Top Ten Tuesday – My Favourite Debut Novels of 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  For this week’s Top Ten Tuesday, participants get a freebie to celebrate Valentine’s Day, and I thought that I would take this opportunity to highlight some of the best debut novels from 2020.  I really wanted to highlight some of the best debut novels of last year and I had originally intended to do this list a little earlier, but I could not fit it into my schedule, so I leapt at this chance.

2020 proved to be a fun year for new novels as several fantastic authors appeared on the scene.  I was lucky enough to receive an excellent selection of debut novels from across several different genres last year, and many of these debuts proved to be exceptional and outstanding reads.  As a result, I was easily able to come up with 10 impressive releases for this list and each of the entries below come highly recommended, especially as several were amongst my favourite books (and audiobooks) of 2020.  I also decided to feature a couple pre-2020 debut novels that I read last year in the honourable mentions section to highlight these as well, as they were some impressive and captivating reads.  The result was a pretty awesome list, so let us see what made the cut.

 

Honourable Mentions:


We Are The Dead
by Mike Shackle

We are the Dead Cover

 

The Black Hawks by David Wragg

The Black Hawks Cover

 

Top Ten List:


Stormblood
by Jeremy Szal

Stormblood Cover

 

The Kingdom of Liars by Nick Martell

The Kingdom of Liars Cover

 

The Last Smile in Sunder City by Luke Arnold

The Last Smile in Sunder City

 

The Viennese Girl by Jenny Lecoat

The Viennese Girl Cover

 

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

The Thursday Murder Club Cover

 

Altered Realms: Ascension by B. F. Rockriver

Altered Realms cover

 

Night Lessons in Little Jerusalem by Rick Held

Night Lessons in Little Jerusalem Cover

 

The Space Between Worlds by Micaiah Johnson

The Space Between Worlds Cover

 

Assault by Fire by Hunter Ripley Rawlings

Assault by Fire Cover

 

The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart

The Bone Shard Daughter Cover

 

That’s my Top Ten list for this week. I am pretty happy with the varied collection of debut novels I read last year, and I think that all the above authors are going to go on to do amazing things.  Several of them already have second novels on the way this year, and I fully intend to grab them when they come out.  2021 is also shaping up to be an excellent year for debut novels, and I have already enjoyed a couple of awesome debuts that will no doubt make the 2021 version of this list.  While I spend this year compiling which debuts of 2021 are my favourite, make sure to let me know what your favourite 2020 debut novels are in the comments below.

Top Ten Tuesday – New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2020

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  The official topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday was “Resolutions/Hopes for 2021 (bookish or not!)”, however, I am going to do something a little different and instead I will list the top New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2020.  This is actually the official Top Ten Tuesday topic set up for a fortnight’s time, but I have an Australian fiction themed list planned for that week (it falls on Australia Day), so I decided to move this list forward a little.

I am very excited to do this list as each year I am lucky enough to read novels from authors who I was previously unfamiliar with and whose works I really love (make sure check out my 2019 version of the list).  2020 was no exception and throughout last year I had a wonderful time reading a huge range of books from several authors who were completely new to me.  This includes some debuting authors, as well as more established writers whose works I only got around to this year; as long as I had not read anything from them before 2020, they were eligible for this list.  Many of these new-to-me authors produced amazing novels, some of which I consider to be some of the best books released in 2020.  As a result, this list may feature a bit of overlap with my top books and audiobooks lists of 2020 that I have previously published on this blog.

Like many of these lists that I do, I ended up with quite a substantial group of authors that I wanted to include, many of whom produced some fantastic and compelling reads.  I was eventually able to whittle this list down to my top ten favourites, as well as featuring a generous honourable mentions section.  While I did have to exclude a couple of authors whose books I really liked, I think I came up with a good list that represents which authors I am really glad I decided to try for the first time last year.

 

Honourable Mentions:

 

David Wragg – The Black Hawks

The Black Hawks Cover

 

John Jackson Miller – Star Trek Discovery: Die Standing

Die Standing Cover

 

Jeremy Szal – Stormblood

Stormblood Cover

 

Steve Parker – Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker

Deathwatch Shadowbreaker Cover

 

Top Ten List:

 

Luke Arnold – The Last Smile in Sunder City and Dead Man in a Ditch

Luke Arnold Covers

The first author that I am going to feature on this list is Luke Arnold, who had an impressive debut earlier this year with The Last Smile in Sunder City, a great urban fantasy novel set in dark city where magic has suddenly and traumatically died.  Arnold managed to complete two novels this year, and with the sequel, Dead Man in a Ditch, did an awesome job following up from the first book.  I look forward to seeing how this series continues in the future, and Arnold is a great new author that I was glad I tried out.

