Quick Review: SLAVES TO DARKNESS by John French (Black Library)

FrenchJ-HH51-SlavesToDarknessThe traitors gather for their final push towards Terra…

After a long and gruelling conflict, the traitors at last close upon Terra. But time is dwindling for an attack. Both Guilliman and the Lion are returning with all haste, and their armies could turn the tide. The hosts of the Warmaster must unite, for only then can they attack the Throneworld itself. While Mortarion is sent on ahead as the fleet’s vanguard, it falls to Lorgar and Perturabo to marshal Fulgrim and Angron, both now elevated to daemonhood and perhaps beyond even the will of the Warmaster to command. But Horus lies wounded and as the greatest battle the galaxy has ever know looms, it is up to Maloghurst to hold his fractious Legion together and to wrench Horus himself from the edge of oblivion.

The Traitor legions are preparing for their final push to Terra. At least, that is the plan. After the events of Wolfsbane, Horus is grappling with the wound he received from the Emperor’s Spear, wielded by his loyalist brother Leman Russ. The time has nevertheless come to assemble the Traitor legions and bring the campaign to a close. However, this is easier said than done: all is not well among the Traitors, and with Horus’s status unclear, stresses and fractures appear not only between the legions, but also amongst Horus’s closest aides and commanders… Continue reading

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Quick Review: WAR CRY by Brian McClellan (Tor.com)

McClellanB-WarCryAn intriguing, entertaining new novella from the author of the Powder Mage series: a new universe, new armies, and new monsters…

Teado is a Changer, a shape-shifting military asset trained to win wars. His platoon has been stationed in the Bavares high plains for years, stranded. As they ration supplies and scan the airwaves for news, any news, their numbers dwindle. He’s not sure how much time they have left.

Desperate and starving, armed with aging, faulting equipment, the team jumps at the chance for a risky resupply mission, even if it means not all of them might come. What they discover could change the course of the war.

Despite falling behind on his ‘main’ fantasy series, the Powder Mage trilogy and the new Gods of Blood and Powder, McClellan is one of my favourite (fantasy) author working today. When I heard that he had a novella on the way from Tor.com, I immediately put it on my must-read list. Due out in a couple of weeks, War Cry lived up to my expectations: it’s really good. Continue reading

Quick Review: CITY OF DEVILS by Paul French (Riverrun/Picador)

FrenchP-CityOfDevilsUKAn intriguing glimpse into Shanghai’s pre-war underworld

A spellbinding and dramatic account of Shanghai’s lawless 1930s and two of its most notorious criminals…

1930s Shanghai could give Chicago a run for its money. In the years before the Japanese invaded, the city was a haven for outlaws from all over the world: a place where pasts could be forgotten, fascism and communism outrun, names invented, fortunes made – and lost.

‘Lucky’ Jack Riley was the most notorious of those outlaws. An ex-Navy boxing champion, he escaped from prison in the States, spotted a craze for gambling and rose to become the Slot King of Shanghai. Ruler of the clubs in that day was ‘Dapper’ Joe Farren — a Jewish boy who fled Vienna’s ghetto with a dream of dance halls. His chorus lines rivalled Ziegfeld’s and his name was in lights above the city’s biggest casino.

In 1940 they bestrode the Shanghai Badlands like kings, while all around the Solitary Island was poverty, starvation and genocide. They thought they ruled Shanghai; but the city had other ideas. This is the story of their rise to power, their downfall, and the trail of destruction they left in their wake. Shanghai was their playground for a flickering few years, a city where for a fleeting moment even the wildest dreams seemed possible.

In the vein of true crime books whose real brilliance is the recreation of a time and place, this is an impeccably researched narrative non-fiction told with superb energy and brio, as if James Ellroy had stumbled into a Shanghai cathouse.

Until City of Devils, I had only read Paul French’s shorter books on Asia — mainly on early 20th Century China, but also an excellent short book about Kim Jong-un. In City of Devils, French turns his attention to the criminal underworld of Shanghai in the 1930s, and two foreigners who managed to turn certain sectors of the city into their own private kingdoms. It’s a fascinating look at extraterritoriality, Westerners’ fascination with China, and their willingness to take advantage of their hosts. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE MURDERS OF MOLLY SOUTHBOURNE by Tade Thompson (Tor.com)

ThompsonT-MurdersOfMollySouthbourneAn intriguing, creepy and ultimately tragic novella

Every time she bleeds a murderer is born.

