Bloodless Assassin (The Viper and the Urchin #1) by Celine Jeanjean

4.5/5 Stars Great fun, great characters tied in a steampunk bow

The last few steampunk novels I have read left me a little underwhelmed so I picked this up with new hope in my heart but also a little trepidation that it might fall the same way. Well, I needn’t have worried, Celine Jeanjean (great name by the way) delivered and re-injected my love of Steampunk. That said, the steampunk theme is the backdrop to this story and not necessarily central to it. I know some ‘purists’ may have an issue with this, not me. For me, it is always about the story, first and foremost. There are so many genres and sub-genres these days it can all get mighty confusing so I try not to think about it. It is fantasy, there are no rules.

The story grabbed me pretty much from the first page and I kind of held my breath a little hoping its early promise carried through. Well yeah, it did and more. I had so much fun reading this book I found myself actively mapping out in my head when and where I could sit down in a quiet spot and blast through a couple of chapters undisturbed.

The story is set in the city-state of Damsport and is told from the perspective of Rory (our street urchin) and Longinus (an aristocratic assassin). Rory lives on the streets relieving unsuspecting victims of their coin and with Jake, her partner in crime, she is pretty good at it. But Rory has a dream of becoming a master swordswoman and she has found a Sword Preceptor willing to take her on if she can raise the money needed for her training and finally she has done it. The preceptor is in Damsport and she is ready to follow that dream.

I won’t give any spoilers except to say that things don’t go quite to plan (okay maybe just a tiny spoiler) and instead she ends up blackmailing Longinus, an infamous (although famous in his mind) assassin called the Viper with an aversion to blood. Neither much likes the other to begin with but needs must and all that…

The writing is fabulous. Rory is street smart, abrasive and full of guile with a hint (to me) of the artful dodger in her. Longinus is pompous, self-important and egotistical. They don’t know it yet but each of them needs the other. The dialogue between the two protagonists was brilliant and coming from opposite ends of the societal ladder a lot of fun to read. I must confess to enjoying the arrogant pomposity of Longinus a little too much. It outright made me smile and look like a buffoon on more than one occasion.

The writing too is sharp and descriptive without bogging you down with over-detail. I loved the imagery of Damsport, set like a clock face with the Grand bazaar at its centre and the twelve main thoroughfares extending outwards all simply and ingeniously named after each hour.  

For me, the weakest part of the story was the finale. I felt it lacked a little gravitas and held a tiny bit of contrivance. I know, I’m being picky here because all fantasy is contrived but my point is as a reader I didn’t want to feel it. I never got that sense of – this is it, this is the end for our heroes. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed this book from start to finish and I liked that the story arc was completed in the whole and left enticingly for their continuing adventures.

I often pick books up from new authors and indie authors (if you have read any of my previous reviews you will know this is true) and it is always a great pleasure to find a gem. This book was a pleasure. Whilst I went into it with little expectation I am happy to say I will be continuing with the adventures of Rory and Longinus.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick

4/5 Stars. A hauntingly eloquent, saturnine future world story

Determined to work my way through some literary classics I have missed, I picked up this Philip K Dick novel. It is the book that inspired Bladerunner, one of my favourite all-time movies. It was safe to say I was a little nervous at the comparison I couldn’t fail to draw between the two.

First off, for me, it is a masterpiece of fiction writing. It is simply written but so nuanced and cleverly layered it resonated with me so much.

The book was a lot smaller than I expected and was easy to read. It tells the story of a day in the life of Rick Deckard a sanctioned bounty hunter who hunts down rogue androids and ‘retires’ them. On this particular day, Rick is handed a bounty hunters windfall, six of the newest nexus-6 models.

The story takes place in San Francisco against a backdrop of a decaying world following a war no one remembers that has left radioactive dust clouds like weather systems floating around and that has decimated most of the worlds life. Real animals are a rarity and expensive to own but are the ultimate statement in society and for the owner’s empathic health, something that humanity struggles with. Those that can’t afford the real thing buy robot simulacrums, so realistic it is hard to tell them apart and therein is the first of many parallels in this story. Human androids are so like humans it is hard to tell them and us apart. But androids do not have empathy. They don’t dream. They haven’t evolved to care and this is how they are hunted, found and retired.

