Sunday, December 31, 2017
Release Date: January 5, 2018
Publisher: Crossroad Press
When I read a book I really enjoy, I often have reservations going into the second book. Will it be a letdown? Will it take the characters in directions I won't like? Will the plot just be filler trying to get to the next book in the series? Well, I am happy to say, Lucifer's Nebula, the followup to the wildly inventive dark space opera Lucifer's Star more than lived up to my expectations. Not only did they write a compelling plot, but the directions taken with the characters not only fit, but expanded on who they were, as well as creating opportunities in future books to flesh them out even more.
The story starts with the crew of the space freighter Melampus, captained by the former Arch Duchy of Crius Count Cassius Mass, on a job transferring weapons for some shady characters. Unfortunately, said shady characters, being shady, are more than willing to screw them over and try to kill them. In the middle of the double-cross, another shady group interrupts, and a fire fight ensues, allowing Cassius and his medical officer/lover Isla, to escape. Upon escaping, they are contacted by Ida Claire, the former captain of the Melampus, who also happens to be the leader of The Commonwealth's spy agency, The Watchers. She has a job for Cassius and crew that will wipe the slate clean for them, as well as pay big: bring the reconstituted Arch Duchy of Crius, now known as The Free Systems Alliance, leadership, who have been kicking the Commonwealth's tail, the terms of surrender for the Commonwealth!
This is where things really take off, as Cassius and crew determine to follow this mission, even though they suspect it will be a trap. They also have the secret of Judith, the Cognition AI who happens to be modeled on Cassius's wife to protect, which would have them made outlaw anywhere in the universe. In the course of fulfilling the mission, Cassius and crew face betrayal on all sides, Including from people they had every reason to trust. They also have a family reunion for Cassius, including with a member of his family he thought long dead! This sends things spiraling in a wild direction, as they discover that The Free Systems Alliance is not at all what it appears.
There is a much bigger conspiracy behind it all, with elder races who have passed beyond mortality, the Community of aliens who hover on humanities borders, and an ancient Evil locked away in Lucifer's Nebula all pulling strings behind the scenes for their own various schemes to come to fruition. Humanity, unfortunately, may be the ones to pay the price! Cassius and his friends and new allies must figure out which side to back, all while avoiding the betrayal mentioned before, from someone you just don't expect. At the very end, Cassius and crew are forced to decide if running away is worth the price of the potential destruction of humanity itself, even if that humanity has betrayed them time and again.
Since I have started reading their books, I have been a huge fan of how Charles and Michael have been able to create such relatable, exciting characters. They flesh them out so well, even the side characters. The motivations for their actions, even in a distant, sci-fi future, are realistic, never forced. Being willing to fight for friends and crew, no matter the odds, is a trait that any reader should be able to admire. The characters have flaws, and make mistakes, making them even more relatable, but they still try to do the right thing. Well, right enough.
The plot is fast moving, smoothly transitioning from one action packed scene to the next, while allowing character interaction and growth. There is humor sprinkled throughout, with a lot of pop culture references, which is a hallmark of their writing. The settings, whether on the ship, or in the various planetary settings, are well drawn out. You can feel like you're right there in the scene, in the middle of the action, especially in the scenes in the Nebula. You never get the feeling this is a retread of some other sci-fi property.
Overall, I feel this is a great addition to the series. The writers took what worked in the first book, and really ran with the ideas, expanding on the themes, adding new characters, and exploring new ideas to round out the story. I can heartily recommend this story to anyone who likes strong character driven sci-fi.
Sunday, December 3, 2017
Author: Heath Stallcup
Length: 200 pages
Publisher: Devil Dog Press
Release Date: December 29, 2016
After reading Heath Stallcup's Monster Squad series, I was in the mood to check out his other offerings. So what do I come across? A book called Hunter. I checked out the blurb, and must have been really tired, because I thought it was a book about Vikings. that was my misreading, because looking back, it didn't say that. Instead, its a book a vampire named Sven Ericsson who came to the new world when Sweden had a colony here in the mid 1600s while he was in the Swedish navy.
