Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Lightsaber Duels

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 was around favourite book settings (a shout out to magical schools), however, I am going to something extremely different (it’s very, very off topic) and instead have a go at listing and ranking my favourite lightsaber duels from the Star Wars franchise.

Anyone who has ever seen a Star Wars movie or television show will know the amazing cultural phenomenon that is the lightsaber duel.  Inspired by the duels from Japanese samurai films, a classic lightsaber duel features two opposing enemies, one armed with a brilliant blue or noble green energy blade, fighting against their evil opponent wielding a menacing red blade.  First appearing in the very first Star Wars film all those years ago, the lightsaber duel is an essential staple of the franchise, and something about the clashing blades of light has resonated with fans throughout the years.  Naturally, every new filmmaker or animator has attempted to put their own unique spin on the classic duel, with many different variations of fighting style, number of opponents and lightsaber types, featured in the subsequent films and extended media.  However, no matter how complex or unique it gets, the fans always appreciate these epic flashes of combat, even if most are brief by design to keep up the emulation of samurai sword fights or pistol duels from Westerns.  After enjoying the cool new show, Star Wars: Visions, which featured multiple inventive lightsaber duels, I thought I would take this opportunity to try and list some of my favourite duels from the Star Wars franchise.  This is a topic I have been considering for a while, and it fits nicely with some recent lists I have done, such as my recent list ranking the various Star Wars films, and my previous list about my favourite anime series.

To pull this list together, I started writing down all my favourite lightsaber duels from films, television shows and animated series to see how many there were.  I decided early on to exclude duels from static media such as comics or tie-in novels, which I might explore in a later Top Ten Tuesday.  I also limited this list to proper lightsaber duels, where all the key participants have a lightsaber, so this excludes a few cool moments, such as Vader cutting down rebels in Rogue One or Luke destroying those droids in The Mandalorian.

Despite these limitations, I ended up with an extremely substantial number of fights, so I ended up turning this into a Top 20 list, just to show off how nerdy I can be (I mean, how much I appreciate the franchise).  I still had to cull a few good fights out, but I was able to come up with 20, which I eventually ranked based on a range of considerations, from the quality of the duel, the emotions or story surrounding it, the impacts of the duel on the wider film or series and a range of other factors.  I am also marking for cool uses of the Force or other techniques, if they don’t take too much away from it primarily being a lightsaber duel.  I am pretty happy with how the below list turned out, and it should be interesting to see how my opinion’s rank up compared to other Star Wars fans out there.  Be warned that I might go into some details about some key moments in the Star Wars films and shows, so be aware that a Spoiler Alert is in effect.

Top Ten List (Ranked in Descending Order): 

20. Satele Shan and Kao Cen Darach vs Darth Malgus and Darth Vindican – Star Wars: The Old Republic

The Old Republic

The first entry on this list comes from an intro cinematic from the Star Wars: The Old Republic computer game.  Set thousands of years before the Skywalker Saga, this battle sees two Jedi facing off against two Sith in an epic battle on a space station.  Beautifully rendered and extremely well-coordinated, this is a particularly impressive fight, with the four combatants facing off in a brilliant and brutal fight, moving across a hanger bay.  This battle features a range of awesome moves and techniques, including one Jedi throwing his lightsaber to block a blow about to kill his apprentice, as well as some awesome dual wielding moments.  I love this fight so much as it is beyond awesome, however, it does gets marked down for being a cinematic in a non-canon game that I never played and featuring some characters with no introduction.  However, it is still an amazing fight, and it is well worth looking up on Youtube if you want some outstanding Star Wars excitement.

 

19. Ahoska Tano vs Inquisitors – Star Wars: Rebels

Ahsoka vs Inquisitors

“Unexpected, but not unwelcome.”  Ever since her dramatic resignation from the Jedi Order at the end of the fifth season of The Clone Wars, fans were eager to see Ahoska in action again, which happened halfway through the second season of Star Wars: Rebels.  Appearing in a heroic burst of light to save Kanan and Ezra from two Imperial Inquisitors, Ahsoka calmly ignited her new white lightsabers for the first time and set to work against the two Jedi-hunters.  Ahsoka easily takes her opponents out, even using the Force to overpower her opponent’s control of their red lightsaber.  This impressive display of skill and technique really showed viewers how much better Ahoska had gotten over the years and made us anticipate her next major fight even more.

 

18. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Darth Vader – A New Hope

A New Hope Poster

Next we have the very first lightsaber duel ever, with the iconic encounter between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in the original Star Wars film.  This fight pits the former master and apprentice against each other for the first time in years, and eventually ends with Obi-Wan opening himself up to a blow to merge with the Force: “You can’t win, Darth; if you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”  While this is a major moment in the franchise and I still get chills when Obi-Wan dies, it suffers from rather lacklustre choreography compared to their clashes in the prequel films.  Still, this set the template for all future duels and showed the world how amazing a battle between two space wizards with laser swords could be.

 

17. Darth Maul vs Pre Vizsla – Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Prez Vizsla vs Maul

The only duel on this list that features a participant who wasn’t a Force user, this cool duel takes place in the fifth season of The Clone Wars.  After forming an alliance with the Mandalorian splinter faction, Death Watch, to take over Mandalore, Darth Maul eventually tires of his new partners and challenges the head of Death Watch, Pre Vizsla, to a duel for the planet.  Bound by his society’s martial traditions, Vizsla accepts the duel and fights using the ancient Mandalorian relic, the black-bladed lighsaber known as the Darksaber.  What follows is an intense fight to the death between two skilled foes, with Vizsla also using all his Mandalorian weapons and jetpack to even the fight.  This was a very fun and brutal duel, with both combatants pushed to the limits.  There are some very cool elements to this, from the great contrast of the black and red blades to the fantastic use of Mandalorain weaponry and fists to try and win.  While the result of the fight is never in doubt, it is a much closer battle than you would imagine and shows just how badass a determined Mandalorian could be.

 

16. Kanan and Ezra vs Grand Inquisitor – Star Wars: Rebels

Kanan vs Grand Inquisitor

The climactic battle of the first season of Star Wars: Rebels, this fight pitted the big bad of the season, the Grand Inquisitor, against Jedi Kanan and his apprentice Ezra in the engine room of a Star Destroyer.  Relying on trickery and strategy to compensate for his own lack of skill, Kanan is eventually able to beat the Inquisitor after gaining focus from seeing Ezra fall to the Inquisitor’s spinning lightsaber.  I loved the cool range of techniques in this fight, and it was cathartic to see Kanan finally get his groove back and face his demons.  The snipping of the handle of the Inquisitor’s lightsaber was clever, and it leads to one of my favourite lines in the entire series: “There are some things far more frightening than death”, a statement that was proven true in a recent comic.  A great fight that set the tone for some other epic duels later in the series.

 

15. Yoda vs Count Dooku – Attack of the Clones

Attack of the Clones Cover

This one mainly makes the list for the sheer laughter and amusement it generates.  After Sith Lord Count Dooku soundly thrashes Anakin and Obi-Wan, he encounters his former master, Yoda.  Unable to defeat him using the Force, Dooku resorts to his blade, but is severely outmatched when Yoda pulls out his own lightsaber and proceeds to do some elaborate and fast-paced flips around him, whirling his green lightsaber like a demon.  This is a really entertaining scene and I still remember the sheer excitement and amusement I had in me when I saw Yoda first appear and pull out his lightsaber.  However, the CGI really hasn’t held up too well with this fight, and it is one of the more ridiculous moments in an already silly film.  Still, it was a very entertaining duel, so I had to feature it on this list.

 

14. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Adi Gallia vs Darth Maul and Savage Opress – Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Kenobi and Adi Gallia vs Maul and Opress

Another entry from The Clones Wars animated show, this duel features Obi-Wan and fellow Jedi Adi Gallia facing off against a recently resurrected Darth Maul and his apprentice/brother Savage Opress.  This is a brutal fight, as the two Jedi find themselves severely outmatched, with Opress quickly killing Adi with his horns.  Obi-Wan is then forced to fight by himself, fleeing to a nearby pirate ship and facing his opponents with two lightsabers, something rarely seen from Kenobi.  This fight gets really close and personal in the narrow corridors of the ship, and Kenobi is only just spared from being eviscerated by a last-minute kick to the shin.  A really great fight that shows off how dangerous these two Sith brothers could be, it was an excellent inclusion on this list.

 

13. Rey vs Kylo Ren – The Rise of Skywalker

The Rise of Skywalker Poster

In the sequel series we have the duel between Rey and Kylo Ren on the ruins of the Death Star.  Now both fully trained in the Force, the two have a swift and deadly fight, which only ends when Kylo freezes as he feels his mother dying.  This is a beautifully shot scene, and I love the great use of environment and both opponents’ use of the Force to block blows and even control a lightsaber remotely.  However, I think the finale of the fight was a bit lame and not cut together well, which takes a little lustre off the entire duel.  Still a great entry though.