 

Nick Martell – The Kingdom of Liars

The Kingdom of Liars Cover

There was no way I could do this list without featuring Nick Martell, who debuted in early 2020 with The Kingdom of Liars, an outstanding fantasy novel that was extremely impressive.  Not only was The Kingdom of Liars one of the best debuts of 2020 but it was also one of my favourite books of the entire year.  I had an incredible time reading this cool novel and I am eagerly awaiting the sequel, The Two-Faced Queen, which is set for release in a couple of months.

 

Richard Osman – The Thursday Murder Club

The Thursday Murder Club Cover

Another exciting new author I checked out in 2020 was British comedian and television personality Richard Osman, who debuted with the clever and hilarious crime fiction novel, The Thursday Murder Club.  This was an amazing first novel from Osman, and I am now deeply invested in checking out any future novels from him, especially the sequel to The Thursday Murder Club planned for later this year.

 

Jim Butcher – Battle Ground

Battle Ground Cover

I have been meaning to read one of legendary fantasy author Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files novels for ages now, and this was the year I finally took the plunge by listening to the latest entry in the series, Battle GroundBattle Ground was an epic thrill ride that I had an incredible time listening to and which served as an intriguing introduction to the series for me.  I think that I will try to listen to several earlier entries in this awesome series this year, and I look forward to seeing how the initial adventures turn out.

 

Jeff Lindsay – Just Watch Me

Just Watch Me Cover

I was quite intrigued when I heard that Jeff Lindsay, the author of the iconic Dexter thrillers, was writing a series that focused on epic heists, and I ended up grabbing a copy of the first book, Just Watch Me.  Just Watch Me was a fantastic and captivating read, and I just started reading the sequel, Fool Me Twice, and I cannot wait to see how it turns out.

 

Mark Lawrence – The Girl and the Stars

The Girl and the Stars 2

High acclaimed fantasy author Mark Lawrence is another author who I have had my eye on for several years but never had a chance to read before.  However, when Lawrence released the first entry in a brand-new series last year, I decided to check it out, and boy was I glad that I did.  The Girl and the Stars was an impressive and captivating novel set deep beneath the ice of a desolate planet that I had an amazing time reading.  I am eagerly looking forward to the next entry in this series, and I will have to go back and read some of Lawrence’s earlier books.

 

Sarah Beth Durst – Race the Sands

Race the Sands Cover

I have mentioned quite a few times this year how much I deeply enjoyed the latest novel from Sarah Beth Durst, Race the Sands, which was the first book I checked out from this bestselling author.  Race the Sands was an outstanding novel filled with cool action, creative fantasy elements and great characters, I had an excellent time getting through it.  Due to how much I loved my first Durst novel, I am planning to read some more of her books soon, starting with The Bone Maker, which is coming out in a couple of months.

 

Max Brooks – Devolution

Devolution Cover

Another major author who I finally got around to checking out this year was Max Brooks, who produced the thrilling and exciting horror novel Devolution, which sees a small village attacked by sasquatches.  This was an excellent and amazing novel that was so much fun to read and I fully plan to check out Brooks’ other big book, World War Z soon.

 

Mike Shackle – We are the Dead

We are the Dead Cover

I heard some really good things about Mike Shackle’s 2019 debut, We are the Dead, when it first came out, and I really regretted not reading it then.  I decided to remedy this last year when I grabbed the audiobook version of this book, which turned out to be a captivating and fantastic read.  I had an amazing time reading We are the Dead and I cannot wait to check out the sequel, A Fool’s Hope, which just came out.

 

John Scalzi – Redshirts

Redshirts Cover

The final entry on this list was the clever and wildly entertaining Star Trek parody Redshirts by bestselling science fiction author John Scalzi.  Scalzi is an author whose books I have been thinking of checking out for a while, and when I had a long road trip earlier in the year I took the opportunity to listen to the audiobook version of this extremely funny novel which was narrated by Wil Wheaton.  I was not disappointed, as Redshirts ended up being an excellent novel that presents a hilarious parody of classic Star Trek tropes and was an insane amount of fun.

 

Well, that’s the end of this latest Top Ten list.  I think it turned out rather well and it encapsulates some of the best new authors I checked out in 2020.  I look forward to reading more books from these authors in the future and I have no doubt they will produce more epic and incredible reads.  Make sure to let me know which new authors you enjoyed in 2020 in the comments below and make sure to check back next week for another exciting list.

