Upcoming: THE MIDNIGHT FRONT by David Mack (Tor)

MackD-DA1-MidnightFrontUSThis is the first novel in David Mack’s Dark Arts series, and I’m really looking forward to giving it a try. I think I’ve only read one other (urban) fantasy set during one of the World Wars — Andy Remic’s very good A Song For No Man’s Land — and I’m certainly interested in trying more. (Feel free to leave recommendations in the comments.) Here’s the synopsis for The Midnight Front:

On the eve of World War Two, Nazi sorcerers come gunning for Cade but kill his family instead. His one path of vengeance is to become an apprentice of The Midnight Front — the Allies’ top-secret magickal warfare program — and become a sorcerer himself.

Unsure who will kill him first — his allies, his enemies, or the demons he has to use to wield magick — Cade fights his way through occupied Europe and enemy lines. But he learns too late the true price of revenge will be more terrible than just the loss of his soul — and there’s no task harder than doing good with a power born of ultimate evil.

The Midnight Front will be published by Tor Books in January 2018, and will be available in the UK.

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Guest Post: “My Audiobooks…” by Mark Ellis

EllisM-AuthorPicThe experience of having my first two Frank Merlin books, Princes Gate and Stalin’s Gold, which are set in World War 2 London, turned into audiobooks was very straightforward and enjoyable. Audible, Amazon’s audiobook arm, got in touch with me through my publishers in the latter part of 2014. There are different ways in which audiobooks are published on Audible. Sometimes the book publisher remains the main publisher but is given access to the Audible platform at various levels. Alternatively Audible themselves become the publishers. In my case it was agreed that Audible would buy the audio rights to the books from me and be the publishers. This, I learned, was the best outcome as my audiobooks would then have the full weight and support of the Audible and Amazon organisations behind them. Continue reading

“A Love Like Blood” by Marcus Sedgwick (Mulholland)

Sedgwick-ALoveLikeBloodA gripping, chilling psychological thriller

“I’ve chased him for over twenty years, and across countless miles, and though often I was running, there have been many times when I could do nothing but sit and wait. Now I am only desperate for it to be finished.”

In 1944, just days after the liberation of Paris, Charles Jackson sees something horrific: a man, apparently drinking the blood of a murdered woman. Terrified, he does nothing, telling himself afterwards that worse things happen in wars.Seven years later he returns to the city – and sees the same man dining in the company of a fascinating young woman. When they leave the restaurant, Charles decides to follow…

A Love Like Blood is a dark, compelling thriller about how a man’s life can change in a moment; about where the desire for truth – and for revenge – can lead; about love and fear and hatred. And it is also about the question of blood.

This wasn’t what I was expecting. I had expected a good novel, with perhaps a supernatural component. Instead, what I found was an excellent psychological thriller about obsession and the science and mythology of blood. Sedgwick’s first novel for adults is damned good, and a must-read of the year. Continue reading

Review: THE VIOLENT CENTURY by Lavie Tidhar (Hodder)

Tidhar-ViolentCenturyUKA strange-yet-brilliant blend of Watchmen-style Super-Heroes and John le Carré Spy Fiction

They’d never meant to be heroes.

For seventy years they’d guarded the British Empire. Oblivion and Fogg, inseparable at first, bound together by a shared fate. Until a night in Berlin, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and a secret that tore them apart.

But there must always be an account… and the past has a habit of catching up to the present.

Recalled to the Retirement Bureau from which no one can retire, Fogg and Oblivion must face up to a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism, a life of dusty corridors and secret rooms; of furtive meetings and blood-stained fields, to answer one last, impossible question: What makes a hero?

The Violent Century is, much to my shame, the first novel of Tidhar’s that I’ve read. And it’s quite the impressive accomplishment. Tidhar is not a stranger to pushing the envelope – see, for example, his World Fantasy Award-winning Osama – and in The Violent Century, he has created an original, engrossing fusion of noir-ish super-heroes and gritty espionage thriller. The publicity material that came with the ARC managed to capture it very well – “Watchmen meets John le Carre”. This is a very good novel. Continue reading

“Necessary Evil” by Ian Tregillis (Orbit/Tor)

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The masterful conclusion to the Milkweed Triptych

12 May 1940. Westminster, London, England: the early days of World War II. Again…

The history of the Twentieth Century has been shaped by a secret conflict between technology and magic. When a twisted Nazi scientist devised a way to imbue ordinary humans with supernatural abilities – to walk through walls, throw fire and see the future – his work became the prized possession of first the Third Reich, then the Soviet Army. Only Britain’s warlocks, and the dark magics they yield, have successfully countered the threat posed by these superhuman armies.

