Priest of Bones by Peter McLean

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Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Publication Date – 2 October 2018

 

For those looking for some down and dirty fantasy crime, look no further than Priest of Bones, the new release from fantasy author Peter McLean, which provides the reader with a dark, violent and downright entertaining story.

After achieving victory in a devastating war, thousands of soldiers begin the long and weary journey back home through a countryside ravished by war, plague and famine.  Among those soldiers returning to the industrial city of Ellinburg is Thomas Piety, priest of Our Lady of Eternal Sorrows and leader of a small and loyal band of killers.  Thomas has taken his duty as a soldier and a priest seriously, but now it is time for him to return to what he knows best: crime.

A successful crime lord before his conscription, Thomas believed he had left his territory in capable hands.  However, upon his return he discovers that his entire criminal empire has been taken over by a new gang that appears to have origins outside of Ellinburg.  With no choice but to reclaim what is his, Thomas and his soldiers, including his loyal sergeant, Bloody Anne, and his damaged brother, Jochan, do what they do best and go to war.

As Thomas and his gang, the Pious Men, reclaim territory and re-establish themselves in Ellinburg, they begin to realise that they are facing an opponent far more dangerous than the usual gangs and criminals of the city.  Their opponents are organised, have the best weapons money can buy and even have a couple of magic users.  To make matters worse, Thomas finds himself entrapped by one the deadly Queen’s Men, the feared order of spies and assassins loyal to queen, who have some special plans for the Pious Men.  Now, Thomas and his soldiers must embark on a dangerous and bloody crusade against the other gangs of Ellinburg.  Victory will mean control of the city’s crime, while defeat will spell doom for them all.

Priest of Bones is an excellent example of fantasy crime fiction done right as McLean has produced a story that is action-packed, incredibly intriguing and very enjoyable.  McLean has been writing fantasy for a few years and is probably best known for The Burned Man series, an urban fantasy crime series that focused on a magical hitman.  He also has a few short stories to his name, including some set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe.  Priest of Bones is the first book in his new War for the Rose Throne series, which will continue next year with the highly anticipated Priest of Lies.

The story contained within this first book is an amazing fantasy crime narrative which sees the protagonist work to reclaim his criminal holdings from a powerful new gang that has moved into the city while he was gone.  This starts out exactly as you would expect from this sort of story as the protagonists attempt to regain territory, one business at a time, while their opponents launch counterattacks and raids of their own.  The protagonists come up with some effective plans for taking territory and show what happens when a bunch of soldiers engage in some brutal urban combat.  There is a large amount of action throughout this book, which McLean records in bloody and enthralling detail.  This action mostly takes the form of small skirmishes and battles, although there are some magical battles which do result in some more gory and spectacular deaths.  All of this is incredibly fun, and it works very well with the intriguing side stories and character exploration to create a compelling overall narrative.  As the book progresses, an element of political intrigue takes hold as new players enter the game.  This represents an interesting but subtle change to the pace of the book and doesn’t result in any loss of action or excitement.  In many ways, it appears to be a setup for the next book in the series, which sounds like it’s going to have a much more political focus to it.  McLean wraps this all up with a memorable conclusion that I won’t elaborate on, but is the perfect ending for this outstanding and extremely enjoyable piece of fantasy crime.

The central gang that McLean looked at in the plot, the Pious Men, are a strong bunch of characters who serve as a fantastic focal point for this series.  All of the Pious Men are former soldiers who have recently survived the war and are still haunted by the horrors they experienced, especially at the devastating siege of Abingon.  Quite a few of the characters from this small band of soldiers are explored throughout the book, and while some of these characters only get minor mentions, a number do get expanded roles throughout the book and are shown to have some form of development or are slotted into a role that they make their own.  One of the most interesting features of this book is the way that McLean has focused on just how badly the war has messed up these characters, as pretty much all of them are suffering from PTSD in some way or another, referred to by the characters in the book as battle shock.  This is handled very well and allows for some fantastic scenes, as characters who initially come across as quite amiable for most of the book go berserk when attacked, while other characters who appear quite strong find themselves crippled by these memories.

The leader of this group of former soldiers turned criminals is Thomas Piety, who serves as the book’s main protagonist and only point-of-view character.  Thomas is a good central character to anchor this story, who for the most part comes across as a cold and calculating person who knows how to get what he wants.  As Priest of Bones continues, it is slowly revealed that there is a lot more to Thomas’s character than what is originally believed, as he is trying to hide not only the emotional damage from Abingon but the dark memories from his childhood that are still driving him to this day.  It is interesting to see Thomas try and reconcile his new role as a priest of Our Lady of Eternal Sorrows with his role as a soldier and crime lord.  It is also intriguing to see that one of his deeper motivations is based on his belief that his criminal enterprises not only will make his city a better place but may also save it from a similar fate to Abingon, something he is desperate to never see again.  As the story is completely shown through Thomas’s viewpoint, the reader gets the benefit of his cynical attitude as well as his humorous and accurate insights throughout the book.  This is a great focal character for this book, and I had fun exploring his full depths.

Quite a lot of time is also spent exploring the other members of the Pious Men that follow Thomas back from the war.  The best of these characters is easily Bloody Anne, the hard-as-nails sergeant who is Thomas’s most loyal soldier and friend.  There is detailed examination of Anne’s past which reveals a lot about her current character, including her distrust of magic users.  This turns into quite a nice side story, as Anne finally starts to overcome her past enough to start exploring a relationship with the prostitute Rosie.  Thomas’s brother, Jochan, is also an intriguing character who fits in well with this darker story.  Jochan is your standard unhinged killer, who has some of the funniest lines and can be found in the middle of all the big fight scenes.  His presence results in a lot of the book’s tension, as he and Thomas clash about everything.  McLean has also created a very traumatic backstory for Jochan that not only helps to humanise the character as the reader gets further into the book but also explains a lot about Thomas’s deeper motivation and the guilt he feels whenever he thinks of his brother.  Other great characters that the reader should keep an eye out for are the fake knight Sir Eland, the mysterious barmaid Ailsa and Billy the Boy, the Pious Men’s good luck charm who is clearly going to be a very important character throughout the rest of the series.

