing.  One of the most interesting parts of this book is the storyline surrounding Inara having cancer.  As some Firefly fans may be aware, members of the show’s creative team have revealed that they initially planned a whole major storyline around Inara suffering from a terminal illness, which would have appeared in a future episode of the show.  They even layered a few hints about this in the first season, such as her mysterious syringe and the reasons why she was travelling on Serenity rather than a more luxurious ship.  I was very excited to hear that parts of this storyline were being used in Life Signs and I think that Lovegrove did a great job examining this interesting character thread surrounding Inara.  Not only does this result in some brilliant and dramatic moments, but Lovegrove makes sure to make mention of several of the hints that were shown in the television series, which fans will deeply appreciate.  Lovegrove provides several additional references that eagle-eyed fans will appreciate, such as the very start of the book containing a fun follow-up to one of the crew’s previous adventures.  Lovegrove also subtly ties Life Signs into some of the previous Firefly novels he wrote, including through a key supporting character, and I quite liked the continuity of the novels.  As a result, this is a perfect read for Firefly fans, although general science fiction buffs or those who enjoyed the show will have a great time with this novel as well.

As usual with Lovegrove’s Firefly novels, one of the most impressive highlights of this book is the fantastic depiction of the fantastic characters from the show.  Lovegrove has always done an amazing job of bringing these great characters to life within his novels and I really love his attention to character detail, emotion and their inner selves.  Life Signs continues this trend by thoroughly examining several members of the crew and I deeply enjoyed the emotional and enjoyable inclusions to the plot.

You can probably guess that Inara gets a bit of focus in this novel, due to the reveal that she is dying.  As I mentioned above, I really enjoyed that Lovegrove utilised this story arc in Life Signs, and the author leverages this plot to provide a fantastic and powerful dive into Inara’s character, a re-examination of her actions during the television show, as well as an exploration of her relationship with the other people aboard Serenity.  This serves to be one of the more intriguing portrayals of Inara in this series of novels, although it is rather brief as Inara spends most of the novel in a near-death state.  Due to Inara’s illness keeping her out of much of the plot, a lot of the story’s emotional weight fall to Mal, who ends up getting most of the focus of this novel.  While you do get his typical cocky attitude, fun humour and ability to annoy anyone around him, you also get to see Mal on the emotional edge during this book.  Mal is naturally devastated by the news that his unspoken love interest is dying, and he quickly latches on to any hope for her survival.  As a result, he dives into the hunt for a cure with reckless abandon and ends up taking some big risks.  Lovegrove did an amazing job portraying Mal as a bit deranged in this novel, and it was fascinating to see the usual conscientious captain seemingly prioritise Inara’s survival over the safety of his crew.  There are some amazingly dramatic and moving moments throughout this book as Mal struggles to deal with the emotions surrounding Inara’s potential death, and Firefly fans will be left on the edge of their seats as Lovegrove provides some new angles to their complex relationship.

While a good portion of the novel focuses on Mal and his concerns for Inara, the rest of Serenity’s crew also appear throughout the novel, as each of them has at least one chapter shown from their point of view.  Interestingly enough, both Tam siblings get a decent chunk of focus, with their storylines not as connected to each other’s as usual.  Simon has a great arc down on the prison planet after he is dragged along to determine if Weng can actually help Inara.  Due to his lack of criminal believability, Simon ends up having a very interesting time in the prison, especially after he befriends a seemingly innocent female inmate, who forms a romantic attachment to Simon.  This ends up causing many problems with Simon, due to his poor lying abilities and conflicted feelings over Kaylee, and it was really interesting to see how his arc ended up.  On the other hand, River spends her part of the story aboard Serenity, and is called into action when the ship is threatened by Alliance military vessels.  I loved that Lovegrove spent time exploring River’s piloting Serenity, something that is shown at the end of the Serenity film, and it was really cool to see her do some complex and insane manoeuvres.  The chapters shown from River’s point of view are amongst some of the most entertaining parts of the book, and it is always great to see this crazy genius in action.

Zoe, Wash, Kaylee and Jayne round up the main cast of this book, although each of them has more of a supporting role.  Zoe does have an intriguing storyline that sees her bond with a fellow former soldier in the prison, and there were hints back at her past as a Dust Devil, something that was initially introduced in one of Joss Whedon’s comic books.  All these characters are portrayed in exquisite detail however, and Lovegrove does a good job replicating their personalities and characteristics throughout the story.  Overall, fans of the franchise will love the way that each of the characters are utilised throughout Life Signs, and I cannot wait to see which characters are featured in the next Firefly novel.

Firefly: Life Signs is another exceptional and clever Firefly tie-in novel from the impressive James Lovegrove.  Lovegrove has come up with an exciting and clever tale that successfully utilises a planned storyline from the show and produce an addictive and memorable narrative with it.  Readers will love the awesome call back to this iconic science fiction show including the excellent portrayals of the main cast of characters.  I had an amazing time reading this book and Firefly fans are going to love every second they spend reading it.  While I cannot wait to get my hands on the next entry in this series, which looks set to be Carnival by Una McCormack, Life Signs is an outstanding novel to check out now and comes highly recommended.

Book Haul – 8 May 2021

It has been a while since I have done a Book Haul post, so I figured it was a good time to look back at some of the amazing books that I have received in the last couple of weeks.  I have actually received quite an impressive haul recently, made up of a number of exciting and intriguing books, including a few novels that I have been looking forward to for some time.  Each of the books below have a lot of potential and I am really keen to check them all out as soon as I can.

Usagi Yojimbo: Volume 35: Homecoming by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo - Homecoming

Let us start this post off big with one of my most anticipated reads of 2021, the latest volume of the incredible Usagi Yojimbo comic series by Stan Sakai, Homecoming.  I absolutely love Usagi Yojimbo and each new volume of this comic series is a major highlight of the year.  I got this latest volume a couple of days ago and I pretty much read it as soon as I got it.  I will hopefully get a review up soon, but I don’t think anyone will be surprised that it was pretty damn awesome.

Firefly: Life Signs by James Lovegrove

Firefly Life Signs

Next up we have the latest Firefly novel by bestselling author James Lovegrove, Life SignsLife Signs is the fifth Firefly tie-in novel that has been released in the last couple of years (previous releases include Big Damn Hero, The Magnificent Nine, The Ghost Machine and Generations), with Lovegrove being the most active writer of this series.  This latest book, Life Signs, makes use of an intriguing unused storyline from the television show and sets the cast of characters on a dangerous heist into a notorious prison planet.  An outstanding read that I will review in the next few days.

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun Cover

I was very intrigued to receive this copy of She Who Became the Sun, the much hyped debut novel of Australian author Shelly Parker-Chan.  She Who Became the Sun is a historical novel, apparently with some fantasy elements to it, that follows a young second daughter in China who attempts to claim a much more favorable destiny by impersonating her dead brother. I had not heard much about this book before I received a copy, but from what I understand there is a lot of buzz surrounding it.  I look forward to checking this cool sounding novel out and I have a feeling it is going to be one of the better debuts of 2021.

The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer

The Warsaw Orphan Cover

Next on this post we have The Warsaw Orphan by Australian author Kelly Rimmer.  The Warsaw Orphan is a gripping and dark historical drama that explores the various horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto, as well as looking at two brave characters who tried to make a difference.  A powerful and captivating read, I was really happy to receive this book and I have already been blown away by its exceptional and moving narrative.

Red Wolves by Adam Hamdy

Red Wolves Cover

It looks like I am going to have a fun thriller in my future as I was luck enough to receive Red Wolves by Adam Hamdy.  Following on from his previous novel, Black 13, Red Wolves will follow protagonist Scott Pearce as he attempts to stop a deadly toxin from being unleashed.  I am very much looking forward to checking out this cool sounding read and I know that I am going to have an amazing time reading it.

Saint Death by Mark Dawson

Saint Death Cover

Another awesome sounding thriller I have received is Saint Death by intriguing author Mark Dawson.  Saint Death follows a former MI6 agent as he starts a fight with drug gangs down in Mexico.  I really like the sound of this fantastic new book and I cannot wait to see what happens in it.

The Paris Collaborator by A. W. Hammond

The Paris Collaborator Cover

I also received a copy of The Paris Collaborator by A. W. Hammond, a fantastic sounding historical thriller that forces a man to work for both the Nazis and the French Resistance to find two missing people.  This looks set to be a lot of fun and I am very keen to check it out.

#MurderFunding by Gretchen McNeil

#MurderFunding Cover

The final book on this list is #MurderFunding by Gretchen McNeil, an older book that I ordered in.  #MurderFunding is the sequel to the very fun #MurderTrending, an awesome young adult thriller that set a bunch of teens against a group of deranged, costumed killers on national television.  I really enjoyed #MurderTrending when it came out and I have been meaning to reader #MurderTrending for some time.  After reading McNeil’s exciting prequel novel, #NoEscape, earlier this year,  I thought this would be a good time to check #MurderFunding out.  I cannot wait to see where the series goes next and this should prove to be fantastica and fast-paced read.

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

WWW Wednesday – 5 May 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?

The Warsaw Orphan by Kelly Rimmer (Trade Paperback)

The Warsaw Orphan Cover

I started reading this intriguing novel from Australian author Kelly Rimmer a few days ago and it is pretty amazing.  Set in Warsaw during World War II, this novel examines the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto and follows two teens who work to save as many Jewish children as possible.  I have made some decent progress with this novel and it is a very haunting and powerful historical drama that is really worth checking out.