 

12. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Asajj Ventress vs Darth Maul and Savage Opress – Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Kenobi and Ventress vs Maul and Opress

Another fight featuring Darth Maul and Savage Opress against two opponents, this duel sees Kenobi reluctantly teaming up with an old enemy, the former Sith assassin Asajj Ventress, who has her own issues with Opress.  Forced to use one of Ventress’s blades, you get the unique visual of Kenobi wielding a red saber, and the fight quickly devolves into a close brawl in a cargo ship.  The range of different styles and moves on display in this fight is great, and I love seeing the slippery Ventress facing off against the powerful blows of Opress.  The fight between Kenobi and Maul is extremely personal, especially once Maul starts taunting his opponent about the death of his master.  Emotionally unbalanced, Kenobi is unable to keep up with Maul, and he and Ventress are eventually forced to flee.  I love the blend of character moments, animation, and ferocity in this fight, and it is a particularly impressive moment from this great series.

 

11. Yoda vs Emperor Palpatine – Revenge of the Sith

Revenge of the Sith Poster

Next up we have a duel between the preeminent Jedi and Sith of their era, Yoda and the newly crowned Emperor Palpatine.  Confronting Palpatine in his office, Yoda and his foe face off with blades in an impressive ballet of laser sword.  The two fighters quickly end up in the iconic and massive Senate chambers, with both opponents jumping from platform to platform before eventually resorting to throwing parts of the room at each other.  A fantastic and brilliant duel that displays just as much mastery of the Force as skill with the lightsaber, this was a climatic moment and a great alternate main fight for the finale of the prequel trilogy.

 

10. Ronin vs Bandit Leader – Star Wars: Visions

Star Wars Visions - The Duel

I had to include this awesome duel from the recent Star Wars: Vision series.  Featured in the first animated feature, aptly titled The Duel, this fight takes place in an alternate universe and sees a wondering Ronin facing off against a bandit leading a raid on a village.  It is soon revealed that both the Ronin and the Bandit Leader are Sith warriors and face each other with their lightsabers in a complex and beautiful duel around the village and down a river.  This is an outstanding and compelling duel, which really was one of the best bits of the entire Visions range.  I love the incredible blend of Star Wars and classic Japanese imagery, and the whole thing felt like something out of a samurai film.  One of the most unique duels on this list, I had a lot of fun with this one and it was really cool to see.

 

9. Rey vs Kylo Ren – The Force Awakens

The Force Awakens Poster

Another duel featuring Rey and Kylo Ren, this was their first fight, featured at the end of The Force Awakens.  As one of the first lightsaber duels of the sequel trilogy, this fight had a lot riding on it, and did not disappoint.  This fight pits an injured and emotionally unbalanced Kylo Ren against an untrained Rey as the planet falls apart around them.  While their styles and abilities are not as polished as in their later fight, it still has a physicality and rawness to it that was missing from all the preceding live action lightsaber fights.  The blend of colours and movements was outstanding, as was the decision to feature it in a snow setting, which really made the whole fight pop.  A great and amazing fight that was a fantastic conclusion to an outstanding movie.

 

8. Darth Maul and Savage Opress vs Darth Sidious – Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Darth Sidious Duel

There was no way I could exclude this awesome gem from the list, especially as it is one of the best things featured in the entire The Clone Wars series.  Set during the fifth season, this fight occurs when Palpatine makes a rare transition into his Darth Sidious persona and travels to Mandalore to bring his former apprentice to heel.  Breaking into the palace, Sidious confronts Maul and his apprentice Savage Opress and quickly engages them in a battle.  Dual wielding two lightsabers, Sidious, who is voiced by Tim Curry for some extra sinisterness, is a machine, combining his superior lightsaber skills with his amazing powers of the Dark Side.  Despite some strong opposition, he makes short work of the two brothers, killing Opress and torturing Maul with his lightning.  This was a high-octane fight that really adds to the presence and power of Sidious, showing everyone why he is the ultimate Sith Master who no one should cross.

 

7. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Darth Maul – Star Wars: Rebels

Kenobi vs Maul

I have featured several battles between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul on this list, but their final duel is one of their best.  Set in the third season of Star Wars: Rebels, long after the events of their last encounter in The Clone Wars (when Maul killed the woman Kenobi loved), Maul succeeds in tracking Kenobi to Tatooine.  Reluctant to face Maul again, Kenobi is drawn into the fight when Maul threatens to find whoever he is protecting on Tatooine.  Facing off at night across a dying fire, the two meticulously take their position before finally striking.  Evoking the feel of a classic samurai film to the extreme, their fight is lightning fast and over after only a few strokes, with Maul falling to ground in Kenobi’s arms.  While this is a short duel, the whole point is that is serves as the final note in the conflict between two epic rivals.  I love all the imagery and subtlety of this scene, and it shows that a good fight really does not need to be chock full of flips and counters.  The last moments between Kenobi and Maul are great, and Maul finally at peace after years of trying to kill Kenobi was the perfect way to end their rivalry.

 

6. Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader – Return of the Jedi

Return of the Jedi Poster

The final clash between father and son is the next entry on this list, with the climatic duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the second Death Star.  Provoked by Vader and the Emperor, Luke eventually takes up his blade and faces off in the throne room.  Despite some reluctance to face his father, Luke is eventually called to action after Vader discovers that Luke has a sister.  The anger and ferocity in the subsequent sequence is brilliant, especially when combined with the epic score loudly blaring in the background.  You can feel the strength and hatred of the blows as Luke teeters towards the Dark Side and it was an amazing fight that ended up being the last live-action lightsaber duels for nearly 20 years.

 

5. Ahsoka Tano vs Darth Vader – Star Wars: Rebels

Ahsoka vs Vader

The moment that Anakin’s apprentice was introduced, we knew that one day Ahsoka Tano would face off against Darth Vader, we just didn’t know when, especially after The Clone Wars was prematurely cancelled.  It finally happened at the end of the second season of Star Wars: Rebels, when Ahsoka and Vader encounter each other in a Sith temple.  Already convinced that Vader is her former master, Ahsoka confronts him, only for Vader to declare he had killed Anakin long ago: “Anakin Skywalker was weak, I destroyed him” (which was true, from a certain point of view).  Desiring vengeance, Ahsoka engages in a fast-paced duel around the temple, proving to be a match for Vader with her incredible skill.  There are actually a few parts to this fight (including some of it shown in a later fourth season episode due to time travel), but it leads up to the big finale where Ahsoka blindsides a distracted Vader and partially destroys his helmet.  The subsequent “Ahsoka!” from Vader chills me every time, especially with the background score, and because Vader’s voice changes midway through from that of James Earl Jones to Matt Lanter, who voiced Anakin in The Clone Wars.  The confirmation that Anakin was Vader is heartbreaking to see for Ahsoka, especially as her attempts to reach him fall on deaf ears.  They continue to fight in the temple as it falls apart, with both barely coming out of it.  Not only is this a beautifully choreographed fight that showcase both fighter’s differing abilities, but it is one of the most emotional duels on this list.  I love this fight so much, especially as it is a perfect conclusion to a long-awaited moment in Star Wars history.

 

4. Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader – The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back Poster

While the final duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader is impressive, I personally prefer their first fight.  Taking place in the bowels of Cloud City, the unprepared Jedi in training attempts to defeat Vader and quickly shows off some of his new skills.  However, he is outmatched by Vader and is soon forced to endure a one-sided beating.  The duel ends with Luke losing a hand and being confronted by the ghastly truth that his opponent is his father.  Easily one of the most iconic moments in all of film history, and all thanks to a powerful and brutal lightsaber duel.

 

3. Ahsoka Tano vs Darth Maul – Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Siege_of_Mandalore

The final animated duel on this list is the epic fight between Ahsoka Tano and Darth Maul that recently occurred in the seventh and final season of The Clone Wars.  After returning to the Jedi, Ahsoka leads a battalion of clones to help liberate Mandalore from Maul.  Eventually confronting him in the throne room, the two discuss the menace of Sidious and the fate of Anakin, before engaging in their fight.  Due to this being the set-piece of the entire anticipated seventh season, the showrunners and animators dedicated a lot of time to getting this scene perfect.  This included bring backing the original Darth Maul, martial artist Ray Park, to provide motion capture for the duel to ensure the character moved properly.  All this preparation paid off, as the fight is beyond epic, containing some fast and furious action, with some witty dialogue from Ahsoka.  Broken into two parts, including a vertigo-inducing scene on some thin rafters, this was a brilliant duel with an insane amount of skill and precision featured throughout.

 

2. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn vs Darth Maul – The Phantom Menace

The Phantom Menace Poster

While there were several glaring issues with The Phantom Menace, the one thing that everyone could agree was awesome, was the epic and extensive duel between Darth Maul and the Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn.  The moment \ Maul reveals his dual-bladed lightsaber and the incredible Duel of the Fates musical score starts blaring, all bets are off as the three combatants engage in one of the best fights ever seen in cinema.  The three fighters fight across the palace, right down into the heart of the city.  Maul eventually succeeds in killing Qui-Gon when the fighters are separated by a series of force fields, only for an anguished Kenobi to finally beat him and cut him in half (although even that’s not enough to keep a good Sith down).  This brilliant duel easily outshone anything that viewers had seen before, and it set the tone for every single movie or television lightsaber fight that was to follow.

