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Book Review: Death Descends on Saturn Villa

Death Descends on Saturn Villa by MRC Kasasian, The Gower Street Detective #3


London: 1883 

125 Gower Street was once a house of justice, truth and perspicacity. Now madness, murder and scandal lurk in its empty halls. It is rumoured that its owner Sidney Grice - London's foremost personal detective - has been driven to the brink of despair. 

But, as will all good stories, we must begin at the beginning. With Sidney Grice journeying to Yorkshire to solve a mysterious death. And with March Middleton, his ward, left to her own devices in a London swarming with danger and vice. 

Curiosity, as we know, has a dark edge. So when an intriguing letter leads March to the gates of the palatial Saturn Villa, and into the nightmarish world of her long-lost uncle, it could be the beginning of an end, for all... 

If you haven't heard about the enigmatic, quirky and rather peculiar detective duo Grice and Middleton you must have been living under a rock. Just about two years ago Head of Zeus published the first book in the Victorian detective series, The Mangle Street Murders, by Martin Kasasian. It was a blast for me. Which Martin Kasasian proved once again with it's sequel The Curse of the House of Foskett. He did leave the sequel with a major cliffhanger, which I had been dying to find out on how it could possible work out in the third book Death Descends of Saturn Villa. And wow, once again Martin Kasasian manages to awe me once more. I am going to repeat myself, if you havent heard of the detective duo Sidney Grice and March Middleton, I don't know where you are from but I do know that you are missing out on something good. 

Now where did Martin Kasasian leave the story in The Curse of the House of Foskett, well March received a letter with information regarding her ward, I still won't spoil just what but it is big! Death Descends on Saturn Villa ( shortend to Death Descends), picks up directly after said event. March has become much more aware of her ward Sidney Grice and takes much more caution with the everyday actions. In the beginning of this story Sidney receives a new case which unfortunately only he is able to examine and thus March finds herself forced to do other things, boring things. But one day March receives a letter that strikes her curiosity. The letter is an invitation to Saturn Villa by her uncle Tolly, only March never knew that she had an uncle, perhaps due to the mystery behind the letter or because she hasn't really got anything to do she accepts the invitation and heads out to Saturn Villa for a chat and a dinner with her uncle. Well March will soon regret that she made this choice of meeting her long lost uncle Tolly. Tolly kindly persuades March to sign some papers and have dinner but when March sleeps the night in Saturn Villa things start to turn weird. A murder takes place, an unexplainable murder. And March is right in the middle of it all, and frankly can't remember everything for the full hundred percent. Well March can't really place it all and suddenly march life is in danger and just barely makes it out of Saturn Villa alive. Luckily for March, Sidney Grice takes this case of to the highest importance and returns to Saturn Villa with March in tow. Where they both make very shocking discovery. You can pretty much say that is the biggest and most dangerous case so far. The event describe above is only the start of a very eventful case for this enigmatic duo.

it's kind of hard to really delve deeper into the story without revealing to much, even though this book is just shy about 500 pages. What makes this installment in The Gower Street Detective so unique is the way that Martin Kasasian uses the layout of the book. If you are familiar with the earlier book you know that they are written from the perspective of March Middleton. Well in Death Descend things takes on a turn for the different. Granted there is still the perspective of March but also that of Sidney Grice for the very first time. Let me rewind a bit. The layout of Death Descends is divided into four different parts, that of the general story as explained above, a part where you only follow Sidney and two parts, during and post of March. Telling the story in this way pretty much left me speechless. When I came to the ending of the combined story there were still many pages the go and was curious as to what would follow next. The parts of Sidney and March were just marvelously done. I already tweeted a few days ago that the cover is awesome and inspires so much ambiance to the series and this book but the way that the story was written even further builds on this. The ending with the postscript, well that was captivating.


I already mentioned that Martin Kasasian left the last book on a cliffhanger moment. I was eager to see who the relation between Sidney and March would unfold. This brings me to character development. In the first two books there has been a lot of it, great interplays between the two and a lot of learning moments. More for March than for Sidney. Let's begin with Sidney first, just to say it straight away and rather bluntly he is an ass, but a good one, even though a lot, well everything has to follow his rules, he is most of the times correct. He has an observant nature even with only one eye. And you most certainly not want to have him against you. When I read his personal story I actually got to know a lot more about his character, which gave me a much better and clearer picture of to who Sidney really is. Now for March, the star of the show. Life in Death Descends isn't easy. Yes she still makes hasty mistakes, is it for eagerness, ignorance or driven by the fact of what was in the letter she received in the last book. That is for you to answer. Since Death Descends focuses strongly on March not just the case at hand but what goes underneath the shroud that March has over her makes her just as with Sidney an amazingly rich character. She goes from being the cheery March to the out of luck and sad March, Martin Kasasian puts her character through a real emotional roller coaster. I said it from the start I love this duo and still do, they offer just so much dynamic.


Death Descends on Saturn Villa is one of those books that is just over to soon. The way that Martin Kasasian executed this was just spot on from the general story to the personal accounts offered a very nice pacing to the story and kept on intriguing me. This is one of those books where you will make sure you are not disrupted while reading and that you will want to finish asap. This is not just your supernatural murder case investigation in the Victorian time setting. It is much more. The backgrounds of the character especially March and the emotional roller coaster Martin Kasasian throws her in really elevate this story head above shoulder. Again. If you aren't reading these books you are definitely missing out on something big. The ending is once again most interesting. Let see where Martin Kasasian takes his story next!


Short Fiction Friday: Playing Nice with Gods Bowling Ball

Playing Nice with Gods Bowling Ball by N.K. Jemisin

[no synopsis provided]

I know N.K. Jemisin mainly from her Inheritance series for which she had received a lot of well deserved praise. This series was with a heavy influence of Gods and mortal men and it seems that this is right up N.K. Jemisin's alley as Playing Nice with God's Bowling Ball has something of the same working in it's favor but with a more subtler approach. 



