Category Archives: Reading

Book Review: The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

I once described Mark Lawrence thus: thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn. Many a night I have sacrificed sleep and my ability to function as an adulting adult, so immersed have I been in Lawrence’s worlds. This holds true with his last book in the Red Queen’s War series – The Wheel of Osheim.

It’s taken me longer than I’d have liked to get to this book, but it was damn well worth the wait. The Wheel of Osheim continues the epic tale of Prince Jalan Kendeth of the Red March and gargantuan Viking Snorri Ver Snagason. Fated to stop the ‘Wheel’ and save the world, these two characters are polar opposites but more alike than perhaps Kendeth would care to admit. Snorri? I’m sure he saw the kindred in Jalan early.

While I bought this huge tome in its beautiful print edition, I read it on my Kindle (because I am in love with my Kindle, and that’s a revelation that still hurts sometimes, but what’s one to do?). And while my husband has adjusted to the dim reading glow from my side of the bed, I haven’t quite adjusted to his: “it’s two in the morning… it’s three in the morning… no amount of coffee is going to make you human.” (He’s wrong, so very wrong.)

Ooh, would you look at that. Three paragraphs in, it must be spoiler alert time.

SPOILER WARNING… … SPOILER WARN… … SPOILER… … … FIRE BAD, TREE PRETTY. (Shut up.)

the-wheel-of-osheim

 

So where to begin? Well, with Jalan being spat from Hell (or Hel) and back into a quest he wants nothing to do with. All he wants is to go home and forget about the whole sorry mess – those are the words he speaks, yes, but Jal is the quintessential character of juxtaposition – he is both brave and cowardly, cruel and kind, indifferent and devoted. Human. That’s his appeal; he’s tremendously flawed, but when push comes to shove (and that’s often a literal shove), he surprises himself by doing the right thing, because despite his protestations to the contrary, that sense of righteousness within has grown to a formidable force.

A lot of that, I think, has to do with Snorri and the friendship the two have forged. While Snorri is quite open with his admiration (and remonstration) of Jalan, there’s a vulnerability in the Viking that perfectly balances the violence within. It’s that balance that’s slowly working its way through Jal. Though demonstrably different, the two are cut from the same cloth. Something Snorri sees far more than Jalan.

It’s an intricate world Lawrence has woven, and intricate players he’s put within. We see more of Jalan’s brothers – the two he’s hated most his life. But as with all relationships, it’s complex and we see the contempt Jal has had for his brothers superseded by the familial ties none of us can escape. In The Wheel of Osheim we see the depth and growth of Jalan more than in the previous books – we see the humanity he’s always tried to cover, to shield from the world. It’s achingly brutal.

The same can be said for Snorri’s ventures through Hel to find and rescue his wife and children. This melding of faiths – Jalan’s Christian Hell, and Snorri’s Norse Hel – showcases the layering Lawrence has put into each character. Snorri is a Viking on a mission, and nothing will stand in his way – not demons, not undead, not Hel’s warriors… that battle scene where Snorri finds his son is one of the best I’ve read. It’s bloody, it’s cruel, it’s heart-wrenchingly incapacitating – all that it should have been.

As with any final book in a trilogy, there’s much to tie up – both long game and short. This is a story that needs investing from the reader. You can’t half-arse it through this. The foreshadowing is there, and it’s subtle, but it all comes to play as you head into the final battle – the saving of the world… or rather, the saving of it for just that little bit longer.

Past, present and future all lay their cards on the table in The Wheel of Osheim, and fate, oh what a fickle mistress she is. The gods (whichever you choose them to be) have had their hands in this from the beginning. Which beginning? From the time of The Builders – the gods that never were – the world has been ticking so very quickly down. And magic, she is tearing apart the fabric of this universe faster than anyone realised.

It’s this urgency Lawrence plays to throughout this book, while still taking the time to address all that’s been built into the previous two books: the Red Queen, the Silent Sister, Garyus (by far one of the most interesting and underplayed characters), Lady Blue… it’s quite a cast. And while not everything is concluded (possibly leaving it open for more stories in Jalan’s world), there was enough to make the ending satisfying.

Look, I could go on and on about the different aspects, the plots and sub-plots, the narrative, mechanics, architecture of the book, but I’ve no time to write a dissertation on how good this book is. Yes, sometimes it does fall into cliché (the usurpation of the throne by the Red Queen’s brother, and the subsequent death), but this can be forgiven based on the prose alone. As with The Red Queen’s War, and The Broken Empire series, Lawrence can take and twist words into the most sublime of writing. When the ‘wordsmith’ is used, I’m sure Lawrence is one of the authors meant to wear this moniker.

