Salvation by Peter F. Hamilton

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Publisher: Macmillan

Publication Date – 4 September 2018

 

From one of the modern masters of the space opera comes a rich and ambitious piece of science fiction that that examines an exciting potential future for Earth and the intriguing adventures that could come as a result.

In 2204 AD, humanity has advanced by leaps and bounds and spread out among the stars.  Utilising advanced teleportation technology, next-gen computers and cutting-edge biotech, humanity has created a number of new and varied societies controlled by a handful of powerful corporations.  However, everything is about to change.  Out in the furthest reaches of human expansion, explorers have found a crashed alien craft.  While this is not humanity’s first contact with an alien species, the sinister cargo found onboard the crashed ship reveals a dangerous alien agenda.  Determined to ensure humanity’s survival, the Connexion Corporation assembles a task force to examine the craft and assess the potential threat that it could cause.  Led by Feriton Kayne, the task force is made up of Kandara Martinez, Yuri Alster, Callum Hepburn, Alik Monday and their assistants.  While on paper this group are the perfect people to investigate this potential threat, there is one significant problem: one member of the team is a hostile alien infiltrator.  As the team gets closer to the alien ship, secrets from their past are revealed and the future of the human race hangs in the balance.

Hundreds of years later, Dellian and his team of genetically enhanced soldiers are born and raised on a planet, far away from Earth.  An alien threat has forced humanity into hiding among the stars and pushed them to the edge of extinction.  As the young soldiers grow up, they encounter lessons from the past and discuss the legendary Five Saints who first encountered the invaders.

This is an absolutely spectacular piece of science fiction from bestselling author Peter Hamilton, who has once again created an elaborate and captivating space opera.  Hamilton has written a number of large-scale science fiction novels since his 1993 debut.  He first gained prominence with the Greg Mandel trilogy, which followed the adventures of a psychic detective in a dystopian future.  Hamilton followed this up with his first epic space opera series, The Night’s Dawn trilogy, which focused on souls of the dead coming back and possessing multiple human planets in the far future.  He continued with additional space operas, such as the Commonwealth Saga, the Void Trilogy, The Chronicle of the Fallers and the standalone novel Fallen Dragon, as well as the children’s fantasy series, The Queen of DreamsSalvation is the first book in Hamilton’s brand new trilogy, The Salvation Sequence, with the adventure continuing in the future releases, Salvation Lost and Saints of Salvation.

Salvation is an impressive and compelling read that combines a powerful and well-written story with a brand new, large-scale science fiction universe.  This story is told from of variety of different time periods set throughout Earth’s future.  The central story of this book is set in 2204 AD and features the exploration crew from the Connexion Corporation examining the crashed alien ship.  This storyline is narrated from Feriton Kayne’s point of view and is the only first-person narration in the entire book, except for a short flashback chapter examining Feriton’s infiltration of a different alien spacecraft.  Salvation also features five additional storylines that are set across various time periods.  Four of these storylines are presented as tales from the other four main characters in the 2204 AD timeline, Kandara Martinez, Yuri Alster, Callum Hepburn and Alik Monday.  Each of these flashback narratives is given its own significant chapter; for example the first of these flashback chapters lasts for 140 of the books 526 total pages.  The fifth storyline is set far in the future, and features a different group of characters who are living in the aftermath of these past adventures and is told across several shorter chapters.  The author makes spectacular use of these multiple time periods and combines them together into an excellent overarching narrative.  A significant amount of detail and a huge number of supporting characters are packed into this book, which falls just short of overwhelming the reader but creates the feeling of a massive universe with quite a lot going on.

Each of Salvation’s separate plotlines offers the reader a drastically different story to enjoy, and presents them with several unique adventures in one novel.  The storyline in 2204 AD is an intriguing first contact and exploration story that works incredibly well as the overall narrative that ties all the other storylines together.  The first flashback storyline is set in 2092 AD and features the story of how Callum Hepburn and Yuri Alster gained their antagonism towards each other.  It also shows the earlier days of Connexion and the darker side of their newly formed technology and world influence.  This first story is told from the point of view of Callum, Yuri and Callum’s wife, Savi, and features a thrilling spy tale that also reveals the unique and extreme form of criminal punishment that resulted from the new technology.  The second of these storylines is set in 2167 AD and focuses completely on Yuri as he searches for a missing person taken by the new and shadowy underworld that has taken shape amongst the stars.  This is the first of the flashback storylines to hint that an alien species may have nefarious plans for humanity, and also features some cool examinations of the power and tactics that Yuri and Connexion use.

The third storyline is a complex murder mystery storyline set in 2172 AD that focuses on the secretive FBI agent Alik Monday and presents another fantastic mystery with some unique science fiction elements.  The fourth storyline is set in 2194 AD and follows badass mercenary Kandara Martinez as she investigates corporate sabotage on the Utopial home planet.  This is a high-action thriller storyline that also examines the Utopials, a human society seeking to create a cultural utopia, while also going into genetic surgery in a big way.  The highlight of this storyline has to be the intense fight between Kandara and the mercenary Cancer, who had been a shadowy figure in some of the previous storylines.  The final prequel story follows the 2204 AD timeline narrator, Feriton Kayne, in 2199 as he infiltrates the large spaceship belonging to the Olyix, an alien race that humanity came in contact with some years before.  This is one of the shortest stories, but it contains the most detailed examination of the Olyix, who have appeared in several of the previous stories.

In addition to the stories set in and before 2204 AD there are also several chapters are set in the far future of humanity.  This timeline starts in 583 AA (After Arrival) and features the remnants of humanity as they prepare to fight back against the alien menace that pushed them away from Earth.  This is a rather intriguing storyline that examines children being turned into tight-knit teams of soldiers as they prepare for the war to come while also providing some hints about the events of the main storyline.  Each of the above stories are fairly self-contained and do an amazing job of showing off the sheer complexity of Hamilton’s new universe, while at the same time providing a series of unique and captivating tales across time.

Each of the prequel timelines has a storyline that could be considered either a murder mystery or thriller.  By themselves, each of these storylines is very well written and contains compelling mysteries and action packed sequences that are more than enough to keep the readers hooked to the book.  However, the real highlight of these prequel timelines is the way in which the play into Salvation’s larger mystery that is explored within the 2204 AD storyline, namely the identity of the alien race attacking humanity and which of the members of the research team is an infiltrator.  I really loved the way that these prequel stories hinted at the main mystery while also exploring the history of the main characters in an attempt to show their personality or a critical point in their lives.  The final twists in the 2204 AD storyline are very surprising and serve as a fantastic payoff for Salvation’s overall narrative.

The author has also included a significant amount of science fiction elements throughout the book that are presented in considerable detail.  It is fascinating to see Hamilton postulate how Earth may develop in the near future and the advanced technology that they would start to utilise.  The multiple timelines also come into play for this element of the book as they allow the reader to see the progression of technology over the years.  What is most interesting about this is that the main pieces of technology don’t change; instead the next generations of the same device are revealed throughout the book’s various stories before the technology eventually plateaus at its highest level.  The science fiction elements also come into play in several intriguing ways.  For example, they allow for some very creative mysteries, including a murder in a house containing teleportation gates that result in the victims being spread across multiple locations, including New York, the Moon, Mars and the Antarctic, creating a murder investigation with several unique complications.  The advent of space travel and other technology also allows the creation of some inventive new societies.  From futuristic utopias to desolate prison it is absolutely fascinating to watch these societies come together.  Overall the science fiction elements are a fantastic part of this book and add some intriguing elements to all of the book’s interconnected stories.

