Waiting on Wednesday – Ripper by Shelley Burr

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 latest Waiting on Wednesday, I highlight a great new upcoming Australian crime fiction novel from one of the breakout authors of 2022 with Ripper by Shelley Burr.

Ripper Cover

Last year I had the very great pleasure of reading the fantastic first novel from debuting Australian author Shelley Burr, Wake.  Set in a dying rural town out in the middle of the Australian outback, Wake examined an infamous crime where a young girl disappeared from her house without a trace, never to be seen again.  19 years later, two determined people with their own traumas attempt to find out what happened to the missing girl, including her haunted twin sister and a professional investigator with secret reasons for trying to solve the mystery.  Wake ended up being an outstanding novel and I loved how its compelling and intense mystery unfolded while also expertly showing off the desolate local landscape.  This was such an amazing read and it ended up being one of my top debuts and favourite Australian fiction novels of 2022.

Due to how impressive her first book turned out, I have been eager to see what Burr would come up with next and I was very happy that details about her second book was recently released.  This second book is Ripper, which is currently set for release in August 2023, and will take the reader to a new outback town with a murderous past, this time as the location of a serial killer’s final three murders.

Plot Synopsis:

Gemma Guillory has lived in Rainier her entire life. She knows the tiny town’s ins and outs like the back of her hand, the people like they are her family, their quirks as if they were her own.

She knows her once-charming town is now remembered for one reason, and one reason only. That three innocent people died. That the last stop on the Rainier Ripper’s trail of death seventeen years ago was her innocuous little teashop. She knows that the consequences of catching the Ripper still haunt her police officer husband and their marriage to this day and that some of her neighbours are desperate – desperate enough to welcome a dark tourism company keen to cash in on Rainier’s reputation as the murder town.

 When the tour operator is killed by a Ripper copycat on Gemma’s doorstep, the unease that has lurked quietly in the original killer’s wake turns to foreboding, and she’s drawn into the investigation. Unbeknownst to her, so is a prisoner named Lane Holland.

 Gemma knows her town. She knows her people. Doesn’t she?


Ripper
sounds like it is going to be quite an awesome book.  I love the idea of returning to another town whose reputation has been tainted by a notorious crime, and the setting of Ripper is pretty cool with its connection to the Rainier Ripper.  Seeing a dark tourist company coming to town, only to be targeted by a copycat at the place of the original killer’s last stand sounds fantastic, especially as it is going to reopen all the wounds the previous killings left open.

I have no doubt that Burr will produce an excellent mystery around that premise, however, the thing that is really interesting to me about Ripper’s plot synopsis is the reference to the prisoner Lane Holland.  Holland was one of the protagonists of Wake, so it looks like Ripper is going to be a direct sequel to Burr’s first book.  I am very interested in seeing Burr continue Holland’s story from Wake, especially as the character’s attempts to stop his terrible father saw him sent to jail, and it will be cool to see how the author brings him into this latest story.  While I was definitely going to seek out Burr’s new book no matter what, the fact that is a sequel is a major selling point to me and Ripper is now one of the books I most excited for in the next few months.  Ripper has a ton of potential and I look forward to seeing how this talented new Australian author follows up her first epic novel.

Son of the Poison Rose by Jonathan Maberry

Son of the Poison Rose Cover

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (Audiobook – 10 January 2023)

Series: Kagen the Damned – Book Two

Length: 25 hours and 55 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Amazon

One of my favourite authors, Jonathan Maberry, returns to his intriguing fantasy world in a big way with the second Kagen the Damned novel, Son of the Poison Rose.

Readers familiar with my blog will know I am a massive Jonathan Maberry fan, and the path to my current obsession with his work is well documented throughout The Unseen Library.  I started off by reading his fantastic 2018 novel, Deep Silence, quite early in my blogging career, and this ended up getting me into the rest of his exceptional Joe Ledger series, including The Dragon Factory, The King of Plagues, Predator One and Dogs of War.  I have also had a great time reading his sequel Rogue Team International series, which featured the epic books Rage (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2019) and Relentless (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021), as well as the fun standalone novel Ink (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2020).  Needless to say, I have deeply enjoyed his cool books, and this only increased when he made his impact into the fantasy fiction world last year with Kagen the Damned.

Kagen the Damned was an amazing and exceptional dark fantasy novel that took the reader on a wild ride.  Set in a brutal fantasy world of Maberry’s own invention, Kagen the Damned followed the titular character of Kagen Vale, a highly regarded hero and palace guard of the Silver Empire who loses everything in a single night when the armies of the dread nation Hakkia invade with dark magic, led by the powerful and deadly Witch-king.  Forced to watch his parents, his empress, and the royal children he was sworn to protect die terrible deaths, a haunted Kagen flees, only to be further destroyed when he beholds his gods turning their back on him, damming him for his failure.  Now known as The Damned, Kagen travels the world in a daze before finally regaining his senses and launching an attack on the Witch-king at his coronation.  However, this reveals secrets that shock Kagen further and spelling doom for the entire world.  I had an epic time reading Kagen the Damned last year, and it ended up being one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2022.  Between this and the cool Kagen the Damned novella I Say Your Name in the Dark Nights, I have been eagerly awaiting a second novel and I was very excited when I heard that Son of the Poison Rose was coming out.  Son of the Poison Rose was one of my most anticipated books of 2023 and I finally managed to read it a short while ago and it was everything I hoped it would be and more.

“There is blood on the ground between us!”

Following his failed assassination attempt on the Witch-king of Hakkia, Kagen Vale, better known as Kagen the Damned, is once again the run with his companions, Tuke Brakson and Filia alden-Bok, attempting to find safety and come up with a new strategy of survival and revenge.  While their plan to kill the Witch-king failed, their attack stopped the return of the Hakkian God, Hastur, while also opening up the possibility of war, as the Witch-king’s fellow monarchs see the Hakkians as vulnerable.  However, Kagen also uncovered the terrible secret that the Witch-king is his older brother Herepath, who has turned his back on everything he once believed in to unleash great evil upon the world.

Wandering the wilderness, Kagen, Tuke and Filia attempt to come up with a new way to strike back against the Hakkian forces.  Their journey eventually leads them to the north of the continent, where they attempt to recruit an army of nationless-rogues, mercenaries and fighters to their cause.  But force of arms alone will not be enough to stop the Witch-king, instead Kagen and his allies will need magic.  But with magic long banned within the Silver Empire, only the Hakkians have any real knowledge of the mystic arts.  To that end, Kagen turns to former nun turned spymistress, Mother Frey, who sends Kagen on a deadly mission to a long lost city in a dangerous jungle in the hopes of recovering ancient books of dark magic.

However, the Witch-king is far from idle while Kagen is working against him.  With his army spread thin and the nations of the former Silver Empire all gearing up for war, the future looks grim for the usurper and his advisors.  But with new dark allies arriving every day, called to his side by magic, the Witch-king plans to unleash a magical plague, one that will turn his enemies into a ravenous, unthinking horde.  With such power at the Witch-king’s command, will Kagen’s quest reveal something powerful enough to defeat him?  And even if he does, will Kagen be able to fight his own brother?

Wow, wow, wow, what an epic and exceptional book!  Maberry can really do no wrong when it comes to his writing and this impressive sequel really hammers home what a talented author he is.  Masterfully expanding on the narrative set up in the first book, Son of the Poison Rose contains Maberry’s trademark blend of intensity, awesome action, complex characters, and dark world building that I love so much.  I absolutely powered through this lengthy novel, and it earns Maberry another easy five-star rating from me as I loved every single second I spent with it.

Maberry continues his sprawling and dark narrative in Son of the Poison Rose, as this book takes the reader in some great and captivating new directions.  Taking place in the explosive aftermath of Kagen the Damned, Son of the Poison Rose starts off in a big and action-packed way as Kagen and his allies find themselves being hunted by everything the Witch-king can throw at them.  Maberry quickly establishes his usual practice of featuring a huge number of different perspectives to showcase not only the adventures of the protagonists, but also the actions and schemes of the antagonists and the impacts that their machinations have throughout the world.  The main story of Kagen is pretty epic as it sees the protagonist and his friends struggling through new lands in the search of allies and magic.  While this results in some great scenes for Kagen in the first two thirds of the book, including a great haunted house sequence, his story here feels a little meandering at times without too much progress being made.  However, this is more than made up from the various alternate perspectives and worldbuilding that occurs in the same period.  It is so damn fascinating and entertaining to see the various dark and often horrifying plots of the antagonists come into effect as they plot for war.  These storylines blend spy thriller and dark fantasy elements together really well and you are drawn into these storylines, especially as Maberry takes the opportunity to strengthen the followers of the antagonists in some big ways.  The simultaneous build-up of other complex supporting characters, as well as the many examinations of various corners of Maberry’s new fantasy world adds to the impressive tapestry of the first two thirds of the story, and I was pretty damn hooked during this part of the book.

Maberry ramps up the intensity in the final third of the book as the various intriguing storylines he set up in the start of the novel really come to fruition.  This is headlined by Kagen and his allies travelling into a dangerous jungle nation to find a legendary ancient city where magical texts are hidden.  While I was initially concerned this part of Kagen’s story was going to be rushed, it ended up being very well written and awesome, as they encounter all manner of evils out in the jungle.  This final third of the book was again firmly enhanced by the continued dive back to the antagonists, where you see their evil plot to fill the jungle with zombies and other deadly creatures to kill Kagen and his comrades.  This results in an epic series of battles which keep you on the edge of your seat, as you know Maberry will not hesitate to kill off his characters.  The author chucks in several massive revelations around this part of the book, including finally showing the motivation behind the Witch-king’s actions, and the entire narrative ends on a big note while also expertly setting the stage for even more chaos in the following novel.  This ended up being a particularly epic story and I was firmly hooked the entire way through.

