Star Wars: Doctor Aphra: Volume 6 – Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon

Doctor Aphra Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon

Publisher: Marvel Comics (Paperback – 10 December 2019)

Series: Doctor Aphra – Volume Six

Writer: Simon Spurrier

Pencilers: Wilton Santos, Caspar Wijngaard, Andrea Broccardo and Cris Bolson

Inkers: Marc Deering, Walden Wong and Scott Hanna

Colour Artists: Chris O’Halloran and Stephane Paitreau

Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna

Length: 112 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The most devious woman in the galaxy, Doctor Aphra, is back, and she’s got both side of the Galactic Civil War gunning for her in the sixth volume of one of the best Star Wars series out there. I have been meaning to review this volume since it first came out in December. However, I just picked up the seventh and final volume of the current run of Doctor Aphra, so I thought I would quickly review this volume first before I get around to that.

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Doctor Aphra is one of the few ongoing Star Wars comic book series that has been released in the last couple of years, and in my opinion it is one of the strongest Star Wars series out there. The Doctor Aphra comics are set in the period of time between the fourth and fifth Star Wars films (A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back), and follow the adventures of Doctor Chelli Aphra, renowned archaeologist, adventurer and master criminal. Aphra is an original character who was introduced in the first volume of the 2015 Darth Vader series, Vader, where she served as Darth Vader’s secret agent. Following the conclusion of the Darth Vader series, Aphra, who proved to be a very popular character, received her own spin-off series, which followed on after the events of Darth Vader and feature Aphra as she attempts to make money while trying to ensure Vader doesn’t find out that she is still alive. This series was initially written by one of the original creators of the Doctor Aphra character, Kieron Gillen, however, the second half of the series has been written by Simon Spurrier. Spurrier is the sole writer of this sixth volume of Doctor Aphra, which also features the artistic talent of a several talented artists.

In Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon, Aphra is up to her old tricks again. Despite only recently recovering from a life-threatening injury, Aphra has taken on a dangerous job robbing an alien robot death cult shrine with the help of her new sidekick and ward, Vulaada. However, while aboard the shrine, Aphra notices an ancient Jedi weapon, a sniper rifle that utilises lightsaber technology to kill opponents from vast distances. Unable to help herself, Aphra steals the rifle, starting a chaotic chain of events across the galaxy.

Already extremely unpopular with the Empire, this theft pops Aphra to the top of their most wanted list with a hefty bounty placed on her head. Captured by the Rebel Alliance first, Aphra learns that her stolen rifle is the key to a secret rebel superweapon that they plan to use to assassinate the Emperor. Sensing an opportunity to make some money and permanently get the Empire of her back, Aphra recruits her old associate, the Wookiee Black Krrsantan, in order to steal the rifle back from the Rebels. However, this puts her into conflict with her ex-girlfriend, Captain Tolvan, who is now working for Rebel Intelligence.

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As Aphra recovers the rifle and flees to the Empire, she finds herself face to face with the mysterious Imperial Minister for Propaganda and Misinformation, Pitina Voor, the woman behind the latest Imperial manhunt for Aphra. Voor has plans for her, and Aphra is right in the middle of a vast scheme involving both the Rebels and the Empire. However, no plan has ever survived contact with the good doctor, especially when Aphra has revenge on her mind.

Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon was a superb and outstanding addition to the excellent Doctor Aphra comics, and this might actually be one of the strongest volumes in the entire series. Author Simon Spurrier tells a tight and compelling story within this volume which not only dives back into the past of the series’ titular character but which also showcases new elements of both sides of the Galactic Civil War. You also see the welcome return of several of the best characters from the series, such as Black Krrsantan and Aphra’s love interest, Captain Tolvan, as well as the introduction of an intriguing new antagonist. Featuring issues #32 – 36 of the Doctor Aphra series, this volume is a riot from start to finish (hell, the last two pages are the best in the entire volume), and I really loved the captivating tale that Spurrier wove together in these issues, especially as it features the series trademark dark humour and the focus on its self-destructive and conniving main character.

At the centre of Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon lies an amazing narrative of schemes, plots and lies as Aphra is hunted and manipulated by elements of both the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Thanks to a recent archaeological theft, Aphra is thrust into the midst of a Rebel conspiracy to kill the Emperor and must decide what to do. Of course, Aphra being Aphra, she goes with the course of action that benefits herself the most and ends up backstabbing and manipulating both the Rebels and the Empire. This leads to some great scenes, including a heist aboard a Rebel spaceship and a sequence where Aphra hacks the entire Imperial communications system in order to sing her praises as an Imperial hero in order to avoid a summary execution. However, not everything is as it seems as the various sides are all trying to manipulate Aphra to their own ends, which results in a surprising number of different twists and turns (or as one character puts it “that is the most convoluted plan I’ve ever heard”). It was fascinating to see Aphra, the ultimate manipulator, being played by so many different sides, each of whom thinks they know how she is going to react. Aphra manages to end up on top, but it was cool to see the various ways she managed to get to the bottom of the plans surrounding her and use it to her own ends. Her motivations for doing so were really compelling, and it was amazing how the creative team had been building up to them throughout the course of the book. Of course, it doesn’t all end up Aphra’s way, and the end result of her schemes sees her come full circle to the last place she wants to be. This all makes for one hell of thrilling main storyline of intrigue and deception, and I really loved where all the twists and turns went.

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Just as with the rest of the entries in this series, one of the best things about the Doctor Aphra series is the titular character herself. Aphra is a complex and haunted character who seemingly lacks a moral code and will only do what is in her own best interest. The character has a rather flippant and disrespectful attitude, and most of this volume’s amazing humour is down to her clever quips and humorous observations amongst the more serious Star Wars characters. One of the things that I have really enjoyed about the Doctor Aphra series has been the examination of Aphra’s self-destructive tendencies and the way that she makes the lives of everyone she comes into contact with worse. This is continued once again in Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon, as she runs from one bad situation to the next, with her every action making her life and the lives of those around her infinity more miserable and more complicated, which makes for some very dramatic and emotional sequences. This is such an expected trait that many of the characters who Aphra has dealt with in the past or who have studied her actually expect her to make these bad or selfish decisions, and I really liked the way that this was a central plot point in the intrigue and espionage storyline. I also loved Aphra’s interactions with her love interest, Captain Tolvan, especially because, during their last meeting, Aphra purposely altered her memories to make her believe she had killed Aphra in a jealous rage. While Aphra did this with the best of intentions (it was the only way to save both Aphra and Tolvan from Vader), this has obviously had a major negative impact on their relationship, and Tolvan now actively loves and hates Aphra in equal measure and apparently has zero trust in her. This is one of the many things haunting Aphra in this volume, as she clearly knows the damage she has done to woman she loves: “I broke her heart. She’s too smart to ever help me again.” Of course, this fraught relationship is another part of the intrigue surrounding Aphra, and it was rather clever the ways in which both sides tried to manipulate Aphra through it.

In addition to the all the awesome character work happening with Aphra in the present, the readers of this volume are also treated to a look back at the characters past. In particular, you finally get to see Aphra’s mother for the first time and learn the tragic circumstances around her death. This has been hinted at for some time, all the way back to the second volume of the 2015 Darth Vader series, Shadows and Secrets. As a result, it was great to finally see the full extent of this character background, and it was fascinating to see what happened and how this has impacted on the personality of Aphra. I enjoyed the way in which the scenes from the past were mirrored in the scenes from the present, and I really liked the similarities in the way that Aphra was raised with the harsh way she is treating her new ward, Vulaada. I was also impressed by the way in which seemingly innocuous details from Aphra’s past suddenly had a big impact on her current story, and the creative team did a great job hinting about these impacts throughout the entire volume. All of this helps build up a much more complex story around the character that is Aphra, and I found this dive into her past to be extremely compelling.

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I also need to say how much I loved the parts of this book that featured Darth Vader, whose villainy and hatred for Aphra shine through in the few short scenes that he has. Aphra and Vader have a complicated history together, and Vader is desperate to kill Aphra once and for all (she’s faked her death on him a few times already), as she is the only living person in the galaxy who knows about his obsession with Luke Skywalker and his plans to overthrow the Emperor. Vader has two sequences in this book, both of which revolve around his determination to kill Aphra, no matter the perceived costs. While the first is really good, mainly due to Vader answering an Imperial officer’s request to state his rank with “Lord”, nothing quite beats the second appearance on the last two pages of the volume. After apparently beating all of her opponents, Aphra is sure of her safety due to her status as an Imperial hero, right up until Vader appears, lopping off heads with his lightsaber. The moment Aphra sees him, she knows she and Vulaada are dead, and she immediately hugs Vulaada and gets her to close her eyes. I really loved this scene, especially the resigned way in which she responds to Vulaada’s frantic belief that them being heroes is going to save them with “he doesn’t care”. This was a pretty outstanding end to the entire volume, and it was amazing to see the next chapter of the turbulent relationship between Aphra and Vader.

