Top Ten Tuesday – Books I loved but Never Reviewed

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  As part of the latest Top Ten Tuesday, participants need to list their top ten books that they loved but never reviewed.  This is a rather intriguing topic and it is one that I instantly related to as there are quite a few incredible novels that I have read which I never got around to reviewing.

Now, if I am going to be honest the number of books that I have read throughout my life heavily outweighs the total number of reviews that I have written.  This is mostly because I only started reviewing books a few years ago, but I have been reading pretty much my entire life.  Indeed, it has only been since I have started writing this blog that I really began reviewing every book that I read, and even then, I do miss a few.  As a result, there are quite a few books that I read pre-2018 which I never got around to reviewing, including several novels and series I consider to be my most favourite books of all time.  While I have managed to go back and review several key series that I loved when I was younger, such as The Inheritance Cycle, the Tomorrow series and the Empire trilogy, I have not had the chance to write anything about some truly amazing series and novels I previously read.  While I hope to rectify that in the future, for the moment my lack of action allows me to include these novels in this Top Ten list.

It honestly did not take me long to come up with the ten entries for this article, as several key books have been floating in my mind since I saw this topic.  I have cheated a little and included several series as entries rather than individual novels.  However, I think that this better highlights how much I enjoyed these books, plus if I review one book in the series, I will try my hardest to review all of them.  The list that I came up with contains quite a few major series and authors, including several of my absolute favourite authors and these represent some pretty substantial gaps in my reviewer credentials.  Still, I like how the list turned out, even if it is a bit fantasy heavy, and I feel that it accurately represents which books I most want to go back and review.

Top Ten List:


The Kingkiller Chronicles
by Patrick Rothfuss

The Name of the Wind Cover

The first entry on this list is the amazing Kingkiller Chronicles from the exceedingly talented Patrick Rothfuss.  I only got around to reading these books a few years ago, but in my opinion they are some of the greatest, if not the absolute best, fantasy novels of all time.  I had an absolutely incredible time reading both The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear, and I have been eagerly awaiting the third novel in the series (currently titled The Doors of Stone) ever since I finished the first two books.  While I adore both books in the series, writing a review for them now is somewhat problematic due to how much intricate detail and clever storytelling that Rothfuss fit into these novels.  In order to do a proper review, I really need to do a reread of these books, which, due to their length, is rather hard to fit into my reading schedule.  Still, I really should make the time to have another read of them in the near future, especially before the third book comes out.


Harry Potter
series by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Cover

My second entry on this list is a series that truly needs no introduction.  Like everyone of a certain age, I read all seven of these books when they first came out, and I have also done a huge number of rereads of all of them over the years.  While I could easily do a review of any of them from memory alone, I have been hesitant about writing anything about the Harry Potter books, due to the sheer amount of reviews and discussions that have already occurred.  Let us face it, pretty much everyone has read these books since they came out and there are already innumerable reviews about them all over the place.  I honestly cannot think of anything new or original that I could say that would differentiate anything I wrote from what already exists, so it seems a little pointless to do so.


Gentleman Bastards
series by Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke Lamora Cover

This is another incredible fantasy series that I only got to reading a few years ago but which I absolutely loved.  The Gentleman Bastards books are an extraordinary fantasy series that sets a group of clever conmen against some of the most dangerous people in a chaotic fantasy world.  All three of the books in this series have been top rate reads, and I cannot wait for the fourth novel to come out.  This is another series chock full of detailed and complex storylines and I really need to do a reread before I can talk about all the clever twists and turns that occur throughout the story.


Most of the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett

The Colour of Magic Cover

Based on the name of blog, it should come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of Terry Pratchett’s iconic, hilarious and exceedingly clever Discworld series.  I have loved these books since I was a child, and I have read them all so many times I could probably review them from memory alone.  However, so far I have only reviewed one of them, Moving Pictures.  I have always intended to review the rest of these books as part of my Throwback Thursday series, but I have so far failed to do so.  Hopefully, I will manage to write some stuff for them up in the future as these are all great books to read.


The First Law
series by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself

The First Law series is a trilogy of impressive dark fantasy novels that I really enjoyed.  This is such an amazing series and I have plans to review it at some point in the future, especially as I loved its compelling and violent story, as well as its various complex and flawed characters.  In the meantime, make sure to check out my review for the first book in the sequel series, A Little Hatred.


