Category Archives: Reviews

Festivus Book Pimping — Plague War Trilogy by Alister Hodge

Keeping with the spirit of Festivus Pimpus, there ain’t no silent night in the Plague War trilogy (Severed Press). Stepping away from the fantasy genre for a moment, Australian author Alister Hodge has crafted an apocalyptic horror based on home soil – and with the plethora of apocalypse/post-apocalypse tales set in either the US or <insert generic setting here> it was a real treat to read a trilogy set in my backyard.

Hodge has created a virus-born cataclysm that produces zombies — first infection via bat (no vampires here). And these aren’t your run-of-the-mill shuffling kind of zombies, but the fast, nasty-as-shit kind that make survival pretty damn hard. As it should. I mean, we’re talking end times here, and Hodge taps into one of the reasons I love apocalyptic fiction –choice. The ‘who we become’ in these moments, who we want to be and who we are at our core. Where the mark of the person comes to the fore in moments such as these.

Now, I have to admit I’ve only read the first two in the trilogy – my paperbacks are taking forever to get here – but if the third is anything even remotely as good as the first two, then it’s going to be a hell of a final ride. Hodge doesn’t shy from making the tough decision of killing characters (even favourites), and he gets that exactly right. The apocalypse doesn’t discriminate – we’re all meat.

So here’s the blurb for book one – Plague War: Outbreak

In an Emergency Department, Doctor Harry fails to resuscitate a young woman suffering from an infected bite wound. While her body awaits transfer to the morgue, Harry is stunned to witness the corpse lurch off the bed and attack his staff. It’s not an isolated incident. Lysan Plague has crossed the species divide from bat to human and mutated with devastating effect. Burning across the country in a tide of bloody violence, it overwhelms an unprepared police force and government. Bite victims re-animate as plague ‘Carriers’, creatures lost to conscious thought, consumed by rage and an urge to feed on the non-infected. No-one is safe in the apocalypse, and only those who are willing to fight will survive. Harry forms an alliance with several other survivors, but will it be enough for them to hold out until the Army regroups to fight back?

And for Plague War: Pandemic

Hope is battered, but not lost.
After jumping the species divide from bat to human, Lysan Plague has torn across mainland Australia in an orgy of bloody violence, decimating the population and smashing an unprepared army onto the back foot.
Off the coast of Victoria, a mission to capture Queenscliff Fort and regain a military foothold on the mainland is about to launch. Mark is a soldier in the first landing party.
Erin awaits evacuation from King Island to Tasmania, however, her safety is far from assured. While storm winds drive a plague-riddled ship in their direction, a sadistic guard begins to target women within the camp.
The time for retreat is over. Neither Mark or Erin will back down from the coming fight, but when faced with monsters, both human and undead, will determination be enough for them to survive?

And the final, Plague War: Retaliation

The Australian Army has won its first victory, but the gore-spattered streets of Melbourne await. Buried under a mega-swarm, Lysan Plague has transformed the state capital into a slaughterhouse of epic proportions.
Meanwhile, famine threatens, and more troops are needed before the final assault. When Mark’s platoon is sent to a rural town to re-establish food production and conscript soldiers, they face violent opposition from an outlaw motorcycle club, ‘The Spartans’.
Across the water, Tasmania is in the grip of a terror campaign led by the Patriot’s Party who aim to sever ties with the mainland.
With supply lines and troop numbers secured, the Army prepares to attack the Melbourne swarm. But with a traitor in their midst, will this epic battle seethe armed forces obliterated in an orgy of violence?

As I mentioned earlier, I’m a sucker for great apocalyptic fiction and zombie fiction, and Hodge has created a pretty fucked-up world here that doesn’t shy from the brutalities of the ‘quietus’, but it’s the characters that carry these books, and the decisions they make that really hold it alltogether… well that, and the damn fine storytelling.

You really should be reading this.

Recommended for those who enjoy horror, zombie tales, apocalyptic and post-apocalypse fiction, apocalyptic fiction with an Aussie flavour, great characters, military fiction, killer fight scenes. 

Festivus Book Pimping — We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

Jingle Bells, mofos! It’s Festivus Booking Pimping time again, and up on today’s humble stone is Devin Madson’s epically awesome We Ride the Storm, the first in her Reborn Empire tetralogy. And it’s a hell of a story – one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve read. Like ever.