Those who are familiar with Mabbery’s novels will know that the author has a very distinctive style which has worked wonders in his many thriller novels.  Maberry successfully transported this style across to the fantasy genre last year with Kagen the Damned, and I felt it really enhanced his already impressive story.  Naturally he continues it in Son of the Poison Rose and it is still really effective at conveying the vast scope of his tale.  The main basis for his style is the utilisation of a vast number of shorter perspective chapters which showcase events from multiple characters across the narrative.  This results in a vast and complex story that not only allows the reader to see the adventures of the protagonist but also highlight the other players throughout the realm, including the antagonist, his court, the members of the resistance, and even several kings and rulers from unaligned nations who are making plans for war.  Maberry further expands out the plot by including a series of intriguing, often standalone interludes, which showcase smaller, self-contained stories within the wider universe.  These interludes are usually pretty cool, both by themselves and as extensions of the larger story, and I love how inventive and dark Maberry can be at times.  This mass of perspectives really helps to create an extensive and complex plot that has so many different aspects to it.  Seeing the protagonist and antagonist constantly reacting to the actions of each other, as well as other figures in the book, really ups the stakes and intensifies the plot, and I loved how Maberry gave this fantasy novel a strong thriller feel, especially with the continues focuses on politics, espionage and revenge.

Now, one thing about Maberry’s writing style that is not going to appeal to everyone is just how dark and disturbing the author makes the story.  Maberry is a particularly over-the-top writer at times, as he really does not hold back on the gore, violence and depravity, with the characters witnessing or causing all manner of mayhem or gruesome acts.  While this excessive violence and brutality fits the dark fantasy realm that Maberry has created, particularly as it highlights just how evil the antagonist and his legions can be, it is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.  The torture, abuse and sadism of many scenes can be a bit much at times, and anyone that dislikes that sort of inclusion is probably best served to avoid this series.  However, for those that remain, I will point out that Maberry’s attention to bloody detail does ensure that the action sequences are extremely awesome.  The author has a gift for bringing the brutality and intensity of the battlefield to life in some truly glorious scenes, and you will be enthralled by every swing of the dagger or sword that he writes.  These action scenes are a beautiful, if bloody, highlight of this book, and the overall excessiveness of some of the scenes, especially when focusing on an over-the-top villain really plays into the wider narrative and setting.

I am still in love with the cool new dark fantasy world that Maberry created in Kagen the Damned, especially as the author took his time to populate with evil creatures, Lovecraftian gods and so much damn despair.  His first book served as a brilliant introduction to the various intriguing nations, and I deeply appreciated the intricate depictions of the Hakkian invasion, as well as the subtle and slow reintroduction of magic into this world.  Maberry continues to build up this world in several ways throughout Son of the Poison Rose, which results in some amazing story elements.  The focus on several of the other realms not seen in the first book is pretty interesting, as is the examination of the complex politics of the land as these now independent nations contemplate war with Hakkia after the concluding events of Kagen the Damned.  This builds up several great storylines as these rebelling nations and the Witch-king’s court plot different strategies to win any future wars.  Maberry also has a lot of fun exploring several new lands that were only hinted at in the previous books, and the protagonists soon end up in several unique and deadly landscapes, including cursed snowscapes with mysterious creatures, lethal jungles, and massive ruined cities dedicated to overthrown gods.  All of these locations are expertly introduced and described by Maberry, who uses them to his full advantage to increase tension and ensure that all the inevitable battles have a compelling new edge to them.

Another excellent thing that Maberry continues to do in Son of the Poison Rose is show how magic is slowly returning to the land due to the machinations of the Witch-king.  Thanks to several great chapters and interludes, you get to see the full horror as old magical creatures re-emerge, including the always reliable zombie, which plays very heavily into the plot.  Maberry is no stranger when it comes to zombies, having featured them in several books before (Patient Zero and Code Zero for example) and he uses to them to great effect here, both as political tools for the antagonist, and as rabid obstacles for the protagonists.  Other awesome features include the unstoppable, demonically powered, Razor Knight, which has a great showing at the end of the book, and it will be interesting to see how that, as well as some of the other magic unleashed in Son of the Poison Rose, come into effect in the rest of the series.  I also really appreciated how Maberry kept including a few references to his other series throughout Son of the Poison Rose, which is always a lot of fun for his established fans.  The hints of connection between this world and the settings of other books from Maberry is noticeable and fun without being too mysterious for new readers.  I especially loved the inclusion of a fantastic new villainous character who readers of the Joe Ledger books will be well familiar with under a different name, which I thought was an awesome touch for those who have read his other books.  I deeply enjoyed the impressive world building that Maberry did in Son of the Poison Rose, and I look forward to seeing how else he expands it in the rest of the series.

As always, one of the absolute best parts of Son of the Poison Rose were the exceptional, complex, and well-written characters that Maberry has expertly crafted together.  This includes a great combination of established figures from the first book, as well as a good collection of new characters who add some outstanding original spice to his second book.  Thanks to huge number of perspective chapters, the Kagen the Damned series features a pretty massive cast of damaged or sinister figures that Maberry uses to full effect to tell an elaborate overarching narrative.

Unsurprisingly, most of the focus of the book falls on series titular character, Kagen Vale, better known as Kagen the Damned.  Kagen had an outstanding introduction in the first book, where you see him lose everything, including his gods, in a single night, which drives him to great despair.  While he has managed to mostly recover from this thanks to his friends, he is still haunted by that dark night, especially after learning the truth about who the Witch-king is, as well as the identity of his heirs.  Driven by even further guilt, confusion, and anger towards his brother and his treachery, Kagen continues his impressive and emotionally rich journey in Son of the Poison Rose, and I had an outstanding time along the ride with him.  Maberry writes Kagen in an outstanding way throughout this book, and you really feel his pain and continued anger as he tries to deal with everything that has happened to him.  While he does bear some noticeable similarities to Maberry’s other major protagonist, Joe Ledger, especially when it comes to lethal prowess and severe psychological damage, I think that the author does enough to set Kagen apart, especially as his painful motivating event is a lot more raw and personal, resulting in some emotionally charged sequences.

Aside from Kagen, Maberry sets up a great supporting cast who add a lot to the main storyline while also introducing their own intriguing character moments.  It was great to see the return of Kagen’s main associates, Tuke and Filia, who continue to follow him into hell.  These three characters have great chemistry together and they form an impressive emotional centre to the story, especially as Tuke and Filia serve as Kagen’s conscience and voice of reason.  I also liked the return of Mother Frey, the clever spy mistress who is attempting to control the resistance against the Hakkians.  Her insights into the world and its political players often expands the intrigue of the story and she serves as a compelling figure in the plot.  I did find it interesting that one of the major figures from the first book, Ryssa, barely appeared in this novel after her fantastic storyline in Kagen the Damned.  However, her few appearances seem to hint at some sinister things in the future, and I look forward to seeing what Maberry organises with that.  Some of the more complicated and disturbing scenes of Son of the Poison Rose revolve around the captured Alleyn and Desalyn/Gavran and Foscor, the royal twins who were captured during the invasion, psychologically broken down, and forcibly given new identities.  These two mentally mutilated children spend the entire book trying to retain and regain their memories in some pretty dark scenes and thanks to their affliction, they run the gauntlet from sweet and damaged, to homicidal maniacs.  I felt that Maberry really showcased the twins’ mental state perfectly, and their dark storyline was an excellent addition to the plot.

However, to my mind, some of the best characters in Son of the Poison Rose are the villains, who add an entertaining and impressively sinister edge to the book, while also expanding out the political intrigue aspects of the plot.  These complex antagonists are led by the evil and destructive Witch-king, who was revealed to be Kagen’s long lost brother Herepath.  Empowered by dark magic, vengeance, and a need to keep his true identity hidden, the Witch-king continues his mission to kill Kagen and ensure that and opposition to this power is utterly destroyed.  The Witch-king proves to be a particularly malevolent figure throughout Son of the Poison Rose, even after his motivations are revealed to the reader, and he is the perfect foil to Kagen and his companions.

The Witch-king is backed up by a court of loyal, terrified advisors, each of whom are dedicated to the Witch-king’s plans, while also trying to stay alive and gather their own power.  This includes the fantastic trio of Lord Nespar, Lady Kestral and Jakob Ravensmere, each of whom have their own reasons for serving the Witch-king, and who each suffer for it in different ways, especially Kestral.  Nespar and Ravensmere deeply enhance the political thriller focus of Son of the Poison Rose, as their analysis, plotting and attempts to keep the Hakkians strong on behalf of their master results in some fantastic and powerful moments.  I also must call out the mysterious new evils that join the Witch-king’s side during Son of the Poison Rose, especially as many bring their own form of magic and despair with them.  The highlight of these new characters is the fantastic and devilish Prince of Games, a mysterious figure who comes to the Witch-king’s side to give advice, counsel and chaos.  The Prince of Games really stood out to me, not just because of his portrayal in Son of the Poison Rose but because of the great, universe-spanning implications his appearance has, and I cannot wait to see what havoc he creates throughout this series.  All of the antagonists are pretty great, and they all bring their own horror and darkness to the story, especially as they all do some pretty terrible and gruesome things to stay in power.  Honestly, every character in Son of the Poison Rose is awesome and memorable in their own way, and Maberry once again shows himself to be the master at effectively bringing together a truly complex cast of damaged and misfit figures.