The Mask of Mirrors by M. A. Carrick (Audiobook)

The Mask of Mirrors Cover

I am still getting through this lengthy and compelling fantasy novel that I started last week.  The Mask of Mirrors is a compelling fantasy read with a lot of awesome elements to it.  Author M. A. Carrick (Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms) has crafted a complex and fascinating story which I am hoping to finish off in the next couple of hours.  This is a really great read though and I am really enjoying all the clever twists and turns.

What did you recently finish reading?

Crusader by Ben Kane (Trade Paperback)

Crusader Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy: Greater Good by Timothy Zahn (Audiobook)

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Greater Good 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 – Star Wars Novels – Second Half of 2021

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For this week’s Waiting on Wednesday I take a look at several intriguing Star Wars tie-in novels that are set for release later this year.

2021 has so far been a pretty spectacular year for Star Wars tie-in fiction (my favourite so far is easily Victory’s Price by Alexander Freed).  However, the year is far from over and there are still an intriguing collection of upcoming Star Wars novels set for release in the next few months.  Considering it was only just Star Wars day yesterday (and it’s probably still May the Fourth somewhere in the world), I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight which Star Wars novels I am looking forward to in the second half of 2021.  There a several really cool-sounding books set for release before the end of the year, and I am confident that one or two will find their way onto My Favourite Star Wars Novels list next year.

Star Wars - The Rising Storm Cover

The first entry in this Waiting on Wednesday article is the next adult novel in The High Republic range, The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott.  The High Republic is an intriguing multimedia project that is getting a lot of attention at the moment.  Set 200 years before the events of the Skywalker Saga, the High Republic series is made up of semi-connected novels, comics, young adult books, junior novels, anime, and other pieces of Star Wars media.  I have been rather enjoying some of the early entries in this series so far, including the cool first book, Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule, which introduced a lot of the key settings and storylines that will be explored in future High Republic entries.  This next book looks set to follow up some of the storylines started in Light of the Jedi, and I look forward to seeing how Cavan Scott continue this interesting plot, especially after I previously enjoyed his awesome audiodrama, Dooku: Jedi Lost.

Synopsis:

The heroes of the High Republic era return to face a shattered peace and a fearsome foe, following the dramatic events of Light of the Jedi.

In the wake of the Great Hyperspace Disaster and the heroism of the Jedi, the Republic continues to grow, bringing more worlds together under a single unified banner. Under the leadership of Chancellor Lina Soh, the spirit of unity extends throughout the galaxy, with the Jedi and the newly established Starlight Beacon station at the vanguard.

In celebration, the chancellor plans The Republic Fair, a showcase of the possibilities and the peace of the expanding Republic—a peace the Jedi hope to foster. Stellan Gios, Bell Zettifar, Elzar Mann, and others join the event as ambassadors of harmony. But as the eyes of the galaxy turn toward the Fair, so too does the fury of the Nihil. Their leader, Marchion Ro, is intent on destroying this unity. His storm descends on the pageantry and celebration, sowing chaos and exacting revenge.

As the Jedi struggle to curb the carnage of the rampaging Nihil, they come face-to-face with the true fear their enemy plans to unleash across the galaxy—the kind of fear from which even the Force cannot shield them.

This sounds like a pretty fun novel and it looks like Scott has come up with a really interesting story that will continue some of the fantastic threads from the previous novels.  The fight between the Jedi and the mysterious and chaotic Nihil has so far been pretty cool, especially as there is very little information about their past or ultimate motivations.  Scott is also bringing back several of the key characters introduced in the previous High Republic works, and it will be interesting to see how their story continues.  I have a feeling that several questions previously raised in Light of the Jedi are going to get answered here, although I’m sure that Scott will come up with some more mysteries and reviews.  Because of that, I am quite looking forward to reading The Rising Storm, which is currently set for release in late June 2021.  Scott also has another entry in the High Republic coming out later this year, an audiodrama called Tempest Runner, although I may hold off talking about this too much until some more details are revealed (such as the voice cast).

Star Wars - Out of the Shadows Cover

The next book I am going to look at is another High Republic novel, Out of the Shadows by Justina Ireland.  Out of the Shadows is a young adult novel set for release on 22 July 2021, which will explore a different part of the High Republic universe.  I have so far had some great experiences with High Republic young adult novels, as I really enjoyed the last example, Into the Dark by Claudia Gray, which was released earlier this year.  This will be my first book from author Justina Ireland, although I have heard some good things about her Dread Nation series.  Ireland has previously written several junior Star Wars novels, including Lando’s Luck and A Test of Courage, and it will be interesting to see what unique tale she comes up with for Out of the Shadows.

Synopsis:

The darkest secrets are the hardest to bring to light….

Sylvestri Yarrow is on a streak of bad luck with no end of sight. She’s been doing her best to keep the family cargo business going after her mom’s death, but between mounting debt and increasing attacks by the Nihil on unsuspecting ships, Syl is in danger of losing all she has left of her mother. She heads to the galactic capital of Coruscant for help, but gets sidetracked when she’s drawn into a squabble between two of the Republic’s most powerful families over a patch of space on the frontier. Tangled up in familial politics is the last place Syl wants to be, but the promise of a big payoff is enough to keep her interested…

Meanwhile, Jedi Knight Vernestra Rwoh has been summoned to Coruscant, but with no idea of why or by whom. She and her Padawan Imri Cantaros arrive at the capital along with Jedi Master Cohmac Vitus and his Padawan, Reath Silas―and are asked to assist with the property dispute on the frontier. But why? What is so important about an empty patch of space? The answer will lead Vernestra to a new understanding of her abilities, and take Syl back to the past…and to truths that will finally come out of the shadows.

I have to say that I really like the sound of Out of the Shadows, and I think that this cool novel will prove to be an incredible addition to the High Republic.  I like how Out of the Shadows is planning to bring back several of the awesome characters introduced in previous High Republic novels, such as Jedi Knight Vernestra Rwoh, who Ireland created in her previous novel, A Test of Courage, and Cohmac Vitus and Reath Silas, who were introduced in Into the Dark.  At the same time, this novel is also going to introduce a fun new character in Sylvestri Yarrow, and I am intrigued about the interactions between her and the four Jedi characters.  I am quite intrigued about where Out of the Shadows’ story is going to go, and it will be interesting to see how it ties into the rest of the High Republic range.  Ireland also has another piece of High Republic fiction coming out later this year, and I will have to grab the cool manga series she is doing with Shima Sinya and Mizuki Sakakibara, The Edge of Balance, when it comes out later this year.

Star Wars - Queen's Hope Cover

One of the other Star Wars books I am quite keen for is the young adult book, Queen’s Hope by E. K. Johnston.  Queen’s Hope will be the third entry in a fun series Johnston has been writing that follows the adventures of Padmé Amidala and her handmaidens.  The first two novels in this series, Queen’s Shadow and Queen’s Peril, have followed very different parts of Padmé’s life, including early days of being Queen and her transition to life as a Senator.  This upcoming book, which will be released in early November 2021, will be set during the Clone Wars.

Synopsis:

A peace-loving senator faces a time of war in another thrilling Padmé Amidala adventure from the author of the New York Times best-sellers Queen’s Peril and Queen’s Shadow!

Padmé is adjusting to being a wartime senator during the Clone Wars. Her secret husband, Anakin Skwyalker, is off fighting the war, and excels at being a wartime Jedi. In contrast, when Padmé gets the opportunity to see the casualties on the war-torn front lines, she is horrified. The stakes have never been higher for the galaxy, or for the newly-married couple.

Meanwhile, with Padmé on a secret mission, her handmaiden Sabé steps into the role of Senator Amidala, something no handmaiden has done for an extended period of time. While in the Senate, Sabé is equally horrified by the machinations that happen there. She comes face to face with a gut-wrenching decision as she realizes that she cannot fight a war this way, not even for Padmé.

And Chancellor Palpatine hovers over it all, manipulating the players to his own ends…

I have to admit that I was a little surprised to see that Johnston was still continuing this series.  While I did enjoy her previous Padmé Amidala novels, it felt a little played out after the second book, mainly because the publishing order was a little disjointed.  However, this next book does sound pretty awesome, and I am rather keen to check it out.  Thanks to shows like The Clone Wars, this period of Star Wars history is pretty well chronicled, although there are plenty of great opportunities for stories and tales, especially around Padmé.

I am rather curious to see more of Senator Amidala during this period, and I am looking forward to learning more about her political exploits, especially with future Rebel Alliance leaders (as seen in some of the deleted scenes of Revenge of the Sith).  This will no doubt be complicated by the inclusion of Sabé, Padmé’s handmaiden and body double, who serves as a fantastic secondary protagonist in this series, and having her covering for her mistress for a long period of time should result in some thrilling moments. I am also really keen to see more of Chancellor Palpatine’s manipulations and machinations, and it should prove interesting to find out how he is playing everyone.  One thing that I am not too keen on is the inclusion of Anakin Skywalker in this story.  While there are many fine aspects to Anakin as a character, his romance with Padmé never really worked in the film, thanks to too much whining, murder and sand (the sand, not the sand!), and hopefully that won’t be too prevalent in this upcoming book.  It will be interesting to see how Queen’s Hope turns out and I think it should end up being an excellent read.

