All of Our Demise by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

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Publisher: Gollancz (Trade Paperback – 30 August 2022)

Series: All of Us Villains – Book Two

Length: 470 pages

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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After wowing the world with their first collaboration, 2021’s All of Us Villains, the superstar young adult fiction team of Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman return with the second book in their impressive duology, All of Our Demise, one of the most anticipated young adult fantasy releases of the year.

For generations, seven prominent families of the city of Ilvernath have each sacrificed one of their children to a legendary death tournament, the winner of which would secure the extremely powerful high magick for their family.  However, this latest tournament has not turned out like anyone expected.  Already exposed to the world thanks to a tell-all book, some of the champions, led by the seemingly heroic Briony Thorburn, are determined to break free from the bloody tournament that has long haunted their families.  But as they attempt to break the curse that binds the tournament to them by destroying the enchanted artefacts and locations associated with their families, their actions will have unexpected consequences on all around them.

For the first time in its history, the magical Blood Veil that physically separates the participants from the outside world has been broken and now everyone can witness the tournament unfold.  As reporters and members of the public swarm into the historic battleground as witnesses, the participants can return to Ilvernath and seek help from those in town.  The destruction of the Blood Veil seems proof that Briony’s plan is working, but not everyone wants the curse to end.

After the miraculous resurrection of his murdered brother, Hendry, Alistair Lowe believes that the only way he can keep Hendry alive is by winning the tournament.  After murdering his entire evil family and after being cursed by the girl he fell for, Alistair finds himself isolated with Hendry, unsure how to proceed.  However, he soon finds himself working with a surprising new ally in Gavin Grieve, the boy no-one expected to survive, and who has his own desperate reasons for working with the Lowes.  At the same time, the formerly glamorous Isobel Macaslan finds herself drawn to the mysterious Reid MacTavish, whose manipulation of the champions has brought nothing but trouble.  Determined to help Briony destroy the tournament, Isobel will break all the rules to survive, even if that means drafting Reid in against his will.

As the battle lines are drawn and the two groups of champions attempt to path their respective courses to victory, they find unexpected obstacles blocking their way.  Not only are the champions’ manipulative families attempting to sway events to their favour, but the media is determined to make all of them infamous in their own way.  Forced to battle each other both in the tournament and in the field of public opinion, the champions will face unbelievable tragedy and despair as they all try to survive.  However, the biggest threat to all of them may come from outside the tournament, and no-one is prepared for the evils waiting for them in the wider world.

Foody and Lynn Herman have delivered quite an impressive sequel here with All of Our Demise, which presents the reader with another epic and powerful story.  Building on the elaborate narrative and character arcs of All of Us Villains, All of Our Demise takes the reader on an exceptional emotional rollercoaster as they watch four extremely complex and distinctive point-of-view characters battle in impossible circumstances.  All of Our Demise ends up being just as good, if not a little better, than Foody and Lynn Herman’s first impressive outing, and it provides readers with an outstanding and memorable conclusion to this captivating young adult fantasy duology.

I’m still reeling a little bit about how All of Our Demise’s story turned out.  Foody and Lynn Hermann did a remarkable job with this sequel and the story continues seamlessly on from the events of the first book.  Told from the perspective of the four main characters, the death tournament focus of the story has evolved due to the events of All of Us Villains and the characters are now forced to contend with outside forces as they fight in an extended battleground.  The protagonists are now split down the middle as some fight to destroy the tournament for good, while they others try to keep it alive so they can win, either for their own survival or to save those closest to them.  All four protagonists have some brilliant character driven storylines around them, and each of them is fighting for something important to them, whether it be redemption, family, reputation, or respect.  In addition, the protagonists are still reeling from the events of All of Us Villains, and no-one has been left emotionally or physically untouched from the events of the first book.  This results in an emotionally heavy storyline, especially once everyone gets a taste of betrayal, either from the other champions or from other malign figures outside of the main group.  The story evolves at a great pace, and the authors chuck in some imaginative and clever twists as each group starts to get closer to their goal.  New relationships are built while others are torn down, and there are some very intense moments as scorned friends finally confront each other over past betrayals.  Everything leads up perfectly to the big conclusion, where there are some big sacrifices and some major changes in the lives of every protagonist as they reach their endgame.  I really appreciated how this impressive story came together, and you will be left shocked, moved and very satisfied with how this outstanding duology came to an end.

I think the excellent team of Foody and Lynn Herman did a remarkable job pulling All of Our Demise together, and this was an extremely well-written book.  As I mentioned above, this is a pretty epic sequel, and the authors strike off right after the cool cliff-hanger that All of Us Villains ended on.  All the great story elements from the first book are seamlessly continued here, and I really appreciated being able to jump straight into the narrative again.  While the authors do ensure that there is some exposition so that readers can remember what happened in the first book, I would say that All of Our Demise is a bit of a harder book to enjoy if you haven’t read All of Us Villains first.  There are some story and character gaps featured here that might be a bit hard to follow without having read the first book, so I would definitely recommend checking that out first.  Once you are into this story, there really isn’t a slow moment, as the characters are constantly engaged in some form of action, the enhanced intrigue surrounding the event, or a deep examination of their psyche and relationships, especially as they continue to examine the terrible events they have found themselves in.  While All of Our Demise is a bit of a brick, you honestly are never left feeling bored or stuck, and you frankly can’t help but move forward as you are drawn into this elaborate tale.  I really think that the split between the four protagonists is handled perfectly as well, and it ensures you get a well-balanced narrative and substantial time to dive into their respective and impressive character arcs.  This was one of those young adult novels that has a lot of appeal both for its target teen audience, and much older readers, as everyone will deeply appreciate its clever storylines and deeply relatable characters.  I felt that All of Our Demise came together exceptionally well, and this ended up being quite an outstanding and addictive read.

I must make special note of the cool death tournament that is such a fantastic feature of this amazing duology.  I love a great young adult death tournament scenario (who doesn’t?), and the one featured in All of Us Villains and All of Our Demise is particularly inventive, loaded with a unique history, fun magical features, and all manner of devastating tragedy.  I was really impressed with how the authors set up and featured this elaborate tournament in the previous book, and they continue to utilise it throughout All of Our Demise.  The constant fight to survive the lethal tournament becomes even more complicated throughout this second book, and it was fascinating to see how the characters deal with the pressure and the constant war they find themselves in.  There are some excellent features of the tournament that come into play in this second book, including the new magical artefacts and locations featured within that give them varying advantages.  These are generally short lived as the champions are determined to destroy them all, which not only requires them to learn more of their various family’s dark histories but forces them to engage in deadly challenges built into the tournament to destroy it.  These challenges are pretty epic, and it was great to see the protagonists involved in progressively more lethal encounters.

However, the most distinctive and entertaining change to the tournament that occurred in All of Our Demise was the sudden lack invasion of the public that occurred due to the breaking of the Blood Veil barrier.  The tournament has always historically been a private affair between the champions, but now the entire battle is a worldwide sensation being constantly reported on by the media.  It was quite fascinating and a little maddening to see the supposed sombre death tournament devolve further into a gaudy spectacle, equipped with baying fans, manipulative outsiders and a ton of paparazzi, all of whom have a very different view of the events occurring.  I particularly enjoyed seeing the ridiculous media coverage that occurred throughout this second part of the tournament, especially as various over-the-top and often blatantly false headlines and discussions of current tournament events appeared at the start of every chapter, replacing the quotes from the tell-all book that were featured in All of Us Villains.  This media coverage nearly always painted the complex characters in such a terrible light for the rest of world, which was a little hard to see, especially after you have become quite attached to the various protagonists.  However, I personally felt that it drew me into the narrative a little more, and it was a very entertaining and fun element that I had an amazing amount of fun with.  This media coverage had an interesting impact on the events of the narrative, as the characters are forced to conduct interviews and discussions with reporters to further their goals.  This entire change in the publicity of the tournament was a brilliant addition to this second book, and it altered the tone of the book in an impressive and amazing way, that really added to my enjoyment of the book.

However, the best thing about All of Our Demise was the exceptional character work featured within.  Foody and Lynn Herman did such a brilliant job setting up the four complex protagonists in All of Us Villains, and these impressive character arcs are continued seamlessly in the sequel, with each of the protagonists forced to deal with some of the further traumas that were inflicted on them in the first book.  All of Our Demise maintains the same four point-of-view characters as before, and I found myself instantly connected to them again as I remembered their compelling history and the devastating events that occurred to them in the first book.  The authors continued to perfectly build these characters throughout All of Our Demise, subjecting them to further trauma, emotional concerns and hardships, and watching them try to deal with these as they fight for their survival is a key and impressive part of this epic young adult book.

Probably the most compelling character in the entire duology is Alistair Lowe, who simultaneously plays the role of the best antagonist and an intriguing and likeable protagonist.  Alistair is the oldest son of the Lowe family, who are generally considered to be the major villains of the tournament.  Despite being raised from birth to be a monster, Alistair was hesitant about his role in the tournament and was initially a reluctant participant, even though he knew it was his destiny.  Thanks to his romantic interactions with fellow champion Isobel and the murder of his brother Hendry by his family to boost his chances, Alistair had a brief brush as being a hero and destroying the tournament with the others.  However, the apparent resurrection of Hendry by the tournament at the end of All of Us Villains caused Alistair to abandon his allies and attempt to kill Isobel as he believes their plan would result in his brother dying again.  Now fatally cursed and having taken brutal revenge on his family, Alistair is forced to re-envision himself as the villain once again to convince himself to kill the other champions, all to save the most important person in his life.

It is very hard not to appreciate Alistair as character as the authors have done an incredible job creating him and turning him into the most complex figure in the novel.  The authors really did a number on Alistair in the last book, and watching him try and work through all these issues here is extremely powerful, especially as he keeps experiencing more setbacks and traumas as he proceeds.  There is so much tragedy and emotional turmoil surrounding Alistair in this book, and the authors write an excellent arc around him for this sequel.  Watching him try to balance his desires and true nature with everyone’s perspective of him as a monster is just so damn fascinating and moving, and you can’t help but feel sorry for this fictional character.  I am glad that Foody and Lynn Herman did work in a redemption arc for Alistair in All of Our Demise, and there are some surprising, but very heartfelt relationships surrounding him in this novel that help to keep him going.  I really think that the authors handled Alistair perfectly, and he is definitely the character that everyone will remember once they finish this book.

Another character who you fall in love with Isobel Macaslan, another person who has gone through absolute hell through the course of the books.  Forced into the tournament against her will, Isobel tried to use her sudden infamy to her benefit and projected an air of confidence before the tournament, despite being terrified and used by her family.  Since then, she had an unfortunate romantic entanglement with Alistair Lowe which resulted in him murdering her.  Resurrected by a dark curse that makes her more corpse than woman, Isobel is in a very bad place during this book.  Still controlled by doubt and despair, Isobel is uncertain about whether she believes in the plan her friends are proposing and spends most of the book coming to terms with her fears and her growing attachment to another dangerous character.  Throw in some major family issues, as she continues to struggle with her selfish family, and a hostile press who produce some typical paparazzi junk about her, and you some excellent and compelling moments around Isobel that are fascinating to see.  Isobel continues to experience quite a lot of tragedy in this novel and watching her power through them and try to fix all her damaged relationships is a great part of the plot.

The third point-of-view character is Briony Thorburn, who serves quite a key role in the plot.  Briony has seen herself as the hero her entire life and was the only person excited for the tournament.  However, after her younger sister was chosen in her place thanks to the machinations of the government, Briony illegally entered the tournament by incapacitating her sister and cutting her finger off.  Now determined to destroy the tournament, Briony leads the charge to destroy the artefacts and landmarks.  However, there are some major concerns about her actual motivations, as many assume this part of her manipulative hero complex.  Briony spends most of the book trying to redeem herself after the mistakes of the first novel, a task that is complicated by her own family, who have their own sinister plans for her and the other champions.  Mentally isolated and hated by the media, Briony has a terrible time in All of Our Demise, and the authors weave some powerful moments around her.  I honestly think that Briony had one of the best and most complete narratives in the entire series, and All of Our Demise brought her character arc together extremely well.  Like the rest of the cast, it is very hard not to grow attached to Briony as you witness her complicated physical and mental battles unfold, and I really appreciated the outstanding way it ended.

The final main character is Gavin Grieve, who proved to be one of the most surprising and captivating characters from the first book.  The chosen sacrifice of the one family who has never won the tournament, Gavin always knew he was destined to die.  Full of rage and resentment, Gavin chose to make a deal with the devil and accessed a dangerous form of magick that drained his own life to gain substantial power.  Made into a lethal contender but slowly dying, Gavin is convinced by outside forces that they can save him, but they require him to work with Alistair Lowe.  Forced to overcome his own prejudices, most of which revolve from the perceived disrespect of the other champions, Gavin grows close to Alistair, and they form an interesting team.  I was really surprised by the direction of Gavin’s storylines in this book, especially as there are some fantastic reveals and changes in personality.  The authors did a great job of explaining his changes in personality, and I felt that it was quite a natural transition, especially when you consider everything he’s gone through.  Gavin rounded out the central cast of damaged, complex protagonists, extremely well, and I thought that this was a brilliant combination of characters.  Their combined complex storylines and arcs are just superb, and while you might get a little more drawn in to one or two of the characters more than the rest, there is no perspective that you are actively wanting to avoid.  I cannot highlight just how impressive these four characters were, and Foody and Lynn Herman should be commended for the exceptional character work they did here.

The wonderful and insanely talented team of Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman have come up with something truly special with All of Our Demise.  Perfectly finishing the brilliant story started in All of Us Villains, All of Our Demise lived up to all the hype surrounding it and ended up being one of the best young adult fantasy books of the year.  Featuring all the great characters from the first book, Foody and Lynn Herman weave an addictive and deeply personal narrative around them that takes the reader back into the midst of a constantly evolving and deeply traumatising magical death tournament.  Intense, captivating and very complex, All of Our Demise is a highly recommended read, and I cannot have envisioned a better end for the exceptional young adult duology.