Peter Hamilton has produced another elaborate and powerful piece of science fiction space opera in Salvation.  With a new and unique universe that contains some fantastic and detailed new elements and multiple timelines that are combined together into an outstanding novel, this is an absolutely amazing read.  Epic science fiction at it’s very best, Salvation comes highly recommended and is a spectacular start to an exceptional new series.

My Rating:

Five Stars

Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames

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Publisher: Orbit

Publication Date – 10 July 2018

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating:

Five Stars

Early Riser by Jasper Fforde

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Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication Date – 2 August 2018

 

One of modern literature’s quirkiest writers returns after a six-year hiatus to produce the eccentric and incredibly entertaining new release, Early Risers.

In an alternate version of our Earth, the entire world freezes over each winter, plunging the planet into a deep cold for the entire season.  Humanity has adjusted to this different climate by developing ways to hibernate each winter, sleeping through the long, cold months in specially designed habitations and ensuring that their bodies have enough stored fat to keep them alive.  Only a few weird and unconventional individuals choose to ignore their bodies’ need to sleep, and instead spend winter awake.  One such group are the Winter Consuls, a collection of misfits and rogues responsible for ensuring the safety of the sleeping population, whilst also patrolling against the horrors of the winter world.

In Wales, Charlie Worthing is about to experience his first winter as a new recruit in the Winter Consuls.  His first mission sees him drawn to Sector Twelve, base of the powerful HiberTech company and one of the most disreputable areas of the country, known for its controversial Winter Consuls.  Trapped within this sector, Charlie must contend with all the dangers that winter can hold.  Between the cold, his desire to fall asleep, the stamp-collecting addicted Villains, the mindless and cannibalistic Nightwalkers and the possibly mythical WinterVolk, Charlie is unlikely to survive his first winter.

However, all these threats pale in comparison to the damaging potential of a viral dream being passed around the inhabitants of Sector Twelve.  When Charlie starts to have the same dream, he finds himself thrust into a dangerous conspiracy with world changing consequences.  As Charlie becomes a target, he must work out who in this unforgiving world he can really trust, and who is using him to further their own aims.

Jasper Fforde is an exceptional author who has produced several novels since his 2001 debut, all of which were remarkable and very different from your standard read.  With an unusual style and superb skill, Fforde’s work is reminiscent of some of the novels produced by authors such as Terry Pratchett or Lemony Snicket.  Fforde has created some enjoyable and addictive reads over the years, including Shades of Grey, the Nursery Crime Division books and his exceptional Thursday Next series.  Early Riser is a standalone novel that takes the reader to another unique alternate Earth and presents them with an intriguing and very original story.

Fforde has a pattern of creating unique worlds to act as settings for his entertaining narratives.  These worlds often have elaborate rules and details that make the book’s story very distinctive.  For example, Shades of Grey is set in a world where people can only perceive limited shades of colour and social hierarchy is determined by how many shades and hues a person can identify.  The Thursday Next series is set in an alternate version of Earth where the Crimea War never ended, time travel exists and journeys into the literary world is both possible and heavily policed by characters from famous books.

Fforde continues this trend in Early Riser, creating another detailed alternate Earth setting.  This version of Earth experiences exceedingly cold winters and humanity has to hibernate each year as a result.  This is an absolutely eccentric and inventive concept, and it is fascinating to see how Fforde adapts a new fictional world around it and looks at how humanity has adapted to having to hibernate.  Like several of his other books, the story of Early Riser is set within this world’s version of Wales.  There is a focus on different types of technologies, especially those that help people successfully hibernate, different buildings and new societal norms.  One example of this is the concept that, in this colder world, larger, fatter people are more desirable and socially acceptable as they are more likely to survive their hibernation period, whilst skinny people, or those who choose not to hibernate, are seen as detrimental wastes of space.  Fforde further backs this up by creating an inventive alternate history for the world, including some funny and satirical depictions of an appropriately altered entertainment world.  Many elements of these alternate histories and new social norms are told directly within the story, but Fforde also fleshes out these ideas with a huge range of extra and very humorous details in footnotes and in-universe book excerpts at the start of every chapter.

Fforde has also ensured that Early Riser is particularly memorable by filling his story with a range of interesting and creative characters and threats.  Throughout the book, the protagonist encounters and examines the history, background and lore behind the threats roaming around the winter.  These include the Villains, aristocratic thieves who are the descents of British nobility who act in a stereotypically upper class way and are obsessed with stamp collecting and obtaining domestic servants through force.  There are also Nightwalkers, humans whose minds failed to withstand the hibernation process.  As a result, the Nightwalkers have been reduced to a zombie-like state and are potentially cannibalistic, although their urges can be controlled with comfort food.  Fforde has also included the mysterious WinterVolk, supernatural beings who reside in the winter world and have certain powers and tendencies.  There is particular focus on the Gronk, one of the newer WinterVolk, and the author includes discussions about the Gronk’s formation, its first appearance, its habit of taking the unworthy and only leaving behind their carefully folded clothes in the snow, all while singing Rodgers and Hammerstein hits.  In addition there are a range of wacky side characters throughout the series.  These side characters usually have some sort of zany quirk or a distinctive characteristic that proves to be entertaining for the reader whilst the protagonist often has to play straight man.  The standout example of this has to be the two one-eyed women who are both trying to get the protagonist on their side and who share an interesting connection with each other.  All of these imaginative literary inventions combine into one substantial and unforgettable story that will charm the reader with its quirky and fun nature.

While it is easy to focus on the unusual and humorous inclusions that Fforde has filled Early Riser with, readers will also enjoy the book’s compelling story.  The narrative is very stimulating and enjoyable, as it initially focuses on the protagonist’s introduction to life in the winter world, and then shifts to him attempting to unravel the conspiracy surrounding Sector Twelve.  Like many of the other inclusions within this book, the conspiracy is very complex and a tad strange, but it works well as the focus for a central investigative narrative.  Readers will enjoy the journey to the end of the mystery, and there are a few interesting twists along the way.  Overall, I thought that the inclusions and elements mentioned above worked well with the mystery, and while many of the solutions and suspects are bizarre, the book’s many unique inclusions do not overwhelm the story, but instead enhance it, resulting in a great story.

Jasper Fforde has once again produced a distinctive piece of literature that stands out thanks to its elaborate and original concept, its many fun story details and inclusions, and a solid and gripping central story.  Some readers may find the plot and story elements a bit weird, but this book will easily charm those who get in to Early Riser’s unashamed quirkiness and silly nature.  This is definitely one of the most inventive books of this entire year and a creative and exceptional new read from a fanciful and fantastic author.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

The Traitor God by Cameron Johnston

The Traitor God Cover

Publisher: Angry Robot

Publication date – 5 June 2018

 

Prepare yourself for dark magic and a powerfully inventive adventure in The Traitor God, one of 2018’s best fantasy debuts from exciting new author Cameron Johnston.