The Last War series by Mike Shackle Artwork

I received a rather interesting letter in the mail earlier this week all the way from Canada that was sent to me by author Mike Shackle.  Shackle has very generously sent me some cool pieces of artwork related to his The Last War series of books, including cover art for his debut novel, We are the Dead, and his upcoming second novel A Fool’s Hope.

Mike Shackle Photo

I loved these cool drawings, maps and cover art and thought I would share them with my followers.  This was a pretty awesome gift from Shackle and I am glad he sent them through.  Those readers interested in an excellent and dark fantasy debut should make sure to check out We are the Dead, while I am really looking forward to reading A Fool’s Hope in a few short months.

Top Ten Tuesday – Pre-2020 Novels

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme that currently resides at The Artsy Reader Girl and features bloggers sharing lists on various book topics.  This week, in honour of Thanksgiving up in America, participants of Top Ten Tuesday get a freebie topic based around something they are thankful for.  While there are many book things I am thankful for this year, I thought I would take this opportunity to start my customary Top Ten List count-down towards the end of the year by listing some of my favourite pre-2020 novels that I read this year.

This year I have ended up reading quite a few books and comics that were published at some point prior to 2020.  I have checked these various books out for a number of reasons, such as the book had an awesome plot synopsis, it was part of a series or an expanded universe that I had been exploring, or because I wanted to see an author’s earlier works.  Most of these older releases are really good, and in some cases they are amongst my favourite books I read all year.  I have also featured quite a few of these books as part of my Throwback Thursday series, and pretty much all of them receive an extremely high rating from me.  As a result, I wanted to highlight which books amongst these series are my absolute favourites and decided to feature them in their own Top Ten list.  This is a bit of a continuation of a list I did last year, and I will probably list some of my favourite pre-2021 books next year as I quite enjoy going back and checking out older novels I haven’t had the chance to read yet.

This version of the list came together quite well as I read quite a number of awesome novels released before 2020 this year.  While there is a bit of a focus on Star Wars tie-in novels and entries in Jonathan Maberry’s exceptional Joe Ledger series (which I finally finished of this year), there are a range of other cool books and comics which made the list.  While a few of these are books I missed in 2019, there are a couple of other interesting entries in there.  I had a fun time coming up with this list and all 10 books on the list, plus the books I included in my Honourable Mentions, are excellent pre-2020 reads that are really worth checking out.

Honourable Mentions:

Batman: Detective Comics – 2016

Rise of the Batmen

In 2020 I had a bit of a hankering to finally check out some of the recent comics that DC has been producing.  To that end, I went out and grabbed out several great series that were relaunched in 2016 as part of the DC Rebirth range.  While I had an amazing time reading some of the impressive comic book series in this range (such as the new Suicide Squad and Batgirl series), one of my favourite pre-2020 comics has to be the new take on the classic Batman series, Detective Comics.  This new Detective Comics series had a bit more of an ensemble focus, following a new team of Batman family members, including Batwoman, Red Robin, Spoiler, Orphan, Clayface and more.  Not only did these comics feature some amazing storylines but the authors really dive into the past of each member of the team, providing intriguing new backgrounds which form the basis for some excellent character arcs.  Highlights of this series include a detailed arc around Red Robin that goes deep into the publishing history of the character, a surprisingly heart-warming attempt to turn long-time villain Clayface into a hero, and a major focus on Batwoman, who in some volumes gets more attention than Batman.  A truly amazing series that I deeply enjoyed.

Deathwatch: Shadowbreaker by Steve Parker – 2019

Deathwatch Shadowbreaker Cover


Star Wars
: Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott – 2019

Dooku - Jedi Lost Cover


The Russian
by Ben Coes – 2019

The Russian Cover

Top Ten Tuesday (By Publication Year):


