Star Wars: The High Republic: Tempest Runner written by Cavan Scott and performed by a full cast

Star Wars - Tempest Runner Cover

Publisher: Random House Audio (Audio Drama – 31 August 2021)

Series: Star Wars – The High Republic

Script: Cavan Scott

Cast: Jessica Almasy, Dan Bittner, Orlagh Cassidy, Sullivan Jones, January LaVoy, Kathleen McInerney, Tara Sands, Vikas Adam, Jonathan Davis, Neil Hellegers, Saskia Maarleveld, Soneela Nankani, Marc Thompson and Shannon Tyo

Length: 6 hours and 5 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The epic High Republic era of Star Wars fiction continues in Tempest Runner, the brilliant and captivating full-cast audio drama written by impressive author Cavan Scott.

Ever since its beginnings in early 2021, I have been having a lot of fun with the cool new focus of the Star Wars extended universe known as The High Republic.  Set hundreds of years before the Skywalker Saga, The High Republic has featured several impressive novels, comics and other media releases that tell a grim story of destruction and strife in the golden age of the Republic and the Jedi.  One of more interesting pieces of this fiction from late 2021 was this fantastic full-cast audio drama, Tempest Runner, which focused on one of this era’s best villains, the Nihil Tempest Runner, Lourna Dee.  This awesome audio drama was authored by the exceedingly talented Cavan Scott, who not only wrote my favourite High Republic book so far, The Rising Storm, but also a great previous Star Wars audio drama, Dooku: Jedi Lost.

Synopsis:

The Nihil storm has raged through the galaxy, leaving chaos and grief in its wake. Few of its raiders are as vicious as the Tempest Runner Lourna Dee. She stays one step ahead of the Jedi Order at the helm of a vessel named after one of the deadliest monsters in the galaxy: the Lourna Dee. But no one can outrun the defenders of the High Republic forever.

After the defeat of her crew, Lourna falls into the hands of the Jedi – but not before she hides her identity, becoming just another Nihil convict. Her captors fail to understand the beast they have cornered. Just like every fool she’s ever buried, their first mistake was keeping her alive.

Lourna is determined to make underestimating her their last.

Locked onto a Republic correctional ship, she’s dragged across the galaxy to repair the very damage she and her fellow Tempest Runners inflicted on it. But as Lourna plans her glorious escape, she makes alliances that grow dangerously close to friendships. Outside the Nihil – separated from her infamous ship, her terrifying arsenal, and her feared name – Lourna must carve her own path. But will it lead to redemption? Or will she emerge as a deadlier threat than ever before?

Tempest Runner ended up being an entertaining and captivating piece of Star Wars fiction.  Featuring another excellent story from Scott that not only dives into the past of great character Lourna Dee but continues the story set up in several of the past High Republic novels.  Perfectly told using a full cast of narrators, this was an outstanding audio drama that I had a wonderful time listening to.

It was clear that Scott was on quite a roll last year when it came to fantastic storytelling.  Tempest Runner is set after the events of The Rising Storm and continues several interesting storylines from this novel, as well as other pieces of High Republic fiction such as Light of the Jedi and Out of the Shadows.  Starting off with Lourna’s capture by the Jedi, the story shows her successfully hide her identity and get imprisoned aboard a Republic prison ship doing hard labour as punishment.  Trapped with some of the worst criminals in the galaxy, as well as former Nihil members who utilise her identity for her own good, Lourna is forced to survive while also coming to terms with who she is, what drives her and what she wants from the future, especially when she connects with one of the prison guards.  However, an enemy from her past has found out where she is and is determined to kill her no matter what.  This leads to several intense and brutal confrontations as Lourna is forced to once again bring out her inner monster to save herself and defeat her opponents, while also setting her path for future endeavours in the High Republic universe.

Tempest Runner’s narrative ended up being pretty intense, and I loved the cool and intriguing plot, especially as there are several fun twists and reveals, including that great one towards the end.  While this is a mostly self-contained piece of Star Wars fiction, there are multiple intriguing connections to other High Republic novels and comics.  I particularly loved how several of the best villains from the main two novels were used here, and it also sets up Lourna’s storyline for the next book in the series.  Scott employs an interesting and roundabout way of telling Tempest Runner’s story, utilising a series of flashbacks and interludes to continue the main plot which occasionally helps compensate for the lack of descriptive words that is characteristic of the audio drama format.  I really need to highlight the book’s great opening section in which the capture of the protagonist is recounted in compelling detail to the novel’s main antagonist, with the storyteller and his audience providing questions and commentary during the dramatisation of the events being discussed to provide context.  The storyline has a great blend of elements, and I loved the fantastic prison story, the intrigue of the Nihil, the fantastic revenge plot surrounding the antagonist, as well as the massive amount of character development that occurs around the main character.

Scott really went out of his way to explore the character of Lourna Dee in Tempest Runner.  Despite being one of the most distinctive and entertaining villains in the High Republic canon, very little was known about Lourna Dee before now, except that she is an unassailable badass who is even capable of hanging with a Jedi in a fight.  Tempest Runner, however, dives deep into the heart of this cool character, and I liked the complex and intriguing development and history around her.  Most of the story is dedicated to the modern Lourna, who, after being captured, attempts to turn over a new leaf in the prison system to survive.  This provides some interesting insights into her mind and motivations, especially as she is not as mindless a killer as some of the previous books would lead you to believe.  Instead, she is quite a complex and tragic figure, something that is made clear when you see the various flashbacks to her past that Scott comes up with.  These flashbacks tell a captivating tale of betrayal and heartbreak, showcasing what led an innocent girl to a life of hardship and crime.  This backstory is extremely fascinating, with some powerful moments of love, loss, and revenge.  In addition, the story also dives into how she became a member of the Nihil and rose in its ranks.  This interesting background weaved into the main plot extremely well, and I think that Scott showcased the character’s past perfectly, ensuring that it explains her current mentality and motivations.  I am deeply happy that we finally got to see this character’s backstory, and it really did not disappoint.

While most of Tempest Runner’s focus was on Lourna Dee, a couple of other characters really stood out to me.  This included Tasia, the former Nihil member who blackmails Lourna to help her survive in prison.  Tasia is a fun secondary antagonist, and it was very entertaining to see her try and make a power play on Lourna once she was no longer in control.  I also loved seeing more of Pan Eyta, a former Nihil Tempest Runner who was betrayed by Lourna in The Rising Storm.  Pan, who is dying thanks Lourna, goes on a big revenge mission here and ends up being the major antagonist of this novel.  I personally thought this was an amazing conclusion to his compelling character arc established in the previous novels and it was great to see him and Lourna have several aggressive and deeply personal confrontations throughout Tempest Runner.  I also enjoyed seeing a young version of High Republic arch-antagonist Marchion Ro, before he took control of the Nihil, as well as a glimpse of his often-discussed father Asgar Ro.  Several other supporting characters in this novel were also pretty fun, and I had a great time seeing some of their storylines unfold.

While I had to highlight Tempest Runner’s cool narrative and great characters, you can’t talk about this amazing piece of Star Wars fiction without mentioning the awesome audio drama format.  I have a lot of love for Star Wars audiobooks and audio dramas (such as Doctor Aphra), and this was a particularly good one.  The team behind this epic audio drama did an amazing job of combining Scott’s great story with a team of brilliant voice actors, as well as the typical Star Wars sound effects and music.  With a run time of just over six hours, this is a very easy audio drama to quickly power through, and I think I managed it in just over a day myself.  While some people unfamiliar with the format might have some issues regarding the full reliance on descriptive dialogue and sound effects rather than expositional text to describe action, I thought that Tempest Runner was adapted extremely well and I had an absolute blast getting through it.

I must highlight the exceptional cast of voice actors that were featured in this awesome audio drama, as the team behind it pulled together a great group of narrators, including several actors well known for their work bringing Star Wars audiobooks to life.  The most prominent actor in this group is probably Jessica Almasy, who voiced main character Lourna Dee.  Almasy brings a great deal of complexity to the role and I loved the semi-French accent she utilised throughout Tempest Runner, which was reminiscent of how Twi’lek characters speak in shows like Star Wars: Rebels.  I thought that Almasy did a brilliant job of highlighting Lourna’s true feelings and personality in this audio drama, and it was great to see her transform the character in several intense, emotional scenes.  This was some brilliant voice work and it was an amazing highlight of this exceptional production.