A Game of Thrones
by George R. R. Martin

A Game of Thrones Cover

This is another world-famous book which I have held off reviewing as every man and their dog has already said something about it, or its associated television show.  I did really enjoy this first novel, which is unsurprising considering how similar it is to the show, although I really need to read it again in order to note all its complexities.  I have been considering doing a big A Song of Ice and Fire reading marathon now that the show is finished, but that would take up a huge amount of reading time that I honestly just do not have.  Still, it is something to consider for the future, and maybe I could do it before the next novel in the series comes out.


Magician
by Raymond E. Feist

Magician Cover

I could have featured any of the fun fantasy novels in Feist’s long-running Riftwar Cycle on this list due to how much I enjoyed them, but I decided to only include his debut novel, Magician.  Not only is Magician one of the most impressive novels that Feist ever wrote, but it is actually the Riftwar Cycle novel I have the best memory of as I reread it a couple of years ago.  I will probably try and read this book a third time before I write anything up for it, especially as I can use that as a jumping off point to go back and check out the rest of the books in the Riftwar Cycle after that.


The Dark Elf
trilogy by R. A. Salvatore

Homeland Cover

I have read a huge amount of novels from fantasy legend R. A. Salvatore and while I have reviewed a lot of his recent stuff I have not yet had a chance to go back and review some of his earlier work. This includes The Dark Elf trilogy, which I consider to be his strongest and most impressive series of books.  These three novels are extremely good, especially as they contain the background story for one of the most complex and iconic high fantasy characters of all time, the Dark Elf ranger Drizzt Do’Urden.  I have read these books a few times, but I will probably need to do another reread in order to capture them completely.  Luckily, these books are not too long, so it would be a somewhat easier prospect to go back and read them than some of the other entries on this list.  I will probably consider doing this soon once I get my hands on the next upcoming book from Salvatore, Relentless, so this might happen soon.


King of Assassins
by RJ Barker

king of assassins cover

King of Assassins was a 2018 release from new fantasy author RJ Barker that I listened to halfway through last year.  Serving as the final novel in The Wounded Kingdom series, which followed on from Age of Assassins and Blood of Assassins, King of Assassins was an amazing read and it was probably the best entry in the entire trilogy.  Due to other reviews and conflicting priorities, I completely failed to write any sort of review for this book, which was a real shame because this is an amazing five-star read.  I really need to write something for this before all the details slip out of my mind, and even a short review would be better than nothing.


Recursion
by Blake Crouch

Recursion Cover

This is another book I read last year which I completely failed to finish reviewing.  Recursion is a really clever science fiction thriller that I had an awesome time reading.  I actually started a quick review for this book at some point, but I never got around to finalising it.  This was easily one of my favourite books of 2019, so I should probably finish off this review some point soon.

 

Well, that is the end of that top ten list.  As you can see, I have a ton of really impressive novels that I need to review at some point, and I foresee a lot of rereads in my future.  Still, it should be worth as each of the above books is pretty damn awesome and I know I can do a great review for each of them.  Despite my lack of writing about them, all of the above novels and series are amazing reads, and each of them come highly recommended, especially if you want to see how incredible the fantasy genre can be.  Meanwhile, make sure to let me know which of the above series/books are your favourites in the comments below.

Top Ten Tuesday –Longest Audiobooks That I Have Listened To – Part II

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, I’m veering away from the official topic (this week it was Top Ten Books I Enjoyed but Rarely Talked About), and instead choosing to revisit and update a fun post I did last year. I have always been a major fan of audiobooks, and in my mind it is often the best way to enjoy a good book. I have been lucky enough to listen to quite a substantial number of audiobooks over the years, and some of them have been quite long, often taking me weeks to get through. About a year ago, I started getting curious about all the audiobooks I had listened to, and I wanted to know which ones were the longest ones that I had every listened to. As a result, I sat down and worked out which ones had the longest run time. This turned into such an interesting endeavour; I ended up wanting to share it, and turned it into my first Top Ten Longest Audiobooks I Have Listened To list. I actually had an amazing time coming up with this list, and I ended up expanding it to cover 20 books, all of which were substantially long reads.

