Cyber Shogun Revolution by Peter Tieryas

Cyber Shogun Revolution

Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio (Audiobook – 3 March 2020)

Series: United States of Japan – Book Three

Length: 10 hours and 55 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

If you like the sound of a gritty spy thriller set in an alternate version of America filled with destructive mechas, then you really need to check out Cyber Shogun Revolution, the third novel in Peter Tieryas’s outstanding United States of Japan series.

The United States of Japan novels are a fun and inventive series that is routinely described as a combination between The Man in the High Castle and Pacific Rim.  This series is set in an alternate history in which the United States lost World War II after Japan invented mechas to defeat the Allies.  Following the end of the war, the United States was split between the Japanese Empire and the Nazis, who subsequently engaged in an extended and brutal Cold War against each other.  This latest novel is set in 2020 and features an intense and thrilling new tale that is separate from the stories told in the previous two entries in the series.

Following the end of the latest war against the Nazis, the United States of Japan is facing a crisis as their corrupt governor appears to be a Nazi sympathiser, secretly doing their enemy’s bidding.  Seeking justice after a brutal Nazi attack in Kansas, mecha pilot Reiko Morikawa joins a secret organisation of high-ranking soldiers, mecha pilots and politicians, known as The Sons of War, who plot to assassinate the governor and replace him with one of their own.  While their initial plan to kill the governor goes awry, their target is still killed thanks to the intervention of the mysterious assassin and feared Nazi slayer, Bloody Mary.

However, Bloody Mary has a whole different agenda and swiftly turns against The Sons of War, assassinating key members of the organisation in a brutal strike that leaves Reiko as the only survivor.  Determined to find out why Bloody Mary betrayed them, Reiko teams up with Bishop Wakan, an agent of Japan’s secret police, the Tokko, to hunt her down and stop her plot.  Tracing a shipment of black market mecha parts to Nazi America, Reiko and Bishop travel into enemy territory to find answers and soon find themselves in the midst of a massive conspiracy.  Bloody Mary has plans to change the entire United States of Japan forever, and she does not care who dies to achieve her goal.  Can Reiko and Bishop stop her before it is too late, or will the entire world feel Bloody Mary’s wrath?

Cyber Shogun Revolution is an exciting and compelling new novel from Tieryas, which serves as the third entry in the United States of Japan series.  I have a lot of love for this series after powering through the second novel, Mecha Samurai Empire, when it came out a couple of years ago.  I have been meaning to check out this latest entry for some time now, and I was glad I was able to get around to it before the end of 2020.  This latest book was really cool, and I loved the bold new story that Tieryas was able to come up with, especially as he once again makes excellent use of his unique and captivating alternate world.

This latest entry in the United States of Japan series proved to be a fun and fast-paced novel, which sees two intense protagonists forced to investigate a lethal conspiracy in an inventive and clever setting.  Told from the alternating perspectives of its two main characters, Reiko and Bishop, this story gets off the ground quick and does not slow down one bit throughout the entire book as the protagonists quickly find themselves in the midst of all manner of intrigue and suspense.  This was a deeply exciting novel, and I liked how the author changes focus from the previous novel, writing Cyber Shogun Revolution as more of a spy thriller with alternate history and science fiction elements.  I really liked the impressive pace of this novel and I was quickly drawn in by the compelling and complex thriller that Tieryas weaves for the reader, especially as it makes great use of its setting and unique world elements to tell the entire story.  The author throws in a few good twists and turns throughout the narrative, and I quite enjoyed seeing the story unfold in all its action-packed glory.  Readers do not need to have any pre-knowledge of the United States of Japan series to enjoy this book as the narrative is mostly unrelated to the events of the previous novels, although fans of the series will no doubt enjoy seeing the various changes to the universe.  Overall, Cyber Shogun Revolution had a fantastic and exhilarating story that is guaranteed to keep the reader wildly entertained throughout the entire run of the book.

A major highlight of Cyber Shogun Revolution, and indeed the entire United States of Japan series, is the inventive and unique alternate version of the world that the author has created.  The Japanese-controlled America featured within this series is an intriguing blend of Western and Japanese culture, mixed with advanced technology and an entirely new history.  I really enjoyed seeing all the clever combinations of culture that the author featured throughout his story, and there are quite a few amusing references and ideas featured throughout.  There is a particular focus on cuisine, and Tieryas once again enthrals the reader with descriptions of intense and interesting-sounding fusion foods, many of which I would love to try out.  These descriptions of the United States of Japan are really cool, and it proves to be a rich setting for the narrative to run through, especially as it is not the shiny utopia that it appears on the surface.  The country is instead a dangerous and oppressive regime ruled over by fanatical thought police, where even a momentary slipup is enough to condemn you to a horrible fate.  Tieryas spends time really highlighting this darker side of his universe in Cyber Shogun Revolution and it ends up become a major part of the plot.  The author also takes the reader on a brief tour of Nazi-occupied America, which proves to be a particularly horrible experience (strangely enough, the Nazis are just as bad, if not worse, in this reality), mainly due to the Nazis’ reliance on bioengineering rather than machines, which results in a number of disturbing and disgusting creatures, such as their bimorphs (giant organic mechas).  The comparisons between the Japanese and Nazi controlled parts of America are really fascinating, and I am really glad the author based a bit of the story there.  Needless to say, I absolutely loved the setting for Cyber Shogun Revolution, especially as it helped create a clever and complex narrative, and I cannot wait to revisit it in some of Tieryas’s future novels.

Now there is no way that I can talk about Cyber Shogun Revolution without mentioning the mechas, the giant and powerful human-controlled battle machines which won the war for the Japanese.  Mechas are a distinctive and exciting pop culture creation, especially in anime, and Tieryas uses them to great effect throughout the entire book.  While this latest entry in the series has a definite focus on conspiracies and espionage, Tieryas still slips in several mecha fights and combat scenes.  Indeed, the entire last third of the novel sees the protagonists go up against a series of different and powerful mechas in some intense and epic sequences.  The author has clearly had some creative fun in this book as Cyber Shogun Revolution features a raft of new mechas, each with some unique or advanced piece of technology that gives them an edge over their opponents, including mechas with magnet guns, a mammoth-shaped mecha with a chainsaw trunk, and a mecha that has super speed.  This naturally leads to some fantastic and distinctive sequences, as the protagonists need to find a way to defeat the varied opponents around them.  I particularly enjoyed one sequence that saw one of the characters fighting against a rival mecha, while the other protagonist assists from the outside while riding a jetpack.  Needless to say, if you love mecha combat and fantastic battle scenes (who doesn’t?) then you are going to have a lot of fun with Cyber Shogun Revolution.