I also deeply appreciated the great work that the other actors contributed to Tempest Runner and its characters.  While there were a few new narrators here whose work I enjoyed, the ones that impressed me the most were established narrators from other Star Wars audiobooks.  This includes January LaVoy, who voiced the character of Tasia, providing her with some much-needed depth and spite.  LaVoy, who I loved in works such as Star Wars: Victory’s Price (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021) and Star Trek: Discovery: Die Standing, was just great here and I really appreciated the characterisation her voice added to Tasia.  Marc Thompson, who has previously narrated all the main High Republic novels, as well as the Thrawn Ascendancy books (Chaos Rising, Greater Good and Lesser Evil), was another standout narrator, especially as he voiced three characters, including antagonists Pan Eyta and Marchion Ro.  Having this cool continuation from Light of the Jedi and The Rising Storm for these great villains helped me enjoy their appearances in Tempest Runner a lot more, especially as Thompson has come up with some extremely sinister and fitting voices for them.  I also had a lot of fun with Jonathan Davis (who previously narrated Master & Apprentice, Lords of the Sith and Maul: Lockdown), who voiced two characters here.  I particularly enjoyed his work on the mysterious Asgar Ro, and the calm and wise tone he utilises for him (which is reminiscent of another major Star Wars character), works perfectly to give him some great depth.  An overall exceptional collection of narrators, I had an amazing time listening to this audio drama.

With a great cast, a brilliant story and a great focus on an incredible central character, Tempest Runner was an outstanding addition to the High Republic range of Star Wars fiction.  The always impressive Cavan Scott came up with an awesome narrative for Tempest Runner and I loved learning more about fun character Lourna Dee.  A must-listen for all fans of The High Republic, you really won’t regret checking out Tempest Runner.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I Meant to Read in 2021 but Didn’t Get To

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 Waiting on Wednesday, participants were required to list their most recent additions to their book collections.  However, due to some upcoming lists that I planned out I am instead mixing things up and instead featuring the top books of 2021 that I wanted to read but didn’t get a chance to.

2021 was a great year for novels and I had an outstanding time getting through a solid collection of cool new releases and older novels, which were pretty much all epic and impressive reads.  However, no matter how hard one tries, there are always a couple of books each year that I did not get a chance to read, either due to time constraints, lack of access or from being overwhelmed with other books that I really wanted to read.  As a result, this is a list that is rather tinged with regret, as each book I plan to mention below is one that I really wish I had taken the time to read.

To complete this list, I pulled together some of the more interesting and compelling sounding novels that I did not get a chance to read in the last year.  Each entry was released last year and while I knew that they were coming out, I did not get a chance to read any of them.  In many cases I have these books sitting on my shelf at this moment, silently and constantly judging me, and I think I will have to try and read them to stop their bookish glares.  I was eventually able to cull my list of regret down to 10 entries with an honourable mentions section.  The final list is an interesting collection of books from across the genres and includes a couple of big 2021 releases I did not get a chance to look at.

Honourable Mentions:

Galaxias by Stephen Baxter

Galaxias Cover

An interesting sounding science fiction novel about the end of the world that would have been fun to check out.

 

The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker

Keeper of Night (2)

One of the coolest young adult fantasy books I didn’t get to read last year.

 

The Burning by Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman

The Burning Cover

I have been really getting into Jonathan Kellerman’s novels lately and I reckon I would have enjoyed this fantastic novel if I had a chance to read it.

 

Star Trek Discovery: Wonderlands by Una McCormack

Star Trek Wonderlands Cover

2021 was a bit of a null year for me when it came to Star Trek fiction as there were several Star Trek great tie-in books I wanted to read but didn’t get a chance to.  The one I think I would have enjoyed the most was Wonderlands by Una McCormack that tied into the third season of Star Trek Discovery.

Top Ten List:

Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff

Empire of the Vampire Cover

One of the books I most regret not reading last year is the epic Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff.  Set in a world completely ruled by vampires, this book chronicles the life of a human resistance fighter/vampire hunter.  I have heard some impressive things about Empire of the Vampire, and I really wish I could have read it last year.  Unfortunately, I could not fit it into my reading schedule as it is a pretty massive book with an extensive run time.  I will try extremely hard to read it this year though, especially if Kristoff has sequels planned.

 

The Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston

The Maleficent Seven Cover 2

Another book I deeply regret not reading in 2021 was The Maleficent Seven by the amazing Cameron Johnston.  An intriguing fantasy reversal of classic films like The Magnificent Seven and Seven Samurai, The Maleficent Seven follows seven villains as they join forces to defend a village from an army even more evil than them.  I really liked the sound of this book, and I am a big fan of Johnston’s previous novels The Traitor God and God of Broken Things.  As such, I will also make a huge effort to check out The Maleficent Seven this year, and I already know I am going to love it.

 

The Noise by James Patterson and J. D. Barker

The Noise Cover

James Patterson cowrote several great books in 2021, and while I did manage to enjoy his fun 2 Sisters Detective Agency (cowritten by Australian author Candice Fox), I didn’t get a chance to read his most interesting sounding novel, The Noise.  Cowritten by horror author J. D. Barker, The Noise is a trippy and captivating sounding science fiction thriller set in a remote area of America.  Filled with mysterious science, government conspiracies and a dangerous elemental force, I was deeply intrigued by this novel and I am hoping to read it soon.

 

Unforgiven by Sarah Barrie

Unforgiven Cover

Unforgiven is a powerful Australian thriller about a former victim of a paedophile who hopes to hunt down her abuser.  I heard that this book was pretty epic and intense, and I meant to read it in the last week.  I may try and start it in the next day or so, but I will have to see how I go.

 

The Righteous by David Wragg

The Righteous

Another book that I really regret not reading in 2021 was The Righteous by David Wragg.  The sequel to his impressive debut, The Black Hawks, The Righteous apparently continues his cool dark fantasy storyline about a group of mercenaries caught in the middle of an evil conspiracy.  This is another one I will make a big effort to read soon and I cannot wait to see what happens to the series’ entertaining protagonists next.

 

Gamora and Nebula: Sisters in Arms by Mackenzi Lee

Gamora and Nebula - Sisters in Arms Cover

An interesting Marvel young adult tie-in by bestselling author Mackenzi Lee, Sisters in Arms was a book I really wanted to read last year, especially after enjoying Lee’s last novel Loki: Where Mischief Lies.

 

Star Wars: Visions: Ronin by Emma Mieko Candon

Star Wars Visions - Ronin Cover

A fun tie-in to the Star Wars: Visions anime movies, Ronin was one of the few Star Wars books I didn’t read in 2021 and I hope to rectify that oversight soon.

 

The Last Watch by J. S. Dewes

The Last Watch Cover

This was apparently one of the best debut novels of 2021 and I really regret not checking it out.  An epic and fascinating science fiction novel about a group of criminals and failures who try to save the universe, The Last Watch got a lot of love from some top reviewers, and I am keen to see how awesome it truly is.

 

The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman

The Blacktongue Thief Cover

Another major novel that got a lot of love in reviewers circles last years was The Blacktongue Thief by Christopher Buehlman.  Set to follow an odd couple pairing in a brutal fantasy world, this was apparently an exceptional novel, and it was one that I regret not getting a chance to read.  I might try this year, especially if Buehlman has a sequel on the horizon, and I look forward to seeing what all the fuss is about.

 

The Liar’s Knot by M. A. Carrick

The Liar's Knot Cover

The final book on this list is The Liar’s Knot by M. A. Carrick, which is the second book in the Rook and Rose series of fantasy novels.  I read the first book in this series, The Mask of Mirrors, earlier in the year, and I really enjoyed its fun and compelling story.  I was hoping to read the sequel in 2021, but I never got the chance, especially as the audiobook version apparently isn’t out yet (I think I’d want to listen to it).  I am hoping to listen to it in a few months’ time, but I’ll have to see how I go.

 

 

Well, that is the end of my latest list and it looks like I have a lot catch-up reading to do if I am going to make a dent in it.  There are some truly amazing-sounding novels on this list and I fully intend to get through all of them at some point, although with all the outstanding books coming out in 2022, it might take me a little time.  In the meantime, let me know what books you most regret not reading in 2021 in the comments below.

All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

All of us Villains Cover

Publisher: Gollancz (Trade Paperback – 9 November 2021)

Series: All of Us Villains – Book One

Length: 388 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The writing team of Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman presents their first awesome joint novel, with the impressive and dark young adult fantasy book, All of Us Villains.

Foody and Herman are both established authors, having previously released cool-sounding novels and series, such as Foody’s bestselling The Shadow Game series and Herman’s The Devouring Gray novels.  While I have not had the opportunity to check out either of these authors’ previous books, I was very interested by All of Us Villains when I first heard about it a few months ago.  I loved the unique and compelling plot synopsis, and I was also intrigued by all the buzz from other reviewers.  I instantly jumped on it once I received my own copy and I was very impressed with its clever and compelling story.

