The Consuming Fire – John Scalzi

The Interdependency, humanity’s interstellar empire, is on the verge of collapse. The Flow, the extra-dimensional conduit that makes travel between the stars possible, is disappearing, leaving entire star systems stranded. When it goes, human civilization may go with it—unless desperate measures can be taken.

Emperox Grayland II, the leader of the Interdependency, is ready to take those measures to help ensure the survival of billions. But nothing is ever that easy. Arrayed before her are those who believe the collapse of the Flow is a myth—or at the very least, an opportunity that can allow them to ascend to power.

While Grayland prepares for disaster, others are preparing for a civil war, a war that will take place in the halls of power, the markets of business and the altars of worship as much as it will take place between spaceships and battlefields. The Emperox and her allies are smart and resourceful, but then so are her enemies. Nothing about this power struggle will be simple or easy… and all of humanity will be caught in its widening gyre[1].

Regular readers of this blog (I know there must be some of you out there) will recall that I bloody loved The Collapsing Empire, the first book in John Scalzi’s Interdependecy trilogy/series.  I’m normally pretty good at keeping on top of my favourite authors (no, not like *that*. Get your mind out of the gutter) so I was more than a little surprised to discover book 2 was out already. One quick trip to the bookshop[2] later, a quick reshuffle of the TBR pile[3] and here we are.

We’re back. Glorious worldbuilding, snarky characters, feuding Houses, and an Emperox looking to save humanity. So far, so sci-fi, but The Consuming Fire is clever, funny, and it’s like taking the essence of an Iain M. Banks book and boiling it down until you’ve stripped it down to the pure essence of an idea, making it 100% more witty, with a ton more diverse characters and 100% more sex. There are a lot of characters shacking up with a lot of other characters in this book.

Warren Ellis described it as

…frictionless high-speed platinum-pulp science fiction storytelling.

which pretty much sums it up perfectly.

I read it in one sitting. It’s short, fast and pretty darn awesome. You have to read book 1 first though.

[1] No, I had no idea what ‘gyre’ meant either. Turns out it’s ‘a spiral or vortex’. See, we both learned stuff today! Don’t tell me I never do anything for you.
[2] See? Bookbloggers *do* buy books.
[3] Only joking. You approach the TBR pile at your peril. I just kind of bypassed it a tiny bit.

Some Old Bloke – Robert Llewellyn

When writer, comedian and Red Dwarf actor Robert Llewellyn’s son scrawled a picture of him at Christmas and titled it ‘Some Old Bloke’, Robert was cast deep into thought about life and what it means to be a bloke and an old one at that.

In this lighthearted, revealing and occasionally philosophical autobiography, we take a meandering route through Robert’s life and career: from the sensitive young boy at odds with his ex-military father, through his stint as a hippy and his years of arrested development in the world of fringe comedy, all the way up to the full-body medicals and hard-earned insights of middle age.

Whether he is waxing lyrical about fresh laundry, making an impassioned case for the importance of alternative energy or recounting a detailed history of the dogs in his life, Robert presents a refreshingly open and un-cynical look at the world at large and, of course, the joys of being a bloke.

Ah, Robert Llewellyn. Star of Red Dwarf and Scrapheap Challenge (Junkyard Wars to our American chums), lately of Fully Charged and Carpool. Here with Some Old Bloke he tells a delightfully rambling sort-of-autobiography series of tales about a variety of topics, which one could easily imagine him telling over a pint of something nicely refreshing in a pub somewhere.

I’d love to have a chat with Rob in a pub somewhere. He comes across as the sort of guy who’d have a story for pretty much everything, an anecdote to while away the time between the glass being full and oh look, the glass is empty, can I get you another drink?

The stories range from his youthful hippy days driving an ancient van around the country, to the somewhat surprising (to me at least) revelation that he once ran a shoe-making business. There are tales of dogs that he’s owned, of the time he emptied the portaloos for famous people on a film set, to tales from Scrapheap Challenge and its American cousin, Junkyard Wars. It finishes up with an impassioned chapter about the importance of alternative energy. As viewers of his YouTube channel Fully Charged will be aware, Robert has a keen interest in the topic, and he presents a fascinating case for it.

I really enjoyed Some Old Bloke. I guess that as I’m one too (my brother cheekily suggested that I look not unlike Mr Llewellyn, with our short cropped hair, beard and glasses), I’m the book’s perfect target audience. And maybe that’s the case, but if you’ve enjoyed watching Rob on tv or YouTube over the years, then I’m confident that you’ll enjoy this philosophical ramble too.

