Waiting on Wednesday – Upcoming Star Wars Books August-December 2019

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.

It has come to my attention that I might have recently developed a slight addiction to Star Wars expanded fiction. Why else would I go out of my way to read and review four of the Star Wars books that have been released so far this year, as well as collect a huge number of Star Wars comics? The obvious answer is that Star Wars is awesome and all the tie-in media I have read are freakin’ spectacular, with some fantastic stories that feature so many of the franchise’s iconic characters. So far this year I have reviewed the 2019 releases Queen’s Shadow, Master and Apprentice, Alphabet Squadron and Thrawn: Treason, as well as several Star Wars books and comics that were released in previous years. Of these, Thrawn: Treason was probably my favourite; however, the year is far from over, and there are still a number of awesome Star Wars novels and comics set to be released.

For this week’s Waiting on Wednesday, I am looking at some of the top upcoming Star Wars tie-in media releases coming out later this year. Many of these books are tied into the upcoming Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker, and I am curious about what sort of plot hints or tie-in elements will be included as a result. Each of these upcoming releases sound pretty amazing and I will be reading and reviewing all of them in the coming months, no matter what.

Vader: Dark Visions by Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum (Issues released between 6 March and 12 June 2019, trade paperback out 27 August 2019)

Vader - Dark Visions Cover.jpg

This is a pretty cool one to start the article off with. Honestly, I will be grabbing this comic just for the cover alone; Vader looks so awesome as a dark knight on it. I just love it.

I am also a massive fan of the character of Darth Vader (who isn’t?) There has been an amazing run of Darth Vader comics in the last couple of years, including the 2015 Darth Vader series (check out my review of Volume 1 here) and the Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith series (check out my review of Volume 2 and 3 as well), and this looks likes it is going to be another epic Vader story.

The series is being written by Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum and will be his debut Star Wars series. I have read a bunch of Hopeless’s series before, including Avengers Arena, Cable and X-Force and Avengers Undercover, and I look forward to seeing how he takes on the character of Darth Vader. If the series synopsis is anything to judge by, it sounds like Hopeless has come up with a pretty cool story concept.

Goodreads Synopsis:

WHO IS DARTH VADER? He has been many things: a SITH warrior, a commander, a destroyer. DARTH VADER is to many throughout the GALACTIC EMPIRE a symbol of fear and mysterious, otherworldly power. But there are some who have seen the DARK LORD in a different light. There are some corners of the galaxy so dark and desperate that even Vader can be a knight in shining armor. The first issue of a new STAR WARS limited series, writer Dennis Hopeless (CLOAK AND DAGGER, JEAN GREY) sheds new light on the many sides of the galaxy’s greatest villain.

I really like the idea of a more complex look at Darth Vader’s character, and watching Vader go up against opponents so evil they make him look good is surely going to be epic. While I have not read any of the individual issues yet, the collected edition is out in around two weeks, and I fully intend to grab this as soon as it comes out.

Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire by Delilah S. Dawson (release date – 3 September 2019)

Galaxy's Edge - Black Spire Cover.jpg

Black Spire is the second book in Star War’s Galaxy’s Edge mini-series, which serves as a tie-in to the new Disneyland park of the same name (where I will be going to in a few weeks). Black Spire is written by intriguing author Delilah S. Dawson, who has previously written a couple of official Star Wars short stories, as well as 2017’s Phasma.

Goodreads Synopsis:

After devastating losses at the hands of the First Order, General Leia Organa has dispatched her agents across the galaxy in search of allies, sanctuary, and firepower—and her top spy, Vi Moradi, may have just found all three, on a secluded world at the galaxy’s edge.

A planet of lush forests, precarious mountains, and towering, petrified trees, Batuu is on the furthest possible frontier of the galactic map, the last settled world before the mysterious expanse of Wild Space. The rogues, smugglers, and adventurers who eke out a living on the largest settlement on the planet, Black Spire Outpost, are here to avoid prying eyes and unnecessary complications. Vi, a Resistance spy on the run from the First Order, is hardly a welcome guest. And when a shuttle full of stormtroopers lands in her wake, determined to root her out, she has no idea where to find help.

To survive, Vi will have to seek out the good-hearted heroes hiding in a world that redefines scum and villainy. With the help of a traitorous trooper and her acerbic droid, she begins to gather a colorful band of outcasts and misfits, and embarks on a mission to spark the fire of resistance on Batuu—before the First Order snuffs it out entirely.

I like the sound of this book’s plot. A small group of rogues and thieves battling against overwhelming odds is pretty classic Star Wars fare, and it looks like Dawson has an excellent setting and a cool collection of characters to for the story. Blatant commercialism aside, this does look like it is going to be a rather interesting read, and I am putting in an order for it as we speak.

