The Tethered Mage – Melissa Caruso


Published by Orbit Books, October 2017
Source: review copy
In the Raverran Empire, magic is scarce and those born with power are strictly controlled — taken as children and conscripted into the Falcon Army.
Zaira has lived her life on the streets to avoid this fate, hiding her mage-mark and thieving to survive. But hers is a rare and dangerous magic, one that threatens the entire empire.
Lady Amalia Cornaro was never meant to be a Falconer. Heiress and scholar, she was born into a treacherous world of political machinations. But fate has bound the heir and the mage.
War looms on the horizon. A single spark could turn their city into a pyre.

This was the one I had on my shelf, sadly neglected for entirely too long (its sequel, The Defiant Heir has also turned up) much to my chagrin. I took the opportunity to bump it to the top of the TBR pile and I’m very glad I did. Lady Amalia Camaro is a splendid character, matched only by her Falcon, Zaira. Plots within plots abound as she’s drawn into the political machinations of the empire. Splendid stuff indeed!

The Tethered Mage was one of the two books on the Gemmell Morningstar Award shortlist that I hadn’t read (the other being Anna Smith Spark’s The Court of Broken Knives, which given how brilliant the other four books on the list are, I really must pick up!).

It’s a fantastic fantasy setting, with some quietly splendid worldbuilding which lurks in the background of a brilliantly twisty political magical story. It’s got everything – a fiesty fire warlock and her bonded Falconer,  court scheming, snappy dialogue and a cracking plot.

Book 2 is already on my shelf, but not for long! Looking forward to delving back into the world of Raverra.

You can find Melissa Caruso on twitter @MelissCaru, or at her website melissacaruso.net.

Hunted – GX Todd

Published by Headline, May 2018
Source: review copy

The birds are flying. The birds are flocking. The birds know where to find her.
One man is driven by a Voice that isn’t his. It’s killing his sanity and wrestling with it over and over like a jackal with a bone. He has one goal.
To find the girl with a Voice like his own. She has no one to defend her now. The hunt is on.
But in an Inn by the sea, a boy with no tongue and no Voice gathers his warriors. Albus must find Lacey … before the Other does. And finish the work his sister, Ruby began.

Sequel to the utterly brilliant Defender (one of my books of the year for 2017) we now have Hunted.

And boy, what a hunt it is.  It’s going to be hard to talk about this book without spoiling anything, but trust me on this. If you read and loved Defender, you *need* to read this. Pick up a copy, set aside a day, stockpile the biscuits, take the phone off the hook and strap yourself in for the chase.

And if you’ve not read Defender (what’s wrong with you??), go pick up that too (along with extra biscuits), and brace yourself for some of the finest dystopian worldbuilding you’re likely to see this side of the apocalypse.

Hunted takes the beautifully realised world of Defender, with it’s panoply of fantastic (albeit unpleasant in some cases) characters and expands the mythos. Those voices grow louder, the dystopia grows even more widescreen cinematic in scope, and the ending? Holy moly.

You are not ready for that ending. It’s a proper Empire Strikes Back kind of moment. Bereft, yet with a glimmer of hope that some things might just come right in the end.

The tension ratchets throughout the book, but it’s a slow burn, taking its time to catch light, but when the fire starts to burn, you need to stand back. The plotting is intricately woven through multiple viewpoints, multiple strands and the characters, oh the characters we meet. They’re complex, layered, always fascinating, often frustrating, and sometimes infuriating, but so utterly believable, facing down challenge after challenge, and when you think they can’t possibly take any more…

You’re ready. Join the hunt. #HearTheVoices

Book three cannot come soon enough.

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

Adrift – Rob Boffard


Published by Orbit Books, June 2018
Source: review copy

In the far reaches of space, a group of tourists board a small vessel for what will be the trip of a lifetime – in more ways than one…
They are embarking on a tour around Sigma Station – a remote mining facility and luxury hotel with stunning views of the Horsehead Nebula.
During the course of the trip, a mysterious ship with devastating advanced technology attacks the Station. Their pilot’s quick evasive action means that the tour group escape with their lives – but as the dust settles, they realize they may be the only survivors…
Adrift in outer space, out of contact with civilization, and on a vastly under-equipped ship, these passengers are out of their depth. Their chances of getting home are close to none, and with the threat of another attack looming they must act soon – or risk perishing in the endless void of space.

Hot on the heels of his epic Outer Earth trilogy, Rob Boffard has delivered his new book, Adrift. A standalone this time, Adrift follows the (mis)fortunes of a group of tourists aboard the Red Panda, a small tour ship from Sigma Station, out by the Horsehead Nebula. Things, as you might expect, go awry fairly quickly as a mysterious ship appears and attacks the station, leaving the Red Panda adrift and alone in outer space.

Regular readers will be well aware by now that I rate Rob Boffard’s Outer Earth trilogy very highly indeed. They’re full-on, balls-to-the-wall action with every dial firmly cranked up to 11, with a cast of characters you come to care for over the course of the three books.