In Priest of Bones, Peter McLean has delivered a fast-paced and captivating piece of fantasy crime that is filled with a ton of graphic violence, a number of exhilarating fight scenes and some excellent character driven story work.  This new book is a wonderful introduction to the new War for the Rose Throne series, and I’m already looking forward to the follow-up book in 2019.  Clever, bloody and all sorts of fun, readers will have a blast checking this book out.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

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Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Publication Date – 28 August 2018

 

Hot on the heels of his sensational first trilogy, Robert Jackson Bennett has produced another outstanding fantasy read with Foundryside, a bold and exiting novel that brings together an excellent mixture of action, intrigue and humour and powers it with a great location and some inventive and enjoyable new fantasy elements.

In the city of Tevanne, everything runs on scrivings, magical inscriptions that make inanimate objects sentient and allow them do incredible things.  Scrivings give the city of Tevanne incredible power and influence, and the creation of scrivings has been refined into an industrial process controlled by four powerful merchant houses.  These merchant houses have complete control of the city, and those living outside their compounds are a poor, desperate bunch, attempting to eek a living from a city that doesn’t care for them.

For escaped slave Sancia Grado, the only way to survive is to steal.  Gifted with unique abilities, Sancia is one of the city’s most successful thieves, who dreams of escaping from both the city and the discomfort her abilities provide her.  When Sancia is offered a significant sum of money to steal a valuable artefact from the heavily guarded city docks, she jumps at the chance.  But not everything is as it seems, and after stealing the item, Sancia is betrayed and is now being hunted by shadowy figures with incredibly advanced scrived devices.

At the same time, the guard captain Gregor Dandolo is also hunting for Sancia, determined to bring her to justice for her destructive theft.  Caught in the middle of a conspiracy that spans the entire city, Sancia and Gregor are thrust together and must search for new allies if they are to survive.  As the mysterious assassins descend upon them, their lives may depend on the abilities of one powerful artefact.  But while they find a way to fight back, an ancient evil is about to be unleashed which could bring the entire city down around them.

Bennet is a well-established fantasy writer who is probably best known for The Divine Cities series, which concluded in 2017.  Readers may also be familiar with some of his standalone works, including The Troupe, Mr. Shivers and the science fiction book The Company ManFoundryside is the latest book from Bennet and represents the start of the captivating new The Founders trilogy.  Foundryside contains a powerful and captivating story set within a fascinating city and containing some very unique magical elements that are a truly enjoyable part of the book.  The main story contains a significant amount of adventure as the book’s protagonists attempt to uncover a conspiracy around the origin of the book’s central magical element.  Readers will be left guessing about the secrets behind the conspiracy, while several of the book’s dramatic twists will leave them reeling from the emotional gut punches.  The final conclusion of the book sets up some exciting options for the rest of the series, which I will definitely be checking out when they are released.

One of the main highlights of this book is the fantastically unique magical fantasy element known as scrivings.  Scrivings are a form of magical writings that enhance items they are engraved on, giving them certain properties, abilities or autonomy.  For example, carts can be scrived to make them travel from point A to point B, items can be scrived to move at a greater speed by making them believe they are dropping from a great height, and materials such as wood can be made to believe they have the hardness or consistency of stone.  There are a huge range of elaborate rules around scrivings, and the author has presented some fascinating background lore which provides some interesting explanations around the creation and utilisation of these items.  An unexpected side effect of the scriving process is that the scrived items are given a form of magical sentience.  Throughout the book, Sancia is at times gifted with the ability to listen to the listen to the thoughts of the scrived items, and the items are shown to be shouting out their defined roles and the rules they have to follow, often in the form of riddles.  There are quite a few funny scenes when some of the characters attempt to manipulate scrived items by exploiting loopholes in their programming, and watching people and magical items have a debate is very amusing.  The use of scriving throughout Foundryside allows the author to create some fantastic and, at times, over-the-top action sequences as the characters wield weapons that have been imbued with the ability to hit harder or faster than conventional, or items that give other risky benefits in combat.  The hidden history of the scrivings is also quite intriguing, and watching the characters uncover it is an essential and enjoyable part of the plot.  Overall, Bennett’s magical scrivings are a fantastic part of this book that readers will really love to discover.

In addition to the creative magical elements, Bennett has also set his story in an amazing new fantasy cityscape.  The city of Tevanne is full of scrived items, and Bennett has done a great job inserting these magical items into every part of the city’s day-to-day life.  An interesting feature of this city is the way that significant portions of the city has been broken up into ‘campos’, merchant enclaves where scrived items are created at an industrial level.  Each of these four campos is ruled over by a powerful merchant house, and a large amount of the book’s excellent intrigue elements are fuelled by the competition between these houses.  The campos also serve as interesting social boundaries, with the people living inside having everything that they need, while those living outside, in the area known as the Commons or Foundryside, are barely getting by.  Having areas of the city completely controlled by rich merchants is an element with a lot of potential, especially when these merchants have their own private guards and are essentially laws unto themselves.  Bennett makes full use of this, creating thrilling sequences that feature his characters sneaking into and around these heavily guarded compounds.  The control and distribution of power, here represented by the creation of scrivings, is also a compelling part of the book, and Bennett has created some great characters and scenarios around this development.