Star Wars - Thrawn Ascendancy - Lesser Evil Cover

The final book I really want to feature is the third and final book in the awesome Thrawn Ascendancy series, Lesser Evil, by Timothy Zahn.  The Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy is a great collection of books that examine the early life of one of the best characters in the entire Star Wars canon, Grand Admiral Thrawn.  Serving as a prequel series to Zahn’s Thrawn series (made up of Thrawn, Alliances and Treason), the Thrawn Ascendancy novels are a fascinating series heavy in Star Wars lore.  The series has so far consisted of Chaos Rising and Greater Good, which only came out a few days ago.  Due to its recent release date, I have not had a chance to read Greater Good yet, but I already know I am in for an excellent time with it.  However, Zahn has clearly been on a writing roll (like everyone, he has probably had a lot of spare time in the last year), and his next book is set for release on 16 November.

Synopsis:

The fate of the Chiss Ascendancy hangs in the balance in the epic finale of the Star Wars: Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy from bestselling author Timothy Zahn.

For thousands of years The Chiss Ascendancy has been an island of calm, a center of power, and a beacon of integrity. Led by the Nine Ruling Families, their leadership stands as a bulwark of stability against the Chaos of the Unknown Regions.

But that stability has been eroded by a cunning foe that winnows away trust and loyalty in equal measure. Bonds of fidelity have given way to lines of division among the families. Despite the efforts of the Expansionary Defense Fleet, the Ascendancy slips closer and closer toward civil war.

The Chiss are no strangers to war. Their mythic status in the Chaos was earned through conflict and terrible deeds, some long buried. Until now. To ensure the Ascendancy’s future, Thrawn will delve deep into its past, uncovering the dark secrets surrounding the ascension of the First Ruling Family. But the truth of a family’s legacy is only as strong as the legend that supports it. Even if that legend turns out to be a lie.

To secure the salvation of the Ascendancy, is Thrawn willing to sacrifice everything? Including the only home he has ever known?

Now, it is hard to talk about this upcoming novel when I have not even read the preceding book yet, but I can guess that I am really going to enjoy Lesser Evil.  This book will no doubt contain Zahn’s amazing storytelling and impressive development of his most notable character, and I look forward to more outstanding space battles.  This will probably be one of the best Star Wars novels in 2021, and I cannot wait to see how Zahn rounds out this fantastic series.

Aside from the four above novels, there is also a potentially interesting book coming out called Ronin by Emma Mieko Candon.  Ronin will be connected to an upcoming Star Wars animated series, Star Wars: Visions, which will contain several animated shorts from various Japanese anime studios.  Ronin will apparently tie into one of these upcoming shorts, and I look forward to seeing what the short film is like and how this intriguing novel will be connected.

As you can see from the above, there are some really cool Star Wars novels coming out later in the year, and I am quite excited.  All of the above books sound incredibly awesome and I fully intend to read and review each of them.  Based on my overwhelming love of Star Wars, I have no doubt that I will love them all.  It does look like I am going to be busy with Star Wars stuff this year though, especially as I am going to also check out the Star Wars comics, including some High Republic comics, as well as the audiodrama and manga I mentioned above.  Still, this should be a lot of fun and I cannot wait to get to it.  First step is start reading the second Thrawn Ascendency book, which I am going to start doing right now.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Star Wars Comics

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, the official task participants were given were to list their ten most recent reads.  Instead, I thought that May the Fourth would be the perfect opportunity to highlight what I consider to be the best Star Wars novels and comics out there.

For this list, I checked out all of the Star Wars comics that I have read in the last couple of years in order to figure out which were my absolute favourites.  This was another fun experience for me, and I think I had a somewhat easier time deciding on my favourite comics than I did with my favourite Star Wars novels.  I was pretty happy with how this Top Ten list turned out, as it features 10 outstanding and impressive entries in my main list, as well as a decent honourable mentions section.  For some of the longer series (those with multiple volumes), I chose to feature the whole series on this list rather than individual issues or volumes.  I felt that this provides a much more comprehensive list, and as most series are written and drawn by the same people, it is really easy to lump them together as one big product.  This ended up being a pretty awesome list, and I think I have a fairly varied list of comics here.  I will admit that I have a bit of a dearth of knowledge when it comes to comics written before the current canon, as I have only read a few scattered comics from the Star Wars Legends range.  Still, I am happy with all the below entries, so let us see what made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Doctor Aphra (2020)

DoctorAphra2020-1

So far, only the first volume of this intriguing series has been released, and while it was pretty good, it did not live up to the amazing heights of the previous Doctor Aphra series.  I have a strong feeling that the future entries of this series are going to be very awesome and it is entirely possible I will bump this series to the main Top Ten list this time next year.

The Rise of Kylo Ren

Star Wars - The Rise of Kylo Ren Cover

Kanan

Star Wars - Kanan Cover

Top Ten List:

Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith

Darth Vader Dark Lord of the Sith Volume 1

One of the first Star Wars comic series I ever read fully was Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith.  Written by the legendary Charles Soule (the only writer featured on both this list and my favourite Star Wars novel list) and drawn by Giuseppe Camuncoli, this series follows Darth Vader in the aftermath of his transformation from Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith.  This comic catches Vader at his rawest emotional period, and I loved the complex and powerful stories that Soule weaved around this iconic figure.  This comic had the perfect blend of emotion, action and character development, and every single entry (including Volume 2: Legacy’s End and Volume 3: The Burning Seas), was exceptionally well written and intensely addictive.

Star Wars (2015)

Star Wars (2015) Volume 1 Cover

You really cannot talk about Star Wars comics without mentioning this awesome long-running series, which was the centrepiece of the Star Wars comic franchise between 2015 and 2020.  Set between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, this series features the joint adventures of Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, C-3PO and R2-D2 as they attempt to overthrow the Empire.  Filling in many gaps between the films, this series contained some clever and unique storylines that explore the Rebellion and the harsh battles they fought.  This series started off big with an epic first volume, Skywalker Strikes, which not only had some awesome opening issues as the team faces off against Vader for the first time but which also shows the first time that Vader found out that Luke was his son (a very epic scene).  There is an immense amount of talent behind these comics, with several awesome writers, including original writer Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen and Greg Pak, as well as an outstanding array of artists, such as John Cassaday, Salvador Larroca and Phil Noto.  The different teams produce a little variability in the series, but they managed to produce an excellent and clever array of stories and big moments that make this series an absolute treat to read from one end to the other.

Darth Vader (2015)

Star Wars - Darth Vader Volume 1 Cover

While I did read some other Star War comic series first, this would be the one the really made with fall in love with the genre.  Created by the awesome team of Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca, this great comic follows Darth Vader right after A New Hope and sees Vader set out to gain more power and influence after discovering the true identity of Luke Skywalker.  Teaming up with his new subordinate/prisoner, Doctor Aphra, Vader tears through the galaxy while coming to terms with the fact that he has a son.  An epic and powerful series that is consistently awesome from start to finish, this is one of the absolute best Star Wars comics out there and all four volumes (including Vader and Shadows and Secrets) are five-star reads.

Doctor Aphra (2016)

Doctor Aphra Volume 1

Spinning off from the Darth Vader (2015) series, this comic chronicles the wild adventures of the titular protagonist, Doctor Aphra, as she attempts to con everyone she comes across, be they family, former lover, deadly droid or Dark Lord of the Sith.  Initially produced by the character’s original creators, Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca, this long-running series was later written by Simon Spurrier, who produced some outstanding storylines with support from an excellent cast of artists, including Kev Walker, Andrea Broccardo and Emilio Laiso.  I absolutely loved this great series from its first issue, and it has some extraordinary storylines to it.  Both of the volumes I reviewed, Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon and A Rogue’s End got five star reads from me, and I would definitely give the same to most of the earlier volumes in this epic and extremely entertaining series.

Vader Down

Vader Down Cover

There was absolutely no way I could exclude this fantastic limited series off this list as it is the very definition of pure awesomeness.  Vader Down is a clever and memorable crossover between the 2015 Star Wars and Darth Vader series and features the creative teams from both comics coming together to create a joint story.  This cool limited series sees Vader forced down on a Rebel controlled planet while trying to capture Luke.  Facing off against a horde of Rebel soldiers and vehicles, Vader does what he does best and annihilates everyone he comes across as he hunts his prey and the people who betrayed him.  At the same time, Han, Leia, Doctor Aphra, and the entire supporting cast of both series get drawn into an epic showdown as they all try to escape with what they want.  An outstanding and action packed comic with some amazingly clever inclusions to it, this is an incredible piece of Star Wars fiction to check out.

Star Wars (2020)

Star Wars (2020) - Volume 1 Cover

Following the coordinated end of the original range of Star Wars comics, Marvel immediately started a new assortment of series in 2020, set between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.  The flagship series of this new range was the Star Wars (2020) comic, written by Charles Soule and featuring art by Jesus Saiz, Ramon Rosanas and Jan Bazaldua.  While I have so far only read the first volume, The Destiny Path, I am deeply enjoying this fantastic series which follows the key original trilogy protagonists (with the exception of Han, because he’s frozen) as they come to terms with their defeats in The Empire Strikes Back.  Featuring a great focus on Luke’s journey to become a Jedi master, Leia’s attempts to bring the Empire down and save the man she loves, and Lando’s quest for redemption, this series has a lot of potential and is a great recent entry to the canon.

Darth Vader (2020)

Darth Vader - Dark Heart of the Sith

One of the newest additions to this list is the excellent Darth Vader (2020) series by Greg Pack and Raffaele Ienco.  Set directly after Luke refuses to accept him as his father, this series contains an epic and powerful narrative about Vader as he comes to terms with his rejection in the most destructive way possible.  The first volume in this series, Dark Heart of the Sith, was one of the best things I read in 2020, and I have a feeling this entire series is going to be one incredible and powerful thrill ride.

