Top Ten Tuesday – Books I Wish I Read in 2018

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  A couple of days ago I noticed the latest edition of Top Ten Tuesday on one of the blogs that I follow and it really got me thinking about what books from last year I wish I had read.  Unfortunately, I am arriving at this topic a bit late in the game, so my Top Ten list is a week later than everyone else participating in this meme, but I am still going to go ahead with it.  I’m planning to participate in a few more of these in the future because some of those topics sound like fun.

The challenge from last week was to list the top ten books I did not get a chance to read in 2018 that I wish I had been able to check out.  While there are a ton of amazing novels that I wanted to check out last year, these are easily the top ones that I should have made the time to read.  I have to admit this is a rather eclectic mixture of books, but something about each of these spoke to me in some way, and I did make some effort to read this last year.  I will probably try and read these books in the future, especially if they are part of a series or sound particularly amazing, so keep an eye out for these books in my Throwback Thursday series of reviews.

There are a few 2018 releases that I am excluding from this list.  This is mostly because they are late 2018 releases that I will hopefully get a chance to read or review in the next month.  These books include The Winter Road by Adrian Selby, Empress of all Seasons by Emiko Jean or Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch.  I have also decided to exclude a few big sequels or later instalments of a series from this list.  It is not that I do not want to read these books, it is just that I intend to read the earlier books in the series first in order to get the full benefit of these books.  For that reason, I have not included books like Kingdom of Ash by Sarah J. Maas, Vengeful by V. E. Schwab or Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence.

Honourable mentions:

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Top Ten List (no particular order):

The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

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Knowledge is power. So when an unassuming Manhattan bassist named Will Dando awakens from a dream one morning with 108 predictions about the future in his head, he rapidly finds himself the most powerful man in the world. Protecting his anonymity by calling himself the Oracle, he sets up a heavily guarded Web site with the help of his friend Hamza to selectively announce his revelations. In no time, global corporations are offering him millions for exclusive access, eager to profit from his prophecies.

He’s also making a lot of high-powered enemies, from the President of the United States and a nationally prominent televangelist to a warlord with a nuclear missile and an assassin grandmother. Legions of cyber spies are unleashed to hack the Site—as it’s come to be called—and the best manhunters money can buy are deployed not only to unmask the Oracle but to take him out of the game entirely. With only a handful of people he can trust—including a beautiful journalist—it’s all Will can do to simply survive, elude exposure, and protect those he loves long enough to use his knowledge to save the world.

Delivering fast-paced adventure on a global scale as well as sharp-witted satire on our concepts of power and faith, Marvel writer Charles Soule’s audacious debut novel takes readers on a rollicking ride where it’s impossible to predict what will happen next.

I am a big fan of Charles Soule’s comics, so not only was I intrigued by this absolutely awesome-sounding story but I was also curious to see what his novels would be like.  Unfortunately, I was unable to get a copy of The Oracle Year, so I did not get a chance to read it when it was released.  I am still really keen to check it out, but for this one in particular I am thinking of listening to the audiobook version of this book, as I imagine this will enhance what promises to be a rather amusing story.

The Soul of a Thief by Steven Hartov

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In the spring of 1944, I realized that I was not going to survive the war…

Shtefan Brandt, an adjutant to a colonel of the Waffen SS, has made it through the war so far in spite of his commander’s habit of bringing his staff into battle and in spite of the heritage that he has so far managed to conceal. Instead, his growing interest in his commander’s mistress may be the end of him, were Colonel Erich Himmel to notice. Colonel Himmel has other concerns, however. He can see the war’s end on the horizon and recognizes that he is not on the winning side, no matter what the reports from Hitler’s generals may say. So he has taken matters into his own hands, hatching a plan to escape Europe and the Allies only after stealing a fortune from them. A fortune that Shtefan, in turn, plans to steal from him…

Steven Hartov captures the turbulent emotional rush of those caught behind the lines of occupied France, where one false step could spell death and every day brings a new struggle to survive.

