Review of Nothing Else Remains by Robert Scragg Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

When Max Brennan’s estranged father and then his own girlfriend go missing in quick succession, he turns to his old friend Detective Jake Porter for help. As Max is then attacked in his own home, Porter and his partner Nick Styles waste no time in investigating. But when their main suspect turns up dead, alongside a list of other targets, it seems the case is much bigger than it first appeared. With events spiraling, can Porter and Styles catch the killer before another victim is claimed?

My Review

Robert’s debut What Falls Between the Cracks was number five on my list of great reads in 2018. So, when I got an early copy of his new book from his publishers to review. Suffice to say my TBR pile went out the window, and Nothing Else Remains went straight to number one. Two sittings later after only putting the book down because I had to eat, sleep, and work I was breathless. This next chapter in the legacy of Porter and Styles is charming, stylish, and quite frankly a feast of crime writing goodness that you simply can’t resist sinking your teeth into. I know writers worry about second book syndrome, but Robert has nothing to worry about he has written a blinder. Nothing Else Remains is the type of book that got me into crime writing in the first place.

The reason I say this is because the writing is effortless. Every word of dialogue is hard-hitting driving the plot forward like a formula one driver navigating corners at speeds that make your teeth grit. As Robert presents us with a variety of plot twists, and character developments that make you become deeper involved with this lovable duo than you ever thought possible. However, what truly makes it reach new heights in my opinion compared to his debut What Falls Between the Cracks, a book that I absolutely adore is the progression of his writing style and what he chooses to focus on as a writer. Robert draws us in with not only murders, but a sinister abduction of his close friends’ wife that as the plot develops, we discover has more lays than meets the eye.

What I enjoyed most that was different from his debut was that Robert gave us multiple viewpoints on every crime that is committed. From Porter and Styles, the suspect, and the victim. This dynamic allows us as readers to better understand everybody’s motives for wanting to bring these crimes into focus, as well as holding an uncomfortable discovery for one of the characters that could change the whole complexion on what is to come. Yet even though these scenes are well written and keep you on the edge of your seat.

This wasn’t the main reason why I couldn’t put this book down or at times made me throw it against the wall. As I dived deeper into this book Robert began to expose aspects of Porter and Styles relationship, and personalities that we hadn’t encountered till now. From how Porter is dealing with his wife death, to how Styles is juggling his wife’s pregnancy and the pressures of work. Robert tears open wounds that make us begin to question can our duo stick together through their toughest case yet or will the strain of untold secrets take them to breaking point.

I adored how Robert drew out the secret between them right until the end, keeping you guessing as to where he was taking their relationship, and whether it was going to change for the better or worse. For me this story arc truly showed Robert’s skills as a writer. Creating an environment so that Porter and Styles made you feel every emotion possible. These scenes did exactly that. I laughed, I cried, I shouted, I thumped the air with joy. This duo has all the feels. I love them like brothers.

On another note I must mention his development of Evie Simmons. After she returns to the force a changed woman following her tragic incident. Robert descriptions of her internal demons as she struggles to come to terms with whether she is still up to the job, and not appearing weak in front of her colleagues, or her overbearing father who never approved of her joining the police makes for interesting reading, and gives a unique character perspective showing that even strong individuals have their vulnerabilities, making you wonder what could happen to Evie in the long term.

Robert has produced a crime novel that has absolutely everything strong character back stories, unique crimes, suspects, flashbacks to earlier time periods for all major characters, that help create a detailed insight into their struggles, and triumphs that flow seamlessly into the plot. I simply can’t speak highly enough of this book. I will say this however if it doesn’t win at least one award this year crime writing isn’t worth its salt. Its that good. Robert Scragg is a master storyteller and, in my opinion, will be one of the most talked about names in crime writing for years to come. I can’t wait for book three well done Robert another cracking read. Go out and buy it now you won’t regret it trust me. Five stars simply isn’t enough.

I receive a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

 

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Interview With Fantasy Author Shona Kinsella – A new female fantasy voice you should be reading. Interview carried by Dan Stubbings

Shona Kinsella is the author of Ashael Rising, Petra Macdonald and the Queen of the Fae. As well as monthly fantasy serial illustrated Joe Slucher. This interview was done over email. She is the first author I had the privilege of interviewing. I am honoured to have her on my blog introducing you all to her work. 

Ashael Rising Cover

DS: For readers who aren’t familiar with you as a writer or your works would you mind telling us a little about both please? As well as how we support your work?

SK: Hi, I’m Shona Kinsella and I’m a fantasy author. I have a few very different projects that you can read and support. I have a dark, Scottish fantasy novella out with Fox Spirit Books called Petra MacDonald and the Queen of the Fae. It doesn’t easily fit into a category of fantasy. It’s set on a small Scottish island in the modern day, but it involves travel to the realm of the Fae and uses a lot of Scottish folklore.

