Review: Soft Target, by Iain Rob Wright

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About Soft Target

– From UK’s Top Selling Horror & Thriller Author, Iain Rob Wright

NOWHERE IS SAFE…
When a quaint village in the United Kingdom is stuck by a suicide bomber, the once proud nation is brought to its knees with grief. Yet that first attack was just the beginning of something much greater and much worse. Something that nobody could ever have predicted.

The days that follow will determine if the UK even has a future left, or if it will be reduced to anarchy and ashes.

The only person that stands between the people of the UK and its complete destruction is an angry, damaged ex-solider named Sarah Stone. Sarah despises her own country and what it did to her, which is what makes it so hard when she is forced to save it.

SOFT TARGET is the first in a series of books featuring acerbic protagonist Sarah Stone. It is a non-stop action thriller in the same vein as 24.


About Iain Rob Wright

Iain Rob Wright is one of the UK’s most successful horror and suspense writers, with novels including the critically acclaimed, THE FINAL WINTER; the disturbing bestseller, ASBO; and the wicked screamfest, THE HOUSEMATES.

His work is currently being adapted for graphic novels, audio books, and foreign audiences. He is an active member of the Horror Writer Association and a massive animal lover.

Check out Iain’s official website for updates at: http://www.iainrobwright.com or add him on Facebook where he would love to meet you.


My Thoughts

Wright attributes his inspiration for Soft Target to 24, and even goes so far as to quote Jack Bauer’s infamous “Damn it!” prior to the book’s opening. It’s a decidedly fun nod and sets the mood, but let me get this particular bias out of the way right up front: I am an unabashed 24 fan. It’s one of my all-time favorite action series, and I was ecstatic to see the Jack Bauer Power Hour make a return to the recently concluded UK-based miniseries, 24: Live Another Day. As it just so happens, Wright’s Soft Target is also set in the UK, his homeland, and, inadvertently or not, further reinforces that parallel to 24. To me, Live Another Day was a fine return to form and a bit like a collection of Greatest Hits spread over its half-season run. All of this is to say that when a thriller writer makes the bold claim that their work is in the vein of 24, it’s a large promise to live up to.

Soft Target introduces us to Sarah Stone, a physically disfigured and emotionally scarred combat veteran who has lost everything. In 2008, she was abducted by Afghan terrorists, led by Al Al-Hariri, after an IED detonated and killed the soldiers under her command. After suicide bombers start detonating themselves across London, and evidence surfaces linking these terrorists to Al-Hariri’s organization, the Major Crimes Unit (Wright’s run-down, underfunded and understaffed equivalent to 24‘s CTU) calls on Stone for help.

While Soft Target draws on the rapid-fire pacing of its inspirational source, Wright, unfortunately,  also brings in some of 24‘s more notable weaknesses, which is evident in the book’s opening. As is typical in these types of thrillers, the narrative is based on the outsider who is called in to assist and who knows far more than the somewhat-bumbling superiors she is assigned to, but whom seem to hardly ever listen, in order to generate more conflict and ratchet up the tension. For instance, after receiving a video attributing the terror attacks to an Afghan terrorist, Sarah Stone instantly knows the video is fake and rifles off certain key aspects to support her theory, primarily the misplaced henna tattoo of the videoed spokesman. It takes some convincing, but eventually MCU is forced to acquiesce to Stone’s knowledge and let her run the show. In between, there’s snarky inter-personal conflicts galore, many of which are instigated by Stone, who is intent on maintaining her outsider lone-wolf status by making bad jokes and generally treating those around her with brusqueness and a cold shoulder attitude.

I was a bit put off by Stone’s self-ascribed bitchiness initially, but Wright was able to layer her personality and unravel the past horrors of her capture in Afghanistan expertly, and, eventually, win me over to her side. There are several flashbacks to Stone’s time in the military, which shed so much light on her current scarred psyche that by book’s end it has actually become quite difficult to not sympathize with her, and she transforms into a figure to root for. The way Wright shades in her history is much appreciated, and those 2008 flashbacks were oftentimes the greatest strength of the book and carried the most emotional resonance.

The Afghanistan interstitials and the mad-bomber threat of the premise alone were enough to keep me turning pages, and by book’s end I was fully invested and completely won over. The action is pretty solid, oftentimes exciting, and I was drawn in by the mystery of why seemingly normal UK citizens were suddenly turning into terrorists (although, this particular issue was not fully resolved with satisfaction or with enough clarity to approach closure, but that may be a subject for the next book). While I still have a bit of those initial misgivings, and there were several scenes that fell a bit flat for me, I can examine them with hindsight and see a tad more clearly what Wright was attempting and where both he and his characters were in terms of head-space.

Soft Target may not reach the glories of 24 in its heyday, but it’s ultimately worth a read. It’s a fun, fast-paced thriller, which is ultimately more important than how well it stacks up as a 24 clone. And while I was a bit put-off by Sarah Stone during the opening moments, her past was sufficiently detailed while her present-day experiences helped to shape and inform her, and help her grow to the point that I’ll be looking forward to seeing where Wright takes her next. I think she could develop into an interesting, multi-layered heroine and the series as a whole has much potential. Soft Target is a good start to a new adventure series, and I’m hopeful it’ll have an explosive future.

At the time of this writing, Soft Target is available for free on Amazon for a limited time, which makes giving this book a try that much easier.

Spoilers for 24: Live Another Day in the comments below. Consider this your warning!

Test Driving BitLit

Yesterday, I came across this article from TechCrunch, which talks about a new mobile app called BitLit and their recent partnership with HarperCollins for an eBook bundling pilot. The impetus is simple – you have a print book, but what if you also want a digital copy of the same book that you already own for easy access while on the go?

I’ve been in the process of slowly going digital with my media consumption, and (confession time!) I have not read a physical hard-copy of a book since becoming an Kindle addict in December. All of my reads have been digital, and my electronic TBR stacking is piling up quickly.

Unfortunately, I also have a ton of physical books in TBR stacks atop the bookshelves and lined up on tables in the basement. I enjoy reading on my lunch breaks at work, but sometimes lugging around a physical book can be a bit too cumbersome, particularly if it’s a monolithic epic like the kind Stephen King has a tendency to produce, or one of the A Song of Ice and Fire books from George R.R. Martin. It’s much, much easier to carry around a Kindle and have a massive, weightless library at my disposal.

Redemption across the format divide has been tricky and, more often than not, lackluster. I was heartened when Amazon launched its Matchbook program, but can’t help but think that has gone by the wayside. Although I have purchased numerous physical books through Amazon, I’m hard pressed to find many of them listed in the Matchbook catalog. I also have plenty of books not purchased on Amazon that would thus be ineligible for the Matchbook program, and having only the option of repurchasing the same title as an eBook.

