Book Review: Constance by Matthew FitzSimmons

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Constance by Matthew FitzSimmons

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 1 of Constance

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (September 1, 2021)

Length: 352 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Strap in and brace yourself for some cloning fun and shenanigans in Constance by Matthew FitzSimmons, a sci-fi thriller that is guaranteed to warp your mind. Set in the near future, this story follows protagonist Constance D’Arcy, or simply Con to her friends, a musician who was involved a tragic accident that claimed the lives of her fellow bandmates and left her lover in a coma. Having suffered grievous injuries herself, the whole ordeal has left Con depressed and withdrawn. 

Death has also been on her mind a lot lately, and not only because of what happened to her band. For you see, Con’s aunt is Abigail Stickling, the late genius behind Palingenesis, the world’s first and largest manufacturer of clones. The company offers a service to clients that, should they die, would allow for the downloading and transfer of their consciousness along with all memories into a engineered clone—a backup system, essentially, for just in case. Naturally, the cost for such a service is so high that only the world’s richest and most elite could afford it, but Con’s clone was a gift from her aunt before her suicide. Abigail might have been a pioneering scientist and a brilliant mind, but she also struggled for years with depression and ironically couldn’t have a clone of her own due to a genetic disease.   

After some initial reluctance, Con had decided to keep her clone, though the process would require her to make regular trips to Palingenesis to have her memories uploaded to the system. If she dies, the company will automatically activate her clone and transfer the latest backup, so it’s a good idea to keep it as fresh as possible. So imagine our protagonist’s surprise when, after a routine memory upload, she wakes up at Palingenesis not in her original body but in that of her clone—which she can surmise because it is free of her tattoos or any of the physical scars sustained from her accident. Not only is she hit with the horrible realization that this means that the real Con, her old self, must have died, but she is shocked to find out that her last memory upload was actually a whopping year and a half ago, far longer than the recommended maximum of three months. Such a long lag would cause all kinds of problems including mental instability, and Palingenesis, already mired in scandal and bad publicity, would be ruined if this damning evidence of their lapse in protocol is ever discovered. As the company moves to eliminate her, Con finds herself alone in a desperate fight for survival while also trying to piece together her life from the past 18 months. 

High-concept and cerebral, Constance is a heady combination of dystopian sci-fi, mystery suspense, and action thriller, perfect for those who enjoy the frenetic energy and driving pace of movies like The Island or books by Blake Crouch. That said, similar to a lot of these types of stories, what’s happening on the page is definitely more important than the whys and hows behind the scenes. In other words, you go in knowing full well the plot is going to be crazily over-the-top and a little ridiculous, so don’t ask too many questions or expect satisfactory explanations for any of the technology or sci-fi aspects of the novel and you should be just fine. On the flip side, I also believe these same characteristics can make a book more accessible to a wider audience. The story simply strikes me as having a lot of that mass appeal and can be enjoyed by both seasoned sci-fi fans as well as readers who might only have limited experience with the genre.  

And to be fair, it isn’t all just popcorny fluff. While it’s true that the world-building and character development is pretty standard as far as mystery thrillers go, I do give Constance mega bonus points for tackling a number of ethical and philosophical issues in an engaging, thought-provoking way. Navigating a world that is still generally hostile towards clones, Con’s journey explores what it means to be human as well as the implications of cloning technology on both personal and societal levels, not to mention the number it would do on our legal system. The plot also touches upon the vast disparities between socio-economic classes, as most dystopian stories often do, as well as speculation around the politics and morality of cloning and treating human consciousness and memories like data. 

All in all, I had a great time with this book. A high-octane thriller it might be, but Constance also features a complex plot that requires a fair bit of focus as things can get somewhat convoluted, especially towards the end. Blink and you might miss something important! Because of that, you might need to be in a certain mood or right frame of mind to appreciate the mystery and all its twists and turns, but if you’re willing to take that leap, the full experience is well worth it.

Guest Post: “Five Novels About Siblings” by Fran Dorricott

The BiblioSanctum is very excited to be part of a blog tour hosting author Fran Dorricott with a very special guest post celebrating the release of her book The Final Child! This intense psychological thriller described as perfect for readers of Ruth Ware and S.K. Tremeyne is nearly here, to be published by Titan Books on September 7, 2021. In the meantime, we hope you’ll check out the novel’s synopsis as well as Fran’s post about a topic that fits the story’s theme so well! Have you read any of the books on her list? Tell us in the comments, and be sure to also check out the other stops on the tour!