The Doctor Aphra series has always done a great job showing off several different sides of the Star Wars universe, including giving a closer look at parts of its criminal underbelly and its archaeological sector. However, in this book, we get to see new sides of both the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. In particular, we get to see the Empire’s Coalition for Progress, a sinister organisation led by new antagonist Pitina Voor that is dedicated to expanding and maintaining the Empire through manipulation, trickery and propaganda, rather than brute force. This is rather fascinating inclusion into the canon, and it was rather interesting to see a whole new side to the way that the Empire controlled the galaxy. Voor is also a rather intriguing character, with a unique vision for how the Empire should be run and maintained, and it was kind of fun to see her gripe about the PR problems that occur when you are being ruled by Sith Lords (I had to agree, the Emperor really isn’t adequately loveable). They also have a rather nifty little museum dedicated to some of the Empire’s greatest victories and propaganda coups, which the artistic team filled with several Easter eggs. I was also rather impressed by the way that the creative team explored the darker side of the Rebel Alliance by examining the covert and morally ambiguous actions of their intelligence agency. This is something that has been explored before in some other Star Wars entries, such as in Rogue One, but this volume of Doctor Aphra takes it to a new extreme with Rebel Intelligence apparently plotting to build a miniature Death Star in order to take out the Emperor and win the war. I rather liked this darker side of the Rebels, and it was interesting to see more of a Rebel organisation that uses less moral tactics to achieve their goals.

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Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon features the work of several different artists, each of whom worked on a couple of different issues within the volume, which results in an interesting combination of styles. This means that this volume of Doctor Aphra contains a range of different art styles and techniques across the various issues. I actually liked the myriad changes that occurred issue to issue, and it was fantastic to see the different styles and artistic ideas that this large team produced. This volume contains some rather impressive and beautifully drawn scenes and sequences, which fit perfectly around Spurrier’s compelling story and which work really well together. The end result is a fantastically drawn and executed comic, which is a delight to look at.

This sixth volume of the always entertaining and incredible Doctor Aphra series, Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon, is an outstanding addition to the series, and it is one that I had an amazing time reading. This volume contains a complex plot of intrigue and doublecrosses, which sets the loveably dysfunctional protagonist down another road of self-destruction and manipulation in order to survive. Filled with some excellent and memorable story moments, and an incredible conclusion to this volume’s key storyline, Unspeakable Rebel Superweapon is relentlessly entertaining and endlessly captivating, and I had an absolute ball unwrapping it. A highly recommended read; if you have not read any Doctor Aphra yet, then you are missing out!

Throwback Thursday – Star Wars: Darth Vader (2015): Volume 2 – Shadows and Secrets

Darth Vader - Shadows and Secrets

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Writer: Kieron Gillen

Artist: Salvador Larroca

Colourist: Edgar Delgado

Publication Date: 5 January 2016

Length: 136 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

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For my latest Throwback Thursday, I take a look at the second volume of the 2015 Darth Vader series, Shadows and Secrets. This is a superb and fantastic addition to a series which I honestly consider to be one the best overall pieces of Star Wars fiction out there, as it continues to explore the complex character that is Darth Vader.

Following the events of the first volume of this series, Vader, Darth Vader now knows that the mysterious Rebel pilot who destroyed the Death Star is actually his son, Luke Skywalker, and that the Emperor has been lying to him for years. This revelation, combined with the fact that the Emperor is forcing him to compete for his favour with the scientific creations of the cybernetic genius Cylo, has crystallised Vader’s rage, and he is now determined to overthrow the Emperor and rule the Empire with his son. To that end, he has commanded his new agents, the rogue archaeologist Doctor Aphra and her two murderous droids, Triple Zero and BT-1, to gather the resources needed to pursue his agendas.

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Whilst Aphra and her criminal contacts do their work for him, Vader must appear to obey the commands of his new superior officer, Grand General Tagge. His latest mission from Tagge requires him to find out who stole a massive consignment of credits that the Empire recently seized from crime lords in the Outer Rim. There is just one problem: Aphra and a small group of bounty hunters stole the credits on his behalf. Vader attempts to cover up his involvement in the crime and lead the investigation away from Aphra. However, the arrival of his new aide, the brilliant Inspector Thanoth, may prove troublesome, as Thanoth’s investigation leads him in all the right directions.

However, despite the importance of Vader’s plans within the Empire, his main concern is the search for his son. Needing to locate and corrupt Luke before the Emperor finds out who he is, he tasks Aphra with not only finding his son’s location but to also find and silence the one person who knew that Luke was actually born. As Vader does all he can to keep Thanoth from finding Aphra and incriminating himself, he finds himself walking a fine line between victory and destruction. With new rivals and both the Empire and the Rebellions seemingly against him, can even Darth Vader get what he wants?

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Well this was another fantastic bit of Star Wars fiction! The first thing that I do have to admit is that Shadows and Secrets is probably my least favourite volume in the entire 2015 Darth Vader series. However, this is only because every other volume in this series is just so incredible that this one suffers a little in comparison. That being said, I absolutely loved this second volume as it contains an excellent story, some great moments, fantastic characters and some impressive artwork. Containing issues #7-12 of the Darth Vader series, Gillen and Larroca have done an incredible job with this second volume, and I still consider it to be a five-star read.

One of the best things about Shadows and Secrets is Gillen’s outstanding story, which continues some of the tantalising threads from the first volume while also introducing some great new elements. Gillen sets out a clever, well-paced story that is filled with all manner of action, adventure and intrigue, as Vader begins his duplicitous actions within the Empire, attempting to amass the resources he needs for his projects without drawing the suspicion of either his rivals in the Imperial hierarchy or his new superior. Most of the story contained within this volume is fairly self-contained, featuring a fantastic heist sequence and the subsequent fallout from this event. This fallout mostly revolves around Vader’s investigation into his own heist, which he attempts to cover up from his new aide, Inspector Thanoth. Thanoth is a genius detective of Sherlockian talents who was quickly able to get to the truth of the matter and find the culprit of the heist, despite Vader’s vest efforts. I really enjoyed this whole investigation element to the book, especially as it was fun watching Vader routinely sabotage his own investigation, often by killing any and all potential witnesses, only to have Thanoth easily breeze through these obstacles. Thanoth turned out to be an excellent new addition to this series, and I really enjoyed the intriguing partnership he formed with Vader, especially as he plays a dangerous game by continuously hinting that he knows Vader is behind the theft. This turned out to be quite an amazing and enjoyable storyline, and I really appreciated Gillen’s perfect blend of humour and serious storylines throughout the volume.

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I also loved the continued focus on Vader’s obsessive hunt for Luke Skywalker, which has taken on a new edge now that he knows he is his son. While he was already searching for him in the first volume, now that he realises who he really is, Vader decides to protect his identity and the find out the whole truth behind his birth. This is shown in the first part of Issue #7, in which Vader and Aphra visit both the Lars Homestead and Ben Kenobi’s hovel on Tatooine, where he tries to gleam some knowledge from both houses about his son, before setting off a molecular bomb to erase all useful forensic evidence. Shortly after this, Vader than sets Aphra a task of finding and interrogating a former mortician from Naboo who prepared Padme Amidala’s body for her funeral, including setting up a hologram to make it appear that she was still pregnant. This tuned out to be an outstanding sequence, as the mortician, who has a huge amount of personal loyalty towards Amidala, at first refuses to provide any information about his work, before being tortured and confirming the existence of a child. While this admission is a betrayal of his beloved Queen that clearly costs the former mortician a lot, he is able to do one last act of service for her by not revealing any details about the second child, Leia. I thought that this scene was amazing, and I liked how it helped explain how Vader was aware of Luke’s existence and status as his child, but not that he also had a daughter. I also appreciated Gillen’s focus on the loyalty the inhabitants of Naboo had to Amidala, even in death, which was even able to move the cynical Aphra. Her subsequent mention to Vader of how Amidala must have really been something was a nice touch, as Vader’s subdued and hidden reaction hints at his continuing deep feelings towards his long-dead wife. I really liked this focus on the search for Luke, as not only does it makes sense in the context of the movies, but it also showcases the lengths Vader was willing to go to find and protect his son, and it leads to the best sequence in the entire volume.

