Waiting on Wednesday – Retribution and Headcase

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 check out two fantastic upcoming crime fiction novels from some of the very best authors Australia has to offer.

Due to my location I tend to receive a lot of fiction written by Australian authors and I have really grown to appreciate the talent that my countrymen have for writing brilliant crime fiction reads.  I have already had the pleasure of reading some truly impressive Australian murder mysteries and thrillers this year, including several great debuts.  However, for this post I want to highlight two outstanding sequels coming out later this year that I am very excited for.  Both books are written by exceptional writers, and I can’t wait to see how their respective series continue.

Retribution Cover

The first book I want to look is Retribution by Sarah Barrie.  Last year Barrie presented an incredible and deeply powerful book in Unforgiven, a gripping Australian thriller that ended up being one of the best Australian fiction releases of 2021Unforgiven followed former child abuse victim turned vigilante, Lexi Winter, who spends her days hunting down and destroying paedophiles around Sydney.  However, Lexi is forced to work with the detective who failed her years ago when evidence emerges that suggests that the monster from her past is still out there.  This resulted in an impressive and deeply captivating read that saw Lexi and the police dive into a particularly dark part of Sydney’s criminal underbelly only to be thwarted at every turn by a master manipulator.  I had an outstanding time with this book, and I was utterly enthralled all the way to the final epic twist, especially as Barrie left the story open for a potential sequel.

This sequel is set for release in a few months’ time with the intriguing follow-up RetributionRetribution, which has a release date of 30 November 2022, will bring back the main characters from the first book and set them on a new thrilling case, as threads from the previous investigation continue to haunt them.  I am quite excited for this new book, especially as it will feature an evolution for the compelling main protagonist, while also continuing the dark crime fiction elements that Barrie set up so well in the first book.  I have no doubt that this is going to be one of the most intense Australian reads of 2022 and I can’t wait to see how this latest mystery unfolds.

Plot Synopsis:

Once a vigilante, she’s now a cop … but she still plays by her own rules. A fast-paced, suspenseful thriller for readers of Candice Fox and Sarah Bailey.

Ace hacker, ex-prostitute, Jack Daniels drinker and part-time vigilante Lexi Winter returns, now working with the police – mostly – with a new enemy in the target and an old foe at the back of her mind.

Most probationary constables would baulk at chasing a drug dealer into a train tunnel in the dead of night. Not Lexi Winter. She emerges injured but alive, to face the wrath of her boss. Lexi may now be in uniform, but she has as much trouble with authority as ever, and is quietly using her hacking skills to investigate a notorious drug-dealing Sydney crime family with links to her old prey, the paedophile Damon Vaughn.

Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Finn Carson investigates a death on a Sydney building site … which oddly enough, leads him to the picturesque Wondabyne station on the Hawkesbury River, and Inspector Rachael Langley oversees an investigation that could tie it all together. Lexi holds the key … if only she’ll toe the line …

Amazon     Book Depository

The next upcoming book I want to highlight is Headcase, written by fellow Canberran Jack Heath.  Heath is swiftly working his way up the list of Australia’s best crime fiction authors, especially as he has delivered some absolutely cracking reads in the last couple of years.  While he has written some great young adult thrillers, Heath is probably best known for his ongoing Timothy Blake series, which follows a deranged cannibalistic serial killer as he investigates impossible crimes throughout America.  The Timothy Blake books are thrilling, gory and utterly entertaining reads, and I had a lot of fun with the last book, Hideout (one of my favourite Australian releases of 2020), which saw Blake trapped in a house with a group of other serial killers, which predictably resulted in a massive bloodbath.  I also deeply enjoyed Heath’s last book, Kill Your Brother, a five-star read that saw a woman caught in a terrible situation where the only way to survive is to kill a fellow captive, her beloved brother.  Loaded with clever twists and with some amazing characters, Kill Your Brother was an exceptional read that has made extremely keen in checking out anything else Heath releases.

Headcase Cover

Luckily for me, Heath has a new book coming out in a few months’ time, and I am very happy to see that it is another Timothy Blake thriller.  This new Timothy Blake entry, which is set for release around the same time as Retribution, has the very intriguing title of Headcase, and it sounds like it is going to be quite the awesome read.  Following the psychotic Blake as he investigates a mysterious murder of a Chinese astronaut in a highly secure NASA base, Headcase sounds pretty damn epic book that will blend together a spy thriller narrative, with the dark psychological aspects of Heath’s amazing protagonist.  I have a feeling that Headcase is going to be one of the craziest books of 2022 and I will love every single second I spend reading it.

Plot Synopsis:

Timothy Blake returns in a tense, unputdownable thriller from the author of Hangman.

A Chinese astronaut is found dead in a NASA training environment in Houston, Texas. No one can explain how he got there. Amid fears of a diplomatic catastrophe, the CIA dispatches Timothy ‘Hangman’ Blake to investigate, because a convicted kidnapper works in the facility – someone Blake put away a long time ago.

Blake is deeply insane, afflicted by terrible urges he can barely control – but he’s also brilliant. Zara, his beautiful and deadly CIA handler, suspects a secret Chinese spacecraft is surveilling the United States, but Blake can see something much more sinister is going on. Something connected to the kidnapping seven years ago, to the technologies being developed at NASA, and to the serial killer known as the Texas Reaper.

Will Blake survive long enough to uncover the truth? And if he does, will anyone even believe him?

Amazon     Book Depository

Quick Review – Conviction by Frank Chalmers

Conviction Cover

Publisher: Allen & Unwin Australia (Trade Paperback – 5 July 2022)

Series: Standalone/Book One

Length: 354 pages

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

The Australian crime fiction debut hits keep on coming with the excellent and highly exciting first novel from Frank Chalmers, Conviction, with takes the reader on an amazing journey back into 1970s rural Australia.

Plot Synopsis:

A town ruled by fear. A cop who won’t be broken. A pulse-pounding debut thriller that pulls no punches.

A STUNNING NEW VOICE IN CRIME FICTION

Queensland in 1976 churns with corruption. When Detective Ray Windsor defies it, he is exiled deep into the state’s west. It’s easy out there to feel alien in your own country.

Royalton is a town on its knees, stricken by drought, riven by prejudice, and plagued by crimes left largely uninvestigated by the local police chief, Kennedy, and his elusive boss.

Mutual dislike between Kennedy and Ray gradually turns ugly as Ray and his new partner, Arshag, uncover a pattern of crimes that no one seems concerned about solving. But when two girls from local immigrant families are found dead and another disappears, Ray and Arshag are forced to take the law into their own hands. Not knowing who to trust, nor how deep the corruption runs, how long will it be before their lives are also threatened?

A spare and uncompromising crime thriller that pulls no punches.


Conviction
is a compelling and fun crime fiction thriller that sets a bold protagonist against a brace of criminals and dirty cops in a remote and hopeless town.  Essentially reading like a contemporary Australian western, with protagonist Detective Ray Windsor acting as the new sheriff in town, Chalmers crafts together a compelling read that is very easy to get through.

Conviction has a very interesting and complex story to it that sees the new cop arrive in the remote town of Royalton and get caught up in a series of crimes.  Not only is he forced to deal with the corruption of his peers and a local crime ring that has been stealing stock and damaging the local farms, but he is also investigating two recent violent deaths of young immigrant women.  This results in quite a fantastic series of investigation elements, as Detective Windsor attempts to solve these crimes while being constantly hampered by his colleagues.  The novel also deals with Ray’s attempt to integrate into the Royalton community, and he soon finds some unexpected connections and friends which draw him in.  Taking place over the course of several months, Conviction’s plot goes in some exciting and intense directions, and the reader is provided with intriguing plotlines that are loaded with action and excitement.  The eventual reveals lead to some big moments, and while the identity of the book’s villains is well-foreshadowed and not especially surprising, watching the protagonist attempt to overcome them is fun.  This ended up being a great and enjoyable piece of Australian fiction, and I had a good time getting through this awesome debut.

Like many impressive Australian crime fiction novels, one of the best things about Conviction is its excellent setting in a rural Australian town.  Royalton is a compelling location, which even in the 1970s, is starting to fall apart and feel the strain as more and more people left the country to live in the big cities.  Royalton has many of the best features that make up a small-town setting, from the sunburned countryside, the various surrounding farms, the neglected buildings within the town itself, as well as a colourful cast of people living in it.  I felt that Royalton in Conviction was a pretty good example of this compelling Australian setting, and the intriguing historical context makes it stand out from other recent Australian crime fiction books.  I particularly liked how Chalmers depicted the town as having a large migrant population, which is an accurate representation of most of Australia, and the stratification of classes that resulted based on nationality and culture gave the story another fascinating dimension that I felt added a lot to the story.  The farms surrounding the town are also under siege by an organised group of criminals who are working to bankrupt them for their own nefarious reasons, and this adds to the tension in Royalton.  All this proves to be rich ground for the intense and compelling crime fiction narrative that Chalmers crafted together, and I felt that this was an amazing setting for Conviction.

However, the best thing about Conviction was the eclectic and troubled group of characters who can be found within.  The author comes up with some great and flawed figures throughout Conviction, and the reader soon gets some intriguing views of the sort of people who would live in such a remote and troubled town.  Naturally most of the focus is on Detective Ray Windsor, who immediately finds himself in all manner of trouble once he arrives in Royalton.  Now, I must admit that I had a hard time liking Windsor in this book, as he is a bit of an over-the-top hero who is prone to violence at a drop of hat.  While this attribute does help him out in some of the situations, I was never too attached to him as a character, especially when he flew off the handle.  Still, I liked the compelling background that Chalmers attributed to Windsor, especially his dark childhood, and the portrayal of an honest cop sent out to the country as a punishment was well explored.  There are some great moments with Windsor in the book, and I did enjoy seeing his take on the case and the corruption going on around town.  The author also did a good job setting up Windsor’s growing attachment to Royalton, especially once he gets to know the people within.  This, as well as his commitment to getting the job done, eventually win the reader over, and you are rooting for him to succeed as the story continues.  The rest of the cast are also really good, and I deeply enjoyed some of the other characters featured within Conviction.  I felt that Chalmers did a particularly good job with the villains of this book, and it was satisfying to see Windsor standing up to them and finally bringing them to justice.  An awesome group of characters that Chalmers did a good job bringing to life.