FIVE NOVELS ABOUT SIBLINGS
by Fran Dorricott

As you might be able to gather from my novels, I’m not an only child. Writing and reading about siblings from the perspectives of other authors has always interested me because we all have such different perceptions of the bonds of sibling-hood and what it means to be a sibling. This is probably why I choose to write about the loss of a sibling, which is one of the worst things I can imagine. While writing The Final Child I took the opportunity to revisit some of my favourite novels about siblings, and I’m excited to present (in no particular order) five of my favourites:

1. Dark Places – Gillian Flynn

It’s true that Gillian Flynn always ends up on my ‘favourite’ lists for just about everything but that’s genuinely because I think her books are a master class in prose, style, character and setting. She truly can build a picture of a world, of a person, of a life in just a few sentences, and Dark Places is my favourite novel for looking at what it means to be loyal to a sibling, of how far they might push us before we turn away for good.  The set-up for Dark Places is genius: Libby Day, seven years old when her mother and two sisters were murdered, testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Years later she is approached by a secret society obsessed with famous crimes because they believe Ben was innocent, and she only agrees to humour them so she can turn a profit, but soon gets more than she bargained for.

2. Cuckoo – Sophie Draper

This is another novel I talk about a lot. If you’ve spoken to me about crime books you’ve invariably heard me recommend this one! Draper’s debut novel tells the story of Caro, who returns to her childhood home after the death of her stepmother. Being back raises many questions about the abuse she experienced as a child, and even more questions about why Caro’s sister Steph wasn’t treated the same. It’s a dark, twisty book that really plays on good old-fashioned sibling rivalry, and its use of gothic elements makes it a spooky read.

3. The Ice Twins – S. K. Tremayne

The premise of this one really draws you in immediately: a couple lose one of their twin daughters in an accident, they move to a remote Scottish lighthouse to start over, and shortly afterwards the surviving twin confesses to her parents that she isn’t the child they thought. This one is a wild ride, atmopsheric and underappreciated. These creepy vibes are the kind of tension I try to channel in my own work.

4. The Thirteenth Tale – Diane Setterfield

I hesitated to put this novel on the list but considering it’s the book that made me want to write a spooky crime book about siblings I had to have it! Setterfield’s debut is a masterpiece, part ghost story and part mystery complete with feral twins, an ageing novelist and an imposing gothic house. With her health rapidly declining, reclusive author Vida Winter enlists Margaret Lea, a bookish amateur biographer, to write her biography. With her own family secrets, Lea finds the process of unraveling the past for Winter bringing her to confront her own ghosts. Siblings and a haunting family history in one book is my favourite combination!

5. Flowers in the Attic – V C Andrews

This one is a bit of a wild card and it’s definitely a marmite book because of its style and when it was written, but if we’re looking at books about siblings that have made the strongest impact on me, this is absolutely one of them! It tells the story of four children who are locked in the attic of their grandparents’ house after the death of their father while their mother supposedly works up the courage to tell her father about their existence. It’s a fascinating ride from start to finish, genuinely dark and disturbing in places, but it truly explores the complex family dynamic of four siblings trying to be a complete family unit. Still, to this day, one of the most unsettling novels I’ve ever read.

The Final Child by Fran Dorricott

Erin and her brother Alex were the last children abducted by ‘the Father’, a serial killer who only ever took pairs of siblings. She escaped, but her brother was never seen again. Traumatised, Erin couldn’t remember anything about her ordeal, and the Father was never caught.

Eighteen years later, Erin has done her best to put the past behind her. But then she meets Harriet. Harriet’s young cousins were the Father’s first victims and, haunted by their deaths, she is writing a book about the disappearances and is desperate for an interview. At first, Erin wants nothing to do with her. But then she starts receiving sinister gifts, her house is broken into, and she can’t shake the feeling that she’s being watched. After all these years, Erin believed that the Father was gone, but now she begins to wonder if he was only waiting…

About the Author

Fran Dorricott is an author based in Derby, where she lives with her family, two cats, and three dogs (one of whom weighs more than she does). She loves to tell gothic, inclusive stories and drink copious amounts of tea.