Adrift does have some (ok, lots of) absolutely stunning action set-pieces (and if there’s one thing Rob does well, it’s super-tense will-they-won’t-they action). It also has some great characters – I loved Volkova the hard drinking pilot who’ll do anything to protect her beloved ship, Lorinda who has more to her than meets the eye, and Corey the smart kid who manages to stay this side of annoying! The claustrophobic setting of the tiny, slightly rubbish tour ship which forces the characters to rub up against each other and let the sparks fly is nicely done too.

There are the occasional lulls in the action where the pace drops a bit, but you do need time to catch your breath before the tension is ratcheted up again. The plot is clever – first one thing, then another, with rugs being pulled out left right and centre before the dramatic and entirely satisfying finale.

Highly recommended.

You can find Rob on Twitter @RobBoffard, his website, and last but definitely not least, on his YouTube channel doing epic book raps, one minute book reviews and other fun stuff. Huge thanks to Nazia and the Orbit Books crew for the advance copy of the book (I’d already ordered my copy as soon as I knew it was coming out though!)

Fault Lines – Doug Johnstone

Published by Orenda Books, May 2018
Source: review copy
In a reimagined contemporary Edinburgh, in which a tectonic fault has opened up to produce a new volcano in the Firth of Forth, and where tremors are an everyday occurrence, volcanologist Surtsey makes a shocking discovery. On a clandestine trip to The Inch – the new volcanic island – to meet Tom, her lover and her boss, she finds his lifeless body. Surtsey’s life quickly spirals into a nightmare when someone makes contact – someone who claims to know what she’s done…

Fault Lines takes place in an alternate Edinburgh, where a new volcanic island, The Inch, has risen in the Firth of Forth. It’s an interesting premise and makes the setting feel distinctly unique.  The Inch looms large over the story as it unfolds and feels like an actual character in the book. And you all know how much I love a good location when it comes to books. Dare I suggest #VolcanicNoir? 🙂

It’s a short book, but packs a lot into its 200-odd pages. There’s the suspicious death of Tom, out on The Inch. It’s a classic whodunnit, with a small cast of characters in a relatively confined small-town location, but done so well. Surtsey is a brilliant character, flawed and genuine, not only dealing with the death of her boss and lover, but also her mum’s terminal cancer and her sister’s seeming indifference towards it. I wouldn’t be remotely surprised to see this developed for television and think it would work brilliantly on screen. Should we start the fantasy casting?

I polished this book off in a couple of sittings, and not just because of its relative slimness. It’s a gripping story which rumbles along at pace to a satisfying conclusion. I’ll definitely be adding Doug Johnstone to my list of authors to watch out for.

Highly recommended.

Fault Lines by Doug Johnstone is published by Orenda Books in May 2018.
Many thanks to Karen @OrendaBooks for the review copy and @AnneCater for inviting me onto the blog tour. Which continues tomorrow!

Nightfall Berlin – Jack Grimwood

Published by Michael Joseph, May 2018
Source: review copy
In 1986, news that East-West nuclear-arms negotiations are taking place lead many to believe the Cold War may finally be thawing.
For British intelligence officer Major Tom Fox, however, it is business as usual.
Ordered to arrange the smooth repatriation of a defector, Fox is smuggled into East Berlin. But it soon becomes clear that there is more to this than an old man wishing to return home to die – a fact cruelly confirmed when Fox’s mission is fatally compromised.
Trapped in East Berlin, hunted by an army of Stasi agents and wanted for murder by those on both sides of the Wall, Fox must somehow elude capture and get out alive.
But to do so he must discover who sabotaged his mission and why…

I was delighted to be asked to kick off the blog tour for Jack Grimwood’s Nightfall Berlin. It’s a superbly drawn, deftly plotted intelligent cold war thriller, following in the footsteps of the equally excellent Moskva, but could be read as a standalone (if you must!)

Major Tom Fox has been recalled from a holiday with his wife and son to escort a defector from East Berlin. What should have been a relatively easy-in, easy-out quickly spirals out of control, leaving Fox trying to avoid capture by the Stasi and solve a murder for which he is the prime suspect, on both sides of the Wall.

I do love a good Cold War spy thriller and Nightfall Berlin is a superb example of the genre. Less glitzy than Bond, more real than Bourne, it feels utterly authentic of the time and Fox is a complex, believable protagonist. A real sense of time and particularly place too, something which I really like in a book.

Grimwood ratchets up the tension with a relentlessly as Tom Fox finds himself in increasingly perilous straits as he navigates the back streets of East Berlin and beyond. I’ve long been a fan of his books and love his way with language, drawing us into the story, sketching out the political and cultural climate of the time.

Whilst Tom Fox is a great character, he’s just one of a host of layered, complex individuals, key of which is his son Charlie who has his own story to tell. There are one or two familiar faces along for the ride as well!

Highly recommended.