All of Our Demise Cover

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Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Discworld Novels by Terry Pratchett

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday required participants to list the top upcoming books on their Fall (Spring down here in the Southern hemisphere) to be read list.  However, I addressed that a couple of weeks ago, so that leaves me with a bit of a free topic this week.  I decided to fill this extra list by looking at one of my absolute favourite series of all time, the Discworld books by Terry Pratchett.

I have long been a fan of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, which, in my opinion, is one of the absolute best series of all time.  Made up of 41 separate novels and running from 1983 to 2015, the Discworld novels are a fantasy institution from one of the most talented authors ever.  Set on a flat world shaped like a disc that travels through space on the back of four elephants, who themselves stand on the back of a giant turtle, this world is filled with all manner of crazy and over-the-top people, creatures, gods and monsters, and this results in an amazing number of stories.  All 41 books feature amazing and highly unique story that perfectly blends outrageous fantasy elements with clever and relentless humour and satire.  I have read every Discworld novel multiple times, and in my opinion, everyone is a masterpiece in their own way.  Heck, I am such a big fan of this series that I even named this blog after a location in the Discworld universe, that’s how much I love them.

While the Discworld novels are never that far from my mind, I have been thinking about them a lot more lately, mainly because I have been featuring some of them on my recent top ten lists.  My lists that highlighted my favourite Books with Magical Schools, Favourite Books Written More than Ten Years Ago and Hilarious Book Titles have all featured a few Discworld books, and it turns out I have a hard time not going on about Pratchett’s work on a weekly basis.  Naturally, this has gotten me thinking more and more about the Discworld books, and I will probably embark on a new re-read of them sooner or later.  However, before I get around to that, I thought I would have a go at listing my absolute favourite Discworld novels, as that will make an interesting list.

Now, why I deeply enjoy this entire series, not all Discworld novels are created equal.  Several shine above the rest in my opinion, whether because they have better jokes, a more compelling plot, or a more impressive and elaborate premise.  As such, I felt reasonably confident that I could choose the ten entries (with some honourable mentions) that I enjoy the most.  I have based this list on several factors, including humour, plot, world-building, characters and many other features.  This allowed me to determine my favourite Discworld books, although I had to make some hard choices to settle on a final top ten, as all of them are very good.  I was eventually able to whittle it down to my list, and I think the results match my overall preference rather well.  While most of them are from Pratchett’s golden years and are in the middle of the Discworld release back, I think there is a good variety here, and that the list below really showcases the outstanding and amazing depth that Pratchett always had.  So let us see what made the cut.

Honourable Mentions:

Interesting Times – 1994

Interesting Times Cover

A rambling good read that sees one of Pratchett’s most iconic protagonists visit this world’s version of Asia.  Loaded with some brilliant jokes (the multiple translations of a person’s scream), a ton of fun references to Asian culture, and some outrageous characters, Interesting Times is an excellent read that also offers a little closure for the first two Discworld books.

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Feet of Clay – 1996

Feet of Clay Cover

The third City Watch novel, Feet of Clay is a brilliant murder mystery novel that makes full use of its fantasy and comedy to create an epic read.  Featuring several great mysteries, including a series of murders committed by a Golem and the poisoning of the city’s ruler, you really get dragged into the story while loving Pratchett’s excellent solutions and hilarious inclusions.

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The Truth – 2000

The Truth Cover

Pratchett introduces print journalism to the Discworld in this clever standalone entry.  Following an ambitious reporter who creates Ankh-Morpork’s first newspaper, only to get dragged into a big conspiracy, The Truth is an ambitious and very exciting entry that perfectly parodies everything about newspapers.  Loaded with jokes about everything from dodgy advertisers, stupid human interest pieces, and even featuring a trashy alternate paper, this is perfect for anyone familiar with the crazy newspapers of London.

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Night Watch – 2002

Night Watch Cover

Another exceptional City Watch book is the later entry, Night Watch, which sees Vimes, transported back into the past by magic with a dangerous serial killer.  Forced to relive his traumatic early days on the watch, Vimes must keep his younger self alive while also navigating a dangerous revolution he remembers all too well.  With a compelling narrative that mirrors Les Misérables and some great time-travel elements, Night Watch is one of the more distinctive reads in the series.  While it gets a lot darker than some of the other Discworld novels, it is still extremely addictive, and fits into the rest of the series perfectly

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Top Ten List:

Pyramids – 1989

Pyramids Cover

The first entry on my top ten list is the classic Pratchett novel, Pyramids.  A standalone entry in the series, Pyramids tells the story of a young prince of a river valley kingdom, very similar to Egypt, who returns home after receiving training as an assassin in Ankh-Morpork (the biggest city on the Discworld and a major setting).  Upon claiming the throne, he tries to fight against the tradition of his kingdom, with limited effect, until the kingdom’s overuse of pyramids creates major temporal issues for the entire valley (its all down to bad geometry).  Loaded with so many jokes about ancient Egypt, this is a hilarious fish-out-of-water tale that is very hard to put down.  There are a ton of great moments in this novel, including the best look at the legendary Assassin’s Guild, an impromptu rugby game between the gods over the sun (with commentary from an overexcited priest), and an army of mummies pissed off at being buried without their organs.  I have probably read this Discworld novel the most out of any of them, and I get something new out of it every time I pick it up.  An exceptional, and extremely funny read.

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Guards! Guards! – 1989

Guards! Guards! Cover

One of the more interesting aspects of the Discworld series is the way that Pratchett featured several smaller sub-series which follow specific characters.  My favourite of these is easily the City Watch books, which follow the underpaid and constantly underestimated watchmen of the infamous, crime-ridden city of Ankh-Morpork.  Perfectly blending Pratchett’s typical humour and fantasy elements with hard-boiled detective narratives, the City Watch books are some of the best entries in this series, and I love the unique blend of characters and highly entertaining and enthralling narratives.  The first City Watch entry, Guards! Guards! is definitely one of Pratchett’s best novels, and I constantly rave about it when I do lists about funny books.  Not only does it do a great job introducing several iconic characters who Pratchett would reuse throughout the rest of the series, but it has an outstanding narrative to it.  Following the depleted and useless Night Watch, made up of a drunk captain, a hopeless sergeant and a criminally minded corporal as they attempt to solve a series of murders caused by a magically summoned dragon.  Joined by a new eager, if slightly oblivious new recruit, who definitely isn’t the city’s returning king, the Night Watch embark on an ambitious investigation against cultists, dragon hunters and city’s massive criminal class.  Guards! Guards! is fantastic on so many levels, and there is something for everyone in it.

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Moving Pictures – 1990

Moving Pictures Cover

One of the things that the Discworld novels excel at is parody and satire of certain social, historical or cultural elements, with everything from countries, ancient empires and entire trades lovingly mocked.  Perhaps one of the best examples of this is Moving Pictures, a mostly standalone read that sees the art of film appear on the Discworld, becoming an instant hit.  Soon an alternate version of Hollywood appears, and various characters jump at the chance to make over-the-top films, which are accompanied by a vast array of jokes and references about classic movies, film making tropes and actors.  Naturally for a Discworld book, nothing is what it seems, and the heroes are forced to face off against interdimensional monsters coming out of the screens.  In addition, the iconic Unseen University setting gets some stability as a new Arch-Chancellor arrives, shaking up the wizards.  I love this book on so many levels, especially as Pratchett has so much fun satirising the film industry here.  Everything is lampooned here, such as Gone with the Wind (accompanied with subliminal advertising), King Kong (except a giant woman kidnaps an ape), The Wizard of Oz (the dwarfs of the Discworld will never be the same again), and so much more.  I can’t even count the sheer number of movie references featured here, and I discover a new clever joke every time I read Moving Pictures.  Pratchett also manages to introduce or expand on several great secondary characters who will go on to have major roles in other books in the series, so it turns out to be a surprisingly key book.  Impressive and wonderful on so many levels, Moving Pictures was an easy inclusion for this list.

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Witches Abroad – 1991

Witches Abroad Cover

Another one of the top Discworld sub-series is the Witches books, which unsurprisingly follows a group of witches (Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick), in several unique adventures.  Unlike the characters they are based on from Macbeth, the witches are a force for good and help the local villages primarily with headology (psychology and folk medicine parcelled up with mystical overtones) and the occasional magic.  The witches make for an excellent group of central characters, and Pratchett told some exceptional stories with them.  While Wyrd Sisters and Lords and Ladies are both pretty epic reads, my favourite Witches book is Witches Abroad.  As the name suggests, this book see the three protagonists embark on a holiday to a faraway kingdom (essentially New Orleans), to fulfil a fairy godmother’s last wish.  Along the way they are forced to confront a series of twisted fairy tale scenarios, their own internal bickering, and an evil fairy godmother from Granny Weatherwax’s past.  Armed only with a wand that is permanently set to pumpkin mode, the witches must deploy their usual trickery to save the day.  This entire novel is pretty epic, as it not only captures the protagonists in all their amazing glory, but it has a powerful story that expertly blends humour and drama.  A lot of the narrative focuses on the dark side of fairy tales, and Pratchett has fun satirising so many classic stories in very clever ways.  However, my favourite scene is the fantastic sequence where Granny Weatherwax uses headology to completely destroy a group of card sharks who had conned her friends.  Extremely inventive, memorable and oh so funny, I just had to feature Witches Abroad here.

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Small Gods – 1992

Small Gods Cover

The next entry on this list is in my opinion, some of Pratchett’s best work.  The 13th Discworld novel, Small Gods has a standalone narrative which sees Pratchett examine religion and belief.  The story follows Brutha, a somewhat simple lad who lives in a vast imperial theocracy that is centred around the worship of the Great God Om.  However, Brutha is shocked when he discovers a talking tortoise only he can understand who claims to be the actual Om.  Forced to take the tortoise along on a great adventure, Brutha discovers the corruption at the heart of his empire and must fight to save it, himself, and his god.  This is a particularly clever novel from Pratchett and a very worth addition to this list.  The author pulls together a very thoughtful and captivating read that examines the various pros and cons of religion, worship and gods in a very thoughtful, but still humorous way.  The mixture of theological debate, adventure, and the brilliant satire of religion, results in a very impressive read, and it is guaranteed to leave you both laughing and pensive at the same time.  The book’s main strength is the outstanding interactions of the two main characters, and the growing relationship between an arrogant put powerless god, and his simple but deeply wise believer, sets an impressive tone for the entire book.  I would say that Small Gods is one of the most intelligent and compelling books of the entire Discworld series and I cannot hype it up enough.

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Men at Arms – 1993

Men At Arms Cover

After wowing everyone with Guards! Guards! Pratchett mercifully brought back the City Watch characters and storylines again with a fantastic sequel, Men at Arms.  This book sees a retiring Captain Vimes and his team try and stop a madman who is running around the city killing people with the Disc’s first gun.  Featuring another exceptional mystery that involves assassins, clowns and a literal species war between dwarfs and trolls, Pratchett switches the tone of this book from the hardboiled detective story of Guards! Guards! to a more typical police narrative like Dirty Harry.  Loaded with fantastic cop humour and introducing several great new characters, Men at Arms is just as good as the first City Watch book, while also expertly setting up some story elements for the rest of the series.  Guaranteed to appeal to both fantasy fans and crime fiction buffs, Men at Arms is one hell of a read.

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Hogfather – 1996

Hogfather Cover

All Pratchett fans will know that one of the most surprising loveable recurring characters in the entire Discworld series is Death, the literal grim reaper, who appears in pretty much every book.  Initially shown to as a resolute soul taker, Death evolves into quite a personable and likeable figure who is obsessed with the humans he’s tasked with reaping.  This obsession eventually compels him to adopt a daughter and take on an apprentice, which leads to the first Death book, Mort.  Pratchett wrote several Death novels over his career, many of which dealt with Death’s growing love of humanity, while also involving attacks on reality by outside forces.  While I have a lot of love for Reaper Man and Soul Music, my favourite Death novel is probably Hogfather.  After the Hogfather (this universe’s version of Santa) is murdered, Death steps into the role for unknown reasons.  This forces his granddaughter, Susan, to investigate the disappearance and try to bring back the Hogfather.  This results in an extremely entertaining and silly book that satirises all things Christmas and festive in one fantastic outing.  Most of the humour revolves around Death pretending to be Santa, which leads to all manner of confusion and fear, that is so much fun to see.  Throw in a very memorable villain and a great secondary storyline around the crazy wizards at the Unseen University accidently inventing gods, and this is one of the funniest books in the series.  A very entertaining and compelling Discworld novel, you will never look at Christmas the same again after reading it.

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Jingo – 1997

Jingo Cover

For the next entry on this list, Jingo, I must admit that my choice to include it here might be for more personal reasons, rather than purely on the quality of the book.  That is because Jingo was the first Pratchett book I ever properly read, and it has led to my subsequent lifelong obsession with all things Discworld.  I still have my first copy of Jingo, and it is extra special for me because I managed to get Terry to sign it for me.  So yeah, I might be a little biased when it comes to Jingo, but I maintain it is a worthy addition to this list as it has a brilliant and hilarious story to it.  The fourth entry in the City Watch sub-series, Jingo sees Commander Vimes and his men caught up in a brewing war between Ankh-Morpork and the rival empire of Klatch when both claim a mysterious new island that rose in the ocean between them.  After an attempted assassination of a Klatchian prince occurs on Vimes’ watch, he leads the city watch in an impromptu invasion of Klatch to find the killer and stop the war.  I deeply enjoyed Jingo’s brilliant and very clever story and it was a very worthy addition to the City Watch series.  The humour in Jingo is a bit more subtle than some of Pratchett’s other novels, with most of the jokes satirising British imperialism, diplomacy, politics, and its view of foreigners, with a ton of references to historical wars and conflicts that Britain had against its neighbours.  While some of the jokes are a tad obscure, they are all extremely well set up, and they always get a chuckle out of me.  Throw in some brilliant references about a lone bowman assassin, an espionage mission with Sergeant Colon and a cross-dressing Corporal Nobbs that has mixed success, and the always charismatic Captain Carrot turning into Lawrence of Arabia and arresting two entire armies for breaches of the peace, and you have a really entertaining narrative.  Jingo is always a must read for me whenever I revisit the Discworld universe, as well as being an essential entry in the deeply impressive City Watch books that comes highly recommended.