The story picks up with an police investigation where Detective Grace Anneton is questioning a little boy called Jeffy Hanson. Jeffy Hanson turned himself in for causing the disappearance of his best friend Timmy. He miracalously dissapeared, or did he? Now let me take you back to how it happened. Jeffy and his mother don't have a lot of money to spend but the money that Jeffy saves he spends on buying card from the popular Monster Fusion King franchise a collectable card game. This one day when he once again has saved enough money for a booster he has a lot of luck and finds a rare card, which he trades with Timmy for more cards. However Timmy knows what the true value is of this card and when Jeffy discovers this he wants a trade back so he can sell the card. He need the money so that his mothers car can be fixed. Timmy promises that only if Jeffy can give him the moon or a black hole that he will return the card... Well what if! Jeffy explains to Grace what he has done but no one believes his story. Even questions from a different person and asked differently make him stick to his first story... When the police thoroughly investigates the story they stumble upon evidence that is really hard to explain. And every which way you turn it nothing seems to fit. In the end the most feasible explanation is that Timmy caused an explosion and is on the run. During an later encounter between Jeffy and Grace well there is your evidence. What is Jeffy precisely? The ending is nicely shown and the in this sentence “No. Not yet. Maybe when I’m older. I’ll understand it better, then. Maybe I’ll be able to get Timmy out, too.” there lies a beautiful innocence in Jeffy's character. 

N.K. Jemisin once again let her creativity take full swing in Playing Nice with God's Bowling Ball it is definitely one of those stories that you must have had read. From start to finish you will be captured. 

The story was originally printed in Jim Baen's Universe #8 and reprinted over at Tor.com

Author Interview with Una McCormack



Author interview with Una McCormack 

Author Bio:
Una teaches writing at undergraduate and graduate level. Her background is in sociology, and she has taught organisational behaviour at Judge Business School, Cambridge, and Cambridge University Engineering Department.


Una is the author of several science fiction novels (including a New York Times Bestseller!), and numerous short stories in that genre. She is also a prolific fanfiction writer, setting up and organising a number of online writing groups and resources for fanfiction writers.

She lives in Cambridge with her partner, Matthew, her daughter, Verity, several daleks and no cats.

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Hi Una, welcome over at The Book Plank and for taking your time to answer these few questions for us.

BP: First off could you give us a short introduction as to who Una McCormack is? What are you hobbies, likes and dislikes?
UMc: I have a young daughter, so I don’t get much time for hobbies at the moment in between work, writing, and being with her. But I do find time to read. I like reading novels – and I’m happy to read in any genre.

BP: You have been involved in writing books for Doctor Who and Star Trek, what gave you the idea for Weird Space Baba Yaga?
UMc: I was invited to write in the Weird Space universe by the creator, SF writer Eric Brown. I’m a great admirer of Eric’s writing – he has such a natural, unforced style, and a great ability to tell an engrossing story – so I was very flattered to be asked, and keen to work with Eric on the book.

BP: Was writing Baba Yaga different that writing a tie-in book for Doctor Who or Star Trek? What kind of possibilities and limitations do you encounter in writing either a tie-in or a more standalone book?
UMc: There were similarities in that you have to make the books consistent with what we already know about the shared world. Eric Brown went out of his way to be encouraging about every idea that I had, even if the ideas were different from his original concept. He’d invariably respond, “I like your idea and I think you should run with it!” The main difference was that this is a comparatively new shared world: the Star Trek universe, in particular, is very well drawn these days. So I was much freer in that respect.

BP: Baba Yaga was released last June, if you would have to sell it with a single sentence how would it go?
UMc: A space opera with weird and fabulous aliens, exciting adventures, and people’s mums.

BP: What has been the biggest challenge you have faced when during the writing of the Baba Yaga?
UMc: As with all my writing, not having quite as much time as I would like! I was also very anxious to do Eric’s universe justice.

BP: Did you encounter any specific problems during your writing?
UMc: Trying to find time in the day! My little girl was just over a year old when I started writing, so the minute she was napping, I was head down writing! I am incredibly well supported by my partner, who took over every night so that I could write in the evenings.

BP: Besides the problems and difficulties, which chapter, scene or character did you enjoy writing about the most?
UMc: I became very fond of the Vetch child, Failt, who did that thing that authors love most – present himself as a fully formed character who practically wrote himself. I also enjoyed writing the scene in Fredricks’ office, when I tried to build up the hideous tastelessness of the space without describing it.

BP: Now that Baba Yaga is published, do you have any other projects that you wish to pursue in the near future?
UMc: I have another Doctor Who novel – a Twelfth Doctor adventure called Royal Blood – due out in September.

BP: Everyone enjoys science fiction in his or her own way. What do you like most about reading and writing science fiction?
UMc: I like the opportunities science fiction gives for writers to think about the different ways in which we can organize societies. I like books about utopias, dystopias, and all the possibilities in between. I also like how contemporary SF has become increasingly ambitious in terms of literary ambition. I think books like Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven and Nina Allen’s The Race are wonderfully written.

BP: If you would have to give your top 5 favourite books, which would they be?
UMc: Difficult to choose five and I think that the list would change if you asked me again tomorrow! But today my library would not be complete without:
The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien
Powers, by Ursula Le Guin
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
Finn Family Moomintroll, by Tove Jansson
The Curse of Chalion, by Lois McMaster Bujold

BP: And just lastly, can you tell us a bit more of what might be in store for the readers of Baba Yaga?
UMc: I don’t want to give too much away, but anyone reading to the end of the book might have an idea about which character I’d like to explore next!

BP: Thank you for your time Una and good luck with your future writing!
UMc: Thank you for the invitation to answer questions at the Book Plank!

