Book Haul – 5 October 2021

I have had a pretty awesome week book-wise, having been lucky enough to receive several amazing novels that I am quite excited to read.  I have been waiting for several of these novels for some time now, with multiple being amongst my most anticipated reads for the second half of the year.  I have some extremely high hopes for all of them and I imagine that many will be some of the best books I read this year.

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

The Man Who Died Twice Cover

One of the best books I recently received was the incredibly awesome The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman.  Serving as a sequel to The Thursday Murder Club, one of the best books, audiobooks and debuts of 2020, The Man Who Died Twice continues to follow four senior citizens who investigate crimes that impact their sleepy retirement community.  Featuring another great story with a fascinating group of characters, I have already finished this book off and will hopefully put a review up in the next few days.

 

The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik

The Last Graduate Cover

Another epic sequel I got this week, The Last Graduate is the follow up to the fantastic 2020 read, A Deadly Education.  I have already started reading The Last Graduate, which follows an extremely powerful teenage magic user as she tries to survive inside an extremely dangerous magical school.  I am already deeply enjoying this cool book and it is turning out to be an exceptional piece of fantasy fiction.

 

The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly

The Dark Hours Cover

After being lucky enough to have two Michael Connelly books come out last year (Fair Warning and The Law of Innocence), I have just received an advance proof of this great author’s next novel, The Dark HoursThe Dark Hours will continue the amazing Ballard & Bosch sub-series that teams up two of Connelly’s best protagonists.  I have really loved the last two Ballard & Bosch novels (Dark Sacred Night and The Night Fire) and I am really excited to see what compelling story is featured in this latest book.  There is currently a review embargo on this book until November, so it might be a little while until I can post anything about it, however, once able, I will report on how much fun I had with this fantastic mystery.

 

Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn

Among Thieves Cover

I was particularly happy to grab a copy of Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn.  Featuring a fun story about a fantasy heist, Among Thieves is one of the most anticipated debuts of 2021 and I am extremely excited to see what happens in this awesome sounding novel.

 

Cold Justice by Ant Middleton

Cold Justice Cover

I was also pretty happy to receive a copy of this fun sounding thriller, Cold Justice by Ant Middleton.  Cold Justice has an awesome plot which follows a damaged former special operator as he attempts to save a life in South Africa.  Sure to be an intense and electrifying read.

 

2 Sisters Detective Agency by James Patterson and Candice Fox

2 Sisters Detective Agency Cover

Another impressive thriller I recently received was 2 Sisters Detective Agency, which combines the talents of legendary thriller author, James Patterson, with Australian author Candice Fox.  This cool sounding novel sets two newly introduced half-sisters on a dangerous investigation as they find themselves working at their dead father’s detective agency.  I really enjoyed Fox’s latest novel, The Chase, and I look forward to seeing what these two great authors produce.

 

Star Wars: Darth Vader (2020) – Volume Two: Into the Fire by Greg Pak, Raffaele Ienco and Neeraj Menon

Star Wars - Darth vader - Volume Two - Into the Fire Cover

I also received a couple of fantastic Star Wars comics that I have been hoping to grab for a while.  The first of these is the second volume of the impressive Darth Vader (2020) series, Into the Fire.  Following on from the outstanding first volume, Dark Heart of the Sith, Into the Fire sets Vader against the Emperor as the Sith master and apprentice finally come to blows over the lies and tragedy surrounding the discovery of Luke Skywalker’s parentage. An emotionally charged and powerful comic that I read the moment I got my hands on it, Into the Fire is an epic read which I will hopefully review soon.

 

Star Wars: The High Republic – Volume One: There is no Fear by Cavan Scott and Ario Anindito

Star Wars - The High Republic - There is no Fear Cover

The other Star Wars comic I recently got was the first volume of the new The High Republic comic series, There is no Fear.  Set in the latest era of Star Wars history, the High Republic, There is no Fear introduces the readers to some cool new storylines and some great characters.  An emotional and action packed comic, this was a great volume for those readers interested in the High Republic era, especially as it was written by Cavan Scott, author of the amazing 2021 book, Star Wars: The Rising Storm.

 

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 – 29 September 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?

Unholy Murder by Lynda La Plante (Trade Paperback)

Unholy Murder Cover

I haven’t managed as much reading this week as I would have liked and I am still going with the latest Lynda La Plante novel, Unholy Murder.  I am rather enjoying this book and it has a pretty compelling mystery to it surrounding a murdered nun.  I am very curious to see how it will end and I am expecting some fun reveals.

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman (Audiobook)

The Man Who Died Twice Cover

I did manage to start the latest Richard Osman novel, The Man Who Died Twice, this week.  The sequel to the outstanding The Thursday Murder Club (one of the best books, audiobooks and debuts of 2020), this second book places the elderly Thursday Murder Club in the way of criminals, spies and notorious ex-husbands. I am about halfway through at the moment, and so far The Man Who Died Twice is turning out to be a cracking read.

What did you recently finish reading?

The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie (Audiobook)

The Wisdom of Crowds Cover

One of the best books of 2021, a highly recommended must read!

What do you think you’ll read next?

The Bone Ship’s Wake by R. J. Barker (Trade Paperback)

The Bone Ship's Wake 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 – Mind Bullet by Jeremy Robinson

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 check out a bonkers sounding upcoming science fiction thriller that I know I am going to have an awesome time reading, Mind Bullet by Jeremy Robinson.

Mind Bullet 2

Jeremy Robinson is a bestselling author of crazy science fiction and horror reads who has a massive and fantastic sounding catalogue of books to his name, including the Chess Team series, the Nemesis Saga and several other outrageous novels and series with some fun stories to them.  I have so far only read one of Robinson’s books, the 2021 release, The DarkThe Dark was an extremely entertaining and intense horror novel that followed a damaged, pot smoking protagonist as he attempted to survive a demonic incursion in his sleepy suburban neighbourhood.  I had an outstanding time listening to The Dark audiobook and it definitely made me a fan of Robinson’s work, so much so that I have been keeping an eye out for any additional releases of his.  I was very excited when I saw that he had yet another book coming out in 2021 with the upcoming Mind Bullet.

Mind Bullet is an amazing and unique upcoming novel that has a pretty killer plot to it.  Currently set for release on 23 November 2021, this book will follow a psychic assassin as he himself is hunted by a collection of dangerous hitman.

Synopsis:

A telekinetic assassin’s quest to avenge his parents’ murders triggers an all-out war between an eccentric cast of killers, from the New York Times bestselling author of INFINITE and THE DARK.

Jonas kills people…with his mind. He reaches out, focuses for a moment, and feels a snap of pain between his eyes. Then his target falls over dead, a hole in the center of their brains. The cause of death is unknown to all aside from Jonas, and his lone companion: Bubbles, a sarcastic AI with aspirations to be more human, or a serial killer. One of the two. Maybe both. Jonas calls his ability…

MIND BULLET

Sensing Jonas is lonely and depressed, Bubbles arranges for Madee, a Thai delivery woman by day, and a thief by night, to enter his life. For a moment: sparks. But chaos follows as the people Madee last robbed catch up to her. They also happen to be the Shrieking Ninjas. After surviving the assault, Jonas and Madee find themselves on the run, and a 10 million dollar hit called on Jonas.

Killers from all over the globe pursue the pair as they run for their lives and headlong into Jonas’s mysterious past, uncovering the surreal origins and extent of his abilities. They discover a dark and twisted history that threatens to unravel his mind and leave him susceptible to control. Working with Bubbles, Madee, and a growing list of new allies, Jonas battles his way through waves of assassins, some with abilities like his, all to protect the world from a recently discovered, untraceable weapon of mass destruction—himself.

Wow, there are so many fun things about that awesome sounding synopsis.  I love the idea of a story that follows a mentally powered killer with issues as he is hunted down by assassins and killers, especially as one assassin group calls themselves the “Shrieking Ninjas”.  Having that lead into a dark conspiracy focused on the protagonist’s past is easily a recipe for a great story and I already love the fantastic characters introduced in this synopsis alone.  Based on everything above, I am anticipating a fast-paced, intense, and ultra-violent story, that should prove to be extremely amazing.

Another reason that I am quite keen to check out Mind Bullet is because it is set in the same extended universe as The Dark, known as the Infinite Timeline, which also contains several other recent standalone novels by Robinson.  As I mentioned in my prior post, Robinson is building up to a massive literary crossover that will combine storylines from 11 of his recent novels (including The Dark and Mind Bullet), with the final book coming out in 2023.  Ever since I heard about this ambitious project, I have been pretty intrigued about it, and I will be extremely curious to see how Mind Bullet ties into Robinson’s other novels, although, I may need to read his prior book, Tribe, first.