I really have to mention the strong and funny characters that are featured throughout Foundryside and are an incredible part of this exciting story.  The main protagonist is Sancia Grado, an escaped slave and thief who finds herself thrust into the centre of a deep conspiracy.  There is a lot going on with Sancia, with her tragic backstory, her unique scriving based powers that are both a blessing and a curse, and her fun and fierce attitude developed from a life on the streets.  All these elements combine together into one awesome character, and Bennett uses her to full effect as his central protagonist.  The book’s other main characters are also quite entertaining and enjoyable.  There is Gregor Dandolo, the tough and law-abiding soldier whose sense of duty draws him into the middle of the conspiracy.  Gregor is a very action based character, but his backstory is also quite traumatic and he shares some great moments with Sancia, a character he initially has very little in common with.  There are also some amazing scenes where Gregor must come to terms with the actions of his family’s merchant house, as well as some strong and emotive twists involving his history.  Other characters include the master scriver, Orso Ignacio, who acts as the book’s resident mad scientist and comes with some very fun ideas, from an audacious break in plan to a funny solution to his legal problems at the end of the book.  I also really enjoyed Orso’s assistant, Berenice, who Bennett uses to great effect as the book’s straight woman for the more outrageous characters, especially Orso, while also serving as Sancia’s love interest.  While all these characters are really enjoyable focuses for the book, the hands-down best character has to be Clef, the sentient key.  Before this book I would have had a hard time believing that a talking key could be a great central character, but I’m very happy that Bennett has proven me wrong.  Not only is Clef a fun and enjoyable character that the reader becomes strongly attached to, but a huge amount of Foundryside’s best humour comes from Clef’s banter and observations.  Bennett has really outdone himself when it comes to these characters and I had a great time watching their adventures.

With an amazing story, fantastic humour, enjoyable and memorable characters and some unique and fascinating fantasy elements, Bennett has once again shown the world what a talented fantasy writer he is.  Foundryside is another outstanding release from Bennett, and I had a lot of fun with this book.  Readers of this book are in for a real treat and they will be very eager to see where The Founders trilogy goes next.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

Annex by Rich Larson

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Publication Date: Orbit

Australian Publication Date – 25 September 2018

World Publication Date – 24 July 2018

 

From exciting new author Rich Larson comes an absorbing young adult science fiction debut that makes use of creepy alien elements, excellent characters and fantastic LGBT inclusions to create a powerful and creative read.

When a gigantic alien ship arrives above Earth and isolates an entire city, all the children that are trapped with the aliens are kidnapped and infested with parasitic life forms, while the adults are clamped and inserted with mechanical devices that turn them into mindless drones.

For the small group of children that escape captivity, the disappearance of all the adults offers them a life of fun and adventure.  Falling under the leadership of the charismatic Wyatt, this group of survivors, the Lost Boys, are living the high life, with their newly attached parasites giving them the ability to vanish objects for brief periods of time.  While life is fun, they must continue to avoid the mechanical whirlybirds, the pod-like spaceships and the terrifying Othermothers hunting them in the streets.

For Violet, this new world allows her the opportunity to live the life she’s always wanted and to be the person she’s always wanted to be.  But Violet’s new life on of the city streets changes dramatically when she finds a new escapee, Bo, and takes him under her wing.  Bo has the most powerful parasite the group has ever seen and is capable of permanently vanishing larger objects.  It also appears the alien invaders want him back and are deploying hordes of their creatures to capture him.

Sensing an opportunity, the Lost Boys use Bo to fight back against the aliens while trying to uncover what plans they have for the rest of the planet.  Breaking into the massive hovering mother ship, Violet and Bo team up with the mysterious Mr Gloom to end this alien threat once and for all.  But these two young people will quickly find that the biggest threat to them may be far closer to home than they realise.

Annex is the first novel from Rich Larson and is the first book in The Violet Wars series, with the second book of this intriguing series, Cypher, already on its way.  This is a wonderful debut from Larson, which contains a surprisingly intense and at times dark story that will prove to be enjoyable to a wide range of readers.

There are a number of great features of Annex that readers will enjoy; however, one of the most noticeable features is the creepy and well-written descriptions of the aliens and events that the book’s main characters encounter.  There are a lot of inventive and twisted creatures, technology and even body modifications that can be found throughout this book, and Larson’s skilled writing helps brings them to life in the reader’s imagination.  I was particularly impressed, and a little freaked out, by Larson’s unique creation the Othermothers.  The Othermothers are unsettling clones of the escaped children’s mothers, perched upon long skeletal metal legs, who chirp out random phrases in the mothers’ voices in an attempt to lure the escaped children to them and then capture them.  Because of Larson’s descriptive writing, these creatures are horrifying and really stood out for me among the other alien antagonists the heroes encountered.  Special mention should also be made of the shadowy Mr Gloom, a strange adult they encounter whose appearance is not quite human and who has a range of powerful abilities.  I am not going to reveal too much about Mr Gloom because he appears about two-thirds into the book and I do not want to spoil too much about him.  I did find him to be quite a fun character.  Larson’s descriptions of Mr Gloom are fantastic, especially when it comes to exploring his shadow based abilities, which are a treat to read about.