I also write an epic fantasy serial which is illustrated by the very talented artist Joe Slucher. Each month we release a chapter and an accompanying illustration. It tells the story of a young woman who sells her soul to a god in exchange for him saving her people but there’s a lot more to the bargain than she expected and the people around her are less than grateful for her help. You can check that out and support it at www.patreon.com/Miranyasoath

And finally (for the moment) my main work is an epic fantasy trilogy called The Vessel of KalaDene. The first novel, Ashael Rising, was published by Unbound in 2017. It’s about a stone age medicine woman who has to protect her people from soul-sucking invaders from another world. It’s about hope, and our relationships with each other and with the land we live in. It’s about doing the right thing, whatever the cost. You can buy that from Unbound or from most bookshops. The second in the series, Ashael Falling, is crowdfunding now and you can read an excerpt and pledge your support at http://www.unbound.com/books/ashael-falling

DS: Tell us about your writing process? Are you a plotter or are you a discovery writer?

SK: I am a discovery writer all the way. When I sat down to write Ashael Rising, I had one character and an image in my head and the entire trilogy rolled out from that. That’s often how it works for me, I start with a character and then I figure out what sort of world made that person and what sort of story fits them. The closest I’ve ever come to an outline is a page of bullet-points covering the main beats I want to hit with the story.

 

Petra e-cover

DS: What made you decide to go with Unbound? What freedoms has this allowed and what are some of the drawbacks?

SK: Unbound was set up by three guys who had worked in various aspects of publishing, and who felt that the industry was becoming more closed, harder for new voices to break into, harder to get published if you were trying to write something outside of the norm. They’re a publishing company and of course they want to make money, but first and foremost they want to publish books that they love. And they believe that readers should get a say in what books are made available.

I went to Unbound because I really respected their ethos. Crowdfunding with them serves two purposes – it removes a lot of the financial risk from them, allowing them to publish things which they believe are important, but which might not be a commercial success and it lets the author find their audience before the book is published. It lets reader and author connect in a way that’s really unusual and in some cases, it lets the reader play a part in the actual shaping of the book. I love that connection and think it’s really valuable to have.

Being published by Unbound let me keep a lot of creative freedom that I may not have had with a bigger publisher.

There aren’t many drawbacks, in my experience. Crowdfunding is hard but is very rewarding. I think for me the main drawback is that, as a smaller press, there’s really not much of a marketing budget, meaning that I have to do all of that myself and it’s not something I’m very good at. I do think it’s a valuable skill for me to learn though and I believe it will serve me well in the long run.

DS: What do you think makes a perfect fantasy novel and why?

SK: Characters. They don’t have to be perfect or even likeable, necessarily, but they do have to be engaging and well-rounded. I think that sometimes fantasy authors get so caught up in building a world that they forget what readers really care about is people. I want to read about interesting characters doing interesting things and no matter how brilliant the world building is, if I can’t connect with the characters, I’m not likely to enjoy the book.

DS: The world in which Ashael Rising happens is extremely vivid. Where did the idea for the world come from and can we except to see more in later novels?

SK: About eleven years ago, I had a dream in which I was a warrior fairy, warring against evil magicians and all these years later, I can still remember the final image from the dream. That image was the seed of Ashael Rising. Now, there are no warrior fairies in the book and almost nothing actually bears any resemblance to the dream but that was the start. So, I had that image and Ashael when I started writing the book. I have an interest in Palaeolithic human life and I’ve read a fair amount about that time period so that’s why Ashael’s people are stone age hunter gatherers.

You can definitely expect to see more of the world – and its peoples – throughout the second and third books as Ashael’s story expands to include the rest of KalaDene. I also have some vague ideas of maybe a later stand-alone book set on KalaDene many generations later.

DS: Your book moves away from the traditional fantasy hooks of parents and loved ones dying which is something I adored about this world. What made you decide that you wanted strong and caring guardian characters for Ashael?

SK: Technically, Ashael is an orphan so I guess it kind of falls into that trope, but she does have a mother-figure in Bhearra, and she has close ties to her friends and community. I wanted to tell a story about our connections to people and places and how those connections shape us. I think that in modern life, many people feel disconnected, unrooted, and I wanted to look at a life that offered something different from that narrative. Ashael may be the chosen one, but she can’t do anything to save her people alone. All of her strength comes from knowing who she is, understanding her place in the world and being lifted up by her relationships.

DS: Mythology and religion are deeply rooted within the world. The winged ones being a favourite of mine. How much of your mythology was influenced by world mythology, and how much research did you carry out?

SK: I have always had an interest in myth and folklore and I’ve been reading versions of it for as long as I can remember so I didn’t have to carry out a great deal of research since it’s all kind of seeped into my brain over the years. So, I would say that most of KalaDene’s mythology and religion is influenced by our world but in a more subconscious way.

It was important to me that the religion be deeply rooted. I think in many fantasy books the religion that’s worked out as part of the world building is what I think of as the orthodoxy – what the church or temple, or authorities of the world have ordained. I wanted to write about the orthopraxy – the religion that people live with, the daily rituals and mutterings to the gods and the way it actually touches their lives.

DS: Ashael Rising is book one of a planned trilogy, is that correct? Without giving to much away book one ended on abit of a cliff hanger. So, what can we except in book two? No spoilers please?