Book Review: The Good, The Bad and The Smug

The Good, The Bad and The Smug by Tom Holt, YouSpace #4

New Evil.
 

Same as the Old Evil, but with better PR.

Mordak isn't bad, as far as goblin kings go, but when someone, or something, starts pumping gold into the human kingdoms it puts his rule into serious jeopardy. Suddenly he's locked in an arms race with a species whose arms he once considered merely part of a calorie-controlled diet.

Helped by an elf with a background in journalism and a masters degree in being really pleased with herself, Mordak sets out to discover what on earth (if indeed, that's where he is) is going on. He knows that the truth is out there. If only he could remember where he put it.


I was first introduced to Tom Holt's books about 6 years ago when I was reading Christopher Moore. Tom Holt was a high recommendation based on his books. My reading adventure started with The Portable Door and to be honest that was one of the first books that really put a smile on my face. When it comes down to finding a smart and funny read, Tom Holt is the author to look for. 

The Good, The Bad and the Smug is already the fourth book in the popular YouSpace series with the earlier books being: Doughnut, When it's A Jar and The Outsorceror's Apprentice. The YouSpace series focuses on a multiverse principle, you know where you have not one universe but parallel universes to may have some things in common or may not. Well the multiverses that Tom Holt shows aren't wholly similiar as there are universes with elves, goblins and dwarfs! And that by looking through the whole of a doughnut! Be careful when you eat one and what you wish for.

The story follows multiple threads but the most pronounced one is that of the goblin king Mordak. Over the course of time the human's on his world (were dealing with multiple universes here remember!) are strangely getting more and more income in the form of gold, and thus accelerating their growth with more weapons and other threats which could possibly cause the humans to win the war against the the goblin empire led by Mordak. This is something where Mordak can't sit idle and let it just happen. He wants to get to the bottom of how the humans get their new found source of wealth. To make it all worse Mordak is assisted in his endeavors by an elf, a female elf known as Efluviel. Elves and goblins haven't really gotten along in the past, and both are rather reluctant to work together in the first place. Added to this comes the fact that the elf community are rather peculiar in their doings and Efluviel is no exception. All that Efluviel wants to do is write piece for the magazine known as the Face, an stylish elfish magazine, but well now she has to work with Mordak, a goblin. With two opposite people AND Tom Holt's witty, sharp and stinging humor you can quite imagine that there are plenty laugh out loud moments. A different point of view is offered by a set of humans not the human that live in Mordak realm, the humans that want to win the arms race. But the human from a different universe. They stumble upon something that will have massive consequences for the multiverse. Because somethings just cannot be done without a cost. Rumpelstiltskin, give him some straw and the whole universe might collapse. These human are trying to find away to stop this from happening. Luckily there is always plan B!

As with all of Tom Holt's stories The Good, The Bad and The Smug, really is an outstanding piece of humor (I can imagine that not everyone will be a fan of these books, well actually I can't, they are that funny!). There were so many funny moments that definitely puts Tom Holt on top of his game. He sticks to his own created puns en jokes but also uses that of our own. Like the one with "your mission should you choose to accept it" and plenty more where that one game from. For me Tom Holt's writing style is unique: it's clever, it's sharp, it's to the point and above all very funny.

Now for the characters. Brilliant. Just brilliant. From the start I loved the small little goblin Mordak. Though he is seen as one of the dark lords he isn't that dark, he likes to eat humans, because well they are great staple, he wants to go to war because it is in the nature of the goblins. But next to that he isn't extreme. For such a dark person he actually has quite a good sense of humor. A sense that did have to grow mainly due to the forced interaction with Efluviel, the elf. It was a blast to see their interaction the constant outsmarting, trying to out do the other. Efluviel is also pretty sharp the part where Mordak falls and Efluviel rescues him is just awesome. It those kind of moments that make this book so much fun to read!

I have read some books which also focus on multiversing but these had a more serious background. The idea of looking through a circular object with a hole that then transports you to place you think off is quite imaginable and can and actually does go every which way. This unique twist given to the science fiction theme of multiversing is just well pretty cool especially with the heavy influence of Epic Fantasy in the result of it all. Awesome.

The Good, The Bad and The Smug continues the stellar and out of this universe YouSpace series perfectly. This is precisely one the things Tom Holt has made a name in for himself creating a smartly funny story. Wherein he not only challenges the reader but also himself in trying to write something funnier each and every time. The ending of the book shows that this might not be the last in the YouSpace series, I hope! Because when you look through a doughnut everything can happen! When it comes down to finding a smart and funny read, Tom Holt is the author you want to read. 

Guest Blog: Bloodrushing


Guest Blog: Bloodrushing by Ben Galley

Earlier this year I read Bloodrush by Ben Galley and it wowed me. It was a very cool book with an absolutely amazing magic system. Now with the release of the second book Ben Galley has written a short piece on what the magic system is about. The best thing is that there is competition as well. You can find the details below, the most important thing is to let you creativity loose! 

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Bloodrushing:

I’ve always been a sucker for magic. Alongside world-building, a good hearty magic system has always been my bag. It’s fortunate really, seeing as magic has practically been a prerequisite of fantasy since the dawn of the genre in the late 1850’s, widely recognised as Phantastes, by Scottish author George MacDonald.

Over the years, we’ve been given some great examples of what magic can and can’t be. Authors have gone wild weaving new ideas. From the subtle to the downright explosive, magic can be found in all sorts of places, and come in many forms. Series like the Wheel of Time, His Dark Materials, the Stormlight Archive, and the Farseer Trilogy have all proven that. And so it is with great humility that today I take the chance to chat about my new magic system - bloodrushing.

