Foundryside – Robert Jackson Bennett

Published by Jo Fletcher Books, August 2018
Source: review copy
Sancia Grado is a thief, and a damn good one. And her latest target, a heavily guarded warehouse on Tevanne’s docks, is nothing her unique abilities can’t handle.
But unbeknownst to her, Sancia’s been sent to steal an artifact of unimaginable power, an object that could revolutionize the magical technology known as scriving. The Merchant Houses who control this magic–the art of using coded commands to imbue everyday objects with sentience–have already used it to transform Tevanne into a vast, remorseless capitalist machine. But if they can unlock the artifact’s secrets, they will rewrite the world itself to suit their aims.
Now someone in those Houses wants Sancia dead, and the artifact for themselves. And in the city of Tevanne, there’s nobody with the power to stop them.
To have a chance at surviving—and at stopping the deadly transformation that’s under way—Sancia will have to marshal unlikely allies, learn to harness the artifact’s power for herself, and undergo her own transformation, one that will turn her into something she could never have imagined.

I absolutely loved this book. Right from the off we’re thrown into the world of Sancia Grado, a thief on a job to recover something apparently innocuous from a heavily guarded warehouse. Things naturally go somewhat… awry and the adventure really kicks off. I do love a good heist story and Foundryside is packed with them, each more dangerous and daring than the last.

So far so good.

Then there’s the worldbuilding, which is incredibly imaginative and beautifully done. Foundryside exists in a kind of alternative medieval-ish Italy, with a delightfully clever magic system where rival Merchant Houses vie for power. Ancient magical artefacts, dead gods, it’s got the lot.

Is this just another ‘oh look some magic goings-on happen against a sort-of-fantasy backdrop’ kind of book?

No, it is not. It is so much more.

Because then there are the characters. Sancia Grado is a wonderful kick-ass, take no prisoners heroine who naturally harbours a dark and mysterious past. But once she’s retrieved the apparently-innocuous something from the warehouse in the opening scenes, we meet one of the novels truly brilliant characters, and the interplay between the two gives this novel something unique and is just so much fun.

The story rattles along at a grand old pace, the plot is clever and bright and will leave you eager for book 2.

Often when talking about books I get asked ‘so, what else is it like?’ If I had to compare this to any other books, I’d say take a health slug of Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, add in the whip-smart dialogue of Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight and sprinkle it with just a dash of China Mieville.

And these are some of my favourite things. But Foundryside is very much its own thing, and Robert Jackson Bennett has given us a cracking adventure.

This was the 35th book I’ve read this year, and it’s easily one of my favourites. I’ve not read any of RJB’s other books, but if they’re even half as good as Foundryside, I shall be a very happy reader indeed.

Very highly recommended. Add it to your lists now.

Foundryside by Robert Jackson Bennett is published by Jo Fletcher Books on 23rd August 2018. Huge thanks to Milly Reid and Jo Fletcher Books for the review copy.

King of Assassins – RJ Barker

Published by Orbit Books, August 2018
Source: review copy

THE KING IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE KING . . .
Many years of peace have passed in Maniyadoc, years of relative calm for the assassin Girton Club-Foot. Even the Forgetting Plague, which ravaged the rest of the kingdoms, seemed to pass them by. But now Rufra ap Vthyr eyes the vacant High-King’s throne and will take his court to the capital, a rat’s nest of intrigue and murder, where every enemy he has ever made will gather and the endgame of twenty years of politics and murder will be played out in his bid to become the King of all Kings.
Friends become enemies, enemies become friends and the god of death, Xus the Unseen, stands closer than ever – casting his shadow over everything most dear to Girton.

Oh, Girton.

You glorious, magnificent assassin. We’ve followed you on your journey from Age of Assassins through to Blood of Assassins and now we’ve reached the final part of your tale. Age was good, so very very good. Blood was, if anything, better.

Could King of Assassins pull off the hat-trick?