Overall, I felt that Conviction was a pretty awesome novel that the debuting Frank Chalmers should be proud of.  This fantastic novel has a great crime fiction narrative that not only crosses into historical fiction territory but which works as an exceptional example of a rural Australian story.  All these elements work extremely well together, and I had a blast getting through Conviction, which is really worth checking out.

Amazon     Book Depository

Upgrade by Blake Crouch

Upgrade Cover

Publisher: Macmillan (Trade Paperback – 7 July 2022)

Series: Standalone

Length: 341 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

The master of the high-concept science fiction thriller, Blake Crouch, returns with another exceptional and deeply addictive standalone read, Upgrade, which takes the reader on a deep journey into the world of genetic engineering.

In the near future, Earth is facing multiple threats and catastrophes that are slowly destroying the human race.  However, the greatest threat to humanity may come from within, as advances in genetic engineering and manipulation have allowed scientists to change DNA itself.  Following a massive genetic disaster that led to the destruction of an entire food supply and the deaths of hundreds of millions of people, all genetic research has been made illegal and is strictly policed by world governments.

Logan Ramsay is an agent in the newly created Gene Protection Agency that enforces the research ban in the United States and which comes down hard on anyone illegally modifying genes.  The son of the scientist responsible for the last crisis, Logan works to atone for his role in her work and no longer believes in the benefits of genetic research of that kind.  However, when a raid goes wrong and Logan is targeted by a bomb designed to inject an unknown gene hack into him, Logan’s entire life and grasp on humanity is changed forever.

With enhanced physical and mental capacities, Logan has been upgraded into something superhuman.  Forced to leave his family behind and flee from his own agency, Logan soon finds himself caught up in a war for control of humanity’s future, with dangerous forces seeking to change everything about the species.  To survive and prevent another genetic catastrophe, Logan must dive deep into his past and his family’s legacy.  But the more upgraded he becomes, the harder it is for him to care about everyone’s fate.

Wow, Crouch does it again with Upgrade, combining an intense and compelling thriller storyline with an outstanding and highly detailed scientific principle, to create an exceptional and extremely addictive story.  I knew that I was going to enjoy Upgrade when I got it, especially after having such a brilliant time with Crouch’s previous novel, Recursion, and the author really did not disappoint.  Upgrade is a gripping and powerful read, and I ended up powering through it in very quick order once I got addicted to its excellent plot.

I absolutely loved the exciting and clever science fiction thriller narrative that Crouch featured in Upgrade, which swiftly drags you in with its unique story and compelling concepts.  Crouch really kicks everything off in high gear right from the start, providing a quick but efficient introduction to the protagonist, Logan Ramsay, and the dystopian future of the novel, before kicking off the key plot events.  The protagonist is almost immediately placed into danger from a booby trap that alters his genetics, and he is forced to deal with the side effects as he is upgraded to superhero levels.  Forced to escape from his own employers, Logan must come to terms with the changes being done to him, while also diving into some deep family drama as he realises his connection to the person behind it.  After a journey of discovery, Logan ends up in a war to decide the future of humanity’s genetics, as he goes up against a group determined to alter humans against their will.  This led to some big and intense sequences as genetically enhanced beings face off in some powerful and cleverly crafted moments.  Everything is wrapped up in a compelling and emotionally heavy way, and readers will come away very happy after getting caught up in Upgrade’s elaborate and highly entertaining story.

I felt that Crouch did a brilliant job setting out Upgrade’s narrative, and it is perfectly designed to keep the reader absorbed in the plot.  I loved the faster pace of the book, which ensured that you power through the novel very quickly, although it isn’t so fast that you lose sight of its many featured scientific elements.  There are several time skips throughout the course of the plot, which help to move the story along and set up some interesting changes in the character’s situation.  The story is set in a near-futuristic dystopian setting which has been rocked by a series of environmental and genetic disasters.  Seeing some of the author’s suggested futures for certain famous cities (a semi-abandoned Las Vegas and a partially flooded New York), was very interesting, and it worked well with some of the other cool science fiction elements featured throughout.  I also appreciated Crouch’s interesting philosophical take on what it means to be human and the depths of human nature.  There are multiple discussions between the key characters in Upgrade, as they debate the changes being undertaken, as well as humanity’s overwhelming self-destructive tendencies.  This becomes a rather interesting overall theme for the book, and a captivating motivation for some of the characters.  I also must highlight the awesome action sequences spread out through the book, which add some exciting punch to the narrative.  Not only are these very entertaining, but I loved how they were showcased through the protagonist’s eyes, especially once his upgrades take over, and the clinical detail he attributes to various actions give them a fun twist.  This fantastic narrative really comes together well throughout Upgrade, and I felt that this was an exceptional read.

I deeply enjoyed the compelling and intense scientific framework that went into Upgrade.  Crouch does an impressive and expansive dive into the world of genetics for this book, and the reader is soon inundated with information about DNA, genes, and genetic research.  It is very clear that the author has really done their research when it comes to this subject, and this combined with his immense imagination results in some intriguing story elements.  Crouch postulates multiple potential genetic upgrades to humans and other species throughout this book and how such manipulations could be brought about.  As such, you see a lot of very cool stuff throughout Upgrade, particularly enhanced human beings who move and think at superhuman rates.  The author paints a very interesting and compelling picture about what such enhanced humans would be capable of, and it was fascinating to experience them throughout the course of the plot especially as you see them happening through the eyes of someone going through these changes.  There are various evolutions of these genetic upgrades throughout the novel and watching the characters become more and more powerful while simultaneously losing their humanity is a fantastic and captivating element.  Crouch also presents some compelling and thought-provoking discussions about whether genetic engineering should be allowed and would humanity benefit from it.  The different points of view and the resultant debates are an outstanding part of book, and I am sure that many people will come away from Upgrade with a different opinion on the subject.

While Crouch does dive deep into the science for Upgrade, I found that I was able to follow along with the various premises without too many issues.  The author really tries to explain the genetic science to the reader in an interesting way, which I really appreciated.  There were no points in the book where I couldn’t follow what was happening, and I ended up getting really interested in all the potential genetic manipulations that might be possible in the future.  I also felt that these scientific elements were worked into the plot of Upgrade extremely well, and the awesome thriller narrative really wrapped around it.  Overuse of genetic manipulation is a real potential threat in the future, so having government agencies, underground labs and world-affecting schemes in place isn’t too far-fetched, and these science elements serve as a rich ground for the cool storylines.  I loved seeing upgraded humans facing off against agents and SWAT teams, and it resulted in some brilliant scenes.  The underlying message about the responsibility of those involved in genetic research played well with the action-packed narrative, and I was once again really impressed with how the author can seamlessly combine science with fiction.

Another outstanding element of Upgrade was its fantastic protagonist and point-of-view character, Logan Ramsay.  Logan is quite a fascinating and complex character, especially as Crouch establishes him as the son of the brilliant genetic scientist who caused the ban and was partially responsible for the resulting mass deaths.  For most of the novel he is trying to redeem himself for these actions, mainly through his work as a government agent.  However, his entire life changes when he becomes genetically enhanced, and there are some deep emotional scenes and narrative threads that are explored because of this.  While he is initially horrified by the changes, Logan soon realises they are exactly what he always wanted, and he must reconcile that with his perceptions of humanity and the damage he has already caused.  At the same time, he is also finding himself changing, and the continued and detailed examinations of all his upgrades and altered perceptions are showcased in an excellent way by the author.  The increased physical and mental capacities are worked into his character well, and it was fascinating to see the first-person perspective of everything that happens to him.  I particularly appreciated the slow loss of his emotional self and as the book proceeds, he becomes less and less human in many ways, unable to connect with the people around him.  This is sad in a lot of ways, especially as he must give up his family, but you get an impressive understanding of everything the protagonist is going through and grow closer to him as a result.  There is some excellent character work around this protagonist in Upgrade, and I really appreciated the emotional depth that it brought to this already captivating story.

With Upgrade, Blake Crouch continues to shine as one of the most creative and brilliant authors of science fiction in the world today.  The compelling, science-based ideas he comes up with combine perfectly with his exciting and emotionally powerful storylines to create an excellent narrative with amazing characters.  I had such a great time with Upgrade, and it is one of the better science fiction novels I have read so far in 2022.  I also think it was also really good in comparison to the other Crouch book I have read, Recursion, which I hold in really high regard.  While I think that Recursion had the better overall narrative, I appreciated the scientific elements of Upgrade a little more and I felt it fit into the plot a little better.  As such, I think that Upgrade is another five-star read, and it comes very highly recommended by me.  A must-read for all science fiction fans in 2022!

Amazon     Book Depository

Waiting on Wednesday – Khaos by Jeremy Robinson

Welcome to my weekly segment, Waiting on Wednesday, where I look at upcoming books that I am planning to order and review in the next few months and which I think I will really enjoy.  I run this segment in conjunction with the Can’t-Wait Wednesday meme that is currently running at Wishful Endings.  Stay tuned to see reviews of these books when I get a copy of them.  In this latest Waiting on Wednesday, I check out one of the most awesome upcoming books of 2022 the utterly insane sounding Khaos by Jeremy Robinson.

Khaos Cover

Amazon

Over the last year I have been getting very attached to the writings of the very skilled and highly inventive Jeremy Robinson.  Robinson has been a fantastic fixture of the science fiction thriller genre for years, writing several impressive series and standalone reads, including the Nemesis Saga and Chess Team novels, both of which sound really cool.  However, the novels that I have been getting into are part of Robinson’s latest series, the massive and elaborate Infinite Timeline series.

The Infinite Timeline books are a collection of epic and over-the-top reads that initially started off as standalone reads.  However, as the series continued, the books gradually became more interconnected, with characters from previous novels appearing in later entries, and the storylines started to merge.  This series was broken into three loosely connected groupings of books, all of which will lead up to combined novels.  So far, I have all enjoyed the excellent entries Tribe, The Dark and Mind Bullet (the latter two were amongst my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021), which were part of the same connected sub-series.  All three of these novels were very fun in their own right, with Tribe’s action-packed take on Greek demigods, The Dark’s intense and powerful horror narrative, and Mind Bullet’s ultra-fun adventure story about a telekinetic hitman.  I had an incredible time with these books, and I especially enjoyed Robinson’s fantastic style, especially as he combines some compelling concepts with intriguing characters, insane storylines, side-splitting humour, and a ton of crazy action, which is just so epic to behold.

