2019 was such a fantastic year for books that I couldn’t narrow down the best books I read in it down to a top ten. Instead, I’ve supersized it and done a top twenty featuring plenty of fantasy, thrillers, a couple of historical fantasy and a trio of post-apocalyptic books that are all exceptional books.
In no particular order here are My Top 20 Books of 2019:
The Taking of Annie Thorne by C. J. Tudor.
Find my full review – HERE
Joe Thorne, forty-years-old and running away from his gambling debts reluctantly moves back to Arnhill, his childhood home and the village that he left many years before. Taking a recently vacated position, a job teaching at the local school, Arnhill Academy.
Before this, however, Joe received an anonymous and mysterious email telling him that “I know what happened to your sister. It’s happening again.” But more than that, on a subconscious level and due to the past, Joe was, one day, always going to return to Arnhill as you can’t escape your past and also, the past shapes the present.
Twenty-five years ago, when Joe was a fifteen-year-old his eight-year-old sister, Annie, of the book’s title went missing for a forty-eight hour period. Her absence went unexplained and Annie, herself couldn’t remember where she had been. On her return, she looked the same but she wasn’t and something in Annie had changed.
In the present, Joe returns to Arnhill to lay the ghosts of the past to rest and finally confront the truth about what happened to Annie twenty-five-years ago.
Joe’s return to Arnhill is met with animosity by most. It’s a place for locals not outsiders, people don’t leave and even though Joe was born and raised there, he left and is now deemed as being an ‘outsider’ by the Arnhill residents. With his return, storm clouds are rolling in and the locals don’t want him back, fearing nothing good can come of his return.
The setting, Arnhill, which is as much an integral character as the human characters is a small village in Nottinghamshire that has seen better days. It is a village with a history where many misfortunes have occurred and it is a community on the decline since the colliery closed thirty years ago. The mine though rumoured to be haunted with tales of ghosts, ghouls and other things that dwell in the darkness, go bump in the night and inhabit the underground caves, shafts and mine tunnels was the beating heart of Arnhill and the jobs it provided the lifeblood. Without it, Arnhill is a harsh setting, it is a grim place that has seen better days and making a living there is hard. It is greyed out, leached of colour, a bleak and colourless monotone and it is like a movie star past their prime and fading into obscurity.
There’s a theme of bullying in The Taking of Annie Thorne and Tudor doesn’t shy away from or sugarcoat the harshness of the subject and the effect that it has on those involved. She paints a grim picture of school life at Arnhill Academy that is only very rarely punctuated by small acts of kindness and motes of colour.
In The Taking of Annie Thorne Tudor’s writing seems more self-assured and honed. She has her own style and she is comfortable with it. There is a dark humour laced throughout and at times, her writing is infused with a flair for the poetic. The book is just so well written and the story so well executed with Tudor bringing her characters, her setting and her story all to life.
The Taking of Annie Thorne is chilling and compulsive in equal measure with something that prickles away, niggling at the back of your neck throughout its length. A sense of unease, a feeling of gathering dread, lurking in the background, creeping around, hiding in the shadows, a serpent ready to strike and the epilogue, well, the epilogue is fucking chilling. Like with the rest of the book, the horror is (mostly) understated but it is a nightmare’s nightmare and leaves you with a lingering sense of disquiet that ends The Taking of Annie Throne on an unsettling and unforgettable note.
A Boy and his Dog at the end of the World by C. A. Fletcher.
Find my full review – HERE
These words that I write don’t do justice to A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World but they are all that I have and they are the best that I can muster. Fletcher and Orbit have an absolute winner on their hands with this evocative and powerful book. After I finished reading it I was left tattered and torn, like a doll coming apart at the seams, it is a book that left me bereft, it is a book that broke me and it is brilliant.
I’m a dog lover, I make no qualms about that and any dog lover will tell you the same, that they would do anything for their own dog, anything.
My own dog passed away very nearly (February 19th, 2016) three years ago and I would do anything to bring her back. Give anything to have her sat next to me as I write these words that form this review but, I can’t. That’s what a dog is, they leave an indelible mark upon you, a mark that never fades and they, themselves are never forgotten.
Griz’s dog was stolen, Griz can and will do anything and everything in his power to find his dog and bring her home.
Dogs are a faithful companion, loyal to the end, they are devoted to their owner and their owner is, in turn, devoted to them. A bond between an owner and their dog is a bond that cannot be broken. Griz personifies that sentiment as he journeys out into the world after his lost dog. A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World shows that bond in all its glory, the bond between companions, between family, between friends, that bond of something more.
A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World is well-written by Fletcher. There are many descriptive passages that bring Griz and his surroundings to life. Fletcher often incorporates many poetic and thought-provoking sentences, paragraphs and passages into his prose too. With every step, with every mile closer to his goal, through the various encounters, through the ups and the downs, the highs and the lows with Fletcher’s writing you feel like you are travelling with Griz.
Told in the first-person, Griz narrates A Boy and his Dog at the End of the World and it is his tale. With Griz narrating we get to glimpse and be privy first-hand to all of his feelings of which, amongst others are love, loss, hope, hurt and despair. Griz, himself, is also rather introspective, looking back, reflecting on and questioning his actions, their consequences and the events that occur during his journey.
At times, Fletcher also incorporates the second-person narrative style into the story too which allows the reader to become part of the story. Really making you think and ponder what Griz is musing on and saying.