In a world still powered by spells and curses, nothing is more precious than high magick, which can super-charge any spell and provide its wielder with insane amounts of power.  The only reliable source of high magick left in the world can be found in the remote city of Ilvernath, a dour and depressing settlement whose prosperity and fame can be traced to seven ancient families.  The ability to see and manipulate this high magick can only belong to one family at a time, and control ensures their prosperity for an entire generation.  However, to gain this right, each family must make an unbelievable sacrifice.

Every generation, when the Blood Moon starts to rise, a magical tournament is enacted that pits the very best of the families against each other.  However, this is no gentle tournament of magick; it is a brutal, curse-created fight to the death, with each family forced to nominate a young champion to represent them.  Only one champion can survive the tournament, and no-one ever emerges unscathed.

Twenty years after the last competition, a new Blood Moon starts to rise, and the families make ready for the latest battle for supremacy.  However, this tournament will be very different than any before.  Someone from the seven families has published a tell-all book, detailing every aspect of the tournament and informing the world of the hidden atrocities that have been committed in the name of power.  With the world now obsessed with every aspect of the tournament, all attention is now focussed on Ilvernath and the seven champions.

Thrust into the public spotlight, all seven champions must now deal with the intense infamy the tournament produces as they prepare to fight.  Forced to balance their own feelings on death and survival with the intense pressure placed upon them by their families and tradition, none are truly ready for the horrors they will be forced to endure.  However, this tournament also offers its competitors a chance to survive and end the curse that has blighted their families for centuries.  But not all the competitors are willing to give up the chance of ultimate power and are prepared to pay any price to win.  Let the games begin!

Damn, now this was a really great novel.  The brilliant new writing team of Foody and Herman produced an outstanding book in All of Us Villains, and I really got stuck into its story incredibly quickly.  The authors did a wonderful job of utilising a new version of the always popular teenage death tournament to fit into a brilliant and moving narrative.  Filled with complex characters and intense personal moments, All of Us Villains is an awesome and powerful book that I deeply enjoyed.

All of Us Villains has an excellent narrative that is a lot of fun to get into.  Focused on four of the seven participants of the latest death tournament, this is an amazing character driven story that really dives into the protagonists’ psyches as they prepare for the ultimate challenge.  The authors do an awesome job setting the scene for this fantastic story, and the readers are quickly hooked by the four complex main characters and the interesting scenario.  Roughly the first half of the book is dedicated to the setup before the tournament begins, which I think ensured the perfect balance between development and bloodshed.  You come away from the first half appreciating each of the characters and deeply caring about the outcome of the upcoming battle.  I was particularly impressed with one great early twist that surrounded one main character’s family preparations, and it added some major impact to his storyline.  Once the tournament begins, readers are in for a whirlwind of emotions and excitement as all the characters enact their strategy to win while all bearing a heavy emotional weight or magical handicap.  There are some intense and captivating sequences here and the readers are constantly on the edge of their seat, especially with some unique interactions, alliances and motivations, including one character who attempts to destroy the entire tournament from the inside.  This all leads up to a devastating and powerful conclusion, filled with death, despair, betrayal and complete emotional devastation, as all the characters make their choices and everything crumbles around them.

I really loved this cool narrative and I found myself getting really caught up in the constant heartbreak and bloodshed.  I am a massive fan of the teenage death tournament premise, and the authors do a great job of working this established story elements into their setting extremely well.  While there isn’t as much intense violence in the actual tournament as some readers would probably hope, I think that the authors’ choice to focus on the characters and their intense emotions about being forced into this fight by their families turned All of Us Villains into a better book. The authors’ use of multiple character perspectives works extremely well here, especially as it forces you to choose between your favourite characters as you try and work out who you want to survive, while also ensuring a really in-depth look at the setting and the tournament.  While I did find the final twist of this novel slightly predictable, the rest of the reveals and unpredictable actions were really cool, and I was shocked and surprised multiple times while reading.  This was also a great first entry, with the story ending on a compelling final note that will ensure that I will be coming back for the next book.  This was a deeply accessible and enjoyable read that has a lot of appeal to a vast array of varied readers, especially its intended young adult audience who will really love the complex story, clever setting and fantastic characters.

I had a lot of fun with the captivating and inventive setting and scenario that the authors have come up with for All of Us Villains.  While the world itself is a bit of a familiar alternate world with magic, the town of Ilvernath and the tournament it hosts more than makes up for it.  The authors spend a substantial amount of time establishing the setting, showcasing how the participants live, the vile history surrounding their families, as well as the tournament which plays a major role in their existence.  The people of Ilvernath, especially the seven families, are explored in detail, and it was fascinating to see the various opinions and expectations surrounding them.  This becomes even more apparent as a clever media saturation element is worked into the narrative as the tournament has been exposed to the public and has gained substantial attention, changing the entire nature of the tournament.  Excerpts from the tell-all-book that caused this attention are featured at the start of each chapter, which I deeply enjoyed.  Not only is it fascinating to see an inside perspective on the events, the families, and the tournament history, but it helps to expand the lore of this world in a fun way.  I also quite enjoyed the cool magical system of this novel, which is channelled through spell-laden rings powered.  The authors spend a lot of time exploring this magical system, especially as they show off various aspects of it, including spell/curse crafting and the subsequent casting.  You get a real sense of how this system works in a very short amount of time, and there are some unique and intense spells that get chucked into the mix, resulting in some big story moments.

The highlight of All of Us Villains is the death tournament, which gets a lot of attention and development.  The authors perfectly explain the lore, rules, and quirks of the tournament, and it is fascinating to see it unfold once the characters are thrown into it.  Cut off from the rest of the world by a magical barrier, the participants need to kill each other within a set period or else everyone left alive will die.  There are some fantastic rules and inclusions set into this tournament, including seven artefacts with their own unique benefits and seven strongholds that the champions can hold up in.  These items and strongholds have their own significance and connections to the seven families, and it was interesting to see their impact on the events of the tournament.  The authors’ clever use of excerpts from the tell-all book works extremely well to highlight elements of the tournament, and I loved all this crucial part of the book.  There are also some new elements introduced for this specific tournament, as parts of the curse start to break apart due to the unpredictable actions of the participants.  This opens new opportunities and possibilities that were quite fascinating to see.  I look forward to seeing what happens around this tournament in rest of this series, especially as more bloodshed and destruction is inevitable.

As I mentioned multiple times above, the best thing about this cool book is the fantastically complex and compelling central characters.  The focus of All of Us Villains is on the seven participants of the tournament, with a particular emphasis on the four main characters.  The authors really dive into these four characters, highlighting their personalities, emotions, and their thoughts on the tournament they are about to embark on.  Each character is very well established, and there are some extremely complex and powerful storylines and character arcs set up around them.  It is a testament to the authors’ writing that I tended to enjoy each separate perspective about equally, and there were none that I disliked more than any of the others, which is a real peril in novels with a lot of narrators.  I will say that this intense focus on only four of the main characters does detract a lot of attention and interest away from the rest of the supporting cast, especially the three other family champions, but I think it is worth it for the impressive development put into the central protagonists.

The first of these characters is Alistair Lowe, the powerful scion of the Lowe family.  The Lowes win most of the tournaments and are generally considered the villains of Ilvernath and its history due to their monstrous personalities.  Alistair has been raised his entire life to win the tournament by any means necessary and has fully accepted his role as the monster of the story, even if he isn’t as evil as everyone assumes or wants him to be.  However, an interesting and unexpected romance soon starts to change his mind and he is convinced that changing his ways and saving the others might be a good idea.  However, a particularly vicious twist towards the end of the novel completely alters the entire trajectory of his character arc and will leave you reeling in shock while it loads up the epic feels.  I felt that out of all the characters, Alistair had the most moving and complex storyline as well as the most substantial development, and he swiftly becomes the character you bond with the most.  I am deeply intrigued to see what happens to him in the next book and I have a feeling that there is both great tragedy and great evil in his future.

The next central champion is Isobel Macaslan, a bright and powerful magick user from a highly resented family.  I loved the great work that the authors put into developing her.  At first Isobel appears to be one of the most confident and enthusiastic figures in this book, especially as she is the one leaning into the publicity surrounding the tournament the most.  However, it soon becomes apparent that she was forced to be champion thanks to the machinations of her uncaring family and her former best friend, who threw her to the press.  Isobel has a lot of issues going into the tournament, with the mass attention and the unfair expectations placed upon her forcing her to take some big risks which severely disadvantage her as she enters the tournament.  Isobel ends up developing some unique connections throughout All of Us Villains, and the friendships and relationships she develops form the emotional heart of much of the narrative.  The reader sees Isobel go to some dark places in this book and it is hard to see all the heartbreak and despair she experiences.