In my last Pimpus, I spoke of killer opening lines, and Madson more than delivers with hers: It is harder to sever a head than people think.

That should give you some idea of the tone of the book, but you’d be mistaken in thinking the act of beheading is barbarous, cruel in its intent. Far from it. And that’s the thing with Madson’s work, it’s beautiful in its storytelling, the language and imagery a joy to read, and her characters burrow deep beneath your skin and take root.

We Ride the Storm is told through the eyes of three point-of-view characters, each told in first-person narrative. A symbol at the beginning of each chapter marks through whose eyes you’ll be viewing the world for a time, but the voices are distinct, individual, unique. And you will have favourites (yup, in the plural).

Here’s the back-cover blurb:

War built the Kisian Empire and war will tear it down. And as an empire falls, three warriors rise.

Caught in a foreign war, Captain Rah e’Torin and his exiled warriors will have to fight or die. Their honour code is all they have left until orders from within stress them to breaking point, and the very bonds that hold them together will be ripped apart.

Cassandra wants the voice in her head to go away. Willing to do anything for peace, the ageing whore takes an assassination contract that promises answers, only the true price may be everyone and everything she knows.

A prisoner in her own castle, Princess Miko doesn’t dream of freedom but of the power to fight for her empire. As the daughter of a traitor the path to redemption could as easily tear it, and her family, asunder.

As an empire dies they will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.

We Ride the Storm has also just become a finalist in the ‘Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog Off’ (SPFBO), gaining a top ten spot out a whopping three hundred entries. That’s the quite the feat, and a testament to the brilliance of this book.

Yes, this book is self-published, and for those who think SP-books are of lesser quality, you couldn’t be more wrong. We Ride the Storm is self-publishing done right. And that divine cover is original artwork by the uber-talented John Anthony Di Giovanni, with layout and cover design by Shawn T King (the two officially known as the ‘dream team’). As you can probably tell, the setting for the book is non-Euro centric, and the descriptions of the lands of Kisia and Chiltae are superb. And there are horses, lots of horses.

The magic is low-level, and there are hints at a greater magic that underlies those such as Cassandra and secondary character, Leo. But as the first in the Reborn Empire, the intrigue of what’s at play carries damn well throughout the story.

I cannot recommend this book enough (GO BUY IT! NOW!), and for those waiting on the next instalment in the series, We Lie With Death is on schedule for a March 2019 release.

Recommended for (everyone) those who love dark fantasy, political machinations, grimdark, epic fantasy, clash of cultures, and just damn fine writing.

Not recommended for those who have an aversion to violence – war is not filled with rainbows and unicorns… although unicorns do come with their own weapon…

Festivus Book Pimping – City of Lies by Sam Hawke

The next book to be Festivus Pimped (so a thing) is by the wonderful Australian author Sam Hawke. Her debut novel, City of Lies (Tor Publishing), is the first in the Poison Wars series but operates as a standalone. And what a brilliant read it is… and has a hellof a first line: ‘I was seven years old the first time my uncle poisoned me.’ 

Blurb:

Outwardly, Jovan is the lifelong friend of the Chancellor’s charming, irresponsible Heir. Quiet. Forgettable. In secret, he’s a master of poisons and chemicals, trained to protect the Chancellor’s family from treachery. When the Chancellor succumbs to an unknown poison and an army lays siege to the city, Jovan and his sister Kalina must protect the Heir and save their city-state.

But treachery lurks in every corner, and the ancient spirits of the land are rising…and angry.

While City of Lies sits firmly in the fantasy genre but it’s the murder mystery that drives this story, and it’s quite the suspect list. Let’s not forget the political machinations once the chancellor is murdered. With the city under siege and the enemy closing in, time is running out to find the killer (or killers) and save the Heir from being next on the hit list. Hawke’s world-building is grand in scope yet intricately detailed, and even though most of the story is set within the city’s walls, the world is completely realised.

And oh, the chapter separators. Each new chapter is preceded by a poison (usually plant-based) with an illustration and description of its properties. Due to the ‘whodunnit’ style of the story, these little titbits of information have you guessing as to which was used to kill the Chancellor, and whetherJovan will succumb to a poison for proofing the food for the now Chancellor of a besieged city set with assassins unknown.