I personally really enjoyed how the creative team continued to show off Vader as a dangerous and vicious powerhouse in this volume. While it does not contain the same level of carnage that he unleashed in the first volume of the 2015 Star Wars comic book series, Shadows and Secrets contains several amazing scenes depicting his destructive abilities and personality. Whether he is stuffing a crime lord into the mouth of his own exotic beast and then easily killing the distracted monster, or whether he is taking down and entire squadron of Rebel space fighters one at a time by throwing his lightsaber at them, he is shown to be pretty impressive.

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Just like in the first volume, Doctor Aphra continues to shine as the series’s main supporting character, and her entire character arc within Shadows and Secrets is very intriguing. Throughout this volume, Aphra ends up undertaking several missions for Vader, such as trying to find the location of Luke Skywalker, and has become one of his main confidants. This puts her in a terrible position, as Vader is likely to kill her to protect his secrets, especially when Thanoth gets close to capturing her. Watching the various ways that this ultimate opportunist attempts to survive against the odds, including by brazenly withholding information from Vader in order to stop him killing her, is pretty impressive, and it makes for some great reading. Shadows and Secrets also contains one of the first deeper looks at Aphra’s internal character. During the sequence I mentioned above with the mortician, she gives a lengthy monologue about the death of her mother and how it has affected her. This was a heavy scene, and while she tries to play it off as not being very important, you can see that it has impacted her, turning her into a much more cynical and self-reliant person who has no room for idealism or blind belief. The significance of this scene is also quite crucial when you consider that much of what she said is later shown in the Doctor Aphra spinoff series and ends up becoming a defining part of her character. I also like how the noticeable changes that the creative team have inserted into Aphra’s personality when she deals with Vader. For most of the volume, Aphra comes across as an ultraconfident being who is able to manipulate and control bounty hunters, murderers and crime lords with ease. However, whenever Vader appears, there is a noticeable change in her bearing and personality, which isn’t too surprising as Aphra knows Vader is going to kill her one day.

I also have to point out how much fun the two murder droids Triple Zero and BT-1 continued to be in this novel. Essentially perverted versions of C-3PO and R2-D2, Triple Zero and BT-1 are remorseless killers who delight in murdering or torturing all organic life. These two add an insane element of humour to the entire series, and they have a number of great moments in Shadows and Secrets. Watching the two of them delight in all sorts of murder and mayhem is all sorts of fun, and you’ve got to love the weird and friendly relationship the two of them have formed with each other.

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One of the best highlights of this second volume is the amazing artwork. The artistic team, helmed by Salvador Larroca, did another fantastic job bringing the amazing story contained within Shadows and Secrets to life on the page. There are so many vibrant and imaginative panels in this volume, and the volume’s artistic team produce some amazing pieces of art that showcase the wider Star Wars universe. One of the things that continues to impressive me about this series is the way that the artistic team are able to convey so much emotion from the faceless main protagonist. Despite only ever seeing Vader’s expressionless and iconic mask, I found that I was constantly able to glean the true emotions that Vader was surely feeling at the time when I looked at him, ranging from cold menace, surprise, frustration to deeper emotions, such as sadness when Amidala is mentioned. There are some truly amazingly drawn scenes throughout this entire volume, although there are two that I would bring particular attention to. The first is the very first scene in Issue #7, which shows Vader standing out the front of the Lars Homestead, staring at Tatooine’s twin suns as they set. I absolutely loved how this drawing matched the iconic scene from A New Hope where Luke stared off in the same position, and I really appreciated the symmetry. The other piece of art that really stood out to me was a quick sequence that appeared a little later in the volume within Issue #8. In this scene, Aphra has just confidently dealt with one of the bounty hunters in her employ and is looking off in the distance speaking to someone. As she talks, Vader slowly materialises out the shadows behind her, responding to her comments. Despite the fact that Aphra’s expression does not change at all there is a notable shift in the tone of the panel when Vader appears, and you cannot help but feel the threat and menace that he exudes. This was some impressive artwork, which helped to really increase how much I loved this comic.

The second volume of the 2015 Darth Vader series, Shadows and Secrets, is a first-rate comic book that once again shows off how impressive Star Wars comics can really be. Gillen and Larroca did an incredible job following up the first volume of this epic series and I really enjoyed the complex and fun story that this second volume contained, especially when it was backed up by great characters and exceptional artwork. This is a superb addition to the series that is really worth checking out.

Top Ten Tuesday – Pre-2019 Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. For the last couple of weeks I have been using these Top Ten Lists to highlight some of my favourite books of 2019. So far, I have already examined my favourite debut novels of 2019, my favourite audiobooks of 2019 and my favourite new-to-me authors. For this week, I am going to look at books I read for the first time this year that were released before 2019.

This year I have ended up reading quite a few books and comics that were published at some point prior to 2019. I have checked these various books out for a number of reasons, such as the book had an awesome plot synopsis, it was part of a series or an expanded universe that I had been exploring, or because I wanted to see an author’s earlier works. Most of these older releases are really good, and in some cases they are amongst my favourite books I read all year. I have also featured quite a few of these books as part of my Throwback Thursday series, and pretty much all of them receive a full five out of five stars from me. As a result, I wanted to highlight which books amongst these series are my absolute favourites and decided to feature them in their own Top Ten list.

For this list, any book with a pre-2019 release date is eligible for inclusion, and I was able to come up with my 10 absolute favourites, as well as a generous honourable mentions section. I am pretty happy with the below collection of pre-2019 releases, although it is hard to ignore that quite a few are part of either the Star Wars franchise the excellent Joe Ledger series. This was mainly because those were the books I was in the mood for, and I was really happy to check all of those books out. All of the below books are quite fantastic, and I would highly recommend each of them to anyone looking for an awesome read.

Honourable Mentions:

Cold Iron by Miles Cameron

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Cold Iron was one of three books that feature on this list which were released last year and which I featured on my Top Ten Books I Wish I Had Read in 2018 list. This was an outstanding novel that featured an amazing story and an excellent new fantasy world. Unfortunately, I just could not fit Cold Iron in the top ten. Still, Cold Iron comes highly recommended, and I really enjoyed its sequel, Dark Forge.

Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno

Star Wars Tarkin Cover

The first of several Star Wars novels that are featured on this list, 2014’s Tarkin was an enjoyable novel which presented a whole new history for the titular character in the current Star Wars canon.

The King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry

The King of Plagues Cover

The King of Plagues is the third book in the Joe Ledger series, several entries of which are going to be featured in the list below. The King of Plagues was a really solid entry in this great range of thriller books, and I gave it a full five stars when I reviewed it.

Star Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

Star Wars Scoundrels Cover

The only book from the old Star Wars Legends range of books in this article, Scoundrels by legendary Star Wars author Timothy Zahn was a fun and exciting novel that featured a heist set in the Star Wars universe. A fantastic read, this one was a lot of fun to check out, and after reading it I am very much tempted to check out more Star War Legends books in the future.

Top Ten List (in no particular order):

Legend by David Gemmell

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Legend was a classic from 1984 that I had an incredible time with earlier this year. Featuring perhaps the best siege storyline I have ever had the pleasure of reading; Legend is an outstanding fantasy novel that I had been meaning to check out for some time. I am extremely happy that I had the opportunity to enjoy Legend, and it is one of the top books I read all year.

The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry

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While I first started listening to the Joe Ledger series by Jonathan Maberry in 2018 with Deep Silence and Patient Zero, 2019 was the year that I fully invested myself in these excellent thriller novels. The first one of these that I enjoyed this year was the second book in the series, The Dragon Factory, which was just all sorts of amazing. In my opinion, Maberry started to really hit his stride in this second book, as he was able to produce some fascinating antagonists with a complex plan and some astonishing plot twists that really got the story going. This was an outstanding novel, and I am really glad that I decided to continue exploring this series.

The Ember Blade by Chris Wooding

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The Ember Blade was another novel that I wish I had checked out in 2018. Featuring a massive and elaborate fantasy storyline with some complex and detailed characters, The Ember Blade was a powerful and impressive read that is very much worth investing the time it takes to get through this substantial book.

Darth Vader (2015) series by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca

Star Wars - Darth Vader Volume 1 Cover

I am going to cheat a little here and include all four volumes of the clever and captivating Darth Vader (2015) comic book series, as well as the Vader Down crossover volume, as a single entry. While there were a few comic book series which I read this year that I could have included here, such as the first volume of the Star Wars (2015) series or the ever-entertaining Doctor Aphra comics, in my opinion, the Darth Vader (2015) series was the easily the best and most consistent out of all of them. All five of these volumes get an easy five stars from me, and while I have only reviewed Volume One so far, I will hopefully get reviews up for the others soon. This Darth Vader series contained a deeply compelling storyline that really helps to redefine one of the most iconic film villains of all time while also showing off how dangerous and determined he really is. Not only was this an epic comic, but it also introduced one of the best new Star Wars characters of the decade, Doctor Aphra. These comics are a must-read for fans who want to see how incredible the franchise can truly be.

