I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction, Alternate History
Series: United States of Japan
Publisher: Ace Books (September 18, 2018)
Length: 416 pages
Mecha Samurai Empire takes place in the world of Peter Tieryas’ United States of Japan, an alternate history described as a spiritual successor to The Man in High Castle in which the Japanese won World War II and conquered America. While this is the second novel set in the USJ sequence, the author’s intention is for each book in the series to be a standalone focusing on a different aspect of this universe, and in the case of this one, our story follows a young man on his journey to become a mecha pilot so he can join the war against the Nazis.
The books starts off in the year 1994, and our protagonist Makoto “Mac” Fujimoto is a Californian teenager who has spent his whole life growing up under the imperial rule of Japan. With dreams of one day fighting for his country by joining the mecha corps, he must ace his upcoming Imperial Exams because the program will only accept the best of the best. The only problem is, Mac is a terrible student. Even with his powerful resolve and the fine skills he shows in the war sims he plays at the arcade and on his portical, his grades simply won’t be good enough to get him into one of the most prestigious mecha piloting schools in the world at Berkeley Military Academy.
So when his best friend offers him a way to game the exams, it takes Mac great difficulty not to simply give in to the temptation of doing something immoral to get ahead. Ultimately though, his refusal to cheat winds up saving his life, even as his dreams of attending Berkeley after graduation lies in tatters. Still, there may yet be a way for Mac to become a mecha pilot—as a civilian—but only if he manages to survive long enough in the dangerous political climate created by escalating tensions between Germany and Japan.
After reading United States of Japan and now Mecha Samurai Empire, I’ve started to notice that Peter Tieryas has a remarkable l knack for writing about underdog characters and getting the reader to cheer for them. Mac is a great example of an underachiever, particularly in the academics, who can still work his way to his goal with strong determination and a good heart. Perhaps apropos to this series, his journey also shows that while a disaster can alter the course of your entire life, new opportunities can arise from plans that go awry—opportunities that you may have never even considered before.
As a result, Mecha Samurai Empire is also a first-rate coming-of-age tale as Mac struggles to find his identity and carve out a role for himself while navigating this world of colonialism, conspiracy, and corruption. He discovers that reality isn’t as black and white as he’s been led to believe. He experiences what it’s like to be in a real battle and in real danger—so very different from the simulation games he plays. He learns about love and loss, forging new relationships while also realizing how much his old friends mean to him.
But now let’s turn to the main reason why you’re probably checking out this book: the totally badass giant robot on the cover. Yes, this story has mechas. A lot of them. In fact, if you were somewhat disappointed by the relative lack of mecha action in United States of Japan, I think you’ll be quite happy with how much of it you get here. Inspired by anime and games like Persona, Zone of the Enders, and Metal Gear, Tieryas packs this novel with plenty of thrilling and fast-paced battle scenes as well as references to gaming and geek culture, making it perfect for fans of sci-fi action and adventure.
In addition, the author has greatly expanded his world-building in this volume, giving us a look at another one of the many interesting sides to the USJ universe. A significant portion of it explores the cold war between the Japanese Empire and Nazi Germany, the latter of which has continued to commit the worst kinds of atrocities. Meanwhile, the government in the Unites States is also dealing with a group of rebels known as the George Washingtons, whose goal is to break the country free from the rule of Japan. Because of the modern setting, at times it’s easy to forget this is an alternate world, but inevitably something always happens to pull you back into this strange and unfamiliar place and remind you that the different outcome of WWII has affected all aspects of culture and society on a global scale.
That’s also why I was tremendously excited to read Mecha Samurai Empire, because I wanted to know more and explore this alternate timeline further after reading United States of Japan. While the two books may share a few thematic similarities due to the fact they both take place in the same world, on the whole they are still vastly different. Furthermore, Peter Tieryas has clearly been honing his craft, for I feel that the storytelling and pacing is better in this book and more polished. All in all, this was a great read and I hope this is just the beginning of more books set in the world of USJ.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of United States of Japan
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tor Teen (August 7, 2018)
Length: 336 pages
It is the mid-1800s in the small New England town of Feavers Crossing, and Valentine Deluca is a teenager who has grown up with the stigma of being a murderer’s daughter. It didn’t matter that Valentine was only six years old when her mother was hanged for the killing of Nigel Blackshaw, a local man from a wealthy and prominent family; towns like Feavers Crossing don’t forgive and forget easily, and people in power have a way of holding a grudge. Still, thanks to the financial support provided by a mysterious benefactor, Valentine is able to attend the most prestigious school in the area, even if her presence there is met with scorn and severe backlash. Valentine finds it hard to mix with her fellow students, who whisper vicious things behind her back. Even more awkward is that Rowan Blackshaw, the son of the man her mother killed, is also enrolled at the school.