As a character, Griz is courageous, determined, vulnerable and strong and the love that he has for his dogs is warming to the heart. He is a tremendous character to propel the story forward and you will root for him from the very beginning. The dogs themselves are fantastically portrayed too and are such an important part of the story.
The Name of All Things (A Chorus of Dragons #2) by Jenn Lyons.
Find my full review – HERE
The Name of All Things starts two days after the climactic ending of The Ruin of Kings. After destroying the Cornerstone, the Stone of Shackles and unwittingly releasing demons across the Empire of Quur Kihrin has escaped to Jorat where a stranger, Janel Theranon and her acquaintance Brother Qown are inexplicably waiting for him at a tavern. Janel needs Kihrin to help her kill a dragon before it destroys Atrine, the capital city of Jorat. Janel has her own story that is full of adventure and exploits to tell. With a storm raging outside, trapped in the tavern until it passes both Janel and Brother Qown recount everything that has led to the present and their meeting with Kihrin.
Brother Qown narrates in the third-person reading from his own written journal and Janel in the first-person, from her memory as they share the telling of the story and trade storytelling duties back and forth. Just like in The Ruin of Kings there is also a chronicler who has transcribed the whole story and who has added their own footnotes throughout. For The Name of All Things, the chronicling duties are undertaken by a different chronicler to The Ruin of Kings and they raise the snark bar to a whole new level of snarky awesomeness with their droll, sarcastic and wry footnotes.
Throughout Janel’s story, there are occasional references to Kihrin’s own story. The slight overlapping of events serves to add depth, an extra layer and give a slightly fuller picture to the whole story. Allowing you to glimpse the impact that certain events that took place in The Ruin of Kings had at the exact moment that they happened in a different location.
The story is complex but never overly complicated to follow including plenty of action, politics, rebellion, prophecies and some twists along the way. There are demons, dragons, bigger metal dragons, firebloods (fanged, intelligent, resilient and loyal talking huge animals that are descended from horses), gates/portals, gods and goddesses, magic, magical artefacts, vampires, wizards and witches.
The writing is detailed, descriptive and easily evokes vivid images of the various locations visited during the story. The dialogue between the characters is absolutely superb including emotion, dry humour, barbs being traded and it is lively with feeling. It is only a little thing, inconsequential to the story but under each chapter heading is a subtitle, a droll sentence referencing events from The Ruin of Kings. Those subtitles never failed to make me smirk and just go to show the extra thought that Lyons has put into her work.
For those expecting The Name of All Things to be a direct continuation of Kihrin’s story. Well, you will need to alter your expectations or be left disappointed. Janel is the main focus in The Name of All Things and, for the most part, Kihrin only has a minor role to play, appearing in the tavern interludes and acting as a listener to Janel and Qown. It is only in the final part where the current story moves forward that Kihrin has a larger role. I have to admit that I did wonder if I would enjoy The Name of All Things and reading about a new character (she does briefly appear in The Ruin of Kings) in Janel. Or, would I be left yearning to carry on with Kihrin’s story? Honestly, within a few pages of starting The Name of All Things, I was hooked and I didn’t want to put the book down. I loved The Ruin of Kings, it was a tremendous debut and start to the A Chorus of Dragons series. But, The Name of All Things raises the bar and from start to finish, it is an exceptional read. For me, it is better than The Ruin of Kings and builds to an edge-of-your-seat and thrilling climax that leaves some tantalising threads dangling and I didn’t want it to end, next book, please!
Simply, the Name of All Things puts the EPIC in epic fantasy.
One Word Kill (Impossible Times #1) by Mark Lawrence.
Find my full review – HERE
At just over 200 pages One Word Kill is only a small book but it is a remarkable book that is full of feeling packing an emotional punch and a hell of a lot into its short length. Lawrence is a master of description, whether it is the fantasy settings of the D&D table, the parks and tower blocks of London or something as simple as him describing the cold night and frost starting to appear on parked cars. The 1980’s setting is well described with references to Back to the Future, The Terminator, the Commodore 64 computer and my personal favourite for nostalgia, one of the characters uses a saying from The A-team! Lawrence’s writing is emotive, full of meaning and poetic with the occasional glimpse of humour thrown in for good measure, a little light in the darkness and it all makes for an effortless read. There’s plenty of room for both characterisation and storytelling and the pace moves along throughout with the momentum building as you near the finale of the book.
One Word Kill is like an ocean, there are hidden and unseen depths beneath the surface waiting to be discovered. It is something more than words, it is something deeper and it is a meaning that can be found through reading the book. Nick is a character that makes you care and One Word Kill a story about who you are as a person, how you act on the chances and choices that you are given, how you face what life throws at you and how you deal with adversity.
Come to the end of One Word Kill and Lawrence gives the reader a bittersweet ending and one that leaves a lasting impression. It’s not entirely dark though and with the very last sentence, I found myself nodding and smiling away.
Words have a power to them, put them together you form sentences, paragraphs, pages and a story. In the right hands that power can multiply and resonate, Lawrence is the right hands and One Word Kill has that power.
Call Me Star Girl by Louise Beech.
Find my full review – HERE
Stella McKeever is a radio host for her local community radio station, tonight is her final show, the theme of the show, the topic that she has chosen, secrets. Stella invites her listeners to share their secrets and in-return she will share hers too, an exchange, a trade, a secret for a secret. It is a time for secrets, for the truth and for locked doors to be opened. It’s like a witching hour, a special time for things that are hidden, that have been buried to be unearthed, to be revealed and a time for endings. In the claustrophobic confines of the radio station, the four walls of the studio, a gateway, many secrets come out, Stella lays herself bare to her listeners. There’s a tension, a disquiet, an unease to the theme, what could be revealed? Once revealed secrets can never be locked away again.