I can’t help but draw some comparisons with Bladerunner. There are some similarities but it is more divergent in my mind. The world is as grim but the book feels so much emptier. In the book, we have colonised Mars and most ‘genetically clean’ humans have moved off-world, actively encouraged too and what is left is sad and lonely and well just dire. There is no sunlight.

I say this next unapologetically, I enjoyed the film much more. Though honestly, I feel they could be considered as separate works, there is enough space between them to do so in my opinion. The book I found quite melancholic and sad, there was more mental abstractness to it that is dealt with and the action when it comes is terse and brief. By the finish, I was left with a sense of hopelessness. Whereas the film managed to ask much the same questions, was in many ways just as bleak but the story was easier to follow, there were more scenes and it was eye-catchingly shot with that Vangelis sound-track so evocative, oh my word. As well I connected more with Deckard.

Also, the film didn’t leave me with that same sense of despair the book delivered. In Bladerunner, Roy at the end was tantalisingly more human than Rick Deckard and answered the question ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ in a much more defined way.

I am really glad I read the book. I think it is marvellous and complex and simple all at the same time and the story will stay with me but I can’t say I much cared for Deckard or the jetsam of humanity that was left behind, or, to more eloquently borrow from the book, the kipple of humanity.

A D Green Book Reviews

Hi, I just wanted to let you know that I have added a Book Reviews Page under my Blog menu on my website. Here you can check easily find every book I have reviewed since I started my website in 2020.

My Book Reviews page is broken into 3 headings, Fantasy, Science Fiction & Dystopian and All Other Genres (no disrespect to other genres is intended but I mostly read fantasy and sci-fi). Each title includes links to the review, my rating, a brief tag line and a review date.

Thanks for reading

AD

The Written Book One of the Emaneska Series by Ben Galley

4.5/5 Stars Fast-Paced, High-Octane, Unrelenting High Fantasy

I have been eying this book for a while, drawn by the amazing cover art and intrigued by the description. It has been out for a while (released in 2011) and looks to have gone through several editorial sweeps since then.

This is high-fantasy and the story captures mythical and fantastical creatures from across the wide spectrum of the genre and mashes them together brilliantly. Now I know reading is very subjective, it’s a bit like baking a cake. Some readers will love what the author has done and embrace the stereotypes that are unabashedly used, others won’t. Some like a dark rich chocolate cake, I don’t. The thing is, I don’t eat dark chocolate cake and so if you read the description and like the sound of it, then you will love the book because it delivers on that promise. If you don’t then don’t eat the cake, it is not for you.

So first up, I loved the story, it was well-plotted with loads of twists and turns and ladened with action that is pretty much unrelenting. The descriptive narrative was vivid and sketched wonderful images in my mind.

The story is written in the 3rd person and is almost entirely focused around our protagonist, Farden, one of the few Written Mages. I loved the concept of a mage with an archaic script, a magical tome inked upon their back. Each Written’s script is uniquely crafted, once they pass the years of trials.

We join Farden, a hardened, lone-wolf mage (as most of the Written tend to be) as he battles a wyrm and so you get to see (read) him in action from the get-go. I must confess, I was not immediately drawn to our hero. He was dangerous and brooding but not particularly pleasant though as the story progressed I was sucked into his life and the little reveals that the author drops that added depth and reason to who/why he is like he is. By a third in I was invested in this guy.

Farden is flawed which seems to be a trait these days, you can’t have a hero unless he or she is flawed, and he has many, his temper and tendency to not trust or rely on others, his overriding desire to be better than his failed uncle which hinders him more than helps and his addiction. The addiction by the way is brilliantly written and wonderfully evoked and that in and of itself makes Farden pretty original in the genre. I liked that his addiction was an antithesis to his other addiction, magic.