Shockingly though, instead of blaming her for her mother’s crimes, Rowan sees in Valentine a kindred spirit. As graduation approaches, their friendship deepens into something more, much to the dismay of Rowan’s grandmother, the indomitable Mrs. Blackshaw, as well as Sam Frye, Valentine’s best friend who has loved her since they were both children. But then one day, new information comes to light on the murder of Nigel Blackshaw, turning Valentine’s world upside down. With equal parts terror and excitement, our protagonist realizes that what she has discovered may help clear her mother’s name, but fears that it might also mean the end of her relationship with Rowan, because surely the truth would break his heart.
I won’t lie; this book started off with a lot of promise, but sadly I felt that most of it was negated by the contrived storytelling and some really poor decisions on the main character’s part. Let’s start off with the elephant in the room: the dreaded love triangle. I know this is a contentious topic for a lot of readers. Some love them, others can’t stand them. Personally, I’ve had my issues with love triangles in the past, but for the most part, I can deal with (and even enjoy) them as long as 1) they are well written, and 2) they don’t get in the way of the main story.
Bearing these two points in mind, when it comes to Girl at the Grave, I truly cannot think of a book that needed a love triangle less. And it’s a shame, because it single-handedly sabotaged what I believe could have been a great YA mystery suspense. What I wanted was more examples of Valentine being strong, clever, and steadfast as she sought for answers and worked tirelessly towards getting to the bottom of her mother’s history. What I got instead was her bouncing between Rowan and Sam like some deranged ping-pong ball. Her character ended up embodying everything I despise about indecisive female leads, especially those who can only think about boys and kissing while other lives are at stake. In all fairness though, our lovesick Valentine did manage to pull herself together by the third act, but by then an undue amount of time had already been wasted dwelling on the love triangle theatrics.
To the novel’s credit, when you take away all the unnecessary romantic drama, the author does write a compelling mystery plot. The twists are slightly ill-timed and inelegant, but they work well in spite of that. A couple of the major reveals genuinely surprised me, which incidentally made me all the more eager to get past the love triangle and right back into the main story. The writing was also solid, though some word choices, descriptions, and dialogue probably could have been polished up or reworked to better reflect the setting in a historical context. The gothic-style atmosphere didn’t always come through, and sometimes the mid-nineteenth century setting felt only like a thin cloth draped over a modern teen novel.
In sum, Girl at the Grave held some true potential, and really, for a debut, it’s not bad. However, too many missteps and plot banalities like an annoying love triangle ultimately made this one a disappointment.
Welcome to The Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy! Each Friday, we will pit cover against cover while also taking the opportunity to showcase gorgeous artwork and feature some of our favorite book covers. If you want to join the fun, simply choose a book each Friday that fits that week’s predetermined theme, post and compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.
This week’s theme is:
“He had killed man, the noblest game of all, and he had killed in the face of the law of club and fang.”
~ a cover featuring a WOLF
This is a good one for a cold winter night, when all you want to do is to curl up on the couch with a nice warm cup of cocoa and a sweet tale of puppy love. Shiver was a book I read a while ago (pre-blogging) so I can’t say I recall too many details beyond the romance, but certainly its concept of werewolves that shift depending on temperature change is one that has stayed with me. Let’s take a look at some of the covers:
From left to right:
Scholastic Press (2009) – Scholastic (2011) – Scholastic Inc. (2014)
German Edition (2010) – French Edition (2010) – Portuguese Edition (2010)
Italian Edition (2009) – Bulgarian Edition (2010) – Polish Edition (2011)
Indonesian Edition (2010) – Polish Edition (2015) – Russian Edition (2011)
Portuguese Edition (2014) – Chinese Edition (2010) – Italian Edition (2011)
Tough choice this week, as many of these are drop dead gorgeous. Still, I must confess that the whole reason I even read Shiver in the first place was because it was a impulsive cover buy. The delicate beauty and pale icy blues of original 2009 Scholastic hardcover edition immediately drew me to it when I first spied on a bookstore shelf years ago, so I’m choosing it as my winner because I find I still love it just as much now than I did then.
But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Ace (August 14, 2018)
Length: 416 pages
Stars Uncharted is an adventurous romp through space with three extraordinary characters: Nika Rik Terri is a talented body-modification artist who has made a name for herself with her innovative designs and methods; Josune Arriola is a traveler who has just signed on with the crew of the cargo ship The Road to the Goberlings, working as their junior engineer; and Hammond Roystan is the captain of that ship, who has just stumbled upon a find of a lifetime in the form of the disabled exploration ship Hassim whose databanks are said to be a treasure trove of uncharted worlds.