Target Vader

Star Wars - Target Vader

From the minds of Robbie Thompson and Marc Laming comes this excellent limited series, Target Vader, which brings back iconic Star Wars Legends bounty hunter Beilert Valance.  This series follows Valance and a group of dangerous bounty hunters after they are given an impossible assassination mission to kill Darth Vader.  Watching a group of bounty hunters go up against Vader is pretty awesome, and there are some great moments to this compelling read.  I had a lot of fun with this series and it is definitely worth checking out.

Poe Dameron

Poe Dameron Cover

I have so far featured a few comics by Charles Soule so far on this list, but I also have to include the Poe Dameron series.  Working with artists Phil Noto and Angel Unzueta, Soule has done an incredible job of making Poe and his cohorts in the Resistance compelling and complex protagonists (something the films struggled with).  With fascinating connections to other Star Wars comic series, this great work is set in the lead-up to The Force Awakens and examines the complex shadow war between the Resistance and the First Order.

Vader: Dark Visions

Vader-DarkVisions-TPB

The final entry on this list is the entertaining miniseries, Vader: Dark Visions, which takes a unique look at Darth Vader.  This intriguing comic contains just five issues, each of which tell a very different story of Vader, which sees him viewed as a hero, a lover and the scariest being in the galaxy.  Written by Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum and featuring five separate artists (Paolo Villanelli, Brian Level, David Lopez, Stephen Mooney and Geraldo Borges), this is a truly unique look at Darth Vader and I loved every clever tale within.

That is the end of my second Top Ten Tuesday list of today.  I really enjoyed highlighting all these excellent Star Wars comics, and I would strongly recommend all of the above as they are really exceptional reads.  Just like with my Top Ten Favourite Star Wars Novels list, I am planning to revisit this list every Star Wars day, and it will be interesting to see how different it is in a year’s time.  I am not too sure what will get added to this list next time, although I think there are a few interesting crossovers coming, as well as the new High Republic comics.  Make sure to come back in a year to how the list will have changed.  In the meantime, check out my other Top Ten Tuesday list with my favourite Star Wars novels on it.  And May the Fourth be with you!

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Star Wars novels

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, the official task participants were given were to list their ten most recent reads.  While I rather liked this official topic, I have instead done something very different.  Rather than come up with one list, I am instead going to do two separate, but similar lists that revolve around May the Fourth.

As most of you are probably aware, May the Fourth has officially been designated Star Wars day (May the Fourth be with you!), which is something I am rather passionate about.  I absolutely love Star Wars, and you only need to check out my Star Wars tab on the right of this page (go on, you won’t regret it), to see how much I deeply enjoy the franchise’s novels and comic books.  There is an impressive and rich collection of Star Wars tie-in fiction out there, and I have had a wonderful time over the last couple of years reading and reviewing many amazing examples.  As a result, I thought that May the Fourth would be the perfect opportunity to highlight what I consider to be the best Star Wars novels and comics out there.  This is a bit of a continuation of a list I put up last Star Wars day, which was a combined list of novels and comics.  While I think that my last list came up pretty well, I decided that this year I would be better served featuring two lists, this one for novels and another for comics.

In order to fill this list, I had a thorough look through all the Star Wars novels I have read in recent years to choose the absolute best ones.  This proved to be a fun and enlightening experience, although I did have a hard time deciding on my favourites from an amazing collection of books.  In the end, I was able to come up with a good Top Ten list with my usual generous Honourable Mentions section.  I cheated a little by combining some trilogies together into one entry.  However, as these books are supposed to be read together, I think that this was the best way to feature them.  This ended up being a varied and intriguing list, featuring a great range of very different authors and Star Wars settings.  While most of the featured novels are from the current Disney canon, I have also included a couple of Star Wars: Legends books which have some great stories.  So let us see which awesome books made the Top Ten List.

Honourable Mentions:

Death Troopers by Joe Schreiber

deathtrooperscover

A fun and fantastically crazy Star Wars: Legends novel that sees Han Solo and Chewie go up against a load of deadly zombies aboard an abandoned Star Destroyer.  A wild and scary ride, this was a great Star Wars novel and one of my favourite horror books.

Ahsoka by E. K. Johnston

Ahsoka_novel_cover

A compelling and fast-paced novel that follows the adventures of Ahsoka Tano, one of the best characters introduced in the animated television series, between the events of The Clone Wars and Rebels.  This is easily my favourite Star Wars novel from E. K. Johnston (Queen’s Shadow and Queen’s Peril are also pretty good), and I loved how the audiobook was narrated by the voice of Ahsoka, Ashley Eckstein.

Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott

Dooku - Jedi Lost Cover

An impressive retelling of the early life of Count Dooku, showing some of the events that led up to him becoming a Sith Lord.  This is best enjoyed in its audio drama format, which features an epic voice cast of Star Wars audiobook narrators.

Doctor Aphra by Sarah Kuhn

Doctor Aphra Audio Cover

Another great audio drama, Doctor Aphra is an amazingly funny and clever story, featuring a unique and memorable protagonist.  While I really enjoyed this great book, I left it off my main list as it does not contain an original story; instead it is a retelling of several comics (such as Vader, Shadows and Secrets and Vader Down), which will be featured on my other Top Ten list.

Top Ten List:

Thrawn trilogy by Timothy Zahn

Thrawn Cover

The first entry on this list is the deeply impressive and clever Thrawn trilogy from one of the leading authors of Star Wars tie-in fiction, Timothy Zahn.  This series retells the origin story of one of my favourite characters in the entire Star Wars canon, Grand Admiral Thrawn.  This series contains three epic novels, Thrawn, Alliances and Treason, all of which are pretty damn amazing (especially the first novel, Thrawn).  This entire series comes together extremely well, and I love the in-depth look at this outstanding character, as well as the focus on his awesome tactical brilliance.

Alphabet Squadron trilogy by Alexander Freed

Alphabet Squadron Cover

The other trilogy that I needed to include on this list is the intense and powerful Alphabet Squadron by Alexander Freed.  Made up of Alphabet Squadron, Shadow Fall and Victory’s Price, these books follow a group of damaged pilots fighting in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi.  This is a complex and captivating character-driven series with some amazing examples of space fighter combat, and I love Freed’s compelling and emotionally rich narrative.  All three books in this series are really impressive, but I really have to praise the final entry in the series, Victory’s Price, which did an amazing job wrapping up this superb trilogy.

Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising by Timothy Zahn

Thrawn Ascendancy - Chaos Rising Cover

In addition to his Thrawn trilogy above, Zahn has also written a fantastic prequel series, known as the Thrawn Ascendancy books.  These novels follow a young Thrawn as he fights to preserve his species in the unexplored spaced outside of the Republic/Empire.  Featuring a narrative rich in fascinating lore, this is a great story for the hardcore Star Wars fan, who will love this dive into an awesome character’s background.  I loved Chaos Rising, and I am looking forward to enjoying the next two entries in this series, Greater Good (which has just been released) and Lesser Evil (out in November 2021).

The High Republic: Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule

Star Wars - Light of the Jedi Cover

Next up on this list is the first entry in the compelling High Republic multimedia storyline, Light of the Jedi, by bestselling author Charles Soule.  Set 200 years before the events of the Skywalker Saga, the High Republic novels follow the Jedi at the height of their power as they fight against a dangerous and insidious new opponent.  Light of the Jedi was a fantastic first book in this storyline, perfectly introducing the setting and key events of the High Republic, while also containing a compelling and action-packed story.  A highly recommended book and a must-read for anyone interested in checking out the other entries in the High Republic range (such as Into the Dark by Claudia Gray).

Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray

Master & Apprentice Cover

If you love the two Jedi protagonists in The Phantom Menace, than you have to check out Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray.  Gray has crafted together an exciting and emotionally powerful novel that follows Qui-gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi on one of their early adventures.  This was an outstanding and incredible Star Wars novel that is really worth checking out.

Dark Disciple by Christie Golden

Star Wars Dark Disciple Cover

The extraordinary Dark Disciple, by master tie-in author Christie Golden, utilises the scripts of several unproduced The Clone Wars episodes, showing the fates of fan-favourite characters Asajj Ventress and Quinlan Vos during the Clone Wars.  This is another touching and captivating character-driven novel, and readers will quickly become engrossed in this unique tale of love, betrayal and inner darkness.

Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

Star Wars Scoundrels Cover

Timothy Zahn strikes again, and I have no choice but to feature yet another one of his books on this list.  Scoundrels, which is set in the Legends canon, is an excellent and wildly entertaining heist novel which follows Han, Chewie, Lando and several of their friends as they try to pull off an impossible theft.  I loved this amazing blend of Star Wars and crime fiction elements, and this was a very fun book to read.

Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp

Lords of the Sith Cover

Two of the best villains of all time, Darth Vader and the Emperor, team up for the next entry on this list, the action-packed thrill ride, Lords of the Sith.  Paul S. Kemp created a really fun and exciting book which follows these two outstanding characters when they are stranded on a hostile planet and find themselves under constant attack by rebels, monsters and traitors.  While the focus is in the cool action, Kemp also takes the time to explore the complex relationship between dark master and apprentice, and readers are in for an excellent time with this great book.

Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber

Star Wars - Maul - Lockdown Cover

The next book is actually the latest Star Wars novel I have read, Maul: Lockdown.  Set in the Legends canon years before The Phantom Menace, Lockdown follows the always awesome Darth Maul as he finds himself trapped in a dangerous prison and forced to fight in a series of death matches.  This is a dark and captivating read, and I loved the fantastic and clever narrative that Schreiber came up with for this amazing book.  A highly recommended read that has convinced me to check out even more entries in the Legends range.

Tarkin by James Luceno

Star Wars Tarkin Cover

The final entry on this list was the excellent Tarkin by James Luceno.  Tarkin is an intriguing book that examines amazing Imperial antagonist, Grand Moth Tarkin.  Featuring a great split narrative that explores the character’s younger exploits while also following an adult Tarkin as he hunts for rebels with Darth Vader, Tarkin is an outstanding read, and I deeply enjoyed this clever dive into this complex Star Wars character.

Well, that is this latest Top Ten Tuesday list done.  I had an outstanding time pulling this article together and it was fun trying to determine which Star Wars novels were my absolute favourite.  All of the above novels come very highly recommended and are a lot of fun to read, especially in their audiobook format.  I am planning to make this top ten list an annual occurrence every Star Wars day.  I imagine this list will look very different next time, as not only are there several great new Star Wars books coming out soon but I am also planning to go back and explore some other awesome-sounding entries in both the current canon and the Legends range.  Make sure to come back in a year to see which Star Wars books I recommend then, and in the meantime, check out at my other Top Ten Tuesday list of favourite Star Wars comics.  And May the Fourth be with you!!!

Star Wars (2020): Volume One: The Destiny Path by Charles Soule and Jesús Saiz

Star Wars (2020) - Volume 1 Cover

Publisher: Marvel Comics (Paperback – 10 November 2020)

Series: Star Wars (2020) – Volume One

Writer: Charles Soule

Artist: Jesús Saiz

Colour Artists: Arif Prianto, Jesús Saiz, Rachelle Rosenberg and Dan Brown

Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles

Length: 136 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The next stage of the Star Wars comic universe continues as Charles Soule, Jesús Saiz and their team of talented artists present the first volume of the Star Wars (2020) series, The Destiny Path.

Star Wars (2020) #1 Cover

Shortly after the Disney buyout of Star Wars and their subsequent creation of a whole new canon, Marvel Comics started to develop a new range of Star Wars comics.  While there were several great series, limited series and standalone comics set during various periods of Star War history, the main series were set between the events of A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back.  These key comics, which included the Star Wars (2015), Darth Vader (2015) and Doctor Aphra (2016) series, did a fantastic job of filling in the gaps between these two films and presenting readers with some clever and unique adventures.  All these series came to an end in late 2019, with their plots coinciding with the start of events from The Empire Strikes Back.  In the wake of their cessation, Marvel announced four new Star Wars comic series that would take their place (after suffering some pandemic-related delays), set in the aftermath of The Empire Strikes Back.  While I have already looked at some of these comics, including the first entry of the Darth Vader (2020) series, I think it is time that I explored the flagship series of this new run of comics, the Star Wars (2020) series.

The Star Wars (2020) series will explore what happens to the main cast of protagonists after the events of The Empire Strikes Back and is set in the year or so between that film and Return of the Jedi.  This looks set to be a long-running series that will not only tell its own tale but will tie in to the events of the other current comics, probably resulting in some crossovers.  This first volume, The Destiny Path, contains issues #1-6 of the Star Wars (2020) series and serves as an excellent and compelling introduction to the rest of the series.

Star Wars (2020) #2 Cover

Following the battle of Hoth, the Rebel Alliance is in disarray.  With their fleet scattered around the galaxy and the might of the Empire reigning supreme, these are the darkest days the Rebellion has ever faced, especially as the Empire appears to have found a way to locate their ships and hiding places.  The hope of the entire Rebel Alliance may lie in the hands of its greatest leaders and heroes, but, after the events on Bespin, even these shining beacons of rebellion have been damaged beyond recognition.

With Han Solo captured by the Empire and handed over to the bounty hunter Boba Fett, those on the Millennium Falcon are dispirited and lost.  However, finding a Rebel cell under attack prompts them into action.  Despite missing the man she loves, Princess Leia is determined to rescue him and revive the Rebel Alliance by any means necessary.  At the same time, reluctant Rebel recruit Lando Calrissian attempts to make himself useful, despite mistrust from everyone around him.  Finally, Luke Skywalker, after losing a hand and finding out the horrible truth of his parentage is in shock.  Worse, his meeting with Vader appears to have damaged his connection to the Force, and neither of his masters will appear to talk to him.

Star Wars (2020) #2 Cover2

As the Rebel Alliance seeks a way to survive, each of these players, with the help of Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2, begin the next stage of their journey.  As Luke seeks a lightsaber, Leia looks to find a way to save Han and Alliance, while Lando looks for redemption in all the wrong places.  All their journeys lead the back to the scene of one of the worst moments of their past, Bespin.  But how far will Luke, Leia and Lando go to achieve their goes, and will they be able to survive the dangerous enemies chasing them?

This is an outstanding and intense Star Wars comic that does a wonderful job of setting up a brand-new series of exciting adventures.  Charles Soule, who has written some of the best Star War comics out there, creates an exceptional and captivating tale that highlights the tragic consequences of The Empire Strikes Back.  Featuring some incredible artwork, amazing big moments, and a perfect portrayal of some of the iconic original trilogy cast, this is an outstanding and awesome comic.

Star Wars (2020) #3 Cover

For this cool first volume in the Star Wars (2020) series, the author has come up with an extremely compelling and clever multi-part narrative that I deeply enjoyed.  The Destiny Path has a strongly character-driven story, following Luke, Leia and Lando as they attempt to recover from the traumatic events of The Empire Strikes Back.  The narrative starts right after the heroes escape from the Cloud City at Bespin (technically before the closing scene of The Empire Strikes Back) and places the shell-shocked characters right in the middle of a firefight against an intriguing new foe.  The next stage of the story contains an intriguing couple of sequences aboard the Rebel medical frigate, showing off some new angles to the film’s final scenes, while also following Lando and Chewie as they head to Tatooine to scope out Jabba’s palace.  This part of the narrative is very clever and exciting, especially as it paints Lando as a bit of a wildcard, with unclear loyalties.  The next section of the comic takes Luke, Leia and Lando back to Bespin, each for a different reason.  There are some high octane and emotionally rich comic issues here, especially as all three of the characters are forced to face up to their recent mistakes and losses, while also taking on the Imperial garrison stationed there.  All of this leads up to the final part of the book, which is primarily focused on Luke, who journeys to several distant planets following a vision to find a new lightsaber.  There are some really cool sequences here as Luke continues to battle his own personal demons (and a real one, but we’ll get to that later), before eventually coming away with an unexpected prize.  All these disparate storylines work really well on their own, but their real strength lies in the way in which they tie together perfectly throughout The Destiny Path.  You end up getting a fantastic story as you follow one major event to the next, and I liked the unique tales contained within each section.  All of this serves as an awesome and powerful start to the Star Wars (2020) series, and there are plenty of hints of awesomeness to come as the Rebels bounce back while Luke continues to grow as a Jedi.  Epic Star Wars storytelling at its best!

Star Wars (2020) #3 Cover2

There is no way that I can talk about The Destiny Path without geeking out about some of the cool and memorable Star Wars elements and references featured within.  I deeply, deeply enjoyed seeing the intriguing and dramatic aftermath of The Empire Strikes Back that Soule envisions here, especially as he took the time to explore the various traumas and consequences of the events at Bespin.  This was a fantastic heart of the entire volume which is going to appeal to all fans of the Star Wars franchise.  Other cool Star Wars moments that fans will love include the mysterious events occurring around the Skywalker lightsaber.  This lightsaber, which disappears at the end of The Empire Strikes Back and reappears in The Force Awakens, is a major item throughout the Star Wars canon and I liked seeing Luke trying to find it in the bowels of Cloud City, only for it to slip into another mysterious person’s grip.  It will be interesting to see what happens to that in the future, and foresee it being a fascinating narrative thread throughout this entire series.

In addition to these elements from the films, Soule also fits in a lot of other cool references and call-backs to previous Star Wars comics, especially ones that he has had a hand in.  The most obvious of these was the appearance of Verla, who Luke encounters while trying to find a new lightsaber.  Verla is a Force-sensitive woman who first appeared in The Burning Seas volume of Soule’s Dark Lord of the Sith comic series.  It was great to see that Verla survived, and Soule does a good job working her into this story, portraying her as the damaged and cynical former Jedi student who is just trying to survive.  Verla’s inclusion allows Luke to learn more about Vader, both as a Jedi hunter and a Jedi named Anakin, and it was interesting to finally see him learn about the Jedi purges, Order 66, and the Inquisitors.  I also noticed a lot of mentions about the High Republic in this volume.  I really should not be too surprised about this, especially as Soule is one of the leading creative minds behind the High Republic range, having written the first novel in the series, Light of the Jedi.  It looks like Star Wars (2020) is going to rely on several events from the High Republic books, and I am intrigued about how Soule will work them into his cool story.  All of these Star Wars elements are extremely cool, and I think that they will deeply appeal to every fan of this franchise.  While mega fans are obviously going to love some of the more obscure references that Soule fit into this comic, this series is also very easy to enjoy if you have a more basic knowledge of Star Wars.