Overall, The Wheel of Osheim is a dark, gritty, often humorous storytelling of a world in its dying days. Of political machinations, of haunting past deeds and the price one pays. And monsters, oooh, there be monsters. A totally immersive, roller-coaster ride to tie the series off.

On a Goodreads scale, I give it five stars.

Book Review: The Tide by Anthony J Melchiorri

Aaaand, we’re back! Two posts in two days? If this keeps up the world will spin off its axis…unless you’re a Flat-Earther, then it’s more a tilt of the space turtle and four careening elephants. Ahem. Where was I?

It’s review time! We love review time. Well, I love review time, especially when I come across a new author (or rather a new author to me). It was only a couple of weeks ago that I was introduced to Anthony J Melchiorri’s work, and what a fun and frightening introduction it’s been. Melchiorri’s stories drag you in and don’t let you go. And yes, that was a deliberate plural. While I’m only reviewing the first book in The Tide series, I’m currently halfway through the third.

Two things before we go forward: 1) big shout out to Geoff Brown for putting me onto the series – you rock, dude; and 2)…

SPOILER ALERT! HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE, THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE’S A SPOILER BENEATH THAT CUSHION, AND ANOTHER UNDER THE CAT. BECAUSE CATS, MAN.

the-tide

The Tide, as you can probably tell by the cover, is apocalyptic military horror – one of my favourite genres. It’s also a genre that can be difficult to get right, but Melchiorri hits all the right notes with this first book. What he doesn’t do, is bog down the beginning with over-explanation and character introduction but rather drops the reader right into the horror of what’s to come.

The prelude gives the reader a graphic understanding of the potential of a genetically-engineered bioweapon crudely developed during WWII by the Japanese. It ain’t pretty, and I was hooked. Fast forward to current times and we’re introduced to Captain Dominic Holland and his ‘Hunters’, a group of covert operatives who work for the CIA off-the-books. And these Hunters have some serious firepower and a kick-arse ship at their disposal. Not to mention hackers and scientists that complete the diverse bunch.

Melchiorri is a bioengineer by trade, and it’s abundantly clear with the monsters he creates in the books, that he knows his stuff (as an aside, please don’t give the man free-rein with pathogens without a steady stream of caffeine). There’s a good deal of science involved in the story, but if you’re like me and have a rudimentary understanding of it, you’re not going to get lost when it comes to the biology et al. And biology it is. The monsters in The Tide are some of the best I’ve read. The virus developed back in WWII has been expanded upon, and what it turns humanity into is… hell. Called ‘Skulls’ due to the victims’ human skeleton becoming an exo-skeleton of disturbing sorts, this is nightmare fuel for all involved. And fast, these monsters are fast and voraciously hungry.

While Melchiorri doesn’t let up on the action, there’s a good balance in the peaks and troughs he’s worked throughout the story. Just when you’re getting some downtime (reader and characters alike), the tension ramps up and you’re back into the thick of things. When you add in Holland’s daughters needing to be rescued as the world turns to shit (although eldest daughter Kara can hold her own), the stakes are raised even higher. It’s this type of storytelling that can literally be called a page-turner.  I finished this book in four days… well nights, as I read before bed, and Melchiorri seriously owes me some nap time.

This is some seriously good storytelling with well-rounded characters, high action, and intense tension. And monsters, damn but Melchiorri’s monsters are unique and unnerving. You won’t be disappointed.

On a Goodreads scale, I give The Tide five stars.

Festivus Book Pimping – Fathomless by Greig Beck

 

The countdown to Christmas is well and truly on, but pimp on I must! Today, it’s multi-award-winning author Greig Beck and his wickedly frightening Fathomless. Yeah, we’re all gonna need a bigger boat.

Duuun-dun… duuun-dun… dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun…

What?

fathomless

Okay, so from the cover alone (‘nother shout-out to Dean Samed of NeoStock), it’s clear we’re talking shark story here – think Megalodon. Yep, you know, that’s been instinct for millions of years… but have they?

That’s the premise of Fathomless (Cohesion Press), and Beck kicks it out of the park with his tale. Now before we go further, full disclosure. As I’ve mentioned, my reading for pleasure took a back seat to work this year, so a lot of what I’ve read has involved novels I’ve worked on, and Fathomless was one of them. But here’s the thing, it’s not often that I’ve had to get up from my desk and take a breather because the story was freaking me the hell out. With Fathomless, I did that three or four times. Nope, can’t handle the tension, time to take a break and calm the hell down. Three passes I made of this story, and each time, even when I knew what was coming, my pulse quickened and the voices in my head (yes, there are many) were yelling at the characters to swim faster, dammit! (Actually, there were a lot more swear words, but you get the picture.)