Some Old Bloke by Robert LLewellyn is published by Unbound, and is out now.

Robert Llewellyn is an actor, novelist, screenwriter, comedian and TV presenter, best known for Red Dwarf, Scrapheap Challenge, Carpool and Fully Charged. He drives an electric car and writes under a rack of solar panels in Gloucestershire.

Palm Beach Finland – Antti Tuomainen

Published by Orenda Books, October 2018
Source: Review copy

Jan Nyman, the ace detective of the covert operations unit of the National Central Police, is sent to a sleepy seaside town to investigate a mysterious death. Nyman arrives in the town dominated by a bizarre holiday village – the ‘hottest beach in Finland’. The suspect: Olivia Koski, who has only recently returned to her old hometown. The mission: find out what happened, by any means necessary.

Regular readers of this blog will know how much I loved Antti Tuomainen’s last book, the delightfully different and very funny The Man Who Died, which made it onto my top five crime books of last year and created a new genre of Mushroom Noir.

So, it was with no small measure of excitement that I discovered Mr Tuomainen’s Palm Beach Finland was another venture into the darkly comic. And darkly comic it is. Billed as ‘Sex, lies and ill-fiting swimwear’, Palm Beach Finland is a splendidly odd romp set in the hottest beach resort in Finland.

Undercover cop Jan Nyman is sent undercover to investigate a strange death and finds rather more than he bargained for. The resort (and what a resort!) is populated with a fantastic cast of characters – business mogul Jorma Leivo, the glorious double act of Chico and Robin, and Olivia Koski who only wants to live in her beachfront house in peace.

If The Man Who Died evoked memories of Fargo, then Palm Beach Finland is a heady neon cocktail of Miami Vice, with a dash of Baywatch and a beach umbrella to top it off.  Antti Tuomainen delivers another beautifully judged dark vein of humour running through the neon and pastels, but lurking behind the colourful facade, there’s a splendid noirish tale of murder.

I loved Palm Beach Finland. Other blogs on the tour will go into far more detail than I will, suffice it to say that this is another gem from the King of Helsinki Noir. Antti gave us #mushroomnoir, and now #flamingonoir. What will he come up with next?

I, for one, cannot wait to find out.

Huge props to the excellent translation work by David Hackston.

Palm Beach Finland by Antti Tuomainen is published by Orenda Books and is out now. Many thanks to Karen Sullivan and Anne Cater at Orenda for the review copy.
Antti Tuomainen was an award-winning copywriter when he made his literary debut in 2007 as a suspense author. The critically acclaimed My Brother’s Keeper was published two years later. In 2011, Tuomainen’s third novel, The Healer, was awarded the Clue Award for ‘Best Finnish Crime Novel of 2011’ and was shortlisted for the Glass Key Award. Two years later, in 2013, the Finnish press crowned Tuomainen the ‘King of Helsinki Noir’ when Dark as My Heart was published. With a piercing and evocative style, Tuomainen was one of the first to challenge the Scandinavian crime genre formula, and his poignant, dark and hilarious The Man Who Died became an international bestseller, shortlisting for the Petrona and Last Laugh Awards.

Vengeful – V.E. Schwab

Magneto and Professor X. Superman and Lex Luthor. Victor Vale and Eli Ever. Sydney and Serena Clarke. Great partnerships, now soured on the vine.

But Marcella Riggins needs no one. Flush from her brush with death, she’s finally gained the control she’s always sought—and will use her newfound power to bring the city of Merit to its knees. She’ll do whatever it takes, collecting her own sidekicks, and leveraging the two most infamous EOs, Victor Vale and Eli Ever, against each other once more.

With Marcella’s rise, new enmities create opportunity—and the stage of Merit City will once again be set for a final, terrible reckoning.

Having just finished Vicious, which had languished on my TBR pile for entirely too long, I was delighted to discover that I’d cunningly avoided the five-year wait for book #2 as Vengeful was just about to be published, and I jumped at the chance to read it.

Hooyah. I thought Vicious was good (it is). Vengeful takes the fantastic characters and wonderful worldbuilding and plunges us right back into the action. We’re also introduced to the utterly brilliant Marcella Riggins, wife to mob boss Marcus, and soon to be the driving force behind Vengeful.

Once again we’ve got the time-hopping jumps between the then and the now, though this time round I found it a lot easier to keep track. We’ve also now got our new EO to follow across those timelines, and much as I love our antiheroes Victor and Eli’s stories, it was Marcella’s that I wanted to get back to.