I was also a major fan of the underdog Gavin Grieve, who has an amazingly complex and relatable story arc.  Gavin is the champion from the Grieve family, who have never won the tournament and are generally looked down upon by everyone in town.  Gavin is a sad and angry character since everyone underestimates him and his chances, while also showering him with scorn as it was apparently a Grieve who wrote the tell-all expose about the tournament.  This anger leads to him making a dangerous deal that provides him with impressive power at a great price.  This was an amazing story inclusion, especially as it turns Gavin into a bit of a beast due to finally having power and an advantage over the other families.  This leads him to do some reckless and cruel things, and it was fascinating to see the events of the tournament and its bloody legacy slowly corrupt this character before your eyes.

The final point-of-view character was Briony Thorburn, the confident wildcard.  Unlike all the other major characters, Briony wants to compete in the tournament and has spent her entire life getting ready for it, going as far as to dump her boyfriend, one of the other competitors, so she would feel less guilty about killing him.  However, events outside of her control impact her participation and she is forced to take some drastic actions.  This leads to her significantly reconsidering her position and gives her a fantastic arc about trying to save all her fellow participants and try to break the tournament once and for all.  Watching her attempt to make up for all her past mistakes while also convincing the other champions to change hundreds of years of tradition is pretty brilliant, and I found it to be a compelling arc that fleshed out the story perfectly.

In their first collaboration, the brilliant team of Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman have produced one of the best young adult fantasy novels of 2021 with All of Us Villains.  This amazing novel contains an excellent story set around an intense magical teenage death tournament that takes the reader into some incredible directions.  Filled with tragedy, impressive character development, and a ton of impressive twists, All of Us Villains is an exceptional read that comes highly recommended novel.

All of us Villains Cover 2

WWW Wednesday – 5 January 2022

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

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

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

The Maid by Nita Prose (Trade Paperback)

The Maid Cover

I just started reading this intriguing debut from Nita Prose today and I am really enjoying it.  The Maid is a unique novel that follows a socially awkward maid at a fancy hotel who, after finding the body of an infamous guest, finds herself stuck in the middle of a murder investigation.  This book has a compelling central protagonist and Prose has already set up some cool twists and plot points.  I look forward to seeing how this book turns out and I know I am going to have an outstanding time with it.

 

Never by Ken Follet (Audiobook)

Never Cover

I have not made that much progress on Never since last week, mainly because I listened to another audiobook that I needed to check out first.  I am hoping to get into it a bit more this week, although I might pause it again to listen to the next Star Wars novel first.  Despite this slow progress, Never is an interesting book and while it is a little slow at the moment, once the pace increases I reckon it will be a great read.

 

What did you recently finish reading?

The Judge’s List by John Grisham

The Judge's List Cover

 

Warhammer 40,000: Steel Tread by Andy Clark

Steel Tread Cover

 

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

A Practical Guide to Conquering the World Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

Star Wars: The High Republic: The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray

Star Wars - The Fallen Star

 

 

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 – Stay Awake by Megan Goldin

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.  This week I look at one of the more intriguing thrillers set for release in 2022 with Stay Awake by Megan Goldin.

Stay Awake Cover

Over the last few years one of the more interesting thriller writers has been Australian author Megan Goldin who has been killing it with some captivating and thought-provoking novels.  Debuting in 2017 with The Girl in Kellers Way, Goldin first came to my attention when I was lucky enough to receive a copy of her 2018 book, The Escape Room, which I read in one sitting.  The Escape Room, which subsequently gained substantial popularity following its release in America, was a fantastic and intriguing read that imagined an elaborate revenge plot against a highflying Wall Street investment team.  I deeply enjoyed The Escape Room and it led to me checking out Goldin’s next book, The Night Swim, which ended up being one of the best Australian books of 2020The Night Swim was a powerful and intense novel that detailed the harrowing aftermath of two controversial rape cases from various parts of a town’s history.  Both of these novels were really good and I have been eagerly waiting to see what Goldin comes up with next.

Well, my wait is over as Goldin has a fantastic sounding new novel coming out in August 2022 with Stay Awake.  This excellent and intriguing novel has an amazing plot that sees a women awaken in a terrible situation, with murder, memory loss and deadly surprises.

Synopsis:

Liv Reese wakes up in the back of a taxi with no idea where she is or how she got there. When she’s dropped off at the door of her brownstone, a stranger answers—a stranger who now lives in her apartment and forces her out in the cold. She reaches for her phone to call for help, only to discover it’s missing, and in its place is a bloodstained knife. That’s when she sees that her hands are covered in black pen, scribbled messages like graffiti on her skin: STAY AWAKE.

Two years ago, Liv was living with her best friend, dating a new man, and thriving as a successful writer for a trendy magazine. Now, she’s lost and disoriented in a New York City that looks nothing like what she remembers. Catching a glimpse of the local news, she’s horrified to see reports of a crime scene where the victim’s blood has been used to scrawl a message across a window, the same message that’s inked on her hands. What did she do last night? And why does she remember nothing from the past two years? Liv finds herself on the run for a crime she doesn’t remember committing as she tries to piece together the fragments of her life. But there’s someone who does know exactly what she did, and they’ll do anything to make her forget—permanently.

A complex thriller that unfolds at a breakneck speed, Stay Awake will keep you up all night.

I am deeply intrigued by this awesome and impressive sounding novel, especially as it looks like Goldin has come up with a really complex plot here for Stay Awake.  I love the idea of an amnesia laden plot that involves a shattered mind, secret instructions written on skin, murder and dangerous predator.  I honestly think that this novel has a load of potential, especially in Goldin’s exceedingly capable hands, and I reckon I will probably power through this book in no time at all.

Top Ten Tuesday – Most Anticipated Books Releasing in the First Half of 2022 (fantasy)

Welcome to my second Top Ten Tuesday list of the week, were I look at my most anticipated fantasy novels coming out in the first half of 2022.  Traditionally I usually only do one list to represent the top upcoming books for the year, however, I was inspired to separate out the fantasy novels into a second list due to all the awesome and impressive fantasy reads coming out extremely soon.

2022 is shaping up to be one of the absolute best years for fantasy books with a ton of epic and amazing sounding novels set for release throughout the year.  I am particularly excited about the next six months as there are some deeply impressive books coming out that I am extremely excited for.  This includes some fantastic sounding sequels, continuations to brilliant series, and several cool new novels for some very talented authors.  I have already highlighted several of these books in some previous lists and Waiting on Wednesday articles.  Indeed, the last three Waiting on Wednesday posts I have published have all highlighted some particularly epic upcoming fantasy novels.  This, as well as some other recent novels I have talked about, made me really appreciate just how awesome the upcoming year is going to be fantasy wise, hence this list.

Just like with my other list of the night, I am only featuring books that are set for release in Australia between 1 January 2022 and 30 June 2022 which I have some descent details about.  I also excluded one of the top fantasy books of the year, A Practical Guide to Conquering the World by K. J. Parker, because I have already read it (spoiler alert, it is incredibly awesome and hilarious).  Despite only being fantasy books, I ended up with a huge collection of exceptional novels that I wanted to feature, which made completing this list surprisingly difficult.  I was eventually able to break it down to the best 10 books (with honourable mentions), and I feel that I have capture the books that are going to be the best fantasy reads of 2022.  So let us see what made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Rise of the Mages by Scott Drakeford – 25 January 2022

Rise of the Mages Cover

An interesting start to a fun new series.

 

League of Liars by Astrid Scholte – 22 February 2022

League of Liars Cover

A brilliant sounding young adult fantasy book with a great story about a magical prison break.  I already have a copy of this book and I look forward to seeing what happens in it.

 

One Foot in the Fade by Luke Arnold – 26 April 2022

One Foot in the Fade Cover

The third book from Australian author Luke Arnold that follows on from his fantastic first two novels, The Last Smile in Sunder City and Dead Man in a Ditch.

 

Engines of Empire by Richard S. Ford – 31 May 2022

Engines of Empire Cover

This is a compelling and interesting fantasy novel that I think has a bit of potential.  Focusing on a family of industrialists in a fantasy landscape, this sounds like a great start to an awesome new series, and I am very keen to read it.  It looks like we have a bit of a later release date here in Australia, but hopefully I will get a chance to read it at some point this year.

