Quick Review – Death Notice by Zhou Haohui

Death Notice Cover.jpg

Publisher: Head of Zeus

English Edition Translated by Zac Haluza

Publication Date – 14 June 2018

 

This is a book I read earlier in the year, but I did not get a chance to write a review for it until now.  Death Notice is an intricate murder mystery thriller from bestselling Chinese author Zhou Haohui, originally written back in 2014.  The first English translation was released in June of 2018.

Goodreads Synopsis:

An elite police squad hunts a manipulative mastermind out to publically execute criminals the law cannot reach. A wild thriller and deadly game of cat-and-mouse from one of China’s most popular authors. For fans of Jo Nesbo, Se7en, and Hong Kong police cinema.

The brutal murder of respected police officer Sergeant Zheng Haoming sends shockwaves through Chengdu, a modern metropolis in the heart of China’s stunning Sichuan Province. He had been obsessed by an unsolved, eighteen-year-old murder case, until an entity calling themselves Eumenides (after the Greek goddess of vengeance and retribution) releases a terrifying manifesto. Is the manifesto a sick joke, or something more sinister? Soon, the public starts ‘nominating’ worthy targets for Eumenides to kill, and two days later, Sergeant Zheng is dead.

Eumenides’ cunning game is only getting started. The police receive a “death notice,” a chilling note announcing the the killer’s next target, the crimes they have committed, and the date of their execution. The note is both a challenge and a taunt to the police. When the first victim dies in public, under their complete protection, the police are left stunned. More death notices are coming. The chase is on.

Death Notice is an explosive, page-turning thriller filtered through a vibrant cultural lens. Zhou Haohui expertly adds an exhilarating new perspective to the twists and tropes of the genre all fans love, making for a uniquely propulsive and entertaining read.

I found Death Notice to be an extremely enjoyable piece of crime fiction that I was able to power through in a short amount of time.  The overall mystery of this book is quite complex, as the investigative team has to investigate this modern set of killings as well as the original murders which occurred some 18 years previously.  There are a lot of fantastic twists and turns throughout the book as various reveals about the characters in the book are brought to light.  I loved seeing how all the pieces of this mystery came together, and thoroughly enjoyed the overall conclusion about who was behind it, their motivation and their legacy.

While the overall mystery is really clever, I loved the intricate ways in which the antagonist was able to manipulate the police in order to kill the targets they were protecting.  Not only does the killer come up with some elaborate plans to take out his intended victims, he is often able to get the police to do his bidding.  There are some great scenes showcasing this throughout the book, as well as some great reveals about the police characters and why they are able to be manipulated.

The setting of this book is also pretty intriguing, especially as it is not a setting Western crime readers would likely be familiar with.  The book is set in the Chinese city of Chengdu, and I am willing to bet many Western readers have never even heard of that city before.  This provides the reader a unique setting where they do not know the rules or how the police investigate crimes.  The author’s interpretation of Chinese criminal investigation is quite fascinating and readers can enjoy the similarities or differences between this and Western crime fiction.  I also liked how the book was set back in 2002, in the early days of public internet technology.  It was interesting to see how different this recent time period was technology–wise, and it offered some intriguing elements to the story.

Overall, Death Notice is an outstanding piece of crime fiction, with an intricate story and a compelling setting.  This is an easy book for Western audiences to enjoy, and readers should find this piece of Chinese crime fiction quite intriguing.  I hope that we will get more translations of Zhou Haohui’s work in the future, especially ones that continue the captivating story started in this incredible book.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

War of the Wolf by Bernard Cornwell

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Publisher: Harper Collins

Publication Date – 24 September 2018

 

Uhtred of Bebbanburg returns in another rich historical adventure set in the heart of post-Roman Britain in this incredible and first-rate story from historical fiction legend Bernard Cornwell.

In the early 10th century, after many years of trials and tribulations, Uhtred has at last achieved his lifelong goal of reclaiming his ancestral fortress of Bebbanburg.  Finally able to claim his independence from Wessex and the Saxon Christians who have always treated him with scorn and hostility for his pagan beliefs, Uhtred seeks to move away from the politics, battles and backstabbing that has been his life for so long.  However, his new peaceful life is about to be interrupted by the interventions of enemies new and old.

In the outside world, King Edward of Wessex has made his move on the kingdom of Mercia, and has finally achieved his father’s dream of uniting the Christian kingdoms of Britain into one nation.  The only remaining country outside of his control is the Kingdom of Northumbria, ruled by Uhtred’s son in law, Sigtryggr.  These events have led to dangerous changes and new alliances for the remaining factions living outside of Edward’s control.

When a mysterious priest sends Uhtred on a mission to save Edward’s maligned firstborn son and Uhtred’s former ward, Æthelstan, from a Mercian siege, he finds himself outmanoeuvred by a new army of Danes who have come to claim Northumbria for themselves.  Faced with great loss, Uhtred finds himself in a brutal fight against an opponent who seems to have mystical powers at his command.  At the same time, the politics of the Wessex court threaten to start a war on another front, as the various contenders for the fading Edward’s throne seek to gain position, and many of the potential heirs want Uhtred dead.  With enemies all around and not enough men at his back, the odds look grim for Uhtred.  But, despite years of brutal battles and the ravages of age, Uhtred is still the most feared warrior in all of Britain, and he’s about to show everyone why he is always a force to be reckoned with.