In addition to the alien creatures and characters that are encountered through the book, readers should also keep an eye on the leader of the Lost Boys, Wyatt.  Wyatt is at first presented as a talented leader who has managed to bring the Lost Boys together and keep them alive.  However, there is much more to this character than he initially presents, and his real personality begins to be revealed to the heroes and the readers as the book progresses.  This is some incredible character work from Larson, and the revelation of Wyatt’s true motivations and persona is done perfectly, resulting in some excellent dramatic scenes and some really dark twists.  The author’s use of two separate point-of-view characters, Violet and Bo, works really well when it comes to viewing Wyatt, as the reader is able to observe his different manipulations, his moods and the cracks that appear in his outer façade.  This is a very intriguing character that dramatically changes the narrative of Annex in a number of ways, and the scenes exploring Wyatt are some of the best written in the entire book.

One of the key aspects of Annex that will prove to be an interesting addition for the reader is one of the main protagonists, Violet.  Violet is a tough–as-nails kicker of alien ass who is also a young transgender girl who has used the lack of adults following the invasion to finally live her life the way she always wanted to.  This is an amazing portrayal of a transgender character, as the author creates a stimulating backstory for Violet that examines her past and explores how she became her current self while also exploring the fears and people that stopped her from fully expressing her identity.  The book also explores how intrinsic this identity can be and how devastating attacks about identity can be, even during an alien apocalypse.  Violet is a well-rounded character, and Larson skilfully displays her other fears, her independence, her new friendship with Bo and her relationships with the other Lost Boys.  Violet helps to elevate this book to the next level and make it into a terrific piece of young adult fiction.

This book is an interesting addition to the young adult genre that definitely highlights the empowerment of young people.  The human characters of this book are all quite youthful and yet manage to thrive in a hostile alien landscape that has incapacitated all of the adults.  Watching these young people come together as a tight-knit group is an intriguing part of this book, and it is interesting to see the subtle techniques Wyatt uses to turn them into his own little army, such as with initiation rites, slogans and other forms of manipulation.  Overall, watching this group overcome without adult help the obstacles of being among the aliens oppressing them is a great part of the book.  This makes it an interesting read for the young adult audience, especially for those who love to see transgender characters in fiction.

Annex by Rich Larson is an excellent debut and is recommended for those younger readers looking for a science fiction adventure that they can relate to.  With some creepy aliens, intriguing characters and a deep look at transgender issues among today’s youth, this is an exhilarating read from a promising new author.

My Rating:

Four stars

Runaways Volume 1: Find Your Way Home by Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka

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Publisher: Marvel Comics

Publication Date – 8 May 2018

 

From bestselling young adult fiction author Rainbow Rowell and exciting Marvel artist Kris Anka comes the revival we have all been waiting for, with the return of Runaways.

Years ago, six young friends found out a terrible truth: their parents were members of a supervillain group known as The Pride and were working towards the destruction of the planet.  Uncovering their hidden powers and strengths, these friends, genius Alex Wilder, the sorceress Nico Minoru (Sister Grimm), alien Karolina Dean (Lucy in the Sky), mutant Molly Hayes (Princess Powerful/Bruiser), mad scientist offspring Chase Stein (Talkback) and proud dinosaur owner and daughter of two time travellers Gertrude Yorkes (Arsenic with her deinonychus, Old Lace), became the Runaways to escape their parents’ evil plans.

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After the death of Alex and all of their parents, the surviving Runaways become family and even brought in new members, including the cyborg Victor, the Skrull Xavin and the time displaced mutant Klara.  While the team’s plans to live in peace were often disrupted by their forced heroics, for a time they were happy.  But even the best families have a hard time staying together in the Marvel Universe, and following the death of Gert, Xavin’s forced departure for the stars, the events of Murderworld and the elevation of several members to the Avengers, the Runaways have gone their separate ways.

However, one former Runaway has had a hard time letting go of the past.  Stealing a time machine, the team’s wildcard member, Chase, has gone back in time to fix his biggest regret: the death of his girlfriend, Gertrude.  But being brought back to life several years in the future is tough, and all Gertrude wants to do is reunite with her friends, even if they are now older than her.  Chase is his old goofy self, but Nico and Carolina have moved on with their lives, , Victor is now just a head and Molly has moved in with her grandmother.  Will the Runaways get together again, or have their subsequent adventures affected their relationships too much? And who is the evil scientist stalking them from afar?

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Runaways was a ground breaking series originally released in 2003 that focused on a fresh new group of heroes with no previous connections to other characters in the Marvel Universe.  Created by Brian K Vaughan of Y: The Last Man and Saga fame and artist Adrian Alphona, Runaways represents some of their most significant work with Marvel.  Runaways was an exciting tale of teenage rebellion which was amplified by the superhero elements.  Featuring some incredibly iconic characters, the initial series of Runaways featured a fantastic enclosed story about crime and heroics in Los Angeles with only minimal inclusions from the outside Marvel Universe.  Featuring characters who acted in a contrary way to the other superheroes by actively avoiding fights, making fun of costumes and team names (they never actually referred to themselves as the Runaways) and only using superhero monikers ironically, this was a fun series with some clever new ideas.

Following this initial run, the story became a more traditional superhero series, focusing on the adventures of the titular heroes as they fought crime and other threats in LA.  There were a series of great adventures during this period, which included memorable events such as the tragic loss of Gert, Xavin’s sacrifice, several team-ups with the Young Avengers and involvements in the Civil War and Secret Invasion crossover events.  The series would abruptly end in 2009, and readers would have to wait years to see a significant follow-up.  The characters have appeared in several other series, including Daken: Dark Wolverine and Avengers Academy.  However, the characters would not significantly return until Avengers Arena, where Nico and Chase found themselves trapped in Murderworld, and Avengers Arena’s follow up series, Avengers Undercover, which saw the return of Alex Wilder.  At the same time, Victor would join the cast of Avengers A.I.  An alternate version of the Runaways got their own series as part of the 2015 Secret Wars crossover even, and Nico would eventually become a member of the female Avengers team in A-Force.
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With the release of 2017s Runaways television show, a new comic series of Runaways was announced by Marvel which saw the first run of the original characters in nearly nine years.  This new series is helmed by acclaimed young adult fiction author Rainbow Rowell and dedicated Marvel artist Kris Anka.  Volume 1 of their run of Runways, Find Your Way Home, contains issues #1-6 of the series, with a second volume to be released in October 2018.