But what makes this story interesting is that no one is who they say they are. On the run after getting mixed up with some dangerous people, Nika flees from her old life aboard The Road with a rookie modder named Snow in tow. There, they get to know Josune and Roystan, who are dealing with their own set of problems. That’s because Josune is in fact a crew member from the Hassim, who had originally joined up with Roystan in order to spy on him and arrange a meeting between their two ships. Unfortunately, her plans go awry when it turns out that the Hassim was attacked by pirates, and everyone on board was massacred. With some very powerful enemies after her, she is now stuck in a precarious situation. Meanwhile, Roystan is also hiding his own share of secrets. His ship has become a target now that everyone thinks he holds the key to unlocking the mysteries of the Hassim, and the added threats are doing nothing for his already stressed mind and ill health. Traveling under a false identity, Nika beings to suspect that not all is right with The Road’s captain or his engineer, as her experience with body modding allows her to identify inconsistencies both their stories.
Stars Uncharted turned out to be everything I expected from a rollicking space opera: heavy on the action and adventure, though admittedly a little sparse on the details surrounding the world-building and technology. That said, the story was for the most part vastly entertaining. The first few chapters did feel slower, perhaps because of all the setting up required to establish the book’s premise and characters. However, once Nika, Josune, and Roystan finally met up and became a team, things got exponentially more interesting. Not surprisingly, it’s because the story’s three protagonist are at the heart of Stars Uncharted. The dynamics between them made this novel thoroughly engaging and addictive despite, or perhaps because of, all the secrets flying between them, for even though they come from different backgrounds, a sense of “We’re all in this together” prevails. Each character is well-developed with multiple layers of emotion and personality, which also interlock with each other to holds those relationship bonds together.
But as I made mention before with regards to the world-building and the technology described in this novel, those elements were relatively light. This, I believe, was a purposeful and practical decision, for it would have been no good to bog down the flow of this perfectly exuberant space opera with reams of techno-jargon and hard science. On the other hand, there’s not much in the way of guidance provided when trying to navigate this book’s universe, as readers are thrown into the thick of things from the very first page.
In order to keep up the story’s fast pacing, I suspect a lot of details were sacrificed, though there is one exception to this: body-modding. The narrative goes much deeper into the subject of body modification than it does for any other topic, though considering the role it plays in the story, I can see why. Incidentally, I also found it to be one of the most compelling issues in the book. As Nika’s specialization, I loved that she treated her work as an art as much as it is a science. While her job is to cater her designs to her clients’ needs, she isn’t shy about adding some flair of her own, which is why some laud her as a revolutionary trendsetter while others accuse her of being a rule-bending menace. However, the general idea is that identity is a much less important factor in the world of Stars Uncharted, since whatever you wish to be or look like can be arranged with a bit of money and a few hours spent inside a modding machine. The social implications of this is something I wish the story had spent more time exploring, though a lot of fascinating information can also be gleaned from the attitudes of the characters aboard The Road.
All told, it was a pleasure to finally read something by S.K. Dunstall. The pen name of this sister writing duo first landed on my radar with the Linesman trilogy and I’ve been curious about their work ever since. Stars Uncharted might not be breaking any new ground, but it sure managed to pull off exactly what it set out to do, which is to provide a fun sci-fi read full of exciting twists and other genuine delights, and the authors did a superb job.
Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that first originated at Breaking the Spine but has since linked up with “Can’t Wait Wednesday” at Wishful Endings now that the original creator is unable to host it anymore. Either way, this fun feature is a chance to showcase the upcoming releases that we can’t wait to get our hands on!
I became a fan of Dawn Kurtagich with The Dead House and I’ve been following her work ever since. It looks like her next book will be another real chiller.
Seventeen-year-old Zoey has been fascinated by the haunted, burnt-out ruins of Medwyn Mill House for as long as she can remember—so she and her best friend Poulton decide to explore the ruins. But are they really alone in the house?
In 1851, sixteen-year-old Roan arrives at the Mill House as a ward—one of three, all with their own secrets. When Roan learns that she is connected to an ancient secret, she must escape the house before she is trapped forever.
This haunting horror and captivating mystery redefines the horror and fantasy space.
Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish, a weekly meme that now resides at That Artsy Reader Girl. The meme first came about because of a love of lists. Who doesn’t love lists? The original creators also wanted their lists to be shared with fellow book lovers and to ask that we in turn share ours with them and connect with other book bloggers. To learn more about participating, stop by their page dedicated to it and dive in!
This week’s topic: 10 Underrated Books & Hidden Gems
Perhaps a more accurate name for my list is “Books that I think deserve a lot more attention” since most of these have been highly praised, though perhaps under-read. They can also be self-published, from medium-to-smaller publishers and imprints, or perhaps are examples of an author’s lesser known work. Most, I was shocked to see, have less than 500 ratings on Goodreads at the time of this writing, and this is what I chose as a key criteria. Here’s a similar list I did last year.
