Origin Story

Professional Reader   Reviews Published   10 Book Reviews80%

I have spent the last couple of years building up the 23rd Legion without really knowing what I wanted to do with it. The first thought was to pull together a collective of creatives and see where that went. That went pretty much nowhere.

Since I have a history of helping online communities get their feet, the second incarnation was sort of a “one-stop shop” for everything you might need to get your online presence established. That kinda flopped, too, as social media helped make those tools easy peasy for everyone to use. I applauded that and waited for the next pivot.

Then came Red Rising.
(more…)

The Kill Society (Sandman Slim #9) by Richard Kadrey

One of my absolute favorite fictional characters is James “Sandman Slim” Stark. The just amazingly insane escapades that Mr. Kadrey has put ol’ Jimmy through over the years is just gargantuan.

I’m not sure how I messed up and missed the release of four books, but now I get the opportunity to motor through the rest of the series all in one fell swoop.

In the Kill Society, Stark finds himself deposited by his old buddy Death back into a far reaching part of the Tenebrae. Almost instantly he is set upon by what seems to be a nomadic caravan who has more questions that Stark has answers. When dragged before the mysterious Magistrate who leads the caravan, Stark comes upon a very familiar face: Father Traven.

The Magistrate is fascinated by Stark (who is going by a false name so this group doesn’t know he’s Sandman Slim) and keeps him on to help with a mysterious plan that he has.

Very quickly, Stark finds himself teamed up with the preferred elite of this group, which he hilariously calls the Dog Pack.

Working with the Dog Pack, Stark begins to find out more and more bits of information about what the Magistrate is trying to achieve. The rest I shall leave for you to find out.

Per usual, Mr. Kadrey excels at setting up a remarkable description of the landscapes and challenges of his version of Hell. Worldbuilding is definitely a forte of his. The Kill Society had a very large cast of characters that were executed perfectly with individual voices and quirks. This is nothing new in the Sandman Slim universe, but it is very refreshing in its consistency.

This is the type of fun reading that I really really appreciate as a book lover and constant story consumer. I don’t have to rack my brain reading them, but the scratch every itch I love about gritty urban fantasy. Watching the way that Sandman Slim has developed over all these years has been just fantastic, and, while Stark’s attitude is slowly shifting away from just being an evil bastard, there is still all of that aggression and scathing wit that makes him such a delightful character to read. I cannot wait to jump into book number ten!

Vampire Brother by Steve Stephenson

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

Vampire Brother

Elves and vampires; what a fantastic combination! I never like to fault an author for releasing their works out into the world because it is horribly stressful, and, for some, quite traumatic. That being said, I just couldn’t get into this book. It had all of the hallmarks of being right up my alley, but it just falls flat on so many fronts.

First of all, there is a massive amount of lore that is just gently glossed over. The way certain things are addressed in Vampire Brother, it is as if this is a middle book in a series. History and mythology are hinted at, but not expounded upon. There seems to be a literal cast of thousands, and the story switches perspective very often. At points I just felt like I was reading my notes from previous sessions of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. The action was there, but very little flavor.

If developed, this could have been a very good multi-book series, but just too much was tackled, and in a semi-haphazard way for my liking. I really detest being harsh, but I have to be honest.

Empire of the Vampire by Jay Kristoff

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

I’ve been a big fan of Mr. Kristoff for quite some time, but this one really knocks it out of the park. Empire of the Vampire has received a ton of hype over the past year, and sometimes that can backfire, but, boy howdy, this is a novel that absolutely delivers.

Our main character, Gabriel de León, is a Silversaint in a time and place where the sun has basically been blocked out for twenty-seven years, and the ruling houses of vampires have risen up and basically carved up the world into their kingdoms. What’s a Silversaint you ask? A Silversaint is the result of the union between a vampire sire and a human woman. The sons that result (there are only sons) inherit a bit of vampiric power from their undead fathers; as well as a degree of their bloodlust.

Now Gabriel has been captured by the creatures he has vowed to destroy, and the bulk of the story is him telling his life’s history to a vampire historian.

Empire of the Vampire has all of the Kristoff halmarks. Sex? Check. Violence? Check. Incredibly witty banter peppered liberally with crude jokes? Also, check.

