Waiting on Wednesday – Upcoming Warhammer 40,000 Novels

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 column, I look at four awesome upcoming novels set in the turbulent and grim future of the Warhammer 40,000 universe.

Readers familiar with this blog will know that I am a massive sucker for tie-in novels, and I am very well acquainted with several fandoms who have extensive expanded universes.  One of the more interesting ones that I have recently been getting into are the amazing and deeply exciting Warhammer extended universes.  Built around the various table-top games of Games Workshop and published by the Black Library, the Warhammer novels, are a massive collection of compelling and action-packed novels that add some outstanding backstory and extended universe inclusions to the already well-established lore introduced in the background of the various races and factions.

Throughout the last year or so I have been really getting into the Warhammer fiction, having read some incredible and fun novels, including the first three Gotrek and Felix novels, Trollslayer, Skavenslayer and Daemonslayer, from the Warhammer Fantasy franchise.  However, I have primarily been getting into the incredible science fiction adventures that make up the Warhammer 40,000 universe.  Warhammer 40,000 fiction is set far in the future and envisions a dark and gothic universe, filled with constant warfare between a range of colourful and chaotic groups.  I have had an outstanding time with several great books set in this universe, including Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker, Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty, Fire Made Flesh and The Twice-Dead King: Ruin.  Each of these novels has been pretty epic, and I am very much in the mood to read more of these books.  Luckily for me, there are huge number of new releases on the horizon, and four interesting books coming out here in Australia in the first half of 2022 have already caught my attention.

The first of these books is the intriguing and intense sounding Steel Tread by Andy Clark.  Steel Tread will be part of the Astra Militarum series, and will follow a group of Imperial Guard, the basic human soldiers, as they face off against the forces of Chaos.  In particular, the book will follow a tanker who is transferred to a new unit and must learn to command a new tank with an unusual crew.

Steel Tread Cover

Synopsis:

The Astra Millitarum are a blunt instrument of violence, wrought on a galactic scale. This new series from Black Library will explore some of their regiments.

On the war-torn world of Croatoas, the armies of the Astra Militarum do battle with the twisted servants of the Ruinous Powers. Against the backdrop of this increasingly desperate conflict, tanker Hadeya Etsul finds herself consolidated into a Cadian regiment, and placed in command of the Leman Russ Demolisher Steel Tread. Haunted by nightmares, surrounded by a dysfunctional crew and striving to find her place amidst a proud and insular regiment with a culture so different from her own, Etsul must guide her crew to victory. But, as her regiment rolls out beneath the poisonous light of the Great Rift to join a death-or-glory offensive, the crew of Steel Tread are about to face the fight of their lives. If they cannot learn to work as one, how can they hope to survive?

This cool first novel has a lot of potential and is set for release right at the start of 2022.  Steel Tread looks set to be a classic and powerful war story and I am extremely excited to once again get to grips with the common human solider in this universe of gods, monsters and demons.  I love the idea of an awesome tank-based story, especially as the author, Andy Clark, has a great deal of experience writing some cool science fiction and fantasy Warhammer stories.  I cannot wait to see how this book turns out, and I am expecting a dark and brooding science-fiction version of Fury.

The next Warhammer 40,000 novel that I want to read is The Bookkeeper’s Skull by Justin D. Hill.  The Bookkeeper’s Skull will be an inclusion in the Warhammer Horror sub-series, which sets terrifying and creepy horror tales in the wider Warhammer universe.  This is a bit of a win-win for me, as I have been keen to read more horror and Warhammer books, so this should be a good opportunity for me.  The Bookkeeper’s Skull will be set on an agricultural world in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, which has descended into madness as one young man attempts to stop the horrors and blasphemy of Chaos.

The Bookkeeper's Skull Cover

Synopsis:

Spine-chilling tales set in the Worlds of Warhammer.

On the capital world of Potence, young enforcer cadet Rudgard Howe is caught up in a bitter internecine feud to inherit his father’s position of Chief Enforcer. As the tithe fleets approach, he is sent on his first mission to ensure that the planet’s distant agri-facilities fulfil their quotas to the God-Emperor.

Farmed with serfs and managed by ex-Militarum soldiers, the agri-facilities are places of shocking brutality and hopelessness. But when he is sent to the outlying farmstead of Thorsarbour, Rudgard discovers a community where the crops are left to rot as the inhabitants indulge in the bloody ecstasy of a sanguinary cult.

As Rudgard imposes the strict Lex Imperialis upon the farmstead, he begins to uncover a place where sanity is rapidly slipping. But he is just one step along this nightmarish mission when a series of cruel deaths threatens to dismantle everything he has ever known about the Imperium, his faith in the Emperor, and the strength of his very soul.

This is another awesome sounding novel with a really interesting plot to it.  Deranged Chaos cultists are a fantastic part of Warhammer lore, and I am extremely intrigued to see a dark and trippy horror novel written around it.  The Bookkeeper’s Skull is a relatively short novel, so this will no doubt be an extremely fast-paced read, with a lot of nightmares and insanity compressed into it.  I am very keen to read my first Warhammer Horror novel, and I cannot wait to see how dark and scary a horror novel in this universe can be.

The third book I wanted to highlight in this article is Day of Ascension by bestselling science fiction author Adrian Tchaikovsky.  Tchaikovsky is an extremely highly regarded science fiction author best known for his epic Shadows of the Apt series, and I have been really keen to read some of his work for a while.  Day of Ascension will be Tchaikovsky’s first Warhammer 40,000 novel and will examine one of the more unique and terrifying creatures in Warhammer canon, the Genestealers.

Day of Ascension Cover

Synopsis:

Exciting new Warhammer 40,000 novel from Adrian Tchaikovsky

On the forge world of Morod, the machines never stop and the work never ends. The population toil in the mines and factoria to protect humanity from the monsters in the void, while the Adeptus Mechanicus enjoy lives of palatial comfort.

Genetor Gammat Triskellian seeks to end this stagnant corruption. When he learns of a twisted congregation operating within the shadows, one which believes that the tech-priests are keeping the people from their true salvation – a long-prophesied union with angels – he sees in them an opportunity to bring down Morad’s masters and reclaim the world in the name of progress.

But sometimes, the only hope for real change lies in the coming of monsters.

Now this sounds like a very intriguing novel, and it will probably end up being one of the more unique and compelling Warhammer reads of 2022.  I absolutely love the plot for Day of Ascension described in the synopsis above, especially as Tchaikovsky will be combining a planned revolution with the introduction of a Genestealer Cult.  Genestealer Cults are the forerunners of the Tyranids, an insidious and unstoppable alien species, that range ahead of the wider Tyranid fleets infiltrating societies, infecting human populations, and causing rebellion and chaos.  The Genestealers are some of the most dangerous and scary Warhammer creatures, and storyline about an idealistic revolutionary becoming involved with them while not realising that they are planning to consume the entire planet and kill everyone, sounds pretty damn awesome.  This novel has an insane amount of potential, especially in Tchaikovsky’s very capable hands, and I cannot wait to see this fantastic and incredible story unfold.

The final book in this article is the very cool Gaunt’s Ghosts prequel novel, The Vincula Insurgency by one of the most highly regarded and prolific authors of Warhammer fiction, Dan Abnett.  The Gaunt’s Ghosts books are wildly considered to be one of the best and most iconic pieces of Warhammer 40,000 fiction, perfectly highlighting the many battles and issues surrounding the Imperial Guard.  Following a small and tragic Imperial Guard regiment, the Tanith First and Only, the Gaunt’s Ghost series ran for years, and only finished in 2019 with the release of the 16th and final book.  I read the first book in this series, First and Only, earlier this year, and it was an exceptional and clever military read, perfectly capturing the many issues of the common solider in the trenches.  As such, I am extremely keen to read a new entry in the series, especially as it contains an interesting prequel narrative.

The Vincula Insurgency Cover

Synopsis:

 Gaunt’s Ghosts are back in a fresh new look at the beginning.

The war may be over, but duties remain for the brave soldiers of the Astra Militarum. In the ruined border town of Vincula, the newly formed Ghosts of Tanith, along with their commander Ibram Gaunt, find themselves in a thankless police action, trying to establish a permanent peace. But what exactly is stalking them through the shadowed streets, and what dark secrets will the untested, new-founded Ghosts learn about themselves? The Vincula Insurgency is an intense new combat thriller of the Ghosts’ early days, pulled directly from the ultra-classified Ghost Dossier.

This should be another captivating and interesting inclusion in the Warhammer 40,000 canon from Abnett.  Another relatively shorter entry, this first book in the Ghost Dossier series, is currently set for release in May 2022 (although a version was released earlier this year) and will no doubt be a fantastic, fast-paced read.  I love the idea of a very early Gaunt’s Ghosts story set right after the tragic loss of their planet and before they fully come together as a regiment.  There should be some really interesting and compelling storylines in this novel and I cannot wait to see what early horrors the Ghosts were forced to face.

As you can from the above, there are some extremely cool Warhammer 40,000 novels coming out in the next few months.  Each of the above sound extremely amazing and I am really keen to check them all out.  I think the above collection of books really highlights the fascinating and fantastic range of this franchise, and I look forward to expanding my Warhammer 40,000 knowledge very soon.

Warhammer 40,000: The Twice-Dead King: Ruin by Nate Crowley

The Twice-Dead King - Ruin Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 9 October 2021)

Series: Twice Dead King – Book One

Length: 11 hours and 22 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

Intriguing new author Nate Crowley presents one of the most complex and fascinating Warhammer 40,000 novels I had the pleasure of reading, The Twice-Dead King: Ruin, an epic and thrilling novel that explores one of the most intriguing races in the canon, the Necrons.

I have been having a lot of fun listening to a bunch of awesome Warhammer 40,000 (Warhammer 40K) novels over the last year, with some great examples including Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steve Parker, Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty by Joshua Reynolds, Fire Made Flesh by Denny Flowers, and First and Only by Dan Abnett.  While I have deeply enjoyed all these novels, I felt that it was time to go outside of the novels that typically focus on this universe’s human characters and instead read something with a more unique subject matter.  As such, when I saw that The Twice-Dead King: Ruin had recently been released, I instantly grabbed a copy, and I am really glad that I did.

Ruin is the first novel in The Twice-Dead King series, which looks set to explore the Necrons and their place in the current Warhammer 40K universe.  This was the second Warhammer 40K novel from author Nate Crowley, who previously released the intriguing Ork-centric novel, Ghazghkull Thraka: Prophet of the Waaagh!, as well as several short stories/novellas set in the universe.  Crowley makes full use of his talent for getting into the mind of fictional aliens to create an excellent and enjoyable read that I had a wonderful time listening to.

In the chaotic and war-striven future of the 41st millennium, many powerful and dangerous races fight for domination and destruction.  However, no race is more mysterious or feared than the immortal beings known as the Necrons.  The Necrons are an ancient and ruthless race who, thousands of years ago, sacrificed their mortality and humanity to defeat a powerful enemy as well as death itself.  Forced into thousands of years of hibernation after their great victory, the Necrons are now slowly awakening to reclaim their empire by destroying all life in the galaxy.

However, despite their intense belief in themselves, the Necrons are a dying race, gradually being whittled down by time, madness, and the unceasing tide of organic life they are forced to constantly fight against.  None know this better that Oltyx, a bitter and resentful Necron Lord who has been banished to the wretched border world of Sedh.  Once heir to the throne of a mighty and glorious dynasty, he now only has control of a small garrison of degraded warriors who are slowly dwindling under constant attacks from Ork raiders attempting to invade the Necron empire.

As Oltyx dreams about vengeance and reclaiming his birthright, he finds himself facing an immense threat that could spell the doom of his dynasty and the entire Necron race.  The invading Orks are only the precursor of a larger and much more powerful enemy, one his small force has no chance of defeating.  With no other option, Oltyx is forced to return to his dynasty’s crownworld and beg for reinforcements from the court who cast him out.  However, his return uncovers something far more disturbing than he could have ever imagined.  A twisted horror now lies within the heart of Oltyx’s dynasty, bringing only madness and bloodshed with it.  To ensure his people’s survival, Oltyx must face the curse of the Necrons and the pure horror of a twice-dead king.

Ruin is an exceptional and captivating tie-in novel that perfectly combines an intriguing and addictive narrative with large amounts of Warhammer 40K lore and some great character work.  This is a perfectly paced story that does an exceptional job introducing the complex setting and character and placing them into an intense and emotionally rich adventure.  While the initial start of the book is a tad slow due to the necessity of throwing in so much Necron lore, it swiftly picks up speed and excitement within the first few chapters.  I personally became really attached to this novel a couple of chapters in when the protagonist and point-of-view character, Oltyx, attempts to determine the best way to defend his planet against the Ork invaders, while also simultaneously mulling over the failures of his personal history.  There was one amazing extended sequence that saw Oltyx attempting to analyse a vision from his past to come up with a perfect plan, while also watching a massive force of Orks approaching.  This scene perfectly blended a fun Warhammer battle with alien history and a complex character moment, all set to a timer that was counting down to the start of combat.  From there the story gets even more enjoyable, as after getting up close and personal with the real horrors of the Necrons, the protagonist discovers that there is a bigger danger approaching: humans.  From there, Oltxyx is forced to journey back to his home planet to beg for help, but instead finds a secret more terrible and disturbing than he could ever imagine.  After some severe lows, combined with a couple of family reunions of variable enjoyment, the story leads up to an impressive and epic conclusion, loaded with war, destruction and sacrifice.  This satisfying and moving conclusion wraps up this leg of the story extremely well and treats the reader to some outstanding action sequences and some major emotional moments that will define the protagonist for the entire series.  An overall brilliant and deeply memorable narrative, I powered through this cool book and loved every second of it.