Fran is also a bookseller working in the Derby branch of Waterstones, which is secretly just a way for her to fuel her ridiculous book-buying addiction. Her first novel, After the Eclipse, was released in March 2019. The Final Child (Sept 2021) is her second novel.

WEBSITE

TWITTER

Audiobook Review: Nolyn by Michael J. Sullivan

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Nolyn by Michael J. Sullivan

Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Book 1 of The Rise and Fall

Publisher: Audible Studios (August 3, 2021)

Length: 13 hrs and 51 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrator: Tim Gerard Reynolds

With Nolyn, we’ve reached yet another point in the Elan saga, the world in which the books of Riyria Revelations, Riyria Chronicles, and The Legends of the First Empire by Michael J. Sullivan take place. This novel kicks off a new series called The Rise and Fall, which is set a several centuries following the events of Age of Empyre, though it can be enjoyed as a standalone tale without any prior knowledge.

This story primarily focuses on two main protagonists, both of whom are the offspring of prominent characters who played a part in the birth of the First Empire. They are Nolyn, the half-human, half-Fhrey son of Nyphron and Persephone, as well as Sephryn, the daughter of Moya and Tekchin. After more than five hundred years of exile, Nolyn, the heir to the empyre, is convinced his father is sending him off to die when he is suddenly reassigned to active duty on the front lines of the Goblin Wars. Fortunately, fate lands him with the legendary Seventh Sikaria Auxiliary Squadron, made up of some of the most fearsome and elite warriors who will aid Nolyn in his fight to survive the battles ahead.

Meanwhile in the capital, seemingly a whole other world away, Sephryn is blackmailed into a scheme to steal a priceless artifact from the heart of the palace. Desperate to save her son, she has no choice but to go through with it. Having grown up with the weight of history and her mother’s famous legacy upon her shoulders, Sephryn also feels like she has a lot to live up to. Gathering up her wits and courage, she sets out to pull off an impossible heist with the help of a few quirky friends.

I confess, I never got to finish The Legends of the First Empire series, with Age of War being the farthest I got. However, getting into Nolyn was not a problem. You absolutely do not need any of the prior books as prerequisites to read this one. That said though, I think it benefited me to have some familiarity with the characters, places, and events from The Legends of the Fire Empire, even if just a little, as they helped anchor me to the setting very early on. After all, Nolyn and Sephryn’s storylines don’t have much in common when we first start out, and they remain rather separate until quite later. However, having some knowledge about their parents and their connections to the past made them more interesting to me right off the bat.

Still, there is definitely something that I call a “diluting” effect as we progress through each new series by Sullivan. Like so many others, my first experience with the author was The Riyria Revelations, which bar none remains my favorite work of his to date. When it comes to protagonists in Sullivan’s books, Hadrian and Royce will always be the gold standard in terms of characterization and development. As winsome as some of the characters were in The Legends of the First Empire series, none of them even came close (who knows, that might even be part of why I stalled out and never felt the urge to finish the series), and now that we have The Rise and Fall, I somehow felt even more removed and disconnected from Nolyn and Sephryn.

Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not like they weren’t written well. Quite the opposite, in fact. Between our two POV characters, we got to see a good mix of thrilling action as well as deep emotion. Nolyn’s arc, which took us to the heart of the fighting in the war against the enemy, brought us most of the former, while Sephryn’s chapters exploring her struggles with difficult decisions and painful memories brought much of the latter (to be fair, her heist plot also featured plenty of excitement). But at the end of the day, how much of it was truly different and memorable? Characterization was good, but probably not beyond what was honestly to be expected. I think they could have been more fleshed out, but given that this novel was written to be a standalone, maybe there just wasn’t enough time.

And yes, this book truly is a standalone, but while it might feel nice for once to get a self-contained epic fantasy story with a satisfying conclusion, this does give Nolyn a bit of that “throwaway” feel. The plot was on the simpler, more straightforward side, and many of the deeper themes it attempted were also glossed over or merely shallowly touched upon. Still, these can be seen as positive aspects depending on what you’re looking for. For one, the novel’s ideal audience might be fantasy fans interested in a lighter read, or even newcomers to the genre looking for accessible entry point. For those curious about Michael J. Sullivan’s work this would also be the perfect place to jump on board, and of course for longtime fans, returning to this world will bring much comfort and maybe even some entertainment spotting all the fun references and other cool easter eggs.