 

1. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Anakin Skywalker – Revenge of the Sith

Anakin vs Kenobi

I don’t think anyone is going to be too surprised about what my final entry is; it had to be the epic fight between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker at the climax of Revenge of the Sith.  Set up throughout the entire prequel trilogy, this fight was a long time coming and saw the former master face his corrupted pupil in a brutal fight on the volcanic planet of Mustafar.  Despite some terrible dialogue, this was a perfect duel, with both fighters giving it their all in an extended and utterly captivating fight.  The two are evenly matched and use every technique and move to fight their enemy.  Throw in a hostile environment of flying molten rocks, rivers of lava, and even some classic rope swing shenanigans.  Thanks to another epic musical score, there is a not a single moment of this fight that is dull or unexciting and every blow is laced with emotion and hatred as the two former brothers try their hardest to kill each other.  Look, if you’re reading this list, you know how awesome this fight is, and frankly to this day, nothing has come close to beating it.

 

Well that’s the end of this list.  As you can see from the above, I clearly have too much time on my hands, but I think it was worth it.  I had a lot of fun coming up with this list, and all of these epic lightsaber duels are so damn awesome.  This might be another list I will update over the years, especially if some of the upcoming Star Wars shows have some cool fights in them.  Let me know what you think of my list in the comments below, and make sure to tell me your opinions about the best Star Wars lightsaber duels.

Waiting on Wednesday – Mind Bullet by Jeremy Robinson

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For this week’s Waiting on Wednesday I check out a bonkers sounding upcoming science fiction thriller that I know I am going to have an awesome time reading, Mind Bullet by Jeremy Robinson.

Mind Bullet 2

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

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

Synopsis:

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

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

MIND BULLET

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

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

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

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

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

Waiting on Wednesday – Dead Silence by S. A. Barnes

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For this week’s Waiting on Wednesday, I look at an awesome upcoming science fiction horror novel that is sure to be an outstanding read, Dead Silence by S. A. Barnes.

Dead Silence Cover

Dead Silence, which is currently set for release on 25 January 2022, is an intense and compelling sounding novel with a killer plot to it.  This will be the first book I have read by S. A. Barnes, who also writes under the pen name Stacey Kade, and I look forward to checking out her writing style.  This upcoming book looks sets to be quite amazing and I will be keen to enjoy out a fun horror/science fiction hybrid.  Dead Silence will be set in the far future and will follow a salvage crew who discovers the fabled remains of a long-lost spaceship out in the black.  Naturally, the abandoned ship will be filled with currently unspecified horrors that will attack the crew and result in a captivating and deadly adventure.  I cannot wait to see what happens on this ship, and I have no doubt that this will be a great novel to check out.

Synopsis:

At the edge of the solar system, no one can hear you scream.

The Aurora, a luxury space-liner destined for a cruise of the solar system, has been missing for twenty years. Among the hundreds of presumed dead were passengers from society’s finest – celebrities, tech giants, influencers. Every last one… vanished.

So when Claire’s crew picks up an emergency signal in deep space, the long-lost Aurora is the last ship they expect to find. The salvage claim could be their best chance at extraordinary wealth, but it might mean missing their transport back home, and nobody can stand another minute out in the darkest corner of the universe – nobody, except Claire.

Once onboard the ship, the crew realizes something is terribly wrong. Unspeakable horrors lurk in every shadow of the massive ship, and soon they each start experiencing violent hallucinations.

Claire must fight to keep her sanity and get her crew back to safety – before they all meet the same ghastly fate as the Aurora passengers.

The Dark by Jeremy Robinson

The Dark Cover

Publisher: Podium Audio (Audiobook – 13 July 2021)

Series: Infinite Timeline

Length: 10 hours and 25 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Prepare for a literal journey into darkness with one of the most unique and insanely entertaining horror novels of 2021, The Dark by Jeremy Robinson.

Jeremy Robinson is a bestselling author of science fiction and horror who has been producing some amazing novels of the last few years.  Since his debut in the early 2000s, Robinson has written a massive number of novels, including several fantastic sounding series, such as his Nemesis Saga, as well as a big collection of compelling standalone novels.  I have been meaning to read some of Robinson’s books for a while, especially as one of his series, the Chess Team novels, are part of a somewhat shared universe with Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger novels.  After seeing several mentions of Chess Team in Maberry’s novels, I got curious and had to have a look at Robinson’s catalogue of work.  I really love the sound of some of Robinson’s books, especially his Chess Team novels, which follow a special forces team at work against mythical threats, and the Nemesis Saga, which presents a new look at the Kaiju genre.  Before diving into these series, I thought it might be good to get an idea of Robinson’s writing style, and so I decided to read his latest standalone novel, The Dark.  I am extremely glad that I decided to check this out, as The Dark ended up being an incredible horror read that I deeply enjoyed.

Miah Gray is a messed up former army soldier, struggling with PTSD and other symptoms after his time in Afghanistan.  Now living with his mother, sister and stepfather in an upscale New Hampshire neighbourhood, Miah spends most of his time being the neighbourhood’s resident weirdo, avoiding his troubles with prescribed cannabis and holding out hopes that his crush, Jen, will notice him.  Managing to convince Jen to get high and watch a meteor shower on his roof one night, Miah thinks that his life is finally turning around.  However, nothing in his wildest dreams could prepare him for what is to come next.

Awakening the next morning, Miah and Jen are shocked to discover that the sun has been blotted out and the entire neighbourhood has been plunged into darkness.  With no communications, limited power, and no working artificial lights, Miah and his family attempt to adjust to the crazy events occurring around them.  All available evidence suggests that an obscure religious doomsday prophecy about three days and three nights of darkness is coming true, with the lore indicating that the only way to survive is to barricade yourself in your home and cover the windows.  Despite the blacked-out sun, Miah is dubious about this being a religious event, until a bright light from the heavens brands his forehead with an old Norse rune and an unholy army of demons invades.

Dark shapes are twisting their way through the neighbourhood, luring people outside and brutally dragging them away to an unknown fate, while even more terrifying figures lurk in the shadow.  Attempting to ride out the storm at home, Miah is forced into action when his parents are taken.  Leading a small group of survivors through the horrors outside, Miah attempts to save who he can while also trying to find a way to rescue those who were taken.  But as Miah and his friends flee through the surrounding demons and devils, a far more dangerous threat is waiting to assail them.  The rune on Miah’s head is starting to change him into something angry and inhuman.  Now forced to resist his own mind, Miah will need to dig deep than ever before if he wants to survive what is coming, even as it drags him straight to the gates of Hell.

Wow, now that was awesome.  When I started this novel, I strongly suspected I was going to love it, especially as it had a fantastic sounding plot, but I was unprepared for how much fun The Dark turned out to be.  Robinson has created an exceptional and dark horror novel that keeps you on the edge of your toes from the very start all the way to the finish.  I had an outstanding time listening to this book and there was no way I could give anything less than a five-star rating.

Robinson has come up with a pretty awesome story for The Dark, and I loved this unique horror tale.  The Dark has a great start to it, and the author manages to do a lot in a very short amount of time, thoroughly introducing the main character, Miah, while also setting up several of the other major supporting characters.  The novel’s big change from normal times to darkness occurs early in the novel, as soon as all groundwork has been established, so the protagonist can run right into the craziness.  It does not take long for events to go sideways, with danger and despair all around as everything goes to hell, literally.  The centre of the novel is extremely entertaining, as the protagonist meets a range of different people hunkering down through the apocalypse and slowly builds up a fun group of survivors.  At the same time, some of the characters, including Miah, are forced to face an inner evil that has been brought on by these dark events.  This internal battle for control and the elements that introduce it are very cleverly established, and it adds a fantastic new edge to the plot, especially as at times it seems like the only point-of-view protagonist is about to irrevocably snap.  All this leads up to an epic conclusion as the protagonist journeys to a very evil place and comes face to face with some startling revelations and immense horrors, as well as some interesting story threads for the future.

I felt that this was an exceptional story, and I deeply enjoyed the outstanding combination of action, horror and comedy that was expertly bundled throughout the novel.  It is rare to find a story that can alternately thrill, traumatise, and entertain in short succession, but The Dark does that in spades.  It was gloriously entertaining and there was honestly not a single moment in this book that failed to keep my attention.  The action sequences are crisp and fantastic, and you get a real sense of the intense violence happening all around the protagonist.  I also really loved the horror feel that this novel had, especially as Robinson is a master of building up tension and suspense.  Readers should be aware that there are a quite a few extremely gory scenes throughout the book, and Robinson does not hold back on the gruesome descriptions.  I liked how the author switched the tone of the novel around two-thirds of the way through, with the horror focus moving away from fear of the unknown to a more extreme and science fiction based narrative.  I did think that the sudden appearance of certain groups in the big finale were a bit coincidental and could have been telegraphed slightly better, but this really did not cut down on my enjoyment of the story, and I was still blown away with the cool action sequences that were featured in this part of the book.  This was a really good standalone horror story, and I was deeply impressed with the exceptional narrative that Robinson featured in this book.

