Ancient Magic – Meg Cowley & Victoria DeLuis

Can a cursed relic be saved from the clutches of evil before it is used to wreak devastation?
Kukulkan’s Skull should never have existed; nothing more than a legendary relic with the death powers of a god. Deep in the ancient Mexican jungles, it has been found… and stolen.
Zoe Stark, witch and magical relic hunter, must discover who the true enemy is in time to save the skull from being used for great evil.
Time is running out, for the Day of the Dead fast approaches, when the skull will be at the zenith of its devastating power. Zoe finds much more is at stake as she chases a cold trail of murder and magic.
Her own life is in danger as the mastermind behind the theft silences those who get too close, but she cannot give up, for to fail, would be to doom millions of innocent lives.
If Zoe fails, the skull’s first victim will be her…

Rogue Magic is the first in a new series by fantasy authors Meg Cowley and Victoria DeLuis. It’s a short, snappy thrill ride through the jungles of Mexico on the trail of an ancient relic which should never have existed. It’s also great fun – I loved the character of Zoe Stark, who comes across as a mixture of Lara Croft and Indiana Jones, but with more sass, a sprinkle of sarcasm and rather more ass-kicking. There’s globe-trotting galore, seedy underworlds, evil villains and, of course, magic… What more could you want?

It’s always refreshing to see a strong female lead, and Zoe Stark is just that – taking no nonsense from anyone (well, maybe apart from her boss, sometimes!). If I had any complaint it was that the book was a little on the short side – it’s an intriguing glimpse into a new magic-infused world – the focus here is firmly on the adventure which zips along at quite a pace, but I want to find out more about the Magicai and Zoe’s next adventures! I’m sure there’ll be plenty of those to come.

Ancient Magic is out now – you can get the ebook or paperback on Amazon. Meg can be found on twitter < href=”https://twitter.com/megcowley”>@megcowley and Victoria is @DeLuisWrites. Go say hello, but go get the book first!

Killing Gravity – Corey J. White

Mariam Xi can kill you with her mind. She escaped the MEPHISTO lab where she was raised as a psychic supersoldier, which left her with terrifying capabilities, a fierce sense of independence, a deficit of trust and an experimental pet named Seven. She’s spent her life on the run, but the boogeymen from her past are catching up with her. An encounter with a bounty hunter has left her hanging helpless in a dying spaceship, dependent on the mercy of strangers.

Penned in on all sides, Mariam chases rumors to find the one who sold her out. To discover the truth and defeat her pursuers, she’ll have to stare into the abyss and find the secrets of her past, her future, and her terrifying potential.

Killing Gravity is a kick-ass, whip-smart sci-fi short story/novella/novellette(?) which is a pure joy to read. It’s short, sharp and stunningly bloody, with a fiercely independent, void-damned spacewitch as the main protagonist. Echoes of Firefly abound, with a close-knit (albeit smaller) crew on a series of adventures as Mariam ‘Mars’ Xi goes on the hunt for vengeance. For such a short book, a *lot* gets crammed into the narrative.

The cast is refreshingly diverse and *interesting*, and it features what Warren Ellis described as ‘a cute space ferret of death’. Tell me you’re not intrigued!

It’s not perfect – for me it’s a little too short, and the action, whilst fantastically realised feels perhaps a tiny bit rushed. I’d have loved to see the story breathe a little more, giving us space to discover more about Squid, Mookie and Trix. That said, this is book 1 in the Voidwitch Saga (and it was only a couple of quid for the ebook), so I’m hopeful that we’ll get some meatier tales!

For those minor niggles (one of which boils down to GIVE ME MORE, DAMNIT), I’m greatly looking forward to reading more from Corey J. White.

Killing Gravity by Corey J. White was published May 9th 2017 by Tor.com. You can find Corey over at his website, coreyjwhite.com or on twitter @cjwhite

I picked this up from a recommendation in Warren Ellis’ excellent email newsletter, Orbital Operations. I’m a sucker for a good email newsletter, and Warren’s is a fine example of the art. You should subscribe. And go follow Morning, Computer while you’re at it.

Age of Assassins – RJ Barker

TO CATCH AN ASSASSIN, USE AN ASSASSIN…

Girton Club-foot, apprentice to the land’s best assassin, still has much to learn about the art of taking lives. But their latest mission tasks him and his master with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone, or many someones, is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton and his master to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder.

In a kingdom on the brink of civil war and a castle thick with lies Girton finds friends he never expected, responsibilities he never wanted, and a conspiracy that could destroy an entire land.

Ah, Girton Club-Foot. A refreshingly different hero, in a splendid coming-of-age tale of assassins set to track down another assassin, with a dash of intrigue, magic, skulduggery and other shenanigans.