I’ve been dissatisfied with the Matchbook program, but I’m not if that’s the result of a lack of internal support for the program within Amazon, or a certain reluctance on behalf of the publishers at large. All I know is, all of the titles I’d be keen to obtaining a digital copy of are unavailable, and I’m not willing to shell out an extra $5 – $15 to double-dip and repurchase, particularly for those unread titles that, at this point, I’d be far more likely to read sooner on my digital tablet than in dead tree format.

Recently, Marvel and DC Comics have been giving hard-copy buyers free access to digital copies of the same title. Buy a monthly comic or a collected trade hardcover and get a redemption code for use on their website. It’s simple, easy, convenient, and gives readers full access to their title in whichever format is preferable to them at any given time. Say you want to read AvX but don’t want to lug around a ton of monthlies or bulky over-sized hardcovers and companion volumes – cool, no problem. Just plug-in a code and hit the road with your tablet and read at your leisure through an app. I’m a huge fan of that.

Which is why I instantly fell in love with the BitLit app when I found out about it yesterday. This Vancouver start-up is a great idea, and may help ease some traditional publisher’s recalcitrance when it comes to the digital domain by offering an alternative to Amazon and affording readers more options in how and when they can access purchased materials.

There’s a number of smaller publishing houses signed up with BitLit, most notably (in my opinion) Angry Robot (listed under their parent corporation of Osprey Publishing Ltd). The HarperCollins pilot program is a big first step, but the titles are incredibly limited. At the time of this writing, Halfway to the Grave is the only eligible HarperCollins title, but five more titles are expected to land soon.

If successful, I’m hopeful it will pave the way to more big-name publishers signing on and offering cheaper alternatives than repurchasing a particular title as a full-priced eBook. I’m even more hopeful that some will follow in the footsteps of Angry Robot by offering their electronic titles to owners of the physical copy for free.

The process of obtaining the electronic copies are ridiculously easy (you can see how it works at their site), and since Angry Robot was currently the only publisher whose titles I own that were eligible, I was able to give the app a bit of a test drive.

Once you register the app and log-in, you just hold the book at arm’s length from your camera-equipped mobile device – BitLit is available in both Apple and Google app stores – and line it up between the guide bars, and take a picture.

photo-4The app then verifies the image and matches it against their catalog. This can take a little while, and the better lighting available to you when imaging, the better. I ran into a number of failed attempts when trying to convert Ramez Naam’s Nexus, due to the cover’s color palette and being in my dark, dingy unfinished basement. Oddly, I had no trouble with the darker color palettes from Wendig’s The Blue Blazes and Mockingbird, or Chris F. Holm’s Dead Harvest.

I should note here that because BitLit is still a small company, each scan is supervised, and when they recognized I was having lots of trouble with Nexus, they reached out to me immediately with advice and I trotted the book upstairs to our well-lit kitchen table and the problem was solved instantly.

I also want to note that I was pretty darn impressed with their unobtrusive vetting process. I really respect and appreciate that they’re looking out for their partners and authors, and helping to make sure the app isn’t being used by some delinquent scanners in a bookstore, or preventing the book from being returned by doing a little minor defacing and claim of ownership to the copyright page.

Once the image is verified, you’re asked to write your name in all-caps on the copyright page and snap off a scan of that, too. Again, the image recognition kicks in and registers the physical book to your name, and dispatches the electronic copy to your e-mail address.

I suspect that the deliverable files will vary in formats used depending by the publisher, and that readers will receive either a PDF or universal ePub edition (or both, according to an image on BitLit’s website). Within seconds of completing the scan, I had the electronic copies in DRM-free ePub format and did a quick Calibre conversion to create mobi files to send to my Kindle. The digital files looked perfect, and the conversion did not cause any funky formatting issues, so I’m quite content with the experience!

BitLit makes for a welcome change in the ever-evolving landscape of publishing, and could prove to be the kind of innovation readers will need and want in the digital world.

Unfortunately, the app is still in its early days and content is pretty lacking at the moment. I searched for a handful of titles, both on my app after downloading, and on their website prior to, but couldn’t find much in the way of titles stocked in my own personal catalog. Hachette has not signed up with them, so you’ll not find digital copies of James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse series ready for claiming (which I really, really, really want!), and you won’t find any big names like Lee Child, Michael Connelly, Marcia Clark, or James Patterson. No George R.R. Martin titles, nor Tom Clancy, nor John Grisham, either. While the Angry Robot titles were enough to hook and draw me, they’re not enough to keep me around long-term until more publishers sign on the dotted line.

That said, I am genuinely interested in how BitLit performs long-term and to see if they can clear the hurdles that Amazon Matchbook has, thus far, seemed incapable of. I’m hoping their catalog of titles and publishers expands considerably in the near-term.

The app makes for a welcome challenger to Amazon’s Matchbook, particularly in the realm of open accessibility for non-Amazon users or books purchased elsewhere. And the app’s mobility and use of pre-existing, built-in technology gives it a significant leg-up. Once BitLit has grown a bit more and both readers and publishing houses become aware of its significance, I suspect quite a few weekends will be lost to scanning.

BitLit.versus.MatchBook-2

Image source: BitLit – “Infographic: eBook Bundling Face Off”

Review: Blightborn, by Chuck Wendig

cover50117-mediumAbout Blightborn

Cael McAvoy is on the run. He’s heading toward the Empyrean to rescue his sister, Merelda, and to find Gwennie before she’s lost to Cael forever. With his pals, Lane and Rigo, Cael journeys across the Heartland to catch a ride into the sky. But with Boyland and others after them, Cael and his friends won’t make it through unchanged.

Gwennie’s living the life of a Lottery winner, but it’s not what she expected. Separated from her family, Gwennie makes a bold move—one that catches the attention of the Empyrean and changes the course of an Empyrean man’s life.

The crew from Boxelder aren’t the only folks willing to sacrifice everything to see the Empyrean fall. The question is: Can the others be trusted?

They’d all better hurry. Because the Empyrean has plans that could ensure that the Heartland never fights back again.

Chuck Wendig’s riveting sequel to Under the Empyrean Sky plunges readers into an unsettling world of inequality and destruction, and fleshes out a cast of ragtag characters all fighting for survival and, ultimately, change.


About the Author

Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. He’s the author of BLACKBIRDS, DOUBLE DEAD and DINOCALYPSE NOW, and is co-writer of the short film PANDEMIC, the feature film HiM, and the Emmy-nominated digital narrative COLLAPSUS. He lives in Pennsylvania with wife, taco terrier, and tiny human.