In order to tell this fantastic novel, Tieryas utilises two excellent, if damaged, point-of-view protagonists in the duo of mecha pilot Reiko Morikawa and secret agent Bishop Wakan.  After both have separate run-ins with Bloody Mary in which they are the only survivor, the two team up in order to get to the bottom of why she betrayed their nation and what her end goal really is.  Both characters are extremely interesting, mainly because they both have complex and tragic pasts which drive them towards their goals.  Tieryas does an amazing job diving down into these characters’ inner psyches, creating some truly complex characters with major flaws who the reader are inexorably drawn to.  In addition, both characters also have some intense history with Bloody Mary and some of her co-conspirators, resulting in some emotionally charged moments throughout the novel.  These two characters are also a little anti-authoritarian, having seen the dark side of their nation firsthand, which alters the way that they deal with events, and also ensures that they are a little more susceptible to their enemy’s manipulation.  I really enjoyed these amazing characters and I thought that they made for a great duo of central protagonists.

While I had initially planned to grab a paperback version of this book, I ended up splashing out and getting Cyber Shogun Revolution’s audiobook format.  This audiobook has a relatively quick runtime of just under 11 hours and was narrated by the talented Emily Woo Zeller.  Zeller, who I recently enjoyed in the Star Wars: Doctor Aphra audio drama, did an exceptional job narrating Cyber Shogun Revolution and I had an outstanding time listening to it.  Zeller came up with some fantastic and distinctive voices for the various characters featured within this novel, and the entire audiobook quickly flew by thanks to her fast-paced narration.  I also loved having the cool mecha fights being narrated to me, as hearing the action being described made it pop a lot more for me than simply reading it on a page.  Because of this, Cyber Shogun Revolution comes highly recommended in its audiobook format, and I really enjoyed hearing all the awesome action and excitement contained within this amazing novel.

Cyber Shogun Revolution is an epic and captivating novel from the amazing Peter Tieryas that serves as the third entry in his fantastic United States of Japan series.  Containing an intense story laden with action, intrigue, and treachery, all set with a clever alternate version of America, Cyber Shogun Revolution is a ball of excitement that readers will have an incredible time reading.  An excellent and fun read to check out, I look forward to exploring more of Tieryas’s outrageous universe in the future.

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir

Publisher: Recorded Books (Audiobook – 4 August 2020)

Series: The Locked Tomb – Book Two

Length: 19 hours and 51 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Sensational author Tamsyn Muir follows up her incredible 2019 debut with another epic, complex and infinitely entertaining hybrid novel, Harrow the Ninth.

Tamsyn Muir burst onto the writing scene with a real vengeance last year with her debut novel, Gideon the Ninth, the first book in The Locked Tomb series.  Gideon the Ninth was an extremely clever and compelling novel that followed a group of spacefaring necromancers who were summoned to the house of their Emperor and god, and given an opportunity to learn from him and become Lyctors, immortal beings with immense necromantic power who are considered to be living saints.  What they instead found was a haunted manor filled with secrets, weird experiments and mysterious hints at the past.  The protagonist of this first novel was the titular Gideon, a smart assed, foul mouthed lesbian swordswoman who was reluctantly serving the necromantic lady of the Ninth House, Harrowhark Nonagesimus.  I absolutely loved Gideon the Ninth and it was easily one of my favourite debuts of 2019.  As a result, I was rather intrigued when I heard about its sequel, Harrow the Ninth (which, as you can see above, featured another intense and beautiful cover by the talented Tommy Arnold) and I eagerly grabbed an audiobook copy of it when it came out.  I have to say that I am extremely glad that I decided to do so as Harrow the Ninth turned out to be a truly outstanding book and I had an incredible time reading it.

Harrow the Ninth is set shortly after the dramatic conclusion to Gideon the Ninth and switches the focus of the novel over to Harrowhark, who has succeeded in becoming a Lyctor at great personal cost.  Now alone, mentally scarred and more powerful than ever, Harrow finds herself in the personal care of the Emperor of the Nine Houses, who is determined to use his new Lyctor in a deadly war against an ancient and powerful terror, a Resurrection Beast, the insane and vengeful ghost of a murdered planet.

Travelling to the Mithraeum, the Emperor’s isolated sanctum, Harrow finds herself trapped aboard a desolate space station with her god and her fellow Lyctors.  Each of her companions on the station has their own agenda and motive for being there, and all of them are seeking to use Harrow for their own ends.  Worse, as Harrow attempts to learn the full extent of her new powers and abilities, it becomes apparent that something has gone wrong with her transition to Lyctorhood.  Her body keeps failing her, her swordcraft is shoddy, her blade makes her nauseous and her mind keeps presenting her with impossible scenarios.

As the Resurrection Beast comes ever closer to the Mithraeum, Harrow desperately attempts to understand everything that is happening to her and learn how to survive the oncoming attack.  However, she finds herself distracted with the machinations and plots of her untrustworthy rival and the attitudes of her three ancient tutors, especially as at least one of them is trying to kill her.  Can Harrow unwrap all of the dark secrets that lie hidden on the Mithraeum before it is too late, or will the entire Empire fall into ruin before them?

Well damn, now that was a truly enjoyable and incredible read.  Harrow the Ninth is a complex, clever, entertaining and exceptionally well written novel that does an awesome job following on from Muir’s impressive first novel.  I had an absolutely amazing time reading this fantastic book, which I think in many ways is somewhat stronger than Gideon the Ninth.  Not only does Harrow the Ninth have a deeply captivating story that successfully utilises elements from a range of different genres, but it also features some memorable and compelling characters, excellent universe building and a magical system that really stands out thanks to its descriptive necromantic powers.  Harrow the Ninth also serves as a marvellous follow-up to Gideon the Ninth, continuing the clever story from the first book with the same distinctive tone and writing style, while also featuring an intriguing reimagining of prior events.  All of these makes for an epic read which gets a full five-star rating from me.