During his first shore leave, after a wild night of drinking, he wakes up in a stable, covered in blood, and is unable to leave the stable, since he can't stand the sun. After the sun goes down, he goes out and meets his creator, Inga, who inducts him into the night world, she shows him how to feed discreetly, and shows him his new abilities. After a few years together, Inga is killed on a solo hunt by some humans. After he hills the men, Sven begins a solo life, cut off from humans as much as possible, hunting Natives in the wilderness.
Switch to now. Sven, using that new fangled internet thing (he is almost 400 years old, so yeah, its new to him), finds a group advertising members willing to be fed on. Taking a chance, Sven meets Gibson, a pretty goth girl who actually lets him feed on her. Getting comfortable being with her, she betrays him and she and a group of her friends restrain him and Steal his blood to allow them to turn into vampires.
After escaping, He is attacked by another vampire named Jasmine, who is an enforcer for the Vampire Counsel, the ruling body of the supernatural world, of who's existence Sven wasn't even aware. He is drafted as her apprentice hunter to hunt the group down, as well as other supernatural threats. This starts a wild series of events, in which Sven ends up partnering with a nephillim named Orel to try and take out a corrupt counsel, as well as kill other supernatural threats. This leads to Sven having to decide where his real place in the supernatural world is, whether as a hunter or a lone wolf.
The characters are a real strength of this book. Sven, even being a bloodsucking vampire, is not evil. Even the Nephillim who can feel evil doesn't get that vibe from him. He is a well rounded character with centuries of various experience. Jasmine and Orel are also well drawn out, and have interesting backstories. The setting is well described, and gives you a feeling of really being in the action. With a fast moving, action packed plot, it avoids a lot of the vampire tropes and really charts its own course. I can happily recommend this story to any fans of urban fantasy, which is probably the genre is most belongs in.
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Author: Brandon Cornwell
Pages/Length: 249 pages/ 13 hrs, 44 mins
Release Date: April 3, 2017/ October 10, 2017 (Audio)
Publisher: Brandon Cornwell/ Podium Publishing (Audio)
Narrated by Ralph Lister
I have to admit, the premise of this book, the idea of a giant outcast elf, really spoke to me. Unless we are talking Drow, most elves are the Tolkien ideal: A graceful, wise elder race set on the world to guide the younger races, or at least to look down on the short lived fools. Only in more recent works like Paul Lavender's The Eighth God has a new, more callous approach to elves been taken. This writer takes it to an even greater length.
Elias is a giant of an elf. at over seven feet tall, he towers over both elves and humans. in fact, other than giants and ogres, you won't find many creatures taller than he is. He is also strongly built, not the lithe, graceful elf that is typical of his kind. Exiled to the mountain humans in the North (this worlds analogs to Vikings) He has lived there for over 60 years, although in elf years, at 167 years of age. he is hardly more than an older teen. While he is accepted as a ward of the King, he is not trained any more as a warrior than he was with the elves. He goes on no raids and is not an advisor to the king, just a friend.
As the current king dies, a power play takes place, and Elias is forced to leave for at least a year by the King's son a he sorts out the potential usurpers. He can come an reclaim a place in a year, assuming the new king is still on the throne.
After leaving and deciding to head to the human lands, Elias is accosted on the road by a huge man wearing armor and wielding dark magic. He is only saved by the intervention of a mercenary troop that happened to be passing on the way to a job. Elias then joins the group, who specialize in guarding caravans and nobles. Their next job involves guarding a noble on a trip, but this goes horribly awry when he betrays them and sells them to pirates as galley slaves!
Leading a breakout by the rest of the slaves, Elias and the slaves finish the ships journey to the islands they were headed to. Elias finds out one of his fellow slaves, a sea elf (blue skinned elf), is a local chieftain, who invites him to stay with his village, since he suspect Elias is the answer to a prophecy. That prophesy involves an outsider saving the islanders from the pirates who have been preying on the islanders for decades. Elias also meets the chiefs daughter Coral, who he is told is part of the prophesy as she is slated to bear the chosen ones son. The young elves relationship grows from there.