War of the Wolf is the 11th book in The Last Kingdom series of historical fiction books from Bernard Cornwell.  To my mind, Bernard Cornwell has to be considered one of the greatest authors of historical fiction in the world today, both in the quantity of books he has written and the quality of their content.  Cornwell has been writing since 1981 and has produced more than 55 novels in his career, the vast majority of which are either set in England or focus on English characters out in the world.  The sheer scope of Cornwell’s work is incredible, as he has covered vast tracts of world history, including several more obscure eras not regularly covered by other historical fiction authors.  He is possibly best known for his long-running Richard Sharpe series, which followed the adventures of a British soldier and commander during and around the time of the Napoleonic Wars.  The Richard Sharpe series featured 24 books and was adapted into the British television series, Sharpe, featuring Sean Bean as the titular character.  Other series that Cornwell has published include the American Civil War series The Starbuck Chronicles, the Arthurian legends series The Warlord Chronicles and the Grail Quest novels, which are set during the early years of the Hundred Years’ War.  Cornwell has also produced a number of standalone novels, including several sailing based modern thrillers and a number of intriguing individual historical novels.  These standalone novels cover a huge range of different topics, from the prehistoric English story in Stonehenge, to the war novel Azincourt, the excellent examination of one of the more interesting battles of the American Revolutionary War in The Fort and the thriller set among Shakespeare’s theatre company in Fools and Mortals, which I have previously reviewed here.

The Last Kingdom series, alternatively known as the Saxon Stories, the Saxon Tales, the Warrior Chronicles or the Saxon Chronicles, started in 2004 and is Cornwell’s second–longest-running series, with 11 books currently written, and more set for the future.  The Last Kingdom series is the second of Cornwell’s series to be adapted for television, with a third season of The Last Kingdom television just starting yesterday.  I have always been a massive fan of this series, especially as one of the books in the series, Sword Song, was one of the first pieces of historical fiction I ever read and which helped get me into the genre.  This is a fantastic series, as each of the books contains an electrifying adventure set during a period of history often overlooked or underutilised by other historical fiction authors.  I have routinely reviewed several books in this series over the years, many of which will appear in future additions of my Throwback Thursday series of reviews.

War of the Wolf is another incredible outing from Cornwell that once again focuses on the life of his grizzled and battle-tested protagonist, Uhtred of Bebbanburg.  Uhtred is a superb series protagonist who has witnessed the changing political and religious landscape of this period of post-Roman Britain.  Originally a Christian Saxon, he is captured by pagan Danes as a child after the death of his father and the theft of his Uhtred’s ancestral fortress of Bebbanburg (modern day Bamburgh Castle in Northeast England) by his uncle.  Raised by the Danes, Uhtred gains an appreciation for their culture and even starts practicing their religion.  Uhtred is eventually forced into the service of the last remaining Christian kingdom of Wessex and its pious King Alfred (Alfred the Great).  Even with several falling outs between the two, Uhtred serves Alfred and his family for many years as his most ferocious warrior and war leader, participating in several of the defining battles of the era.  Throughout the series, Uhtred is constantly torn between the Christian Saxons and the invading pagan Danes.  Despite being born as a Christian in a formerly Christian kingdom, Uhtred finds more in common with the Danes after being raised by one of their noble families and taking on their religion.  While he’d rather fight alongside the Danes, circumstances force Uhtred to swear oaths of loyalty to various Saxon kings, especially Alfred, despite the hatred and disdain they show towards him for retaining his pagan faith.  These dual loyalties are a key part of the character, and often result in much internal and external conflict for Uhtred and form the basis of a number of excellent storylines.  Cornwell uses the character of Uhtred extremely well to highlight the differences between the Danes and the Saxons, as well as the importance of religion to these warring groups, especially when it comes to the somewhat insidious spread of Christianity to the Danes.

These storylines continue in War of the Wolf, as one of Uhtred’s oaths sends him into battle once again.  This sets up the main story of the new book perfectly, as Uhtred is forced to deal with the politics and betrayals of the Saxons, while also fighting against a dangerous pagan opponent.  I liked how Cornwell has continued to focus on Uhtred’s ties to the warring factions of Britain, and his attempts to reconcile his loyalties with his sense of honour and right and wrong.  I also really enjoyed the way that Cornwell has aged up his protagonists throughout the series.  Many authors will try to fit a number of adventures in to a short period of time in order to keep their protagonists in the same age range.  Cornwell, who has based many of the key occurrences of his books on real-life historical events, has instead chosen to age up his protagonist as he outlives several historical figures.  As a result, in War of the Wolf, Uhtred is no longer the young warrior he was at the start of the series, but is now an old sword in his 60s.  This is an intriguing narrative element from Cornwell, who has been slowly building up to this over the last few books in the series.  Not only has Cornwell been slowly ageing him but he’s been making him a more canny and crafty individual, able to rely on his brains and experiences more than his sword arm, although he still finds himself in the middle of every battle.  In the latest book, this leads Uhtred to think more about the future of the people he cares about than his own future, as he realises he is getting closer to death.  This is another fantastic outing featuring one of Cornwell’s best protagonists, and I am excited to see that he has left the series open for several additional stories in the future.

One of the more interesting parts of The Last Kingdom series is Cornwell’s outstanding research and his focus on historical details and events that are often not part of the public consciousness.  I can think of no better way to highlight this then to mention that while I was doing a post-Roman Britain archaeology course at university, my lecturer actually included several books from The Last Kingdom series on his suggested reading list among the usual textbooks and scholarly articles.  The previous books have all featured major battles or political events that helped decide the future of England, and his fictional point-of-view character often finds himself discussing the events with significant historical figures.  Smaller details, such as the traditional names and spellings of historical people and places, give all of these books an incredibly authentic feel and really make the reader think they are back in this time period.  As a result, these books are extremely intriguing for those fans of history and I cannot speak highly enough of the level of historical detail or insight Cornwell shows in his work.  Cornwell continues his trend of interesting historical features in War of the Wolf, as he examines several key events during this period.  This includes the annexation of the Kingdom of Mercia by King Edward of Wessex following the death of his sister Æthelflæd, the Queen of Mercia, and the subsequent rebellion by the Mercians.  There is also focus on the submission of King Sigtryggr of Northumbria to King Edward, and focuses on the events that led up to it.  Uhtred also finds himself embroiled in the politics around who would rule Sussex following the future death of Edward.  All of this is incredibly fascinating and form an amazing background for the rest of the book’s story.

Intense action sequences have always been a major part of this series, with the large-scale fight scenes between the various warring factions battling around the British countryside.  Cornwell does an excellent job replicating the battle tactics and techniques of the Saxons and the Danes, especially the standard technique of the shield wall, where the two opposing sides line up their shields and advance at each other.  The battles are always incredibly detailed and pull no punches when it comes to the gruesome realities of war and combat.  War of the Wolf in particular has quite a few great battle sequences, including one extended siege sequence towards the end of the book at an old Roman fort.  I also loved the inclusion of the úlfhéðnar, the fabled wolf berserkers, who become a major part of the story, as Uhtred and his soldiers must find a way to overcome these dangerous opponents.  It was quite interesting to see how these sorts of legendary historical fighters would actually fare in battle, and the author presents both the advantages and disadvantages of using them.  Special mention should also be given to the dual between the two opposing ‘sorcerers’ during the climactic battle that was extremely entertaining and one of the more amusing parts of the entire book.

Cornwell has once again delivered a five-star classic piece of historical fiction with the latest book in his bestselling The Last Kingdom series.  Filled with fantastic action, amazing historical context and focusing on a well-established and amazingly fleshed and complex protagonist, War of the Wolf is an incredible read that comes highly recommended.  Even after 11 books, this is still one of my favourite series and I’m very excited to get the next edition.

My Rating:

Five Stars

Timeless by R. A. Salvatore

Timeless Cover.jpg

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publication Date – 4 September 2018

 

From one of fantasy’s most legendary writers, R. A. Salvatore, comes another electrifying adventure of swords and steel, as Salvatore once again presents a thrilling tale of his iconic protagonist, the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden.

Centuries ago, the city of Menzoberranzan gave birth to a drow whose talents with the blade were unsurpassed by any other practitioner.  This drow’s name was Zaknafein.  Desired by an ambitious noble house and its twisted Matron, Malice, Zaknafein would become a pawn in the battle of intrigue and positioning that have eternally plagued Menzoberranzan.  His only relief from his arduous life was his friendship with the young mercenary Jarlaxle.

Years later, a young Drizzt Do’Urden fled the city and the violent ways of his people.  However, his escape was only capable thanks to the twofold sacrifice of his father, Zaknafein, who not only allowed himself to be sacrificed to the dark goddess Lolth but also willed his resurrected body to its absolute destruction in order to stop its hunt for Drizzt in the catacombs of the Underdark.  Not only was Zaknafein his father; he was also the man responsible for Drizzt’s moral code and, most importantly, the man who taught Drizzt how to fight, turning him into the most skilled sword wielder in all of Faerun.

But now, after years of Drizzt’s adventures on the surface world, something truly amazing has happened: Zaknafein has been returned to life and has found his way to the surface world.  No-one is certain how he has been resurrected or why, but Zaknafein is determined to be reunited with his son, even if he has changed far more than he could ever imagine.

The world has also changed in the last few years.  The Sword Coast is undergoing a period of rare peace.  The dwarves, led by Drizzt’s friend King Bruenor Battlehammer, rule in Gauntlgrym, while the city of Luskan is secretly ruled by Jarlaxle and his mercenary band, Bregan D’aerthe.  With their territories connected by magical gates, Bruenor, Jarlaxle and the halfling community of Bleeding Vines have formed an alliance, ensuring the security of the realm.  However, the ambitious and greedy Lord Neverember, ruler of Neverwinter, is a constant thorn in their side as he plots to steal power from the lands around him.  While usually only a minor nuisance, Neverember has been making deals with a mysterious noble house of Waterdeep and a minor dwarven clan for vast sums of money.  As the allies investigate further, they uncover the start of a destructive demonic conspiracy that could destroy all they have built.  What foul plans are being hatched, and what will happen with Drizzt and Zaknafein find themselves in the middle of a demon stronghold?

R. A. Salvatore is one of the most experienced and enduring authors of fantasy fiction in the world today. Having written more than 60 fantasy books since his 1988 debut, Salvatore has created a number of worlds and characters across his career, from his 12 books in the Corona universe, which includes the 2018 release Child of a Mad God, to his Chronicles of Ynis Aielle trilogy, The Crimson Shadow series, The Cleric Quintet and The Spearwielder’s Tale trilogy. Salvatore is also somewhat infamously known for his foray into Star Wars fiction, with his 1999 release, Vector Prime, which saw the canonical death of Chewbacca in the original expanded universe, a decision that has since been retconned following the Disney acquisition of the franchise.  However, his most iconic and popular books would have to be his long-running series that follows the adventures of the dark elf Drizzt Do’Urden.

The character of Drizzt Do’Urden was first introduced in Salvatore’s debut novel, The Crystal Shard, which is also the first book in The Icewind Dale trilogy.  The Icewind Dale trilogy is set within the Forgotten Realms universe, a large-scale interconnected collection of fantasy books from a range of different authors, all set within the titular Forgotten Realms, a spinoff location of the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying franchise.  The Icewind Dale trilogy featured a band of powerful characters including Drizzt, the dwarf chieftain Bruenor Battlehammer, the barbarian warrior Wulfgar, the halfling thief Regis and Bruenor’s adopted human daughter, Catti-brie.  While these characters all had their own adventures within this series, it was clear that Salvatore had intended to focus his series on Wulfgar and make him the main protagonist.

However, the character of Drizzt proved to be particularly popular with the fans.  A large amount of this may be a result of the characters anomalous nature, as not only is Drizzt a dark elf living above the surface, but he was one of the few good dark elves in fantasy fiction at that point in time.  The dark elves, also known as the drow, are a race of dark-skinned elves who live in the Underdark, the dark catacombs that lie under the continent of Faerun, in the world of Abeir-Toril.  In the Forgotten Realms universe, dark elves are generally an evil and self-serving race who consider themselves superior to the other races in the Forgotten Realms and often conduct destructive raids against the surface world.  As a result of this popularity, Salvatore chose to focus on Drizzt more and more as his series progressed.  This included establishing the character as one of the greatest practitioners of the sword in the Forgotten Realms, as well as introducing an equally matched adversary, Artemis Entreri.

This focus on Drizzt continued into Salvatore’s second Forgotten Realms series, The Dark Elf trilogy, which was a prequel series to The Icewind Dale trilogy.  The Dark Elf trilogy focused on the birth of Drizzt in the dark elf city of Menzoberranzan, a female-led society dedicated to the worship of the demonic spider god Lolth.  While this is where Drizzt was raised and first learnt how to wield his iconic dual blades, the character of Drizzt never fit in, except with his father Zaknafein, who tried to teach him that the dark elves, especially those dedicated to the worship of Lolth, were evil.  Drizzt would escape Menzoberranzan at the end of the first book in the trilogy, Homeland, and spend the next two books exploring the world outside the city, eventually coming to the surface and finding his home in the Icewind Dale.  Since then, Drizzt and his companions have undergone a number of adventures both above and below the surface of Faerun, with numerous changes impacting these protagonists.  Timeless is the 34th book to feature Drizzt or his companions, and is one of the few ongoing series still being produced in the Forgotten Realms universe.

Timeless is the first book in Salvatore’s new Noname trilogy, and while the series is invariably going to focus on Drizzt, this first book mostly takes a look at the returning Zaknafein.  As a result, the majority of the story is set in the current chronology of Salvatore’s universe and sees Zaknafein attempting to find his place in the new world he has returned to, while also exploring a new threat to the Companions of the Hall (Drizzt and his friends).  There is also a second timeline that is set many years before the events of Homeland and focuses on the early life of Zaknafein.  While both storylines are enjoyable, I found myself drawn more to the prequel storyline, which focused more on the elaborate and exciting intrigues of the drow and how Zaknafein and Jarlaxle became the drow we all came to know and love.  The contemporary storyline is mostly focused on the reuniting of Zaknafein and Drizzt after their many years apart, both in and out of text.  Their emotional reunion forms the heart of this storyline, while Zaknafein’s exploration of this new world he finds himself in is an intriguing part of the book.  A side effect of this is that some of the longstanding characters, such as Wulfgar and Bruenor, have a reduced role in the book.  While I hope they feature more later in this trilogy, I felt the story was able to survive without them.  This book also spends a lot of time setting up the storyline and threats that will form the focus of this new series.  To that end, Salvatore has done an incredible job, creating several intriguing storylines that readers will enjoy following in future books and presenting the protagonists with a number of potential threats for the series.  However, Salvatore has also ensured that the reader will be hit with some severe emotional gut-punches in this first instalment, ensuring that they are dragged into the next book in this trilogy.  I enjoyed going back and forth between these two separate storylines.  Each of these storylines complemented the other one perfectly and highlighted the character of Zaknafein in more detail.

While The Icewind Dale trilogy and the series that followed it are excellent pieces of fantasy fiction, my favourite Drizzt Do’Urden series has always been The Dark Elf trilogy, which I consider one of the best origin story arcs in all of fantasy fiction.  As a result, I was always going to enjoy any novel tied to this prequel trilogy.  Timeless contains a number of call-backs to this original trilogy and works to provide the reader with some interesting and unexplored backstory for the great character of Zaknafein, including how he became associated with the house of Do’Urden.  It also shows the formation of his distinctive character traits, such as his sense of mercy, his hatred of the female dark elves who enslaved him and his intense rebellion against the drow’s patron goddess, Lolth.  Some of the most emotional parts of this original trilogy revolved around Drizzt and Zaknafein as they attempted to escape from the harsh landscape of Menzoberranzan and Zaknafein’s eventual sacrifices to save his son from Lolth’s evil grasp.  Therefore it was amazing to see the two of them finally reunite after all these years in the most appropriate manner possible: a duel.  Watching Drizzt slowly realise that the person fighting against him is actually his long lost father is incredible and something that I really enjoyed.