Ten years ago, reviled mind-bending magician Edrin Walker fled his home city of Setharis with demons biting at his heels.  On that night, a god died, his mentor disappeared and Edrin’s memories of the events surrounding his exile were erased from his mind.  All Edrin remembers is that he made a deal with somebody extremely powerful.  In exchange for him leaving the city, this mysterious figure guaranteed the safety and long life of his closest friends.

Edrin has spent the last 10 years wandering the wilderness, living day to day and evading the creatures hunting him.  Content with his decision and new life, his exile ends the moment he witnesses the death of his best friend, Lynas.  In one terrible night, Lynas was brutally murdered and skinned alive, and Edrin saw every minute of it through their powerful mental link.  Now, with nothing left to lose, Edrin will return home, his only intention to burn everyone and everything until he finds the person responsible for his friend’s death.

However, returning to Setharis is a dangerous proposition.  Not only is he still being hunted by demons, but the Arcanum, Setharis’s governing body of magicians, will kill him the moment they find out he is still alive.  Beyond caring, Edrin will risk everything to get revenge, and woe betide any man, magician, demon or god who gets in his way.

This is an extraordinary first novel from Johnston, who has produced a stylish and highly addictive sword and sorcery fantasy adventure with a morally corrupt protagonist, a great new fantasy setting and a huge number of magical battle sequences.

The Traitor God contains an impressive dark fantasy action story that effortlessly captures the reader’s imagination and attention and drags them through every page of the book.  What starts as a revenge investigation and rampage turns into a fight for the future of an entire city, as mysterious forces are unleashed.  The story is told solely from the perspective of the protagonist, Edrin, and as a result it has been noticeably infected with his dark humour and well-developed scepticism.  The familiar storyline of a hero returning home and finding that everything has changed works well within The Traitor God.  Readers will enjoy watching the powerful magician manipulate the new generation of criminals and bystanders who are unfamiliar with what he can do.  While the eventual revelation of who is responsible for the murder is a tad predictable, the investigation getting there is amazing, and fans will enjoy seeing the protagonist confront his enemies.  The scope of the villain’s evil plot is quite impressive and results in some massive scenes towards the end of the book.  I really enjoyed the cunningness and ingenuity of the protagonist and had fun watching him come up with clever solutions to the difficult and unique problems he encounters.  There is one amazing scene towards the end of the book when his plan to finish off a powerful antagonist is slowly revealed to the reader.  The reveal of the protagonist’s master plan, which is kept hidden from the reader due to magical plot elements, is done perfectly within this scene, and the audience will enjoy the clever ideas and dark humour used within.

The vast majority of the plot of Johnston’s book is set within the city of Setharis, which is controlled by an army of powerful magicians.  The city is a great setting for this dark fantasy novel as the protagonist is forced to conduct his investigation through its corrupt and crime-ridden streets.  It is clear that Johnston has spent significant time creating Setharis, and Edrin explores vast swathes of it during his adventures.  The exploration of the Arcanum is particularly intriguing, and readers will be shown the noticeable differences between the sanctuary of magicians and the dwellings where the city’s poor live.  Edrin’s observations about the inequalities and corruption of the Arcanum are unique among the book’s magicians.  This allows Johnston to show off the arrogance of the other magicians, which plays into the plot while at the same time endearing Edrin to the reader.  The setting of Setharis is an amazing part of this novel, and readers will look forward to returning to it in Johnston’s future works.

One of the best parts of The Traitor God is the sheer amount of exceptional magical and fantasy elements that have been packed into it by the author.  Edrin has unique magical mind powers that allow him to control people he encounters, and these are surprisingly dark powers for a fantasy protagonist to have.  These powers are intriguing, as they are known and feared throughout Johnston’s fantasy world, and Edrin suffers significant discrimination as a result.  The scenes where Edrin uses his mind-bending abilities are well presented by Johnston, as he successfully endeavours to show the effect Edrin’s power has on the other character’s minds.

The other magicians that feature in The Traitor God also have magical powers that catch the reader’s imagination when they are presented in the book.  The book features magicians with powers to nullify the magic of other magicians, sniffers who can smell and identify magicians from a distance, magicians who use body enhancement magic to become epic soldiers, and one extremely skilled hydromancer.  Johnston has also created some fascinating rules and abilities that affect all of the magicians within the book, including Edrin, and result in some wonderful story elements.  A great example of this revolves around the rule that magic permeates every cell of a magician’s body and leaks out of them into items like their clothing or bedding.  Johnston uses this fact to great effect throughout the story, as his protagonist is constantly forced to find constructive ways to avoid enemies who can detect his magic.  The author has also created memorable descriptions of the way that magicians are forced to access their magical power.  Johnston establishes that magicians within The Traitor God have to be careful about the magic they draw into themselves, lest they burn themselves out or go mad with power.  There are several scenes where Edrin is forced to draw large amounts of magic into himself to face powerful opponents or save the lives of his friends, and the resultant internal battles to retain control and his sanity are a fantastic part of the narrative.

While Johnston goes into incredible detail about the rules and roles of the magicians of Setharis, he has also included some alternative magical users who do not follow the same rules.  The comparison between these two different groups of magic users is quite distinctive, and scenes where they come into conflict with each other are quite destructive and highly enjoyable.  Johnston has made sure to include a number of unique demonic creatures the hunt and harry the protagonist.  These creatures are quite distinctive, and Johnston cleverly ties their hunting ability into his rules about magical scents and detection.  The most memorable magical creature within the book is also the largest, and results in some significant, fast-paced and explosive scenes throughout the book.  Overall, the electrifying and distinctive magical and fantasy elements within The Traitor God are one of the book’s most intriguing characteristics and highlight just how imaginative and creative Johnston is.

There are a tremendous number of action-filled sequences throughout the book as the main character and his allies fight criminals, demons, magicians and gods.  As a result, The Traitor God will appeal to wide range of readers eager to get their latest dose of intense fantasy action.  There are brawls, chases, complex magical duels, fights with monstrous foes, large-scale magical warfare within a city, and even a fight between two gigantic magical constructs.  Various elements that Johnston sets up when describing the city of Setharis or the magical abilities and rules of his magician characters often come into play during these scenes, and the author does a great job of winding his own lore into these fantastic sequences.  Those drawn to magical and fantasy action and battles will find all their needs and more are met within this book.

In his debut book, Cameron Johnston has shown that he is author with an immense and powerful imagination and the ability to skilfully transcribe his ideas into a powerful narrative.  The Traitor God is a fantastic piece of dark fantasy, with some incredibly thrilling action and adventure subplots.  This book is a highly recommended read, and Johnston is an author that fantasy fans will need to keep an eye on.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

Deep Blue by Jane O’Reilly

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Publisher: Piatkus

Publication date – 31 July 2018

 

Following on from her 2017 release, Blue Shift, Jane O’Reilly returns to her electrifying science fiction universe for another exciting and action-packed adventure among the stars.