City of Lies is a big book, sitting at just over 500 pages, but the skill with which Hawke tells her tale, it is by no means a laborious read. The characters are fully fleshed out, relatable, and with both Jovan and Kalina dealing with personal/physical limitations (Jovan with OCD and Kalina with chronic health issues), the reliance on each other, the skills they’ve acquired and their honour-bound duty to protect the chancellor and his heirs, adds extra depth to the storytelling.

It was a hell of a read, intricately plotted and with a satisfying end that tied up its threads nicely.

Recommended for fans of fantasy, epic fantasy, mystery, political shenanigans, murder mystery.


Festivus Book Pimping – Godblind & Darksoul by Anna Stephens

As promised, Festivus Book Pimping is here! And first cabs off the rank are Godblind and Darksoul by Anna Stephens. Yes, this is a two-for, and if you’re looking at hitting some grimdark, then buckle-up, grab your sword or axe (or both) and get ready for battle.

WARNING: MAY CONTAIN MINOR SPOILERS

The first in Stephens’ trilogy, Godblind, is a story of gods, sacrifice, political machinations, and no little amount of bloodshed.  It’s a brutal story, no bones about it, and it doesn’t shy from the horror of war and those caught up in it. Told from multiple points of view, the chapters are short, pushing you through the book at a cracking pace as we’re introduced to the main players – and even with those, everything is not as it seems. The Red Gods are rising, and they will drown the world in blood.

Here’s the back-cover blurb:

The Mireces worship the bloodthirsty Red Gods. Exiled from Rilpor a thousand years ago, and left to suffer a harsh life in the cold mountains, a new Mireces king now plots an invasion of Rilpor’s thriving cities and fertile earth.

Dom Templeson is a Watcher, a civilian warrior guarding Rilpor’s border. He is also the most powerful seer in generations, plagued with visions and prophecies. His people are devoted followers of the god of light and life, but Dom harbours deep secrets, which threaten to be exposed when Rillirin, an escaped Mireces slave, stumbles broken and bleeding into his village.

Meanwhile, more and more of Rilpor’s most powerful figures are turning to the dark rituals and bloody sacrifices of the Red Gods, including the prince, who plots to wrest the throne from his dying father in the heart of the kingdom. Can Rillirin, with her inside knowledge of the Red Gods and her shocking ties to the Mireces King, help Rilpor win the coming war?

Godblind Darksoul

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, although there’s one scene that, even as a seasoned horror reader, had me wince, but there are no rules in a war between gods, and sacrifices must be made… the torturous the better.

It had me clamouring for the next in the series, Darksoul. The war is in full swing, and the kingdom of Rilpor is under heavy siege. Like, shit is really hitting the fan at this stage. This is hardcore battle here, with some pretty gruesome deaths, and a whole lot of sacrifices to please the Red Gods and bring about their victory, but hidden in plain sight is the Fox God, and the moment he comes to the fore… well, there are two scenes within this book that ripped out my heart and handed it to me. Stephens quite happily puts all your feels on an emotional rollercoaster. As a second book, it hits all the right notes. It’s a tough read in places because you feel for certain characters and are invested in their plight, and Stephens takes full advantage, as a great writer should.

Back-cover blurb below:

The Wolves lie dead beside Rilpor’s soldiers, slaughtered at the hands of the Mireces and their fanatical army.

The veil that once kept the Red Gods at bay has been left in tatters as the Dark Lady’s plans for the world come to fruition. Where the gods walk, blood is spilled on the earth.

All that stands between the Mireces army and complete control of the Kingdom of Rilpor are the walls of its capital, Rilporin, and those besieged inside.

But hope might yet bloom in the unlikeliest of places: in the heart of a former slave, in the mind of a soldier with the eyes of a fox, and in the hands of a general destined to be king.

It’s clear Stephens knows how to weave a tale and weave it well – her characters are well-drawn, fully fleshed out individuals, the magic is both awful and beautiful, and gods that pluck the strings of those major players are some harsh taskmasters.

These books aren’t going to be for everyone, no doubt, but if you’re looking for fantasy on the darker side of the reading spectrum filled with unique characters going through shitty things (and good things, too – yes, there is balance), then these books are definitely worth the read.