The story was kind of machiavellian except that there were not enough characters of detail to add that much jeopardy. I  was not surprised by any of the twists but that does not mean they weren’t deliciously delivered and the scale of the badassery I fully admit to under-estimating.

At the end of the day, an author has one job to do and that is to tell a story that will keep their reader, at worst engaged and at best enthralled. Well, this story enthralled me. In fact, there are few writers, especially indie writers, that inspire me to want to write better and Ben did that for me.

I don’t need to tell you this but I will. I loved this story. It is like a guilty pleasure and the best news is, it’s only the first in the series.     

Readers’ Favorite announces the review of the Fantasy Epic “Rivers Run Red” by A D Green

Yeah, my 5-Star Badge – not had a badge since the Boy Scouts

Rivers Run Red is a work of fiction in the dark fantasy and epic adventure subgenres and was penned by author A D Green. The work is intended for the general adult reading audience and contains some use of explicit language throughout and scenes of graphic violence. Kicking off The Morhudrim Cycle series with this first tale, our protagonists are Nihm, a woman living peacefully in the wilds who is about to have her world turned upside down by the arrival of deadly hordes, and Renco, a mute man raised and shrouded in mystery by an Ancient Order. What results is a fast-paced but highly detailed fantasy tale that is sure to keep readers in suspense until its final pages.

Author A D Green has crafted an engrossing and imaginative work of fiction with plenty of apocalyptic delights, vivid battles, and tense dramatic moments to offer its readers. One of the most essential features to this work was the talent the author displays in worldbuilding, through such details as the new turns of phrase and words that we are introduced to, and the level of detail and logic worked into the wider economic, political, and military structures of the land. At the center of this, the interpersonal drama unfolding between Renco and Nihm offers up-close tension, emotion, and pathos, making this a fantasy epic that delivers on all the different levels that it promises. Overall, I would highly recommend Rivers Run Red to fans of immersive fantasy worldbuilding, three-dimensional and in-depth character work, and for dark and dangerous adventure readers everywhere.”

You can learn more about A D Green and “Rivers Run Red” at https://readersfavorite.com/book-review/rivers-run-red where you can read reviews and the author’s biography, as well as connect with the author directly or through their website and social media pages.

Readers’ Favorite is one of the largest book review and award contest sites on the Internet. They have earned the respect of renowned publishers like Random House, Simon & Schuster, and Harper Collins, and have received the “Best Websites for Authors” and “Honoring Excellence” awards from the Association of Independent Authors. They are also fully accredited by the BBB (A+ rating), which is a rarity among Book Review and Book Award Contest companies.

“Reviewed By K.C. Finn for Readers’ Favorite

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Ranger of Kings (William of Alamore Series Book 1) by C.J.R. Isely

5/5 A Fun filled Medieval Fantasy Adventure

This book was on my review list and is a MG/YA Fantasy and it is reviewed as such.

Firstly, what twelve-year-old boy wouldn’t love this fantasy adventure. It has swords and squires, knights on mighty chargers, evil kings and devilish machinations.

I confess I am a little older than twelve…by a lot but this book was light-hearted, fast actioned and thoroughly entertaining. It tells the tale of a young boy Will who longs to be a knight and through happy circumstances makes friends with two squires from Alamore Castle called Colin and Rowan and suddenly finds himself thrust into castle life as a newly minted squire. There he meets the king and the enigmatic Ranger of Kings, a cloaked and hooded man who for much of the story remains a mysterious figure.

Will’s tale is wonderfully told and hurtles along at breakneck speed. All of the characters are uniquely portrayed and as the story deepens so do they. There is a large cast but they are introduced in such a way that it is not overwhelming.

The author also knows her way around a horse because they feature quite prominently in the story and each one has its own distinct personality.

This was an easy, comfortable read that took me back to my childhood days of reading Eddings and MacAffrey and the simple joy of adventuring in a fantasy world that fired my imagination and I enjoyed it more than I expected for that reason.

Whilst this is a MG/YA book I think many ‘grown-ups’ would enjoy the simple pleasure of a good story well told.