Finally, I was lucky enough to review the audiobook edition of Nolyn, and I just want to give a big kudos to Tim Gerard Reynolds, whose voice has done so much for the books of Michael J. Sullivan. It simply wouldn’t have been the same without his narration, and of course he was awesome as always.

Bookshelf Roundup: 09/04/21: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every weekend which fills the role of several blog memes, like Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I summarize what I’ve finished reading in the last week and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.

black line

Received for Review

My thanks to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received, and be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages for more details and full descriptions!

A big thank you to Titan Books for a review copy of The Final Child by Fran Dorricott, a thriller about a woman who survived a childhood abduction by a serial killer who only ever took pairs of siblings. Unfortunately, while she escaped, her brother was never found. I’ll be a part of the blog tour celebrating the release of this book next week, so stay tuned for the post!

Thanks also to the awesome folks at Subterranean Press for an ARC of The Best of Lucius Shepard: Volume Two edited by Bill Sheehan. This massive anthology follows the first volume in collecting more stories and novellas from the late Lucius Shepard, who left behind an unparalleled body of work in his long and impressive career.

Also thanks to the amazing team at Blink for this gorgeous copy of Heartless Heirs by MarcyKate Connolly, the sequel to last year’s Twin Daggers!

And a huge thank you to Orbit Books for the following exciting arrivals: The Wisdom of Crowds by Joe Abercrombie is the third and final book in the Age of Madness trilogy, and I’m glad I got to read the second book earlier this year so that I could be all caught up! I also received a finished copy of The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel, which I’m keen to check out because of its techno-thriller meets sci-fi noir premise. I was also super psyched to receive an ARC of The Bone Shard Emperor by Andrea Stewart. It’s the sequel to The Bone Shard Emperor which was one of my favorite books last year, so I’m really looking forward to see what happens next.

In the audiobook haul, with thanks to Penguin Random House Audio for an ALC of Horseman: A Tale of Sleepy Hollow by Christina Henry! This one’s going to be at the top of my list of creepy reads for fall, I’m sure. From the publisher I also received a listening copy of Star Wars: The High Republic – Tempest Runner by Cavan Scott, an audio original performed by a full cast. The last time I tried one of these, it was incredible, so I’m hoping this is going to be similar. And then there’s My Sweet Girl by Amanda Jayatissa which was a new one for me, but the description quickly caught my attention and convinced me to give this debut psychological thriller a try!

Last but not least, thank you to Brilliance Audio for a listening copy of Mastermind by Andrew Mayne. I already devoured this one, of course. Gotta get my Theo Cray fix! Anyway, it was pretty fantastic, and my review should be up next week.

Reviews

Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton (5 of 5 stars)
The Exiled Fleet by J.S. Dewes (4 of 5 stars)
Billy Summers by Stephen King (2.5 of 5 stars)

Roundup Highlights:

What I’ve Been Reading

black line

Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read!

Friday Face-Off: Noir Detective

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:

~ a cover that has a 1920s/NOIR DETECTIVE feel

The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez

I’ve long run out of books on my “Read” shelf that fit this prompt, but luckily my “To Read” shelf still had some options on offer, so I decided to go with this book by an author I’ve enjoyed in the past. I first discovered A. Lee Martinez with his hilariously quirky Constance Verity series, and knew right away I had to seek out more of his work. The Automatic Detective is one of his older books that I’ve had on my list for a while, simply because the idea of a sci-fi, humor, and noir mystery blend greatly appealed to me. Let’s check out some of the covers:

From left to right:
Tor Books (2008) – German Paperback Edition (2009)

German Ebook Edition (2008) – Chinese Edition (2012)

Winner:

Hands down, my favorite this week is the Tor edition. Can’t get more 1920s detective noir than that!

But what do you think? Which one is your favorite?

Book Review: Billy Summers by Stephen King

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Billy Summers by Stephen King

Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 2.5 of 5 stars

Genre: Thriller, Mystery

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Audio (August 3, 2021)

Length: 16 hrs and 57 mins

Author: Website | Twitter

Stephen King books can be hit or miss with me, which is why I don’t often pick them up right at release, preferring to hang back to see what other reviews are saying before I take the plunge myself. With Billy Summers though, I broke with that trend. Maybe it’s because I had a rather good run with the last few King novels I read, or the fact that the synopsis to this one sounded a bit different from what I was expecting. In any case, I became too overconfident, and in hindsight I probably should have passed on this one. Admittedly it wasn’t a complete miss, but personally speaking, it was also far from anything I would call a hit.