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

Lies Sleeping Cover

I ended up reading this book early in 2019, and I was so annoyed that I did not read it any sooner. Lies Sleeping is one of the best urban fantasy books I have ever read, which has a perfect combination of fantasy and crime fiction elements. A fantastic read that ensured that all of Ben Aaronovtich’s books are very high up on my to-read list from now on.

Assassin’s Code by Jonathan Maberry

Assassin's Code Cover

The fourth book in the Joe Ledger series, Assassin’s Code, was a fast-paced and action-packed novel that introduced some amazing new characters into this franchise and featured an epic group of modern vampiric antagonists. A thrill ride from start to finish, this was a lot of fun to read and a terrific book to boot.

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

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I had been hearing some incredible things about the Powder Mage series for a long time and decided that this was the year that I would finally check it out by reading the first Powder Mage book, Promise of Blood. I was in no way disappointed, as Promise of Blood more than lived up to the hype, containing a deeply compelling and extremely enjoyable tale of betrayal, revolution and war, while mages whose powers are derived from gunpowder unleash hell across an inventive and embattled new world. This is fantasy writing at it’s very best, and I really need to read more of these books in the future.

Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

Thrawn Cover

This is the second entry in this article from Timothy Zahn, which isn’t too surprising as he has been dominating the Star Wars novel scene for over 20 years at this point. After enjoying the second book in the Thrawn trilogy, Alliances, last year, I decided to go back and check out the first novel in the trilogy, Thrawn, before the third and final book, Treason, came out this year. While I knew I was going to love this book as the titular character of this series, Grand Admiral Thrawn, is one of my favourite Star Wars characters of all time, I was nonetheless surprised at how deeply impressive I found this book. Featuring an incredibly addictive story set around a calculating tactical genius, Thrawn absolutely blew me away, and it is easily the best Star Wars novel I have so far had the pleasure of reading.

King of Assassins by R. J. Barker

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I had been meaning to read this book ever since it’s 2018 release, especially as the first two books in The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, Age of Assassins and Blood of Assassins, were pretty spectacular. I ended up listening to this book earlier in the year, and it was an amazing end to the trilogy that provided the reader with a deeply captivating story. I still have to finish off my review for this book, although it gets a full five stars from me, and Barker’s latest book, The Bone Ships, is going to appear on my upcoming Top Ten Favourite Books of 2019 list.

Code Zero by Jonathan Maberry

Code Zero Cover

The final book on this list is Code Zero, the sixth book in the Joe Ledger series, and the latest one that I have been able to read. Code Zero was an extremely clever entry in the series, which featured an exception story, a compelling antagonist and a plot that utilised and paid respect to some of the best parts of the previous Joe Ledger books. This was easily one of the best books in the series, and I am really excited to check out the final three Joe Ledger books that I haven’t yet had a chance to read.

I like how the above list turned out, although I think it really highlights how much time I spent reading Star Wars and Joe Ledger books this year. I am planning to keep up with a similar reading pattern of new releases and awesome older books in 2020. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish off the Joe Ledger series next year, and I will definitely try to listen to more of David Gemmell and Brian McClellan’s books in the future. I also see myself listening to bunch of other Star Wars novels in 2020, because there are some amazing gems there. In the meantime, which pre-2019 books did you enjoy this year? Let me know in the comments below. Make sure to check in next week as I list my favourite 2019 releases in the final Top Ten Tuesday for the year.

Throwback Thursday – Star Wars (2015) Volume 1: Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aaron and John Cassaday

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Publisher: Marvel Comics

Publication Date: 6 October 2015

Length: 160 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

I think it is fair to say that I have been in a real Star Wars mood lately. Maybe it is because of the imminent release of the final movie in the Skywalker Saga, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, or perhaps it is because The Mandalorian is such an awesome TV show. Whatever the reason, I have been reading and reviewing quite a few Star Wars books and comics lately. For example, I am currently listening to Star Wars: Force Collector, I reviewed Tarkin last week and I recently read and reviewed Resistance Reborn and Vader: Dark Vision. As a result, I thought that this week would be a good time to do a Throwback Thursday on the first volume of the 2015 Star Wars comic book series, Skywalker Strikes, which did an outstanding job of introducing an extremely exciting ongoing comic series.

The Star Wars comic book series was started in 2015 and follows the adventures of the protagonists of the original Star Wars trilogy. Set shortly after the events of A New Hope, this series attempts to fill in the three years between the first film and The Empire Strikes Back. The Star Wars comics originally ran concurrently with the Darth Vader (2015) comic series until that series ended, and then proceeded to run alongside the Doctor Aphra comics. The Star Wars series ran for 75 issues and has only recently concluded. A sequel series with the same name is set to begin in early 2020, which will follow the events between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

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Volume One of Star Wars begins shortly after the destruction of the Death Star. With the Empire in turmoil following the destruction of such a major weapon, Rebel Alliance members Luke Skywalker, Leia Organa, Han Solo, Chewbacca, C-3PO and R2-D2 use the chaos to infiltrate a key Imperial weapons factory. While they are able to destabilise the factory’s reactor core and free its slave labour force, the Rebels are unprepared for the unexpected arrival of Darth Vader.

Attempting to complete their mission while also trying to kill Vader, the Rebels find themselves hopelessly outmatched by the Dark Lord of the Sith, who is determined to capture the Rebel who blew up the Death Star. Not even Luke, with his newly discovered Jedi abilities, is able to stand up to Vader, and the Rebels barely manage to escape with their lives.

Frustrated by his failures against Vader, Luke decides to take a leave of absence from the Rebel Alliance and returns to Tatooine to contemplate his future. Travelling to the house where Obi-Wan Kenobi lived in exile for years, Luke hopes to find something that will guide him. Instead he finds himself walking into a trap, as the bounty hunter Boba Fett is lying in wait. At the same time, Leia talks Han into a scouting mission for the Rebels, but their simple mission soon attracts the wrong sort of attention. Who is the mysterious woman hunting Han, and why is claiming to be his wife?

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Skywalker Strikes, which is made up of Issues #1-6 of the Star Wars series, contains an outstanding story, fantastic artwork and some of the most insane Star Wars action sequences that you will ever see. The team of Jason Aaron and John Cassaday, have done an amazing job on this comic, and this first volume does a wonderful job starting off this long-running series. While all the issues in this volume are connected together pretty well, I would say that there is a distinctive break between Issues #1-3 and Issues #4-6. Issues #1-3 focuses solely on the protagonist’s attack on the weapon facility, while the last three issues feature some more independent adventures from some of the series’ various characters, as each of them is searching for something.

The sequence contained within Issues #1-3 is just incredible, and it is easily my favourite part of the entire series. What starts as a fun infiltration of an Imperial facility quickly devolves into utter chaos as Darth Vader enters the mix. What then follows is nearly three whole issues of action, explosions, fantastic first meetings and all manner of destruction as the Rebels desperately attempt to escape the factory. While all the characters involved in this part of the comic are really good, I have to say that Vader steals the show as the indestructible villain. This was actually one of the first pieces of fiction in the new Disney Star Wars canon that shows off how amazing Vader could truly be, and it is pretty darn awesome. Pretty much from the first instance he appears, he shows off the full extent of his powers by throwing stormtroopers in front of a sneak attack from Chewbacca, and then by starting to crush an AT-AT with the force. He then subsequently survives a full-on blast from the AT-AT’s cannons and hacks it to pieces with his lightsaber. He also cuts through a bunch of escaping slaves and shows his intense displeasure to his subordinates in a number of destructive ways, including twisting a stormtrooper’s head 180 degrees with the force (to be fair, he did catch sight of Vader without his helmet) and choking a Star Destroyer captain from an insane distance. I can also not be the only person who cracked up at Vader very quickly destroying an Imperial Officer moments after he said “Lord Vader will have my….” (spoilers, he was going to say head, and Vader really did). All of this destruction and action was essentially pure awesome, and I loved every second of it.