Website: http://terribleminds.com/


My Thoughts

[This review is based on an advanced copy received by the publisher through NetGalley.]

Blightborn, the latest release from the ever-prolific Chuck Wendig, and second in his cornpunk The Heartland Trilogy, follows swiftly on the heels of Under The Empyrean Sky‘s conclusion.

With the world building out of the way, and many of the main cast’s rivalries set up in Empyrean, Blightborn allows Wendig to go hog-wild and blow stuff up, upend expectations, and expand on the premise of The Heartland series in fine fashion.

When last we saw the intrepid crew of the sky ship Betty

- spoilers for Under The Empyrean Sky

Cael had learned that his father was illegally growing fresh produce and had killed the mayor. His girlfriend, Gwennie, was a lottery winner and elevated, along with her family, to live aboard one of the Empyrean’s floating cities and escape the hardscrabble life of the dirt-farming Heartlanders. Needless to say, Cael wasn’t going to let that happen without a fight, and he and his teenage crew of Blue Sky Scavengers set out to cross the desolation of the Heartland and, somehow, win her back. Unfortunately, that ticked the hell out of his Obligated bride-to-be, and the dead mayor’s son, and rival to Cael for Gwennie’s affections, had an awful large score to settle.

Returning to these characters in Blightborn, Wendig delivers fully on the conflicts established at the close of book one, and creates even larger obstacles for his cast to contend with, while driving new wedges between them. As expected, the Empyrean’s lottery is a double-edged sword: the promise of elevation too good to be true, and it comes wrapped in the caul of class-warfare. As Gwennie quickly learns, life in the Empyrean sky is hardly a joy, and even less so for a pure-bred Heartlander like she and her family, who are separated, exiled, and forced into labor.

Beneath the floating flotilla, Cael and his friends are trying to make it to a loading depot, with grand designs of boarding a sky ship (after losing Betty in the previous book) and making their way upward. Along the way, they are beset by raiders, Boyland’s crew, a murderous hobo who wants to catch the wanted trio (they’re considered terrorists by the Empyrean overlords and have a hefty bounty hanging over their heads), and the blight, a ravenous disease that stems from the genetically modified corn fields that cover the Heartland. All of this ties neatly into a bit family history that Cael is unaware of and provides some terrific background to his now-absent parents, which helps to fuel and shape his own quest and place in the Heartland.

Wendig is an author who has been on absolute fire of late. His Miriam Black books are among some of the finest paranormal thrillers I’ve had the pleasure to read, and Mookie Pearl from The Blue Blazes (watch out for subtle nod toward that book early on in Blightborn!) was a fun new character whose return I’m greatly looking forward to later this year in The Hellsblood Bride. The Heartland series is a wonderful departure from either of those previous series, and, in some ways, proves to be a bit darker and deeper. While Miriam’s visions of death and ordeals with serial killers isn’t exactly light-weight stuff, there’s a buoyant flippancy to that series, thanks in large part to her natural sarcasm that lends for a natural sort of humor. There are far less funny shenanigans, wry observations, or witty back-and-forths in this cornpunk entry, but that’s life in the Heartland.

Wendig is focused more on exploring the struggles of a violent class warfare and food politics. That’s not too say the read is dry and dreary – far, far, far from it. Rather, it simply strikes me as, tonally, a more serious work, and that tone grows naturally from the characters and the world they inhabit, as well as the threats they face. It’s dark story of survival and impossible odds.

One thing I appreciated was the increased focus on the female cast members, particularly Gwennie and Cael’s sister, Merelda. The two find themselves on opposite ends of the social spectrum, with the latter having become the mistress of the flotilla’s chief security officer and hiding her true Heartlander roots. Their roles are necessarily expanded after having gotten a bit of a short-shrift in the previous book, but they shine nicely in Blightborn, and it was great to see Gwennie so prominently in on the action (especially since she’s the one who taught Cael how to throw a punch!). I won’t spoil her role in the book, but she does carry a lot of the thematic weight mentioned earlier in regards to the class struggle, and it’s juicy stuff.

Blightborn is a heftier, more serious work than its predecessor, and Wendig is clearly crafting an epic trilogy of terrific scope with this series. It’s also quite a bit darker, which is pretty common in middle entries – the stakes are higher and the threats more formidable. The Initiative, which is teased a bit before finally being revealed in the book’s third act, is a horrifying manipulation that perfectly illustrates the evil and grandiose ego of the Empyrean rulers, and their sense of entitlement. Wendig has also planted a good number of compelling seeds that will bear beautiful fruit come book three. I’d expect the conclusion of this story to release next year, but damn if that’s not going to be a long, brutal wait. Alas, that’s life in the heartland.

Buy This Book

Review: The Last Town, by Blake Crouch

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About The Last Town

Welcome to Wayward Pines, the last town.

Secret Service agent Ethan Burke arrived in Wayward Pines, Idaho, three weeks ago. In this town, people are told who to marry, where to live, where to work. Their children are taught that David Pilcher, the town’s creator, is god. No one is allowed to leave; even asking questions can get you killed.

But Ethan has discovered the astonishing secret of what lies beyond the electrified fence that surrounds Wayward Pines and protects it from the terrifying world beyond. It is a secret that has the entire population completely under the control of a madman and his army of followers, a secret that is about to come storming through the fence to wipe out this last, fragile remnant of humanity.

Blake Crouch’s electrifying conclusion to the Wayward Pines Series—now a Major Television Event Series debuting Winter 2015 on FOX—will have you glued to the page right down to the very last word.


About the Author

Blake Crouch is the author of over a dozen bestselling suspense, mystery, and horror novels. His short fiction has appeared in numerous short story anthologies, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Cemetery Dance, and many other publications. Much of his work, including the Wayward Pines Series, has been optioned for TV and film. Blake lives in Colorado. To learn more, follow him on Twitter or Facebook, or visit his website, http://www.blakecrouch.com.


My Thoughts

The Last Town is the third, and presumably last, in Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines series. While Crouch attempts to make this work accessible to new readers, I’d advise that anyone new to this series start from the beginning and read Pines and Wayward first. And since The Last Town picks up within moments of its predecessors finale, it’s hard to get into the nitty-gritty without talking about some spoilers for the previous books.

Consider this your warning.

Those familiar with the series will recall that Secret Service agent Ethan Burke woke up in the small community of Wayward Pines after getting into a car accident. He was sent to the town to search for a pair of missing agents, but it doesn’t take too long for things to go south and for his entire world to get turned upside down. At the close of the second novel, Wayward, Burke clued in the other residents about the truth behind their idyllic community, and in a fit of rage and hubris, the town-founder/cult-leader, David Pilcher, opened the doors sealing Wayward Pines off from the rest of the big, bad world.