Resistance Reborn by Rebecca Roanhorse (release date – 12 November 2019)

Resistance Reborn Cover

This is probably the upcoming Star Wars book I am looking forward to the most, having previously mentioned it in my Top Ten Most Anticipated July – December 2019 Releases list. Resistance Reborn is the one of the first books in the loosely connected sub-series, Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, and will be one of the many upcoming novels that explores the period between The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker before the movie comes out in December. From what I understand, Resistance Reborn is probably going to be the novel that ties in the most with The Rise of Skywalker, and if there are any big reveals or plot hints, this is where we are mostly likely to find them.

Goodreads Synopsis:

In this Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker novel, Poe Dameron, General Leia Organa, Rey, and Finn must struggle to rebuild the Resistance after their defeat at the hands of the First Order in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

While the above plot synopsis is a little light on detail, it does seem like this book will focus on the main protagonists from these latest movies as they attempt to rebuild from their major defeat in The Last Jedi. I imagine that the author will focus pretty heavily on the four characters mentioned in the synopsis and detail the various hardships and issues that they experience during this period. You also have to imagine that several other characters who featured in the movies, such as Rose or Chewbacca, will make some appearances, and I will interested to see what happens with them. It is unclear whether we will see much of Kylo Ren or other members of the First Order, but the book will need to have some form of antagonist. Personally, I hope that Benicio del Toro’s DJ fails to make an appearance (in either the book or future movies), but that’s just me. The idea of rebuilding a resistance from scratch sounds pretty cool, and I look forward to seeing how the author covers that. Overall, I think that this book will be a good combination of character development and intriguing story, and I look forward to checking it out.

I am also excited in the choice of author. Rebecca Roanhorse has been on a real tear in the last couple of years with her Navajo inspired fantasy novels, including the books in her acclaimed The Sixth World series. While I have not had the pleasure of reading any of her books yet, I have heard good things from a number of reviewers and look forward to seeing what her first foray into Star Wars fiction is like.

Force Collector by Kevin Shinick (release date – 19 November 2019)

ForceCollector-Cover.jpg

This is another book in the Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker range, and it is probably the novel that I know the least about. I do know that it is being marketed as a young adult novel, and I know that the author, Kevin Shinick, is an interesting choice. This will actually be Shinick’s first proper novel, as he is best known as a television show writer, having worked on shows such as Robot Chicken and Mad, as well as developing the current animated Spider-Man television show. Apart from writing several comic book series and the children’s book Chewie and the Porgs, Shinick has no experience writing a full novel, and it will be interesting to see what he comes up with.

Goodreads Synopsis:

In this Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker young adult novel set just before The Force Awakens, a restless teenager sets out to discover what connection his mysterious Force powers have to the fabled Jedi and what the Force has in store for him.

This is a pretty generic synopsis for Force Collector, and aside from the useful titbit that the book is set just before The Force Awakens, there really is not too much information there. The cover picture actually gives a lot more away, as it shows a young man, probably the titular Force Collector, on a desert planet. In his possession he has a number of items associated with the franchise and the Jedi, including a Storm Trooper helmet, a Tusken Raider weapon, one of those Jedi training spheres and a lightsaber. While it is cool to see all of these, this cover really raises more questions than it answers. Is this character collecting these items or has he just found them? Which planet is he on: Tatooine or Jakku (both associated with famous Jedi)? Why would he be on either planet before the events of The Force Awakens? And how will his story tie into The Rise of Skywalker as promised? I look forward to finding out more about this book in the future, and I am very curious to see what happens in it.

Star Wars: Allegiance by Ethan Sacks and Luke Ross (released between 9 October – 30 October 2019)

Star Wars Allegiance Cover.jpg

The final entry in this article is an upcoming four-issue comic book miniseries Star Wars: Allegiances. Allegiance is another series that ties into the upcoming The Rise of Skywalker movie, showing a different side to rebuilding of the Resistance.

Marvel Comics Synopsis:

BEFORE THE EXCITING EVENTS OF STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER! Hounded by the FIRST ORDER across the galaxy, the RESISTANCE is in dire need of ships, weapons and recruits to make a final stand against KYLO REN’S forces. Desperation drives a delegation led by GENERAL LEIA ORGANA and REY to entreat the Rebel veteran’s one-time allies, THE MON CALAMARI, to join the fight — but decades after Imperial occupation enslaved their planet, there are those willing to stop at nothing to prevent another war from bloodying the waters of Mon Cala. A system away, POE DAMERON and FINN have their own mission: to hunt down a weapons cache on the remote moon of Avedot, unaware that they are being hunted by the most notorious criminal gang in the galaxy.