As such, I have been very excited to see what awesome novels that Robinson planned to release this year, especially as the novels that combine some of the standalone plots and characters together were set for release this year.  Robinson has already released one book in 2022 with The Order, which had a very awesome concept to it.  Unfortunately, I didn’t end up reading The Order, mainly because I haven’t read the three books leading up to it (The Others, Flux and Exo Hunter), although I should probably also go back to the very start and read Infinite.  However, there is no way in hell that I am going to miss out on Robinson’s next book, Khaos.  Set for release in October 2022, Khaos will bring together all the characters from Tribe, The Dark and Mind Bullet in one exceptional sounding narrative.

Synopsis:

Several months after his neighborhood was cloaked in darkness and invaded by the demon-like denizens of a hellish world, life has returned to normal for Miah Gray, aka: Laser Chicken. No longer burdened by PTSD, he is free to enjoy his family and to help pick up the pieces of a pillaged world. And at night, he trains with his eight-year-old companion, Bree, aka: Demon Dog and their neighbors, Henry and Sarah, the god-like descendants of Helen of Sparta and the mythological Zeus.

All is calm…until new neighbors move in across the street and shatter the peace. Jonas, aka: Mind Bullet, a telekinetic assassin, and his artificial intelligence, Bubbles, are pursued by strange and powerful enemies. The neighborhood is rocked by sudden violence, but the unlikely heroes band together to save the residents once more. However, their victory is short-lived when it’s interrupted by the appearance of a superhuman figure who has been influencing their lives for years: Linda.

Aka: Zeus.

In classic mythology fashion, Zeus, supreme god of Olympus, sends them on an urgent quest: descend into the underworld, travel through the realm between worlds—Khaos, face whatever trials await, find the gate to Tartarus, and summon the gods and Titans residing there to war. A grave evil is coming, and only Earth’s oldest and most powerful heroes can stop it.

TO SAVE MANKIND…

…THEY MUST RAISE THE GODS.

Now this is a very awesome sounding book that is very typical of Robinson’s history of theatrical storylines.  I love the idea of a bizarre group of established protagonists coming together and then heading straight to hell (well Tartarus) to unleash the gods and Titans for the upcoming fight against the long-hinted series big bad.  There is so much potential for action and outrageous moments in this fantastic sounding story, and I can’t wait to see what happens during the travel through the Khaos and the eventual descent into Tartarus.  You have to imagine there are going to be a ton of obstacles and monsters straight out of Greek mythology there, as well as some hints at the upcoming big-bad that is going to need every hero in the Infinite Timeline to face off against.  I have a lot of faith that Robinson is going to come up with some very wacky and powerful, and I will no doubt end up getting very caught up in the story.

One of the other major aspects that I am interested in for Khaos is how Robinson is going to bring together the protagonists of three of his previous novels.  Tribe, The Dark and Mind Bullet had their own distinctive blend of characters, styles, and storylines, so seeing all this combined into one single story is going to be quite interesting.  This is probably going to result in several different point-of-view perspectives, and it will be intriguing to see how all these big personalities are going to get along and how they will perceive the weird people they are suddenly working with.  Throw in some potential interpersonal issues, such as one hero being a Titan and two others being Greek Gods whose ancestors are responsible for his parent’s imprisonment, and I imagine you are going to have a few bust-ups and fights.  I am extremely confident that Robinson will use this opportunity to continue the fantastic character development contained in the preceding three books, and it will be awesome to find out what happens to these damaged and unique protagonists next.

After having so much fun with the three Jeremy Robinson books leading up to Khaos, there is no chance that I will miss out on this upcoming book.  I loved everything about Tribe, The Dark and Mind Bullet, and I cannot wait to see how this chaotic combination with work out.  I am expecting The Dark to be one of the funniest and most action-packed novels of 2022, and I am very excited to see what new insanity and over-the-top adventure that Robinson will come up with next.  I will probably end up checking Khaos out in its audiobook format (due to the presence of one of my favourite narrators, R. C. Bray), and this is easily one of the books I am most looking forward to in the next few months.

Recursion by Blake Crouch Review

Recursion Cover

Publisher: Random House Audio (Audiobook – 11 June 2019)

Series: Standalone

Length: 10 hours and 47 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Get ready for one of the most impressive and compelling science fiction books of the last few years with Blake Crouch’s outstanding 2019 release, Recursion.

Crouch is one of the more intriguing and highly regarded science fiction and thriller authors out there now, having produced a fantastic catalogue of intense and addictive novels over his career.  Best known for his Wayward Pines trilogy (adapted into a television series of the same name), Crouch’s books for the last few years have been a collection of fantastic standalone science fiction thrillers, such as the bestselling Dark Matter.  These novels often combine intense thriller storylines with high-concept science fiction elements to produce some epic and captivating reads.  So far, I have only read one of Crouch’s books, his 2019 release, Recursion, which was an exceptional and amazing read.  Unfortunately, I didn’t review it back then, even though it was one of my top books and audiobooks of 2019.  As I have just started reading Crouch’s latest book, Upgrade, I thought this would be a good opportunity to quickly give Recursion the love it deserves, as this honestly was one of the better books of 2019.

Synopsis:

Memory makes reality.

That’s what New York City cop Barry Sutton is learning as he investigates the devastating phenomenon the media has dubbed False Memory Syndrome—a mysterious affliction that drives its victims mad with memories of a life they never lived.

That’s what neuroscientist Helena Smith believes. It’s why she’s dedicated her life to creating a technology that will let us preserve our most precious memories. If she succeeds, anyone will be able to re-experience a first kiss, the birth of a child, the final moment with a dying parent.

As Barry searches for the truth, he comes face-to-face with an opponent more terrifying than any disease—a force that attacks not just our minds but the very fabric of the past. And as its effects begin to unmake the world as we know it, only he and Helena, working together, will stand a chance at defeating it.

But how can they make a stand when reality itself is shifting and crumbling all around them?


Recursion
was a powerful and deeply complex novel that perfectly brought together an impressive and thrilling narrative about choices, survival, and fixing mistakes, with some outstanding and clever science fiction concepts.  Based around the concept of memory, Recursion eventually devolves into a deeply compelling time travel narrative as its amazing two protagonists are dragged into a terrifying struggle to save the world.

The narrative of Recursion is split between grizzled cop Barry Sutton and brilliant scientist Helena Smith, both of whom have tragic pasts and memories that they would kill to get a do-over for.  Their storylines are initially kept separate, as Barry attempts to investigate a mysterious illness that is causing people to suddenly awaken with a second set of memories about a life that didn’t happen, driving them insane.  At the same time, Helena works with a mysterious corporate benefactor to develop a machine that will allow people to relive their most important memories, but her boss soon takes control of the project and morphs it into something very different with impossible knowledge.

It is soon revealed that Helena’s boss is using her memory machine to travel back to the time that the important memories were created in order to alter the timeline for his and his friend’s advantage.  The false memory syndrome is a side effect of this process, as people eventually start to remember all the changes that have been made due to the time travelling villains.  Both Barry and Helena are dragged into this conspiracy, as Barry is bribed to stop investigating by reliving and altering the memory of his daughter’s death, while Helena fights to stop it before it’s too late.  Eventually teaming up once the world starts going crazy with multiple memories, Barry and Helena are too late, with the various nations launching nukes against America to stop them ruling the world through time travel.  Helena is barely able to escape by diving back in time to a point in her personal years before the events of the book.

From there the novel turns into an intense time travel thriller as Helena works through her past and attempts to perfect her machine and stop time travel from ever existing.  Continuously recruiting a younger Barry, Helena is unable to find a solution before the world regains its lost memories and is forced to travel back again and again to avoid the inevitable arrests and nuclear strikes and ends up living multiple lifetimes.  This leads to a desperate series of attempts to save the world, which results in a fantastic and clever conclusion that fits the unique science fiction elements and characters of this book extremely well.

Recursion’s entire narrative comes together extremely well and serves as a powerful standalone read.  I loved how the story developed throughout the course of the book, and I found the second half of the novel, with the multiple examples of time travel to be some of the best parts of Recursion, especially as the stakes are raised higher than ever before.  This is a very well-written and fast-paced thriller, and Crouch brings in some fascinating concepts that work extremely well in the context of the clever narrative he pulled together.  The blend of intense action, compelling characters and complex science fiction elements is pretty damn perfect, and readers really get drawn into this narrative as a result.  I was personally addicted to Recursion very early in the game, and I had an outstanding time seeing how everything came together.

Crouch explores a lot of unique and compelling scientific elements which become an excellent part of the overall book.  The author presents a very complex and intriguing series of concepts around human memory, time travel, and everything in between, and makes some very interesting and well-researched points about them.  While most of these concepts are high-level science, Crouch takes the time to explain them carefully, and I found myself following along with the ideas fairly well.  While I did think the leap from memory experiments to time travel were a little over-the-top, it did become an incredible part of the narrative, and I really loved how well time travel was used in the story.  I love a good time travel story, and Recursion was one of the better ones that I have read, especially as it covers it in a unique way, while also highlighting the many dangers of unchecked changes to the time stream.  I loved how well the author was able to weave a compelling and powerful story around these concepts, and you will come away from this book really thinking about all the implications of this potential technology, as well as the importance of memory to the human psyche.

I also deeply enjoyed the outstanding pair of protagonists, Barry Sutton and Helena Smith, whom the story is set around.  Not only does Crouch do a wonderful job splitting the narrative between them, often in some very clever ways, but he also builds both characters up extremely well, showcasing their deep inner pain.  Both have experienced a lot of tragedy in their lives, and thanks to the technology being explored here, they are given the chance to relive it and change it.  Watching them go through these deep emotional moments, as well as witnessing the various mistakes they make as they try to fix the world, is pretty damn heartbreaking, and you really grow to appreciate their struggles, especially if you can relate to their tragic memories.  As such, you grow attached to them rather quickly, and I liked how Crouch made sure to build in a compelling, if unique, relationship between them.  While both grow close during their first meeting, their romantic relationship takes on a whole new edge once time travel is brought into it and it turns into powerful romantic bond that literally last lifetimes.  I really grew close to both Barry and Helena while reading Recursion, and they are an outstanding pair of protagonists to follow.