So despite me having edited Fathomless, it’s one of my picks of the year for horror books.

From the back cover:

Jim Granger is searching for a place of legend. Known as ‘Bad Water’ by the island’s elders, it’s reputed to be home to many dangerous creatures. Through a seam in a cliff face, Jim finds what he seeks. He also finds, too late, that the water demon he was warned about is horrifyingly real.

Today, Cate Granger is following in her grandfather’s footsteps. Along with a team of scientists and crew, she accidentally releases a creature from Earth’s primordial past into today’s oceans. Nothing is safe on or below the water.
The story essentially has two parts. The first being Cate and her crews trek deep beneath the Earth’s crust to an immense underwater ocean that’s been suspended in time. Traversing the sea in a damn small sub, they discover marine life once thought extinct. They also discover the Megaladon.

Beck uses that instinctual fear that’s been loaded into our DNA from the beginning of time – fear of Alpha predators (and boy, is the Meg one hell of an Alpha), and added a touch of claustrophobia into this first section, because… why not? And there’s no natural light down there, so much of what’s happening does so in complete darkness.

There are at least three scenes in this section that had me freaking out. Yeah, sharks are one of my biggest fears. Living in Australia can do that to a person. The second part takes place once the Megalodon has been released into today’s oceans, with Cate and part of her crew (plus some newbies), going out to hunt the shark. Not all goes according to plan.

This is a killer book, and if you’re looking for a tale that will amp up your tension, and have you questioning whether you really should go back into the water, then Fathomless is the book you need to be reading. Or gift it to someone who loves that spinchter-clenching form of thriller and terror.

You can read a review of Fathomless here.

Recommended for lovers of horror, suspense, thrillers, and plain ol’ ‘holy crap, swim faster, swim faster!’

 

 

 

Festivus Book Pimping – Into the Mist by Lee Murray

Yes, yes, I’m cutting it fine with the Festivus Book Pimping, but remember, as much as I love a print book (oooh, they smell so good!), ebooks are also damn fine presents. So kicking off today’s Festivus pimping is mutli-award-winning New Zealand author, Lee Murray, with her book Into the Mist.

RAWR!

Into-the-Mist-194x300

As you can tell from the absolutely kick-arse cover , Into the Mist, is a military horror creature-feature tale, but this one is set in the wilds of New Zealand with a creature ripped straight from Māori legend. It was very cool to read not only Murray’s vivid descriptions of the NZ back-country, but to delve into the culture and rites of a strong and proud people.

Into the Mist (Cohesion Press), follows NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna and his squad as they escort a group of civilian contractors into the Te Urewera National Park. Not usually a job for the army, McKenna’s other task (off the books) is to find any trace of squad that had vanished while trekking through the National Park.

From the back-cover blurb:

Militant Tūhoe separatists are active in the area, and with its cloying mist and steep ravines, the forest is a treacherous place in winter. Yet nothing has prepared Taine for the true danger that awaits them … a prehistoric creature intent on picking them off one by one.

From the outset, you’re thrust into the action, and the tension Murray weaves throughout the story never lets up. With sub-plots woven perfectly through the tale, the reader is given a glimpse of the rich Māori history, and the struggles to maintain their culture and their land against those intent to profit from it. It’s brutal, it’s gory, and when the chase is on, your gut will be clenching right along with the soldiers and the civilian charges.

And this beastie? Oh, it’s smart, and it’s stealthy, and it’s impervious to the squad’s guns. And shoot it a lot… and you know that only makes the monster mad… and vengeful. Murray is a mistress of tension, and she will make you dance to her tune. I was enamoured with this book, but I grew up on stories of Māori legend via my father (he’s Pākehā, not Māori), so this was a real delight. And it’s wonderful to see diversity in fiction; the world needs more of it.

There’s also a glossary of Māori and local terms for those unfamiliar with the country and its culture, but the way Murray tells the story, understanding is a given.

Read this book you must. Give it as a gift you also must. But I guarantee it will be one you can’t put down. You can read a review of Into the Mist here.

Recommended for lovers of horror, military horror, creature-feature, and balls-to-the-wall fear-mongering. Yeah, this book has it all.

Go, now, Festivus Into the Mist, you won’t be disappointed.

RAWR!

Festivus Author Pimping – Hank Schwaeble

Happy Festivus! Today I will be pimping author Hank Schwaeble. Yes, I did just read that sentence back but I’m gonna roll with it (minds and gutters, people). The reason for author over book pimping is there are two titles of Hank’s that I’ve read this year, and you need to be reading both of them.