One of the things that I really appreciated about The Dark were the cool monsters and horror elements that Robinson came up with.  The entire concept of the novel revolves around dangerous creatures who come out during an eclipse of the sun that covers the entire setting in darkness, while also wreaking havoc on human technology.  Not only are these monsters pretty freaky and deadly, but Robinson builds up an intriguing mythology around them.  Because the protagonists have no idea what they are facing, the entire phenomenon is attributed to a religious event, especially as there is a coincidental Christian prophecy about three days and three nights of darkness which will purge those who leave their house.  Once the monsters appear, the characters initially identify them as demons, due to their unique look, ability to replicate voices and their dark and disturbing laughter.  I found these attempts by the protagonists to understand what is happening to them to be really fascinating, and it involves some fun looks at mythology and ancient lore.  The character’s understanding of these creatures evolves and changes over time, as there are some new freaky bits of context, and I thought it was pretty cool the way that Robinson was able to adapt these horror elements.  I also must highlight the terrifying setting of Hell, where the protagonists eventually end up.  There are some pretty dark and excessively gruesome aspects to this location, and it was a very fitting location for the big finale.  Overall, I really liked the cool creatures and mythology that Robinson brings to The Dark and it was so much fun to see these monsters tear through a typical suburban neighbourhood.

Easily one of the best things about The Dark were the complex and impressive characters that the narrative was set around.  The most prominent of these was central protagonist and point-of-view character, Miah, a former soldier who returned from the war even more messed up then before.  Initially a bit of a weirdo loner, Miah soon evolves into a more heroic figure, especially as he takes the lead during the demonic invasion, saving several people he comes across and leading the survivors to either safety or battle.  Miah is a very deep protagonist, and I really enjoyed the impressive and powerful examination of his inner trauma and the mental burdens he carries after his time in the army.  Robinson really tries to make Miah as complex as possible, and he even works some of his own personal experiences with trauma into his protagonist’s psyche.  It was great to see him evolve throughout the course of the book, especially once he has the fate of several other people on his hands, and these events help him grow and overcome his previous experiences.  Miah is also an extremely entertaining protagonist to follow, especially as he has a great sense of humour, is constantly high and initially does not take anything seriously, even when all the lights go out.  This combination results in Miah doing some unusual things, including wearing one of his sister’s skirts for the first third of the novel (it’s weird, but it works).  Most of the book’s humour comes from his flippant narration of the weird events occurring around him, and even once stuff gets really serious, he still has plenty of fun jokes or odd observations about what he encounters.  I loved his outrageous outlook on the world, and I ended up really appreciating Robinson’s fantastic choice of protagonist.

Aside from Miah, Robinson also comes up with some other fantastic characters who go through these apocalyptic events with him.  All these characters are set up extremely well when they are introduced, and Robinson does a great job quickly examining their personalities and expanding on them throughout the course of the book.  There are several fun characters featured throughout The Dark, although my favourite two are probably Bree and Emma, two younger girls who end up part of Miah’s group.  Despite their youth, these two characters are extremely capable and quickly adapt to the weird new world that they live in.  This is in part due to them being branded like Miah, which slowly changes their personalities, turning them into something different.  Both characters react to their branding in different ways, with the eight-year-old Bree more swiftly losing her humanity.  It was pretty fun to see this young kid become more and more bloodthirsty as the novel progresses, and there are some great moments where Miah tries to control her.  It looks likes Robinson has some plans for both Miah and Bree in the future (Demon Dog and Laser Chicken for the win), and I look forward to them turning up again.

While I was checking out some of Robinson’s novels, one of the things that stood out to me was that all his novels have been converted to my favourite format, the audiobook, and that a good proportion of these were narrated by R. C. Bray.  Bray is a very talented and entertaining narrator, whose work I have previously enjoyed in some of Michael Mammay’s science fiction novels, Planetside and Colonyside (the latter being one of the better audiobooks I have listened to so far this year).  After seeing Bray’s name attached to The Dark, there was no way that I was not going to grab it on audiobook, which proved to be a very, very smart decision.

The Dark audiobook has a runtime of just under ten and a half hours, although I found myself absolutely powering through it, especially once I got into the story.  I felt that the audiobook format worked extremely well with The Dark’s first-person perspective, and the audiobook was able to progress at a really quick pace.  Bray really shined as a narrator in The Dark, and I loved the way that he presented the horrifying and intense events occurring around the characters.  Bray does an excellent job voicing the various characters in The Dark, and I particularly liked the way that he dove into voicing central protagonist Miah.  While I was initially a little dubious that Bray, who I have only previously heard voicing tough military characters, would manage with a more immature character like Miah, it ended up working really well.  Bray expertly gets inside the head of the main character voicing, and he quickly portrays Miah in all his doped-up, entertaining glory.  I think that Bray had a lot of fun voicing Miah (despite certain comments that the character makes about fancy audiobook narrators), and he did a great job presenting both the goofy side of the character and his more serious nature.  This ability to dive into Miah’s personality really enhanced the character and the overall story and I really enjoyed all the emotion that Bray threw into him.  I also liked some of the other voices that he did for The Dark, with all the characters ending up with some distinctive and fitting voices, even the younger ones.  This excellent voice work really helps to turn The Dark into an outstanding audiobook production, and I would strongly recommend this format to anyone interested in checking out The Dark.  Also, it has bloopers at the end, which were pretty damn fun.

While The Dark is a standalone novel that can be read with no prior knowledge of Robinson’s other works, it does have interesting connections that I need to mention.  There is a big reveal at the end of the book which ties The Dark together with a previous standalone novel that was a released a couple of years ago.  While I have not read this previous novel, it was a fun connection, and, after deeply enjoying The Dark, it got me in the mood to check out some of Robinson’s other books.  I also looked at Robinson’s website after finishing The Dark and there was a very interesting post about this that has made me appreciate this novel a little more.  Apparently The Dark is an entry in a wider joint universe, known as the Infinite Timeline, which already features several novels that Robinson has released in recent years.  The Dark is part of a sub-series within this universe, and it is linked together with the above-mentioned previous novel and an upcoming novel, Mind Bullet.  This sub-series will continue to become even more linked, eventually leading to another novel, Khaos, before it, and two other sub-series, made up of 11 novels in total, will have a big crossover in the 2023 novel, Singularity.  While this does not impact who can check out The Dark, I think it is pretty awesome that Robinson is attempting to create this massive joint universe, and it has really got me intrigued.  I am now extremely tempted to try and check out the rest of the entries in this joint universe before Singularity is released, and it should be a very interesting couple of years if I do.

Overall, The Dark by Jeremy Robinson was an epic and relentlessly exciting horror novel that I had an incredible time reading.  Thanks to its captivating story, complex characters and unique horror elements, The Dark was an outstanding book and it ended up being one of the most entertaining and compelling audiobooks I have enjoyed all year.  A definite must-read for anyone in the mood for a fun and intense horror novel, The Dark comes highly recommended and gets a full five stars from me.  I think I will end up trying some more of Robinson’s novels in the future, especially in their audiobook format, and I cannot wait to see what other crazy adventures and outrageous events he features in his books.

Waiting on Wednesday – Kingdoms of Death by Christopher Ruocchio

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For this latest Waiting on Wednesday I check out an impressive sounding upcoming space opera that is bound to be one of my favourite books of 2022, Kingdoms of Death by Christopher Ruocchio.

Kingdoms of Death Cover

Over the last few years, one of the absolute best science fiction series I have had the pleasure of reading was the epic Sun Eater Sequence by Christopher Ruocchio.  This series started in 2018 with Ruochhio’s debut novel, Empire of Silence, an outstanding novel that followed compelling protagonist Hadrian Marlo.  Set in a gothic far future, Hadrian is a man doomed to universal infamy after ordering the destruction of a sun to commit an unforgivable act of genocide.  Told as a chronicle written by an older Hadrian, Empire of Silence detailed his earlier adventures and served as an amazing introduction to the characters and the setting.  I had an awesome time reading Empire of Silence, and it ended up being one of my favourite books of 2018.  Ruocchio has since written two excellent sequels, Howling Dark (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2019) and Demon in White (one of my favourite books of 2020).  All three novels have been five-star reads, and I have deeply enjoyed the complex and captivating narrative that Ruocchio has set up.  So, you can imagine my excitement when I saw that the series will continue early next year with a fourth book, Kingdoms of Death.

Kingdoms of Death, which is currently set for release in March 2022, will continue to follow Hadrian as his legend and reputation grows to new heights.  This novel will be set around a century after the events of Demon in White (the characters are very long lived, especially as they spend a lot of time in cryogenic sleep while travelling between planets) and will initially detail the consequences of the events that saw Hadrian use unusual reality-bending powers to cheat death.