SK: Yes, Ashael Rising is book one of a planned trilogy. I plan to start writing book three in April and will hopefully have it finished by the end of the year. Ashael Falling, which is book two, sees Ashael settle into her new role and begin to come up with a plan to end the threat of the Zanthar on a more permanent basis. There’s a lot of travel in book two, opening up some more of KalaDene and getting to know some of the non-human peoples a bit more. Ashael faces a lot of hard times and book two is a bit darker than the first book. We also see a bit more of Zan and learn more about the culture of the Zanthar and the stakes for them.

DS: Which authors would you compare your writing style to? Which authors have influenced your writing career?

SK: Oh, that’s really tough to answer. It always feels arrogant for me to ever compare myself to other authors. My editor compared me to Raymond E Feist and Trudy Canavan in my editorial report for book one and that was a huge compliment. I feel that I’ve been influenced by Raymond E Feist as one of the earliest adult fantasy authors I read and one of my favourites over the years. Janny Wurts and LE Modesitt Jr have also influenced me. Probably many others in a less conscious way. I always look to Stephen King for how to write brilliant characters and Terry Pratchett for writing with multiple layers and George RR Martin for politics and political maneuvering.

DS: There has been an increase in female fantasy writers, and female protagonists’ novels produced in the last year. Some have been well received, and others have faced in my opinion unwarranted criticism. What do you feel has caused this increase and what more could be done to make women’s voices heard?

SK: I’m not sure if there’s been an increase in the novels published or if it’s been more of an increase in visibility. I think that there has been a huge amount of effort made by women in publishing to raise and support other female voices.

What more could be done? I don’t think that’s an easy question and I think it’s probably something that needs to be addressed at multiple levels. I think publishers need to look at their list and make sure that they’re including diverse voices – in every way, not just more female voices. We also need to hear more LGBTQ+ voices, more PoC voices, more non-western voices. But those books don’t just have to be published, they have to be marketed in such a way that the public will notice them.

I think booksellers have to look at where and how books are placed in the shops. I think readers need to push themselves to read outside their comfort zones (and I include myself as a reader in this). I think that men need to raise women’s voices and recommend books by diverse authors and about diverse protagonists. And I think we all need to be a bit less lazy when we make recommendations to others. I think we can generally assume that authors like Brandon Sanderson and George RR Martin have many ways of finding readers – we should be looking to recommend authors that get less press instead of falling back on the same five names over and over again.

DS: Inclusion and representation is a much-discussed topic at the moment in the arts. Do you as a writer feel pressurised to write diverse characters or do you see it as an opportunity to improve your understanding of a culture?

SK: I don’t feel pressurised at all to write diverse characters, but it is something I challenge myself to do. I believe that we, as a species, learn empathy by putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and I want to do that as much as possible in my writing. I believe that everyone should get an opportunity to see themselves in stories, and not just as a side character.

It’s not so much that I see it as an opportunity to better understand a culture since, so far, I haven’t written anything based on a real-world culture. It’s more that I see including a variety of diverse characters in my work as an opportunity to improve my writing. I don’t want to find myself telling the same stories over and over again, which is what would happen if I didn’t write about diverse characters.

Thanks to Shona for doing the interview. It was a pleasure to have you on my blog. Why not check her out on Twitter: https://twitter.com/shona_kinsella and buy her books they are awesome.

 

 

 

Review of A Wasteland of My God’s Own Making By Bradley P Beaulieu Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

Djaga Akoyo left the grasslands of her homeland long ago and rose to prominence in Sharakhai’s fighting pits as the famed Lion of Kundhun. What Djaga revealed to no one, however, is the terrible secret that drove her to leave Kundhun in the first place. That secret is brought back to the fore when her sister tribeswoman, Afua, comes to Sharakhai unannounced and threatens to reveal her shameful past, a thing that would upend the life Djaga has worked so hard to build for herself.

Djaga and Afua’s pasts are linked. Afua tells her that with one final bout in the killing pits, both their demons will be excised. But Djaga has more to worry about than Afua’s demons, or even her own. She has Nadín as well, a woman she hopes to share a life with once she’s left the pits for good. But how can she start a new life with Nadín when the terrible acts she committed in her homeland still haunt her?

Djaga must decide once and for all whether she’ll face them, but in doing so she may lose the one she loves.

My Review

After being engrossed by the imagery and vastness of the Song of Shattered Sands series. I couldn’t wait to digest the latest offering a novella focused entirely upon Ceda’s mysterious pit fighter trainer Djaga. A character I have been fascinated with since first reading Twelve Kings. The reason being is because Bradley only gives the reader limited information on who she is and why she is important to Ceda. Shrouding her in mystery and intrigue which you can’t help but want to explore. This novella helped answer some of my nagging questions about her background whilst at the same time create an interesting character development that I hope is explored in further stories.

What I enjoy most about this novella is that it plunges you straight into the action, opening up with Djaga seeing the love of her life Nadin seriously injured in a hospital bed that forces her to make a choice. This sets in motion a chain of events that spans decades. Exploring present day as well as flashbacks from her early childhood where we learn about her fractured relationship with her cousin Afua and discover that Djaga has her own dark secret.  We are given hints of this secret throughout that drives the story forward making you hungry to discover why she ended up never returning to the pits.