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In addition to all the action in this part of the book, there are also some major moments in Star Wars history that fans of the franchise are really going to enjoy. For the one thing, it actually has the first face-to-face confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader. This scene is handled extremely well. Luke, still believing that Vader is the one responsible for the death of his father, jumps at the chance to get revenge. However, as Luke runs towards Vader’s location full of confidence, he hears the disembodied voice of Obi-Wan Kenobi telling him to run. This is advice that Luke really should have taken; Vader, after berating Luke for his obvious lack of skill with the lightsaber, rather easily disarms him. While getting ready to kill Luke, Vader notices that the lightsaber he has taken off him is the very one he used to wield as Anakin Skywalker, which obviously raises some issues within him. As events at the factory spiral out of control, Luke is able to evade Vader, who starts to grow slightly more impressed by his skills. As Luke makes his escape, Vader realises that he is not only the pilot that destroyed the Death Star but also Kenobi’s last great hope. Still not fully realising the identity of the boy he just encountered, Vader rather vindictively promises to corrupt him to his purposes. All of these events are pretty incredible moments in Star Wars history, and I think that the creative team did an outstanding job introducing them in this new canon. The initial face-to-face showdown between the main protagonist and villain of the original Star Wars trilogy is a pretty significant moment, and I really loved how it was shown. The hints at the hidden history between the two are great, and the initial realisations from Vader that there is more to Luke than he realises are fantastic. I also liked how the creative team showed Luke as having no real skill with the lightsaber or the force. Considering that he only had about an hour of training with Kenobi, it really isn’t that surprising that he has no lightsaber abilities, so this is a pretty clever and realistic inclusion, especially as a good part of the following Star Wars comic series deals with some of the earliest days of his training. While these events are probably not the most significant to occur in this volume (more on that later), they are incredibly intriguing and any fan of the Star Wars franchise is going to love it.

The last three issues of Skywalker Strikes are also very entertaining, though less action-packed, since the creative team has opted instead for storytelling and showing off the state of the Empire and Rebel Alliance. While a despairing Luke sets off to find answers, Han and Leia set off to find potential locations for a new Rebel base, while Vader has a meeting with Jabba the Hut. There are some really interesting aspects to this part of the story, from the growing hopelessness in Luke as he begins to realise how far he is from becoming a Jedi, to Vader’s sudden obsession with capturing Luke, to the growing hints of romance between Han and Leia, disguised at this point as antagonism. However, I would say that it’s the newcomers to the comic series, Boba Fett and Sana Solo, that are some of the best parts of the last three issues of the volume. Fett, who has long been a fan favourite despite his complete underutilisation in the movies, shines as the badass bounty hunter as he scours Tatooine for Luke, eventually finding out all about him through some very violent means. This leads to a pretty fun showdown between Boba and Luke, as Boba ambushes him at Kenobi’s house and easily incapacitates him and R2-D2 with his cool array of weapons and tactics. It is only thanks to Luke’s first close-combat use of the force that he is able to escape, as he successfully blocks a blaster bolt while blinded (a nice homage to the training sequence from A New Hope) and moves an item with his mind. All of this was a pretty entertaining showdown, and I loved seeing Fett in action for once. We also have the mysterious Sana Solo, who has a pretty fantastic takedown of some Rodian thugs with a great piece of technology and a ruthless demeanour. She is later able to track down Han and Leia, absolutely terrifying Han before dropping one of the biggest bombshells of the book: that she is Han’s wife. While this is not explored in any great detail in this volume, it is an excellent introduction for this great character, who goes on to become a fairly major figure in the current Star Wars canon. As a result of all of this, the second half of the volume holds up pretty well to the action-packed first half, and there are plenty of major scenes, including the very big ending.

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While I did really like the second part of this volume, the best way to appreciate it fully is if you understand its connection to the Darth Vader (2015) series of comics. The Darth Vader series was launched right on the heels of the Star Wars comics and it is actually set in the aftermath of the first three issues of this volume. In the first issue of this concurrent comic, it is shown that Vader has actually started going rogue on the Emperor and is making his own deals with Jabba the Hutt, before the formal discussion he has with Jabba in Issue #4 of the Star Wars series. This actually clears up the somewhat cryptic discussion he has with Jabba later in the issue, where they talk about the bounty hunters he has hired, and also shows the point where he actually tasked Boba Fett with finding Luke. While none of this is absolutely vital when it comes to fully understanding the plot of Skywalker Strikes, it is interesting to see that some of the referenced events occurred in another series. However, the main reason why readers should try to understand the connection between this comic and the Darth Vader series is in the epic conclusion both of them share, where Vader learns the last name of the boy he has been hunting. Both Issue #6 of Star Wars and Darth Vader were actually released on the same day, so readers of both series were able to see this scene at the same time. The two scenes are shown in a slightly different light in each series. It is expanded a bit more in the Darth Vader series, as it plays into the feelings of resentment towards the Emperor that have been building in Vader through the series. However, I quite liked the simpler version in Issue #6 of Star Wars, as the slow-boiling rage and anger within Vader is pretty obvious, as he takes a whole page to fully react, cracking the glass on a Star Destroyer and simply whispering, “Skywalker”. As a result of this connection, the Star Wars and Darth Vader series complement each other extremely well, and I would strongly recommend reading both pretty close together. However, no matter which series you read, the sequence showing the moment where Vader realises that his son is still alive and a Jedi is pretty darn epic and really memorable.

It could be argued that splitting this volume into two separate storylines was an interesting choice from the book’s creative team. I imagine that six issues focused on the attack on the Imperial weapons factory would have been pretty epic (just imagine how much more destruction Vader could have wrought). However, I personally think they did the right thing by splitting the story and showcasing the aftermath of this action. This way you not only get the intense action of the first few stories but you also get to see the consequences of the mission, and all the implications this has for the wider Star Wars universe. In addition, there is also quite an intriguing set up for several key moments in the upcoming series as a whole, a whole new fight between Luke and another iconic Star Wars character in Boba Fett, and some amazing connections with a sister series. I really liked how the story of the entire volume came together, and I think it was an outstanding way to start this excellent series.

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I have to say that I was also really impressed with the awesome artwork that was featured in this first volume. The artwork was drawn by John Cassaday, and featured Laura Martin as the colourist. It is pretty amazing the way that Cassaday was able to capture the faces of the core original trilogy cast members with his artwork. Luke, Leia and Han all look really good to my eye in this volume, and the artist has also done some great renditions of other existing characters, such as Vader, Boba Fett and Jabba the Hutt. In addition, I really enjoyed all of the marvellous and exhilarating action sequences that they artistic team portrayed throughout the volume. These action scenes, especially the ones featuring Vader at the start of the book are just incredible, and I really loved seeing all the fantastic and creative violence. In addition to all the action, there are a number of scenes where the artwork helps to enhance the emotions and hidden meaning of a scene, and I will always love the way that they portrayed the closing moments of this volume. This was some first-rate Star Wars comic book art that is really worth checking out.

As you can see from the above review, I really loved this first volume of the Star Wars (2015) comic book series. The amazing creative team behind this first volume did a fantastic job with the first six issues that make up Skywalker Strikes, producing an extraordinary story which is complimented by a connection to another series and some exceptional artwork. This volume is a fantastic introduction to the flagship comic book series of the Star Wars franchise, and it comes highly recommended. No great knowledge of the expanded Star Wars canon is required to enjoy it, and indeed this may prove to be an effective gateway to the greater Star Wars universe. This gets a full five stars from me, and I am so very glad I decided to check out the Star Wars comic book series this year.

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten New Authors I am Thankful I Checked Out This Year

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, readers have a Thanksgiving Freebie, so I am taking this chance to mention those authors who I am thankful I checked out for the first time this year.

In 2019, I had the pleasure of reading a number of different books that ranged from impressive debuts, intriguing sequels, amazing starts to new series, fun standalone novels and fantastic entries in long-running series. While a number of these books were written by authors I was previously familiar with (such as some of my autobuy authors), quite a few of these books were written by authors I had not had the pleasure of reading before, but who I am very glad that I checked out. I have to say that I was really impressed with a number of these authors, and for many of them I am planning to try and read more of their works. As a result, I thought that it would be a good idea to do a list honouring my absolute favourites of this group. This list is not limited to debuting authors, but also includes authors whose works I only just got a chance to read this year.

Like many of these lists that I do, I ended up with quite a substantial group of authors I wanted to include on this list. I really enjoyed their books that I read this year and I am looking forward to reading more from them in the future. I was eventually able to whittle this list down to my top ten favourites, as well as a generous honourable mentions section. Unfortunately, I had to exclude a couple of authors who I really liked, such as Laura Shepherd-Robinson, who wrote the fantastic historical mystery Blood & Sugar; and Australian young adult author Jay Kristoff, who wrote some fun books this year, including DEV1AT3 and Aurora Rising (co-written with Amie Kaufman). Still, I think I came up with a good list that represents which authors I am really thankful I tried for the first time this year.