The second book on this list was probably the historical fiction book I most regret not getting in 2018.  There are some great pieces of heist fiction set during World War II, and one told from the perspective of a German solider, especially one who might have conflicting loyalties with the Nazis, sounds like it would have a lot of potential.

The Soldier by Neal Asher

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In a far corner of space, on the very borders between humanity’s Polity worlds and the kingdom of the vicious crab-like prador, is an immediate threat to all sentient life: an accretion disc, a solar system designed by the long-dead Jain race and swarming with living technology powerful enough to destroy entire civilizations.

Neither the Polity or the prador want the other in full control of the disc, so they’ve placed an impartial third party in charge of the weapons platform guarding the technology from escaping into the galaxy: Orlandine, a part-human, part-AI haiman. She’s assisted by Dragon, a mysterious, spaceship-sized alien entity who has long been suspicious of Jain technology and who suspects the disc is a trap lying-in-wait.

Meanwhile, the android Angel is planning an attack on the Polity, and is searching for a terrible weapon to carry out his plans – a Jain super-soldier. But what exactly the super-soldier is, and what it could be used for if it fell into the wrong hands, will bring Angel and Orlandine’s missions to a head in a way that could forever change the balance of power in the Polity universe.

In The Soldier, British science fiction writer Neal Asher kicks off another Polity-based trilogy in signature fashion, concocting a mind-melting plot filled with far-future technology, lethal weaponry, and bizarre alien creations.

Another one I was not able to get a copy of, although I do remember eyeing it off in a book store.  I have heard really good things about Neal Asher before and this sounded like it would be an intriguing introduction into an exciting new science fiction universe.  With a sequel to The Soldier coming out in May, I may have to move this book up my reading list and enjoy it in the next couple of months.

The Ember Blade by Chris Wooding

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A land under occupation. A legendary sword. A young man’s journey to find his destiny.

Aren has lived by the rules all his life. He’s never questioned it; that’s just the way things are. But then his father is executed for treason, and he and his best friend Cade are thrown into a prison mine, doomed to work until they drop. Unless they can somehow break free . .

But what lies beyond the prison walls is more terrifying still. Rescued by a man who hates him yet is oath-bound to protect him, pursued by inhuman forces, Aren slowly accepts that everything he knew about his world was a lie. The rules are not there to protect him, or his people, but to enslave them. A revolution is brewing, and Aren is being drawn into it, whether he likes it or not.

The key to the revolution is the Ember Blade. The sword of kings, the Excalibur of his people. Only with the Ember Blade in hand can their people be inspired to rise up . . . but it’s locked in an impenetrable vault in the most heavily guarded fortress in the land. All they have to do now is steal it. . .

Designed to return to classic fantasy adventures and values, from a modern perspective, this is a fast-moving coming-of-age trilogy featuring a strong cast of diverse characters, brilliant set-pieces and a powerful character and plot driven story.

For some reason I had no idea that The Ember Blade was even coming out last year until I saw it in the bookstores, and by then I had so much else going on I was unable to fit it into my reading schedule.  This always struck me as a darn shame, as the synopsis sounds extremely epic and I always love travelling into new and impressive fantasy worlds.  To be honest, the main reason I have not managed to get around to reading it since its release is because of its length.  At over 800 pages long, or 30-plus hours in its audiobook format, this is a massive reading commitment for me.  However, I know that I will be able to make some time for this book at some point this year, and I am looking forward to when I get a chance to check out this book.

The Deathless by Peter Newman

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From one of fantasy’s biggest recent breakthrough authors comes an exciting, brand new series.

The demons…

In the endless forests of the Wild, humanity scratches a living by the side of the great Godroads, paths of crystal that provide safe passage and hold back the infernal tide. Creatures lurk within the trees, watching, and plucking those who stray too far from safety.