This sounds like a pretty cool comic, as not only are there several intriguing adventures in it, but it also looks at politics in the post The Last Jedi universe. I am particularly interested in seeing how the Mon Calamari plays into this, as recent Star Wars comics have done some fantastic storylines around this water planet. The third volume of the Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith series, The Burning Seas, featured the Empire’s initial invasion and conquest of Mon Cala and the devastation the caused taking the planet. The eighth volume of the 2015 Star Wars series, Mutiny at Mon Cala, which ran around the same time as The Burning Seas, shows how the Mon Calamari joined the Rebellion following the events of A New Hope. Both of these stories were extremely well written and showcased how much the people of Mon Cala suffered under the Empire. As a result, I am very keen to see what has happened to the planet after the fall of the Empire, and I am very curious to see what role they will play in fighting the First Order.

All four issues of this series are set to be released in October of this year, although I probably will not read it until it is released in its collected trade paperback (I really prefer collected editions to single issues). That means I probably will not be able to read it before The Rise of Skywalker comes out, but I am very eager to see how this series goes.

 

As you can see, there are some amazing sounding pieces of Star Wars extended fiction coming out in the few months. I want all of the ones I have listed above, and I fully intend to get them. What pieces of Star Wars fiction are you looking forward to? Let me know in the comments.

Howling Dark by Christopher Ruocchio

Howling Dark Cover

Publisher: Gollancz and Recorded Books (16 July 2019)

Series: Sun Eater – Book 2

Length: 679 pages or 28 hours and 3 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Outstanding new author Christopher Ruocchio, who blew me away last year with his debut novel, Empire of Silence, returns with the second book in his brilliant Sun Eater series, Howling Dark.

Empire of Silence was one of my favourite books from last year, easily making my Top Ten Reads for 2018 list, and I absolutely loved the author’s highly addictive story and its vast new science fiction universe. This was a fantastic first book from Ruocchio, and when I finished it, I really wanted to know what happened next. As a result, I have been waiting to read this sequel for a while, having done a Waiting on Wednesday article on it and including it on my Top Ten Most Anticipated July – December 2019 Releases list. I was pretty excited to receive a copy of this book a few weeks ago, especially as Ruocchio was nice enough to mention my blog in his acknowledgements (this has not affected my review or rating in any way). However, due to having a huge number of other books that were high priority reads, I ended up listening to the audiobook format of Howling Dark instead, which is narrated by Samuel Roukin. I had extremely high hopes when I started reading this book, and I was definitely not disappointed by the final result.

The Sun Eater series is set far in humanity’s future, where humans have left Earth and expanded out to thousands of worlds. While humanity, mostly in the form of the Roman-inspired Sollan Empire, has flourished, for the last four hundred years they have been fighting a brutal and destructive war with the Cielcin, a spacefaring race of aliens who have destroyed hundreds of colonies and billons of humans. Each of the books in the series is written as a part of the autobiographical chronicle of series’ protagonist, Hadrian “Halfmortal” Marlowe, otherwise knowns as the Sun Eater. Hadrian is the man who will one day destroy a sun in order to burn every Cielcin to a cinder, and in doing so become both history’s greatest hero and most infamous monster. However, these events are set to occur much further on in the future, and these earlier books focus on the events that formed Hadrian’s character, and show how he became the man to end it all.

In Howling Dark, the story is set some 50 years after the events of Empire of Silence. During this time Hadrian Marlowe has been wandering the outer fringes of the galaxy trying and failing to find a myth. Leading a band of mercenaries, former gladiators and disguised Imperial legionnaires, and carrying a cargo of frozen Cielcin prisoners, Hadrian hopes to travel the lost planet of Vorgossos. The planet’s mysterious master apparently has a way to contact the Cielcin, who Hadrian hopes to finally negotiate peace with, ending the brutal war that has ravaged both races.

However, finding Vorgossos has proven far more difficult than Hadrian initially anticipated. The legendary planet is well hidden, and the only way to uncover its location is to deal with the Extrasolarians, a group of humans who live outside of Imperial control and whose reliance on technology and enhancements borders on the heretical. As Hadrian and his companions locate a promising lead, they are suddenly ordered back to the fleet as the war against the Cielcin needs every soldier.

Determined to bring his plan for peace to fruition, Hadrian and his companions disobey these orders and go rogue. Entering the worlds of the Extrasolarians, the Exalted and other grim horrors at the edge of the known universe, they are able to obtain passage to Vorgossos. However, what they find at their destination may be even worse than the alien foes they are attempting to contact. Between facing technological monstrosities, a cruel, immortal king and the appearance of humanity’s oldest and most feared enemy, Hadrian has his work cut out for him. But the further along his path he travels, the more Hadrian begins to understand the grim destiny in front of him and the terrible cost he will have to pay.

This is another epic book from Ruocchio! Howling Dark is a dark, gothic science fiction masterpiece that was an absolute treat to read, and which really highlights the author’s creativity and ability to create a wide-ranging universe with some unique and captivating features.