In the distant future of 2207, Earth is dying and humanity’s only hope for survival is a brand new planet on the other side of the galaxy.  Travel to this new sanctuary requires passage through the territory of several alien species who are unwilling to let a ragged human fleet anywhere near their areas of space.  In order to convince these aliens to allow humans access to a new planet, the government has initiated the Second Species programme to create the only resource the aliens want: human slaves genetically altered with alien DNA.

Former bounty hunter Jinnifer Blue, after failing to reveal the terrible truth about the Second Species programme, has been captured by its creator, her mother, Ferona Blue.  Now genetically altered with alien strength and pissed beyond all belief, Jinnifer escapes from the lab where she was held.  Having given up on warning humanity about the government’s sinister plans, Jinnifer’s only desire is to be reunited with her lover, the pirate Caspian Dax.

But Dax was also captured by Ferona and is now serving a brutal alien race as a mindless gladiator on the planet of Sittan.  Jinnifer has no choice but to travel to Sittan and attempt to rescue Dax, while at the same time organising the rescue of another friend, Eve, who has been captured by another dangerous alien species.  Gathering together allies and an old enemy into a ragtag team, Jinnifer initiates two desperate rescue missions to save her friends.  Can Jinnifer succeed, or has Dax fallen too far under the sway of the dangerous Sittan empress?

Deep Blue is the second book in the Second Species trilogy and a brilliant sequel to O’Reilly’s first science fiction book, Blue Shift.  This is a fun and fast-paced action series that makes use of an inventive and dangerous universe filled with unique aliens and desperate humans.  Deep Blue has a very busy plot told from a variety of viewpoints that are combined together in a clever fashion to create one thrilling narrative.  Each of the various exciting storylines also contain some flawed and damaged characters, most of whom are seeking some form of redemption.

Just like in Blue Shift, I found that the parts of the book that I enjoyed the most were the chapters that followed the machinations of the book’s central antagonist Ferona Blue.  Her despicable political manipulation on Earth was a highlight of the first book, and this continues to be the case in Deep Blue.  The added focus on Ferona’s negotiations with alien politicians, including the book’s other main antagonist, the Sittan empress, is a brief but fun addition to this equation.  Deep Blue’s other storylines are also very fascinating and contain some great sequences, including having four storylines featuring rescue missions and alien captivity running simultaneously within the book.

Readers who enjoyed the first book of the Second Species trilogy will also enjoy the significant development that the central character, Jinnifer, has undergone since the start of Blue Shift.  The character has evolved from an uncaring loner to the leader of her own small crew who harbours deep concerns for her friend’s wellbeing.  There is also a shift in the character dynamics between Jinnifer and Dax that is quite noticeable.  In the first book, Jinnifer was constantly being rescued by Dax, who ended up sacrificing everything to save her.  This is reversed in Deep Blue, as Dax is the one who is trapped and Jinnifer is the one attempting to save him by undertaking a dangerous rescue mission.  It is a fun change to the established character dynamic and readers of Blue Shift will appreciate the interesting change of pace O’Reilly takes in this second book.

O’Reilly has also created an excellent original universe to serve as the setting for her series.  There are a ton of intriguing science fiction elements, including an interesting prediction for the future of Earth and humanity and a number of unique alien species.  In Deep Blue, O’Reilly goes into greater detail of two of her alien races, the Sittan and the Shi Fai.  There is some exploration of both races’ history, culture, technology and way of life, as well as a visit to both home planets.  While there is a larger focus on the Sittan and their militaristic, female-dominated society, including using the Sittan empress as one of the book’s main antagonists, the scenes on the Shi Fai home planet are certainly memorable and more disturbing.  Other science fiction elements that readers are bound to find entertaining within Deep Blue include O’Reilly’s look at intergalactic politics, Earth’s political manipulation with advanced technology and the inclusion of human-alien hybrids.

This is a fairly action-packed book with some great combat sequences infused into the story to excite the readers.  The main character spends significant parts of the book utilising the swords she has implanted within her arms to great effect, and O’Reilly ensures that her two main characters spend significant time in gladiator-style death fights.  The author also is not too attached to some of her characters, so prepare for a few shocks and surprises.

O’Reilly once again sends the reader on an imaginative science fiction adventure through a dark and dangerous universe.  Deep Blue is a deeply fun and action-orientated story that will appeal to a wide audience and have readers hanging out for the final book in this exciting trilogy.

My Rating:

Four stars

Awakened by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth

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Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publication Date – 26 June 2018

 

First-time author James Murray, of Impractical Jokers fame, teams up with veteran science fiction writer Darren Wearmouth to bring you the fast-paced, action-packed horror extravaganza, Awakened.

It is the unveiling of New York’s newest subway line, one of the most ambitious underground construction programs in the world.  The new express line will travel through a series of new tunnels that are now connecting the various suburbs previously separated by the Hudson River.  At the centre of this new expansion is the Visitor’s Pavilion, a gleaming state-of-the-art control centre and shopping hub situated beneath the Hudson.

The first run of the new system has been set up as a massive event, featuring the press, civic dignitaries, New York City’s mayor and even the president of the United States.  However, when the train rolls into the Visitor’s Pavilion it is not the triumphant occurrence that the waiting crowd was expecting; instead it is a scene of carnage.  The train that arrives is deserted, with all the passengers missing.  Not only that, but ragged holes have been made in the side of the carriages and the floors are covered in blood.

As the crowd panics and attempts to flee what appears to be a massive terrorist attack, an explosion rocks the tunnels and methane starts to flood the entire subway system.  As the tunnels begin to fill with gas and the slightest spark could result in another explosion, those trapped in the Visitor’s Pavilion soon discover that a far more dangerous threat is stalking them.  Something has been living under New York and the construction of the new tunnels has woken it up.  As this new threat starts to pick off both the trapped crowd and the rescuers attempting to reach them, it falls to New York’s mayor Tom Cafferty, NYPD SWAT member Sarah Bowcut and subway technician Diego Munoz to discover what is down in the dark with them.  The more they dig, the more they realise that they are dealing with something far more dangerous than they could possibly imagine, and that a sinister conspiracy has been keeping it hidden from the rest of the world.

This bold new book is the result of a collaboration between comedian James “Murr” Murray and Darren Wearmouth, a science fiction and horror writer with a number of joint novels already under his belt.  The idea for Awakened was originally developed by Murray some years ago, and represents the first novel in a new series that the two authors have been working on, with two future additions already planned for 2019 and 2020.

Awakened is a captivating adventure, science fiction and horror hybrid that goes straight for the reader’s imagination whilst throwing their action centres into overdrive.  This is one of the fastest-paced novels of 2018, as the book’s characters are forced to be quick and decisive in order to escape death.  There are ton of great sequences as the characters encounter the various dangers converging on them and must work on a range of elaborate and desperate escape and rescue attempts.  Murray and Wearmouth are able to weld together some exciting scenarios around this concept, and readers will enjoy watching the characters adapting to the problems they encounter, such as methane in the tunnels stopping them from using guns or flames to defend themselves.  In addition to these excellent action sequences, Awakened contains some truly creepy scenes that will really appeal to horror aficionados.  The characters are assailed with a range of strange sightings, noises from the darkness and the disturbing voices of children crying for help from just outside the character’s line of sight.  This pulse-pounding content is absolutely fantastic and ideal for those who love a startling adventure.