Oathbound – Surgecaller Book One by Todd Herzman

4/5 Stars – Fast Paced Fantasy

I enjoyed this book. It was fast-paced and told from a single narrative making it easy to follow.

Huon our protagonist is likeable enough and starts life as a fairly 2-dimensional character, which is not meant as a slur because he kind of is to start with – He is young and has been living in the notoriously dangerous wild woods for 4 years, all alone, trying to survive with nothing but his wits and untrained magical abilities with only the tragedy that took him there and dreams of vengeance on his mind. But as the story unfolds so does his character. Friendship, betrayal, hope, despair and opportunity all conspire to shape and mould Huon making him all the more interesting.

The story itself rips along at a great pace. The world-building was good but there was never much time to dwell on it before the story moved along. The magic system (surging different essences) is really fun and Huon, a surgecaller, has to rise through various ranks if his hopes of revenge are to be fulfilled.

An easy summer read. Will it live long with me, maybe not but if I were a young teen I would answer differently I suspect. It’s a book that is fun, easy to pick up and put down and a great distraction from the real world.

Bloodlines (The Guardian Of Empire City) by Peter Hartog

5 Stars – Fantastic Future World Detective Story

Sometimes you stumble upon gold and with Peter Hartog’s debut novel I did just that. That he is an Indie author makes it even more impressive. It is very accomplished, the characters distinctive, the dialogue sharp and punchy, the story a breakneck ride.It is set in a near future, dystopian world that reminded me of Megacity One or Bladerunner where most of the world’s population reside in one of about fifty-odd city enclaves. Our story is set in Empire City, formerly New York and it follows the life-weary travails of Thomas ‘Doc’ Holliday, PhD in Eng. Lit,  a coffee drinking, Shakespearean quoting (other famous historical writers are also available), burnt-out detective in the ECPD.

Doc’s rugged, edgy demeanour reminded me in no small part to Deckard, in the afore-mentioned Bladerunner. He has suffered loss and a fall from grace and is mostly desked, going through the motions and entering other peoples reports and paperwork etc. But Doc is more than he seems and he knows it even if he doesn’t admit it to himself. He has the ‘Insight’ and he has been noticed.

I won’t give any spoilers but suffice it to say it cracks along at a fair old pace. It starts with a mysterious murder that is more than it seems. The plot twists and turns as did the pages as I just needed to see where the story was going.

The characters were all so interesting, fleshed out, flawed and unique. So well scribed you could give me a line of dialogue from the book and I would know who said it. The suspense was great, the mystery bigger and more dangerous at every turn and the momentum built to a brilliant climax. Jim Butcher would have been proud of this if he’d written.

All I can say is, thank the heavens there is another book out ‘Pieces of Eight’.  

 

Tales of Soloman Pace: The Storm Series by Alan Scott

4.5/5 A Deliciously Dark Fantasy

Disclaimer: I was given a free audio code by the author. He did not ask me for a review but I will be providing an honest one.

This is my first audiobook so I was keen to try it out and see what all the fuss is about. It took me maybe half an hour of narration before my mind kicked in and I no longer heard the narrator, just the characters and the story she was narrating which was a bit of a revelation in itself. For me, it will never beat a book but I enjoyed my experience immensely and can see the popular appeal.

The book was narrated by Cari Scholtens and she did amazing work. Our eponymous hero is male and many of the stories are male-centric yet she did an excellent job of distinguishing all of the characters giving each a distinctive inflexion. The highest accolade I can give her is that I did not notice her after my brain had adjusted to the medium.

So the story or stories – These are a collection of short stories giving depth and background to Soloman Pace. I am not a short story reader by and large but this collection I did not mind because they were all about Soloman Pace. It gave an intriguing and beguiling look into the history of this character. Is he evil, egomaniacal, brutal in the extreme, uncompromising? Yep, pretty much all this and more. He likes to operate in the shadows pulling the strings but at the same time is not above getting his hands bloody and even takes a perverse pleasure in it.