Bloodrushing is the magic system in my new weird west fantasy series - the Scarlet Star Trilogy. I’ll go into how it works in a moment, but it revolves around the concept of ingesting purified animal blood to bring out magical effects in the user. For example, if you can drink armadillo blood, you’re what’s called a Clinker, and can grow armoured plates along your back.

Now I always think that the world-building and the history heavily influences any magic system, and vice versa, so let’s start with that.

The background.
The trilogy is set in an alternate 1867, where the western side of America has yet to be discovered, and as such has been dubbed the Endless Land. It’s an industrial world, ruled mostly by the Empire of Britannia and Queen Victorious, an ancient member of European royalty.

Bloodrushing first began before the First Empire, what we know as the Roman Empire. Cultures such as the Scythians, worshippers of Cain, drank the blood of their first kill in battle. The Mongols used to drink the blood of their horses to run faster. During the First Empire, rushers of human blood first became known as lampreys, and a rift was born that carried through to the Age of Enlightenment, our Renaissance. The power of human blood is longer life, and so the rich and powerful began to rely on it, creating powerful orders which still hold sway in the trilogy. After the Enlightenment, the Church treated ordinary bloodrushers, ones who saw lampreys as abhorrent, like witches and had them put to death en masse. Magic is now seen as folklore to the average person on the street, but there exists a subculture of bloodrushers who still keep the old art alive. Some even now work for the rich and powerful.

How it works.
Not everybody can rush, but those that have “the stomach for it”, can usually handle between one and three types of blood, or shades. Some rushers are special indeed, and are called leeches. Leeches can handle a range of shades, from different veins, the six categories into which the shades of blood are divided. That’s where we get the Scarlet Star from:





The veins are the animal kingdoms: insects, mammals, fish, reptiles, myth, and birds, and each are as different as the other. If a rusher were to try a shade he or she can’t stomach, the likelihood is they would suffer a great deal of pain, or worse, rupture from the inside out. Rushing is first and foremost, a very dangerous art.

Shades are collected by letters, also called butchers or draugrs in parts of Europe. Bloodletting is also an art, as the blood has to be correctly collected, purified, and stored. Shades can also be mixed for different effects, something quite a few letters specialise in.

The cost.
Now there is a cost, as I believe there should always be in a magic system. Magic, like any other force or weapon, shouldn’t be easy to master or limitless, otherwise it strange loses some of its suspense of disbelief. Every good magic system is dangerous and difficult, I believe, and so that’s what I tried to do with bloodrushing.

Besides drinking the wrong shade (something that’s been an effective assassination method in the past) there are essentially two main issues. Firstly, addiction, and secondly, side-effects. Rushers can become addicted to their shade, much like a drug, and become dependent on it both physically and mentally. Side-effects are usually the result of addiction, as well as happening on their own through misuse. Almost every shade has a side-effect, the severity of which can increase with repeated use. Rushing hummingbird blood, for example, might give you great speed, but also results in a debilitating thirst for sugar. Lion blood can breed a short temper and violent tendencies. Some shades even become permanent.

Boiling the blood is also possible. After ingesting blood, the magic works with the stomach and leaks into the veins, where it’s pushed to the skull. If you’re full of rage or emotion when you’re rushing, it can spiral out of control, harming you or others.

And that’s the quick guide to bloodrushing!

The #MyShade Competition.
So to celebrate the release of book two, Bloodmoon, on the 24th of July, I’m running a competition where you can suggest a new shade for the third book in the trilogy, Bloodfeud, coming later this year. The three best suggestions will be published in the eBook and paperback editions of book three.

All you have to do is look at the Ars Magica on my site, find some inspiration and an animal that hasn’t been covered, and then just suggest a description of what its magical effect is. To enter just Tweet me (@BenGalley) or Facebook me using the hashtag #MyShade. The competition closes at the end of the month, and the winner will be announced in the first week of August here on The Book Plank, as well as on my site.

More on blood rushing and free Bloodrush eBooks.
I’ve put all this information, as well as a full breakdown of all the shades in the Scarlet Star books, on my website: www.bengalley.com. You can also download free samples of the books, or sign up to my mailing list to get a free eBook copy of Bloodrush, book one of the trilogy.

Good luck, and cheers for reading!

Author Bio:
Ben Galley is a best-selling dark fantasy author from the UK. He is the author of the epic Emaneska Series, and a new YA western fantasy series, the Scarlet Star Trilogy. When he’s not dreaming up lies to tell his readers, Ben works as a self-publishing consultant, helping fellow authors to publish and sell their books at www.shelfhelp.info.

Ben can be found being loquacious and attempting to be witty on Twitter (@BenGalley), Facebook (/BenGalleyAuthor) or at his website www.bengalley.com.

Book Review: The Great Bazaar & Brayan's Gold

The Great Bazaar & Brayan's Gold by Peter V. Brett, Demon Cycle

From the dangerous world of the Demon Cycle comes the early adventures of Arlen, Peter V. Brett’s quintessential fantasy hero. These exciting origin tales follow Arlen as he learns to navigate a world where the elemental forces of evil conjure themselves from the earth each night.

Humanity has barely survived a demonic onslaught by using magical wards that protect their cities and homes. Only a handful of mercenaries and explorers risk traveling after the sun sets. Arlen, seeking adventure and fortune, is barely protected by the warded armor upon which he has inscribed intricate defensive runes. From a journey ferrying a wagonload of dynamite to a mountain stronghold, to a dangerous mission to recover desert treasures, Arlen faces friends and enemies with a strong arm and a cunning wit.


Peter V. Brett is a well known name in the fantasy world, being the author of the highly praised The Demon Cycle series. The series has been running strongly featuring the books, The Paintend/Warded Man, The Desert Spear, The Daylight War and The Skull Throne so far. The fifth addition, The Core is set to be published in 2018 (according to Goodreads). In expanding his universe, Peter V. Brett has written various short stories and two of them: The Great Bazaar and Brayan's Gold have been compiled by Tachyon Publishing into an omnibus edition sharing with the names of the stories as title. This for me was the first encounter with the Demon Cycle series and I tell you it has been a pleasant one! 