Ruin was also a pretty impressive entry in the overall Warhammer 40K canon, especially as it contains an outstanding look at one of the franchises more unique races, the Necrons, who are extremely underrepresented in the extended fiction.  Crowley has done a brilliant job here with Ruin, and I loved the distinctive and compelling Warhammer 40K story it contained.  The author has made sure to load up this book with a ton of detail, information and settings unique to this massive franchise, and fans will no doubt love immersing themselves in this cool lore.  Ruin also contains several massive and well-written battle sequences that will easily remind readers of the table-top games that this franchise is built around and which really increase the epic nature of this novel.  The immense amount of somewhat more obscure lore may turn off readers new to Warhammer 40K fiction.  However, I think that most new readers can probably follow along pretty well here, especially as Crowley has a very descriptive and accessible writing style, and Ruin proves to be an excellent and compelling introduction to the Necrons.

I was deeply impressed by how Crowley featured the Necrons in Ruin, especially as he provides a deep explanation of their history and personalities, while also making this somewhat aloof race extremely sympathetic.  The Necrons are a very interesting race within the Warhammer 40K canon, with a look that can be best summed up as Ancient Egyptian Terminators.  They also have a backstory that is somewhat similar to the Cybermen from Doctor Who, in that they are formally organic beings who were transplanted into metal bodies, with only a few members (mostly the former nobility) maintaining their personalities, memories and emotions.  This makes them a very hard species to get a handle on, and most of their appearances in the expanded fiction feature them as cold antagonists.  However, Crowley really went out of his way to showcase the deep and rich culture, history and personalities contained within this race, and the reader ends up getting an impressive and comprehensive look at them throughout Ruin.

This book contains so many intriguing and compelling details about the Necrons, and the reader gets a real crash-course, including why they gave up their humanity to become metallic monsters.  Crowley attempts to cover every single detail about the Necron way of life in this book, and Ruin is filled with cool discussions about current Necron biology, how their components work, how they communicate, and what the mindset of these immortals truly are.  The readers are left with a vision into the complex and hierarchical minds of this unique race, and you get some compelling insights into who they are and why they do what they do.  In addition, Crowley really attempts to highlight just how tragic the Necrons really are as a race, with a deep and compelling look at what they truly gave up when they become the metal beings we all know.  Crowley paints the Necrons as a dying race, despite the apparent immortality bestowed upon them, as the finite members are slowly being worn down by combat, disrepair, and madness.  There is a particularly fascinating look at how the transition from flesh to metal has deeply impacted the psyche of many of its members, as some have been driven into a deep depression while others are turned into crazed cannibals.  This fascinating and comprehensive examination helps to turn the Necrons into quite a sympathetic race throughout Ruin, and you end up rooting for them as the book progresses, even when they are fighting humans.  While the Necrons have never been my favourite race/faction in the Warhammer 40K canon, I deeply appreciated seeing a novel from their point of view, and Crowley’s excellent writing has helped to alter my opinion about them.  I must admit that it was extremely fun to see their perspective on the events of the Warhammer 40K universe, as well as their opinions about the other races inhabiting it (the protagonist makes a very intriguing comparison between Necrons and Space Marines that really sticks in the mind).  This was a perfect Necron novel, and readers will come away with a whole new appreciate for their backstory and plight.

Another thing that I deeply enjoyed about Ruin was the complicated protagonist, Oltyx, a disgraced Necron noble who has been banished to a desolate and worthless frontier planet for his transgressions.  At the start of Ruin, Oltyx is an angry and arrogant creature, weighed down by his bitterness and resentment, and is not a particularly fun character.  However, as the story progresses, Crowley adds layer upon layer of complexity to him, using a mixture of flashbacks, personal insights, revelations, and alternate perspectives of his memories.  This slowly turns him into a sympathetic and compelling figure, showing him as one of the few nobles to truly care about the future of his people, whole also exploring his concerns about the madness and apathy that could one day claim him.  As the story progresses, and he reencounters the members of his family and has more visions of his past, Oltyx continues to evolve into a much more likable character, especially as he deals with great adversity and tragedy.  This adversity gives him some great appreciation for his race, even the lower tiers, and he soon comes away a well-rounded figure with an interesting future ahead of him.  This was an overall exceptional introduction to this character and Crowley has set up this figure up perfectly for the future entries in this series.

Aside from Oltyx proper, there were a couple of other fun figures I must highlight in this book.  Five of these characters are actually part of Oltyx himself, as the protagonist has installed five subminds into his head in order to help him achieve his mission.  These five subminds each provide different insights to a range of subjects, including doctrine, aliens, combat, strategy, and analytical analysis.  The various subminds each have their own personalities, based on their design, and it is fun to see them interact with Oltyx in his head and with each other.  While some of the subminds are focused on more than others, they prove to be an intriguing inclusion in the story, especially as they also grow and develop alongside Oltyx, especially once he comes to appreciate them more.  The subminds also help compensate for the general lack of other side characters in the novel, which are a result of both isolated planets and the general lack of remaining sentience amongst the Necrons.

The other major side character I want to talk about is Djoseras, Oltyx’s brother, who the protagonist blames for his exile.  Djoseras is an excellent mentor character who was just as deeply impacted by the transition to a metal body as his brother.  Despite Oltyx’s bitter memories about him, nothing about Djoseras is as cut-and-dry and you initially believe.  Once you encounter him in person and see some additional memories for Oltyx, you really grow to appreciate Djoseras more, especially once you see him lead an army in battle.  Oltyx’s multiple encounters with Djoseras add some outstanding emotional elements to the story, and each of his appearances were complex and compelling.  Other side characters are introduced in this book, although most of them were only featured for a short time.  However, they will probably have a bigger role in the future novels in this series, and Ruin serves as a good introduction to them.

I grabbed a copy of Ruin in its audiobook format, which proved to be an outstanding way to enjoy Ruin, especially as it allows listeners to really absorb all the cool and impressive details contained within this compelling read.  This novel has a decent runtime of over 11 hours and features some brilliant voice work from narrator Richard Reed.  Reed is a talented narrator who has been a major fixture of the Warhammer audiobook scene in the last few years, and I really loved the awesome job he did here with Ruin.  Reed has a great voice for this impressive science fiction epic, and he manages to move the story along at a quick and thrilling pace which allowed me to finish off this novel in a few short days.  Each of the major characters are gifted their own distinctive voice throughout Ruin, which fits them perfectly and ensures that the reader always knows who is talking.  I particularly enjoyed the fun voice work set around the protagonist’s five subminds, especially as they are similar, yet slightly different, to that of the protagonist.  I also really appreciated Reed’s voice work during certain big scenes, such as when attempting to emulate a crowd of mad, chanting Necrons, and his great narration really helped to enhance these scenes.  An exceptional and deeply entertaining audiobook outing, I would strongly recommend this format to anyone interested in enjoying this fantastic epic.

With Ruin, the first The Twice-Dead King book, brilliant author Nate Crowley, has provided Warhammer 40K fans with an exceptional and powerful introduction to the mysterious Necron faction.  Featuring a captivating, action-packed narrative, a complex protagonist, and an excellent examination of the complex Necrons, Ruin is a must read for all fans of the franchise.  This is easily one of the best Warhammer 40K tie-in novels I have had the pleasure of reading and I cannot wait to see what Crowley adds to this franchise in the future.  This series is set to continue with the second entry, The Twice-Dead King: Reign, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.

Aurora’s End by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Aurora's End Cover

Publisher: Allen & Unwin Australia (Trade Paperback – 2 November 2021)

Series: Aurora Cycle – Book Three

Length: 493 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

The all-star team of Australian authors Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff present the third and final novel in their epic Aurora Cycle series, with the intense and clever young adult science fiction novel, Aurora’s End.

Over the last few years, I have been deeply enjoying the outstanding partnership of Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff.  Both Kaufman and Kristoff are accomplished authors, with several independent series to their name, such as Kristoff’s Lifel1k3 series (make sure to check out my review for the second book, Dev1at3).  However, I think that some of their strongest work has been together, as Kaufman and Kristoff have previously co-authored the acclaimed The Illuminae Files trilogy.  Their latest collaboration, The Aurora Cycle, has been a particularly amazing young adult science fiction series, and I have been really enjoying its cool story.

The Aurora Cycle novels are set in a far future when humans have expanded out into space and encountered a range of different alien species.  Peace between these species is kept by the Aurora Legion, an intergalactic collation of peacekeepers, made up of teenagers of various species (a slightly more hormonal Starfleet, slightly).  The series follows Squad 312, a group of misfits brought together thanks to the arrival of the mysterious Aurora O’Malley.  Auri is a girl out of time, who was awoken by the squad after centuries frozen in a colony ship and found herself gifted with dangerous psychic powers.  The first book in this series, Aurora Rising, introduced the squad and saw them thrust into the midst of a galactic conspiracy, as a race of plant-based aliens, the Ra’haam, who are plotting to assimilate all life, frame them as terrorists.  The second novel, Aurora Burning, expanded on the threats, the conspiracies, and the character drama, and ended with a massive cliffhanger, with all the surviving members of Squad 312 in great danger and the fate of the universe on the brink.

Following the terrible battle near Earth between the human and Syldrathi fleets, the planet-destroying superweapon was fired, but nothing turned out as expected.  Now, the various members of the galaxy’s last hope, Squad 312, have been flung throughout time.  Scarlett, Finian and Zila have been blasted back into the early days of Earth’s intergalactic travel, when there is no Aurora Legion, no friends, and a ticking clock of doom as the mysterious station they arrived at keeps blowing up.  Subsequently, Auri and Kal arrive years in the future, where the Ra’haam have won, and all hope seems lost.

Trapped in a time loop, Scarlet, Fin and Zila will initiate a desperate plan (again and again) with a new friend, but their mission may end up having unimaginable consequences.  While in the future, Auri and Kal are trapped with the only weapon that can end the Ra’haam threat, if they can get back to the present.  Forced to team up with the most dangerous being in existence, Kal’s genocidal father, Caersan, Auri and Kal embark on a dangerous mission through the Ra’haam controlled future with some unexpected help.

Back in the present, Squad 312’s leader, Tyler Jones, is also running out of time.  Still branded a fugitive by the entire galaxy, Tyler is the only person who knows that the Ra’haam are making their move to destabilise the various governments of the galaxy to start their invasion.  Forced to work alone and against the odds, Tyler needs to travel back to the one place he considers home, the highly secure Aurora Legion headquarters.  All three of these teams will need to survive impossible odds if they are to complete their missions and get back home.  But even if they succeed, can this ragtag team of teenagers really save the entire galaxy, or is the age of the plant-based parasite about to begin?

This was an outstanding novel from Kaufman and Kristoff that served as an excellent and captivating end to this impressive series.  Kaufman and Kristoff really went all out here with Aurora’s End, producing a complex and entertaining narrative that separates out the various characters and presents them with impossible temporal obstacles.  I deeply appreciate the clever narrative that the authors wove around these compelling characters, and it ended up being an exceptionally fun and enjoyable young adult science fiction book that I powered through in two days.

I absolutely loved the cool story of Aurora’s End, not only because it was really thrilling and fast-paced but because it was so ambitious.  I cannot think of another trilogy where, in the final entry, the authors decide to suddenly embark on massive time-travel adventure, with an intense narrative split across three vastly different time periods.  However, it works incredibly well, as Kaufman and Kristoff produced some epic and exciting storylines that remain mostly separate throughout the entirety of the book.  All three storylines are very distinctive, and all of them are pretty fun in their own unique way.  The storyline set hundreds of years in the past is an extremely entertaining event that sees three point-of-view characters trapped in a slowly devolving time-loop that ends every time one of them dies.  The characters are forced to work through an exploding, high-security station to find a way to travel back in time, with a substantial number of hilarious deaths and mistakes along the way.  The storyline in the present follows the Squad’s leader as he attempts to stop the entire alien invasion by infiltrating the most secure location in the entire galaxy without his squad.  Finally, you have the storyline in the future, which is an emotional and powerful post-apocalyptic narrative that sees Auri and Kal forced to contend not only with a hostile galaxy completely taken over by the Ra’haam but also with Kal’s insane and manipulative father.