Murray and Wearmouth have also created an intriguing monster to attack the protagonists in the subway tunnel.  Without giving too much away, Awakened’s monstrous element is unique and plays into humanity’s fear of the dark and the creatures that could reside there.  The nature of the threat is revealed at just the right time, as the authors waited until the audience would be sufficiently engrossed in the book.  The eventual full reveal is one of the most memorable parts of the book, as it contains some great reactions from the characters encountering them, whilst at the same time rewarding the reader’s curiosity in a big way.  The authors work to ensure that their audience’s imagination and curiosity is continuously piqued throughout the entire story.  There is also a complex and fascinating conspiracy element that is woven into this part of the book which is intriguing to discover and unravel.  It is definitely a notable part of the story, and it looks like it will be major part of the next books in series.

The authors make significant use of multiple perspectives and viewpoints throughout Awakened.  This type of storytelling often works well for these large-scale horror novels, and this book is no exception.  This breakdown of point-of-view characters allows the reader a much larger picture of what is going on, especially as the various viewpoints tie together into one massive, high-powered story.  It is fun watching the actions of one group of people impact the decisions or choices of another group of people who are located in a different part of the book’s sprawling, underground setting.  This also allows the reader to see smaller scenarios that add to the whole story, such as one fantastic sequence which sees someone attempt to rescue the passengers only to meet their doom.  Despite it being this character’s only scene, his death affects the rest of the characters and there are multiple viewings of his corpse throughout the book to spook those who had no idea of his fate.

It is also worth noting that Murray and Wearmouth have made several homages to other works of horror within Awakened.  I was particularly drawn to several noticeable references and parallels throughout the book to Jurassic Park.  For example, there is a great reference early in the book involving the phrase “no expense had been spared” being used when discussing the celebrity written audio elements of the initial ride.  In addition, some of the characters actually compare their situation to Jurassic Park, which I found to be amusing.  These are a fun element to watch out for, and readers will enjoy noticing these throughout the book, while at the same time, appreciating that they do not overwhelm Awakened’s central horror based theme.

Awakened is a fantastic horror read that really amps up the adventure and action, leaving the reader excited for more.  With a sinister monstrous element and an enjoyable narrative containing an elaborate conspiracy-laden storyline, this collaboration between Murray and Wearmouth is a roaring success and readers should be eager to see what this duo cooks up next.

My Rating:

Four stars

Ascension by Victor Dixen

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Publisher: Hot Key Books

English Edition Translated by Daniel Hahn

Publication Date – 28 June 2018

 

The first book in the bestselling French Phobos series is finally here.  Ascension is a fun guilty pleasure read geared towards a young adult audience that explores the dark side of reality television.

In the near future, a private company has bought NASA and is about to send the first humans to Mars as part of the Genesis program.  However, this will not be a typical voyage to another planet; it will be the most ambitious reality television show of all time.  The international group of young astronauts has been chosen through a worldwide contest, and the entire voyage into space will be broadcast back to Earth to be viewed by the masses.  Not only will these six young men and six young women colonise Mars but they will also be expected to pair up into couples by the time they reach Mars through an insane bought of speed-dating.

The boys and girls will be placed into separate bays of the same spaceship and will only be allowed to interact with the person of their choosing for six minutes each week.  In these six minutes they will meet and try to seduce their counterparts and attempt to determine who their perfect match is.  By the end of their trip, each of them must choose a partner to marry and live with once they reach the red planet.

For one of the contestants, Léonor, the Genesis program is her chance to escape from a planet where she has only ever experienced pain.  The one-way trip is the biggest opportunity of her life and she is eager for glory and love.  But as they move further away from Earth, Léonor begins to learn that this journey is far more dangerous than she had expected.  A deadly conspiracy surrounds this journey and it is far too late for regrets.

Ascension is written by Victor Dixen, a French author who has contributed multiple series to the Young Adult genre.  His previous works included a reimagination of classic fairy tales in the Animale series, and the science fiction based The Strange Case of Jack Spark series.  Ascension is part one of his exciting Phobos series, which was first published in France back in 2015.  Phobos will be the first of Dixen’s series to be translated into English, with the next two books in the series, Distortion and Collison both set to be published in English within the next year.

Ascension is a fantastic book with a lot of parts to it that make for a highly compelling and interesting read.  The overarching concept of a space exploration being turned into a reality television contest is a little crazy, but Dixen has some great explanations for this plot set-up that sound actually plausible and realistic.  With the current political craziness around the world and humanity’s constant fascination with reality television, you can’t help but think that this could be a distinct possibility.

Dixen is a talented author who is able to perfectly recreate the feel of a large-scale reality television show within his book, with all of the worst parts included.  The male and female contestants are kept apart from each other for the whole journey and are constantly aware of the world watching them through all the cameras, and they act accordingly.  Dixen shows off the various ways the producers are trying to manipulate the contestants, such as misleading messages from their host and group showings of each contestant’s ratings and accrued prize money, all in the name of creating drama.  There are also a number of scenes that show large groups of people watching the show and becoming obsessed with it in a way reminiscent of the early days of Big Brother and American Idol.  There are fun inclusions to show this off, such as having scenes where people back on Earth change their hairstyles and looks to match their favourite contestant, the contestants’ home countries showing massive support for them, and a fun scene where a cynic has to listen to other people gossip about the show.

While the parts of the book reminiscent of a typical reality television show are fantastic by themselves, they are taken to a whole other level when they are seen in conjunction with the backstage production meetings scenes.  Reality television show production meetings are probably already fairly sinister but Dixen is really able to amp this up by showing the show’s producers and host engaged in some ominous discussions involving deaths, murder, manipulation and their own bonuses.  Ascension contains a great main antagonist in Serena McBee, the host.  Serena is pretty much the ultimate villain for young people, as she acts like their friend while she tries to manipulate them, thinking she knows everything about them and how to control them.  All of these sinister surroundings create a compelling read that will really draw the reader in.

I have to admit that when I started to read Ascension the last thing I thought I would be interested in would be the potential relationships between the contestants.  However, Dixen puts significant effort into introducing the 12 contestants and describing their personalities and histories, ensuring the reader becomes invested in their futures.  While Léonor is the main character that the author focuses on, the reader is also shown many of the dating segments that the other contestants are involved with to dramatic effect.  There are also a number of discussions between the female characters as they discuss their tragic histories, their hopes for the future and who their preferred partners will be.  As a result, the reader does find themselves really caring about the characters becoming extremely interested in who will end up with whom.

Dixen also enhances his terrific narrative inclusions, sinister overtones and compelling character interactions with a range of useful visual elements included in the text.  These include flyers for the show, tables with the results of the contestants’ prize money and survey results, and detailed technical diagrams of the spaceship and the Mars habitations.  The diagrams of the ship help the readers visualise the ship and habitats, while the flyers and tables make them feel like part of the show’s audience.  These elements are well used within Ascension and are a great addition to the book.