At the heart of this amazing novel is an intense and multilayered narrative that presents a compelling tale of love, tragedy, treachery and self-discovery.  The story is actually split into several distinct sections, with the main storyline focusing on Harrow after her transformation to Lyctorhood as she spends time in the Mithraeum with the Emperor and the other Lyctors.  This part of the book expertly jumps back and forth through time and is an extremely entertaining part of the book, detailing Harrow’s education under the Emperor and the other Lyctors and her attempts to survive the various internal politics, plots and personal chaos.  The other major part of the story shows a curious alternate version of the events of Gideon the Ninth, shown from Harrow’s point of view, made distinctive due to the complete lack of Gideon, who appears to be erased out of existence.  This alternate version of the prior book is a really intriguing part of Harrow the Ninth’s story, and while I was initially a little confused about why it was included and where Gideon had disappeared to, it proved to be an extremely clever and compelling part of the book, especially when everything becomes fully revealed.  Due to this reimagining of already existing narrative, as well as the continued references to the events of the first book, readers interested in checking out Harrow the Ninth really do need to have read Gideon the Ninth first, as the story gets a little confusing and significantly less impactful without this established knowledge.

These separate storylines complement each other is exceedingly cleverly.  This novel does start off a tad slow, but this is mainly because Muir is re-establishing the narrative from the previous book and loading up the front end of the story with hints and foreshadowing about the multitude or revelations that come throughout the course of the plot.  A lot of big events and reveals occur towards the end of Harrow the Ninth, including a few reveals that were hinted at in the previous novel, and I felt that the author set all of these up perfectly.  This results in an extremely epic conclusion to the novel and I was really impressed by how it all turned out.  This novel contains a unique blend of genres, as Harrow the Ninth features elements from the fantasy, science fiction, psychological thriller and murder mystery genres.  All of these disparate features work together extremely well in the story and it helps to produce a distinctive and entertaining narrative, especially as Muir adds on a rather good comedic edge.  The end result is a fascinating and exceedingly captivating overarching narrative, and I had an outstanding time getting pleasantly blindsided by the inventive twists and turns.

This excellent and unique story is expertly supported by a distinctive writing style that I felt did an amazing job enhancing the narrative.  Perhaps one of the most noticeable elements is the clever narration that accompanies the story.  While Harrow is the point of view character for most of the novel, she is not actually the one narrating the story.  Instead Harrow’s actions, emotions and thoughts are identified, summarised, and relayed back to Harrow by an unidentified second person narrator.  Naturally, this proved to be an interesting and unusual way to tell this story, although it works well in the context of the overall narrative, even if it takes a little to get used to.  This narrative format plays into certain character reveals and plot points of the novel and it makes a lot of sense once you get further into the book, with the style itself actually being a hint about what is happening with Harrow.  This narration style changes at a certain point towards the end of the book in accordance with certain plot developments and the subsequent deviation is clever and reminiscent of past events.  I also really must highlight the author’s extremely descriptive form of story writing, as every event, person or location is described in overly vivid detail.  Not only did this ensure that the reader got the full breadth of certain magical action and developments but it also helped to enhance the overall gothic feel of the book and ensure that reader was able to easily imagine the various locations the protagonist found themself in.  This really helped the story to shine and I have a lot of love for how Muir was able to work story elements into this style.

In addition to the great story that Muir has come up with for this book, Harrow the Ninth also boasts an impressive array of amazing characters.  The central protagonist is the titular Harrow, who takes over from Gideon as the main character after the first book.  Harrow is a vastly different character to Gideon as she has a much more subdued personality, less self-esteem, and a more restrained, subtler sense of humour.  Due to Gideon’s somewhat biased narration in the first novel Harrow was mostly viewed as an extremely arrogant, confident, and brilliant person, and this is how Harrow attempts to act throughout most of the novel.  However, certain vulnerabilities in Harrow’s character that were previously explored in Gideon the Ninth once again come to the fore in this second novel.  Harrow was already an extremely complex individual, having been birthed by dark magic, ended up being responsible for the death of her own parents and having an interesting love interest.  However, following her alteration into Lyctorhood, Harrow is a much more damaged person due to the absorption of her cavalier.  Harrow’s already fractured psyche is made even worse throughout the course of the book, as she sees all manner of things that are not there and has some very different ideas of the past or how she perceives the world.  In addition, Harrow bears an immense amount of guilt on her shoulders as a result of various events in her past and the many deaths on her conscience.  Harrow needs to work through all these issues throughout the course of the story if she has a chance to survive, and this becomes a major and dramatic part of the story that was really intriguing to explore.  I had an amazing time seeing the story primarily through Harrow’s eyes and it was a refreshing and compelling change of pace from the first book.

Harrow the Ninth also focuses on a great collection of supporting characters who add some intrigue and drama to the story.  Perhaps the most distinctive side characters in this novel are the five beings that Harrow finds herself trapped with aboard the Mithraeum, the Emperor of the Nine Houses and his four other Lyctors.  This is an extremely fascinating collection of people and much of the story revolves around Harrow’s unique interactions with them as each of them attempts to teach her, manipulate her or kill her at various points within the book.  These characters are really entertaining and distinctive, from the seemingly kind, patient, and infinitely calm Emperor, to the three ancient Lyctors, the cool and confident Augustine, the exceedingly self-involved Mercymorn and the ultra-focused and lethal Ortus.  In addition, we see the return of the manipulative Ianthe, who became a Lyctor at the same time as Harrow and who forms a very distinctive relationship with her throughout the course of the book.  I really enjoyed the complex interactions and relationships that forms between all of these characters (including some wild relationships between various participants), with the Emperor acting as the father figure, the three existing Lyctors portrayed as older siblings who have a complicated power dynamic with each other, while Ianthe and Harrow are the younger sisters learning the ropes from the others.

I also have to highlight the inclusion of several other characters who previously appeared in Gideon the Ninth.  It was rather intriguing to see many of these characters return, especially as most of them died or appeared to die in the prior novel.  Muir does a fantastic job working them into the fabric of this novel, such as by featuring some of them in the alternate version of the events of the first book, changing their roles and impacts on the story as a result.  I particularly enjoyed the extended role of Ortus, cavalier of the Ninth House.  Ortus, not to be confused with the Lyctor mentioned above (although the names are actually a clever clue to a big reveal), died early on in the events of Gideon the Ninth.  But in this book the dour Ortus serves as a fantastic yet reluctant companion to Harrow, with surprising hidden depths and an entertaining obsession with gloomy epic poems and verse.  He is also essentially the complete opposite to Gideon, resulting in a very different dynamic between necromancer and cavalier then we saw in the prior book.  Overall, I have to say that I was exceedingly impressed with the characters featured within this amazing novel.  Each of these complex and memorable characters added a heck of a lot to the story and it was deeply fascinating to see each of their storylines unravel and come to their compelling conclusions.