This novella has all the elements that make Bradley’s works a must read for any fantasy fan or aspiring fantasy writer. The action beats like a well- tuned guitar slick, clean, gut wrenching, and makes you feel as if you are the one fighting. Throwing every thrust, kick, and punch as you hope for survival.  I think one of the beauties of Bradley’s writing is that it makes you detach from your own world for a few hours. Taking  you into a sizzling sprawling desert that you can’t see an escape from but at the same time don’t want to leave.

This novella is an enthralling entry into the Song of Shattered Sands Universe. Giving us more information on the desert tribes and settlements away from Sharakhai. Which is a refreshing change from the City of Kings. I loved how we got to see a time before Ceda. Enabling me to explore characters that have helped shape Ceda but maintain a uniqueness that makes you as a reader get lost in their stories.  Bradley delivers a banquet of ideas in this glimpse of what I feel could be a much wider arc. Introducing new gods and mythology that I hope he will be able to drip feed into the six books. As I really enjoyed the cost associated with this secret, and what it could mean to Ceda in the long run. The threads in this universe are mind-blowing. If you haven’t read these books yet, please do. 5 out of 5 stars. Magnificent.

I received a copy of this novella from the author in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

 

 

 

 

Review of A Thousand Roads by John Robin Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

Azzadul, the god-king, the Lord of Light revered by many. When the darkness corrupted him, he became the Dark Lord, feared the world over. His magic, once a gateway to immortality for his people, delved instead into horrors as he sought ever deeper levels of mastery. Children were stolen from their beds, coveted for his blood-rites. When he vanished, it all ended, and the people of the world tried to forget, to move on…

Jak Fuller has always wanted a home. An orphan born ten years after Azzadul’s disappearance, he has wandered far and wide, trying to forget the memory of a burning woman. When he comes to Fort Lasthall, on the outskirts of the Dark Lord’s former kingdom, he hopes to finally settle into a peaceful life. Instead, he finds himself unnaturally compelled by a dark, terrible voice, a voice that knows him, calls to him. A sense of destiny that fills him with fear.

New powers are rising in the dark places of the world. A master of fire-rites called Talamus the Red, arch-foe of Azzadul, seeks to enslave the world with a magic he has been developing for the many centuries of his life. Ready at last, there is only one weakness in his plan, an obstacle he is determined to remove: a boy, bound to an old magic that just might resurrect the power of Azzadul.

The very power bound to Jak, before he was even born…

My Review

Lately I have been looking to widen my reading tastes and discover new stories that haven’t been given a chance.  This has led me to some excellent self-published books that I have been able to review and add to my ideas for my own work. Therefore, I was thrilled to be asked to review John Robin’s A Thousand Roads.

A dark fantasy that forces you to completely rethink how an epic fantasy can be written. Now when I first opened the file from John and saw that his novel was 700 plus pages, I thought to myself what on earth have I let myself in for. However my doubts were soon cast aside as John takes you on a journey that I have rarely encountered within fantasy.

I will be honest though when I first started this complex and epic tale, I thought here we go again an orphan boy, lost gods, and ancient magic. Just another diluted Princess Bride mixed with some Lord of the Rings.  However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. John has been able to create such imaginative world-building, and complex characters that I found myself fully submerged within the story of the main protagonist Jak Fuller.

I wanted to know all aspects of his life. John allows us as readers to do just that. Taking us through every aspect of Jak’s life, from his late childhood when we first meet him entering Fort Last Hall as he moves from place to place with nothing more than the clothes on his back, and a wagon full of disregarded books all the way through to his damaged and scarred adulthood. This is for me is what is so compelling about this book. It moves away from the traditional fantasy narrative of only giving glimpses of a character’s formative years, and instead decides to dive into what Jak has been subjected to throughout his mysterious life. Allowing readers to experience his entire journey and discover why he is the way he is.

John’s talent as a writer truly shines through in these moments. His writing is detailed enough that it doesn’t overwhelm you but gives you just enough to build up an image in your mind of who Jak is and why he is central to everything. John does a fabulous job of slowly constructing Jak’s backstory. As well as introducing characters which will have a large impact upon him gradually. Enabling you to get to know them at your own pace which helps stop you having to check back to remember who they are, and why they have been added. You will find yourself wanting to encourage Jak, scream at him, and at times kill him. As he faced with several painful and hollowing choices.

This is one of the main themes throughout the narrative putting Jak in a position where he is forced to decide and face the consequences of his decision. As he tries to save his world from one of two evils. A powerful deity by the name of Talamus who wishes to enslave the world. There is only one way to stop him and Jak holds the key. However, to save the world from one monster Jak must enlist the help of an even greater one.

By the name of Azzadul. Azzadul vanished ten years however an ancient magic has restored his powers. Once known as the Lord of light his lust for power and immortality caused him to become corrupt and vicious destroying more than he rescued.  This choice however for me is more aimed at the reader as it begs the question as a human how many roads have you stared down in your life wondering which one to take? Wondering whether it will enhance your life for the better or worst and you hesitated or went straight ahead without regret. John does this throughout and I love it.