 

Top Ten List:

The Starless Crown by James Rollins – 4 January 2022

The Starless Crown Cover

The first book on this list is the impressive sounding The Starless Crown by James Rollins.  Rollins, who is best known for his thrillers, is making an interesting jump back to fantasy with this novel and I like the cool and intriguing plot this book has.

 

The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan – 22 February 2022

The Justice of Kings Cover

The next entry, The Justice of Kings by Richard Swan, is another awesome fantasy read with a great deal of potential.  Set to combine legal thriller elements with a fantasy setting, I love the sound of this amazing sounding novel and it is already receiving some very positive reviews.  I have a feeling that this is going to be one of the best books of the year and I can’t wait to check it out.

 

Age of Ash by Daniel Abraham – 22 February 2022

Age of Ash Cover

One half of the team behind The Expanse series (make sure to check out my review for the last book, Leviathan Falls), Daniel Abraham heads back to the fantasy genre with the epic Age of Ash.  An interesting sounding novel filled with political intrigue and a murder mystery, I think this will be an amazing read and I cannot wait to check it out.

 

The Bladed Faith by David Dalglish – 5 April 2022

Bestselling fantasy author David Dalglish presents a cool and intriguing first novel in a new series with The Bladed Faith.  This book follows a deposed prince who takes up a role of a legendary hero and assassin to avenge his parents and gets sucked into a deadly mission of vengeance.  I love the sound of this outstanding read and I look forward to seeing how its fantastic story turns out.  No cover yet unfortunately, but hopefully that will come out soon.

 

The Hunger of the Gods by John Gwynne – 7 April 2022

The Hunger of the Gods Cover

After having one of the best books (and audiobooks) of 2021 with The Shadow of the Gods, fantasy author John Gwynne continues his brilliant Bloodsworn Saga with The Hunger of the Gods.  This intense and action-packed series had an incredible introduction and I am extremely confident that The Hunger of the Gods will be an exceptional and excellent read, especially with that epic cover.

 

The Girl and the Moon by Mark Lawrence – 26 April 2022

The Girl and the Moon Cover

The always enjoyable Mark Lawrence continues his great Book of the Ice series with The Girl and the Moon.  The previous two novels, The Girl and the Stars and The Girl and the Mountain have been extremely compelling and I cannot wait to see how this cool series continues.

 

Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry – 10 May 2022

Kagen the Damned Cover

One of my favourite thriller authors, Jonathan Maberry, is diving into the fantasy genre this year with Kagen the Damned.  Set to be an intense and brutal revenge read, I really love the sound of Kagen the Damned and have no doubt it will be another exceptional five-star read.

 

Master of Furies by Raymond E. Feist – 9 June 2022

Master of Furies Cover

One of the best fantasy authors of all-time, the exceeding talented Raymond E. Feist, brings his fantastic Firemane Saga to an end with Master of Furies.  Following on from King of Ashes and Queen of Storms, this should be an excellent read and I look forward to seeing how this trilogy concludes.

 

In the Shadow of Lighting by Brian McClellan – 21 June 2022

In the Shadow of Lightning Cover

After wowing the world with his exceptional Powder Mage novels, Brian McClellan is returning with a brand-new series this year.  The first book in this series, In the Shadow of Lighting, sounds like an excellent and captivating read and with the talented McClellan at the helm this will easily be one of the best books of the year.

 

The Martyr by Anthony Ryan – 28 June 2022

The Martyr Cover

The final entry on this list is The Martyr, the follow up to Ryan’s epic 2021 novel, The Pariah.  I had an amazing time reading the first book in this series and I already know I am going to deeply love The Martyr when it comes out later this year.

 

 

Well that’s the end of this second list.  As you can see, there are some mighty impressive fantasy books coming out the first half of this year.  All the above entries on this list have an incredible amount of potential and I have a feeling I am going to deeply enjoy every single of one of these great reads.  I honestly think that 2022 is going to be an outstanding year for fantasy, not only with these amazing books, but because of some of the other ones potentially coming out later this year (I’m really hoping Joe Abercrombie, Jim Butcher and R. J. Barker all have new novels this year).  I look forward to seeing how all these cool novels turn out and I think I am going to have an incredible time reading fantasy in 2022.

 

Top Ten Tuesday – Most Anticipated Books Releasing in the First Half of 2022 (non-fantasy)

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 the first Top Ten Tuesday of 2022 participants get to list their most anticipated upcoming books for the first half of the year.  This is a regular post I do each year and I always look forward to highlighting the most awesome looking books for the start of the year.  I am actually planning to do two versions of this list, this one and another that will focus on some incredible upcoming fantasy novels, so make sure to check that out as well.

Despite only just starting, 2022 is already shaping up to be an epic and exciting year for books with a huge range of impressive and highly anticipated novels due for release in the next 12 months.  This includes exciting debuts, anticipated sequels and the latest entries in beloved bestselling series.  The first half of the year is looking particularly awesome, with a substantial number of incredible upcoming releases that I am deeply looking forward to. 

Even though I excluded fantasy books, this ended up being a rather difficult list to pull together due to all the awesome releases coming out in Australia between 1 January 2022 and 30 June 2022.  There were way too many extraordinary upcoming books that I could have included, and I ended up having to make some very tough calls and cutting several novels that have an immense amount of potential.  Despite this, I am rather happy with the eventual choices that I made, and I think that this list reflects the upcoming novels and comics I am going to have the most fun reading.  I have mentioned several of these books before in my weekly Waiting on Wednesday articles, and some of them also appeared on my recent Summer TBR list.  However, there are also some interesting new books that I am discussing for the first time here, so that should give this list a bit of variety.  I am also excluding a couple of upcoming books with real potential, mainly because a lot of details about them haven’t been released yet, such as the third book in Conn Iggulden’s Athenian series.  So let us get to my selections and find out which upcoming novels are my most anticipated releases for the first half of 2022.

Honourable Mentions

Road of Bones by Christopher Golden – 25 January 2022

Road of Bones Cover

A fun and intriguing horror thriller.

 

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

Day of Ascension Cover

One of the best sounding upcoming Warhammer 40,000 novels by impressive science fiction author Adrian Tchaikovsky.

 

City of the Dead by Jonathan Kellerman – 8 February 2022

City of the Dead Cover

Another fantastic Alex Delaware novel from leading crime fiction author Jonathan Kellerman, that follows on from his last amazing novels, The Wedding Guest, The Museum of Desire and Serpentine.

 

Star Wars: Shadow of the Sith by Adam Christopher – 28 June 2022

There are several interesting new Star Wars novels coming out in 2022 and one of the more intriguing ones is Shadow of the Sith by Adam Christopher (no cover available yet).  Set in the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, Shadow of the Sith follows Luke and Lando as they attempt to uncover ancient Sith secrets and identify the new threat rising to destroy the New Republic.

Top Ten List:

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

Star Wars - The Fallen Star

The impressive new High Republic subseries of Star Wars novels continues with The Fallen Star by Claudia Gray.  Continuing the main storyline contained in previous novels Light of the Jedi and The Rising Storm, The Fallen Star looks set to contain an intense and captivating story as the Nihil launch their most devastating attack yet.  I am hoping to start The Fallen Star this week and it should be a pretty epic read.

 

Dark Horse by Gregg Hurwitz – 8 February 2022

Dark Horse Cover

The seventh book in Hurwitz’s action-packed Orphan X series, Dark Horse has a great sounding story and is easily going to be one of the most exciting books of the year.

 

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

Usagi Yojimbo - Tengu War!

One of my favourite comic series, Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai, has another great volume coming out early this year.  Tengu War, the 36th volume, looks set to feature several really cool stories in it and I already know I am going to love every page of this exceptional comic.

 

Sierra Six by Mark Greaney – 15 February 2022

Sierra Six Cover

Another epic thriller, Sierra Six will be the 11th novel in the Gray Man series by amazing author Mark Greaney.  I have deeply enjoyed the last few Gray Man novels (One Minute Out and Relentless were particularly good) and I am really looking forward to seeing how this incredible series continues.

 

The Misfit Soldier by Michael Mammay – 22 February 2022

The Misfit Soldier Cover

After deeply impressing me with his debut Planetside series (made up of Planetside, Spaceside and Colonyside), science fiction author Michael Mammay has a cool new novel up his sleeve with The Misfit SoldierThe Misfit Soldier will follow a conman and thief turned futuristic soldier as he attempts to pull off a heist in the middle of a warzone.  I love the sound of this book and The Misfit Soldier should be an outstanding read.

 

An Empty Throne by Robert Fabbri – 1 April 2022

An Empty Throne Cover

One of the most entertaining historical fiction authors in the world today, Robert Fabbri, will continue his amazing Alexander’s Legacy series with the third book, An Empty Throne.  Following on from To the Strongest and The Three Paradises, An Empty Throne will explore the unique chaos that occurred following the early death of Alexander the Great and should be a lot of crazy fun.