The rule is simple: don’t bleed.

For as long as Molly Southbourne can remember, she’s been watching herself die. Whenever she bleeds, another molly is born, identical to her in every way and intent on her destruction.

Molly knows every way to kill herself, but she also knows that as long as she survives she’ll be hunted. No matter how well she follows the rules, eventually the mollys will find her. Can Molly find a way to stop the tide of blood, or will she meet her end at the hand of a girl who looks just like her?

This is the first book by Thompson that I’ve read. The first thing that jumped out at me was the quality of the author’s prose: it’s pristine, really. It’s journalistic in its clarity, it is gripping, expressive, and a delight to read. Over the course of this short novella, you’ll come to care for Molly, and even some of the mollys. Once again, Tor.com have published a fantastic piece of short speculative fiction. Continue reading

Review: MURDERBOT DIARIES #1-3 by Martha Wells (Tor.com)

WellsM-MurderbotDiaries-1to3

An amusing, thoughtful series of novellas

These are a lot of fun. In the first three books in Martha Wells’s Murderbot Diaries — All Systems RedArtificial Condition and Rogue Protocol — we follow the adventures of a SecUnit who has hacked its governor module and, therefore, mostly autonomous. It’s a wonderful guide to this setting, and in each of these books we are given a little more detail on how the universe is set up and runs. All the while, the SecUnit (who does get a couple of personalized names in the books) struggles with its distaste and dislike of humans, and a stubborn urge to protect them. (They’re just so soft and feckless, after all…) Continue reading

Review: THE SHAKESPEARE REQUIREMENT by Julie Schumacher (Doubleday)

SchumacherJ-JF2-ShakespeareRequirementUSA fantastic follow-up to Dear Committee Members

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune keep hitting beleaguered English professor Jason Fitger right between the eyes in this hilarious and eagerly awaited sequel to the cult classic of anhedonic academe, the Thurber Prize-winning Dear Committee Members. Once more into the breach…

Now is the fall of his discontent, as Jason Fitger, newly appointed chair of the English Department of Payne University, takes arms against a sea of troubles, personal and institutional. His ex-wife is sleeping with the dean who must approve whatever modest initiatives he undertakes. The fearsome department secretary Fran clearly runs the show (when not taking in rescue parrots and dogs) and holds plenty of secrets she’s not sharing. The lavishly funded Econ Department keeps siphoning off English’s meager resources and has taken aim at its remaining office space. And Fitger’s attempt to get a mossbacked and antediluvian Shakespeare scholar to retire backfires spectacularly when the press concludes that the Bard is being kicked to the curricular curb.

Lord, what fools these mortals be! Julie Schumacher proves the point and makes the most of it in this delicious romp of satire.

Julie Schumacher’s previous novel, Dear Committee Members was one of my favourite novels of 2014: it was funny, warm-hearted, extremely well-written, and populated by familiar and endearing (albeit hapless) characters. In The Shakespeare Requirement, the author reunites readers with characters at Payne University. Written in a slightly different style, it is no less engaging, amusing and sharply observed. Another excellent novel. Continue reading

Review: NEED TO KNOW by Karen Cleveland (Ballantine / Doubleday / Bantam)

ClevelandK-NeedToKnowUSA fast-paced, gripping spy thriller

In pursuit of a Russian sleeper cell on American soil, CIA analyst Vivian Miller uncovers a dangerous secret that will threaten her job, her family — and her life. On track for a much-needed promotion, she’s developed a system for identifying Russian agents, seemingly normal people living in plain sight.

After accessing the computer of a potential Russian operative, Vivian stumbles on a secret dossier of deep-cover agents within America’s borders. A few clicks later, everything that matters to her — her job, her husband, even her four children — is threatened.‎

Vivian has vowed to defend her country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. But now she’s facing impossible choices. Torn between loyalty and betrayal, allegiance and treason, love and suspicion, who can she trust?

This novel received a lot of pre-publication buzz. Russian sleeper cells infiltrating the CIA; movie rights sold to Universal Pictures, with Charlize Theron attached; and lots of praise from other thriller and mystery authors. All of this during a political environment characterized (in part) by Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. So, with expectations high, I’m glad to report that Need to Know exceeded my hopes. A gripping novel that I devoured in two sittings. Continue reading