There is an undeniable comparison to Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, just from the way the narrative is presented, but this gem of a novel is wholly unique. Mr. Kristoff is no stranger to the anti-hero, but de León may be his finest masterpiece to date. At some moments the reader feels very sorry for this peasant’s son: hell, there are even moments when he seems kind and tender; but there is also a nihilistic and destructive side to Gabriel that will often make the reader reconsider their opinion of him. Hell, as I was going through it, I just was hoping that we’d figure out why he seems so incredibly jaded.

In building the setting of Empire of the Vampire, Mr. Kristoff absolutely goes all out. We have divided and conquered kingdoms with rich histories, the creation and deep lore several religions, magick and power systems to go with each tradition and House, and a vast landscape that the reader can actually see, feel, hear and even smell. This is a craft that Mr. Kristoff is very well-versed in, and he’s definitely used the finest tools in his toolbox to execute this one.

This is definitely a book that wraps you up in a rollicking story mixed with enough fervor, blasphemy, faith and action to keep a reader seriously engaged while furious page flipping is going on.

This novel is going to be on lists and winning awards very shortly. Don’t miss it.

Alien – Alien 3: The Lost Screenplay by William Gibson (by Pat Cadigan)

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

The story of how this novel came to be is almost as good as how it ended up.

Many, many moons ago — back in 1987 to be precise — William Gibson was tapped to be the first of what turned out to be ten writers to tackle the script for what was to become the third film in Ridley Scott’s Alien franchise. Gibson ultimately produced a second revision, in 1988, which toned down the story a bit, but the studio still passed on it.

This second revision was adapted into a comic series by Dark Horse Comics in 2018, and an audio drama in 2019 by Audible Studios, but the first revision remained in the dark aside from being passed around the internet on Alien fandom sites and message boards.

Now, in 2021, it sees the proper novelization it deserves; and from the Queen of Cyberpunk herself, Pat Cadigan.

To say that I was excited to read this book is an understatement. I have been a fan of both Gibson and Cadigan since I was a mere kid, and this is exactly the “peanut butter in my chocolate” type of collaboration that I dream about.

This story is gritty as all hell. Focusing largely on Hicks and Bishop after being “rescued” with Ripley and Newt in the Sulaco where they ended up at the conclusion of Aliens, this version of Alien 3 goes from “Ehhh, things might be ok.” to “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” to “Oh yeah, everything is totally screwed.”

We see a whole lot of evolution in the Xenomorphs in this story. Their adaptation and speedy evolution is both terrifying and, for franchise fans, fascinating given the total lore that already exists. These bugs are a total game changer when it comes to their propagation and swarm-like spread.

Through it all, however, we see the laser-focused persistence of Hicks and Bishop. Naturally, as should always be in an Alien story, there is some thinly-veiled political intrigue, and the ever-present idiocy of “The Company” to help push the story along a bit.

What’s striking about this book is that it is a total redirection of the bigger story. Ripley is probably in it for about two chapters before everything gets focused on the Artificial Person and the Marine. I applaud the change, and how a lot of material and memories from Aliens was referenced to give some extra sparkle to the situation the two find themselves in.

Ms. Cadigan tackled this project just perfectly. There are some scantly disguised references to the current COVID-19 pandemic that I found rather amusing, but the bigger story really lends itself to that kind of comparison. Being a fan of her previous writings, falling into a cadence and rhythm that I’m familiar with really helped churn through the pages. The dialogue encompasses so many damn emotions, but nothing ever gets to a point where the broader picture is derailed for lack of detail or cohesiveness.

All-in-all, this was one hell of a novel to read, and I’m both incredibly happy I got to enjoy it, and very sad that I’m done with it. I really, really, really hope this sees the screen someday. If only so I can see some Xenomorph lemurs. Oh yeah, there are lemurs.

The Atlas Six (The Atlas, #1) by Olivie Blake

The Atlas Six (The Atlas Series Book 1) by [Olivie Blake, Little Chmura]

Holy crap, I really didn’t expect a read like this one. The premise was very intriguing and right up my alley, so I decided to take the dive.

The Alexandrian Society, a secretive group tasked with maintaining the lost/forgotten knowledge of previous civilizations, and library to the most powerful magicians in the world, have an annual initiation where they bring in six of the most talented magicians from all over the planet to act as custodians for the library while they learn and grow.