There is also a killer somewhere out there, three weeks ago the heavily pregnant Victoria Valbon was murdered near to the radio station where Stella works, the murderer, the killer, is still on the loose.
With Call Me Star Girl Beech has created a captivating and chilling story. It is a story that will thaw the ice in the veins, that will thaw the coldest of frozen hearts, a dark story but it is a darkness that is infused with heart. There is a beauty to the way that Beech writes, a beauty that is found within the darkness and one that contains an emotional undercurrent. Her words ebb and flow, waxing and waning like a candle flame, flickering, caught in a breeze. There’s something evocative and poetic about both her writing and her way with words. Something alluring, something hypnotic, casting you under her spell, charming you, drawing you in, grabbing you and ultimately pulling you under before allowing you to resurface changed at the end of the book.
There are many layers to the story in Call Me Star Girl, many emotions too, that fall, that cascade like rain, pulling you one way and then another, twisting and turning with the story.
Call Me Star Girl isn’t just a story about secrets, neither is it just a story about uncovering a killer. It’s a story about bonds, about family, about the ties that bind, that are severed, that are reconnected. It’s a story about abandonment, about desire, about love, about loss, about those who are most important to you and it is a story about the relationship between a daughter and her mother.
A Book of Bones (Charlie Parker #17) by John Connolly.
Find my full review – HERE
Connolly is the puppet master as he pulls the strings and leads his cast of characters on the macabre merry-go-round that is his masterfully crafted and totally absorbing opus A Book of Bones. At times, the supernatural is understated, at others, it is brought to the forefront of the story. Regardless, it always feels right, fits with the story that is being told and never seems out of place. It blends together with the natural, feels organic, two sides of a coin, different but together forming a whole.
To go along with Parker, Louis, Angel, Quayle and Mors there is a vast cast of ensemble characters (Priestman, in charge of the English police force with Hynes, Gackowska and Uddin, Hood, a sheep farmer on the Moors, the killers, Bob Johnston, an American book dealer and The Backers make a fleeting appearance too, an immensely powerful group with endlessly deep pockets and vast amounts of money) featured in A Book of Bones and Connolly does a stellar job of bringing them all to life and giving them each their own distinctive voice and personality. Some only have minor roles, very minor whilst others are major players but all are given a degree of characterisation and all even if it is only in a small role have a part to play. In lesser hands, it could all get muddled, not with Connolly who has a deft hand and a way of keeping everything moving forward and very clear to the reader. Even with a lot going on and the various characters, Connolly is a proficient storyteller and it is never confusing.
There is a wealth of detail on display in A Book of Bones, it is a tapestry, a mosaic, like the stained glass window adjourning the cover, everything has a place no matter how small and no matter if it seems disparate from the main story. The added occasional history, historical events and accounts and stories told within the main story. It is all used to stitch the fabric of the overall story together.
Connolly’s writing is very addictive, with a descriptive flair, little turns of phrase that are profound and meaningful and with the occasional inclusion of dark humour, especially with Parker, Angel and Louis, the comments, bite backs, witty retorts and snark that is shared between them. The characters from the English police force that appear in A Book of Bones also partake on the dark humour, banter and retorts too. Hynes, in particular, is very adept with his remarks and comes out with some great comments. The humour is a nice touch, a little bit of light in the darkness of the story.
Connolly is able to evoke both a sense of atmosphere and a sense of place for the settings where the story takes place. He uses words that I haven’t come across before in his writing showing depth to his craft that bleeds over into his characters and his story too, there is a depth to every component that helps to form A Book of Bones and it is a truly remarkable book.
The story has many twists and turns and goes down some dark and stormy roads, it is never overly visceral, leaning towards the more cerebral but there are some gruesome scenes depicted throughout. There is a darkness to the story, one that runs throughout the pages, an ominous feeling throughout, malevolent forces, harbingers, portents of things to come, forces beyond our comprehension, an evil lurking, sleeping, biding its time, voices whispering of what once was and of what will be again.
The Rage of Dragons (The Burning #1) by Evan Winter.
Find my full review – HERE
There is something comforting, something familiar about The Rage of Dragons but, at the same time, there is something new, something refreshing about it too. It is an outstanding debut from Winter, a book that includes everything that is good about modern fantasy and a book that fully deserves to be a hit. As the main character Tau is someone that you are invested in, the other characters who fill out the rest of the cast all have a role to play, the Omehi, the caste system and culture of the Omehi, the politics, the Xiddeen, the magic and the demon-infested realm of Isihogo and finally, the dragons (they are only sparingly used, they are the last resort in any battle, they are devastating, calling them in has a cost, they destroy everything, ravage the world and there is an additional cost to the Gifted too) all have a place in the story, all are used to form the whole picture and combined together all help to create what is an electrifying read.
From the beginning to the end The Rage of Dragons is brimming with intense action and heart-pounding spectacular fight scenes. Whether it is Tau training, sparring/duelling one-on-one or full-scale large battles and huge set-pieces they are all vivid, visceral, weighted and cinematic. Winter has a keen eye for writing the scenes, they have a heft to them, you feel every blow, every punch, every bone-jarring strike and every sword thrust.