Now, I always intended to come back to this list and see how the new books I listened to recently stacked up against the books already on the list. In the year since I published that original list, I have managed to listen to quite a few new audiobooks, several of which had a pretty lengthy run time. As I just finished a rather substantial audiobook over the weekend, I thought that this would be a good time to update this list and see what differences have been made in the last year. The list below is going to be pretty similar to the list I posted up last year, just with a few new additions added in, and I’ll make sure to highlight them. This will no doubt change the order around a little, and I am interested in seeing how the new list turns out.

Top Twenty List:

1. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading – 45 hours and 48 minutes

WAY OF KINGS MM REV FINAL.indd

2. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, narrated by Nick Podehl – 42 hours and 55 minutes

The Wise Mans Fear Cover

3. Magician by Raymond E. Feist, narrated by Peter Joyce – 36 hours and 14 minutes

Magician Cover

4. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice – 33 hours and 45 minutes

A Game of Thrones Cover

5. Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurst, narrated by Tania Rodrigues – 32 hours and 1 minutes

Mistress of the Empire Cover

6. Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, narrated by Gerrard Doyle – 31 hours and 29 minutes

Inheritance Cover

7. Servant of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurst, narrated by Tania Rodrigues – 30 hours and 42 minutes

Servant of the Empire Cover

8. The Ember Blade by Chris Wooding, narrated by Simon Bubb – 30 hours and 40 minutes

the ember blade cover

The first new entry on this list is the rather good fantasy novel by Chris Wooding, The Ember Blade. The Ember Blade was an interesting-sounding novel that I had included on my Top Ten Books I Wish I Read in 2018 list and which I managed to get around to listening to last year. It took me a while to get through, but it was really worth it, as this proved to be an excellent book that I really enjoyed. I ended up including this novel on a couple of my best-of lists of 2019, including my Top pre-2019 Books list, and I included Wooding on my Top New-To-Me Authors list. I am eagerly awaiting a sequel to this great book, although nothing has been announced so far.

9. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini, narrated by Gerrard Doyle – 29 hours and 34 minutes

Brisingr Cover

10. Howling Dark by Christopher Ruocchio, narrated by Samuel Roukin – 28 hours and 3 minutes

Howling Dark Cover

This was another fantastic audiobook I checked out last year. Howling Dark was the incredible sequel to Empire of Silence, and I ended up having an amazing time listening to this second audiobook from Ruocchio. This book was one of my top books and audiobooks of 2019, and I strongly recommend checking out its audiobook format. I am looking forward to the third book in the series, Demon in White, which is set for release later this year, and I may end up listening to the audiobook version of that as well.

11. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, narrated by Nick Podehl – 27 hours and 55 minutes

The Name of the Wind Cover

12. House of Earth and Blood by Sarah J. Maas, narrated by Elizabeth Evans – 27 hours and 50 minutes

House of Earth and Blood Cover

The latest addition to this list, I only finished House of Earth and Blood a couple of days ago. This was an incredible audiobook that took me a few weeks to get through, but it was really worth it. I ended up really enjoying this outstanding novel, and I’m hoping to get a review up of it in a few days, but it comes highly recommended from me.

13. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale – 27 hours and 2 minutes

The Order of the Phoenix Cover

14. Red Seas under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page – 25 hours and 34 minutes

Red Seas Under Red Skies

15. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page – 23 hours and 43 minutes

The Republic of Thieves Cover

16. Eldest by Christopher Paolini, narrated by Gerrard Doyle – 23 hours and 29 minutes

Eldest Cover

17. Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie, narrated by Steven Pacey – 22 hours and 38 minutes

Before they are Hanged

18. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, narrated by Steven Pacey – 22 hours and 15 minutes

The Blade Itself

19. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page – 21 hours and 59 minutes

The Lies of Locke Lamora Cover

20. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale – 21 hours and 36 minutes

Deathly Hallows

 

Hmm, well that turned out to be a rather interesting result. I was honestly expecting more than three new entries onto the list, but those were the only ones that made the cut. Ironically, three substantial books I had listened to throughout the year, Red Metal by Mark Greaney and Hunter Ripley Rawlings, A Little Hatred by Joe Abercrombie and Tiamat’s Wrath by James S. A. Corey would have made the old top twenty list, if they hadn’t been booted off by the new entries above. Still, the three new additions altered the list a bit, and it was interesting to see that Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Cold Iron and Promise of Blood ended up getting knocked out of the top twenty.