For epic fantasy lovers who want to see storytelling, characters, and worldbuilding get the same extensive, sweeping treatment in sci-fi, Empire of Silence is the answer. In this debut, Christopher Ruocchio introduces readers to Hadrian Marlowe, a monster or a hero—you decide. The entire galaxy knows his name, but well before he achieved notoriety as the man who defeated an alien race—by destroying a sun and snuffing out billions of lives to do it—he was the disappointing firstborn son of a noble archon and hopeful heir to the family’s uranium empire. Since so much of the truth about his past has been misrepresented or obscured, Hadrian’s own accounting of his life’s story makes it clear there is much more than meets the eye. Told in the tradition of epic fantasy novels like The Name of the Wind and Blood Song, Empire of Silence is an autobiography-style narrative recounted by a controversial and misunderstood protagonist who looks back at his long and storied life. It’s a confluence of genres as readers are presented a sprawling blockbuster novel containing just as many fantasy elements as sci-fi. Hadrian is brought up amidst lordly intrigue and drama not unlike something you would imagine on Game of Thrones, complete with castle cities and gladiatorial spectacles. Other readers have also commented on the Dune-like handling of the politics, economics, philosophy and history of this world. In fact, I can’t say there is much in this novel that is truly original, but what makes it special is Ruocchio’s enthusiasm and willingness to blend all these ideas together into one cool concoction. (Read the full review…)
The Book of Hidden Things is a story about four childhood friends from a small seaside town called Casalfranco in southern Italy. After high school, they all left home to pursue their individual dreams. Fabio went on to start a career as a fashion photographer in London. Mauro went to law school in Milan. Tony moved to Rome and became a very successful surgeon. And Art, the most eccentric and free-spirited of them all, traveled all around the continent doing odd jobs before returning to Casalfranco, where he uncharacteristically decided to settle after the death of his parents. Art has always been the unpredictable one, bouncing around from one obsession to the next. To his credit though, he was also the one who came up with the Pact—a promise that no matter what, the four friends will meet up in their hometown at the same place at the same time on the same date every year. Except this year, Art doesn’t show. Concerned, the three others go around town, checking his house and asking people about their friend, only to find that Art has seemingly vanished into thin air. In general, I find that a good book usually elicits one of two responses from me: 1) bury my nose in its pages and not come up for air until I’m done, or 2) draw out the experience as long as I can, sipping it like a fine wine in order to properly savor all the flavors and textures the story has to offer. The Book of Hidden Things definitely fell into the latter category. It’s a mix of drama, mystery, and a bit of psychological suspense. There is also just a hint of the supernatural, just vague enough to make you wonder what’s real and what’s not. At the end of the day, this book drew me in completely and irrevocably with its enigmatic appeal. (Read the full review…)
Scream All Night is not a book that falls entirely into the realm of what I typically read, but quite honestly, despite not being a big reader of YA contemporary fiction, I really enjoyed it. No, it’s not a horror novel, but the fact that the premise was about the making of horror films was an idea that greatly appealed to me, not to mention the meta quality of the story. At the center of this coming-of-age tale is 17-year-old Dario, whose father Lucien Heyward is the legendary director of dozens of beloved B-Horror cult films. However, few were aware of the things that truly went on behind the walls of Moldavia, the castle estate where Lucien made all of his films. Dario was just a boy when he was cast in the starring role of one of this father’s movies, and was subjected abuse and unbearable emotional pressure at the hands of his father. Soon after filming was completed, Dario had himself legally emancipated, choosing instead to be raised in a foster facility rather than step foot in Moldavia Studios ever again. Years later though, the news breaks that Lucien Heyward is dying. Refusing to go out quietly, the eccentric director decides to invite all his family, friends, and fans to a mysterious event as a final sendoff. Dario reluctantly agrees to attend, with a promise to himself that this would be his last time at Moldavia. Instead, he finds himself roped back into his past when it is revealed during the reading of the will that Lucien had named Dario the heir to his studio and legacy. A quirky dramedy, Scream All Night delivers a unique spin on a familiar idea and contains a surprising amount of heart and warmth. It is a coming-of-age journey full of sadness and regrets, but also hope and lots of laughter. (Read the full review…)