That’s no reflection on Victor and Eli – we get to see some more of Eli’s backstory come to light and follow Victor’s quest to repair the damage done in Vicious. Eli and Victor are still hell-bent on stopping each other, and do some quite astonishingly unpleasant things along to way to a lot of people. I spent a lot of this book fearing for Syd and Mitch, and being fully prepared never to forgive the author if anything happened to them. But there are no spoilers here.

Vengeful is a hefty book, clocking in at just short of 600 pages, but the hopping between times and characters, coupled with short chapters meant that the story absolutely flies by and I had to keep stopping myself from polishing it off  – it’s one of those books that you want to savour, and never to end.

But end it must, and it does so in an entirely satisfactory way which will leave you sitting back, taking a deep breath and just holding onto it for just a few more minutes.

Easily one of my favourite books of the year along with Vicious, I shall be picking up more of V.E. Schwab’s books at the earliest opportunity.

I just wanted to say something about the actual hardback itself. I love a good hardback, but Titan Books have outdone themselves on this one. The cover is gorgeous, with silver daggers catching the light as you turn it. The endpapers are equally gorgeous, something which is so often overlooked. Well played, Titan Books, well played!

Huge thanks to Lydia Gittins and Titan Books for the advance copy of Vengeful. You can find V.E. Schwab on twitter @veschwab or on Instagram – her Instagram stories are wonderful.

V.E. Schwab is the No.1 New York Times bestselling author of ten books, including This Savage Song and the Darker Shade of Magic series, whose first book was described as “a classic work of fantasy” by Deborah Harkness. It was one of Waterstones’ Best Fantasy Books of 2015 and one of The Guardian’s Best Science Fiction novels. The Independent has called her “The natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones.”

Vicious – V.E. Schwab

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates—brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong. 

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find—aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge—but who will be left alive at the end?

I have a small confession to make when it comes to Vicious. I was very early in my bookblogging career when I was kindly sent an advance copy which sat on my TBR shelf for a long time, to the point where I forgot I had it, and subsequently bought myself a copy on Kindle, where it sat for another age…

Until recently, when I was idly flicking through the depths of my kindle library and I discovered it again and dived in.

Oh, dear reader. What a *fool* I had been. Vicious is, quite simply, splendid.

The format can be challenging to start off with as the timeline jumps between ‘last night’ and ‘ten years ago’, ‘a week ago’, ‘two days ago’ and so on. Keeping track of who’s doing what to who and when threw me a little, but soon you fall into the rhythm of the story and start to appreciate the craft on display. V.E. Schwab shows a deft hand at weaving the various narratives across the intertwining timelines, always leaving you wanting a little (or in some cases a *lot*) more.

The characters are great – deeply flawed and utterly fascinating. Victor and Eli, Sydney and Serena, and dear old Mitch, constantly underestimated. The setup and worldbuilding are also top-notch. Victor and Eli in particular – college friends turned arch enemies, each with their own agenda, each with their own ExtraOrdinary abilities, each heading for a phenomenal showdown. The dynamics of their relationship shape the core of this book and it’s fascinating watching it change across the timelines as the book progresses

The characters all have their flaws, and, in the most part aren’t particularly nice people. This attests to Schwab’s skill as a writer as despite this, you can’t help rooting for our merry band. Maybe not so much Eli and his almost evangelical self-imposed mission to rid the world of the EOs, but I found myself torn by the end, both wanting Victor and the scooby gang to prevail, but not at the expense of Eli.

I loved this book, and was thrilled to discover that book 2, Vengeful was imminent. So whilst Vicious had languished on my shelves virtual and physical for entirely too long, it did mean that I didn’t have too long to wait, and having just finished Vengeful, a review will be along shortly!

Highly recommended.

Someone Like Me – M.R. Carey

someone like me.jpg SHE LOOKS LIKE ME. SHE SOUNDS LIKE ME. NOW SHE’S TRYING TO TAKE MY PLACE.

Liz Kendall wouldn’t hurt a fly. She’s a gentle woman devoted to bringing up her kids in the right way, no matter how hard times get.

But there’s another side to Liz—one which is dark and malicious. A version of her who will do anything to get her way, no matter how extreme or violent.

And when this other side of her takes control, the consequences are devastating.

The only way Liz can save herself and her family is if she can find out where this new alter-ego has come from, and how she can stop it.