With the threat of the monstrous aberrations unleashed upon the town the stakes have never been higher. Series regulars will know that Wayward Pines represents the last human outpost, home to scarcely more than 400 souls, and the danger posed by the beastly abbies represent an extinction-level threat.

Almost from the first page of The Last Town, Crouch has built an unrelenting horror story that strikes a different chord than either of the previous volumes. In the end, I think that’s one of the strongest aspects of his series and why I appreciate Wayward Pines so much. With each volume, Crouch does something different genre-wise.

Pines was a paranoia-driven conspiracy thriller, in the vein of television series like The Prisoner and Nowhere Man. Wayward was more of a murder mystery, but framed within the elements of the conspiracy that unraveled during the climax of Pines. The Last Town, meanwhile, is heavily geared toward a fast-paced creature feature, and Crouch revels in the horror of the narrative as the abbies roam through town, disemboweling people in the streets and invading homes to tear apart the town’s citizens.

If mysteries were at the center of the previous narratives, then here the focus is squarely on action and keeping the pages turning. Short chapters keep the pace quick and the tension high, and the unrelenting nature of the opposition Burke faces, in both human and animal form, make for a blistering read.

The Last Town is a hard book to put down, and because the predicament the characters suffer their way through is so severe and urgent, readers will be demanding to know what comes next. Crouch has crafted a book that is truly ‘unputdownable’ and it serves as a fitting, satisfying conclusion to the Wayward Pines series.

Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy through NetGalley to review.

Buy at Amazon

Review: The Heretic by Lucas Bale

Heretic Ebook

 About The Heretic

EARTH IS GONE.

Centuries have passed since the First Cataclysm ended life on the blue planet. Humanity’s survivors are now dispersed among distant colonies, thousands of light years from the barren, frozen rock that was once their home.

A new Republic has formed – one in which freedom no longer exists. In return for the protection of the Consulate Magistratus, citizens must concede their rights. The Magistratus controls interstellar travel, access to technology – even procreation. Organised religion is forbidden. All crime is punished by banishment or a lifetime of penal servitude on the Kolyma prison fleet.

And humanity’s true history survives only in whispers of a secret archive.

Yet there are those who preach a new religion and who want to be free.

A REVOLUTION IS COMING…

The Heretic is the first book in the Beyond the Wall series, an epic story about the future of humanity and the discovery of the truth of its past.

Buy it on Amazon:    US  | UK

Buy it on Kobo

Buy it on iBookstore

Buy it on Nook (Barnes and Noble)

Add it on Goodreads


About the Author

Lucas Bale writes the sort of intense, thrilling science-fiction and suspense stories which make you miss your train stop. The sort of stories which dig into what makes us human and scrape at the darkness which hides inside every one of us. When he looks up at the stars, he sees the infinite and myriad worlds which are waiting for us, and which need to be explored. He wasn’t always a writer, but who can say that? He was a barrister for fifteen years before he discovered crime doesn’t pay and turned to something which actually pays even less. No one ever said he was smart, but at least he’s happy.

His debut novel, THE HERETIC, is the gateway to the BEYOND THE WALL series, an epic story about the future of humanity and the discovery of the truth of its past and is out from July 7th.

Author website: www.lucasbale.com

Twitter: @balespen

Lucas Bale on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/lucasbale


My Thoughts

Although The Heretic is a far-flung future dytopia, it carries with it the strong, heady flavor of the American Old West. As a fan of Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, I’m certainly not complaining, and Lucas Bale nicely balances the genre mash-up in his sci-fi debut.

With the Magistratus in control of this interstellar Republic, and in charge of space travel, technology, and reproductive rights, the greatest heresy is the wish for freedom. The first in his ambitious Beyond The Wall series finds a frontier town on the frozen planet of Herse quarantined and much of its population murdered by Peacemakers following the arrival of a heretical preacher. Tainted by his teachings and the preacher’s call of freedom, the town’s few survivors are cast into the freezing wilderness and hunted by gunmen. On the port-side of this world is an armed trader, Shepherd, making an illegal delivery of medicine and who soon winds up ensnared in the conflict after crossing paths with another survivor seeking aid.

Shepherd is a smuggler, equal parts Han Solo and Hang ‘Em High’s Jed Cooper or Pale Rider, and the sort of archetype that will be immediately recognizable to many genre fans. Although there’s a few central characters, Shepherd is the main filter of information concerning life outside the Core of the Republic, and it’s primarily through him that we learn about the politics and world building, along with a few conversations between the preacher and one of the children in his flock. The world building is one of Bale’s strengths, and it’s quite clear he put a lot of thought and effort into crafting his future realms, and that his series has a lot of intriguing possibilities for expansion. The struggles and fears of Herse’s townsfolk, as well as the technological apparatuses the plot requires, come across quite realistically.

I’m very interested in seeing how this series expands in subsequent volumes. Clearly, Bale’s series has a long-term, epic focus, and in some ways, perhaps obliquely, manages to capture a hint of sprawling fantasy in its thousand-plus years of hidden future-history. With the overarching series title, Beyond The Wall, and references of the punishments awaiting those cast beyond that point, along with the iron fist of the elite ruling class, I’m immediately drawn to the parallels of George R.R. Martin’s work and can’t help but think of Jon Snow and the men of the Nightwatch whenever references to The Wall are made. While there might not be much room for comparison between a sword-and-sorcery marathon to a westernized space opera, I still found The Heretic to be of a similar taste, overall, and I can’t help but draw a few similarities in terms of craft-work, world building, and the enormous scope that is on display. In fact, it’s the easy familiarity to several other genre favorites and references ranging from Martin to Farscape and Star Wars, and the banditry/do-good-(but maybe only secondarily) vibe of Firefly, that makes The Heretic an enjoyable and compelling read.

The opening volume of a clearly expansive series, such as this, tend to be a bit tricky to encapsulate.Not all of the author’s cards are on the table yet, and The Heretic is so clearly a series-focused endeavor that it feels less like a complete read and more of a minor segment, a small opening salvo, if you will, in a grander tale. It works as a skillful bit of bricklaying and a teaser to a grander story that’s yet to unfold. I don’t mean for this to be a knock on the work, or blatantly negative as I did quite enjoy the story, but the book ends just as things get really f**king interesting, which immediately made me want more. It’s not really until the last half of the book that things kick into high-gear, the characters have all been maneuvered into place, and the action starts to kick mondo ass. And the last chapter is filled with such vital information and back-story, and a much-needed glimpse into the preacher’s past, that the abrupt cliff-hanger ending made me wish I could launch straight into book two (or, at the very least, demand spoilers from Bale!).