Soloman is no Nightwalker (Vampire) but he evoked the menace of Vlad the Impaler to my mind. Self-confident (overly so in many cases) but he was so much more than someone inherently evil and each story added another layer of complexity to the man. Yeah, he was bad, but he was never bad just for the sake of it. His actions always had a purpose and he was willing to do whatever was needed to achieve it and at whatever cost (mainly to others but hey-ho he is a badass).

Soloman Pace did show glimpses of compassion. Not much and never on open display but it tantalised in several of the stories, enough to know he possessed some, even if it was buried pretty deep. I particularly liked the last story, I thought it was artfully done and very clever because it seemed, almost, an antithesis to what had gone before.

I’d like to thank the author, first for giving me a free code because it introduced me to his work but second for writing his stories. I know what a great effort it takes, oft with little reward and even less recognition. Alan Scott, you are not only a good writer, but you’re also a great storyteller. For me, it doesn’t get much better than that.

‘Into The Breach’ by Halo Scot

5/5 stars – A Brutal, visceral Grimdark Horror that will stay with me

I am not a massive Grimdark fan. I have read a few before and most have failed to engage me. Not so Halo Scot’s offering. It grabbed me by my shirt front (okay T-shirt) and did not let go until the last page.

The story is set thousands of years in earth’s future and it is not a happy one. The planet is scorched and has flipped so that Antarctica is the new north and humankind lives there in a desert wasteland. A rift has opened, a gateway to the seven realms, it seems we are not alone and the gods are revealed. Powers are awakened in humans that mirror the four seasons, summer for mages, winter for shields, autumn for shifters and spring for healers.

Into this backdrop come Kyder (our antihero) and Rune (our hero). One born at the height of the summer solstice, the other the winter. The most powerful of their kind they are two sides of the same coin. One broken by birth, the other broken by death. One a psychopath, the other an empath. One born on the fringes of society the other at the heart.

No story is for everyone (I mean some people don’t like Lord of the Rings if you can believe that!) but this story should come with a health warning. I found it as disturbing as I did fascinating and I could not stop reading it.

The story alternates from each protagonists point of view and moves at a great pace from when they are children to young adults. Halo Scot pulls no punches, is brutal to the point I would have turned away if I watched this on a screen, but reading it I had no choice but to read the words, live the emotion, good and bad. It is morally indecent, a lot, which I found more disturbing than the violence. I mean, violence is a known thing, right? We all watch it and read it and see it happening in our world. But what we think, what we know of as right and wrong, those deep, dark questions that hide in the back of our minds are so much scarier when they are on a page (or maybe that is just me).

Into the Breach is much more than all that though. What really carries the story is the conflict of emotion, the war of the soul. It is a story of love rather than hate and of redemption (yes, that old chestnut we all love). I was sucked into Kyder and Rune’s world and bought into their lives in equal measure.

We love Hannibal Lecter for his intelligence and hate him for his cruelty and he scares the s**t out of us, well Kyder is cut of the same cloth. I wouldn’t say he was my guilty pleasure but he was my guilty something.

Anything I didn’t like? Well not really. Maybe a small bugbear, a gripe, that both protagonists break the fourth wall at times and talk directly the reader. Just a thought here or observation there. Well, I didn’t like this. I didn’t notice it in the first half of the book – only the second but that could just have been due to shock! It was a conscious decision by the author, presumably to engage the reader. Make them feel they were part of the story if only a witness to it and I get that some people will love this (I mean, I liked Deadpool’s fourth wall breakage) but for me, it ruined the spell that had been cast, took me out of rather than into the story. Like I say, potatoes, potatos. Thankfully, for me, it was not overused.  

This book will live with me for a long time. It is beautifully written, all the characters feel so alive and uniquely distinctive and oh so very human. I could go on, could probably write an essay on this book but well I won’t, too damn lazy and who would read it!

If you are still intrigued after reading my review then stop procrastinating. Go buy it and read it yourself and go write your own damn review. Halo Scot, I salute you, even though you scare me a little and there is three more books to come. Gulp.

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