Tau can’t change who he is or that the Nobles are bigger with better blood than him and he isn’t even the strongest or the tallest Lesser but he is resolute, driven by desire and internal strength. He pushes himself to the limit and then pushes some more, every time he is knocked back down, he rises back up, he won’t quit, he’ll die before he gives up. Tau is a very human character, his emotions can get the better of him, he can be fallible, foolhardy, impetuous, and rash but he is also determined and relentless no matter the cost to himself as when you are left with nothing, you have nothing to hold you back, nothing to lose. Tau has his hate, his rage that consumes, that devours and that fuels the fire inside, he wants to be more than his birth, he aspires to be more. He is a force of nature, far beyond driven, an oncoming storm as he seeks to improve his skill, to become better than his blood, pushing more, never losing sight of his goal, building strength, stamina, speed, a preternatural understanding of the blade, of fighting.
Tau is like John Wick if you got to see the training that John Wick went through to become an unstoppable killing machine hell-bent on retribution and The Rage of Dragons itself is a blood-soaked revenge tale with added depth and a whole lot of heart.
Breakers by Doug Johnstone.
Find my full review – HERE
Some people, like Barry, are just bad, they are damaged, evil, violent and volatile and there is a cruelness to them. They do bad things because they get a kick out of it, a thrill, an exhilaration and a high. it’s all they know how to do and who to be but still, there’s a darkness to them. Tyler isn’t like that. Tyler is a flawed but decent person, he does bad things not because he is bad but because of his family and his situation. He is a product of his situation, his location and circumstances that are beyond his control and he is just trying to make the best out of a bleak existence, to survive.
Even with Barry, Johnstone gives you a glimpse, only slight and through the words of Kelly as to the reason he is how he is, is who he is. It doesn’t excuse his behaviour, personality or anything about him, he is a vile individual but it helps explain it and shows how a toxic influence can bleed down through generations and how someone older can shape someone younger, model them like clay to become another version of themselves. Honestly, Barry is despicable but like with Angela and Kelly, I had a glimmer of sympathy for him, a sympathetic portrayal to them all for a life that none of them asked for. I couldn’t help but wonder if things had been different for him, for Kelly and for Angela would they have become who they are or would they be different? It is the same with Tyler and Bean, you will ponder how different could their lives have been under different circumstances and if they had been given a chance, a chance at a happy home life and a loving parental unit instead of the rusted blade of existence that they have been brought up in.
The Wallace family are small-time criminals, doing enough to eke out a living such as it is, getting by on the bare minimum and always having enough to keep them supplied in drink and drugs. Tyler, however, is different to his Mother, Barry and Kelly, he has seen what addiction can do, what you become when the demon gets hold of you and instead of embracing the lifestyle he abstains. He has an inner strength to him, different priorities, Bean, looking after, looking out for, caring for and protecting her as best he can.
Flick and Tyler are different people from different places and are polar opposites on the social scale. There is a class divide, Flick is one of the rich, one of the ‘haves’ while Tyler is one of the poor, one of the ‘have nots’ but there is a connection between them. Something that transcends social standing and something inside them that makes them similar, common ground, a symmetry to them and how they feel about themselves, their families, their lives and the world. They are from different sides of the track but are kindred spirits who have found something in each other that was missing.
The Whisper Man by Alex North.
Find my full review – HERE
A boy has recently gone missing in Featherbank and the disappearance bears all of the hallmarks of a serial killer who, 15 years ago abducted and murdered five young boys. Before they went missing, the boys all heard a whispering at their window and due to that, Frank Carter, the killer was dubbed ‘The Whisper Man‘. The Whisper Man was caught and since then he has spent the following years in jail, behind bars and locked away. But now, there are echoes of the past and Jake starts hearing a voice whispering at his window.
There’s something heartbreaking and human about the story told in The Whisper Man, something that tugs at your heartstrings, that makes them come undone and that rends your emotions. I’m not going to delve into the story, it’s a sinister yet achingly heartfelt darkened and harrowing road that you need to travel down and discover for yourself. Suffice to say that from the first page through to the last it is brilliant and I loved The Whisper Man so much. It is one of the best books that I have read this year and one of the best books that I have ever read. It is addictive, chilling, dark, emotional, moving, poignant and touching.
It is the power of the writer, of their words and of their stories to fully transport you into their work. Some books you read and some you experience. The Whisper Man is one such book and transcends simply ‘reading’ to a deeper more profound level. It will chill you to the core while simultaneously thawing your heart (for little Jake your heart will outright break, it will shatter to pieces). It is more than mere characters on a page and more than just a story being told. It is a book that resonates with the reader. You live and breathe the atmosphere, the chills, the tension and the emotion. The characters feel real, you care about them and about the outcome. There’s a depth to North’s creation and an emotional impact to the story that lingers long after you have turned the final page.
Priest of Lies (War for the Rose Throne #2) by Peter McLean.