In my opinion, the only way to properly enjoy a Jonathan Maberry novel is to listen to its audiobook, especially if that audiobook is narrated by the legendary Ray Porter.  This has been the case for pretty much every Maberry novel I have had the pleasure of reading, including Son of the Poison Rose, and all these epic audiobooks have been something special.  Not only do Maberry’s elaborate storylines and settings get the gravitas and exposure that they deserve in this format, but Porter’s narration really amps up the dark nature of the narrative and provides perfect depictions of the characters.  Porter, who is easily one of my favourite audiobook narrators, does another exceptional job in Son of the Poison Rose and I absolutely powered through this audiobook thanks to it.  His voice really lends itself to every dark and deadly scenario that Maberry envisions in this novel, and the way that he can convey fear, hatred and pure evil with his voice is just amazing.  His real talent lies in his ability to bring all Maberry’s complex characters to life in a particularly fitting way.  I especially love how he portrays the main protagonist, Kagen Vale, and he really captures every bit of pain, despair and resolve that this battered character contains.  Throw in a series of particularly disturbing voices for all the inhuman and horrifying creatures that the characters encounter, and this is a perfect narration that adds so much to my enjoyment of an already epic book.  With a run time of nearly 26 hours, Son of the Poison Rose is a particularly long audiobook (it would come in at number 14 on my latest Longest Audiobook I Have Ever Listened To list), but it is well worth the time investment especially once you get caught up in the twisted story.  I personally powered through it extremely quickly, as the combination of the amazing writing and impressive narration ensured I was listening to it continuously and loving every damn second of it.  As such, I must once again strongly recommend the audiobook format to anyone wanting to check out Son of the Poison Rose, and you will not be disappointed if you do as this is easily one of the best audiobooks of 2023.

I could go on for ages about Son of the Poison Rose, as Jonathan Maberry has done another exceptional job with this second Kagen the Damned novel.  Featuring an electric and addictive dark fantasy narrative, loaded with carnage, battles, great characters and an elaborate world on the brink of war, Son of the Poison Rose was a joy from start to finish, especially in its audiobook format.  This is easily one of the best fantasy books I have read all year and I cannot wait to see how Maberry continues this epic story in the future.  A masterful second book in one of the best ongoing dark fantasy series!

Amazon

Waiting on Wednesday – Everyone on This Train is a Suspect by Benjamin Stevenson

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.  In this latest Waiting on Wednesday, I highlight a fantastic upcoming novel that is likely to be one of the funniest and most compelling Australian reads of 2023 with Everyone on This Train is a Suspect by Benjamin Stevenson.

Everyone on this Train is a Suspect Cover

Amazon

One of the benefits of living in Australia as I have the great pleasure of receiving and reading multiple Australian novels each year, which has really introduced me to some fantastic writers.  One of the most solid and fun in recent years is Benjamin Stevenson, who has really made his mark on the Australian crime fiction landscape.  Previously known as a comedian with his twin brother, Stevenson made his crime fiction debut back in 2018 with the impressive murder mystery Greenlight.  Released as Trust Me When I Lie and She Lies in the Vines outside of Australia, Greenlight was an excellent novel that followed a guilt-ridden true-crime documentary maker who might have gotten a murderer out of jail.  This was an outstanding read and Stevenson followed it up in 2020 with the sequel book Either Side of Midnight (one of my favourite Australian books of 2020) which saw his protagonist investigate another elaborate murder made to look like a very public suicide.  Both these books were extremely good and I loved the compelling combination of clever mystery and a complex protagonist.

While I enjoyed his original two crime fiction novel, I personally don’t think that Stevenson really hit his stride as an author until last year when he presented his epic read, Everyone in my Family Has Killed SomeoneEveryone in my Family Has Killed Someone was a brilliant and captivating novel that saw the protagonist recount a complex family tale in memoir format of a very complicated family reunion at a ski resort where the guests started ending up murdered.  Of course, everyone in the family is a potential suspect as, like the title of the book suggests, they have all been responsible for someone’s death in the past.  Not only was this a very clever and entertaining story, but Stevenson also loaded the plot with a ton of humour while also making a ton of homages to classic whodunnits and locked room mysteries.  Everyone in my Family Has Killed Someone was an exceptional novel that got an easy five-star rating from me and ended up being one of the best Australian novels of 2022.

I really, really loved Everyone in my Family Has Killed Someone, as it was such a fantastic novel, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Stevenson was planning a sequel to it with the focus of this article, Everyone on This Train is a Suspect, which is set for release in October 2023.  As the name suggests, this new novel will see the protagonist of Everyone in my Family Has Killed Someone get involved in another series of murders, this time aboard a train setting.

Plot Synopsis:

Ernest Cunningham returns in a deliciously witty locked room (train) mystery.

When the Australian Mystery Writers’ Society invited me to their crime-writing festival aboard the Ghan, the famous train between Darwin and Adelaide, I was hoping for some inspiration for my second book. Fiction, this time: I needed a break from real people killing each other. Obviously, that didn’t pan out.

The program is a who’s who of crime writing royalty:

the debut writer (me!)
the forensic science writer
the blockbuster writer
the legal thriller writer
the literary writer
the psychological suspense writer.

But when one of us is murdered, six authors quickly turn into five detectives. Together, we should know how to solve a crime.

Or commit one.

How can you find a killer when all the suspects know how to get away with murder?

Oh dear, now this is going to be pretty damn hilarious.  Look I was already hyped about Stevenson’s new novel well before I knew the plot details, but the above synopsis is so fun.  There are so many layers to this upcoming story, including the clear Murder of the Orient Express homages, the setting aboard the iconic Ghan train, and the fact that every suspect on the train is a mystery writer of some variety.  The idea that one of these authors (which includes the protagonist) is a potential killer and they are using their literary skills to get away with it is brilliant and has a lot of potential from a mystery and narrative perspective.

However, the thing that I am most looking forward to in Everyone on This Train is a Suspect is the way that Stevenson will no doubt lovingly lampoon every single one of these different crime fiction sub-genres in his own fantastic way.  He did such an outstanding job of both satirising and exemplifying the whodunnit novel in his last book, which is what I assume he is planning for the sequel.  Simultaneously examining and making fun of several different crime fiction genres is going to be a big ask from the author, but I honestly have no doubt he can pull it off and turn it into something special for all crime fiction readers.

Look, based on how good Stevenson’s previous novels, especially Everyone in my Family Has Killed Someone, was, there was very little chance that I wouldn’t have grabbed this book later this year.  But the fact that Everyone on This Train is a Suspect is an awesome sequel to his previous fantastic novel which aims to further reference and examine fun crime fiction elements is a major selling point to me.  Stevenson honestly gets better with every book he writes, and this new novel has so much damn potential as a result.  As such, I have no doubts whatsoever that Everyone on This Train is a Suspect is going to be a remarkable read and I am fully expecting it to be one of the absolute best Australian novels of the year.

Throwback Thursday – Warhammer 40,000: Kill Team by Gav Thorpe

Kill Team Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Paperback – 1 November 2001)

Series: Last Chancers – Book Two

Length: 277 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Amazon

Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  In my latest Throwback Thursday, I review the second epic entry in Gav Thorpe’s ultra-fun Last Chancers series with Kill Team.

I have been going through a real Warhammer phase in the last few months, especially as I have been lucky enough to find some awesome older paperbacks in second hand shops.  I was particularly happy to find a copy of was the first two books in Gav Thorpe’s Last Chancers series.  Following a rotating team of convict Imperial Guardsmen as they engage in suicide missions for their freedom, the Last Chancers books are essentially The Dirty Dozen in space, and I love the awesome and brutal stories that emerge.  The first book, 13th Legion, was one of the very best Warhammer 40,000 novels I have had the pleasure of reading, and I have been trying to fit the sequel, Kill Team, into my reading schedule for a while.  I finally got a chance last weekend, and boy was it worth making the time for as the second Last Chancers novel had another outstanding and action-packed story to it.

In the far future, the armies of the Imperium contain multitudes of scum and villains, all of whom are considered useful in the service of the Emperor.  However, after blowing his last chance at redemption after completing an impossible suicide mission, Lieutenant Kage has been cast aside, locked inside an Imperial detention centre away from the one thing he is good at, fighting the Emperor’s enemies.  When his former commander, the mysterious and ruthless Colonel Schaeffer, returns with another deadly assignment, Kage is swift to accept and become useful again, even if he no longer has a chance at freedom.

The Colonel has been tasked with leading a small, disposable team to assassinate a prominent Tau commander and he needs a new version of the 13th Penal Legion, the infamous Last Chancers, to pull the mission off.  Placed in command, Kage must recruit a ragtag group of the worst killers, deserters, and malcontents that the Imperial Guard have cast out.  Forcing them into a harsh training regime to bring them together into an effective squad, Kage soon finds himself leading a new squad of Last Chancers, many of whom are as desperate for freedom and the fight as he is.

However, their mission is another lethal suicide mission.  Working with an immoral Imperial Inquisitor, the team is covertly inserted into Tau space and must infiltrate the political and military circles surrounding their target.  But not everything is as it seems and soon the squad must content with treachery, personal enmity, and the superior technology of the Tau.  Can these new Last Chancers succeed when so many before them have perished, or will the only redemption they find be in death?

Thorpe continues to give me all the Warhammer 40,000 fun I can ever need with this amazing and intense read.  Serving as an outstanding sequel to 13th Legion, Kill Team proved to be a fun and compelling novel, loaded with action, adventure and some intriguing characters.