Honourable Mentions:

Tamsyn Muir – Gideon the Ninth

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Gideon the Ninth, the debut novel of Tamsyn Muir, was one of the most unique and entertaining books that I read this year. I absolutely loved the combination of weird comedy, interesting futuristic necromantic magic and the curious murder house storyline, and it was an overall fantastic novel. I definitely want to check out the future books in the series, especially as the second book, Harrow the Ninth, already has a cool cover and plot synopsis up.

Steve Berry – The Malta Exchange

The Malta Exchange Cover

The Malta Exchange is the 14th book in Berry’s long-running Cotton Malone thriller series. Not only did it feature a clever and complex modern-day thriller, but the author utilised some deeply fascinating historical elements to create a powerful and captivating mystery. I am very keen to read more from Berry in the future, and his next book, The Warsaw Protocol, sounds like it is going to be a very fun read.

Claudia Gray – Master and Apprentice

Master & Apprentice Cover

I had to feature a Star Wars novel on this list somewhere, and I actually had a hard time choosing which book from a new author I enjoyed the most. While I strongly considered Tarkin and Resistance Reborn, my favourite Star Wars story from an author I had not read before this year was probably Master and Apprentice by Claudia Gray. Gray did an outstanding job crafting together an action-packed and intriguing Star Wars story that focused on a younger Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. Clever, entertaining and deeply emotional at times, this was a fantastic read and I hope that Gray writes some more Star Wars novels in the future.

Samantha Shannon – The Priory of the Orange Tree

The Priory of the Orange Tree Cover

The Priory of the Orange Tree was a massive and inventive standalone fantasy novel that was released at the start of the year. I really liked the excellent story and unique fantasy universe that Shannon created in this book, and she is definitely an author to keep an eye on for the future.

Top Ten List (in no particular order):

Mark Greaney – Red Metal and Mission Critical

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Let us start this list off with the fantastic thriller writer Mark Greaney. I first became familiar with Greaney earlier this year when I read Mission Critical, the electrifying eighth book in his Gray Man series. While I quite enjoyed Mission Critical, his authorship of the military thriller Red Metal, which he co-wrote with Lt. Col. Hunter Ripley Rawlings IV. USMC is the main reason why I am including him on this list. Red Metal is easily one of my favourite books of 2019 and that, combined with an excellent thriller in Mission Critical, is why Greaney is an author I will be reading much more of in the future.

Miles Cameron – Cold Iron and Dark Forge

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I am slightly cheating with this entry as I have actually read some of this author’s historical fiction books which he writes under the name Christian Cameron. However, 2019 was the first year that I read the books he publishes under his fantasy nom de plume Miles Cameron, and I feel the name and genre change justifies his inclusion on this list. I previously featured Cameron’s 2018 release Cold Iron on my Top Ten Books I Wish I Read in 2018 list, and I ended up listening to it a couple of months later. Cold Iron, the first book in his new Masters & Mages series, was an absolutely incredible fantasy read. I also listened the second book in the series, Dark Forge, a couple of weeks ago, and it was a pretty amazing follow-up to Cold Iron (review coming soon). Not only am I planning to read the final book in the Masters & Mages series, Bright Steel, as soon as I can, but I will also be grabbing every new fantasy book that the author releases as Miles Cameron, and I am very glad I checked out his alternate genre of writing. In the meantime, make sure to check out my review for Cameron’s latest historical fiction novel, The New Achilles, which he also released this year.

James Lovegrove – Firefly books – Big Damn Hero and The Magnificent Nine

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I had to include James Lovegrove on this list, as he has been the main author pushing through the new generation of Firefly tie-in novels. I absolutely love Firefly, so any tie-in material is going to get a lot of attention from me. Lovegrove has actually written both of the books so far, including the emotional Big Damn Hero (based on story ideas from Nancy Holder) and the fun The Magnificent Nine. Both of these Firefly books were really good, and I loved the cool stories and the nostalgia I felt from seeing the television show’s great characters in action again. Lovegrove has a third Firefly novel on the way, with The Ghost Machine coming out in April, and it looks to be another fantastic addition to the series.

Chris Wooding – The Ember Blade

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The Ember Blade is another book that I regretted not reading in 2018, so I was very thankful that I got a chance to listen to it earlier this year. Wooding is a very talented fantasy writer whose outstanding character work and inventive story, created an incredible read in The Ember Blade. I am really excited for any sequels to this book that Wooding releases, which should prove to be very awesome.

Simon Turney – Commodus

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When I first heard about Commodus by Simon Turney, I was quite intrigued, mainly because I knew so little about this emperor other than the fact that he was the villain of the film Gladiator. However, this is probably one of my favourite historical fiction releases of the year, as Turney did an outstanding job bringing this complex historical figure to life. I cannot wait to see which Roman emperor Turney writes about next, and I have a feeling that he is soon going to become one of my favourite historical fiction authors.

K. J. Parker – Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City

Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City Cover

Before receiving a copy of Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, I had not read any books by this author, either under the name K. J. Parker or his other writing persona, Tom Holt. This is a real shame, as Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City was one of the best and funniest fantasy novels I have ever read, and I can only imagine that his other works are just as awesome. I am really thankful that this author is on my radar now, and I look forward to seeing what else he can do.

Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca – Darth Vader (2015) and Star Wars (2015) comic series

Star Wars - Darth Vader Volume 1 Cover

While I did read the Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith comics in 2018 (check out my reviews for Volumes Two and Three), 2019 was the year that I really got into Star Wars comics, and that is mainly due to the cool partnership of writer Kieron Gillen and artist Salvador Larroca. Not only did I start reading their 2015 Darth Vader series this year, which is just so many layers of awesome, but I have been eating up their recent run on the ongoing Star Wars comic books series. In addition, the Doctor Aphra series, which has to be one of the best comics of the year, is based on the character they created in the Darth Vader series. Gillen also wrote the first 19 issues of the Doctor Aphra series, which feature some absolutely outstanding stories. Pretty much everything Star Wars that these two touch is magical, and I really, really hope they continue their partnership well into the future.

Ben Aaronovitch – Lies Sleeping

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Lies Sleeping was the seventh book in the Peter Grant/Rivers of London series, which was released late last year. I got around to reading it at the start of 2019 and I was deeply impressed with this clever fantasy/modern crime fiction hybrid. While I spent a good part of the year kicking myself for not reading any of Aaronovitch’s books sooner, I will hopefully start to make up for this oversight in the near future. The next book in the series, False Value, is set for release in a couple of months, and it sounds like another fantastic addition to the series.

Blake Crouch – Recursion

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Blake Crouch has a long history of writing clever science fiction and thriller novels, but Recursion, which was released earlier this year, is the first one of his books that I checked out. I absolutely loved this complex and captivating story and it was easily one of the top books I read in the first half of 2019. While I still need to actually write a review for Recursion (I’m working on one at the moment), I will make sure to grab any of his books that come out in the future.

Brian McClellan – Promise of Blood

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The final author I am glad I checked out this year was Brian McClellan, author of the acclaimed Powder Mage series of flintlock fantasy novels. I had heard a lot of good things about McClellan’s books, so I decided to check out the first book in the series, Promise of Blood. I was not disappointed in the slightest, as this was an exceptional piece of fantasy fiction that blew me away (pun intended). I will be listening to all the Powder Mage books in the future, and I am extremely thankful that I checked him out this year.

Well that’s the end of this Top Ten Tuesday article. I hope you like my list and please let me know which new authors you are thankful you checked out this year. To anyone reading in America, happy Thanksgiving and I hope you don’t go too crazy trying to get new books this Black Friday.

Throwback Thursday – Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno

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Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio (Audiobook – 4 November 2019)

Series: Star Wars

Length: 9 hour and 32 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed as part of my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.

In this week’s Throwback Thursday I check out an amazing and compelling Star Wars tie-in novel that focuses on a fascinating character from the franchise, with Star Wars: Tarkin, written by veteran tie-in author James Luceno.

Since early 2014, Disney has done an excellent job installing a new and distinctive expanded universe for the Star Wars franchise. This new expanded universe, which supplanted the existing expanded universe (which is now known as Star Wars Legends), has featured some amazing books which I have been really getting into in the last couple of years. I have read a lot of Star Wars books in 2019 and not only have I tried to stay abreast of the latest releases (for example, the latest Star Wars novel, Resistance Reborn) but I have also been checking out some of the older novels in the franchise (such as Thrawn and Death Troopers).

Tarkin was released in late 2014 and was one of the first non-movie novelisations or young reader Star Wars novels that were released in this new canon. Tarkin was written by James Luceno, an author with a huge number of Star Wars tie-in novels from the Legends canon already under his belt, such as the intriguing-sounding Darth Plagueis. I had heard good things about this book, and I was curious to see how Luceno would alter the character of Grand Moff Tarkin.