The eponymous protagonist of Billy Summers is a former sniper in the Marines and a veteran of the second Iraq War. Ever since leaving the military, he’s been making a living as a killer for hire, making a name for himself as being the best in the business because he always delivers. His only rule? The target must be a truly bad person, because he will not go after innocents.

When we find Billy at the beginning of this story though, he has come to grow weary of the assassin’s lifestyle and is contemplating retirement. However, as these things always go, there is one last job, and it’s a doozy. Not only is the client paying $2 million, the biggest offer Billy’s ever received, the hit will also require him to go undercover for months in a small conservative town, living under a whole different identity. There will also be lots of challenges in the way, but if he can pull it off, the money will set him up for life.

And so, Billy moves into the quiet neighborhood his clients have arranged for him under the guise of being an author looking for a quiet place to work on his new book. But with months still to go before the big hit, there’s a lot of downtime, and even though his new identity is only a cover story concocted for the job, Billy thinks, what the hell, and decides to try his hand at this whole writing thing anyway. As a result, what we have here is something akin to a novel within a novel, the present story featuring embedded snippets from Billy’s work-in-progress which is essentially an autobiographical account of his life.

I confess, my feelings were all over the place with Billy Summers. There were some really good parts, but then plenty of low points as well. Since most of the positives were towards the end of the novel, I’ll begin with the negatives. Stephen King books are a lot of things, but rarely are they tedious or dull, which is why I was shocked at how often I found myself bored and my attention drifting off with this one, especially since I was listening to the audio. After a strong intro, the momentum simply petered out, perhaps not surprisingly coinciding with the chapters where our protagonist’s own life story was just starting to take shape. I have to say, I did enjoy the early sections where Billy recounted his childhood which included the tragic circumstances around his little sister’s death. This terrible event would eventually shape the man he’ll one day grow up to be, playing into many of his actions and motivations in the second half of the novel.

However, I was much less impressed with the “war story” part of Billy’s novel. These sections were overflowing with war movie tropes and felt very much like a narrative cobbled together using a bunch of scenes from some of the most iconic war films ever made. Coming from King, this heavy reliance on clichés was somewhat disappointing, not to mention some of the inaccuracies, particularly when it came to certain details like military terminology or weaponry. On the whole, what probably should have been the most compelling chapters of the novel focusing on the protagonist’s service in Iraq ended up being the sections I wanted to skip over the most, which was beyond frustrating.

But what floored me the most were the circumstances around Billy’s first meeting with Alice, a young woman with whom he forms a fascinating and unique bond. To be fair, I loved her character, and as a duo, the two of them would go on to share some incredibly harrowing and also touching moments on the page together. Still, that doesn’t really change the iffiness of those early scenes, and without having to reveal any spoilery details, I’ll just say there were overall some problematic issues in the portrayal of certain topics, including trauma victims and rape. There was just an “off” vibe to it all that left a bad taste in my mouth.

Fortunately, the ending was pretty good, but alas, rather predictable again, robbing it of any surprise. Like I said, this book wasn’t all bad, and I didn’t dislike it. There was always enough intrigue and an entertainment factor that keep me going. But still, even after you take into account all that was positive and done well, it’s impossible to ignore everything else that went awry—uneven pacing, the drawn-out lulls where not much happens, as well as the predictability of the plot and overabundance of clichés, etc. I’m sure Billy Summers will find tons of fans, as Stephen King novels never fail to do, but overall I can’t really say it did much for me.

Waiting on Wednesday 09/01/21

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!

Mogsy’s Pick

Our Crooked Hearts by Melissa Albert (June 28, 2022 by Flatiron Books)

As someone who adored Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood series, I just can’t help my excitement! This one sounds a little different, but I’m intrigued by the urban fantasy and witchy vibes.

“Secrets. Lies. Super-bad choices. Witchcraft. This is Our Crooked Hearts, a darkly gripping contemporary fantasy from bestselling author Melissa Albert!

The suburbs, right now . . .
Seventeen-year-old Ivy’s summer break kicks off with an accident, a punishment, and a mystery: a stranger whose appearance in the middle of the road, in the middle of the night, heralds a string of increasingly unsettling events. As the days pass, Ivy grapples with eerie offerings, corroded memories, and a secret she’s always known—that there’s more to her mother than meets the eye.