Find my full review – HERE
Tomas is world-weary and wise. He has seen a lot, lived through a lot and risen up from being a nobody, from nothing to become someone of authority, of status and, in the leader of the Pious Men someone to be respected. Seen through his eyes and told through his words no matter what is going on in Priest of Lies Tomas is the heart and the soul as his narrative drives the story forward. He has a very individual and unique voice that comes to life through the writing of McLean (which is exceptional throughout). He is built from spit and sawdust rather than perfume, polish and powder. He is sometimes blunt, direct and forthright but, he can also be poetic, deep and profound with a biting black humour and whip crack retorts. There is a depth to him, a strength of character and we see him grow and learn more about himself. He is a tremendous character but he isn’t the only character to develop and along with Tomas, his brother, Jochan, Bloody Anne, his second in the Pious Men, Billy the Boy, Cutter, Fat Luka and Ailsa all have roles to play in the story and all develop too. There are many other characters too, some old, some new and those that I have just mentioned are, for me the standout with Bloody Anne, Billy the Boy and Jochan my own personal favourites. Regardless of whether they are main characters or peripheral, they feel real and the relationships between many of them are complicated.
McLean has created a hard world that is populated by hard men. A world of broken glass and rusted barbwire, a world that can cut you, that can scar you. The Pious Men who fought in the war are mostly, to a degree all damaged, all traumatised by what they did and what they saw, the violence that they witnessed and the battles that they were part of. Tomas is prone to bouts of and Jochan suffers badly, is broken from battle shock and it has an impact on many of them. The war changed those who fought in it, left them all with scars, some of the body, some that can be seen and some of the mind, some that can’t be seen and have never healed. The trauma, the shock, the memories, they are always there. Hidden and buried but biding their time. Waiting behind the eyes to pull you back into the war, reliving the horrors of Abingon and Messia, the horrors that they lived through.
Priest of Lies expertly mixes together organised crime and gritty gangland drama set in a fantasy world with a dash of magic. The narrative is compelling and told by a distinctive voice, the chapters are short, snappy and keep you coming back for more, the action, bloody, brutal and visceral, the setting vivid and the story with its betrayal, revelations and twists appealing and darkly entertaining…I bloody loved it!
Survivors (The Voices #3) by G. X. Todd.
Find my full review – HERE
Survivors is the third book (following on from Defender and Hunted) of four in The Voices series by Todd. The previous book, Hunted left us on the brink, on the precipice of what is sure to be an epic and heart-pounding final volume and culmination of the series as we anticipate, as we await with bated breath to find out the fate of the characters and the world. Yes, you read that right, Hunted, the previous book and not Survivors, this, the latest book. You see, Todd throws us a curveball and changes direction, or, if you will she gives the reader a ‘fuck you, you’re gonna have to wait to see how it all ends‘ book and instead of moving forward with the story, she goes back. Back in time, back to the past, Pilgrim’s past, back before the cornfield, back before the lemonade stand at the side of the dusty road, back before Lacey and back even further with Todd offering a glimpse back to when the world was on the edge, on the tipping point, when the voices started to take hold, to manifest in more and more people and when the tides hadn’t yet turned, when it hadn’t yet all gone to hell, all turned to shit.
Honestly, it is masterfully done, it works well, really fucking well and as a reader and lover of The Voices series, I couldn’t be happier. From the start, I’ve always been intrigued by the mysterious drifter, the closed book, the wanderer that is Pilgrim. Going back, learning about him, about his past life, what he has been running from, what has happened to him and ultimately, finding out who he is is superb. It is like brush strokes upon the canvas, adding colour inside the lines, helping to fill in the whole picture and serves to add an ocean of depth to the character, to the voices and to the world.
Todd’s writing is descriptive, meaningful, immersive and vivid with a cinematic feel to certain locations. There’s humour, snark courtesy of Voice and plenty of emotion. There are big revelations, stellar set-pieces and moments where your heart is in your mouth.
The foundations were built with Defender, solidified with Hunted and Survivors finds Todd at the top of her game, at the top of the genre. I love everything about this series, the characters, the voices, the rusted and ruined landscape, the story and Survivors, itself, which is a brutally gripping roller-coaster has everything that I want from a post-apocalyptic book.
The Bone Ships (The Bone Ships Trilogy #1) by R. J. Barker.
Find my full review – HERE
The characterisation on display by Barker is terrific. Not just for the main characters of Joron and Lucky Meas either but for the whole of the crew of Tide Child. I really liked Black Orris, only a small role but when he appeared he never failed to make me smile. Also, the fascinating bird-like Gullaime, a windtalker who controls the wind aboard Tide Child and the unlikely friendship that developed between Joron and the mysterious Gullaime.
The harsh world created by Barker is richly detailed and vivid. The bright and lush flora of the islands and the dangerous creatures, only glimpsed that inhabit them. There’s a brutal hypnotic beauty to the sea, the treacherous waters that are rife with myriad monsters that dwell, that lurk in the depths. Each ship, even the mighty Bone Ships are only a single drop in the ocean, each crew member even less, a mote of dust, they don’t own the ocean, the ocean tolerates the ships.
The action in The Bone Ships is stellar. There is some fighting on land but the majority of the action takes place on the high seas and is ferocious ship-to-ship combat. The conflict is exhilarating to read and gets the heart-pounding. The concussive collisions between ships and the massive gallowbows on the decks that thrum to life and of the death, destruction and devastation that they rain down with there deadly bolts all has a heft to it and you feel the impact of the violence.
When reading fantasy it takes you to another world and that’s what Barker does with The Bone Ships. He transports you into a fully-formed, alive and immersive world that is populated by characters that feel real and allows you to get lost in the story that he is telling. The bite of the blades, the thrum of the gallowbow strings, the briny air, the salt spray, the crash of the waves, the creaks, the groans, the hustle and bustle of ship life aboard Tide Child all come to life on the pages and I didn’t want it to end.
In the Absence of Miracles by Michael J. Malone.