I’m a huge fan of MR Carey’s books – The Girl With All The Gifts is fantastic, and the follow-up, The Boy On The Bridge is possibly even better. So it was with some excitement that I was given the chance to read his latest, Someone Like Me, a little early.

As I said in my post about favourite dystopian fiction, The Girl was good, and The Boy was astonishing, but Someone Like Me is on another level entirely, and will easily be topping the Books of 2018 list come December.

It’s a fantastic, complex book with so many layers and depths to the characters that it just takes your breath away. It’s often said that there are two sides to every story, and that’s literally the case here.

I see the world changing its mind.

But those two sides twist and turn and mesh and fold around each other like a kind of intricate literary origami, where each movement reveals a new facet of the story, bringing into question what you’re reading. Tiny moments have huge repercussions, and seeming throwaway lines come back to haunt you later.

It’s so beautifully done, so skillfully plotted that you just have no option but to put everything else on hold and just immerse yourself in the book. The characters will take you on an emotional wringer of a journey, with a breathless finale. And what characters they are. The blurb above talks about Liz, but she’s just one of a host of brilliant people who inhabit this book. My favourite of which must be Lady Jinx. But I’ll let you find out about her for yourselves.

Very very highly recommended.

 

Massive thanks to Nazia at Orbit Books for the sneak peek at Someone Like Me, which is published in November.

Bloody Rose – Nicholas Eames

Live fast, die young.

Tam Hashford is tired of working at her local pub, slinging drinks for world-famous mercenaries and listening to the bards sing of adventure and glory in the world beyond her sleepy hometown.

When the biggest mercenary band of all rolls into town, led by the infamous Bloody Rose, Tam jumps at the chance to sign on as their bard. It’s adventure she wants – and adventure she gets as the crew embark on a quest that will end in one of two ways: glory or death.

It’s time to take a walk on the wyld side.

Bloody Rose. Bloody brilliant.

Last year I read Nicholas Eames’ first book, Kings of the Wyld, which ended up on my Books of 2017 list, despite the ‘Wyld’ made me think of the terrible fantasy epics of my youth and Wyld Stallyns from Bill & Ted. Luckily I had David (@bluebookballoon) to encourage me, and I found that Kings was (and indeed is) a splendid rollercoaster of the most rollicking kind, with a veritable smörgåsbord of beasts and monsters, evil villians, ex-girlfriends, former managers, relentless bounty hunters and what will soon become your favourite wizard since Gandalf (or Rincewind, depending on your literary tastes), Moog.

So then to Bloody Rose. This time there was no such prevarication, and no encouragement needed to jump right in. We follow the adventures of Tam Hashford, a barmaid working at a pub serving the city’s mercenaries. She quickly falls in with the titular Bloody Rose and Fable, her band of mercs. Except they’re not heading off to fight the Horde along with all the other mercenaries. For some reason they’re heading in the opposite direction, and Rose has something to prove…

Nicholas Eames showed us in Kings that he can tell a great story, with some properly brilliant characters. In Bloody Rose he builds on the world in the first book and delivers another cracking tale of high adventure, with yet more beasts, monsters and hijinks.

The music references again come thick and fast, but never at the expense of story. They’re lovely little nods throughout the book – a town called Coverdale, a purple-veined prince, and at one point a namecheck for a character in Final Fantasy VII (the best one of the series, don’t @ me).

The story is so much more than your standard ‘bunch of people go fight some monsters’ that you see so often in fantasy. It’s an exploration of family, both the biological kind and the kind you make yourself. It explores what it means to be a monster, and what they might think when all these shiny-armoured, sword-laden Bands come rampaging for their hides.

It’s also very funny in places, and incredibly sad in others. The characters are, once again, utterly brilliant, from the young Tam growing from dreaming barmaid to daring Bard with Fable, to Rose herself – daughter of Golden Gabe from the original Kings, who wants to step out from the shadow of her father’s considerable, legendary shadow and prove herself in this world. The supporting cast are also great – Brune the vargyr, Cura the Inkwitch summoner (one of my favourites of the band), Freecloud the Druin (and Rose’s partner), and not forgetting their booker, Roderick.

Kings of the Wyld was fantastic, and a very worthy winner of the Gemmell Morningstar Award, and that was against a frankly brilliant field of books.

Bloody Rose is a worthy successor, and deserves to do just as well, if not better. Highly recommended.

Bloody Rose by Nicholas Eames is published by Orbit and is out now. Thanks to Nazia for the advance copy.