The Emerald Tablet by Meaghan Wilson Anastasios

The Emerald Tablet Cover

Publisher: Macmillan (Trade Paperback – 25 June 2019)

Series: Benedict Hitchens series – Book 2

Length: 404 pages

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It’s time for another exciting archaeological adventure in the turbulent 1950s as Meaghan Wilson Anastasios returns with the second book in her Benedict Hitchens series, The Emerald Tablet.

Anastasios is an Australian academic who started writing fiction back in 2014 when she co-wrote her first historical fiction novel, The Water Diviner, with her husband, Andrew Anastasios. This first book was fairly successful and was loosely adapted into a film of the same name featuring Russel Crowe. Last year, Meaghan Anastasios wrote her first solo novel, The Honourable Thief. The Honourable Thief serves as the first book in the Benedict Hitchens series, which follows the adventures of the series’ titular protagonist, Benedict Hitchens, an ambitious American archaeologist living in Turkey.

In The Honourable Thief, Hitchens, a respected academic and war hero, was seduced by the beautiful Eris, who showed him a fabulous collection of artefacts she had apparently recovered. The seduction and the artefacts were revealed to be part of an elaborate con which ended up ruining Hitchens’s academic reputation and forced him to live a life of exile in Istanbul. The incident also provided Hitchens with a series of clues which eventually leads him to the hidden tomb of Achilles. However, this was revealed to be part of a further con: while he was able to find the tomb, Eris and her employer, Garvé, a man who Hitchens had significant history with during World War II, subsequently stole the tomb’s greatest treasure, the Shield of Achilles.

Now, a year later in 1956, Hitchens’s excavation of Achilles’s tomb has helped restore his academic reputation, and his life is back on track. However, he has never forgotten Eris, who still has a hold on his heart even after she betrayed him. When he finds out that Eris, now calling herself Essie, is in Istanbul researching a rare and ancient document, he decides to investigate what she is up to. He quickly discovers that she and Garvé are searching for the Emerald Tablet, a legendary artefact rumoured to hold powerful alchemical secrets that could alter the world.

Determined to keep the Emerald Tablet out of Garvé’s hands, Hitchens begins his own hunt for the tablet. With his friend the crooked antiques dealer Ilhan Aslan at his side, Hitchens follows a series of clues deep into the Middle East. However, this is a dangerous time, as tensions between Egypt, Israel and the European powers are at an all-time high. Hitchens and Aslan soon find that the Emerald Tablet’s trail leads them right into the middle of the chaotic Suez Canal crisis. With agents of the various world powers also searching for the tablet and a murderous assassin following Hitchens’s every move, can he recover the tablet before it is too late, or will Garvé once again outsmart him? And what will happen when Hitchens once again comes face-to-face with the woman who stole his heart?

This was a fantastic follow-up to Anastasios’s first solo novel, and the author has done a great job continuing the story from the first Benedict Hitchens book. The Emerald Tablet has a fast-paced and exciting story focused on the search for an intriguing artefact and featuring an interesting look at a major historical event of the 1950s. In addition, Anastasios tries out some new storytelling methods and a focus on one of the villains from the first novel, which work well to create a fascinating overall narrative. All of this results in an amazing book which I had a fun time reading.

While the first book in the series, The Honourable Thief, employed several separate timelines spread out through the book, Anastasios chose a different format for The Emerald Tablet. This second book is told in a linear way, with the events occurring in a chronological order. This time, however, the story is told from the perspectives of Hitchens and Eris/Essie, who show two different sides of the hunt for the Emerald Tablet.

I really enjoyed the central hunt for the Emerald Tablet that formed the main part of the book. Not only has Anastasios chosen an absolutely fascinating artefact for all the characters to chase but she has created a compelling archaeological and historical mystery surrounding its hidden location. The point-of-view characters are forced to follow a series of elaborate historical clues, many of which can be interpreted in different ways thanks to historical context or locations. Having the two-separate point-of-view characters works incredibly well for this part of the story, as both Hitchens and Eris receive different hints or have conflicting interpretations of the same historical clues, which results in them searching in different locations. This central story is filled with a number of great twists and betrayals, and I quite liked how the protagonists had to contend with agents of the various world powers who have an interest in the tablet for their own ends. Agents of the American, Soviet, British, Israeli and Turkish governments all have a role to play in the adventure, as well as agents of the central antagonist, Garvé. Not only does this increase the action and intrigue of the book but it also raises the stakes of the hunt for the artefact. The reader is constantly left guessing about the location and nature of the artefact Hitchens is hunting for. This was an excellent central narrative for this book, and I had a great time exploring this new archaeological mystery.