Ascension by Victor Dixen is an exciting and invigorating young adult read that can now finally be enjoyed by an English-speaking audience.  Readers will love how the author has included an extremely realistic reality television setting into a dramatic science fiction story filled with all the emotion and manipulation you would expect from the trashiest of dating shows out there.  This crazy and brilliant read should captivate the young adult audience of the English-speaking world, just like it did with its French-speaking audience, and I will be keeping an eye out for the next two parts of this series.

My Rating:

Four stars

Empire of Silence by Christopher Ruocchio

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Publisher: Gollancz

Publication Date – 3 July 2018

 

First time author Christopher Ruocchio boldly introduces himself with his five-star debut, Empire of Silence, an extraordinary and spellbinding science fiction epic.

In the far future, humanity has left Earth behind and made its home in the stars by colonising thousands of the planets.  However, expansion was halted when the humans encountered the Cielein, the only other race in the galaxy with the ability to travel through space.  For years, the humans and the Cielein fought a brutal and devastating war against each other, until one man changed everything.

That man is Hadrian Marlowe, who, for the best of reasons, destroys a sun and burns every last Cielein from the stars.  This destruction also results in the deaths of four billion humans, including the Emperor of Sollan Empire.  After this infamous act, Hadrian is considered throughout the galaxy as both humanity’s greatest hero and its most terrible villain, known as The Sun-Eater, Starbreaker, Palekiller and Deathless.  But how did one man who was neither a soldier nor a hero seize such a responsibility and commit such atrocities?  The Sun Eater series is the chronicle of Hadrian’s life, of which Empire of Silence is the first part.

Born the eldest son of a noble house, Hadrian fled his family and his overbearing father to escape his future as a member of the Chantry, The Stella Empire’s state religion.  When the ship he chartered is mysteriously abandoned en route to his destination, Hadrian finds himself stranded on the wrong planet with no means of escape and none of his family’s resources available to him.  Forced to fight his way up from the gutters, Hadrian attempts to survive on this strange new world by any means necessary.  Starting out as a beggar and thief, Hadrian eventually embarks on a career as a gladiator in the hope of making enough money to buy a ship.  But when his true identity is revealed, Hadrian must find a way to survive in a foreign court, where powerful enemies lurk around every corner.

However, all of Hadrian’s problems become immaterial when the Cielein arrive above the planet, searching for something.  Drafted into a war he never wanted to be involved in, Hadrian seeks to understand the Cielein, but finds only mysteries and secrets.  Hadrian’s path to becoming The Sun-Eater is set, and his journey begins here.

Empire of Silence is the first volume in Ruocchio’s incredibly ambitious debut series, The Sun Eater.  Featuring fantastic storytelling and a galaxy-wide setting that is breathtaking in its scope and content, this is an outstanding first book and an excellent start to a series with real potential.

Many readers will be interested to know that Empire of Silence is already receiving quite a few comparisons to Patrick Rothfuss’s highly regarded fantasy epic, The Name of the Wind.  It is an easy comparison to make, as there are a large number of similarities between the two books.  Both books contain utterly compelling content designed to capture the reader’s imagination; however, the major similarity is the use of a chronicle format to tell their massive, character-driven epics.  Like The Name of the Wind, Empire of Silence is told solely from the point of view of the protagonist, Hadrian, and takes the form of a written retrospective explaining the terrible act that makes him infamous throughout the galaxy.  The series will completely explore Hadrian’s life, examining every action that leads up to this event.

The chronicle format is a superb choice for the Empire of Silence’s epic story.  Not only does it allow the author to produce a complex and extremely detailed epic storyline but it also allows him to add to the story’s gravitas by having the narrator comment on and reflect on his actions in hindsight.  This great format also allows the author to show off his protagonist in a range of different circumstances.  Because of various science fiction elements, Hadrian is destined to have an extremely long life span and a great many opportunities for adventure.  Within Empire of Silence alone, Ruocchio portrays Hadrian performing a range of different roles, including the presumed heir to a planet, a scholar, a fugitive, a beggar, a thief, a gladiator, a companion and tutor to noble children, an amateur archaeologist, a translator, a torturer, a negotiator and an irregular member of the military.  Each of the different roles that Hadrian plays influences his mindset and viewpoint, which allows the reader to see him evolve in front of their eyes.  It is also interesting to note that Ruocchio has not pre-emptively indicated how many books will be in his series, a mistake some other authors using a chronicle format have made before.  This will allow him to tell the whole story he envisioned without compromising on pacing, world-building or character development in order to reach a hasty conclusion, and will no doubt result in a much more complete and enjoyable series.

The overall plot of Empire of Silence contains various storytelling elements that are masterfully combined throughout the book.  It contains everything from science fiction elements and action sequences to long discussions of the history of the galaxy in which the series is set.  There is also a series of significantly dramatic storylines, such as Hadrian dealing with the difficulties of having a self-interested and manipulative father and an uncaring family.  There are some great coming-of-age moments within the storyline as Hadrian first seeks independence from his family and their history and then tries to find his own way on a new world where he has none of his power and influence.  The reader gets to witness several powerful scenes in which Hadrian’s life changes dramatically and he desperately attempts to claim some sense of normality or sanity in this new world.  Of particular note are some very emotional scenes during Hadrian’s first encounters with the Cielcin.  In these scenes, Hadrian is forced to contend with his own curiosity, conscience and morality while stuck between his own species, represented by the cruel and domineering Empire, and the aliens that somehow appear to bear much more humanity.  This results in some truly spectacular scenes that make this book impossible to put down.

One of the most impressive and enjoyable aspects of Empire of Silence is the vast and imaginative universe in which the story is set.  Ruocchio has an extremely interesting vision of the future that readers will find quite intriguing.  The entirety of the first book is set within the Sollan Empire, which represents the largest faction of humans in the future galaxy.  This civilisation, whilst retaining some advanced technology, such as spaceships, has reverted socially and culturally following a catastrophic event many years before.  There is a rigid class system, with the nobles wielding considerable power and disregard for the ordinary people.  A religious organisation holds sway over much of the empire, using inquisitor-like tactics to control the population and prevent what they consider heresy, which includes an aversion to advanced technology.  An interesting twist to this is the large number of cameras and drones that they and the nobles use to continually survey and intimidate the populace.  The Empire’s culture appears to be strongly inspired by the ancient Roman and Greek civilisations, and their various influences can be seen throughout the book.  This is an excellent setting for such an expansive story, and the reader gets to experience a unique and compelling combination of science fiction advancements and old school ideals.

Aside from the main setting of the Sollan Empire, Ruocchio has also stacked his universe with a range of characters, aliens, mysteries and side storylines that prove to be massively intriguing for the reader.  Several of these of mysteries and side stories are explored to an extent throughout the book; however, many are left open and will carry through to later books in the series.  The protagonist interacts with a massive of number of characters, which plays into the overall concept of him having a busy life.  In order to assist the reader in keeping track of the cast of thousands, who sometimes have limited scenes within the story, Ruocchio has provided extensive indexes.  Not only do these indexes contain details of all the characters the protagonist encounters but they also contain a huge amount of history, definitions and other useful information to help the audience absorb this massive new universe.

