Review: Extinction Horizon by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Ooh, lookit me posting another book review so soon after the last! I’m on fire! Or rather, Extinction Horizon was. That just goes to show how much I enjoyed the first book in The Extinction Cycle series. This is the first of Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s work I’ve read; I love discovering new authors (new to me, not to others… or him… shut up, I need more coffee), delving into the world they’ve created, or rather, in Smith’s case, a world destroyed.

Extinction Horizon follows Delta Force Team Ghost, and Master Sergeant Reed Beckham, and right from the start… hang on… just let me…


Extinction Horizon

Okay, if you’re reading this now, you’ve accepted the risk of spoilery spoilers. Good for you, ‘cause this is a damn shitty world with frightening monsters Smith has delivered. It begins scarily enough – an experimental drug (VX-99) given to an elite team of Marines during the Vietnam war that backfires spectacularly. It has devastating effects on the men, guinea pigs for all intents and purposes.

Next – Ebola virus. That’s enough to have you reaching for a Hazmat suit, but when you have an army general working with a virologist and wanting to create a super-virus to use on the enemy to save soldiers’ lives… oh, it ain’t gonna end well.

Reed Beckham and his team are sent to retrieve the virus from a secret facility, and this is where we’re first introduced to the ‘monsters’ that’ve been created by this super-virus. It’s also where Beckham loses half his team. Things go from bad to worse when this virus breaks containment lines and spreads like the plague it is.

Before long, the world has gone to shit. In a big way. We’re talking extinction event here, with only small patches of survivors. And within this is CDC virologist Dr Kate Lavato – tasked, now, with finding a cure. It’s clear early on that she will be Beckham’s love interest, but she has also become the focus of Beckham’s need to protect. With humanity almost gone, Beckham’s need to find purpose is what drives him, and Lovato is the key to humanity’s survival.

But let me get to these monsters. Ebola is a haemorrhagic virus; victims bleed-out internally in horrifically painful ways. But with the addition of VX-99, you get an altogether different monster. One that has its origin in the origin of species. We’re talking what first crawled out of the sludge. Inhumanely fast, with joints that crack and bend at unnatural angles, and an insatiable need to feed on protein (that would be humans, just so we’re clear), infection rates skyrocket.


Look, I could go on and on about how good this book is. But you don’t have time for a dissertation, and I really should be working. What you should know is this apocalypse-event story is filled with high-tension, incredible military action, intrigue, deceit and, at times, a sense of despair at what’s happening. But always there is hope. That’s what I love about books such as this.

This isn’t going to be an easy-fix situation; Delta Force Team Ghost is facing a monster-super-soldier that is almost impossible to defeat. The thing with humanity, though, is that it lives for a challenge. Adapt or die. And dying isn’t something Beckham, his team of Riley and Horn, on their list of things to do.

One of the things that did have me thinking (and still does) is how easily a contagion can spread. A carrier on a plane, on a train to work, of someone coughing in the wrong place… one lapse and we’re looking at extinction. And that’s something Smith works well into his book – the ‘what if’ that so readily sits beneath our primal fear of deadly contagious diseases that could so easily turn pandemic.

As the first in the series of five, this book does all it’s supposed, and while I would have wanted to see a little more emotional struggle from Beckham when it comes to Lovato, that’s a small thing when dealing with a soldier who has spent most of his life detaching himself from the horrors of what he does.

Book two in the series, Extinction Age, is sitting on my bedside table ready to go. And it’s a thicker book too, which means more military goodness coming my way. I think that means, why yes… I’m…I’m a fan. That’s always a great way to end a review.

Or, end it with a Goodreads scale of 4.5 stars.

Four and half stars

Art of the Cover

Covers matter. They do. That old adage: Don’t judge a book by its cover, if taken in its absolute literal sense, is utter bullshit. Covers are your visual selling point; it’s the first thing a potential reader (and buyer) sees. And if it’s terrible and/or amateurish… Behold, I will judge with all my judgey judginess! I will slam down my imaginary gavel, and I won’t buy your book.

But wait, I hear you say, what if the story is brilliant? Then invest in good cover art, dammit. Invest in it like you invested in your story. All those hours you agonised over words and plot and characters, of the sleep you sacrificed, eating at your desk, of wondering whether you showered today… or was it yesterday… (No? Just me then…), invest that same excellence in your cover art. Don’t just slap any cover on your work (and for the love of all things holy and unholy, unless you’re an artist, don’t do it yourself!), ’cause I will judge your book by its cover, and so will a lot of others.

I read a lot, and as a buyer of print books, a beautiful and/or interesting cover will draw me in as much as a shitty one will repel. And with the amount of both print and electronic books on the market, a good cover is half the battle won. I’ll pick it up, and if your blurb is good (that’s fodder for another post), then that’s a sale. When it comes to my hard-earned cash, I’m particular on how I spend it, and I’m more likely to spend on a book with a beautiful cover, than I am on one with a shite one.

For someone with a mountain of ‘to read’ books who also can’t walk past a bookstore without venturing into its delicious depths, I’m always looking for new authors to read. A cover is where it all begins. It led me to Mark Lawrence and his Broken Empire and Red Queen series, and now I’ll read anything the man writes. Seriously, go to his website and buy the man’s books. Go. Now. I’ll wait.


<insert Muzak here>

Back? Excellent.

Another thing I often hear is that bad covers are the domain of the author-publisher. Again, I call bullshit. The advent of author-publishing and the (now-diminishing) stigma attached to it, has shown authors know the value of a great cover. There are self-published authors whose books have gorgeous covers – this tells me they’ve thought long and hard about their finished product, about their reader. And covers should reflect the content, the world and atmosphere of a book. Take a look at Devin Madson’s The Blood of Whisperers – the story inside is as beautiful as the cover. Another author whose work I will now always read.