Just like she did with The Honourable Thief, Anastasios has chosen a fascinating treasure that the book’s various characters are trying to locate. The Emerald Tablet is an intriguing item out of history and mythology, which is rumoured to hold the secrets to transmutation. The author does a fantastic job of exploring the various myths and theories about the origins and nature of the tablet and the reader gets a great idea of its potential and why it has been hidden. It was a great summary of such an intriguing and unique item from history, especially as the author plays up the mystical side of the whole artefact. There are also outright hints that magic or alchemy, especially the alchemical transmutation of the Emerald Tablet, are real in this universe, which not only makes this story just that little more entertaining, but it could result in some fun adventures in the future. The whole mystical angle also allowed the author to explore some of the occultist groups of the early 20th century, such as the followers of Aleister Crowley, who was quite a peculiar historical figure. Readers will find all of this incredibly riveting, and I felt that these curious subjects added a lot of interest to the overall story.

Anastasios’s use of historical Turkey and Crete was one of the highlights of The Honourable Thief, and I loved that she has once again chosen another captivating historical setting to use as the backdrop for this sequel. While the author does set a bit of The Emerald Tablet in Turkey, this book also explores the Suez Crisis of 1956, as the point-of-view characters spend time in Egypt and Israel and witness some of the crisis firsthand. Most of the course of the war is shown through the excellent use of realistic newspaper clippings set at the front several chapters that showcase how the situation between Egypt, Israel, France, England, the United States and other nations broke down and led to conflict. However, the accounts from Hitchens and Eris reveal that parts of the crisis where instigated as a cover for some of the sides to attempt to seize the Emerald Tablet. This makes for a fun tweak to history which fits the rest of the story quite well. The use of two separate point-of-view characters also allowed for a broader vision of the crisis, as one character mostly viewed it from Egypt, while the other saw it from within Israel, and both characters interacted with members of the country who had opinions about the upcoming conflict. I once again really enjoyed Anastasios’s use of 1950s historical settings, especially the Suez Crisis, and I feel it is one of the best parts of her Benedict Hitchens books.

There is a lot of good character work included in The Emerald Tablet. Not only do we finally get a close look at the mysterious character from the first book, Eris, but we get to further explore the psyche of Hitchens following the traumatic events of the previous book. Eris’s background is revealed in this book and it is a pretty interesting tale. I really enjoyed seeing her side of the story in this book. Not only does it allow the author to showcase this character’s past and her association with the villainous Garvé but we also get to see her motivations for the actions in this book and The Honourable Thief, including her feelings for Hitchen’s following her betrayal of him. Hitchens was already a fairly emotionally damaged character in the first book due to the death of his wife during World War II. However, Eris’s betrayal in the previous book has also had a marked impact on him, and he is obsessed with finding her again. This becomes one of his main motivations in The Emerald Thief, and he goes to extreme lengths to try and claim the tablet before she does, partially to frustrate her and partially in case it leads him to her. Their eventual meeting is an excellent part of the book, and we finally get to see how their relationship might be without the manipulations of Garvé. Certain complications will likely make this relationship an intriguing part of any future books in the series, and I look forward to them reuniting again. Can I also say: thank goodness that Hitchens wised up a little in this book. After some serious blunders from the genius archaeologist in the first book, I was glad that it took a little more to fool him this time.

I feel the need to comment on some of the rather racy scenes that Anastasios included in this book which may prove to be a bit surprising for some readers. Not only is there a rather disturbing ritualistic orgy as part of the story but there was a rather explicit scene in the first few pages of the book that nearly threw me off right at the start. I personally thought that these scenes were a bit unnecessary and somewhat distracting from the main story, but there were some plot reasons for them, and the rest of the story is really enjoyable.

Overall, The Emerald Tablet is an extremely entertaining novel, which does a superb job building on the foundations of the first book in the series. Anastasios has done an outstanding job combining together a fascinating archaeological mystery with emotional character work and an excellent historical setting. The Emerald Tablet is an amazing read, and I look forward to seeing what crazy artefact Benedict Hitchens attempts to find in his next book.