I must admit that I was a little wary about listening to the Recursion audiobook, as a colleague of mine who read the novel before me indicated that it might prove a little challenging to keep track of the various time periods without a physical copy to flip through.  However, I really did not have any trouble keeping track of what was going on in the story while listening to the audiobook, and indeed I found that the format helped me understand the concepts more.  I also enjoyed the combined narration of Jon Lindstrom and Abby Craden, with Lindstrom reading the chapters told from Barry’s perspective and Craden doing the same for Helena’s chapters.  This split in narration worked really well, and I liked how it changed each time the character perspective did.  With a run time of just under 11 hours, this was a fairly easy audiobook to get through, and I powered through it very quickly.  An overall excellent way to enjoy this fantastic book.

Recursion by Blake Crouch is an epic and exceptional read that really showcases the author’s impressive writing skill and ability to come up with some truly unique concepts.  This science fiction masterpiece is so damn awesome, and there is a very good reason that it was one of my favourite books of 2019.  A five-star read and highly recommended in every way possible, I loved Recursion, and I can’t wait to finish off and review Upgrade next.

Amazon     Book Depository

Tribe by Jeremy Robinson

Tribe Cover 2

Publisher: Breakneck Media (Audiobook – 26 November 2019)

Series: Standalone/Infinite Timeline

Length: 10 hours and 36 minutes

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Gods, mortals and everything in between will clash in Tribe, the intriguing fantasy thriller from the always entertaining Jeremy Robinson.

Last year I decided to take a chance and check out an author whose work I was unfamiliar with, and boy did that work out for me.  Jeremy Robinson had a very impressive and extensive list of awesome books to his name, most of which straddled the border between thrillers and other genres like fantasy, science fiction and horror.  The first book of his I checked out was The Dark, which followed a very likeable protagonist who gets caught up in a terrifying and horrific invasion of his neighbourhood by a horde of demons.  The Dark was an outstanding read, and I really got drawn into its awesome story, intense pacing and fun characters.  After giving The Dark a full five-star rating, I had to make sure to grab the other 2021 release from Robinson, Mind Bullet, especially as it was in the same loosely connected series.  Mind Bullet was a fantastic and highly entertaining read that followed a psychic hitman being hunted by a series of unusual but deadly assassins.  Mind Bullet was another five-star read in my book, and I had such a great time reading it.  Indeed, I loved both The Dark and Mind Bullet so much that I included them both of my top books and audiobooks lists of 2021.

Naturally, this has made me quite eager to read some more of Robinson’s work, and while I had to miss one of his 2022 releases The Order (I need to read some of the lead-up books beforehand), I did recently decide to go back and try one of his older novels, the 2019 release, Tribe, from the same storyline as The Dark and Mind Bullet.  Not only does this allow me to better follow one of Robinson’s upcoming books in the Infinite series but it had a very fun-sounding story that I really wanted to check out.  It turns out Tribe was just as fun as I hoped it would be, and I had a wonderful time getting through it.

Sarah, a 20-year-old college dropout working at a donut shop in Boston, has long struggled with the bad turns her life has taken.  Constantly plagued by bad luck and misfortune, Sarah has no one in her life she can count on, until she runs into homeless teen street punk Henry.  Henry, a kid who literally knows no fear, has randomly blown into her life and the two find themselves with a strange attachment to each other that they can’t explain.  However, life is about to get much more complicated for both when they run into each other at the local bank.

Arriving at the same time, the two manage to work together to foil a robbery that seems focused on targeting a mysterious and wealthy woman named Helen.  Taking Sarah and Henry under her wing, Helen attempts to take them to her apartment, but before they can make it they find themselves under attack by members of an ancient cult who are determined to cause as much chaos and destruction as they can.

Separated from the incredibly capable and violent Helen, Sarah and Henry find themselves alone on the streets of Boston, pursued by the cult.  Forced to keep moving and face off against a stream of determined and dangerous foes, Sarah and Henry begin to realise that there is something special about them that allows them to fight back, and which is making them stronger.  However, if they want to survive, they will need to discover the truth about who they are and what dark legacy their blood contains.  But with a dangerous figure hunting them, can Sarah and Henry live out the day, or will they become links in a master plan spanning millennia?

Tribe was an extremely entertaining and action-packed novel from Robinson, who utilises his usual fun and thrilling style to create an excellent read.  Featuring a captivating and electrifying narrative based around a couple of interesting and damaged figures, Tribe was a truly unique and captivating read that I had a fantastic time with.

Robinson crafted together a very interesting and highly exciting narrative for Tribe, which is essentially a non-stop action adventure from the very first scene.  After a quick but memorable introduction to, Sarah and Henry, the story dives right into the action, when the protagonists chance upon a violent bank hold-up.  Thanks to the impulsive Henry, the two are forced to intervene, assisting the mysterious Helen, making them heroes.  While you would imagine that would allow them to have some quiet time, Robinson puts them into the next action set piece within a few pages, as they are forced to flee an army of angry and over-the-top cultists who are hunting them.  This results in a series of impressively violent and extremely compelling fight sequences and chase scenes, as the protagonists try to survive while their lives are changing in ways that they don’t fully understand.  These initial sequences fill up the first half of the novel well, and you quickly become pretty damn invested in the narrative, especially once Robinson finally reveals the reasons behind everything and how everyone connects into the wider plot.  This first half also does a great job setting up the novel’s style, and you soon get quite used to the fantastic combination of action, character development and slick humour as the outrageous characters experience an array of over-the-top situations.

There are some rather interesting dives into Greek mythology in the second half of Tribe, which alters the course of the story and impacts everything the protagonists thought they knew about the world and themselves.  After a couple of attempted separations, the characters find themselves in some pretty dark situations as they finally face off against the big bad of the story, who ended up being an extremely sinister baddie.  The action comes thick and fast in this second half of the book, as the protagonists keep going up against a series of unique and memorable foes.  These scenes really make you appreciate Robinson’s ability to write brilliant, fast-paced action sequences, and the fantastic detail and intriguing depictions of deadly fights are so much fun to see.  I also enjoyed the strong Greek mythological motifs and elements that are slipped into this half of the book.  I think that they melded with the thriller style of the plot extremely well, and a lot of the story felt like a cool fantasy/superhero combination.  Along with some powerful reveals, major trauma, and subsequent character evolution, the protagonists become ready for the final confrontation that lays everything on the line.  The entire narrative flowed into this intense and high-stakes conclusion extremely well, and readers are in for a fun and captivating time as the protagonists go all out.  I really liked how everything turned out, and while this wasn’t my favourite of Robinson’s narratives, it was pretty damn addictive and readers will come away extremely satisfied.

I had a lot of fun with Tribe, and I am very glad that I checked it out, especially with how it plays into Robinson’s wider universe.  As I mentioned above, Tribe is part of a loosely connected series of cool books that are part of the Infinite Timeline.  While most of them are standalone reads, the further you get into the series, the more the storylines start to blend a little more, and this will all lead to several massive crossover novels, such as one being released later this year.  This is one of the main reasons why I wanted to read Tribe, as the main characters from it have appeared in the two other Robinson books I have read and will also be part of the upcoming 2022 release, Khaos.  However, readers don’t need to do any pre-reading for Tribe to enjoy it; thanks to its relatively early position in the Infinite Timeline, it doesn’t noticeably feature characters or story elements from the other novels.  As such, it is a very accessible read, and anyone who likes a fun action story can have a great time reading it.  Still, those people who are interested in Robinson’s larger series will do well to read Tribe soon, especially as it sounds like the plot of Khaos is going to come back to key details from Tribe in a big way.

I also deeply appreciated how Robinson made use of some excellent and fun central characters, Sarah and Henry, two seemingly unconnected people.  The story is set up to continuously rotate between their perspectives, which really enhances the overall quality of the narrative, especially when you get two separate views of the same events, or the characters are dealing with separate outrageous events at the same time.  The author does a great job of building up both characters throughout the novel as they start to discover their destiny and their various shared connections.  A lot of the revelations around them result in some interesting abilities and moments for the characters and watching them react to it in very different ways was very entertaining.  They also go through a lot of trauma throughout the book, and again both of them deal with it differently, which I felt was an intriguing and realistic inclusion.  Both characters are quite interesting in their own way, and they serve to balance each other out in the narrative, with Sarah acting as the moral and sensible one (at least until she unleashes the inner beast), and Henry being the wildcard.  Henry is definitely the life and soul of the much of the book.  Due to a brain condition, he lacks any sense of fear whatsoever and has no filter when it comes to doing stupid stuff.  I have mixed feelings about this; while many of these random outbursts and actions are a lot of fun, they do start to get a little repetitive and annoying after a while.  I also felt that it ensured Henry started to overshadow Sarah in parts of the book.  Still, these were some great central protagonists you quickly get attached to, and with the fantastic supporting figures, you have a lot of fun characters in this book that really enhance the narrative.

One of the most appealing things about Robinson’s books is that they all make for an amazing audiobook.  Tribe was another excellent example of this, especially as listening to the story really allows you to get to grips with the incredible and powerful action sequences.  With a run time of just over 10 and a half hours, this is a relatively quick audiobook to get through, and it is very hard not to get attached to it, especially when it features brilliant narrator R. C. Bray.  Bray is a very skilled audiobook narrator who, in addition to providing his voice to most of Robinson’s books, has also narrated several other great books and series, such as Michael Mammay’s Planetside series (Planetside, Spaceside and Colonyside), all of which were excellent audiobooks.  Bray has an exceptional voice that works really well to tell high-stakes and powerful action orientated novels while also bringing a range of interesting characters to life.  He did another outstanding job in Tribe, and all the high-octane action fights are told perfectly, with Bray really highlighting the brutal fights with his telling.  He also provides powerful and insightful voices to all the characters, with all their quirks and interesting features perfectly brought to life as a result.  As such, I had a brilliant time listening to Tribe on audiobook and felt that Bray’s excellent narration really added to my overall enjoyment of this novel.  As such, I would very much recommend the audiobook version to anyone interested in trying out Tribe, as it was a lot of fun to listen to.

Overall, Tribe was a pretty fantastic and extremely entertaining book from Jeremy Robinson.  Loaded with all the intense action, clever references to Greek mythology and intriguing characters you need for an incredible narrative, Tribe was such an epic read and it comes very highly recommended, especially as an audiobook.  I had an outstanding time, with Tribe and it will be interesting to see how these characters, as well as the protagonists of The Dark and Mind Bullet, will feature in the upcoming Khaos.