Readers are in for another intense and brutal story with Kill Team, as Thorpe once again utilises The Dirty Dozen format to successfully set the scene.  However, rather than having a massive regiment get whittled down until the toughest survivors are left, this time the protagonist and main narrator, Lieutenant Kage, is forced to choose his own team of criminals to lead on the Colonel’s new suicide mission.  I really enjoyed the starting scenes of Kill Team, especially as you see Kage go from cell to cell choosing the best individuals for his team, before engaging in an extended and deadly training montage, which mirrored the hell he went through in the first book.  As Kage is dealing with that, and his own substantial personal issues, the main mission of the book is set up as the Last Chancers are sent into Tau space to assassinate an ambitious, warmongering commander.  Initially infiltrating in as diplomats and mercenaries, the team travel to several Tau planets before beginning their attack.  The final third of the book is primarily focused on this deadly mission as the team find themselves in the middle of a bloody battle against the very worst the Tau can throw at them.  The subsequent fight is pretty intense and brutal, and the readers are treated to some great scenes of warfare in various unique scenarios.  The ending is well set up, with betrayals, fun reveals and some brilliant character focused moments as the team finally come together to succeed.  I do think that Thorpe might have gone one twist too many at the end, but the overall story was extremely satisfying, and I deeply enjoyed how the entire thing came together.

I had a lot of fun with this second Last Chancer’s novel, and I am really glad that The Dirty Dozen plot basis didn’t wear thin in the second entry.  Thorpe did a great job of following on from the story elements he introduced in 13th Legion, especially when it comes to the two main characters, who have a fantastic new dynamic in Kill Team.  Like the first book, Kill Team is very fast-paced, and I had a ton of fun at the start when the new characters are recruited, as well as all the awesomeness of the extended battle sequence at the end.  However, unlike the episodic storytelling Thorpe utilised in 13th Legion, Kill Team has a more straightforward plot line, which worked well to set it apart from the previous entry.  You really get dragged into the struggles of the new Last Chancers, as well as the eternally battered Kage, who serves as the book’s primary narrator.  While there are a lot of references to the first book, Kill Team can easily be read as a standalone read and it isn’t necessary to get through 13th Legion first.  However, I deeply enjoyed seeing the continued development of the protagonist and fans of the first book will probably get a lot more out of Kill Team as a result.  Unsurprisingly, a lot of the book’s focus is on the action and combat, and Thorpe really doesn’t disappoint when it comes to that.  The author does a wonderful job capturing every single firefight, brawl, and pitched battle that occurs within Kill Team, and you can see and feel every single shot, punch and stab that is thrown as a result.  The presence of a few too many characters guaranteed to survive did occasionally lessen the impact of some dramatic fight scenes, however, you still get caught up in the violence and I deeply enjoyed how well Thorpe supported his narrative with his great writing.

Kill Team also serves as an intriguing entry in the wider Warhammer 40,000 canon, especially as it is one of the stories that follows a common soldier as he experiences the alien perils of the wider galaxy.  Just like with 13th Legion, readers don’t need a lot of background knowledge of the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe to enjoy Kill Team, and the Last Chancers books are actually a pretty good introductory series for those unfamiliar with the franchise.  I loved some of the fun references and factions contained within Kill Team, not only because you get to see more of the dark side of the Imperial Guard, but you also get quite an in-depth look at the Tau.  The Tau are one of the more interesting factions in the Warhammer canon, and frankly there aren’t enough books focusing on them.  I had a lot of fun seeing them in Kill Team, mainly because you got to see the inexperienced human characters encountering them for the first time.  Their reactions at the Tau culture, politics, and weaponry, makes for a great part of the book’s middle plot, and it was really fun to see them comparing their own lives in the Imperium to what the Tau have (that scene when they’re exploring the Tau ship’s bathroom was just great).  While Thorpe did nerf the Tau when it comes to their battle prowess, as the Last Chancers mow down waves of Fire Warriors, you get a great idea of their military capability throughout Kill Team and I loved seeing the Battlesuits in action.  There are a lot of great elements that Warhammer fans will get a kick out of in Kill Team and I really enjoyed some of the stuff Thorpe added in.

For me, the real highlight of Kill Team was the exceptional character work, especially when it came to Lieutenant Kage.  Kage is a natural survivor who has gone through a lot in his life, especially since joining the Last Chancers.  The Kage we met in 13th Legion was a gritty survivor, just looking for his freedom at any cost.  However, after the success and trauma of his mission and his subsequent failure to stay out of trouble, Kage has come back a little broken and a little bit more unhinged, especially as he is now racked with guilt over the fate of his original Last Chancers.  After a lengthy, violent prison sentence, Kage is once again under the heel of Colonel Schaeffer in Kill Team.  Kage actually ends up becoming more like Schaeffer in this book, especially when he chooses, trains and controls his own team of rogues, and the realisation that he will be responsible for their deaths weighs very heavily on him.  This guilt, and his own mental trauma, plays a big part in how Kage interacts with many people in Kill Team, and there is something very wrong with Kage throughout this book.  Despite this, he is still the ruthless survivor that he was in 13th Legion, and, if anything, Thorpe possibly made him a little too unkillable and deadly for this sequel (he’s not really a common soldier anymore).  The best scenes involving Kage are still the ones when he faces off against Schaeffer, and the have some great interactions throughout the book, especially as Kage blames Schaeffer for everything that happened to him.  Kage honestly hates and fears the Colonel more than anyone else, and yet he still follows him, even though his own chance of freedom has already been spent.  This results in some brilliant encounters between the unhinged Kage and the taciturn Schaeffer, and I cannot wait to see how their relationship evolves in the other Last Chancers books.

Aside from Kage and Schaeffer, there is a good collection of supporting characters featured throughout Kill Team.  Most of the prominent ones are the new members of the Last Chancers who Kage recruits for the mission.  Thorpe features a great introduction for all these new characters at the start of Kill Team and you soon get drawn into their unique storylines.  Each brings something new to the book, even if it is only briefly, as you know well in advance that most, if not all, of these character are going to die.  I liked the more specialist focused characters featured in Kill Team, as it was an intriguing departure from the more generalised grunts in 13th Legion, although this did slightly pigeonhole these characters in certain ways.  Still, all the new Last Chancers characters formed an excellent base for the story, and it was fascinating to see how they interacted with Kage, who see him in the same way that Kage viewed Schaeffer in the first book.  Other awesome characters featured within Kill Team includes a wily Inquisitor, some alien diplomats and a mysterious passenger waiting in the wings.  All these, and more, add so much to the plot, and I had a great job seeing how they, and their seemingly inevitable deaths, played into this awesome book.

Overall, Kill Team was exactly the sort of fun read that I thought it would be, as Gav Thorpe did a wonderful job in this second Last Chancers book.  Loaded with action and highly damaged characters, Kill Team was another fantastic and electrifying romp through the chaotic and deadly Warhammer 40,000 universe with a crew of convicted soldiers.  Sharp, brutal, and highly addictive, I powered through Kill Team very quickly and had an awesome time doing so.  Hopefully I will be able to lay my hands on the next Last Chancers novels at some point in the future and I cannot wait to see what carnage they get up to next.

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Throwback Thursday – Warhammer 40,000: Caves of Ice by Sandy Mitchell

Caves of Ice Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Audiobook – 1 February 2004)

Series: Ciaphas Cain – Book Two

Length: 6 hours and 46 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  For this latest Throwback Thursday I look at another highly entertaining entry in the hilarious Ciaphas Cain Warhammer 40,000 series with the second book, Caves of Ice.

Even after my many recent reviews of Warhammer 40,000 fiction, my obsession with this franchise is far from over, so when I had a spare second, I quickly listened to Caves of IceCaves of Ice is the second novel in Sandy Mitchell’s (a pseudonym for author Alex Stewart) iconic Ciaphas Cain series, which follows the outrageous life of Commissar Ciaphas Cain, legendary hero of the Imperium of Man, who in reality is a pragmatic survivor whose heroic reputation is the result of chance and coincidence.  I had a wonderful time reading the first book earlier in the year, For the Emperor, and not only was it an extremely funny book but it also ended up being one of the absolute best Warhammer 40,000 novels I have had the pleasure of reading.  As such, I have been looking for an opportunity to continue this series and I worked hard to slip it into my reading cycle.  This was well worth the effort as Caves of Ice is another fun and awesome read that takes the protagonist to a whole new dangerous battlefield in deadly circumstances.

After unravelling a diabolical conspiracy on Gravalax, the legendary Commissar Ciaphas Cain and the troops of the Valhallan 597th have been redeployed to a new battlefront, the ice planet of Simia Orichalcae.  Empty except for a vital promethium refinery, Simia Orichalcae has recently received a group of unwelcome guests, a warband of orks who crash landed on the planet and are making their destructive way towards the refinery with ill intent.

Happy to be facing a more conventional enemy on their preferred icy terrain, the Valhallan men and women eagerly prepare for battle.  However, Cain, in his usual pragmatic approach to life and war, is less enthusiastic about the violent battle to come and searches for any way to avoid the fighting.  Several mysterious disappearances in the tunnels beneath the refinery offer a potential escape for Cain as he leads a small squad underground to map the tunnels and discover the reasons behind the missing miners.

Cain, with his typical bad luck, finds far more than he bargained for beneath the ice.  Not only are several ferocious monsters lurking in the vast underground labyrinth, but a far more sinister foe lies there undisturbed, one that Cain has good reason to fear.  When the war and Cain’s explorations awaken this enemy, the entire planet is put at risk as this new, unrelenting danger attempts to destroy both the orks and the humans.  It once again falls to the reluctant Cain to face impossible odds and try to find a way to save his men.  But can even this legendary hero of the Imperium stop the flood of evil that is to come?