What follows is a few seasons of mayhem and chaos, as Elias and the crew of mercenaries and islanders he recruits go after the pirates, both on the sea and on their island strongholds. They survive many battles and ambushes, and after a huge and tragic setback, they finally have the forces and a plan to attack the Pirates main base. The attack also brings out the mystery man who attacked Elias so many seasons ago, and they finally face off and some painful revelations are made to Elias. After the battle, Elias has some difficult decisions to make about where to go with the rest of his life, and with his men. He makes a decision that will have long lasting repercussions for much of the world.
I really enjoyed this book, the characters, especially Elias and Coral, are really well drawn out. The plot is fast paced, but takes time to flesh out and give interesting story lines to the various characters. The various locations are well described, and you really get a good feeling about how they appear, as well as the character descriptions, such as the difference in elf sub-types, like the sea elves having blue skin and Elias's tribe having reddish. There are also a few surprise elements to the plot, and they are quite fun for a pretty grimdark story. The ideal about the injustice of prejudice, overcoming odds, and finding happiness are all at play throughout the story, and are excellently portrayed.
One warning. This book does have some graphic sex scenes between Elias and Coral. They are integral to the story, not just tacked on, or so it seemed to me, but this may be a turn off for a few readers, so be forewarned. I didn't see anything objectionable about them, since it is consensual sex between two elves, both over 150 years old.
Ralph Lister is in top form on this one, bringing his substantial chops to bear on a complicated story with many different characters, with multiple accents. He handles them all well, and his narrative pacing is great. He really kept the story moving along, and gets the listener really into each of the characters.
This is one of those stories that will appeal to a broad variety of fantasy readers, whether they like epic fantasy, swords and sorcery or grimdark. I can't recommend it highly enough, because it is a fantastic novel for a debut writer, and things will only be getting better from here!
Sunday, November 19, 2017
Author: Roberto Calas
Length: 292 pages
Release date: October 9, 2017
Publisher: 47 North
The zombie apocalypse in the middle ages? Sign me up! The idea to take actual historical figures and an actual event like the Black Death, and twist it a little to have it become a zombie plague in England strikes me as a creative premise for a series.
This first in a trilogy deals with a knight and his two knightly companions trying to rescue the knight's wife from an abbey a 100 or so miles northeast of London during a zombie apocalypse. This is in the 1300's, when that would seem like a really long distance on horseback, especially with a horde of zombies in the way. They still make the attempt. It seems mail, swords, maces and crossbows are actually good weapons and defense against zombies. The intrepid knights travel across a nightmare England, with a ravenous population, warlords staking their claims in a lawless land, and even French incursions! This is all leading to a climactic battle with the horde besieging the abbey.
The plot is fast moving, the characters engaging, and the religions aspect is handled well, especially in an age where everything is seen through a religious prism. The battle scenes really shine, showing just how well an armored knight can do against the walking dead! Using real locations, and a main character who actually existed just adds realism to the story. I would recommend this to any fan of zombie and knight stories.
Tuesday, November 14, 2017
Author: CT Phipps
Pages/Length: 208 pages/6 hrs, 6 mins (Audio)
Publisher: Amber Cove Publishing
Release Date: April 1, 2017/ March 29, 2017 (Audio)
Narrator: Jeffrey Kafer
When I heard this was coming out, I checked the blurb, being a big fan of this author. I got super excited about the premise, and couldn't wait to get it. Well, I got a copy and listened to it in one sitting. It blew me away, it was that good.
The story revolves around Agent G, an assassin who works for the Society, a charity front that arranges high tech assassinations for large sums of money. If you have the money, they have the assassin for you! Assassins, named A to Z, are mind wiped, and are told they will be well paid and get their memories back after 10 years of service to the Society. This is the scenario G finds himself in. All the agents are cybernetically enhanced, both mentally and physically, and have beyond imagination black technology, real secret squirrel stuff.
