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.

Stealth – Hugh Fraser

Delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Hugh Fraser’s Stealth, the fourth book in his bestselling Rina Walker series, following on from Harm, Threat and Malice.

Today I’ve got a short extract from Stealth for you.

London 1967
I’m sitting at a corner table in a pub in Wardour Street waiting for Bert Davis. It’s Friday night and the place is heaving. I look at my watch, see it’s near closing time and I’m wondering if he’s going to turn up. He wants to talk about a bit of work his governor George Preston has got for me. I’ve been able to stay well out of the game since I scored the money my dad left behind from a blag he pulled off before he got shot, but George, who ran a big firm with my dad, has got so much on me he could have me away for life anytime he wants. Even though I doubt if he’d break the code, I can’t risk turning him down. The landlord shouts time and I’m about to finish my drink and leave, when I see a face called Jack Fenton coming through the crowd with his eye on me. He’s big man with a long reach and I’ve seen him do some damage in the ring. He sits down and leans across the table until his ugly red face is close to mine. ‘You think you’re so fucking clever, you slimy little bitch.’ I put my hand in my jacket pocket and slip my fingers into the knuckle duster. ‘I know you offed Charlie and I’ll have you screaming in pain with a blade up your drawers before I do you the same way you did him.’

Stealth, by Hugh Fraser is published by Urbane Books on 4th October. You can buy a copy here.

When a step out of line means a fight to the death…

London 1967. A working girl is brutally murdered in a Soho club. Rina Walker takes out the killer and attracts the attention of a sinister line-up of gangland enforcers with a great deal to prove.

When a member of British Military Intelligence becomes aware of her failure to fulfil a contract issued by an inmate of Broadmoor, he forces her into the deadly arena of the Cold War, with orders to kill an enemy agent.

Rina needs to call upon all her dark skills, not simply to survive but to protect the ones she loves.

Hugh Fraser is best known for playing Captain Hastings in Agatha Christie’s ‘Poirot’ and the Duke of Wellington in ‘Sharpe’. His films include Patriot Games, 101 Dalmatians, The Draughtsman’s Contract and Clint Eastwood’s Firefox. In the theatre he has appeared in Teeth’n’Smiles at the Royal Court and Wyndhams and in several roles with the Royal Shakespeare Company. He also composed the theme to Rainbow!

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.

Blog tour: 35 Deaths by Mason Ball

Delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for Mason Ball’s The Thirty Five Timely and Untimely Deaths of Cumberland County. More on that later.

Mason has dropped by to let us know ‘Ten Things You Didn’t Know About Me’.

Over to you, Mason

#1 A painted fool
When not writing, I am a cabaret performer and award-winning emcee. As ‘Benjamin Louche’ I’ve hosted and appeared in shows up and down the UK, as well as in Europe and America. For the last nine years, along with my wife Rose Thorne, I have co-produced and hosted monthly cabaret show The Double R Club (inspired by the world of David Lynch).

#2 An explosive debut
I wrote my first poem, entitled Fireworks, Fireworks, Bang, Bang, Bang at the age of six: (transcribed from original)

Fireworks Fireworks bang bang bang.
They are pretty.
They Sparkle in the night.
Thhey spray some colours
They light the sky.
They are golden.
Whizz whizz they go.
The Catherine wheel gose round.
They spray a rash of stars in The dark.

#3 Cheers
I first tried gin when, at the bar, I ordered a beer and my friend Kris ordered a G&T. I ridiculed him good-naturedly for the next half an hour, then when we returned to the bar he suggested I try one; It’s been my drink ever since. For this, and for many, many other reasons, #35Deaths is dedicated, in part, to Kris. My favourite gin at the moment is probably Tanqueray Ten (gifts are always welcome).

#4 What’s the opposite of hagiography?
While at London Metropolitan University as a mature student, I won the Sandra Ashman Prize for my poem Mother Teresa in the Winner’s Enclosure. This was the first time I’d received money for something I’d written and as such it somewhat blew my tiny mind.

#5 Banana Man
Until the crowdfunding campaign for #35Deaths I had never eaten a banana. Yes, I know it’s weird. I promised when I reached a certain percentage that not only would I eat one, but that I would film it, in full cabaret garb, for people’s ‘entertainment’; which I did. The verdict was that I am not a fan of the banana.

#6 Like fingernails on a blackboard
The over-amplified sound of the pouring of carbonated drinks in TV adverts set my teeth on edge and drives me mad!

#7 Fleeing the scene of the crime…?
I was born in Essex, but I escaped.