The city, back then . . .
Dana has always been perceptive. And the summer she turns sixteen, with the help of her best friend and an ambitious older girl, her gifts bloom into a heady fling with the supernatural. As the trio’s aspirations darken, they find themselves speeding toward a violent breaking point.

Years after it began, Ivy and Dana’s shared story will come down to a reckoning among a daughter, a mother, and the dark forces they never should’ve messed with.”

Book Review: Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton

Mogsy’s Rating: 5 of 5 stars

Genre: Fantasy, Humor, Dystopian

Series: Book 2 of Hollow Kingdom

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (August 24, 2021)

Length: 368 pages

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Soooooooo good! Feral Creatures by Kira Jane Buxton was one of my most anticipate releases of 2021 and what can I say but it did not disappoint. I make it no secret that I absolutely adored its predecessor Hollow Kingdom and fell immediately in love with its protagonist, a cheeky crass-talking American crow named S.T. which is short for Shit Turd—I kid you not. If you’re sitting there thinking, hey, this sounds a little different…well, you’ve got that right.

But obviously, if you’re read the first book, you already know all this. If you haven’t, then I highly recommend picking up Hollow Kingdom before tackling this one. The author does make some attempt to remind readers of prior events or to rehash a few concepts here or there, but for the most part, Feral Creatures is meant to be experienced as a direct sequel. In it, we catch up with S.T. approximately a decade after the previous book ended. Mother nature and her animals have begun reclaiming the planet, now that all the world’s humans have succumbed to a catastrophic disease turning them into ravenous, bloodthirsty beasts (read: zombies).

All except one. Dee is perfect. For whatever reason, this beautiful tiny infant had evaded the viral pandemic which turned the rest of her species into the mindless, hollow shells of what they once were. And S.T., who had found her, immediately fell in love as a mother bird would their nestling. Raised by a human, S.T. still feels a desperate longing for the life he once shared with his owner Big Jim, back when they were still surrounded by the comforts and luxuries of civilization—among them Cheetos and TV. In Dee, he sees a glimmer of hope for humans (or MoFos, as that was the word Big Jim had used all the time to refer to other people) and perhaps an opportunity to one day bring back humanity’s past glory. So, armed with his fond memories of Big Jim and an idealistic view of the future, S.T. resolves to raise Dee “proper.”

Unfortunately, this plan is immediately met with opposition and numerous challenges. First of all, not all of S.T.’s fellow animals are as pleased with the news that a baby MoFo had survived. Many of their kind had experienced cruelty and death at the hands of humankind, unlike S.T., who is a domesticated crow. And second, there’s Dee herself. As the years go by, the girl can’t seem to help growing up more animal than MoFo, no matter how hard S.T. tries to impress upon her the incredible history and achievements of her species. But who could blame her? She is, after all, being raised in the Alaskan wilds by a cussy crow, a parliament of owls, and a clumsy yet lovable young muskox.

When I say Feral Creatures is even better than the first book, I’m not saying that lightly. Hollow Kingdom was a monument to originality and humor, combining the outrageous with the philosophical, and the fact that this sequel was able to carry through and improve upon those trends is nothing short of an amazing feat. This book was gut-bustingly whacky and hilarious, thanks once more to S.T.’s delightfully obscene narrative and larger-than life personality. Everything he knows, he learned from Big Jim. And while we never once get to see Big Jim on the page, his spirit lives on in S.T.’s memories, and from those flashbacks, readers can glean a relationship that goes beyond the simple dynamics of owner and pet.

Big Jim’s influence can also be seen in the way S.T. attempts to raise Dee, and here the novel explores the themes of parenthood in addition to the independence-seeking behaviors of children as they grow older—a touchingly heart-warming and sometimes wrenching commentary on when to let go and allow your little fledglings to fly on their own. Despite our protagonist being a crow, his motivations are surprisingly human and familiar. His fierce love and protective instincts for his child, for instance, not to mention his hopes and dreams for the future as well as his powerful, wistful longing for the happy times of the past are all too easy to relate to.

At its heart though, the point of the Hollow Kingdom series is to put the focus on the animals, and I was thrilled that Feral Creatures continued a tradition that I loved from the first book, featuring brief interludes from the perspective of creatures from all over the world. Some have had a better time adapting to this drastically changed reality than others, and the presence of these chapters also reminds us that what’s happening is a global phenomenon.