Sandy Mitchell continues his fantastic Ciaphas Cain series in a very fun way with Caves of Ice, which features another excellent story that strongly focuses on Mitchell’s reluctant hero.  Caves of Ice was a wild ride from start to finish, with a fantastic and captivating mixture of action, adventure, humour and intriguing character moments.  Taking place after the events of For the Emperor, Caves of Ice is another self-contained novel that any new reader can easily jump into.  This was a much shorter novel than the previous Ciaphas Cain book, and Mitchell provides a more direct narrative as a result.  Initially focusing on the ork invasion of Simia Orichalcae, the story is soon primarily set in the labyrinth of mines and tunnels laying underneath the refinery, where several miners have gone missing.  Attempting to avoid the fighting on the surface, Cain leads his aide Jurgen and squads of soldiers on several missions into he depths to explore the tunnels and find whatever is behind the disappearances.  What follows is an Aliens-esque series of adventures, as Cain discovers a variety of different and steadily more terrifying dangers down in the tunnels.  Each discovery forces Cain to go even deeper into danger, thanks to his heroic reputation and hidden skills, and the resultant action is pretty epic, especially when combined with Cain’s cynical and self-serving narration of events.  Everything leads up to a very explosive conclusion as the protagonist and his comrades are faced with the absolute worst their enemy has to offer them, and the resulting mess really brings everything together.  This ended up being a pretty strong sequel to For the Emperor, and I had an incredible time seeing Cain dragged into another deadly adventure.

I love the way that Mitchell portrays the various adventures of Cain in these novels, especially as it allows him to express a great range of different writing styles.  Just like with For the Emperor, Caves of Ice is primarily told from Cain’s perspective as entries from his personal memoirs.  However, this chronicle is cut through with notes and inclusions from his unintended editor, Inquisitor Vail, who provides some added context to the story through her own introductions, footnotes, inclusions of in-universe texts, and quotes from other notable characters.  These inclusions from Vail not only allow for a much wider story than the one Cain is telling (especially when it comes to the battle on the surface), but it also increases the humour of the novel by implying Cain is an unreliable narrator.  This, combined with the cynical and less-than-heroic observations and actions of the protagonist, gives the entire Ciaphas Cain series a much more comedic edge than many other Warhammer 40,000 books out there, and indeed there were several times I was cracking up laughing throughout this book.  However, Mitchell perfectly balances this lighter tone with some dark and bloody moments as the protagonist encounters all manner of deadly foes.  The action and lethal battles are recorded in exquisite detail, and you can feel the terror and fear that the protagonist feels as he constantly fights for his life.  This great blend of styles and tones really helps to make Caves of Ice stick in the mind, and I find the entire setup extremely compelling and very easy to fall in love with.

In addition to being a great Ciaphas Cain novel, I felt that Caves of Ice was a great entry in the wider Warhammer 40,000 canon.  The clever, humorous writing, and the fact the book could easily stand on its own, makes Caves of Ice an ideal place for someone to start their Warhammer 40,000 adventure, even if they are very new to the franchise.  The book provides some interesting insights into life in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, both through Cain’s insights and through the humorous or satirical texts that Inquisitor Vail adds to the book.  I really enjoy the solider-focused observations of the primary narrator and some of the supporting characters, and it is always quite compelling to see the common soldier’s reactions to the aliens and monsters they encounter.  Cain’s observations are always very sharp and funny, and his own range of experiences adds some amazing colour to the events unfolding in Caves of Ice.  Mitchell also takes the time to explore several iconic Warhammer 40,000 factions and races throughout the book and its quite interesting to see Cain’s opinions and insights into them, especially as he has a much more realistic views towards them than some of his cohorts.  Combine that with some fun insights into the day-to-day lives of soldiers in the Imperial Guard and their Commissar, and Caves of Ices proves to be quite an interesting Warhammer 40,000 novel.  I love seeing the range of different experiences that the protagonist has in this universe, and it will be fascinating to see what deadly danger he encounters in the next book.

Without a doubt, the major highlight of this series and Caves of Ice is the fantastic and compelling characters, particularly Commissar Ciaphas Cain.  Cain is one of the more entertaining figures in Warhammer 40,000 lore as he is a somewhat cowardly man who, in his mind, has accidently gained a reputation as a great hero and legendary fighter.  Just like in his previous adventure, Cain is still obsessed with staying alive and avoiding battle, often manipulating events to ensure he’s far away from the action.  Nearly all his thoughts revolve around how he can stay alive or in control, and it is often very entertaining to see his very selfish thought process in action.  At the same time, he is conscious of his image as a hero, which he also tries to maintain as dearly as his life, and this forces him into so many situations and fights he would honestly rather avoid.  His honest observations and hilarious internal reactions when events don’t go his way (which happens often), are some of the main drivers behind the book’s outrageous humour, and it is hard not to fall in love with this cheeky rogue.  While a lot of this book does focus on Cain’s attempts at survival and avoiding combat, Mitchell does take the time to focus on Cain’s good qualities.  Despite his own narration constantly trying to talk down his own abilities out of modesty (or self-loathing), Cain is shown to be a very competent fighter, explorer and commander, effectively leading his troops into battle and facing down a series of outrageous threats.  His keen insights, vast history fighting the enemies of the Imperium, and his own uncanny survival skills, actually make him an ideal champion who often succeeds against all the odds.  Indeed, with each adventure it is becoming more and more apparent that Cain is in denial about his own abilities and is suffering some form of imposter syndrome.  Whatever the case is, Cain remains a particularly entertaining and surprisingly likeable figure, and I cannot wait to see what crazy adventures he has in his next book.

Aside from Cain, Caves of Ice contains an intriguing range of characters who add to the story in several different and unique ways.  This second novel contains a fascinating range of supporting figures, including several who previously appeared in For the Emperor, as well as a few new characters as well.  The always entertaining Inquisitor Vail, despite not appearing in person, continues to have a major impact on Caves of Ice as she is the one presenting Cain’s manuscripts to the reader, often editing it to make it more reliable and cohesive.  Her insights into Cain’s adventures, mindset and unreliable narrations are very amusing, while also simultaneously impacting the reader’s perception of the protagonist and his various actions.  As such, she is a vital part of Caves of Ice, and I am glad Mitchell continues to utilise her as a narrator.  Another major character in the book is Jurgen, Cain’s aide and bodyguard who accompanies him on most of his adventures.  Portrayed as a slightly dim, relentlessly straightforward, and somewhat smelly, Jurgen is essentially the Baldrick to Cain’s Blackadder, and at times he serves as a good additional comic relief, especially in some of the more serious scenes where Cain is scared.  Despite his portrayal as a simple man, Jurgen is a very effective fighter and companion to Cain, and his love of the meltagun heavy weapon gets them out a jam plenty of times.  I liked how Mitchell also strongly hints that Jurgen is a lot smarter than anyone realises, especially when it comes to Cain’s nature, and it will be interesting to see how their friendship develops in the future.  Other great characters include Lieutenant Sulla, an exceedingly keen and annoying solider who offers some entertaining insights into the wider events of the story.  This is primarily due to the fact that Vail quotes Sulla’s memoirs throughout the book, although Mitchell writes them as pompously and badly as possible to really highlight Sulla’s character deficits.  Throw in some additional soldiers, arrogant bureaucrats, and a fanatical Adeptus Mechanicus priest who brings nothing but trouble for Cain, and you have an outstanding cast that I had a great time following.

Unsurprisingly, I chose to listen to the Caves of Ice audiobook rather than grab a physical copy, and I once again had an epic time with the fantastic audio format.  Coming in at just under seven hours, this was a relatively short Warhammer audiobook entry, and I was able to power through extremely quickly.  The audiobook format really made Caves of Ice a joy to listen to, and the entire story was beautifully portrayed throughout, especially the action scenes in the tunnels.  I was particularly happy that this production once again featured the three narrators who were utilised in For the Emperor, with the excellent team of Stephen Perring, Penelope Rawlins and Emma Gregory once again making a major impact.  All three give excellent performances in Caves of Ice, and I had a good chuckle listening to their fun and clever takes on the characters.

Perring is once again the central narrator as he voices everything in Caves of Ice shown from Cain’s perspective.  Perring has an outstanding voice, and he really brings all the characters to life in a colourful way, especially when it comes to showcasing the slippery and jaded Cain.  I also love his take on most of the supporting characters, especially Cain’s aid Jurgen, who Perring gives a very Baldrick-esque voice to.  In addition to Perring, Penelope Rawlins serves a very vital role as Inquisitor Vail in the outside narration, who is compiling Cain’s memoirs for the reader.  Rawlins voices all the extra notes that Vail adds to the proceedings, including the footnotes, several chapter introductions, and the descriptions of several in-universe texts, all of which Vail adds to give extra context to the story.  Rawlins gives Vail an awesome voice steeped in knowledge, command and a light sense of humour, and it is always very fun to see her add some honesty and truth to Cain’s version of events, especially when the footnote appears in the immediate aftermath of Cain’s false information or ignorance.  The final voice actor, Emma Gregory, is primarily used to narrate one of the major in-universe texts that is quoted throughout, the chronicles of supporting character Lieutenant Sulla (Like a Phoenix From the Flames), written many years after the events of Cave of Ice.  Gregory voices all the excerpts of Like a Phoenix From the Flames in a particularly pompous manner to match the tone of these poorly written memoirs, and you really get a sense of the self-importance Sulla must feel in the future.  This brilliant combination of narrators ensures that Caves of Ice, and indeed all the Ciaphas Cain audiobooks, really stands out, while also effectively increasing the humour of the entire production.  For that, and more, audiobooks are easily the best way to enjoy the Ciaphas Cain series and I cannot recommend it enough.

The second entry in the outstanding Ciaphas Cain series, Caves of Ice, was another exceptional novel from Sandy Mitchell that I had an awesome time reading.  Featuring an outstanding and hilarious protagonist, Caves of Ice is a great addition to one of the funniest series in the Warhammer 40,000 franchise.  I cannot recommend this book enough, and any fans of fun adventure are going to have a great time with Caves of Ice.