At the end of the period of time of this caretaking, one initiate will be eliminated and five will go on to be full members of the Society.

Magic, competition, ego, intrigue? I’m all in.

Then it gets really damn interesting. The first candidates we meet are Elizabeth “Libby” Rhodes and Nicolàs “Nico” de Varona. This unique pair attends New York University of Magical Arts together, and are the fiercest of rivals. To say that they snipe at each other constantly is and understatement. When both are selected by Atlas Blakely to take part in the initiation, that kicks things up another notch. At this point, I knew I was in for a serious ride.

Next, Atlas selects Reina Mori, Parissa Kamali, Tristan Caine, and Callum Nova. Much like Libby and Nico, each is a magician of extreme talent. Unlike Libby and Nico, this three have been away from academia and are very secretive about their skills and abilities.

As the story unfolds we learn a hell of a lot more about each of the characters, the mission of The Society, its enemies and shortcomings. Each of the initiates gets more and more wrapped up in what their time at The Society means to them and to their group as a whole.

Let’s just say things get incredibly mental.

I honestly can’t go more into it without giving away anything. I will say that I read the last two chapters three times to fully wrap my head around what happened. Yeah, it’s one of those books.

To call Ms. Blake an artist is understating things. The Atlas Six draws you in and wraps you up in such a web of personality and intrigue. It is a true gem of world-building without even really having to build a world. The setting is very uniform, but the landscape and setting for this novel is really the characters themselves, and, boy howdy, there is such a rich variety of terrain. This is definitely one of those stories where I basically got knocked on my ass and had to sit there for a while re-assessing how I think about literary characters.

It’s just so hard to describe how this book affects its readers, but it will definitely affect you. I’ve read some amazing things this Summer, but I think I’m definitely going to have to crown The Atlas Six as my “don’t miss it” for Summer 2021.

A Red Moon Over Rhyll (The Dryad’s Crown, #3) by David Hopkins

A Red Moon Over Rhyll: Book Three of the Dryad's Crown by [David Hopkins, Daniel Decena, Francesca Baerald]

There is something completely magical, and utterly frustrating about serialized short fiction. That being said, Mr. Hopkins has been quite adept at tapping into the cliff-hanger aspect of it that I seriously admire.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, Gydan and Yurig, children of the mysterious Silbrey, had just escaped certain doom from what can only be described as a sleeper attack near their farmhouse. An attack that gained Gydan a dragon, Yurig a spellbook, and Silbrey a sense that not all was well in the tiny corner of the world they inhabited. To make matters worse, the trio was headed into uncomfortable territory to “do their duty” to Bren Caius, the high general of the land: with whom Silbrey has a very distinct history.

The maddening thing about reviewing short fiction is trying to put a certain point across without giving away the meat of the story. As I am not deft at dodging and feinting around anything, I will just tell you, this book is where it starts to get deeply spicy.

As is his forte, Mr. Hopkins presents a situation that amplifies itself into a white-knuckled area of “What the hell happens next?!?!?!?” in a very gentle manner. New epic heroes enter the scene, and we are introduced to the most imposing of epic villains. A Hidden Burrow Near Barcombe was just a taste of the action that was to proceed. We tasted some blood, and Mr. Hopkins was happy to oblige us with a tad more.

Shifting gears, I do have to give even more kudos to the world building that is going on with this series. There is a new level of politicking that goes on in A Red Moon Over Rhyll that is just absolutely sublime. One thing I found very welcome was an expansion of existing character development on top of these new twists. This started out a Silbrey series, but I’d be willing to bet that Gydan and Yurig will be polished into the sheen of the deepest heartwood during this progression. I’m elated and a little afraid.

Bring on book four!

City of Iron and Dust by J.P. Oakes

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

City of Iron and Dust by [J.P. Oakes]

There is something about approaching a debut novel by an author that is very awe-inspiring to me. It may sound incredibly hokey, but I feel like it is akin to unwrapping a writer for the very first time, and seeing what their wonder and peculiarities are, and, by the time I make it partially through the book, see how this fledgling will fare.

To follow further into this horrible metaphor, when I approached Mr. Oakes’ “nest” of City of Iron and Dust, he shot out of the nest, circled me a few times and then promptly took a few dive-bombs at me in the first handful of pages.