The chemistry between the two deities Azzadul and Talamus is electric, as they go back and forth to discover who will win this epic battle of wits. Some of the language used is so creative that I felt as those I was watching a Hollywood movie play out in my head. The imagery was so strong. As Jak is thrown in the middle of this mayhem you can’t help but fell in love with him but you will just have to read the book to find out why. This book ventures into dark territories and areas of society that is rarely given the light of day. However, John does it with a tenderness that forces you as a reader to evaluate everything you read with the critical eye of an expert detective. As you continue reading you will soon discover that nobody and I mean nobody can be trusted within A Thousand Roads.

This imaginative and dark fantasy will hold the attention of readers with its complex characters and well-constructed world. My only criticism would be that at times certain scenes were to long causing some of the tension built from previous chapters to be decreased. However, this should not stop people from picking up a copy as it is a highly enjoyable read. It receives 4.5 stars.

Thank you to Alicia Smock of Roll Out Reviews for making me aware of John’s work. Thanks to John for allowing me to review it and sending me a copy. This doesn’t affect my views.

 

Review of Return of the Mantra by Susie Williamson Written by Dan Stubbings

My Review-

I had the pleasure of meeting Susie at Fantasy Con this year in Chester and after a lovely chat about her book. I asked if I could review it for her. Suffice to say it made my Top 20 reads of 2018 finishing in thirteenth place. I cannot wait for the sequel to be released.

Considering when I was putting together my Top 20 I had read 120 books. Return of the Mantra blew me away the moment I opened it. Everything about it was fresh and new but at the same time weirdly familiar as if I had read the story before. Why I kept reading however, and didn’t throw the book against the wall after five minutes is because I loved how Susie was able to flip these familiarities on their head, and give me a whole new level of enjoyment.

I adored the protagonist Suni a strong young girl who is forced to face the harshness of her world after the sudden death of her mother. I have to admit when I first read this I thought here we go a young girl loses her family and has to save the world.  However I was in for a pleasant surprise, as Susie doesn’t do this taking Suni’s story in a direction I completely wasn’t expecting. Suni’s character arc is one of the best I have read this year in any fantasy. Susie’s writing shows that she has given alot of thought to the direction she wants to take Suni’s character exposing a number of vulnerabilities to the reader along the way. These include her attitude towards sexuality, her struggles with abandonment, and the complex relationship she has with her absent father. As the plot develops we see these character traits become more and more dominate as Suni is tested to the extreme in a land ravaged by a brutal ruler who has enslaved his people, and in their warped minds become a god himself. This forces Suni to go in search of Mantra a forgotten god that in her mother’s eyes is the one true guardian of their world.

A character that allows us to see the abuse of innocence in this unforgiving place is Wanda an orphan boy with the power to understand animals. Suni becomes a big sister to him as they go in search of this fairy-tale. This relationship was the one that pulled on my heart strings the most. As Suni fights to protect Wanda’s innocence she is torn because at the same time she must make him understand the true nature of this world and its cruelties. This is every parents nightmare and is a clear theme throughout the book. With each parental figure making their own mistakes along the way some facing worst consequences than others.  It’s a relationship that I hope has more of a central role in the sequel as it has all the feels.

This book has everything I look for within fantasy. Strong protagonists and antagonists, an equal split of genders, diversity, and story-lines that at times reflected a modern day Africa. This is a highly satisfying read with a well developed world, and magic system I cannot wait to see how it continues. Well done Susie 5 Stars.

I received a copy from the author in exchange for an honest review this doesn’t effect my views.

 

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About the Author- Susie Williamson

Susie grew up in the village of Scholes, Holmfirth, in West Yorkshire. She studied at the University of Sheffield and graduated with a BSc Honours in Chemistry, and a PGCE in Secondary School Science. In 1999 she travelled to the city of Omdurman in the Sudan, where she taught English as a Foreign Language. From there she moved to South Africa, where she taught Adult Basic Education and Training, primarily in a township in Kwazulu Natal.

On her return to the UK, she moved to Exeter in Devon, where her childhood passion for creative writing was reignited. Among a collection of varied jobs, including support work at a women’s refuge, she increasingly prioritised her time to write. Inspired by the landscapes of Africa, her passion for women’s equality and representation of diversity, and her love of fantasy books, she began weaving the twists and turns of her first novel.

She lives with her partner, Kate, close to the river Exe and a bike ride away from the sea. She enjoys being involved in community projects, and painting canvases to steadily fill the white-washed walls of her house. Her writing partner is her cat, Mia, who is currently assisting with two fantasy novels, sequels to Return of the Mantra.

Review of In the Vanishers Palace by Aliette De Bodard Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Blurb:

In a ruined, devastated world, where the earth is poisoned and beings of nightmares roam the land… 

A woman, betrayed, terrified, sold into indenture to pay her village’s debts and struggling to survive in a spirit world.

A dragon, among the last of her kind, cold and aloof but desperately trying to make a difference.

When failed scholar Yên is sold to Vu Côn, one of the last dragons walking the earth, she expects to be tortured or killed for Vu Côn’s amusement.