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Quick Review – Red Dirt Road by S. R. White

Red Dirt Road Cover

Publisher: Headline (Trade Paperback – 10 January 2023)

Series: Detective Dana Russo – Book Three

Length: 307 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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Impressive author S. R. White continues to lead the Australian outback murder mystery scene with his new and compelling release, Red Dirt Road, the third book in his Detective Dana Russo series.  I had the great pleasure of reading the second book in this series, Prisoner, back in 2021 and I really enjoyed his unique take on the outback detective novel.  As such, I have been rather excited to read his new book, Red Dirt Road, especially as it featured a particularly enthralling mystery.

Plot synopsis:

One outback town. Two puzzling murders. Fifty suspects.

In Unamurra, a drought-scarred, one-pub town deep in the outback, two men are savagely murdered a month apart – their bodies elaborately arranged like angels.

With no witnesses, no obvious motives and no apparent connections between the killings, how can lone police officer Detective Dana Russo – flown in from hundreds of kilometres away – possibly solve such a baffling, brutal case?

Met with silence and suspicion from locals who live by their own set of rules, Dana must take over a stalled investigation with only a week to make progress.

But with a murderer hiding in plain sight, and the parched days rapidly passing, Dana is determined to uncover the shocking secrets of this forgotten town – a place where anyone could be a killer.


Red Dirt Road
ended up being a very fun and captivating murder mystery novel and one I had a wonderful time getting through.  I really enjoyed White’s cool and clever plot scenario and the entire concept of a cop attempting to solve a mystery in a small town with limited suspects is a fun idea that harkens back to classic whodunits.

Red Dirt Road’s story itself hits the ground running quickly, as complex protagonist Dana Russo is forced to travel to the small town for the investigation and soon becomes wrapped up in its many foibles.  This includes the sheer isolation, the lack of modern comforts and the unusual locals, many of whom are hiding from the outside world.  There is also a set of creepy angel-themed statues that mysteriously move around town, the work of a guerrilla artist who has remained hidden since the murders began.  With time restrictions on her investigation and with minimal help from the local police, Dana initiates an unconventional investigation that focuses on understanding Unamurra’s society and its people to solve the crime.  After getting to grips with the various people living there, as well examining other clues and evidence, she is able to figure out which one of the town’s residents is the most likely killer and confronts them in a particularly fascinating reveal sequence.  The full explanation for why the crime was committed, as well as the ingenious and very distinctive motivation of the murderer, was exceedingly clever, and I felt that White set everything up perfectly.  While certain elements of the conclusion were a bit over-the-top, (a very unrealistic elite government SWAT team comes to town), I felt that the story was pretty damn impressive and I was absolutely blown away with the elaborate motivation that the author came up with.  The plot of Red Dirt Road also simultaneously continues some of the series’ ongoing storylines, such as Dana’s personal relationship with her co-worker and the internal police politics that are impacting her career, and this ended up being quite a gripping read as a result.

One of the most noticeable things about Red Dirt Road was the unique, society-orientated investigation method that the protagonist used to understand the people of Unamurra and find out who the killer was.  I personally thought that this was a very smart and intriguing way to frame a murder investigation that worked extremely well in the context of the setting and the series.  When I reviewed Prisoner I noted that White likes to highlight the interrogation side of policing with his writing and this was once again in full display when it came to how Dana gathers information in Unamurra.  The flurry of casual conversation she engages in ensures she picks up all the knowledge about the town and people she needs, while also putting the potential suspects at ease as they don’t understand her style or the subtle reasons behind her lines of inquiry.  This information, when combined with some observations and additional background she gets from headquarters, allows her to pull together a full mental picture of the town and by understanding them and their needs she finally gets the insight she needs to understand the entire situation.  This results in a very unique case, and I found myself getting really wrapped up in both the characters and the setting while trying to wrap the clues together in my head.  While this style of investigation probably isn’t going to fit every murder mystery fan’s taste, I felt that it worked extremely well and I loved how the elaborate motivation was teased out through these discussions.  The final confrontation with the killer and the various revelations it contained really ties all these previous discussions together perfectly and you quickly realise just how cleverly White structured his entire mystery.

On top of the cool investigation method, I also deeply enjoyed the dusty and desolate setting of Unamurra that served as the backdrop to the murders.  White really tries to show the reader the full experience of such a lonely and decaying town, and thanks to the excellent descriptive writing you can absolutely picture every cloud of dust, quiet night, and the lack of movement.  At the same time, the protagonist begins talking to each of the residents of Unamurra and you really get to understand the sort of people that would live in such a place, whether they are desperate, trapped, or have their own strange motivations.  This excellent use of setting and compelling supporting characters greatly enhances the book’s already complex murder investigation, and I felt that White did an amazing job of working it into the larger narrative and mystery.  The sheer isolation impacts every decision and insight that Dana has and you really come away trying to imagine what life in such a location would be like.  While White does overgeneralise some areas of rural Australia in his book, especially as he makes the location of these crimes geographically vague, this setting added a great deal to the impact of Red Dirt Road and I deeply enjoyed my time in the elaborate setting of Unamurra.

Overall, Red Dirt Road was an outstanding new book from S. R. White that perfectly highlighted his distinctive take on a murder mystery investigation.  Combining another outstanding outback setting with a unique case, Red Dirt Road will have you hooked all the way to the fantastic finale.  I cannot wait to see what complex stories White comes up with in the future, but if they are anywhere near as clever and enthralling as Red Dirt Road, I know I am going to love them.

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Waiting on Wednesday – Dark Corners by Megan Goldin

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.  In this week’s Waiting on Wednesday I check out a cool upcoming crime fiction reader from acclaimed Australian author Megan Goldin, Dark Corners.

Dark Corners Cover

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Readers of this blog will probably be familiar with my habit of supporting and highlighting Australian authors in my various reviews and posts.  This is primarily because, as a book reviewer living in Australia, a lot of this local fiction gets sent to me by publishers.  However, I also like supporting my fellow countrymen, especially when they are killing it across a variety of genres, and it is always fun to see an Australian representing the rest of us international markets.  As such, the subject of this Waiting on Wednesday article is perhaps one of the most impressive and well-known Australian authors now, compelling crime fiction writer Megan Goldin.

Goldin has been writing for a few years now and has so far produced several amazing and highly regarded bestselling novels.  I personally first became familiar with Goldin back in 2018 when I was lucky enough to get a copy of her epic thriller, The Escape Room, which I powered through in a single night.  I had an amazing time with its fantastic narrative, especially as it detailed the corrupt dealings of Wall Street, and it ended up being one of my favourite pieces of Australian fiction at the time.  However, Megan was far from done and she has since produced two more outstanding reads.  This includes her heartbreaking and dramatic novel, The Night Swim (one of my favourite Australian novels of 2020) and the impressive thriller from last year, Stay Awake (one of my favourite Australian novels of 2022).  All her books have had great concepts, backed up with excellent writing, and I would strongly recommend each and everyone of her previous books.

Unsurprisingly, I am always excited when I see that Goldin has another book on the horizon, and it looks like we will only have to wait till August 2023 for her next novel, Dark Corners.  A sequel to The Night Swim, Dark Corners will bring back Goldin’s excellent pod-casting protagonist Rachel Krall, who is recruited by the FBI for an investigation.  Thrust further into the deep end than ever before, Rachel will have to uncover the dark world of influencers and social media celebrities to find a deadly killer.

I have to say that I love the sound of this cool upcoming book, not just because Goldin is apparently going to unleash a serial killer on convention full of influencers.  Goldin is always such an exceptional writer, and this book sounds like it will have some excellent murder mystery elements to it, which I am excited to see.  I am deeply intrigued to see how this elaborate and fun sounding story unfolds, and I am particularly keen to see Goldin’s take on the influencer/social media scene.  I have no doubt that Dark Corners is going to be one of the top novels by an Australian author in 2023 and I full plan to dive into this novel the second I have my hands on it.

Plot Synopsis:

 Rachel Krall, the true crime podcaster star of Megan Goldin’s acclaimed The Night Swim, returns to search for a popular influencer who disappears after visiting a suspected serial killer.

Terence Bailey is about to be released from prison for breaking and entering, though investigators have long suspected him in the murders of six women. As his release date approaches, Bailey gets a surprise visit from Maddison Logan, a hot, young influencer with a huge social media following. Hours later, Maddison disappears, and police suspect she’s been kidnapped―or worse. Is Maddison’s disappearance connected to her visit to Bailey? And why was she visiting him in the first place?

When they hit a wall in the investigation, the FBI reluctantly asks for Rachel Krall’s help in finding the missing influencer. Maddison seems to only exist on social media; she has no family, no friends, and other than in her posts, most people have never seen her. Who is she, really? Using a fake Instagram account, Rachel goes undercover to BuzzCon, a popular influencer conference, where she discovers a world of fierce rivalry that may have turned lethal.

When police find the body of a woman with a tattoo of a snake eating its tail―identical to a tattoo Rachel had seen on Bailey’s hand―the FBI must consider a chilling possibility: Bailey has an accomplice on the outside and a dangerous obsession with influencers, including Rachel Krall herself. Suddenly the target of a monster hiding in plain sight, Rachel is forced to confront the very real dangers that lurk in the dark corners of the internet.

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Throwback Thursday – Warhammer 40,000: Malleus by Dan Abnett

Warhammer 40,000 - Malleus Cover

Publisher: Black Library (Trade Paperback – 27 December 2001)

Series: Eisenhorn – Book Two

Length: 10 hours and 13 hours

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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Welcome back to my Throwback Thursday series, where I republish old reviews, review books I have read before or review older books I have only just had a chance to read.  For this week’s Throwback Thursday, I continue my extensive dive into the Warhammer 40,000 universe with the awesome, galaxy-spanning thriller, Malleus by Dan Abnett.