Well, that’s it for this latest Top Ten Tuesday. I plan to revisit this list in another year or so and I will make an effort to listen to some additional audiobooks with a long run time in order to add them to the list. In the meantime, let me know what you think of the results above; I am curious to see what the longest audiobook you ever listened to was. Also, if you are stuck at home, you might want to check out some of the novels above. Each of them are really good and can help pass the time, especially in their audiobook formats, which are a lot of fun to listen to.

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

Texas Hold 'Em Cover

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

Series: Wild Cards series – Book 27

              American Triad trilogy – Book 3

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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

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

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

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

Blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Longest Audiobooks That I Have Listened To

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. This week participants get an Audio Freebie week, so I get to choose any audiobook topic that I want.  Regular readers of my blog will know that I love audiobooks, so I was very keen to participate in this topic.  Because of some recent long books that I have read and listened to, I have gotten very curious about the top ten longest audiobooks I have ever had the pleasure of listening to.

Therefore, I have decided to go back and list of all the audiobooks I have listened to and their run times to see which ones were the longest.  For consistency’s sake, I will use the run times as stated on either Audible or Amazon, and I will only use the versions and narrators that I listened to.  For example, I have only listened to the Harry Potter audiobooks narrated by Jim Dale and not the Stephen Fry versions, which are apparently longer, so I will therefore list the run times for the Jim Dale versions.

I am very curious to see what makes up my Top Ten List.  I have an idea of what will be at the top, but I am expecting quite a few Harry Potter books in the top ten.  Let us have a look:

1. The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson, narrated by Michael Kramer and Kate Reading – 45 hours and 48 minutes

WAY OF KINGS MM REV FINAL.indd

2. The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, narrated by Nick Podehl – 42 hours and 55 minutes

The Wise Mans Fear Cover.jpg
3. Magician by Raymond E. Feist, narrated by Peter Joyce – 36 hours and 14 minutes

Magician Cover
Technically two books combined together (Magician: Apprentice and Magician: Master), but as I will always listen to them together, I am counting it as one book.

4. A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin, narrated by Roy Dotrice – 33 hours and 45 minutes

A Game of Thrones Cover.jpg

5. Mistress of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurst, narrated by Tania Rodrigues – 32 hours and 1 minutes

Mistress of the Empire Cover

6. Inheritance by Christopher Paolini, narrated by Gerrard Doyle – 31 hours and 29 minutes

Inheritance Cover

7. Servant of the Empire by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurst, narrated by Tania Rodrigues – 30 hours and 42 minutes

Servant of the Empire Cover

8. Brisingr by Christopher Paolini, narrated by Gerrard Doyle – 29 hours and 34 minutes

Brisingr Cover

9. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, narrated by Nick Podehl – 27 hours and 55 minutes

The Name of the Wind Cover.jpg
10. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale – 27 hours and 2 minutes

The Order of the Phoenix Cover.jpg

This was a very surprising result for me.  While I was expecting books such as The Way of Kings and The Wise Man’s Fear to make the cut, I really did think that Order of the Phoenix would be higher up on the list.  I was also very surprised that two books from Feist and Wurst’s The Empire Trilogy made the list, and I really did not think that Inheritance and Brisingr were that long.  Still, it’s a good result, which I have no doubt will change in the future, especially as some of the books I am keen to listen to, such as The Ember Blade (30 hours and 40 minutes long) would make it onto this list, knocking Order of the Phoenix off.  I am sure that with a different narrator or production company, some of these audiobooks would be longer or shorter; still, it was quite interesting to see.

As a bit of bonus material, and because I already had the run times listed, here are the next top ten books as an Honourable Mention.

Honourable Mentions:

11. Red Seas under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page – 25 hours and 34 minutes

12. The Republic of Thieves by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page – 23 hours and 43 minutes

13. Eldest by Christopher Paolini, narrated by Gerrard Doyle – 23 hours and 29 minutes

14. Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie, narrated by Steven Pacey – 22 hours and 38 minutes

15. The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie, narrated by Steven Pacey – 22 hours and 15 minutes

16. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch, narrated by Michael Page – 21 hours and 59 minutes

17. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale – 21 hours and 36 minutes

18. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling, narrated by Jim Dale – 21 hours and 12 minutes

19. Cold Iron by Miles Cameron, narrated by Mark Meadows – 19 hours and 29 minutes

20. Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan, narrated by Christian Rodska – 19 hours

So that is where some of the other Harry Potters are.  With all 20 books being fantasy, I think it is obvious that I need to branch out into some longer books from other genres in order to break up this fantasy monopoly.  While I have reviewed some of the books on this list, I am planning to get to the rest at some point in the future.  However, I think most of those require a re-listen before I am able to do proper review of them; now I just have to find the time to fit them into my reading schedule.  I was quite happy with the interesting result of this Top Ten Tuesday, and I will have to revisit this list at some point in the future.  Feel free to comment below about the longest audiobook you have ever listened to.