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The Last Continent – 1998

The Last Continent Cover

Another Pratchett book that I have a little bias for is The Last Continent, which is probably one of my absolute favourite Discworld novels.  The sixth book to feature the cowardly wizzard (not a typo) Rincewind as its protagonist, The Last Continent takes place on the lost continent of XXXX, which is essentially the Discworld’s version of Australia (despite certain assurances from the author that any similarities to Australia are coincidental at best).  This book follows Rincewind after he is tricked into another heroic quest that sees him traverse the continent, often mimicking various Australian folk heroes or cultural icons.  At the same time, the wizards of Unseen University, in an attempt to find Rincewind, get themselves trapped back in time and must escape from an enthusiastic god of evolution with their usual chaotic shenanigans.  Pratchett has a lot of fun with The Last Continent, and there isn’t a single piece of Australian culture or history that he doesn’t make fun of here.  As an Australian myself, I can’t help but laugh at all his fun and well-written Australian jokes and it was interesting to see his British take on my country.  I also have a lot of love for the evolution centred jokes that occur during the secondary storyline, many of which I didn’t fully appreciate until after I studied biology at university.  This is probably one of the better Rincewind novels as well, especially as the character now full appreciates his role in the universe, and his resentment at being dragged into a heroic quest is quite hilarious.  Him, plus the fantastically written Unseen University wizards, make for a sensational cast, and their two storylines come together perfectly.  There is no way that I can exclude Pratchett’s love-letter to Australia from this list, and it will always have a very special place in my heart.

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Going Postal – 2004

Going Postal Cover

The final entry on the list is Going Postal, which I feel is one of Pratchett’s best later books.  Featuring a very different tone from some of his previous books, Going Postal is a very distinctive read that is very hard not to enjoy.  Introducing a new protagonist in Moist von Lipwig, a notorious conman who is captured by Ankh-Morpork’s tyrannical leader, Lord Vetinari, and given two options: death or running the city’s post office.  Reluctantly choosing the later, Lipwig soon lives to regret his decision, as everyone and everything associated with the post office is absolutely crazy.  Forced to use all his talent, skill and instincts as a conman to save the post, Lipwig tries to rise to the occasion, only to contend with the ruthless chairman of a rival company who is determined to kill him.  It is a testament to Pratchett’s writing skill that he could make anything, even the post office, ruthlessly entertaining, as you swiftly fall in love with the hilarious over-the-top employees and associates of this crazy establishment.  Lipwig himself is the perfect protagonist for this book, and Pratchett wrote a brilliant redemptive storyline around him as he attempts to save his new friends with all his old tricks.  While this book is extremely funny, I also felt that Going Postal benefited from a somewhat darker tone than the preceding books, while  Pratchett also examines the benefits and costs of progress and new technology.  This darker tone would persist for the rest of Pratchett’s adult Discworld novels, and I have often thought that Pratchett included it in response to his growing health issues.  As such, I often look on Going Postal with a little sadness, especially as it was probably the best book he wrote towards the end of his career.  However, despite that, Going Postal is probably one of the Discworld books I have read the most and I would strongly recommend it to anyone and everyone interested in this outstanding series.

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So, as you can see from this exceptionally long list, I have a lot of love for the Discworld series and can write a ton about all the books.  While I deeply enjoy all the Discworld novels, the ten featured above are my absolute favourite now, and I cannot recommend them enough, especially if you want a laugh or an uplifting tale to brighten your day.  This is a list I might come back to in the future, especially if I do another reread and re-evaluate my positions.  I have been thinking about trying to read all of them again soon, especially as I recently found out that the Discworld audiobooks have all been re-released, this time with an amazing voice cast, including Colin Morgan, Peter Serafinowicz, Billy Nighy, Andy Serkis and Indira Varma.  As such, stay tuned for more reviews of the Discworld books soon, and I look forward to returning to my ultimate comfort book series.  In the meantime, let me know what your favourite Discworld book is in the comments below.

Guest Review – The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J. R. R. Tolkien (Audiobook)

For this Throwback Thursday we have a rare treat with a guest review from my awesome editor/wife, Alex.  Long-time readers of this blog may remember that Alex previously provided some guest reviews of books like The Power and The Testaments, although she hasn’t provided us with anything for a long while (don’t worry, I’ve judged her very harshly because of this, so much judgement!!!).  Alex recently endeavoured to read all three The Lord of the Rings books, and I of course convinced her into writing a review for them.  I think her review below is pretty awesome (I may be slightly biased), and it has made me interested in listening to the latest audiobook version of The Lord of the Rings novels.

Publisher: HarperCollins and Recorded Books – Audiobook

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Fellowship of the Rings

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First of all, this is not really a review of The Lord of the Rings. You don’t need me to tell you that these books are good, and Tolkien scholars have already built up mountains of literary analysis over the decades. This is instead a review of one particular way to enjoy the story: the audiobook edition recently published by HarperCollins and Recorded Books and narrated by Andy Serkis.

But I should say that this review is written from the perspective of someone who adores the Lord of the Rings movies but had never before read the books. I loved reading The Hobbit as a kid, and the cinematic masterpiece of The Fellowship of the Ring blew my 10-year-old mind. At that age, however, I found myself too impatient to enjoy the slower pace of the novel (not to mention the preliminary chapters on hobbit anthropology) but also too prideful to simply skip to ‘the good stuff’, so Fellowship was sent back to the library in frustration before Frodo had even reached the Prancing Pony. But recently watching The Rings of Power reminded me that I have been missing out on the full, glorious Tolkien canon experience.

The Lord of the Rings - The Two Towers Cover

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Regular readers of The Unseen Library will know that the Chief Librarian is constantly praising audiobooks as the very best way to absorb a story, so when I heard that there was a new edition narrated by Andy Serkis, I had to have it. And of course I loved it, as I always knew I would. The world Tolkien created is beautiful, and the themes, histories, cultures, languages, characters and journeys within defined an entire genre. The story is epic in the truest meaning of the word, but you already know that. Here instead let me answer two things you will want to know about this particular edition of the story:

  • Yes, it is unabridged.
  • Yes, he does the voices.

The first thing I checked before starting this audiobook was that it was an unabridged edition; if I were to finally read The Lord of the Rings, I would do it properly! This audiobook is actually an extension of a charity project in which Andy Serkis livestreamed himself reading The Hobbit to raise money for the NHS in the early days of the pandemic. This was followed up by an official reading of The Hobbit published later in 2020, and then The Lord of the Rings in 2021.

The Lord of the Rings - The Return of the King

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I can think of few more appropriate actors for this project than Andy Serkis. An audiobook demands a distinctive voice for each character, especially for a book with such an enormous cast of characters, and Serkis definitely delivers, seizing the opportunity to show off his acting talents. What’s more, he has made an effort to echo the voices of his fellow Lord of the Rings film alumni. For example, he affects a Scottish accent for Pippin, a West Country accent for Samwise and Merry, and a gruff Yorkshire brogue for Boromir. He gives Aragorn the same strong but quiet dignity Viggo Mortensen did, and he gives Frodo a higher, younger-sounding voice that echoes a 20-year-old Elijah Wood more than the 50-year-old Frodo of the books. And, of course, he reproduces the definitive portrayal of Gollum for which he has been so celebrated. As a fan of the films, I greatly appreciated these choices as it meant I didn’t have to recalibrate my imagining of the characters too greatly. It would have been rather distracting if, say, Merry sounded Scottish and Pippin didn’t, and I had to concentrate all the more simply to work out who was speaking. Instead I was able to relax and focus on simply enjoying the story.

Andy Serkis Picture 1

But while the voices are clearly based, for the most part, on those of the film actors, the performances are wholly informed by the text, and Serkis has made it his own. For example, whereas Ian McKellen almost whispered Gandalf’s final command, ‘Fly, you fools!’, Serkis performs the line as if shouted while falling from the great height of the Bridge of Khazad-dum. He brings the poetic prose and dialogue to life with amazing energy and passion. He uses a narrative voice that perfectly fits the text and adjusts the pacing of the telling according to each scene, keeping the story flowing and keeping the listener totally captivated. Each of the three books is a little over 20 hours long, but with the combined storytelling skills of Tolkien and Serkis mesmerising me I was never eager to hit the pause button and get back to real life, so it took only a few days for me to get through each book.

Andy Serkis Picture 2

Howard Shore’s brilliant film score sadly isn’t featured; instead, the audiobook relies wholly on the talents of Andy Serkis. The films were very sparing in their use of the songs Tolkien wrote, which made Pippin’s haunting ballad in The Return of the King all the more impactful. I was delighted that the songs are here performed in full and in the voices of their singers—no mean feat! I’m sure Serkis exhausted himself playing the boisterous Tom Bombadil in particular, whom I had always found quite tiresome, but Serkis gives him a mysterious charm. The songs are a core element of the books, giving us glimpses into Middle Earth’s cultures and histories that aren’t otherwise shared in the prose, and I’m so glad they’ve been given such a treatment.

Andy Serkis Picture 3

There are a few small drawbacks to an audio edition of these books. A few times I would have wanted to flip back a few pages to double-check my understanding of certain details (‘Hang on, was that the name of a person or a river?’), but that wasn’t all that easy to do without losing my place, at least not with the media software I was using. The other thing missing, because it could not possibly be reproduced in audio despite Andy Serkis’s considerable talent, is the maps of Middle Earth which usually feature in any Tolkien book. As a kid reading The Hobbit I would be constantly checking the map to trace the hero’s journey through the world. I can highly recommend the interactive map at lotrproject.com as a companion piece to this audiobook for those who wish to do the same.

The Lord of the Rings, as read by Andy Serkis, is the ultimate audiobook for fans of the films. I can highly recommend it to those who have never read the books before, and I’m sure it would be a similarly excellent experience for those who have and who would like to revisit the canon after watching The Rings of Power. I can only hope that Serkis completes the series with a reading of The Silmarillion and other supplementary works by Tolkien, because I am so in love with this telling of the story of Middle Earth that the 75-odd hours’ worth already recorded simply isn’t enough. I am so glad to finally say that I have read The Lord of the Rings; I only wish I had done it sooner.

Waiting on Wednesday – Khaos 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.  In this latest Waiting on Wednesday, I check out one of the most awesome upcoming books of 2022 the utterly insane sounding Khaos by Jeremy Robinson.

Khaos Cover

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Over the last year I have been getting very attached to the writings of the very skilled and highly inventive Jeremy Robinson.  Robinson has been a fantastic fixture of the science fiction thriller genre for years, writing several impressive series and standalone reads, including the Nemesis Saga and Chess Team novels, both of which sound really cool.  However, the novels that I have been getting into are part of Robinson’s latest series, the massive and elaborate Infinite Timeline series.

The Infinite Timeline books are a collection of epic and over-the-top reads that initially started off as standalone reads.  However, as the series continued, the books gradually became more interconnected, with characters from previous novels appearing in later entries, and the storylines started to merge.  This series was broken into three loosely connected groupings of books, all of which will lead up to combined novels.  So far, I have all enjoyed the excellent entries Tribe, The Dark and Mind Bullet (the latter two were amongst my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021), which were part of the same connected sub-series.  All three of these novels were very fun in their own right, with Tribe’s action-packed take on Greek demigods, The Dark’s intense and powerful horror narrative, and Mind Bullet’s ultra-fun adventure story about a telekinetic hitman.  I had an incredible time with these books, and I especially enjoyed Robinson’s fantastic style, especially as he combines some compelling concepts with intriguing characters, insane storylines, side-splitting humour, and a ton of crazy action, which is just so epic to behold.

As such, I have been very excited to see what awesome novels that Robinson planned to release this year, especially as the novels that combine some of the standalone plots and characters together were set for release this year.  Robinson has already released one book in 2022 with The Order, which had a very awesome concept to it.  Unfortunately, I didn’t end up reading The Order, mainly because I haven’t read the three books leading up to it (The Others, Flux and Exo Hunter), although I should probably also go back to the very start and read Infinite.  However, there is no way in hell that I am going to miss out on Robinson’s next book, Khaos.  Set for release in October 2022, Khaos will bring together all the characters from Tribe, The Dark and Mind Bullet in one exceptional sounding narrative.

Synopsis:

Several months after his neighborhood was cloaked in darkness and invaded by the demon-like denizens of a hellish world, life has returned to normal for Miah Gray, aka: Laser Chicken. No longer burdened by PTSD, he is free to enjoy his family and to help pick up the pieces of a pillaged world. And at night, he trains with his eight-year-old companion, Bree, aka: Demon Dog and their neighbors, Henry and Sarah, the god-like descendants of Helen of Sparta and the mythological Zeus.

All is calm…until new neighbors move in across the street and shatter the peace. Jonas, aka: Mind Bullet, a telekinetic assassin, and his artificial intelligence, Bubbles, are pursued by strange and powerful enemies. The neighborhood is rocked by sudden violence, but the unlikely heroes band together to save the residents once more. However, their victory is short-lived when it’s interrupted by the appearance of a superhuman figure who has been influencing their lives for years: Linda.

Aka: Zeus.

In classic mythology fashion, Zeus, supreme god of Olympus, sends them on an urgent quest: descend into the underworld, travel through the realm between worlds—Khaos, face whatever trials await, find the gate to Tartarus, and summon the gods and Titans residing there to war. A grave evil is coming, and only Earth’s oldest and most powerful heroes can stop it.

TO SAVE MANKIND…

…THEY MUST RAISE THE GODS.