The first story in this omnibus  is that of Brayan's Gold. Brayan's Gold takes place in between the first book, The Pained/Warded Man and the second book, The Desert Spear. The story focuses on the main protagonist of the series, Arlen Bales, who is setting his footsteps in the trade of being a messenger. Arlen is a young adult of 17 years old, who is trained by his master Curk to become a full messenger. Messengers in the universe of Peter V. Brett are brave souls who venture long distances to deliver valuable, well it might sound boring but it's these brave souls that have to stay out at night or travel at night. And at night, the world transforms, bringing the demons out to play. Now back to the story, so Arlen is set on a task to deliver some very explosive items to Count Brayan who uses these items in his excavation endeavors. Again bringing stuff from point A to B is easy but not with demons and other people that wants something from you. Early on in the story Arlen is faced with troubles, not the demonkind, which he solves rather drastically. During this early encoutner it really comes to show that Arlen is a boy who sticks with his promises, it might give him a certain degree of naivete but it also with the stunt he pulls makes him very dangerous and not person you want to mess with. Of course Arlen also has to face of with some demons, because well, he travels in the dark hours as well. In the end Arlen does make it intact to Count Brayan to deliver the good, but here again he is faced with problems of a different degree and for me it came to show that Arlen, though apprentice messenger by trade, is something much more. 


The Great Bazaar is the second story of the omnibus and is actually a chapter from The Painted/Warded Man,  this chapter was set somewhere in between 16 and 17 of the book. It does happen later than Brayan's Gold. Here Arlen is already a bit more grown up and no longer feels like the apprentice messenger he was said to be in the first story. In this story Arlen receives a map from Abban. Abban runs a shop at the Bazaar in the desert of Krasia, and he wants Arlen to find a treasure, a very expensive and valuable piece of pottery which is said to be located in a small desert village. The reason why Abban cant retrieve said pottery is because the town is overrun by demons and demons can only be fought with wards. So naturally Arlen will be the best suited person for this task as he knows wards and how to use them. The trek to the desert town is a tough job where Arlen faces a number of known demons to him, who he can easily outsmart. But once in the city he stumbles upon species of demons he has never seen before and will make this task a lot harder on him. 

If you are new to the Demon Cycle series like me, both Brayan's Gold and The Great Bazaar make up for a very good an clear introduction/teaser for the bigger series, they can be easily read and understand as standalone books. 

The strength for me in these two stories really are the protagonist Arlen, he is a cool guy, as I said a bit naive but when he has to do things he will make sure the job gets done, and most importantly he sticks to his guns, no matter how dire the situation is. Another thing is the part of the whole demon fighting and the bigger idea behind it. I am a big fan of cool fighting scenes and unique systems with advantages/disadvantages and limitations and this is precisely what Peter. V. Brett utilizes in these two stories. This short omnibus edition featuring Great Bazaar and Brayan's Gold has definitely wet my appetite for more!

Short Fiction Friday: Professor Incognito Apologizes

Professor Incognito Apologizes by Austin Grossman

This story first appeared in The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination edited by John Joseph Adams and was reprinted over at Tor.com

In the last few Short Fiction Friday features I actually read quite heavy stuff and I was in the mood for something funny. While I was searching for such a story I came across Professor Incognito Apologizes by Austin Grossman. Being a scientist myself my curiosity was directly piqued. 

Now to begin, Professor Incognito Apologizes follow a different type of narration. The premise of the story is about how the wife, Suzanne, of Professor Incognito discovers the secret hideout of her husband. Professor Incognito hid his secret base in their basement with a passage through their cupboard door. Now that he has been discovered, Incognito makes sure that Suzanne is unable to retell the tale. But before she can utter her last words or take in her last breath, Incognito spill the beans on some things that happened during their relation. And just because she of course deserves and answer. The narration is based more on an interview/ Q&A based only that Incognito is both the Q and the A in this case.

The topics that he discusses are from an holographic projection. The events told are all related to things where Incognito acted weird. They vary from why it happened to some of the dates they went on to fights and the break up they had right down to the plans that he has with the fate of the world. Also Incognito reveals that he knew his wife was different and actually does still care about her to a certain degree and perhaps shares his trump card with the Martians and his plans. And that she can if she is interested.. The ending of the story is left purposefully open, allowing you as a reader to think has it happened or not.  

There is both a certain degree of seriousness as well as a lot of humor to the story. The idea behind the story alone is cool and Austin Grossman cleverly executes it. I just checked the Goodreads profile of Austin and he has written more superhero fiction, I will be sure to check that out!

Book Review: Beneath London

Beneath London by James P. Blaylock,  A tale Langdon St. Ives

The collapse of the Victoria Embankment uncovers a passage to an unknown realm beneath the city. Langdon St. Ives sets out to explore it, not knowing that a brilliant and wealthy psychopathic murderer is working to keep the underworld’s secrets hidden for reasons of his own.

St. Ives and his stalwart friends investigate a string of ghastly crimes: the gruesome death of a witch, the kidnapping of a blind, psychic girl, and the grim horrors of a secret hospital where experiments in medical electricity and the development of human, vampiric fungi, serve the strange, murderous ends of perhaps St. Ives’s most dangerous nemesis yet.
  


Two years ago I started my first venture in the Langdon St. Ives stories, starting with The Aylesford Skull and later Homunculus. The former was a new addition to The Narbondo Series and the latter was a reprint. What James P. Blaylock proved to me in the The Aylesford Skull was that he is an author who knows the things he writes about. When you look at a lot of the current Steampunk stories, the stories that James P. Blaylock are different. In a good way!