As someone who has lost track of the number of times I’ve been hoodwinked into reading so-called sci-fi comedy mashups à la Douglas Adams or Star Trek-like spoofs only to have them turn out to be cringeworthy juvenile attempts at humor, all I have to say is Gate Crashers is the real deal. Smart, funny, and creative, it elicited more than a few genuine belly laughs from me, and not a lot of books can do that. Our story begins with humanity’s first extra-solar mission aboard the space exploration starship Magellan. Carrying a crew in suspended animation, the ship AI notices an anomaly on her sensors and wakes Captain Ridgeway from her stasis to inform her of the discovery. The anomaly turns out to be of alien origin, and Ridgeway, deeming this evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life too important to ignore, decides to load the artifact on board and report the find to Earth. Meanwhile, back at home, researchers, politicians, and the media are working themselves into a froth trying to understand and reconstruct the alien technology. But humankind’s sudden leap forward in technology and knowledge has not gone unnoticed. A more aggressive alien species called the Turemok, who sees humanity’s first awkward baby steps at faster-than-light travel as an opportunity to frame Earth and start a galaxy-wide war. Perhaps what works most about Gate Crashers is that it could probably be categorized as full-on comedy, but general sci-fi readers can also enjoy it as an adventurous space opera with comedic elements. While books of this genre aren’t all that uncommon, I found the blend of humor and amount of substance behind the story to be just right, and for me to find something that strikes that perfect balance is very special and rare indeed. (Read the full review…)
Yes, Minecraft is a ridiculously popular game, but for some reason, the novels based on its world have tragically flown under a lot of radars. Minecraft: The Crash is the second official tie-in based on the popular survival sandbox video game. The story follows two teenagers, Bianca and Lonnie, who have been best friends ever since the fateful day they met on the playground and bonded over a love for Minecraft. Almost ten years later, the game is still the glue that binds them. Then one night, while on their way to a homecoming game, the two friends get into a terrible car accident. Bianca finally wakes up sometime later in the hospital. She learns from the doctors and from her parents that the accident was very serious, but no one tells her anything more, only that she needs to concentrate on getting better. Soon, Bianca discovers that there are other children at the hospital, some who are very sick and are admitted for long-term care. To provide entertainment for their young patients, the facility is equipped with a state-of-the-art virtual reality gaming system which even supports a VR version of Minecraft. One day, she meets a young boy who visits her room and invites her to his server which has been heavily customized with mods that he designed himself. As Bianca explores the new realm, she also meets other teens who are at the hospital. She teams up with them, hoping to find Lonnie along the way so they can all work towards playing to the final dimension of the game. This probably goes without saying, but this book will also be perfect for Minecraft fans, though I daresay even non-gamers will be able to find a lot of joy in the book as it contains a story with themes that will speak to readers from all walks of life. I won’t lie—the ending made me cry. I did not expect such an emotional conclusion, or that the final message would be so beautifully or poignantly written. (Read the full review…)
Admittedly, I’m not so big a fan of Jane Austen or Austen-inspired fiction that I would normally pick up any book with a title that begins with “Pride and…”, but there was just something irresistible about John Kessel’s novel that called to me. Of course, the added element of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein didn’t hurt. Still, although it may draw inspiration from one of two of the most beloved novels of classic literature, it would be a disservice to simply label Pride and Prometheus as just your average literary mashup. The story begins with the chance meeting between an English high society woman and a young scientist from Switzerland. Mary Bennet, one of the sisters of Elizabeth Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, encounters the quiet and pensive Victor Frankenstein at a ball. Drawn to his intelligence and his shared love of the sciences, Mary immediately strikes up a rapport with him, but is disappointed when Frankenstein ends up standing her up for a dance. The reason for his reticence is soon made apparent with the introduction of the Creature, a monster whom the scientist had brought to life and then cast out. Now the Creature stalks him, driven by Victor’s promise that he would fashion him a bride. This book is artfully written, with Kessel capturing the original novels’ forms and styles. Even if you’re familiar with both classics, there will still be plenty of surprises. This book endeared itself to me and then broke my heart, but all I could think about after finishing this was how I wanted more. (Read the full review…)
I love reading fantasy, I love reading science fiction, and occasionally I’ll even be in the mood for a bit of both at once. Is it any wonder then that The Nine hooked me on page one? Defying genre traditions and labels, Tracy Townsend’s debut is a fresh and bold novel that marches to the beat of its own drum. By blending together a number of speculative elements, the author has created something that’s altogether different and new. Taking place in an alternate universe in which science has become a religion and God is seen as the great Experimenter, The Nine involves a magical self-scribing book which lists the nine people whose actions will determine the fate of world. It’s the mother of all experiments, and needless to say, there are various factions who will go to great lengths to affects its outcome. For a novel with so many characters and interlacing plot lines, it is surprisingly well put together and tightly paced. Townsend also balances her storytelling with outstanding character development and layered world-building, with the mythos creation being especially impressive. The subjects of religion and science are explored in a way I’ve never seen before, opening up plenty of opportunities for reader engagement, considering the vast number of possibilities for the direction of this series. Almost immediately, the setting feels at once familiar but also strange and exotic enough to be a full-fledged secondary world with all the escapist potential a fantasy fan could ask for. This debut positively crackles with imagination and enigmatic charm, and if you’re looking for a clever and magnificently crafted genre-bending fantasy, I wholeheartedly recommend this one. (Read the full review…)