Redshirts
by John Scalzi – 2012

Redshirts Cover


Predator One
by Jonathan Maberry – 2015

Predator One Cover


Star Wars
: Dark Disciple by Christie Golden – 2015

Star Wars Dark Disciple Cover


Star Wars
: Lords of the Sith by Paul S. Kemp – 2015

Lords of the Sith Cover


Kill Switch
by Jonathan Maberry – 2016

Kill Switch Cover


Batman
(vol. 3) – 2016

Batman I am Gotham Cover

While I had a lot of love for the new series of Detective Comics, the pre-2020 comic book line I enjoyed the most this year was easily the series of Batman comics that started in 2016 as part of the DC Rebirth.  This series of Batman comics, written by Tom King, is truly impressive and contains, in my opinion, some of the best Batman storylines in recent years.  These stories dive deep into the psyches of Batman and his insane villains, showing just how complicated and layered comic book characters can be.  King comes up with some amazing arcs during his run, and I personally loved how he revolutionised the compelling romance between Batman and Catwoman, with their wedding arc being one of the most distinctive parts of this entire series.  King also revitalises Bane as one of Batman’s most significant villains, really diving into the heart of their rivalry, and showing Bane at his most dangerous.  This series are easily some of the best comics I have read in recent years, and I am extremely glad I decided to check them out in 2020.

Dogs of War by Jonathan Maberry – 2017

Dogs of War Cover


The Bear Pit
by S. G. MacLean – 2019

The Bear Pit Cover


The Black Hawks
by David Wragg – 2019

The Black Hawks Cover


We are the Dead
by Mike Shackle – 2019

We are the Dead Cover

Well, that is the end of this latest list.  I had an incredible time reading or listening to all of the above books/comics, and each of them comes highly recommended by me.  As I mentioned above, I am planning to read a lot of older books next year, so I should hopefully have a Top pre-2021 list in about a year.  At this point in time I am hoping to check out some more Harry Dresden novels (after loving Battle Ground a few weeks ago), and I am also thinking about reading some more books in The Powder Mage trilogy by Brian McClellan (the first book, Promise of Blood, was pretty awesome) and Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive (if I can find the time to read these epic books).  In the meantime, let me know what you think of my list and if you have any suggestions for older novels to check out next year, I would be interested to hear them.

Waiting on Wednesday – A Fool’s Hope by Mike Shackle

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 my latest Waiting on Wednesday article I take a look at A Fool’s Hope by Mike Shackle, an intriguing upcoming fantasy novel that serves as a sequel to one of 2019’s best debuts.

A Fool's Hope Cover

Last year Mike Shackle burst onto the scene with the dark and exciting first entry in his The Last War fantasy series, We are the Dead, an outstanding read which followed a group of resistance fighters in a feudal Japan inspired fantasy nation that had been brutally conquered by its neighbours.  I did not get a chance to read We are the Dead when it came out, but I finally managed to listen to an audiobook version of the book a couple of months ago.  I absolutely loved its compelling story, damaged characters and intense action sequences, which resulted in an amazing and dark read.  As a result, I am now really looking forward to seeing how the series continues, and I’ll soon get my chance as the sequel, A Fool’s Hope, is coming out later this year.  A Fool’s Hope, which currently has a planned release in December 2020, looks set to continue the epic story started in We are the Dead, as the battle to free Jia from the Egril.

Goodreads Synopsis:

War takes everything.

From Tinnstra, it took her family and thrust her into a conflict she wanted only to avoid. Now her queen’s sole protector, she must give everything she has left to keep Zorique safe.

It has taken just as much from Jia’s revolutionaries. Dren and Jax – battered, tortured, once enemies themselves – now must hold strong against their bruised invaders, the Egril.

For the enemy intends to wipe Jia from the map. They may have lost a battle, but they are coming back. And if Tinnstra and her allies hope to survive, Jia’s heroes will need to be ready when they do.

The sequel to the darkly fantastic WE ARE THE DEAD: with more unflinching action, A FOOL’S HOPE sees Jia’s revolutionaries dig in their heels as they learn that wars aren’t won in a day.

I like the sound of this plot synopsis as it looks like A Fool’s Hope will continue to follow the main characters from the first novel, including the coward Tinnstra, the rebellious Dren and the damaged veteran Jax, as they play their part in the war against the Egril.  Based on the synopsis and where the story concluded in We are the Dead, I imagine that the book will have some split storylines, particularly with Tinnstra and her charge, the princess Zorique, seeking refuge in a neighbouring country, while Dren and Jax will continue their guerrilla war back in Jia.  No doubt this story will go in some new and dark directions as the inevitable Egril counterattack occurs and there will probably be some plots to take or corrupt Zorique which Tinnstra will have to deal with.  It also seems likely that this second book will explore the origins and potential of this world’s magical system, particularly as Zorique has the potential to be a powerful magic user and I look forward to seeing how this plays into the story.