Low Chicago Edited by George R. R. Martin

Low Chicago Cover.jpg

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publication Date – 12 June 2018

 

From of eight of the world’s leading science fiction and fantasy writers comes the latest addition to the superhero-filled Wild Cards universe, edited by fantasy legend George R. R. Martin.

Wild Cards is one of the more interesting series currently running in the world today due to its distinctive anthology format and the unusual way the series came into existence.  The stories that would eventually form the Wild Cards books were originally written as part of a lengthy Superworld role-playing game campaign that had Martin as gamemaster.  Martin and the other players, all of whom were science fiction writers, created elaborate backstories for the campaign and characters, which were eventually incorporated into the first book in the series, a dark and gritty superhero based anthology also called Wild Cards.  The following entries in the series, despite routinely changing authors, tended to follow the same format as the original book by combining together a series of short stories into a connected narrative.  Low Chicago is the 25th Wild Cards book to be released since the 1987 debut, with two other entries due to be published later in 2018.

The Wild Cards books are set in an alternative universe where an alien virus, known as the Wild Card virus, was released in 1946 above New York City.  This virus affected thousands throughout the planet, killing most of the people it came into contact with and altering the DNA of the survivors.  The vast majority of the infected who remained alive were mutated physically and are now referred to as Jokers.  However, a small percentage gained superhuman abilities and powers and are referred to as Aces.  The stories that followed have been set between 1946 and a time period that usually corresponds to the book’s real world publication date.

In Low Chicago, Martin continues to serve as editor.  The book includes input from two long-running Wild Cards contributors, John J. Miller and Melinda M. Snodgrass, who authored stories in the original Wild Cards.  There is also input from previous contributors Paul Cornell, Marko Kloos, Mary Anne Mohanraj and Kevin Andrew Murphy, as well as newcomers to the series, Saladin Ahmed and Christopher Rowe.

Low Chicago starts in 2017, where a high-stakes poker game has been set up in the city’s famous Palmer House Hotel by a prominent mafia boss.  Each of the seven players has a one million dollar buy-in, and is allowed to bring two attendants including bodyguards.  However, all hell breaks loose when a mysterious assailant targets one of the players, causing the other players and attendants, many of whom are powerful Aces, to unleash their abilities throughout the room.  In the middle of the chaos one of the bodyguards unleashes his own mysterious power and accidently scatters everyone in the room back in time.

Now with history changing outside the hotel, it falls to John Nighthawk and the Sleeper, Croyd Crenson, to travel back to various points of Chicago’s past and find the people trapped there before the present unravels.  But among those who have been sent back are some of the world’s most dangerous criminals, who have decided to change time for their own benefit.  Stuck throughout key points of Chicago’s history, can the time travellers be recovered before the present is permanently altered?

Like many of the books in the franchise, Low Chicago is an anthology featuring several short stories that have been combined together into one overarching and interconnected narrative.  Each of the short stories is unique and features one or more of the characters sent back in time, or inhabitants of the timeline they encounter.  Whilst these short stories all have the same starting plot point, they all have different focuses thanks to that story’s specific characters or time periods.  As a result there are several varied stories, each with their own unique features.  For example, the story Stripes, by Markos Kloos, features a fantastic narrative about the half-human, half-tiger character Khan being trapped in Chicago in 1929 and getting involved in the events surrounding the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  Not only is the narrative about an obviously powered individual attempting to influence such an iconic moment in a mob war fun and exciting, but Kloos also includes some significant and heartfelt ethical and emotional decisions that really make you feel for the character of Khan.  At the same time, the story Meathooks on Ice is a complex and emotional story from Saladin Ahmed that focuses on a young and troubled Ace, Meathooks, as he attempts to find redemption and his place in the world back in prehistoric times.