The fact that I wanted more should definitely be construed as a good thing though! I just need to quell my impatience a bit and hope that my next fix comes along soon. The Heretic is not a work that can stand on its own indefinitely, and cannot be cleanly detached from what must follow because it is so very clearly serialized. Thankfully, the author succeeds in creating a strong enough work to draw readers in for the next installment. What he’s done was done very well, indeed. Ultimately, Bale’s debut is a terrific distillation of many prior SFF works that I’ve enjoyed, if not flat-out loved entirely, and both his story and writing skills are strong enough to have hooked me along for future works in this series. I genuinely cannot wait to see where this story goes next and will be looking forward to Defiance, the next book, with eager anticipation.

REVIEW: Zero

Zero, the debut novel from J.S. Collyer, is due out in August 2014 from Dagda Publishing.

Zero, the debut novel from J.S. Collyer, releases August 16, 2014 from Dagda Publishing.

About Zero

Kaleb Hugo is every­thing an offi­cer of the Ser­vice should be: loyal, expertly trained, unques­tion­ing. He has done every­thing ever ordered of him and has done so with a pride that comes from know­ing you are fight­ing for the good of humankind… until the day that he made a deci­sion, as he has had to many times before, in order to ensure the best out­come for the Ser­vice, even though it was in direct vio­la­tion of regulations.

A bat­tle was won, but Hugo was con­demned and dis­hon­ourably dis­charged by Ser­vice com­man­ders for going against orders and risk­ing him­self and his unit to save an inhab­ited satel­lite that had been deter­mined as an accept­able loss.

Offi­cially, anyway.

Unof­fi­cially, Hugo was re-​​assigned to cap­tain the crew of the Zero, an eight-​​man craft that is clas­si­fied in all Ser­vice records as, at best, a pri­va­teer ship and at worse a smug­gling and bor­der­line crim­i­nal enter­prise ves­sel. What very few peo­ple in the Ser­vice know is that the Zero, and its crew, are con­tracted by the Ser­vice. Their role is to inves­ti­gate and infil­trate the less savoury and unac­knowl­edged lev­els of human soci­ety. They sell on, buy in, bar­gain, threaten and report back on every­thing the polit­i­cal lev­els the Ser­vice don’t offi­cially want to know.

The Zero’s rag-​​tag crew look to their com­man­der, Ezekiel Webb, as their leader and mid­dle­man between the reg­i­mented expec­ta­tions of the Ser­vice and the harsh and unpre­dictable demands of the under­world of colo­nial space. He knows he is not cap­tain mate­r­ial but has not man­aged to serve well under any that have been placed over him. Both Cap­tain and Com­man­der clash, but they will have to adapt and find a com­pro­mise if the Zero is to carry out her mis­sions suc­cess­fully and for the har­mony of the crew.

As the Zero is assigned mis­sions by Colonel Lus­combe, her crew is pulled deeper into an orbit-​​wide game of pol­i­tics, deceit and cor­rup­tion which will threaten to tear them apart and throw Human­ity back into a cycle of war and destruc­tion. To stop this and pre­serve the frag­ile peace, Hugo, Webb and the crew will have to over­come per­sonal tragedy, insur­mount­able odds and every cruel depraved twist of fate that the Orbit can throw at them.

As events esca­late out of con­trol, Hugo will have to go against every­thing he has ever believed in to save his crew and bil­lions of inno­cent peo­ple. The out­come is always uncer­tain, but for the crew of the Zero, it was always this way. What will tran­spire will decide not just their fate, but the des­tiny of the entire Human Race.


About the Author

J. S. Collyer is a science fiction writer from Lancaster, England. Her first novel, ‘Zero’is due for release by Dagda Pubishing August 2014.

She shares fiction and musings on writing on her WordPress http://jcollyer.wordpress.com

‘Like’ her on Facebook: facebook.com/jscollyer

Follow her on Twitter: @JexShinigami


My Thoughts

After disobeying multiple commands to retreat, in the opening pages of JS Collyer’s sci-fi debut, Commander Kaleb Hugo finds himself publicly disgraced but secretly promoted to captain the Zero. A cobbled-together ship, the Zero is the covert pride of the Service, its motley crew a band of rogue pirates.

I’ll be honest – I’m not terribly well-read in the arena of military science fiction, despite it being a genre I enjoy quite a lot, especially on film. Like so many others, I was a huge fan of Firefly, and the overarching war story that unfolded in Deep Space Nine made that series my favorite in the Star Trek franchise. And who doesn’t love the intergalactic dog-fights of Star Wars? Upon starting my read-through of Zero, I was immediately struck by its welcome familiarity of equal parts Timothy Zahn by way of Federation-like intrigue, and Fireflyesque space scavenging crew.

While there’s a few familiar tropes at work here – a dyed-in-the-wool Serviceman and patriotic True Believer forced to work with a band of misfits and resolve their differences whilst engaged in harrowing adventure – Collyer’s knack for making it ring both authentic and interesting overcome any risky clichés by virtue of sheer enjoyability. In fact, the author is able to take this well-trod premise and make it feel fresh, focusing on the emotional underpinnings of interpersonal conflicts between Hugo and his new crew, all the while proving she’s a bit like the scrappy underdogs she writes about. It helps that there’s a huge mid-book game changer, which I will not spoil, that packs a wallop and upends the interpersonal conflicts and raises the stakes considerably.  There’s a lot more going on under the surface of Zero than initially appears, and it is very dangerous to underestimate Collyer’s remarkable skills and gift of storytelling.

In fact, the relationship between Hugo and Webb, his immediate subordinate and Zero’s Commander, is one of the book’s highlights, and there’s a lot of joy in watching the two overcome their initial distrust and rivalry. And while Hugo is the lead, I think Webb often overshadows him through virtue of his strong, scrappy presence.

The story itself revolves around these off-the-books Serviceman who crew the Zero under the cover of piracy. Under Hugo’s captaincy, and whose orders come directly from a high-level Service colonel, the crew engages in some terrific bits of espionage and assassinations. As Hugo begins to recognize certain patterns and hidden threads linking their missions, he begins to uncover a rebellion that threatens to tear apart the stability and fragile peace of Earth and its near-orbit colonies.

Plot-wise, the books real strength comes from its fascinating and layered portrayal of a future Earth and its colonial space subjects. I really liked the almost small-stage setting, with Collyer’s focus being limited to, as the title suggests, Earth’s immediate orbit. There’s no warp drive or FTL jumps, no galaxy-wide escapades, no aliens, and no technical jargon. Instead, the author concentrates entirely on her strong crew of misfits and high-stakes political intrigue, drafting a strong, compelling work of near-future science fiction.