From the fascinating premise to the amazing setting and characters, it’s clear everything about Ghosts of Tomorrow is pure Michael R. Fletcher—that is to say, grim, gritty, and violently gory. The story takes place in the near future, and technology has come a long way with the advent of brain scans and the ability to transfer a deceased person’s mind into machines called chassis. While they have sentience and retain most of the memories and personality they had in life, scans are more or less immortal and can be tweaked like any program, making them a highly sought after resource in almost every industry. Officially, people become scans voluntarily, but criminal organizations have capitalized by churning out their own black market scans in illegal crèches. It’s a horrifying process: children are put through forced conditioning, and then killed for their precious brains which are then scanned and sold. Somewhere deep within mob territory in Costa Rica, the scanned mind of an autistic girl known only as 88 awakens to her new reality. Bought for an exorbitant sum from a black market crèche, her scan was originally acquired by the South American Mafia to manage their business empire. However, all 88 wants to do is find her mom. And unfortunately for her masters, 88 has all the mental and technological resources at her disposal to break free of their virtual chains. Books like Ghosts of Tomorrow make me wonder why Fletcher isn’t a bigger deal in the world of SFF. Do not read it if you are squeamish or prefer only safe, happy, familiar topics—but if you enjoy unflinchingly twisted and mind-bending stories, then this one is a gem. (Read the full review…)
Ever since Spielberg made Jaws and traumatized a whole generation of moviegoers from swimming in the ocean, the ongoing popularity of books, films, TV shows about these mighty predators are proof of our obsession. If you have a fascination for shark fic or if you grew up watching cheesy horror flicks and creature features, I’m willing to bet this book will also tickle all the right synapses in your brain. Shark Island opens on a beautiful summer day on Cape Cod. College student Naomi Cardiff and her girlfriend are sunning themselves on a boat when she notices a large herd of seals on a nearby stretch of beach. Deciding to swim towards them for a closer look, Naomi subsequently gets attacked by a shark. The incident sparks off a debate surrounding seal overpopulation, which has been blamed for the increase of Great Whites in the area drawn to their natural prey. The solution ends up falling to a group of scientists who have developed an acoustic signal system that could be used to lure the seals away from the cape. Eleven months later the team is ready for its first trial run, and now a journalism student, Naomi is also along for the ride. However, a powerful storm has blown in, causing torrential rain and massive storm swells. After the frenzying sharks ram and breach the hull of their boat, Naomi and her fellow passengers’ only hope of survival is a tiny island which is quickly being swallowed up by the rising waves. Yes, there was a lot of screaming, dying, and limbs getting ripped off in this story, and if you’re the kind of reader who just wants to get their gruesome shark porn fix and doesn’t give a fig about anything else, chances are you’ll also be perfectly happy with what Shark Island has to offer. (Read the full review…)
Ambitious in scope and audacious in its execution, A Gathering of Ravens spectacularly weaves together the threads of history and mythological tradition, spiriting readers away on a journey through legend and time. Combining elements from Norse and Celtic mythology with the richness of the early medieval landscape, the story has plenty of bloodshed and triumph, love and loss, tragedy and hope…and yes, we also have an Orc. Grimnir is the last of his kind. Most would also agree that he is a monster, an evil creature birthed from the earth’s dark depths. But in truth, he is a lot more than that, as the plot expands to reveal his quest for vengeance against Bjarki Half-Dane, the oathbreaker who killed his brother. When two weary followers of Christ unknowingly take shelter in his cave one stormy night, Grimnir kidnaps the younger of them as his hostage, forcing her to be his guide to the land across the sea. Frightened and grieving for her friend now lost to her, Étaín has no choice but to do what her beastly captor says, accompanying him through the Danish wilderness. The strength of this book lies in Scott Oden’s skill in evoking the spirit and atmosphere of a time gone by. If you enjoy historical fantasy novels of vast and epic proportions, then you should absolutely read A Gathering of Ravens. (Read the full review…)
Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 3 of The Wounded Kingdom
Publisher: Orbit (August 7, 2018)
Length: 508 pages
Holy crap, this book. THIS DAMN BOOK. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Seriously, I can’t even. I’m a mess. A quivering, sobbing mess. Everyone one of these Wounded Kingdom books has been a boatload of emotions, and King of Assassins was easily the most powerful and poignant of them all. I’ve traveled this long road with Girton, Merela, Rufra, Aydor, and the others, and after witnessing their trials and tribulations, finally being able to see it all culminate into this one big epic finale was both a little euphoric and cathartic.