Master of Sorrows by Justin Call

Master of Sorrows Cover

Publisher: Gollancz (Trade Paperback format – 21 February 2019)

Series: The Silent Gods – Book 1

Length: 576 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

I have been looking forward to reading and reviewing Master of Sorrows for a while now.  I previously mentioned this book in one of my Waiting on Wednesday articles, which got a fair amount of attention, which I took as a sign of some interest from the general fantasy fandom.  The intriguing-sounding plot also made me extremely eager to check this book out, so I was very happy when I received a copy of it from Hachette Australia.  In the end I found Master of Sorrows to be a terrific piece of fantasy fiction and an outstanding debut from first-time author Justin Call.

The world of Luquatra has known much chaos and turmoil throughout its long history as three elder gods and their followers have battled for supremacy.  But now with the dark god Keos banished from the land, the greatest concern for many is the presence of magic.  The ancient and hidden Academy of Chaenbalu has long been a bastion against all things magic and will go to extreme lengths to achieve its primary objective of finding and containing the vast number of magical artefacts scattered throughout Luquatra.  No artefact, no matter its strength or intended purpose, can be allowed to remain outside the control of the Academy, as even those artefacts created for good can be used for great evil.

In order to fulfil this sacred work, the Academy trains all the children of Chaenbula in the arts of combat and magical detection.  Only the best students will become Avatars, warrior thieves capable of infiltrating any location and making away with the hidden artefacts.  Most importantly, an Avatar is trained to resist the lure of magic and the corruption of Keos.

Annev de Breth has always dreamed of becoming an Avatar and is determined to pass the Academy’s tests.  However, Annev is different from every other student at the Academy; trained by the town’s mysterious priest, Annev has an affinity for magic and hides a secret disfigurement that would see him immediately put to death.  Caught between the warring ideologies of the man who raised him and the head of the Academy, Annev needs to decide what kind of man he wants to be while navigating the complex politics of Chaenbalu.  But ancient powers are rising from the past, and it soon becomes apparent that Annev might not be the hero of this story; instead, he may be the man destined to unleash Keos once more upon Luquatra.

As I mentioned above, Master of Sorrows is author Justin Call’s debut novel.  It is also the first book in his The Silent Gods series, which is going to be made up of four books.  Call has already announced that each of the three upcoming books will be released in late February of each year for the next three years, with this series set to wrap up in February 2022.  This first book is an ambitious introduction to series that does a fantastic job of setting up the main story, as well as introducing the reader to an intriguing new fantasy universe.

I really enjoyed the story contained within Master of Sorrows, as it is well paced out and contains some fantastic moments.  The first part of the book features Annev attempting to pass the Academy’s tests in order to become an Avatar.  I love a good magical school storyline, and this one is pretty fantastic, featuring some unique, complex and entertaining testing sequences, as well as an introduction to the complex and restrictive life within the Academy.  The rest of the book is extremely exciting and eventful as the protagonist learns more about the threats and complex world outside of Chaenbalu, and even embarks on a dangerous mission where he encounters a series of mysterious threats.  This all leads up to the book’s spectacular conclusion, which not only sets the scene for all manner of adventures in the future but also results in some interesting character development while also setting up several dangerous new antagonists with personal grudges against the main character.

One of my favourite things about the plot is the general intrigue and hypocrisy surrounding the Academy of Chaenbalu.  The Academy is framed as some ultimate bastion of good in the world, opposing the evils of magic and Keos.  However, as the book progresses, the reader, through the protagonist’s eyes, begins to see that everything about the Academy is more complex and morally ambiguous than it first appears, resulting in a number of powerful story developments.  For example, in this universe, any disfigurement or disability is viewed as a mark of the dark god Keos’s favour, and people who bear them, especially those born with some sort of disfigurement, are shunned or killed.  These rules are especially enforced within the Academy, and Annev is forced to hide his disability to stay alive.  Watching a basically good character be vilified for something outside of his control makes the reader lose trust in most of the characters associated with the Academy.  It is also very thrilling to see the lengths the protagonist will go to in order to hide his disfigurement and try to live a normal life within Chaenbalu, knowing that his secret could be discovered at any turn.  The reader is also left questioning the Academy’s many archaic rules, as these rules and blind obedience are particularly frustrating to the protagonist, who chafes at the restrictions and is constantly questioning everything.  There are also a huge number of different plots and schemes occurring within the Academy, with many of the characters having secret allegiances and plans, many of which come to the surface by the end of the book.  All of these elements are fantastic, and they really add a keen edge of intrigue and thoughtfulness to an already captivating story.