Offhand, I can’t find a single misstep in her execution of the story. There’s a great sense of world-building within Zero, ranging from a brief mention of the Whole World War, and an earlier lunar revolution that helps shape the events of her present story. It’s terrific stuff, and there’s a whole gamut of possibilities and story-telling potential tucked away in these little nuggets of info. The plot is well-crafted, the characterizations are nicely handled, and the action is exciting.

Collyer’s work has a very strong cinematic presence about it, and I feel like there were a lot of wonderful influences she was inspired by. She handles scenes of tenderness and trauma with a subtle grace. Webb, for instance, has some serious traumas in his past, and he’s fleshed out with a much-appreciated delicateness. One scene that has really stuck with me involves a brief, almost-romantic interlude, between him and Rami, the ship’s science officer. Collyer gives us a great demonstration of “show, don’t tell” here, allowing readers to catch hold of some of the weight and shared history between these two, without getting bogged down in details or a recitation of their pasts. The attention given to her characters and their developing relationships and interplay allows for one hell of a brutal sucker-punch when trauma strikes, and the weight of loss and sacrifice is palpable.

J.S. Collyer is a fresh and welcome voice to the sci-fi genre, and her debut sets the stage for a terrific new series that I will definitely be paying lots of attention to. She’s one to watch out for, and Zero is highly recommended.

Review: OTHELLA

Othella

About OTHELLA

Welcome to Arcadian Heights,
where the world’s brightest minds go in…and don’t come out.
___

Georgette

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Georgette McClain can’t resist a juicy tip. So when a rumored crazy ex-CEO gifts her evidence of a vast conspiracy involving the world’s premier scientific community, Arcadian Heights, she sets her sights on the story of a lifetime. And all she has to do to grab it by the reins is sneak into the most secure facility in the world—and expose it for the slaughter house it is.

Marco

Tech company CEO Marco Salt has it all. Fame. Fortune. Family. But not long after Marco’s beloved genius daughter is invited to join Arcadian Heights, a rogue agent reveals to him the horrifying truth about the revered scientific community. Forced to flee for his life, Marco finds himself on the run with a deadly secret in his grasp and a single goal in mind: destroy Arcadian Heights.

Quentin

Quentin Belmont has been the Arcadian Heights spokesman for the better part of two decades, and his singular motivation is to keep the community safe at all costs. So when an internal incursion leaks vital information to an outside party, Quentin preps a “cleanup” without a second thought. But what at first appears to be a simple task turns out to be anything but, and Quentin comes face to face with the unthinkable—a threat that could annihilate the community.


About Therin Knite

Therin Knite: n. speculative fiction writer, college student, and master of snark.

Or at least that’s what I’d like to believe.

If you’re reading this, then I’m assuming you’re wondering who the hell Therin Knite is, and the answer is nobody. Yet. I like to think I’m an up-and-coming author or sorts, but you know how those things tend to work out. In case you’re still interested, however, let’s put me through my paces.

I’m a Senior in college, majoring in Finance and English (which makes me about 22). I write every length of literary work known to man, from flash fiction to epic-length novels, but my genres are a bit more limited. My short stories and flash pieces tend to be any genre I’m in the mood for that day, while anything longer is pretty much limited to some variant of sci-fi or fantasy. Mostly sci-fi, though.


My Thoughts

The end of the world is drawing near. Set toward the end of the twenty-first century, climate change is wreaking havoc, riots are common place, and nations are collapsing. Behind the walls of Arcadia Heights, scientists are working to save what’s left of mankind and prepare the next society for their place in the world.

Or are they?

Funny thing about those scientists, as Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Georgette McClain discovers, is that they have a nasty habit of dying. And she’s damned determined to figure out why.

Although I haven’t found time to dig into Echoes, I have been following Therin Knite’s blog for a while now and was looking forward to reading Othella. We’ll be providing a little bit more information on her latest release soon, as this site will be playing host to one of her blog tour stops July 7, so be sure to check back for more goodies! As a tour host, though, Therin was gracious enough to provide me with an advanced reader’s copy of Othella, and I happily devoured it.

The plot unfolds across three different first-person accounts, time-hopping among them from five years back and progressing toward the story’s present, in the year 2085. The pacing is spot-on, and I found myself wrapped up in the story from page one, constantly yearning to get back to the story during those too-long periods I was forced to set the book down (thanks a lot day job….). More importantly, I was genuinely curious as to how the disparate threads would merge and just could not wait to dive back into the story. The material is fast-paced and action-packed, but the story develops with a deliberate thoughtfulness, and it’s apparent that the author devoted a lot of attention toward carefully planning the execution of her story.  There’s a lot happening between the covers, but Othella never feels bloated or overly stuffed. Stories with shifting viewpoints and time jumps, particularly in less experienced hands, risk becoming muddled or confusing. Thankfully, Knite has a deft touch and everything is evenly measured and developed with precision.

Therin does a beautiful job of shading in the world building and character development with her strong narrative chops, nicely constructing a bleak, dystopic future scenario in which mankind’s days are numbered. Each of her leads have their own unique set of strengths, weaknesses, and emotionally festering open wounds, but Georgette was by far my favorite. I kept waiting for the story to turn back to this vain, bratty, sharp-tongued gonzo journalist, curious to see how those past events and conflicts between Marco Salt and Quentin “Q” Belmont would impact or unravel her undercover infiltration of Arcadia Heights. But, even in that arena, Knite manages to stack on some very important and surprising reversals and revelations.

As the first in a new series, Othella succeeds in its primary goals of establishing a realistic, too-close-for-comfort dystopian future, and setting the stage for future installments while still being a wholly satisfying read all on its own. The story will continue in Apollo, and regardless of when that book releases, it will be much too long of a wait. I want it now!

Buy OTHELLA at Amazon

For a limited time, to celebrate her new release, Othella is only $0.99.

It’s a no-brainer purchase. Do it!

Review: SEVERED

severed

About SEVERED

When an unknown virus is unleashed on London, it turns everyone in its path into violent, zombie-like killing machines, leaving their souls separated and floating away to form a giant halo above the capital. Flesh and spirit, dead and alive, they are both. They are severed.

As a beleaguered government brings in scientists to work on an antidote, the problems become even more complex. The virus spreads. The mayhem grows. There’s no solution in sight and time is running out.