One of the major elements of this series that I love so much is the weird and wonderful necromantic magical system complements the science fiction of the book.  Pretty much all of the main characters in this book are powerful necromancers, specialising in a different form or style of necromantic magic.  All of this magic is extremely cool, and it was really awesome seeing it utilised in fight sequences and other scenes throughout the book.  Most of the magical elements revolve around Harrow’s bone magic, as she creates skeleton and bone constructs, manipulates her own bones to either enhance herself or detach them to make weapons or other creations, as well as elements of biological alteration.  Muir does an outstanding job explaining the full range of different powers that Harrow has, and there are some amazing scenes where the young necromancer does some really inventive and clever things with her bones.  There is one sequence in particular that sticks in the mind, and I’ll certainly remember it when eating soup in the future. 

In addition to Harrow’s abilities, Muir also showcases the creative and impactful abilities and magical powers that some of the other characters have.  These various abilities are all biological or spiritual in nature, and it was quite fun to see what the different necromancers can do, especially when they go up against Harrow’s bone magic.  All these magic scenes feature some rather vivid imagery and descriptions from Muir as she tries to show the full biological manipulations that are occurring, which really help to make these scenes pop.  The author also does a truly fascinating deep dive into the origins and mechanics of her unique magical system.  A lot of these new magical elements are explained to protagonist in some detail from one of her teachers, so the reader is able to understand these elements really well, and a lot of the lessons and explanations of magic have major impacts on the story down the line.  This proved to be an extremely interesting and enjoyable part of the book and I have a lot of love for Muir’s creativity when it comes to her version of necromantic magic.

I also have a lot of love for the distinctive gothic settings that Muir has imagined up for this series.  Each of the central story locations are filled up with all manner of dark and macabre trappings and features, which the author does a fantastic job bringing to life with her descriptive writing.  This includes the dreary and dark Mithraeum, a vast and mostly abandoned space station where most of the story takes place, as well as an alternate version of the First House that appeared in Gideon the Ninth.  All of these locations are described in great detail and each of these fun and distinctive settings helps to present a darker vibe to story and helps makes this series more unique and memorable as a result.  Harrow the Ninth also contains some rather captivating and inventive universe building expansions as the author attempts to introduce new things into her universe.  All of these extensions to this universe are really clever, playing into the story really well and I loved learning more about this fun fictional setting which does so much to enhance the story. 

I found that the audiobook format of Harrow the Ninth proved to be an excellent way to enjoy this amazing novel.  With a run length of just under 20 hours the Harrow the Ninth audiobook does require a bit of a commitment to get through it, although I felt that it was really worth the time investment.  I do have to admit that it took me a little while to finish this audiobook, especially at the start.  However, I absolutely flew through the second half of the novel once I became extremely invested in the story, and I managed to knock out the final six hours in rather short succession.  I have to highlight the fantastic narrator for this audiobook, Moria Quirk, who does an outstanding job telling the story and bringing the various characters to life.  I felt that Quirk utilised perfect voices for each of the main characters and you get a real sense of each character’s personalities and emotions from this vocal work, from the calm, composed tones of the Emperor to the exceedingly petulant voice of the Lyctor Mercymorn.  This excellent voice work really added a lot to this audiobook. I really think that Harrow the Ninth translates well into the audiobook format, and listening to it really added to my enjoyment of this second novel, especially as I absorbed a lot more of the detail and gothic atmosphere through the narration.

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir was an epic and exceptional piece of fiction that I deeply enjoyed, and which comes highly recommended.  Not only did Muir present an impressive follow-up to her amazing debut novel, Gideon the Ninth, but she was able to turn out a complex and beautifully written sequel that proved extremely hard to stop listening to.  Powerful, cleverly written and just generally outrageous, Harrow the Ninth is an outstanding read and you have no discovered Tamysn Muir and her fantastic pieces of literature, you are really missing out. 

Quick Review – Texas Hold ‘Em edited by George R. R. Martin

Texas Hold 'Em Cover

Publisher: Harper Voyager (Trade Paperback – 6 November 2019)

Series: Wild Cards series – Book 27

              American Triad trilogy – Book 3

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Texas Hold ’Em is the 27th book in the long-running Wild Cards series, which started in 1987. I read this book late last year but did not get a chance to review it until just now, so I’m just going to do a quick one.

The Wild Cards books make up one of the more interesting book series at the moment. Started by George R. R. Martin and his tabletop game friends (all of whom where fantasy and science fiction writers), this series has since expanded into a massive book franchise that has featured an impressive line-up of authors. There are a huge number of books, and the series is even currently being adapted into a couple of television series on Hulu.

Each of the Wild Cards books is made up of several short, interconnected stories written by a different author, with the entire novel edited together by Martin. Texas Hold ’Em, for example, features the talents of David Anthony Durham, Max Gladstone, Diana Rowland, Caroline Spector, Walton Simons, William F. Wu and the late Victor Milán. Melinda M. Snodgrass, who has contributed to a huge number of the previous Wild Cards books, also assisted in editing this book.

I came into this franchise fairly late and have only read the books which make up the most recent trilogy, The American Triad. I quite enjoyed the first two books in the trilogy, Mississippi Roll and Low Chicago, and was looking forward to the third and final book, Texas Hold ’Em.

Blurb:

In the aftermath of World War II, the Earth’s population was devastated by a terrifying alien virus. Those who survived changed forever. Some, known as jokers, were cursed with bizarre mental and physical mutations; others, granted superhuman abilities, became the lucky few known as aces.

San Antonio, home of the Alamo, is also host to the USA’s top high school jazz competition, and the musicians at Xavier Desmond High are excited to outplay their rivals. But they are also jokers; kids with super abilities and looks that make them stand out. On top of that, well, they are teenagers – prone to mischief, mishaps, and romantic misunderstandings.

