Top Ten Tuesday – Pre-2019 Books

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics. For the last couple of weeks I have been using these Top Ten Lists to highlight some of my favourite books of 2019. So far, I have already examined my favourite debut novels of 2019, my favourite audiobooks of 2019 and my favourite new-to-me authors. For this week, I am going to look at books I read for the first time this year that were released before 2019.

This year I have ended up reading quite a few books and comics that were published at some point prior to 2019. I have checked these various books out for a number of reasons, such as the book had an awesome plot synopsis, it was part of a series or an expanded universe that I had been exploring, or because I wanted to see an author’s earlier works. Most of these older releases are really good, and in some cases they are amongst my favourite books I read all year. I have also featured quite a few of these books as part of my Throwback Thursday series, and pretty much all of them receive a full five out of five stars from me. As a result, I wanted to highlight which books amongst these series are my absolute favourites and decided to feature them in their own Top Ten list.

For this list, any book with a pre-2019 release date is eligible for inclusion, and I was able to come up with my 10 absolute favourites, as well as a generous honourable mentions section. I am pretty happy with the below collection of pre-2019 releases, although it is hard to ignore that quite a few are part of either the Star Wars franchise the excellent Joe Ledger series. This was mainly because those were the books I was in the mood for, and I was really happy to check all of those books out. All of the below books are quite fantastic, and I would highly recommend each of them to anyone looking for an awesome read.

Honourable Mentions:

Cold Iron by Miles Cameron

Cold Iron Cover 1

Cold Iron was one of three books that feature on this list which were released last year and which I featured on my Top Ten Books I Wish I Had Read in 2018 list. This was an outstanding novel that featured an amazing story and an excellent new fantasy world. Unfortunately, I just could not fit Cold Iron in the top ten. Still, Cold Iron comes highly recommended, and I really enjoyed its sequel, Dark Forge.

Star Wars: Tarkin by James Luceno

Star Wars Tarkin Cover

The first of several Star Wars novels that are featured on this list, 2014’s Tarkin was an enjoyable novel which presented a whole new history for the titular character in the current Star Wars canon.

The King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry

The King of Plagues Cover

The King of Plagues is the third book in the Joe Ledger series, several entries of which are going to be featured in the list below. The King of Plagues was a really solid entry in this great range of thriller books, and I gave it a full five stars when I reviewed it.

Star Wars: Scoundrels by Timothy Zahn

Star Wars Scoundrels Cover

The only book from the old Star Wars Legends range of books in this article, Scoundrels by legendary Star Wars author Timothy Zahn was a fun and exciting novel that featured a heist set in the Star Wars universe. A fantastic read, this one was a lot of fun to check out, and after reading it I am very much tempted to check out more Star War Legends books in the future.

Top Ten List (in no particular order):

Legend by David Gemmell

Legend.jpg

Legend was a classic from 1984 that I had an incredible time with earlier this year. Featuring perhaps the best siege storyline I have ever had the pleasure of reading; Legend is an outstanding fantasy novel that I had been meaning to check out for some time. I am extremely happy that I had the opportunity to enjoy Legend, and it is one of the top books I read all year.

The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry

The Dragon Factory.jpg

While I first started listening to the Joe Ledger series by Jonathan Maberry in 2018 with Deep Silence and Patient Zero, 2019 was the year that I fully invested myself in these excellent thriller novels. The first one of these that I enjoyed this year was the second book in the series, The Dragon Factory, which was just all sorts of amazing. In my opinion, Maberry started to really hit his stride in this second book, as he was able to produce some fascinating antagonists with a complex plan and some astonishing plot twists that really got the story going. This was an outstanding novel, and I am really glad that I decided to continue exploring this series.

The Ember Blade by Chris Wooding

the ember blade cover

The Ember Blade was another novel that I wish I had checked out in 2018. Featuring a massive and elaborate fantasy storyline with some complex and detailed characters, The Ember Blade was a powerful and impressive read that is very much worth investing the time it takes to get through this substantial book.

Darth Vader (2015) series by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca

Star Wars - Darth Vader Volume 1 Cover

I am going to cheat a little here and include all four volumes of the clever and captivating Darth Vader (2015) comic book series, as well as the Vader Down crossover volume, as a single entry. While there were a few comic book series which I read this year that I could have included here, such as the first volume of the Star Wars (2015) series or the ever-entertaining Doctor Aphra comics, in my opinion, the Darth Vader (2015) series was the easily the best and most consistent out of all of them. All five of these volumes get an easy five stars from me, and while I have only reviewed Volume One so far, I will hopefully get reviews up for the others soon. This Darth Vader series contained a deeply compelling storyline that really helps to redefine one of the most iconic film villains of all time while also showing off how dangerous and determined he really is. Not only was this an epic comic, but it also introduced one of the best new Star Wars characters of the decade, Doctor Aphra. These comics are a must-read for fans who want to see how incredible the franchise can truly be.