But first, a recap. The Wounded Kingdom is a trilogy of books that follows protagonist Girton Clubfoot, so-named because of his malformed foot, but if you think this causes him any kind of disability, think again. From a young age, he has been trained as an assassin by his master Merela, becoming quite an accomplished fighter. The entire series is told from the point-of-view of an older Girton, recalling the events of his past, with each book focusing on an important time in his life. As a result, the novels stand alone in that they each feature a self-contained story, but together they form a complete picture of the character’s evolution over a period of decades. As such, it would be worth it to read the full trilogy, and in order. This is definitely an epic fantasy trilogy you won’t want to miss, and it’s one that is best experienced fully.
This does mean though that we’ve once again jumped forward in time in King of Assassins. Fifteen or sixteen years have passed since we saw Girton last in Blood of Assassin, and those of us who remember what a restless and volatile young adult he was would be happy to know that time gap has mellowed him somewhat, with age bringing maturity and more self-restraint. Now in his 30s, Girton has become a full-fledged assassin, and has even taken on an apprentice as his own. Still, as his friend King Rufra’s most trusted advisor, Girton’s main role these days often involves providing security and protection for the royal family. Together with his rival-turned-ally Aydor, the two of them have their hands full guarding the king and his wife and children, with the work only getting more difficult now that Rufra has set his sights on becoming the High King. The last guy who had the job died along with much of his city when it was ravaged by a deadly plague, and with no heirs, the throne now sits vacant. Those with aspirations to fill it will soon be gathered in Ceadoc where the decision will be put to a vote. While this was meant to prevent more bloodshed in a world already ravaged by war, apparently not everyone is so willing to play by the rules. On the way to the city, Rufra’s retinue is ambushed by an assassination attempt, which ends up being thwarted by Girton—though just barely. Someone out there is intent on keeping Rufra from his goals, and once more it is up to Girton to find out who.
Like the first two installments, King of Assassins is an epic fantasy with mystery, action, adventure, and suspense elements. But fifteen to sixteen years is a long time, and many changes have occurred in Girton’s life. Many are not spelled out for us but are instead picked up in the subtle nuances in the conversations and interactions between the protagonist and the people closest to him. Of these, the most dramatic of all may be Girton’s relationship with Aydor. In case I didn’t make it clear in my review of the previous book, I am a huge fan of Aydor. And I didn’t think it was possible to make me love him even more than I already did, but this book managed to do it. Girton may be the star of this series, but hands down, Aydor has one of the best character arcs I have ever read.
And then there’s Merela. Girton’s bond with her has always melted my heart. It’s a rarity these days in the genre to see a master-apprentice relationship filled with such nurturing love, support, encouragement and compassion. I’ve long gotten the sense that Merela’s role goes beyond that of teacher to Girton; she’s also a friend, counselor, and maternal figure, and this book lays it to rest. Our main character may be a grown man now, but seeing him look up to his old master with still so much fondness and respect is just so touching and fills me with warmth and joy. I was also very glad the author decided to include interludes that reveal more about Merela’s past in this one; I loved every moment where I got to read about the life of this incredible woman, even the heartbreaking and painful parts.
Finally, no discussion of the story or characters would be complete without taking a look at Rufra. King of Assassins delivers heart-wrenching moments and emotional gut punches aplenty, but perhaps one of the most tragic aspects of this book is what has become of our protagonist’s relationship with his king. “He was my friend” was a remark that came up several times when Girton spoke of Rufra, and despite his unwavering loyalty, the implications of that sneaky past tense were never lost on me. While the two men still obviously mean a lot to each other, the tensions between them now are pretty much unmistakable. Power changes people, and even though Rufra is good person through and through, paranoia and the pressures of ruling have caused a divergence in his and Girton’s thinking.
I emphasize the character relationships in this review because I truly believe the details surrounding them have everything to do with why the ending hit me so hard in the feels. In fact, I had figured out a big part of the mystery’s resolution very early into the book, but RJ Barker’s storytelling and character building is so riveting and complex that I took any flaws in the story in stride and simply devoured the rest of the pages in my hunger for more action and intrigue. Obviously, I also shed a lot of tears. The last couple of chapters completely destroyed me. I’ve followed these characters from the beginning, and they’ve been so masterfully written by Barker that it was impossible for me not be affected. Ultimately though, this series conclusion was oh so satisfying.
Bottom line, King of Assassins put the perfect cap on a trilogy that has already been winning me over. This trio of books now represents one of the best, most extraordinary and delightful reading experiences I have ever had, and The Wounded Kingdom has shot up the ranks to become one of my favorite fantasy series of all time. It is truly a superb and dazzling achievement by RJ Barker, who debuted with Age of Assassins. His three novels now sit in a place of honor on the shelf where I put my most beloved reads, and trust me, they need to be on yours too. If you haven’t started this series yet, I highly recommend doing so, for it is an absolute must-read.