As an editor, I understand the importance of covers, how they work to sell the story/stories inside. If you can excite a potential reader by the cover art alone, then you’re looking at sales. Sales are good. Sales mean the author (or authors, when an anthology) will be read, and those authors may begin to get a fan-base – and there’s not a lot better than that. As an editor for Cohesion Press (an Australian small press), their mantra is to always source kick-ass cover art. Great cover art gets readers excited, it builds interest, it builds sales. But more than that, it’s the finished product. Readers will appreciate the effort you put in, and they’ll remember your name.


I know there’ll be those out there who will bemoan the cost of cover art. That good cover art is unaffordable. Well before you do that, how would you feel if someone bitched about the price of your book? Good cover art costs, just as good editing and proofreading – all essential parts of the publishing process. You want to put your best work out into the world, right? Right?

The reason I decided to write this post was the cover artist for Cohesion’s books, Dean Samed (check out his work) just yesterday had his site go live, and his cover-work is just astounding. Each piece grabs you, it takes you places, and it defines what’s on the inside pages. The last thing any author wants is a horror book (for instance) with a decidedly romance cover. That’s a betrayal no reader will tolerate.

There are amazing artists out there who love creating cover art for the books you love creating. Check out Deviantart, get onto artists’ sites, and if you like the style of a book cover, the artist is usually mentioned in the front-matter. Social media is a great way to get recommendations for artists, for those who specialise in covers, who can put the best ‘coat’ on your baby.

Do a little research, chat to artists, find great art. Your book will thank you for it.


Review: City of Wonders by James A Moore

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed a book here, but as the current word count on reading for work sits at 2, 148, 400 (that’s right, over two million words so far this year), I can be excused for my slow reading-from-my-bookcase rate… and why it took me way longer to read this book than it should have.

So… grab a battle axe, or any self-forged weapon you have handy, wrangle a pra-moresh and mount up – it’s time to make war.

City of Wonders is the third book in the Seven Forges series by James A Moore, and it carries on beautifully and brutally from the first two books. And brutal it is. The kingdom of Fellein is at war with the Sa’ba Taalor – grey-skins born for battle. There’s no pussy-footing around when it comes to war, and Moore doesn’t shy from the savagery of it.

City of Wonders

Now we’re really getting into the meat of battle (can I get a ‘hell yeah!’). The Sa’ba Taalor are ferocious opponents, not given over to fear or mercy. The Fellein are woefully outmatched. Too long they’ve sat comfortable, idle, and they’re paying a damn high price for it.

While there are a lot of players in this series, and the story is told from multiple viewpoints, this only adds to the understanding of both sides of this war. That’s the thing with Moore’s writing, and why I am enamoured with this series – you can’t pick a side. There are no essentially ‘bad guys’ in this war; each side is fighting for their gods; each side has their story and you when you’re in the mind of one of the storytellers, you wholeheartedly understand why they’re fighting – be they Merros Dulver, commander of the Imperial Army, or Tarag Paedori, the King in Iron; or Andover Lashk, Swech, Drask Silver Hand, or Empress Nachia… you side with them, no matter which side of the war they sit.

There’s magic here – sorcery and necromancy. And you can’t forget the gods. The seven gods of the Sa’ba Taalor are one of my favourite parts of this series – so different from anything I’ve read, and while we see more of them through Andover Lashk and his trials, there’s still mystery surrounding them and I’ve no doubt we’ve yet to see the power they can truly wield. Through their gods, the Sa’ba Taalor have had a huge advantage (well that, and they’re a fearsome bunch – even the children are fierce warriors, able to disembowel a soldier with an adept flick of their wrist and weapon), and have destroyed a large portion of the Fellein empire and its people.

The Fellein put their faith in their (mostly) well-trained army, and that of their sorcerer, Desh, but City of Wonders brings the Fellein’s gods to the fore in the form of The Pilgrim. Enigmatic leader of a the faithful he’s collected on his journey to the city of Canhoon, the City of Wonders.

Gods fighting gods, monsters aplenty, warriors pitted against soldiers, and within it all, individuals just looking to survive. Through their eyes we see this looming apocalypse – there can be only one winner. That’s the thing here, though, I don’t know whose side I’m on. It’s Moore’s ability to get the reader inside the head and heart of those telling the story that makes it difficult to pick a side. And there’s a beauty in that – it shows that war isn’t a thing of the masses, but that of the individuals that make up the world and the battle, what they risk and why.

Seven Forges

Moore’s writing completely transports, his characters are fantastically fantastic, and the tension he weaves through it all is expertly done. Oh, and the twists? You’ll love those too. There are few authors I read where I wish I could write as well as them, but James A Moore is one them.

I can’t recommend this series enough. If you’re looking for fantasy on the darker side of things, and a magic system and gods that mess with any preconceived ideas you have, then you can’t go wrong with City of Wonders, let alone the whole Seven Forges series.

 The Blasted Lands

Special shout out to the cover artist for all the books, too. I don’t at all subscribe to the adage: Don’t judge a book by its cover. That’s bullshit. If you’re a print-reader like me, covers are what make you pick up a book, and the covers for all the books in the Seven Forges series are just gorgeous, and perfectly capture the characters they depict, and the world in which they live.

Book four, The Silent Army, has just been released, and while I’m desperately looking forward to reading it, part of me wants to hold off, to prolong this series for as long as I can. The world Moore has created is one I’d happily spend a long, long time in. And if that’s not the mark of a great storyteller (and books), I don’t know what is.

On a Goodreads scale, I give this five stars… big gold ones ten feet high.

five stars