But Vu Côn, it turns out, has a use for Yên: she needs a scholar to tutor her two unruly children. She takes Yên back to her home, a vast, vertiginous palace-prison where every door can lead to death. Vu Côn seems stern and unbending, but as the days pass Yên comes to see her kinder and caring side. She finds herself dangerously attracted to the dragon who is her master and jailer. In the end, Yên will have to decide where her own happiness lies—and whether it will survive the revelation of Vu Côn’s dark, unspeakable secrets…

Review

After discovering Aliette’s The Tea Master and the Detective this year I have been on a one man mission to read as much of her work as possible. So I was absolutely thrilled to receive a early review copy of her new novella In the Vanishers Palace. A dark retelling of Beauty and the Beast with an interesting twist the beast is a shape-shifting female dragon one of the last of its kind. I couldn’t wait to dive into this fast moving narrative.

When Yen is sold to one the last remaining dragons in her world Vu Con. She expects the worse, unexpectedly however she is tasked with tutoring Vu’s two unruly children, as time passes Yen finds herself developing feelings she never expected for Vu as more of Vu’s personality is revealed to her these feelings deepen. I adored how Aliette developed the relationship between Yen and Vu Con. Showing that even though Vu is a dragon she still struggles with secrets, and a longing to be accepted in her world. As the story unfolds Vu becomes almost human in our eyes making us wonder what truly is a monster? You cant help but begin to root for Yen’s and Vu’s relationship as you become engrossed in this charming tale these scenes come to life like a movie reel inside your head.  You can imagine every second of their interactions. My words simply cant do them justice. Please pick up the book, and appreciate them for yourself they are stunning bravo Aliette. 

The blending of Vietnamese myths within the narrative only further heightens the enjoyment as you read on with ravish. It may only be 145 pages in length but Aliette has been able to craft a wide spanning world that ensnares the senses, enabling her to expose both light and dark details of this dystopian world with a sensitivity that is quite simply astonishing. I loved the description of Vu Con’s lair as it grew within my mind every detail building on the last, becoming so vivid I felt as though I could almost reach out and touch it.  This book is a must read for writers wanting to learn how to write LGBT characters in a sensitive, and unpatronising way that gives real weight to the characters, and pushes the narrative forward. 

It receives 5 stars as Aliette’s writing continues to leave me wanting more. All I can say is buy it you won’t regret it.

I received a copy from the author for an honest review this doesn’t effect my views.

 

Review Of Guess Who by Chris McGeorge Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

ONE ROOM. FIVE SUSPECTS.
THREE HOURS TO FIND A KILLER.

GUESS WHO

A waitress. A cleaner. An actress. A lawyer. A student. Everyone is a suspect.

WHERE

In a locked room – with no escape, and no idea how they got there.

WHAT

In the bathtub, the body of a man they all knew. Someone murdered him. Someone in this room.

WHY

They have three hours to find out. Or they all die.

THE RULES ARE SIMPLE. THE GAME IS NOT

Review

Let me start this review off by saying this book took me by surprise from the moment I opened it to the final paragraph. The book opens with a young pupil finding his teacher hanging from the ceiling in his classroom. This begins a chain of events that will have you up until the early hours, as you race ahead to find out how a suicide of a teacher links into the main plot. It is one of the most intriguing subplots I had the pleasure of reading in recent crime fiction, and didn’t see the conclusion coming at all simply brilliant.

A large proportion of the book is spent in one room told through the eyes of Morgan Sheppard. A big time TV show host who is famous for solving crimes. However when he wakes up tied to a bed with five strangers staring at him and a dead body in the bathtub his detective skills are truly put to the test. Unfortunately for the others in the room, Morgan is suffering a deep trauma and isn’t dealing with it in the best way using drink and drugs to help him get by. As the plot develops this begins to have a greater impact upon him making you wonder will he solve it in time or will they all perish.

One of my main worries when reading the book was how will Chris be able to maintain the tension when such a massive amount of the action occurs in one room.  I should never of worried because at no point does Chris lose tension. In fact he was able to increase it to such a level that I felt I was in the room with them. Speaking the dialogue becoming the detective.

The main reason why I felt this was because of how every character is described to the reader. Making us either love them, hate them, or be not quite sure about them. I found that Chris’s way in presenting these details to us was unique, and allowed me to become more engaged with an assembled cast of characters then I have in a longtime within modern crime fiction. Chris has made sure all the characters have well developed backstories, which keeps you intrigued throughout taking you through multiple emotions from hate, anger, love, and sadness. A character which stuck with me to the end was Headphones. A shy claustrophobic girl who hardly speaks but when she does you listen because you find yourself yearning to discover what her role is within this complex plot. I fell in love with her. I am sure you will to.

Something I wasn’t expecting were the chapters told from the viewpoint of the antagonist. These chapters were some of my favourites as it allows the reader to tear back layers of their personality, and discover what has driven the antagonist to commit this crime.  I hope Chris uses this kind of viewpoint again in his future works, as it is a rarity in crime and something I greatly enjoyed.

Highly recommended 5 stars. An outstanding debut. I can’t wait to see what Chris produces next.

Review of Ice Fall By Stephanie Gunn Written by Daniel Stubbings

About the Book

The Mountain on the planet of Icefall holds the mystery to a lost colony and an irresistible, fatal allure to the climbers of the universe. Maggie is determined to be the first to make the summit. Aisha, injured in a climbing incident herself, has always supported her wife, trusting Maggie would return from her adventures. But no one ever returns from the Mountain.