Short answer, the easy answer is yes. By the gods living and dead, yes.

The long answer is somewhat more complex, and goes like this.

Regular readers will know how much I love these books. Heck, people who don’t read this blog but foolishly ask ‘read anything good recently?’ will know how much I love these books. (Top tip: never ask a bookblogger if they can recommend you ‘something good’, unless you have a good fifteen minutes to spare and a notepad to write down all the suggestions).

Regular readers may also be aware that since Age of Assassins, I’ve met RJ Barker (and the lovely Mrs RJ) on several occasions, the last of which was at the utterly fantastic Edge-Lit in Derby (also highly recommended). So some of you (yes, you at the back) may be sceptical as to whether I’d just churn out a ‘cor that was good’ review on account of how lovely RJ is.

I would not do that.

What I *will* do is to hold King of Assassins up to deeper scrutiny. Having loved books 1 and 2, I expect RJ to deliver more. I expect him not to screw it up, to drop the ball at the final hurdle, if you’ll excuse the somewhat strained metaphor.

If King of Assassins was any less than bloody awesome, I would sigh and slide the book back onto the shelf, tutting quietly to myself.

King of Assassins, dear reader, is bloody awesome. And oh, so very very bloody.

In Age, we saw Girton growing up an already accomplished assassin, aiding his Master, Merela Karn in a relatively small, compact adventure. A murder-mystery revolving around a plot to kill the heir to the throne.

Blood took that world and expanded on it. We found an older, wiser(?) Girton returning after five years, but the story then ventured forth beyond the castle of Maniyadoc into the world beyond, where three kings vied for power. Girton had grown up (a bit), turned into a bit of a dick (at times), and was left trying to solve yet another murder/mystery with a dash of spying thrown in for good measure.

King of Assassins sees the canvas stretched wider again – King Rufra and his court are journeying to Ceadoc, to put forward his claim to become High King. But in his way lie many obstacles, for the High King’s castle holds many secrets…

The scope is epic, the characters brilliant, the plot devious. The Castle almost takes on a life of its own, riddled with secret passageways, home to many factions all vying for the ultimate power in the land.

RJ can write a fight scene like few others – as I said elsewhere the action is almost balletic, bullet-time fluidity as Girton moves, followed only by blood and death and Xus The Unseen in his wake.

This, my friends, is a fitting end to Girton’s tale. Apprentice assassin turned master.

When I turned the final page I sat for a moment, then slid the book onto the shelf with the others, with nary a tut in sight.

Highly, hugely recommended.

RJ, I cannot wait to see what you come up with next.

King of Assassins by RJ Barker is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit for the review copy.

One of Us – Craig DiLouie

They call him Dog.
Enoch is a teenage boy growing up in a rundown orphanage in Georgia during the 1980s. Abandoned from the moment they were born, Enoch and his friends are different. People in the nearby town whisper that the children from the orphanage are monsters.
The orphanage is not a happy home. Brutal teachers, farm labor, and communal living in a crumbling plantation house are Enoch’s standard day to day. But he dreams of growing up to live among the normals as a respected man. He believes in a world less cruel, one where he can be loved.
One night, Enoch and his friends share a campfire with a group of normal kids. As mutual fears subside, friendships form, and living together doesn’t seem so out of reach.
But then a body is found, and it may be the spark that ignites revolution.

What to say about this book? It’s inventive, for sure. The world-building is top-notch.

Did I like it? I’ve spent the last couple of days thinking about it, and I’m still not sure. Parts of it were brilliant. Other parts staggeringly brutal. And some distinctly unpleasant. And I’m not sure I can entirely get past those. And I’m sure it’s a book that I’ll not forget for quite some time.

One of Us is a very character-driven piece, and the characters that Craig DiLouie assembles here are strikingly drawn and unique. Set in an alternate 80s small-town America, filled with good ol’ boys with their trucks and guns, cotton farmers, evil orphanage masters and a sheriff who struggles between what’s right and what will keep the town happy. It’s Southern Gothic, soaked in heat and oppression.