Find my full review – HERE
Sometimes it is best to leave the past undisturbed and the secrets buried as once they are out in the open there’s no putting them back, no going back to the before and you now remember things that perhaps, you wish you didn’t. However, before you can heal, before you can be whole you have to face what you have been running from. To be able to build a future, to move forward and to move on you first need to make peace with the past.
Uncovering the truth is an obsession for John as he can’t remember having an older brother, it is like anything to do with his brother has been erased from his memory. But, that’s not all as he also has trouble remembering lots from his childhood. Where there should be memories, there is nothing but a deafening silence and an empty vault. As he (along with Chris) makes progress in solving the mystery vague recollections of past events and echoes of what happened to him during his childhood make their way through the abyss of nothingness that has been his memory.
The writing in In the Absence of Miracles flows well, the characters feel real, the story is fast-paced and the emotion is imbued upon on the pages. There is a profundity of sadness to the harrowing story that Malone is telling. The dark and shocking secrets that are waiting to be discovered and the disturbing truth that when revealed breaks you, that pulls at your heartstrings and that sees them unravel.
Malone tackles a hard-hitting and tough subject in In the Absence of Miracles. There is something raw about the depiction and Malone deals with the subject in a respectful manner. Throughout the book, he maintains the care and the sensitivity that the topic requires when being addressed and there is no glorifying and no over sensationalising for shock value. But, Malone doesn’t pull any punches either looking at how those who have been mired in darkness have trouble escaping, overcoming their past and how those who have suffered must endure the demons that haunt.
The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North.
Find my full review – HERE
The curse turns Abbey into a truth-speaker, someone who can see into the hearts of others but not into their own, their own is the one truth closed to them. It is like looking into a person’s soul, laying them bare, knowing them intimately and seeing who they truly are. As Langa draws nearer, Abbey sees the truth within people and the nearer the shadow, the stronger the connection. When the shadow of Langa is far away, Abbey is himself with his own beliefs, thoughts and feelings. As Langa draws near he starts dreaming the obscure and vague thoughts of others but still maintains his own senses and his own sense of self. As Langa approaches the clearer that Abbey can see into other people’s hearts and the truth that they hide within, the truths that they hold in the deepest, darkest part of their hearts, the truths that they won’t admit even to themselves or others. When Langa is in close proximity to Abbey, days, hours away, the effect of the curse is overpowering, overtaking his own thoughts, feelings and beliefs overwhelming his own truth and turning him into a babbling, rambling wreck with the truths of all of those around him cascading like rain, flowing like blood from a freshly opened wound from his mouth in a torrent. If the shadow, if Langa should reach Abbey, should touch him then, the person that he loves the most in the world will die. The cycle will repeat until everyone Abbey cares about is dead, there is no cure, no removal, Langa will haunt him forever on a never-ending journey as, to survive, to allow his loved ones to survive he must walk an endless road.
North has crafted a clever, complex, harrowing and thought-provoking story that is full of suspense and tension. The Pursuit of William Abbey spans the breadth of the globe, takes place across many years and is layered with depth. I was gripped by it and found it utterly fascinating. The blurb doesn’t give much away and honestly, I think that it is for the best as it allows you to experience how the story unfolds for yourself with only the bare minimum of information. Prior to reading the book, I had read the blurb and apart from the vague outline, I didn’t know what awaited me within the pages, what dark and disturbing roads the story would travel down. But, whatever I expected it wasn’t what I got with the story going far above and beyond what I envisioned happening and it is a powerhouse of impressive storytelling on display by North…just go buy it, read it and love it.
A Little Hatred (The Age of Madness #1) by Joe Abercrombie.
Find my full review – HERE
The story in A Little Hatred is complex, fast-paced and sprawling. Featuring battles, betrayal, conspiracies, politics, revelations, treachery and violence. it is never anything less than being both hugely entertaining and totally gripping. There are lots of connected and interwoven parts that unspool over multiple locations and are told through the several different and distinctive PoV characters of Leo dan Brock, Prince Orso, Savine, Rikke, Vick, Clover and Broad. I’m hard-pressed to pick a favourite PoV character as I enjoyed reading about them all. But, after finishing the book and looking back. I’d have to say that my favourites were Leo dan Brock, the Young Lion, the headstrong and impulsive young warrior who is fighting against Stour Nightfall, the Great Wolf and the invading army of the North. Rikke, who is forthright, honest and who is, well, Rikke is just Rikke with no false facade or mask and she is the daughter of the Dogman. Rikke is struggling to come to terms with the gift of the Long Eye and what the glimmers, glimpses and visions she sees portent with the aid of the older hillwoman Isern-i-Phail. Crown Prince Orso. Orso is the foppish, indolent and unreliable son of High King Jezal who spends most of his time in a miasmic haze of drink, drugs and whores but has a vague desire to both be and to do better. And, finally Savine dan Glokta. Yes, if you just smiled at the mention of Rikke being the daughter of ‘the Dogman‘ and Orso being the son of ‘Jezal‘ two names known to all who have read the original The First Law trilogy. Then, at the mention of the name ‘dan Glokta‘ you will be absolutely ecstatic. Savine is an astute and ruthless businesswoman. She is ambitious, cunning, power-hungry and shares many of the same traits as her father. But, she is also very much her own woman too.
Some of the characters you will love, some you will hate and, at times you will love the ones you really should hate. There are bastards galore in A Little Hatred and you might even say that A Little Hatred is a brutal yet beautiful bastard of a book.