What better way to kick off the story with focusing on a dark and mysterious setting? In the prologue a mysterious person is revealed in a dark and damp place with terrifying green eyes. When I think back to the old horror movies this is often how they started, this introduction directly set my moods right. After this introduction you learn that there has been an unexplainable collapse on the Victoria Embankment which has "paved" the way to the dark pathways under the city of London. And who is better than to send out to investigate this event? None other than the legendary explorer Langdon St. Ives. But well before that can happen, Langdon has a small agenda of his own and he is asked to first investigate something in the near of his own home n the request of Mother Laswell, well this short stop had set in motion something much bigger as Langdon stumbles upon a corpse. Now all his radars are set to alert. After this Langdon's investigation sends him to London where together with a good friend of his, he investigates said sinkhole, which in turn again reveal much more that even Langdon had dared to hope. Langdon has seen a lot in his years as a scientist and explorer but the discoveries that he makes visiting the sink hole, it scares even him. Added to the fact comes that he has had a lot of face offs with his earlier nemesis Ignacious Narbondo, it seems that he now is to meet a new adversary, one that can even trump Narbondo. Beneath London is another wild race through a beautifully crafted Victorian London. 

As I said above James P. Blaylock's stories aren't for the full 100% in line with the a lot of the current steampunk that is published. James P. Blaylock does something different in telling his stories. The whole setting that is inspired in his stories makes the difference. A given standard to Steampunk is that on one hand there has to be fun and with hidden in the story and on the other hand there is often a dark sense. For me what James P. Blaylock shows is that he eases on the humor side, granted there are still enough moments that will give a smile, witty remarks and such. But he pulls his story more to the dark side. In showing just what nasty things have happened or are happening, you as a reader aren't spared. Sometimes it can be confronting I have to admit and will not make the story suited for everyone. The turn to the darker sides of the story do really bolster in what the story is about, and that is producing one great dark mysterious feeling. 

Another things that once again should be note is the ease with which the story flows, the story telling really comes over in a most natural way. This directly plays into that a lot of the discussion and interaction that the characters have with each other and with world feel natural and none forced. As you follow the footsteps of several character, who all relate and tell events makes none of the information you receive heavy, more on the contrary it makes it easy to absorb and emerge yourself in the story. 

The characters are what truly finish the story. I like Langdon a lot. The story has been compared to Sherlock Holmes, of course he is best known for featuring in a Victorian setting and he is sometimes associated with steampunk, well I wouldn't compare these two together and Langdon has something completely different working for himself. He is by far not so self assured and cocky of himself as Sherlock is. Langdon feels much more human, prone to making and admitting he made an error. He is not a perfect character, he can be wrong with his guesses. This further helps to inspire a mysterious feeling to Beneath London as you know things can change quickly. Next to Langdon there are a lot of secondary characters some of whom I already had the pleasure of getting to know in Teh Aylesford Skull like Langdon's wife Alice, Mother Laswell, Finn, Bill Kraken and lets not forget the manservant Hasbro. All of these are a pleasure to read about. 

I often mention that in such crime stories it's nice to see just what the bad guys are planning and Beneath London is no exception. You see on screen just what the bad guys are up to and how every party involved reacts on each other actions. Even though you read what happens it still gives a very dynamic feeling to the story. 

It might have taken a few years but the latest addition to the Tales of Langdon St. Ives is a noteworthy addition to the series. James P. Blaylock has a unique gift in telling his stories. What I like most about his book are the  atmosphere he is able to raise, it has the required humor but the premise to the whole of the story is much more darker and more towards a macabre setting. Added to this comes the fact that the characterization is spot on. Even though Langdon is a smart guy he doesn't know it all and doesn't mind giving in when he is wrong and finding a better solution. Something that caught me by surprise was the last sentence of the book, really elegant. Lets hope it will be re-lit for another adventure!

Book Review: Dark Disciple

Dark Disciple by Christie Golden, Star Wars Canon

The only way to bring down the dark side's most dangerous warrior may be for Jedi and Sith to join forces.

In the war for control of the galaxy between the armies of the dark side and the Republic, former Jedi Master turned ruthless Sith Lord Count Dooku has grown ever more brutal in his tactics. Despite the powers of the Jedi and the military prowess of their clone army, the sheer number of fatalities is taking a terrible toll. And when Dooku orders the massacre of a flotilla of helpless refugees, the Jedi Council feels it has no choice but to take drastic action: targeting the man responsible for so many war atrocities, Count Dooku himself.

But the ever-elusive Dooku is dangerous prey for even the most skilled hunter. So the Council makes the bold decision to bring both sides of the Force's power to bear—pairing brash Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos with infamous one-time Sith acolyte Asajj Ventress. Though Jedi distrust for the cunning killer who once served at Dooku's side still runs deep, Ventress's hatred for her former master runs deeper. She's more than willing to lend her copious talents as a bounty hunter—and assassin—to Vos's quest.

Together, Ventress and Vos are the best hope for eliminating Dooku—as long as the emerging feelings between them don't compromise their mission. But Ventress is determined to have her retribution and at last let go of her dark Sith past. Balancing the complicated emotions she feels for Vos with the fury of her warrior's spirit, she resolves to claim victory on all fronts—a vow that will be mercilessly tested by her deadly enemy . . . and her own doubt.


So far this year has treated me some very fine Star Wars books but Christie Golden really tops it all off with Dark Disciple. In my Star Wars ventures I read about the Jedi side, the Sith side, that of bystanders, that of rogue traders, that of bounty hunters but never have I read about what Christie Golden tells in Dark Disciple, that of Sith and Jedi joining forces to defeat a bigger evil. The result is just amazing. I know Christie Golden actually only from her World of Warcraft books from my brother. But Christie Golden is no stranger to the Star Wars universe as in the past she has participated in writing the Fate of the Jedi series. Dark Disciple ties in with the currently popular The Clone Wars Legacy series and is based on episodes that never aired! 