Now this is a very awesome sounding book that is very typical of Robinson’s history of theatrical storylines.  I love the idea of a bizarre group of established protagonists coming together and then heading straight to hell (well Tartarus) to unleash the gods and Titans for the upcoming fight against the long-hinted series big bad.  There is so much potential for action and outrageous moments in this fantastic sounding story, and I can’t wait to see what happens during the travel through the Khaos and the eventual descent into Tartarus.  You have to imagine there are going to be a ton of obstacles and monsters straight out of Greek mythology there, as well as some hints at the upcoming big-bad that is going to need every hero in the Infinite Timeline to face off against.  I have a lot of faith that Robinson is going to come up with some very wacky and powerful, and I will no doubt end up getting very caught up in the story.

One of the other major aspects that I am interested in for Khaos is how Robinson is going to bring together the protagonists of three of his previous novels.  Tribe, The Dark and Mind Bullet had their own distinctive blend of characters, styles, and storylines, so seeing all this combined into one single story is going to be quite interesting.  This is probably going to result in several different point-of-view perspectives, and it will be intriguing to see how all these big personalities are going to get along and how they will perceive the weird people they are suddenly working with.  Throw in some potential interpersonal issues, such as one hero being a Titan and two others being Greek Gods whose ancestors are responsible for his parent’s imprisonment, and I imagine you are going to have a few bust-ups and fights.  I am extremely confident that Robinson will use this opportunity to continue the fantastic character development contained in the preceding three books, and it will be awesome to find out what happens to these damaged and unique protagonists next.

After having so much fun with the three Jeremy Robinson books leading up to Khaos, there is no chance that I will miss out on this upcoming book.  I loved everything about Tribe, The Dark and Mind Bullet, and I cannot wait to see how this chaotic combination with work out.  I am expecting The Dark to be one of the funniest and most action-packed novels of 2022, and I am very excited to see what new insanity and over-the-top adventure that Robinson will come up with next.  I will probably end up checking Khaos out in its audiobook format (due to the presence of one of my favourite narrators, R. C. Bray), and this is easily one of the books I am most looking forward to in the next few months.

The Coward by Stephen Aryan

The Coward Cover

Publisher: Angry Robot (Audiobook – 28 April 2021)

Series: Quest for Heroes – Book One

Length: 14 hours and 50 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Prepare for a legendary quest with a complex and damaged hero as bestselling author Stephen Aryan presents the first book in his new fantasy duology, The Coward.

Aryan is an awesome fantasy author who has been writing some great books over the last few years.  Aryan debuted back in 2015 with Battlemage, the first book in The Age of Darkness trilogy, which focused on a brutal magical war.  After finishing this initial trilogy, Aryan released a sequel trilogy, the Age of Dread trilogy, which was set 10 years after the events of the first trilogy, which focused on the consequences of the first trilogy, especially the fear and prejudice its magical war brought on every mage in this fantasy world.  I ended up reading the second book in this trilogy, Magefall, and quite enjoyed its interesting story.  Unfortunately, I never got a chance to finish the trilogy off or go back and check out some of the earlier books, which I kind of regret.  But I did get the chance last year to read the first book in his new series, The Coward, the first instalment of the Quest for Heroes duology.

Everyone in the Five Kingdoms knows the legend of Kell Kressia, the most renowned hero in all the lands.  At the young age of 17, Kell volunteered to join a band of legendary warriors and heroes on their greatest quest ever: travelling to the far north and killing the Ice Lich to save the world.  Twelve men ventured to the north, and only Kell returned, having slain the Ice Lich, leaving the land’s greatest heroes behind in death.  Kell’s fame as a hero spread throughout the land thanks to song and story.  However, not everything you hear in stories is true.

Ten years later, Kell is living the simple life on his family’s farm, content with the peace and quiet and avoiding people where possible.  However, fate has a funny way of catching up with heroes, and when word reaches the kingdoms of further trouble in the north, Kell is called for once again.  A terrible evil is said to have taken root in the fortress of the Ice Lich, and their power threatens the entire world.

Taking up his famous sword and ready to revisit the dangers up north, Kell sets out.  However, Kell is carrying a dark and desperate secret: he is no true hero; instead he is just a lucky man broken by his experiences and with no intention of returning to hell.  However, caught up in his own legend, and with a new band of heroes forming around him, Kell has no choice but to once again venture forth, even if it means his death.  Everyone is convinced that Kell will once again save the world, but can the hero win when he doesn’t even believe in himself?

This was a fantastic and clever fantasy novel from Aryan that I had an excellent time reading.  Aryan came up with an outstanding story for The Coward, based on a complex protagonist forced to relive his worst experiences.  I deeply enjoyed this cool novel and I managed to power through its entertaining and compelling narrative in no time at all.

The Coward has an awesome and captivating plot that quickly draws the reader in and ensures that they are held captive by the compelling quest.  I was honestly a fan of this book the moment I read the first line: “Kell Kressia, slayer of the Ice Lich and saviour of the Five Kingdoms, tripped on a rake and fell into a pile of horse shit.”  This perfectly set the scene for the entire novel, and showcased Aryan’s fun and compelling take on classic fantasy quest heroes.  The story initially develops primarily around Kell and showcases his severe emotional damage, as well as the fact that the legendary events of the past are mostly false, no matter what the bards and histories say.  Quickly dragged back into the fray by an ambitious king, Kell is tasked with travelling back to the scene of his last adventure and killing whatever evil he discovers there.  Naturally Kell, having learnt his lesson the first time, graciously accepts the request, and then tries to run away the first chance he gets.  However, thanks to a starstruck young man following in his footsteps, Kell is trapped into the mission and decides the best way to survive is to recruit a new bunch of heroes, and soon pulls together a small, eclectic group of rogues and warriors to take up the quest.

Most of these events take place in the first half of the book, and you really get to grips with the central characters while also fully understanding Kell and his pain.  Interspersed with flashbacks to the true story of the original quest, Aryan does a wonderful job of painting the risks of the upcoming journey to the reader, and you know that some brutal events are in store for the protagonists in the future.  At the same time, there is an excellent subplot that shows political intrigue throughout the Five Kingdoms, as a nefarious church attempts to take control of the lands, while the kings use Kell and his quest as pawns in a great political game.  This results in some dangerous moments for the protagonists on their way to their destination, and I liked the compelling and thrilling change of pace the dive into court politics presented.

Everything leads up to the big trek up North that dominates the second half of the book.  What follows is a bleak and captivating series of events that ensures that Kell and his companions hit every single monster and deadly creature that the author could think off, including wraiths, cunning ice sharks and an aggressive herd of lethal arctic beasts.  These scenes are all written extremely well, and Aryan does an excellent job of showcasing the deadly stakes of the mission, and there is even a memorable, and frankly surprising, tragedy just before the final major sequence.  This sequence, which sees the heroes re-enter the Ice Lich’s fortress, is paced extremely well, and leads to a brutal and intense final confrontation with their enemy.  While I did think that Aryan was a little too mysterious when it came to who or what this antagonist was, they certainly left their mark on the story, and it was fascinating to see their impacts.  Aryan fits in a couple of concluding chapters to set up the characters for the next book, while also containing some interesting surprises that will come into play in the future.  The reader comes away from The Coward extremely satisfied, and I felt that this was a very well-crafted narrative that not only stands on its own, but which leaves the reader curious to find out what happens next.

I deeply enjoyed the way that Aryan set this entire narrative up, and I felt that all the distinctive narrative threads fell into place extremely well.  Running at a swift and enjoyable pace, The Coward’s fantastic and elaborate story quickly drags you in, especially with its focus on a damaged protagonist and his new quest.  The author was extremely good at balancing deep and damaging character insights with a fast-paced action narrative, and you really had to feel for the protagonist as he revisited his trauma, while also selfishly encouraging him to keep going with the quest.  There is an excellent layer of dark humour over the entire story, and I liked how the action and adventure of the main storyline was well balanced by the alternate scenes of political intrigue that also set up the main villain of the second book.  I also deeply appreciated the captivating and clever dive into the dark side of an epic fantasy quest, and the traumatic memories of the events really shape the protagonist and the narrative in some excellent ways, while also proving to be an interesting and fun alternate perspective of classic fantasy novels.  Aryan features several fun allusions and homages to other iconic fantasy works in this book, and I appreciated his distinctive take on how a classic fantasy story adventure would really go.

I also quite enjoyed the fantastic and impressive new fantasy landscape that Aryan introduced in The Coward.  This first book is set in the Five Kingdoms, a collection of lands who are currently experiencing hardship, especially with a poor harvest and the increasing cold.  Despite the efforts of the authoritarian Church of the Shepherd to quash them, rumours abound that the Five Kingdoms are facing a threat from the north again, just like they did years before.  Aryan does a great job setting up the Five Kingdoms, and you swiftly get an idea of the many problems and conflicts befalling them, especially as their church is slowly increasing its influence and power, attempting to undermine its kings.  This proves rich ground for the early part of the narrative, and it was amazing to get introduced to this land.  I particularly loved the exploration of the myth of the protagonist throughout the lands, and the impact it had on the people, both in terms of morale and celebration, as well as politically.  Having multiple characters recite a famous in-universe retelling of the original quest was particularly fun, especially as the inconsistencies and blatant lies attached to them soon become extremely apparent.  The best setting in the entire book, however, was easily the North, were much of the second half of the book takes place.  Although it is similar to other famous fantasy winter landscapes, Aryan works to make his fairly distinctive, especially with the unique creatures and threats that lurk within.  The author really makes the landscape seem as brutal, barren and isolated as possible, and it is very intense to see the characters travel through it, particularly when Kell encounters remnants of the original quest, and is forced to relive his previous horrors again.  I had a lot of fun exploring Aryan’s intriguing world in this book and I look forward to seeing how it is expanded out in the sequel.

While I deeply enjoyed the narrative and had a great time exploring the new fantasy realm, easily the best thing about this book is the character work.  Aryan has done a real masterclass with some of the characters in The Coward, and you swiftly get attached to the main band of heroes, especially the protagonist Kell Kressia, all of whom are damaged or hiding something.  Watching them endure through terrible hardship and come together as a group is just wonderful, and I loved how attached I ended up feeling them as the novel progressed.

Most of the focus of the plot is directed to Kell Kressia, the titular coward.  Kell is a fantastic and memorable figure who draws you in with his unique story of woe.  The lone survivor of a legendary quest he undertook as a naïve teenager, Kell suffered a lot during the previous journey, and despite the renown and love lauded upon him, Kell ended up with nothing to show for his quest and has lived a simple life ever since.  In the current story, Kell has grown up significantly and is now content to be alone.  However, when he is sent on another quest, he attempts to flee, only to be dragged in against his will.  I really appreciated the development that Aryan put into Kell, especially as I figured that the twist would be that he’s a fraud.  However, despite the title, you realise that Kell isn’t really a coward; instead he is a deeply traumatised man who is now wise enough not to repeat the mistakes of his youth.  Rather than seeking battle, he tries to avoid it, but when he is forced to complete the quest, he reveals himself to be quite competent and able to lead his companions, even if he doesn’t want to.  I had an amazing time with Kell in this book, and you really sympathise with him once you find out the whole truth behind him.  I loved seeing how much he matured since the original quest, and the canny and realistic new hero is a very understandable figure as a result.  Aryan builds in a bit of closure for Kell in The Coward, especially as he comes to terms with the dark events from his past and finally starts to move on, but he does have to suffer some more tragedy along the way.  I also liked seeing him manipulate and utilise his status as a legendary hero throughout the book, even if he doesn’t believe it, and it was fun to see people who knew in the past underestimate him, not realising how much he’s grown up.  Kell is an excellent and impressive protagonist, and I can’t wait to see what Aryan puts him through next.

Another major character I need to highlight is Gerren, a young and idealistic teenager.  Following Kell’s example from the stories, Gerren finds Kell on his quest and stubbornly follows along, attempting to become a hero in his own right, despite Kell’s many attempts to get rid of him.  Realising that Kell doesn’t want to be there and means to run away, Gerren becomes quite angry and uses Kell’s own legend to trap him in the quest.  However, the further he travels with Kell and the heroes, the more he realises that Kell was right, and he soon regrets his decision.  I loved how Aryan used Gerren in The Coward, as the character essentially ends up being a younger version of Kell, making all the mistakes that his hero did, and becoming a dark mirror to him.  Watching Gerren mimic Kell’s life is pretty moving for all involved, and I loved seeing Kell’s reaction, especially as he tries to save Gerren from all the pain he suffered, which results in some amazing scenes.  Aside from being an emotional anchor on Kell, Gerren also goes through quite a lot of development in his storyline, as he grows from naïve kid to serious adventurer.  Watching his resentment to Kell grow and then fade when he realises what Kell was trying to protect him from is amazing, and you really wish that he would turn back at some point, not just for his sake but for Kell’s.  You also grow really attached to Gerren as the book goes on, and he served as an intriguing companion to the protagonist and really helped amp up the dramatic heft of Kell’s trauma.

Aside from Kell and Gerren, I really must highlight the rest of the fantastic band of heroes that travel with him, as Aryan brings together an eclectic and complex group, each of whom are there for very different reasons.  This includes the mysterious but entertaining bard Vahli, the hilarious pairing of Bronwyn and Malormir, two outrageous heroes with many a tale behind their deeds, and the monstrous but heroic non-human character of Willow.  Willow is probably the most intriguing out of these, as her entire species is something of a mystery, with a strange connection to the events of the plot.  Willow grows to be quite a significant figure as the book continues, and I am looking forward to seeing how the author expands on her in the future.  All these characters and more (the villainous Revenant Mother Britak was a fantastic secondary antagonist), were very impressive, and their unique and powerful adventure, as well as the many deep secrets in their past, help to turn The Coward into an exceptional character driven novel.

