Gate Crashers – Patrick S. Tomlinson

Published by Tor Books, June 2018
Source: review copy
On humanity’s first extra-solar mission, the exploration vessel Magellan discovers an alien construction. Deciding that finding advanced alien life is too important to ignore, the ship’s captain chooses to return to Earth while reverse engineering technology far beyond anything back home.

Meanwhile, at mission control, the governments struggle to maintain the existence of aliens a secret while also combating bureaucracy, the military industrial complex, and everyone else who wants a piece of the science that could sky-rocket a species into a new technological golden age.

Little does everyone involved know that the bumbling of a few highly-evolved apes in space hasn’t gone unnoticed, and humanity has put itself on a collision course with a far wider, and potentially hostile, galaxy.

Because, in space, no one can see you screw up…

It’s a galaxy-spanning tale of first contact, where the human crew of the Magellan (a brilliant character in her own right) stumble across a mysterious alien artefect sitting perfectly still in deep space.

And nothing sits perfectly still in space.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s great fun, with a cracking plot and some great characters, with shades of Douglas Adams, John Scalzi and more than a sprinking of Becky Chambers’ Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. And those are three of my favourite things.

The ensemble cast is great, with a lovely line in witty wisecracks. The plot bounces around the galaxy, but works well. My only slight criticism is that everyone conveniently speaks English (as it’s so easy to learn!) but that’s a minor niggle and easily put to one side when you’re having this much fun.

Gate Crashers by Patrick S. Tomlinson is published by Tor Books and is out now.

PATRICK S. TOMLINSON is a man of many hats. In addition to writing Sci-Fi novels and shorts, he prowls theaters, clubs, and bars throughout the midwest performing as a stand-up comedian. Between gigs, cons, and rewrites, he works as a pundit and frequent political contributor, with columns appearing in publications such as The Hill and The New York
Times. In the little downtime remaining, Patrick enjoys hobbies such as motorcycling, model-building, and shooting. He lives in Milwaukee with his fiancee, two cats, a bearded dragon, and a 2008 Bullitt Edition Mustang named Susan.
You can find him online at www.patrickstomlinson.com and on Twitter as @stealthygeek.

Forever and a Day – Anthony Horowitz

Published by Jonathan Cape, May 2018
Source: own copy

The sea keeps its secrets. But not this time.

One body. Three bullets. 007 floats in the waters of Marseille, killed by an unknown hand.

It’s time for a new agent to step up. Time for a new weapon in the war against organised crime.

It’s time for James Bond to earn his licence to kill.

This is the story of the birth of a legend, in the brutal underworld of the French Riviera. 

Ah, Mister Bond. Welcome back. Though as we’re firmly in prequel territory here, should I just say welcome?

Forever and A Day marks the second instalment of Anthony Horowitz’s Bond books, following the daftly-named but very good Trigger Mortis in 2015. There we had a sequel to Goldfinger, but here we’re in the uncharted pre-Casino Royale era Bond.

It was fine, though not nearly as good as Trigger Mortis. The plotting seemed lazy in places and the villain a bit too cardboard cut-out, trying to be scary and Evil-with-a-capital-E. It was very Fleming, which I suppose is kind of the point and indeed what we saw with Trigger Mortis. I think what I’d like to have seen was Horowitz putting more of his own stamp on the character, but that’s just me.

The adventure itself is a decent enough Bond tale, with glorious locales, an excellent femme fatale in the form of Sixtine, and all the usual ingredients. There’s double-crossing, peril on every corner, fast cars, lots of cigarettes and alchohol and hijinks galore.

If you like Bond, then it’s worth picking up to see our fledgling agent gain his Double-O status and embark on what will be the first of many missions. Just don’t expect anything particularly new.

Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz is published by Jonathan Cape.

84K – Claire North

Published by Orbit Books, May 2018
Source: review copy
What if your life were defined by a number?
What if any crime could be committed without punishment, so long as you could afford to pay the fee assigned to that crime?
Theo works in the Criminal Audit Office. He assesses each crime that crosses his desk and makes sure the correct debt to society is paid in full.
But when Theo’s ex-lover Dani is killed, it’s different. This is one death he can’t let become merely an entry on a balance sheet.
Because when the richest in the world are getting away with murder, sometimes the numbers just don’t add up.

I’ve been sat with a draft of this review on my laptop for several weeks now. Every time I try and start, I find myself staring at the screen, struggling to find the words to try and convey just how good this book is.

You see, for most any other book you can sit back and gabble on about plot and character and setting and and and…

But 84K is different. Of course, it’s got the aforementioned plot and character and setting, otherwise it wouldn’t really be a book. What it also has is something special layered on top, and shot through like veins of quartz through rock. Claire North’s books are always startlingly original, and 84K is no exception to that rule. She takes language and format and plays with them, twisting and shaping the very forms of lines and sentences, leaving you with such imagery that the words in and of themselves couldn’t provide, leaving you with the sense of a sculptor playing with marble, or plasticine, or both. It’s astonishing to see it happen in front of you on the page and wonder how on earth she made it work.