To those familiar with the Galactic Empire, Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin is a legendary figure. A former admiral, adjutant general, planetary governor and war hero of the Clone Wars, Tarkin was one of the Emperor’s most dedicated and capable servants. Determined to enforce the Empire’s authority throughout the galaxy by any means necessary, Tarkin was renowned for his merciless nature and his ability to out-think any opponent on the battlefield or in the political arena. But where did this nature come from: his past as a solider or as a politician, or are there powerful lessons in Tarkin’s upbringing that constantly drive him forward?

Five years after the end of the Clone Wars, Governor Tarkin holds the rank of Imperial Moff and is tasked with overseeing one of the Empire’s most sensitive and covert projects, the construction of a massive mobile battle station which the Emperor believes will become the ultimate symbol of Imperial power in the galaxy. Determined to bring order to the post Clone War chaos, Tarkin finds his plans for the construction of the station stalled when a mysterious ship launches an innovative attack against one of his bases. In the aftermath of this attack, Tarkin is ordered to work with Darth Vader to determine who orchestrated this incursion and deal with them.

Travelling to an isolated planet, Tarkin and Vader begin their investigation into the rebellious activity plaguing that area of the Empire. But when their opponents manage to out-manoeuvre them, Tarkin must call upon all of his experiences, including as a young hunter on his home planet of Eriadu, to stop them. However, even the lessons of his past may not be enough, as his new foes are as smart and determined as Tarkin and Vader and are willing to do anything to achieve their revenge on the Empire.

Tarkin was a smart and exciting Star Wars tie-in novel that did a fantastic job exploring the life of one of the franchise’s most complex characters. I had a great time listening to this book, and it is one of the better Star Wars novels that I have enjoyed this year. I really liked the deep dive into the history and mind of Tarkin, especially as the author wraps a compelling and multi-layered narrative around the character’s story. As a result, the novel gets four and a half stars from me and was a really good read.

This story is an interesting combination of an adventure that occurred five years after the events of Revenge of the Sith (roughly 14 years before the events of A New Hope), and a series of tales from various points in Tarkin’s earlier life. Grand Moff Tarkin has always been a fascinating Star Wars character to me; despite his lack of force abilities, he appeared to wield nearly as much power as the Emperor and was even able to command Darth Vader. This book does a wonderful job of not only showing how he was able to obtain so much power within the Empire but also exploring all of the formulative events of this character’s life that made him into the man capable of achieving so much. I personally think that this was a great combination of character narratives which come together extremely well, and I think that Luceno did a fantastic job getting to the root of Tarkin’s psyche and personality.

Despite it being the shorter part of the book, I personally enjoyed the various chapters that explore various moments of Tarkin’s past the most. In particular, I thought that the author’s examination of his training as a hunter to be a truly fascinating basis for the character’s tactical ability. The various scenes depicting him hunting the large beasts of his home planet are pretty cool, and it was really interesting to see the way that he utilised lessons from hunting creatures in his later careers. For example, he is trained to instil fear into all the beasts he encounters in order to establish dominance above them and to show them the consequences of acting in way he dislikes. A later scene in the book shows him using this training to successfully end a pirate menace in a very harsh and final manner, and it also explains why he considered blowing up a planet to be a viable fear tactic against rebels. In addition to its impact on future Star Wars stories, Tarkin’s early training and hunting background are utilised to great effect throughout the entirety of Tarkin, and it was great to see how it impacts on Tarkin’s thought process and planning. I also really liked how the focus on the hunt comes full circle, as the author works in a fun confrontation back at the Tarkin hunting grounds with the main antagonist of the book that I absolutely loved and which was a fantastic conclusion to the whole story. This hunting aspect was an exceptional addition to this canon’s depiction of Tarkin, and I like how other authors have expanded on it in other pieces of Star Wars expanded fiction. For example, the third volume of Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith features Tarkin using his hunting abilities against Vader in a contest of wills.

In addition to this new origin for Tarkin’s tactical ability and mental acuity, I also enjoyed the various flashbacks to his history before and during the events of the Clone War. Luceno comes up with some great storylines that show off, for example, when Tarkin first gained the attention of the Emperor, or his thoughts on the various events that occurred during the course of the prequel movies. It was fun getting his theories on the causes of the Clone Wars or the formation of the Empire, especially as he is pretty close to the mark every time. I also liked that Luceno worked a confrontation between Tarkin and Count Dooku into one of the flashbacks, which shows why Tarkin remained loyal to the Republic during the course of the Clone Wars. All of these examinations of the character’s past, especially in the context of several key events in Star Wars history, was really fascinating and proved to be a fantastic part of the book.

While I did enjoy the examination of the character’s past, the main story itself is also compelling, as it shows the events that led to Tarkin becoming the very first Grand Moff. These parts of the book are a lot of fun and feature a unique and personal hunt for the protagonist which ties in well with the journeys to his past. I also quite enjoyed the fun team-up between Tarkin and Darth Vader, who assists him to complete his mission. Tarkin and Vader form a very effective team in this book, and it was interesting to examine the relationship between them and the mutual respect that grew between them. It was also cool to find out that Tarkin was one of the few people in the whole Empire who guessed that Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader were the same person (the only other Imperial character who apparently guessed that was Grand Admiral Thrawn). This section of the book also features some intriguing looks at the early stages of the Empire, and I personally liked the examination of Imperial politics, the intelligence agencies and the ruling style of the Emperor. I also really liked the idealistic opponents that Tarkin faced off against, mainly because their leader becomes more and more aggressive the longer the fight against the Empire goes, until he starts to lack the moral high ground in this conflict.

While I really enjoyed the team-up between Tarkin and Vader, I do wonder if the author perhaps featured Vader and the Emperor a little more than he should have. Do not get me wrong, I absolutely love Darth Vader as a character and I have deeply enjoyed a number of extended universe comics or books that have featured him (such as the Darth Vader and Dark Lord of the Sith comic series, or the Dark Visions limited series). However, I think that a book called Tarkin should have focused a lot more on the exploits of the titular character and shown how he dealt with the unique problems presented in the plot on his own. Instead, he received a fair bit of help from Vader and the Emperor, which kind of undermined the book’s message that he was an unsurpassed strategist and hunter. The author might have been better off only featuring a small amount of the Emperor in this novel, and perhaps introducing Vader in a later Tarkin novel, much like Timothy Zahn did with Thrawn: Alliances. Still, it was a fantastic book, and I am never going to seriously complain about too much Darth Vader.

Tarkin proved to be a really interesting book in the current Star Wars canon, and one that fans of the franchise are really going to enjoy. That being said, I would say that no real knowledge of the Star Wars extended universe is required to understand the plot of the book. While it does reflect on some of the events of The Clone Wars animated series, particularly the handful of episodes that a young Tarkin appeared in, there is no urgent need to go out and watch these episodes first, as they are more passing references. It is also important to note that this book was released back in 2014, two years before the release of Rogue One. As a result, it lacks the inclusion of Director Krennic as a rival for Tarkin, which is something most of the tie-in media released after 2016 features.

Like many of the Star Wars novels I have enjoyed in the past, I chose to listen to the audiobook format of Tarkin rather than read a physical copy. The Tarkin audiobook was narrated by Euan Morton and runs for roughly 9½ hours in length. I found myself absolutely breezing through the Tarkin audiobook, and I was able to listen to all of it in a few short days, as I become enthralled in the awesome story. Star Wars audiobooks are always a fun production to check out thanks to their use of the iconic music and sound effects from the movies. Tarkin also makes great use of a number of the classic scores from the movies to enhance the various scenes, most notably The Imperial March, which is used a number of times when members of the Empire are being particularly ruthless or authoritarian. I also really liked the use of the various Star Wars sound effects, such as the sound of blaster fire, spaceship engines and even the iconic sounds of Darth Vader breathing, all of which are used to help set the appropriate atmosphere for the scene. While some of the Star Wars audiobooks greatly overused these sound effects and music scores, I think that the Tarkin audiobook had the just the right amount of these elements. At no point did the music or sounds overwhelm the narration nor distract the reader from the plot; instead they did a wonderful job of helping the reader stay glued to the story.