In addition to the overarching time travel plot feature, each of these short stories is also connected together by the characters of John Nighthawk and Croyd Crenson, who could be considered the book’s main protagonists.  Nighthawk and Crenson either appear in the stories themselves or later interact with a story’s central character in order to resolve the specific storyline.  Nighthawk and Crenson are also the main characters of the book’s central storyline, A Long Night at the Palmer House, written by one of the founding authors of Wild Cards, John J. Miller.  This central storyline, told from the viewpoint of John Nighthawk, a character created by Miller in a previous book, is broken up into 11 parts and spread between Low Chicago’s other stories.  The first part of this storyline features the initial poker game and shows the events leading up to the other characters being sent back in time, while the reminder of this storyline focuses on the protagonists’ attempts to find them.  Large portions of this storyline directly tie into Low Chicago’s other short stories, but there are also some sections where they hunt down characters not featured in any of the other short stories.  Miller has included some great scenes in this central storyline, and they get particularly compelling when they encounter the results of the other characters meddling in time and they have to discuss the ethical implications of resetting the timeline.  One particularly outstanding example of this is a sequence that requires the characters to navigate through and fix up a messed up dystopia caused by one of the runaway Aces.

Despite the different authors and the varied content of Low Chicago’s stories, many of the entries complement each other and fit together really well as a result.  Nearly all of the stories contain links to the Wild Cards universe, make full use of Chicago’s rich history, have a comparable dark humour, feature intense action sequences, tell the story in the third person from point of view characters, and have a very similar pace.  There is however, one story that doesn’t follow this trend.  A Bit of a Dinosaur, by Paul Cornell, stands out from the rest of the entries in Low Chicago, as it breaks from third person narration that the other authors utilised, and is instead written in the first person.  Cornell capitalises on this by ramping up the humour in the story and making it a little lighter in tone than the other stories in the book.  The first line of A Bit of a Dinosaur, “I think it’s important to say, immediately, that I am no way responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs” really sets the tone for this whole short story and it only gets better from there.

One of the most enjoyable parts of Low Chicago is the rich history of the book’s titular city, Chicago.  Throughout all of the short stories, the reader is transported to various periods of Chicago’s history in order to witness several of the most significant events in the city’s past.  These include The Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the Black Sox scandal of 1919, the opening of the first Playboy Club, the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the disastrous 1968 Democratic National Convention and the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.  All of the authors take significant pains to explore the significance of these events and the impact they had on Chicago and the rest of America.  The reader is given a crash course in the history of these proceedings, and also experiences the author’s interpretation of several key historical figures.  Many of these events occurred before the 1946 release of the Wild Card virus which removed the Wild Cards universe storyline from real world history, and it is fun to watch these events get altered due to the inclusion of several super-powered beings.  It is also extremely fascinating to see the various authors’ interpretations of the historical occurrences that happened after 1946, as they occur in a world where superpowers and mutations are rampant.  As a result, the authors have provided some inventive and captivating alterations that will prove to be highly enjoyable for the reader.

Fans of the Wild Cards universe will also love the deep connections that Low Chicago’s stories have with the rest of the franchise.  In addition to some interesting and complex new characters, Low Chicago features a huge range of characters who originated in the previous Wild Cards books.  There is a deep focus on the history of many of these characters and the readers get to see them placed in a range of unique and compelling situations.  In addition, the authors make full use of the overarching time travel storyline as they visit a range of characters who were killed off in previous books or whose main adventures occurred in storylines set many years before 2017.  Long-time fans of this series will love the inclusion of or nods to these early characters, especially as several have significant roles in the narrative.

Readers unfamiliar with this series may be slightly overwhelmed at the start of the book, but all of the authors contributing to Low Chicago do an amazing job of providing the relevant exposition and explanation for all the characters and the overall history of the Wild Cards universe.  Indeed, Low Chicago might be a perfect book for first time readers of the Wild Cards franchise, as the huge range of characters and the focus on time travel provides the reader with a huge amount of backstory and history that the previous books did not need to contain.

Low Chicago is an outstanding new release that is a sensational and memorable inclusion to one of the best science fiction series currently on the market.  It makes incredible use of its distinctive anthology format and the overarching time travel storyline throughout Chicago’s history that is an inspired and marvellous in its execution.  Low Chicago really stands out from the rest of the books in the Wild Cards franchise and readers will not be disappointed by this latest offering.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars