Top Ten Tuesday – Unseen Library’s Top Australian Fiction

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 the assigned topic was a freebie associated with book covers; however, I decided to do something a little different. Because it was Australia Day on Sunday, I thought it would be good to highlight some of the best pieces of Australian fiction I have read in the last couple of years. To that end, I am raiding the Australian fiction category of the Unseen Library and presenting my Top Ten favourite entries from it.

Each year Australian authors produce a huge range of amazing fiction across the various genres, and I am usually lucky enough to receive copies of some of these from the local publishers. As a result, I tend to read a lot of Australian fiction (which I am defining here as either fiction written by an Australian author or fiction with an Australian setting) most of which turn out to be pretty awesome reads which I review either here on in the Canberra Weekly. I am happy to once again highlight some of the top pieces of Australian fiction I have reviewed since I started the Unseen Library, as several of these outstanding books might not have gotten the international attention they deserved.

Due to huge plethora of fantastic Australian fiction that has fallen into my lap over the last couple of years, this list actually turned out to be a really hard one to pull together. I had way too many choices when it came to the best pieces Australian fiction I have read from the last couple of years, so in a few places I have combined a couple of books into one entry. In the end, I was able to work out what my top ten favourite pieces were, although I did also have to include a generous honourable mentions section. So let us see how this list turned out.

Honourable Mentions:


In a Great Southern Land
by Mary-Anne O’Connor

In a Great Southern Land Cover


Aurora Rising
by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Aurora Rising Cover


Ghosts of the Past
by Tony Park

Ghosts of the Past Cover


Blood in the Dust
by Bill Swiggs

Blood in the Dust Cover

Top Ten List (No Particular Order):


Tomorrow
series by John Marsden

51eYr9CzIAL

There was absolutely no way that I could write a list about my favourite Australian fiction without having John Marsden’s Tomorrow series at the very top. Individually the books in the Tomorrow series are amongst some of the best pieces of Australian fiction I have ever read, and together they are a perfect series. Words cannot describe how much I love this amazing series (although I tried really hard in the review linked above) and I have no doubt that it is going to remain my favourite Australian series for a very long time.

Deceit by Richard Evans

Deceit Cover

Deceit is an extremely clever thriller revolving around Australian politics that came out in 2018. Thanks to its incredible realism and excellent story, I really enjoyed this book when it came out, and it ended up getting an honourable mention in my Top Ten Favourite Books of 2018 list. I absolutely loved this book and I have been meaning to read the sequel, Duplicity, for a little while now, especially as I suspect I will be just as good as this first fantastic book.

City of Lies by Sam Hawke

City of Lies Cover

Another book that featured on my Top Ten Favourite Books of 2018 list. City of Lies was an incredible fantasy debut which featured a superb story about a family of poison experts trying to keep their king alive during a siege. This was an awesome read, and I cannot wait for the sequel to this book, which is hopefully coming out later this year.

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

The Escape Room Cover

The Escape Room was the second book from rising thriller star Megan Goldin, who has gotten a lot of positive attention over the last couple of years. The Escape Room was a very compelling novel that contained a clever revenge plot against a group of ruthless Wall Street traders. Goldin did a fantastic job with The Escape Room, and her upcoming book, The Night Swim, will hopefully be one of the reading highlights of the second half of 2020.

Restoration by Angela Slatter

Restoration Cover

Restoration was the third book in Slatter’s Verity Fassbinder series (following on from Corpselight), which follow the titular character of Verity Fassbinder as she investigates magical crimes in modern day Brisbane. Restoration was a really fun read that got an easy five stars from me due to its incredible story, great use of an Australian setting and fantastic humour. Slatter outdid herself with Restoration, and I hope we get more Verity Fassbinder novels in the future.

All-New Wolverine series by Tom Taylor

All-New Wolverine Volume 1 Cover

Tom Taylor is an Australian-born author who has been doing some amazing work with some of the major comic book companies over the last few years. While I have read a bunch of his stuff (such as his run on X-Men Red), my favourite piece of his work has to be the All-New Wolverine series. All-New Wolverine was a deeply entertaining series that placed one of my favourite characters, X-23, into the iconic role of Wolverine. Not only did this series do justice to both X-23 and Wolverine’s legacy (before his inevitable resurrection) with some well-written and heavy storylines, but it was also a lot of fun, especially thanks to the introduction of Honey Badger.

The Queen’s Colonial and The Queen’s Tiger by Peter Watt

Peter Watt Covers

Peter Watt has long been one of the top authors of Australian historical fiction, and I have been a big fan of his work for a couple of years now. While I was tempted to include his Frontier series (make sure to check out my reviews for While the Moon Burns and From the Stars Above), in the end I thought it would be better to feature his current Colonial series. The Queen’s Colonial and The Queen’s Tiger are excellent pieces of historical fiction containing an exciting and compelling story.

After the Lights Go Out by Lili Wilkinson

After the Lights Go Out

After the Lights Go Out is one of the few pieces of Australian young adult fiction which I feel matches up to the Tomorrow series in terms of quality and substance.   This book about a family of survivalists being thrust into an actual doomsday scenario was extremely captivating, and I loved this extraordinary novel. Really worth checking out.

Half Moon Lake by Kirsten Alexander

Half Moon Lake Cover

Half Moon Lake is an amazing historical drama that was one of my favourite debuts from 2019. This book is a clever historical drama that was inspired by the real-life historical disappearance of a child and the tragic events that followed. A gripping and memorable book that comes highly recommended.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

The Last Smile in Sunder City

The most recent addition to my Australian fiction category, The Last Smile in Sunder City is another impressive debut which I had an incredible time reading. Arnold has come up with an excellent mystery set in an inventive new fantasy world with a conflicted central protagonist. This was an amazing first book from Arnold and I will hopefully be able to read his follow-up books in the future.

Well, that concludes my list. I am so happy that I got the chance to highlight some of the great pieces of historical fiction I have been fortunate enough to enjoy over the last couple of years. Each of the above books are exceptional reads, and I had a wonderful time reading all of them. While I was a little disappointed that I had to leave a few great books off this list, such as Greenlight by Benjamin Stevenson, DEV1AT3 by Jay Kristoff and The Secret Runners of New York by Matthew Reilly, I really like how my list turned out. I think that I will come back and update this list in the future, probably close to next year’s Australia Day. I am highly confident that this next version of my list will contain some new books from 2020, and I look forward to seeing which pieces of upcoming Australian fiction I am really going to enjoy next. In the meantime, I hope all my fellow Australians had a great long weekend and please let me know which pieces of Australian fiction are favourites in the comments below.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

The Last Smile in Sunder City

Publisher: Orbit (Trade Paperback – 6 February 2020)

Series: Fletch Phillips Archives – Book One

Length: 318 pages

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

From debuting Australian author Luke Arnold comes The Last Smile in Sunder City, an absolutely superb piece of fantasy fiction that presents a unique and powerful story of loss, redemption and despair in fantastic new universe.

The Last Smile in Sunder City is the debut novel of Australian actor Luke Arnold. Arnold, who has appeared in a number of Australian television shows and movies, is probably best known internationally for playing Long John Silver in the pirate adventure series Black Sails. Arnold has now made the rather interesting career change to writing fantasy fiction with this first book, which is the start of a new series known as the Fetch Phillips Archives. I have actually been looking forward to The Last Smile in Sunder City for a little while now, as I liked the intriguing-sounding plot synopsis and I thought that this book had some real potential.

The continent of Archetellos has always had magic, with nearly every race or being having some access to the power that ran through the lands, extending their lives and giving them rare and amazing abilities. With these powers, the magical races ruled Archetellos, until the humans, the only race not gifted with magic, attempted to steal it for themselves. This resulted in the event known as the Coda, which saw all magic erased from the world. Overnight, the multitudes of beings who relied on magic for their very existence either died or were stricken down. The few survivors of these former magical races are now deformed, crippled and slowly dying in pain.

Fetch Phillips has been many things in his life (a guard, a peacekeeper, a soldier and a criminal) but now he is barely eking out a living as a man for hire in the former magical industrial hub known as Sunder City, which has been suffering ever since its magical fires went out. For a small fee Fetch will help you with whatever problem you have, although his sobriety will cost you extra. He only has only one condition: he won’t work for humans; his only clients are those former magical beings who need his help, because it’s Fetch’s fault that their magic is gone and never coming back.

Fetch’s latest case sees him hired by a school that specialises in teaching the children of former magical creatures. One of their professors, an ancient vampire who is slowly turning to dust, has gone missing, and the school is desperate to find him. Diving into the shady underbelly of the city, Fetch attempts to find some trace of the vampire or anyone who wanted to hurt him. But when one of the vampire’s students, a young siren, also disappears, Fetch needs to step up his game to find them. However, even without magic there are still monsters in Sunder City, and Fetch may not be able to survive his encounter with them.

This was a really impressive piece of fantasy fiction. With The Last Smile in Sunder City, Arnold has absolutely nailed his debut, presenting a clever and captivating fantasy mystery which makes full use of its inventive setting and excellent central protagonist to create an impressive and memorable book. This is a truly enjoyable story that contains a fascinating central mystery that blends extremely well with the book’s fantasy elements. I had a great time unravelling the full extent of this intriguing story, and Arnold takes the plot in some very interesting directions, producing some excellent twists and clever false leads. This is less of an action-based novel and more of an exploratory story which sets out the world and features a man of the city running through his contacts to investigate a curious disappearance. I think this worked out extremely well for this book, as it fitted into the book’s classic PI vibe while serving as a great introduction to the city which is no doubt going to be the main setting for any future books in this series. Arnold has also created a couple of fantastic subplots which not only help to explore the world but also help to expand on the compelling darker tone that has been injected into this book.

Without a doubt, the major highlight of this book is the deeply inventive and fascinating new world that Arnold has produced. When I first read The Last Smile in Sunder City’s plot synopsis about a world where magic no longer existed, I was intrigued and thought that it sounded like an interesting idea. However, I was not prepared for just how impressive and creative this turned out to be. In order to tell his story, the author first created a detailed fantasy world that was filled with a huge variety of classic magical creatures of all shapes and sizes, where magic was the ultimate power and in which humans, who have no access to magic, are second-class citizens. While this would have been an interesting place to set a fantasy mystery, the author immediately flips this setting on its head by showing how humans attempted to steal the magic from its source (via an animation intended for children that was cut across by the protagonist’s memories, which was a fantastic way to introduce this plot point), and how their intrusion resulted in the complete destruction of magic.

This of course leads to a very interesting world, as now all the creatures and beings who previously survived on magic have had their lives irreversibly altered. Arnold spends a good part of the book exploring the impact of this loss of magic, examining the impacts on the previously immortal elves who all suddenly died from old age, the werewolves and other shapeshifters who found themselves deformed and stuck at the halfway point between human and animal, the vampires who all lost their fangs and are slowly crumbling to dust, sirens whose human husbands all simultaneously left them, and so much more. There are also some cool examinations of the change in status quo, with humans now becoming the dominant species on the continent thanks to their superior numbers (humans were not affected by the Coda) and their ability to use technology as a substitute for the magic that used to run everything. Of course, humans being humans, there are a couple of examples of humanity taking revenge against the magical creatures that previously dominated the continent, which the author does a good job of working into the plot. All of this proves to be an extremely fascinating and enjoyable overarching backdrop to the story of The Last Smile in Sunder City, and I really have to congratulate Arnold on his amazing imagination. Every detail about this creative world was really cool, and I loved seeing how his vision of a fantasy realm bereft of magic come to life.

The main location of this book is the titular Sunder City. Sunder City is a former magical metropolis which has suffered in the post-Coda period. Once a place of marvels and magically-powered industry, the city is now a shell of its former self, with most magical beings now living in slums and struggling to get by without their abilities. There is a bit of a Depression-era vibe to Sunder City, especially as Arnold does an excellent job of imbuing much of the city with a sense of despair, resentment and hopelessness. This really turned out to be a fantastic city to serve as the book’s primary setting, and I really enjoyed the protagonist’s exploration of it as he attempts to find the missing people. There are some really intriguing elements to this city which are worked into the overarching mystery plot extremely well, such as a hostile police force, businesses catering to former magical creatures and gangs of humans trying to cause trouble. All of this is pretty amazing, and I look forward to seeing more adventures and mysteries take place in Sunder City, especially if the author spends time looking at new types of former magical creatures that weren’t featured in this first book.

In addition to the compelling story and outstanding settings, Arnolds rounds out this awesome book with an intriguing central protagonist, Fetch Phillips. Fetch, who also serves as the book’s narrator, is a drunk, depressed and broken man, who is essentially a classic noir PI in a fantasy world. While Fetch can at times be funny or entertaining, mostly due to his sarcastic and confrontational style, his defining characteristics are his overwhelming guilt and despair. This is due to the fact that he is largely responsible for the humans destroying magic, which resulted in so much death and suffering. The full story behind Fletch’s involvement in this atrocity is chronicled in the book through a series of flashbacks which show his origin, the friendships he formed and the events and emotions that led up to his darkest moment. Due to his role in the causing the Coda, and the fact that he betrayed the trust of several friends, Fletch is filled with all manner of self-loathing and must now deal with his complicated emotions towards other humans, who he detests, and the former magical creatures he is compelled to help, most of whom now hate him. Despite all this darkness, there is a little bit of light within Fletch as he struggles against his demons and his past to find redemption and live up to a promise he made. I thought that this portrayal of Fletch was a great part of the book, and I loved the complexity that Arnold has imparted on his protagonist. I also really enjoyed the way that the author showed off the character’s past, centring the flashbacks on the four tattoos he has on his arm, and exploring the meaning behind them. This mixture of the mystery in the present and the look at the events in the character’s past worked really well together, and they help show off an amazing central protagonist who is going to be a fantastic centrepiece for this series going forward.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold is a superb and highly addictive fantasy mystery that presents the reader with a fantastic and thrilling story. While the book is mostly a clever and enjoyable mystery, its true strengths are the unique and captivating settings and the complicated, well-written protagonist, both of which help to transform this amazing novel into a first-rate read. Thanks to this excellent debut, Arnold has proven that he is a talent to be reckoned with in the fantasy genre, and I am looking forward to seeing what he produces next. The Last Smile in Sunder City comes highly recommended, and I think many people are going to enjoy this exciting new Australian author.

WWW Wednesday – 22 January 2020

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Ember Queen, Dark Disciple
Ember Queen by Laura Sebastian (Trade Paperback)

Ember Queen is the final book in Sebastian’s Ash Princess series, which follows on from Ash Princess and Lady Smoke.  I am about a quarter of the way through this novel and so far it is a really good conclusion to this excellent debut trilogy.


Star Wars: Dark Disciple
by Christie Golden (Audiobook)

I was in the mood for another Star Wars audiobook and thought I would check out the intriguing sounding Dark Disciple.  This is another outstanding part of the expanded Star Wars canon and I am really glad that I decided to listen to it.  I should hopefully finish it off in the next couple of days and I will get a review up shortly after that.


What did you recently finish reading?

Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell (Trade Paperback)

Sword of Kings Cover

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold (Trade Paperback)

The Last Smile in Sunder City
Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steve Parker (Audiobook)

Deathwatch Shadowbreaker Cover

What do you think you’ll read next?


Highfire
by Eoin Colfer (Trade Paperback)

Highfire Cover 3

I only just got this book and I am hoping to start reading it soon.  I better get a move on though, my editor/wife is already making moves to steal it for herself, especially after she recently reviewed Colfer’s last book, The Fowl Twins.


That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.

Book Haul – 20 January 2020

Welcome to my first Book Haul post of 2020, where I look at some of the cool books I have been lucky enough to receive in the last couple of weeks.  So far this year I have already picked up several great novels that I am really looking forward to read, and I will hopefully get reviews up for them soon.

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

The Last Smile in Sunder City

The first book in this post is The Last Smile in Sunder City by debuting Australian author Luke Arnold.  I have been looking forward to this book for a little while now and I actually just finished it a few hours ago.  It was really good and I am so glad that I received a copy of this book.

Into the Fire by Gregg Hurwitz

Into the Fire

Another book that I have been looking forward to for a bit, Into the Fire is the latest book in Hurwitz’s Orphan X series.  I really enjoyed the previous book in the series, Out of the Dark, last year and I am interested to see where Hurwitz takes the series next.

The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray

The Last Day Cover

This is another interesting sounding debut that I am looking forward to trying out. The Last Day is an intriguing sounding thriller that is set in a future where the Earth has stopped turning.  This has all the ingredients for a pretty epic read and I am hoping to check it out soon.

Riptide by Kirsten Alexander

Riptides Cover

From Kirsten Alexander, the author of Half Moon Lake, one of my favourite debut novels of 2019, come this intriguing sounding new piece of Australian fiction.  It looks like Alexander has produced another compelling historical drama novel and I look forward to seeing how this one turns out.

Ember Queen by Laura Sebastian

Ember Queen Cover

The final book in Sebastian’s debut Ash Princess trilogy.  I really liked the first two books in this young adult fantasy series, Ash Princess and Lady Smoke, and I am quite excited to see how Sebastian concludes this amazing trilogy.

Well that is the end of my first Book Haul of 2020.  Not a bad start to the year in my opinion.  I am expecting some additional great books in the near future, so stay tuned to see what goodies I manage to pick up.

WWW Wednesday – 15 January 2020

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Sword of Kings, Deathwatch.png

Sword of Kings by Bernard Cornwell (Trade Paperback)

I finally managed to start reading Sword of Kings, which I have been looking forward to for some time.  I am about halfway through this new novel from Cornwell at the moment, and so far I am really enjoying it.  This is a great new addition to this long running historical fiction series and I am very glad that I made the time to check it out.

Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steve Parker (Audiobook)

I am getting through this audiobook at a fairly fast pace and I am hoping to finish it off by the end of tomorrow.  Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker is a very impressive book and I have been really getting into it’s excellent story.

What did you recently finish reading?

Just Watch Me by Jeff Lindsay (Trade Paperback)

Just Watch Me Cover


What do you think you’ll read next?

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold (Trade Paperback)

The Last Smile in Sunder City


That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.

Waiting on Wednesday – The Last Smile in Sunder City and The Kingdom of Liars

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings. Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them. For my latest Waiting on Wednesday, I am going to check out two intriguing-sounding fantasy debuts that are coming out in the first half of next year. Both of these upcoming debuts sound like they could be a lot of fun, and I have a feeling that both of them are going to be the start of some memorable fantasy series.

The Last Smile in Sunder City.jpg

The first one of these books that is coming out is The Last Smile in Sunder City by Australian author Luke Arnold. This is the first novel from Arnold, who is famous for his acting roles in shows such as Black Sails, and from what I have seen in the plot synopsis, his debut could be a rather interesting fantasy thriller.

Goodreads Synopsis:

I’m Fetch Phillips, just like it says on the window. There are a few things you should know before you hire me:
1. Sobriety costs extra.
2. My services are confidential – the cops can never make me talk.
3. I don’t work for humans.

It’s nothing personal – I’m human myself. But after what happened, Humans don’t need my help. Not like every other creature who had the magic ripped out of them when the Coda came…
I just want one real case. One chance to do something good.
Because it’s my fault the magic is never coming back.

I have had some good experiences with contemporary fantasy thrillers in the past, and this one does sound pretty cool. The concept of a drunk private eye helping de-powered magical creatures out of guilt has some real potential, and I will be pretty intrigued to see why it was Fetch’s fault that magic no longer exists in the world. There is currently no indication of what sort of case he will be investigating, although one of the other taglines I have seen for the book is “Welcome to Sunder City. The magic is gone but the monsters remain.” I have a feeling that the protagonist will be facing off against other humans intent on exploiting the vulnerable magical creatures, but I guess we will have to see. I am getting a real Rivers of London vibe from both the plot and the cool cover above, and hopefully it will have a similar sort of magic and fun to it. The Last Smile in Sunder City is set for release in early February next year, and I am actually in the process of putting in a request for it now.

The Kingdom of Liars Cover.jpg

The next book that I am going to look at is The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell, which is set for release in early May. The Kingdom of Liars is a more classic fantasy tale, set in its own unique universe filled with magic and war. This is another really exciting-sounding novel, and I have to say that I was very impressed with the cool sounding plot below.

Goodreads Synopsis:

Michael is branded a traitor as a child because of the murder of the king’s nine-year-old son, by his father David Kingman. Ten years later on Michael lives a hardscrabble life, with his sister Gwen, performing crimes with his friends against minor royals in a weak attempt at striking back at the world that rejects him and his family.

In a world where memory is the coin that pays for magic, Michael knows something is there in the hot white emptiness of his mind. So when the opportunity arrives to get folded back into court, via the most politically dangerous member of the kingdom’s royal council, Michael takes it, desperate to find a way back to his past. He discovers a royal family that is spiraling into a self-serving dictatorship as gun-wielding rebels clash against magically trained militia.

What the truth holds is a set of shocking revelations that will completely change the Hollows, if Michael and his friends and family can survive long enough to see it.

This sounds like it is going to be a really cool fantasy read, and I am very much looking forward to it. A plot that follows a family of despised traitors and thieves infiltrating the royal court after their banishment sounds really fascinating to me, and I imagine that the politics and intrigue of such a situation are going to be very chaotic and very entertaining. I also like the sound of the book’s unique magical system, where memory powers magic, and I imagine that the author has come up with a number of intriguing features, powers, side effects and misuses for this sort of magic. I am also deeply curious about a world where people are missing a bunch of their memories, and I can see that playing into the book’s mystery elements very well. I also like the idea of magically powered soldiers fighting foes with gunpowder weapons, and I will be intrigued to see what sort of fight that turns out to be.

The Kingdom of Liars currently has two covers that I can see at the moment. The cover above, which I took from the Hachette Australia website (as that is the cover I am most likely to get on my copy of The Kingdom of Liars), has a very cool and sleek white and red design with a simple picture of the protagonist (I assume). The other cover that I have seen (included below) has a rather eye-catching shot of a cityscape with a broken moon rising behind it. While I will be interested to see how the broken moon plays into the plot, I personally like the first cover the most, and it is a very classical fantasy look.

The Kingdom of Liars Cover 2.jpg

Both of the above upcoming fantasy debut sound pretty awesome and I have very high hopes for them. I am slightly more interested in The Kingdom of Liars than The Last Smile in Sunder City, but that is probably because I know a little more about the plot. That being said, I am sure that I am really going to enjoy both of these books and I look forward to checking out some great books from some talented new authors.