In addition to the excellent use of Star Wars music and sound effects, Tarkin also featured a fantastic narrator in the form of Euan Morton. Morton does a commendable job of imitating the voice of the titular character and helps bring the stern, intelligent and ruthless character to life with his voice work. In addition, Morton was also able to do good imitations of several other notable Star Wars characters, including the Emperor and Darth Vader. I felt that Morton produced a good replication of their voices, and the listener is instantly able to figure out who is talking. I also liked some of the voices that Morton came up with for the various supporting characters that featured in the book, and I was impressed with the voices he attributed to some of the different alien species that were encountered. I particularly enjoyed his Mon Calamari voice, for example, and felt that he was able to add some distinguishing vocals to each of these different species. Based on this strong narration, as well as the great musical and sound inclusions, I would strongly recommend the audiobook version of this Star Wars book, and I know that I intend to check out more of this franchise’s audiobooks.

Tarkin was an outstanding piece of Star Wars tie-in fiction that I personally really enjoyed. Not only did it contain a compelling and exciting story in the early days of the Empire but it also did a wonderful job exploring the background of one of the franchises most fascinating characters. I had an amazing time learning more about Grand Moff Tarkin, and I am slightly disappointed that there have not been any more Tarkin-centric novels released since 2014. As a result, I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in a good Star Wars tie-in novel, and I would also recommend the excellent audiobook format.

While the next Star Wars novel I read is going to be Force Collector, I am always considering what older Star Wars book to listen to in the future. I am currently weighing up between this canon’s Lords of the Sith (the Emperor and Darth Vader trapped on a planet being hunted by rebels) or the Star Wars Legends book Scoundrels (a heist novel written by Timothy Zahn). Both sound like a lot of fun, and I will probably end up listening to them both in the very near future.

Star Wars: Vader: Dark Visions by Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum and Various

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Publisher: Marvel Comics

Publication Date: 27 August 2019

Length: 128 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Prepare to see one of the most iconic and beloved villains in all of fiction, Darth Vader, in a whole new light as Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum and several talented artists present five new and clever stories of the Dark Lord of the Sith from across the galaxy.

To most of the universe, Darth Vader is the Empire’s ultimate symbol of power, authority and fear, delivering death and destruction upon all who incur his wrath. But to some he can be something even more potent and remarkable. On one planet he is a Black Knight, a beacon of hope that saved them from a terrible monster. To a certain Imperial Commander, Vader is a reminder that failure is unacceptable. To one Imperial nurse, Vader is her one true love. But no matter how people see him, the one universal truth is that those who encounter this Sith Lord are likely to end up dead.

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Vader: Dark Visions is a fun and uniquely intriguing Star Wars comic that I bought a few weeks ago while on holiday. Vader is easily one of my favourite Star Wars characters, especially as most recent pieces of Star Wars expanded universe fiction have gone out of their way to show him as the ultimate badass. For example, I have absolutely loved some of the recent Darth Vader comics that have been published, including the 2015 Darth Vader series, the Darth Vader: Dark Lord of the Sith series (check out my reviews for Volumes 2 and 3 here), and he has also been exceedingly impressive as a villain in recent volumes of the 2015 Star Wars comic series and the always entertaining Doctor Aphra comics. I also loved his appearance in the second season of Star Wars Rebels and in novels such as Thrawn: Alliances (which features a very cool scene of Vader flying a Tie Defender). As a result, I have been looking forward to Dark Visions for a while, as I found the cool concept of five new and different stories about Darth Vader very appealing.

This collected edition of Dark Visions contains five separate, standalone comic issues that have been written by Hopeless, each of which features the talents of a different artist. Each of these separate stories is really cool, featuring some very interesting story elements, eye-catching artwork and interactions that give the reader a real sense of how terrifying and complex the character of Darth Vader truly is. I also liked how different each of the stories was as Hopeless goes in some very interesting directions to showcase Vader.

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The first issue of Dark Visions is Savior and it features the artistic talents of Paolo Villanelli and colour artist Arif Prianto. Savior is the set piece of the entire book and is probably the one that shows off how powerful Vader truly is as he faces off against a gigantic civilisation-destroying monster by himself. Not only is this a pretty epic fight, but everything is shown from the perspective of a young boy whose people have been living in fear of the monster for generations. To him, Vader appears as a great hero, a Black knight, who has come to save their planet, and who even rides a black horse-like steed into battle. However, even after he saves his entire world, the young narrator gets a sense of what Vader really is and is quite rightly terrified. This was an awesome, action-packed first issue and it serves as a great introduction to the entire volume. You also have to give props to the cool cover art that this story produced. The main cover for Issue #1 was used as the cover for the Dark Visions collected edition, and the shot of Vader as an actual knight is one of the main reasons why I wanted to grab this comic. I have also included the two alternate covers that this issue inspired as well, as they are a lot of fun, and show the behemoth that Vader faces off against

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The second issue of this comic is easily the funniest of the whole Dark Visions volume. Issue #2, Unacceptable, features an absolutely hilarious Moby Dick inspired story drawn by Brian Level and coloured by Jordan Boyd. The story follows an Imperial Commander who, after seeing Vader brutally kill an entire room full of officers when he was younger, is absolutely terrified of any form of failure. As a result, when a single Rebel spy escapes his attack and he learns that Vader is on route, he abandons the fleet to take his Star Destroyer after this spy in order to capture him, as “failure is unacceptable”. What follows is a destructive rollercoaster ride through space, as the Rebel spy pilots his ship through a range of obstacles and the Imperial Commander obsessively follows him no matter the risk. This results in a fantastically amusing story filled with laughs, disbelief, some very impressive artistic set pieces and an ending that brings the entire story full circle. Thanks to excellent artwork, the commander’s fall to insanity is pretty clear throughout the issue, and I absolutely loved the crazy obstacles he went through. If you’ve ever wanted to see a Star Destroyer fly into an exogorth (the giant space slug in Empire Strikes Back) then this is the comic for you.

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Next we come to the third issue of Dark Visions, Tall, Dark and Handsome, which has David Lopez and Javier Pina as the artists and Muntsa Vicente as the colour artist. Like Unacceptable, the story within Issue #3 is a tale of obsession; however, it goes in a very different direction. Tall, Dark and Handsome follows an Imperial nurse on the Death Star who, after treating Vader and feeling his power, starts to fall in love with him and begins to imagine an epic romance with him. This story pretty much ends the way you would imagine, but it is a very dark and emotional journey to the conclusion. While this story is pretty messed up, it is written and drawn extremely well, and you can’t help but feel sorry for the nurse who is slowly losing her mind. The artists did a fantastic job showcasing the various stages of the nurses obsession, from the initial stages of her infatuation, to the look she gives him after he knocks her down with the force (a look that can only be described as “thirsty”), to the scenes at the end where she finally cracks and goes into full-blown crazy stalker mode. I also loved the various sequences generated by the nurse’s imagination, which show her idealised versions of the romance, and they are a great portal into her shattered mind.

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The fourth issue of Dark Visions is titled Hotshot and featured Stephen Mooney as the artist and Lee Loughridge as the colour artist. This is a rather interesting story that examines the impact Vader has on the psyche of the Rebel pilots he flies against. In this issue, Vader goes up against a group of skilled Rebel pilots, including a young hotshot flyer with boundless confidence. However, Vader’s superior skills and reputation as a pilot soon have a noted influence on his opponent’s minds, and Vader is able to defeat one solely through fear. I really liked seeing a story that focused on Vader’s ability as a pilot, as it is one of his more impressive abilities, and is pretty cool when focused on (his appearance in the season 2, episode 1 of Star Wars Rebels springs to mind). The various space battles that occur within this issue look fantastic, and you get a real sense of how skilled Vader is in the cockpit.

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The fifth and final issue contained within this volume is called You Can Run…, and it was drawn by Geraldo Borges and coloured by Marcio Menyz. This final inclusion focuses on the general aura of fear that Vader exudes as he hunts down a person carrying valuable information on a hostile jungle world. Vader is already pretty terrifying on his own, but when his target gets dosed by a hallucinogenic compound and begins to see all sorts of horrors around him (like the Scarecrow’s fear toxin in Batman), Vader’s scariness gets amped up to 11. The artists come up with some pretty impressive fear-induced sequences throughout this issue, and the various exaggerated ways that Vader is shown are quite inventive (there is a hint of the Predator in one of them).

Overall, I think that this was a really varied and enjoyable combination of different stories that all examine a different aspect of this great character. All five of these issues are done extremely well and feature a fantastic combination of intriguing stories and amazing artwork. I absolutely loved each of the first three issues, and also quite enjoyed Hotshot and You Can Run… However, I actually found it really hard to pick out my favourite story, mainly because they were all enjoyable in such different ways. I do think that these various stories came together into a very satisfying overall volume that is extremely entertaining. As a result, I would strongly recommend Vader: Dark Visions, and it is an excellent read for all fans of the Star Wars franchise.