Amazon     Book Depository

Hide by Kiersten White

Hide Cover

Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio (Audiobook – 24 May 2022)

Series: Standalone/Book One

Length: 8 hours and 9 minutes

My Rating: 3.75 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Get ready to run and scurry for cover in the intriguing new horror thriller from Kiersten White, Hide.  Kiersten White is a captivating author who is known for her young adult and tie-in fiction novels.  I best know her for her work on the extended universe of franchises like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where she recently wrote a series of novels about a new Slayer, which started with the 2019 release Slayer.  White is also making some waves this year with the new Star Wars young adult novel, Padawan, which follows a young Obi-Wan Kenobi and which is pretty high up on my to-read list.  However, her 2022 release that intrigued me the most was the thriller release, HideHide had a great concept to it and I couldn’t resist checking it out in the last week to see what it was all about.

Mack is good at hiding.  She’s spent her whole life doing it after it worked so well to save her life as a child while her family died around her.  However, after years of avoiding people, Mack is running out of options and money.  So when a strange challenge arises, Mack has no choice but to accept, even if it brings back terrible nightmares from her past.

A mysterious corporation is sponsoring a new and unique reality competition with a prize of $50,000 to the winner.  The challenge is simple: survive a week hiding in a creepy abandoned amusement park and don’t get found.  The last person left hidden is crowned the winner and gets enough money to change everything.

Competing against a group of similarly desperate and determined young people, each of whom is hoping that this game will turn their life around, Mack thinks the odds are in her favour to win.  However, there is something far more sinister going on than any of the contestants know.  As the people around her start disappearing, one by one, Mack and the rest of the competitors begin to realise that something else is in the park with them, something that is hungry and unrelenting.  Come out, come out, wherever you are.

This was an intriguing and fun book from White that I managed to get through in a few days.  I loved the excellent premise behind Hide and I think that the author produced a pretty good story that appeals to both horror and thriller fans.  While the book has a slightly slow start to it, once the competition starts I found myself getting pretty into it as I was very keen to see what happened.  White ratchets up the tension day by day as the competition continues, and I think that the increased level of threat and uncertainty that occurred helped to keep my attention and make me want to figure out what is going on.  There are some interesting revelations about halfway through the book that I thought were pretty clever, especially the reveal about what exactly is chasing them and why.  Once that happens, it’s a pretty high-octane fight for survival that results in some fantastic and compelling moments.  While there were still a few questions left over by the end of the book, I think White ended Hide pretty well and everything came together in interesting way.  I do wish that there the competition was a bigger part of the plot, as that could have been pretty cool, but I guess you can’t have everything.

White utilised an interesting storyline telling method to get Hide’s narrative across, which worked for the most part but had a few issues.  While the story is primarily focused around Mack, the book does quickly jump between the other characters in the book, giving some brief insights into their thoughts and history.  While this worked to keep you in the loop about every contestant, it was a bit random at times and I felt that it impacted the pacing of the story, especially when it jumped between multiple perspectives in a very short amount of time.  I also felt that the use of jumps resulted in some missing details in places, such as when some characters are removed from the contest without you realising it.  I did think that White did a good job inserting the background lore behind the events of the book into the story through a series of journal entries, and that part of the book was quite fascinating, although I wouldn’t have minded a bit of a deeper dive.  There is also quite a bit of social commentary chucked into the mix as well, especially when it comes to exploring the motives of the unsurprising villains, plus you must appreciate the strong LGBT+ elements thrown in as well.  The story itself had a mostly fine flow to it, and you do feel the fear and terror of the contestants once they realise what is going on.  All of this worked pretty well in the end, and I think that the story came across in a pretty accessible and compelling way.

White focuses the story on an interest group of protagonists, each of whom has their own reason to be there.  Due to the way that the narrative jumps around to examine different characters, you get a decent look into the heads of each of the competitors, as well as some other characters, and you soon get some insights into why each of them is there.  It soon becomes apparent that each contestant is pretty desperate and broken in their own way, which I felt added to the drama and intensity of the story.  However, due to the quick-fire change in perspective, the reader isn’t given a lot of time to bond with most of the characters, and their eventual fates aren’t too shocking or moving as a result.  The main exception to this is Mack, who you do spend quite a lot of time with.  Mack has a very tragic backstory (it reminded me of last year’s book, The Final Girls Support Group by Grady Hendrix), which becomes a major part of her motivations and trauma in Hide.  Watching her attempt to overcome her dark past and her reservations for being there is pretty intense, and there was some interesting character work there, as well as a potential for new friendships and romance.  A couple of other characters who survive towards the end of the book (I won’t mention who) are also developed to a decent degree, and I felt that some of the story arcs around them were pretty intense as well.  It was a little obvious which of them was going to survive and who was going to die, even with a few twists thrown in, although I did appreciate a few surprise changes in motivations that worked really well.  An overall interesting group of characters, I do wish that we could have gotten to know a few of them a little better though.

I ended up listening to Hide on audiobook, which worked as an excellent format to enjoy this interesting horror read.  Hide has a pretty short runtime of just over eight hours, so if you get caught in the story you can get through it rather quickly.  I felt that this format did help to emphasise the tension and the rising panic of the protagonists, especially as narrator Emma Galvin does a good job telling the story.  Galvin had an excellent voice that was pretty fitting to this setting and story genre, and she ended up doing a good job personifying the main characters.  I rather enjoyed the tone and intensity that Galvin brought to this audiobook, and I felt that this was a fantastic format to check out Hide on.

Overall, I had a lot of fun with Hide and Kiersten White came up with a great story that I really enjoyed.  While I do think that there were a few missed opportunities and pacing issues in places, this mostly came together pretty well and I think fans of exciting novels with horror elements to it will have a great time with Hide.  An interesting book that is worth checking out.

Amazon     Book Depository

Waiting on Wednesday – The Lake House by Sarah Beth Durst

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 fantastic upcoming young adult thriller from impressive author Sarah Beth Durst, The Lake House.

The Lake House Cover

Back in 2020 I was lucky enough to get a copy of a clever fantasy novel, Race the Sands, from a then unknown author to me, Sarah Beth Durst.  While I was unfamiliar with Durst at that point, I had read some incredible positive reviews of this book, and some of her previous novels, and I was curious to check it out.  It helped that Race the Sands also had an extremely compelling plot that revolved around jockeys riding monsters in deadly races out in a dessert kingdom, which sounded pretty damn awesome to me.  Unsurprisingly, I had an exceptional time with Race the Sands, and it featured an epic and exceedingly clever narrative that I really got into.  Race the Sands ended up being one of the best books and audiobooks I enjoyed in 2020, and it pretty much made me an automatic fan of Durst and her writing.

Naturally I kept an eye out for more of the author’s intriguing novels, and I was not disappointed when Durst released another impressive fantasy novel in 2021 with The Bone Maker.  Following a group of retired adventurers years after their legendary defeat of a notorious necromancer, The Bone Maker was another outstanding read that combined an intense and action packed story with damaged characters and a cool new fantasy world powered by bone magic.  The Bone Maker was another great read from Durst, and I have been eager to see what cool book Durst is going to write next.

Well, I just found out some details about Durst’s next upcoming novel and I am very excited.  This book, which is set for release in April 2023, will take Durst back to her young adult roots with the deeply intriguing and awesome thriller, The Lake House.

Synopsis:

Yellowjackets meets One of Us Is Lying in this masterful survival thriller from award-winning author Sarah Beth Durst.

Claire’s grown up triple-checking locks. Counting her steps. Second-guessing every decision. It’s just how she’s wired-her worst-case scenarios never actually come true.

Until she arrives at an off-the-grid summer camp to find a blackened, burned husk instead of a lodge-and no survivors, except her and two other late arrivals: Reyva and Mariana.

When the three girls find a dead body in the woods, they realize none of this is an accident. Someone, something, is hunting them. Something that hides in the shadows. Something that refuses to let them leave.

Irresistible and action-packed until the very final page, The Lake House will have readers glued to their seats as tension builds and danger mounts-and a final, shocking twist is revealed.

I really like the sound of this book!  The Lake House has an awesome and extremely intriguing plot to it, that feels like a combination of a teen thriller book and a classic horror film.  Having teenagers being hunted in the woods by a mysterious presence is a classic story idea for a reason, and I am very interested in seeing Durst’s take on it.  It wouldn’t surprise me if at least one of the surviving girls that the story is focused on is going to have some dark secrets and will probably end up being revealed as either the killer or their accomplice.  I look forward to finding out which and I have a feeling that this is going to be a very impressive and captivating mystery to work through.

The Lake House is currently one of the books I am most excited about for early 2023 and I extremely certain I am going to have an absolute blast getting through it.  I honestly would have tried to get a copy of this book from the synopsis alone, but I am double excited by the fact that Durst is going to write it.  Durst has definitely proven herself to be an exceedingly skilled and impressive author with her recent fantasy work and I have no doubt whatsoever that her young adult thrillers are just as good, if not better.  As such, I have very high hopes for The Lake House next year and will dive into it the moment I get my hands on a copy.

The Lawless Land by Boyd and Beth Morrison

The Lawless Land Cover

Publisher: Head of Zeus (Trade Paperback – 31 May 2022)

Series: Standalone/Book One

Length: 474 pages

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

Get ready for one of the most thrilling historical adventures of 2022 with the wildly entertaining and deeply captivating medieval fiction novel, The Lawless Land, by the outstanding team of Boyd and Beth Morrison.

Despite my recent focus on other genres, historical fiction in all its forms remains one of my favourite book categories to check out, especially with awesome new novels coming out all the time.  One of the best examples of this is The Lawless Land, which I was lucky enough to receive a copy of a little while ago.  The Lawless Land was a fascinating read that takes some great protagonists on a bold adventure through medieval Europe.  This book was written by Boyd and Beth Morrison, a brother and sister team who have deeply impressed me.  This was a rather interesting combination of writers, as Boyd Morrison is an acclaimed thriller and historical fiction author, and Beth Morrison is the Senior Curator of Manuscripts at the J. Paul Getty Museum and has a PHD in history.  These overachieving siblings really cooked up something special here with their first book, and I loved the outstanding story it contained.