For one of my latest Throwback Thursday reviews, I took a look at one of Dan Abnett’s iconic Warhammer 40,000 novels, Xenos, the first book in the incredible Eisenhorn trilogy.  This fantastic book, which followed Inquisitor Gregor Eisenhorn, a hunter of dark influences in the Imperium of Man, was a clever and compelling read that saw Eisenhorn face off against a range of terrible foes who seek to destroy humanity from within.  I had an outstanding time with Xenos, which really showcased Abnett’s skill as an author (I have also really enjoyed his Gaunt’s Ghosts novels, including First and Only, Ghostmaker and The Vincula Insurgency).  Indeed, I enjoyed it so much that I quickly decided to continue the Eisenhorn trilogy by listening to the second book in the series, Malleus, another exceptional read that takes its protagonist on another dark and engrossing adventure.

In the 41st Millennium, the dark enemies of mankind, whether they be heretical, daemonic, or alien in nature, continue to try and destroy the Imperium of Man from within.  It falls to dedicated inquisitors, such as Gregor Eisenhorn, to battle their malign influences by whatever means they deem necessary.  But what happens when the very institutions that Eisenhorn has long fought to uphold are turned against him?

Whilst battling against deadly alien influences on an isolated planet, Eisenhorn is made aware of certain allegations against his character which suggest that he has been corrupted by the influence of Chaos.  Initially planning to ignore the rumours and continue his vital work safeguarding humanity, his plans are put on hold when a terrible act of destruction unfolds on the planet of Thracian Primaris.  Investigating its causes, Eisenhorn is thrust into another deadly conspiracy, one tied to a foe he last encountered 100 years before, the daemonhost Cherubael.

Chasing after Cherubael and his minions, Eisenhorn attempts to discover what their latest unholy plan is.  However, his investigation reveals that Cherubael is just a pawn, and that the true mastermind of the plot he has uncovered may be a fellow inquisitor.  However, before Eisenhorn can find and confront them, he himself is declared a heretic and renegade by puritan members of his order, forcing him to flee.  Chased by the members of the Ordo Malleus, as well as other deadly hunters loyal to Imperium, Eisenhorn must work outside the bounds of his usual authority to prove his innocence and find the true culprits.  But to defeat his enemies, Eisenhorn may be forced to cross a dangerous line and become the very thing he has sworn to destroy.

Damn, Abnett was on a major roll when he wrote the Eisenhorn novels, as the second book, Malleus, is getting another five-star rating from me.  Brilliantly combining a taut and intrigue-laden plot with the darkest elements of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, Malleus is an addictive and powerful read that proves near impossible to stop listening to.

Malleus has an incredible story that I found to be pretty damn addictive.  Set 100 years after the events of Xenos, Malleus continues to follow Inquisitor Eisenhorn as he investigates several malign cults and figures throughout his sub-sector of space.  The story soon ties into some of the lingering storylines from Xenos as the daemonhost Cherubael makes another appearance, framing Eisenhorn as a heretic.  After a massive and suitably destructive series of events, Eisenhorn is thrust into a whole new investigation, trying to finally hunt down the figures that vexed him during the events of Xenos.  Traversing the sector in pursuit of Cherubael and other rogue inquisitors, Eisenhorn finds himself thrust into battle after hopeless battle, and his constant losses war with his determination to finish the case.  The protagonist faces several major hurdles towards the middle of the book, including capture and imprisonment by a fellow inquisitor for false crimes.  Eventually escaping, Eisenhorn spends much of the book as a fugitive hunted by loyalist forces, which is an exciting new element that Abnett plays to full effect to enhance the plot.  The overarching mystery/conspiracy plot of the book comes together extremely well, and I loved the outstanding investigation angle that follows as Eisenhorn desperately tries to find the evidence that not only ends the threat but exonerates him.  This hunt for answers is actually set over a substantial period of time, mainly due to the delays associated with space travel, but this only increases the power of the plot as you witness Eisenhorn lose years of his life being hunted.  Everything leads up to a massive confrontation with plenty of bloody battles and dangerous decisions that leave several fantastic characters dead or damaged.  The ultimate conclusion is pretty impressive, especially as Abnett really starts to showcase his protagonist’s inevitable fall from grace here, and he leaves the book on a particularly dark note that was so damn awesome.

Just like with Xenos, Abnett has a fantastic writing style that really helps to enhance Malleus’s narrative and make the book very addictive and exciting.  Perfectly utilising an excellent chronicle style that allows you to see inside Eisenhorn’s head, you are swiftly drawn into the complex plot.  Abnett keeps up a swift and intense pace the entire way through, and you barely have a moment to stop and breathe before the next intriguing event takes over.  The blend of intrigue, Inquisition politics, sector-spanning conspiracies, complex character development, unique Warhammer concerns, and impressive action is a heady mix and you get really get caught up in the hunt for the antagonists and Eisenhorn’s fight to prove his innocence.  I loved how intense and deadly some of the crazy battle scenes got and Abnett has great skill at showcasing his characters in mortal danger.  His attention to detail also results in some breathtaking sequences, and I was really impressed by that epic parade sequence, especially its ultra-chaotic ending.  Abnett also takes the time in Malleus to set up some future storylines and alternate books, with some fun hints at novellas/short stories you should check out, while also quickly introducing his next major protagonist, Ravenor.  All these brilliant writing elements, and more, really help to drag you into this elaborate narrative, and I deeply enjoyed the more intrigue-focused stories that are the hallmark of the Eisenhorn books.  A worthy and powerful sequel to Xenos that really showcases the awesome characters and continues the outstanding and elaborate storylines.

I really loved the elaborate Warhammer 40,000 elements that Abnett featured within Malleus as the author dives right into the heart of the Inquisition and their battles.  Just like with Xenos, you get a great understanding of the various internal threats that the Imperium faces in this universe, as Eisenhorn attempts to combat various conspiracies and threats.  However, there is also a much deeper look at the inner workings of the often hidden Inquisition Ordos, especially as Eisenhorn is forced to work against the factions associated with them, including the Ordo Malleus, who think he has been compromised.  The ensuing hunt for answers leads the protagonist, and by extension the reader, on a mighty chase around various unique planets in the Imperium, including Cadia before the fall, and Abnett has a lot of fun exploring the intriguing elements associated with these locations, as well as the general lore surrounding inquisitors, daemons and more.  I did find it interesting that one of the major McGuffins of the book, the mysterious pylons of Cadia, ended up seeming a little more important in hindsight after the 13th Black Crusade, and you have to wonder if the antagonist’s villainous plan didn’t actually have some merit.  I felt that this was a particularly awesome Warhammer 40,000 book and I deeply appreciated how the universe’s unique elements and lore were able to seamlessly support the elaborate tale that Abnett wrote here.  Due to Abnett’s detailed and compelling writing style, new Warhammer readers could easily start their exploration of the franchise with Malleus and get a rather good idea of the universe.  However, I would really recommend starting with Xenos, as you get a much better introduction to key details and characters there.  An overall exceptional read that makes full use of the massive, extended setting.

A highlight of any Abnett book is always the outstanding and highly complex characters, and Malleus has those in spades.  The focus is once again on series protagonist and narrator, Gregor Eisenhorn, who grows as a character with each passing adventure.  I really liked how Abnett portrayed Eisenhorn in Malleus and his compelling mission for justice and redemption is pretty intense.  The Eisenhorn here is a different creature to that in Xenos, especially as, after 100 additional years in the Inquisition, he is a lot more experienced and skilled in his work.  Now commanding a small army of followers, Eisenhorn has different methods and resources than before, but the same determination, loyalty and kindness (at least compared to other inquisitors) is still there.  However, Malleus sees Eisenhorn go through some major battles, both mentally and physically, as he is forced to confront an enemy within his own order while defending his own methods and character.  Watching him declared a heretic by his fellow inquisitors is pretty brutal, and Abnett throws in a heartbreaking prison scene to keep the readers intrigued.  These events, coupled with some personal losses, and the continued presence of beings far more powerful than him, force Eisenhorn to make deals and cross lines he really shouldn’t.  I love how each of the Eisenhorn books show the protagonist’s slow fall towards radicalism, and Malleus is an interesting starting point for that, as you understand why Eisenhorn is forced to go down this route.  While he ends the book with most of his humanity and integrity intact, that brilliant final scene shows that he is getting awfully comfortable with his feet over a line he previously feared, and I cannot wait to see how far he falls in the next Eisenhorn novel.

On top of Eisenhorn, Abnett features a pretty awesome collection of supporting characters who assist the inquisitor in his investigation and they each add their own distinctive personality to the narrative.  There is a good continuation of character arcs from the first book as several of his followers from Xenos make a return here, including the entertaining Savant Aemos, former Arbites investigator Fischig and his dedicated psychic blank Bequin.  Each of them is a little older, wiser and more familiar with the hardships of being an inquisitor’s acolyte, and I liked the stronger relationships that developed amongst them, particularly Bequin, who really comes into her own in this book as a veteran.  There are several interesting new characters added as well, such as the bounty hunter Nayl or brash pilot Medea Betancore (replacing her father Midas), and I felt that their distinctive personalities added a fun and entertaining edge to the narrative.  I was surprised that new character Gideon Ravenor, who goes on to get his own spinoff series, only had a relatively small appearance in this book, as I figured he would be a pretty major character to get his own story.  Still, he gets a good introduction here and it will be interesting to see how his arc plays out in the future.