This was another incredible and ambitious story from Ruocchio, who takes the reader on an extended and powerful adventure through his great universe. The Howling Dark contains a lengthy and compelling plot which goes in some very interesting directions. While this is a long book, Ruocchio does a great job of pacing the story out, and there is rarely a moment where the plot is not progressing in an intriguing way, or where the reader is left bored. I really enjoyed some of the dark places that the author took the story in this book, and there are a variety of cool new locations, antagonists and other monsters that the protagonist and his friends need to deal with in one way or another. Hadrian goes through some notable character development in this story as he takes more and more steps down the road to becoming the biggest legend in the universe. Howling Dark has a pretty epic conclusion to it, with some major plot developments occurring in the last 100 pages or so, and I really liked how Ruocchio wrapped up the storyline. Overall, this book has an intense and captivating storyline to it, and I am exceedingly glad I got a chance to read it.

I did find that the start of the book was a tad hard to get into. Due to the complex storylines (and possibly because I have read so many different books in the last year) it took me a little while to remember whom some of the characters were and where the plot was up to. It did not help that the story had jumped ahead by 50 years, and some of the events that occurred during this break are mentioned a few times at the start of the book. However, once I was able to get my bearings, it did not take me long to get hooked on the story and I had no problems following the enjoyable plot, especially as the author does a great job explaining these missing events and offering the reader several recaps of the events from the first book. Readers of the physical copy of Howling Dark will also be helped by the detailed dramatis personae, index of worlds and lexicon of terms that is included at the back of the novel, which can really help to clear up some confusion about the events that have occurred. I would say that readers would probably be best served checking out Empire of Silence first before trying to read Howling Dark, but I believe that new readers will be able to fully enjoy this story once they reach the recaps and get a sense of what happened in the previous books.

I really enjoyed how Ruocchio continued to write his story in the chronicle format that worked so well in the first book. Each of the books in the Sun Eater series are presented as part of a self-written chronicle of Hadrian’s life, penned some years in the future after he destroyed the sun. As a result, the story is told exclusively from Hadrian’s perspective and features his memories of the various events that formed his character. This is a great way to tell the story, mainly because the reader gets to see a contemplative version of the narrative. There is a real and palpable sense of regret in Hadrian’s narration, which really adds to the book’s grim tone, as the reader gets to hear the protagonist recount events that are not only traumatic for him, but which set him down the path to his defining moment. Due to Hadrian’s lifetime of self-reflection, you also get a far more in-depth examination of the character’s motivations for taking certain actions, as well as an analysis of why other characters acted the way did, which adds a great edge to the story. I also liked how the protagonist hinted at some of the key moments that occur later in the book or may occur in later books. This dramatic irony does a wonderful job of keeping a sense of tension in the air, as the reader knows that the worst is yet to come. Ruocchio’s use of the chronicle format for these novels is cleverly done, and I really enjoyed how it helped enhance the overall story.

Possibly Ruocchio’s biggest strength as a writer is his amazing ability to come up with a widespread and intriguing new universe to use as a setting for his fantastic story. This was one of my favourite things about Empire of Silence, as I loved the large, sprawling human empire that Hadrian lived in during the first book. This Sollan Empire was created after a major war with artificial intelligences thousands of years before, and therefore any technology that is too advanced or which thinks for itself is considered heretical by a controlling religious organisation. The massive empire is heavily inspired by the Roman Empire, with a similar government, military system, social castes and culture. This also affects the overall tone of the story, as the narrator, Hadrian, is a true son of this empire, and thus has a classical education that guides his overall view of life. As a result, the story is filled with the Hadrian quoting a number of historical verses and aphorisms to tell his tale, which really helps to give the overall story a more classic tone in the science fiction environment. I really liked this cool combination of science fiction elements with this antique mindset, and the general history of the Sollan Empire, with its veneration of other historical empires such as the Romans or the Victorians, is deeply interesting. This Sollan Empire actually reminded me a bit of the Imperium from Warhammer 40k, which also has a Roman inspiration and overarching gothic theme to them. As a fan of Warhammer 40k, it was cool see a universe built along similar ideas, and Ruocchio comes up with a number of clever and unique new elements to make his Sollan Empire stand out. Although most of the story in Howling Dark is spent outside of the main empire, the author still spends time expanding on elements of this massive organisation, and the reader gets more of a sense of them. I especially enjoyed seeing the Imperial legions in battle during this book, and it results in a number of incredible scenes that I really enjoyed.

Ruocchio also does an outstanding job introducing a number of intriguing new universe elements to this book in the form of the Extrasolarians. I found the dive into the world of the Extrasolarians to be extremely fascinating, especially as Ruocchio let his creativity run wild during this part of the books, coming up with all manner of technological marvels, body augmentations, genetic modifications and other science fiction wonders. However, many of these technologies have a darker side to them, which the protagonist and his friends find out the hard way. Some of these modifications are downright creepy, and this really helped the author create a dark and distinctive expansion to his universe. I was especially impressed with one of the new antagonists of this story, Kharn Sagara, a sinister, technologically enhanced ancient with hidden motivations (check out the cover below to see how cool his character design is). The reader also gets a much more in-depth look at the Cielcin in this book, as the protagonist starts to understand more about them and how they think. Ruocchio does a fantastic job exploring the mindset of these creatures and showing them as truly alien beings with very little similarities to humanity, and the reader starts to get an understanding of why Hadrian will eventually be forced to destroy them. All of this is really cool, and I could honestly go on for pages about all the cool world building that Ruocchio does in this book, it was that impressive.