Enter Stephen Hobbs, a hard-drinking, womanizing academic with a violent past of his own. Due to his special skill set and experience, he is enlisted to figure out what the virus is and how to stop it. Despite his own demons, Hobbs may very well be humanity’s last chance to survive becoming…SEVERED.


About the Author

Gary Fry has a first-class degree and a PhD in psychology, though his first love is literature. He lives in Dracula’s Whitby, literally around the corner from where Bram Stoker was staying while thinking about that legendary character. He has been writing seriously for about 10 years, despite dabbling with prose since his teens. His first sale was rather a grand one: a short story, ‘Both And’, to Ramsey Campbell for inclusion in the international anthology Gathering the Bones.

Gary has had a number of books published, including short story collections, novellas and novels. His first collection included an introduction by Ramsey Campbell in which Gary was described as a “master”. All these books reflect Gary’s predilection for page-turning narratives, complex thematic development, and compelling characterisation.

Gary has a deep interest in psychology and philosophy; indeed, related concerns inform his fiction. He likes to think that every facet of his thought can be strung together by reading his assorted pieces, each adding to the whole — a ‘vision’, if you like, and if that doesn’t sound too pretentious. But he’s never been one to flinch away from ambition.

Website: http://www.gary-fry.com/


My Thoughts

Let me just say this straight away: covers are damn important. In fact, it was the above cover that first drew me to Severed. The imagery of London amidst some pretty severe looking phenomena hooked me instantly. Bonus points to the designer for reminding me of an awesome little sci-fi/horror cult flick from the 80s called Lifeforce, too!

[Pardon the derailment here but the film Lifeforce is based on Colin Wilson's book The Space Vampires, which I haven't read. But, the movie's climax involves some trippy special effects as the space vampires start sucking up the souls of Londoners and turns the city into a festival of chaotic derangement, and only NASA pilot, played by Steve Railsback, can stop them! Scream Factory recently released a wonderful remastered edition of the movie, so go check it out. I think once you've seen it, you'll recognize why Fry's book, of which I'm supposed to be talking about, drew my eye. OK, back to the review of the actual work I had intended writing about...]

In Severed, Christmas is drawing near when the horror strikes. People are turning savage, and a strange mist – the souls of those afflicted – is filling the sky. The minds and bodies of those infected are becoming severed, splitting them in half, “rendering one side divine and angelic, and the other mean and murderous,” as one character theorizes. The substance at the root of the pandemic is named Agent Descartes, after the French philosopher who posited the separate existence of mind and body. Requiring a more metaphysical cure to this oddity, the British government turns to Professor Stephen Hobbs, an exuberant, overbearing, larger-than-life sort who very nearly tumbles into parody while fancying himself a lecturer in the Indiana Jones vein after having worked undercover with drug cartels and human traffickers for his sociological studies and exposes on human behavior.

Thankfully, Hobbs brusqueness never manages to overbalance the horror nor risks diluting the material to the point silliness. Even better, the academic oddball actually begins to warm on the reader, particularly when thrust before government officials and finds himself warmly in his environment, albeit a bit drunkenly. For his part, Fry never settles too firmly on one single character, dispersing the narrative among a handful of Londoners and quick character sketches for the victims on either side of the viral outbreak. We only get brief glimpses into the lives on display, which prevents the work from having a lot of deeply felt characterization. The focus is more keenly centered on a quickly paced apocalypse, and Fry certainly does that quite well.

One particular problem I had with the book came early on, when separate characters all arrived at the same peculiar word choice to describe the sudden horror. It struck me as unusual, and more than a bit unlikely, that all of those who came into contact with these new-age zombies would independently choose to call them “severed.” Nobody was able to come up with another name, or think them merely “separated” or as just zombies and ghosts? A minor caveat, but a bit too coincidental and repetitious for the book’s opening chapters. My annoyance lessened dramatically as the book progressed and the phrase grew into a sort of popular, media-borne affectation, but it made for a rocky start.

However, I rather enjoyed Fry’s depiction of London in the throes of chaos, as the anarchy grew to a fiery, almost-apocalyptic frenzy. The philosophical twist to his zombie tale is wild and a much appreciated spin on what could have easily been a run-of-the-mill pathogen story. Not too many horror stories turn to French philosophers for their gory crises and this deftness added a unique bit of existential weight to the proceedings that helped lift the story to the next level.

While Fry has crafted an intellectual, philosophical work of horror, he failed to plumb the emotional depths of his characters as deeply as he could, particularly with Hobbs, who, as a child, witnessed his father’s murder at the hands of his mother’s illicit lover. As a result, Hobbs carries some terrific scars that have shaped his adult persona, but Fry never really goes deeper than the superficial, settling merely for the idea of trauma. Both Hobbs and Fry refuse to look any deeper at the damage such an event has wrought, to the detriment of the reader. And although the topic of this event is broached on more than on occasion, it’s never really explored until very near the end, leaving little room for additional development or personal growth.

Ultimately, Severed is a bit of a mixed-bag. Readers won’t find much to become emotionally attached to, although the philosophical underpinnings are rewarding enough and the pages turn quickly. One might also be struck by the metaphorical analogs Fry summons by setting his zombie tale firmly in the post-recession present with talk of a too-easy financial collapse, the severance of London’s populace, and a blood-thirsty rogue military commander. If Romero’s Dawn of the Dead was an indictment of American consumerism, then Severed may very well be Fry’s financial collapse equivalent. Despite a few bumps and a couple of sticking points, Severed is certainly an enjoyable read, albeit a slightly unsatisfying one in the end.

ELEANOR: A Review

Gurley_Eleanor

About ELEANOR

Time is a river. 

1985. The death of Eleanor’s twin sister tears her family apart. Her father blames her mother for the accident. When Eleanor’s mother looks at her, she sees only the daughter she lost. Their wounded family crumbles under the weight of their shared grief. 

1993. Eleanor is fourteen years old when it happens for the first time… when she walks through an ordinary door at school and finds herself in another world. It happens again and again, but it’s only a curiosity until that day at the cliffs. The day when Eleanor dives… and something rips her out of time itself. 

And on the other side, someone is waiting for her.

Eleanor is the novel I have been writing for thirteen years. Some things take a very long time to come together. The best things, usually.

About the Author

Jason Gurley is the author of the bestselling novel Greatfall as well as The Man Who Ended the World, the Movement trilogy and Eleanor, a novel thirteen years in the making. His short stories, including The Dark Age, The Caretaker, The Last Rail-Rider and others, appear in his collection Deep Breath Hold Tight: Stories About the End of Everything. He is work has appeared in a number of anthologies, among them David Gatewood’s From the Indie Side and Synchronic and John Joseph Adams’s Help Fund My Robot Army!!! & Other Improbable Crowdfunding Projects. Jason is a designer by trade, and has designed book covers for Amazon Publishing, Subterranean Press, Prime Books and many independent authors, among them bestsellers Hugh Howey, Matthew Mather, Russell Blake, Michael Bunker, Ernie Lindsey and others. Jason lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest.