It was also a lot of fun to see the earlier days of one of my favourite characters, Jarlaxle.  Jarlaxle is a flamboyant and deceptively cunning drow mercenary who is one of the most compelling characters in Salvatore’s books.  The character was first introduced in the second book of The Dark Elf trilogy, Exile, and quickly revealed himself to be a very memorable character.  Salvatore utilised him in a number of his follow-up series, and even gave him his own trilogy with Artemis Entreri.  I was therefore very happy to see him in both timelines of Timeless, as it provides the reader with some great entertainment as well as answering some interesting questions, like how he came up with his distinctive look.  His bromance with Zaknafein was another fun part of both storylines, and I liked seeing the previous connection these two great characters had with each other.  Overall, fans of Salvatore’s preceding books, especially The Dark Elf trilogy will love Timeless and become engrossed in seeing one of the most impactful characters in Drizzt’s life return after more than 20 years and 30 books.

As you would expect from a novel about Drizzt Do’Urden and Zaknafein, two of the most pumped-up sword users in all of fantasy fiction, there is an absolute ton of action and swordplay in this book.  Throughout the course of Timeless, the father and son duo engage in a number of exciting battles and extravagant duels as they face off against a variety of different foes in both of the book’s timelines.  There is so much going on in this book for readers to enjoy, from battles against demonic foes to Zaknafein and Jarlaxle taking on the most devious of drow opponents they can find in the prequel timeline.  The halfling Regis, who is generally one of the most entertaining characters in Salvatore’s books, also has an amazing sequence as he infiltrates a hidden vault, using a combination of alchemy, daring do and the well-honed thieves’ instincts and skills he has been displaying since The Crystal Shard.  Jarlaxle also steals any fight scene he is involved with, using his various magical devices and hidden weapons to cause all manner of chaos against his opponents, resulting in some of the most entertaining parts of the books.

However, easily the best action sequences have to be the duels between Drizzt and Zaknafein.  These two blade masters are generally regarded as the two best fighters in all of the Forgotten Realms and have not faced each other since the early 1990s.  As a result, Salvatore presents several highly detailed duels between the father and son.  These duels are written in incredible detail and Salvatore does a fantastic job highlighting the speed, intensity and skill that these two combatants have as they battle against each other in scenes which hark back to their original amazing duels in Homeland.  Ultimately, Salvatore is once again able to capture the magic that these two combatants had in their original appearances and their fights take on a completely new edge with the emotional intensity of these characters’ reunion.

Salvatore has once again provided his readers with an exhilarating adventure that pits the monsters and villains of the Forgotten Realms against your favourite fantasy heroes.  This is definitely a book that will have the most impact for existing fans of Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms novels, and as such I really enjoyed Timeless.  While newer readers may have a little trouble following the plot after 34 books worth of backstory (39 if you include The Cleric Quintet), Salvatore’s writing will ensure they get an electrifying adventure that will encourage them to look back at the original books in this series.  An outstanding fantasy adventure from one of the best writers in the business, this is fantastic read that is well worth checking out.

My Rating:

Four and a half stars

 

 

Awakened by James S. Murray and Darren Wearmouth

Awakened Cover.jpg

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publication Date – 26 June 2018

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Rating:

Four stars

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

The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor

The Fire Court Cover

Publisher: Harper Collins

Australian Publication Date – 19 March 2018

World Publication Date – 5 April 2018

 

Bestselling author Andrew Taylor returns to the 1660’s and the scorched city of London with the thrilling murder mystery, The Fire Court.

It has only been a few short months since the Great Fire of London ravaged the city, killing many and destroying a large number of houses and buildings.  The city is now finally rebuilding itself, aided by the Fire Court, an incorruptible institution that examines legal cases around the rebuilding and ensures the best result for the city.  While the Fire Court is supposed to be neutral in all cases, there are some who seek to use it their advantage.

James Marwood, a low-level government official, is one of the few people in London doing better now than before the fire.  However, James is still caring for his ailing father, a convicted traitor whose mind has been affected by his time as a prisoner.  When his father claims to have found a murdered woman at the site of the Fire Court, James initially assumes that his father imagined the situation.  But when his father is run down in the street and killed, James begins to suspect he may have actually witnessed a murder.

As James begins to look into this possibility, he soon finds evidence that connects his suspicions to an upcoming Fire Court case that will decide who will rebuild a number of profitable properties.  His investigation once again leads him to an old acquaintance of his, Cat Lovett, the daughter of a regicide.  James previously helped Cat escape retribution for her father’s crimes, and he now turns to Cat and her new employer to gather information on the upcoming case.

When more people connected to the case turn up dead and their investigation is hampered by influential members of the court, James and Cat begin to suspect that the Fire Court may not be as incorruptible as they thought.  It soon becomes clear that death is once again stalking the streets of London and this time they will not escape unscathed.