The Chain by Adrian McKinty.
Find my full review – HERE
The Chain is like a modern-day version of the ‘chain letter‘ from back in the day, where you would receive a letter in the mail threatening you that if you fail to continue with the chain then there will be repercussions for you, horrible acts against you and your well-being, bad luck, violence, or, even death. Only, with The Chain, the threats aren’t idle, they are very real and The Chain itself is a very dangerous and malevolent entity. Before you are even approached, unknowing, you are already a part of The Chain, your child has already been kidnapped. This is where the chain varies to the chain letter of old as the threat, at least, part of it has already been carried out before you receive any contact. If you want your child back alive then you can’t simply opt-out, throw the letter away or burn it, that’s not how it works with The Chain. No, you are in deep trouble, your child is kidnapped, a ransom is required and then, the worst bit, the nightmare, the descent into hell, the start the process of safely getting your child back you need to carry on with The Chain, after paying the ransom you need to select the next link, you need to do the worst thing that a loving parent has to do, kidnap a child of another loving parent. You kidnap the child, you hold the child hostage, the parents of the child need to pay the ransom and then they, in turn, need to select a suitable target, kidnap a child, demand a ransom and only then will your child be released, be returned to you. The Chain has been around for a long time, there are many links and The Chain endures through the fear of the consequences if The Chain is broken, if you don’t pay the ransom, don’t kidnap a child then your own child will die, if your candidate doesn’t pay their ransom or select the next link then you have to kill their child and select another. The fear of what will come to pass keeps The Chain going.
The Chain would be perfect as a TV mini-series or as a film. It is a disturbing read, one that is dark by the nature of The Chain itself and of all that it requires from its links. It is a tension-filled story that is tightly plotted and tautly written. It is like a shot of adrenaline, there is no padding, no wasted words, the writing, at times poetic, at times, lyrical, at others darkly humourous flows smoothly, the pacing is relentless, the chapters fly-by and it is all killer with no filler building throughout, upping the ante and culminating in a heart-pounding and thrilling action-filled climax.
The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow.
Find my full review – HERE
January is mixed-race, someone in-between and treated as an artefact herself, an oddity and a curio to be admired and is more akin to part of Mr Locke’s collection rather than a person. Due to her colour, she is tolerated only because of Mr Locke and she suffers extreme prejudice at the hands of others. She is seen as less. She is treated as an object and expected to keep quiet, to obey the rules and to look the part at Society gatherings instead of actually living. She isn’t free, living in Locke House, a vast estate in Vermont. She has everything that a young girl could want and that money could buy except for the things that truly matter, her family and the freedom to be herself and to explore. For January, Locke House, its myriad corridors and dusty rooms is a gilded cage and a lonely existence.
When Mr Locke tells her to start behaving it turns the once adventurous, feisty and wilful January into someone who is docile, meek and timid. Her spark, the flame goes out of her and she obeys without question. Her Dreams of adventure die, fading away to be forgotten and consigned to the yesterdays of her childhood. Mr Locke takes this from her, taming the wildness, changing who she is and making her part of his collection, a living doll. Buried deep in the recess of her memory, swallowed by the abyss, January even forgets about the blue Door and the coin that she has, the coin that she brought back with her from another world and the coin that proves that there is more out there waiting to be discovered.
Then, a decade later, at the age of seventeen and after years spent being Mr Locke’s good girl, January finds a book, a weathered and worn leather-bound book called ‘The Ten Thousand Doors‘ and everything changes.
Doors lead to adventure, to escape, to new worlds waiting to be explored and, so to do books. The story in The Ten Thousand Doors of January unfolds through both January’s point of view and from the in-world book ‘The Ten Thousand Doors’. It is a story to savour that spans worlds but it is also an intimate story for January (and her family) too. It transcends any single genre and is a coming-of-age story, a fantastical adventure, a love story, a story of belonging, a story about finding who you are and a love letter to books and their majesty all rolled into one. Apart from that, the less said about the story the better, open the book, take that first step, cross-over the threshold from cover to page and discover the story for yourself.
The writing in The Ten Thousand Doors of January cascades like rain, drifts in dreams and carries you on the tides with decadent descriptions as it ebbs and flows across the pages. It is elegant, evocative, gorgeous, moving, lilting, lyrical, lush, vivid, poetic, profound and it is all woven together into an artistic painting by Harrow allowing you to fall into her breathtakingly beautiful story.
A Time of Blood (Of Blood and Bone #2) by John Gwynne.
Find my full review – HERE
The world-building in A Time of Blood is fantastic and you can easily picture the settings where the story takes place in your mind whilst reading. The fabled Giant’s fortress of Drassil, Dun Seren, home to the Order of the Bright Star, the Desolation, the Bonefells and Forn forest all come to life on the pages in cinematic style. The Banished Lands is a world with a history where the legends of old, of the past, are still remembered and revered, where their deeds are still felt and have shaped the present. Those legends, the heroes of old, the characters from Gwynne’s previous series The Faithful and the Fallen. Where, if you have read that series the mere mention of those names will have you remembering and will bring out pangs of emotion in you.
The characters in A Time of Blood all continue to grow. That growth feels natural to the characters and the adversity that they endure, the trials, tribulations and the hard times that they face. There’s a complexity to them, their traits are relatable and they feel real. They struggle with themselves, they are not superhuman, they are fallible, they make mistakes, they have conflicted motivations, doubts and wars raging within them internally. The relationships between them develop, bonds have been forged and friendships made (in some cases animosity and enemies too). You find yourself caring about them, fearing for their fates, rooting for them to fight on and willing them to survive.