Like many great epic fantasy books, I would strongly recommend The Coward’s audiobook format.  Narrated by actor Matt Wycliffe, The Coward flows along at an excellent pace as an audiobook, and you really get caught up in the adventure and epic fight scenes out on the snow.  Wycliffe does some amazing and fitting voices for the various characters, and you really get caught up in their personalities and emotional depths through this narration.  With a run time of just under 15 hours, this is a slightly lengthy audiobook to get through, but I found myself powering through a very short amount of time thanks to the compelling story and characters.  A wonderful way to enjoy this amazing and clever novel.

Overall, The Coward by Stephen Aryan was one of the more captivating and intriguing fantasy novels of 2021 and it is one that is well worth checking out.  I loved elaborate narrative and impressive character work in this outstanding read, and readers will find themselves getting dragged into its compelling adventure tale.  I had an exceptional time with The Coward last year, and I really regret not reviewing it sooner.  I will hopefully read the next book in this duology, The Warrior, in the coming weeks, and I have no doubt it will be just as awesome as The Coward.

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Throwback Thursday: Blood Rites by Jim Butcher

Blood Rite Cover

Publisher: Penguin Audio (Audiobook – 3 August 2004)

Series: Dresden Files – Book Six

Length: 13 hours and 5 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  For my latest Throwback Thursday I keep diving into the epic Dresden Files urban fantasy series with the impressive sixth book, Blood Rites.

Last week, in my review for the outstanding fifth book in the Dresden Files series, Death Masks, I mentioned how I had also started listening to the next book in the series, Blood Rites.  I honestly had so much fun reading Death Masks last week (as I did with the rest of the Dresden Files series, such as Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril, Summer Knight, Battle Ground and The Law), that I had to immediately dive into the next book as soon as I could.  The sixth novel in the series, Blood Rites, was another epic novel which had an impressive and captivating plot to it.

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s resident wizard and protector from the paranormal, continues to eke out a deadly living through his chaotic career of odd mystical jobs while also defending the city against the worst monsters lurking in the shadows.  However, his latest job may place him in the most uncomfortable spot yet, on the set of an adult movie, which finds itself under attack from a deadly and relentless curse.

Taking the case as a favour to his vampire friend and suspicious ally Thomas Raith, Dresden goes undercover on set and attempts to discover who is responsible for cursing the movie’s cast and crew, and why.  However, Dresden’s heroics on set make him a target, and he soon finds the curse striking at him, attempting to end his investigation before he can find the magical murderer.  Worse, enemies old and new are bursting out of the shadows, as two separate courts of vampires attempt to strike Dresden down.

As Dresden continues to search for the murderer wielding the curse, he is forced to fend off attacks from the lethal Black Court.  Led by a powerful elder vampire with a serious grudge against Dresden, the Black Court will stop at nothing to destroy him and any of his friends that gets in their way.  However, the greatest threat may reside in the White Court, to which Thomas belongs.  The White Court vampires are manipulative and subtle killers, using their alluring presence to suck the life out of everyone they touch.  Caught between warring members of the White Court family, Dresden must use all his wits to escape their wrath and uncover hidden truths if he is to survive.  But what secret from the past connects Dresden to the White Court and their machinations, and is Dresden really ready for the dark knowledge waiting for him?

Whelp, it seems that it is pretty impossible for Butcher to write a dud novel.  Blood Rites is an exceptional addition to the wider Dresden Files series, and it was another one that I have no choice but to give a full five-star review to.  Featuring an intense and deeply captivating narrative, Blood Rites was an incredible read and I quickly got sucked into its unique story, compelling mysteries and dark, damaged characters.

I just loved the elaborate, dark and powerful narrative that Butcher featured in Blood Rites, as the author comes up with a complex tale that expertly brings together a dark urban fantasy with a thrilling murder mystery storyline.  Like the rest of the Dresden Files books, Blood Rites exclusively follows protagonist and point-of-view character Harry Dresden as he finds himself forced to face off against a series of dangers and threats at the same time.  The most prominent of these includes an investigation into a deadly curse aimed at the female employees of an adult entertainment studio, which sees Dresden go undercover on set to try and save the remaining cast and determine who the killer is.  This also leads him into a confrontation with the White Court of the vampires, especially when his vampire friend, Thomas Raith, requests his help.  At the same time, vampires from the Black Court are after Dresden for his actions in Grave Peril, which forces him to call in some major backup to take them on.  Unfortunately, this also leads him into conflict with his supposed allies, as well as his former mentor, when secrets from the past are revealed.  Dresden is also hit with a whole bundle of personal drama, especially when he discovers unfortunate truths about his long-dead mother, and there is an interesting growth in the relationship between him and several supporting characters.

As a result, there are many plot elements scattered around Blood Rites, which makes for quite an elaborate overall story.  Luckily, Butcher does an excellent job of introducing all these separate narrative threads to the reader, and you swiftly get drawn into all of them.  After a good and necessary bit of setup, the story roars off at a quick and captivating pace, and the reader has a great time jumping from storyline to storyline.  Everything starts to come together near the middle of the book, where you get some excellent action scenes, including a particularly funny death sequence involving a vampire and a frozen turkey, and the fallout of these scenes leads to some great dramatic moments with big personal revelations.  Following this, the story zooms along, and you soon find a partial and problematic solution to the murder case, while the protagonist is also forced to deal with an all-out assault on the Black Court, while also dealing with dark secrets from his allies.  The attack on the Black Court was one of the best sequences in the book, and the surrounding drama results in some major revelations that fans of the series will lap up.  The remaining storylines then come together perfectly for the finale, as Dresden solves the murder and faces off against its overall architect in a brilliant and extended dark sequence.  I loved how this entire narrative unfolded, and some of the concluding notes will leave you wanting to dive into the rest of the series to see what happens next.

To bring Blood Rites’ great story to life, Butcher utilises his typical style and techniques, which I always immensely enjoy.  The entire narrative is paced perfectly, and you quickly get drawn into the various plotlines, especially with their great combination of characters, intriguing plots, fantasy elements, and dramatic moments.  All of this is overlayed with Butcher’s distinctive humour, most of which is expelled through his cocky point-of-view protagonist, and it helps to enhance the overall powerful and entertainment of the book, especially when the protagonist tries to deflect from his many issues with comedy.  The narrative pretty much goes non-stop, and you get bounced through multiple excellent and powerful scenes, all of which are very fun to see.  I loved how the author balanced out action, character growth, universe building and more in each of the sequences, and there is something quite entertaining and fun for all manner of readers.  I wasn’t as keen on Butcher’s continued attempts to spice up the story with more adult themes, such as the adult film set or the lust-inducing White Court vampires, although it was pretty tame compared to some of the scenes in the last book (that bondage scene, yikes!), and Butcher wove some very compelling narratives around all of them that I deeply enjoyed.  I did enjoy how inclusive Butcher made this novel to new readers, and anyone could easily jump into Blood Rites and enjoy it, even if they haven’t read a Dresden Files book before.  However, there is also a lot to appeal to established fans of the series, especially as there are multiple major reveals and secrets featured here, many of which will lead to big story moments down the track.  As such, I deeply appreciated how this story came together, and pretty much everyone will have a great time getting through it.

I really enjoyed some of the cool fantasy elements featured throughout Blood Rites as Butcher seeks to expand on the lore and magic of his unique universe.  There are some great and intriguing fantasy inclusions here, with the obvious focus being on the various Vampire Courts.  The three main factions of Vampires have all been featured in previous books, although most of the focus has been on the Red Court, whom Dresden is at war with.  Blood Rites, however, has a far bigger spotlight on the two of the other courts who have major differences in powers and appearances.  Most of the focus is on the White Court, who are essentially this universe’s version of succubi, extremely beautiful and seductive creatures who feed off the life energy of those who desire them.  The White Court go on to become a major faction in the Dresden Files series, but this is one of the first books that fully explores them in substantial detail.  As such, you quickly get across their unique abilities, strengths, weaknesses and powers throughout this book, and they come across as quite a distinctive group as a result.  You really get to understand their entire society and worldview, as well as seeing some very different members of the factions, and Butcher writes some compelling storylines around them, while also putting in some very vivid depictions of their powers in action.  I loved how sinister and villainous members of the White Court appear at times, and there is something quite insidious about their abilities that creeps out the protagonists and reader.  A truly complex and excellent group that I had a lot of fun exploring.

Almost in direct comparison to the White Court is the Black Court.  The Black Court are a completely different group of living dead, portrayed more like the classic vampires from Bram Stoker’s novel (indeed, the Dracula novel was an elaborate propaganda attack by their enemies).  Shown as ugly, decaying, blood-hungry creatures that are more monsters than their original human forms, the Black Court are a much more obvious threat with much clearer motives.  There are some brutal and powerful scenes featuring the Black Court in this book, and it was really interesting to see Dresden and his allies go up against them with some classic vampire-hunting weapons, albeit with some fun modern twists to them.  I also deeply appreciated the fantastic parallels between the Black Court and the White Court vampires featured in the Blood Rites; whilst they are both extremely dangerous, their diverse methods and powers troubled Dresden in different ways.  These cool vampires, plus some other great new supernatural threats, added a lot to the complexity of the narrative and I loved the excellent detail and lore that Butcher imbued them with.

As usual, one of the highlights of this Dresden Files book is the compelling and impressive characters the story revolves around.  Butcher features an intriguing and fantastic group of characters in this book, with a compelling blend of established supporting characters and several new figures, many of whom will go on to have substantial roles in the rest of the series.  I had a brilliant time with all these characters, especially as Butcher endeavours to write some outstanding and distinctive storylines around them.

As usual, the most prominent character is Harry Dresden, the wizard protagonist and point-of-view character of the series.  Like most of the recent books, Blood Rites is an emotionally damaging book for Dresden.  Not only is he forced to deal with another harrowing case that racks his sanity, but he also finds out some long-buried secrets that prove quite damaging to behold.  In particular, there is a deep dive into his past and his missing family, both of which are hard subjects for him, and he finds himself with some unexpected connections that he has long been missing.  It was truly fascinating to see this long buried and painful part of Dresden’s past explored, and Butcher ensures that the reader gets struck in the feels with some of the powerful scenes that are explored.  Other interactions and reveals see Dresden re-evaluate some of his relationships in this novel, and there were some intriguing and harsh discussions between him and other characters as a result.  I did think that Butcher is over-playing the whole chivalrous-to-a-fault aspect of Dresden, as he continues to be a tad sexist and constantly underestimates woman, usually to his own detriment.  It’s honestly getting a little old, and I hope it gets phased out a bit in future books.  Still, I deeply enjoyed the fantastic development around Dresden in Blood Rites, and it greatly enhanced the narrative.

This book also featured a great appearance from previous supporting characters Karrin Murphy and Thomas Raith, who both play a major role in Blood Rites.  This proved to be quite a pivotal novel for both characters, and I really appreciated the way that Butcher built on their previous appearances and used them to write some impressive and powerful storylines around them.  This proves to be one of the more intriguing looks at Murphy so far in the series, especially as it dives into her complicated family life, and I liked the early hints here about the future relationship between her and Dresden.  Murphy gets dragged far further into Dresden’s magical activities than ever before here, and she is forced to balance her responsibilities as a cop with the necessity of killing monsters, something she has great difficulty with.  An overall badass character, Murphy has some brilliant and action-packed scenes in Blood Rites, and I love how well she serves as a foil to the more ridiculous Dresden.

Thomas, on the other hand, gets quite an intense and deeply personal storyline here as you get the most in-depth look at this elusive and compelling vampire character.  Not only do you get a great look at the rest of his family as the book explores the White Court, but you finally find the reasons why he is always helping Dresden, which leads to some emotional and compelling scenes.  A lot of time is also spent exploring the battle between Thomas’s humanity and the monster within, especially when it comes to feeding on those around him.  This comes to a head when his need to feed and survive hurts someone close to him and he has trouble coming to terms with what he’s done, especially when Dresden harshly confronts him.  Throw in his complicated family and intense daddy issues, and Thomas goes through the emotional wringer in this book, which proves to be very illuminating.  Butcher sets Thomas up as quite a substantial supporting character in this book, and I look forward to seeing more of him in the future.

Aside from these main characters, there is also a great collection of supporting characters who add a lot to the story, and there are some awesome appearances here.  I really enjoyed seeing more of mysterious mercenary Kincaid in this book, especially after his fun appearance in Death Masks.  Kincaid is a badass killer who is hired by Dresden to kill the Black Court, only to end up being a bigger threat to Dresden when the wizard lacks to money to pay him.  Kincaid has some excellent and action-packed scenes, and I was intrigued by his backstory, especially the hints at his dark, dark past.  I also loved the use of Dresden’s mentor, Ebenezar McCoy, an older wizard who raised him and taught him magic.  Butcher writes some amazing scenes around McCoy, especially once Dresden finds out just how many secrets the old man has been keeping from him.  Throw in a batch of great vampire characters (including the sinister Lord Raith and the compelling Lara Raith), some entertaining members of the adult film industry (including the fantastic diva Trixie Vixen), and the first appearance of Mouse, Dresden’s puppy, and you have an amazing cast of characters here that Butcher gleefully and impressively wraps the story around.  Each of these characters is very fun and intriguing in their own way, and I loved the elaborate and moving scenes that they star in.

Naturally I chose to check out Blood Rites on audiobook, which I maintain is the absolute best way to enjoy the Dresden Files books.  The captivating story and excellent characters really fit into this format extremely well, and I find myself absorbing the narrative and the author’s fantastic style a lot better this way.  With a runtime of just over 13 hours, Blood Rites is the noticeably longer than the previous books in the series (they get progressively longer and longer as the series goes, with some later books like Cold Days reaching nearly 19 hours in length).  Despite the increased run time, I still found myself knocking this audiobook off in no time at all, especially once I got stuck into the excellent and powerful story.  I must also highlight the incredible voice work of the always awesome James Marsters, who did another spectacular job narrating this fantastic novel.  At this point in the series, Marsters has really hit his stride when it comes to narrating, and he voices each audiobook with some impressive passion, effortlessly bringing the dark events and complex characters to life and ensuring that everything sticks in the listener’s mind.  All the characters are voiced extremely well, with the highlight again being protagonist Harry Dresden, who Marsters inhabits effortlessly.  He really understands the character’s anguish, pain, and dark humour, and this comes across in his narration perfectly.  Thanks to his epic performance in Blood Rites, and the other Dresden Files audiobooks, Marsters remains one of my favourite audiobook narrators, and I cannot recommend the Blood Rites audiobook enough as a result.