One of the best things about We are the Dead was the diverse collection of compelling point-of-view characters who the story was focused upon.  Each of these characters was extremely damaged or broken due to the events of the war and all of them went through a lot of stuff in the first book, including torture, near-death experiences and immense growth as people.  I am therefore excited to see more of these characters in A Fool’s Hope and it will be extremely interesting to see where each of their individual storylines ends up.  You have to imagine that each of them will have to work through a lot of issues and trauma after the events of the first book and I look forward to seeing how they all develop.  I will be intrigued to see how much the other two point-of-view characters from We are the Dead will feature in this novel considering that neither were mentioned in the plot synopsis.  I will be particularly interested in seeing if the sadistic antagonist of the first book, the Egril Darus, returns for this second novel after he had his head chopped off (he has some fairly substantial regenerative powers, so I think he has a real possibility of coming back).  However, if he does not, I am sure that Shackle will introduce another compelling and sinister antagonist for the story, perhaps the mysterious leader of the Egril himself.  I cannot emphasise enough how much I am looking forward to diving back into the great storylines of this series’ fantastic characters, although I am a tad wary as We are the Dead had a rather high casualty rate and Shackle did sadistically hint when I reviewed his first book that some of the main characters may die in A Fool’s Hope.  Still, I think I will have to risk getting my heart broken as I really want to see how the sequel ends up.

A Fool’s Hope looks set to be a strong fantasy release for the end of the year and I am really looking forward to seeing how this book unfolds.  Based on how much fun I had reading the first novel in The Last War series, I know that I am going to have an incredible time reading A Fool’s Hope, and I cannot wait to see where Mike Shackle takes his fascinating story and captivating characters next.  This upcoming book has an amazing amount of potential and I am really excited it read it in a few short months.

We are the Dead by Mike Shackle

We are the Dead Cover

Publisher: Orion (Audiobook – 8 August 2019)

Series: The Last War – Book One

Length: 18 hours and 6 minutes

My Rating: 4.75 out of 5 stars

Honour, loyalty, service and death! I finally get around to checking out one of last year’s hottest fantasy debuts with this review of We Are the Dead by Mike Shackle.

Generations ago, the nation of Jia was protected by powerful mages who wielded amazing magic that could shape the world around it. But when the magic faded, the people turned to the Shulka, their revered warrior caste, who held back the barbaric northern Egril tribes with their tactics, superior weapons and skills in combat. For hundreds of years the Shulka have successfully defeated the Egril raids, but their many victories have led to complacency.

During the latest raiding season, the Shulka are surprised when an organised and well-armed force marches upon them. Supported by demons and magic, the like of which has not been seen in an age, the Egril swiftly defeat the Shulka armies and conquer all of Jia in days. Their conquest is quick and brutal, and few are spared the bloody wrath of the Egril and their monsters. Those who do survive are forced in servitude and must worship the Egril’s terrible god or else suffer the consequences.

Now, six months after the invasion began, the country appears beaten, but there are always some heroes who are ready to fight back. In the capital city, Tinnstra, the disgraced, cowardly daughter of Jia’s greatest Shulka general finds herself drawn into a plot to save the royal family and soon finds the fate of the entire Kingdom resting in her hands. Elsewhere, a crippled Shulka warrior and his wheelchair-bound son attempts to lead an organised rebellion, but he soon finds that his greatest assets may be a young terrorist and a widowed mother who is trying to provide for her son. Can this unusual group of damaged heroes turn the tide against an all-powerful army or is it already too late to save their country from the control of a dark death god?

We Are the Dead is an intricate and impressive dark fantasy debut from talented new author Mike Shackle, which forms the first book in his The Last War series. This fantastic book came out last year, and it was one of the books I most regret not getting a chance to read in 2019, especially after I saw some of the very positive reviews being written about it. I really have been meaning to check this novel out for a while now, so I went out and grabbed the audiobook format of We Are the Dead a few weeks ago and started listening to it. I am extremely glad that I ended up reading this book, as I fell in love with this novel and its compelling character-driven story.