I felt that all three of these storylines worked incredibly well, and each of them had their own appeal.  I honestly have a hard time faulting any of these distinct storylines, and it was one of those rare occasions in a split-storyline novel where there wasn’t a single character or timeline that I was a little less excited to read about.  If I had to choose a favourite, it would be the storyline set in the past, mainly because I loved the fun opportunities that only a time-loop story can present.  All three storylines were incredibly rich and compelling, and the authors did a good job of layering drama, excitement, character growth and humour through each of them.  While they were mostly separate from each other, the overlapping elements worked incredibly well, and the storylines ended up coming together perfectly towards the end.  The authors also do a good job wrapping up a lot of the unexplained story elements from the previous novels, with certain mysterious events and McGuffins finally revealed in their entirety.  This results in a big and epic finale where all the remaining characters are reunited to face the final threat of the Ra’haam.  It was extremely cool to see all the unique story threads finally come together.  I did think that the authors got a bit too meta-physical in the finale, especially when it came to dealing with the big-bad, but this didn’t really disrupt my overall enjoyment of the story.  I absolutely loved this wacky, clever, and well-planned out narrative, and I am still deeply impressed with how well the entire time-travel story worked.

I have really appreciated the cool and enjoyable writing style that Kaufman and Kristoff utilised throughout the Aurora Cycle, and it worked incredibly well once again in this final book.  Just like with the previous novels, Aurora’s End is told utilising six split perspectives, with each of the surviving squad members going into the final book getting multiple chapters.  Not only do these multiple perspectives help to present a rich and complex character driven narrative but it also helps the reader to really get into the heads of the main characters.  Each part of the book told by a different character has its own unique feel to it, and you really get the sense of each of the characters’ personalities and experiences.  I also love the way in which Kaufman and Kristoff layer in the action and humour throughout the entire novel, with various fun scenes featured throughout.  The action scenes are very intense, and the authors do a great job of highlighting the crazy battles that each of the characters get involved in, whether it be massive space battles, deadly close-combat fights, or sneaky attempts to move through an exploding space station.  The authors also have a great sense of humour, with many fun jokes and observations that made me laugh multiple times, especially around the fun time-loop storyline.  This made Aurora’s End a very easy novel to get through, as the natural narration and fast-paced scenes ensures that readers can power through it quickly, and with little hassle at all.  Due to this being the final entry in a series, readers are encouraged to check out the first two Aurora Cycle novels first before reading Aurora’s End.  However, those readers tempted to start and finish he series here should still be able to enjoy the story as the authors have a very inclusive writing style, and the book also features a highly detailed “stuff you should know” section at the front (very useful for both new readers and those who need a quick refresher).

Just like the previous novels in this series, Aurora’s End is marketed as a young adult read, and I would strongly recommend it to this audience.  Younger readers will deeply appreciate the use of multiple complex teenage characters kicking ass and saving the world, and I think that the authors did a good job of capturing the teenage mindset in their various protagonists.  This was also quite a mature and positive read, with multiple examples of romantic relationships, complex issues, and great portrayals of LGBT+ relationships that will be appealing to the younger audience, especially as the authors do not try to talk down to their chosen readers.  Due to some of these mature elements, I would suggest that this is a more appropriate read for older teens, and this is a series I would have really enjoyed when I was first getting into fantasy and science fiction.  Despite its marketing towards the young adult audience, this is a series easily enjoyed by older readers, and I think that most science fiction fans will have a great time with this series, if they don’t have any objections to following teenage protagonists.  Overall, I think this book will appeal to a wide range of readers and is a particularly good series for teenagers looking for a fun adventure with relatable heroes.

The last thing I want to highlight abut Aurora’s End is the excellent characters featured throughout, especially protagonists Aurora, Tyler, Kal, Scarlett, Finian and Zila.  Over the course of the Aurora Cycle, the reader has had a wonderful time getting to know all the protagonists, all of whom have grown throughout the series, while also experiencing loss, heartbreak, betrayal, and devastating revelations.  I have deeply appreciated the impressive and realistic character growth featured within, and the authors have continued this throughout Aurora’s End, with some major character moments that helped to define all of them and shown how they have grown.  Unlike the previous novels that have focused on a couple of the characters a little more, there was a much more even spread amongst the characters, with each getting their moment in the light.  Indeed, thanks to the cool time travel elements, you get to see multiple versions of one protagonist, with an older version of this character becoming a supporting figure in one of the other storylines.  I deeply appreciated the various character arcs featured throughout this novel, and Kaufman and Kristoff go out of their way to make you run the full emotional gauntlet here.  These arcs include a more comedic one surrounding the sarcastic Finian and the perhaps oversexualised Scarlett as they explore their new relationship while the world continuously explodes around them.  At the same time, the socially awkward Zila has a more serious experience in the time-loop, even as she embarks on a doomed relationship with someone who lived hundreds of years before she was born.

The other three characters also have some major and moving character arcs, especially Aurora and Kal, who are trapped in a future where the Ra’haam won, and everything has been infected by them.  This is a particularly dark storyline, and these two protagonists go through a lot, especially as they keep witnessing all manner of death and destruction around them.  Their arc is further complicated by Caersan, Kal’s father, who has similar powers to Auri and used them to destroy Kal’s home planet.  This results in some major emotional moments, as Auri and Kal are forced to work with an unrepentant Caersan, while also trying to work out their own complex emotions.  Finally, I must highlight the great development at occurred with Tyler, the team’s leader, who, after spending two novels turning Squad 312 into the ultimate team and family, ends up by himself, forced to face literal ghosts from his past with none of his established support.  Tyler really suffers in this book, and you must feel sorry for everything he goes through, even if he does start a passionate, if exceedingly violent relationship with a warrior alien princess.  All of these character arcs are really impressive, and you will be moved by everything these fantastic heroes go through, especially as not all of them will come out of it in one piece.

With this fantastic final book, the team of Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have brought their amazing Aurora Cycle series to an epic and impressive conclusion.  Aurora’s End was an outstanding novel that perfectly wrapped up this excellent trilogy with fun, flair, and exceptional action.  Featuring some amazing characters and a very clever time-travel based storyline, Aurora’s End was an incredibly fun novel that comes highly recommended.  I deeply enjoyed this epic novel, and I really hope that these two brilliant Australian authors team up again in the future for another compelling series.

Fire Made Flesh by Denny Flowers

Fire Made Flesh Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 5 June 2021)

Series: Necromunda

Length: 13 hours and 29 minutes

My Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars

Prepare to return to the violent and deadly world beneath the hive cities of Necromunda, as Denny Flowers presents an outstanding and compelling entry in the Warhammer 40,000 universe with Fire Made Flesh.

Over the last year or so I have been having fun exploring the immense extended universe that has sprung up around the Warhammer 40,000 and Warhammer Fantasy tabletop games.  I have so far read several cool entries in the Gortrex and Felix fantasy series (Trollslayer, Skavenslayer and Daemonslayer), as well as the awesome science fiction reads First and Only and Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker.  However, my favourite Warhammer novel so far was the deeply entertaining Kal Jerico: Sinner’s Bounty, which was part of the Necromunda sub-series, another tabletop game set in the gothic Warhammer 40,000 universe.

The Necromunda games and extended universe are all set in and around the towering and immense hive city, Hive Primus, capital of the industrial planet of Necromunda.  Hive Primus is a city of billions, with the inhabitants crammed together in a massive hive structure located both above and below ground.  Necromunda fiction is primarily based in the Underhive, the foundational layers of the hive and below, made up of tunnels, habitation zones and caverns, most of which have been abandoned as the hive was built up.  The Underhive is filled with various gangs and feuding families who fight in these tunnels for riches, dominance and glory.  This unique landscape makes for some impressive stories, such as the awesome narrative of the latest Necromunda novel, Fire Made Flesh.

Deep underneath Hive Primus many secrets and treasures lay hidden in the darkness, waiting to be found by bold adventurers, but none are spoken of with more reverence than the lost habitation dome, Periculus.  Periculus was once a flourishing base of commerce where both sanctioned trade and illicit dealings were held, and vast wealth was accumulated.  However, Periculus was mysteriously abandoned years ago when its inhabitants were killed, and all knowledge of its location has been lost.  Now, after years of searching, someone has rediscovered the dome, and all hell is about to break loose.

Believing that the ruins of Periculus hold innumerable treasures and opportunities, various gangsters, Guilders, hive scum and opportunists have descended into the Underhive, hoping to stake their claim.  However, none of the people moving towards Periculus are more dangerous than the revered Lord Silas Pureburn of the Guild of Fire.  Holding a monopoly on energy production in the Underhive and gifted with a holy flame from the God Emperor himself, Pureburn inspires loyalty and religious fervour wherever he goes.  However, behind his holy facade of purity and flame lies a dark soul determined to dominate everything and everyone he encounters.  One of the few people to see the truth about Pureburn is young Guilder Tempes Sol.  Sol, a scion of the Mercator Lux, the Guild of Light, has found himself bested by Pureburn many times, and he is determined to discover the truth behind his improbable works.  After an unholy accident scars Sol and leaves him with an unusual power, he is forced to flee his guild and travel to Periculus, where his only hope of redemption lies in exposing Pureburn as a fraud.

However, upon arriving at Periculus, Sol discovers a settlement on the edge.  Pureburn has gathered around him an army of religious fanatics who control Periculus through fear, fire and bloodshed.  Determined to stop his insidious influence before it is too late, Sol attempts to forge alliances with other newly arrived inhabitants of Periculus who have been disadvantaged by Pureburn.  However, the deeper Sol dives into Pureburn’s actions, the more danger he finds himself in, as this seemingly holy man hides a dark and disturbing secret.  Worse, even more terrible dangers are affecting people within the dome, as twisted creatures roam the shadows, and the humans are struck with a dark rage that drives them to great acts of violence.  As the forces within gather for a final deadly confrontation, the fate of both Periculus and the entirety of Hive Primus hangs in the balance.

Fire Made Flesh was an interesting and impressive read that did an amazing job of bringing the twisted maze of the Necromunda Underhive to life.  This was actually the debut novel of author Denny Flowers, who has previously written some fun Necromunda short fiction and novellas but had yet to produce a full-length book.  This turned out to be a pretty awesome first novel from Flowers, and I had an outstanding time getting through the intense story, especially with its unique locales and outrageous characters, and it was a fantastic piece of Necromunda fiction.

At the heart of Fire Made Flesh lies a compelling and intense story that showcases the unique and deadly battle for control of Periculus.  After some set-up to show the rediscovery of the lost dome, Flowers starts establishing the various characters and their motivations, exploring how and why they are heading to Periculus.  Told from multiple character perspectives, the reader gets an interesting look at each point-of-view character, as well as the people they travel with.  While this was a good introduction to the many complex aspects and figures of the novel, it did make the pacing of the first third of Fire Made Flesh a tad slow, with a couple of difficult sections.  However, these pacing issues are resolved around halfway through Fire Made Flesh, once all the primary characters make it to Periculus.  From that point onward, the book really picks up, especially as the reader has grown attached to protagonists by this point.  From there the rest of the story is extremely fast, with a big moment two-thirds in, resulting in utter bedlam across Periculus and thrusting each of the characters into extreme danger.  After several intense and action-packed sequences, the entire narrative gets wrapped up extremely well in a satisfying conclusion, with each of the fun character arcs set up throughout the book coming together wonderfully.  I had an absolute blast with this narrative, and I felt that it had the right blend of action, intrigue, character development and Warhammer 40,000/Necromunda detail, to keep every reader happy.  I was really impressed by how Flowers was able to bring the disparate storylines together into one entertaining read, and I ended up powering through the last half of the novel in less than a day.  I also deeply enjoyed some of the cool twists and reveals right near the end, as they contained some excellent character moments.  Interestingly, the story is left open for a sequel, and I know I will be curious to see what happens in the Underhive next time.

Fire Made Flesh is an excellent addition to the Necromunda range of fiction, and I appreciated how Flowers attempted to examine and recreate the various elements of the unique landscape and culture featured within this fictional location.  Flowers really dived into the lore surrounding Necromunda, and the reader is soon engulfed in discussions about the social order, technology, and religious zeal of the Hive City.  While the author did a good job of trying to give context to this setting and its various features, readers may get a little overwhelmed with all the unique lore elements that are shovelled into it, especially at the front of the book when Flowers was trying to set everything up.  While I managed to keep my head around what was happening and what the characters were talking about, I could easily see a reader who has less experience with Warhammer 40,000/Necromunda lore, being a bit more confused and potentially getting lost.  Still, this ended up being a great Necromunda novel, and I loved the way in which the author featured the various gangs and controlling interests.  I especially enjoyed the in-depth examination of the Guilders, Hive Primus’s merchant class, who provide the various services to keep the settlements running.  Fire Made Flesh features members from the various guilds, each of whom have different professions, including slavers, energy providers, fuel dispensers and corpse grinders (people who process bodies to produce corpse-starch, the hive’s primary food source).  Readers get a pretty intense crash course in Necromunda lore in this book and will end up having a good understanding of how Underhive works.  There are a lot of details that will appeal to long-term fans of the Necromunda game and its associated extended fiction, and they will no-doubt love to see another entertaining and dark adventure.  While there are some connections to previous novels, including some of Flower’s short-fiction, I would say its easy enough for most people familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 universe to jump into this book without getting too lost, and even general science fiction fans should be able to have fun with this novel.

Flowers also makes great use of the dark and dangerous setting that is the Underhive throughout Fire Made Flesh.  The Underhive is already an awesome and well-established setting, but Flowers really tried to show just how hostile and unpredictable it could be.  There are some great descriptions of the tight walkways, giant caverns and isolated settlements which prove to be an outstanding backdrop to the dark narrative, and I had a lot of fun exploring some new locations in this novel.  Periculus itself is also an impressive setting, as the reader is treated to an intriguing look at a newly formed town that is slowly getting to its feet in the ruins of an abandoned settlement, and all the strife that comes as a result.  The depictions of the town surrounded by monsters, coated with powdered bone, and filled with fractious groups with enflamed personalities, really helps to set the mood for much of the novel, especially as it all comes crumbling down again.  I deeply enjoyed this cool setting and I think that it was an exceptional addition to a fun novel.

I also had a lot of fun with the compelling collection of characters featured in Fire Made Flesh.  Flowers made use of several entertaining point-of-view characters throughout this novel, including several protagonists of his previous short fiction reads, and this results in a vibrant and well set-up blend of personalities and compelling personas.  The central protagonist is Tempes Sol, the young Guilder genius who spends his days attempting to understand power, electricity, and technology.  Tempes has a rather rough journey in this novel, mostly brought on by his obsession with stopping the book’s antagonist, Pureburn, who has bested him in several prior encounters.  However, this time Tempes is suffering from the after-effects of a psychic attack, which has gifted him strange lightning abilities associated with his cybernetic upgrades.  Cast out of his guild and on the run, Tempes is a desperate figure in this novel, attempting to show the hypocrisy of Pureburn while also trying to redeem himself and understand his new powers.  I felt that Tempes had a very interesting storyline in this novel, and I found his personal growth and the exploration of his personal technology to be quite fascinating.  I wasn’t the biggest fan of his impulsive behaviour and self-righteous personality, but he did start to shed those as the novel progressed, while also developing a certain amount of savviness, especially when it came to some of his supposed allies.  It looks like Flowers is setting Tempes up for some interesting storylines in the future, and I would be quite keen to see this protagonist in another book at some point.

I was also a big fan of the antagonist of Fire Made Flesh, Lord Silas Pureburn.  Pureburn is another Guilder character who specialises in bringing fire and fuel to isolated communities, even when it shouldn’t be possible.  This, and his family’s legacy as keepers of a holy flame, sees him given religious reverence by the general population, as well a collection of devoted, if deranged, followers, who view him as a celebrated champion of the Emperor.  However, Pureburn is really a deceitful and manipulative being, who cares only for profit and his own selfish goals.  Flowers does an amazing job setting this antagonist up and the reader is soon pretty sick of his hypocrisy and arrogance, something that become really apparent after you read a few of his point of view chapters.  Pureburn ends up annoying or alienating every single protagonist in this book, which results in a loose alliance as everyone attempts to take him down.  I love a villain so evil that he brings different people together, and this was a great antagonist to hate, especially once you find out the true source of his power.

Aside from this compelling protagonist and entertaining antagonist, this novel also featured a great range of additional characters with whom the reader gets to spend time with.  My personal favourite had to be Lord Credence Sorrow, a corpse grinder contracted to bring food to Periculus against his will.  Sorrow is a lover of fine things, and his enjoyment of delicate items and gourmet food is at odds with his profession of turning corpses into edible powder.  This character has a brilliant amount of flair, and all his scenes are particularly entertaining, especially as he keeps finding himself stuck between some dangerous employers, resulting in quite a fun and fitting overarching storyline.  I also had a great time with the oddball partnership of Caleb Cursebound, the self-proclaimed ninth most dangerous man in the Underhive, and his silent Ratskin partner Iktomi.  These two make a great pair, especially as Caleb has all the bluster and personality, while Iktomi has a wicked amount of lethal skill, making them a surprisingly effective team, and I loved the entertaining odd-couple vibes that they gave out throughout the book.  I also must highlight Anquis, a member of the notorious Delaque family of spies and infiltrators.  Anguis spends most of the novel helping Tempes achieve his goals with her intelligence-gathering and manipulations.  However, it soon becomes quite clear that Anguis is playing her own games, and no one, especially Sol, knows what she is really after.  The final character I want to talk about is Virae the Unbroken, a Chain Lord (slaver) and pit fighter, who is hired to capture unlucky civilians and bring them to Periculus for labour purposes.  Despite initially appearing as a blunt and unforgiving figure, Virae soon proves to be one of the most complex and best-written characters in the entire novel.  Virae is a former slave herself, who proved herself to be tough and unbreakable, resulting in her title and her eventual promotion to slaver.  However, she really struggles with her profession in this novel, especially after many of her charges die on the journey to Periculus.  Her battles for survival, especially in the face of Pureburn’s evilness are pretty excellent, and I loved her eventually transformation into a bloody figure of vengeance.  This turned out to be an outstanding collection of characters, and I deeply appreciated how Flowers used them to enhance Fire Made Flesh’s great narrative and make it even more exciting and compelling.

I decided to grab the audiobook version of Fire Made Flesh.  This format has a decent run time of around 13 and a half hours, and I ended up powering through it in only a few days, especially once the story started to get very exciting and fun.  I had an outstanding time getting through this audiobook, and one of the main reasons for this was the impressive narration of Joe Jameson, whose work I have previously highlighted in awesome fantasy audiobooks like King of Assassins by R. J. Barker, and The Kingdom of Liars and The Two-Faced Queen by Nick Martell.  These previous works by Jameson have been some of best audiobooks of their respective release year, and Jameson is easily one of my favourite narrators.  He has an outstanding voice for fantasy and science fiction, and I love the way he can make a story move at a fast pace while also ensuring that the listener is absorbing all the detail and obscure lore with interest.  Jameson did a really good job of voicing each of the characters within Fire Made Flesh, and while some of the voices were very similar to those he used in the other books, I think that they fitted this new group of characters extremely well.  You get a real sense of the various emotions and personalities of each of these characters, and his affinity for voicing outrageous figures such as religious zealots and conniving businessmen proved very useful here.  I had a great time with this audiobook, and it was an amazing way to enjoy this dark and compelling story.

Fire Made Flesh by Denny Flowers is an exciting and captivating novel in the Necromunda series.  This is an entertaining and intense science fiction read that makes full use of the unique Warhammer 40,000 universe, the cool setting of the Underhive, and some great and memorable new characters, to produce an electrifying tale.  I had a fantastic time reading this book and I cannot wait to see what other adventures wait for this outrageous group of characters in any future Necromunda novels Flowers writes.

Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Lightsaber Duels

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was around favourite book settings (a shout out to magical schools), however, I am going to something extremely different (it’s very, very off topic) and instead have a go at listing and ranking my favourite lightsaber duels from the Star Wars franchise.

Anyone who has ever seen a Star Wars movie or television show will know the amazing cultural phenomenon that is the lightsaber duel.  Inspired by the duels from Japanese samurai films, a classic lightsaber duel features two opposing enemies, one armed with a brilliant blue or noble green energy blade, fighting against their evil opponent wielding a menacing red blade.  First appearing in the very first Star Wars film all those years ago, the lightsaber duel is an essential staple of the franchise, and something about the clashing blades of light has resonated with fans throughout the years.  Naturally, every new filmmaker or animator has attempted to put their own unique spin on the classic duel, with many different variations of fighting style, number of opponents and lightsaber types, featured in the subsequent films and extended media.  However, no matter how complex or unique it gets, the fans always appreciate these epic flashes of combat, even if most are brief by design to keep up the emulation of samurai sword fights or pistol duels from Westerns.  After enjoying the cool new show, Star Wars: Visions, which featured multiple inventive lightsaber duels, I thought I would take this opportunity to try and list some of my favourite duels from the Star Wars franchise.  This is a topic I have been considering for a while, and it fits nicely with some recent lists I have done, such as my recent list ranking the various Star Wars films, and my previous list about my favourite anime series.

To pull this list together, I started writing down all my favourite lightsaber duels from films, television shows and animated series to see how many there were.  I decided early on to exclude duels from static media such as comics or tie-in novels, which I might explore in a later Top Ten Tuesday.  I also limited this list to proper lightsaber duels, where all the key participants have a lightsaber, so this excludes a few cool moments, such as Vader cutting down rebels in Rogue One or Luke destroying those droids in The Mandalorian.

Despite these limitations, I ended up with an extremely substantial number of fights, so I ended up turning this into a Top 20 list, just to show off how nerdy I can be (I mean, how much I appreciate the franchise).  I still had to cull a few good fights out, but I was able to come up with 20, which I eventually ranked based on a range of considerations, from the quality of the duel, the emotions or story surrounding it, the impacts of the duel on the wider film or series and a range of other factors.  I am also marking for cool uses of the Force or other techniques, if they don’t take too much away from it primarily being a lightsaber duel.  I am pretty happy with how the below list turned out, and it should be interesting to see how my opinion’s rank up compared to other Star Wars fans out there.  Be warned that I might go into some details about some key moments in the Star Wars films and shows, so be aware that a Spoiler Alert is in effect.

Top Ten List (Ranked in Descending Order): 

20. Satele Shan and Kao Cen Darach vs Darth Malgus and Darth Vindican – Star Wars: The Old Republic

The Old Republic

The first entry on this list comes from an intro cinematic from the Star Wars: The Old Republic computer game.  Set thousands of years before the Skywalker Saga, this battle sees two Jedi facing off against two Sith in an epic battle on a space station.  Beautifully rendered and extremely well-coordinated, this is a particularly impressive fight, with the four combatants facing off in a brilliant and brutal fight, moving across a hanger bay.  This battle features a range of awesome moves and techniques, including one Jedi throwing his lightsaber to block a blow about to kill his apprentice, as well as some awesome dual wielding moments.  I love this fight so much as it is beyond awesome, however, it does gets marked down for being a cinematic in a non-canon game that I never played and featuring some characters with no introduction.  However, it is still an amazing fight, and it is well worth looking up on Youtube if you want some outstanding Star Wars excitement.

 

19. Ahoska Tano vs Inquisitors – Star Wars: Rebels

Ahsoka vs Inquisitors

“Unexpected, but not unwelcome.”  Ever since her dramatic resignation from the Jedi Order at the end of the fifth season of The Clone Wars, fans were eager to see Ahoska in action again, which happened halfway through the second season of Star Wars: Rebels.  Appearing in a heroic burst of light to save Kanan and Ezra from two Imperial Inquisitors, Ahsoka calmly ignited her new white lightsabers for the first time and set to work against the two Jedi-hunters.  Ahsoka easily takes her opponents out, even using the Force to overpower her opponent’s control of their red lightsaber.  This impressive display of skill and technique really showed viewers how much better Ahoska had gotten over the years and made us anticipate her next major fight even more.

 

18. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Darth Vader – A New Hope

A New Hope Poster

Next we have the very first lightsaber duel ever, with the iconic encounter between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader in the original Star Wars film.  This fight pits the former master and apprentice against each other for the first time in years, and eventually ends with Obi-Wan opening himself up to a blow to merge with the Force: “You can’t win, Darth; if you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”  While this is a major moment in the franchise and I still get chills when Obi-Wan dies, it suffers from rather lacklustre choreography compared to their clashes in the prequel films.  Still, this set the template for all future duels and showed the world how amazing a battle between two space wizards with laser swords could be.

 

17. Darth Maul vs Pre Vizsla – Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Prez Vizsla vs Maul

The only duel on this list that features a participant who wasn’t a Force user, this cool duel takes place in the fifth season of The Clone Wars.  After forming an alliance with the Mandalorian splinter faction, Death Watch, to take over Mandalore, Darth Maul eventually tires of his new partners and challenges the head of Death Watch, Pre Vizsla, to a duel for the planet.  Bound by his society’s martial traditions, Vizsla accepts the duel and fights using the ancient Mandalorian relic, the black-bladed lighsaber known as the Darksaber.  What follows is an intense fight to the death between two skilled foes, with Vizsla also using all his Mandalorian weapons and jetpack to even the fight.  This was a very fun and brutal duel, with both combatants pushed to the limits.  There are some very cool elements to this, from the great contrast of the black and red blades to the fantastic use of Mandalorain weaponry and fists to try and win.  While the result of the fight is never in doubt, it is a much closer battle than you would imagine and shows just how badass a determined Mandalorian could be.

 

16. Kanan and Ezra vs Grand Inquisitor – Star Wars: Rebels

Kanan vs Grand Inquisitor

The climactic battle of the first season of Star Wars: Rebels, this fight pitted the big bad of the season, the Grand Inquisitor, against Jedi Kanan and his apprentice Ezra in the engine room of a Star Destroyer.  Relying on trickery and strategy to compensate for his own lack of skill, Kanan is eventually able to beat the Inquisitor after gaining focus from seeing Ezra fall to the Inquisitor’s spinning lightsaber.  I loved the cool range of techniques in this fight, and it was cathartic to see Kanan finally get his groove back and face his demons.  The snipping of the handle of the Inquisitor’s lightsaber was clever, and it leads to one of my favourite lines in the entire series: “There are some things far more frightening than death”, a statement that was proven true in a recent comic.  A great fight that set the tone for some other epic duels later in the series.

 

15. Yoda vs Count Dooku – Attack of the Clones

Attack of the Clones Cover

This one mainly makes the list for the sheer laughter and amusement it generates.  After Sith Lord Count Dooku soundly thrashes Anakin and Obi-Wan, he encounters his former master, Yoda.  Unable to defeat him using the Force, Dooku resorts to his blade, but is severely outmatched when Yoda pulls out his own lightsaber and proceeds to do some elaborate and fast-paced flips around him, whirling his green lightsaber like a demon.  This is a really entertaining scene and I still remember the sheer excitement and amusement I had in me when I saw Yoda first appear and pull out his lightsaber.  However, the CGI really hasn’t held up too well with this fight, and it is one of the more ridiculous moments in an already silly film.  Still, it was a very entertaining duel, so I had to feature it on this list.

 

14. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Adi Gallia vs Darth Maul and Savage Opress – Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Kenobi and Adi Gallia vs Maul and Opress

Another entry from The Clones Wars animated show, this duel features Obi-Wan and fellow Jedi Adi Gallia facing off against a recently resurrected Darth Maul and his apprentice/brother Savage Opress.  This is a brutal fight, as the two Jedi find themselves severely outmatched, with Opress quickly killing Adi with his horns.  Obi-Wan is then forced to fight by himself, fleeing to a nearby pirate ship and facing his opponents with two lightsabers, something rarely seen from Kenobi.  This fight gets really close and personal in the narrow corridors of the ship, and Kenobi is only just spared from being eviscerated by a last-minute kick to the shin.  A really great fight that shows off how dangerous these two Sith brothers could be, it was an excellent inclusion on this list.

 

13. Rey vs Kylo Ren – The Rise of Skywalker

The Rise of Skywalker Poster

In the sequel series we have the duel between Rey and Kylo Ren on the ruins of the Death Star.  Now both fully trained in the Force, the two have a swift and deadly fight, which only ends when Kylo freezes as he feels his mother dying.  This is a beautifully shot scene, and I love the great use of environment and both opponents’ use of the Force to block blows and even control a lightsaber remotely.  However, I think the finale of the fight was a bit lame and not cut together well, which takes a little lustre off the entire duel.  Still a great entry though.

 

12. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Asajj Ventress vs Darth Maul and Savage Opress – Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Kenobi and Ventress vs Maul and Opress

Another fight featuring Darth Maul and Savage Opress against two opponents, this duel sees Kenobi reluctantly teaming up with an old enemy, the former Sith assassin Asajj Ventress, who has her own issues with Opress.  Forced to use one of Ventress’s blades, you get the unique visual of Kenobi wielding a red saber, and the fight quickly devolves into a close brawl in a cargo ship.  The range of different styles and moves on display in this fight is great, and I love seeing the slippery Ventress facing off against the powerful blows of Opress.  The fight between Kenobi and Maul is extremely personal, especially once Maul starts taunting his opponent about the death of his master.  Emotionally unbalanced, Kenobi is unable to keep up with Maul, and he and Ventress are eventually forced to flee.  I love the blend of character moments, animation, and ferocity in this fight, and it is a particularly impressive moment from this great series.

 

11. Yoda vs Emperor Palpatine – Revenge of the Sith

Revenge of the Sith Poster

Next up we have a duel between the preeminent Jedi and Sith of their era, Yoda and the newly crowned Emperor Palpatine.  Confronting Palpatine in his office, Yoda and his foe face off with blades in an impressive ballet of laser sword.  The two fighters quickly end up in the iconic and massive Senate chambers, with both opponents jumping from platform to platform before eventually resorting to throwing parts of the room at each other.  A fantastic and brilliant duel that displays just as much mastery of the Force as skill with the lightsaber, this was a climatic moment and a great alternate main fight for the finale of the prequel trilogy.

 

10. Ronin vs Bandit Leader – Star Wars: Visions

Star Wars Visions - The Duel

I had to include this awesome duel from the recent Star Wars: Vision series.  Featured in the first animated feature, aptly titled The Duel, this fight takes place in an alternate universe and sees a wondering Ronin facing off against a bandit leading a raid on a village.  It is soon revealed that both the Ronin and the Bandit Leader are Sith warriors and face each other with their lightsabers in a complex and beautiful duel around the village and down a river.  This is an outstanding and compelling duel, which really was one of the best bits of the entire Visions range.  I love the incredible blend of Star Wars and classic Japanese imagery, and the whole thing felt like something out of a samurai film.  One of the most unique duels on this list, I had a lot of fun with this one and it was really cool to see.

 

9. Rey vs Kylo Ren – The Force Awakens

The Force Awakens Poster

Another duel featuring Rey and Kylo Ren, this was their first fight, featured at the end of The Force Awakens.  As one of the first lightsaber duels of the sequel trilogy, this fight had a lot riding on it, and did not disappoint.  This fight pits an injured and emotionally unbalanced Kylo Ren against an untrained Rey as the planet falls apart around them.  While their styles and abilities are not as polished as in their later fight, it still has a physicality and rawness to it that was missing from all the preceding live action lightsaber fights.  The blend of colours and movements was outstanding, as was the decision to feature it in a snow setting, which really made the whole fight pop.  A great and amazing fight that was a fantastic conclusion to an outstanding movie.

 

8. Darth Maul and Savage Opress vs Darth Sidious – Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Darth Sidious Duel

There was no way I could exclude this awesome gem from the list, especially as it is one of the best things featured in the entire The Clone Wars series.  Set during the fifth season, this fight occurs when Palpatine makes a rare transition into his Darth Sidious persona and travels to Mandalore to bring his former apprentice to heel.  Breaking into the palace, Sidious confronts Maul and his apprentice Savage Opress and quickly engages them in a battle.  Dual wielding two lightsabers, Sidious, who is voiced by Tim Curry for some extra sinisterness, is a machine, combining his superior lightsaber skills with his amazing powers of the Dark Side.  Despite some strong opposition, he makes short work of the two brothers, killing Opress and torturing Maul with his lightning.  This was a high-octane fight that really adds to the presence and power of Sidious, showing everyone why he is the ultimate Sith Master who no one should cross.

 

7. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Darth Maul – Star Wars: Rebels

Kenobi vs Maul

I have featured several battles between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul on this list, but their final duel is one of their best.  Set in the third season of Star Wars: Rebels, long after the events of their last encounter in The Clone Wars (when Maul killed the woman Kenobi loved), Maul succeeds in tracking Kenobi to Tatooine.  Reluctant to face Maul again, Kenobi is drawn into the fight when Maul threatens to find whoever he is protecting on Tatooine.  Facing off at night across a dying fire, the two meticulously take their position before finally striking.  Evoking the feel of a classic samurai film to the extreme, their fight is lightning fast and over after only a few strokes, with Maul falling to ground in Kenobi’s arms.  While this is a short duel, the whole point is that is serves as the final note in the conflict between two epic rivals.  I love all the imagery and subtlety of this scene, and it shows that a good fight really does not need to be chock full of flips and counters.  The last moments between Kenobi and Maul are great, and Maul finally at peace after years of trying to kill Kenobi was the perfect way to end their rivalry.

 

6. Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader – Return of the Jedi

Return of the Jedi Poster

The final clash between father and son is the next entry on this list, with the climatic duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in the second Death Star.  Provoked by Vader and the Emperor, Luke eventually takes up his blade and faces off in the throne room.  Despite some reluctance to face his father, Luke is eventually called to action after Vader discovers that Luke has a sister.  The anger and ferocity in the subsequent sequence is brilliant, especially when combined with the epic score loudly blaring in the background.  You can feel the strength and hatred of the blows as Luke teeters towards the Dark Side and it was an amazing fight that ended up being the last live-action lightsaber duels for nearly 20 years.

 

5. Ahsoka Tano vs Darth Vader – Star Wars: Rebels

Ahsoka vs Vader

The moment that Anakin’s apprentice was introduced, we knew that one day Ahsoka Tano would face off against Darth Vader, we just didn’t know when, especially after The Clone Wars was prematurely cancelled.  It finally happened at the end of the second season of Star Wars: Rebels, when Ahsoka and Vader encounter each other in a Sith temple.  Already convinced that Vader is her former master, Ahsoka confronts him, only for Vader to declare he had killed Anakin long ago: “Anakin Skywalker was weak, I destroyed him” (which was true, from a certain point of view).  Desiring vengeance, Ahsoka engages in a fast-paced duel around the temple, proving to be a match for Vader with her incredible skill.  There are actually a few parts to this fight (including some of it shown in a later fourth season episode due to time travel), but it leads up to the big finale where Ahsoka blindsides a distracted Vader and partially destroys his helmet.  The subsequent “Ahsoka!” from Vader chills me every time, especially with the background score, and because Vader’s voice changes midway through from that of James Earl Jones to Matt Lanter, who voiced Anakin in The Clone Wars.  The confirmation that Anakin was Vader is heartbreaking to see for Ahsoka, especially as her attempts to reach him fall on deaf ears.  They continue to fight in the temple as it falls apart, with both barely coming out of it.  Not only is this a beautifully choreographed fight that showcase both fighter’s differing abilities, but it is one of the most emotional duels on this list.  I love this fight so much, especially as it is a perfect conclusion to a long-awaited moment in Star Wars history.

 

4. Luke Skywalker vs Darth Vader – The Empire Strikes Back

The Empire Strikes Back Poster

While the final duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader is impressive, I personally prefer their first fight.  Taking place in the bowels of Cloud City, the unprepared Jedi in training attempts to defeat Vader and quickly shows off some of his new skills.  However, he is outmatched by Vader and is soon forced to endure a one-sided beating.  The duel ends with Luke losing a hand and being confronted by the ghastly truth that his opponent is his father.  Easily one of the most iconic moments in all of film history, and all thanks to a powerful and brutal lightsaber duel.

 

3. Ahsoka Tano vs Darth Maul – Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Siege_of_Mandalore

The final animated duel on this list is the epic fight between Ahsoka Tano and Darth Maul that recently occurred in the seventh and final season of The Clone Wars.  After returning to the Jedi, Ahsoka leads a battalion of clones to help liberate Mandalore from Maul.  Eventually confronting him in the throne room, the two discuss the menace of Sidious and the fate of Anakin, before engaging in their fight.  Due to this being the set-piece of the entire anticipated seventh season, the showrunners and animators dedicated a lot of time to getting this scene perfect.  This included bring backing the original Darth Maul, martial artist Ray Park, to provide motion capture for the duel to ensure the character moved properly.  All this preparation paid off, as the fight is beyond epic, containing some fast and furious action, with some witty dialogue from Ahsoka.  Broken into two parts, including a vertigo-inducing scene on some thin rafters, this was a brilliant duel with an insane amount of skill and precision featured throughout.

 

2. Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn vs Darth Maul – The Phantom Menace

The Phantom Menace Poster

While there were several glaring issues with The Phantom Menace, the one thing that everyone could agree was awesome, was the epic and extensive duel between Darth Maul and the Jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn.  The moment \ Maul reveals his dual-bladed lightsaber and the incredible Duel of the Fates musical score starts blaring, all bets are off as the three combatants engage in one of the best fights ever seen in cinema.  The three fighters fight across the palace, right down into the heart of the city.  Maul eventually succeeds in killing Qui-Gon when the fighters are separated by a series of force fields, only for an anguished Kenobi to finally beat him and cut him in half (although even that’s not enough to keep a good Sith down).  This brilliant duel easily outshone anything that viewers had seen before, and it set the tone for every single movie or television lightsaber fight that was to follow.

 

1. Obi-Wan Kenobi vs Anakin Skywalker – Revenge of the Sith

Anakin vs Kenobi

I don’t think anyone is going to be too surprised about what my final entry is; it had to be the epic fight between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker at the climax of Revenge of the Sith.  Set up throughout the entire prequel trilogy, this fight was a long time coming and saw the former master face his corrupted pupil in a brutal fight on the volcanic planet of Mustafar.  Despite some terrible dialogue, this was a perfect duel, with both fighters giving it their all in an extended and utterly captivating fight.  The two are evenly matched and use every technique and move to fight their enemy.  Throw in a hostile environment of flying molten rocks, rivers of lava, and even some classic rope swing shenanigans.  Thanks to another epic musical score, there is a not a single moment of this fight that is dull or unexciting and every blow is laced with emotion and hatred as the two former brothers try their hardest to kill each other.  Look, if you’re reading this list, you know how awesome this fight is, and frankly to this day, nothing has come close to beating it.

 

Well that’s the end of this list.  As you can see from the above, I clearly have too much time on my hands, but I think it was worth it.  I had a lot of fun coming up with this list, and all of these epic lightsaber duels are so damn awesome.  This might be another list I will update over the years, especially if some of the upcoming Star Wars shows have some cool fights in them.  Let me know what you think of my list in the comments below, and make sure to tell me your opinions about the best Star Wars lightsaber duels.

Waiting on Wednesday – Mind Bullet by Jeremy Robinson

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 this week’s Waiting on Wednesday I check out a bonkers sounding upcoming science fiction thriller that I know I am going to have an awesome time reading, Mind Bullet by Jeremy Robinson.

Mind Bullet 2

Jeremy Robinson is a bestselling author of crazy science fiction and horror reads who has a massive and fantastic sounding catalogue of books to his name, including the Chess Team series, the Nemesis Saga and several other outrageous novels and series with some fun stories to them.  I have so far only read one of Robinson’s books, the 2021 release, The DarkThe Dark was an extremely entertaining and intense horror novel that followed a damaged, pot smoking protagonist as he attempted to survive a demonic incursion in his sleepy suburban neighbourhood.  I had an outstanding time listening to The Dark audiobook and it definitely made me a fan of Robinson’s work, so much so that I have been keeping an eye out for any additional releases of his.  I was very excited when I saw that he had yet another book coming out in 2021 with the upcoming Mind Bullet.

Mind Bullet is an amazing and unique upcoming novel that has a pretty killer plot to it.  Currently set for release on 23 November 2021, this book will follow a psychic assassin as he himself is hunted by a collection of dangerous hitman.

Synopsis:

A telekinetic assassin’s quest to avenge his parents’ murders triggers an all-out war between an eccentric cast of killers, from the New York Times bestselling author of INFINITE and THE DARK.

Jonas kills people…with his mind. He reaches out, focuses for a moment, and feels a snap of pain between his eyes. Then his target falls over dead, a hole in the center of their brains. The cause of death is unknown to all aside from Jonas, and his lone companion: Bubbles, a sarcastic AI with aspirations to be more human, or a serial killer. One of the two. Maybe both. Jonas calls his ability…

MIND BULLET

Sensing Jonas is lonely and depressed, Bubbles arranges for Madee, a Thai delivery woman by day, and a thief by night, to enter his life. For a moment: sparks. But chaos follows as the people Madee last robbed catch up to her. They also happen to be the Shrieking Ninjas. After surviving the assault, Jonas and Madee find themselves on the run, and a 10 million dollar hit called on Jonas.

Killers from all over the globe pursue the pair as they run for their lives and headlong into Jonas’s mysterious past, uncovering the surreal origins and extent of his abilities. They discover a dark and twisted history that threatens to unravel his mind and leave him susceptible to control. Working with Bubbles, Madee, and a growing list of new allies, Jonas battles his way through waves of assassins, some with abilities like his, all to protect the world from a recently discovered, untraceable weapon of mass destruction—himself.

Wow, there are so many fun things about that awesome sounding synopsis.  I love the idea of a story that follows a mentally powered killer with issues as he is hunted down by assassins and killers, especially as one assassin group calls themselves the “Shrieking Ninjas”.  Having that lead into a dark conspiracy focused on the protagonist’s past is easily a recipe for a great story and I already love the fantastic characters introduced in this synopsis alone.  Based on everything above, I am anticipating a fast-paced, intense, and ultra-violent story, that should prove to be extremely amazing.

Another reason that I am quite keen to check out Mind Bullet is because it is set in the same extended universe as The Dark, known as the Infinite Timeline, which also contains several other recent standalone novels by Robinson.  As I mentioned in my prior post, Robinson is building up to a massive literary crossover that will combine storylines from 11 of his recent novels (including The Dark and Mind Bullet), with the final book coming out in 2023.  Ever since I heard about this ambitious project, I have been pretty intrigued about it, and I will be extremely curious to see how Mind Bullet ties into Robinson’s other novels, although, I may need to read his prior book, Tribe, first.

Overall, I think that Mind Bullet is going to be a pretty spectacular and crazy read, and it is one that I am really looking forward to.  The outrageous story synopsis filled with compelling protagonists has already gotten my attention, and I am also quite intrigued about the Infinite Timelines connection.  Plus, it has a group of antagonists called Shrieking Ninjas, how could I possible avoid that?  Based on my prior experiences with Robinson, I am expecting a pretty epic and exciting read, which will no doubt prove to be extremely entertaining.  I will probably end up getting Mind Bullet on audiobook, mainly because I am such a big fan of narrator R. C. Bray, and I am expecting this to be another top release of 2021.

Waiting on Wednesday – Dead Silence by S. A. Barnes

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 this week’s Waiting on Wednesday, I look at an awesome upcoming science fiction horror novel that is sure to be an outstanding read, Dead Silence by S. A. Barnes.

Dead Silence Cover

Dead Silence, which is currently set for release on 25 January 2022, is an intense and compelling sounding novel with a killer plot to it.  This will be the first book I have read by S. A. Barnes, who also writes under the pen name Stacey Kade, and I look forward to checking out her writing style.  This upcoming book looks sets to be quite amazing and I will be keen to enjoy out a fun horror/science fiction hybrid.  Dead Silence will be set in the far future and will follow a salvage crew who discovers the fabled remains of a long-lost spaceship out in the black.  Naturally, the abandoned ship will be filled with currently unspecified horrors that will attack the crew and result in a captivating and deadly adventure.  I cannot wait to see what happens on this ship, and I have no doubt that this will be a great novel to check out.

Synopsis:

At the edge of the solar system, no one can hear you scream.

The Aurora, a luxury space-liner destined for a cruise of the solar system, has been missing for twenty years. Among the hundreds of presumed dead were passengers from society’s finest – celebrities, tech giants, influencers. Every last one… vanished.

So when Claire’s crew picks up an emergency signal in deep space, the long-lost Aurora is the last ship they expect to find. The salvage claim could be their best chance at extraordinary wealth, but it might mean missing their transport back home, and nobody can stand another minute out in the darkest corner of the universe – nobody, except Claire.

Once onboard the ship, the crew realizes something is terribly wrong. Unspeakable horrors lurk in every shadow of the massive ship, and soon they each start experiencing violent hallucinations.

Claire must fight to keep her sanity and get her crew back to safety – before they all meet the same ghastly fate as the Aurora passengers.

The Dark by Jeremy Robinson

The Dark Cover

Publisher: Podium Audio (Audiobook – 13 July 2021)

Series: Infinite Timeline

Length: 10 hours and 25 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Prepare for a literal journey into darkness with one of the most unique and insanely entertaining horror novels of 2021, The Dark by Jeremy Robinson.

Jeremy Robinson is a bestselling author of science fiction and horror who has been producing some amazing novels of the last few years.  Since his debut in the early 2000s, Robinson has written a massive number of novels, including several fantastic sounding series, such as his Nemesis Saga, as well as a big collection of compelling standalone novels.  I have been meaning to read some of Robinson’s books for a while, especially as one of his series, the Chess Team novels, are part of a somewhat shared universe with Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger novels.  After seeing several mentions of Chess Team in Maberry’s novels, I got curious and had to have a look at Robinson’s catalogue of work.  I really love the sound of some of Robinson’s books, especially his Chess Team novels, which follow a special forces team at work against mythical threats, and the Nemesis Saga, which presents a new look at the Kaiju genre.  Before diving into these series, I thought it might be good to get an idea of Robinson’s writing style, and so I decided to read his latest standalone novel, The Dark.  I am extremely glad that I decided to check this out, as The Dark ended up being an incredible horror read that I deeply enjoyed.

Miah Gray is a messed up former army soldier, struggling with PTSD and other symptoms after his time in Afghanistan.  Now living with his mother, sister and stepfather in an upscale New Hampshire neighbourhood, Miah spends most of his time being the neighbourhood’s resident weirdo, avoiding his troubles with prescribed cannabis and holding out hopes that his crush, Jen, will notice him.  Managing to convince Jen to get high and watch a meteor shower on his roof one night, Miah thinks that his life is finally turning around.  However, nothing in his wildest dreams could prepare him for what is to come next.

Awakening the next morning, Miah and Jen are shocked to discover that the sun has been blotted out and the entire neighbourhood has been plunged into darkness.  With no communications, limited power, and no working artificial lights, Miah and his family attempt to adjust to the crazy events occurring around them.  All available evidence suggests that an obscure religious doomsday prophecy about three days and three nights of darkness is coming true, with the lore indicating that the only way to survive is to barricade yourself in your home and cover the windows.  Despite the blacked-out sun, Miah is dubious about this being a religious event, until a bright light from the heavens brands his forehead with an old Norse rune and an unholy army of demons invades.

Dark shapes are twisting their way through the neighbourhood, luring people outside and brutally dragging them away to an unknown fate, while even more terrifying figures lurk in the shadow.  Attempting to ride out the storm at home, Miah is forced into action when his parents are taken.  Leading a small group of survivors through the horrors outside, Miah attempts to save who he can while also trying to find a way to rescue those who were taken.  But as Miah and his friends flee through the surrounding demons and devils, a far more dangerous threat is waiting to assail them.  The rune on Miah’s head is starting to change him into something angry and inhuman.  Now forced to resist his own mind, Miah will need to dig deep than ever before if he wants to survive what is coming, even as it drags him straight to the gates of Hell.

Wow, now that was awesome.  When I started this novel, I strongly suspected I was going to love it, especially as it had a fantastic sounding plot, but I was unprepared for how much fun The Dark turned out to be.  Robinson has created an exceptional and dark horror novel that keeps you on the edge of your toes from the very start all the way to the finish.  I had an outstanding time listening to this book and there was no way I could give anything less than a five-star rating.

Robinson has come up with a pretty awesome story for The Dark, and I loved this unique horror tale.  The Dark has a great start to it, and the author manages to do a lot in a very short amount of time, thoroughly introducing the main character, Miah, while also setting up several of the other major supporting characters.  The novel’s big change from normal times to darkness occurs early in the novel, as soon as all groundwork has been established, so the protagonist can run right into the craziness.  It does not take long for events to go sideways, with danger and despair all around as everything goes to hell, literally.  The centre of the novel is extremely entertaining, as the protagonist meets a range of different people hunkering down through the apocalypse and slowly builds up a fun group of survivors.  At the same time, some of the characters, including Miah, are forced to face an inner evil that has been brought on by these dark events.  This internal battle for control and the elements that introduce it are very cleverly established, and it adds a fantastic new edge to the plot, especially as at times it seems like the only point-of-view protagonist is about to irrevocably snap.  All this leads up to an epic conclusion as the protagonist journeys to a very evil place and comes face to face with some startling revelations and immense horrors, as well as some interesting story threads for the future.

I felt that this was an exceptional story, and I deeply enjoyed the outstanding combination of action, horror and comedy that was expertly bundled throughout the novel.  It is rare to find a story that can alternately thrill, traumatise, and entertain in short succession, but The Dark does that in spades.  It was gloriously entertaining and there was honestly not a single moment in this book that failed to keep my attention.  The action sequences are crisp and fantastic, and you get a real sense of the intense violence happening all around the protagonist.  I also really loved the horror feel that this novel had, especially as Robinson is a master of building up tension and suspense.  Readers should be aware that there are a quite a few extremely gory scenes throughout the book, and Robinson does not hold back on the gruesome descriptions.  I liked how the author switched the tone of the novel around two-thirds of the way through, with the horror focus moving away from fear of the unknown to a more extreme and science fiction based narrative.  I did think that the sudden appearance of certain groups in the big finale were a bit coincidental and could have been telegraphed slightly better, but this really did not cut down on my enjoyment of the story, and I was still blown away with the cool action sequences that were featured in this part of the book.  This was a really good standalone horror story, and I was deeply impressed with the exceptional narrative that Robinson featured in this book.

One of the things that I really appreciated about The Dark were the cool monsters and horror elements that Robinson came up with.  The entire concept of the novel revolves around dangerous creatures who come out during an eclipse of the sun that covers the entire setting in darkness, while also wreaking havoc on human technology.  Not only are these monsters pretty freaky and deadly, but Robinson builds up an intriguing mythology around them.  Because the protagonists have no idea what they are facing, the entire phenomenon is attributed to a religious event, especially as there is a coincidental Christian prophecy about three days and three nights of darkness which will purge those who leave their house.  Once the monsters appear, the characters initially identify them as demons, due to their unique look, ability to replicate voices and their dark and disturbing laughter.  I found these attempts by the protagonists to understand what is happening to them to be really fascinating, and it involves some fun looks at mythology and ancient lore.  The character’s understanding of these creatures evolves and changes over time, as there are some new freaky bits of context, and I thought it was pretty cool the way that Robinson was able to adapt these horror elements.  I also must highlight the terrifying setting of Hell, where the protagonists eventually end up.  There are some pretty dark and excessively gruesome aspects to this location, and it was a very fitting location for the big finale.  Overall, I really liked the cool creatures and mythology that Robinson brings to The Dark and it was so much fun to see these monsters tear through a typical suburban neighbourhood.

Easily one of the best things about The Dark were the complex and impressive characters that the narrative was set around.  The most prominent of these was central protagonist and point-of-view character, Miah, a former soldier who returned from the war even more messed up then before.  Initially a bit of a weirdo loner, Miah soon evolves into a more heroic figure, especially as he takes the lead during the demonic invasion, saving several people he comes across and leading the survivors to either safety or battle.  Miah is a very deep protagonist, and I really enjoyed the impressive and powerful examination of his inner trauma and the mental burdens he carries after his time in the army.  Robinson really tries to make Miah as complex as possible, and he even works some of his own personal experiences with trauma into his protagonist’s psyche.  It was great to see him evolve throughout the course of the book, especially once he has the fate of several other people on his hands, and these events help him grow and overcome his previous experiences.  Miah is also an extremely entertaining protagonist to follow, especially as he has a great sense of humour, is constantly high and initially does not take anything seriously, even when all the lights go out.  This combination results in Miah doing some unusual things, including wearing one of his sister’s skirts for the first third of the novel (it’s weird, but it works).  Most of the book’s humour comes from his flippant narration of the weird events occurring around him, and even once stuff gets really serious, he still has plenty of fun jokes or odd observations about what he encounters.  I loved his outrageous outlook on the world, and I ended up really appreciating Robinson’s fantastic choice of protagonist.

Aside from Miah, Robinson also comes up with some other fantastic characters who go through these apocalyptic events with him.  All these characters are set up extremely well when they are introduced, and Robinson does a great job quickly examining their personalities and expanding on them throughout the course of the book.  There are several fun characters featured throughout The Dark, although my favourite two are probably Bree and Emma, two younger girls who end up part of Miah’s group.  Despite their youth, these two characters are extremely capable and quickly adapt to the weird new world that they live in.  This is in part due to them being branded like Miah, which slowly changes their personalities, turning them into something different.  Both characters react to their branding in different ways, with the eight-year-old Bree more swiftly losing her humanity.  It was pretty fun to see this young kid become more and more bloodthirsty as the novel progresses, and there are some great moments where Miah tries to control her.  It looks likes Robinson has some plans for both Miah and Bree in the future (Demon Dog and Laser Chicken for the win), and I look forward to them turning up again.

While I was checking out some of Robinson’s novels, one of the things that stood out to me was that all his novels have been converted to my favourite format, the audiobook, and that a good proportion of these were narrated by R. C. Bray.  Bray is a very talented and entertaining narrator, whose work I have previously enjoyed in some of Michael Mammay’s science fiction novels, Planetside and Colonyside (the latter being one of the better audiobooks I have listened to so far this year).  After seeing Bray’s name attached to The Dark, there was no way that I was not going to grab it on audiobook, which proved to be a very, very smart decision.

The Dark audiobook has a runtime of just under ten and a half hours, although I found myself absolutely powering through it, especially once I got into the story.  I felt that the audiobook format worked extremely well with The Dark’s first-person perspective, and the audiobook was able to progress at a really quick pace.  Bray really shined as a narrator in The Dark, and I loved the way that he presented the horrifying and intense events occurring around the characters.  Bray does an excellent job voicing the various characters in The Dark, and I particularly liked the way that he dove into voicing central protagonist Miah.  While I was initially a little dubious that Bray, who I have only previously heard voicing tough military characters, would manage with a more immature character like Miah, it ended up working really well.  Bray expertly gets inside the head of the main character voicing, and he quickly portrays Miah in all his doped-up, entertaining glory.  I think that Bray had a lot of fun voicing Miah (despite certain comments that the character makes about fancy audiobook narrators), and he did a great job presenting both the goofy side of the character and his more serious nature.  This ability to dive into Miah’s personality really enhanced the character and the overall story and I really enjoyed all the emotion that Bray threw into him.  I also liked some of the other voices that he did for The Dark, with all the characters ending up with some distinctive and fitting voices, even the younger ones.  This excellent voice work really helps to turn The Dark into an outstanding audiobook production, and I would strongly recommend this format to anyone interested in checking out The Dark.  Also, it has bloopers at the end, which were pretty damn fun.

While The Dark is a standalone novel that can be read with no prior knowledge of Robinson’s other works, it does have interesting connections that I need to mention.  There is a big reveal at the end of the book which ties The Dark together with a previous standalone novel that was a released a couple of years ago.  While I have not read this previous novel, it was a fun connection, and, after deeply enjoying The Dark, it got me in the mood to check out some of Robinson’s other books.  I also looked at Robinson’s website after finishing The Dark and there was a very interesting post about this that has made me appreciate this novel a little more.  Apparently The Dark is an entry in a wider joint universe, known as the Infinite Timeline, which already features several novels that Robinson has released in recent years.  The Dark is part of a sub-series within this universe, and it is linked together with the above-mentioned previous novel and an upcoming novel, Mind Bullet.  This sub-series will continue to become even more linked, eventually leading to another novel, Khaos, before it, and two other sub-series, made up of 11 novels in total, will have a big crossover in the 2023 novel, Singularity.  While this does not impact who can check out The Dark, I think it is pretty awesome that Robinson is attempting to create this massive joint universe, and it has really got me intrigued.  I am now extremely tempted to try and check out the rest of the entries in this joint universe before Singularity is released, and it should be a very interesting couple of years if I do.

Overall, The Dark by Jeremy Robinson was an epic and relentlessly exciting horror novel that I had an incredible time reading.  Thanks to its captivating story, complex characters and unique horror elements, The Dark was an outstanding book and it ended up being one of the most entertaining and compelling audiobooks I have enjoyed all year.  A definite must-read for anyone in the mood for a fun and intense horror novel, The Dark comes highly recommended and gets a full five stars from me.  I think I will end up trying some more of Robinson’s novels in the future, especially in their audiobook format, and I cannot wait to see what other crazy adventures and outrageous events he features in his books.

Star Wars: The High Republic: Out of the Shadows by Justina Ireland

Star Wars - Out of the Shadows Cover

Publisher: Disney Lucasfilm Press (Audiobook – 27 July 2021)

Series: Star Wars – The High Republic

Length: 10 hours and 50 minutes

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The marvels and terrors of the High Republic era of Star Wars history continues with the latest fantastic and exciting young adult tie-in novel, Star Wars: Out of the Shadows by Justina Ireland.

The High Republic is an interconnected collection of novels, comics, audio dramas and other pieces of media produced by top Star Wars authors, set hundreds of years before the films.  Starting in January 2021, this compelling multimedia project features several great pieces of fiction, including the awesome introductory novel Light of the Jedi by Charles Soule, the impressive The Rising Storm by Cavan Scott, and the entertaining young adult novel Into the Dark by Claudia Gray.  The latest High Republic novel, Out of the Shadows, is another compelling young adult novel that continues several key storylines from previous High Republic novels.  This was the second Star Wars book from author Justina Ireland, who previously wrote the High Republic junior novel, A Test of Courage.

Death, destruction, pirates, and plant monsters!  The Republic may be at the height of its culture and influence, but it is in some major trouble.  Following the devastation that occurred during the Republic Fair at Valo, the Republic are at war with the marauders known as the Nihil, with the Jedi leading the efforts to hunt them down.  But in the far corners of space, the Nihil are planning something new, something that could change the very fabric of the galaxy.

Sylvestri Yarrow is a young pilot and captain of a dilapidated ship, who is doing the best she can to keep her crew above water after the death of her mother.  However, when her ship is suddenly pulled out of hyperspace in a remote area of space with a boarding party of Nihil raiders waiting for her, she has no choice but to abandon her home.  Determined to get some form of justice, Sylvestri heads to Coruscant to convince someone of the dangers, but no one is willing to listen to a teenage pilot from the frontier until the unscrupulous and ultra-wealthy Xylan Graf appears and makes her an offer she cannot refuse.

In exchange for a new ship and a substantial number of credits, Sylvestri will accompany Xylan to the area of space where she lost her ship to help him disprove rumours of a dangerous Nihil weapon and to convince a senator into giving his family access to valuable hyperspace lanes.  Despite her misgivings about the plan, and the trustworthiness of Xylan, Sylvestri agrees to accompany him.  However, the Senator has a caveat: Xylan must take along some unimpeachable observers of her choosing, Jedi.  Now accompanied by young Jedi Knight Vernestra Rwoh, her Padawan Imri Cantaros, Master Cohmac Vitus, his apprentice Reath Silas, and, awkwardly, Sylvestri’s ex-girlfriend Jordanna Sparkburn, the team heads out to the wilds of space.  But the Nihil are always watching and waiting from the shadows, and their plans could spell doom for everyone.  Can Sylvestri and her new Jedi friends survive the dangers ahead of them, or will terrible secrets from her past threaten to overwhelm everyone once they are dragged out of the shadows.

Out of the Shadows proved to be a fun and compelling entry in this great new Star Wars series that I had a fantastic time listening to.  Featuring a great story and some excellent characters, this novel continues several key storylines from the previous High Republic novels and presents a strong and action-packed adventure.

Ireland has come up with a pretty good story for Out of the Shadows, resulting in a very exciting read.  Set around a year after Ireland’s last novel, A Test of Courage, and a short period after the events of the last major High Republic novel The Rising Storm, Out of the Shadows ties together several intriguing story threads set around some compelling characters.  The book starts out quick, with each major characters introduced in short order through a series of separate point-of-view chapters.  These early introductions do a good job of establishing the characters’ histories, personalities and motivations, and sending them on their various story paths.  The first third of the novel moves quickly, with each character getting some compelling moments, such as Sylvestri getting involved with unscrupulous businessman Xylan Graf, while Jedi Vernestra and her friends get a taste of the dangerous frontier life on their way to Coruscant.  This results in a fun mixture of plot inclusions, from some captivating political intrigue in Sylvestri’s storyline to some more action in Vernestra’s story combined with some interesting examinations of the Jedi and the Force.

These storylines combine around halfway through the book, with the key characters (except for one point-of-view antagonist) coming together and working as a team.  While it did have some good moments, I felt the middle part of the novel dragged a little, and there was not a great deal of excitement there.  However, it did set up the conclusion nicely, with Sylvestri and the Jedi coming face to face with the Nihil in less-than-ideal circumstances.  After a short confrontation, the story goes into overdrive, with the characters racing through several events all the way up to the end, including one event that might have some major ramifications for the High Republic storylines.  Strangely enough, while the second act was a little slow, the final part of the novel was way too quick, with a lot happening in a very short amount of time.  Still there were some great moments in these end scenes, including a couple of good twists, and it also sets up some further adventures extremely well.  All the key characters get gratifying conclusions to their various storylines, and readers are left feeling pretty satisfied with how events turned out.  Ireland makes sure to layer her story with some great action sequences, and there are some entertaining moments spread throughout the book.  I had a wonderful time reading this cool story, and it ended up being a rather good Star Wars book.

This latest Star Wars novel is marketed towards a young adult audience, and I felt that it was a particularly good read for teenagers.  Not only does it feature several teenage characters kicking ass, including a girl who became a Jedi Knight at age 15, but it also contains a clever and enjoyable story that does not pander to the younger age group or shy away from violence or controversial topics.  Ireland did a great job diving into the teenage mindset, and I felt that the various teenage characters featured in this novel were well portrayed as competent and complex figures.  I also liked the strong LGBT+ elements that Ireland featured throughout the novel, especially between Sylvestri and Jordanna Sparkburn, and it is cool that it is being shown so prominently in these novels.  Like many young adult Star Wars novels, this book is can be easily enjoyed by older Star Wars fans, who will appreciate the intriguing story and fascinating developments to the wider High Republic universe.  Younger readers will also probably have a good time with this novel, especially as Ireland does not go too over the top with the violence and romance, and as such I felt that this was an accessible novel to fans of all ages.

Out of the Shadows’ narrative is a continuation of several previous High Republic novels, which readers may need a bit of pre-knowledge about to fully enjoy.  Not only does this novel continue to expand the High Republic series and make frequent references to characters and events primarily featured in Light of the Jedi or The Rising Storm; it also serves as a direct continuation of two previous books.  This includes Ireland’s first Star Wars novel, A Test of Courage, as well as earlier 2021 release, Into the Dark, with key characters and storylines continued in Out of the Shadows.  Readers unfamiliar with these previous novels might also have a hard time following what is happening in Out of the Shadows, although I did think Ireland had a good go at making this novel accessible to readers, no matter their knowledge base.  Some key events of previous novels are explored in some detail, and I had no trouble following what was happening or who the characters were, even though I haven’t read A Test of Courage.  Ireland also blended the various existing storylines together extremely well, and this helped to turn Out of the Shadow into a key entry in the overall High Republic series, especially as it continues to show the galactic machinations of the Nihil.  It also looks like several storylines, mainly surrounding Ireland’s primary protagonist Vernestra Rwoh, will be continued in some future novels and I will have to try to read Ireland’s next novel, Mission of Disaster, even though I have avoided the junior High Republic novels in the past.

One of the things that particularly impressed me about Out of the Shadows was the excellent collection of characters that Ireland fit into her narrative.  There is a substantial central cast in this book, including some new additions and some characters who have appeared in previous High Republic novels.  The author does a good job of introducing and exploring these key characters throughout the novel, and you get some interesting and intense character development occurring, which really adds to the narrative.

These characters include Sylvestri Yarrow, a young pilot who finds herself dragged into the middle of this adventure.  Sylvestri is a tough frontier girl with a big independent streak and a massive chip on her shoulder when it comes to both the Nihil and the Jedi, and she goes through a lot in this novel.  Serving as one of the main point-of-view characters, Sylvestri offers a very interesting view on the events occurring and has some deep connections to the Nihil plot without even realising it.  She also forms an intense and fantastic relationship with Jordanna Sparkburn, her ex-girlfriend, who suddenly re-enters her life.  Jordanna is a frontier deputy responsible for defending her planet from Nihil raiders, which has seen her fight in quite a few battles.  Brought into the story after the Jedi help her to defend her home, Jordanna accompanies them to Coruscant and then gets wrapped up the main story.  Mainly introduced as the tough girl still interested in Sylvestri, Jordanna gains a lot of depth as a character as the story progresses, especially as she has experienced a lot of trauma after being forced into multiple battles.  A lot of this comes out when Sylvestri is in trouble, and Jordanna goes on a bit of a killing spree with a unique Nihil weapon she has obtained.  This scene really adds a lot to how the reader sees her, and it proves to be quite fascinating.  I was also a big fan of Jordanna’s giant alien cat, Remy, a dangerous creature who is just a big kitten at heart, especially when she bonds with some of the other characters.

I also enjoyed the great Jedi characters featured in Out of the Shadows.  These include Jedi Knight Vernestra Rwoh and her Padawan Imri Cantaros, who were the main characters of A Test of Courage and are now Ireland’s go-to Star Wars protagonists.  These two Jedi make for a unique pairing, as Vernestra is a brilliant Jedi prodigy, becoming a Knight at a very young age, while Imri is only slightly younger and has a unique ability to perceive emotions.  Vern is a particularly striking character, particularly with her lightwhip (a lightsaber modified to also be used as a whip) and I enjoyed seeing the challenges that a very young Knight would face.  Her unique connection to the force also connects her to another interesting character in the High Republic canon, and it sets her up for some big storylines in the future.  The other major Jedi characters are Jedi Master Cohmac Vitus and his apprentice Reath Silas.  Cohmac and Reath were previously heavily featured in a previous young adult novel, Into the Dark, and it was great to see them again.  Despite being the apprentice, Reath is the more prominent character, with several point-of-view chapters to himself.  While it was great to see more of Reath and Cohmac, they are a little underutilised, and I would have liked to see more about them, especially with Reath’s unique connection to one of the antagonists.

The other two characters who were a lot of fun in this book are Nan and Xylan Graf, two complex figures who are playing their own games.  Nan is a young Nihil spy and infiltrator who previously encountered Reath while the two were trapped on a space station together.  Serving as one of Marchion Ro’s most loyal soldiers, Nan is entrusted with an important treasure and is subsequently forced to navigate the Nihil’s internal feuding and plotting to survive.  Nan provides a fantastic alternate perspective for much of the events of the novel as she is used to show what is happening in the Nihil camp.  I liked her use in this book, and while I would have enjoyed a much more intense confrontation with Reath when they are inevitably reunited, I did enjoy how Nan’s story arc dramatically changed towards the end of the novel, which should be interesting for future High Republic novels.  The other character is Xylan Graf, the ultimate rich-kid master manipulator.  Xylan is the scion to the exceedingly powerful and rich Graf family, who organises the entire expedition, seemingly to gain rights to a valuable sector of space.  Xylan is an extremely flashy and stylish figure, and it is quite entertaining to see the other characters react to his eccentricities.  He is also quite a sly operator, cooking up plans and spinning tales to keep everyone happy.  He is so slippery that you honestly don’t know what he is planning for most of the novel, and I felt that he was a very compelling and fun addition to the cast.  All of the above characters were really fun and I hope they reappear in some of the future High Republic entries.

I made sure to grab a copy of Out of the Shadows’ audiobook format, which proved to be an interesting experience.  While I tend to really enjoy Star Wars audiobooks due to the cool production inclusions they usually feature, I ended up being a little disappointed with Out of the Shadow’s audiobook.  This was mainly because it lacked the iconic Star Wars musical score or background sound effects that all the other Star Wars audiobooks have, which made for a more subdued listening experience.  While this didn’t make Out of the Shadows impossible to enjoy, it was a very noticeable departure from the typical fun I have with Star Wars audiobooks, and several scenes could have benefited from being enhanced by some emotional music.  Still, I enjoyed the production, mainly because narrator Keylor Leigh does a really good job telling the story.  Leigh, who previously narrated Ireland’s A Test of Courage, has a great voice for teenage characters.  I felt that Leigh gave each of the key protagonists a unique and fitting voice, and she also ensured that the narrative moved along at a quick and exciting pace.  In addition, with a runtime of just under 11 hours, this is a relatively quick listen, which dedicated listeners can power through in no time at all.  As a result, this is a good format to enjoy Out of the Shadows on, although I really do wish that it had featured the usual strong Star Wars production values.

Star Wars: Out of the Shadows by Justina Ireland is an awesome and captivating High Republic tie-in novel, which continues to explore this unique period in Star Wars history.  Containing a fun story and some great characters, this novel serves as a key entry in the High Republic series, following several fascinating plot threads from some previous novels.  Readers are in for an excellent time with this novel, and Out of the Shadows proves to be an exciting and compelling experience.

The 22 Murders of Madison May by Max Barry

The 22 Murders of Madison May Cover

Publisher: Hachette Australia (Trade Paperback – 30 June 2021)

Series: Standalone

Length: 322 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

From the unique mind of leading Australian science fiction author Max Barry comes the fantastic and very clever alternate universe thriller, The 22 Murders of Madison May.

Madison May has been murdered and she has no idea why!

Madison, a young real-estate agent suddenly finds herself on the wrong side of a knife wielding client with zero regard for keeping his identity hidden from the police.  His final act before killing her is to profess his undying love to her.  However, Madison has never seen her murderer before in her life, at least, not in this life.

When word of Madison’s death reaches the desk of the Daily News, it falls to rising reporter Felicity Staples to follow up.  Despite a dislike for murder cases, Felicity soon finds herself wrapped up in investigating the brutal killing of the beautiful Madison May, especially as some unusual designs have been carved into the walls.  However, things take a turn for the strange when Felicity sees the suspected murderer at the subway in a dangerous confrontation with another fugitive from justice.  Moments after seeing them, Felicity can only watch in surprise as they vanish before her eyes and her universe is turned upside down.

Returning to her apartment, Felicity notices several minor changes to her life.  Her boyfriend suddenly knows how to cook, one of her cats is missing, and no-one at work remembers anything about her story or Madison May.  As strange events keep occurring, Felicity is soon forced to face the fact that she has been transported to an alternate dimension.  Reeling from the revelation, Felicity is even more stunned when a slightly different Madison May turns up murdered, the victim of the same killer.  Chasing after the mysterious people hovering around the case, Felicity discovers that a dangerous stalker is moving from dimension to dimension, determined to find the perfect Madison May to fall in love with, and killing any version he doesn’t like.  Can Felicity stop the killer before he takes out another version of Madison May, or will her forays into interdimensional travel have consequences she could never imagine?

Wow, this was a very fun and captivating read that I really enjoyed.  The 22 Murders of Madison May is the latest novel from Australian Max Barry, an author of several intriguing science fiction novels, including Providence, Jennifer Government, and Machine Man.  This was the first novel of Barry’s that I have had the opportunity to read, and I am very glad that I did, as Barry has created an outstanding and fun science fiction thriller that makes great use of some cool alternate dimension travel to produce an exquisite and awesome story.

Barry has come up with an extremely exciting and compelling narrative for this fantastic novel, which makes excellent use of its unique science fiction hook.  The novel starts off with the brutal murder of the first Madison May, which leads to the involvement of protagonist Felicity.  It does not take long for Felicity to get dragged into an alternate universe after encountering the killer and a fugitive engaged in a fight.  Forced to deal with the unusual differences in her life and the revelations of what has happened to her, Felicity attempts to save the lives of several different Madison Mays, while also avoiding the attentions of a group of interdimensional travellers who jealously guard their secrets.  What follows is a series of thrilling scenes where Felicity and her ally, Hugo, jump from alternate universe to alternate universe trying to stop the killer, with varying degrees of success.  This all eventually leads up to a fantastic and impressive conclusion where Felicity is forced to make some major, life-altering decisions, while also facing off against the monster she’s been chasing.  This proved to be an extremely captivating and fascinating novel, which honestly takes no time at all to get hooked on.  I loved the brilliant blend of psychological thriller and compelling science fiction elements, which seamlessly work together to produce an outstanding and memorable standalone story.  I powered through this book in a couple of days, and I deeply enjoyed every second I spent reading this intense and cleverly written story.

I have to say that I deeply appreciated the fascinating concept of alternate dimensions and interdimensional travel that Barry features.  Not only does the author do a good job explaining the science and philosophy behind this science fiction feature, but he also ensures that it works to full effect within the narrative.  In this book, dimensional travellers move from one reality to the next, taking over the lives of the version of themselves living in that dimension.  This results in the travelling characters awakening in a world with slight deviations from the last one they visited.  Barry features several separate dimensions within The 22 Murders of Madison May, and it was always quite fascinating to see the slight differences that occur, good and bad.  This is most prominently shown through the eyes of protagonist Felicity, who ends up visiting several alternate realities, some of which severely shake her.  However, you likewise get to see several different versions of the titular murder victim, Madison May, which results in a fascinating examination of how decisions and missed opportunities can impact your life.  It was also cool to see the various ways in which the alternate dimension travel could be manipulated, most noticeably by the book’s antagonist.  This vicious killer was constantly manipulating events to find a version of Madison May that would love him the same way that he loved her, and it was both creepy and intriguing the way in which Barry combined an alternate reality story with a tale of a fanatic serial killer.  It was very interesting to see the way the villain was able to change the course of his dimensional travels to suit his needs, such as by framing one of his pursuers for murder, and then ensuring that they only travelled to dimensions where they were locked up in prison.  I felt that Barry did a great job introducing and utilising this cool concept, and it really worked to create an epic and powerful narrative.

The author has also come up with some fun and complex characters in The 22 Murders of Madison May, who are enhanced by the fact that you get a very detailed and compelling snapshot into various versions of their lives.  The main character is Felicity Staples, a bold and clever reporter who finds her entire life upside down.  Felicity initially lives an ordinary life, with a boyfriend and two cats, while hunting for political corruption.  However, the events of this story really mess her around, as she is bounced around slightly different versions of her life.  These various involuntary jumps really have an impact on her, especially as she experiences both positive and negative changes which make her question her choices and relationships.  At the same time, she becomes obsessed with saving Madison May and stopping the killer, so much so that she constantly throws her life in danger.  The combination of these choices and the changing realities proves to be quite wearing on her, especially as she is forced to make some major sacrifices in her own life to try and save Madison’s.  This makes for quite a strong and likeable protagonist, and I deeply enjoyed seeing her intense and tragic narrative unfold completely.

I also really enjoyed supporting character Madison May.  The Madison Mays are essentially nobodies who have the very classic backstory of being a struggling actress who moved the big city and is dealing with a terrible boyfriend.  However, in one reality she was given her big break and appeared in a film in a small role.  However, this big break was a double-edged sword, as it gained the attention of a stalker, who, upon failing to meet her in his world, travelled between dimensions and started hunting her down.  Throughout the course of the book, you see multiple versions of Madison May, each of whom has a slightly different life, whether she is still struggling as an actress, on the cusp of a big break, or has given up acting altogether.  The author does a really good job of quickly and concisely setting up each of these new versions of Madison May, and you quickly get a feel for who the character is and the choices that change her.  Because she is not travelling through alternate dimensions, it is always fascinating to see the different interactions she has with her killer, as well as the reactions to the strange events occurring around her.  As a result, you get a fairly detailed examination of this character’s life, and it proves very hard not to like her and hope that she is able to overcome the latest attempts on her life.

The final character I want to focus on is the novel’s main antagonist and the killer of Madison May, Clayton Hors.  Clayton is a compelling and intense villain who starts his journey as an obsessed fan who falls in love with Madison May after seeing her in a movie in his reality and starts stalking her, eventually getting caught.  While this would usually be the end of the story, Clayton was able to obtain an item that allowed him to travel through dimensions, so he started stalking Madison in every reality he can find, assessing each version to find the perfect match to the one he fell in love with, and then attempting to make them love him in return.  This is some deeply disturbing antagonist creation here, and I really appreciate the way in which Barry amps up a dangerous and obsessed sociopath by giving them the ability to stalk their victims across the dimensions.  There are so many elements to this character which turn them into quite a memorable villain, from his unwavering determination to get what he wants, his short and violent temper, an inability to be satisfied with the girls he finds, and an obsession that can withstand constant dimensional travel.  I particularly found the descriptions of his arms, which are scarred and cracked by the various bite marks of Madison May from across the dimensions, to be a horrific masterstroke from Barry, and it was very disturbing to see versions of Madison May who attempt to bite down on his arm in self-defence to find that their teeth already match the indentations there.  Clayton was an outstanding and disturbing villain, and he really helped turn this excellent science fiction thriller into something very special and dark.

The 22 Murders of Madison May is a brilliant and distinctive science fiction thriller that I had an amazing time reading.  Australian author Max Barry has written an exceptionally clever story that perfectly combines a disturbing tale of murder and obsession, with an adventure in interdimensional travel.  I loved this awesome story, and I will have to make sure I check out some more of Max Barry’s novels in the future because I had a fantastic time getting through The 22 Murders of Madison May.  A highly recommended read.