This is the situation G finds himself. After he is ambushed at the Boston airport by a rival organization, the Carnivale, during a recall of all Society agents, it is discovered the Society has a mole in its midst. The mole is uncovered, and G is tasked with infiltrating the Carnivale and assassinating its leader, the Caesar and his daughter, a killer assassin in her own right. What commences is a wild ride of betrayals, plans within plans, gunfights, killer cyborg duels, torture and discovery for G, as he discovers more about the past that was wiped from his mind. In the end, he finds who he can really trust, and it's not who he expected. He has to decide what he really wants to be, and if the price for being that person is worth paying.
As always with a CT Phipps book, the story is very character driven. Whether its G, who is conflicted on many levels, his handler Marissa, with a shady past G is only becoming aware of, Persephone, the shadowy ice queen director of the Society or even the Caesar and his children, the characters are well defined, their actions making sense in context with their characters. They are fleshed out in subtle but important ways, being much more than just two dimensional cardboard cutout stereotypes of spies, assassins and villains. The setting is interesting, with locations and action occurring around the world. The dialogue is also crisp, swinging between serious and snark easily, depending on the situation. The story never lags with unneeded exposition, keeping a taut thriller feel.
As far as narration goes, Jeffery Kafer was definitely at his best for this one. Whether the voices were male or female, cyborg, computer, Italian or a variety of American accents, Jeffery nailed them all. He brought each character to life, giving them a vibrancy you get really attached to. His narration of the story never lags, keeping a good flow and is never monotonous.
Overall, I would have rated the whole effort six stars on Audible and Amazon if they had that rating. As it is, get this book if you like sci fi or thrillers!
Sunday, November 12, 2017
Author: Michael-Scott Earle
Pages/Length: 441 pages/6 hrs, 3 mins. (Audio)
Publisher: Michael-Scott Earle
Release Date: April 8, 2017/ July 19, 2017
Narrated by: Eric Bryan Moore
Having read several other book by this author, I saw the description of this one and thought is sounded very intriguing. The idea of a crossover of paranormal and sci-fi has always fascinated me, and this author's really strong character creations seemed like a perfect fit for this kind of genre hybrid. I'm happy to say I was right, it is a great fit.
In a far future where mankind has spread across the universe, Adam is a former prisoner who has been transformed through secret therapy to be able to transform into a tiger man for a certain amount of time, with enhanced, strength, speed, senses and durability. This therapy has been accompanied by heavy duty space marine training, as well as an explosive collar around his neck to keep him under control. He is part of a team of, for lack of a better term, Weretigers, and he has survived longer than any of the others.
On a mission to retrieve a mysterious article from a corporation on a distant world, The mission goes from smooth to pear shaped quickly. As they get closer to the package, Adam starts hearing a voice in his head as he moves ahead of the rest of the team, telling him to come to where the objective is. As he kills his way to the target, he discovers a shock: the package is a woman named Eve being kept in some kind of stasis. Breaking her out of the machine she is kept in, she removes his control collar without it exploding, and tells him they need to escape. Since he is now free, and being no fan of his employer, he agrees is they can figure out how to get out. He also discovers that Eve is both a psychic and a vampire, and she has been kept weakened by lack of blood.
This starts a wild escape, where they must get passed his teammates to start being able escape a ridiculously secured building, getting past drones, robotic canons, a large security force, as well as a corporate apparatus that will be on their tail if they do escape. They will later meet a smart mouth female hacker named Z who will provide them with documents to help escape, and when that goes pear shaped, she must go on the run with Adam and Eve to try and escape the planet and the hugely powerful conglomerate chasing them. Eve 's psychic ability leads them to an experimental ship they can escape on, although clearing their way past the huge security force and weapons emplacements is a wild fight, and is framed in a great, intensive series of scenes. It is intimated that their escaping the planet would force a dramatic shift in galactic politics, since corporations control so much of the power, although just how much should be interesting to discover as Adam, Eve and Z learn to coordinate their abilities to the fullest.
As with his other books, characters are a great strength in this book. Adam and Eve are both powerful in their own rights, but show surprising vulnerability. Z is a fun foil for them, being the one that's not built for combat, so to speak, and is the one looking for a place to hide while Adam and Eve sort out the rough stuff. She is brilliant in her element though, and surprises you with her ingenuity and secret courage. The villains are a bit generic, since there is no one figure to really get to hate, other than a short scene with the control head for Adams marine team, just corporate minions and security. I do expect that to change in later books, although a monolithic corporate villain may be the direction it takes, which would also work.