The Deathless…

In crystal castles held aloft on magical currents, seven timeless royal families reign, protecting humanity from the spread of the Wild and its demons. Born and reborn into flawless bodies, the Deathless are as immortal as the precious stones from which they take their names. For generations a fragile balance has held.

And the damned…

House Sapphire, one of the ancient Deathless families, is riven by suspicion and madness. Whole villages are disappearing as the hunting expeditions holding the Wild at bay begin to fail.

Then, when assassins strike, House Sapphire shatters.

Nothing lasts forever.

The Deathless is the first novel in an astonishing new series from Gemmell award-winning author Peter Newman.

This is another that I have currently sitting at home, cluttering up my coffee table.  The plot of The Deathless always struck me as being particularly unique out of all the books from last year, and I was really keen to dive into this curious sounding universe.  Newman has a sequel to this book coming out in June, so I will have to try and read it by then.

Dark State by Charles Stross

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Dark State is the second book in an exciting series in the same world as Charles Stross’ Merchant Princes series, following Empire Games.

In the near-future, the collision of two nuclear superpowers across timelines, one in the midst of a technological revolution and the other a hyper-police state, is imminent. In Commissioner Miriam Burgeson’s timeline, her top level agents run a high risk extraction of a major political player. Meanwhile, a sleeper cell activated in Rita’s, the Commissioner’s adopted daughter and newly-minted spy, timeline threatens to unravel everything.

I was sorry to not get a chance to read Dark State because I really enjoyed the prior book in the series Empire Games in 2017.  I loved the concept of two alternate timelines getting into a conflict with each other, and I loved reading about the espionage that would result in this situation.  I am definitely going to read Dark State in 2019, as the third book in the Empire Games series is coming out in November.

Cold Iron by Miles Cameron

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Aranthur is a student. He showed a little magical talent, is studying at the local academy, and is nothing particularly special. Others are smarter. Others are more talented. Others are quicker to pick up techniques. But none of them are with him when he breaks his journey home for the holidays in an inn. None of them step in to help when a young woman is thrown off a passing stage coach into the deep snow at the side of the road. And none of them are drawn into a fight to protect her.

One of the others might have realised she was manipulating him all along . . .

A powerful story about beginnings, coming of age, and the way choosing to take one step towards violence can lead to a slippery and dangerous slope, this is an accomplished fantasy series driven by strong characters and fast-paced action.

I have not had the pleasure of checking out Cameron’s fantasy work before, but I have read a few of his historical fiction books that he writes as Christian Cameron.  As a result, I am curious to see what his fantasy writing is like, and this new series seemed like the perfect opportunity.  Cold Iron’s story sounds like it could be a lot of fun, and I like how Cameron is apparently focusing on a protagonist who is not a ‘chosen one’ but just some random person off the street.  I might be reading this book very soon, as the second book in this series, Dark Forge, has just been released, and I would prefer to have read Cold Iron before I try and get a copy of it.

Star Trek Discovery: Drastic Measures by Dayton Ward

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It is 2246, ten years prior to the Battle at the Binary Stars, and an aggressive contagion is ravaging the food supplies of the remote Federation colony Tarsus IV and the eight thousand people who call it home. Distress signals have been sent, but any meaningful assistance is weeks away. Lieutenant Commander Gabriel Lorca and a small team assigned to a Starfleet monitoring outpost are caught up in the escalating crisis, and bear witness as the colony’s governor, Adrian Kodos, employs an unimaginable solution in order to prevent mass starvation.

While awaiting transfer to her next assignment, Commander Philippa Georgiou is tasked with leading to Tarsus IV a small, hastily assembled group of first responders. It’s hoped this advance party can help stabilize the situation until more aid arrives, but Georgiou and her team discover that they‘re too late—Governor Kodos has already implemented his heinous strategy for extending the colony’s besieged food stores and safeguarding the community’s long-term survival.

In the midst of their rescue mission, Georgiou and Lorca must now hunt for the architect of this horrific tragedy and the man whom history will one day brand “Kodos the Executioner”

What would a list on my blog be without a tie-in novel?  I am not the biggest Star Trek fan out there, but I did really enjoy Star Trek Discovery last year and I have been thinking about checking out some of the associated tie-in novels.  Out of all of them, Drastic Measures struck me as sounding particularly outstanding, as not only does it focus on two of the show’s best supporting characters (both played by exceptional actors), but it also ties into one of the most serious episodes of the original Star Trek series.  This has been on my to-read list (and my bookshelf) for nearly a year now, and I hope I eventually get around to reading it.

King of Assassins by R. J. Barker
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Many years of peace have passed in Maniyadoc, years of relative calm for the assassin Girton Club-Foot. Even the Forgetting Plague, which ravaged the rest of the kingdoms, seemed to pass them by. But now Rufra ap Vthyr eyes the vacant High-King’s throne and will take his court to the capital, a rat’s nest of intrigue and murder, where every enemy he has ever made will gather and the endgame of twenty years of politics and murder will be played out in his bid to become the King of all Kings.

Friends become enemies, enemies become friends and the god of death, Xus the Unseen, stands closer than ever – casting his shadow over everything most dear to Girton.

To be honest, I am still surprised that I have not read this book yet.  I really enjoyed Barker’s previous two books, Age of Assassins and Blood of Assassins, and I fully intended to read this book when it was released.  Unfortunately, fitting it into my reading schedule has somehow proven to be impossible, and the copy I have at home keeps giving me hurt looks from my coffee table.  It does not help that every fantasy reviewer I follow has been talking this book up like crazy, and the general consensus is that King of Assassins is apparently better than the first two books in the series, both of which were already pretty awesome.  I really want to see how this series ends, so I think I might grab this version on audiobook and check it out in the next month or so.

The Outsider by Stephen King
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An unspeakable crime. A confounding investigation. At a time when the King brand has never been stronger, he has delivered one of his most unsettling and compulsively readable stories.

An eleven-year-old boy’s violated corpse is found in a town park. Eyewitnesses and fingerprints point unmistakably to one of Flint City’s most popular citizens. He is Terry Maitland, Little League coach, English teacher, husband, and father of two girls. Detective Ralph Anderson, whose son Maitland once coached, orders a quick and very public arrest. Maitland has an alibi, but Anderson and the district attorney soon add DNA evidence to go with the fingerprints and witnesses. Their case seems ironclad.

As the investigation expands and horrifying answers begin to emerge, King’s propulsive story kicks into high gear, generating strong tension and almost unbearable suspense. Terry Maitland seems like a nice guy, but is he wearing another face? When the answer comes, it will shock you as only Stephen King can.

This has to be one of the books of 2018 that I most regret not reading.  I did get a copy of it but I did not get a chance to read it because of other review commitments that I made.  I am still extremely curious to find out how the suspect could be in two places at once and I really want to find out how this mystery ends.  Luckily, I have managed to avoid any spoilers about it and I hope to check it out in the next few months.

Blood of Assassins by R. J. Barker

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Publisher: Orbit

Publication Date – 13 February 2018

 

War, murder and magic return with R. J. Barker’s assassins in the sequel to his impressive debut, Age of Assassins.

It has been five years since assassins Girton Club-Foot and his master, Merela Karn, started a bloody civil war in the nation of Maniyadoc.  Since then, they have been in hiding, fighting in the borderlands as soldiers for hire to avoid the price on their heads.  However, when Merela is gravely injured, they have no choice but to return to Maniyadoc and seek shelter there.  Girton finds a far different land to the one he visited five years before.  War has turned much of the kingdom into a brutal hellscape, ruled over by war crazed marauders known as Nonmen, while giant flesh-eating pigs roam the wilds.

Amongst this chaos, three kings fight for power, their armies controlling what small tracts of inhabitable land remain.  Girton knows all three of the opposing kings, having spent time among them five years ago.  Two of them hate Girton and his master, falsely blaming them for the deaths of their relatives, the events which started the war.  However, the other of the warring kings, Rufra, owes Girton his life, and may be the only friend the young assassin has.  Since their last meeting, Rufra has turned into a noble king, weighed down by the responsibility of his office and personal grief.

Pledging his loyalty to Rufra, Girton immediately sets about trying to find a spy hidden among the king’s closest followers, navigating camp politics and the fragile alliances that hold the army together.  At the same time, Girton must also solve the murder of a fanatical religious leader whose dangerous followers demand retribution.  Rufra is the fractured nation’s best option for peace, but far too many people want him dead.  Each day the spy is active hastens Rufra’s defeat, and Girton must use every bit of his wit and skill to save his friend.

But the greatest threat to Rufra’s reign may be Girton himself.  Like all assassins, Girton uses forbidden magic to grant himself subtle advantages to aid him in his kills.  However, Girton’s magic has become far too powerful, and he can no longer control the terrible energies within him.  In a world were all magic is outlawed and feared, any evidence of Girton’s abilities would condemn him and everyone he loves to a bloody end.  The last uncontrolled sorcerer turned the kingdom of Maniyadoc into a barren wasteland, and Girton’s power may soon compel him to do the same.

This is the second book in Barker’s The Wounded Kingdom series and is the follow-up to last year’s successful and highly compelling debut, Age of AssassinsBlood of Assassins is a great addition to the series which builds up the anticipation for the upcoming King of Assassins, which is set to come out in Australia in August 2018.

The fantasy world that Barker has created is an interesting one with several unique features.  While most of the first book’s story was limited to the goings-on within one specific castle, Barker completely changes the script in this sequel by expanding the narrative to the whole realm of Maniyadoc and the fighting going on around it.  Readers of Age of Assassins will enjoy seeing how the devastation of the civil war has changed the kingdom.  The nation of Maniyadoc, which was already described as a fairly dismal place, is now haunted by a new range of monstrous creatures and humans created by neglect and the brutal fighting.  This noticeable change to the scenery of the story helps to affect the overall mood of the book and also acts as a mirror to Girton’s more depressed and hopeless mental viewpoint in the second book.

I often enjoy authors blending different genre types within fantasy books, and Blood of Assassins is a great example of this, as Barker has incorporated elements of political thrillers and murder mysteries.  The hunt for the murderers and traitors at the heart of Rufra’s camp is a well done and produces a compelling mystery that combines well with the book’s action, politics and magic.

Fans of action and battle will not be disappointed, as Barker makes full use of a range of fight scenes.  Action junkies will enjoy the numerous duels, clashes between assassins, larger pitched battles and one notable siege that sees that protagonist fighting to defend a village from a horde of crazed Nonmen while also attempting to hold his destructive magic at bay.  It is also interesting to see how Barker forgoes the enormous pitched battles that are a usual fantasy staple.  Instead this conflict is fought by small, desperate armies over limited amounts of land, which comes across as more realistic, considering the landscape.

Finally, Barker has also done a great job of showing how his main characters have developed since the last novel, particularly taking the time to illustrate how their relationships move and change throughout the book.  Girton has gone from a young and optimistic boy seeking the approval of his master to a taciturn and depressed man, actively resenting his master for the changes and problems in his life.  At the same time, Rufra has gone from a lowly squire seeking a friend and trying to avoid trouble to a man consumed by his responsibilities and personal grief.  These changes lie at the heart of the book and add emotional depth to the story.  It is also warming to see how the friendship between Girton and Rufra lightens both characters and helps heal their emotional wounds.

As a result, Blood of Assassins is a fantastic character-driven story that weaves together action and mystery in Baker’s excellent fantasy world to create a scintillating and addictive read.  This is a marvellous second outing from a bright new star in fantasy fiction.

My Rating:

Four stars