My dive into the early Dresden Files novels continues to be incredibly epic, as I once again fell in love with one of Jim Butcher’s unique reads, Blood Rites.  This fantastic novel has so much going for it, and I had a brilliant time exploring the powerful urban fantasy/crime fiction based narrative.  Featuring a deeply compelling mystery, a ton of intriguing parallel storylines, and some impressive and emotionally charged character development, Blood Rites is another exceptional book that is so much fun to get through.  Honestly, if I didn’t have such a backlog of awesome recent audiobook releases, I would probably be diving into the seventh Dresden Files novel right now, but hopefully I will get a chance later this year.  If you haven’t checked out the Dresden Files books after my previous glowing reviews, then you really need to get your butt into gear and start reading them now!

Tribe by Jeremy Robinson

Tribe Cover 2

Publisher: Breakneck Media (Audiobook – 26 November 2019)

Series: Standalone/Infinite Timeline

Length: 10 hours and 36 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Gods, mortals and everything in between will clash in Tribe, the intriguing fantasy thriller from the always entertaining Jeremy Robinson.

Last year I decided to take a chance and check out an author whose work I was unfamiliar with, and boy did that work out for me.  Jeremy Robinson had a very impressive and extensive list of awesome books to his name, most of which straddled the border between thrillers and other genres like fantasy, science fiction and horror.  The first book of his I checked out was The Dark, which followed a very likeable protagonist who gets caught up in a terrifying and horrific invasion of his neighbourhood by a horde of demons.  The Dark was an outstanding read, and I really got drawn into its awesome story, intense pacing and fun characters.  After giving The Dark a full five-star rating, I had to make sure to grab the other 2021 release from Robinson, Mind Bullet, especially as it was in the same loosely connected series.  Mind Bullet was a fantastic and highly entertaining read that followed a psychic hitman being hunted by a series of unusual but deadly assassins.  Mind Bullet was another five-star read in my book, and I had such a great time reading it.  Indeed, I loved both The Dark and Mind Bullet so much that I included them both of my top books and audiobooks lists of 2021.

Naturally, this has made me quite eager to read some more of Robinson’s work, and while I had to miss one of his 2022 releases The Order (I need to read some of the lead-up books beforehand), I did recently decide to go back and try one of his older novels, the 2019 release, Tribe, from the same storyline as The Dark and Mind Bullet.  Not only does this allow me to better follow one of Robinson’s upcoming books in the Infinite series but it had a very fun-sounding story that I really wanted to check out.  It turns out Tribe was just as fun as I hoped it would be, and I had a wonderful time getting through it.

Sarah, a 20-year-old college dropout working at a donut shop in Boston, has long struggled with the bad turns her life has taken.  Constantly plagued by bad luck and misfortune, Sarah has no one in her life she can count on, until she runs into homeless teen street punk Henry.  Henry, a kid who literally knows no fear, has randomly blown into her life and the two find themselves with a strange attachment to each other that they can’t explain.  However, life is about to get much more complicated for both when they run into each other at the local bank.

Arriving at the same time, the two manage to work together to foil a robbery that seems focused on targeting a mysterious and wealthy woman named Helen.  Taking Sarah and Henry under her wing, Helen attempts to take them to her apartment, but before they can make it they find themselves under attack by members of an ancient cult who are determined to cause as much chaos and destruction as they can.

Separated from the incredibly capable and violent Helen, Sarah and Henry find themselves alone on the streets of Boston, pursued by the cult.  Forced to keep moving and face off against a stream of determined and dangerous foes, Sarah and Henry begin to realise that there is something special about them that allows them to fight back, and which is making them stronger.  However, if they want to survive, they will need to discover the truth about who they are and what dark legacy their blood contains.  But with a dangerous figure hunting them, can Sarah and Henry live out the day, or will they become links in a master plan spanning millennia?

Tribe was an extremely entertaining and action-packed novel from Robinson, who utilises his usual fun and thrilling style to create an excellent read.  Featuring a captivating and electrifying narrative based around a couple of interesting and damaged figures, Tribe was a truly unique and captivating read that I had a fantastic time with.

Robinson crafted together a very interesting and highly exciting narrative for Tribe, which is essentially a non-stop action adventure from the very first scene.  After a quick but memorable introduction to, Sarah and Henry, the story dives right into the action, when the protagonists chance upon a violent bank hold-up.  Thanks to the impulsive Henry, the two are forced to intervene, assisting the mysterious Helen, making them heroes.  While you would imagine that would allow them to have some quiet time, Robinson puts them into the next action set piece within a few pages, as they are forced to flee an army of angry and over-the-top cultists who are hunting them.  This results in a series of impressively violent and extremely compelling fight sequences and chase scenes, as the protagonists try to survive while their lives are changing in ways that they don’t fully understand.  These initial sequences fill up the first half of the novel well, and you quickly become pretty damn invested in the narrative, especially once Robinson finally reveals the reasons behind everything and how everyone connects into the wider plot.  This first half also does a great job setting up the novel’s style, and you soon get quite used to the fantastic combination of action, character development and slick humour as the outrageous characters experience an array of over-the-top situations.

There are some rather interesting dives into Greek mythology in the second half of Tribe, which alters the course of the story and impacts everything the protagonists thought they knew about the world and themselves.  After a couple of attempted separations, the characters find themselves in some pretty dark situations as they finally face off against the big bad of the story, who ended up being an extremely sinister baddie.  The action comes thick and fast in this second half of the book, as the protagonists keep going up against a series of unique and memorable foes.  These scenes really make you appreciate Robinson’s ability to write brilliant, fast-paced action sequences, and the fantastic detail and intriguing depictions of deadly fights are so much fun to see.  I also enjoyed the strong Greek mythological motifs and elements that are slipped into this half of the book.  I think that they melded with the thriller style of the plot extremely well, and a lot of the story felt like a cool fantasy/superhero combination.  Along with some powerful reveals, major trauma, and subsequent character evolution, the protagonists become ready for the final confrontation that lays everything on the line.  The entire narrative flowed into this intense and high-stakes conclusion extremely well, and readers are in for a fun and captivating time as the protagonists go all out.  I really liked how everything turned out, and while this wasn’t my favourite of Robinson’s narratives, it was pretty damn addictive and readers will come away extremely satisfied.

I had a lot of fun with Tribe, and I am very glad that I checked it out, especially with how it plays into Robinson’s wider universe.  As I mentioned above, Tribe is part of a loosely connected series of cool books that are part of the Infinite Timeline.  While most of them are standalone reads, the further you get into the series, the more the storylines start to blend a little more, and this will all lead to several massive crossover novels, such as one being released later this year.  This is one of the main reasons why I wanted to read Tribe, as the main characters from it have appeared in the two other Robinson books I have read and will also be part of the upcoming 2022 release, Khaos.  However, readers don’t need to do any pre-reading for Tribe to enjoy it; thanks to its relatively early position in the Infinite Timeline, it doesn’t noticeably feature characters or story elements from the other novels.  As such, it is a very accessible read, and anyone who likes a fun action story can have a great time reading it.  Still, those people who are interested in Robinson’s larger series will do well to read Tribe soon, especially as it sounds like the plot of Khaos is going to come back to key details from Tribe in a big way.

I also deeply appreciated how Robinson made use of some excellent and fun central characters, Sarah and Henry, two seemingly unconnected people.  The story is set up to continuously rotate between their perspectives, which really enhances the overall quality of the narrative, especially when you get two separate views of the same events, or the characters are dealing with separate outrageous events at the same time.  The author does a great job of building up both characters throughout the novel as they start to discover their destiny and their various shared connections.  A lot of the revelations around them result in some interesting abilities and moments for the characters and watching them react to it in very different ways was very entertaining.  They also go through a lot of trauma throughout the book, and again both of them deal with it differently, which I felt was an intriguing and realistic inclusion.  Both characters are quite interesting in their own way, and they serve to balance each other out in the narrative, with Sarah acting as the moral and sensible one (at least until she unleashes the inner beast), and Henry being the wildcard.  Henry is definitely the life and soul of the much of the book.  Due to a brain condition, he lacks any sense of fear whatsoever and has no filter when it comes to doing stupid stuff.  I have mixed feelings about this; while many of these random outbursts and actions are a lot of fun, they do start to get a little repetitive and annoying after a while.  I also felt that it ensured Henry started to overshadow Sarah in parts of the book.  Still, these were some great central protagonists you quickly get attached to, and with the fantastic supporting figures, you have a lot of fun characters in this book that really enhance the narrative.

One of the most appealing things about Robinson’s books is that they all make for an amazing audiobook.  Tribe was another excellent example of this, especially as listening to the story really allows you to get to grips with the incredible and powerful action sequences.  With a run time of just over 10 and a half hours, this is a relatively quick audiobook to get through, and it is very hard not to get attached to it, especially when it features brilliant narrator R. C. Bray.  Bray is a very skilled audiobook narrator who, in addition to providing his voice to most of Robinson’s books, has also narrated several other great books and series, such as Michael Mammay’s Planetside series (Planetside, Spaceside and Colonyside), all of which were excellent audiobooks.  Bray has an exceptional voice that works really well to tell high-stakes and powerful action orientated novels while also bringing a range of interesting characters to life.  He did another outstanding job in Tribe, and all the high-octane action fights are told perfectly, with Bray really highlighting the brutal fights with his telling.  He also provides powerful and insightful voices to all the characters, with all their quirks and interesting features perfectly brought to life as a result.  As such, I had a brilliant time listening to Tribe on audiobook and felt that Bray’s excellent narration really added to my overall enjoyment of this novel.  As such, I would very much recommend the audiobook version to anyone interested in trying out Tribe, as it was a lot of fun to listen to.

Overall, Tribe was a pretty fantastic and extremely entertaining book from Jeremy Robinson.  Loaded with all the intense action, clever references to Greek mythology and intriguing characters you need for an incredible narrative, Tribe was such an epic read and it comes very highly recommended, especially as an audiobook.  I had an outstanding time, with Tribe and it will be interesting to see how these characters, as well as the protagonists of The Dark and Mind Bullet, will feature in the upcoming Khaos.

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Throwback Thursday – Death Masks by Jim Butcher

Death Masks Cover

Publication: Penguin Audio (Audiobook – 1 August 2003)

Series: Dresden Files – Book Five

Length: 11 hours and 17 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  For my latest Throwback Thursday, I highlight another excellent entry in Jim Butcher’s iconic Dresden Files series, with Death Masks.

Fans of this blog will know that I have been having a magical time (pun intended) discovering and getting into the long-running Dresden Files series by acclaimed fantasy author Jim Butcher.  Set in Chicago, the Dresden Files novels follow the adventures of Harry Dresden, wizard for hire and protector of the city against any supernatural threat that comes its way.  This has been Butcher’s major series for years, but I only got into it back in 2020 when I checked out the 17th entry, Battle Ground.  Due to its exceptional plot and the all-out magical war for Chicago that it depicted, this was a pretty epic novel that was not only one of the best books and audiobooks of 2020 but also an excellent recruiting tool for new Dresden Files fans.  It didn’t take me long after reading Battle Ground to check out some of the earlier entries in the series, such as Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril and Summer Knight, as well as the novella, The Law.  I have had such an epic time with this series that when I felt like a guaranteed five-star book, I immediately decided to check out the next book in the series, with the fifth Dresden Files entry, Death Masks.

Harry Dresden, Chicago’s resident professional wizard, is once again thrust into the middle of far more trouble than he ever dreamed of when a television panel show introduces him to an array of people who want something from him.  Not only does he find himself forced into a duel against a powerful Red Court vampire noble but he is also hired by a Vatican priest to recover a revered stolen holy relic, the Shroud of Turin.

Determined to make the most of these new events, Dresden takes the case and begins to search for the shroud while also preparing for his upcoming fight to the death.  However, many people are interested in obtaining the shroud for their own use, and Dresden finds himself under attack by hitman, gangsters, criminals, and far, far worse.  The Denarians, an ancient and despicable group of fallen angels, have designs on the shroud, and not even Dresden’s most powerful and holy allies, the Knights of the Cross, may be enough to save him.

As Dresden attempts to recover the shroud, he finds that the Denarians and their deadly leader, Nicodemus, have a nefarious plot for the shroud that could destroy everything that Dresden holds dear.  Working with allies old and new, Dresden must overcome the Denarian threat before it is too late, while also managing to defeat the Red Court vampire gunning for him.  With everything on the line, has Dresden finally bitten off more than he can chew?  And what happens when the lost love of his life returns to town, battling her own demons?

Wow, Butcher just cannot strike out!  This is yet another book from him that I have no choice but to award a full five-star rating to.  Death Masks has a deeply addictive narrative that grabs your attention from the very first page and refuses to let go, and some complex and entertaining characters to match.

Death Masks has a pretty awesome story to it that got really addictive very quickly.  Starting off a few months after the events of Summer Knight, Death Masks contains several, great layered storylines, all of which are pretty exciting and intense in their own way and which cross over well to create a complete and powerful narrative.  The first of these immediately places Dresden in the path of several dangerous enemies and opponents as he is dragged into a new case, recovering the stolen Shroud of Turin.  Despite being warned off by his allies, the Knights of the Cross, Dresden naturally pursues, which sets him against established foes, like Chicago’s gangster king, and a powerful new cadre of enemies, who represent one of the biggest threats that Dresden has gone up against at this point in the series.  At the same time, the protagonist is forced to accept a formal duel to the death against a powerful vampire lord, as part of the ongoing storyline about his war with the Red Court, and he also helps the police investigate a disfigured corpse that seems to have been simultaneously infected by every disease known to man.  These events are further complicated by the re-emergence of Susan Rodriguez, his former love interest whose romance was crushed when she was partially turned into a vampire, and who he still holds a massive torch for.