 

Desperate Undertaking by Lindsey Davis – 7 April 2022

Desperate Undertaking Cover 1

Another cool and entertaining historical fiction series continuing this year is the Flavia Albia series by veteran author Lindsey Davis.  Set in ancient Rome, this cool series sees its titular protagonist investigate several strange murders around the city, often in hilarious circumstances.  Several of the recent books, including Pandora’s Boy and The Grove of the Caesars, have been exceptional reads, and the new upcoming novel, Desperate Undertaking, has a great sounding story about a serial killer obsessed with architecture.  Sure to be a gripping and clever read, I cannot wait to check it out.

 

Star Wars: Brotherhood by Mike Chen – 10 May 2022

Star Wars - Brotherhood Cover

Another awesome upcoming Star Wars novel is Brotherhood by Mike Chen.  Set at the start of the Clone Wars, this novel will place Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker in a dangerous situation as they attempt to uncover who is behind a terrorist attack on an alien planet.  With some cool action and an interesting look at the relationship between former master and apprentice, this will be a great read, especially as it will likely tie into the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi television series.

 

Kingdoms of Death by Christopher Ruocchio – 17 May 2022

Kingdoms of Death Cover

Impressive science fiction author Christopher Ruocchio will continue his massive Sun Eater space opera series this year with his fourth book, Kingdoms of Death.  Following on from the outstanding Empire of Silence, Howling Dark and Demon in White, this latest novel will continue to chronicle the life of the universe’s greatest heroes and villains as he fights for humanity’s survival in the stars.  This will be an incredible and powerful science fiction read and I cannot wait to see how Ruocchio continues his epic series.

 

The Omega Factor by Steve Berry – 7 June 2022

The Omega Factor Cover

The final book on this list is another cool and impressive thriller by the legendary Steve Berry.  Berry, who is best known for his Cotton Malone novels (such as The Malta Exchange, The Warsaw Protocol and The Kaiser’s Web), is introducing a new protagonist in The Omega Factor, who is thrust into a deadly historical conspiracy involving a missing piece of artwork.  Set to expose a war between the Vatican and a secret order of nuns, this sounds like an awesome novel, and I am very excited to dive into another enjoyable Steve Berry novel

 

 

That is the end of this list.  I am extremely happy with how my latest Top Ten Tuesday article turned out and this list contains an intriguing collection of upcoming books that should prove to be incredible reads.  I think that nearly every one of these books has the potential to get a full five-star rating from me and I cannot wait to see what amazing and exciting stories they contain.  While I am waiting to get my hands on these books, why not let me know if any of the above interest you, as well as what your most anticipated releases for the next six months are in the comments below.  Also, make sure to check out my other Top Ten List with the top upcoming fantasy books of 2022.

Leviathan Falls by James S. A. Corey

Leviathan Falls Cover

Publisher: Orbit/Recorded Books (Audiobook – 30 November 2021)

Series: The Expanse – Book Nine

Length: 19 hours and 40 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

For my last review of 2021 I check out the epic and highly anticipated final book in the iconic The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, Leviathan Falls.

For the last ten years the science fiction genre has been dominated by the impressive and captivating The Expanse series.  Written by James S. A. Corey, the joint pen name of authors Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, The Expanse series consists of nine awesome novels that navigate the troubles and wars of future humans in both our solar system, and other systems accessed by ancient alien technology.  This has been a pretty amazing series which has moved from wars between Earth, Mars and the Belt, to intergalactic travel and battles between galactic empires and interdimensional aliens.  I have been really enjoying this series lately, and the last two novels, Persepolis Rising and Tiamat’s Wrath were extremely fun, especially as they utilised the conquering Laconian Empire, which forced the protagonists to form a rebel movement known as the underground.

The plot of Leviathan Falls starts a few months after the events of Tiamat’s Wrath, which saw the underground destroy Laconia’s shipyards and free James Holden, captain of the Rocinante, and Teresa Duarte, the daughter of the Laconian high consul.  Now the Rocinante flies throughout the various settled systems attempting to keep the underground alive and bring down the faltering Laconian Empire.  At the same time, unnatural and destructive alien forces, disturbed by the intergalactic technology used to traverse space, are reaching into our universe and attempting to exterminate all human life.

The best hope for humanity may lie in the hands of the Laconian high consul, Winston Duarte, whose alien enhancements have given him unnatural insight into the universe.  However, Winston Duarte is currently missing, having vanished from his room as he attempts to unleash his ambitious master plan.  To find him, the Laconians unleash their ultimate hunter, Colonel Aliana Tanaka, who focuses on the Rocinante, determined to use Teresa as bait.  At the same time, Dr Elvi Okoye leads a desperate scientific mission to uncover the secrets of the ancient aliens whose technology has allowed humanity to expand throughout the universe.  But her progress is dependent on the lives of the mysterious half-alien children in her care, whose ability to connect with the past could save the future.

As the situation in the universe becomes even more desperate, the crew of Rocinante are once again thrust into the midst of the battle for humanity’s survival.  Entering a desperate alliance and faced with near certain extinction, the Rocinante and their allies embark on a final battle for the future.  However, not only are they facing the malevolent forces from outside their universe, but also the radical and altered Winston Duarte, whose plan to save the species comes with an impossible price.  Can Holden and his crew stop him before it is too late, or is the final chapter in humanity’s story?

Leviathan Falls was another intense and impressive science fiction read from Corey, who brings this epic series to an end in a big way.  This ninth and final Expanse novel had a captivating and intense narrative filled with amazing and realistic science fiction elements, complex characters, and a fitting and heartbreaking conclusion that wraps everything up extremely well.  This ended up being a fantastic novel and I was glad I had a chance to see how everything finished up.

There is a great narrative for this book that takes the reader on a powerful and compelling ride as the authors seek to wrap everything up.  Leviathan Falls continues several of the storylines set up in the previous novels, especially Tiamat’s Wrath, and takes them towards their inevitable conclusion.  Told through multiple characters, including several minor figures, this is a slow-burn narrative that methodically sets up the various storylines and explores them to their full extent.  The story gets quite complex in places as the protagonists attempt to survive not only the various battles between the Laconians and the underground but also the malevolent entities attempting to take them down from another universe.  The first half of the story focuses on a cat-and-mouse battle between the protagonists on the Rocinante and the Laconian Colonel Tanaka, while there are some interesting examinations of Elvi’s attempts to understand the threat facing humanity.  These storylines lead up to a big event that sets up the intense and exciting second half of the novel and forces the previously disparate characters to come together and face the major threat.  This results in a massive, extended sequence that forces several characters to make some major decisions, and a moving conclusion that is both devastating and a fitting ending to the franchise.

The team behind The Expanse have a really unique writing style that I think fits the epic scope of their series.  Using an intense amount of description, as well as some colourful analogies, the authors paint a brilliant picture of the events occurring around them that perfectly encapsulates the insanities and complexities of the situation.  The Expanse series is known for its realistic approach to science fiction, and this continues through in Leviathan Falls as the reader gets a real sense of the awesome nature of space flight through the various characters’ eyes.  While some of the science fiction elements are obviously invented solely for the narrative, most of the human technology in this book appears to be quite realistic and well thought out.  I also love the cool take on space travel, communication and fights, with many of the events in space taking hours or days to complete due to distance and light delays.  This is particularly impressive during the battle sequences which rely more on calculations and manoeuvres than fast-paced firepower, and it really added to the intensity of multiple scenes throughout the book.

While I enjoyed the narrative and the way that the authors told the story, Leviathan Falls did drag a little in places.  I honestly think they could have streamlined this into a better novel by taking out, say, 50 to 100 pages, and I personally would have cut all the chapters told from the perspective of Kit Kamal, which have no major impact on the overall story.  I also think that the authors went a tad overboard in places trying to make some of the elements and experiences seem a little cleverer than they needed to be, such as certain long-winded interludes.  While I understand that this is their writing style and it usually works, I felt that it made parts of the book a little unwieldy and unnecessarily complex.  Being the grand finale, it was also a very inaccessible novel for new readers, especially as so much of the plot relies on knowledge of some of the preceding books, particularly Persepolis Rising and Tiamat’s Wrath.  However, the rest of Leviathan Falls story more than compensates for some of the above issues, and this still ended up being an excellent and compelling read.