If you are familiar with the Clone Wars series, the protagonists of Dark Discpile should be know to you. Quinlan Vos and Asajj Ventress. Quinlan Vos is a true Jedi, though with a bit of a more free spirit being expressed in doing things by his own rules. Asajj Ventress was once a Jedi Knight who was lured by Count Dooku and turned into a Sith however, Asajj got hold of Dooku's plans and in the end they parted ways in not that of a mutual way. From that point onward Asajj has absolved the ways of the SIth and continued her life as part of the Nightsisters, though still holding that dire hatred to Count Dooku. OK so these are the protagonists of the story in Dark Disciple, but what is the story about? How do these two characters come together? 

Well it is because of Count Dooku, he has done another atrocious deed that the Jedi Council led by Yoda just cannot let stand any longer. Count Dooku is growing in power and he has to be called to a halt. However Dooku was a prodigy, he is one of the stronger Force wielding Jedi turned Sith that has lived. Sending one Jedi Knight to fight will not be enough. Having considered a lot of options, the Jedi Council sees only one option remaining that of sending Quinlan Vos undercover to contact Asajj Ventress. As the former apprentice of Count Dooku, Asajj offers the best possibility of knowing the weak spots of Dooku to bring down his defeat. Quinlan has to find a way to breach the shields of Asajj who does not only hate the Sith but also the Jedi. So Quinlan sets out for this dangerous task, he uses some well placed advice in winning her over and soon they find themselves allies due to unforeseen circumstances. Not in getting rid of Dooku, but in being bounty hunters. Though where Quinlan thought he has good defenses, Asajj is not easily fooled and soon the truth surfaces of Quinlan's true purpose of being with Asajj. However Asajj duly notes that even with the current capabilities of Quinlan, which are vast he won't be up for the task of defeating Dooku by far. The Jedi rules are limiting him in his power, I think you can understand where this is going. Asajj knows what she is talking about because she is Jedi turned Sith. She knows what power is. And thus Asajj trains Quinlan in ways that the Jedi Council hadn't anticipated. But will a brief but strong training regime be enough to defeat one of the stronger Force wielders in the universe? I can really go on and on about the story for much longer, but there are so many twists and turns that it would spoil to much!

When I was reading the story and got to the point where Quinlan and Asajj were training and went to Dooku it hit me. Jedi and Sith. In the movies and other fiction we are always led to believe that the Jedi are the good guy and the Sith the bad guys and in the bigger picture they probably are but there is a very nice discussion/monologue/explanation in this book that treads a careful path in the ways of the Jedi and that what they do isn't all the boy scout good guy attitude. There are explanations that the Jedi do somewhat indoctrinate their apprentices and make them believe somethings are bad. Actually in the lines of a cultist idea not saying that they become the bad guys all of a sudden but it will make you thinking. 

I also tweeted that the lines between Jedi and Sith are thin, and of course we know this from the movies but Christie Golden gives the best depiction ever of just how thin these lines are and that there is a definite gray area in between. As with the portrayal of the sides of the Force showing these thin lines does make you wonder. Gaaah Christie Golden what are you doing with my believes! The Dark Side doesn't offer the cookies as shown on many a t-shirt but well just letting a bit in can make you that much stronger. 

The blurring of the sides of the Force gives a very nice complexity to the main protagonists of the book, Quinlan and Asajj. They switch allegiance back and forth with some very great twists in the story. All in all I was very taking with the progress that both characters made, Asajj was the loose canon in this context she already threw away the Jedi and the Sith side to pursue a more free life, but the interference of Quinlan's presence in her life was on thing she hadn't anticipated and this changed Asajj battle hardedend persona where she in the first instance didn't want nothing to do with Quinlan but later well... As for Quinlan's character wow. Just wow. I liked him a lot, more than a lot. He is the undercover Jedi that has to infiltrate Asajj's comfort zone. Which is no easy task, Quinlan is presented with many challenges that will put his allegiance to the test plus the capture of him by a certain someone who reveals a nasty truth to him doesn't make things less complicated. And well the ending. It does take sacrifices even for the Jedi. Perfect, spot on characterization.

In addition to these two stars there are plenty other characters that are put in a brief spotlight. Anakin, Mace, Yoda, General Grievous, Dooku, Obi-Wan. No worries on that department! Though they didn't get the amount of focus that Quinlan and Asajj got they all had their own influence in the story and were true to their character self. I especially liked how Anakin was shown. The hot-headed one.... signs! 

Dark Disciple is a marvelous read. When I read the premise I knew the book was cool but what Christie Golden does is just amazing. A lot of the Star Wars books that I have read are straightforward, in Dark Disciple Christie Golden adds many more layers to the story that will make you think about the whole current setup of the Star Wars universe. It might be a side track but it is a clever one. Now I didn't mention the action above but that is pretty tense, lightsabers, Force lightning and much much more. On one hand it is a pity that the episodes that make this book weren't aired on the other hand it does give your own mind much more freedom to play it out all in your head. Imagination is a great thing to have and Christie Golden feeds it with this perfect story. One warning though. Cancel your plans when you pick this book up, you don't want to anything other than devour this book in a single setting. Again a perfect addition to the growing Star Wars Extended Universe books. 

Book Review: Dead Man's Reach

Dead Man's Reach by D.B. Jackson, Thieftaker Chronicles #4


Boston, 1770. The city is a powder keg as tensions between would-be rebels and loyalist Tories approach a breaking point. One man is willing to light the match to ensure that he has his revenge.