Web: http://www.jasongurley.com

My Thoughts

Last week, Jason Gurley sent out a free advanced copy of Eleanor to his mailing list subscribers, of which I am fortunate enough to be one (you should go join it!). I’d been looking forward to reading this one for a while, so, naturally, I dug in as soon as I could on the afternoon it hit my in-box.

Maybe it’s the brief mention of Peter Benchley’s Jaws early on, or the frantic consternation of a mother single-handedly dealing with her young children, but for whatever reason, the opening chapters seemed to be channeling a very strong early Steven Spielberg vibe for me. Maybe it’s just being an 80s kid, but I could see the young Eleanor and her sister, Esmerelda, as an E.T.-era Drew Barrymore, and the horrific automobile accident that sets the story in motion was gut-twisting and horrific.

Whatever that ephemeral it is, or maybe it’s simply the sepia-toned gleam of nostalgia, unrequited love, and sentimental what-ifs that surround his characters, Gurley is able to capture it with aplomb. His writing sucked me in from the get-go, and I found his ability to form portraits of his characters and their sadness, their heartache, their recriminations, and the horrors that life inflicts upon them, to be utterly compelling. The language is clear and precise, and at times I felt a bit like Eleanor herself after learning of her new ability to pass through multiple worlds. More than once I felt as if I’d been physically transported to the rain-soaked coasts of Oregon, sharing in the sorrow of his strained creations.

Eleanor is a weighty book, heavy with emotional strife, but also a resonance of brilliant importance and one that deftly maneuvers between life’s ordinary and extraordinary moments. Most of all, the story is eminently relateable – we all wish we could undo the damage and take back the pain. In some ways, those horrors are what ultimately define us, our scars are a collection of life lived, but if we had the choice, if we had the ability to redo certain things, wouldn’t we? And depending on the nature of those wounds, wouldn’t there a be a certain moral necessity in hitting a reset button?

There’s no easy answers, but Gurley’s work certainly provokes a reaction, ranging from tear-jerking scenes to emotional triumph, and certain philosophical thoughts after the last page is read. While Eleanor’s story is wrapped up at the novel’s end, and I felt supremely satisfied by the work itself, I still wanted more and wished there were more pages to read, more worlds to jump through. This story will be staying with me for a long, long while.

Eleanor releases on June 27. I highly recommend that you pre-order at Amazon, and let Mr. Gurley know that you support his work in exchange for a lovely, complimentary, and very limited sketch book.

IRRADIATED: A Review

01_Brandis_IRRADIATED_EbookEdition

About IRRADIATED

A man thrust a baby into Jade’s hands. It trembled in her arms. The man had a message: escape from the tunnels and never return, her parents were already dead. Jade had a sister; she was irradiated.

Thirteen years later, her sister, Pearl, is coming of age. Rows of sucker-caps line her arms and hands. Her skin is coral pink. Each night, her dreams fill with visions of violence, depression, and fear.

On the surface, people have grown wild and dangerous. They scavenge, fight, and steal. Below, in the tunnels, they’re controlled by a ruthless leader and an army of beings known only as Shadows. When both groups come searching for Pearl, sensing the power her dreams may hold, only Jade can stand in the way.

About the Author

S. Elliot Brandis is the author of Irradiated, the first novel in a trilogy. He lives in Brisbane, Australia, and often sets his stories there, too. He loves hearing from readers, and can be found at many locations across the internet.
Web: http://selliotbrandis.com/
Facebook: http://facebook.com/selliotbrandis
Mailing List: http://eepurl.com/PsmMv

My Thoughts

S. Elliot Brandis is the type of writer that immediately makes me jealous of his style and strong authorial voice. He has a ridiculously strong command of prose and is utterly methodical in his deliberate word choice, using every word and turn of phrase for maximum impact. Descriptions are lively and on-point, and he’s able to crack up the evocative sense of place and nature to 11. He is, without fail, an awesome wordsmith.

IRRADIATED is the first book of an ambitious trilogy. The setting is post-apocalypse Brisbane. The city is a rotting husk, its buildings bearing grimy flood lines thanks to regular flooding. The sun itself is poison, its radiation bombarding the Earth.

As the novel opens, Pearl is thrust into her older sister’s arms as the two are forced to flee their underground home. Thirteen years later, the two live in the mountains, with their companions Simon and Josh, foraging for scraps and survival. Pearl is a pink-skinned youth, her skin puckered with sucker caps, like those of an octopus. She is irradiated, as is Josh, whose body bears deformities as well.

While on a trade run, Jade is warned that her sister is in danger. The girl has been having visions in her nightmares, and others have been dreaming about her in return. Jade races back to camp, but is too late. Pearl is missing.

Brandis has fashioned an interesting cross-blend of science fiction and spaghetti western. Although we don’t learn much about the history of the wastelands his characters inhabit (what was the nature of the apocalypse – nuclear warfare, climate change, or some other mysterious societal collapse?), it’s a minor caveat. We don’t need to know, really, and the characters and their place in this altered, unfriendly environment is enough to satisfy in situ.

His central heroine, Jade, is a strong, capable actor, as is Pearl. I don’t want to spoil much, but I will say there is a wonderfully defining moment when Pearl, being tortured by her captors, summons up a beautiful amount of courage and strength to call bullshit on the central villain’s motivations. The Queen has abducted Pearl, with designs on using her dream-visions, in an effort to rid the world of the irradiated. Pearl realizes she is a weapon more than anything else, and dismantles The Queen’s egotistical savior ramblings for the trite musings of hatred and prejudice that they truly are. It’s a brilliant scene.

Brandis is clearly in his element with the post-apocalyptic genre, and he nimbly maneuvers through the ruins of Brisbane. Like Jade, he knows this dangerous terrain well. The story itself recalls other apocalyptic greats, and shares many similar thematic resonances of works like THE STAND and SWAN SONG, as well as the recent PlayStation 3 video-game THE LAST OF US. The conflict between the tunnel-dwelling remnants of humanity, and their fear of the irradiated may remind readers of HG Well’s infamous morlocks, although Brandis gives them a run for their money with his frightening, and fascinating, Shadows. If you enjoyed any of these other similar works, IRRADIATED will fit comfortably in your reading list and is well worth the time.

The second book, DEGENERATED, is expected to release in July, with ABERRATED following in December.