As I mentioned above, I ended up listening to Howling Dark’s audiobook format. The audiobook runs for 28 hours and 3 minutes and is narrated by Samuel Roukin, who does a fantastic job bringing this story and the characters to life. This is a lengthy audiobook, and readers will need to make a bit of room in their listening schedule to get through it. It is actually the longest science fiction audiobook that I have ever listened to (so far) and would easily make my Top Ten Longest Audiobooks That I Have Listened To list. I found that Howling Dark’s audiobook format was a great way to enjoy this epic novel. I always find that listening to a complex story helps me absorb a lot more of the story and universe details, making for a much fuller read. This was definitely true for Howling Dark, as I was able to really appreciate the huge amount of gothic science fiction detail that Ruocchio installed in his work. I also found that Roukin’s narration also did a wonderful job of capturing Hadrian’s inherent regret and despair, and this really helped me appreciate the entirety of the book’s story. Roukin also creates some terrific voices for the various characters and does a fantastic job bringing them to life through the audiobook. This was a fantastic format to enjoy Howling Dark with, and I will strongly consider listening to the audiobook of the next book in this series.

Overall, I think that Christopher Ruocchio does an excellent job following up on his spectacular debut, Empire of Silence. Howling Dark is an amazing read that I absolutely loved. Ruocchio has come up with a complex story for this book, which is massively enhanced by his clever writing style and impressive imagination. Clearly, Empire of Silence was no fluke, as Howling Dark gets a full five stars from me. I am really looking forward to checking out the next book in the series, especially as Ruocchio has left a huge number of intriguing storylines open, and I fully intend to stick with this series until Hadrian destroys that sun.

Howling Dark Cover 2

Cover Reveal – The Queen’s Tiger by Peter Watt

I have been in a pretty good mood for the last day or so after I came across the recently released cover for the upcoming Peter Watt novel, The Queen’s Tiger:

The Queen's Tiger Cover.png

Now you have to admit that The Queen’s Tiger, which is set to be released in mid-November 2019, has a very cool cover with some incredible artwork.  However, the main thing that drew my eye was the use of an excerpt from one of my Canberra Weekly reviews, right there on the front cover.

I have to admit that I am pretty chuffed about this.  It is always an amazing experience to have part of your review utilised in or on a published book in some way, especially when it is used on the front cover.

This excerpt was taken from this Canberra Weekly review of previous book in the series, The Queen’s Colonial, which was published in November 2018.

I was already really looking forward to getting The Queen’s Tiger by Australian author Peter Watt, due to it’s intriguing sounding plot and my desire to see how the story that started in The Queen’s Colonial continues.  However, this is another cool reason to check this book out.  I am hoping to get a copy of this book soon, and I reckon that The Queen’s Tiger will be a good book to check out.

Usagi Yojimbo – Vol 33: The Hidden by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo The Hidden Cover

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (9 July 2019)

Series: Usagi Yojimbo – Volume 33

Length: 200 pages

My Rating: 5 out of stars

While there are a number of great books and comics coming out this year, one of the releases that I have been most keenly looking forward to was this year’s volume of Usagi Yojimbo. Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai is a fantastic comic book series that utilises Japanese style, characters and history into an excellent series. This series is one of my favourite bodies of work, and I will move heaven and earth to get each instalment, and I especially loved last year’s volume, Mysteries. I was pretty darn excited to get the 33rd volume, The Hidden, and powered through it the afternoon that I received it.

Usagi 166.jpg

The Hidden continues the story of Miyamoto Usagi, a wandering ronin samurai who lives in a version of medieval Japan populated by anthropomorphic animals. Usagi’s life occurs in the early 17th century, during the Edo era of Japan. This is a pretty interesting time period to set a story, as with the land mostly at formal peace thanks to the rule of the Shogun, many samurai have been forced to roam the land without a master to serve. Usagi, a highly skilled samurai based on the legendary historical warrior Miyamoto Musashi, has been forced to live the ronin lifestyle after the death of his lord. Wandering the roads and seeking employment as a Yojimbo (a bodyguard), Usagi encounters all manner of rogues, bandits and criminals, as well as a number of supernatural foes from Japanese folklore.