It’s a book about prejudice, and taking sides. It’s a book about what happens when monsters walk amongst us. But the monsters aren’t always who they seem to be on the surface, and sometimes the scariest are those who look just like one of us. It’s a book about hatred and fear, though ultimately hope. It’s entirely relevant given the current situation in the modern US. It shows the world through the eyes of the plague children and the ‘normals’, and what happens when an oppressed minority decides that enough is enough.

It’s hard to say more without giving too much away. If you do decide to give it a go, approach with caution – it’s not an easy read and doesn’t pull any punches. I’d love to hear what you think.

One of Us by Craig DiLouie is published by Orbit Books and is out now. Many thanks to Nazia at Orbit for the review copy.

And Then It Happened – Linda Green

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for Linda Green’s And Then It Happened, and I’ve got an extract from the book for you.

Mel
Saturday, 27 March 2010

According to Wikipedia, it was Aesop who came up with that line about familiarity breeding contempt. Which kind of vindicates my belief that Greek philosophers are, on the whole, rather overrated. I have known Adam for two-thirds of my life now. Admittedly, that’s only a dot backwards on the great history timeline of things towards Aesop’s era in 600 BC. But the fact remains that for me it is a struggle to remember life BA (as I tend to think of the years before I met Adam). There is a blurry childhood involving a one-eyed teddy bear, under-the-knee socks and grazed knees, blackberry-picking along the canal bank, a less than perfect ponytail and sticking my tongue out at my older brother Martin, who was always the apple of Mum’s eye. And then there is the day I started high school and met Adam. That is when life as I know it really began.

We have barely gone a few weeks without seeing each other since that point. Yet far from make me look at him with a mixture of irritation and loathing, that familiarity has bred something deeper, stronger and altogether more wonderful than I ever thought possible. Don’t get mewrong, Adam is not perfect. He’s a man, for goodness sake. And this is a marriage not a fairy tale. There are, inevitably, a few things about him that cause me to roll my eyes and make the odd sigh or tut every now and again; he snores (though only when lying on his left side), appears to have a pathological fear of baths (I should point out in his defence that he does shower), refuses to go anywhere near a tapas restaurant (something to do with not being able to get one big plate of what you want to eat and having to go home and make cheese on toast afterwards because you’re still hungry) and is prone to going off on a bit of a rant if anyone expresses even the merest hint of admiration for either Margaret Thatcher or Tony Blair (perhaps the most excusable of his foibles).

But that is as bad as it gets. A handful of silly little things that bug me. Nothing even approaching the foothills of contempt. Instead, I have all the lovely things that famil­ iarity brings: knowing that he understands when to back off and give me space and when to throw his arms around me and give me a hug; the fact that we can be comfortably silent together because sometimes we just know and we don’t need to say; the reassurance that if I have a headache he knows the exact spot on my shoulder where the knot causing it is and how to massage it away. And the fact that I know, as he sits opposite me at a rather swanky restaurant in Sowerby Bridge, top button of his shirt undone, brushing back the bit of dark brown hair which has always got in his eyes for as long as I have known him, exactly how he will respond to what I am about to say.

And Then It Happened by Linda Green is published by Quercus Books. You can find Linda on twitter @LindaGreenisms

How would you feel if the only man you’d ever loved was taken away from you? And imagine how he’d feel if he hadn’t really been taken away at all -but couldn’t find a way to let you know…

Mel Taylor was thirteen years old when she found Adam. Twenty years on, they are still blissfully in love. She has everything she ever wished for. But Mel’s happiness is spoilt by a secret from their past and a niggling fear that her good fortune can’t last forever. Despite her husband Adam’s efforts to reassure her that nothing bad is going to happen, Mel can’t shake the feeling that good things can’t last forever. But what she isn’t expecting, is something so terrible that their lives will be changed forever…

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.