Welcome to my June wrap-up blog post featuring all of the fantastic posts on my blog that I posted during the month of June.
My June Posts.
- Cover Me by Candlebox.
- Let’s Get Rocked by Def Leppard.
- Last Statement by Insomnium.
- The Forgotten One by Times of Grace.
- Hickory Creek by Whitechapel.
From the start, Highfire moves along at a good pace. There is some stellar badinage between the characters and back-and-forth swordplay in the conversations. I loved the dialogue and interactions between Waxman and Vern and then, Squib and Vern too which are both fantastic. There is a plentiful amount of action to be found throughout the story which is at times very violent and visceral. Emotion and meaning are found in the pages too with Waxman waxing lyrical about souls, the reason why Squib’s real father isn’t around, Vern’s backstory and the fate of dragon-kind all serving to add extra depth to the narrative. For the humour, it is often hilarious and at times, it is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. Some jokes are, admittedly on the rather juvenile side. But, I won’t lie, I still found myself smirking away at them.
Squib and Vern, the teenage cajun and the old dragon are an odd couple and an unlikely duo who, for me are the heart of Highfire and I found myself rooting for them to come out on top against the nefarious Hooke. At its core, the story is about the gradual development of the friendship that grows between the pair where Squib learns some responsibility and Vern realises that he doesn’t actually hate all humans.
I don’t usually gravitate towards what could be classed as ‘funny‘ books and tend to stay away from them. I do like humour in books, particularly the dark humour that is found in thrillers and the gallows style humour that is found in grimdark. But, with those books where humour makes up a large portion of the whole book, I find them to be very hit-and-miss. However, I had a blast with Highfire and I found it to be a whole heap of fun, wickedly entertaining and a cracking good read.
Collard is a tremendous storyteller and I felt like I had been transported back in time to 1863. It was like I was experiencing the events and living the story as it played out across the pages. The characters, the battles, the scenery, the setting and the locations all come to life on the pages of The Lost Outlaw. The rain falling, cascading down, the flashes of lightning, the scorching sun, the heat, arid and dry, the dusty air, the sounds of the wagon train, the mules, the horses, the sounds of men fighting, of gunfire, the smell of the gun powder, the dust, grime and grit of the trail. Collard doesn’t shy away from violence, showing the horrors of battle, of the inflicted wounds and there are some grisly and gruesome fight scenes included in The Lost Outlaw. There are also many standout moments and spectacular set-pieces (one on a riverbank where a storm breaks and another, a siege where the few defend against the many) and they are cinematic and heart-pounding. The action throughout is ferocious, the battles and the gunfights, bloody, vivid and visceral.
More often than not I am to be found with either a fantasy book or a thriller in my hands and The Lost Outlaw is somewhat different from what I usually read. However, it turned out to be a revelation as Collard immersed me in his work giving me an entertaining dose of the Old West and I found The Lost Outlaw to be an action-packed, brutal, compelling, fast-paced and gritty western.
The Last Smile in Sunder City is narrated in the first-person by Fetch Phillips over duel timelines, the past which features a series of flashbacks of important events over the course of Fetch’s life and the present. Fetch is trying to be a better man, trying to redeem himself, atone for his past mistakes and he is taking the first steps on the road to redemption. He is a self-loathing alcoholic who drinks to forget, to numb the pain and who tries and fails to find solace in the bottom of a bottle. His past haunts him, he is full of regrets that weigh heavily upon him, he has made more than a few mistakes during his life, suffered loss and he is drowning in a sea of self-pity, shame and guilt. He hates both himself and humanity and he plies his trade as a Man for Hire solely for the now non-magical races. It is his penance as being a human he is better able to cope with the new world than they are as they attempt to adjust to their new magic-less half-lives.
There is a melancholic charm to Fetch, grit and a dogged determination to him. He has demons but he hasn’t yet fully given into them. He is a terrific main character and narrator, cynical, jaded but wholly likeable. You want to see Fetch solve the case, pull himself up from the brink and redeem himself, not put the past behind him, it is a part of him and always will be but finally come to accept it, that he can’t change the past or erase his mistakes but he can move forward and try to make a difference in the present.
The story is definitely not action-packed, it’s not needed. The few action sequences that are featured add to the overall story which is very character-driven with an additional focus on the world-building. Throughout the course of the story, you learn a lot about Fetch, the magical creatures, Sunder City and the world, in other words, every aspect of the book. It is only a small niggle but, what you learn can feel like information dumping. However, the information is always interesting, adds depth and detail and takes the outline and pencil sketch and transforms it into a full-colour and meticulous picture.
I’m not the biggest fan of urban fantasy, in fact, it is a genre that I rarely enjoy and that I tend to stay away from. However, I found The Last Smile in Sunder City to be an accomplished and very satisfying debut that I thoroughly enjoyed. It is gritty and grimy fantasy noir and in Fetch Phillips, you have someone to root for who is the beating and damaged tortured heart of the book.
There is some stellar characterisation with the three Skelf women and depth to the emotions that they display. Each in their own way is strong and there is a resilience to them. They are flawed, they are family, they argue, bicker, disagree and fight but, they love each other, join forces, band together and are there for and help one another when needed. With each of the Skelf women being from a different generation, they see through different eyes, some younger, some older with experiences, life and time changing them and they all have a different perspective and way of looking at things. They deal with death on a daily basis, it is part of their everyday life but, it is the grief of others, not their own and there is a barrier. With the death of Jim that barrier is shattered and they have to deal with their own grief and the pain that consumes them. Jim’s death is an open wound, in time it will heal and it will leave a scar but, at the moment all they can do is carry on and try to cope the best that they can with the loss. During A Dark Matter, the Skelf women go through a torrent of emotions and Johnstone does a stellar job of transferring those emotions onto the page, investing you in and making you care about the trio of characters as they navigate cases, funerals, life, death, grief and try to solve the various mysteries that they have found themselves entwined in.
Johnstone has an engaging writing style that is easy-to-read and flows well. Being the first book in the series the story in A Dark Matter is a mix of both character-driven and story-driven. The foundations are set for the characters so that you are able to get a feel for the Skelf women, their personalities and who they are and, there is also more than enough story included to really sink your teeth into. The story is told through the three POV characters of Dorothy, Jenny and Hannah in short and snappy chapters that swap between the trio and that keep the story moving forward as it builds to its gripping and intense climax.
A Dark Matter is the first in an entertaining and dramatic family crime thriller series, more, please! It is compelling and darkly humorous with enough intrigue and suspense, secrets, lies and revelations to fill a grave.
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