Nightfall Berlin by Jack Grimwood is published on 17th May 2018 by Michael Joseph. Many thanks to Sam Deacon for inviting me to take part in the tour.

Jack Grimwood, a.k.a Jon Courtenay Grimwood was born in Malta and christened in the upturned bell of a ship. He grew up in the Far East, Britain and Scandinavia. Apart from novels he writes for national newspapers including the Times, Telegraph, Independent and Guardian. Jon is two-time winner of the BSFA Award for Best Novel, with Felaheen, and End of the World Blues. His literary novel, The Last Banquet, as Jonathan Grimwood, was shortlisted for Le Prix Montesquieu 2015.

(On a side note, Jon Courtenay Grimwood’s Arabesk books (Pashazade, Effendi and Felaheen) are bloody brilliant, and count amongst my favourites – I urge you to give them a try. Or if you prefer something a little more… vampiric and Venetian, The Fallen Blade is also superb. Enjoy!)

Everything About You – Heather Child

Published by Orbit Books, April 2018
Source: review copy
Freya has a new virtual assistant. It knows what she likes, knows what she wants and knows whose voice she most needs to hear: her missing sister’s.

It adopts her sister’s personality, recreating her through a life lived online. But this virtual version of her knows things it shouldn’t be possible to know.

It’s almost as if the missing girl is still out there somewhere, feeding fresh updates into the cloud. But that’s impossible. Isn’t it?

Everything About You is an unsettling, creepy techno-thriller which feels all too plausible. Echoes of Black Mirror abound as we follow the story of Freya and her new ‘Smartface’ virtual assistant. Technology has advanced to the point where you can have any personality installed you like, built up from the thousands of interactions that person had with others – emails, texts, voice. Except Freya has a new, bleeding-edge prototype and the voice of her missing sister, who vanished when they were teenagers.

The Smartface knows everything about you, everything you want, everything you need. It feels alive, it feels real. All of which is eerie enough, except that this AI seems to know things that her sister couldn’t possibly know…

This book is what happens when smart becomes too smart.

I loved this book and rattled through it in a couple of sittings. It’s clever, it’s creepy and it’s just so damn smart. The mystery is neatly plotted and beautifully written, with plenty of twists and turns thrown in.

A hugely confident debut from Heather Child, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

Everything About You by Heather Child is published by Orbit Books in April 2018. Many thanks to Nazia Khatum and Orbit Books for the review copy.

You can find Heather on twitter @Heatherika1, or at her website www.heather-child.co.uk/

The Ice Swimmer – Kjell Ola Dahl

When a dead man is lifted from the freezing waters of Oslo Harbour just before Christmas, Detective Lena Stigersand’s stressful life suddenly becomes even more complicated. Not only is she dealing with a cancer scare, a stalker and an untrustworthy boyfriend, but it seems both a politician and Norway’s security services might be involved in the murder.

With her trusted colleagues, Gunnarstranda and Frølich, at her side, Lena digs deep into the case and finds that it not only goes to the heart of the Norwegian establishment, but it might be rather to close to her personal life for comfort.

Regular readers of this blog might recall that I reviewed Kjell Ola Dahl’s Faithless around this time last year (almost to the day – I should have gone earlier on the blog tour!).

The Ice Swimmer is the sixth book in his Oslo Detective series, again featuring our old friends Gunnarstranda and Frølich. But the case here really belongs to Lena Stigersand. A body is pulled out of the freezing waters of Oslo Harbour in the run-up to Christmas. But was it an accident, or was there something more sinister afoot?

Kjell Ola Dahl has delivered another classic slice of Nordic Noir with The Ice Swimmer. It’s dark and atmospheric, with a real sense of menace building up as the story unfolds. It was great to see Gunnarstranda and Frølich back in action, though they do take a back seat to Lena this time round. It’s her case and her dogged determination to see it through, often pushing close to, if not over, the limits her bosses set. I’d loved to have seen a little more of Frølich, but we can’t have everything!

Don Bartlett is on translation duties again, and the writing is once more punchy, with a brevity and clarity that’s instantly recongisable. Kjell Ola Dahl has a way with short, snappy sentences which took me a while to get into the style and rhythm of (as it did with Faithless), but as with the previous book, once the story really gets going, you’re hooked.

I loved the character of Lena. She’s complex and human and feels very real. I know that might sound like an odd thing to say – aren’t all characters supposed to be real? But I felt that she had something extra, an added depth to her character that I really enjoyed.

The Ice Swimmer is a great police procedural, with an added dash of political intrigue, shady goings-on at an international level but with a real, personal undercurrent. It’s a later book in the Oslo Detectives series, but could easily be read as a standalone.

If you like your Noir of the Nordic variety (and hey, who doesn’t?), this is an excellent addition to the genre. Highly recommended.

The Ice Swimmer by Kjell Ola Dahl is published by Orenda Books in April 2018.
Many thanks to Karen @OrendaBooks for the review copy and @AnneCater for inviting me onto the blog tour.