There is plenty of bloody, brutal, heart-pounding and visceral action in A Time of Blood. From small scale skirmishes through to large scale battles against a variety of foes and fell creatures. All engagements have a heft, a weight to them and make for edge-of-your-seat reading. Mesmerising, bone-jarring and chaotic battle scenes where the sounds of battle, the thrum of the bowstring, the pounding of horses hooves, the clash of swords, the screams of anguish, the grunts of pain, the shouting of war cries, all emanate from off the pages and transport you onto the field of battle.
A Time of Blood is a fitting name for the book as much blood is split during the course of the story. It is an exciting book to read, fast-paced and rousing with chapters that often end on cliffhangers, hooks that reach in, grab you and make you want to keep reading, to find out what happens next. Gwynne is a master storyteller who effortlessly draws you into his world and the unfolding story that he is telling. There are contemplative, reflective and quieter moments interspersed with intense action, betrayal, revelations and a tangible air of foreboding to the story. An ominous air, a dark atmosphere that follows the characters and seems to cloak the world in a shroud as you know that everything is leading to a climactic conclusion and what an absolutely stunning conclusion it is!
The House of Sacrifice (Empires of Dust #3) by Anna Smith Spark.
Find my full review – HERE
We have followed Marith and his merry dance of conquest, death, destruction and massacre across Irlast. We have seen him descend into madness, seen him kill, destroy, raze cities to the ground and we have seen him bathe the world in rivers of blood. His empire has been built from the death, the blood, the bones, the corpses, the decaying remains and the rotting flesh of his enemies, from those who stood against him, turned to dust in the ground and most of Irlast is now under his rule.
Sorlost is mired in filth, no amount of powder and paint will bring it back to its former glory, its beauty of yesteryear. It was once golden and it is now a gilded shit, a turd left in the heat, drying and crusting.
Even in its current state Sorlost has a history, it is a city that has never been conquered, never had its walls breached, never fallen to an enemy and it is the city where the original Amrath and his army broke against the walls. It is surrounded by bronze walls, an impregnable ring that encircles the city and offers protection against invaders.
Marith wishes to conquer all. It was fated that he would return to Sorlost, that his quest for dominion would take him full-circle and that he would end up back at Sorlost with his army facing down the unbreachable walls.
Along with Marith marching on, leading his army forwards, forever onwards and Thalia, we also follow Tobias who is now a camp follower of the Army of Amrath. Landra Relast who has nothing and no-one left and who is out for vengeance against Marith for what he did to her and to her family. And, Orhan Emmereth in Sorlost who is dealing with the fallout of the plots, plans and machinations he has wrought over the course of the trilogy along with the looming threat of Marith and the Army of Amrath bearing down upon the city.
There is a beauty and a cadence to be found in Smith Spark’s lilting and lyrical writing. Her writing flows smoothly like waves lapping on the shore and like leaves rustling on a gentle breeze. The mixture of sentences that are used to bludgeon, to beat you and then, those sentences that gently caress you, like a lovers hands, their soft touch, their warm embrace. Like chewing on barb wire, rusted nails and thorns and then, soothing your mouth with the sweetest honey, quenching your thirst with a glass of ice-cold water and that act as a contrast and a counterpoint.
The House of Sacrifice is a tapestry comprised of betrayal, blood, brutality, butchery, conquest, corpses, death, delusion, desires, destruction, killing, love, mania, pain, regrets, plots, politics, suffering, tragedy and violence that are all stitched together with sinews of rotting flesh and the fetid threads of life.
Wanderers by Chuck Wendig.
Find my full review – HERE
Fear of the sleepwalkers is rife, they are different, they are unknown and people fear the unknown. As the flock continues to grow there are other things lurking in the shadows too, unseen threats to society that are slowly simmering before boiling over. As the walkers keep on walking the US starts coming undone, disintegrating around them and bringing about the dawning of the end of days.
There is a huge cast of diverse main, secondary and supporting characters in Wanderers featuring the good, the bad and the in-between. You see decent, honest and ordinary people from all walks of life, backgrounds, cultures and ethnicities. Those who are good, helpful, selfless, who put others before themselves and who have kindness within them. Then, you have the opposite, the dark to the light, the storm clouds to the clear blue skies. Those with a darker nature, a poisoned soul and who have an evil lurking inside of them. With 800 pages to play with there is tremendous depth to the characterisation by Wendig and he has created a cast of characters that are all important to the story, who all add something to the story and who all come across as real people each with their own agendas, beliefs, fallacies, feelings, flaws, history, lives and motivations.
Wanderers is epic in both scope and scale, a breathtaking and powerful canvas that is revealed over the course of its near 800 gripping pages. Yes, a brick of a book, a behemoth at nearly 800 pages but Wanderers never feels its length, nothing feels like filler, like padding simply to up the page count and you don’t get bogged down or feel like you are wading through treacle. The writing is descriptive and strong and the short chapters that swap between the different facets of the story, the various characters and their perspectives keep the story moving forward. I found myself hooked from the beginning until the very end utterly absorbed as the story unfolded and as the world unravelled around the sleepwalkers. It is brutal, emotional, grim, harrowing, hugely relevant to today’s society, entertaining as hell and a mammoth dose of heavyweight page-turning brilliance.
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