Our intrepid journey begins with a prologue explaining how the world was all magic, happiness, and light amongst the fae folk until the goblins came streaming down from the North headed up by the terrible Mab. Using her horrible magic, Mab destroyed the fae forest cities, and, in their place, the goblins created great cities of iron, steel, and glass: subjugating the fae until they withered under the oppression.

For the years after, the goblins ruled, and the fae became the downtrodden grist for the mill. Five great Goblin Houses arose, and with each, a tower. The current-day portion of the story, however, kicks off with a mysterious penthouse/charnel house and an even more mysterious package of white powder.

From the prologue we begin to see how this story is going to unfold. Like all good adventures, this story kicks off in a bar. A working-class fae dive, to be exact. Three goblins enter the picture. These goblins should not be in this bar, let alone the entire neighborhood, but the ringleader, Jag, heir to House Red Cap, is trying to make a point to her half-goblin/half-sister, Sil, who also happens to be Jag’s bodyguard. Also accompanying is Bazzack, but he is hardly important.

Also in this bar are two other very important characters to this story, Knull and Edwyll, though neither knows the other is there (this becomes important later).

This all sets the scene, and when that scene blows up (and it blows up spectacularly), this wave of destruction fans out throughout the Iron City and fae society. Some of it is related, some of it pure coincidence. Either way, the story gets very spicy very quickly. Let’s just say that fae insurrection, a whole lot of magical drug, and even more Goblin House posturing and politicking makes for an incredibly interesting read.

What I love most about City of Iron and Dust is all of the big things it hits on that are so familiar in my years of consuming popular culture, literature and film. The entire setup — as well as most of the story — just reeks of a massive Shadowrun campaign (someone should seriously write one). I was also often reminded of Ralph Bakshi’s Wizards, certain aspects of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, a dash of Manchurian Candidate, and you just can’t avoid the giant Akira’s Tetsuo moment near the end.

What held me in the story was the structure of how it was written, and the visceral meat of the political and class intrigue. The reader really does get to see all facets of this highly oppressive society, and where there is a lot of unexplained “mixing” and counter-ideologies that seem to sprout from no logical place. There is compassion where the nature of that character would not dictate it, and there is cruelty that seems to sprout from all the wrong reasons.

One thing I really loved about this novel, which, oddly, has annoyed me with others, is Mr. Oakes’ style of heading up each section with the name of the character from whom the point of view is presented. In many scenes, this allowed me to consider the change in perspective when several of the characters might be experiencing the same scene, and maybe even be in the same room.

The other thing I rather enjoyed is the pacing. City of Iron and Dust is very fast-paced, but it does not feel rushed. Mr. Oakes takes the time to fully develop each interaction, and, as such, the reader is able to develop a very well-defined view of what might be going on in the many scenes of total chaos. The incredibly puzzle-piece fit of the dialogue also helps immensely with this.

Don’t even get me started on the conflict choreography and styling. It’s an utter masterpiece.

City of Iron and Dust has so many themes that would appeal to a hugely wide variety of potential readers. If you like high magic/fantasy, that box is checked. If you like political intrigue, that box is also checked. If you like crime, drug, or class war stories, all of those boxes are checked. Finally, if you like stories of perseverance and truly believing in what you fight for (good or bad), that box has a big ol’ check.

Kudos to Mr. Oakes for putting this one out there. I really hope this is a world that we get to revisit in the future. I can’t wait to see what comes next.

The Mask Falling (The Bone Season #4) by Samantha Shannon

Eight years ago I picked up this book with book with one of the most interesting premises I’d run across: a criminal who steals thoughts and information from peoples’ minds, and operates under an oppressive regime where people with her sorts of gifts are imprisoned and executed.

Little did I know that this was just the tip of the iceberg for young Paige Mahoney. Over the next few years, books 2 and 3 were released with the tale of Paige’s exploits growing exponentially. After book 2, I was really convinced that Ms. Shannon didn’t like Paige very much, and book 3 pretty much cemented that.

Then came the gap. Paige Mahoney had just gotten out of an absolute horror of a situation, and book 4 was just “coming soon.”