Star Wars (2020) #4 Cover

I do have to quickly highlight that one of my favourite parts of this entire comic is one of the final sequences in the volume.  In this sequence, Luke visits an abandoned Jedi temple which is filled with a mound of untouched treasures, including a lightsaber which he desperately needs.  However, it turns out that this entire building is a trap (Luke was warned, to be fair), as he is quickly attacked by the ghost of the Grand Inquisitor.  The Grand Inquisitor is an awesome character who served as the main antagonist of the first season of the Star Wars Rebels animated series.  Soule has previously utilised him in his Dark Lord of the Sith comic series, especially the first two volumes, Imperial Machine and Legacy’s End, but this current comic is set after his death in Rebels.  There are so many cool elements to the Grand Inquisitor’s return in this comic, including a fantastically drawn fight between him and Luke, where Luke encounters a double-bladed lightsaber for the first time, and I loved the Grand Inquisitor’s fiery, spiritual appearance.  However, the best part of this whole unique inclusion was the characters final interaction with Darth Vader.  Here it is revealed that Vader is the one trapping the Inquisitor’s spirit in this world, using him as a tool and a trap.  When the Inquisitor begs Vader for his release, Vader refuses, as the Inquisitor still has use to him.  The forlorn spirit starts to fade, but not before sadly uttering “there are worst things than death”.  This is an outstanding call-back to the character’s final words in Rebels, and it was so cool to see his morbid prediction come to pass.  This whole sequence really pushed The Destiny Path up a level for me, and I love how the creative team worked this into this fantastic and awesome comic.

Easily one of the best parts of this entire comic is the creative team’s portrayal of the iconic Star Wars characters who serve as the main protagonists of this amazing first volume.  Soule has done an incredible job writing a character-driven narrative around these protagonists, and I love his in-depth examination of their psyches and actions following The Empire Strikes Back.  The author pulls together some great storylines around these characters, and I loved seeing what amazing adventures they went on between these two films.

Star Wars (2020) #4 Cover2

One of the main characters explored during this book is the original Star Wars hero, Luke Skywalker.  Now, Luke is going through a lot at this point, having just had his hand chopped off and learned that his father is Darth Vader.  Luke spends most of the first part of the novel absolutely traumatised by these events and ends up doubting himself while also concealing this revelation from his friends.  To compound his issues, Luke finds his connection to the Force somehow damaged or fractured, as neither of his masters, Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda, are reaching out to him.  This results in a more scattered Luke, and I loved the way that Soule dove into his damaged mindset.  There are some great and powerful moments throughout this comic that show off Luke’s trauma, as well some dramatic moments when he lashes out uncontrollably with the Force.  After receiving some visions and engaging in a hunt for a new lightsaber, Luke starts to come to terms with the events surrounding him, and it is great to see him recover somewhat, including by learning more about his father.  This slight reconciliation with his identity enables Luke to regain his control over the Force, and there are some very cool scenes where he uses his powerful and advanced abilities against the Empire.  Overall, this was a pretty spectacular look at Luke, and I really appreciated the cool story that Soule spun around him.  It will be interesting to see what is going to happen to Luke in the future entries of this comic, especially as he continues along his journey to become a full-fledged Jedi.  It will also be cool to see more of Luke’s new yellow lightsaber, which was an intriguing decision by Soule which I think is going to really pay off.

Star Wars (2020) #5 Cover

In addition to Luke, a lot of the story focuses on Leia.  Like the rest of the characters, Leia is pretty traumatised, as she discovered her love for Han only to lose him in seconds.  While at times she seems in control, especially as she works to salvage the Rebels fleet, she is clearly still impacted by this loss.  As a result, she desperately attempts to find a way to save him from Boba Fett, even if that means risking herself and her friends.  Her recklessness leads her back to Bespin with the others as she attempts to find more about the carbonite freezing process.  While Leia’s arc is possibly the least interesting (which isn’t a criticism; it’s just the other two main characters have some outstanding stories), she does have some great moments in this comic, and I especially loved the visual of her also trapped in carbonite.  It was also great to see more of badass Rebel leader Leia in this comic as she steps up and takes charge to protect those around her.  I imagine that the creative team have some great ideas for Leia in the future and I cannot wait to see what they are.

The other main character of this volume was the flashy and charismatic rogue, Lando Calrissian, who finds himself stuck with the other protagonists after helping them flee from Bespin.  Despite his attempts to do the right thing at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, Lando is still not trusted by anyone, as they blame him for his betrayal and the loss of Han.  As a result, Lando attempts to find some form of redemption with them, although he mostly comes across as a self-centred bastard.  Soule works a really intriguing storyline around Lando, and I loved seeing his meeting with Jabba the Hutt as he makes some initial inquiries into Han’s location.  Lando is able to talk his way out of a meeting with Jabba, although the reader is left wondering whether he plans to sell out the Rebels.  This nicely leads into his storyline on Bespin as he accompanies Luke and Leia back there.  It was great to see Lando returning to his city, especially as he manages to con his way through a range of different Imperial obstacles, and he was fully in his roguish element.  While Lando appears to return to Cloud City for selfish reasons, such as throwing a big middle-finger to the Empire, his jaunt does awaken his inner hero a little, and you get a glimpse of the person we eventually see in Return of the Jedi.  Lando is easily the most entertaining character in the entire comic and most of The Destiny Path’s humour is derived from his interactions with most of the other characters.  He is a very funny character, and it was great to see so much focus on him after barely featuring in the last stage of Star Wars comics.  I look forward to seeing what Soule and the creative team have for him in the future, and I think he is going to be the MVP character of the entire series.

Star Wars (2020) #5 Cover2

Aside from the three main characters above, The Destiny Path also includes a great range of other characters from various points in Star Wars history.  Like its precursor comic, Star Wars (2020) also follows Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2, although I think these three great characters were a little overshadowed by Luke, Leia and Lando in this volume.  Chewie does have a bunch of fun moments throughout the comic, mostly in his interactions with Lando, and it is entertaining to see him be forced to deal with the cocky former friend.  R2-D2 does have a great sidekick time with Luke, and it was always fun to see him save the mighty Jedi’s life again and again.  There is also an interesting focus on a couple of new or lesser-known characters.  For example, it looks like Soule is going to spend a bit of time following Kes Dameron and Shara Bey, the parents of a certain Poe Dameron.  The Destiny Path also introduces an intriguing new antagonist in the form of Commander Zahra, a fanatical Imperial officer placed in charge of eliminating the remnants of the Rebel Alliance.  Zahra is tactical genius who I understand is going to have a major role in some upcoming comics.  This volume proves to be an excellent introduction to this cool new character, especially as it establishes her dangerous intelligence, murderous mentality and the insane grudge she bears against Leia, all while she commands the unique Star Destroyer, Tarkin’s Will, which still bears scars from being hit by wreckage of the original Death Star.  Zahra proves to be an outstanding antagonist, and I cannot wait to see what deviousness and insanity she brings to the rest of the series.

I definitely need to highlight the incredible and eye-catching artwork that was an outstanding and memorable feature of this awesome comic.  The artistic team behind this comic did an amazing job from start to finish, and every page was a visual treat for the eyes.  While all the art in this comic is great, there are a few things that really stood out to me, such as character design.  The artists do such an incredible job capturing the main characters throughout this comic, especially in the first issue where all their post-The Empire Strikes Back pain and emotion is on full display.  It was uncanny how similar these characters looked to their portrayal in the film, and it is a testament to the artists’ amazing ability.  There are also several awesome combat sequences scattered throughout the comic and I loved the way in which the art brought them to life.  A particularly good example of this was the opening space battle between the Empire and a small Rebel fleet.  The artists come up with an incredible background for this fight, which takes place between a sun and a concentrated barrage of green turbolaser bolts, which are being used to fence the Rebels in place.  This was so visually pretty, and it really enhanced the cool story and fighter combat that was taking place in front of it.  I also deeply enjoyed the way in which the artists have recreated several key scenes from The Empire Strikes Back.  These scenes, which include Luke losing his hand, finding out that Vader is his father and Han giving his iconic “I know” to Leia, are scattered throughout key parts of The Destiny Path.  Not only are these cool visually, but they are also clever from a writing point of view, dragging the readers back to the emotional impact of these events and driving how much they are still sticking in the mind of the protagonists.  I cannot overstate how awesome this art is and I had an absolute blast seeing every explosion, Force burst and clever flashback that they were able to fit in.

Star Wars (2020) #6 Cover

Well, if the above multi-page rant above didn’t give it away, then I’ll say it clearly here: this comic is incredible!  Soule, Saiz and the other talented artists have done an amazing job with this first volume of the Star Wars (2020) series, and The Destiny Path is an epic and awesome read.  I loved the in-depth examination of these key characters after The Empire Strikes Back and there are so many cool Star Wars elements worked into the story.  This is one of my favourite Star Wars comics and it gets a full five-star rating from me.  I cannot wait to see what extraordinary stories and powerful artform this fantastic creative team comes up with next and I need to order the next volume in now.

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst

The Bone Maker Cover

Publisher: HarperAudio (Audiobook – 9 March 2021)

Series: Standalone

Length: 16 hours and 35 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

One of the leading voices in fantasy fiction, the impressive Sarah Beth Durst, returns with another epic standalone fantasy read, The Bone Maker.