Review

This fast paced novella has everything a sci-fi fan could wish for. Creepy AI’s, space-travel, futuristic technologies, lost colonies, unconquered mountains and planets you cant help but want to explore.

The story is told from the viewpoint of spacecraft pilot and injured climber Aisha. A character that as the plot thickens, we discover has many secrets that as we dig deeper begin to expose some unpleasant truths about her past and future. One of them being her ongoing fight to support her wife’s ambitions of been the first climber to summit the mountain on Ice Fall. As she continues to struggle with the ongoing pain surrounding her mysterious headaches, and secrets coming from all sides we as a reader begin to wonder about what truly lurks beneath the surface of these two main characters. At times it made my skin crawl as I became more and more submersed in this vivid world of Stephanie’s creation. Hoping with every turn of the page to uncover what the mountain held.

One of the joys of Stephanie’s writing is that it makes you feel unsure and disturbed. She just has that amazing quality which every writer I like to read has, where you think she leading you down one path but then totally flips it on it’s head and makes you go what the hell. I loved it. These characters and world grab you from the moment you open the cover, and dont let go whisking away on an adventure that will make you question everything you think makes you human. When the story begins we are told that the planet us humans call earth has long been destroyed. Erased from the universe by wars, greed, and feminism meaning humans have had to colonise, and develop technologies that help them to thrive in a new environment known as Icefall.

An ice colony in the far reaches of space with a mountain nobody has conquered. Many have tried as the climb isn’t difficult, but for some reason nobody ever seems to return. Some trip never to rise, some fall asleep never to wake, and others step off the edge without so much as a scream. Making you wonder the entire time what dark secrets does it hold.

The level of detail Stephanie goes into when describing the climbs on this fictional world is astonishing. From the equipment they use to how their breathing changes as they rise is done with breathtaking accuracy. Throughout these passages I felt as though I was Maggie and I was there to conquer this beast that lay before me this allowed me to fully submerge myself into this imaginative world, and become the character which is something I always look for. I couldn’t wait to read on. For a novella it is jam packed with ideas. However at no point did I feel short changed with every thread concluding with an unseen twist or ending I enjoyed.

My only criticism would be that sometimes you lost who was speaking in some of the dialogue. Therefore causing a drop in some of the tension that had be created. However this was a small thing in what otherwise was a well polished novella, with a unique idea and plot.  It gets 4 stars from me a highly enjoyable read. I will be recommending it to other sci-fi fans.

sg

About Stephanie Gunn

Stephanie Gunn is an Aurealis and Ditmar award nominated author of speculative fiction. In another life she was a research scientist. Now she spends her time writing, reviewing and reading. And buying far too many books. She lives in Perth with her family.

 

I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This doesn’t affect my views.

Review of Lancelot by Giles Kristian Written By Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

The legions of Rome are a fading memory. Enemies stalk the fringes of Britain. And Uther Pendragon is dying. Into this fractured and uncertain world the boy is cast, a refugee from fire, murder and betrayal. An outsider whose only companions are a hateful hawk and memories of the lost.

Yet he is gifted, and under the watchful eyes of Merlin and the Lady Nimue he will hone his talents and begin his journey to manhood. He will meet Guinevere, a wild, proud and beautiful girl, herself outcast because of her gift. And he will be dazzled by Arthur, a warrior who carries the hopes of a people like fire in the dark. But these are times of struggle and blood, when even friendship and love seem doomed to fail.

The gods are vanishing beyond the reach of dreams. Treachery and jealousy rule men’s hearts and the fate of Britain itself rests on a sword’s edge.
But the young renegade who left his home in Benoic with just a hunting bird and dreams of revenge is now a lord of war. He is a man loved and hated, admired and feared. A man forsaken but not forgotten. He is Lancelot.

Set in a 5th century Britain besieged by invading bands of Saxons and Franks, Irish and Picts, Giles Kristian’s epic new novel tells – in Lancelot’s own words – the story of the most revered yet reviled of all Arthur’s knights, the warrior who fought at his lord’s side – yet stole his wife. This is the story of the of one of the great figures of British myth and legend – a story ready to be re-imagined for our times.

My Review

After reading and watching countless material on the King Arthur legend. I was intrigued to see what new insight Giles Kristian would bring in his new release Lancelot. I am pleased to report that he hasn’t disappointed, breathing fresh air into a tale that is as old as the British Isles themselves.

The focus on Lancelot’s early life is what held my attention throughout this book. Giles has been able to write really interesting threads regarding Lancelot’s upbringing, and personality. Which gripped my attention in ways that I hadn’t encountered from previous works on Lancelot and Arthur.

This enabled me as a reader to reassess my previous conclusions about Lancelot, and explore his character with fresh eyes that forced me to see the man instead of the legend. I found this incredibly satisfying, and found myself becoming more emotionally invested in Lancelot as a character than I had previously when reading his legend. As the story progressed I was pleased to see Giles move away from the traditional narrative of Lancelot. His scandalous affair with Guinevere that destroyed his relationship with Arthur, and almost Camelot.