Obviously, if you enjoyed the first book, then you will probably love this one as well. If you’re contemplating this series though, there are a few caveats. Humor being so subjective, these books won’t be for everyone, and you really have to be okay with the over-the-top premise and the style of S.T.’s narration, namely his coarseness and a potty mouth that just keeps on overflowing. I wouldn’t say it’s too extreme though, and more often than not it was done in a clever and quippy way that made me admire the author’s way with words instead of turning me off.

All I know is, I will never regret the day I decided to take a chance on something a little different and ended up snagging myself a copy of Hollow Kingdom as a result. I was rewarded with mind-blowing creativity, memorable animal characters, and an astoundingly witty yet thoughtful story, and I’m pleased to say that Feral Creatures followed in its predecessor’s footsteps and left even bigger prints besides! What an awesome sequel, and much like her stouthearted corvid protagonist, Kira Jane Buxton is one in a million.

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of Hollow Kingdom (Book 1)

Review: The Exiled Fleet by J.S. Dewes

I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.

The Exiled Fleet by J.S. Dewes

Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Book 2 of The Divide

Publisher: Paperback: Tor | Audiobook: Macmillan Audio (August 17, 2021)

Length: 432 pages | 18 hrs and 48 mins

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Narrators: Andrew Eiden, Nicol Zanzarella

Another fantastic installment in The Divide series! In this second book The Exiled Fleet, we join Rake and the rest of her crew following the exhilarating (and heartbreaking) events at the end of The Last Watch. I will begin by reiterating what I said for my review of the first novel: this series would be great for fans of The Expanse, and perfect for tiding you over if you’re like me and waiting impatiently for Leviathan Falls. 

As The Exiled Fleet opens, we’re catching up with our characters shortly after they’ve narrowly escaped being swallowed up by the crumbling edge of the Divide, or the boundary of the universe beyond which nothing exists. Be aware that the books of this series are meant to be read in order and that this review may reveal possible spoilers for the previous novel if you’re not caught up. Adequin Rake and her ragtag group of Sentinels, formerly assigned to patrol the Divide to guard against any known and unknown threats, are focused on a new directive now that the edge of the universe has started to collapse. Having sustained losses, their current numbers are fewer, but Rake knows she has to put aside her grief in order to do her job and save as many lives as possible. The Sentinels need supplies to survive, and as food and other vital resources begin to dwindle, a new plan is needed—and swiftly—before they all starve to death out here in the middle of nowhere. 

But of course, that’s not where their troubles end. Upon getting the jump drives back online, the crew discover another problem, one that will require them to venture back into the densely populated Core from which many of the Sentinels—made up of mostly criminals, court martialed ex-soldiers, and other societal misfits—have been exiled. They have been away from home for so long that no one is really sure what to expect, but soon, being hunted makes it necessary to seek an alliance from an unlikely source. 

Like The Last Watch, this sequel also left me with such an adrenaline rush when I finished. Granted, I thought the journey to that point was a little bit more meandering and jumbled this time around, due to there being so much more at stake and all this other stuff happening at once. And despite all the action and high energy, I also felt the overall tone of this novel was more subdued, possibly because of the main character’s mindset. It’s true that everyone has been through so much, but given that there are only a few months between the release dates of the first and second book, it’s also entirely possible that I was still feeling the effects of the events at the end of The Last Watch, which were pretty fresh on my mind. Rake feels like she’s barely holding herself together, and though I could sympathize with her situation, I think her emotions and impulsiveness might have also led to a more pervasive melodramatic vibe. 

But heck, there was so much more in this novel that was done fantastically. I continue to enjoy the found family dynamic, for one. Even as Rake, Cavalon, and Jackin take on more prominent roles, the other characters are there to support them. Author J.S. Dewes also uses this sequel as an opportunity to develop some backstories, and some of these major revelations may shock and surprise you. Not only do these new twists make me wonder where things will go from here, they also make me feel a lot more invested in the characters and how they will deal with the fallout.  

As well, I was thrilled with the robust expansion of the world-building and lore. For instance, there was plenty of insight gained into the history and motivations of the Viators, adding more intrigue to what we already know about this hostile alien race. Everything about this world just grow more fascinating the more I learn about it. The action sequences also helped keep me on the edge of my seat, and even though these high-tension scenes were pretty spread out and uneven in the first half of the book, the second half kept them rolling in steadily, providing plenty of excitement that carried me through to the end. 

The conclusion definitely sets us up for more possibilities, and if indeed there’s another installment in the works, I hope it won’t be too long of a wait. Needless to say, I would highly recommend this series for sci-fi fans who enjoy character-oriented stories and lots of action.  

More on The BiblioSanctum:
Review of The Last Watch (Book 1)

Bookshelf Roundup: 08/28/21: Stacking the Shelves & Recent Reads

Bookshelf Roundup is a feature I do every weekend which fills the role of several blog memes, like Stacking the Shelves where I talk about the new books I’ve added to my library or received for review, as well as It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? where I summarize what I’ve finished reading in the last week and what I’m planning to read soon. Mostly it also serves as a recap post, so sometimes I’ll throw in stuff like reading challenge progress reports, book lists, and other random bookish thoughts or announcements.

black line

Well, I’m back from my trip visiting the in-laws, and we actually left the day the storm rolled onto the east coast. Needless to say, the rain was coming down pretty hard and traffic was horrendous, but we managed to get home earlier in the week safe and sound, and I even got to take some nice shots of the beach where we were staying at on the evening before the weather turned bad.

Anyway, I’m still trying to settle back into a rhythm because there’s a lot of catching up to do (maybe I still have a chance to get back to my old schedule of pumping out four reviews a week? Ha, I can dream…) not to mention a bunch of new book mail to be picked up and sorted. Last Saturday’s roundup post got skipped because I was away, so this one will cover the last two weeks. I’m happy to say I did get quite a bit of reading done, mostly through listening to audiobooks while on the road (they do make the miles fly by) so now I just need to find time to write all these reviews! But first, let’s get to the new books…

Received for Review

My thanks to the publishers and authors for the following review copies received, and be sure to click the links to their Goodreads pages for more details and full descriptions!

My thanks to Orbit Books for a review copy of Jade Legacy by Fonda Lee, third volume in The Green Bone Saga series. Okay, I’m just a little bit behind on this one, but I absolutely loved the first book and will be getting caught up ASAP. From the publisher I also received an ARC of Far From the Light of Heaven by Tade Thompson. I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s The Wormwood Trilogy, and if this one is anywhere near as wild as those books, I think it will be very interesting!

And from Orbit’s sister imprint Redhook, I was also thrilled to received a review copy of Wildwood Whispers by Willa Reece. It’s beautiful, but I have a feeling it’ll be a bit on the quieter, slower side based on the reviews I’ve seen. Not sure I’m in the mood for that at the moment, but I definitely have plans to read this once I’m over the weird reading funk I’m in right now. With thanks also to the kind folks at 47North for an ARC of Star Mother by Charlie N. Holmberg. This was a new one to me, but I’m familiar with the author and I certainly won’t mind checking this out!

I also want to thank Subterranean Press for an ARC of Square³ by Mira Grant, which is the pen name under which Seanan McGuire writes horror and sci-fi. To be honest, I’ve not had much luck with her Mira Grant stuff, but this novella being so short and having such an intriguing premise, I might just consider picking it up! Also thank you to Del Rey for sending along a galley proof of The Last Graduate by Naomi Novik, the sequel of A Deadly Education. I don’t think I’ve ever received a review copy in this format, but I kinda like the bigger pages and text! Regardless, really looking forward to this one. And finally, with thanks to Angry Robot for a review copy of The Maleficent Seven by Cameron Johnston. I meant to read this one while I was on vacation, but didn’t have enough time. You know how it is! Hopefully though, I will have it finished soon.

 

In the digital pile, I received listening copies of Revelator by Daryl Gregory and No One Goes Alone by Erik Larson, with thanks to the awesome team at Penguin Random House Audio. And with thanks to Hachette Audio, I was also happy to receive The Hawthorn Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes, which is the sequel to The Inheritance Games, as well as The Body Scout by Lincoln Michel, a moody sci-fi noir tale that’s a bit of techno-thriller as well.

Reviews

Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney (4 of 5 stars)
The Desert Prince by Peter V. Brett (4 of 5 stars)
Paper & Blood by Kevin Hearne (3.5 of 5 stars)
City of Iron and Dust by J.P. Oakes (3 of 5 stars)

What I’ve Been Reading

black line

Have you heard of or read any of the books featured this week? What caught your eye? Any new discoveries? I hope you found something interesting for a future read!