Within Master of Sorrows, Call introduces his readers to a deep and enjoyable new fantasy universe that serves as an excellent basis for his story.  While the author does make an effort to set up a much larger world, the vast majority of the story is set in and around the village of Chaenbalu, which houses the Academy.  As I have mentioned before, I loved the Academy as a setting, but some of the other locations are also intriguing, such as the massive magical forest that surrounds the town.  I really loved the overall setting of the gods and magic within this world, especially when it comes to people’s perceptions about them, as they have some fantastic impacts on the story.  Call spends a bit of time expanding on the mythology of this world’s main gods, telling their stories and explaining the impacts that they had on the world.  These are quite interesting, especially as the stories they tell reveal that the conflicts of the gods were just as complex as the issues occurring within the Academy.  The author has also come up with some fun and dangerous new fantasy creatures, mostly as servants of the god Keos.  These creatures have some great scenes, especially towards the end of the book, and I look forward to seeing more of them and this intriguing new world throughout the rest of The Silent Gods series.

I really need to the hype up some of the incredible action sequences featured within Master of Sorrows.  Call has created several exceptional extended action scenes within this book, including two intricate tests within the Academy, where the students must overcome not only each other but also the various obstacles set up against them.  These testing scenes are extremely elaborate and feature some interesting rules and opposition.  I loved reading these scenes, and it was great watching the protagonist try to complete them his way.  In addition to these testing scenes, there is also a great magic based combat sequence featured later in the book, where the protagonist and his companions must overcome all manner of magical traps and attacks in order to complete their objective.  This scene is massive in terms of destruction and brutality featured and was an excellent addition to the book.  As a result, readers who love a good amount of thrilling action in their fantasy stories should definitely check this book out as Call demonstrates a real skill for creating unique and captivating fantasy action sequences.

Master of Sorrows is an amazing debut from new author Justin Call, who has done a wonderful job setting up a fresh and intriguing new fantasy series.  This first book in the planned The Silent Gods series has some awesome and memorable plot points and features a thrilling and captivating action-packed adventure.  Call has certainly set himself up as a fantasy author to watch, and I am extremely eager to see where this story goes next.  I cannot wait to check out the second book in The Silent Gods series.

Deep Silence by Jonathan Maberry

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Publishers: St. Martins Griffin

                        Macmillan Audio

Publication Date – 30 October 2018

 

From horror legend Jonathan Maberry comes the 10th book in his weird-science based horror, thriller, science fiction Joe Ledger series, which takes the reader on a wild joyride through a world gone mad in this five-star adventure.

I have to admit that Maberry is not an author that I have had much experience with before.  The only work of his I have previously read was a fun short story that was featured in a volume of zombie short stories he jointly edited with George A. Romero in 2017 that I previously reviewed here.  However, I am extremely happy that I decided to check out this latest book as it exposed me to this incredible series, which I enjoyed immensely.  I can think of no greater praise for this novel then to say that upon finishing it, I immediately dropped everything and started reading the first book in the series, Patient Zero, which I will be reviewing in the next few weeks as part of my Throwback Thursday series.

I chose to listen to Deep Silence on audiobook rather than read a physical copy.  The audiobook format of this book is just under 16½ hours long and is narrated by Ray Porter, who has worked on several other books in the series.

In this latest book, a Russian splinter group have developed a powerful weapon with pieces of alien crystal seeded throughout the planet.  This new weapon can cause devastating earthquakes on a level never before seen and has the potential to destroy the entirety of the United States.  The weapon also has a chilling side effect: it causes people around the epicentre of the quake to engage in violent acts of madness, from suicide to ferocious attacks on others.  The first attack targets Washington, with mass violence erupting around the Capitol building.

America’s only hope may be the top-secret rapid response organisation, the Department of Military Sciences (DMS).  For years, the DMS has been the only line of defence against the insane science America’s enemies are utilising and developing in this new age of wonders.  From deadly diseases, ancient forbidden technologies, extreme acts of genetic manipulation, the latest forms of cyber and electronic attack, and even weaponised zombies, the DMS, led in the field by Captain Joe Ledger, has managed to stop all these threats and more.  Utilising the latest military and espionage equipment and the best and brightest soldiers and scientists America has to offer, the DMS operates just outside the government and can go further than any other agency can.