Ace Michelle Pond, aka The Amazing Bubbles, thinks that her superhero know-how has prepared her to chaperone the event. But little does she know the true meaning of the saying, ‘Don’t mess with Texas’.

I found Texas Hold ‘Em to be a fun addition to this fantastic series. However, unlike the other two Wild Cards books that I have read, this one seemed to be a bit more like a young adult fiction novel. This is mainly because many of the short stories focus on teenage characters as they encounter the many ups and downs of San Antonio and the jazz competition. The rest of the stories are a pretty interesting mix of mystery, thriller and other action adventure type stories, as the various adult characters encounter a range of situations, mostly associated with protecting or wrangling their young charges. There were some good stories within this book, and fans of the franchise will appreciate the return of several recurring characters who have appeared in some of the previous books.

The stories in this book are told in a different way to the previous Wild Cards books. Rather than having several short stories told to their full extent and then connected by one split short story that overlaps with each of them, Texas Hold ’Em is instead broken up by a period of several days. Each of the days contains multiple parts of the various short stories, featuring the events of that story that happens on that day. This is a much more fragmented way to tell each story, but the chronological consistency is an interesting narrative choice. The combined short stories do make for quite a good overall narrative, although it does seem a little lower stakes than some of the previous books in the series.

One of the most interesting parts of this book is the examination of prejudice and hatred that infects each of the stories. In this universe, many of the humans who were unaffected by the Wild Card virus discriminate against Jokers and Aces; Jokers because of their disfigurations and Aces because they are afraid of them. This appears to be particularly enhanced down in San Antonio, mainly due to the appearance of the Purity Baptist Church, this universe’s version of everyone’s favourite hate group, the Westboro Baptist Church. The various protests and prejudices of the fiction group against those affected by the Wild Card virus do reflect the Westboro Baptist Church, so it was definitely an accurate depiction, and it was cool to see how they would react when confronted with someone with superpowers. That being said, the writers really needed to come up with a better term than “God’s Weenies” to refer to this group, or least stop repeating it to the degree that they did. Many of the characters in the book also encounter other forms of discrimination aside from the protests occurring outside the event, most of which mirrored discrimination real-life minority groups experience every day. This was a pretty good look at discrimination, and I liked how the various authors attempted to examine this problem by putting it in the context of the Wild Cards universe, especially as it led to some curious scenarios and interesting story moments.

Overall, this was a great new addition to the Wild Cards series. If I’m going to be honest, this was probably my least favourite book in the American Triad trilogy, but I still had fun reading it. I am interested to see what the next book in the Wild Cards universe will be like, and I will be curious to see if the show I mentioned above actually comes into being.

Archenemies by Marissa Meyer

Archenemies Cover.png

Publisher: Pan

Publication Date – 6 November 2018

 

Following on from her immensely popular 2017 release, Renegades, Meyer continues her exciting tale of superpowered duplicity and intrigue with Archenemies, the second book in the Renegades trilogy.

In an alternate version of Earth, superpowers exist and those that have them are known as prodigies.  For most of this world’s history, prodigies were tormented and persecuted and many were forced to live in hiding.  That was until the Age of Anarchy, when the world’s villainous prodigies rose up and established their own world order of chaos and destruction, led by the notorious Ace Anarchy.  It was not until the rise of the superhero syndicate, the Renegades, that order was restored and prodigies were accepted as a part of society.  While most people see the Renegades as symbols of hope and virtue, there are some who have good reason to hate them.

Nova is one of these people, and her hatred has led her to live a dangerous double life.  Most of the world knows her as Insomnia, a recent recruit to the Renegades, who serves as a member of a patrol team in Gatlon City, the location of the Renegade’s headquarters.  However, Nova is also secretly Nightmare, the niece of Ace Anarchy and a member of the Anarchists, a group of villains dedicated to destroying the Renegades.  Hating the Renegades for the role she believes they played in the death of her parents, Nova has infiltrated the superhero team in the hope of discovering all their secrets in order to destroy them from within.

While she has so far maintained her cover, Nova’s mission has become complicated due to her relationship with Adrian, and the son of the people she holds most responsible for her family’s tragedy.  But Adrian has secrets of his own.  While he leads Nova’s patrol team as Sketch, Adrian is also living a double life as the Sentinel, a vigilante superhero acting outside of the codes and restrictions of the Renegades.  Although Adrian was only attempting to help, his actions as the Sentinel have placed a target on his back, and the Renegades are determined to stop rogue prodigies.

While Nova is determined to complete her primary mission and retrieve a powerful artefact from within the Renegades’ headquarters, both hers and Adrian’s lives are about to get even more complicated.  The Renegades have revealed a game-changing new weapon which forces the two young prodigies to question everything they know about what justice is.  Can they keep their respective secrets from each other, or are their worlds about to come crashing down around them?

Archenemies is the latest book from bestselling young adult author Marissa Meyer, and the second book in her Renegades trilogy.  The first book in the trilogy, Renegades was one of last year’s most successful young adult hits.  Readers may also be familiar with some of Meyer’s other young adult works include The Lunar Chronicles, a series that focuses on a dystopian science fiction reimagining of classic fairy tales; Heartless, a prequel novel to Alice in Wonderland; and the young adult graphic novel series Wires and Nerve.

This second book in the trilogy continues Meyer’s incredible story of superhero intrigue and adventure.  The central story is a captivating tale told from the point of view of both Nova and Adrian and follows them as they attempt to live their double lives in this exciting world.  The storyline that follows Nova attempting to hide her affiliations with the Anarchists as she infiltrates the Renegades is a thrilling and exhilarating narrative.  Nova is constantly on edge as she must allay the suspicions and investigations into her background and her motivations for performing certain tasks around the Renegades’ headquarters.  The character must also deal with the emotional turmoil that she experiences as she struggles to stay on her original mission of betraying the Renegades, despite some conflicting feelings she develops.  The sections of the book that focus on Adrian are also very compelling, especially as his is the direct opposite to Nova’s story, as he begins to disobey the rules of the Renegades to engage in some illegal vigilante work.  His struggles about whether to keep up his activities become a major part of his storyline, especially as he experiences some severe consequences for going into the field without backup.  He is also determined to keep his identity as the Sentinel hidden from Nova, as she particularly dislikes the Sentinel, although Adrian gets the reason for the dislike completely wrong.