I’ll warn you now, this is one of those books that I’ll pester you mercilessly about reading until you finally gave in and read it[1]. You know the ones: Red Rising, Nevernight, Tracer or Kings of the Wyld. The awesome ones.

It’s got everything. Great characters, and more to the point interesting characters doing interesting things[3] that actually make you care about them, a tightly-crafted plot (involving the aforementioned skulduggery[4]) and some quite gloriously gritty worldbuilding.

I’ve read a lot of great books recently, but Age of Assassins shouldered its way in to stand firmly amongst them and will most definitely be on the illustrious[5] Books of 2017 list.

All the more impressive for being a debut – RJ Barker is a talented writer and I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

I just hope that he’s writing quickly. Add this book to your list, kids. Or I’ll nag you until you do. You know it makes sense.

Age of Assassins is out in August and is published by Orbit.

Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit Books and RJ Barker for the chance to read an early review copy. You can find RJ over on twitter @dedbutdrmng. He won’t bite[6].

[1] Sorry[2]
[2] Not sorry in the slightest.
[3] and quite often unpleasant
[4] not forgetting the shenanigans. Who doesn’t love shenanigans?
[5] for a given value of ‘illustrious’
[6] probably. Unless you ask him *really* nicely

If We Were Villains – ML Rio

I’m delighted to be kicking off the blog tour for If We Were Villians, by M.L. Rio.

If We Were Villains tells the story of seven students in their final year at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, an exclusive arts school.  The friends find their world rocked by a tragedy one morning, and nothing is ever quite the same again.

Ten years later we meet Oliver Marks, one of the seven, freshly released from prison. He’s met by Detective Colborne, the man who put him away a decade earlier, a man who wants to finally get to the truth…

The story is told from two perspectives – it opens with Oliver and Detective Colborne walking back over the grounds of Dellecher Conservatory to the site of the fateful event, and flashbacks to that final year at school.

I loved If We Were Villains – despite some reservations about the subject matter (I was never particularly into Shakespeare) you can’t help but be drawn into the narrative as the players take the stage and the drama unfolds. The characters are deftly drawn and entirely believable, and their habit of quoting lines from Shakespeare, which I initially found a little distracting (but entirely in character), gives the story extra depth.

There’s an awful lot going on in the book – love, lust, jealousy, tragedy, intrigue, revenge (would you expect anything else from something so Shakespearean?) but the story artfully weaves them together into a web of truths and lies.

If We Were Villains delivered that rare treat of keeping me reading until the early hours of the morning. Definitely one of the ‘just one more chapter’ books! Highly recommended.

The blog tour continues tomorrow. If We Were Villians by M.L. Rio is published by @titanbooks and is out on June 13th. Many thanks to Philippa Ward at Titan Books for the advance copy.

Enter the players. There were seven of us then, seven bright young things with wide precious futures ahead of us. Until that year, we saw no further than the books in front of our faces.

On the day Oliver Marks is released from jail, the man who put him there is waiting at the door. Detective Colborne wants to know the truth, and after ten years, Oliver is finally ready to tell it.

Ten years ago: Oliver is one of seven young Shakespearean actors at Dellecher Classical Conservatory, a place of keen ambition and fierce competition. In this secluded world of firelight and leather-bound books, Oliver and his friends play the same roles onstage and off: hero, villain, tyrant, temptress, ingénue, extra. But in their fourth and final year, the balance of power begins to shift, good-natured rivalries turn ugly, and on opening night real violence invades the students’ world of make believe. In the morning, the fourth-years find themselves facing their very own tragedy, and their greatest acting challenge yet: convincing the police, each other, and themselves that they are innocent.

Part coming-of-age story, part confession, If We Were Villains explores the magical and dangerous boundary between art and life. In this tale of loyalty and betrayal, madness and ecstasy, the players must choose what roles to play before the curtain falls.

 

Tall Oaks – Chris Whitaker

Everyone has a secret in Tall Oaks . . .

When three-year-old Harry goes missing, the whole of America turns its attention to one small town. Everyone is eager to help. Everyone is a suspect.

Desperate mother Jess, whose grief is driving her to extreme measures.

Newcomer Jared, with an easy charm and a string of broken hearts in his wake.

Photographer Jerry, who’s determined to break away from his controlling mother once and for all.

And, investigating them all, a police chief with a hidden obsession of his own…

From time to time you might have heard me say that a book kept me up late, wanting just one more chapter.

Tall Oaks was one of those books.

Except in this case, I couldn’t stop at ‘just one more’. I couldn’t stop until it was done.

Twenty to three on a Sunday morning. That’s what time I finished Tall Oaks.