Each of these storylines is quite interesting on its own, and Butcher writes some interesting scenes around all of them, with the primary focus being on the search for the shroud and the fight against the Denarians.  These storylines start pulling together about hallway through the book, and Butcher really raises the stakes for the protagonist, especially when he experiences some major and heartbreaking setbacks.  I really loved the unique blend of character development, fantasy and urban crime that is utilised throughout most of this story, and it is always so much fun to see the protagonist attempting to understand the complex plots arranged against him as he tries to save his friends and city.  Everything leads up to an extremely exciting final third where Dresden and his allies are thrust into a series of battles with massive stakes involved that leave them broken and nearly beaten.  I honestly could not stop listening to the final few hours of this book, and I pretty much powered through the entire second half in less than a day.  There are some epic and very moving moments featured in the big conclusion, and Butcher did a brilliant job of bringing everything together and ensuring that the reader will come back for future instalments of his work.  I particularly loved the final little twist that saw the book’s major villain get one over the protagonist, and I am extremely keen to see what happens with that storyline going forward.

I have so much love for Butcher’s writing style when it comes to the Dresden Files novels, and Death Masks was a particularly good example of this.  Like the rest of the series, Death Masks is told exclusively from the perspective of its central character, Harry Dresden, and this places you right into the midst of all the action and investigations, and you see all the steps as Harry tries to outwit his various foes.  This use of Dresden as the central figure also ensures that the reader gets quite a lot of humour in the story, and the continuous jokes and funny insights really help to make the story that much more fun to enjoy.  There is a great focus on character development and introductions in this novel that I deeply enjoyed, and this works really well with the mystery elements and established fantasy setting to create an excellent narrative.  Butcher keeps the pace of the book sharp and fast here, and all the big events quickly and effectively fall into place where needed.  I liked how the protagonist dealt with multiple problems and cases simultaneously, and Butcher did a good job of balancing and combining these initially separated storylines and threats where necessary.  I did think that Butcher did go over the top in places when it came to the romance sequences, and some of the scenes were a little questionable at times.  Still, this didn’t impact my overall enjoyment of the Death Masks, and I had a blast seeing everything unfold.

Death Masks proved to be a particularly significant entry in the Dresden Files series, and it is a must-read for all fans as a result.  Butcher perfectly sets up several ongoing storylines here while also successfully continuing some established character arcs and introducing a whole new batch of great and interesting characters.  There are so many key events and interactions going on in Death Masks, many of which will be vital for the rest of the series, and I know it helped to give some additional context for some of the events in the later books I have read.  However, like most Dresden Files novels, Death Masks is extremely accessible to new readers, and Butcher always makes a point to expand on the existing storylines and characters in a way that new readers can understand and follow without boring the existing fans.  As such, this is a book with a lot of appeal to many readers, and all fantasy fans can dive in extremely easily.

Death Masks is also a major book for character work, and readers who love the impressive and exciting Dresden Files cast are in for a great time here.  I felt that Butcher presented a great balance of established and new characters in this novel, and there is an excellent focus on development and the emotional issues impacting the protagonist.  Many of the new characters will become major recurring figures in the series from now on and deeply enjoyed seeing how their story started.  Most of the character work hinged on protagonist Harry Dresden, who is the true heart and soul of the book.  I always enjoy quirky and rebellious protagonists in novels with a first-person perspective, and the Dresden Files are a great example of this.  Dresden was his usual funny and disrespectful self for the entirety of Death Masks, and it was so much fun seeing him sass every person he encountered, especially when it enrages the villains.  There is also a great emotional component to Dresden in Death Masks that I enjoyed, as he is still going through a lot of issues.  His already complicated feelings about his past failed romance come full circle here when the girl that got away (well, got turned into a vampire) returns and he is forced to finally confront his repressed feelings for her.  There are also some major moments where Dresden is forced to confront the consequences of his mistakes, especially when they cost other characters, and I loved some of the interactions that occurred as a result.

One of the big returns for Death Masks is the character of Susan Rodriguez, Dresden’s love interest who has been missing for a couple of books.  Susan was partially turned into a vampire during her last appearance and left Dresden as a result.  This book sees her return, and there is a complete change of character because of her transformation, being a lot more confident as well as some more notable abilities.  I liked most of the Susan storyline in this book, not only because fans finally get some closure for the romance between her and Harry but also because she now has some mysterious connections and is working as a covert anti-vampire agent.  There are some great moments with Susan in the book, although I did find one scene to be pretty ridiculous, even though it was supposed to be the sequence that served as the climax of the Dresden/Susan romance arc.  Who knew that all you needed to cure vampiric thirst was a bondage session (I’m barely joking here, that happened).  I mostly ignored this awkward scene (try listening to it whilst on your lunch break at work) from my overall grading of Death Masks, just because it was so much of an outlier, but it was a little weird.  Still, I’m glad we got a return from Susan, and it was interesting to see how much she had changed since the last book.

I also enjoyed the use of the Knights of the Cross in Death Masks, and they served as excellent comrade characters for Dresden.  The Knights of the Cross are three modern day crusaders who wield legendary holy swords and serve as God’s fist on Earth.  We had previously met one of them in Grave Peril, Michael Carpenter, and I loved seeing him again, especially as he is essentially a badass Ned Flanders with a sword and a mission from God.  His mentorship of Harry is a key part of his character arc in the series, and it is really interesting to see him serve as a conscience to the rebellious and faithless Harry.  The two other knights introduced in this book also add a lot to the plot.  The rookie knight, Sanya, was really fun, and I liked his more refreshing take on the role and responsibilities he wields.  However, the best of them was Shiro, the elder knight who acts as the group’s guiding light and who has stood against evil for decades.  I love the depiction of this Japanese badass who literally has fallen angels quaking in their boots, and he was a wise and brilliant character that did a lot in a few short appearances.  Shiro was probably my favourite of the three in this book, and his fantastic dialogue with Harry, especially that description of how he became a Christian, was some of Butcher’s best writing.

Finally, I must talk about the villains, who added a great deal to the story.  Readers are spoiled for choice in Death Masks when it comes to villains, as there are several different groups and individuals who turned up looking to kill Dresden throughout the book.  The first of these is Don Paolo Ortega, a Red Court vampire who seeks to end the war between his people and the wizards of the White Council by killing Dresden in a duel.  Ortega appears to be a mostly reasonable and honourable figure despite his desire to kill Dresden, and I liked the fun banter he had with the protagonist.  I was also glad to see more of Chicago gangster Johnny Marcone, who is one of the best recurring figures in the series.  Marcone always serves as such an excellent foil to Dresden, and their constant sparring and back and forth is a lot of fun to see.  It was particularly interesting to see Marcone become even more involved in the mystical world in this novel, mainly due to the respect he has for Dresden’s abilities, and this serves as a major step towards his current incarnation later in the series.

However, the best villains in the story are probably the group known as the Denarians, a collection of fallen angels possessing desperate or evil humans.  The Denarians are some of the most dangerous beings in the entire Dresden Files, and Butcher gives them an impressive introduction in this novel, showing them as agents of chaos determined to cause as much grief as possible.  Their leader, Nicodemus, is probably one of the most intriguing and sinister figures I’ve yet see Butcher write, and he pretty much always had Dresden on the ropes.  I particularly loved his first major interaction with the protagonist, especially as he was able to completely rattle Dresden, who could barely do anything in response.  The characters were barely able to survive his machinations throughout the book, and he truly showcased how much of a threat he could and would be.  A masterful villain, I cannot wait to see more of him in some of the future books.  All these characters, and more (future superstar Butters has an interesting introduction this book), really add to the captivating story, and I loved how well Butcher developed and featured them in Death Masks.

Unsurprisingly, I chose to enjoy Death Masks on audiobook, which was another excellent and impressive experience.  I really love the Dresden Files audiobooks and Death Masks was another good example of why.  Not only does the format really capture the essence of the story and help the listener become immersed in the urban fantasy world, but it also features some of the best voice work you are likely to find in an audiobook.  That is because Death Masks is narrated by actor James Marsters, who always does a spectacular job brining this series to life.  After providing narration for the first four books in the series, Marsters really knows what he is doing when he gets to Death Masks, and he swiftly dives in and gives the epic narrative everything it needs.  All the characters are voiced perfectly, with some extremely fitting and powerful voices given to them that expertly portray their personalities, ethnicities and mentalities.  Due to the great range of characters in Death Masks, Marsters is required to play a range of figures, from an evil fallen angel, three ultra-good holy knights, a gangster, multiple vampires and more, all of which come out really well.  However, the best work is saved for protagonist and point-of-view character Harry Dresden.  Marsters perfectly inhabits the role of Dresden, and you get the full breadth of his complexities, inner pain, and weird sense of humour, as Marsters narrates the book through his eyes.  You really get the best understanding of Dresden through Marsters’s voice work, and that really adds to the quality of the entire read.  As such, this format comes extremely highly recommended, and you need to try Death Masks’ audiobook as soon as you can.

Another Dresden Files book down, another five-star rating from me.  Death Masks was another epic and exceptional entry in this amazing series, and I continue to be impressed by how well Jim Butcher writes these great books.  Thanks to its excellent and utterly addictive narrative and brilliant character work, Death Masks is probably one of the best Dresden Files novels I have read so far, and I had such a great time with it.  I can think of no higher compliment than to say it made me so happy, I instantly started listening to the next book in the series, Blood Rites, the moment I finished Death Masks.  Make sure to come back next week to check that Throwback Thursday out.

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Waiting on Wednesday – Son of the Poison Rose by Jonathan Maberry

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For my latest Waiting on Wednesday, I look at the dark fantasy book I most excited for in the early days of 2023 with the second Kagen the Damned novel from Jonathan Maberry, Son of the Poison Rose.

Son of the Poison Rose Cover

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Earlier this year I was very excited to read and review the first fantasy book from one of my favourite authors, Jonathan Maberry.  Maberry is a very talented and impressive author who most people would recognise from his excellent science fiction, thriller, and horror novels.  I have had a brilliant time over the last few years getting through some of Maberry’s exciting, clever, and often exceedingly brutal novels, with pretty much all of them getting five-star ratings from me.  This includes the novels in his incredible Joe Ledger series, such as Patient Zero, The Dragon Factory, Code Zero, Dogs of War and Deep Silence, the fantastic Rogue Team International sequel series, which has so far featured Rage (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2019) and Relentless (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021), as well as some standalone reads like Ink (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2020).  However, even after enjoying all that I was unprepared for the awesomeness that was Kagen the Damned.

Kagen the Damned was Maberry’s first full foray in the fantasy genre, which turned out to be an exceptional and high octane read.  Set in an elaborate new fantasy realm, the book follows former hero Kagen Vale, who loses everything in a single night when the forces of the Witch-king of Hakkia invade his empire, kill the Empress and butcher the children he was sworn to protect.  Forsaken by his gods and broken inside, Kagen wanders the countryside in a haze, now calling himself Kagen the Damned, before eventually regaining his senses and launching an assault on the Witch-king and the dark powers he commands.  However, while the final battle is partially successful, it reveals several dark secrets that push Kagen even further as he tries to understand the full implications.

I had a remarkable time with Kagen the Damned and it is easily one of the better books I have had the pleasure to read in 2022.  The exceptional blend of powerful narrative, intense action, complex characters, and outstanding world-building was extremely impressive, and I loved every second I spent listening to it.  As such, I am now a pretty major fan of the Kagen the Damned series, and I was very excited to discover that I really don’t have that much longer to wait till I get my next fix of it.

The second entry in the Kagen the Damned series will by Son of the Poison Rose, which is currently set for release in January 2023.  Son of the Poison Rose will continue many of the storylines from the first novel and set the protagonists on a dangerous adventure to try and understand the enemy they are facing.

Plot Synopsis:

Son of the Poison Rose marks the second installment of New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry’s epic, swashbuckling Kagen the Damned series.

The Silver Empire is in ruins. War is in the wind. Kagen and his allies are on the run from the Witch-king. Wild magic is running rampant everywhere. Spies and secret cabals plot from the shadows of golden thrones.

Kagen Vale is the most wanted man in the world, with a death sentence on his head and a reward for him—dead or alive—that would tempt a saint.

The Witch-king has new allies who bring a terrible weapon—a cursed disease that drives people into a murderous rage. If the disease is allowed to spread, the whole of the West will tear itself apart.

In order to build an army of resistance fighters and unearth magical weapons of his own, Kagen and his friends have to survive attacks and storms at sea, brave the haunted wastelands of the snowy north, fight their way across the deadly Cathedral Mountains, and rediscover a lost city filled with cannibal warriors, old ghosts, and monsters from other worlds. Along with his reckless adventurer brothers, Kagen races against time to save more than the old empire… if he fails the world will be drenched in a tsunami of bloodshed and horror.

Son of the Poison Rose weaves politics and espionage, sorcery and swordplay, treachery and heroism as the damned outcast Kagen fights against the forces of ultimate darkness.

Well damn, now this sounds like it is going to be incredibly awesome.  I already knew that I was going to really love Son of the Poison Rose, but some of the details revealed above have made me even more excited, which I didn’t think was possible.  The mentions about a rage disease are pretty interesting, especially as that is something that Maberry has utilised in several of his previous novels, and its frankly terrifying to see every single time.  In addition, you have politics, espionage, battles on the sea, cannibals and so much more, which I am extremely keen in seeing unfold.  The idea of sea battles is particularly intriguing to me, and I am going to love seeing how a Maberry-written sea-battle turns out.