These two separate storylines combine together really well into one central narrative, and Meyer does an incredible job showing how the secret actions of one of the point-of-view characters impacts on the other character.  For example, part of Adrian’s storyline focuses of his investigation into the death of his mother, a famous superhero, and his search leads him to believe that Nightmare holds the answers he is looking for.  This becomes a big problem for Nova, as she has managed to fool most of the world into believing that Nightmare is dead, and Adrian’s investigation could blow her cover.  There are also several fantastic scenes where one of the protagonists comes across a clue that the reader knows could reveal the other character’s dual lifestyle.  The suspense that Meyer creates during these sequences is subtle but effective, as the reader is left holding their breath, waiting to see if this will be the event that will lead to the inevitable part of the trilogy when the two characters find out about each other.  This second book also contains some interesting hints towards some major reveals that are likely to occur in the final book of this trilogy, as well as some urgent plot points that can only lead to some intense and action-packed scenes in Meyer’s next release.

Meyer also continues the intriguing romance angle between the two main characters that began in the first book of the trilogy.  Rather than being ultra-intense, this romantic subplot comes across as more of a slow burn, as Nova and Adrian both like each other but are reluctant to act on their feelings due to the dual lives they are secretly leading.  Nova does spend most of the book attempting to heat this relationship up, but this is more in an attempt to seduce Adrian in order to help her further her goals for the Anarchists.  However, she truly has feelings for him, which continue to develop throughout the course of Archenemies.  There are several nice scenes throughout the book as the two point-of-view characters attempt to initiate the relationship, and despite the deceitful backdrop of the story, their relationship starts to feel like a genuine, heartfelt romance.  The eventual reveals about both characters’ secret identities will no doubt result in some significant drama within the next book, and readers will be interested to see the final result of this relationship.  For those interested in a less complicated romantic story, there is also a lighter romance angle between Renegades side characters Smokescreen and Red Assassin.  Their sweet and awkward flirting and courtship will be instantly recognisable and relatable to most readers, and you can’t help but hope that the two characters will realise how much they like each other.

I quite enjoyed the fantastic world that Meyer has created for the Renegades trilogy.  A world filled with superpowered beings is an excellent place to set an intrigue-studded young adult series such as this.  The creative and thrilling story of infiltration and morality is amplified by the rich number of superhero elements throughout the book.  There are a huge number of diverse superpowers, as well as mysterious and dangerous artefacts and weapons.  Meyer has created a number of interesting and unique superpowers, including a woman who makes practical weapons out of her own blood and a man whose power is to make people see the wonder in everything.  The sheer amount of different powers and technology available thanks to the author’s imagination allows for a number of cool fight scenes and action sequences throughout the book, which plays wonderfully with the other elements of the story.  A superb and creative background location.

While Archenemies’s dramatic story and fun superhero-based location forms a fantastic base for this novel, one of my favourite parts of the book was the moral and ethical issues raised by various characters throughout the story.  Both point-of-view characters have different opinions about whether the Renegades or the Anarchists are in the right and what constitutes justice.  While Nova’s opinions about the Renegades could potentially be explained away as brainwashing from her uncle and the other Anarchists, several of the actions and attitudes she encounters while undercover seem to justify her beliefs.  Her belief that the Anarchists might be in the right is supported by the fact that most of the remaining members of the team of villains seem to be really nice people who are supportive and helpful to Nova.  Several members also have somewhat tragic backgrounds which highlight why they choose to live their lives apart from the rest of society.  Adrian, on the other hand, has been raised to believe in the Renegades’ methods and code, but he has started to find them too restrictive and begins fighting crime outside them in his guise as the Sentinel.  However, he finds himself targeted by the Renegades for doing heroics outside of their code, and begins to wonder if they are making the right decisions, a feeling that becomes amplified thanks to his interactions with Nova.  Meyer further complicates matters by diving into the history of the prodigy persecution and discussing how it only ended when the villains rose up and took control, and this current golden age of super heroes only exists because they did.

This moral debate about what a group of superheroes should be able to do is further amplified by the introduction of the Renegades’ new weapon, Agent N, a formula that can permanently remove the powers of any prodigy.  Nova, in her guise as Insomnia, argues strongly against the Renegades’ policy of wilfully administrating Agent N against any rogue prodigy they encounter, believing that they don’t have the right to decide who gets to have powers and who doesn’t.  While her debates are mostly ignored by her team members, her concerns are validated thanks to the actions of a rogue team of Renegades who abuse Agent N in the field.  There is a great scene when Adrian as the Sentinel attempts to stop them committing a terrible crime, and these rogue Renegades actually believe they are still morally superior to Sentinel because they are members of a super team, and he’s not.  Despite her misgivings, Nova still utilises Agent N to achieve her own goals, and justifies it as being for the greater good.  Thanks to a series of escalating situations within the story, by the end of the book, the reader is left wondering which side, if either, is completely in the right, which personally has got me very excited for the final book in the trilogy.

Archenemies, the second book in the Renegades trilogy, is a captivating and excellent read from Meyer which presents a superb story about dual identities in a morally grey superhero universe.  While aimed at a young adult audience, this series will prove to be incredibly intriguing to older readers and is easily suitable for a younger teen audience.  Probably best read after enjoying the first book in the trilogy, Archenemies is still quite easy to follow for those who chose to enter the Renegades series at the second book, due to its detailed descriptions of major plot points that occurred earlier in the series.  I had a lot of fun with Archenemies and will definitely be checking out the final book in the trilogy when it comes out next year.  An incredible adventure from Meyer, this book comes highly recommended.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

 

 

 

An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris

An Easy Death Cover.jpg

Publisher: Piatkus

Publication Date – 2 October 2018

 

Gunslingers versus wizards in a dystopian alternate timeline of America, what more could you possibly want in a fun and captivating action novel?

Down in Texoma, one of the small countries forged out of the remnants of a fractured United States, Lizabeth Rose makes a living as a gunnie, a gunslinger for hire.  Despite being one of the best shots in Texoma, Lizabeth finds herself short of employment after her team is killed getting a group of refugees up to New America.

In need of a new gig, Gunnie Rose is less than cautious about accepting work from two grigori, wizards from the Holy Russian Empire.  The two grigori need Lizabeth’s help to find a fugitive member of their order, there is just one problem: the fugitive mage was killed some weeks prior, and Lizabeth was the person who pulled the trigger.  Undeterred, the grigori require a member of his lineage, so Lizabeth agrees to help them find the dead man’s brother, while keeping her role in his death secret.