Runaways has long been one of my favourite series, and is probably one of the best comic examinations of young teenage characters that Marvel has ever produced.  As a result, I was very excited to get my copy of Find Your Way Home, and headed into this new series with high expectations.  I was not at all disappointed by the result and really enjoyed this new series.  This first volume expertly captures the heart and soul of the original series, reunites several fan favourite characters, and skilfully addresses all the tragic events that have impacted this team over the last few years.

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The first thing that can be seen in this series is the extreme emotional damage that most of the characters have experienced over the last few years and the strain this has placed on the team.  Because of all the pressures in their lives, the Runaways have disbanded and each have gone their separate ways.  This appears to have affected team members Nico and Chase the most because of their traumatic experiences in the Avengers Arena series.  Nico comes across as very emotionally compromised from the very first scene, while Chase is still obsessed with his greatest tragedy, the sacrifice Gertrude made to save his life.  The other Runaways are just as damaged in their own separate ways.  Karolina is apparently trying to live a normal life, but while she seems unhappy, she is the most reluctant to re-join the team, and her eventual return results in emotional upheaval between her and Nico.  After dying, Gert finds herself alive again in the future with older versions of her friends, as well as an adult boyfriend.  She spends most of the volume trying to deal with these significant changes, the fact that her only real family fractured after her death, and the emotional trauma she experienced dying.  After his death in Vision, Victor spends the entire series as a disembodied head, and keeps his status hidden for most of the volume as he tries to work out if he wants to remain online and re-join the team.  Of all the characters, Molly seems to be the most together, as she is being looked after by her grandmother and is her usually bubbly and high-energy self.  However, her behaviour disguises the fact she knows about some of the deep problems happening around her, and her emotional breakdown at the end of the volume is quiet heartbreaking to behold.  Overall, the creative team handle these deep emotional issues well, and I really appreciated the fact that they did not deny or shy away from the trauma that these characters experienced in other Marvel series.

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Despite the high level of emotional trauma, there are quite a few very nice moments within the book that fans of the original Runaways series will really appreciate.  The team coming together at the end of the volume to save Molly and Gert is an amazing moment.  After viewing all of the above trauma, it was also great to see the team decide to get back together to become each other’s emotional support.  I also challenge anyone not to get emotional during the scene where Gertrude is reunited with Old Lace, as the two mentally connected friends are finally reunited for the first time in years.  Once again, the youngest Runaway, Molly, is the heart and soul of the team, and it is great to see that despite her age, she is still one of the most emotionally mature, giving sage advice and actually being the only person to notice the threats around them or the fact that Victor’s head is rolling his eyes at the events around him.  I also love that she still has the same Marvel fangirl attitude that she had in the original series, as she spends time wearing Captain Marvel inspired leggings.  Here’s hoping she gets to have some fun interactions with the rest of the Marvel Universe as she did before (the issue she spent running around with Wolverine is one of the funniest bits in Runaways’ previous run).

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One of the more interesting parts of this volume is that it focuses more on the character interactions than on action or adventure.  There really is not too much violence until the end of the book, and even then their biggest fight is against a group of psychic cats whom they do not actually want to hurt or kill.  I think that this is a good choice for the first volume, as this allows them to really focus on the characters, while also showing off the difference this series has to a classic comic book story.  Despite the lack of action, the series starts with one of the best scenes in the entire volume, when Chase appears in the middle of Nico’s apartment with a mortally wounded Gert.  Nico, despite her shock and the implications of what Chase has done, tries to use her magic to try to save Gert.  While Nico is a powerful magic user, all her magic is tied up in The Staff of One, her parent’s magical staff that has bonded to Nico’s body.  The Staff of One can bend reality to what Nico requests, however, it will only do the specific spell once.  This far along in their adventures, Nico has used a lot of spells already, including ‘heal’, and must use a range of more obscure or very specific statements to try and achieve her goals.   The first sequence where she uses a huge range of different spells really shows off the unique and in some ways limited nature of Nico’s powers and really shows emotional depth right off the bat as the characters get more and more desperate in their attempts to save Gert, and there is palpable relief when they manage to save her.

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This series of Runaways has a new artist at its helm, Kris Anka, and as a result the art style of Find Your Way Home is slightly different from the previous series.  It still works well to show off the story, and the depictions of the characters’ superpowers being used are pretty cool.  The new character designs are interesting, as Nico, Chase and Karolina are each given a different design to reflect how they’ve aged up since the last series.  Nico looks particularly worn and sad at the start of the comic, and is definitely showing off the strain of her adventure.  Anka has created an interesting look for Chase, and he now looks like a cross between a beach bum and a mad scientist.  The other characters, Molly, Victor, Gert and Old Lace retain similar styles to those they had in the previous series.  These similarities make a lot of sense, as Gert has time-travelled from the previous series, Victor is a cyborg head and Old Lace is a dinosaur.  The artist has also chosen not to change Molly’s age too much, and thankfully she retains her distinctive looks and hats.  One of the highlights of Anka’s work is the dinosaur Old Lace, and quite a lot of the book’s humour can be seen in her funny reactions and antics.  Overall, I really enjoyed the new art style of the book and found that the new character designs suited the book’s necessary changes.