And the covers, oh my those covers. Mine are in beautiful hardback, and they are divine.

The third in the trilogy, BloodChild, is set for release next year, so why not grab the first two and in the lead-up for the release – you won’t be disappointed.

Recommended for those who like some grim in their fantasy and aren’t afraid to wade into bloody battle for their fix.

Rated for: blood, gore, violence, torture scenes, sex.

Not Dead, I Just Look That Way

Seriously, I’m not. Though it may appear that way considering the lack of posts these last few months. The lead-up to Christmas is one of my busiest times when it comes to work, so it’s been head down, bum up, and loooong hours in the editing chair.

But fear not, good readers! Things are about to change!

The tradition of Festivus Book Pimping is upon us! Can I get a book-a-lujah! (It’s a thing, work with me here.) For those unfamiliar with the tradition, every few days in the lead up to Christmas, I will be pimping a book I’ve read and/or worked on this year that I believe deserves to be wrapped in shiny paper and gifted to a loved one, friend, colleague… or even Secret Santa that baby. Hell, want to give an author friend a present? Gift their book to someone — two turtle doves and all that.

As you know, books are the best gifts (fight me), but it can sometimes be a little overwhelming knowing which books to choose for someone (or someones). Enter, Festivus Book Pimping! Each pimping will come with a mini-review and recommendation, plus a link to where you can purchase — be it print or ebook.

As Stephen King said, “Books are uniquely portable magic.” The man’s not wrong, and what better gift to give someone, than magic.

Stay tuned…
book magic

 

 

Review: Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

As I’m recovering from the long weekend of Supanova, and I’m not in the right headspace for work… review time it is!

I finished Nicholas Eames’ much-hyped Kings of the Wyld last week, and while it took longer for me to finish than it should, it was more that I was time poor than a reflection on the novel, which I’ll break down in a moment.

But first…

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. LIKE BIG, SPOILER SPOILERY SPOILERS. READ ON AT YOUR OWN SPOILERY RISK. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Kings of the Wyld

Right then.

As I said, Kings of the Wyld has been much-hyped, earning rave reviews and high star-ratings so I was looking forward to stepping into this world. Over-the-hill mercenaries getting the band back together for a final quest to save the daughter of one of their own? Great premise, and big yay for having older protags – something sorely missing and not often explored in fiction.

It starts well, if a little slow (pacing is an issue with the storytelling, but I’ll get into that a little later), and we’re introduced to the first two of five protagonists: Clay Cooper (our storyteller) and Golden Gabe (whose daughter, Rose, the band is off to rescue). After collecting the three others: Moog (the wizard), Matrick (a despondent king grown fat), and Ganelon (a man turned to stone for the last twenty years), the band sets off to cross the infamous Heartwyld… but a lot happens before that. Like… a lot. There’s monsters of all kinds (so many, I lost count), the Silk Arrows who continue to rob Clay’s band whenever the chance arises, fighting a chimera, faking Matrick’s death, keeping ahead of bounty hunters Matrick’s wife sent after them… Like I said, a lot.

However, the humour does shine through – some of the one liners had me laughing out loud, and others had me groaning, but it is part of the charm of this book… and at times, saves it. That’s the thing with Kings of the Wyld, when I got to it’s end, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I enjoyed it, yes, it was fun, and there is a lot to like about it… but there are issues. Some big, some not so big but important nonetheless.

I mentioned earlier that the pacing is off; we begin with the urgency of getting to Gabe’s daughter to save her – surrounded by a horde of unimaginable size, time can’t be wasted. But there are so many side-quests, interruptions, meanderings… the intensity and urgency are lost in what is the basic premise of the story. So many monsters are introduced and described – especially in the middle of the book ‒ that Rose barely rates a mention.

That can be forgiven because Eames’ prose and his narrative style does work to pull the reader in, and there are some truly beautiful lines and moments in this middle section. It’s also where we get to meet Dane & Gregor – the two-headed Ettin. The relationship between the blind and grotesque Dane, and his seeing brother who describes a hideous and shit world as beautiful and wondrous was a joy to read. It’s clear Eames has the skill to write complex characters with depth and a wealth of emotion.