In 1351, Europe is in utter chaos as the Hundred Years’ War rages in France and the Pestilence ravages the countryside, depopulating towns and devastating cities.  These are dark days indeed, and only the desperate and the foolish can be found traversing the roads.  Unfortunately, this includes skilled knight Gerard Fox, whose lands and titles have been taken from him as punishment for a crime against the church, and who is now forced to wander the world by himself, desperate to reclaim his family’s honour.

Journeying towards the castle of Lord Tonbridge, the one man who may be able to prove his innocence, Gerard witnesses a band of armed men waylaying a noblewoman.  Impulsively jumping into action, Gerard saves the women, slaughtering her attackers and forever changing his life.  The young woman, Lady Isabel, is Lord Tonbridge’s betrothed, who has fled from her future husband, taking with her a sacred relic she is sworn to protect.  Forced to abandon his own quest, Gerard agrees to escort Isabel to safety, however, he is unaware of the chaos that is about to be unleashed upon him.

Tonbridge had promised Isabel’s relic to an ambitious Cardinal in Paris, one who is determined to rise to the station of Pope.  Desperate to reclaim the relic and use it to cement his position, the Cardinal and his pawn, Tonbridge, unleash their substantial forces to hunt down Gerard and Isabel.  Fleeing their pursuers, Gerard and Isabel traverse the breadth of England and France to find safe harbour for the relic.  Forced to contend with dangerous foes around every corner, Gerard, Isabel, and their faithful companions will face the worse that medieval Europe has to offer and more.  But worse lies in wait for Gerard, as he bears a dark connection with his pursuers that will ensure they will never stop hunting him.

Wow, now this was a really cool historical fiction novel.  The exceptional writing team behind The Lawless Land have produced an outstanding novel that is extremely exciting, action-packed, and character driven, while also being heavy on the historical detail and accuracy.  This results in an exceptional and epic historical thriller read that I had an absolute blast getting through and which gets a well-deserved five-star rating from me.

The Lawless Land was such a cool read, and I quickly fell in love with its brilliant and exceptional story.  Essentially an adventure thriller set in medieval times, the authors start The Lawless Land off very quickly, showing the protagonist in battle as he saves the damsel in distress, only to end up in even more trouble.  Effectively introducing the key characters early on, you get a real sense of the novels impressive style right at the start, especially with its gritty feel and intense action sequences.  The story soon evolves into a high stakes chase across Europe, as Gerard, Isabel and their companions try to outrace and outwit their opponents to save Isabel’s relic and get revenge for Gerard.  The authors make excellent use of multiple character perspectives here to showcase the chase from both sides, and you get a good look at the various schemes and ploys of the antagonists, as well as the full depths of their villainy.  These amazing and action-packed scenes are expertly interspersed with some flashback chapters that examine the full history and tragedy of the protagonists, especially Gerard, and work to fully establish the enmity between him and the antagonists.  This entire first half of the book is very well written, and the authors’ excellent style will appeal to wide range of readers, not just historical fiction fans, as anyone who enjoys a great adventure or gripping thriller read, can get really engrossed in this excellent story.

This perfectly sets up the second half of this epic novel, which sees the character involved in all manner of carnage and battle as they attempt to win.  I honestly powered through the last 250 pages or so in a day; I was having that much fun reading it.  This second part has everything, including jousting tournaments, prison breaks, desperate chases, elaborate skirmishes, political intrigue, skullduggery and more action than you can shake a stick at.  There is even a full-on judicial duel (think The Last Duel), which was one of the most impressive and gritty fights in the entire book.  There are some intriguing twists, clever reveals, major tragedies, and some outstanding action throughout this entire second half, and it was so much fun to see it all unfold.  I really must highlight the impressive action of The Lawless Land, as all the fights felt particularly realist and very epic, and you can honestly feel every powerful swing and strike of steel on steel.  The authors bring all the established story elements of The Lawless Land together extremely well in the end, and readers will come away satisfied, especially with the fun conclusion and the great ending for the characters.  While this is ostensibly a standalone read, and the authors do wrap up everything really well, there is potential for a sequel at the end, and I for one would not be opposed to seeing more from these characters in the future.

One of the most compelling parts of The Lawless Land was the brilliant dive into the history of medieval Europe.  The writing team clearly did their research when it came to this novel, which is hardly surprising considering the scholarly expertise of one of its authors.  As such, this novel is loaded with impressive and captivating historical detail which isn’t overshadowed by some of the more over-the-top action.  You get a great sense of the how bleak and brutal the continent was at this point in history, with some chilling depictions of plague and pestilence, as well as some intriguing looks at The Hundred Years’ War, including a full flashback chapter to the Battle of Crécy.  The authors spend time exploring a ton of fascinating stuff from this period, including knightly conduct, the power and influence of the church, day to day life for people in cities and the countryside, and so much more.  I particularly loved the scenes set around a tournament in France, where the protagonist engages in a series of jousts.  The sheer amount of detail and realism around these scenes are so very cool, and you can really picture how everything would have looked and felt.  There is also a great examination of medieval manuscripts (again, because of one of the author’s academic focuses), which become a key part of The Lawless Land’s plot, and it was really interesting to examine the significance and process behind them.  All this impressive work around the setting and other historical elements of The Lawless Land really enhanced the overall quality of the book, and I loved how seamlessly it was worked into the epic narrative.

I also must highlight the fantastic characters featured within The Lawless Land, which includes an awesome balance of likeable protagonist and maniacal villains who hunt them.  The story is perfectly split between the two groups, and you get some fun and intense competing views of events throughout the story as a result.  The protagonists are headlined by the awesome character of Gerard Fox, a wandering knight, banished from his family’s lands by the church following a confrontation with one of the antagonists years ago.  Dragged into this conspiracy by accident, Gerard becomes Isabel’s companion and protector, and tries to escort the relic to safety.  A man of action and honour, Gerard is haunted by his past and his many failures, which include watching his brother die in battle, and being tricked into losing everything.  He is also obsessed with discovering the true fate of his mother, and her mysterious disappearance and certain revelations draw him into this conspiracy even further.  A lot of the novel revolves around Gerard’s past, and it was fascinating to see him come to terms with it and try to balance this current quest with his own desires.  Gerard ends up being a pretty awesome protagonist to follow, especially with his martial prowess, unique weaponry, penchant for mischief and trickery (like a certain French fox), and his unbending desire to do the right thing.

Gerard is accompanied by some interesting companions, and the most prominent of these is Lady Isabel.  A noblewoman who was forced into marriage, Isabel seeks to protect her family’s most sacred relic from her betrothed and goes to great length to escape him.  Although she is initially seen as a bit of a damsel in distress, you soon begin to realise that there is a lot more to Isabel than what first appears, as she is an incredibly capable woman with some keen insights and strategies that prove invaluable to her companions.  The authors work some excellent storylines around Isabel in this novel, and you really come to appreciate and enjoy her pluck, courage and intelligence.  There is also a very clever twist about this character revealed in the second half of the book, which was set up extremely well by the authors, including in some flashbacks that both hint at and hide the truth from the reader.  I also should mention the fun supporting characters of Henri and Youssef, two friendly rogues who have substantial history and friendship with Gerard.  Henri and Youssef are excellent additions to the protagonists, and their fun personalities balance well with Gerard and Isabel’s to create a very likeable group of heroes that you become quite attached to, even if that leads to eventual heartbreak for the reader.

I also need to talk about The Lawless Land’s outstanding trio of villains who dog the protagonists’ steps throughout the entire narrative.  This includes the evil Lord Tonbridge, Isabel’s betrothed who she runs away from.  While Tonbridge is mainly hunting them for Isabel’s relic, it also becomes clear that Tonbridge is even more obsessed with righting the perceived slight to his honour and is eager for vengeance.  However, Tonbridge is also partially subservient to villainous French cardinal Molyneux, who has promised him power and a kingship if he succeeds.  Molyneux is particularly despicable, as an ambitious and immoral member of the church who is attempting to become Pope.  Using his influence and the protection of the church for his advantage, Molyneux gains large amount of money and land through unscrupulous means and has some dark history with Gerard’s family, which deeply impacts both his and Gerald’s motivations to confound each other.  The final villain is Molyneux’s vassal and bastard son Basquin, who serves as the protagonist’s main pursuer.  A skilled swordsman and tactician, Basquin is a worthy, if not superior, foe to Gerard, whom he bears a powerful grudge against.  There is some fascinating history behind Basquin that became quite an awesome part of the plot, and it was great to see the intense and captivating confrontations between the two.  The authors take Basquin in some intriguing directions in this book, especially when his own desires clash with that of his abusive father, forcing him to go rogue and enact his own ambitious plan.  All these villains were extremely well written, and it proved highly entertaining to see them go up against Gerard, Isabel and the rest throughout The Lawless Land.  I had such a great time with the characters in this book, and their intense relationships, rivalries and schemes added so much to the power of the novel.

Overall, The Lawless Land was an exceptional and impressive historical fiction read from the great new team of Boyd and Beth Morrison.  These two talented writers came up with something very special with The Lawless Land, and I loved the outstanding and highly addictive narrative contained in this book.  Featuring a ton of epic action, some amazing characters, and some superb historical detail, The Lawless Land was an incredible read that comes very highly recommended by me.

Amazon     Book Depository

Kagen the Damned by Jonathan Maberry

Kagen the Damned Cover

Publisher: Macmillan Audio (Audiobook – 10 May 2022)

Series: Kagen the Damned – Book One

Length: 20 hours and 53 minutes

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Amazon     Book Depository

One of my favourite unusual thriller writers, the legendary Jonathan Maberry, enters the world of fantasy in a big way with Kagen the Damned, a dark fantasy masterpiece with a brutal heart to it.

I have made no secret of the fact that I am a huge Jonathan Maberry fan.  I got into Maberry’s writings when I chanced upon a copy of his 10th Joe Ledger novel, Deep Silence, a few years ago, which introduced me to both Maberry’s unique writing and his iconic protagonist, the titular Joe Ledger, a badass action hero who saves the world from crazy and dark science creations.  I deeply enjoyed Deep Silence (it was one of my favourite books of 2018) and quickly moved onto his other Joe Ledger books, diving back to the start of the series with Patient Zero, and then working my way through the rest of the awesome entries, such as The Dragon Factory, Code Zero, Predator One and Dogs of War.  I also kept up with his latest releases, including the two entries in the follow-up Rogue Team International series, Rage (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2019) and Relentless (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2021), and his standalone novel Ink (one of my favourite books and audiobooks of 2020).  I have been very eager to see what awesome novel Maberry releases in 2022, and, luckily for me, that materialised in the form of Kagen the Damned.