Runaways return in top form with this fantastic first volume, which sticks true to the core of the beloved original series while also going off in some interesting new directions.  Rowell has created an intense narrative that expertly plucks at the heartstrings and examines all the problems and horrors that this group of young heroes have experienced since their initial run.  This is a superb new start to an excellent series.  I’m so happy to have my Runaways back, and I can’t wait to see how they resolve some storylines from the original series.  This is definitely a must-read for fans of the original series, but this is also the perfect chance for new readers to find out about this awesome superhero family.

My Rating:

Five Stars

Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

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Publisher: Orbit

Publication Date – 10 July 2018

 

Sensational fantasy author Nicholas Eames follows up his exceptional debut with the five-star novel Bloody Rose, featuring an epic quest storyline which takes its protagonists through a series of wild adventures in a spectacular and large-scale fantasy landscape.

In the human lands of Grandual, mercenary bands hold a celebrity status among the people.  Originally formed to help protect against the horrors of the world, most bands now spend their days touring from city to city, fighting monsters in arenas in order to gain fame, glory and money.  The most famous of these bands is Fable, led by the notorious Bloody Rose, daughter of the land’s greatest hero, Golden Gabe.  Years after her father led a mercenary army to rescue her from a horde of monsters, Rose has reformed Fable with the druin Freecloud, the shaman Brune, the Inkwitch Cura and their booker, the waggish satyr Roderick.  With a massive chip on her shoulder, Rose is determined to take on the toughest jobs and challenges that she can find.

In the city of Ardburg, Tam Hasford is sick of her job slinging drinks at the local pub to the famous mercenaries passing through.  As the daughter of two mercenaries herself, Tam craves adventure, and when Fable rolls into town looking for a new bard, Tam jumps at the opportunity to travel with Bloody Rose and her band.  Gaining a well-deserved reputation for her singing and an accidental reputation as a fighter, Tam receives the moniker ‘The Bard’ and a crash course in the mercenary lifestyle of drinking, gambling, fighting and good times.

But while Tam is having fun in her new role, there is still work to be done.  A massive monster horde has once again left the wilds and is threatening several human cities.  All of Grandual’s mercenary bands are gathering to meet them, all except Fable.  Rose is leading her band in the opposite direction and appears unconcerned with the potential devastation the monsters could cause.  Has Bloody Rose lost her nerve or does she have a far more dangerous quest in mind?  While Fable’s plan to become legends may prove to be successful, they will have far more destructive consequences than anyone could ever predict.

Bloody Rose is the incredible sequel to Eames’s 2017 debut, Kings of the Wyld, and forms the second book in Eames’s The Band series.  Set several years after the events of the first book, Eames switches up the story, focusing on the adventures of Rose and her band of mercenaries, while telling the narrative through the eyes of new point-of-view character Tam.  While there are many tie-ins with the first book, including several of the main characters, Eames has mostly shifted the focus onto a new generation of characters.

Although Bloody Rose is the second instalment in this series, curious readers can easily start their adventure with this book.  This book’s point-of-view character, Tam, never directly experienced the battles of the first entry in the series, and she ends up having quite a few conversations that describe or dramatise the events of the previous novel.  As a result, new readers who start with Bloody Rose will not experience any confusion and will be able to enjoy this story right off the bat.  That being said, readers who start with this book will probably get a hankering to read Kings of the Wyld due to how amazing Bloody Rose is.

This is a substantial piece of fantasy literature with a powerful story that is guaranteed to draw the reader in from the first page.  The huge scope of this story is just remarkable, as what begins as a simple adventure story transforms into an epic battle for the survival of all life in the world.  Much of this scope is the result of the significant number of secondary characters and antagonists that are introduced throughout the book.  It is a testimony to Eames’s skill as a writer that all these characters don’t overwhelm the story, and the reader finds themselves interested in seeing how each these characters ends up.  The use of a brand new point-of-view character to tell this story is a clever move from Eames as it allows a fresh insight into this world of mercenary bands and monsters, moving on from the old veterans that were the focus of Kings of the Wyld.

The author has infused his narrative with a huge amount of humour, most of it quite adult and over the top in nature.  This humorous tone infects quite a lot of the way that the book is told and makes it a very fun read.  There are some extremely funny scenes through the book, from debates about fake cockatrices, to the antics of a drunken satyr, to discussions about the dietary requirements of minotaurs.  While this humour is a key and overwhelmingly fun part of the story, Eames does get deadly serious in several parts of the book when the protagonists encounter dark days.  These darker scenes are felt particularly hard by the reader, mainly due to the sudden shift away from the lighter tone of the rest of the book.  While there are several examples of this throughout the story, I found that the final scenes of this book were particularly intense and had me absolutely captivated.  This clever combination of the outstanding comedy overtones and the gripping dramatic moments works exceedingly well and turns Bloody Rose’s story into one of the best fantasy narratives I’ve had the pleasure of reading.

In addition to the great use of comedy, drama and story, Eames has also packed this book with a significant amount of action and adventure.  The protagonists of this story essentially fight everyone as they adventure across the land, and participate in all sorts of combat, including arena battles with monsters, fights with titanic creatures, large-scale battles and even a few tavern brawls.  All these action sequences work well with the book’s other elements.  Not only do these battles result in some devastating moments but Eames also includes some comedy in these fight scenes, which can prove to be very entertaining.  Readers should also keep an eye out for the fun and inventive combat tactics used throughout this book, which are not only destructive but creative.  Never has red hair been used in battle so effectively.  With as much conflict and combat as you’ll ever need in a book, this is a perfect read those looking for those looking for their next injection of thrilling action and adventure.