The story itself is an all-too-plausible dsytopian nightmare of a future, where crimes are assessed and billed, and wrong-doers are sent to the patty line to work off their debt to society, a society run by the Company. The Company runs everything. Even if you don’t think you work for The Company, you probably work for a company which is owned by a company which is owned by The Company. You get my drift. Whole towns are sponsored by companies (who are of course owned by companies, etc).

Of course, if you’re rich enough (or know someone who is), then you can just pay the indemnity and literally get away with murder…

Through this we follow the (mis)adventures of Theo as he investigates the murder of  his ex-lover Dani. But is Theo who he says he is? Is anyone?

84K is not an easy read, and at times I had to put it down to give my brain a rest from the complex interweaving of narratives – the now and the then melt into each other as sentences melt into paragraphs. This is a book which demands your attention, but rewards you oh so richly for it.

In the 84K world, there’s a price for everything. I highly recommend you check this out. You won’t have read anything *quite* like it, I can guarantee.

84K by Claire North is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit for the review copy.

The Anomaly – Michael Rutger

Published by Bonnier Zaffre, June 2018
Source: review copy
A TV crew arrive at the Grand Canyon led by Nolan Moore, amateur archaeologist and host of The Anomaly Files. Following the trail of a decades-old conspiracy, the team seek proof of a cave within the canyon, hidden from public record and filled with ancient treasures.
At first, it seems that, once again, the crew will return to LA empty-handed. But then their luck turns. They find a cave and artefacts beyond their wildest imagination. But the team’s elation is short-lived as they become trapped within the cavern’s dark passages with little possibility of escape.
Then events take an even more terrifying turn.
For not all secrets are meant to be found . . .

Oh, this was a huge amount of fun. A film crew head off to the Grand Canyon to investigate a mysterious cavern found (and lost) decades earlier, reportedly filled with treasures galore.

Look, this was never going to end well, was it? A bunch of amateur explorers wandering around ancient dark caves? What could *possibly* go wrong?

Lots. Lots of things could go wrong. And boy, do they go wrong.

The Anomaly could easily be written off as yet another summer blockbuster thriller, the kind that Michael Crichton churned out back in the day. But it’s so gleefully done, with some great characters, snappy dialogue and a refreshing lack of people going ‘Oh, I’ll just wander off down this dark tunnel by myself armed only with a flashlight and an unhealthy disregard for horror tropes’.

(Yes, killer mermaid book. I’m looking at you here)

The Anomaly is then head and shoulders ahead of the competition. It zips along (I polished it off over the course of a day – which should tell you enough about how gripping the plot was!), the characters are ace, the dark tunnels sufficiently dark *and* scary, and it bounces along to an entirely satisfying conclusion. Someone said it was like the X-Files meets Indiana Jones, and they’d be entirely correct.

Hugely recommended.

The Anomaly by Michael Rutger is published by Bonnier Zaffre.

White Rabbit, Red Wolf – Tom Pollock


Published by Walker Books, May 2018
Source: own copy
Peter Blankman is afraid of everything and must confront unimaginable terror when his mother is attacked. Seventeen-year-old Peter Blankman is a maths prodigy. He also suffers from severe panic attacks. Afraid of everything, he finds solace in the orderly and logical world of mathematics and in the love of his family: his scientist mum and his tough twin sister Bel, as well as Ingrid, his only friend. However, when his mother is found stabbed before an award ceremony and his sister is nowhere to be found, Pete is dragged into a world of espionage and violence where state and family secrets intertwine. Armed only with his extraordinary analytical skills, Peter may just discover that his biggest weakness is his greatest strength.

Every now and then you come across a book which just grabs you from the very first page and refuses to let you go. White Rabbit, Red Wolf is one of those books.

It’s astonishingly good. I’ve been a huge fan of Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne trilogy (and if you haven’t read that, go and do so with all haste) and so the news that he had a new book out was met with great excitement and regular trips to the bookshop to see if it was in yet.

The first page hits you like an unexpected thunderstorm on a cloudless day. It’s dark and brutal and introduces Peter Blankman in a scene you’re not going to forget in a hurry. Peter is one of the most original, honest characters I’ve read for a long time, and Pollock’s presentation of a young man’s mental health issues holds nothing back.

What follows is an adventure into the mind, maths and murder, with a side order of spies, violence and some genuinely funny moments. Unreliable narrators are ten a penny these days, but here you’ll be questioning everything. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, we’re off down another rabbit hole, wolves snapping at our feet.

It’s hard to say more without giving anything away, but suffice it to say that this is a startlingly original book, and I urge you to read it.

I will be pestering you to do so. You might as well give in now. 🙂

White Rabbit, Red Wolf by Tom Pollock is published by Walker Books, and is out now. You can find Tom Pollock on twitter @TomhPollock

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.