However, while the DMS attempts to combat this latest threat, they find themselves hindered by a megalomaniac President whose stupidity and paranoia make him more afraid of the DMS than the group unleashing earthquakes across his country.  As Joe and his team attempt to hunt down the origins of this attack they must contend not only with a dangerous Russian force but also with agents of their own Government and devices that can drive even the most dedicated DMS agent insane.  But as the Russians attempt to force the eruption of the Yellowstone caldera, the greatest threat may come from the creatures the technology was stolen from.

Deep Silence is the 10th book in Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, which started in 2009 with Patient Zero.  Maberry has been writing since 2006, with his debut book Ghost Road Blues forming the first book in the Pine Deep Trilogy.  Since then, Maberry has written a huge number of books, most of which have a horror theme or focus.  Apart from his Joe Ledger series, Maberry is probably best known for his Rot & Ruin series, a young adult zombie apocalypse series.  Aside from his fictional novels, Maberry has also written several comics for Marvel as well of a number of non-fiction books, which tend to focus on Maberry’s passions for martial arts and the supernatural.

Deep Silence is an exceptional book that combines together a number of genres, including science fiction, thriller, horror, military fiction and spy thrillers into one very captivating narrative.  The end result is a non-stop thrill ride that perfectly utilises the series’s bizarre nature and advanced science to create a devastating threat and a larger-than-life protagonist to face it.  There are so many amazing elements to this book, from its continuation of an enjoyable series, to the very weird elements that come into play, to the excellent writing style and enjoyable characters.  Once I started reading this book I just could not stop, and it is easily one of my favourite books of this year.

From what I understand, the Joe Ledger series started off mostly focusing on the mad sciences that humans are able to create and use against each other.  However, in recent books, the series has taken on a more Lovecraftian vibe, with unknown aliens, space demons and incredibly insane technology.  Deep Silence in particular seems to relate back to several of these previous alien technology based novels, as the devices, technology and motives that the book’s antagonists utilise are closely related to the adventures that occurred in previous books.  That being said, there is still the continuous use of more advanced human technologies utilised by many of the book’s characters, especially those working for the DMS.  All the crazy gadgets that they use are pretty impressive, but none (with one or two major exceptions) are outside the realm of possibility and reflect technologies that could potentially exist.  Indeed, in the introduction to Patient Zero, Maberry actually confirms that most of the technology he describes in his books is currently used or could soon be used by intelligence organisations around the world today.

One of the challenges of coming into a series late is the reader’s lack of knowledge about the universe’s background information, lore and the development of its main characters and the extent of their relationships.  Maberry does an incredible job bridging this gap throughout Deep Silence, providing the reader with descriptions of previous events, recaps of character descriptions and history and making use of a number of references to previous missions and adventures captured in the other books in the Joe Ledger series.  There are also a number of scenes that appeared to be callbacks to previous books, although the author was able to describe the pertinent details of these events.  As a result, I was never lost at any point and really appreciated the recaps and detailed descriptions the book’s various point-of-view characters provided throughout the novel.  It also made me very curious about some of the previous books in the franchise, and I am now very interested in checking out some of these insane and fun-sounding adventures.  As a result, Deep Silence is an excellent book if you want to get an idea of what the Joe Ledger series is all about.  At the same time, established fans of this long-running series will be interested to see the significant changes that occur to the book’s main characters, as well as the scenes detailing where the series will potentially be going in the future.

One of the things that I really enjoyed about Deep Silence was the way that Maberry presents the book’s narrative from multiple perspectives and across a range of different time periods.  Because of this, the reader is given a far wider view of the overall narrative.  Not only do they get to see the protagonists attempting to investigate and stop what is going on, but they get to see the antagonists coming up with their plans, discovering and researching their doomsday device over a period of years and then implementing their mission.  This also allows the reader to get a far deeper understanding of the antagonist’s objectives and mindscapes in committing these acts and what it costs them mentally and emotionally.  Nearly all the fun and eccentric characters working in the DMS get a few scenes told from their point of view.  This provides the reader with some high level, but easy to follow, scientific discussions, hacking sequences and the utilisation of incredibly exciting-sounding advanced espionage technology.  There is also a focus within Deep Silence of the politics around and behind the DMS, and how the organisation’s leader, the mysterious Mr Church (who is totally an alien, right?), deals with these situations.