Eames has also created a vast world to be the setting for this story, filled with a huge number of fantasy creatures and massive amount of world building lore.  Having such a large and well-established world is essential for a story of this magnitude.  The protagonists do a substantial amount of travel from one end of Grandual to the other, exploring large cities, small towns, barren wastes, massive battlefields and dangerous forested areas.  The author has also filled this story with every classic fantasy and mythological creature one could think of, as well as a few unique creatures from his own imagination.  All these creatures are a great addition to the story, resulting in some very fun battle sequences throughout the book, especially when their a huge number of these creatures in action.  One of the more intriguing races is the druin, the rabbit-eared humanoids created by Eames which used to rule all the humans and monsters of this fantasy world.  There is some fascinating history around the druin which has some significant impacts on the story, as well as gifting these creatures with some cool abilities that come into play in a variety of great ways.

The author has also spent time developing a fantastic band of main characters for the reader to follow on their adventure.  Using his new narrator, Tam, to full effect, the reader is given an introduction to every member of Fable and learns their history and motivations in significant and interesting detail.  A decent amount of time is spent looking at all of the members of Fable and the reader is given a deep understanding of each of them.  Each member of the band is a fairly unique fighter and character in their own right, but together they form a fun team.  Eames really hammers home how close these band members become throughout the book, and the reader becomes attached to the characters as they grow closer together.  This makes any potential harm or trauma they experience particularly hard for the reader to experience, and really adds to the books emotional depth.

With the follow-up to his epic debut, Eames has once again demonstrated why he is one of the freshest and most exciting new voices in fantasy fiction.  This exceptional story is an action-packed bonanza that sees several compelling characters engage in a heroic quest across an impressive fantasy landscape.  With the perfect blend of comedic adventure, epic fantasy storytelling and some dramatic character moments, Bloody Rose is an exceptional and excellent read that is guaranteed to become your new favourite story.

My Rating:

Five Stars

Phantom by Leo Hunt

Phantom Cover.jpg

Publisher: Orchard

Publication Date – 9 August 2018

 

From bestselling author Leo Hunt comes an electrifying and fast-paced young adult science fiction adventure that takes an intriguing look at the future of technology, as well as the crime and consequences these advances could lead to.

In the far future, humanity has built towers and skyscrapers up in a major way, leaving the ground far below.  The rich and powerful live in the City, the highest level of construction, far above the poisoned ground.  Up in the City, luxuries such as sunlight, clean water, jobs and corpbloc homes are available to its hardworking corporate-owned population.  Those who do not have money live in the undercity slums, where the sun never shines and poisoned water is flooding up from the ground.

One of the inhabitants of the undercity is orphaned teenager Nova, who earns a living going up into the City and stealing from the corporate workers.  In a world where everyone has technology implanted in their heads, a skilled hacker like Nova can obtain everything from money to information.  Nova’s most important tool is Phantom, a powerful program created by the shadowy anticorporation hacker, the Moth, which hides the identity of hackers while they commit their crimes.

While Nova is only just scraping by, her skills have caught the attention of the Moth, who has a dangerous job for her.  The Moth needs Nova to infiltrate the powerful Bliss Inc and uncover their most treasured corporate secret.  Posing as a prospective assistant for the CEO of Bliss Inc, Nova goes deep undercover, changing her identity and her appearance to sneak in.  However, her mission is about to get far more complicated then she could have ever imagined.  Caught between the dark secrets of Bliss Inc and the mysterious ambitions of the Moth, Nova is going to be lucky to get out of this heist alive.

Phantom is the latest book from young adult author Leo Hunt and represents his first foray into the science fiction genre.  Hunt’s previous works have mainly focused on the fantasy and horror genres, with his 13 Days of Midnight trilogy featuring a young man who develops necromantic powers.  Phantom is an interesting new direction for Hunt, who has created a fantastic piece of young adult science fiction with strong techno-thriller elements.

This book is contains an intriguing science fiction story that takes the reader through a unique futuristic city and presents them with a thrilling and technology driven adventure.  Phantom’s story contains a superb combination of story elements which come together to form an entertaining and fast-paced plot with compelling pieces of betrayal, technologically assisted espionage and corporate intrigue.  There are a few good twists throughout the book, but I did find that one of the big reveals towards the end of the book was a little easy to predict as a result of the author only utilising on a small number of characters throughout most of the narrative.  This was more than made up for by the shocking and deeply intriguing reveals that followed the protagonist uncovering the hidden secret motivations of the book’s various antagonists.  All of these hidden surprises result in some great story elements and have a strong relation with the book’s focus on technology.

Phantom is intended for a young adult audience, and it works well as an absorbing and exciting introduction into science fiction and technology-based thrillers.  Younger readers will love the interesting examination of the potential future technology and will find the exciting adventure storyline quite fun.  The violence contained within the book is not too graphic whilst also allowing for some strong action-packed scenes.  There are some minor mentions of mind-alerting technology and substances, but nothing too inappropriate for the younger audience.  There are also some subtle but important LGTB elements that come into play later in the story, and Hunt handles these quite well.  Overall, I would recommend this book to all teenagers, and even some younger readers, who will find a lot to enjoy in this wonderful book.

