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.

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.