Synopsis:

The fourth novel of the galaxy-spanning Sun Eater series merges the best of space opera and epic fantasy, as Hadrian Marlowe continues down a path that can only end in fire.

Hadrian Marlowe is trapped.

For nearly a century, he has been a guest of the Emperor, forced into the role of advisor, a prisoner of his own legend. But the war is changing. Mankind is losing.

The Cielcin are spilling into human space from the fringes, picking their targets with cunning precision. The Great Prince Syriani Dorayaica is uniting their clans, forging them into an army and threat the likes of which mankind has never seen.

And the Empire stands alone.

Now the Emperor has no choice but to give Hadrian Marlowe—once his favorite knight—one more impossible task: journey across the galaxy to the Lothrian Commonwealth and convince them to join the war. But not all is as it seems, and Hadrian’s journey will take him far beyond the Empire, beyond the Commonwealth, impossibly deep behind enemy lines.

I am really excited about this upcoming novel, and it sounds like Ruocchio has a pretty awesome and compelling story in store for us.  The above synopsis has a lot of cool details, such as the fact that Hadrian will start the novel a prisoner, which isn’t too surprising as the third novel ended with an entire planet praising him and declaring him a god, right in front of the jealous son of a galactic emperor.  This will no doubt continue to play into the political and religious intrigue angles that were so fascinating in Demon in White, and I look forward to seeing how the universe has changed over the last century.  The fact that the Emperor gets desperate enough to unleash Hadrian once again is pretty telling, and it sounds like we are getting closer and closer to the final showdown between humans and the alien Cielcin, which will result in Hadrian’s ultimate act of destruction.  I cannot wait to see what devastating events result in the usually good-natured and merciful Hadrian to commit to such a terrible course of action, and it should result in some exceptional storytelling.

Another part of the above plot that I am quite excited about is the fact that Hadrian will be visiting another human civilisation in the Lothrian Commonwealth.  The Lothrian Commonwealth has been mentioned multiple times throughout the first three novels, but it will be really fascinating to see the protagonist and his companions visit it.  Ruocchio is particularly good at universe building, and he will paint a detailed and captivating picture of this new society, which should serve as a distinctive alternative to the dark, repressive, and anti-technological Empire the series has primarily been set in.  It should also provide opportunities for additional political intrigue and espionage as Hadrian needs to convince them to join in the war against the Cielcin.  I also like the hint at the characters heading behind enemy lines, and it should prove very thrilling and compelling to see Hadrian once again come into conflict with the very dangerous Cielcin, especially if the series big bad once again shows up to face him.

I think at this point it is obvious that I am extremely keen for the next exciting entry in the Sun Eater Sequence.  This series has already been incredible, and the fourth entry, Kingdoms of Death, has an immense amount of potential.  Based on how outstanding the series has already been and on Christopher Ruocchio’s amazing writing ability, I am extremely confident that I am going to love this new novel and I have no doubts what-so-ever that it will be one of the top books of the year.

Kingdom of Death Cover 2

Star Wars: The High Republic: Out of the Shadows by Justina Ireland

Star Wars - Out of the Shadows Cover

Publisher: Disney Lucasfilm Press (Audiobook – 27 July 2021)

Series: Star Wars – The High Republic

Length: 10 hours and 50 minutes

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The marvels and terrors of the High Republic era of Star Wars history continues with the latest fantastic and exciting young adult tie-in novel, Star Wars: Out of the Shadows by Justina Ireland.

The High Republic is an interconnected collection of novels, comics, audio dramas and other pieces of media produced by top Star Wars authors, set hundreds of years before the films.  Starting in January 2021, this compelling multimedia project features several great pieces of fiction, including the awesome introductory novel Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule, the impressive The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott, and the entertaining young adult novel Into the Dark by Claudia Gray.  The latest High Republic novel, Out of the Shadows, is another compelling young adult novel that continues several key storylines from previous High Republic novels.  This was the second Star Wars book from author Justina Ireland, who previously wrote the High Republic junior novel, A Test of Courage.

Death, destruction, pirates, and plant monsters!  The Republic may be at the height of its culture and influence, but it is in some major trouble.  Following the devastation that occurred during the Republic Fair at Valo, the Republic are at war with the marauders known as the Nihil, with the Jedi leading the efforts to hunt them down.  But in the far corners of space, the Nihil are planning something new, something that could change the very fabric of the galaxy.

Sylvestri Yarrow is a young pilot and captain of a dilapidated ship, who is doing the best she can to keep her crew above water after the death of her mother.  However, when her ship is suddenly pulled out of hyperspace in a remote area of space with a boarding party of Nihil raiders waiting for her, she has no choice but to abandon her home.  Determined to get some form of justice, Sylvestri heads to Coruscant to convince someone of the dangers, but no one is willing to listen to a teenage pilot from the frontier until the unscrupulous and ultra-wealthy Xylan Graf appears and makes her an offer she cannot refuse.

In exchange for a new ship and a substantial number of credits, Sylvestri will accompany Xylan to the area of space where she lost her ship to help him disprove rumours of a dangerous Nihil weapon and to convince a senator into giving his family access to valuable hyperspace lanes.  Despite her misgivings about the plan, and the trustworthiness of Xylan, Sylvestri agrees to accompany him.  However, the Senator has a caveat: Xylan must take along some unimpeachable observers of her choosing, Jedi.  Now accompanied by young Jedi Knight Vernestra Rwoh, her Padawan Imri Cantaros, Master Cohmac Vitus, his apprentice Reath Silas, and, awkwardly, Sylvestri’s ex-girlfriend Jordanna Sparkburn, the team heads out to the wilds of space.  But the Nihil are always watching and waiting from the shadows, and their plans could spell doom for everyone.  Can Sylvestri and her new Jedi friends survive the dangers ahead of them, or will terrible secrets from her past threaten to overwhelm everyone once they are dragged out of the shadows.

Out of the Shadows proved to be a fun and compelling entry in this great new Star Wars series that I had a fantastic time listening to.  Featuring a great story and some excellent characters, this novel continues several key storylines from the previous High Republic novels and presents a strong and action-packed adventure.

Ireland has come up with a pretty good story for Out of the Shadows, resulting in a very exciting read.  Set around a year after Ireland’s last novel, A Test of Courage, and a short period after the events of the last major High Republic novel The Rising Storm, Out of the Shadows ties together several intriguing story threads set around some compelling characters.  The book starts out quick, with each major characters introduced in short order through a series of separate point-of-view chapters.  These early introductions do a good job of establishing the characters’ histories, personalities and motivations, and sending them on their various story paths.  The first third of the novel moves quickly, with each character getting some compelling moments, such as Sylvestri getting involved with unscrupulous businessman Xylan Graf, while Jedi Vernestra and her friends get a taste of the dangerous frontier life on their way to Coruscant.  This results in a fun mixture of plot inclusions, from some captivating political intrigue in Sylvestri’s storyline to some more action in Vernestra’s story combined with some interesting examinations of the Jedi and the Force.

These storylines combine around halfway through the book, with the key characters (except for one point-of-view antagonist) coming together and working as a team.  While it did have some good moments, I felt the middle part of the novel dragged a little, and there was not a great deal of excitement there.  However, it did set up the conclusion nicely, with Sylvestri and the Jedi coming face to face with the Nihil in less-than-ideal circumstances.  After a short confrontation, the story goes into overdrive, with the characters racing through several events all the way up to the end, including one event that might have some major ramifications for the High Republic storylines.  Strangely enough, while the second act was a little slow, the final part of the novel was way too quick, with a lot happening in a very short amount of time.  Still there were some great moments in these end scenes, including a couple of good twists, and it also sets up some further adventures extremely well.  All the key characters get gratifying conclusions to their various storylines, and readers are left feeling pretty satisfied with how events turned out.  Ireland makes sure to layer her story with some great action sequences, and there are some entertaining moments spread throughout the book.  I had a wonderful time reading this cool story, and it ended up being a rather good Star Wars book.

This latest Star Wars novel is marketed towards a young adult audience, and I felt that it was a particularly good read for teenagers.  Not only does it feature several teenage characters kicking ass, including a girl who became a Jedi Knight at age 15, but it also contains a clever and enjoyable story that does not pander to the younger age group or shy away from violence or controversial topics.  Ireland did a great job diving into the teenage mindset, and I felt that the various teenage characters featured in this novel were well portrayed as competent and complex figures.  I also liked the strong LGBT+ elements that Ireland featured throughout the novel, especially between Sylvestri and Jordanna Sparkburn, and it is cool that it is being shown so prominently in these novels.  Like many young adult Star Wars novels, this book is can be easily enjoyed by older Star Wars fans, who will appreciate the intriguing story and fascinating developments to the wider High Republic universe.  Younger readers will also probably have a good time with this novel, especially as Ireland does not go too over the top with the violence and romance, and as such I felt that this was an accessible novel to fans of all ages.