The setting has a very far future sci-fi feel to it. Vast interstellar distances, Cities that seem like a cross between Blade Runner and Minority Report, just straight sci fi cities overrun with corporate influence. The ships seem cool, and the other trappings, such as the robotic weapons platforms, the drones, the auto driving cars, the bio-engineered soldiers, they all fit with sense of a far flung galactic civilization. The crossover with the psychic/paranormal and the sci-fi is handled seamlessly, and is very enjoyable. All told, it really helps draw you in to the story.
The narration by Eric Bryan Moore is spot on. He gives each character their own unique voice, and helps make you really get into each of them. His narrative pacing is solid, never lagging or falling into a monotone. He definitely brings solid work to the narration.
Overall, this book should appeal to a wide range of readers/listeners. It has elements of military sci-fi, urban fantasy, vampire and were fantasy and even techno thrillers. It has strong female characters that are strong in their own right, not just because the males are weak. I can highly recommend this book.
Author: Michael-Scott Earle
Pages/Length: 297 Pages/4 hrs, 10 Mins (Audio)
Publisher: Michael-Scott Earle
Release Date: December 8, 2016/ September 15, 2017 (Audio)
Narrator: David Dietz
When last we saw Sherman and Charlotte, at the end of Hell High:Succubus!, they had just escaped A mob out to kill them by taking a portal to Hell. Yes, Hell. Of course, Charlotte being a succubus, this isn't as much of a problem as you'd think. Charlotte leaves Sherman locked in a room as she goes off to set up bringing him to Satan. While he's waiting, he talks to a girl name Joro through the door. Charlotte chases her away when she returns, and they try and find a way to get to Satan's palace without getting killed by all the other demons in hell. Deciding to travel underground, They have a harrowing trip, having to deal with minor bureaucrats, as well as a very angry Joro, who turns out to be much more than expected. The scenes with her are frightening and hilarious, all at the same time.
When they reach Satan's palace, Sherman is kidnapped by a group of Rhakshasi, Indian tiger demons, who turn out to be surprisingly polite hosts, even if they do want to eat Sherman for his power. After he escapes with Charlotte's help, they go and meet Satan. Yes, Satan. The meeting with Satan is absolutely hilarious, with Satan being portrayed much differently than expected. Satan explains that Sherman's abilities make him in demand, and offers him a job. The first job is hilarious, involving a Doppelganger and a duel to the death by video game. Sherman and Charlotte's relationship is explored further, although Charlotte still insists it is professional only. On their return to Satan, Sherman is offered another job to help in Satan's war against his enemies, and he makes a decision that will effect the rest of his life, and has ramifications for the rest of the world as well.
This series is a particular treat due to the characters, which are a real strength of this author. Sherman comes across initially as week and helpless, but he is smart and resourceful, and surprisingly stubborn. He is clueless when it comes to Charlotte, but considering he has basically been ignored his whole life, its surprising he socializes as well as he does. Charlotte, on the other hand, has no problem socializing, being a succubus. however, she is an assassin, so that makes her socialization a little uncomfortable for some of the other characters. Satan is played much differently than i expected, although he can be harsh and evil when need. The other characters are well drawn out as well, and really get the reader into the action.
The setting is well set up, and is not at all what one would expect from hell. It seems much more like the hell in Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim books than the hell from the bible, and is played for laughs in quite a few ways, from Satan's garage to the Rhakshasi's manor. You really get a sense of being there in the scene.
The narration by David Dietz is a real strength. He really nails the various voices. His Satan voice is especially good, and not at all what one expects from Satan. He has good pacing on the narration, and keeps the story flowing smoothly. I think he is perfect for this particular type of story.
All in all, this is a very enjoyable, slightly dark comedy that should appeal to a large group. If you like urban fantasy, gamer culture, or dark comedy, this book has something in it that you can enjoy. I highly recommend it.