The presence of the British Regulars has made thieftaking a hard business to be in. Ethan Kaille has to resort to taking jobs that he would otherwise pass up, namely protecting the shops of Tories from Patriot mobs. When one British loyalist takes things too far and accidentally kills a young boy, even Ethan reconsiders his line of work. Even more troubling is the fact that instances of violence in the city are increasing, and Ethan often finds himself at the center of the trouble.

Ethan discovers that some enemies don't stay buried… and will stop at nothing to ruin Ethan's life. Even if that means risking the lives of everyone in Boston, including the people that Ethan loves most.


And thus we are presented, sadly, with the so far to be last volume in D.B. Jackson's Thieftaker series. If you have been following the review of D.B. Jackson his other books in the series, you know that I am a big fan of his work, as well as the book that he wrote under the name of David B. Coe. Over the last four years, D.B. Jackson has delivered one stunning story of the other with this series, every time stepping up his game more and more. Perhaps the hardest part of each series is writing a satisfying ending, in Dead Man's Reach, D.B. Jackson delivers an outstanding grande finale, but i am still hoping that this isn't the last that we have seen from Ethan Kaille. 


In the previous book, Ethan had his work cut out for him, it was a tough job but in the end he managed to defeat the bad guy, but Ethan didn't get out unscathed. And with this D.B. Jackson kicks of the story in Dead Man's Reach, Ethan is still recovering from those events. Not necessarily from the physical injuries. Since the events in A Plunder of Souls, getting jobs as a thieftaker has gotten a lot harder and with a lot of competition in Boston Ethan finds it harder and harder to get the right jobs and of course get some pay, added to this comes that one thieftaker in town, Sephira Pryce still is looking for ways to destroy Ethan well not kill him per se but to get him out of the thieftaking business. As with the other books, in the first scenes in of the story, D.B. Jackson sketches a "normal" situation, well yes Ethan is still a speller, but soon the situation turns more and more towards the supernatural. Ethan, out of desperation has taken a job that he will regret. He has been protecting the stores of several British merchants in Boston. Since there is a lot of friction between factions, mobs have run amok and damaged goods and wares of several of the British merchants. Lately it has really gone to far and during one such an encounter one British soldier takes it to far and shoots a young boy. This only inflames the situation more and more. After this event Ethan receives more and more criticism and considers giving up his job permanently. However, if it were just that easy. Violence is starting to get the upperhand in many of the inhabitants of Boston and there is one peculiar thing about it all. Because every time a spell of violence erupts, Ethan finds himself in the middle of it all. Could it be a coincidence or could Ethan be the instigator? With everything that has happened and that is going on, Ethan starts to doubt his own powers and whether he is able to control them any longer. Is he casting spells unconsciously? Mariz, Sephira's speller, mentioned that he saw Ethan's ghost Reg appear briefly and this only happens when Ethan himself is casting a spell, what contradict this all is the fact that a "reveal magic" spell does not reveal Ethan's color of magic on the person, actually no magical aura is detected. As you can imagine, Ethan won't go on an early retirement with this on the loose. And soon he starts to pick up clues and is convinced that one person is behind it all. A person who should have been dead. As everyone around Ethan is in danger, the inhabitants of Boston and Ethan's closest friends he has to get to this person fast. Before everything that Ethan holds dear is destroyed by this mad man. But it is all easier sad and done, Ethan has to face one of the most powerful spellers that existed. 

If you read the synopsis or my brief summary it might not sound as a grande finale but trust me it is. I cannot tell who the bad guy is and such because that would spoil everything. The grande finale feeling is readily achieve by all that D.B. Jackson involves in his story, the alternate history part that really inspires and build a great atmosphere around the story. The way that he set up the story is what made it so addictive, Ethan is convinced that a certain someone is framing him or using him, but the others aren't convinced that Ethan is right, the effort he puts into proving his theory is what makes gives the story an intense feeling added tot his comes the fact that the bad guy can strike any where and any time he sees fit, this gives a dangerous feeling, an unpredictable feeling as to what might happen when. No one is safe. 

As for character development, we have seen Ethan is many different waters from happy to well not say happy, he has grown a lot in the previous book but here in Dead Man's Reach D.B. Jackson shows a great product of the transformation Ethan has gone through. Due to all the terrible things he had to deal with Ethan doesn't see his future that bright anymore in the thieftaking business. He is looking for new carriers and in the past there has been this flirting thing going on between Ethan and Kannice but never that serious, no one gave in... Also I think I have mentioned in a review of another book that Ethan and Sephira also had some love-hate relationship going on, well these intricacies play heavily on his character, and further build him personally. As for the other recurring characters, Kannice, Mariz, Greenleaf, Janna, Sephira and the other of Sephira's gang, they all lay a crucial role to support Ethan's character when he needs them the most, either for discussing matters, a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on. 

With every book in the Thieftaker Chronicles I have said something about the magic system and thus I find myself repeating it again. IT IS AWESOME. Alright, why is it awesome? Because it matures and transforms in the same way that Ethan does. Ethan keeps on discovering, by himself and out of necessity new spells to use and understanding what his opponents do. This is what makes this magic system so attractive to me, it is straightforward but the uses are unlimited, it's all about spelling. Even the most powerful and accomplished spellers aren't invulnerable, there is a weakness somewhere you just have to look carefully and phrase you spell correctly!

With Dead Man's Reach D.B. Jackson deliverers a spectacular ending to the Thieftaker Chronicles. The whole build up of this story D.B. Jackson leaves you wondering who is messing with Ethan and to what purpose, you are actually thinking could it really, really be that guy or is Ethan just mistaking? But well once you find out the horrible truth, you will be suprised. The story already had a great pacing, but once the truth is out the pacing is ramped up even more. A great race to the finish. Though this is said to be the final volume in the Thieftaker Chronicles I surely hope that this isn't the last thing we have seen from Ethan Kaille!