The Fire Court is the follow-up to Taylor’s 2016 hit, The Ashes of London.  Taylor is a veteran author and has significant experience writing a range of different genres and novel types.  He has produced over 40 novels since 1982, mainly focusing on crime fiction, with some of his more recent books featuring captivating historical elements.

Taylor’s last book, The Ashes of London, was a fantastic piece of historical crime fiction that made full use of its distinctive setting of the Great Fire of London.  Having the characters solve a crime and explore the city during the immediate aftermath of such a devastating historical event was masterstroke from Taylor which has resulted in a superb and memorable piece of literature.  In The Fire Court, Taylor returns to this fascinating period to show how much rebuilding happened in the six months after the destructive fire.  The focus on the historical Fire Court that was instituted in the aftermath of this event is the most intriguing part of Taylor’s new book, and readers will be extremely interested in learning more about this unique bit of history.  Taylor does a tremendous job of introducing the role that the Fire Court played in the rebuilding of the city and how it worked.  The reader is treated to several scenes that feature cases before the court, showing how the verdicts were reached.  Several of the Fire Court’s actual judges are included as characters, which is a nice touch of historical realism.  Overall, the examination and inclusion of the historical Fire Court is a notable piece of this novel and readers will appreciate how Taylor has interlaced his complex murder mystery with this interesting historical setting.

In addition to the fire-related historical elements, Taylor has also done an outstanding job of displaying what the city of London would have looked like in the 1660s.  During their investigation of the crime the protagonists visit large and varied swathes of the city which are vividly described, which brings readers right in to the middle of this vibrant and bustling city.  This base historical setting is well written, and readers will enjoy this incredible romp back in time.

The central plot of this novel revolves around a powerful murder mystery storyline and investigation.  The Fire Court is told from the perspective of three separate narrators – James, Cat and Jemima – each of whom tries to find answers in their own way.  The investigation into the murder is very intense, and what initially starts as a single potential murder spirals into a series of killings as the culprits attempt to cover up their crimes.  This overall storyline is well written, filled with suspense, and very compelling.  Readers will be captivated by the way fire is used by both the protagonists and the antagonists throughout the book.  The use of such a tool is significant, as all the London-based characters know the power of fire and its destructive potential.  It is a potent symbol of criminal wrongdoing in this series, and the audience will be shocked by how it affects the lives of the protagonists in this book.  In addition to the symbolic use of fire, Taylor also includes a significant twist at the conclusion of the investigation that will leave the reader reeling and thinking for a very long time.

Taylor has produced a remarkable and enjoyable murder mystery that makes full use of its unique setting.  Readers will love the detailed examination of the aftermath of London’s most destructive fire and will find themselves enthralled by an excellent mystery with one hell of an ending.  This is a highly recommended read from an exceptional author.

My Rating:

Four stars

King of Ashes by Raymond E. Feist

King of Ashes Cover

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Australian Publication Date – 5 April 2018

World Publication Date – 8 May 2018

 

For over 30 years, one of the most reliable cornerstones of fantasy fiction has been the books of Raymond E. Feist.  Starting with the 1982 fantasy classic, Magician, Feist has produced 30 books, all set in the worlds of Midkemia and Kelewan, as part of his long running Riftwar CycleKing of Ashes is the first book Feist has written since he ended the Riftwar Cycle in 2013.  It is also the start of The Firemane Saga, a new series which is set in a completely different universe to the Riftwar Cycle and introduces the reader to an exciting new story.

The continent of Garn was once home to five kingdoms, the greatest of which was the Kingdom of Ithrace.  Ruled by the red-haired Firemanes, Ithrace was known for its culture and creativity.  However, following a great betrayal, Ithrace was destroyed and its king executed.  In order to avoid any retribution, the power-hungry King of Sandura ordered the deaths of every member of the Ithrace royal family, and not even their legendary affinity for fire could save them.

Now, 17 years later, war is returning to Garn.  Ancient pacts of peace are failing, and the four kingdoms are out of balance.  As the kingdoms and the independent baronies prepare for a new conflict, rumours of a hidden heir to Ithrace’s throne begin to surface.

In the previously peaceful Covenant Lands, Declan, a young and talented blacksmith, is forced to flee slavers raiding his village.  Carrying the rare knowledge of crafting the legendary jewel-steel, Declan flees to the Barony of Marquensas, where he hopes to create a new life for himself.

Meanwhile, in the feared and hidden island nation of Coaltachin, three youths, Donte, Hava and Hatu, are being trained in the way of the Quelli Nascosti assassins, learning how to spy, steal and kill.  All three of the young agents are eager to explore the world outside of their island home, but they quickly find themselves under attack.  The mysterious group of assailants seem to have been trained in a similar way to the assassins of Coaltachin.  Whoever these attackers are, they are unafraid of the young assassins and have a particular interest in capturing Hatu, an orphan with red hair and a fiery temper.  As events transpire, these young people find themselves in the heart of events that will transform Garn forever.

Feist delivers a fantastic and absorbing read that once again illustrates why he is one of the preeminent writers of fantasy fiction in the world today.  His latest book is a classic fantasy tale set within another unique and memorable universe and is one of the most thrilling and addictive releases so far this year.