The Hidden is made up of issues #166-#172 of the series and is actually one of the rare Usagi Yojimbo volumes to feature just one single adventure rather than multiple interconnected or standalone stories. This volume also continues to pair Usagi with Inspector Ishida for the entire volume. Ishida, who is essentially a Japanese Sherlock Holmes (although based on real-life Honolulu policeman Chang Apana), is a recurring character within the Usagi series who has appeared in multiple volumes, often for just one issue or adventure. However, after teaming up to investigate a murder a couple of volumes ago, Usagi has been living in Ishida’s town and assisting him with his investigations. As a result, Ishida has become a secondary protagonist for the last two volumes, with Mysteries, for example, focusing on the two solving several different crimes.

Usagi 167.jpg

This new volume starts with a brand-new case, when two samurai are pursued into the city and brutally murdered. When Usagi and Ishida discover crucifixes on the dead samurai’s bodies, they quickly realise that both the victims where Kirishitans (Christians). Christianity, which has been bought into the country by European missionaries, has recently been outlawed in Japan by the Shogun, and his agents are hunting down all practitioners. It soon becomes clear that the dead samurai were killed by agents of the Shogun who were attempting to recover a mysterious book of foreign design.

However, in a twist of fate, a petty thief manages to steal the book off the corpse of one of the samurai. This thief is now the most wanted man in the city, as the Shogunate agents and their hired killers attempt to find him and the book at all costs. As Usagi and Ishida work out what has happened, they are determined to bring the killers to justice. Hunting for both the book and the criminal who stole it, Usagi and Ishida, with the help of the masked master-thief Nezumi, manage to locate part of the book, and what they discover could rock the entirety of Japan. As they attempt to come to terms with their discovery, the Shogunate agents determine that the two investigators are a threat and decide to eliminate once and for all.

Usagi 168.jpg

While I may have had to wait a whole year to read this latest volume, it was definitely worth it. Sakai has once again produced an outstanding comic book that I could not have put down for anything. Not only has Sakai written an intriguing and clever story with a great mystery and an informative look at a new aspect of Japanese history, but he tells it through his beautiful Japanese-inspired artwork that really brings the characters and the landscape to life. Together this results in another exceptional piece of work that I absolutely loved.

Usagi 169.jpg

The main story focuses upon Usagi and Ishida’s investigation into the murders of Christian samurai and the hunt for the mysterious book the Shogunate agents are searching for. This was a really interesting story, and I liked how Sakai took the entire volume to really flesh out the investigation. The two characters go on a compelling adventure in this book, running into a number of colourful characters, dodging political restraints, interrogating a number of suspicious characters and getting into several deadly fights. However, what starts out as an intriguing investigation soon turns into a deep and powerful tale of convictions, belief and faith, and the things one must do to preserve all three. This is shown by a number of characters, including Usagi and Ishida, who risk everything to find the truth and more. There is also the amazing character arc of new character Hama, whose heart-rending sacrifice is one of the most memorable parts of this book. There is also a fairly major revelation about one of the other characters towards the end of the volume that actually changes the way you see the story and is guaranteed to make you look back to see the various things you missed the first time. Several recurring Usagi characters are used exceedingly well in this book. The mysterious masked thief Nezumi makes a great return, helping the protagonists with their investigation. It is always cool to see Nezumi in action, and I enjoy seeing the grudging respect build between him and Ishida, despite them living on opposite sides of the law. Everyone’s favourite snitch, Toady, makes another appearance, adding a lot of humour to the story as he attempts to weasel his way into more gold. Overall, this was another well-written and captivating story that was a real pleasure to read.

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One of my favourite aspects of the Usagi Yojimbo books is that Sakai often uses them to explore some fascinating piece of Japanese history, culture, mythology or industry and present them in a way that his western audience can appreciate. I was really glad that he continued this trend in The Hidden, as this time he takes an intriguing look at the role of early Japanese Christians in 17th century Japan. These Christians, who are the titular hidden ones of this volume, were an outlawed minority, due to Christianity directly contradicting a number of traditional Japanese beliefs and therefore challenging the authority of the Shogun. This latest volume shows this persecution in action, as the city is locked down by agents of the Shogun who are hunting for a valuable Christian item. The reader gets a sense of the illicit and hidden nature of these Christians and the way they were hunted, and Sakai also shows certain unique parts of this hunt, such as the fumi-e (trampling image). The fumi-e was an image of a cross that the Shogun’s enforcers placed on the ground in front of the gates of barricades that were set up at key points of the city. In order to pass through the barricades, pedestrians were forced to stamp on the image, showing their disdain for the Christian religion, and those who refused to step on the image were arrested as Christians. This was a fascinating part of Japanese history that I found incredibly interesting to see in action, and one that Sakai was able to cleverly work into the book’s plot. There were also a few fun scenes which looked at a black-market dealer who sold items which originated outside of Japan. Due to the Shogun isolating the country, these were incredibly valuable items, and I liked seeing what items this dealer considered valuable (the dealer’s European dress also made for a stunning visual as well). All of this was really cool to learn about, and I cannot wait to see what aspects of historical Japan the author explores in his next volume.