While all of the other point-of-view characters are entertaining and it is intriguing to view their sides of the story, the best character has to be the series’s main protagonist, Joe Ledger.  Ledger is the extremely dangerous and slightly disturbed leader of the DMS field team, and has been at the forefront of all the adventures in this series.  It is interesting to note that Ledger is the only character in this book whose story is told from the first person perspective, which is fortunate because Ledger is one of the biggest smartasses in fiction, especially within the privacy of his head.  Nearly every single piece of the book told from Ledger’s point of view is filled with jokes, wisecracks, and exaggerated or sarcastic thoughts.  Ledger has some incredibly humorous observations about the world around him, especially the eccentric characters he encounters, and his thoughts are just as likely to be self-deprecating as they are to be insulting about the people he has to deal with.  He is also an eccentric being who does some incredibly funny things, from having fun with his opponents to humming the Mission Impossible theme as he breaks into a safe.  However, beneath this humorous exterior there is a deeply damaged character who is severely impacted by events that have occurred before and during this series.  Maberry spends significant time diving into this character’s history and psyche, which quickly gives the reader, even readers previously unfamiliar with the series, a good understanding of his life and the events that define him.  His deep and fractured mind becomes a key part of this story, especially when it encounters mind-altering alien crystal and events beyond the realm of human comprehension.  All of this helps create an amazing and incredibly relatable central character whom the reader becomes incredibly drawn to, and as a result, Ledger is one of the best things about this book.  Special mention should also be given to Ledger’s combat dog Ghost, who appears in nearly all the same scenes as Ledger and is just as much of an enjoyable character as his owner.

While the mad science elements and characters are great, Maberry has also ensured that this is the perfect book for those action junkies looking for fast-paced thrills.  Ledger is an absolute beast throughout this book and engages in a number of fantastic fights in a variety of different scenarios.  Maberry channels his love of martial arts through this character and includes a number of detailed and very quick fight scenes as Ledger dismantles his opponents with efficient skill.  The other characters are no slouches and there are number of great action sequences I enjoyed.  Two of my favourites have to be two separate and extended sequences which see Ledger and DMS’s Echo Team engage in massive fire fights with a range of opponents.  These scenes are absolutely incredible and make the reader feel like they are really in the middle of a gun battle.  The author takes pains to try and highlight how methodical and calm professional teams can be during battles while also highlighting the various strategies and combat advantages used.  The multiple perspectives come into play here perfectly, as the different members of Echo Team engage in various encounters around the main battle, really highlighting what an effective special ops team can accomplish in the field.  Maberry enhances the fun and the action to a crazy degree by also utilising the advanced technology available to the DMS agents.  This not only includes some insane and deadly weaponry, which is very cool in action, but also other pieces of advanced technology such as drones, body armour, goggles, and enhancements for Ghost that help turn the battles into massive and enjoyable set pieces.

Nothing, however, can top the sheer insanity that unfolds when the book’s antagonists unleash their super weapon against the world.  Maberry’s descriptive and skilled writing really brings these scenes to life.  The sheer devastation of the earthquakes that he describes is just incredible and very disturbing.  But nothing is more crazy or electrifying then the scenes where the people who are affected by the strange energy given off by the weapon go insane and start participating in a violent rampage against themselves or against each other.  Maberry pulls no punches here and all the violence is on full display, from terrible acts of violence against anyone around them to disturbing suicides or episodes of self-harm.  In many of these scenes the author attempts to get into the head of these characters and watch them slowly unfold from within.  This mostly prevalent with his protagonist, Joe Ledger, but other characters’ thoughts are shown.  Let’s just say you’ll never look at the Beatles song Revolution 9 the same again.  The biggest example of this insanity happens around the Capitol building in Washington DC, and quite frankly it reminded me of the church scene in Kingsman: The Secret Service, with the protagonists stuck in the middle of a crazy mob.

One of the more intriguing parts of Deep Silence is the side character of the President of the United States of America.  While this character is never explicitly named in the book, he is clearly supposed to be a Trump analogue.  The character is an easily manipulated, short-tempered, Twitter-obsessed moron who puts his own needs far above those of the country he is governing.  The resemblance to Trump is uncanny, and Maberry does an incredible job mirroring his arrogance and personality throughout the book.  While this character is a great addition by itself, Maberry spends a lot of time exploring how a character like this would deal with the advanced technology and extreme catastrophes that are a major part of this series.  The results are frustrating for the reader as they are forced to sit there and watch this character make all the wrong decisions and serve his own agenda or self-interest.  It was also very intriguing watching this President go up against the DMS as he routinely targets the department out of fear and ignorance.  The new political reality of Washington becomes a major factor throughout Deep Silence, and Maberry is understandably critical about how things are being run and the insanity currently gripping Washington.  It was very interesting to see Maberry incorporate the current unpredictable political reality of America into his new book, and readers will be very intrigued to see how this might impact the future of his long-running series.