This novel contains an outstanding and exciting narrative that follows five unique and intriguing characters across eight days of rebellion and bloodshed in a conquered nation. We Are the Dead’s story starts off big; after a quick introduction to the world and a couple of the characters, everything soon blows apart as a destructive full-scale invasion occurs. The story than jumps forward six months and explores how the world has changed, and what has happened to the central group of characters. What follows is five intriguing and exciting separate storylines, each told from the perspective of a different character involved in various parts of the first major attempt from the Shulka resistance movement to strike back and restore their country. Each of these five storylines starts off by examining the unique adventures and experiences of that character and showing how they are brought into the latest round of fight. Each of the storylines starts off exclusively focusing on one point-of-view character, but they quickly start to connect as the plot of the book unfolds. All five separate storylines eventually come together exceedingly well into one extremely enjoyable and action-packed narrative that proves hard to put down. I really liked the way that all storylines all joined together, and it was fantastic to see the quicker narrative jumps between the various characters at the end of the book. I also enjoyed how the main story focused on eight days of conflict and adventure, with the various character arcs running concurrently with each other, as this allowed for a tight, powerful narrative. The various characters go through a lot of big and life-changing moments in the span of these eight days and there are some major cliff-hangers and surprising deaths that leave the reader in wild suspense. All of this makes for some great reading, and you will be on the edge of your seat for the entirety of this book.

Shackle chooses to tell his exciting story through the eyes of five separate point-of-view characters, all of whom have their own viewpoint and adventures within We are the Dead. Each of these characters have a fascinating character arcs, especially as most of the characters grow through adversity as they experience the horrors of war and learn the necessities of sacrifice, duty and loyalty.

The character who got the most focus within this novel was Tinnstra, the daughter of a legendary Shulka warrior who has a lot of high expectations weighing on her shoulders. Despite her heritage and her skill with a blade, Tinnstra starts the book dropping out of the Shulka academy, because she is a blatant and obvious coward. Managing to flee from the invasion, Tinnstra attempts to forge a new life for herself in the conquered capital, but eventually finds herself in the midst of the Shulka rebellion, with a particularly important package that could change the course of the war. At the start of this book, I really did not like Tinnstra, mainly because every second sentence in her chapters involved her pathetically doubting herself or calling herself a coward. Thankfully, this led to a rather good storyline about finding one’s courage and stepping up in a big way, and she eventually came across as a real badass with some fantastic and enjoyable chapters towards the end of the book.

Another great character is Jax, a former Shulka general who, after losing his arm during the initial invasion, becomes a determined resistance leader with his wheelchair-bound son. Jax is probably the most consistent protagonist throughout most of the book, serving as a steady and wise figure who is forced to face the reality of failing his country. Jax is an extremely likeable character, which makes it really hard for the reader when he goes through some incredibly dark moments that have the potential to break him.

Next up we have Dren, a teen terrorist who, after witnessing his family dying during the invasion, becomes a rabid killer, brutally attempting to take out any Egrils (or Skulls, as they are known, due to their distinctive helmets), not matter the collateral damage. Dren is a pretty unlikeable kid at the start of the book due to his overwhelming anger towards the Egrils, any Jian who associates with them and the Shulka resistance, who he hates just as much as the Egrils due to the way that they treated the peasants before the invasion and because of their failure in stopping the slaughter. However, as the book progresses, the reader gets more and more invested in Dren’s compelling story, especially when he starts spending time with Jax. Jax is a terrific mentor figure for Dren, who eventually learns the error of his ways and starts to take more responsibility for himself and the band of child terrorists he has recruited.

The final Jian character who the book focuses on is Yas, a single mother who attempts to earn a living working as a maid for the invaders. Yas is recruited as a spy by the Skulka resistance and ends up becoming more and more involved in their plots and schemes. Yas’s storyline is another fantastic arc, and there are some interesting similarities to Tinnstra’s arc, in that she finds her courage to fight back and do what is right. However, Yas’s story is more tied into the love of her family and her son, and how she wants a better world for her child to grow up in.

In addition to Jian characters, Shackle also tells a portion of the book from the perspective of Darus, an Egril Chosen, an officer who has been granted a magical ability by their powerful leader. Darus is a psychotic torturer with severe sister issues, who delights in causing pain and torment and who is determined to win glory and power. Darus’s powers are ironically that of healing, meaning that he is essentially an immortal antagonist who can also heal people that he comes into contact with. He uses this power throughout the book to heal his victims, bringing them back from the brink of death, so that he can torture them again and again in order to break their spirits. As you can probably guess, Darus is a rather reprehensible and unredeemable character, but one who offers an intriguing counterpoint to the protagonists. It is always cool to see something from the villain’s point of view, and I felt that Darus was a perfect antagonist for this dark and twisted novel.