Lies Sleeping by Ben Aaronovitch

Lies Sleeping Cover

I ended up reading this book early in 2019, and I was so annoyed that I did not read it any sooner. Lies Sleeping is one of the best urban fantasy books I have ever read, which has a perfect combination of fantasy and crime fiction elements. A fantastic read that ensured that all of Ben Aaronovtich’s books are very high up on my to-read list from now on.

Assassin’s Code by Jonathan Maberry

Assassin's Code Cover

The fourth book in the Joe Ledger series, Assassin’s Code, was a fast-paced and action-packed novel that introduced some amazing new characters into this franchise and featured an epic group of modern vampiric antagonists. A thrill ride from start to finish, this was a lot of fun to read and a terrific book to boot.

Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan

promise of blood cover

I had been hearing some incredible things about the Powder Mage series for a long time and decided that this was the year that I would finally check it out by reading the first Powder Mage book, Promise of Blood. I was in no way disappointed, as Promise of Blood more than lived up to the hype, containing a deeply compelling and extremely enjoyable tale of betrayal, revolution and war, while mages whose powers are derived from gunpowder unleash hell across an inventive and embattled new world. This is fantasy writing at it’s very best, and I really need to read more of these books in the future.

Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

Thrawn Cover

This is the second entry in this article from Timothy Zahn, which isn’t too surprising as he has been dominating the Star Wars novel scene for over 20 years at this point. After enjoying the second book in the Thrawn trilogy, Alliances, last year, I decided to go back and check out the first novel in the trilogy, Thrawn, before the third and final book, Treason, came out this year. While I knew I was going to love this book as the titular character of this series, Grand Admiral Thrawn, is one of my favourite Star Wars characters of all time, I was nonetheless surprised at how deeply impressive I found this book. Featuring an incredibly addictive story set around a calculating tactical genius, Thrawn absolutely blew me away, and it is easily the best Star Wars novel I have so far had the pleasure of reading.

King of Assassins by R. J. Barker

king of assassins cover

I had been meaning to read this book ever since it’s 2018 release, especially as the first two books in The Wounded Kingdom trilogy, Age of Assassins and Blood of Assassins, were pretty spectacular. I ended up listening to this book earlier in the year, and it was an amazing end to the trilogy that provided the reader with a deeply captivating story. I still have to finish off my review for this book, although it gets a full five stars from me, and Barker’s latest book, The Bone Ships, is going to appear on my upcoming Top Ten Favourite Books of 2019 list.

Code Zero by Jonathan Maberry

Code Zero Cover

The final book on this list is Code Zero, the sixth book in the Joe Ledger series, and the latest one that I have been able to read. Code Zero was an extremely clever entry in the series, which featured an exception story, a compelling antagonist and a plot that utilised and paid respect to some of the best parts of the previous Joe Ledger books. This was easily one of the best books in the series, and I am really excited to check out the final three Joe Ledger books that I haven’t yet had a chance to read.

I like how the above list turned out, although I think it really highlights how much time I spent reading Star Wars and Joe Ledger books this year. I am planning to keep up with a similar reading pattern of new releases and awesome older books in 2020. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish off the Joe Ledger series next year, and I will definitely try to listen to more of David Gemmell and Brian McClellan’s books in the future. I also see myself listening to bunch of other Star Wars novels in 2020, because there are some amazing gems there. In the meantime, which pre-2019 books did you enjoy this year? Let me know in the comments below. Make sure to check in next week as I list my favourite 2019 releases in the final Top Ten Tuesday for the year.

Throwback Thursday – The King of Plagues by Jonathan Maberry – Audiobook Review

The King of Plagues Cover.jpg

Publisher: Blackstone Audio (8 April 2011)

Series: Joe Ledger series – Book 3

Length: 16 hours and 10 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed as part of 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.

Over the last year or so, reading and reviewing all of the books in Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series has been something of a passion project for me. I absolutely loved the 10th and latest book in the series, Deep Silence, when I read it last year and found its superb blend of the horror, science fiction and thriller genres to be incredibly compelling and a whole lot of fun to read. Since then, I have gone back and read and reviewed the first two books in the series, Patient Zero and The Dragon Factory, and I found that I enjoyed them just as much as Deep Silence. As a result, when I got a gap in my reading schedule recently, I decided to check out the third book in the series, The King of Plagues, and once again found myself drawn into the world of Joe Ledger and the DMS.