Fans of this series will no doubt appreciate some of the excellent world building that took place in Leviathan Falls.  The author introduces some interesting and compelling expansions of various elements of lore and technology within this universe, especially when it comes to the two ancient alien races who the protagonists have been encountering throughout the series.  It was rather fascinating to see how certain elements were utilised throughout the plot, and they ended up enhancing the narrative extremely well.  I loved all the use of alien technology, especially as there are some great call-backs to the previous books and the weird molecules and artefacts the protagonists previously encountered.  There was also a good wrap up with the universe that I really appreciated, and it think it ends everything on a compelling and interesting note.

Leviathan Falls features an impressive cast of complex characters, and the multiple perspectives are used to great effect throughout the book to craft a massive and elaborate narrative.  I liked the cool range of characters in this book, especially as it primarily focuses on the well-established cast from the previous novels, as well as one great new antagonist.  The vast array of perspectives proves to be a lot of fun to explore, although I do question the necessity of one or two overutilised point-of-view characters.  I also appreciated some of the development that occurred around the recurring cast of the series.  This included a tangible sense of weariness that multiple characters experienced, especially the series’ long-running protagonists, which helped to reflect how they have aged and evolved over the years, especially in the face of so much adversity.  There are also a couple of interesting inclusions that I quite enjoyed, including one excellent character whose return will come as a pleasant surprise to fans of The Expanse.

There are several extremely awesome characters that I really must highlight in this book, including protagonist James Holden, the captain of the Rocinante and main character of the series.  Holden has gone through a lot throughout The Expanse novels, and it shows in Leviathan Falls.  The character is clearly dealing with some PTSD following his extended imprisonment in the prior novel, and there are some compelling and intense trauma storylines around him.  Holden has a particularly major moment in this novel, and it ended up being an interesting and moving novel for this great central character.  Aside from Holden, you also must love the work put into the surviving crew members of the Rocinante, Naomi Nagata, Amos Burton and Alex Kamal, each of whom have their own interesting storylines and serve as great point-of-view characters.  I particularly enjoyed the increased focus on Naomi now that she’s the head of the underground, and it was still fascinating to see her as a confident and capable leader.  Amos’s storyline was also rather interesting, especially after he died and was resurrected by alien technology in the previous novel.  This gives him some unique perspectives throughout the book, although there were only so many times you can hear about the “unnatural pauses” he now has.

In addition to the Rocinante crew members, several other exceptional characters also really stood out to me.  I continued to enjoy the inclusion of Elvi Okoye, the brilliant scientist who was drafted into the Laconian military force as the leading expert on alien technology.  Elvi offers most of the scientific insight into the events occurring in the novel, and it was interesting to see her experiences as she attempts to understand the ancient alien technology and discover a solution to the mysterious attacks plaguing the various human systems.  I also really appreciated Colonel Aliana Tanaka, a Laconian soldier who is sent to track down the missing Winston Duarte by hounding the Rocinante and trying to take back Teresa Duarte.  Despite being a new character, Tanaka has one of the best arcs in the entire novel, as she is forced to contend with not only the boldness of the protagonists but also her own instabilities and issues.  While she initially appears to be a mostly rage filled attack-dog, the author soon expands on her character and backstory turning her into a very complex and somewhat sympathetic figure.  This is particularly true after a major event results in an unwelcome intrusion in her mind, and her inability to cope makes her even wilder and angrier.  These brilliant characters really helped to enhance Leviathan Fall’s plot and it was an absolute pleasure to see all the great character driven story arcs come to an end.

While I did receive a physical copy of Leviathan Falls, I ended up listening to the audiobook version to fit this book into my reading schedule.  This was a pretty good audiobook, and I had a fantastic time getting through it.  Leviathan Falls has a decent run time of just under 20 hours, which did take me a while to get through, especially in some of the spots where my engagement slipped a little.  Despite the length, this was a fantastic audiobook adaptation and I appreciated the impressive narration from Jefferson Mays, who has previously lent his voice to all the previous The Expanse novels.  Mays’ voice seems to fit the massive and epic format of the series extremely well and I found myself appreciating and following some of the heavy scientific elements, battle sequences and intriguing analogies a bit better with his work.  He also provides some excellent voices to the various characters featured in the series which fit their various personalities and helped to showcase their emotions.  I had an awesome time listening to this latest audiobook and it is an impressive way to check this novel out.

After nine epic novels, The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey finally comes to end with the fantastic Leviathan Falls.  This final book does an excellent job of tying together the various story threads from the previous novels and giving this impressive series the outstanding conclusion it deserves.  Filled with complex characters, a powerful and rich science fiction setting, and an intriguing central storyline, Leviathan Falls was an awesome read.  An amazing and cool conclusive episode, Leviathan Falls is really worth checking out and I loved its compelling and exciting story.

Throwback Thursday – Warhammer: Dragonslayer by William King

Dragonslayer Cover Combined

Publisher: Black Library (Paperback – November 2020)

Series: Gotrek and Felix – Book Four

Length: 271 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

For this week’s Throwback Thursday I check out another volume in the incredibly entertaining Gotrek and Felix Warhammer Fantasy series, Dragonslayer, by William King.

I have been having fun over the last year checking out several cool Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Fantasy tie-in novels, especially as all of them place great stories inside their respective elaborate extended universes.  Some of the most exciting and compelling of these Warhammer books have been part of the Gotrek and Felix series, which follows a doomed dwarven Slayer and his human companion as they face all manner of monsters and evils across the Warhammer Fantasy landscape.  I have so far had a lot of fun reading the first three books in this series, Trollslayer, Skavenslayer and Daemonslayer, all of which were some of the best pre-2021 releases I read this year.  I recently grabbed a couple more Gotrek and Felix novels second-hand, and I had a great time quickly reading the next entry in the series over the Christmas break, Dragonslayer, another fun and enjoyable read that has an action-packed narrative to it.

After their daring exploits in the Chaos Wastes, dwarf Slayer Gotrek Gurnisson and his rememberer, Felix Jaeger, return to the lands of Kislev in triumph, having rescued the survivors of a lost dwarven stronghold.  However, their victory is short lived, as danger begins to assail them the moment they return in the form of the skaven forces of their arch-enemy Grey Seer Thanquol.  Worse, their voyage has revealed a giant horde of Chaos warriors advancing towards the lands of Kislev, determined to bring destruction and death to all before them.

To warn the people of Kislev, Gotrek, Felix, and their companions travel by dwarf airship towards the capital.  However, their voyage is disrupted by an unnatural storm and an attack from a legendary dragon determined to rip them asunder.  Barely escaping with their lives, the adventurers find themselves stuck in the World’s Edge Mountains and forced to pull into the Slayer Keep of Karak Kadrin.  There they discover that the dragon that attacked them, Skjalandir, has been terrifying the mountains for months.  Determined to finally meet his mighty doom, Gotrek and his fellow Slayers head out to destroy the beast, accompanied by a reluctant Felix and their Kislev allies.  Beset on all sides by ravening orcs, desperate bandits, and a massive dragon of immense destructive potential, can even the legendary team of Gotrek and Felix survive, or will Gotrek finally find his longed-for death at the hands of the mightiest beast in the realm?

This was another very fun and intense novel from King, who once again provides the reader with an exciting and compelling dive into the Warhammer Fantasy universe.  Dragonslayer was a very good entry in the long-running Gotrek and Felix series, and I deeply enjoyed its cool and fast-paced narrative that sees the protagonists fight all manner of foes and dangers.  Filled with impressive monsters, a hilarious sense of humour and all manner of action, Dragonslayer was a fantastic read that I powered through in a few short days.

Just like all previous Gotrek and Felix novels, Dragonslayer starts off fast and never really slows down, as the various characters are thrust into one dangerous situation after another all the way up to the last page.  The first quarter of the book is firmly focussed on continuing the antagonist-centric storyline from Daemonslayer, with Grey Seer Thanquol’s planned attack from the last book finally coming to fruition.  This opening scene is pretty fun, even if it does feel a little disconnected from the following narrative, and I loved seeing more of enjoyable antagonist Thanquol.  Following this enjoyable first encounter, the protagonists head off on a new quest which is quickly detoured by an encounter with a dragon.  The dragon’s first big appearance is pretty devastating, and I loved how much of a threat this monster is made out to be, especially as the protagonists don’t come out unscathed.  The next section of the book is mostly devoted to character development and world building, as the protagonists prepare for their next adventure and gain some interesting new companions.  At the same time, Thanquol engages in another mostly unconnected storyline that sees him encounter and set up the dangerous Chaos horde that will be the major threat of the next novel.  The final third of the novel is primarily dedicated to the protagonist’s quest towards the dragon’s lair, where they encounter not only the beast but various other foes as well.  This leads up to some amazing battle sequences, the highlights of which include the deadly confrontation with the wounded and mutated dragon, and a fun full-on war scene between two forces determined to kill each other and the protagonists.  The book had an entertaining and exciting conclusion with a fun lead-in to the next novel, and I had a fantastic time getting through this brilliant and excellent read.