Overall, I think that Mind Bullet is going to be a pretty spectacular and crazy read, and it is one that I am really looking forward to.  The outrageous story synopsis filled with compelling protagonists has already gotten my attention, and I am also quite intrigued about the Infinite Timelines connection.  Plus, it has a group of antagonists called Shrieking Ninjas, how could I possible avoid that?  Based on my prior experiences with Robinson, I am expecting a pretty epic and exciting read, which will no doubt prove to be extremely entertaining.  I will probably end up getting Mind Bullet on audiobook, mainly because I am such a big fan of narrator R. C. Bray, and I am expecting this to be another top release of 2021.

She Who Became the Sun by Shelley Parker-Chan

She Who Became the Sun Cover

Publisher: Mantle (Trade Paperback – 27 July 2021)

Series: The Radiant Emperor – Book One

Length: 414 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Intriguing new Australian author Shelley Parker-Chan presents one of the most unique debuts of 2021 with the awesome She Who Became the Sun, a powerful historical read with a compelling twist.

In 1345 AD China languishes under the rule of the Yuan dynasty, descendants of the Mongolian invaders who have taken control and punished the southern Chinese citizens.  As famine and banditry stalk the land, the fate of the country will be decided by the most unlikely of people.  In a small village in the south, a seer predicts the future for two siblings.  For the favoured son, the seer sees greatness and unlimited potential, while for the daughter he sees nothing in her future at all.

When a bandit raid wipes out the village, only the daughter is left alive as her brother succumbs to his grief and despair.  Determined not to die an insignificant death and prove the seer right, the daughter plans the impossible.  Stealing the identity of her dead brother, she attempts to cheat fate and take her brother’s destiny for herself.  But how far can the newly named Zhu Chongba truly go, even with a fake identity and a stolen fate?

Travelling to a nearby monastery, Zhu impresses the Abbot and is soon accepted as a novice.  Growing up amongst the monks, Zhu finds a purpose for the first time.  But when a rampaging general destroys the monastery, Zhu is forced to find a new path that sets her against the emperor and the entire Yuan dynasty.  Joining with the Red Turban rebellion, Zhu manages to prove herself and soon leads her forces to several crucial victories.  But the eye of an old rival is upon Zhu, and not even this brilliant monk will be able to emerge unscathed.  The path to China’s future begins here, and soon the fate of the entire country will fall on the poor second daughter, destined to become the nation’s first female emperor.

This was a really compelling debut from Shelley Parker-Chan, who produced an epic and unique historical tale of war, destiny, identity and fate.  Serving as the first book in Parker-Chan’s The Radiant Emperor series, She Who Became the Sun was one of the most anticipated new releases for 2021, and I had an incredible time reading it, especially once I got caught up in its fantastic story.

She Who Became the Sun has an awesome and powerful narrative that proves to be extremely addictive.  The book first shows the protagonist as an unnamed daughter, destined for nothing until she adopts the identity of her brother, Zhu, and grows into a confident and capable young adult at a nearby monastery.  The first quarter of the book is primarily told from the perspective of Zhu and serves as a rather good introduction to the character and the overarching setting.  However, the story shifts dramatically after the eunuch General Ouyang, who serves under a noble family of the Yuan dynasty, burns down the monastery and leaves Zhu a medicant monk.  Determined to gain the destiny her brother was promised, Zhu joins with the rebel movement known as the Red Turbans.  The story then focuses on several interesting storylines, including Zhu’s ascent to commander in the Red Turbans, the volatile internal politics of the rebels, as well as troubles facing the wider Yuan dynasty.  The story adds in two additional point-of-view characters a quarter of the way through, with a particular focus on General Ouyang.  Ouygang is engaging in his own plot against the Yuan, and his fate soon becomes intertwined with that of Zhu.  This results in a pretty epic tale, especially as the various story threads tie together perfectly and produce an interesting and addictive overall narrative.  This leads up to an intense and fantastic conclusion that shows how much the protagonist has changed and how determined they are to see their destiny.  It also does an excellent job setting up the future novels in this series, and I have to say that I am pretty excited to see where Parker-Chan takes this tale next.

I was deeply impressed by the cool setting of She Who Became the Sun, especially as Parker-Chan worked in some excellent and compelling historical elements.  The novel is set in 14th century China during the Yuan dynasty and features an interesting retelling of the life of famed emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of the Ming dynasty.  While there are a few major changes, like Zhu being a woman in disguise, She Who Became the Sun captures several key aspects of this figure’s early life, such as their peasant upbringing, their training as a monk, and their rise to power through the Red Turbans.  I really enjoyed the great examination of China during this period, and Parker-Chan does an excellent job of capturing the tyrannical rule of the Mongol invaders, the famines and crisis their ineffective rule caused, as well as the rebellion that rose to oppose them.  The author also makes sure to include several key historical figures, such as Zhu’s major supporters, and it proved to be a fun re-imagining of their relationship with the future emperor.  While this is primarily a historical fiction novel, Parker-Chan includes a lot of other interesting elements that alter the feel of She Who Became the Sun.  For example, there are several mystical features, such as some key individuals who can summon an aurora of visible light to show they have the divine right to rule.  Zhu also has the ability to see ghosts and finds herself haunted and at times damaged by malevolent spirits, angry at her decision to steal another person’s destiny.  These supernatural elements give She Who Became the Sun an intriguing and unique feel, and I really love it when authors subtly work in some subtle alternate genre inclusions into their work.

I also must mention the excellent inclusion of major LGBT+ elements into this book, especially around central character Zhu Chongba.  Zhu spends the entirety of the novel in the role of her late brother, pretending to be a man so she can rule and lead.  This was a really fascinating and distinctive choice by Parker-Chan, and one that makes She Who Became the Sun really stand out.  While there are some understandable comparisons to Disney’s Mulan, Parker-Chan instead frames it as a choice made from a desire to survive and to be more than what her sex would usually allow her to be in this period, especially under Yuan control.  Zhu spends most of the novel trying to hide her birth gender from everyone around her, allowing her to continue to achieve her.  While a few characters find out, Zhu is able to ensure their secrecy, which leads to some fascinating scenes.  I particularly love the interactions between Zhu and female characters who discover her secret, and the understanding that flows through these scenes is extremely powerful.  Other LGBT+ elements are later added to the story, especially around Zhu’s marriage to her wife Ma, and I really appreciated the clever and compelling way that it was worked into the plot.

Another impressive aspect of this outstanding book I want to highlight is the great use of characters.  This novel featured some amazing point-of-view characters whose journeys become the focus of She Who Became the Sun.  The main character is Zhu, the woman destined to become Emperor, who spends most of the book trying to live up to the legacy she believes she deserves.  I really liked the compelling character growth featured as her personality changes throughout the course of the book.  Initially meek and barely able to keep her secret, Zhu develops her cunning and her skills of manipulation to become a major figure in the monastery and the Red Turbans.  I loved the depiction of her rise to power, including that fun scene where she manages to win a battle with a prayer, and it was really entertaining to see her use the mild-mannered, humble monk routine to fool the people around her.  Having grown up with nothing, Zhu is more resilient against setbacks than some of the other characters and is able to overcome major hardships.  While Zhu spends most of the book as a good person, the desires for power and a great destiny eventually grows within her, encouraging her to do some evil things to win.  I really liked this subtle shift in personality as the novel continued, and the way that her character arc in this novel ends was really surprising and intense.

The other major character I really want to talk about is Ouyang, a general serving the powerful noble Lord Esen-Temur, son of the Prince of Henan.  Ouyang has a complex past, the son of a family declared traitor by the Emperor and the Prince of Henan, his entire family was killed, while Ouyang was made a eunuch.  Eventually able to work his way up from slave to general, Ouyang is initially portrayed as a petty, vicious, and vindictive figure, especially as he destroys the monastery that Zhu was living in.  However, as the novel progresses, you get to see how much Ouyang has suffered throughout his life, even though he is the best friend of Lord Esen-Temur.  Due to his status as a eunuch, there are some really interesting parallels between Ouyang and Zhu, especially as neither of these outsiders is comfortable in their body.  However, despite their similarities, they form a bitter rivalry, although occasionally working towards the same goals.  I really enjoyed Ouyang’s storyline, especially as it provided an intriguing alternative to the scenes focusing on the Red Turbans, providing the reader with a look at the politics of the Yuan dynasty and the fractious family dynamics surrounding Lord Esen-Temur.  It also leads to an excellent storyline where Ouyang slowly gets his long-awaited revenge and makes some moves to obtain even more power and control.  Ouyang served as an excellent antagonist for the novel, and his dark and brooding perspectives of life and the Yuan dynasty really enhanced She Who Became the Sun’s overall narrative.