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Sakai’s fantastic artwork is once again one of the major highlights of this volume. Sakai is a particularly skilled artist who always does a fantastic job bringing the beauty and grace of Japan and its culture to life. The artwork on the surrounding landscape is just spectacular, and I always love attention to the historical detail on the buildings and people inhabiting his towns. One of the highlights of The Hidden that I particularly liked was the consecutive prayer gates leading up to a shrine that the characters visit. The visuals on all these gates were just amazing and very distinctive. I also really enjoyed the way that Sakai portrays his battle sequences in his series; he has a real talent for bring multiple high-energy battle scenes to life. I especially like how he manages to convey so much action and intensity in his still frames, and it really shows off some cool aspects of Japanese sword play. This was another beautifully illustrated volume, and the great art goes exceedingly well with the fantastic story Sakai has devised.

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Volume 33 of Usagi Yojimbo, The Hidden, was another excellent addition to this amazing series. Sakai once again produces a compelling story in his unique comic-book universe which results in a spectacular volume that I know I am going to read again and again in the future. While this was an outstanding Usagi Yojimbo story, I now have the downside of having to wait a whole other year to get my next Usagi fix. Make sure to check back next year when I will no doubt gush about how much I loved volume 34 of this series.

Book Haul – 10 August 2019

I have managed to pick up a good number of books in the last two weeks, including some fascinating reads that look like that they are going to be really cool.  I actually got a real interesting mixture of books from several different genres and I look forward to checking them all out.

Usagi Yojimbo – Vol. 33: The Hidden by Stan Sakai

Usagi Yojimbo The Hidden Cover
This is the latest volume of the excellent Usagi Yojimbo comic book series, which I am a massive fan of.  I have actually read this one already (pretty much the day it came in) and I am hoping to get a review of this one up in the next day or so.

Hudson’s Kill by Paddy Hirsch

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This should prove to be a good historical mystery novel.  I quite enjoyed Hirsch’s first novel, The Devil’s Half Mile, last year and I am interested to see what he comes up with this time.

The Harp of Kings by Juliet Marillier

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I have been hearing a lot of good buzz around The Harp of Kings and it sounds like it could be one of the best new fantasy books of the year.  This is pretty high up on my reading list and should be a good one to check out.

Shatter City by Scott Westerfeld

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This is an intriguing sounding young adult science fiction novel with a cool concept.

Deep River by Karl Marlantes

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Deep River is a fairly massive historical novel that actually sounds really interesting.  Following a Finnish family who settle in America at the start of the 20th century, this looks like it is going to be one of the those novels that follows it’s protagonists for a long period of time and several major historical events.

Evermore by Sara Holland

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A very cool sounding young adult fantasy novel, should be a fun one to read.

Pretty Revenge by Emily Liebert

Pretty Revenger Cover

Let us round out this list with this compelling sounding revenge thriller from Emily Liebert.  Pretty Revenge sounds like a pretty dark novel, and I am very curious to see what happens in it.

That is my latest book haul.  Which books do you like the sound of the most?  Make sure to stay tuned to see my reviews of all of these.

The Lost Ten by Harry Sidebottom

The Lost Ten Cover

Publisher: Zaffre (Hardcover – 18 April 2019)

Series: Standalone

Length: 351 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

One of my favourite authors, Harry Sidebottom, returns with another excellent piece of Roman historical fiction, The Lost Ten.

Sidebottom is a particularly skilled historical fiction author who has written some amazing novels in the last 10 years, all of which have focused on the Roman Empire in the turbulent 3rd century AD. His works have included his excellent Warrior of Rome series, which features one of the first books I ever reviewed, King of Kings, and his well-researched Throne of the Caesars series. Sidebottom also wrote a fantastic historical fiction/thriller hybrid last year, The Last Hour, a truly awesome book that featured the protagonist of his Warrior of Rome series. The author has continued his intriguing experiment of combining historical fiction with other thriller sub-genres in his latest book, The Lost Ten, which I have been looking forward to for a while.

Rome, 265 AD. Junior Roman officer Marcus Aelius Valens is instructed to join a small squad of soldiers on a daring raid into Persia. Their objective is to infiltrate the country and make their way to the dreaded Castle of Silence, an impregnable prison high up in the mountains. Once there, they are to free young Prince Sasan, the King of Persia’s disgraced nephew, and bring him back to Rome.

Journeying to the Roman border, Valens joins up with an eclectic group of soldiers recruited from the frumentarii, Rome’s infamous secret agents. An outsider amongst these hard-bitten soldiers, Valens suddenly finds himself in command when an ambush kills their commanding officer. Aware of the consequences of abandoning their mission, Valens leads his troops onwards to Persia.