King has a great easy-to-read style that I really connect with in the Gotrek and Felix novels, which ensures that all fantasy fans can easily enjoy it, especially with the fast-paced narrative and crazy action scenes.  I like the author’s use of multiple character perspectives to tell a rich and impressive adventure story, and you get some fun alternate viewpoints and storylines as a result.  This is particularly apparent in the action sequences, as you see the various participants of the battle as they encounter the same foes or other narrators, and results in a much fuller and bloodier picture.  The action scenes themselves are great, filled with compelling fights that really get the blood pumping as the protagonists face off against a variety of foes.  While a couple of fights were a little shorter than I would have liked, King more than makes up for it with some of the big encounters, especially against the dragon.  I loved the two major dragon scenes, and King crafts some excellent and hard-hitting fight sequences against it, loaded with character deaths and intense brutality.  I also loved one fun final battle sequence that read like a pitched battle from the Warhammer Fantasy universe, Goblin Fanatics and Doom Diver catapults included.

Like most of the previous Gotrek and Felix books, Dragonslayer is pretty accessible to new readers, and there is no major requirement to check out any of the previous novels first, especially as King’s books tend to repeat certain elements from the preceding entries.  As such, unfamiliar readers can easily jump in here, although the Thanquol attack at the start of the books does come a little out of nowhere if you haven’t read Daemonslayer.  I would say that Dragonslayer did feel like a bit of a bridging novel in places, especially as it continued several plot points from Daemonslayer while also taking the time to set up a potentially bigger evil in the next book, but I still had a lot of fun with it.  I still really believe that the Gotrek and Felix novels are an excellent place for new Warhammer fans to start out, especially as they mostly read like classic fantasy novels rather than intense tie-in reads.  The readers get some great details about the extended Warhammer Fantasy universe here, and King expertly introduces several key locations while also featuring some of the more recognisable factions.  I really appreciate how King makes sure to reintroduce all these races in each of his novels, and it ensures that new readers can appreciate what is going on and why certain factions are acting the way they do.  This ended up being a particularly strong Gotrek and Felix entry, and I cannot wait to see what happens in this universe next.

Dragonslayer has a rather interesting cast headlined by the two central characters, Gotrek and Felix, who have another great adventure here.  Gotrek is his usual gruff self in this novel, and you don’t get a lot of development surrounding him in Dragonslayer, especially as King never shows his perspective, no doubt to highlight his secret past and the aura of unbreakable strength and confidence he gives off.  Felix, on the other hand, gets most of the plot’s attention, and it was fun to see him continue to grow as a character.  While he still has certain understandable apprehensions about the quests he follows Gotrek on, Felix has grown into quite a capable adventurer over the last few books, and it was fun to see him accompany his friend into near-certain death once again.  I enjoyed the intriguing storyline around his magical sword which was quietly introduced in the first book and which reaches its full potential here as a dragon-slaying item.  I also enjoyed the compelling examinations of Felix’s personality and resolve, especially when it comes to the oath he swore to Gotrex, as he is forced to make some big decisions here when faced with an alternate future.

Dragonslayer also features a fun supporting cast, including several intriguing characters from Daemonslayer who get an extended role here.  This includes Felix’s love interest (and the only significant female character), the Kislev noblewoman Ulrika, who ends up accompanying the main protagonists on their latest adventure.  Ulrika is an interesting character who I have mixed feelings about during the book.  While I did like how King featured a strong and complex female character (something lacking from some of his previous novels), I honestly could not stand the terrible romance that she has with Felix.  The two of them continuously bounce from being madly in love to hating each other over petty things, and it ends up getting annoyingly repetitive.  This terrible relationship made me hate Ulrika a little as the book progressed, and I kind of wanted her to get eaten by the dragon (in my defence, it would have made for a good dramatic moment).

Another character who got an expanded role in this book was the human wizard Max Schreiber, who becomes quite an intriguing addition to the plot.  Max becomes a key part of the team in this book, and his insight into magic and the wider events of the Warhammer Fantasy universe are great additions to the plot, helping to expand the reader’s knowledge.  At the same time, Max also comes across as a bit of a creeper due to his unrequited love of Ulrika, which causes him to do some stupid things.  You honestly start to worry that Max is going to do something sinister as the story continues, and I have no doubt that will become a major plot point in the future.

I also must quickly mention the mad dwarf engineer Malakai, who goes on a fun mission of vengeance here in this book to fight the dragon who crashed his beloved airship.  Malakai, who speaks with a Scottish brogue just to make him seem even wilder, is a deeply entertaining figure in this book, combining a Slayer’s death wish with a love of advanced weaponry.  It was so much fun to see this insane character advancing on his foes with explosives and giant guns, and I am still laughing about his cart-loaded gatling gun.

While there is a great focus on recurring characters, King also spend some time introducing several interesting new characters.  The best of these are the four new dwarf Slayer characters, Steg, Bjorni Bjornisson, Ulli Ullisson and Grimme, who accompany the protagonists on their quest to slay the dragon.  All four Slayers have diverse personalities, backgrounds and fun quirks that make them interesting in their own way.  King ends up doing a lot with these four characters in the 100 or so pages that they end up being featured, and there are some great story arcs drawn around them.  I quite enjoyed the compelling narrative around Ulli, a young dwarf forced to become a Slayer for his cowardice, especially as it had a good resolution.  I also must highlight Bjorni’s constant lewd stories and declarations, which add so many laughs to the book, especially as he makes some outrageous claims about his romantic conquests.  I did think he could have done a little more with the intriguing and incredibly taciturn Grimme, but overall these four characters were great additions to the plot and I look forward to seeing some of them again in the future.

The final characters I need to point out are the extremely amusing antagonist team of Grey Seer Thanquol and his minion Lurk Snitchtongue, two skaven characters who serve as secondary antagonists for Dragonslayer.  Thanquol and Lurk are really amusing characters who perfectly encapsulate the snivelling and duplicitous skaven race, with their constant talk of betrayal, self-gain and incompetence.  It is always so much fun seeing the two of them at it, and every one of their scenes is chock full of hilarious statements and continuous thoughts of treachery.  King adds in a very fun change to the dynamic between these two characters in Dragonslayer, with the previously small and deferential Lurk having been mutated into a massive beast, which gives him increased confidence.  This makes him strongly consider killing Thanquol several times throughout the book, and the two are constantly eyeing each other off.  This proves to be a hilarious addition to the plot, and I loved seeing Thanquol on the back foot with his minion after two books of pushing him around.  While they are not the most dangerous of villains at this point, they do make for an intriguing alternate viewpoint, especially as their storylines are mostly separate from that of the protagonists.  While they are a tad detached from the main narrative, their encounters and experiences add to the general tapestry of the series and help to set up the villains of the next Gotrek and Felix book.

With Dragonslayer by William King, the Gotrek and Felix books continue to impress me as one of the all-time best and most enjoyable Warhammer tie-in series.  I had an amazing time getting through this cool book, especially as it features all the best aspects of the series, including tons of fun action, great characters, and major Warhammer Fantasy settings.  Readers are guaranteed to have a blast with this book, and I loved every single second of danger, combat and dragon fighting Dragonslayer contained.  A fun and fantastic read, I look forward to checking out the rest of the books in this series, especially the fifth entry, Beastslayer.

WWW Wednesday – 29 December 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 Judge’s List by John Grisham (Trade Paperback)

The Judge's List Cover

I started reading this fun thriller from bestselling author John Grisham today and I am really getting into it.  The Judge’s List has a fantastic narrative about a serial killer judge with a great, slow-burn investigation into his crimes.  I have already powered through more than 100 pages today and I am hoping to finish it off soon. A great read that I would strongly recommend.

 

Never by Ken Follett (Audiobook)

Never Cover

I also recently started the new thriller by impressive author Ken Follett, Never.  This is an interesting book from Follett that envisions a potential scenario that could lead to World War III.  I mostly know Follett from his massive historical fiction reads, but I am rather enjoying this interesting and intense thriller novel.  I haven’t made an amazing amount of progress on this audiobook but I am hoping to make a dent in it soon and I am very curious to see how Never turns out.

What did you recently finish reading?

Dragonslayer by William King

Dragonslayer Cover

 

Resistance by Mara Timon

Resistance Cover

 

Leviathan Falls by James S. A. Corey

Leviathan Falls Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?

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

A Practical Guide to Conquering the World 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.