Setting off on a journey through the barren and hostile landscape of an alternate history America, Lizabeth and the two wizards encounter all sort of dangers as they attempt to find the missing man.  From bandits to religious fanatics, their journey through the small towns is eventful and very bloody, especially when it becomes apparent that a faction of grigori are tracking them, determined to stop the trio completing their mission.  Can Lizabeth keep her clients safe, and what will happen when they find out who she really is?

An Easy Death is the latest book from bestselling author Charlaine Harris, who has written over 40 books in her career, staring with her 1981 debut, Sweet and Deadly.  Harris is possibly best known for her Sookie Stackhouse series, alternatively known as The Southern Vampire Mysteries, which was adapted into the incredibly popular True Blood television show.  In addition to this, she has also written the long-running Aurora Teagarden Mystery crime series and the Midnight Texas series, both of which have also had some form of television adaption in recent years.  An Easy Death is the first book in Harris’s new Gunnie Rose series, which presents the reader with a fast-paced adventure is an intriguing new setting.

I have to admit that I typically don’t read Harris’s books and she isn’t an author I have really gotten into before, although I did enjoy the first season of True Blood a few years ago.  However, after reading this book’s cool synopsis I decided to check this out, and I’m quite glad I did, after powering through it in about a day and thoroughly enjoying the fun story and the electrifying action.

I was impressed by the unique version of America that Harris has created for her new series.  Within the Gunnie Rose universe, the United States of America broke apart years before when FDR was killed before his inauguration as president.  In the following years, Canada and Mexico expanded into America, while smaller countries were formed from the remnants of various states.  A large amount of the book is set in Texoma, a collation of Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and part of Colorado.  Texoma is your typical old-west locale, with desserts and dry scenery, long roads and several small towns and cities, all of which are fantastic locations for this sort of high-octane modern western.  I quite enjoyed this alternate history version of America, and it was fascinating to see Harris’s vision of how historical America could have broken up, and the crazy world it might have turned into.  While this first story was primarily set within the location of Texoma, as well parts of New America and Mexico, I’m sure that Harris will take Gunnie Rose through the rest of these new countries and locations in future books.

Harris also explores another intriguing nation that was formed in the aftermath of the breakup of America, the Holy Russian Empire.  Within the context of this universe, Tsar Nicholas and his family managed to escape the Russian revolution and fled to California, where they and their armada were given sanctuary.  Following the breakup of America, the Tsar and his armies turned California and Oregon into The Holy Russian Empire.  The country is now ruled by the sickly Tsar Alexei, who has been kept alive by the magic of Grigori Rasputin.  While the characters don’t physically visit this nation, quite a lot of time is spent examining the internal politics of the Holy Russian Empire, and the reader is given a detailed explanation of how such a country came into existence and why their mission is so important.  Those readers who are familiar with the history around the Russian revolution will appreciate Harris’s explanation for this new country, as well as the suggested consequences of the Russian royal family surviving their infamous execution.

Another interesting part of An Easy Death is the use of magic throughout the story, as well as the author’s explanation of how it came to be an open power within the Holy Russian Empire.  The main reason magic is a thing in this universe is Grigori Rasputin, who, like the Russian royal family, managed to survive the events of the Russian Revolution.  Once the Russians were safe in America, Rasputin revealed the full power of his wizards, known as grigori by the rest of America, while international magic users, especially those hidden in Britain, journeyed to the Holy Russian Empire to gain sanctuary.  This is an intriguing idea from Harris, which coincidently allows her to feature a number of powerful magic users throughout this story.  As a result, this book is filled with some crazy magical fight scenes, graphic attack spells, as well as a number of scary magical creations that hunt the book’s protagonists throughout the story.  All of this is a great feature of the book, and one that works surprisingly very well in an alternate history western adventure.

A book that follows a gunslinger travelling across a dystopian America with two wizards was always going to be about the action.  Harris creates a fast-paced adventure that is filled with exciting action sequences as our protagonist goes toe-to-toe with bandits, fellow gunslingers and even a full complement of rogue grigori.  There are a number of great battle sequences throughout this story as a result, as the main character engages in some intense shootouts with her opponents.  The whole idea of an old-west gunslinger versus a wizard in combat is a very amusing idea, and Harris uses it to great advantage, having Lizabeth engage in fire fights with several different magical characters.  These scenes are pretty crazy, and it is fun watching the bullets and the spells fly in both directions.  Overall, this is a very action based novel, and the reader can simply sit back and enjoy all the carnage, complete with some very extreme and graphic sequences that stick in the mind.

Charlaine Harris’s new book is an outrageous and exhilarating action extravaganza that provides the reader with a healthy dose of fun and fire fights.  Thanks to a creative setting of an alternate timeline America, this book is filled with all sorts of crazy elements, including wizards and professional old-west-style gunslingers, who spend the entire book duking it out in fast-paced scenes.  An Easy Death is a thrilling read that is easy to enjoy and hard to put down, and an excellent start to a bold new series from Harris.

My Rating:

Four stars

Mecha Samurai Empire by Peter Tieryas

Mecha Samurai Empire Cover.jpg

Publisher: Ace

Publication Date – 18 September 2018

 

Prepare to experience one hell of an adventure in this follow-up to Peter Tieryas’s successful United States of Japan, in this incredibly exciting read that can best be described as The Man in the High Castle meets Pacific Rim.

Mecha Samurai Empire is set in an alternate version of our history, in which Japan and the Nazis won World War II.  This change to the outcome of the war was a result of the creation of the mecha, gigantic piloted military machines which gave the Japanese an unparallel advantage against the American forces.  In the aftermath of the war, America was split between Japan and Germany, who created distinct territories.  The western states, including California, became part of the United States of Japan, with its inhabitants swearing fealty to the Emperor.

In the 50 years that followed the end of the war, the United States of Japan entered an age of prosperity and technological advancement, and the development of more advanced mecha made them the most feared and effective military power in the world.  In addition to their military control, Japanese culture and custom has also been incorporated into American society, history has been rewritten and Japan’s wartime atrocities have been whitewashed.