It was American Nocturne where I was first introduced to Hank’s work – a collection of short stories that definitely sit on the dark side of fiction. Hell, it’s horror at its best, and I’d wondered why Hank’s writing hadn’t been on my reader earlier. I mean really, the man’s a two-time Bram Stoker award winner, so… mea culpa.

American Nocturne

Now before we delve further, both titles I’ll be discussing here are put out by Cohesion Press, of whom I’m the editor-in-chief, but as I’ve only managed to read eight books this year due to workload (I stopped counting when I hit four million words – that’s right, four million), there’s going to be some crossover between work and reading outside of work.

Okay, so now we have that out of the way – American Nocturne. There’s a definite noir feel to the stories in here, especially with the title story, which kicks off the collection. There’s so much to love about this collection, and while each story is so very different from the last, it’s Schwaeble’s voice, his storytelling that holds this collection together. Oh, and the twists he delivers with some of the stories are done with such a deft hand, it will have you rereading for an altogether different experience of the story (like two books for the price of one!). You can read a full review of American Nocturne over (here) over at review site Smash Dragons.

The next book of Hank’s is the novel The Angel of the Abyss, and if this cover doesn’t make you want to rush out and buy it, then you and I need to talk. Out the back. In a dark alley.

This is the third in the Jake Hatcher series, but can definitely be read as a standalone. I hadn’t read the previous two novels (Damnable and Diabolical), but I was immediately drawn into the tale of Jake Hatcher – military vet come demon hunter. But Hatcher is well on Hell’s radar, and as demons are wont to do, they mess with him every chance they get. And that’s half the fun, trying to sort the lies from truth while attempting to stop the one hell of a demon taking human form and walking the earth once more. As I’ve come to expect, the twists and turns in this book keep you guessing, they make you think, and there’s not much better than reading a book that involves you, that asks you to take the journey with the characters, because they know just as much as you do about what’s happening.  Hatcher is a brash, sarcastic, takes-no-shit character who despite his protestations, wants to do the right thing. He just happens to get thrown into the crapper a lot. There’s black magic, demons, cults, secret military installations… yeah, it’s a heap of fun!

angel-of-the-abyss

You can read reviews of The Angel of the Abyss here and here. But trust me when I say, you’re in for a hell of a ride with this book, and there are more stories due in the series… and it’s only going to get nasty… or nastier.

Both books are highly recommended for lovers of horror, military horror, supernatural, and thrillers.

(Both covers were created by the amazing Dean Samed of Neostock. Check out his work.)

Festivus Book Pimping – The Vengeance Trilogy by Devin Madson

It’s that time of year again, folks, and what better present is there to give someone than books. BOOKS, I TELLS YA! So in the lead up to Christmas, I’ll be pimping books and series that have impressed me, and would make great gifts and stocking stuffers. Support authors!

Now before we go any further, the path to Festivus is a shadowed one. On it you will find only those tales that sit on the darker side of genre fiction. Watch your step.

*claps hands* Alrighty then. Let’s get started.

First off the Festivus ranks is Devin Madson’s amazingly epic The Vengeance Trilogy.  Set within the pseudo-Japanese empire of Kisia, the series is told by Darius Laroth, Hana Otako, and Endymion as they’re embroiled in the fight for the Crimson Throne. While these three tell the story, it is also the tale of Katashi Otako (Hana’s cousin), Malice (Vice Master and Darius’s half-brother), and Emperor Kin – all want different things from the empire, and fight they must. Fight or die.

The first in the series – The Blood of Whisperersintroduces the reader to the players vying for control of Kisia. From the back-cover blurb:

They call him the Usurper. A man of common blood sits upon the throne. By his command the last emperor was executed, but now the empire is on the brink of war. Vengeance is coming.

BoW

The next in the trilogy is The Gods of Vice. Here, we delve more into the unique magic system Madson has created for this world, and where betrayal and political manoeuvrings mean no one is safe. From the back-cover blurb:

Two emperors. One empire. The war for the Crimson Throne has split Kisia. The storm is coming.

GoV

And the final in the trilogy has just been released. The Grave at Storm’s End is a powerful last book in the series, where none of the characters will ever be the same, and as a reader, you won’t either. From the back-cover blurb:

Vengeance has come. Katashi Otako walks with the Vices, burning everything in his path. Now the spirit of Vengeance, he will stop at nothing to destroy Emperor Kin and take the Crimson Throne. When gods fight, empires fall.

gse

 

There is no doubt in my mind that Madson is an author to keep an eye on. Her writing is beautifully crafted, and her imagery the stuff of wonder. The Vengeance Trilogy is one of the best fantasy series I’ve read in a really long time, and one that holds pride of place on my bookshelf. Oh, and those covers are just gorgeous.