Sarah Beth Durst is an amazingly talented author who has been dominating the fantasy market for the last several years.  Initially debuting with several fun young adult and middle grade novels, such as the 2009 release Ice, Durst made the jump to adult novels in 2014 with The Lost, before writing her bestselling Queens of Renthia fantasy series.  I only recently started reading Durst’s work when I checked out her 2020 novel, Race the SandsRace the Sands was a gripping standalone fantasy read that featured a thrilling tale of adventure and redemption set around monster racing in a desert kingdom.  I absolutely loved Race the Sands, and it ended up being one of my top books and audiobooks of last year, and Durst was easily one of the best new-to-me authors I checked out in 2020.  As a result, I have been really keen to see what Durst would write next, and I was excited when I heard about her new book, The Bone MakerThe Bone Maker was one of my most anticipated novels of 2021, and I ended up having a wonderful time reading it.

25 years ago, the nation of Vos was threatened by a terrible foe, the rogue bone maker Eklor, whose nightmarish creations of animal bone and mechanical components sought to overwhelm everything.  In the end, Vos was saved by five heroes who led an army to Eklor’s door to destroy him.  However, their victory came at a steep cost, as one of the heroes died a tragic death, and only four walked away from Eklor’s tower.

In the years that followed, the leader of the heroes, Kreya, has lived a life of exile, determined to resurrect her husband, Jentt, who died to stop the evil assailing their realm.  Using Eklor’s notes, Kreya has succeeded in cracking the spells needed to complete the resurrection, but bringing the dead back to life has a heavy cost.  Not only does Kreya lose a day of her life for every day that Jentt lives, but Kreya also requires human bones to complete the spell,. The bones of the dead are ritualistically burnt throughout Vos specifically to prevent bone workers using them for dark magic, so Kreya is forced to look elsewhere for her materials.  In her desperation, she decides to return to the one place she swore never to go back to: the plains outside Eklor’s tower, where the bones of those fought against Eklor’s monsters still lie.

Making the arduous and forbidden journey to Eklor’s tower, Kreya makes a terrifying discovery that threatens everything she fought for all those years ago.  With the dangers of the past threatening to overwhelm her, Kreya has no choice but to reunite her comrades 25 years after their famous victory.  But will these damaged heroes be enough to face the evil threatening to overwhelm them, or will an evil long thought destroyed arise again to finish off what it started?

Wow, Durst definitely does not disappoint as she has created another impressive and powerful fantasy novel.  I had an absolute blast reading this fantastic new book and I managed to finish it off relatively quickly, especially once I got wrapped up in the outstanding story, clever setting and the lives of her amazing protagonists.  I really enjoyed this awesome standalone fantasy read and I have to give The Bone Maker a full five-star rating.

For her latest amazing fantasy novel, Durst has come up with a very complex and powerful story that dives deep into the hearts of her fantastic characters while also taking them on an epic journey of redemption.  I have to admit when I read some of the early descriptions of The Bone Maker I assumed it was going to be the central protagonist, Kreya, going up against her old companions as they tried to stop her from resurrecting her husband.  Instead, Durst works in a very different narrative that sees Kreya encounter the enemy from her past, which forces her to bring her friends back together herself.  Durst sets up this narrative really well, and the reader gets a sense of the tragedy of Kreya and the lengths she is planning to go to reunite with Jentt.  You also get a fantastic idea of the trauma from the protagonist’s past battles with Eklor and how this has shaped their lives.  There are some great moments in the opening half of this book, including several amazing and magically charged action sequences as the protagonists go up against a range of different foes, as well as some intense drama as the five are gradually reunited and come to terms with their past failures.  I loved how the narrative gradually morphed into a bit of a political thriller in the second half of the book as the protagonist encounters an old foe in a different setting.  The flow from the various sections of the story works extremely well, and Durst weaves together a really comprehensive and powerful standalone story.  I liked the excellent blend of action, fantasy elements and intense emotion exploration, which helped to produce a very comprehensive narrative, and The Bone Maker turns into quite an epic and exceptional read.

Easily the highlights of this book are the complex and damaged central characters that the story follows.  The five main characters are heroes who previously saved Vos from a great evil, and I loved this exploration of renowned fantasy heroes years after they saved the world, the usual climax of a story.  The central character of the story is Kreya, the group’s leader, who disappeared after ensuring their previous victory, mourning her dead husband.  Kreya performs multiple attempts at resurrection at the cost of her own life, and I really appreciated the author’s interpretation of this character’s grief leading her to risk it all.  Kreya has a rough and powerful journey throughout this book as she comes back to lead her team and is forced to deal with the expectations of all those around her.  Despite the immense amount of guilt, grief and regret that Kreya experiences throughout this story, Kreya proves to be a talented leader, directing them through several unique fights, and is the only person that can hold this ragged group of characters together.  The counterpoint to Kreya’s toughness and leadership is her deceased husband, Jentt, who, after his resurrection, proves to be the heart and light of the group.  Despite his more buoyant personality, Jentt has to deal with the consequences of his resurrection, especially when he finds out the cost of his continued life, and this leads him to several harrowing mental places.

The next member of the heroes of Vos is the bone wizard Zera, who specialises in creating the best magical talismans in the world.  Zera is the only member of the group who cashed in on her fame after their victory and has grown rich off her skills and reputation.  Zera is a fantastically sarcastic and entertaining addition to the cast, as she revels in her wealth and privilege, while also providing some of the best lines in the entire novel.  Despite a sense of intense betrayal at Kreya’s abandoning of her all those years ago, Zera agrees to help her with her mission, but finds herself constantly conflicted by her feelings of resentment, her own well-hidden damage, and her changed vision of what Kreya’s relationship with her was.  As a result, she has quite a journey throughout The Bone Maker and I loved her inclusion in this novel.

The other two major protagonists are the bone reader Marso and the warrior Stran, both of whom survived the battles with Eklor in very different ways.  While Stran is reasonably mentally healthy, having chosen to live a simple life with his wife and children, Marso has been broken by both his powers and the events of the past.  These two are a great contrast to one another, and both add some intriguing elements to the overall narrative.  I quite enjoyed seeing Marso slowly rebuild his sanity throughout the book while also coming to terms with a magical power he no longer trusts.  Stran’s apparent normality and stable family life is so amazingly different from the other characters in the book that it really stands out, and I liked seeing how each character was just a little bit different.  Overall, all five of these awesome protagonist really help to make The Bone Maker a powerful and impressive read and I am extremely glad that Durst took the time to build each of these great characters up.

One of the things I really must discuss is the outstanding setting that Durst created for this great book, especially as the author did such an impressive job coming up with yet another unique world.  The land of Vos is an amazing fantasy realm, loaded up with its own blend of troubles, culture and magic, which is living in the shadows of the tragic bone wars 25 years prior.  Durst sets this new landscape up perfectly in the early stages of the novel, and the reader gets a great sense of the people and mentality of this realm, especially when it comes to the trademark bone magic.  As the novel progresses, Durst visits several fantastic and compelling parts of this land.  This includes the gigantic and wealthy capital city where many terrible events take place, the hilly landscape that makes up the majority of Vos, a mist-shrouded valley loaded up with a collection of dangerous, gigantic monsters, and the plains surrounding Eklor’s tower, where deadly secrets lurk.  These landscapes are a lot of fun to explore, and Durst works them into her narrative perfectly.  I really enjoyed all of the major locations that the protagonists visit, although my favourite has to be the valley of monsters, as some intense and action-packed sequences take place there.

In addition to the amazing setting, I also really appreciate the rich and distinctive bone magic that Durst came up with for The Bone Maker.  This type of magic features three distinctive types of bone workers, including bone readers who can use animal bones to read the future, bone wizards who create powerful bone talismans, and bone makers who inscribe bones to animate a range of constructs.  Each of these magical disciplines is explored in great detail by the author and are all strongly utilised in the plot.  I loved seeing these magical elements at work throughout the action sequences in the book, and Durst uses them to great effect, with the characters gaining flight, stealth, strength and speed in every epic fight sequence.  The various examples of bone making are also pretty cool, and you get some great magical constructs.  I liked how there was a fun contrast between the protagonists’ cuter, yet still effective constructs, and the antagonists monstrous figures, and it makes for some great combat scenes, especially when the protagonist goes big towards the end of the book.  All of these magical elements are really exceptional, and I think it is an absolute testament to Durst’s sheer imagination and creativity that she is so effectively able to come up with a brand new style of magic and a new magical realm for every single one of her standalone fantasy reads.

I ended up enjoying The Bone Maker in its audiobook format, which proved to be a fantastic way to experience Durst’s epic story.  The Bone Maker audiobook has a decent run time of 16 hours and 35 minutes, which I ended up getting through rather quickly and is not too much of challenge for dedicated listeners to finish off.  One of the best things about this great audiobook is the amazing narrator, Soneela Nankani.  Nankani is a veteran audiobook narrator, but despite her prevalence as a narrator of fantasy fiction, I have not previously had the pleasure of experiencing Nankani’s vocal talents before, although she has worked on several other fantasy novels that I am keen to check out.  Nankani was an outstanding narrator whose voice really enhanced this already amazing novel.  Not only did Nankani provide a quick and exciting tone for the entire novel, moving the story along at a brisk and enjoyable pace that continuously kept the reader’s attention; she also provided several fantastic voices for the various protagonists.  All the voices that she used were pretty impressive, and I felt that they fit the damaged and dark personalities of each of the main characters very well.  As a result, I would strongly recommend the audiobook format to anyone interested in checking out The Bone Maker as it is an amazing way to check out this compelling novel.