In one of the most impressive and elaborate science fiction novels of the year, first-time author Christopher Ruocchio has shown himself to be one of the brightest new stars in the science fiction genres.  Empire of Silence contains an absolutely amazing story that makes full use of its original and immense overarching setting, and is guaranteed to capture the reader’s imagination.  This is epic science fiction at its very best, and I cannot wait for the second book in Ruocchio’s The Sun Eater series.

My Rating:

Five Stars

Word of Warcraft: Before the Storm by Christie Golden

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Publisher: Titan Books

Publication Date – 12 June 2018

 

War is once again coming to Azeroth in the brand new World of Warcraft novelisation from the queen of tie-in books and Blizzard Entertainment’s new in-house novelist Christie Golden.

The world of Azeroth is constantly at war, and for generations its inhabitants have known nothing but conflicts and threats.  Perhaps the greatest enemy that the people of Azeroth ever faced were the demonic Burning Legion, who are the root of many of the world’s great conflicts.  Now, after a devastating campaign, the Burning Legion has finally been defeated, although Azeroth’s victory came at a great cost.  As his final act of destruction, the leader of the Burning Legion, the Titan Sargeras, struck a great blow against Azeroth, plunging his gigantic sword into the surface of the planet and leaving a gaping wound in the side of the world.

Now both factions of Azeroth, the Alliance and the Horde, can finally recover and come to terms with the destruction caused by their demonic foes and the dramatic changes that have rocked their hierarchies.  Following the death of his father, young Anduin Wrynn has inherited the throne of the human kingdom of Stormwind, and serves as the new leader of the Alliance.  At the same time, the Horde is now under the sway of its new Warchief, the banshee queen of the Forsaken, Sylvanas Windrunner.  Both new leaders must come to terms with the running of their respective factions and the current peace blessing the land.

But there is always tension simmering between the Alliance and the Horde, and many predict that a new conflict is just around the corner, especially when both sides make a startling discovery: the blow from Sargeras’s sword has caused the very essence of Azeroth to bleed forth from the ground.  This new substance, known as Azerite, is extremely powerful, containing the very strength of Azeroth, and with the potential to be used as a mighty weapon by whichever side controls it.

As both factions investigate the wound in Azeroth and this strange new material, King Anduin seeks to finally forge peace between the Alliance and the Horde.  In order to achieve this peace, Anduin embarks on an ambitious plan to win the Forsaken to his cause and gain the trust of Sylvanas.  But Sylvanas has her own vision for the future of Azeroth, and woe betide anyone who stands between the Dark Lady and her goals.  Will peace finally be achieved, or will the discovery of Azerite result in a new war between the Alliance and the Horde?  And what role will Calia Menethil, long lost sister of the Lich King Arthas Menethil, play in this new era?  One thing is certain: the Battle for Azeroth starts here.

Before the Storm is the latest tie-in book to the massive Warcraft video game franchise.  People who have never played these games may be surprised to know that this franchise has a rich narrative history.  The original Warcraft games came with a substantial amount of lore and plot that were in some ways just as revolutionary as the game’s mechanics.  This tradition of great storytelling has continued over the years, and every single one of the games has contained a range of intricate and compelling storylines.  Many of these stories are incredibly elaborate and have great potential for future adaptations.  For example, this reviewer would be especially keen to see the corruption of Arthas and the rise of the Lich King told on the big screen.

The game’s narrative tradition has also resulted in a huge number of tie-ins that are mostly targeted towards fans of the game.  There are currently over 30 Warcraft books, as well as a number of comics and even some manga.  The vast majority of these adaptations are considered canon, and have been subsequently referenced in the plot of the games, including the franchise’s main game, the MMORPG World of Warcraft.  For example, in one of the previous novels, The Shattering: Prelude to Cataclysm, Cairne Bloodhoof a major character from Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos and the leader of the Taurens in World of Warcraft, is killed off, and this carried through to the game in several different ways.  Before the Storm is the latest book in this extended universe, and has been released as a tie-in for the upcoming Battle for Azeroth expansion, which is out in August.

The author of this latest novel, Christie Golden, has a bibliography of over 50 books, and has substantial experience writing tie-in books for big franchises.  In addition to her debut Ravenloft trilogy, Golden has written 15 Star Trek novels, five Star Wars books, and a number of full-length and short story tie-ins for franchises such as Assassin’s Creed, Invasion America, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel.  Golden has also written a number of books for Blizzard, with five books based on Starcraft and 10 based around the Warcraft games.  Her previous Warcraft novels include stories that help cement the franchise’s established lore, the official novelisation of the recent Warcraft movie, and novels that have established the plot prior to several of World of Warcraft’s expansions.  For example, her 2014 novel, War Crimes, heavily set up the Warlords of Draenor expansion, while also presenting an elaborate novel that highlighted the crimes of the previous expansions main antagonist.  Golden has incredible knowledge of Warcraft’s lore and narrative history, having provided significant contributions to it in the past, and readers will appreciate the way that this new book connects with several of her previous Warcraft novels.

Before the Storm is a fun and exciting fantasy novel that has been expertly set within the World of Warcraft universe.  The narrators visit a number of key locations that feature within the games and Golden has done an amazing job of describing these distinctive and well-explored background settings.  There are some great locations used within the story, including several of the game’s main cities, such as Stormwind, Ironforge, Orgrimmar and the Undercity.  People familiar with the latest expansions will also love the addition of the Netherlight Temple, the priest class hall, as a key setting within this book, as it is such a unique and niche location within the game.

A large proportion of the novel is told from the perspectives of the leaders of the Alliance and the Horde, Anduin Wrynn and Sylvanas Windrunner.  If the awesome trailer for Battle for Azeroth is anything to judge by, the next World of Warcraft expansion will focus heavily on these two characters as they lead their factions into a large-scale war against each other.  Golden has made sure to explore both of these respective characters’ mindsets and examine potential future motives for the upcoming in-game conflict.  Other parts of the story are told from the perspective of a range of minor characters, many of whom are actually interactable NPCs within the game.  This range of perspectives gives a wide angle viewpoint of the story being told in both the book and the game, and allows the author to show off the different motivations and differences between the two rival factions.  Players will also love to see this story woven around minor NPCs they may have interacted with in the game, especially as this book may explain why they may have moved or disappeared in future versions of the game.  This is a great adaptation of the current World of Warcraft universe and Golden has successfully transplanted several key and iconic aspects of the game into this book, creating an excellent addition to this extended universe.

While a number of the different Warcraft races are featured within Before the Storm, many readers will enjoy Golden’s focus on the undead playable race, the Forsaken.  While many of the franchise’s previous novels have featured Forsaken characters, Golden has chosen to do a deeper examination of this race now that their ruler is the Warchief of the Horde.  There are some particularly interesting discussions about the role the Forsaken play within Azeroth and how the other races view them.  Readers will be intrigued by the examination about their current level of humanity, and whether they can still maintain connections to the family they had before they died, and will be intrigued by Golden’s fascinating analysis.