All of the books are available from Madson’s website, and come perfectly wrapped for Christmas. You can’t go wrong as a gift.

Recommended for readers of fantasy, dark fantasy, epic fantasy, political intrigue, and characters that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.

 

 

Review: The Silent Army by James A Moore

Woe, the story be done, and I am sadder for it. A tad too dramatic? That may well be, but that’s the thing will brilliant storytelling, you don’t want it to be over. And that’s exactly how I felt as I was nearing the end of the fourth book in James A Moore’s Seven Forges series (Angry Robot Books).

noooo

It’s a terrible thing watching your bookmark move ever closer to the end. Part of you craves the conclusion while that other part of you is yelling to slow down, to prolong the read for as long as you can. But I finally closed the cover on The Silent Army, and I can say without a shadow of doubt this is one of the best fantasy series I’ve read.

Now before I embark on the small breaking-down of the book, let’s get the spoiler alert over and done with. While that’s happening, don’t mind me while I clean the cobwebs out of this blog – s’been a while, folks.

Okay, *clears throat*

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS! THERE, THERE BE SPOILERS! EVERYWHERE, SPOILER SPOILERS!

the-silent-army

Now I’m going to give you one final chance to bail now, because if you haven’t read book three (City of Wonders) then the beginning of the next paragraph is going to rob you of an epic reveal so turn away now. Go on. No sneaky-peeks.

So The Silent Army picks up right where book three left off: the city of Old Canhoon is still sailing through the sky toward the mountains, the Sa’ba Taalor are warring their way across the empire, and the gods and magic are amping up for a hell of a showdown. War! What is it good for? Absolutely epic reading, that’s what! (Yeah, I apologise for that.)

The story is told from both sides – from characters fighting for the empire of Fellhein, and from the Sa’ba Taalor. Multiple viewpoints only increased the connection I felt with all of the characters. Sure, there are some that don’t resonate as well as others, there are some that are… well, asshats, but diving deep into the beliefs and motivations for both sides makes it difficult to pick a side – there’s an honesty in that.

There are also those now caught in the middle: Drask Silver Hand (he’s a fave), Nolan March, and Tega – their venture in the Mounds has them almost lifted to the power of gods, and causes much introspection about their involvement in the war. Then there’s Andover (Lashk) Iron Hands – once Fellhein, now very much Sa’ba Taalor. These four play pivotal roles in the outcome of the war, although Moore gives you only just enough to wonder what’s at play before slapping you upside the head with the revelations – and there are many.

I can’t go further without again sending a big kudos to Moore for his magic system – especially that of the Sa’ba Taalor. It’s brutal, it’s beautiful, and it brokers no dissent. The gods of the Seven Forges are moving house, and they’re usurping mountains, creating their own if need be, and they’re doing it on a grand scale – their kings will die, and die well, to ensure it.

The Sa’ba Taalor are born for battle, while the Fellhein army has somewhat fallen on its laurels. Moore shows the reader the difference between warrior and soldier. But the Fellhein have the Silent Army – large stone soldiers that protect Old Canhoon. Stone soldiers that move via the walls, stepping out and attacking those Sa’ba Taalor who have hidden in the meat-sacks of Fellhein individuals as they wreak havoc on the city before it settles back to earth (ah, King Swech, you kick serious bum, girl!). It’s an army that’s the match of the Sa’ba Taalor, and their battles are ferociously good.

There’s so much good about this book, about this whole series that I can’t even begin to explain why you should be reading this. I was completely and utterly immersed in this world, and I damn well didn’t want to leave it (or be forced out by the end of The Silent Army). The only recompense is that there are three more in the series, the first of which is at least a year away. But don’t think you need to wait for those before starting on this series – books one through four have a complete story arc.

And a special shout-out to cover artist Alejandro Colucci, whose covers for the whole series were just gorgeous.

With a glut of books on the market, take my word that this is a series you’re going to love. You’ll be invested, you’ll be immersed, and you’ll wonder why you didn’t pick these books up earlier. It’s epic fantasy at its best. The writing is strong, the characters beautifully flawed, and the magic systems are wonderfully unique. James A Moore is one of those writers that as a reader, you love; and as a writer, he makes you want to be better.

On a Goodreads scale I give it five stars (if I could give it ten, I would. Or eleventy-million – either or.)