Following the events of The Dragon Factory, which saw the death of the women he loved, Joe Ledger has left the chaotic world of the Department of Military Sciences (DMS) behind. Living in London, Ledger is suddenly thrust back into the field when an explosion levels a busy London hospital, killing everyone inside in one of the worst acts of terrorism the world has ever seen. Horrified by this callous attack, Ledger returns to active duty with the DMS and is immediately targeted by a hit team, before traveling to investigate a second attack at an Ebola research laboratory.

It does not take long to identify that the people behind these attacks are the group known as the Seven Kings. The Seven Kings are a mysterious secret society that Ledger and the DMS have dealt with before, as they influence and equip terrorist organisations around the world. Pledging fealty to a shadowy goddess and having a small army of highly trained mercenaries and the ability to influence highly placed people around the world, the Seven Kings are determined to change the world for their own benefit and are willing to kill anyone to achieve their goals.

As part of their plan to destabilise the world and benefit from the resulting economic chaos, the Seven Kings are planning to unleash weaponised versions of the Ten Plagues of Egypt that will not only kill untold masses but which will cripple the Seven Kings’ major opponents. If that was not bad enough, an old enemy from Joe Ledger’s past has resurfaced and is working with the Seven Kings to extract his revenge as the King of Plagues. Can Ledger and the DMS stop the devastating plans of the Seven Kings, or will the world once again bear witness to the devastation of the Ten Plagues?

The King of Plagues was another excellent addition to the Joe Ledger series that I had a fantastic time listening to. Maberry once again presents an exciting and addictive story that combines thriller action, a despicable evil scheme and a great group of characters, all told in Maberry’s distinctive writing style. This was an outstanding novel and yet another book in the Joe Ledger series that gets a five-star rating from me.

I always really enjoy the way that Maberry sets out the plots of his Joe Ledger books. The author utilises a huge range of different character perspectives across a number of different time periods to tell a full and complex overall story. By doing this the author is able to showcase a number of sides of the story. Not only does the reader get to see the protagonist’s story, but they also get to see how the antagonist’s evil scheme was planned and executed. Overall, this was a spectacular way to tell the story, and I always think that the reader gets so much more out of these books as a result. Maberry also did a fantastic job making this book accessible to readers unfamiliar with the series. While reading the Joe Ledger series out of order may result in some series spoilers for some of the earlier books, readers are easily able to start exploring this series with The King of Plagues and not have their enjoyment of the story suffer as a result.

The King of Plagues is filled with an amazing roster of characters, each of whom brings a lot of depth and emotion to the story. The main protagonist, Joe Ledger, has to be one of the biggest smartasses in fiction, and it is always a delight to watch him quip and make sarcastic comments across the world. However, despite that flippant exterior, Ledger is a complex emotional wreck who is still dealing with all manner of trauma and is barely containing his anger and bloodlust, especially when dealing with terrible events like the one in this book. I always find it fascinating when Maberry dives into the psyche of the series’ titular character, and it was especially poignant in The King of Plagues, as Ledger is still dealing with the loss of his love interest from the first two books, Grace Courtland. However, Ledger is not the only great character in this book. One of my favourites has to be Mr Church, the mysterious leader of the DMS, who everyone seems to be afraid of. Church once again shines in his role as the ultimate spymaster, but in this book he has some additional scenes that add to his character. In just one scene he shows the reader just why everyone is so afraid of him. There is also an attempt to humanise the character with some interesting reveals towards the end of the book, and I found those worked well and helped me like Church even more.

This book also featured the introduction of several other new characters. The main one of these, Circe O’Tree, is a brilliant young woman with a major chip on her shoulder who works as an analyst helping the DMS. I thought she was an intriguing character, especially due to her connections with the Seven Kings and several members of the DMS and her ability to analyse human behaviour. The King of Plagues also saw the introduction of the infamous Aunt Sallie, the second-in-command of the DMS, who is fearfully mentioned several times in the first two books. Aunt Sallie is a pretty fun character, and I am looking forward to seeing more of her scary, no-nonsense charm in the future. Funnily enough, one of my favourite characters was actually a dog, as The King of Plagues sees the inclusion of Ledger’s DMS attack dog, Ghost. Ghost was actually introduced in short story set between the second and third novels, Dog Days, but this is the first time readers of the main series get to see him in action. Despite being a ferocious and well-trained killing machine, Ghost is an absolutely adorable character who is responsible for some very funny moments in the story. Also, because he is such a good boy, you cannot help but get attached to him, and really get worried when he is in danger.