King of Ashes is the first book in a brand new trilogy that has definite potential to expand out into another long-running series.  As a result, Feist presented this book as a set up for the rest of the series, rather than a stand-alone book.  Substantial time was spent establishing the characters, world and overall story, and introducing elements to be further explored in future instalments of the series.  While some questions are answered towards the end of the book, a number of mysteries still remain.  King of Ashes proved very hard to put down—an impressive feat, considering it was 545 pages long in the hardcover edition.

Feist has done a lot of work building up this new fantasy location, producing some amazing settings and locations.  The characters venture to large cities, small towns, fortified keeps, grasslands, forests and various islands.  There are also several scenes set on the ocean, which allow for some intricate sequences involving ships and naval combat.  It also appears that, despite how far many of the characters travel, they have only just brushed the surface of the continent mapped out in the front of the book.  This area of land appears to be less than half of the entire continent of Garn, which indicates wider adventures in future books.  There were also some brief mentions of other continents existing on this new world, which may be a possible indication of plans to expand this series past its initial trilogy.

While Feist introduces a number of new kingdoms and peoples throughout his story, many readers will really enjoy his inclusion of the Quelli Nascosti assassins on the island nation of Coaltachin.  In the story, the nation of Coaltachin, also known as the Invisible Nation, is ruled by the Quelli Nascosti assassins, who work throughout the continent as assassins, spies and informants.  Feist spends a significant amount of time focusing on this group of assassins, displaying various aspects of their society, operations, influence throughout Garn and varied training techniques.  As a result, they are the most fleshed-out group of characters within King of Ashes and are a definite highlight of the book.  Readers will really enjoy the significant focus Feist puts on this group, as this results in a number of high-intensity scenes with covert activities and exciting action.

Feist tells most of the story through three prominent characters, Declan, Hava and Hatu.  All three of these characters have fascinating and unique accounts to follow, although all of them could be considered to be coming-of-age stories.  Hava and Hatu are both members of the Quelli Nascosti, and it is through their eyes that we see most of the secretive nation and their actions.  Hatu is involved in action throughout the continent, encountering mysterious foes and discovering his hidden destiny, while Hava’s story focuses on more specialised training and a secret side mission.  Declan’s story is a classic fantasy story of a young man trying to find his way in life while overcoming destructive elements.  There are some more classic fight scenes in this storyline, and some very detailed descriptions of blacksmithing.  Each of these storylines is extremely enjoyable to read and provides different insights into this exhilarating new fantasy universe.

King of Ashes is the latest book from fantasy legend Raymond E. Feist and represents an outstanding start to a fantastic new series.  Featuring multiple coming-of-age stories, this is a pure fantasy tale set within an intriguing and detailed new universe.  This is mandatory reading for fans of Feist’s previous work and comes highly recommended for all fans of the fantasy genre.  I cannot wait for the next book in this series.

My Rating:

Five Stars

Scales of Empire by Kylie Chan

Scales of Empire Cover

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publication Date – 19 February 2018

 

Can humanity survive the arrival of an alien dragon with an offer of love?  Find out in this curious novel about first contact with aliens from bestselling Australian author Kylie Chan.

In the near future, Earth’s ecosystem is failing and humanity’s only hope for survival lies in escaping our solar system and finding viable new planets to colonise.  Corporal Jian Choumali has been chosen to accompany one of the huge generation ships that is preparing to journey to a distant planet.  However, the launch is interrupted by the arrival of a giant alien spaceship above Earth that will change humanity forever.

The ship is piloted by an alien known as a dragon, which bears a striking resemblance to the beasts of legend.  Dragons are the ruling members of a vast technologically and culturally advanced empire made up of numerous alien races.  The Dragon emissary, Shiumo, brings offers of peace, love and advanced technology to humanity as she introduces Earth to a wider universe.

Jian and her commander, Richard Alto, are chosen to be the first delegates to meet with Shiumo, and they soon become her guides to Earth.  Shiumo becomes a sensation overnight, providing humanity with longer lives, faster-than-light travel and a solution to Earth’s failing ecosystem.

However, the more Jian gets to know Shiumo, the more it becomes apparent that the Dragons may not be as benevolent as they seem.  What price will humanity really have to pay to join the Empire, and what role will the Dragons’ cat-like enemies play in the future of Earth?

Scales of Empire is the first book in the intriguing Dragon Empire trilogy, written by Australian author Kylie Chan.  This is Chan’s first voyage into science fiction, having previously written the Chinese mythology inspired Xuan Wu series.

Scales of Empire has a number of cool features that make it an amusing and thought-provoking science fiction novel.  Chan has constructed a first contact story that explores how humanity could potentially interact with an advanced alien race.  Chan provides a series of fascinating postulations about what human products would prove desirable to an alien species, what humanity could use in our defence against potential alien threats, and what our place would be among a vast interstellar empire.  The Dragons are the stars of this book, as Chan has imbued them with several distinctive abilities and personality quirks.  There is also a fun origin story to explain the similarities between the alien Dragons and the Earth dragons of myth and legend.  Having the other main alien race also resemble an Earth species, in this case cats, is a little over the top very unrealistic.  However, the behaviour of this other species acts as a good foil to the apparently benevolent and socially advanced Dragons.