However, the closer they get to the Castle of Silence, the more misfortune seems to befall the small unit. As his soldiers die one at a time, Valens begins to believe that there is a traitor among them who does not wish for their mission to succeed. Can Valens unmask the saboteur before it is too late, or will the squad die trying to achieve their impossible mission?

This was another spectacular read from Sidebottom, who has once again done a fantastic job bringing modern thriller vibes to an ancient Roman historical setting. The Lost Ten is a fast-paced action adventure, with a clever plot hook and an excellent band of new characters that I had a lot of fun reading and which lived up to my high expectations for this novel.

While his Warrior of Rome books always had a bit of a thriller feel to them, as Ballista was usually hunting down some form of traitor or spy, Sidebottom has recently started to push the envelope even further by combining together Roman historical fiction with a variety of different thriller sub-genres. His previous novel, The Last Hour, was essentially 24 set in ancient Rome, and his next novel is apparently going to emulate a Scandi noir novel in the hills of Calabria. In The Lost Ten, Sidebottom utilises a special forces thriller storyline which sees Roman troops attempt an impossible infiltration deep into enemy territory. As a result, this novel reads a lot like an episode of Seal Team or The Unit if the team had to infiltrate antique Persia. In order to complete their objective, the team has to arrive at the border incognito, set up a cover story as traders, and then pass into Persian territory, fooling the locals and military as they near their goal. Once there, they have to find a way into the impenetrable fortress and then get their hostage out of Persia alive while being pursued by a massive army. This results in an extremely exciting and action-packed novel that was an absolute blast to read. I loved seeing all these classic spy scenarios play out in this classic Persian setting, and the special forces storylines work exceedingly well with the historical fiction background. Sidebottom has really hit onto a winning formula by mashing these genres together, and I am very excited to see how his next book turns out.

One of the aspects of The Lost Ten that I really enjoyed was the great characters who made up the Roman unit heading into Persia. Sidebottom has written a great group of protagonists with some rather interesting character traits and individual stories. The main character, Valens, who serves as the principle point-of-view character, has an intriguing arc that sees him go from being a naïve and disheartened young solider, to canny veteran troop leader throughout the course of the book. The rest of the Ten are a fantastic mixture of distinctive and rough killers who really don’t want to be going along on this mission. These troops help give the story a real Dirty Dozen vibe which I quite enjoyed, and it was also fantastic to see the group come together as they faced adversity.

In addition, it is revealed early on in the book that one of the squad characters is a traitor who is actively working to sabotage the mission. However, the identity of this double agent is not revealed until much later in the story. Instead, several chapters are shown from the perspective of the traitor, showing what actions he is taking to betray the team, such as killing the original commander or organising ambushes from bandits. As more and more misfortunes befall the group, Valens becomes suspicious and starts trying to identify the saboteur in the ranks, resulting in a wonderful storyline that plays into the thriller aspect of the book exceedingly well. Sidebottom does a clever job of hiding the identity of the traitor for the majority of the story, and the reader is fed a series of clues to slowly work out who it is. The reader is also shown the hidden character’s motivations for betraying the others, and the political and personal realities that are driving him. All of this comes to a fantastic conclusion, and this was an excellent part of the story that Sidebottom handles exceedingly well.

Sidebottom once again makes great use of the 3rd century Roman setting that has been a defining feature of all his previous novels. The Lost Ten is set in the same universe as all of Sidebottom’s other books and occurs in the same year as The Last Hour. There are actually several mentions of Sidebottom’s recurring protagonist, Ballista, and it sounds like he is getting into trouble campaigning in Gaul. The author does an amazing job showcasing the rough lands that lie between the Roman Empire and Persia and all the difficulties that would have occurred travelling to the Persian Empire. As the protagonists enter Persia, the readers get an interesting look at the landscape and Persian customs, many of which seem strange to the Romans and result in much contemplation and discussion. Sidebottom shows off several interesting areas of Persia, and it is clear that he has done his research into this location. The author also heads back to the familiar setting of ancient Rome, allowing the reader to get a good sense of the political situation in 265 AD. Sidebottom also examines the role of the frumentarii, Rome’s secret police/agents, who have appeared in several of his novels before. The various actions of this organisation are really intriguing, and it was cool to see modern spy tactics at work in this historical setting. There were some absolutely fascinating historical inclusions in this book that I had a lot of fun reading, and they proved to be an excellent backdrop to The Lost Ten’s thrilling storylines.

The Lost Ten is an outstanding book from Sidebottom that shows why he is one of the most captivating authors of Roman historical fiction in the world today. The author’s decision to combine a contemporary special forces thriller storyline with a well-researched historical setting payed dividends and resulted in a compelling and exciting read.   As a result, this book comes highly recommended and is a must-read for those people looking for an exciting historical thriller. I am looking forward to Sidebottom’s next book and cannot wait to see what he produces next.