Boy was the wait worth it. The Mask Falling opens with Paige and Arcturus (Warden), escaping England and ending up in a safe house in the Scion Citadel of Paris. Paige is in really rough shape, but has been taken in by the mysterious Domino Program; who want to use her abilities and skills to help subvert Scion control. While she has been told to stay put and heal, Paige also wants to leverage her position of Underqueen to gain audience with the Court of Miracles — the voyant syndicate of France — to continue her own flavor of assault on Scion, and, hopefully, learn the fates of many of her friends.

This one is a real rollercoaster, but I often found myself giving Paige the ol’ “What the hell are you doing?!?!?!?”

Paige’s stubbornness is definitely her biggest weakness. Sure, her bond with Arcturus definitely affects her judgement sometimes, but it is Paige’s unwillingness to accept compromise that really seems to put her in all the pickles in The Mask Falling. Especially when things get wacky, and, boy howdy, they get wacky.

One thing about this series that I greatly appreciate is Ms. Shannon’s boldness in worldbuilding. The Scion Citadel of Paris is absolutely nothing like the Scion Citadel of London, yet she could have used the uniformity of Scion to make them far similar. Details like this, and her amazing obsession with tweaking language (definitely read the afterword about how she tweaked Scion French) show a masterful attention to what makes each location, and subsequently culture, unique.

I dearly hope we don’t have to wait too long for book 5.

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance #2) by Naomi Novik

** This book was provided to me by NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review **

The Last Graduate (The Scholomance, #2)

Oh poor Galadriel Higgins. El’s affinity for super destructive magic, her desire to be semi-anti-social, and her torn feelings for one Orion Lake really put her in an interesting spot coming into her senior year at the Scholomance.

Now that graduation is upon El, she has set it in her mind that she will get out as many students as possible. As she begins to enlist more and more of the student body in her seemingly hare-brained plans, they all begin to understand just what a powerhouse El really is. To make matters worse, it appears that the school is beginning to turn on her.

I absolutely love this series, and was super excited to be given the opportunity to tackle an early copy of book 2. The Last Graduate really does take off right where A Deadly Education ended, and Ms. Novik has really honed her masterful craft of deft first-person narration. El really is the embodiment of snarky power, and the wide variety of characters, each with their own foibles, really make for an enjoyable experience.

There is so much more I would love to gush about this book, but I would give away far too much.

Once this book drops, I’ll definitely be picking up the audiobook. Anisha Dadia did an absolute masterful job with the first book, and I really can’t wait to hear her doing book 2.

Mister Impossible (Dreamer Trilogy #2) by Maggie Stiefvater

I’ve been mulling over how to approach a review for this amazing piece of fiction. Ms. Steifvater’s work is often very transcendent, but Mister Impossible just takes the cake.

The Dreamer Trilogy, follow up series to the wildly popular Raven Cycle, is focused on seminal “bad boy” Ronan Lynch and a wider exploration into his dreaming powers.

Where Call Down the Hawk set up the situations surrounding the current storyline — introducing the Hennessys, Bryde, the Moderators, etc. — Mister Impossible is more an etheric epic poem. Very quickly the deep dive into the ley lines, the quest for understanding around sweetmetals, and the indomitable personality that is Bryde, folds this novel into a dreamy story state that often doesn’t seem at home in the waking nor the dreaming world.

Per usual, the writing and character development are absolutely top notch. Ms. Steifvater always has a unique perspective on how to present scenes and situations, and Mister Impossible is a perfect example of this. There is suspense, humor and drama all present with a undertone of surrealism that just builds and builds and builds.

As the larger direction starts to unfold, there are still plenty of twists and turns that Ms. Stiefvater takes us down in a masterful execution of really looking at what the definition of humanity really is.

There is an unveiling towards the end of the book that I would absolutely love to make a parallel connection to a popular culture stalwart, but I’m just not the type of guy to spoil a storyline with one phrase. I will say that I am totally shocked and cannot wait to see how everything plays out in book three. That being said, I can’t believe I now have to wait for freakin’ book three!

I wanted to recognize special kudos to the amazing Will Patton for the audiobook of this manuscript. Mr. Patton is a remarkable performer who has breathed life into all of these two series of books. His tone and inflection definitely bring something to the table that enhances the experience.