All five of these characters proved to be extremely interesting to follow, and I really liked where all of their arcs went. Shackle does an impressive job making their portrayals and emotions seem realistic, and you can almost feel the fear, anger and hatred that several of the characters exude. I appreciated how none of the protagonists were perfect heroes, and most of them are victims or products of the war and the circumstances they find themselves in. I found it rather interesting to see how the various characters saw each other throughout the course of the story, such as when some of the characters viewed Tinnstra for the first time and mistake her expressions of terror and apprehension for looks of determination and impatience to get towards the enemy. I also have to highlight the raft of cool and likeable side characters featured throughout the course of the story, many of whom steal several scenes from the point-of-view characters. These are a fun collection of side characters, although readers really should not get too attached to them, as they tend to have a rather short lifespan within the course of the book. Overall, We are the Dead contains some excellent and enjoyable characters, and I really appreciated the complicated and captivating storylines that Shackle wove around them.

In addition to the impressive story and excellent characters, Shackle has come up with an awesome new fantasy world for We are the Dead. The entirety of the story is set within the nation of Jia, a cultured land with a proud warrior tradition, which is somewhat reminiscent of feudal Japan. Shackle does a fantastic job of setting up this landscape in the initial couple of chapters, before everything changes thanks to the invasion. The new Jia, six months after the brutal conquest, is a vastly different place, filled with hunger, fear and desperation as the survivors are forced to adapt to their new way of life. Shackle did an amazing job portraying a nation completely under enemy occupation, and I was put in mind of Nazi-occupied France, due to the round up of civilians, the inclusion of collaborators and snitches, retaliations against the populace and the careful resistance movements relying on help from a nation across the sea to survive. The Egrils also proved to be a great antagonistic nation for the plot of this book, and I loved how they were able to fool the conceited Shulka warriors by pretending to be tribal savages for years, before invading with an organised and advanced army, utilising magical and demonic assets to perfection. There were some distinctive Nazi elements to the Egrils, such as the way that they swiftly conquered all of Jia in a few days with Blitzkrieg-like tactics, their absolute devotion to their anointed leader (who is totally going to turn out to be the lost brother of the mage Aasgod, right?), their stormtrooper-like appearance and tactics, as well as the fact that the narrator of the audiobook format gave all the Egril characters a distinctive Germanic accent. All of this proved to be an excellent background for We are the Dead and I loved seeing the story unfold in this recently conquered fantasy nation.

Those readers who like some action in their stories will be extremely satisfied with We are the Dead, as Shackle has loaded his book with all manner of fights, battles and gratuitous violence (the best type of violence). This is an extremely action-packed novel, and I personally enjoyed all the cool fight sequences, from the small-scale battles between trained warriors, the brutal hit-and-run tactics of Dren’s fighters, and several larger fight sequences between opposing forces. Shackle proved to be very adapt at bringing these action sequences to life, and I found myself quite pumped up as a result of reading this book. Readers should be warned however that We are the Dead does feature a number of vivid and disturbing torture sequences, which are made even worse by the fact that the torturer, Darus, can heal his victim and keep inflicting pain, over and over again. As a result, if intense torture scenes make you uncomfortable, then you are probably better off avoiding this book.

As I mentioned above, I chose to listen to an audiobook version of We are the Dead, rather than grabbing a physical copy. The audiobook format has a run time of just over 18 hours, and it is narrated by Nicola Bryant. This is a lengthy audiobook and it took me a little while to get through it. Part of this is because the story is a tad slow at the start of the book, although I did end up absolutely powering through the last six hours extremely quickly in comparison to the first two thirds of the novel. I really enjoyed the audiobook version, and I found it to be an incredible way to absorb We are the Dead’s clever and detailed narrative. I was also impressed with Bryant’s narration, as she brought some real passion to the audiobook. You could hear the intense emotions in Bryant’s voice as she narrated the story, and you can tell that she was trying to emulate what the characters were feeling with her narration. Bryant also utilised a fantastic and distinctive set of voices for the various characters featured within the novel, and I think that she had an excellent grasp of their personalities and emotions. This proved to be an exception audiobook, and I would definitely suggest checking out this format of We are the Dead.

We are the Dead is an outstanding and deeply enjoyable fantasy novel from Mike Shackle, who really hit it out of the park with his debut novel. I had an amazing time listening to this book, and I loved the blend of compelling story, fantastic setting, complex characters and intense action sequences. This book comes very highly recommended, and I am regretting not picking up a copy of this book last year. I will not be making the same mistake later this year when Shackle’s sequel book, A Fool’s Hope, comes out in December, and I am looking forward to seeing where the story goes next.

WWW Wednesday – 24 June 2020

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?