I listened to the audiobook version of Deep Silence, narrated by Ray Porter.  The audiobook version does go for over 16 hours, so it’s one of the longer ones I have listened to lately.  That being said, due to its exceptional content, I found myself making a variety of excuses just to keep listening to this audiobook, and got through it very quickly.  The audiobook is an incredible way to experience this book, and I would highly recommend it, mainly because of Ray Porter’s narration.  Porter absolutely nails all of the characters and provides a number of amazing voices to fully capture the diverse accents and attitudes of this eccentric group of characters.  I was particularly enthralled with the calm, cool voice he gifted to the DMS Director, Mr Church, which really reminded me of Tom Hanks’s voice.  Special mention should also be given to his narration of the President.  The narrator created a fantastic Trump-like voice that fully conveyed the character’s high opinion of himself, as well as his dismissive and arrogant nature.  I actually had a visceral reaction when I heard that voice the first time, it was that good.  Porter’s narration for Joe Ledger was also perfect, as he does an incredible job portraying Ledger’s high-energy musings and the full tone of his personality.  Porter’s voice peaks and rises to meet the full intent of any of Ledger’s sentences, and he is a master at conveying Ledger’s innate sarcasm.  At the same time, he is also able to make his voice more serious and subdued during the darker scenes in which Ledger is deep within his head or his memories.  This is sterling work from Porter, and one of the best audiobook narrations I have ever listened to.  As a result, I highly recommend that the audiobook version of Deep Silence as the best way to experience this novel.

Bestselling author Jonathan Maberry once again takes his audience on a captivating thrill ride in the Joe Ledger Series.  Deep Silence provides the reader with an extraordinary and very engrossing story that proves extremely hard to put down.  Equally enjoyable for established fans of this long-running series and new readers who have yet to experience Maberry’s work, readers can and will have an incredible amount of fun with this book.  Best enjoyed in audiobook format, Deep Silence is guaranteed to make you a dedicated fan of the author and easily gets a five-star rating from me.

My Rating:

Five Stars

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett

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Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Publication Date – 28 August 2018

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

Absolute Proof by Peter James

Absolute Proof Cover.jpg

Publisher: Macmillan

Publication Date – 25 September 2018

 

From one of the most pre-eminent authors of thrillers and murder mysteries comes this deeply spiritual book that spins a dangerous hunt for secrets around a strong and intriguing story of human belief and the search for religious proof.

Investigative reporter Ross Hunter has covered many world events and news items in his storied career, from warzones to crooked politicians.  But perhaps his most dangerous story might be his most bizarre.  Picking up the phone one day, he is brought into contact with Dr Harry Cook, who has a remarkable tale.  Cook believes that he has received a communication directly from God and has been gifted with three sets of coordinates that will provide the world with absolute proof of God’s existence.  This message has also instructed Cook to contact Ross and utilise his skills to spread Cook’s discoveries to the world.

Ross is naturally sceptical of this story, but certain facts that Cook knows convince him to dig a little deeper into the man’s claims and read the elaborate religious writings that he has created and left with him.  Unconvinced of the validity of Cook’s claims and about to drop his inquiries, Ross is stunned when he finds that the old man has been brutally murdered.  Could there be more to this story than Ross originally thought?

Travelling across the world to follow the coordinates, Ross finds hidden artefacts and relics which could reveal the second coming.  Still not convinced of the validity of these claims but unwilling to let go of this story, Ross investigates further and makes some startling discoveries that could shake the very foundations of the world’s collective faiths.  But Ross isn’t the only person interested in what Cook’s coordinates may uncover.  As various religious and spiritual organisations contact Ross about his findings, a powerful pharmaceutical company and a rich television evangelist have despicable plans for whatever Ross uncovers, and they are willing to kill anyone to get it.

James is one of the United Kingdom’s most experienced and prolific authors of crime fiction, with significant works in both the movie and book worlds.  In his career as a novelist, he has published nearly 35 novels since his 1981 debut.  Of particular note is his Roy Grace series of books, which focuses on the investigations of the titular Brighton based detective.  James has written 14 Roy Grace novels since 2005, including the May 2018 release, Dead if you Don’tAbsolute Proof is an intriguing piece of literature from James, as it combines an exciting and captivating thriller with an in-depth story of religion.  This is a standalone book from James, and is apparently based on a real phone conversation the author had back in 1989.