It’s the Ettin that shows the flaws in the characterisation of our five main players…except, perhaps, for Ganelon ‒ my favourite of the band. This is where I struggled with this book, because there are some exceptional moments Eames has created. The conversation between Clay and Ganelon where they’re discussing the twenty years Ganelon’s been trapped in stone is one of the best of the book, with Ganelon wondering what kind of monster he must have been for his friends to not come for him. It’s moments such as these that lit the book for me, that showed the skill Eames has for conflict and character depth. But it didn’t flow through to all.

Yet there came a moment, when Clay lost his hand, and where I thought here we go, now we’re going to get some real agency. As shocked as I was (I’m pretty sure I gasped aloud) that Clay had his hand severed, it was that struggle to remain valid within the band, to continue to help his friends regardless I was so looking forward to seeing. And we do see a little of it; that determination and struggle to climb back up that mountain and rejoin the band was excellent.

And then…

And then…

I can hardly say it.

Ta-da! His hand regrew.

Why? Why do that? Why rob the reader of that moment? Of the moments to come from this game-changer? It felt like a cheat. That I didn’t need to worry about Clay’s or the rest of the band’s fate – everyone was going to be just fine. And if not? Magic was cure-all.

It just didn’t work for me.

Look, I’m sure there are going to be a lot of people who say I just didn’t “get” the book, and that’s fine, maybe I didn’t. But I need to be invested in the outcomes of the characters, to worry over them, to hope and cheer and yell at them because I want them to survive. Give me that threat of character death, the implausibility of survival, make me fate-invested. I see the scope of facing insurmountable odds and the ridiculousness of it that Eamses did show, but when balanced against those moments of depth… it was almost (at times) a tale of two authors.

Thing is, I did enjoy Kings of the Wyld. The fight scenes were on point, the humour was excellent, and some of the characters just shone. There were moments of brilliance within, but the hand… man, that hand.

On a Goodreads scale, I gave it four stars but it’s probably sitting just under that.

Festivus Book Pimping: The Tide series by Anthony J Melchiorri

Next in the Festivus Pimping of the Books comes from Anthony J Melchiorri in the form of his military horror series, The Tide. If you’re looking for monsters with a voracious appetite then this is the book… books for you! Like seriously, these are some of the best developed and creepy AF monsters created.

I’ve read five in this series, with the sixth novel only just released (must get on that), and the writing is phenomenally good. Melchorri knows how to weave a tale and keep the action and the tension high pretty much throughout the books. You get small reprieves, but in this world of monsters, any reprieve is welcomed.

As there are six books in the series, I’m not going to give you a breakdown of each – that’d take too long, but here’s the back-cover blurb for the first in the series ‒ The Tide:

Captain Dominic Holland leads a crew of skilled covert operatives and talented scientific personnel. He’s taken them to all corners of the earth to protect the United States from biological and chemical warfare. When his CIA handler, Meredith Webb, gives him a mission to investigate a disturbing lead on a laboratory based out of an abandoned oil rig, they discover the most terrifying threat to mankind they’ve ever faced—a genetically engineered biological weapon called the Oni Agent.

Back in the United States, Meredith discovers a frightening connection between the CIA and the Oni Agent. But her investigations are short-lived when the Agent spreads and brings mankind to its knees. Cities burn as it turns humans into warped creatures hell-bent on destruction.

Dominic and Meredith vow to do everything they can to combat the Agent and find a cure. But will their efforts be enough to turn the tide—or is humanity’s fate already sealed?

the-tide

These are some badass creatures, and it’s clear Melchiorri’s has tapped into his background in Biomedical Engineering (do not let this man loose in a lab without a serious supply of caffeine) to warp humans into what the characters affectionately call “Skulls”. I’d so love to tell you why, but I don’t want to taint the joy of that discovery for you.

There’s a lot to love about this series: the characters are flawed and believable, the fight scenes are graphically awesome, the Skulls and the way their DNA warps them is most excellent, and the writing is sharp and on point. And guns. There’s a whole bunch of firepower in these books. Oh, and Melchiorri doesn’t shy from killing off characters – that’s a definite plus for me; sometimes you gotta make the hard call.

So if you’re looking to put some horror into your Christmas (and not just the horror of venturing into the Christmas crowds), then I can’t recommend this series enough.

Recommended for lovers of horror, military horror, apocalypse tales, killer monsters, covert ops, political bastardry, puppies.

Available in all formats.