Last Survivor
by Tony Park (Trade Paperback)

Last Survivor Cover

Tony Park is a talented Australian thriller author whose books I have been getting into the last couple of years.  I enjoyed his previous two releases, Scent of Fear and Ghosts of the Past, and Last Survivor is already proving to be a fun read.  I haven’t made too much progress with Last Survivor yet, but I am planning to power through it this weekend.

 

What did you recently finish reading?

Devolution by Max Brooks (Trade Paperback)

Devolution Cover

Wow, now this turned out to be quite an exciting and clever book and I had an outstanding time reading it.  I’m hoping to get a review for this one up soon as it was a really interesting and compelling novel.

We are the Dead by Mike Shackle (Audiobook)

We are the Dead Cover

I just finished this audiobook off today and it was an amazing and impressive read that is really worth checking out.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Fair Warning by Michael Connelly (Trade Paperback)

Fair Warning Cover

I have been really getting into Michael Connelly’s novels lately (check out my reviews for Dark Sacred Night and The Night Fire) and I am looking forward to checking out his latest book next.

Star Wars: Queen’s Peril by E. K. Johnston (Audiobook)

Queen's Peril Cover

 

That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.

WWW Wednesday – 17 June 2020

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Devolution, We are the Dead Cover

Devolution by Max Brooks (Trade Paperback)

Devolution is the latest book from Max Brook, author of the acclaimed horror novel World War Z.  This book follows a small community that is attacked by sasquatches, which is such an amazing premise. I only just started this one last night, but so far I am loving it and I cannot wait to see how it turns out.

We are the Dead by Mike Shackle (Audiobook)

I am still going with the We are the Dead audiobook and I have not made as much progress as I would have liked.  Still, it is a really interesting book and I am enjoying the time I am spending on it.  I am hoping to get it finished off by next week (there are new Star Wars and Star Trek audiobooks out that I need to listen to), but we will see how I go.

What did you recently finish reading?

Stormblood
by Jeremy Szal (Trade Paperback)

Stormblood Cover

 

What do you think you’ll read next?

Last Survivor
by Tony Park (Trade Paperback)

Last Survivor Cover

 

That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.

WWW Wednesday – 10 June 2020

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Stormblood, We are the Dead Cover

Stormblood by Jeremy Szal (Trade Paperback)

Stormblood is an intriguing science fiction debut that I have had my eye on for a while now.  I only just started it yesterday, but I am already enjoying its fun story and excellent science fiction elements.

We are the Dead by Mike Shackle (Audiobook)

I was in the mood for a dark fantasy novel, so I thought I would check out We are the Dead by Mike Shackle.  We are the Dead is Shackle’s highly regarded debut, which came out last year.  I heard a lot of good things about this book when it was released, and I have been meaning to check it out for a while now.  So far I have not made as much progress as I would have liked with this novel, but I am really enjoying its compelling story.

What did you recently finish reading?

Lionheart, Aurora Burning Covers

Lionheart by Ben Kane (Trade Paperback)

This was a fantastic historical fiction novel and I am planning to put a review up for it tonight.

Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Trade Paperback)

Aurora Burning is a fun and action packed young adult science fiction novel that I finished off earlier in the week.  The epic sequel to last years Aurora Rising, this is a book that I have been looking forward to for a while, and it did not disappoint.  Hoping to get a review together for this one soon, and it is definitely worth checking out.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Monstrous Heart by Claire McKenna (Trade Paperback)

Monstrous Heart Cover

This is an interesting sounding fantasy novel from debuting author Claire McKenna.  I am hoping to get to this one in the next few days, although I have some other cool books on the way that I might have prioritise ahead of this one.

 

That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.

WWW Wednesday – 3 June 2020

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Lionheart by Ben Kane (Trade Paperback)

Lionheart Cover

Over the last week or so I have been on a roll when it comes to awesome historical fiction novels, so I thought I would quickly check out the new book from Ben Kane which sounded really cool.  I am very glad that I decided to read Lionheart as it is an outstanding read, full of action and historical detail.  I have made a lot of progress with Lionheart over the last few days and I should finish it off soon.

What did you recently finish reading?

Viennese Girl, Songbirds and Snakes Covers

The Viennese Girl by Jenny Lecoat (Trade Paperback)

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins (Audiobook)

I ended up really enjoying this Hunger Games prequel and I will try to get a review for it up as soon as I can.

What do you think you’ll read next?

Aurora Burning, We are the Dead Covers

Aurora Burning by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff (Trade Paperback)


We Are The Dead
by Mike Shackle (Audiobook)

 

That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.