Malleus also features several intriguing antagonists, each of whom test Eisenhorn and his colleagues in different ways.  While there are the usual array of cultists, aliens and other creatures, most of the antagonists in this novel prove to be other inquisitors, who are either working on their own radical plots or who believe that Eisenhorn is the true heretic who needs to be stopped.  This adds a very interesting dynamic to the story and it was fascinating to see the varied philosophies and plots amongst the rival orders and factions.  I did find it interesting that the main villain of the story, a mysterious inquisitor acting from the shadows, only had a very minor appearance in the book, and while you feel his presence, a bigger appearance from him might have been in order.  However, this character is more than made up for by his principal minion, the daemonhost Cherubael, who returns after his fantastic appearance in Xenos.  Cherubael is a brilliantly sinister character who steals every single scene they are in thanks to their menacing monologues and intriguing insights.  The outstanding obsession he forms with Eisenhorn is a great deal of fun and I loved seeing this evil figure toy with the inquisitor and force him to go to great lengths to defeat him.  Abnett really knows how to write an outstanding character, even in a limited amount of time, and it will be fascinating to see what happens to these characters in the next Eisenhorn book.

I of course chose to listen to Malleus on audiobook, as it is my preferred way of enjoying great Warhammer books, and I was not disappointed with how it turned out.  This fantastic format once again deeply enhanced the quality of the story and you can practically see the awesome battle scenes and other breath-taking elements of the wider Warhammer 40,000 universe.  Narrator Toby Longworth, who is the go-to narrator for all of Abnett’s Warhammer audiobooks, does another outstanding job with Malleus, and I loved how he was able to keep the pace of the production going.  He also has an outstanding voice that really conveys the dark and dangerous nature of the universe, while also perfectly bringing the characters to life.  I deeply appreciated how Longworth made sure to utilise the same character tones that he previously featured in Xenos here, and it gave the Malleus audiobook a great sense of continuation.  All the new characters are also given excellent voices, and I loved how awesome he made them sound, especially the more supernatural or alien beings that the protagonist comes across.  I was frankly hooked on this audiobook from the very start, and it is an exceptional way to enjoy this epic narrative.  With a run time of just over 10 hours, I managed to power through this audiobook very quickly, and this is definitely the best format for the Eisenhorn series.

Dan Abnett continues to showcase why he is one of the absolute best Warhammer authors out there with the second book in his superb and beloved Eisenhorn trilogy, Malleus.  Featuring a powerful and incredibly captivating narrative of conspiracy, heretics and desperation, Malleus takes Abnett’s compelling protagonist on an even darker journey of despair, compromise and hard choices.  Brutal, intense and impossible to put down, Malleus is easily one of the best Warhammer books I have ever read, and I cannot get over how exceptional it was.  A very highly recommended book, I plan to check out the third and final Eisenhorn book soon as I can to see how this epic series ends.

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Waiting on Wednesday – The Shadow Casket by Chris Wooding

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 one of the most anticipated and epic upcoming fantasy novels of 2023 with, The Shadow Casket, by Chris Wooding.

The Shadow Casket Cover

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Back in 2018 I was lucky enough to be introduced the amazing writing of an impressive fantasy author, Chris Wooding.  Despite his work on several previous fantasy books, including the Braided Path, Malice and Tales of Ketty Jay fantasy series, I hadn’t previously had the opportunity to read anything from Wooding.  I also wasn’t initially aware that he had a new fantasy book coming out in 2018 either, so much so that its release completely passed me by.  It wasn’t until I started hearing rave reviews about it that I decided to check it out, and boy was I lucky that I did, as it proved to be an exceptional and incredible fantasy read.

That book was The Ember Blade, a massive and elaborate fantasy epic that took a great group of characters on an intense and captivating adventure.  The first book in Wooding’s The Darkwater Legacy series, The Ember Blade primarily takes place in the conquered fantasy nation of Ossia, who were invaded and destroyed by the brutal Krodan Empire years before, who now rule Ossia with an iron first.  The only Ossians who flourish in the country anymore are those who bow down to the Krodan rulers and allow their children to be brainwashed into believing that the Krodan are saviours.  This includes the main protagonist of the series, Aren, who grew up wanting to be a Krodan with all his heart.

However, after his father is killed by the Krodans, Aren and his best friend Cade are taken to a labour camp, where they are expected to die.  Realising just how evil the Krodan are, Aren plots to fight them, and is given the chance when a band of freedom fighters free them from the camp.  They soon find themselves embroiled in a plot to break into an impregnable fortress and steal the legendary Ember Blade, an ancient sword with the potential to ignite the Ossian people in rebellion.  However, while Aren and his comrades are able to pull off the heist, they suffer great losses in process, including the band’s leader and Cade.

I had an extremely awesome time listening to The Ember Blade audiobook, which really filled all my epic fantasy needs.  Not only did Wooding introduce a bold new fantasy world, filled with some amazingly complex characters, but The Ember Blade had an exceptional story to it.  I loved the combination of fantasy adventure, rebel action, and a heist storyline that formed the main plot, and I was relentlessly entertained the entire way through.  I also had a lot of fun listening to The Ember Blade audiobook, which ended up being the eighth longest audiobook I have ever listened toThe Ember Blade got an easy five-star review from me, and I have been eagerly looking forward to the sequel for a few years now.

Well, my wait is finally over, as Wooding is finally releasing the second Darkwater Legacy novel in a couple of months’ time.  This sequel to The Ember Blade is The Shadow Casket, which will continue the epic story from the from the first book.  Set for release in mid-February 2023, The Shadow Casket has an immense amount of potential and I like the sound of the cool plot synopsis that has been released:

Synopsis:

A BAND OF REBELS.
A TRAITOR IN THEIR MIDST.
A REVOLUTION ABOUT TO BEGIN.

It’s been three years since Aren seized the Ember Blade. Three years since they struck the spark they hoped would ignite the revolution. But the flame has failed to catch. The Krodans have crushed Ossia in an iron grip of terror. The revolution seems further away than ever.

Far in the north, the Dawnwardens seek to unite the fractious clans of the Fell Folk and create a stronghold from which to retake their land. But even if they can overcome the danger of treachery from within, they still have to contend with the dreadknights. Only the druidess Vika can resist these near-unstoppable foes, and there’s only one of her.

But what if there was a weapon that could destroy the dreadknights? A weapon of such power it could turn the tide? A weapon that, if it fell into the wrong hands, might mean the end of all hope?

The Shadow Casket has returned from out of the past, and it will save or damn them all.

There are some very intriguing elements in the synopsis above that have got me even more excited for The Shadow Casket.  I love the idea of a bit of a time-skip between The Ember Blade and this sequel, especially as it appears that the protagonist’s dream or uniting the country around the Ember Blade failed.  While this does kind of invalidate the events of the first book, I’m sure that Wooding will turn this failure into some impressive personal drama for the protagonist.  In addition, there appears to be even more chaos and confusion as the rebels attempt to band together their fractious countrymen into fighting a terrible enemy.  Throw in a new fantasy MacGuffin, the Shadow Casket, and I am sure that this will be a great new read with another epic story to it.

Look, there is honestly no way that I will not be enjoying The Shadow Casket when it comes out next year.  The Ember Blade was too damn good not for me to look forward to the sequel, and I can’t wait to see how the elaborate story continues.  While I am slightly worried that I may have forgotten some of the details since listening to the first book in 2019, I am sure that I will have no trouble diving back into this series.  This book has so much damn potential, and I am exceedingly confident that The Shadow Casket is going to be one of the absolute best fantasy books of 2023.

Waiting on Wednesday – Thick as Thieves by M. J. Kuhn

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  For my latest Waiting on Wednesday, I highlight an awesome upcoming fantasy novel that I feel is going to be a lot of fun with Thick as Thieves by M. J. Kuhn.

Thick as Thieves Cover

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Last year I was lucky enough to receive an amazing debut from a great new author that combined an excellent heist concept with a cool fantasy setting.  That book was Among Thieves by M. J. Kuhn, which saw a group of desperate rogues attempt to steal a valuable item from an impregnable magical stronghold.  Made up of several damaged criminals, each of whom had their own reasons for taking the job, the crew managed to come together to succeed in their heist.  However, not everything went to plan, and they ended up losing their prize to a dangerous crime lord who plans to use its deadly magic to take control of the world.  At the same time, the remaining members of the crew found themselves scattered as their own dark histories came crashing down on them.  Needless to say, this was a very exciting and compelling read, and I loved the outstanding combination of fantasy and crime fiction elements, as well as the impressive characters the book was set around.  Among Thieves was one of the best debuts I read in 2021 and I have been eager to see how Kuhn was going to continue her great series.

Well, we finally have some details about the second Thieves book as the sequel to Among Thieves is due for release in July 2023.  That sequel will be Thick as Thieves, and it will see the heist crew reform to take on a new job.  However, this time they will be forced to dive into the deadly powerplays surrounding their nations as they attempt to double cross their old boss to gain back the artefact they previously stole.

Based on how impressive Among Thieves was, I have no doubt that this sequel is going to be an extremely epic read, and I am really excited to check it out.  Kuhn did an excellent job setting out the characters and settings in the first book, and I am excited to continue from the captivating cliff-hanger that Among Thieves ended on.  There is so much potential for betrayal, intrigue and self-interest in this second novel, and I have no doubt that Kuhn will produce another excellent fantasy crime novel in Thick as Thieves.  I have some very high hopes for this sequel, and I cannot wait to see more fantastic fantasy thievery.

Plot Synopsis:

Ryia Cautella, a.k.a. the Butcher of Carrowick, and her motley crew have succeeded in the ultimate heist…with the most dire possible consequences. A terrifyingly powerful tool has fallen into the hands of Callum Clem, the criminal leader of the Saints, who was already one of the most dangerous men alive. With the newfound ability to force magic-wielding Adepts to his will, he is unstoppable.

With their group scattered throughout the five kingdoms of Thamorr—and not all on the same side of the fight—things seem hopeless. But can Ryia get the gang back together for one last job? Or will chess-worthy power plays and shifting loyalties change Thamorr as they know it?