In addition to the great cast of protagonists, Maberry also utilises a great cast of antagonists in this novel in the form of The Seven Kings. The Seven Kings are an evil secret organisation who revel in deception and lies as they put their various plots and schemes into place. The identities of the various members of the Seven Kings is certainly interesting, and I really enjoyed this group and found them to be a fantastic group of antagonists. I absolutely loved the complex and devastating grand evil plan that they came up with in this story, and the full scope of their plot was pretty darn impressive. I was a little wary of this group at first, as they were introduced as some great threat that the DMS had apparently faced before, although there hadn’t been any mention of them in any of the previous books. However, in a number of interlude chapters set in the months before the current events of the plot, their lack of mention in the previous book is explained and they are presented as a force to be reckoned with. I quite liked this group of antagonists, and while certain revelations about them were not as surprising as in other Joe Ledger books, such as The Dragon Factory, for example, I did like certain developments that occurred within the Seven Kings, and I look forward to seeing how certain members show up again.

One of the things that makes the Seven Kings really sinister is their use of coercion and manipulation to achieve all their goals. At the most disturbing level, they target a number of people across the world with families and manage to terrify them so much that they will commit terrorist acts in order to save their loved ones. There are some quite chilling scenes in this book where the chief enforcer for the Seven Kings threatens these victims, and the lengths these innocent people will go to and the evils they will commit in the name of their families are horrifying at times. In addition, the Seven Kings use Twitter and other social media to fan the fires of hatred around the world, creating conspiracies and prejudice against certain ethnic groups that eventually result in violence. This examination of the evils of social media and how it can be used to spread hate is pretty fascinating, and it’s interesting to note that, as the book was written in 2011, it precedes a lot of the more recent and highly publicised incidents of Twitter being used to influence people. These inclusions really help set the Seven Kings apart from other villains in the Joe Ledger series and makes sure the reader is both disgusted and impressed by their methods.

The King of Plagues also saw the return of two antagonists from a previous book in the series, who join up with the Seven Kings to help them fulfil their master plan. I felt that both of these characters were used to their full potential within this book, and both had some truly intriguing and clever story arcs which contrasted quite impressively. For example, one starts on the long, hard road to redemption, while the other falls even further down the rabbit hole to pure evil. I won’t go into any more detail in order to avoid spoilers, but these two characters were extremely impressive, and were the main characters showing the inner workings of the Seven Kings.

Like the rest of the books in the Joe Ledger series, The King of Plagues is rich with action and firefights, as the protagonists engage in a number of battles with the minions of the Seven Kings. The action comes thick and fast throughout the book, and Maberry’s knowledge and research into various forms of armed and unarmed combat is extremely obvious. The way some of the firefights are paced out is pretty spectacular, and it is always impressive what a well-trained special operations team can do. Maberry really shines when it comes to the hand-to-hand combat sequences, though, as Ledger rips through his opponents with his martial arts prowess. The fight sequences in this book are straight up awesome, and those readers who love an action-packed book will be well catered to with The King of Plagues.

One of the things that I quite enjoyed about The King of Plagues was the author’s decision to include a number of celebrity cameos throughout the story. Not only does the protagonist encounter some famous singers and actors as part of the plot (including having a weird conversation at the end of the book with a famous rock star), but a number of celebrities are put into some interesting and deadly positions throughout the plot. I also had a good laugh at Maberry’s inclusion of a terrorist think tank made up of thriller writers coming up with the most outrageous situations they could think of, especially as that becomes a major plot point later in the book (and may have serious ramifications later in the series). The authors named dropped in these scenes are pretty impressive, and I thought it was a cute touch from Maberry to include his contemporaries like that. The use of the celebrities was an interesting choice from Maberry, but I think it fits into the wacky vibe of the Joe Ledger series quite well, and it was not too distracting from the main plot.

As with the previous books in the Joe Ledger series, I listened to The King of Plagues on audiobook. The audiobook is around 16 hours and 10 minutes long and is narrated by Ray Porter, who has to be my favourite audiobook narrator at the moment. Porter has an amazing vocal range, and I love the way that he portrays the main character of this book, Joe Ledger. Porter really brings Ledger to life in these audiobooks, not only amplifying the character’s sarcasm and smartass nature, giving real anger and sadness to Ledger when needed. The rest of the characters in this series are also really well done. I have mentioned before how much I love the voice he uses for Mr Church, and Porter really gets a lot of mileage out his Boston accent for some of the other characters. In addition to Porter’s awesome vocal work, I found that listening to The King of Plagues really helped bring me into the story. Not only does the action really pop in this format but listening to the antagonists come up with their evil plans and threats can be quite chilling at times. As a result, I would strongly recommend that readers check out the audiobook version of The King of Plagues. I know I will be checking out the rest of the books in the Joe Ledger series on audiobook as well.

Once again, I had an absolute blast listening to a book in Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series, as The King of Plagues was another outstanding addition to this fantastic series. Featuring a well-written and captivating story, some amazing characters, an evil and over-the-top plot, a number of intriguing plot points and some of the best action sequences in modern thriller fiction, this was an incredible read. I cannot wait to check out the fourth book in this series, and quite frankly all of the upcoming books sound like they have some truly outrageous stories.