Out of the Shadows’ narrative is a continuation of several previous High Republic novels, which readers may need a bit of pre-knowledge about to fully enjoy.  Not only does this novel continue to expand the High Republic series and make frequent references to characters and events primarily featured in Light of the Jedi or The Rising Storm; it also serves as a direct continuation of two previous books.  This includes Ireland’s first Star Wars novel, A Test of Courage, as well as earlier 2021 release, Into the Dark, with key characters and storylines continued in Out of the Shadows.  Readers unfamiliar with these previous novels might also have a hard time following what is happening in Out of the Shadows, although I did think Ireland had a good go at making this novel accessible to readers, no matter their knowledge base.  Some key events of previous novels are explored in some detail, and I had no trouble following what was happening or who the characters were, even though I haven’t read A Test of Courage.  Ireland also blended the various existing storylines together extremely well, and this helped to turn Out of the Shadow into a key entry in the overall High Republic series, especially as it continues to show the galactic machinations of the Nihil.  It also looks like several storylines, mainly surrounding Ireland’s primary protagonist Vernestra Rwoh, will be continued in some future novels and I will have to try to read Ireland’s next novel, Mission of Disaster, even though I have avoided the junior High Republic novels in the past.

One of the things that particularly impressed me about Out of the Shadows was the excellent collection of characters that Ireland fit into her narrative.  There is a substantial central cast in this book, including some new additions and some characters who have appeared in previous High Republic novels.  The author does a good job of introducing and exploring these key characters throughout the novel, and you get some interesting and intense character development occurring, which really adds to the narrative.

These characters include Sylvestri Yarrow, a young pilot who finds herself dragged into the middle of this adventure.  Sylvestri is a tough frontier girl with a big independent streak and a massive chip on her shoulder when it comes to both the Nihil and the Jedi, and she goes through a lot in this novel.  Serving as one of the main point-of-view characters, Sylvestri offers a very interesting view on the events occurring and has some deep connections to the Nihil plot without even realising it.  She also forms an intense and fantastic relationship with Jordanna Sparkburn, her ex-girlfriend, who suddenly re-enters her life.  Jordanna is a frontier deputy responsible for defending her planet from Nihil raiders, which has seen her fight in quite a few battles.  Brought into the story after the Jedi help her to defend her home, Jordanna accompanies them to Coruscant and then gets wrapped up the main story.  Mainly introduced as the tough girl still interested in Sylvestri, Jordanna gains a lot of depth as a character as the story progresses, especially as she has experienced a lot of trauma after being forced into multiple battles.  A lot of this comes out when Sylvestri is in trouble, and Jordanna goes on a bit of a killing spree with a unique Nihil weapon she has obtained.  This scene really adds a lot to how the reader sees her, and it proves to be quite fascinating.  I was also a big fan of Jordanna’s giant alien cat, Remy, a dangerous creature who is just a big kitten at heart, especially when she bonds with some of the other characters.

I also enjoyed the great Jedi characters featured in Out of the Shadows.  These include Jedi Knight Vernestra Rwoh and her Padawan Imri Cantaros, who were the main characters of A Test of Courage and are now Ireland’s go-to Star Wars protagonists.  These two Jedi make for a unique pairing, as Vernestra is a brilliant Jedi prodigy, becoming a Knight at a very young age, while Imri is only slightly younger and has a unique ability to perceive emotions.  Vern is a particularly striking character, particularly with her lightwhip (a lightsaber modified to also be used as a whip) and I enjoyed seeing the challenges that a very young Knight would face.  Her unique connection to the force also connects her to another interesting character in the High Republic canon, and it sets her up for some big storylines in the future.  The other major Jedi characters are Jedi Master Cohmac Vitus and his apprentice Reath Silas.  Cohmac and Reath were previously heavily featured in a previous young adult novel, Into the Dark, and it was great to see them again.  Despite being the apprentice, Reath is the more prominent character, with several point-of-view chapters to himself.  While it was great to see more of Reath and Cohmac, they are a little underutilised, and I would have liked to see more about them, especially with Reath’s unique connection to one of the antagonists.

The other two characters who were a lot of fun in this book are Nan and Xylan Graf, two complex figures who are playing their own games.  Nan is a young Nihil spy and infiltrator who previously encountered Reath while the two were trapped on a space station together.  Serving as one of Marchion Ro’s most loyal soldiers, Nan is entrusted with an important treasure and is subsequently forced to navigate the Nihil’s internal feuding and plotting to survive.  Nan provides a fantastic alternate perspective for much of the events of the novel as she is used to show what is happening in the Nihil camp.  I liked her use in this book, and while I would have enjoyed a much more intense confrontation with Reath when they are inevitably reunited, I did enjoy how Nan’s story arc dramatically changed towards the end of the novel, which should be interesting for future High Republic novels.  The other character is Xylan Graf, the ultimate rich-kid master manipulator.  Xylan is the scion to the exceedingly powerful and rich Graf family, who organises the entire expedition, seemingly to gain rights to a valuable sector of space.  Xylan is an extremely flashy and stylish figure, and it is quite entertaining to see the other characters react to his eccentricities.  He is also quite a sly operator, cooking up plans and spinning tales to keep everyone happy.  He is so slippery that you honestly don’t know what he is planning for most of the novel, and I felt that he was a very compelling and fun addition to the cast.  All of the above characters were really fun and I hope they reappear in some of the future High Republic entries.

I made sure to grab a copy of Out of the Shadows’ audiobook format, which proved to be an interesting experience.  While I tend to really enjoy Star Wars audiobooks due to the cool production inclusions they usually feature, I ended up being a little disappointed with Out of the Shadow’s audiobook.  This was mainly because it lacked the iconic Star Wars musical score or background sound effects that all the other Star Wars audiobooks have, which made for a more subdued listening experience.  While this didn’t make Out of the Shadows impossible to enjoy, it was a very noticeable departure from the typical fun I have with Star Wars audiobooks, and several scenes could have benefited from being enhanced by some emotional music.  Still, I enjoyed the production, mainly because narrator Keylor Leigh does a really good job telling the story.  Leigh, who previously narrated Ireland’s A Test of Courage, has a great voice for teenage characters.  I felt that Leigh gave each of the key protagonists a unique and fitting voice, and she also ensured that the narrative moved along at a quick and exciting pace.  In addition, with a runtime of just under 11 hours, this is a relatively quick listen, which dedicated listeners can power through in no time at all.  As a result, this is a good format to enjoy Out of the Shadows on, although I really do wish that it had featured the usual strong Star Wars production values.

Star Wars: Out of the Shadows by Justina Ireland is an awesome and captivating High Republic tie-in novel, which continues to explore this unique period in Star Wars history.  Containing a fun story and some great characters, this novel serves as a key entry in the High Republic series, following several fascinating plot threads from some previous novels.  Readers are in for an excellent time with this novel, and Out of the Shadows proves to be an exciting and compelling experience.

Waiting on Wednesday – Upcoming Sequels

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For this week’s Waiting on Wednesday, I am going to highlight three upcoming novels that I think will be awesome follow ups to some excellent debut novels I’ve recently read.

Over the last year there have been some truly amazing debut novels coming out across the various genres.  This is particularly true in 2021, and I have already enjoyed some really great books written by talented first-time authors, with several other fantastic sounding ones set for release later in the year.  However, I am also particularly excited to see that some of these fantastic debuts are already producing some cool sounding sequels, which will be released over the next few months.  Considering how much fun I had reading the first books from these amazing writers, I am very excited for these sequels, especially as they are all continuing the compelling storylines from the initial books.

The first book I want to highlight is The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart, the second book in The Drowning Empire series and the cool sounding follow up to the 2020 fantasy debut, The Bone Shard DaughterThe Bone Shard Daughter was a very impressive fantasy debuts and it instantly got a massive following of fans, especially as multiple reviewers quickly started raving about it.  I read it a few months after it came out and I really enjoyed its captivating story and clever setting, and it ended up being one of my favourite debuts of 2020.

The Bone Shard Emperor Cover

The Drowning Empire novels are set within a tyrannical empire of multiple islands, ruled over by a family of magicians who use shards of bone, harvested from their subjects to power dangerous constructs.  The first novel followed a great range of characters, including a smuggler, the Emperor’s rebellious daughter and several rebels, and resulted in an awesome read with a great conclusion.  I am pretty excited to check out the sequel, currently set for release on 11 November 2021, which will continue right after the events of the first book and feature a dangerous new enemy emerging to challenge the protagonists.  The Bone Shard Emperor sounds like a really good read and I cannot wait to see how Stewart’s second novel turns out.

Synopsis:

The Bone Shard Emperor is the unmissable sequel to The Bone Shard Daughter, one of the biggest fantasy debuts of 2020 – a captivating tale of magic, revolution and mystery, where a young woman’s sense of identity will make or break an empire.

The Emperor is Dead. Long live the Emperor.

Lin Sukai finally sits on the throne she won at so much cost, but her struggles are only just beginning. Her people don’t trust her. Her political alliances are weak. And in the northeast of the Empire, a rebel army of constructs is gathering, its leader determined to take the throne by force.

Yet an even greater threat is on the horizon, for the Alanga – the powerful magicians of legend – have returned to the Empire. They claim they come in peace, and Lin needs their help to defeat the rebels and restore order.

But can she trust them?

The next novel I want to highlight in this post is The Liar’s Knot by M. A. Carrick, the second book in the exciting Rook & Rose series.  The Liar’s Knot, which will be released in early December 2021, is the sequel to the excellent The Mask of Mirrors, which came out earlier this year.  The Mask of Mirrors is the first book from author M. A. Carrick, the joint pen name of Marie Brennan and Alyc Helms, two established fantasy authors, although I am counting this book as a debut as it was the first time that they wrote together.

The Liar's Knot Cover

The Mask of Mirrors, which was one of my favourite audiobooks of the first half of 2021, followed a great group of protagonists as they engage in a game of deceit and lies in an amazing fantasy setting.  Set in the troubled city of Nadežra, the book primarily followed a former street kid turned con artist as she attempts to trick her way into the ranks of a wealthy family by rescuing them from poverty.  However, her ploy sets her against a range of dangerous adversaries, including a notorious crime lord, a mysterious vigilante, and an insidious magical threat from her childhood.  This results in an awesome and compelling fantasy adventure, and I really enjoyed how the story progressed.  The next book in this series, The Liar’s Knot, will continue the impressive story with the three central protagonists coming into conflict with each other, and the other sinister forces infesting the city.

Synopsis:

Trust is the thread that binds us . . . and the rope that hangs us.

In Nadezra, peace is as tenuous as a single thread. The ruthless House Indestor has been destroyed, but darkness still weaves through the city’s filthy back alleys and jewel-bright gardens, seen by those who know where to look.

Derossi Vargo has always known. He has sacrificed more than anyone imagines to carve himself a position of power among the nobility, hiding a will of steel behind a velvet smile. He’ll be damned if he lets anyone threaten what he’s built.

Grey Serrado knows all too well. Bent under the yoke of too many burdens, he fights to protect the city’s most vulnerable. Sooner or later, that fight will demand more than he can give.

And Ren, daughter of no clan, knows best of all. Caught in a knot of lies, torn between her heritage and her aristocratic masquerade, she relies on her gift for reading pattern to survive. And it shows her the web of corruption that traps her city.

But all three have yet to discover just how far that web stretches. And in the end, it will take more than knives to cut themselves free…

The final book in this post is the really cool sounding science fiction thriller, Outcast, by Louise Carey.  Carey is a talented author who, after writing several books with her family, produced her first solo novel earlier this year, InscapeInscape was a captivating and intriguing read that featured a fantastic cyberpunk storyline in a dystopian future.  Inscape was one of the better debut novels I have read so far this year, and I was very excited to see that Carey already has a sequel on the way with Outcast.

Outcast Cover

Outcast, which is currently set for release on 25 January 2022, will continue to follow corporation security officer and spy, Tanta, as she attempts to unravel the various conspiracies dominating the futuristic society that she lives in, and which is threatening the corporation that raised her.  The first novel had a great story to it, which finished on a fantastic note, and I really enjoyed getting through this cool first book.  I am also very excited to see how this story continues, especially as the synopsis suggests that even more secrets and lies about Tanta’s past and her employers will be revealed in this latest outing.

Synopsis:

TRUTH. LIES. IT CAN BE HARD TO TELL THEM APART.

When a bomb goes off at InTech HQ, everything changes for Tanta’s corporation. Order becomes disorder. Safety becomes danger. Calm becomes chaos.

Tanta is tasked with getting to the bottom of the attack before violence and unrest overtake the city. But even though the evidence points towards rival corporation Thoughtfront, Tanta can’t shake the feeling that she’s missing something.

There’s a dark secret at the heart of the case, one that will reveal more about her own corporation than Tanta would like. And the closer Tanta gets to the mystery, the more she comes to realise something terrible:

Sometimes facing the truth can be the hardest thing of all.

As you can see from the above, there are some outstanding sequel novels coming out in the next few months, and I have to say that I am extremely excited for all of them.  All three of these fantastic upcoming books are following on from some amazing debuts, and I have very high hopes that these great authors will continue their excellent writing with these sequels.

Waiting on Wednesday – Galaxias by Stephen Baxter

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For this latest Waiting on Wednesday, I look at an intriguing upcoming science fiction novel from bestselling author Stephen Baxter, Galaxias.

Galaxias Cover

Baxter is a highly regarded veteran author of science fiction who has been writing for 30 years and has produced a vast library of novels.  Baxter, who strongly utilises his scientific background to create some unique stories, has written some really cool novels throughout his career, including a collaborative series with the late, great, Terry Pratchett, The Long Earth series.  I have enjoyed some of his works in the past, such as the exciting 2017 novel, The Massacre of Mankind, an authorised sequel to the classic novel The War of the Worlds.  After having fun with some of his previous book, I was particularly intrigued when I saw that Baxter had a new novel coming out in a few months, especially as its interesting plot really caught my eye.

This new novel is Galaxias, which is currently set for release in late October 2021.  Galaxias is a standalone science fiction novel that examines what would happen to the world if the sun suddenly went out.  This is a pretty awesome concept to explore and I for one am very curious to how Baxter imagines that this would unfold.  Galaxias will no doubt be loaded with all manner of science, compelling characters, and dangerous human drama, and it sounds like quite a captivating read.  I am extremely certain that I am going to have a fantastic time reading this upcoming novel and I am really looking forward to getting my hands on it.

Synopsis:

A new standalone SF epic from a master of the genre

What would happen to the world if the sun went out?

New epic sci-fi from Stephen Baxter, the award-winning author whose credits include co-authorship of the Long Earth series with Terry Pratchett.

By the middle of the 21st century, humanity has managed to overcome a series of catastrophic events and maintain some sense of stability. Space exploration has begun again. Science has led the way.

But then one day, the sun goes out. Solar panels are useless, and the world begins to freeze.

Earth begins to fall out of its orbit.

The end is nigh.

Someone has sent us a sign.

Waiting on Wednesday – The Misfit Soldier by Michael Mammay

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 take a look at a fantastic upcoming novel that is probably going to be one of the best science fiction novels of 2022, with The Misfit Soldier by Michael Mammay.

The Misfit Soldier Cover

Michael Mammay is a fantastically talented author whose work I have been deeply enjoying over the last couple of years.  Mammay debuted in 2018, with the epic and captivating science fiction thriller, Planetside, which contained an extremely clever story with one of the best, and most explosive, endings I have ever had the pleasure of enjoying.  Planetside was an exceptional read and not only was it one of my favourite novels of 2018 and one of my favourite overall debuts, but it served as the first entry in a truly awesome series.  This series so far features two other books, the 2019 release, Spaceside (one of my favourite books of 2019), and the third entry Colonyside, which was one of the best books (and audiobooks), that I have so far read this year.  I have had an absolute blast getting through the three Planetside novels, especially as each of them contains an excellent and clever science fiction story filled with mysteries and conspiracies.  As a result, I was very excited when I saw that Mammay had another cool sounding book coming out in 2022.

Mammay’s next novel will be The Misfit Soldier, which is currently set for release on 22 February 2022 (so 22. 2. 22.).  This latest book is going to be a standalone read separate from the Planetside novels and will contain a different story with a criminally minded science fiction soldier as he attempts to pull off a massive con.

Synopsis:

Ocean’s Eleven meets John Scalzi in this funny, action-filled, stand-alone sci-fi adventure from the author of Planetside, in which a small team of misfit soldiers takes on a mission that could change the entire galaxy.

Sergeant Gastovsky–Gas to everyone but his superior officers–never wanted to be a soldier. Far from it. But when a con goes wrong and he needs a place to lay low for a while, he finds himself wearing the power armor of the augmented infantry.

After three years on a six-year contract, Gas has found his groove running low-level cons and various illegal activities that make him good money on the side. He’s the guy who can get you what you need. But he’s always had his eye out for a big score–the one that might set him up for life after the military.

When one of his soldiers is left behind after a seemingly pointless battle, Gas sees his chance. He assembles a team of misfit soldiers that would push the term “ragtag” to its limits for a big con that leads them on a daring behind-the-lines mission, pitting him not only against enemy soldiers but against the top brass of his own organization.

If he pulls this off, not only will he save his squadmate, he might just become the legend he’s always considered himself. He might also change the way the entire galaxy looks at this war. But for any of that to happen, he has to live through this insane plan.

And charm rarely stops bullets.

This sounds like such an awesome story, and I am extremely excited to check it out.  A massive space heist with a team of misfit soldiers in the future sounds extremely awesome (sounds a bit like a science fiction version of Kelly’s Heroes).  I really like the fact that Mammay is trying something new here with the whole con/heist angle.  It will be interesting to see how well this change of format works for Mammay’s, although considering that I am a big fan of heists, it sounds like a great idea to me.  I also like that the author will still be using some military thriller aspects in The Misfit Soldier.  Mammay did such a wonderful job portraying military figures and other aspects of the soldier’s lifestyle in his Planetside novels, and it will be good to see more of it in his new book.  It was also be interesting see Mammay write a whole new protagonist, especially as he is changing from portraying a maverick officer, to a foot soldier more concerned with money than fighting.  This will be a quite a fun difference, although based on how tricky and conniving the protagonist of the Planetside novels was, I am fully confident that Mammay will be able to pull it off.