Science fiction aficionados will also appreciate Chan’s descriptions and theories about what would be required for humans to reach and colonise other inhabitable planets in the galaxy.  Chan spends some of the early parts of the book highlighting her theories about how humans in the near future would achieve this.  Her descriptions of large ships that would require ten generations of its crew to live in space before they even reached the planet is fascinating, as are her suggestions about the ideal initial crewmembers; not a lot of other writers would suggest that colonisation ships should have large crews mostly made up of bisexual women with good genetic diversity.  In addition, there is also some intriguing discussion about the colonisation of other planets, and several chapters are dedicated to the training and initial colonisation of a planet, which many readers will find enticing.

While these science fiction aspects of the book are good reasons to try Scales of Empire, one of the most compelling and memorable aspect of this book is the constant examination of whether the Dragons are as benevolent as they seem, or if they have their own secret agenda.  This becomes a central focus of the story as the human characters analyse all of the Dragons’ actions while coming up with countermoves and their own attempts at manipulation.  There are many twists and turns, and at points it becomes hard to tell whether the Dragons or the humans come off as the worst species during these interactions.  This results in a really compelling narrative which serves as a superb central focus for the book and will keep you hooked until the final reveal.

The new book from Kylie Chan is an intriguing start to a promising science fiction trilogy.  Examining humanity’s potential first contact with an alien species, Chan asks the question: between an alien species with its own agenda and mistrustful and calculating humans, who is the greater evil?  This is a brilliant bit of fiction that provides a distinctive and in-depth discussion and is definitely worth exploring.

My Rating:
Three and a half stars

to

Four stars

 

Gunpowder Moon by David Pedreira

Gunpowder Moon Cover

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Publication Date – 13 February 2018

 

Murder has just been committed on the Moon, and all hell is about to break loose.

By 2072 the world has dramatically changed.  A devastating natural disaster shook the planet and altered the balance of power between nations.  The only hope for the future lies in a new energy source, helium-3, which can power Earth’s fusion reactors and provide unlimited clean energy.

Earth’s main source of helium-3 is on the Moon.  Desperate to have as much of this valuable material as possible, the world’s leading nations each have their own mining expeditions in play.  Life is tough for the miners, death lies around every corner and Moon dust can quickly destroy the hardiest of equipment.

For Caden Dechert, the Moon is the perfect place for a man trying to escape his past, even if it does strongly smell of gunpowder.  Trying to forget the long wars he fought back on Earth as a marine, Caden has forged a new life as the chief of the U.S. mining station Sea of Serenity 1, a vital station for a country only just coming back into world prominence.

However, Caden’s small slice of peace is broken when a member of his mining team is murdered in a deliberate explosion.  Evidence quickly points to the United States’ most prominent rival, China, whose bases are located a short distance from Caden’s station.  Tensions are quick to rise, and a series of escalating incidents sees the two nations draw closer to the brink of war.

Despite the evidence supplied by his own country, Caden is not convinced that the Chinese are behind the explosion.  Years spent working near the Chinese mining team has built up a certain respect, and Caden’s suspicions of a conspiracy begin to grow after noticing other unusual activities around his base.  With his team trapped at Sea of Serenity 1, and with both nations ready to fire the first shot, Caden is forced to investigate the murder himself in order to stop a destructive war that could tear his beloved Moon apart.

From first time author David Pedreira comes Gunpowder Moon, a spectacular piece of crime fiction set on the harsh and unforgiving surface of the Moon.  Pedreira has created an interesting murder mystery that combines with a high-stakes plot, science fiction elements and exotic location in order to produce a great story.

Without a doubt, the most memorable feature of this book is its setting of the Moon.  Pedreira has done a remarkable job of highlighting and describing his story’s brutal backdrop.  Significant time is also spent describing the narrator’s emotional attachment to the Moon and how it represents a new beginning for his crew of outcasts.  By the end of the book, the Moon is nearly an additional character as it acts as an excellent emotive setting for the reader.

The Moon also serves as an important plot device, as various features of life on the Moon, such as the required technology, gravity, the isolation and the devastating effects of Moon dust, all play a key part in the overall story.  In addition, Pedreira’s observations about the requirements for living on the Moon and his descriptions of the technology and mining work will appeal to the interests of many curious readers.

While the Moon is the main location for this book, Pedreira has also created an interesting potential future for humanity that serves as a backdrop for the story.  Pedreira postulates an interesting build-up to a war between America and China made up of ecological problems on Earth, expansion outside the planet and a fight for a new energy source.  Views of the near future of Earth are always fascinating, and the predicted future presented in Gunpowder Moon is a particularly intriguing story element that combines well with the books overarching mystery.

The plot of Gunpowder Moon focuses on a riveting murder mystery that is made unique by its location and the limited options for an investigation.  The investigators do not have any traditional evidence or witnesses.  They have limited information due to their isolation and they are unable to discuss the case with many of their suspects, who may be on Earth.  The background plot of the United States and China going to war combines well with the murder elements, as there is a real sense of urgency and import to the investigation as the main characters are trying to stop an upcoming war.

Gunpowder Moon is an excellent science fiction murder mystery that contains a fast-paced, action-packed story.  The author makes great use of his futuristic setting and unique location, providing the reader with impassioned descriptions of the Moon’s surface.  David Pedreira’s debut novel is a captivating and intriguing new read that spectacularly captures humanity’s imagination with the Moon.

My Rating:

Four stars