Overall, I deeply enjoyed the unique and intricate book that was She Who Became the Sun, and it turned out to be an outstanding read.  Australian author Shelley Parker-Chan did an exceptional job with this impressive debut novel, and I loved the brilliant and epic historical tale she wove, especially as it contained some complex and intriguing characters.  This book comes highly recommended by me, and it is easily one of the best debuts I have so far read in 2021.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Audiobook Narrators

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, participants have been given a freebie topic, meaning that they can do a list on whatever interests them.  So, I thought I would take this opportunity to talk about something I am very passionate about, audiobooks.  In particular, I am going to have a crack at listing my favourite top ten audiobook narrators.

Readers of my blog will know that I have a particular love for the audiobook format, and it is one of my favourite ways to enjoy a good book (I’m listening to one now as I put this post up).  I have long loved audiobooks, going all the way back to my childhood when I had Goosebumps books on cassette tape.  While I eventually grew out of these series (and cassette tapes), my appreciation for audiobooks has remained, and I have become even more fond of them in recent years, due to how easy and accessible audiobooks are these days.  As such, I have had the great pleasure of listening to some outstanding audiobook in the last few years, and I honestly find myself enjoying some books a hell of a lot more in this format.

One of the main reasons why I have so much fun with audiobooks is because a lot of them have outstanding narrators who excel at telling the story or bringing the characters to life.  A great narrator can turn a good book into something truly magical, while boring narrators can ruin even the most compelling stories.  Over the years I have found myself becoming a big fan of several talented narrators due to their ability to make every story they read incredibly awesome with their impressive range.  Some of these narrators have been so good that I have followed them to other books and series, as I know that I am going to have a great time with whatever they are reading.  As a result, I thought it was about time that I highlighted my absolute favourites of these on this blog.

To pull this list together, I sifted through the best narrators I have listened and tried to work out who I enjoy listening to the most.  While there were a couple of great narrators I have enjoyed once or twice, my list tended to focus on those narrators whose work I have heard multiple time.  I ended up pulling together a descent list, which I was able to cull down into a good top ten list with a generous honourable mentions section.  The end result turned out pretty good, and I liked the cool cross section of genres and narrators that this list contained.  So, let us see who made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Scott Brick – Orphan X and Cotton Malone series

Prodigal Son Cover

Scott Brick is the narrator of two awesome thriller series, the Orphan X and Cotton Malone books.  I have listened to several great books narrated by Brick, including Into the Fire and Prodigal Son by Gregg Hurwitz, and The Malta Exchange, The Warsaw Protocol and The Kaiser’s Web by Steve Berry, all of which were fantastic and compelling listens.

Jim Dale – Harry Potter series

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Cover

I had to include actor Jim Dale somewhere on this due to his outstanding work narrating the Harry Potter audiobooks.  While Stephen Fry also did a version, I have only had the pleasure of listening to Dale’s version, and it is such an outstanding way to enjoy this iconic series.

Jonathan Keeble – Trollslayer series

Trollslayer

I have recently enjoyed Jonathan Keeble’s work on the Trollslayer series by William King, set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe.  I have so far listened to three of these books, Trollslayer, Skavenslayer and Daemonslayer, and each of these has featured some impressive voice work, especially around the main characters.  I am planning to check out more Warhammer novels narrated by Keeble soon, which should be a lot of fun.

Emily Woo Zeller – Star Wars: Doctor Aphra and Cyber Shogun Revolution

Doctor Aphra Audio Cover

I also needed to highlight a rising audiobook narrator who has done some awesome books lately, Emily Woo Zeller.  Zeller came to my attention when she voiced the titular character in the outstanding Star Wars: Doctor Aphra audio drama, perfectly capturing this outstanding and complex protagonist.  This amazing performance, as well as her work in Cyber Shogun Revolution, really impressed me, and I look forward to seeing what Zeller will do in the future.

Top Ten List (unranked):

Ray Porter – Joe Ledger and Rogue Team International series

Relentless Cover

The first entry on this list is the incredible Ray Porter, a narrator whose work I am deeply enjoying.  While Porter has narrated an amazing number of books, I know him primarily through his collaboration with author Jonathan Maberry.  Porter has narrated most of Maberry’s novels over the years, and they are an impressive and captivating team.  I particularly enjoyed Porter’s work in Maberry’s Joe Ledger series (which includes books like Assassin’s Code, Code Zero, and Dogs of War) and the sequel Rogue Team International series (featuring Rage and Relentless), as Porter always perfectly fits into the skin of the titular protagonist.  I also really enjoyed his work on the standalone horror novel Ink, which was one of the best audiobooks of 2020, and I am particularly keen to check out more novels narrated by Porter.

R. C. Bray – Planetside series and The Dark

The Dark Cover

Another fantastic narrator whose work I have been appreciating lately is R. C. Bray, who has lent his voice to some amazing audiobooks.  I first came across Bray through his work on Michael Mammay’s Planetside series, including Planetside and Colonyside (one of the best audiobooks from the first half of 2021).  Bray did an outstanding job on these science fiction military thrillers, and his gruff voice was perfect for the veteran soldier the series followed.  However, Bray can also voice some other unique characters, a fact I recently discovered when I listened to the wildly entertaining horror novel, The Dark by Jeremy Robinson.  In this book, Bray voiced a stoner character who finds himself leading the fight against a horde of invading demons.  Not only did Bray really get into this different protagonist, but he helped to turn The Dark into one of the best audiobooks of the year.  I look forward to checking out more from Bray in the future, especially as he has already narrated a ton of books by Robinson that sound really cool.

James Marsters – Dresden Files series

Battle Ground Cover

The next entry on this list is someone who I was a fan of well before I enjoyed their audiobook work, actor James Marsters.  Best known for his roles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Marsters has also provided his voice to the audiobook versions of the Dresden Files urban fantasy series by Jim Butcher.  I found this out last year when I listened to the awesome latest entry in the series, Battle Ground, and I instantly fell in love with Marsters’ take on the various characters.  Marsters really dived into the role of titular protagonist Harry Dresden, and I appreciated all the cool voices he did throughout this novel.  When I decided to go back and check out the earlier entries in this series, I was very excited to see that Marsters narrated all these prior audiobooks as well, so it was an easy choice to check them out in audiobook as well.  I have so far enjoyed another four Dresden Files novels, Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril and Summer Knight, and each of them has featured some exceptional voice work from Marsters, which is really worth checking out.

Robert Petkoff – Star Trek audiobooks

Star Trek - Picard Cover

Each year there are a ton of Star Trek tie-in novels released, all of which get adapted to audiobook.  Of these multiple Star Trek books, nearly all feature the voice of Robert Petkoff.  Petkoff has an excellent voice for Star Trek, especially as he can perfectly replicate most of the Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation cast.  I have already listened to a great number of his Star Trek audiobooks including More Beautiful Than Death by David Mack, Agents of Influence by Dayton Ward, The Unsettling Stars by Alan Dean Foster, Picard: The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack and The Captain’s Oath by Christopher L. Bennett, just to name a few.  I currently have several of his audiobooks currently loaded up on my phone, and I will hopefully listen to some of them soon.

Marc Thompson – Star Wars audiobooks

Star Wars - The Rising Storm Cover 2

Moving from Star Trek to Star Wars the next narrator I need to highlight is the outstanding Marc Thompson.  Thompson is a wonderfully talented narrator who has been lending his voice to some of the best Star Wars tie-in novels out there, and perfectly bringing them to life.  I love the outstanding range of characters that he can voice, including those from the films, characters from the animated shows, and new characters never seen on screen.  I am a particular fan of the voice he uses for the character of Grand Admiral Thrawn, as he perfectly captures the character’s complexities, especially in books like Thrawn, Chaos Rising and Greater Good by Timothy Zahn.  Other impressive examples of his voice work can be seen in the audiobook versions of Scoundrels, Dark Disciple by Christie Golden, Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule and The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott.

Steven Pacey – First Law and Age of Madness trilogies

The Wisdom of Crowds Cover

I am a major fan of Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series, so I also must highlight the impressive Steven Pacey.  Pacey is a great narrator who I primarily know through his work on Abercrombie’s novels.  I deeply enjoyed the narration he provided to Abercrombie’s iconic dark fantasy series, the First Law trilogy, with each of the complex characters perfectly portrayed by this talented narrator.  Pacey really puts a lot of himself into this exceptional audiobook adaptions, and I was very happy that he continued to provide his voice to Abercrombie’s Age of Madness sequel trilogy, providing his exceptional voices to books like A Little Hatred, The Trouble with Peace and The Wisdom of Crowds.

Joe Jameson – King of Assassins and The Legacy of the Mercenary King series

The Two-Faced Queen Cover

The next entry on this list is Joe Jameson, a narrator whose voice I have been hearing a fair bit of lately.  Jameson is a very talented voice worker who has been narrating several amazing recent fantasy novels.  I first heard Jameson’s voice when I listened to the audiobook version of King of Assassins by RJ Barker, and I was particularly impressed by his impressive take on the intriguing characters contained within.  Following this, Jameson was also provided his voice to The Legacy of the Mercenary King series (currently made up of The Kingdom of Liars and The Two-Faced Queen), where I was deeply impressed with his exceptional ability.  I cannot wait to hear more of Jameson’s work on this series as it continues, and I am also thinking about listening to several unrelated novels that were also voiced by this talented narrator.

Nigel Planer/Stephen Briggs – Discworld series

Guards! Guards! Cover

There was no way that I could do a list about audiobook narrators without mentioning the epic duo of Nigel Planer and Stephen Briggs.  Both Planer and Briggs are talented actors and narrators, but I love them the most for their work on adapting the epic Discworld series by Terry Pratchett.  The Disworld books (such as Moving Pictures and The Last Continent), are my absolute favourite books, and I have so much love for them, especially in their audiobook format.  All the Discworld novels (as well as some other standalone books that Pratchett wrote), were voiced by either Planer or Briggs, with Planer voicing the first 23 books, while Briggs narrated the last 18 books.  Each of these narrators brings something a little different to the books they adapted, but both do an amazing job capturing Pratchett’s unique humour and compelling characters.  I would strongly recommend any Discworld audiobook that these two narrate, and I have so much appreciation for them.

Jonathan Davis – Star Wars audiobooks

Master & Apprentice Cover

Another great narrator who has lent his voice to the Star Wars tie-in genre is the talented Jonathan Davis.  Like Thompson, Davis is a leading Star Wars audiobook narrator, and he always does a great job portraying some of the iconic characters from the franchise.  I have had a lot of fun listening to Davis’ work on such books as Master & Apprentice by Claudia Gray, Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp, Maul: Lockdown by Joe Schreiber and the Dooku: Jedi Lost audio drama by Cavan Scott.  I especially love Davis’ take on characters like Emperor Palpatine and Qui-Gon Jinn and I look forward to listening to more books from him in the future.

Jay Snyder – Gray Man series

One Minute Out Cover

The final audiobook narrator I need to highlight on this list is the fantastic Jay Snyder.  I have recently been really getting into the Gray Man books, and a lot of that is because of Snyder whose audiobook version of the last two novels, One Minute Out and Relentless, were pretty incredible.  I even recently went back and checked out the first novel in the series, The Gray Man, and I was really impressed by Snyder’s work on this initial book.  As I am intending to get through all the Gray Man books in the next little while, I will be hearing more of Snyder’s voice work in the future, and I cannot wait to see what other cool adventures he gets to narrate.

That’s the end of this latest list.  I think it turned out pretty well, and I liked the intriguing selection of narrators I ended up featuring.  Each of the above narrators are pretty damn amazing and I would honestly listen to any novel that they cared to lend their voices to.  Any audiobook narrated by them comes highly recommended and I am deeply excited to hear more from them in the future.  I had a fair bit of fun coming up with this list, and I think it is one that I will revisit in the future.  Hopefully the next version of this list will have more variety (such as more female narrators), and I cannot wait to explore even more awesome audiobooks in the future.  In the meantime, let me know who your favourite audiobook narrator is in the comments so I can check them out.

The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie

The Wisdom of Crowds Cover

Publisher: Gollancz (Audiobook – 14 September 2021)

Series: The Age of Madness – Book Three

Length: 23 hours and 36 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

One of the best authors of dark fantasy, Joe Abercrombie, returns with the final book in his brilliant Age of Madness trilogy, the thrilling and deeply captivating The Wisdom of Crowds.

Joe Abercrombie is a particularly impressive author whose work I have been really enjoying over the last few years ever since I dove into his iconic First Law trilogy.  This great dark fantasy trilogy followed a group of complex and damaged characters who are thrust into a series of dangerous adventures in a corrupt fantasy world.  The original trilogy was pretty damn perfect, and I loved the outstanding story and universe that Abercrombie came up with.

Following his original books, Abercrombie wrote three standalone novels that continued the universe’s overall story in different ways before introducing his Age of Madness trilogy in 2019.  The Age of Madness trilogy is set around 20 years after the events of the First Law books and follows the children of the original trilogy’s protagonists as they are engulfed in additional chaotic events, including war, revolution, and lots of betrayal.  This trilogy has already featured two outstanding five-star novels, A Little Hatred (one of the best books of 2019) and The Trouble With Peace (one of the best books and audiobooks of 2020).  Due to how awesome the previous novels were, I was deeply excited for The Wisdom of Crowds, and it turned out to be another exceptional read with an impressive story to it.

Following King Orso’s decisive victory over the rebellious young hero Leo dan Brock and his wife, Savine dan Glokta, Orso believes that he has finally gained control of the Union.  However, he is unprepared for the chaos and destruction that is about to befall the kingdom.  The revolution, known as the Great Change, has finally descended upon the Union, with the people rising up and overthrowing the hated nobles.  Led by former Arch Lector Pike, known by the masses as the Weaver, the rebelling Breakers and Burners soon take the capital, Adua, bringing hope and destruction in equal measure.

Imprisoned by the mob, Orso soon discovers that there is nothing lower than a deposed king.  The freed Citizen Leo and Citizeness Savine must adapt and find new ways to manipulate a mob that both loves and hates them.  The newly raised up Chief Inspector Teufel must soon decide where her loyalties lie as she begins to see the insanity of the new rulers, while former soldier Gunnar Broad once again finds himself causing trouble as a key citizen of the new regime.  At the same time, the magically prescient Rikke has taken control of the North, capturing the former King Stour Nightfall.  However, taking the North and keeping it are two very different things, especially as the forces of her family’s old enemy, Black Calder, advance towards her, determined to free Stour.  With enemies around every corner and even her closest allies beginning to doubt her, Rikke must implement a drastic plan and make use of every tool at her disposal, even notorious turncoat Jonas Clover.

As the Great Change starts to devolve into anarchy, the death toll starts to rise and no one is safe, least of all those who have profited in the past.  Soon hard choices will need to be made and only the strongest and most cunning will survive.  The Age of Madness is well and truly here, but who will live and who will die as the fires of anger, resentment and despair burn throughout the land?  No matter who survives, the Union and the North will never be the same again, especially with unseen hands manipulating events from the shadows.

How the hell does Abercrombie do it?  I knew in advance that this was going to be an awesome book, but I was yet again blown away by the author’s clever blend of captivating storylines, outstanding characters, and outstanding dark fantasy settings.  The Wisdom of Crowds served as an excellent conclusion to the Age of Madness trilogy, and I found myself absolutely powering through this amazing novel in no time at all.  This gets another five-star review from me as I had such an incredible time reading it.

Abercrombie has come up with an exceptional narrative for his latest novel, and I deeply enjoyed the captivating and extremely dark story contained within The Wisdom of Crowds.  This novel has an impressive and memorable start to it with the aftermath of the previous novel immediately giving way to the Great Change.  This uprising quickly overcomes the existing government and changes everything, with Orso imprisoned, Savine and Leo freed from captivity and incorrectly hailed as heroes of the people, and characters like Gunnar Broad and Inquisitor Teufel pushed to the fore due to their suffering under the previous regime.  After a great extended revolution sequence, Abercrombie spends a good chunk of the first act of the novel showcasing all the severe changes to the setting of the Union, including the impacts to the protagonists, as well as the nation’s quick decline after the initial glorious revolution.  At the same time, you have the events in the North occurring at the same pace, with Rikke trying to solidify her power in the face of a rising opposition.  Most of the novel’s major storylines are either set up here or transported over from the previous novels, and it moves at a great pace with some fantastic moments.  The novel really heats up in the second act, when a group of extremists take over the Union and Rikke’s war in the North gathers speed.  The storyline set in the Union during this section of the novel is filled will all manner of insanity and terror, and this is probably one of the darkest parts of the entire book.  While there is a noticeable focus on the craziness of a Burner revolution, there is also a lot of character development occurring here, with most of the protagonists starting their last bit of major growth here, with their big plans set up.  This second act is capped off with a massive battle in the North that changes the entire fabric of that setting and provides a great deal of fantasy action and bloodshed to keep the reader satisfied, while also featuring a pretty fun story twist.

All this leads up to an impressive final act which takes up the last third of the novel.  Most of this is set in the Union and showcases the protagonists making their moves.  There are some very good scenes here, with a mixture of big character moments, destructive fights, and a cool trial sequence, which help this part of the book really stand out.  All of this leads to a major change in the plot that occurs with roughly a quarter of the novel left to go.  While there are some great scenes involved with this big shift, I must admit I was a little surprised that the book didn’t end right there, due to the resulting significant change of pace, and I wonder if Abercrombie might have been better off using this final quarter in another novel.  However, the story is still extremely cohesive, especially as it leads up to some major reveals and big character moments that had me gasping with surprise.  I really did not see some of the big twists coming, even though they were really well set up throughout the trilogy (although I really should have known who was behind everything).  The book concludes on an interesting note, with some noticeable tragedy and some outstanding character moments as the surviving protagonists settle into their new roles.  I did think that Abercrombie may have spent too much time setting up events for his next trilogy, with multiple scenes containing open-ended events that will clearly get picked up in later books.  However, to be fair it did get me excited for the next novel like it was supposed to, and I don’t think it took too much away from the overall narrative.  This was such an awesome story, and The Wisdom of Crowds’ character focus had me hooked the entire way through.

Abercrombie has a real talent for writing awesome and complex dark fantasy novels, and I really enjoyed his outstanding and compelling style.  I deeply appreciated his excellent use of multiple character perspectives to tell a rich and vibrant tale, as the story seamlessly flicks between seven major characters throughout the book.  The spread of character perspectives has been an outstanding feature of all the author’s First Law novels, and it is extremely cool to see this complex tale told from various points of view.  Not only does it ensure you get a brilliant, multifaceted exploration of the setting and the progress of the plot, but it really helps the reader get into the mind of the characters and see their personalities, emotions and opinions.  I also really appreciated the two great extended sequences that were told through the eyes of multiple supporting or one-off characters, especially as it captured the chaos and destruction of both revolution and a major battle.  The author has quite a vivid and adult writing style, which works with the realistic characters and complex storylines extremely well.  Not only does this result in some particularly graphic and powerful action sequences, including one amazing and massive pitched battle, but it also works in some distinctive and very adult dialogue.  While some of the language gets a tad over the top at times, it does give the book a very realistic feel and is a lot of fun.  Readers should be warned that this is a pretty dark tale including torture, ultra-violence and a lot of brutal deaths.

I have to say that I was quite impressed with the changes to the major setting of the Union in this novel.  While the other significant setting, the North, remains pretty much the same (its always snow, death and blood there), the Union is majorly impacted quite early on as part of the revolution known as the Great Change, which Abercrombie had been expertly setting up throughout the trilogy.  The Great Change, which was brought on by rioting workers and peasants disenfranchised by the industrial revolution that was such an amazing and distinctive feature of this trilogy, hits the city with most of the nobles, the wealthy, the ruling Closed Council, and the King all arrested.  This initial overthrowing was done pretty perfectly, with several chaotic sequences, and it eventually leads to a whole new era for the nation.  This part of the novel was very clearly inspired by the French Revolution, and I deeply appreciated the way in which the author evoked the iconic imagery of destructive historical events into his fantasy novel.  I loved the initial set-up of the new democratic government that replaced the monarchy, and I had a good chuckle at the character’s glorious ideas of a utopian society with a pompous constitution.  However, the real fun occurs when these high ideals fail miserably and are replaced by a general purge where no-one is safe.  Abercrombie did a really good job here of capturing the terror, uncertainty and horrible human nature that accompanies these sorts of purges, with a series of one-sided trials and brutal executions in front of a cheering crowd.  This chaotic setting serves as an outstanding backdrop to novel’s various storylines, and it was an amazing and dark part of The Wisdom of Crowds that made it really stand out.

As with the rest of Abercrombie’s books set in this connected universe, one of the absolute best things about The Wisdom of Crowds was the exceptional and complex characters.  Just like the previous two novels in the Age of Madness trilogy, the story is primarily shown from the perspective of seven unique and well-established point-of-view characters.  Each of these characters is extremely complex and layered as Abercrombie has been setting up some fantastic storylines around each of them throughout the course of the series.  These characters include:

  • Orso – the son of King Jezal, a point-of-view character from the original trilogy, and current High King of the Union, for whatever that title is worth. Orso is a very fun character who has probably grown the most out of all the characters featured in this series, going from a foppish, unmotivated prince, to a decisive, competent and victorious king in the second novel.  Despite his victory over his rival Leo and his secret half-sister (and former lover) Savine, Orso soon finds himself a prisoner when the Great Change leads to a people’s revolt.  Despite being imprisoned and constantly mocked by everyone, Orso keeps most of the confidence he built up in the previous novels and is a constant figure of comedy, especially with his great sarcastic observations of the events around him.  Abercrombie has done a masterful job with Orso over the last three books, and I really appreciated his growth and humour, making him one of my favourite characters in this trilogy.  Due to this it is pretty hard to see him get taken down and condemned by his people, especially as he is a much better ruler than everyone thinks he is.  I once again found myself really pulling for him in this novel, and I think he was the character I wanted to survive and win the most.
  • Savine dan Brock (formerly dan Glokta) – a formidable businesswoman and adoptive daughter of Arch Lector Glokta (the best character from the original series). Savine has been an awesome character in this trilogy, experiencing some massive highs and significant lows.  After marrying Leo and organising a revolt against her half-brother Orso in the previous novel, Savine starts this novel in chains.  However, once the Great Change occurs, she is quickly freed and must find her place amongst the revolutionaries.  Rightly terrified of being tried for her ruthless business practices, and changed by motherhood, Savine engages in charity works and tries to save herself through generosity.  I quite enjoyed Savine’s storyline in this latest novel and it had some awesome moments.  While I do think she was a bit underutilised in the middle of the book, she eventually emerges in full form and shows everyone why she is the most dangerous person in the Union.  There are some outstanding scenes surrounding her, especially that awesome court sequence, and I quite liked where her story ended up.
  • Leo dan Brock – the former governor of Angland and shining hero of the Union, before he had an arm and leg blown off during his big battle against Orso in the previous book. Leo starts this novel a shell of his former self, full of regret that his recklessness and arrogance caused his injuries and the death of his friends.  However, this regret soon turns to anger and ruthlessness as he uses his hero status to become a key part of the Great Change, attempting to manipulate it for his benefit.  I must admit that Leo was always my least-favourite character in this series, and I liked how the features I disliked about him led to his downfall in the previous book.  Abercrombie perfectly follows this up by making him a much more unlikable character in this novel, and I deeply appreciated the realistic way his personality was twisted and darkened by anger, jealousy and frustration, giving him a new ruthless edge.  Out of the characters in The Wisdom of Crowds, Leo probably goes through the most development in this novel, and it was pretty captivating to see where his new hate and frustrations led him.
  • Rikke – a Northern protagonist and the daughter of the Dogman, Rikke has had a very interesting story arc within this series due to her magical Long Eye, which allows her to see into the future. Rikke was able to outsmart all her opponents in the previous novel, taking the Northern capital and capturing her opponent, Stour Nightfall.  Now Rikke is forced to lead her people against Stour’s father, Black Calder, while also trying to balance the concerns and treachery of her allies.  I have been really impressed with Rikke’s storyline throughout The Age of Madness, and I liked the great transition from scared girl to effective leader.  This book continues to showcase her skills, even if she still appears a bit rash and too clever for her own good.  She ends up being forced to make some hard and heartless decisions, which really highlights just how far she has come.  There are some outstanding movements with Rikke in this novel, and I particularly loved the good twist around her that occurred at the big battle scene (I did see it coming, but it was still a lot of fun).  I also loved the fantastic scene where she confronts Bayaz, the First of the Magi, as it was one of the first times that you see the master manipulator of the series appearing rattled and impotent.  Rikke was a really well set up character and I really appreciated the epic and compelling storylines around her.
  • Vick dan Teufel – a Union inquisitor and protégé of Arch Lector Glokta, Vick is a master spy and investigator. Despite all her skills, Vick was taken by surprise by the revelation that Pike is the Weaver and is forced into supporting the Great Change against her will.  Falling back on her old survivalist mentality to support the winners, Vick is eventually shaken into action by the destruction caused by the Burners and finds herself supporting the losing side.  After being a little underused in the previous novel, Vick has a very strong outing in The Wisdom of Crowds and her character changers are quite essential to the plot.  Like Leo, Vick goes through a fair bit of development in this novel, although her development is a lot more positive as she tries to do what is right rather than what will keep her alive.  Vick also experiences some very crushing moments, and it was fascinating that out of all the characters, she maintained the moral high ground the best.
  • Gunnar Broad – a former Union soldier with a gift for extreme violence, who has been both a Breaker and a servant to Savine as an enforcer and bodyguard. Imprisoned after the last book, Gunnar is freed with Savine and Leo and once again finds himself drawn into the fight, despite his desire to stay out of trouble and get back to his family.  While he once again tries to be a good person at first, he is eventually seduced by the dark appeal of the Burners and truly loses himself, giving into his inner violence and anger.  While he does do some redemptive actions, Gunnar remains a bit of a lost cause, which is pretty tragic to see.  Gunnar proved to be a great character throughout this series, despite a lack of any real development, and I enjoyed his darker scenes and compelling personal insights.
  • Jonas Clover – the cunning and treacherous veteran Northern warrior who, after spending the last two books serving Stour Nightfall, betrayed him at the end of The Trouble with Peace and sided by Rikke. However, he soon finds his loyalty divided between Rikke and Black Calder, with both sides aware of his tendency to turn on the losing side, and he must finally decide who to support.  Due to his very entertaining personality and cynical viewpoint about the world, Clover was my favourite character in the series, and I love all the clever insights and subtle jokes that are characteristic of his scenes.  I really appreciated his mindset of patience, self-restraint and picking your moment, which is mostly unheard of amongst the other Northerners, and which usually sees him through most conflicts.  Despite this, Clover is finally forced to face the music in this novel after his various betrayals come back to bite him.  While he doesn’t always make the best decision, his entertaining and canny attitude ensures that the reader is constantly amused by his antics, and I am really glad that Abercrombie included him in this series.  It will be interesting to see how he is utilised in the future, especially as the author tried to evoke some similarities between his journey and that of original character Logan Ninefingers.

I deeply enjoyed each of these impressive characters, with each one bringing something very memorable and entertaining to the table.  While a couple of these characters were a bit underutilised in previous novels, I think that Abercrombie struck the right balance in The Wisdom of Crowds, with each of them shown in pretty much equal measure.  All seven character arcs are pretty awesome in their own right, but the real strength is the way that they come together to tell the overall story.  It was pretty cool to see multiple character perspectives of the same events, especially as each of these complex characters have very different views on what has happened.  I think that each of the arcs ended extremely well, with each of the characters going in some very interesting and surprising directions.  I was a bit surprised by who was left standing and in control at the end of the novel, and I must admit that I really did not foresee the fates of several of the characters.  Abercrombie sets up each of these events incredibly well, and there were some very fitting endings or transformations here.  It was interesting to see how some of these characters ended up mirroring the cast of the First Law trilogy, which seemed fitting as some were inspired by these prior characters, while others tried to escape becoming them.  I also really appreciated the way that barely any of the primary characters end up being portrayed as good people by the end of it.  While all of them initially tried to do the right thing, even the best of them is forced to make some terrible compromises which shatter their morality and impact their personality.  As a result, the reader is left with little sympathy for some of the surviving characters, and it was once again really amazing to have such morally ambiguous and naturally selfish characters.  It looks like Abercrombie might strongly feature the remaining characters again in his next trilogy, and I cannot wait to see how their various story arcs are continued.

Aside from the seven focal characters above, The Wisdom of Crowds also featured a vast collection of supporting and side characters, each of whom added a ton to the novel.  Most of the supporting characters where previously introduced in the first two novels of this trilogy, as well as a few holdouts from the original trilogy, and there weren’t too many new characters in this final novel.  The author ensures that the reader has a pretty good idea of these characters’ feelings and motivations, and it was fascinating to see the complex and powerful storylines told around several of them.  There are some really good twists around a few characters in particular, and I have to admit that I did not see most of them coming, with Abercrombie doing some masterful writing to set up these reveals throughout the entire trilogy.  Many of these side characters inspired some excellent and moving storylines, although readers should be aware that, as this is the final novel, quite a few of these characters did not survive, and I was particularly cut up by the death of one major supporting character near the end.  It will be very interesting to see what happens to the survivors in the future, and I am especially curious about a couple of key characters from the original trilogy who are set for some major events in Abercrombie’s next outing.

While I did get a physical copy of this book, I ended up listening to the audiobook instead, which proved to be an awesome decision.  The Wisdom of Crowds has a substantial runtime of 23 hours and 36 minutes (it would have placed 17th on my latest longest audiobooks list).  However, despite its length, I was able to power through it in about a week, especially after I got pretty damn hooked on the awesome story.  I found that this format moved the story along at a pretty fast pace, and it was a great way to absorb the fun and compelling details of this dark and epic tale.  It also works extremely well thanks to the outstanding voice work of the incredible Steven Pacey, who is one of my absolute favourite audiobook narrators at the moment.  Pacey, who has narrated all the other books in the First Law and Age of Madness trilogies, does another outstanding job with The Wisdom of Crowds.  Not only does he ensure that every aspect of the narrative comes across in a fun and compelling way; he also ensures that every character is perfectly brought to life.  Pacey brings back all the fun and fitting voices that were featured in Abercrombie’s previous novels, which proved to be a lot of fun, especially as he perfectly captures the unique personalities and characteristics of these fantastic figures.  Pacey makes a lot of effort to portray all the emotion and intensity of the characters, and you really get a sense of the heartbreak and darkness that surrounds all of them, especially by the end of the story.  This results in another incredible audiobook which I had an outstanding time listening to; at one point I managed to listen to it for over five hours straight and was not bored in the slightest.  As a result, I would strongly recommend The Wisdom of Crowds’ audiobook version, and it is easily one of the best audiobooks I have listened to in 2021.

With another incredible and powerful story, filled with outrageous and complex characters, impressive settings and clever twists, Joe Abercrombie brings his latest trilogy to end with the brilliant The Wisdom of Crowds.  This final book in the Age of Madness trilogy was an exceptional read, and I deeply enjoyed the dark and clever places this amazing book went.  An epic and captivating dark fantasy experience, readers are guaranteed to power through The Wisdom of Crowds in no time at all, especially as they become more and more engrossed with the excellent central protagonists.  A must-read for all Abercrombie fans, this was easily one of the best books I have read in 2021 so far and I cannot wait to see what madness and destruction are unleashed in the author’s next awesome series.

The Wisdom of Crowds Cover 2

Throwback Thursday – Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

Summer Knight Cover

Publisher: Buzzy Multimedia (Audiobook – 3 September 2002)

Series: The Dresden Files – Book Four

Length: 11 hours and 13 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  In this week’s Throwback Thursday I continue to explore the incredibly fun Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher with the fourth book, Summer Knight.

Readers of this blog will be familiar with my recent exploration of the epic Dresden Files series by the outstanding Jim Butcher, widely considered one of the best urban fantasy series out there.  After having an absolute blast last year with the latest book in the series, Battle Ground (one of the best books and audiobooks of 2020), I have spent a bit of time this year checking out the earlier entries in the series.  I have so far had the pleasure of listening to the first three Dresden Files novels, Storm Front, Fool Moon and Grave Peril, each of which got a five-star rating from me, and when I wanted a good audiobook to check out, the next entry in the series made the most sense.  The fourth Dresden Files novel is the impressive and compelling Summer Knight, which sets the protagonist against the fairest and most vicious opponents yet.

Following the events of Grave Peril, the White Council of wizards is at war with the Red Court of the vampires, and it is all Harry Dresden’s fault.  With vampire attacks increasing and his life consumed with finding a cure for the vampirism affecting his ex-girlfriend, Dresden is once again dragged into the conflict when the White Council arrives in Chicago.  Considered by many wizards to be a dangerous maverick, Dresden will need to find a powerful bargaining chip if he is to continue receiving the protection of the council.  Unfortunately for Dresden, the perfect opportunity has been given to him; he just wishes it were anything else.

Harry has been contacted by Winter Queen Mab, the powerful leader of the Winter Court of the Faeries, who offers him a dangerous bargain: in exchange for forgiving a previous debt, and for allowing certain concessions to the warring White Council, Harry must work a case for her.  The Winter Queen desperately needs Harry to find out who murdered a seemingly normal human, and with his life entirely in the White Council’s hands, he has no choice but to comply.  However, when it is revealed that the victim was the Summer Knight, the rival Faerie Summer Court’s mortal champion, Harry begins to realise that this will be no easy case, especially as a great deal of the Summer Court’s power was stolen after the murder.

With the Summer Court and the Winter Court gearing up for war in response to the Summer Knight’s death, Harry must quickly race to find the killer before Earth’s climate is destroyed by these powerful magical forces.  However, this is no simple case, and to solve the murder Dresden is forced to confront some of the most dangerous and malicious magical beings in existence.  Worse, the Summer Court have hired their own investigator, Dresden’s first love, Elaine, the woman who broke his heart and tried to kill him.  Can Dresden solve this murder before it is too late or will the entire world tremble at the destruction of an all-out war?

Summer Knight was another impressive and wildly entertaining release from Butcher, which did a wonderful job expanding his universe in some amazing ways.  Perfectly flowing on from the events of the previous novel, Summer Knight has an incredible story, some great characters, as well as some clever new fantasy inclusions that set up multiple future novels extremely well.  I had an absolute blast listening to Summer Knight’s audiobook format, and unsurprisingly it gets another five stars from me.

Summer Knight Cover 3

This latest entry from Butcher has a pretty amazing story that is extremely easy to enjoy.  Like the rest of the Dresden Files novels, Summer Knight can be easily read as a standalone read, although there are some compelling story threads that are continued from the prior books.  The novel starts with a damaged Harry Dresden dealing with hit squads, angry vampires and his own irritated wizard brethren.  After a fun and action-packed opening scene, Dresden soon gets drawn into another dangerous case as Mab, the Winter Queen, buys Dresden’s debt to his fairy godmother and uses it and the wizards war against the Red Court to trap him into investigating a case.  The subsequent magical murder investigation proves to be pretty fantastic, as Dresden is forced to dive into the murky magical underworld of the warring Fae courts.  After some deadly attacks, fascinating internal wizard politics, and an interesting side story about neutral half-Fae teenagers, Dresden soon uncovers the reason for the victim’s death.  I liked the twist surrounding who was responsible for murder as well as the revelation of their master plan.  Butcher did a really good job of disguising the people behind it and their methods, especially as most of the clues were often cleverly in plain sight.  This all leads up to a massive and epic conclusion, where Dresden and his allies find themselves fighting through two armies of rival Fae to try and stop the end of the world.  There are some awesome moments during this part of the novel, and Butcher throws together some epic clashes, interesting revelations, and a tragic death.  I had a particularly good chuckle at the surprising way in which the big bad was taken down, and it proved to be a great way to end this novel.  I felt that Butcher once again hit the right balance of action, drama, comedy, and character development throughout Summer Knight’s narrative, and this was another exciting and addictive read.

I really enjoyed the way in which Butcher expanded out the Dresden Files’ universe in Summer Knight, with several impressive inclusions turning this fourth book into a significant entry in the series.  Not only are events and inclusions from the previous three novels fit into this book seamlessly, but it also successfully introduces some elements that were a prominent feature of the 17th book in the series.  The most significant inclusions are those surrounding the rival Winter and Summer Courts of the Fae.  Butcher utilises a mixture of Faerie lore and his own pre-existing explanations of magical creatures to create a compelling group of characters, locked in a constant and balanced war between the Summer and Winter Courts.  The author does a good job introducing the various creatures, rules, and roles of these two competing groups of Faeries, which serves as a great basis for much of the narrative.  I also loved the fascinating examination of the differences between the two rival courts, with the Summer Court shown as caring and artistic sorts, while the Winter Court are colder and darker.  Of course, with Faeries, not everything is as it seems, and it was really intriguing the way the various plot reveals around them unfolded.  There was also a great focus on the White Council, the governing body of wizards that Dresden is a member of.  While the White Council has been mentioned in the previous novels, this was the first time that we get a deep look at their inner politics, especially as the more maverick Dresden has dragged them into a war with the Red Court of the vampires (so many Courts, so little time).  There was a particularly great council meeting towards the start of the book where Dresden and his mentor are forced to navigate the politics of the White Council to keep Dresden alive, and it was an interesting part of the book.  I really appreciated the detail that Butcher put into these expansions, and I look forward to seeing how else he expands on them between the fourth and 17th book.

As always, one of the best parts of this Dresden Files novel was the outstanding and well-developed characters, all of whom continue to develop and evolve as the novel continues.  This is particularly true with central protagonist and point-of-view character Harry Dresden.  When Summer Knight starts, Dresden is still reeling from the events of the previous three novels, particularly Grave Peril, where his lover partially turned into a vampire and then left him.  This has left Dresden an emotional mess, especially as he has spent the intervening time ignoring some of the other dangers coming at him while he fruitlessly searches for a cure to vampirism.  Dragged into this case against his will, Dresden soon starts to regain his old personality as he slowly overcomes his grief thanks to his friends and the intervention of some magical beings.  It was great to see Dresden start to heal as the book progresses, and I really appreciated the way in which Butcher explored the trauma surrounding his protagonist.  Even though he is a bit emotionally compromised, Dresden continues to be the main source of the novel’s comedy due to his sense of humour.  It is always fun to see Dresden’s witty take on the insane events occurring around him and I found myself cracking up several times throughout Summer Knight.

In addition to Dresden, Summer Knight contains an excellent group of side and supporting characters, including a combination of existing characters and newer inclusions that were introduced in this novel.  I liked the return of the werewolf gang, the Alphas, who were previously featured in the second novel, Fool Moon.  The Alphas, particularly their leader, Billy, serve as backup to Dresden for most of the novel, and it was really fun to see how much they have grown since their introduction, turning into mystical vigilantes, while also remaining a pack of nerds.  It was also great to see more of police lieutenant Karrin Murphy, who serves as a compelling female opposite to Dresden for most of the novel.  Murphy, who has also gone through a lot in the last few books, is showing a fair bit of trauma in this novel, and she ends up having some deep discussions with Dresden about it.  Despite her lack of magical abilities, Murphy serves as some impressive backup for Dresden, managing to take down several foes, including an ogre with a chainsaw.  There were also more signs of the growing romance between her and Dresden which becomes a big part of the series later, and I like the way in which Butcher is slowly building it up.  I also must highlight the inclusion of Dresden’s first love, Elaine Mallory, who suddenly reappears in his life, working for the Summer Court.  Elaine has been mentioned several times in the previous books and is a cause for a lot of Dresden’s mistrust and romantic failures.  It was great to finally meet her and see the full extent of her complex relationship with Dresden.  Elaine naturally brings out a lot of emotional issues with Dresden throughout the book, and she serves as an interesting supporting character, especially as you have no idea about her true loyalties.  These supporting characters, and more, really add a lot to the overall story and I had a great spending time with them.

Like I have with the rest of the Dresden Files novels, I made sure to grab the audiobook version of Summer Knight, a choice I am extremely thankful for.  The Dresden Files audiobooks are pretty damn awesome, mainly because of their excellent choice of narrator, actor James Marsters.  Marsters has an amazing voice, and he perfectly dives into the various characters featured within the novels, making these audiobooks an absolute treat to listen to.  I especially love the way he gets into the emotional head of the main protagonist, as well as the sheer enthusiasm he exhibits while yelling out spell conjurations.  I also enjoyed the fun voices that he assigns to some of the smaller pixies that appeared in this novel, as well as the very fitting voices that the rest of the cast received.  This voice work is pretty amazing and it ensures that readers can fly through the audiobook in no time at all.  Summer Knight’s run time was just over 11 hours, but it only took me a few days to get through due to how engrossed I got in the story, as well as the audiobook adaption.  As with all Dresden Files entries, Summer Knight comes highly recommended in its audiobook format, and I fully intend to check out the rest of the series in this same way.

Summer Knight by Jim Butcher was another exceptional entry in the awesome Dresden Files series and I had an incredible time listening to it.  With a captivating story, some complex characters and some awesome new fantasy inclusions, I deeply enjoyed this novel, and it is really worth checking out, especially in its audiobook format.  Butcher continues to shine as one of the best authors of urban fantasy and look forward to working my way through the Dresden Files in the next few years.

Summer Knight Cover 2

Book Haul – 23 September 2021

I have been having an absolutely fantastic couple of week for books, as I have been lucky enough to receive several incredible and amazing new novels from some of my local publishers.  As I am anticipating getting some more books in the near future, I thought I would take this opportunity to highlight some of the recent releases I have received before my new book pile got too big.  These novels include some truly awesome new releases, several of which I have been eagerly awaiting for some time.  I am extremely keen to read all of the books below and I cannot wait to check them out.

The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie (Trade Paperback)

The Wisdom of Crowds Cover

The first book in this haul is one of my most anticipated reads for the year, The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie.  The third and final novel in The Age of Madness series, The Wisdom of Crowds continues the epic story started in A Little Hatred (one of the best books of 2019) and continued in The Trouble with Peace (one of the best books and audiobooks of 2020), bringing the entire series towards a dark and deadly conclusion.  I am reading this book at the moment, and so far it is pretty exceptional.  I cannot wait to see how it ends and I already know that this is going to be one of the top books of 2021.

 

The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield (Trade Paperback)

The Apollo Murders Cover

Next on this list we have the awesome and compelling space thriller, The Apollo Murders by Chris Hadfield. This cool book is set in 1973 and follows a top-secret space mission to the Moon, filled with murder, espionage and a ton of technical detail.  I really like the sound of this novel and I am very excited to check it out.

 

The Bone Ship’s Wake by RJ Barker (Trade Paperback)

The Bone Ship's Wake Cover

I was lucky enough to receive The Bone Ship’s Wake by RJ Barker, another outstanding novel that I have been looking forward to for ages.  Written by one of the fastest rising authors of dark fantasy fiction, The Bone Ship’s Wake is the third and final novel in The Tide Child trilogy, which follows the condemned crew of a ship made out of dragon bone.  The previous two novels in this series, The Bone Ships and Call of the Bone Ships, have both been epic five-star reads and I have extremely high hopes for this amazing novel.

 

Viral by Robin Cook (Trade Paperback)

Viral Cover

I also received a copy of Viral, a novel about a pandemic by acclaimed medical thriller author Robin Cook.  Containing a very topical narrative, Viral sounds like a fascinating and powerful thriller, and it should prove to be quite an intriguing read.

 

The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri (Trade Paperback)

The Jasmine Throne Cover

Bestselling fantasy author Tasha Suri returns with the first entry in a brand new trilogy, The Jasmine Throne.  This compelling and exciting new fantasy novel has an interesting sounding narrative filled with magic, wars and complex characters, and I look forward to seeing what awesome ideas Suri fits into this novel.

 

Lies like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez (Trade Paperback)

Lies Like Wildfire Cover

One of the books I recently received that I am particularly curious about is the young adult novel Lies like Wildfire by Jennifer Lynn Alvarez.  This book follows a group of teenagers who accidently start a deadly forest fire and then attempt to cover it up.  I really like the sound of this thrilling and dramatic novel, and I have a feeling that I am going to have a great time reading it.

 

Treasure & Dirt by Chris Hammer (Trade Paperback)

Treasure & Dirt Cover

The final book I received was the new thriller novel from Australian author Chris Hammer, Treasure & DirtTreasure & Dirt is another fantastic sounding outback thriller, which examines a brutal murder in a corrupt mining town.  This sounds like a very fun read and I look forward to seeing what awesome story Hammer has come up with.

 

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.

The Councillor by E. J. Beaton

The Councillor Cover

Publisher: Daw Books (Hardcover – 20 July 2021)

Series: The Councillor – Book One

Length: 442 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Australian author E. J. Beaton presents an excellent and compelling fantasy debut with The Councillor, an outstanding and impressive read.

Elira is a country still recovering from a fractious war a generation ago spurred on by the tyrannical magic-wielding White Queen.  The heroic Sarelin Brey, known as the Iron Queen, defeated the White Queen and led the subsequent hunt for the elementals, powerful magical users, who were forced into hiding.  Now, Elira once again stands on the brink of ruin when a mysterious assassin manages to kill the Iron Queen, an act that threatens to split and destroy the entire nation.

The queen’s last act before her death was to name her loyal companion, the palace scholar Lysande Prior, Councillor.  As Councillor, it is Lysande’s duty to choose the next ruler of Elira from the four city rulers and to ensure a peaceful transition of power.  As the city rulers arrive at the palace, Lysande is convinced that one of them may have orchestrated the Iron Queen’s murder.  Using her position as Councillor and the upcoming decisions around Elira’s future to her advantage, Lysande begins to investigate each of the city rulers to find who is responsible for her friend’s death.

As the investigation continues, Lysande soon learns much about the city rulers, including the secrets that they harbour.  Forced to balance her investigation with her responsibilities to the people, Lysande begins to revel in the power that she has been granted, even as her problematic addiction to a magical narcotic threatens her self-control.  However, the closer she gets to the truth, the more Lysande begins to understand that there is a dark threat rising, one that could overwhelm Elira for good.  The White Queen is returning, and this time there is no mighty Iron Queen to stop her, only a brilliant scholar with a bright vision for her nation.

The Councillor was an impressive debut fantasy novel from Beaton, who combines some intriguing characters with a powerful fantasy narrative laden with political intrigue, espionage and one character’s personal journey from scholar to ruler.

Beaton utilises a pretty awesome story in The Councillor, and it is one that I quickly became quite addicted to.  Told exclusively from the point-of-view of protagonist Lysande, the novel has a powerful start with one of the major characters killed off, leaving Lysande and the entire nation in chaos, especially as it appears that a notorious magical villain has returned years after her famous defeat.  From there the protagonist attempts to identify the agent responsible for her friend’s death, believing it to be one of the four arriving nobles vying for the throne.  This results in a compelling storyline where Lysande investigates the secrets of the city rulers, while also becoming increasingly involved in the politics of the realm after being unexpectedly placed in a position of power.  As The Councillor progresses, it evolves into a very captivating piece of political intrigue as Lysande and the city rulers tour the country, attempting to rule together, initiate plans to stop the growing influence of the White Queen, while also attempting to achieve their own goals.  There are some great misdirects and red herrings featured throughout this part of the book, as Beaton attempts to disguise who the antagonist is and what the agendas of the various other politicians are.  This all leads up to a big and explosive conclusion where the traitor is revealed and several great storylines come together, resulting in some awesome action and clever political storylines.  While I was able to guess who the traitor was in advance, Beaton did a great job setting them up, and I did find the methods of the antagonist very surprising, especially the fun super-weapon that was hinted at throughout the book.  The final scenes wrap up the entire narrative extremely well and do a great job setting up the next novel in the series.  I look forward to seeing where the narrative goes from here and I think that the series has some amazing potential.

I really enjoyed the cool and memorable fantasy world that Beaton introduced in her first novel, and it serves as a great setting for the awesome story.  The nation of Elira is broken up into several distinctive political and climate zones, based around a city state, resulting in fascinating group of different and proud people.  I loved the fun blend of cultures featured within this nation, especially as it results in some compelling and entertaining cultural and political clashes.  There is a great focus on the history of Elira, especially as it relates to the previous war against the White Queen, with the scholar protagonist attempts to uncover the full truth behind the past to determine the country’s future.  There are also a ton of LGBT+ elements associated with the setting, which I really appreciated and which helped to make the setting even richer.  Add to that several hostile nations surrounding Elira, a rampaging magical queen full of vengeance, and a covert network of independent magical users with their own agenda, and you have a fantastic combination of groups and political ideals, which helps to makes the compelling narrative even more exciting.  This all proves to be pretty damn awesome, especially as Beaton does a wonderful job describing the rich and vibrant countryside of her setting, allowing the reader to have an outstanding time exploring this new nation.  I really enjoyed this captivating setting and I look forward to seeing how the author expands it in her next novel.

Easily the best thing about The Councillor are the complex and intense characters featured throughout the story.  This includes main protagonist Lysande, who is forced to endure quite a lot of growth and betrayal during the story.  Beaton weaves a powerful and intense narrative around Lysande, an orphan who was chosen to become the Iron Queen’s companion and who grew into a brilliant scholar and thinker.  After the queen’s death, Lysande is forced to become both a ruler and politician, and she finds herself excelling in the role, especially as it allows her to use her skills as a scholar and researcher to her advantage.  Due to Lysande being the point-of-view protagonist, Beaton takes a lot of time exploring her personality, feelings, and history, and it does not take long for the reader to become attached to her, especially as she finds herself in a dangerous and complex personal and political situation.  It proved to be extremely compelling to see Lysade take the political stage for the first time, and I loved the way she adapted to the intrigue and deceit, especially once she started to revel in it.  It was pretty cool to see a scholar attempt to take the throne, resulting in a very different hero from what most fantasy fans would expect.  I also enjoyed the way that the author ensured that Lysande is a bit of a flawed protagonist, especially as she is controlled by her addiction to Chimera Scale, a magical narcotic that gives her energy and different insights to the world.  This growing reliance on Chimera Scale impacts her severely throughout the novel, especially as it covers up some deeper secrets about her, which come to fore later in the novel.  An overall exceptional main character, I am very intrigued about where this story will take Lysande next.

Aside from Lysande, The Councillor features a fantastic collection of supporting characters, each of whom add a lot the story.  The main four supporting characters are the city rulers who arrive in court to put their cases for being the next monarch.  Beaton spends a bit of time building up each character, and it proves quite enjoyable learning their flaws, personalities and secrets, especially as any of them could potentially be villainous.  The most prominent of these city rulers is the mysterious and manipulative Luca Fontaine, a dangerous bastard son who became city ruler after killing his family.  Presented as a dark figure with a love of intrigue, espionage and advanced politics, Fontaine has some outstanding back and forth with Lysande, which were extremely enthralling and compelling, and Fontaine swiftly becomes one of the more entertaining and likeable characters in the novel.  I did think that Beaton could have toned down Fontain’s manipulative side just a little, especially as it made him too obvious a suspect for being the traitor, however, I don’t think this had too much of a negative impact on the narrative.  Aside from the city rulers, the book has some interesting focus on Lysande’s advisors and guards, each of whom hep her in their own unique way.  I particularly enjoyed Lysande’s new maid, Litany, especially once her real purpose in the court is revealed.  This great supporting cast proves to be a lot of fun to follow, and I really appreciated the time and detail that the author put into setting them up.

Overall, I found The Councillor to be an outstanding and deeply entertaining fantasy read with a really addictive and compelling narrative.  Australian author E. J. Beaton did an excellent job with her first book, and this is a must read for anyone who loves a fantasy tale laden with clever political intrigue.  A highly recommend fantasy debut, I cannot wait to see where Beaton takes this series next.