The Bone Maker by Sarah Beth Durst is an exceptional and captivating standalone fantasy novel that I had an amazing time reading.  Durst has produced an epic and elaborate tale of life, death and magic, which follows five damaged and broken heroes years after their supposed great victory.  There are so many awesome elements to this fantastic book, and readers are going to fall in love with The Bone Maker’s addictive narrative, powerful characters and cool magical elements.  While I did enjoy Durst’s previous novel, Race the Sands, a little more, this was still an outstanding read, which comes highly recommended.

Later by Stephen King

Later Cover

Publisher: Simon and Schuster Audio (Audiobook – 2 March 2021)

Series: Standalone

Length: 6 hours and 32 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

Since I started this blog, one major author that I have neglected is the master of horror fiction, Stephen King.  King needs absolutely no introduction, with a decades-long career of amazing horror novels, thrillers and heartfelt pieces of fiction, most of which have been turned into iconic films and television shows.  Despite this, I haven’t read many of King’s novels before, aside from Cell and the novel he co-wrote with his son, Owen King, Sleeping Beauties.  Honestly, I have only started getting into horror novels in the last couple of years (it is still not my favourite genre TBH) and I have completely failed to make time to check out some of King’s more recent releases.  However, his latest novel, Later, caught my eye and I decided that it would be a good opportunity to expand my Stephen King knowledge.

Jamie Conklin is a young boy with a very unusual problem: he can see and talk to the spirits of the recently deceased.  The son of a struggling single mother, Tia, Jamie just wants to have a normal childhood.  However, as his ability becomes more apparent, his mother cautions him to hide his strange gift, worried that people will abuse his talents, especially as the dead have no choice but to truthfully answer any questions that Jamie asks of them.

Content to keep his secret to himself, Jamie attempts to live like a normal New York City kid during the late 2000s.  However, when his mother pressures him to use his abilities to help save her failing publishing business, it places him in the crosshairs of his mother’s lover, corrupt police detective Liz Dutton.  Liz, desperate for recognition from her bosses, draws Jamie into the hunt for a killer’s final surprise, which only his dead spirit can reveal.  However, not all secrets are easily taken from the dead, and soon Jamie must contend with a terrible force determined to torment him from beyond.  Can Jamie survive what is coming for him, or will it drag him into insanity?

This was an extremely cool novel that makes we really want to go out and read some more Stephen King books.  Later is a fantastic read which combines multiple genres together to create an exciting and fast-paced narrative loaded up with some real heart and memorable characters.  I had an absolute blast reading this clever novel, and thanks to its shorter length and captivating narrative, I powered through it in a very quickly.

I deeply enjoyed the cool and complex story that King came up with for Later, which proved to be a powerful and intriguing character-driven tale that moved across the genres.  Told in a first-person chronicle format by an older version of the main protagonist, Later details the childhood of Jamie Conklin and his early experiences of talking to the dead.  Weaving in anecdotes of his childhood and depictions of his early life with his mother, the story quickly and effectively sets up how Jamie discovered he had his powers, and some of the most significant times that he saw and talked to the spirits of the departed.  This proves to be a fascinating coming-of-age story that showcases how this unique talent twisted and altered the course of Jamie’s life and took him into some dark places.  The author does a fantastic job capturing the style of a young man recounting major events from his childhood, and I very much appreciated the mixture of childlike innocence with cynical reflections.

While this chronicle of a child’s life forms an effective and powerful centre to this entire narrative, this is also a horror story, as Jamie is traumatised by several of the spirits he encounters, especially as King provides some harrowing descriptions of mutilated ghosts and bodies.  These horror elements get even stronger and spookier when Jamie encounters a truly evil spirit who starts to haunt him.  Several of the scenes featuring this being are pretty terrifying, and I liked how King strongly highlights the dark side of Jamie’s power.

The author also works in some intriguing crime fiction elements as well, as the protagonist get wrapped up in a murder investigation and the dangerous schemes of a police officer.  The crime fiction features are pretty thrilling, and l appreciated the consideration of how Jamie’s powers could be abused.  I liked this unique blend of genres, and it ended up creating a very compelling and powerful story, which King sets out at an incredibly fast rate.  King sets the story up perfectly, and I found myself really getting pulled in as the narrative set off, thanks to its unique tone and intriguing selection of supporting characters.  The entire narrative goes in some very interesting directions and I liked how interconnected all the events that the narrator is recounting fit together into a clever and moving tale of discovery and redemption.  All of this comes together into an exciting and scary finale as the narrator comes face-to-face with several of the monsters in his life, and I think that King came up with a very satisfying and clever ending for the book, which has potential for a sequel.  I did think that the final big reveal of the book was extremely unnecessary, but it was a particularly typical Stephen King twist, so I should not have been so surprised.  Overall, this was an exceptional narrative that I cannot hype up enough.

Later is a standalone novel from King which features a whole new group of characters.  As a result, it is very accessible to a wide range of readers, even for those people who have not previously enjoyed any of King’s novels.  I personally found it really easy to get into this cool story, even with my limited knowledge of the author’s prior works, and it honestly does not take long to get hooked on his clever and unique story.  This is also quite a good book for established fans.  Not only does it contain a lot of elements of a classic Stephen King novel, such as a young protagonist on a journey of self-discovery who ends up losing their innocence, but there are also some intriguing connections to some of King’s most iconic works.  One horror inclusion in the novel appeared to be a version of a creature from a previous book, and I think that King readers will really appreciate the clever references he chucks in.  Due to all this, I feel that Later is a perfect book for any curious readers, no matter their experiences with King’s works, and this may end up being the novel that draws new readers into this compelling master author’s web.  I personally will make a bit more of an effort to read more of King’s works in the future, and I already have my eye on his next novel, which is coming out later this year.  I also kind of hope that we see more of the characters at some point, especially as King did such a great job setting them up in this novel, while also leaving their overall story very open-ended.

I quite enjoyed the relatively modern setting that King utilised as a backdrop to his plot.  With the protagonist chronicling his tale in his 20s, presumably in the present day, most of his childhood took place in the late 2000s and early 2010s.  This is a pretty interesting departure from some of King’s more recognisable novels that explore the childhoods of their protagonists, such as It and Stand by Me, all of which make excellent use of their 1950s or 1980s settings (I liked the awesome 1980s nostalgia you got in the latest It film, for example).  Instead, King loads up Later with a ton of references to 2000s culture and movies, and I had a fun time remembering some of the things that the protagonist experienced as a child.  King, through the medium of his protagonist, also cleverly mentions The Sixth Sense right off the bat, ensuring readers that this story is “not like that movie with Bruce Willis”, which I thought was very entertaining, and also quite true.  The Great Recession also becomes a key plot point of the novel, and it was interesting to see how King was able to utilise it as a major motivator for various character actions.  I also liked how the story was set in New York City, rather than the small-town American locations King’s books are known for.  The author uses this city-based location to great effect throughout the novel, painting a fantastic picture of New York life, especially through the eyes of his young protagonist.  Jamie ends up visiting various parts of the city throughout the events of Later, including several communities on the outskirts of New York, and I enjoyed this great use of location.

I also have to highlight the multiple jokes about novelists and publishers that King features throughout Later, mainly due to Jamie being born into a publishing family.  You have to imagine that King had a lot of fun coming up with all the great jokes and comedic insights into Jamie and his mother’s experiences with writers, and it ended up being a really fun addition to the plot.  I had a particularly good laugh about the descriptions of a certain series of trashy historical romance/adventure novels that Tia’s struggling publishing company relies on, and I loved how King explored it throughout this entertaining narrative, as well as cleverly featuring a mock-up cover of one of these fictional novels released as a bonus dust jacket for Later.  This extra dust jacket (see below), was drawn by the same cover artist who did Later’s hardcover, and I enjoyed the similar styles and the excellent tongue-in-cheek testimonial from King, praising this book within a book.  Fun little inclusions like this really helped to push Later up to another level, and I liked how the humour from the publishing jokes contrasted nicely with the dark horror and crime fiction elements.

The Secret of Roanoke Cover

While I probably would have enjoyed reading a physical copy of Later, I instead chose to enjoy this fun novel in its audiobook format, which ended up being a fantastic choice.  This audiobook has an extremely quick run time of just over six and a half hours.  This shorter length was one of the main reasons I decided to listen to Later, and I was able to get through it in a day or two, although a lot of that was down to how awesome the story was.  This was an impressively fast-paced audiobook, and I really felt that this format worked well with the first-person chronicle style the author utilised, as it felt like the protagonist was the one vocalising the story to you.  Later was narrated by actor Seth Numrich, and it is one of the first audiobooks he has lent his voice to.  I really enjoyed Numrich’s work on this audiobook; not only did he do an amazing top capturing Later’s unique tone, but he also provided a range of great voices for the characters featured within the novel.  His main voice, which represented the narrating protagonist, really encapsulated the innocence and pain of the character as he tells the story of his strange childhood, and it helped draw me to the protagonist.  The rest of his voices were pretty good, although I thought the voice he used for female detective Liz Dutton sounded a little like John Leguizamo, which is probably not what he was going for.  Overall, though, this was an exceptional audiobook, and I would strongly recommend it to those who want to check out Later.  I also hope that Numrich considers narrating more audiobooks in the future as he displayed some real talent here and was an absolute treat to listen to.

Later is an outstanding and impressive novel from the legendary Stephen King, who creates a unique and powerful tale of life, death and coming to terms with both.  Featuring an intriguing narrative that blends together clever horror and crime inclusions with a powerful coming of age story, Later is a truly memorable novel that is extremely easy to fall in love with.  I had an exceptional time reading this book and it is a must read for all fans of King’s work and anyone who has ever been curious about his writing.

Later Cover 2