Overall, I think the above story sounds extremely incredible.  It has a lot of cool elements to it, and I must admit that I really like the idea of a science fiction military heist novel, and if anyone can pull it off, it is Michael Mammay.  Based on the author’s previous works, I already know that I am going to deeply enjoy this upcoming novel, and The Misfit Solider should turn out to be something truly amazing.  I am already predicting that this novel will be one of the top books of 2022, and it can not fall into my hands soon enough.

The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry

The 22 Murders of Madison May Cover

Publisher: Hachette Australia (Trade Paperback – 30 June 2021)

Series: Standalone

Length: 322 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

From the unique mind of leading Australian science fiction author Max Barry comes the fantastic and very clever alternate universe thriller, The 22 Murders of Madison May.

Madison May has been murdered and she has no idea why!

Madison, a young real-estate agent suddenly finds herself on the wrong side of a knife wielding client with zero regard for keeping his identity hidden from the police.  His final act before killing her is to profess his undying love to her.  However, Madison has never seen her murderer before in her life, at least, not in this life.

When word of Madison’s death reaches the desk of the Daily News, it falls to rising reporter Felicity Staples to follow up.  Despite a dislike for murder cases, Felicity soon finds herself wrapped up in investigating the brutal killing of the beautiful Madison May, especially as some unusual designs have been carved into the walls.  However, things take a turn for the strange when Felicity sees the suspected murderer at the subway in a dangerous confrontation with another fugitive from justice.  Moments after seeing them, Felicity can only watch in surprise as they vanish before her eyes and her universe is turned upside down.

Returning to her apartment, Felicity notices several minor changes to her life.  Her boyfriend suddenly knows how to cook, one of her cats is missing, and no-one at work remembers anything about her story or Madison May.  As strange events keep occurring, Felicity is soon forced to face the fact that she has been transported to an alternate dimension.  Reeling from the revelation, Felicity is even more stunned when a slightly different Madison May turns up murdered, the victim of the same killer.  Chasing after the mysterious people hovering around the case, Felicity discovers that a dangerous stalker is moving from dimension to dimension, determined to find the perfect Madison May to fall in love with, and killing any version he doesn’t like.  Can Felicity stop the killer before he takes out another version of Madison May, or will her forays into interdimensional travel have consequences she could never imagine?

Wow, this was a very fun and captivating read that I really enjoyed.  The 22 Murders of Madison May is the latest novel from Australian Max Barry, an author of several intriguing science fiction novels, including Providence, Jennifer Government, and Machine Man.  This was the first novel of Barry’s that I have had the opportunity to read, and I am very glad that I did, as Barry has created an outstanding and fun science fiction thriller that makes great use of some cool alternate dimension travel to produce an exquisite and awesome story.

Barry has come up with an extremely exciting and compelling narrative for this fantastic novel, which makes excellent use of its unique science fiction hook.  The novel starts off with the brutal murder of the first Madison May, which leads to the involvement of protagonist Felicity.  It does not take long for Felicity to get dragged into an alternate universe after encountering the killer and a fugitive engaged in a fight.  Forced to deal with the unusual differences in her life and the revelations of what has happened to her, Felicity attempts to save the lives of several different Madison Mays, while also avoiding the attentions of a group of interdimensional travellers who jealously guard their secrets.  What follows is a series of thrilling scenes where Felicity and her ally, Hugo, jump from alternate universe to alternate universe trying to stop the killer, with varying degrees of success.  This all eventually leads up to a fantastic and impressive conclusion where Felicity is forced to make some major, life-altering decisions, while also facing off against the monster she’s been chasing.  This proved to be an extremely captivating and fascinating novel, which honestly takes no time at all to get hooked on.  I loved the brilliant blend of psychological thriller and compelling science fiction elements, which seamlessly work together to produce an outstanding and memorable standalone story.  I powered through this book in a couple of days, and I deeply enjoyed every second I spent reading this intense and cleverly written story.

I have to say that I deeply appreciated the fascinating concept of alternate dimensions and interdimensional travel that Barry features.  Not only does the author do a good job explaining the science and philosophy behind this science fiction feature, but he also ensures that it works to full effect within the narrative.  In this book, dimensional travellers move from one reality to the next, taking over the lives of the version of themselves living in that dimension.  This results in the travelling characters awakening in a world with slight deviations from the last one they visited.  Barry features several separate dimensions within The 22 Murders of Madison May, and it was always quite fascinating to see the slight differences that occur, good and bad.  This is most prominently shown through the eyes of protagonist Felicity, who ends up visiting several alternate realities, some of which severely shake her.  However, you likewise get to see several different versions of the titular murder victim, Madison May, which results in a fascinating examination of how decisions and missed opportunities can impact your life.  It was also cool to see the various ways in which the alternate dimension travel could be manipulated, most noticeably by the book’s antagonist.  This vicious killer was constantly manipulating events to find a version of Madison May that would love him the same way that he loved her, and it was both creepy and intriguing the way in which Barry combined an alternate reality story with a tale of a fanatic serial killer.  It was very interesting to see the way the villain was able to change the course of his dimensional travels to suit his needs, such as by framing one of his pursuers for murder, and then ensuring that they only travelled to dimensions where they were locked up in prison.  I felt that Barry did a great job introducing and utilising this cool concept, and it really worked to create an epic and powerful narrative.

The author has also come up with some fun and complex characters in The 22 Murders of Madison May, who are enhanced by the fact that you get a very detailed and compelling snapshot into various versions of their lives.  The main character is Felicity Staples, a bold and clever reporter who finds her entire life upside down.  Felicity initially lives an ordinary life, with a boyfriend and two cats, while hunting for political corruption.  However, the events of this story really mess her around, as she is bounced around slightly different versions of her life.  These various involuntary jumps really have an impact on her, especially as she experiences both positive and negative changes which make her question her choices and relationships.  At the same time, she becomes obsessed with saving Madison May and stopping the killer, so much so that she constantly throws her life in danger.  The combination of these choices and the changing realities proves to be quite wearing on her, especially as she is forced to make some major sacrifices in her own life to try and save Madison’s.  This makes for quite a strong and likeable protagonist, and I deeply enjoyed seeing her intense and tragic narrative unfold completely.

I also really enjoyed supporting character Madison May.  The Madison Mays are essentially nobodies who have the very classic backstory of being a struggling actress who moved the big city and is dealing with a terrible boyfriend.  However, in one reality she was given her big break and appeared in a film in a small role.  However, this big break was a double-edged sword, as it gained the attention of a stalker, who, upon failing to meet her in his world, travelled between dimensions and started hunting her down.  Throughout the course of the book, you see multiple versions of Madison May, each of whom has a slightly different life, whether she is still struggling as an actress, on the cusp of a big break, or has given up acting altogether.  The author does a really good job of quickly and concisely setting up each of these new versions of Madison May, and you quickly get a feel for who the character is and the choices that change her.  Because she is not travelling through alternate dimensions, it is always fascinating to see the different interactions she has with her killer, as well as the reactions to the strange events occurring around her.  As a result, you get a fairly detailed examination of this character’s life, and it proves very hard not to like her and hope that she is able to overcome the latest attempts on her life.

The final character I want to focus on is the novel’s main antagonist and the killer of Madison May, Clayton Hors.  Clayton is a compelling and intense villain who starts his journey as an obsessed fan who falls in love with Madison May after seeing her in a movie in his reality and starts stalking her, eventually getting caught.  While this would usually be the end of the story, Clayton was able to obtain an item that allowed him to travel through dimensions, so he started stalking Madison in every reality he can find, assessing each version to find the perfect match to the one he fell in love with, and then attempting to make them love him in return.  This is some deeply disturbing antagonist creation here, and I really appreciate the way in which Barry amps up a dangerous and obsessed sociopath by giving them the ability to stalk their victims across the dimensions.  There are so many elements to this character which turn them into quite a memorable villain, from his unwavering determination to get what he wants, his short and violent temper, an inability to be satisfied with the girls he finds, and an obsession that can withstand constant dimensional travel.  I particularly found the descriptions of his arms, which are scarred and cracked by the various bite marks of Madison May from across the dimensions, to be a horrific masterstroke from Barry, and it was very disturbing to see versions of Madison May who attempt to bite down on his arm in self-defence to find that their teeth already match the indentations there.  Clayton was an outstanding and disturbing villain, and he really helped turn this excellent science fiction thriller into something very special and dark.

The 22 Murders of Madison May is a brilliant and distinctive science fiction thriller that I had an amazing time reading.  Australian author Max Barry has written an exceptionally clever story that perfectly combines a disturbing tale of murder and obsession, with an adventure in interdimensional travel.  I loved this awesome story, and I will have to make sure I check out some more of Max Barry’s novels in the future because I had a fantastic time getting through The 22 Murders of Madison May.  A highly recommended read.