Good Samaritans – Will Carver


Published by Orenda Books, November 2018
Source: review copy
Seth Beauman can’t sleep. He stays up late, calling strangers from his phonebook, hoping to make a connection, while his wife, Maeve, sleeps upstairs. A crossed wire finds a suicidal Hadley Serf on the phone to Seth, thinking she is talking to The Samaritans.
But a seemingly harmless, late-night hobby turns into something more for Seth and for Hadley, and soon their late-night talks are turning into day-time meet-ups. And then this dysfunctional love story turns into something altogether darker, when Seth brings Hadley home…
And someone is watching…

I’ve sat and looked a blank page for the past half hour, trying to come up with some kind of coherent thoughts about Will Carver’s Good Samaritans. I’ve read a lot of Orenda Books’ output over the past couple of years, and I’ll say this – you’ll always get something different, something unique, something unlike you’ve come across before.

And that’s definitely the case with Good Samaritans. It’s very dark, very graphic and gripping, and demands that you read just one more chapter.

After all, the chapters are short, so one more can’t hurt, can it?

Narrator: Oh yes it can. They can hurt a lot.

Told from multiple viewpoints, Good Samaritans is a story of crossed lines and crossed fates. After a brutal opening, I found it took a little while to settle into the style of the book, flicking as it does from Seth to Maeve to Hadley, from present to flashback, from first to third person. But once you’ve adjusted, you’re in for quite a ride. There were several points at which I was convinced that I’d figured it out, only for something to come out of left-field and blindside me. One in particular (and I’m not giving anything else away) had me put the book down and glare at it (in a good way!) for a minute or two before diving back in.

The plotting is devilishly clever, and Carver does a splendid job of getting into the heads of some spectacularly unsavoury people. Good Samaritans is definitely *not* for the squeamish, featuring some very graphic (and energetic) sex, and some very unpleasant things done with bleach.

If I had any quibble I’d loved to have seen more of Detective Pace, who feels a little like background texture. Maybe he could have more adventures… Will?

Good Samaritans is a phenomenal read. I finished it the day it arrived, hooked from the first page.

Good Samaritans by Will Carver is published by Orenda Books. Thanks to Karen for the review copy. You can find Will on Twitter @will_carver.

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.

The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin

This is the way the world ends. Again.

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries.

Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

A post-apocalyptic fantasy with some glorious worldbuilding, The Fifth Season is the first book in N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth trilogy. It’s a book to lose yourself in, told through three viewpoints – Essun, on the hunt for her husband who has kidnapped her daughter after murdering her son. Syenite – fourth ring Orogene on a mission to a coastal city to help with a problem with their harbour. And Damaya, a young girl on the way to the Fulcrum, where she will learn to control her Orogeny, and the very earth itself.

Three brilliant, unforgettable strong female leads, each told in a distinct voice. Indeed this takes a little getting used to, the swapping of styles between the three. One of which is told in the second person, something you see all too rarely. Persevere though, and if you give it a chance, The Fifth Season will reward you richly. The rest of the cast of characters is wonderfully diverse, both in gender, sexuality and race and all equally fascinating, each bringing more facets and layers to the story.

The worldbuilding on display here is absolutely top-notch, and with every chapter Jemisin draws you into this world which at times has shades of our own, but is otherwise completely… different. The story is like a jigsaw puzzle, sections interlocking piece by piece until you slot in the final segment and see the glorious whole.

It’s a phenomenal work, and I can’t wait to read the next two books.

The Fifth Season is the first of The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin, and won the 2016 Hugo Award. Huge thanks to Nazia (@gambit589) for introducing me to this book.

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.