Instead Giles has chosen to examine sides of him that normally wouldn’t come into consideration. This change in narrative has allowed Giles to take us on a journey through Lancelot’s  tortured past. Giving the reader insight into his training, his relationship with his father, his time living with a certain individual called Merlin. As well as his nurturing of a hawk that he is grossly unprepared for.

Some highly emotional, and beautifully written scenes from Giles within the book occurred when Lancelot was developing his bond with the hawk. Training it to become a vicious friend who he could never be parted. Giles has a way of making even the most simple scene come to life, slowly drawing you in, making you lower your guard, before ripping apart your soul at a later date. When I finished I felt I had run five marathons back to back it is that intense.

Of course Arthur is mentioned. You couldn’t have one without the other. However even in the scenes with Arthur at no point do you get the feeling that he is the main focus. Giles keeps your mind firmly fixed on Lancelot. By creating more mystery within his character, making you wonder who truly was the man we know as Lancelot? And could he actually be real?

This enthralling book moves at a delicious pace hitting the reader with a buffet of sensory delights from vivid fight scenes, shipwrecks, and characters that burn into your soul.  You hear every clash of swords, smell the richness of the blood, taste the bitterness of the sea as it hits your lips, feel the pain and anguish that Lancelot goes through, and visualise the harshness of the land in which our characters walk.  The writing is food for the soul. It  seems to sing off the page, as you race to keep up, and discover how the boy became the legend in all his gory detail. This is a historical epic at its finest perfect for fans of Ben Kane, and Bernard Cornwell. 5 Stars.

I received a copy from the author for an honest review this doesn’t effect my views.

 

Review of my Book of the Year Dark Pines by Will Dean Written by Dan Stubbings

Book Synopsis

SEE NO EVIL

Eyes missing, two bodies lie deep in the forest near a remote Swedish town.

HEAR NO EVIL

Tuva Moodyson, a deaf reporter on a small-time local paper, is looking for the story that could make her career.

SPEAK NO EVIL

A web of secrets. And an unsolved murder from twenty years ago.

Can Tuva outwit the killer before she becomes the final victim? She’d like to think so. But first she must face her demons and venture far into the deep, dark woods if she wants to stand any chance of getting the hell out of small-time Gavrik.

Review

Ill admit when I first picked up Dark Pines, and saw that the protagonist was deaf. I thought here we go again. Another author who won’t have done research, resulting in a character that appears weak, which forces them to have to rely on others to feel part of their society, and makes them feel almost embarrassed to be disabled.

This kind of portrayal had become the norm for me when reading disabled characters in literacy or film. Where it appeared that writers had simply gone into a dark room, and produced these stereotypical characters without considering to consult disabled people. Which would have enabled them to get true opinions and find out if these characters they had written were accurate representations of how the disabled population saw themselves. Instead of simply allowing the writers to adhere to some kind of inclusion quota. This caused me to disengage with these characters as I became more frustrated over time as I felt they didn’t reflect me as an individual.

Therefore it was a breath of fresh air opening this book and discovering that Tuva the main protagonist is the complete opposite.  Quite frankly there isn’t enough words in the English language to tell you how much I adore Tuva Moodyson. I cried tears of joy, as I raced ahead to discover more about this bad-ass woman.  As Will had finally made me feel that a disabled character represented me in all their glory. Thank you Will.

At no point did he make Tuva weak or make her need anyone else to accomplish her goals. She is a fiercely independent woman who is proud of her disability, and never hides, or uses it for an excuse. I was punching the air with glee reading paragraph after paragraph saying this is me in female form. Will has done an incredible job of capturing what it truly means to be a modern day disabled person, other writers take note this is how we want to be written. Will absolutely nails it. He empowers Tuva in several ways she is a respected journalist, she lives independently, and has a vibrant sex life and drives a mean truck that seems to take on anything. I didn’t want the book to end. She is a character that stays with you. I haven’t been able to get her out my head since I finished this epic read.

Now if that isn’t enough to make you go out and buy this book on the spot. There is more to wet your appetite.

Will is like an award winning chef adding just the right amount of ingredients to make you devour this book in one sitting. From gory detailed murders, to a range of memorable characters. My favourite of which are a pair of mysterious wood carving sisters that I truly hope I never meet down a dark alley as they scare me to death. They are so creepy.

They are just one of several characters that help to create a fast paced narrative. That causes you as a reader to continuously question each characters motives, as Will moves you around his chessboard of murder and deceit you begin to wonder will Tuva figure it out in time, and live to see another day.

What further makes it standout is the setting. A dense, dark, Swedish forest that seems to come alive as each scene unfolds. Drawing Tuva deeper into its clutches, as she goes in search of what could be the connection between the murders of the present, and a set of murders known as the Medusa murders carried out many years previously. The connection being of course that all the corpses have their eyes carved out. I loved this signature of the murderer. I found it unique helping to build tension as you tried to uncover who would lose their eyes next.

This book has everything you look for in a crime novel. Atmospheric setting, an engaging and multi layer protagonist. Unique killings, well rounded subplots with satisfying conclusions. It has it all. I cant speak highly enough of this astonishing read. 5 stars isn’t enough it’s that good. All I can say is go out and buy it now. I love it.