***The giveaway is now over, thanks to everyone who entered!***
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Series: Book 2 of The Band
Publisher: Orbit (August 28, 2018)
Length: 560 pages
It feels great to be getting wyld again with The Band in Bloody Rose, and like its predecessor, it’s sure to become an instant classic. With vibes of Almost Famous meets epic rollicking fantasy, this standalone follow-up to Kings of the Wyld follows Tam Hashford, a young woman with big dreams. Her father is a former mercenary who has become overprotective of his daughter ever since the death of his wife, who was a talented bard of some renown, strictly forbidding Tam to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Reluctantly honoring his wishes, our protagonist has never stepped foot outside her village she was born in, working a dreary dead-end job at the local pub.
But that was before Fable, the most famous (or infamous) band in the world decided to roll into town. Starstruck by their leader, the fearsome Bloody Rose, Tam sweeps aside all promises ever made to her father, auditioning for the role of the band’s bard. Singing her heart out before those assembled, Tam wins the role on the spot. From then on, her job would be to accompany Fable on their tours, essentially adopting the position of rock journalist by recording the band’s adventures and spreading the news of their exploits to the masses.
For the uninitiated wondering why I use that particular comparison, The Band is a gritty but comedic fantasy series from the brilliant mind of Nicholas Eames, who has injected a number of rock and roll musical references into his work. The traditional fantasy questing party is called a band. Instead of guitars and drumsticks, their members wield swords and warhammers. Gladiatorial arenas are their concert halls, where legions of adoring fans can see their heroes play live as they battle monsters to the death. Sometimes though, bands also take on contracts outside of their regular tours (they’re still mercenaries, after all) and at the moment, anyone who’s anybody is heading out to the Brumal Wastes, where the gig of a lifetime awaits in the form of a monstrous horde gathering at its edges. As Tam joins Bloody Rose and Fable, this is where she had assumed they would be headed. Everyone is surprised, however, when their frontwoman decides to honor their tour schedule instead, continuing onwards away from all the action.
Needless to say, this decision is met with much disbelief and incredulity. After all, anyone who knows Rose knows how much she loves a good fight. While this novel can be read a standalone, those who read Kings of the Wyld may remember meeting her character briefly at the end when her father Golden Gabe and his band Saga came to her rescue at the siege of Castia. She’s never been one to shy away from battle, which is how she landed in trouble in the first place. And if she’s turning down the epic chance to fight the mighty Brumal Horde, then that must mean—as hard as it is to imagine it—she has an even bigger fish to fry.
Still, even though this novel is named after Bloody Rose, the real star of the show is Tam. Our young and sheltered bard gets her dream job of traveling with the hottest band in town, gradually realizing that there is so much more to the lives of her idols as she becomes accepted into their inner circle. Rapidly dissipating are also her romantic notions of what it means to be a part of a superstar band, which isn’t all about the fame and glory. As Tam loses her innocent idealism, she also gains much in the form of wisdom, learning new things, falling in love, and seeing the humanity behind her heroes. Her bandmates are only mortals after all—flawed and fallible. They have hopes and dreams as well as fears and regrets. They are sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, and many of their family situations are as complicated and confusing as her own.
That is also to say, this is definitely the kind of series where you come for the Rock ‘n’ Roll, but stay for the excellent character development and relationships. Despite the humor and the numerous nods to real life musical bands as well as pop culture references aplenty, Eames has proven that this is all more than just a gimmick, and that he is more than just a one-hit-wonder. His books are loads of fun, but there is also real feeling in his unique brand of storytelling which gives depth to his plot and characters, and that is a talent sure to send him straight to the top of the charts again and again.
In sum, Bloody Rose was a supremely entertaining romp, and I daresay it might have even surpassed the greatness of Kings of the Wyld. Trust me, fantasy fans, this is one series you do not want to miss. Looking forward to the next installment of The Band, and I can’t wait to see with whom or where we’ll be touring next.
More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Kings of the Wyld (Book 1)
Bloody Rose Giveaway
And now time you’ve all been waiting for! I have a copy of Bloody Rose that I’m putting up for giveaway. With apologies to our international readers, due to the costs of shipping, this giveaway is only open to residents of the US. One winner will receive a paperback copy of the book. To enter, all you have to do is send an email to email@example.com with your Name and valid Mailing Address using the subject line “BLOODY ROSE” by 11:59pm Eastern time on Saturday, September 15, 2018.
Only one entry per household, please. The winner will be randomly selected when the giveaway ends and then be notified by email. All information will only be used for the purposes of contacting the winner and sending them their prize. Once the giveaway ends all entry emails will be deleted.
So what are you waiting for? Enter to win! Good luck!