Kagen the Damned is an interesting and unique read from Maberry, as it is his debut foray into the fantasy genre.  While many of his other books have had fantasy elements to them (albeit with a horror edge), this is his first pure fantasy fiction novel, as well as the start of his Kagen the Damned series.  Naturally I was rather curious about how Maberry would transition to a new genre, and while I was a tad disappointed that the Rogue Team International series isn’t getting a new entry any time soon, Kagen the Damned ended up pretty high on my most anticipated reads for 2022 list.  After a few weeks of other books getting in the way, I finally got the chance to listen to Kagen the Damned, and it turned out to be quite an impressive novel.

Kagen Vale was once one of the most trusted and revered fighters in the entire Silver Empire.  A scion of the legendary Vale family, who have served the Silver Empire for generations, Kagen was a beloved member of the royal court and so highly regarded that he was entrusted as the guardian of the Seedlings, the Empresses’ children.  That was until the fateful night when, out drinking and whoring, he was drugged and left for dead.  Awakening in a daze, Kagen found himself in the midst of hell as the capital of Silver Empire, Argentium, was besieged by a foe long thought dead, the dread nation of Hakkia, whose dark magic has once again emerged to blot out the world.

Arriving to the palace too late to save anyone, including the Seedlings, Kagen falls into despair at failing his sacred duty and can only watch in horror as the Gods of the Garden, the deities of the Silver Empire, turn their back on him and damning him for all time.  Now with everything and everyone he has ever known lost forever, Kagen the Damned wanders the ruined countryside a broken drunk, dreaming of revenge on the one man responsible for all his ills, the mysterious and feared Witch-king of Hakkia.

However, not everything is as lost as it seems, as shadowy figures across the world being to formulate their plans to repel the Witch-king’s evil.  As two young women embark on a deadly quest to awaken a sleeping, ancient god from beneath the waves, a covenant of resistance attempts to find their own magic to oppose the Witch-king with.  Determining that Kagen may bear the best chance of recovering the tools needed to succeed, they manipulate events to set him on his path to revenge.  However, what price will a doomed man truly pay to get the revenge he so desperately seeks, and will Kagen be ready for the terrible secrets he uncovers along the way?  Only the gods and the damned know for sure!

Well, it is now more apparent than ever that there is no Jonathan Maberry book I will not enjoy to the extreme.  Kagen the Damned is an incredible and very memorable novel from Maberry, who puts the ‘dark’ in dark fantasy, with this barbaric and action-packed journey into hell.  Making use of his trademark style, flair for horror and exceptional character work, Maberry pulls together a deeply addictive and extremely exciting story that I fell in love with very, very quickly.  This was another easy five star read for me, and I loved every single second I spent reading it.

Maberry once again blew me away with an outstanding and high-action narrative, and I quickly got very attached to Kagen the Damned.  This book has an extremely memorable start to it, showing the bloody fall of Argentium from the perspective of Kagen, who awakens from a drunken haze to find a vast army in his supposedly impenetrable city, destroying and killing everything they see.  This was a very compelling and brutal start the novel, and its one that I quite enjoyed, especially as you see just how dangerous the enemies are and the chaos they have unleashed.  Maberry does a great job of setting up multiple key storylines, settings and characters in this early section, and while the focus is primarily on Kagen, you get some interesting insights into other figures that will impact the rest of the book.  The entire first part of the book is very distinctive and really showcases how dark this novel is going to get, especially when it comes to the character of Kagen and the fate of the royal children.  This whole first section ends on a brilliant note, with Kagen left broken and damned, while the once great Silver Empire, which you only saw glimpses of, is destroyed and replaced with a new world order.

Following this epic start, the narrative slows down a little, as Maberry works to set up some alternate storylines and characters, while as taking the time to do some compelling and extended word building.  Set in the direct aftermath of the opening sequence, the story primarily splits into three different streams at this point, with the main one following a despondent Kagen as he traverses the former Silver Empire, lost in grief and drink.  At the same time, two separate storylines tell some great connected narratives, with one following two young women as they journey off into the unknown, while the rest focuses on the Hakkian takeover back in Argentium.  This focus on the Hakkians and their plans, as told by the Witch-king’s advisors, as well as a resistance group, is very awesome, and it was fascinating to see some impressive political intrigue going on behind the scenes as the antagonists work to consolidate power through various methods.  While the rest of the narrative continues in a straight line, the story around Kagen slowly adapts as he meets some new friends and begins his mission of revenge as planned, with some detours.

This leads up to the excellent final part of the book, which I powered through extremely quickly to see how everything ended.  All three major storylines are reaching there climax here, and they start to blend a lot more closely, especially the ones focusing on Kagen and the Hakkians.  Everything leads up to a highly anticipated confrontation that sees Kagen finally face his enemies, and it is just as epic as I was hoping.  There is a ton of action, tragedy, twists and revelations here, as many of the plot elements and storylines come full circle.  I loved the various reveals that happen here, and most have been set up really well throughout the extended course of the narrative.  I really should have seen the identity of the Witch-king coming, but it was the right choice by Maberry, which leaves some big questions open for the future.  Everyone will come away from Kagen the Damned extremely satisfied, as Maberry leaves everyone on a brilliant note, that ensures that readers will definitely come back for more.  This is an outstanding and deeply addictive narrative that is guaranteed to grab your attention early one and refuse to let go.

I really enjoyed how well Kagen the Damned was written, as Maberry brought his unique style to bear to help create an outstanding story.  In many ways, this novel proved to be essentially one of Maberry’s thrillers set in a fantasy universe.  Indeed, there were a lot of similarities in the style, the structure of the chapter, the pacing and even the use of familiar horror elements that I have previously seen and loved in the Joe Ledger books and I think this cool style worked well to tell an intense fantasy narrative.  As such, Kagen the Damned is a swift and well-structured book that pushes the story along at a swift pace, while also taking the time to build up the universe and the multitude of characters.  Maberry utilises a great range of story elements throughout this novel, and the readers are treated with a fantastic blend of action, intrigue, dark, over-the-top moments, horror, despair and humour, as the characters experience all manner of devastating trials and oppositions.

I also have a lot of love for the way that the author sets up the story and showcases the elaborate events that are occurring.  Maberry makes excellent use of a huge number of shorter, focused chapters told from a variety of viewpoints.  These briefer chapters really increase the pace and intensity of the book, and I deeply appreciated how the narrative quickly jumped across the various characters.  The interplay between the three central storylines, which are primarily anchored around Kagen, is extremely good, and I loved seeing the characters react to some of the same events or actions of their fellow cast members.  These storylines are also joined by a series of interludes that show the various impacts that the Hakkian invasion has on the wider world, especially those attuned to magic.  These interludes are usually very fascinating, and they are often used to introduce some minor supporting characters in a fun and unique way.  I loved the complexity that these interludes usually have, and the often self-contained stories are well structured and always feature a distinctive or chilling conclusion.  Maberry uses these interludes cleverly, often inserting them between major or extremely powerful chapters to help relieve tension, or to remind the reader of the wider stakes or events occurring around the main story.  I definitely enjoyed this larger look at the world that Maberry provided through them, and it was an outstanding part of Kagen the Damned’s story.

One of the major highlights of the writing in Kagen the Damned is the intricately described and fast-paced action, which is a major hallmark of Maberry’s writing style.  Maberry has always excelled at writing brutal fight scenes in a way that paints a vivid mental picture for the reader, and this was once again the case for Kagen the Damned.  The many, many action and fight sequences are brought to life in exquisite and bloody detail, and the reader is easily able to imagine every strike and slice as they happen.  This makes the action sequences really pop, and they were a particularly awesome highlight of this great book.  This focus on action and combat was really effective in this fantasy novel, and it was very cool to see Maberry bring his knowledge of combat and the accompanying writing skill to bear on large scale battles between armed and armoured fighters, while magic and gods blow stuff away around them.  There are some really great fight scenes loaded throughout this book, and I loved every skirmish, battle and duel that was featured within it.

While I did really love the action and brutal combat sequences within Kagen the Damned, I probably should add a warning about how dark and gruesome it can get in places.  Maberry’s writing style has always relied on over-the-top violence, cruelty and brutality to a degree, and this was once again the case in Kagen the Damned, which not only featured a ton of killing but also gruesome scenes of torture, corpse desecration and depictions of sexual violence.  While I think that these ultra-violent moments do work to showcase just how dark and savage the new world order is, they are often a bit hard to witness.  I will note that Maberry did take the time to discuss the emotional and social impacts of the various acts of sexual violence in the book, rather than just including them for gratuitous effect.  There are also some great scenes where the protagonist calls out and belittles several characters willing to commit such acts, before delivering his own violent justice, and I think that the author did his best to show have damaging it can be in his own way.  However, readers should probably be aware that these scenes exist, as people might find them to be a bit shocking.

I was also a major fan of the cool new fantasy universe that Maberry cooked up with Kagen the Damned, mainly because it is such a distinctive creation of the author.  Set on a giant continent made up of various nations, this is an impressive and compelling world, filled with a unique history, gods, people and settings.  The author does a great job of swiftly introducing this world and some of the key parts of its history in the early parts of the book, mainly so that readers can be a little more shocked at the early events and full appreciate the destruction and change that the Hakkian nation brings with it.  Maberry is clearly emulating some classic fantasy novels and settings throughout Kagen the Damned, and I loved seeing this bold new world that he has created.  There are some unique and cool elements featured within, and I liked how there are certain shades of grey shown when it comes to the morality and righteousness of the various factions.  Maberry also takes the time to highlight the changes that are coming to the world, thanks to the return of the Hakkian Witch-king, and the slow and steady resurgence of magic and the death of a certain pantheon of gods, are highlighted really well, both in the main story and the interlude chapters.

Perhaps one of the most distinctive features of this new world is the horror elements that Maberry worked into the plot.  I really should not have been surprised at the strong Lovecraftian elements that featured, as the author has used them strongly in some of his previous books.  However, it is even more explicit here in Kagen the Damned, with several notable Elder Gods playing key roles in the plot and even appearing in some epic scenes.  While I am not personally a fan of Lovecraft, I did quite like how Maberry utilised these elements throughout this book, and they gave parts of the book a darker and more eldritch quality that I quite enjoyed.  This, and certain discussions about other worlds and alternate realities, potentially links this series to some of Maberry’s existing works, and it wouldn’t surprise me if there were some form of crossover in the future, although it would have to be handled well.  I had a great time exploring this new fantasy world in Kagen the Damned, and I look forward to seeing what other surprises and dark gods appear in future entries of this series.