The best and most compelling features of Phantom are the amazing technological elements that form a significant part of the plot and which take a particularly intriguing look into humanity’s reliance on technology and how we are likely to advance in the future.  In this potential future, everyone has neural implants inserted in them at birth that act as a mobile connection to the internet as well as a phone, music player, bank card and personal identification all in one.  This is an interesting thing to examine, especially as humans are constantly getting closer and closer to incorporating our personal technology into our own bodies.  Hunt does a great job presenting some of the potential benefits and problems that humans could experience with this sort of technology, and takes a stimulating look at that the ways that it could impact on our lives.  Quite a few things are explored throughout Phantom, from examinations of how this technology will influence human identity to how it could be abused for criminal reasons, such as stealing money, hacking someone to take control of their body or producing technology that mimics recreational drugs.  Other technological questions come into play later in the book and result in some deep emotional scenes as well as some interesting questions about ethics and the nature of humanity.  These fictional technological elements represent some truly fascinating ideas from Hunt that readers will find very captivating.

In addition to Hunt’s intriguing postulations about future technology, another compelling story element is the inventive and imaginative setting for the story.  The entirety of Phantom is set within a fictional metropolis that is constantly being built up and is split between the soaring spires of the rich and the sprawling slum-like undercity where the poor live.  Throughout the story, the protagonist journeys from areas of the city flooded with poisoned water and inhabited with humans and animals that have never seen sunlight, to the very top of the city, above the clouds.  There is a detailed exploration the city’s disparate economic zones, and significant time is spent interacting with the populace in both these areas, resulting in some fascinating comparisons.  This is an amazing setting for this science fiction and technology focused story and represents another intriguing look into the future by Hunt.

Leo Hunt’s latest book, Phantom, is an absorbing and thrilling tale of adventure and crime in a futuristic city.  Containing some extremely enthralling technological elements and a fantastic city setting where the differences between the rich and poor have never been more obvious, this is another outstanding release from Hunt that will be perfect for those younger readers looking to break into the science fiction or techno-thriller genres.

My Rating:

Four stars

The House on Half Moon Street by Alex Reeve

The House on Half Moon Street Cover

Publisher: Raven Books

Publication Date – 3 May 2018

 

Prepare yourself for an extraordinary tale of love, life and murder in Victorian London, all with a unique twist that will make this book one of the most talked-about pieces of historical fiction this year.

In London, in 1880, Leo Stanhope is a bright young man living the city life.  He is employed as an assistant to a London coroner and is in love with Maria, a high-class prostitute.  However, Leo also has a big secret: he was actually born Charlotte.  Born a woman, but knowing deep inside that he was a man, he ran away as a teenager and has been living as Leo ever since.  Only a few trusted people know this, and Leo fears the day he’ll be discovered.

When Maria is found dead, Leo finds himself accused of her murder.  With his life falling down around him, Leo starts his own investigation into the case.  But what does Maria’s death have to do with another corpse found drowned in the river, and how do Maria’s rich employers and an infamous London abortionist fit into the case?  Leo will risk everything to find Maria’s killers, even if that means revealing his biggest secret.

This is an outstanding debut from author Alex Reeve, who has created a fabulous addition to the historical crime genre.  The House on Half Moon Street has massive potential to expand out into a fantastic and iconic new series.

Without a doubt, the most distinctive and memorable part of The House on Half Moon Street is the main character, Leo Stanhope, who is a transgender man.  The first thing that needs to be mentioned is that Reeve has done a great job of writing this character and has produced an appropriate and non-controversial description of a transgender person.  There is a lengthy examination of the protagonist’s views about his identity, which includes descriptions of his childhood, memories of how he has always felt this way and internal monologues on how uncomfortable he felt behaving as a woman.  Reeve also does a fantastic job of portraying Leo’s fears and frustrations at the way he has to live and the way some characters, such as members of his family, treat him.  Overall, this is an emotional and insightful examination of a transgender character in a historical setting, and Reeve has chosen an excellent protagonist for his novel.

The focus on a transgender main character and gender issues works well with Reeve’s great use of the Victorian setting, as he explores how transgender people lived in historical times.  As described in the book, transgender individuals were not treated well within Victorian England.  In one scene Leo describes how someone who was living in a similar situation to himself had recently been discovered by the authorities and institutionalised as a result.  The views and responses of the people who discover his secret also reflect the attitudes of the time, although there are some obvious parallels with some modern opinions, resulting in thought-provoking social commentary.  There are also some interesting descriptions of the techniques, tools and clothing that the protagonist uses to hide his female characteristics and make himself appear more masculine.  Due to differences in technology and social expectations, these techniques are obviously different from modern alternatives and represent some interesting hypotheses from Reeve.

There are also some amazing descriptions of Victorian London, which serves as a great backdrop for this story.  Not only does the dingy Victorian setting help to highlight Leo’s dark emotional state throughout the book; it is also the perfect background for a murder mystery that revolves around the murky criminal underworld.

On top of the compelling protagonist and the wonderful use of setting, those who read The House on Half Moon Street will also be treated to a top-notch murder mystery that also delves into the criminal and policing elements of 1880s London.  The investigation into the deaths is an intense experience that takes the protagonist through a series of different suspects and clues, creating an intriguing and complex case.  The emotional impact of the case on Leo is plainly obvious due to superb story narration, and this proves to be engaging to the reader, who becomes invested in solving the case.  The final solution to the book’s mystery is very clever, and the readers will love how the case comes to its conclusion.

Historical fiction buffs will also enjoy the examination of law and order during the era, as Reeve examines several police institutions, including the work of the coroner during the time.  The protagonist also encounters some of the city’s criminal elements, and there are some surprising crimes that are covered within the book.  Reeve’s use of a transgender protagonist once again comes into play during the character’s investigations, and the reader will be drawn into the scenes where Leo attempts to hide his previous life from the police and criminals.

The House on Half Moon Street is a phenomenal new book that takes a deep and sensitive look at transgender issues in Victorian London whilst also making use of a dark and detailed historical setting and a first-rate overarching murder mystery.

My Rating:

Four stars