That’s how good it is.  The rest of this review is merely set dressing, just go and buy it already. It’s going to be in my top ten books of the year, I can tell you that now.

I’d heard chatter about Tall Oaks on twitter, mainly from Liz of Liz Loves Books. And Liz particularly loved this book, and wasn’t shy about saying so (is she ever?). I’d somehow managed to resist, citing an ever-growing, tottering TBR pile. But in a moment of lapsed attention, I found myself with a copy on my kindle. I settled in for a story of a small town and a missing child, thinking that I’d read stories like this before.

How wrong I was. Tall Oaks is a beautifully wrought tale of small town America, shot through with a deft line in wit and with what were to become some of my favourite characters in a book, ever. Manny and Abe, I’m looking at you.

The characters in Tall Oaks all have their story to tell, and what stories they are. There’s a real depth to these people, quirks, secrets and lies playing out over the days and weeks following the disappearance of three year-old Harry.

The sense of small town America seeps through the pages of this book and I was surprised to find out that Chris Whitaker is, in fact, British – born in London and living in Hertfordshire and yet has captured the feel of the town so brilliantly. What’s even more astonishing is that this is a debut novel – the writing, plotting and characterisation are confident and accomplished, and if this is just the start of Chris’s writing career, I cannot wait to see what he comes up with next.

Thankfully we won’t have too long to wait, as his new novel  All The Wicked Girls is out in the summer. My pre-order is already in.

You can find Chris on twitter @WhittyAuthor.

Defender – GX Todd

In a world where long drinks are in short supply, a stranger listens to the voice in his head telling him to buy a lemonade from the girl sitting on a dusty road.

The moment locks them together.

Here and now it’s dangerous to listen to your inner voice. Those who do, keep it quiet.

These voices have purpose.

And when Pilgrim meets Lacey, there is a reason. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia where something… unusual has happened, Defender tells the story of a young girl called Lacey and a drifter, Pilgrim. The world has changed – the biggest threat to mankind is from the voices that have started appearing – voices which tell people to do bad, bad things. Suicide, murder or a descent into madness – you don’t get to choose, the voices do…

Defender is a thriller, of sorts. It’s also part horror, and you could argue there’s a dash of sci-fi in there too. It’s also startlingly original, blackly comic, bleakly desolate, with an utterly fantastic cast of characters, and a setting which just oozes menace. It’s one of those ‘just one more chapter’ books, which keeps you up until far too late.

It’s dark and brutal, and definitely not for the faint-hearted, but if you give it a chance, it’ll grab you by the hand and take you on a dust-soaked ride across the wilderness to some places you’ll not soon forget.

It’s a stunning debut, and I highly recommend it. Yes, it’s going to be one of those books that I pester you about until you give in and read it. You may as well just go and read it and save yourself the nagging.

I can’t wait to find out where book 2 will take us. I just know that it can’t get here soon enough.

You can find GX Todd on twitter @GemTodd. Many thanks to Headline for the review copy.

James Bond: Hammerhead

James Bond is assigned to hunt down and eliminate Kraken, a radical anti-capitalist who has targeted Britain’s newly-upgraded nuclear arsenal. But all is not as it seems. Hidden forces are plotting to rebuild the faded glory of the once-mighty British Empire, and retake by force what was consigned to history. 007 is a cog in their deadly machine – but is he an agent of change, or an agent of the status quo? Loyalties will be broken, allegiances challenged. But in an ever-changing world, there’s one man you can rely on: Bond. James Bond.

Hammerhead collects the six-issue mini-series by Andy Diggle, illustrated by Luca Casalanguida.

I think this may well be the first graphic novel I’ve ever reviewed. I’ve read a few, but this is definitely the first Bond.

I’m a huge Bond fan, both the books and movies, so it was interesting to see how well it translated to this format. I have to say I was impressed – we’ve got a very authentic-feeling Bond story, plenty of action and nice one-liners thrown in, an implausibily-named villian and some evil shenanigans, with a smattering of globe trotting .

The action comes thick and fast from the start and there’s nary a pause for breath as Bond follows the trail of ubervillain Kraken and a cunning plan involving stolen nukes.

So far, so Bond. It’s glorious fun spotting where the story is going to go. The villian’s motivations are delightfully sinister, if a bit random – I’m not *entirely* sure that our Kraken really thought things through here, but it’s a minor niggle.

Will definitely be looking out for more of these in future. And I’ve realised that I’ve missed the Warren Ellis/Jason Masters Bond books, so I’ll be off to check those out.

James Bond (the reviews) will return…

Many thanks to Dynamite Entertainment and NetGalley for the review copy.