I am also very excited to see what sort of character development or emotional damage occurs amongst the various protagonists in this second book.  Maberry unleashed some deep personal bombs at the end of Kagen the Damned, and these are going to really hit Kagen hard, especially the reveal about who the Witch-king is and the two prisoners he is holding.  Both revelations are going to rattle the already unstable Kagen, and I know that Maberry is going to spend a lot of time breaking Kagen down again.  I am also quite interested in seeing some scenes from the Witch-kings perspective, and I am extremely curious to see what events led him to take up this dark mantle and stage an attack on the Silver Empire.

So, I doubt anyone is too surprised that I am really, really excited for Son of the Poison Rose by Jonathan Maberry.  This book was already one of my most anticipated reads for 2023 even before I started reading Kagen the Damned, just because I love Maberry’s writing that much.  However, the extra plot details revealed about have raised my anticipation levels even higher, and this will probably be one of the first things I read next year.  I have no doubt in my mind whatsoever that Son of the Poison Rose will be one of the best books of 2023 and I cannot wait to see how the epic Kagen the Damned series continues.

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Throwback Thursday: Warhammer: Vampireslayer by William King

Vampireslayer Cover 2

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – August 2021)

Series: Gotrek and Felix – Book Six

Length: 11 hours and 13 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

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Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  For my latest Throwback Thursday I continue my recent obsession with Warhammer Fantasy fiction by checking out another entry in the iconic Gotrek and Felix series by William King, Vampireslayer.

I have been on a real roll with looking at the cool fiction associated with the now defunct Warhammer Fantasy tabletop game over the last few weeks, including the fantastic novels Runefang and Van Horstman.  However, few Warhammer Fantasy books have grabbed my attention or interest more than the Gotrek and Felix series, which serves as one of the central pillars of Warhammer fiction.  The Gotrek and Felix books, which were originally written by William King, follow the titular characters, dwarf slayer Gotrek Gurnisson and his sworn human companion Felix Jaeger, as they journey around the Warhammer Fantasy realm, finding monsters to fight and kill, all in the hope of finding a worthy death for Gotrek.  This is an awesome and unbelievably exciting fantasy series that take the reader to some of the darkest parts of the Warhammer Fantasy world and sees them face off against all manner of crazy foes.

I have had an absolute blast getting through the Gotrek and Felix books over the last year, as there have been some cracking reads in there.  The previous books, Trollslayer, Skavenslayer, Daemonslayer, Dragonslayer and Beastslayer, have all had their own unique charm, and all of them have been well written and compelling reads.  Vampireslayer is the sixth book in the series, and as the name suggests, it pits Gotrek, Felix and their allies against one of the most dangerous creatures in the Warhammer canon, an ancient and deadly vampire count.

Following their victory at the siege of Praag, Gotrek, Felix and their surviving allies, have finally been able to relax after a never-ending series of battles. However, the ever-restless Gotrek is still determined to find a worthy death to fulfil his suicidal oath, and Felix knows it is only a matter of time before they journey out to face the rising hordes of Chaos that are building around the realms of man.  But before Gotrek and Felix can head out, a new evil rears its head; one that is far more cunning and ancient than anything they have faced before.

After accepting a job from a wealthy Praag nobleman, Gotrek and Felix find themselves investigating a mysterious man who is attempting to steal one of their client’s treasured artifacts.  But the closer they look, the more apparent it becomes that their target is no ordinary man, but a powerful ancient vampire named Adolophus Krieger, who has been stalking the streets of Praag, feasting on the innocent.  Determined to slay this beast, Gotrek and Felix’s confrontation goes poorly, when the vampire outsmarts them, steals the artifact and takes their companion, Ulrika Magdova, hostage.

Determined to save Ulrika and get their revenge on their foe, Gotrek and Felix, as well as their allies, Snorri Nosebiter, Max Schreiber and Ulrika’s father, Ivan Straghov, pursue the vampire lord.  To kill Krieger, they will have to travel to one of the most dangerous places in the Old World, the haunted lands of Sylvania.  Controlled by the Vampire Counts for generations, Sylvania is a wicked place where the dead never rest, and dark creatures lurk around every corner.  Worse, their foe is powered by an ancient artefact forged by Nagash and has designs on becoming the supreme vampire ruler, leading them in a new war against the living.  With the odds stacked against them, Gotrek, Felix and their companions must dig deep if they are to kill Krieger, rescue Ulrika and save the world.  But after spending time trapped with the vampire, can Ulrika truly be saved?

King once again shows why his Gotrek and Felix books were the defining Warhammer Fantasy series with this epic and fast-paced read.  Vampireslayer is easily one of the stronger entries in the series and takes its distinctive protagonists on an intense and captivating adventure that I deeply enjoyed.

Vampireslayer had an amazing fantasy narrative, and I think this was one of King’s more impressive and enjoyable stories.  Taking off right after Beastslayer, the initial story sees Gotrek, Felix and their allies still at the city of Praag, planning out their next adventures.  They quickly find themselves dragged into another adventure when a distant relative of Ulrika reaches out to them for help with a mysterious threat.  This initial part of the book was rather interesting, and not only does it have some great follow-ups from the previous entry in the series but it also sets up the narrative and the current characters really well.  There is a fantastic cat-and-mouse game going on in the early stages of the novel, as the protagonists attempt to discern the new evil they are going up against, while their vampiric assailant, Adolophus Krieger, puts his plans into motion.  Following the first encounter between the heroes and the vampire, which is set up and executed to drive up anticipation for later interactions, Krieger escapes and the protagonists are forced into a deadly chase across the world.

The rest of the novel is primarily set in the dread realm of Sylvania, and sees the protagonists chase after the vampire and his kidnapped victim.  This second part of the book is filled with some fun and exciting classic horror elements as the protagonists go up against a variety of foes from the vampire count’s army.  There is a lot of great action, fantastic chases, and some substantial character development occurring during this part of the novel, as the author brings together many of the threads from earlier in Vampireslayer, while also introducing some intriguing new supporting characters.  King makes particularly good use of multiple character perspectives throughout this part of the book, and I loved seeing the conflicted thoughts of the main protagonists (minus Gotrek as usual), as well as the many plots of the villain and his new minion.  This all leads up to the big confrontation between the protagonists and their foe at the legendary Drakenhof Castle, as the heroes face off against an army of the undead and the vampire himself.  The action flows thick and fast here, and King pulls no punches, showing the brutal and dark nature of the Warhammer Fantasy universe.  I did think that the final confrontation was a bit rushed, with the anticipated battle against Krieger lasting only a short while, but it was pretty fun to see.  There are a couple of good tragic moments in this conclusion, as well as some interesting developments for some long-running supporting characters, and King brings everything to a good close as a result.

I think that one of the things that made this story particularly enjoyable was that it was a lot more focused than some of the other books in the series.  This was mainly because it was the first book since Skavenslayer not to feature a sub-story that focused on recurring villain, Grey Seer Thanquol.  While Thanquol’s perspective was good for Skavenslayer, its use in the following novels, while usually very fun and entertaining, seemed a bit unnecessary and often affected the pacing or stole the impact away from the book’s actually antagonists.  This became more and more apparent in Dragonslayer and Beastslayer, especially when Thanquol’s actions rarely had any impact on the main plot.  As such, not having a Thanquol focused side story in Vampireslayer was a bit of a blessing, and it really increased the impact of the remaining storylines.  It also ensured that the parts of the book told from Krieger’s perspective really pop, as he was the only villain you could focus on.  I had a brilliant time with this impressive story and it ended up being an excellent adventure to follow.

Vampireslayer proved to be a pretty awesome entry to the wider Warhammer Fantasy universe, and I loved the cool details and references that King added in.  Like most of the books in the Gotrek and Felix saga, Vampireslayer can be read as a standalone novel (probably more so than the last three books in the series), and very little pre-knowledge about the Warhammer Fantasy or the previous books in the series is required to enjoy this excellent book.  King does a great job of once again introducing the key elements, recurring characters, and wider evils of this universe, ensuring that new readers get the information they need without making it too repetitive or boring for established fans.

One of the things that makes Vampireslayer standout a little more from some of the recent entries in the series is the move away from Chaos focused opponents and instead brings in a new faction from the universe in the form of a vampire and his undead hordes.  This is a fantastic change of pace, and I rather enjoyed seeing one of the more compelling factions from the game, even though I have bad memories of facing my brother’s Vampire Counts army.  King does a brilliant job diving into the lore and history of vampires and the general undead in the Warhammer universe, and the protagonists get a good crash course on them, which new readers will deeply appreciate.  I loved seeing a vampire antagonist in this novel, especially as it is one of the classic Vampire Counts types (a Von Carstein vampire).  This vampire has a lot of the classic European elements associated with Dracula, and it was fun to see the protagonist deal with this sort of creature, especially as Krieger takes the time to taunt them in a way they’ve never dealt with before.  King also adds in several of cool units from the Vampire Counts book, and it was pretty fun to see them in action in some brilliant fight scenes.  I also deeply enjoyed the dark setting of Sylvania, where much of the story takes place.  Sylvania, a Warhammer realm based deeply on Transylvania and ruled over by vampires, has always captured my imagination and it was fun to see it used in Vampireslayer.  You really get the sense of fear and despair surrounding the countryside, and all the locals, many of whom are just a step away from becoming some form of creature, are a depressing and scared group.  Watching the characters attempt to traverse this land was really entertaining, and I think all these awesome Warhammer Fantasy elements helped to make this great story even more impressive.

I also found some of the character work in Vampireslayer to be pretty intriguing, as King examines several great characters in this book.  The central two characters are naturally Gotrex and Felix, although not a great deal of character development went towards them in this book.  Gotrex is his usual gruff, murderous and unreadable self, who is essentially shown as an unkillable beast at this point, and you really don’t get much more from him, especially as Gotrex’s perspective is deliberately not shown.  Felix also doesn’t get much growth in this book, although he does serve as a primary narrator, recording and observing the events of the book.  Despite this lack of growth, Felix is a great everyman character to follow and it is really entertaining to see his quite reasonable reaction to facing off against the evils that gravitate towards Gotrek.

A large amount of focus went to the supporting characters of Max Schreiber and Ulrika Magdova, who have been major parts of the series since Daemonslayer.  The attention on both has been growing substantially through the last couple of books, especially in Beastslayer, and they had a massive presence in Vampireslayer.  Max, the team’s wizard, is pushed to the brink in this book after investigating a dangerous magical artefact and having his companion Ulrika kidnapped.  Max, who has always had a crush on Ulrika (it was pretty creepy at first, but better now), becomes obsessed with saving her before its too late, and this drives him to some extremes in this book.  Ulrika, on the other hand, must survive the evil attentions of the book’s villain, especially once the vampire takes an unhealthy obsession with her.  I must admit that I have always found Ulrika to be a fairly annoying character (which isn’t great when she’s usually the only female figure in the books), however, this was one of her best appearances as she goes through a physical, mental and magical wringer.  Her attempts to resist the vampire are extremely powerful and her eventual fall to darkness is one of the more compelling and best written parts of the book.  This was an excellent outing for both these supporting characters, and it actually serves as a wonderful final hurrah, as I know they don’t appear in many books in the future.

The final character from Vampireslayer that I need to talk about is the book’s primary antagonist, the titular vampire Adolophus Krieger.  Krieger, a centuries-old creature with connections to Vlad von Carstein, serves as a brilliant villain for this adventure novel, especially as King takes a substantial amount of time to dive into his history, personality and motivations.  Rebelling against his sire and attempting to become the next vampiric master of the Old World, Krieger is shown as a complex and intense being with some major issues.  Not only does he have to temper his intense ambition, but he also finds himself mentally deteriorating towards savagery and must constantly fight for control as his afterlife’s goals comes to fruition.  King does a great job capturing this compelling figure throughout the book, and I particularly enjoyed his introductory chapters where his temper and inability to suffer fools is shown with gruesome results.  Krieger has a brilliant presence throughout the novel, and he was a great villain opposite Gotrek and Felix with his gentlemanly airs (he has a great comeback to a line from Snorri Nosebiter).  I deeply enjoyed all the outstanding characters in Vampireslayer, and King did some superb work with them throughout this novel.

After reading paperback versions of Dragonslayer and Beastslayer, I’ve finally gotten back onto the Gotrek and Felix audiobooks with Vampireslayer, which was a lot of fun to listen to.  The audiobook format did an amazing job of capturing the dark tone and fast-paced action of this intense novel, and I felt that listening to Vampireslayer on audiobook really helped me appreciate a lot of the book’s more interesting details.  With a runtime of just over 11 hours, this is an easy audiobook to power through, and I personally managed to get through it in a few days.  This great audiobook was further enhanced by the excellent narration of Jonathan Keeble, who has narrated most of the other Gotrek and Felix audiobooks.  Keeble has an amazing voice for this sort of novel, and I loved the fantastic way he was able to move the story along at a brilliant pace while also enhancing the book’s horror and action elements.  I particularly loved the range of excellent voices he attributes to the various characters, many of which are carried over from his previous audiobook experiences.  All the characters get some distinctive and very fitting tones here, which I think worked extremely well.  Examples of some of the best voices include Felix, whose calm voice of reason, serves as the narrator’s base tone for most of the story; Gotrek, who is given a gruff and menacing voice that contains all the character’s barely restrained anger and regret; and even the new vampire character, Adolophus Krieger, who is gifted a French/European accent to match the classic vampire vibe that goes with the Vampire Counts characters in Warhammer, and the character’s likely origins as a Bretonnian Knight.  This expert voice work was extremely good and I had a brilliant time listening to this version of Vampireslayer.  As such, this format comes highly recommended and it is usually one of the best ways to enjoy a cool Warhammer novel.

Vampireslayer was another epic entry in the fantastic and ultra-fun Gotrek and Felix series by William King.  Bringing in a great new opponent who pushes the protagonists to new lows, this was an excellent adventure novel that shows some of the best parts of the Warhammer Fantasy world.  With a captivating and fast-paced narrative, this was one of the better entries in the series and I had an outstanding time getting through Vampireslayer.  An awesome read for all Warhammer and general fantasy fans, especially on audiobook.  I love this series so much!

Vampireslayer Cover

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