I also must highlight the incredible character work featured with Kagen the Damned, as Maberry went all out to create an excellent and unique cast of characters, whom the excellent narrative revolves around.  There are some amazing characters featured within this novel, and the author works hard to feature all of them in some impressive roles.  I had a lot of fun with the huge cast of Kagen the Damned, and there are deep and emotional figures featured here.

The most prominent and intriguing character is the titular Kagen, who takes on the moniker of Kagen the Damned.  Maberry really does a number on his central protagonist early on, as Kagen awakens from a drunken haze to find that everything he cared about and held dear had been lost while he slept.  Despite his best efforts to redeem himself in the battle that follows, he still fails miserably, and manages to escape the conquered capital in a fractured haze.  Broken, dazed and emotionally destroyed, Kagen becomes even more despondent when he sees his gods in the sky turn their back on him due to his failure to maintain his sacred oaths, which convinces him that he is damned.  Naturally, these events leave him severely emotionally damaged, and he spends most of the book trying to come to terms with his failure while also trying to find some way to get revenge on the Witch-king for all he has done.  A large amount of the book is dedicated to Kagen falling into despair, and Maberry presents a realistic depiction of a man who has lost everything and who is barely able to survive, relying heavily on drink and violence to get through his days.  While Kagen is eventually able to throw off much of this despair, it is still lurking within him, and he is often shown living in regret at his failure, even though no one else blames him as much as he does.  Kagen working through these complex feelings of failure results in much of the novels emotional strength, and Kagen serves as a moving and powerful heart for the entire novel.

While I did deeply enjoy this intriguing central character and his rough and emotional journey through this book, it is hard not to notice some similarities between Kagen and another one of Maberry’s protagonists from another series.  Kagen is in many ways a fantasy version of Joe Ledger, with similarities including a propensity for violence, extreme skill with knives (technically short-swords in Kagen’s case), and even a similar sense of humour during some of the lighter moments of the books.  There is also the same high level of mental damage brought on by extreme trauma, with both characters often seeking revenge against the people who wronged them and those they loved.  Despite these similarities, I still really appreciated Kagen as a protagonist, and I felt that some of his additional elements, such as his complex familiar bonds and strong sense of failure, did set him apart in some key ways.  No matter what, Kagen is a pretty awesome character to follow, and I loved seeing him continue to go through all his dark moments to keep going.

Aside from Kagen, there are several other amazing characters featured in this novel, all of whom have some outstanding storylines around them.  Two of the most prominent are Ryssa and Miri, who were in Argentium when the Hakkians invade.  Both junior members of the Silver Empire’s clergy, the two women initially appear to be primarily concerned with surviving the invasion.  However, it soon becomes apparent that Miri, whose knowledge of the gods and creatures of this world are far greater than they should be, has a different agenda.  Taking Ryssa with her on a big journey to a remote island nation, Miri soon engages in a plot to save the world her way.  Ryssa and Miri make up a fun combination that Maberry weaves some interesting storylines around.  While these characters aren’t explored as deeply as Kagen, you still get a great sense of who they are, particularly Ryssa, who is the primary point-of-view character between them.  Their entire storyline is covered in mystery and uncertainty as Ryssa is left in the dark about what is coming her way.  I liked the religious world-building that went into this character storyline, and there are some excellent moments in it loaded with tragedy and despair.  Even with their storyline being mostly separated from the rest of the characters, and it was a little predictable that Maberry would turn them into a lesbian couple, they had a compelling relationship and I felt that they added a lot to the narrative.

I also had a great deal of fun with the primary Hakkian characters featured in Kagen the Damned.  While they are ostensibly the antagonists of the book, Maberry takes the time to really establish the main four characters and presents them as a lot more complex and even sympathetic in places.  The main Hakkian character is their leader, the Witch-king, a character shrouded in mystery for most of the book.  A previously unknown figure, the Witch-king uses his magic to defeat the entire Silver Empire in a night and then spends the rest of the book trying to set himself up as the legitimate ruler of the land while also advancing the position of his brutal god.  I loved the way that Maberry kept the details about the Witch-king’s past and identity hidden for most of the narrative, although there is some great foreshadowing of his identity scattered throughout the novel.  The Witch-king cuts a fantastic and menacing figure for most of the book, and it was intriguing to see him present himself as a fair and loving ruler, while simultaneously exuding an aura of menace and dark magic.  It was pretty hilarious to see him terrify his key advisors for much of the book, and I loved all the hints about his true objectives.  An overall excellent central antagonist, I look forward to getting more details about him and his history in the rest of the series, especially after the revelations at the end of this book.

The other three key Hakkian characters are the Witch-king’s advisors, the chamberlain Lord Nespar, necromancer Lady Kestral, and newcomer Jakob.  Nespar and Kestral are fantastic characters who spend most of the book administrating the Witch-king’s will, running his empire, hunting for Kagen, and setting up the upcoming coronation of the Witch-king to become emperor.  While they are initially shown to be quite dangerous and evil, mainly due to their role in destroying the Silver Empire and Kestral’s disturbing magic, you eventually see that there is a lot more to them.  In particular, you see that they are actually extremely terrified of the Witch-king and are desperately obeying his will in order to survive.  You actually end up feeling a bit sympathetic for the pair of them, even after you see Kestral tear a corpse apart for a ritual, and I enjoyed the intrigue and politics they got involved with to rule the new empire.  The other character is Jakob, a Silver Empire historian who is drafted into the Witch-king service as his minister for propaganda.  Rechristened as Jakob Ravensmere, he becomes fully compliant in the Hakkian takeover and proves to be a very competent advisor and political mind while also working to rewrite history to increase the legitimacy of the Witch-king.  It was extremely fascinating to see Jakob discussing the control given by those who control history and propaganda, and I really enjoyed his role in the new empire.  It was also fun to see his rather quick slide towards the dark side as he fully embraces the Hakkian lifestyle and even starts to develop a taste for a power.  I always love seeing Maberry’s narrative unfold from the antagonist’s point of view, and this worked out extremely well again in Kagen the Damned.

The final characters I need to highlight are some of the excellent supporting cast surrounding Kagen.  Kagen has two excellent companions who work with him throughout the book, Tuke and Filia.  Tuke is a giant professional thief who recruits Kagen for a job that will help an anti-Hakkian resistance movement.  Tuke serves as the comic relief for much of the book, and I loved the outstanding chemistry he had with Kagen.  The two play off each other extremely well, and their excellent camaraderie and humour were pretty fun to see.  Not only does Tuke have some of the best lines (and the funniest curses) in the book, but he also serves as an emotional sounding board to Kagen, helping him get better after all the tragedy he experienced.  Filia is a strong-willed warrior and former associate of Kagen who finds herself dragged into the chaos around the war and Kagen’s wild adventures.  Filia’s no-nonsense attitude and sarcasm are a great counterpart to the other characters in Kagen the Damned, and I especially liked it when it combined with the humour of Kagen and Tuke.  These characters, and more, really enhanced the overall quality of this impressive narrative, and I loved seeing their powerful storylines unfold in some excellent and enjoyable ways.

There was no way that I was going to check out the new Jonathan Maberry novel in any format other than audiobook.  I have had some outstanding experiences with Maberry’s audiobooks over the years, and all of them have been deeply impressive and extremely enjoyable.  This again proved to be the case with Kagen the Damned, as I had an outstanding time having this dark epic read out to me, especially as it really helped me to absorb all the details of the characters and the impressive new universe.  With a runtime of just under 21 hours, this is a pretty lengthy audiobook to get through, but it is well worth the time investment, especially as it delivers the story in such an awesome way.

Easily the best thing about this audiobook is the outstanding narration from the very, very awesome Ray Porter.  Porter, who is one of my favourite audiobook narrators, who has previously narrated Maberry’s books, as well as contributing his voice to other works like The Apollo Murders and The Sandman audio adaptation.  As such, the moment I heard that Porter was also going to narrate Kagen the Damned, I knew that I had to get this audiobook.  Porter has an amazing ability to move the story along, and his voice is perfect for all the intense action, world-building and intrigue Maberry features in his novels.  I love the way that Porter dives into the various characters featured in the books, with every single person getting their own distinctive voice, while Porter also effortlessly emotes all their emotion to the listener.  This includes a very sinister voice that Porter saves for when the villains are talking or some incredibly dark moments are happening, and having him use variations of this voice to highlight just how brutal a moment is being, is always a great experience.  It also works well when the characters start speaking in the languages associated with the Elder Gods, and the resultant ceremonies and spells are quite spooky to hear in Porter’s voice.

Porter also did a particularly good job at inhabiting the voice of Maberry’s central protagonist, Kagen, and you get a real sense of who he is and the intense pain he is feeling throughout the book.  While the voice Porter uses from Kagen is a little like that of Joe Ledger from Maberry’s other audiobooks (a side effect of Porter ensuring that the main protagonist’s voice matches the tone he uses for basic narration), Porter does add a little more of a growl to it here, which helped to a degree.  This was another incredible performance from Porter, and I am so very glad that they got him back to narrate Maberry’s new series.  I cannot emphasise how outstanding the Kagen the Damned audiobook turned out to be (although I did feature it in my recent best audiobooks from the first half of 2022 list before I’d even finished it), and this is the absolute best way to enjoy Kagen the Damned.

Well, after rabbiting on for nearly seven pages, I think it is exceedingly obvious that I loved Kagen the Damned.  Jonathan Maberry’s latest novel was extremely compelling and deeply exciting, and I was really impressive with the author’s jump to the fantasy genre.  Featuring a clever, complex, and action-packed narrative loaded with destruction, thrilling revenge and some great, damaged characters, Kagen the Damned was an outstanding read and its one that I absolutely flew through.  Kagen the Damned is easily one of the top books of 2022 and this is a favourite new series for me.  I am extremely excited to see where the Kagen the Damned series will go in the future, and the next book, Son of the Poison Rose, is out in a few months’ time, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

Amazon     Book Depository