As an official World of Warcraft tie-in, Before the Storm is naturally a desirable read for those who are familiar with the franchise and the game’s current storylines.  As mentioned above, there are a ton of elements that will appeal to those gamers currently awaiting the next expansion, as this book ties in to its central storyline.  However, Golden makes sure to elaborate on a range of prior events in the franchise and this will ensure that former players will be able to jump in and follow from when they were last familiar with the story.  In addition, Golden’s writing is fairly accessible, and the game elements don’t massively overwhelm the story, ensuring that readers unfamiliar with the games will be able to enjoy this fantastic fantasy adventure without getting too lost.

Christie Golden has once again created a fun and electrifying novelisation of the Warcraft universe.  Before the Storm is a great tie-in to the upcoming game release, Battle for Azeroth, and serves as an excellent precursor of the exciting stories that will feature within the new expansion.  Making full use of the franchise’s significant lore and a range of iconic settings, Golden has produced a deep and thrilling fantasy tale that that will massively appeal to all fans of the Warcraft games.

My Rating:

Four stars

The Falcon of Sparta by Conn Iggulden

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Publisher: Michael Joseph

Publication Date – 3 May 2018

 

One of historical fiction’s very best authors is back with an enthralling story that follows history’s greatest warriors on one of their most legendary journeys.  Without a doubt, Conn Iggulden is one of the top authors of historical fiction in the world today.  Since 2003 he has consistently produced some of the most in-depth, detailed and engrossing chronicles of several different historical periods and cultures.  His previous work includes lengthy examinations of Julius Caesar and Genghis Khan in his bestselling Emperor and Conqueror series, and he has also produced the definitive fictional account of one of the bloodiest civil wars in English history with his extraordinary War of the Roses series.  Now, following his 2017 fantasy debut Darien, Iggulden has once again returned to his historical fiction roots by exploring another new realm of history, the Spartans.

In 401 BC, the new Persian king, Artaxerxes II, rules the largest empire in the known world.  With an empire sprawling from the Aegean Sea to the north of India, the king of Persia is the undisputed ruler of 50 million people.  However, despite all their wealth and power, the kings of Persia have never conquered Greece.  From Thermopylae to Marathon and Platea, the Persians have suffered the ferocity of the Greeks, and none are more feared than the men of Sparta.  As a result, it has been many years since the Persians have attempted to invade Greece, and many Spartans now serve as mercenaries in the Persian army.

When Prince Cyrus, Artaxerxes’s brother, is nearly executed by the new king following the death of their father, the young prince is determined to claim the throne of Persia for himself.  After hiring an army of skilled Greek mercenaries led by an elite core of Spartan warriors and the revered Spartan General Clearchus, Cyrus marches against his brother.  But battles can be lost with a single blow, and when Cyrus is killed on the battlefield the Greeks suddenly find themselves trapped in the middle of the Persian Empire.

With Clearchus and the other Greek generals having been killed through treachery, it falls to a young solider, Xenophon, to lead the surviving Greeks to safety.  With limited supplies and no knowledge of the land before them, Xenophon must find a way to lead 10,000 soldiers and an additional 10,000 camp followers back to Greece.  Forced to endure constant attacks from the Persian army as they travel through deserts and across mountains, their journey will become legendary.

The Falcon of Sparta is a standalone novel primarily based on the classic Greek text, Anabasis, which was written by the historical Xenophon.  Iggulden’s novel focuses on the events of the first four of the seven books of Anabasis.

While The Falcon of Sparta does not contain the full version of Anabasis, in some ways it is a much more complete and detailed story that focuses on the people who featured in this great adventure.  Xenophon related his tale in a rather simple and direct manner, and Iggulden has compensated for this by providing his own storytelling and dramatic writing.  Many of the key characters now have significant backstories fictional justifications for many of these characters’ actions and motives.  For example, Iggulden attempts to provide a more complex and dramatic explanation for the schism between Artaxerxes and Cyrus, rather than the historical story that Cyrus simply desired the throne.  Iggulden also provides additional context for one of the main villains of the Anabasis, the Persian noble Tissaphernes, who led the Persian armies against the retreating Greek forces.  In The Falcon of Sparta his role as a villain is greatly expanded.  Not only is he portrayed as a former friend of Cyrus who betrayed him for power but also as one of the main reasons Cyrus fails to seize the throne and the protagonists are placed into such peril.  Iggulden’s additional backstories and character traits make for a much more compelling and complete story with thrilling and absorbing motivations and antagonists.

These additional story elements are greatly enhanced by the author’s use of character perspectives.  For the first two thirds of the story, narration is split between a number of characters, including Cyrus, Clearchus, Tissaphernes, Artaxerxes and Xenophon.  Not only does this split narration help to build up the respective characters’ histories and allow the audience a better view of their personalities, but it also adds significantly to the story as these characters provide various perspectives on the events occurring in the formative parts of the main story.  Through the narrators we are given glimpses into a range of interesting things, including Artaxerxes’s and Cyrus’s thoughts on the war for their father’s throne, as well as the events and feelings that led up to the conflict.  We also see the respect that Cyrus and Xenophon have for their Spartan allies, as they see examples of their effectiveness in combat and their legendary self-discipline.

The scenes told from Tissaphernes’s point of view further highlight his role as a villain as his inner monologue reveals his selfish motivations and ambitions.  The story told from Tissaphernes’s viewpoint helps turn him into an embodiment of the distain that the ancient Persians had for the Greeks and their soldiers.  Despite seeing the Greeks’ substantial battle prowess, Tissaphernes and many of the Persians viewed the Greeks as second-rate soldiers, and it is fascinating to see how deeply held this belief was.

After the first two thirds of the book, the story is told exclusively from the point of view of Xenophon and starts to mostly represent Book III and Book IV of the Anabasis.  This part of the book allows the reader a closer view of the Spartan and Greek forces as they participate in their epic march and is very entertaining.  Even as the story becomes confined to only one narrator, Iggulden is still able to provide the necessary detail and drama in the final part of the book to keep the story going strong and maintain the reader’s attention and enjoyment.

Special attention needs to be given to the masterful portrayal of the Greeks and Spartans in battle.  Iggulden has an incredible eye for detail and an amazing writing style that brings the reader right into the heart of the book’s large-scale action sequences.  In particular, he spends a significant amount of time focusing on the Greeks and the Spartans and does an amazing job of capturing their battle techniques, tactics and mentality.  There are a large number of battle scenes within this book, and Iggulden uses every opportunity to show off the prowess of his heroes in as much detail as possible, allowing the reader to easily witness the events in their minds.  The Persian soldiers are also examined in the scenes narrated by Cyrus, and it is interesting to see the differences in the fighting style and mentality of the Greeks and Persians.  Those interested in reading about this part of history will love the amount of attention given to the Spartans and find many of the associated descriptions deeply fascinating.

Conn Iggulden has once again produced a masterful and absorbing fictional account that focuses on an utterly intriguing historical event.  Bringing the reader right into the middle of the march of the Ten Thousand, Iggulden expands on Xenophon’s Anabasis and provides a more dramatic and elegant story of betrayal, endurance and survival.  The Falcon of Sparta is a love letter to one of history’s most legendary race of warriors, and it provides the reader with a detailed exploration of Spartan warfare, lifestyle and mentality.  This is a breathtaking and highly recommended piece of historical fiction that is guaranteed to drag you in for the long haul.

My Rating:

Five Stars