Absolute Proof contains an amazing and exciting thriller storyline that follows its protagonist, Ross Hunter, as he attempts to uncover one of the greatest mysteries of all time: whether God actually exists.  Following a series of vague clues that are mostly made up of geographical coordinates, Ross must uncover three specific items or locations that could combine into definitive proof of the divine.  The various investigative techniques and problem-solving that the protagonist utilises to uncover the clues left to him and solve the overall mystery are well written, very clever and result in a very unique and thought-provoking conclusion.  The protagonist’s quest for answers is complicated by the various groups and individuals that are attempting to hamper, compromise or misappropriate the results of his investigation and are targeting Ross and the other people associated with this case.  As a result, there is quite a lot action and excitement as these various groups attempt to attack or steal from Ross and he finds ways to get out these situations.  There are several intense and action-packed scenes where Ross must escape from thugs wielding guns from a helicopter, physical attackers and several vans attempting to run him off the road.  In addition to all these direct attacks, Ross is also being constantly tracked through a variety of electronic and physical techniques and must find ways to try and avoid them.  There is an interesting look at some DYI anti-espionage techniques as Ross attempts to outwit these various professionals with some limited success.  All of this comes together into quite the captivating narrative with lots to keep the reader glued to the page.

The overall story of Absolute Proof is mostly focussed around this massive religious mystery and the attempt to undermine it.  James has provided the reader with a lot of backstory and motivations for several of the book’s characters.  Much of these personal histories are intriguing and provide the reader with explanations about why the protagonist and antagonists have an interest or obsession with the results of the central investigation.  It also goes into some detail attempting to explain why the protagonist is so determined to find out the truth and why he refuses to drop the story for any reason.  The deeper examination of the antagonist’s motivations is particularly absorbing.  While both groups come to be involved with the cases by different means, it is curious to see how their main focus becomes profiting from the possible existence of God.  Split perspectives also allow the reader to see the antagonist’s various plans and the myriad ways that they are attempting to control or corrupt Ross’s investigation and the results he is uncovering.  This is useful because for much of the book Ross is unaware of the identity of the groups opposing him, so the use of these multiple perspectives works well with the book’s overall narrative.

Due to the focus on the search for proof of God’s existence, the author has included a substantial look into the world’s religions and beliefs.  This is a significant part of the book, and the various in-text theological discussions are deeply fascinating.  The protagonist has a numerous discussions with various religious individuals and attempts to work out what would constitute definitive and absolute proof of God’s existence in the modern era and how people from a variety of religions would react to someone uncovering this proof.  All of this proves to be a fantastic part of the book and it ensures that both the protagonist and the readers deeply consider the possible consequences of the central investigation of this story.  The author also examines the religious conviction or beliefs of many of the book’s main characters, including the main two antagonists.  This ties in nicely with the background motivations mentioned above, and it is fascinating to see how various people’s upbringings can impact their beliefs and future careers.  Overall, this in-depth and compelling discussion around religion and the focus on belief is an essential part of the story that works well with the book’s thriller storyline and creates an incredibly gripping narrative.

An interesting part of this book is the lack of really sympathetic characters in the story.  Most of the Absolute Proof’s main characters, including the antagonists and the protagonist’s wife, are fairly despicable characters that you can’t help but dislike.  However, the protagonist, Ross, isn’t too much better, as he becomes obsessed with the cases.  He dismisses all the concerns of his friends and families to follow his story no matter what, although he does have the time to get distracted by a cute girl he just met.  This does make it a bit hard to care about what happens to Ross at times, but luckily you tend to dislike the other characters a lot more.  The book’s antagonists’ stories do go in some interesting directions throughout the book, including a very surprising conclusion for one set of antagonists.

Peter James has delivered a deeply captivating and powerful mystery that sets his protagonist on an exhilarating journey around the world for the ultimate answer.  The narrative of people receiving and investigating coordinates that lead to definitive proof of God’s existence is really memorable and results in a very unique and interesting story.  The various religious discussions contained within this book turns into a surprisingly intriguing part of the story, and it is particularly fascinating to see James’s examinations of some of the world’s key religious beliefs.  Absolute Proof is a powerful and exciting book that expertly combines its thriller storyline with its deep and absorbing religious background to create a marvellous read that will leave you thinking about what you believe in.

My Rating:

Four stars