#8 Hot chocolate
I once dressed up as a bar of chocolate to promote Walker’s crisps. Another performer dressed as a chili and together we represented the Chili Choc flavour on the Walker’s website. Our slogan was “where sweet meats heat!” The guy playing chili was a street dancer however and when we attempted a humorous ‘chest bump’ I went flying and cracked my head on the concrete floor, thus screwing up ex-footballer Gary Lineker’s dialogue to camera.

#9 Who am I?
As a child at playschool / kindergarten, I would wear a different hat every day: fireman’s hat, crash helmet, baseball cap, gangster’s trilby, army officer’s cap etc. I think these days they call that multiple personality disorder…

#10 “May the force be with you”
I appeared in Star Wars, episode VII: The Force Awakens, and Star Wars, episode VIII: The Last Jedi as a creature performer; in the former as Praster Ommlen, and in the latter as Sosear Latta -as Sosear Latta I was photographed by Annie Leibovitz! I was also a Vogon in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to The Galaxy and a mummy in The Mummy and The Mummy returns.

The Thirty Five Timely and Untimely Deaths of Cumberland County, by Mason Ball is published by Unbound. You can find Mason on twitter @MasonBallAuthor.

Many thanks to Anne Cater and Mason Ball for inviting me onto the blog tour.

The dying years of the great depression; John Bischoffberger is a Pennsylvanian doctor adrift in Naples, Maine, struggling with his loss of religious faith and retreating from painful memories of The Great War.

As Medical Examiner John must document deaths that occur under unusual or suspicious circumstances. Yet as he goes about his work, he begins to suspect that the deaths he is called upon to deal with are in fact far from routine.

He becomes convinced that three itinerants are going about the county, killing. An old woman, a little girl, and a thin man are fulfilling some strange and unspoken duty, brutally murdering men, women and children; and the deaths seem to be drawing closer to John: others who may suspect foul play, then acquaintances of his, then perhaps friends, even family members.

As the storm clouds of a new world war gather in Europe, and John’s rationality slowly unravels, he must find a way to disprove what he has reluctantly come to believe, or to confirm his worst fears and take steps to end the killing spree of the three in the woods, whatever the cost.

Following his poem Fireworks Fireworks Bang Bang Bang at the age of six, Mason eventually took the whole writing thing a little more seriously, graduating in 2009 from London Metropolitan University, having received first class honours in Creative Writing. In his second year, he won the Sandra Ashman award for his poem Mother Theresa in the Winner’s Enclosure. He has subsequently had work published in Succour magazine and Brand magazine.
Mason is currently working on a number of writing projects, as well as developing his next novel. In addition to this, he writes, co-produces and hosts the award-winning monthly cabaret night The Double R Club (as Benjamin Louche, winner of “Best Host” at the London Cabaret Awards). He also worked as a performer on Star Wars: The Force Awakens & The Last Jedi.
Mason is a trustee of East London charity Cabaret vs Cancer. He lives in East London with his wife, a cat called Monkey, and a collection of antique medical equipment.

Rob Boffard: Be The Story competition

What if you could be a character in a book?
Not just your name – your personality and appearance, as a unique character in fictional world? Walking around, spouting one-liners, murdering people, saving the day…generally kicking ass, in a book that will be on the shelves of thousands of people. Sounds cool, yes?

Today I’m featuring a competition for Rob Boffard – author of some of my favourite kick-ass sci-fi  Tracer and Adrift (go clicky on the links to see my reviews – in short, they’re fantastic) is giving you the chance to appear as a character in one of his upcoming books.

It’s the works: name, physical characteristics, likes and dislikes, mannerisms, pet preferences, choice of weapons, the songs you like to hum in the bath, all of it. It can be exactly like the real you – OR you can switch things up and create a fictional version that is completely different. Your call!

Anyone can enter. Absolutely anyone. Any city, any country, any planet, any solar system.

Details on how you can win are over here on Rob’s website: HOW TO WIN, but it’s pretty simple.

Leave a review of Rob’s new book, Adrift, on your favorite store.

Send proof (a link or a screenshot) to adriftcompetition@gmail.com.

You MUST include the following declaration within the body of your email:

My name is [insert your real name here]. I confirm I am freely agreeing to the use of my name in one of Rob Boffard’s upcoming books, subject to being selected as the winner of this contest, and subject to the signing of a contract explicitly laying out the terms of this arrangement. I agree I will receive no compensation for the use of my name. I agree that until the contest winner has been decided and the contract signed, neither Rob Boffard nor any publisher is obligated or entitled to make any use of my name in such a way. I agree the author and publisher are not obligated to make any corrections or changes to my name in reprints.

SUPER IMPORTANT: You have to do this by MONDAY 15 OCTOBER 2018 to have a chance of winning the contest.

What are you waiting for? GO!