But for decades, this conflict has been manipulated by Gretel, the mad seer. And now her long plan has come to fruition. And with it, a danger vastly greater than anything the world has known. Now British Intelligence officer Raybould Marsh must make a last-ditch effort to change the course of history – if his nation, and those he loves, are to survive.

In the final book in Tregillis’s awesome Milkweed Triptych, superhumans and dark magic collide once again in a secret, supernatural history of early Twentieth Century. A series that has consistently impressed me, and improved with each book, Necessary Evil brings the story to a close with aplomb. This is a superb conclusion, and Tregillis has pulled it off, managing to tie everything up skillfully. And I almost cried at the end…

This is a very tricky review to write (I’ve said that a fair bit, recently, but it’s always true). Not only is this the final part of a trilogy, but it also features some time-travel, which for the first one-hundred pages or so messes about with events from book one and two. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, so I am going to deal very briefly with the plot, and then move on to general impressions.

The novel starts off with a brilliant prologue: it’s a summary of Gretel’s story thus-far, told in a strange disassociated-yet-intimate manner. It’s from Gretel’s perspective, and she talks about her powers and when they awoke, how she came to understand them, and gives us a very brief catch-up, without being clunky. Really excellent to start to the novel.

Raybould Marsh, one of Britain’s best spies, has travelled to an alternate timeline, in a desperate attempt to save at least one future from destruction at the hands of the Eidolons – creatures older than time, and pure evil. They have have been observing our species from space, and harbor an incandescent hatred for humanity. In order to accomplish his mission, Marsh must remove all traces of the Nazi’s “Willenskrafte” experiments, and the supermen that were created by the mad genius Dr. von Westarp.

Marsh’s biggest challenge, his bête-noir, is the mad seer Gretel, one of the most powerful of von Westarp’s “children”. A version of Gretel is in this timeline. She has seen all possible future timelines, and in every single one, she dies at the hands of the Eidolons, and she is determined that this will not come to pass, even if it means destroying most of humanity to save herself. Struggling with Gretel’s hidden agenda, his need to keep his true identity secret from those around him – including a younger version of himself, his mentor, his family, and his best friend – and also his single-minded desire to protect his family in this timeline, Marsh discovers that his mission could be too difficult to complete.

That’s all I’m going to say about the plot. Going into any more detail would just ruin so many surprises and innovative developments. As with Bitter Seeds and The Coldest War, I was hooked from the very beginning of the book. Everything about the novel worked for me: Tregillis’s excellent prose style, the steady pacing, the gripping narrative, and fascinating supernatural elements just worked for me. Most of all, though, the characters are all compelling, realistic, and nuanced. This is a superb series.

The various questions raised by the end of The Coldest War are all answered, and the remaining loose ends are likewise tied up. I loved the way the characters changed under the different circumstances – sometimes dramatically, as events that would have redeemed or damned them do not come to pass. It was very believable, but also showed that Tregillis had considered all angles. There are so many small details throughout the book (and series as a whole, actually) that help make the characters more-real, and the time more vivid.

Gretel is an absolutely fascinating character, and one of my favourites in any book or series: she is both star and villain; Machiavellian in the extreme and ultimately tragic. Her story is as important, and perhaps more compelling, than Marsh’s. Their connection, their polar-opposite feelings for each other, and their near-constant conflict is brilliant. As Marsh’s actions start messing with the timeline, Gretel’s powers of precognition start to break, sending her on a steady decline that understandably has a devastating impact on her psyche – this is best reflected in a handful of Interludes, told from Gretel’s perspective.

Ultimately, Tregillis brings the novel and series to a brilliant close. The ending of Necessary Evil is heart-wrenching, as we learn what happens to Marsh the Elder (I almost cried), but it feels right, given what’s come before.

The Milkweed Triptych is one of my all-time favourite series. It is a must-read. Very highly recommended.

Also on CR: “The Origin of the Götterelektron” by Ian Tregillis (Guest Post)

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Necessary Evil will be published in April in both the US (Tor) and UK (Orbit). Bitter Seeds and The Coldest War are available in stores now.

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UK / US Covers

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UK / US Covers