In California, young student Makoto Fujimoto has only one dream: to become a mecha pilot and defend his country against the terrorists who killed his parents.  Unfortunately, Mac lacks the grades or political connections to achieve a placement in the mecha pilot training course at the elite Berkeley Military Academy, and his attempts to pass the special military exam end disastrously.  However, a chance encounter with rebel American forces allows him the opportunity to join up with a civilian mecha security company.  While his new role might not provide him much action, it might ensure his future placement at Berkeley.  But when Mac’s first mission goes horribly wrong, it might take all of his luck and skill just to survive.

Mecha Samurai Empire is an intriguing and exciting new novel from Tieryas and is the second book set in the United States of Japan universe.  Mecha Samurai Empire is not a direct sequel to the first book, United States of Japan, but it does contain a number of the story ideas that Tieryas did explore in his first book, and includes appearances from some of its characters.

As soon as I saw this book in the store and found out it featured mecha battles in an alternate timeline, I knew I was going to have to read it.  Because of the very enticing story concept, I did find myself going into this book with some very high expectations.  After reading it I am very pleased to say that I was not disappointed in the slightest, as I found Mecha Samurai Empire to be an incredibly entertaining book that makes full use of its unique elements and likeable characters to create an addictive story.  If you enjoyed the original United States of Japan, then you will definitely love this latest addition to the universe, that not only continues to highlight Tieryas’s marvellous alternate world, but which ramps the incredible mecha action.

The mecha are definitely the stars of this book, and the author spends a significant amount of time focusing on them and highlighting their importance in this new world.  Most readers of this book are going to be looking for some electrifying mecha combat, and Tieryas delivers this in abundance.  There is a huge amount of different types of mecha action, including training simulations, friendly competitions, small-scale battles between smaller mecha, larger battles between gigantic mechas and Nazi bimorphs (organic mechas), and there is even a large elimination tournament between various mecha pilots.  I’m a sucker for a good tournament, but this had to be one of my favourite extended sequences in the entire book.  Not only is there some incredible action during these tournament battles but the inclusion of multiple pilots allows the author to show off the various mecha battle techniques and fight styles as the competitors go at each other with a variety of close-combat weapons.  I also really enjoyed an earlier sequence when the protagonist finds himself piloting a small crab mecha by himself and must overcome several cannibalised mecha piloted by fanatical American rebels.  During these scenes Mac has to use all his training and skills, as well as the limited resources available to him in order to beat a larger force of opponents, and it is a very gripping scene to read.  Aside from the awesome action scenes, Tieryas has also chosen to present the reader with a much more in-depth view of the mecha in his universe.  The book contains the history of the mecha; the required training, simulations and the teamwork; discussion about famous mecha pilots; examinations of tactics and battle plans; mecha research; and even a look at the cultural impact of the mecha and the reverence shown to the pilots.  All of this additional information is deeply fascinating and really adds a lot to the book as the readers are shown they are more than just weapons.  If you’ve ever enjoyed the idea of mecha combat before, this is definitely the book for you.

While the mecha battles are one of this book’s best features, readers are also treated to an intriguing and memorable alternate history setting where the Axis powers won World War II and ended up taking control of the United States of America.  Tieryas has done an absolutely amazing job of creating a version of America that has been under Japanese control for 50 years, and it is fascinating to see how the author imagines this world would look.  In order to show the reader how the world came to be this way, Tieryas comes up with a clever alternate history of World War II and the years that followed it.  For example, Tieryas explores how a different strategy during the war could lead to a different outcome.  In this case, Japan joined the war by attacking Russia with the Nazis rather than America in the Pacific.  There is also some clever mirroring of real-life history, as the two main victorious world powers, Japan and Germany, end up in a cold war after splitting their conquered territory between them.

In addition to the changes in histories, Tieryas has also been quite inventive when it comes to the impact that a Japanese conquest would have on the culture of America.  While the Japanese influence on these territories in the book is quite noticeable, the author has come up with some captivating combinations between the two distinctive cultures.  I personally though that the way Tieryas continued to provide the reader with a ton of detailed descriptions of the food his characters were having was a very nice touch, as this showcased just how prominent Japanese food is in occupied America, while also featuring some curious examples of fusion cuisine.  It’s also interesting to see how much more advanced certain technology appears to be in this universe, a fact which can be attributed to the research into mecha technology and the fact that Japanese and Nazi scientists were able to operate with the world’s resources, including human test subjects, and a completely unchecked lack of morals.  There is also a dystopian element around this whole country, as there are a range of elements that show how controlling and despotic the United States of Japan government really is.  This is a continuation of the storyline from United States of Japan, and Tieryas continues to explore the nation’s hidden World War II war crimes, the rewriting of history, the use of propaganda, nationwide indoctrination, installed national pride and the fact that the characters are living in thinly disguised police state.  All of this serves to be an amazing background to this book that is both intriguing to explore and adds to the dramatic actions of the characters.

The story of Mecha Samurai Empire is strongly driven by the character development of the narrator and the other protagonists as they attempt to find their place in the world.  The main character and narrator, Mac, is an interesting focal character as the story is primarily set around his attempts to navigate this world and achieve his dream of becoming a mecha pilot.  Due to his past and the tragedy he experiences, Mac has a lot of self-doubt and other emotional baggage.  It is moving to see him getting through these barriers in order to become the hero his friends and country need.  I also got really attached to several of the supporting characters, especially Nori, Chieko, Kujira and Kazu, who we get to see develop in a similar manner to Mac.  Each of these characters has some distinctive character traits and motivations, and it’s cool to see how their personalities affect their mecha combat style.  It’s also intriguing to see the various levels of indoctrination and love for their country that these characters have, especially when they start to experience the darker side of the country and at times infuriating military commanders.  Another superb subplot is the relationship between Mac and Griselda, an exchange student from Nazi Germany.  Despite being old friends, their relationship is constantly criticised or forbidden by the other Japanese or German characters, and the constant us or them attitude is an accurate mirror of similar relationships throughout history.  It was a real treat to watch these characters develop throughout the course of the book, and the final fates of some these characters may leave readers reeling.

Award-winning author Peter Tieryas once again delivers another addictive and captivating story set in an alternate history version of the United States of America.  Making full use of this clever and creative setting, Tieryas packs his story full of pulse-pounding action as his characters pilot giant mecha in a variety of well-written and exciting battles.  With some real heart and emotional depth, Mecha Samurai Empire is so much more than its fun and memorable concept and comes highly recommended for all readers.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars