The Armored Saint


If you've been following the Hotlist for a while, you have heard me complain that it often feels as though Myke Cole remains one of the genre's best-kept secrets. Not everyone is a military fantasy fan, yet his two series are as accessible as they are captivating. It's been years since I last encountered a fantasy series with so much mass appeal and there's nothing I would like more than to see these books get more widely read and enjoyed. Both the Shadow Ops and the Gemini Cell trilogies were fun, intelligent, action-packed, and entertaining reads. From early on, you could tell that Cole would become one of speculative fiction's brightest new voices. And he did. In this house at least.

Fast forward a couple of years and all six of the author's novels ended up in my SFF Top 10 of the year they were released. Alas, Ace and Headline declined to publish another series set in the same universe, so there won't be any additional Shadow Ops installments for the foreseeable future. It's a shame, as far as I'm concerned, for Cole writes military fantasy with heart and soul. With things pretty much up in the air, though Cole is currently shopping around material for potential book deals, The Sacred Throne, this new fantasy trilogy published by Tor.com, might be his only speculative fiction work coming out in the next two or three years.

Bummer, that goes without saying. But a new Myke Cole book is always something to look forward to! And yet, The Armored Saint is a totally different creature, which means that it can almost be considered another debut for the author. Indeed, Cole is switching subgenres and it's not just a question of writing a new series set in a new setting. It remains to be seen whether or not military fantasy readers will be willing to give The Armored Saint a shot. Especially since Cole's political posts on social media have already cost him a chunk of his readership. There are other aspects that might make existing fans reticent, chief among them the relatively small size of this new work and the expensive hardcover price tag attached to it. I mean, they may call it a novel, but weighing in at 208 pages makes The Armored Saint more of a big novella or novelette. Regarding the price, the hard copy will be more than twice the price of his mass market paperback releases and for about half the papgecount. In terms of value for your hard-earned dollar, that might scare some readers away. Hopefully not, but these are elements that will definitely play against the author and Tor.com.

Still, this one was billed as epic fantasy/grimdark, which means that it could win Myke Cole a lot of new fans that don't necessarily read military fantasy. Needless to say, I was really looking forward to reading The Armored Saint.

Here's the blurb:

Myke Cole, star of CBS's Hunted and author of the Shadow Ops series, debuts the Sacred Throne epic fantasy trilogy with The Armored Saint, a story of religious tyrants, arcane war-machines, and underground resistance that will enthrall epic fantasy readers of all ages.

In a world where any act of magic could open a portal to hell, the Order insures that no wizard will live to summon devils, and will kill as many innocent people as they must to prevent that greater horror. After witnessing a horrendous slaughter, the village girl Heloise opposes the Order, and risks bringing their wrath down on herself, her family, and her village.

First of all, it must be said that this is not grimdark. Not by any stretch of the imagination. Not sure where that claim came from, but it is totally false. No matter from which angle you look at it, and regardless of what can ultimately be considered grimdark or not, The Armored Saint just isn't grimdark. Nor is it truly epic fantasy, at least not this first volume. True, there are elements that, if built upon, could become so down the line. Though the size of these novels (if subsequent installments are about the same length at this book) might preclude their ever being considered epic fantasy. Not sure who applied these labels when the marketing for The Armored Saint began and it probably doesn't matter at this point. It's more dark fantasy than anything else, if you ask me. It will be interesting to see what the two sequels bring to the dance because this one is more of a brief introduction than a stand-alone work.

The worldbuilding was compelling and showed a lot of promise. Sadly, Cole played his cards way too close to his chest and didn't elaborate on most concepts and ideas that he introduced. Given the novelette-length of this work, one has to wonder why this is the case. I mean, a few more pages and more information would have elevated this tale to another level. Of course, forthcoming installments may do just that. But it makes me wonder why so little was revealed in The Armored Saint. The more absorbing the first volume, the more chances are that readers will line up for the sequels. The premise is simple enough. The backdrop for Heloise's story is a pseudo-medieval environment in which everyone is living under the yoke of an oppressive empire whose rule is enforced by a religious order bound by the Emperor's Holy Writ. Suffer no wizard to live. Such is the Order's most important rule. Simple and straightforward, or so it appears. Yet I would have liked to discover more about the Emperor, the Palantines, the Order, with its Sojourners and Pilgrims, the war in which Heloise's father and other villagers fought in, the war-machines inside the vault, etc. Unfortunately, it wasn't meant to be.

In terms of atmosphere, the overall feel made me think of Jeff Saylards' Bloodsounder's Arc and Brandon Sanderson's early works like Elantris and the Mistborn series. Regarding Sanderson, the resemblance has more to do with the fact that everything is more or less black-and-white and not with any of the storylines. This was a bit of a disappointment for me, as Myke Cole usually writes in shades of gray and there is always more than meets the eye. Another inspiration has to be the Warhammer 40,000 books and universe.

I'm surprised that very few people mentioned this, but the writing is clearly YA in style and tone. And a bona fide YA effort à la Suzanne Collins, not something an author wrote, toned down and dumbed down a bit, hoping to appeal to a younger readership. My question is: Why not mention this? Afraid of the YA stigma? I mean, this is the most lucrative market out there for speculative fiction writers, so why not try to pitch this one to the appropriate audience? It would make perfect sense. Perhaps because of the budding lesbianism found in this tale? I have no idea. In the end, this explained why The Armored Saint lacked all the shades of gray and substance that has made Myke Cole one of my favorite SFF authors writing today. Too black-and-white and straightforward, it doesn't deliver the way Cole's novels habitually do. Still, I'm persuaded that this could be a huge commercial success if they could tap into the YA market.

Heloise started off as a simple village girl who is forced to overcome great odds to become the heroine of this book. Her heart is always in the right place and she means well, but I do have a problem with her. Like most teenagers, she lets her emotions get the better of her and that puts her into problematic situations. Trouble is, Heloise's well-intentioned stupidity and headstrong stubbornness have cost the lives of two of her closest friends, and her actions have destroyed the lives of everyone she has ever known. True, she has shown valor and bravery. But that doesn't mean much if it ends up costing the life of everyone who has ever been dear to you. Especially given the fact that she's responsible for everything that took place. Loyalty, forbidden love, and friendship are themes that are explored throughout The Armored Saint, and I'm curious to see where Cole is going with this story.

There are no pacing issues. The novelette format precludes pitfalls such as massive info-dumps and the rhythm keeps the tale moving at a good clip. Unfortunately, the ending was telegraphed by the midway point of the book, which made the endgame quite predictable. This was disappointing, as Myke Cole usually keeps readers guessing till the very end.

When all is said and done, The Armored Saint was little more than a short introduction meant to establish the premise and the characters. Time will tell if the upcoming installments will elevate this trilogy to another level of originality and quality. And though I may not have enjoyed this one as much as I wanted, experience has taught me to never to bet against Myke Cole and I'm curious to read the second volume.

The final verdict: 7/10

You can read an extract from the book here.

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now get your hands on Robert R. McCammon's The Wolf's Hour for only 1.99$ here. It's considered one of the best werewolf novels ever written!

Here's the blurb:

Master spy, Nazi hunter—and werewolf on the prowl—in occupied Paris: A classic of dark fantasy from a Bram Stoker Award—winning author.

Allied Intelligence has been warned: A Nazi strategy designed to thwart the D-Day invasion is underway. A Russian émigré turned operative for the British Secret Service, Michael Gallatin has been brought out of retirement as a personal courier. His mission: Parachute into Nazi-occupied France, search out the informant under close watch by the Gestapo, and recover the vital information necessary to subvert the mysterious Nazi plan called Iron Fist.

Fearlessly devoted to the challenge, Gallatin is the one agent uniquely qualified to meet it—he’s a werewolf.

Now, as shifting as the shadows on the dangerous streets of Paris, a master spy is on the scent of unimaginable evil. But with the Normandy landings only hours away, it’s going to be a race against time. For Gallatin, caught in the dark heart of the Third Reich’s twisted death machine, there is only one way to succeed. He must unleash his own internal demons and redefine the meaning of the horror of war.

From the award-winning author of Swan Song and Boy’s Life, this is a “powerful novel [that] fuses WWII espionage thriller and dark fantasy. Richly detailed, intricately plotted, fast-paced historical suspense is enhanced by McCammon’s unique take on the werewolf myth” (Publishers Weekly).

Win Sci-Fi: A Movie Top Score Game


I have a set of the Sci-Fi: A Movie Top Score Game up for grabs, compliments of the folks at Laurence King Publishing. Follow this link for more info about this card game.

Here's the blurb:

People of earth, prepare yourselves for the ultimate showdown of classic sci-fi films. Who has the best special effects – Avatar or Gravity? Who has the biggest cult following – The Matrix or ET? Which film best predicted the future – Blade Runner or 2001: Space Odyssey? Journey to a land far, far away with this set of 32 intergalactic trump cards.

The rules are the same as usual. You need to send an email at reviews@(no-spam)gryphonwood.net with the header "MOVIE." Remember to remove the "no spam" thingy.

Second, your email must contain your full mailing address (that's snail mail!), otherwise your message will be deleted.

Lastly, multiple entries will disqualify whoever sends them. And please include your screen name and the message boards that you frequent using it, if you do hang out on a particular MB.

Good luck to all the participants!

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (January 8th)

In hardcover:

Andy Weir's Artemis is down two positions, ending the week at number 6.

Stephen King and Owen King’s Sleeping Beauties is down three positions, ending the week at number 12. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One maintains its position at number 4 (trade paperback).

Stephen King's It maintains its position at number 5 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is up one spot, finishing the week at number 9 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


Winner of the Arthur C. Clarke award for best novel, you can now download Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all. A novel of art, memory, and ambition, Station Eleven tells a story about the relationships that sustain us, the ephemeral nature of fame, and the beauty of the world as we know it.


You can also get your hands on the digital edition of George R. R. Martin's Fevre Dream for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Abner Marsh, a struggling riverboat captain, suspects that something’s amiss when he is approached by a wealthy aristocrat with a lucrative offer. The hauntingly pale, steely-eyed Joshua York doesn’t care that the icy winter of 1857 has wiped out all but one of Marsh’s dilapidated fleet; nor does he care that he won’t earn back his investment in a decade. York’s reasons for traversing the powerful Mississippi are to be none of Marsh’s concern—no matter how bizarre, arbitrary, or capricious York’s actions may prove. Not until the maiden voyage of Fevre Dream does Marsh realize that he has joined a mission both more sinister, and perhaps more noble, than his most fantastic nightmare—and humankind’s most impossible dream.


You can also download R. Scott Bakker's The Darkness That Comes Before for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A score of centuries has passed since the First Apocalypse. The No-God has been vanquished and the thoughts of men have turned, inevitably, to more worldly concerns...Drusas Achamian, tormented by 2,000 year old nightmares, is a sorcerer and a spy, constantly seeking news of an ancient enemy that few believe still exists. Ikurei Conphas, nephew to the Nansur Emperor, is the Exalt-General of the Imperial Army and a military genius. He plots to conquer the known world for his Emperor and dreams of the throne for himself. Maithanet, mysterious and charismatic, is spiritual leader of the Thousand Temples. He seeks a Holy War to cleanse the land of the infidel. Cnaiur, Chieftain of the Utemot, is a Scylvendi barbarian. Rejected by his people, he seeks vengeance against the former slave who slew his father, and disgraced him in the eyes of his tribe. Into this world steps Anasurimbor Kellhus, the product of two thousand years of breeding and a lifetime of training in the ways of thought, limb, and face. Steering souls through the subtleties of word and expression, he slowly binds all - man and woman, emperor and slave - to his own mysterious ends. But the fate of men - even great men - means little when the world itself may soon be torn asunder. Behind the politics, beneath the imperialist expansion, amongst the religious fervour, a dark and ancient evil is reawakening. After two thousand years, the No-God is returning. The Second Apocalypse is nigh. And one cannot raise walls against what has been forgotten...

Altered Carbon: Official Trailer



Netflix just released the first full trailer for the upcoming TV adaptation of Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon. Looks good! =)

Broken Angels


Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon is definitely one of the best scifi novels I have read in my life. As a seamless blend of science fiction, hard-boiled crime, and cyberpunk, that book was amazing. The more so when considering that this was the author's debut! Intelligent, intriguing, inventive, exciting; it was everything you want a science fiction novel to be.

Although I own all the Takeshi Kovacs books, for some unfathomable reason I never gave the sequels a shot. Most probably because I'm an idiot. After all, I waited for years before reading Altered Carbon. Now, with all that's being said about the upcoming Altered Carbon Netflix TV series, I knew it was high time to get reacquainted with Kovacs. And I'm sure glad I did, for Broken Angels was nearly as great as its predecessor!

Here's the blurb:

Welcome back to the brash, brutal new world of the twenty-fifth century: where global politics isn’t just for planet Earth anymore; and where death is just a break in the action, thanks to the techno-miracle that can preserve human consciousness and download it into one new body after another.

Cynical, quick-on-the-trigger Takeshi Kovacs, the ex-U.N. envoy turned private eye, has changed careers, and bodies, once more . . . trading sleuthing for soldiering as a warrior-for-hire, and helping a far-flung planet’s government put down a bloody revolution.

But when it comes to taking sides, the only one Kovacs is ever really on is his own. So when a rogue pilot and a sleazy corporate fat cat offer him a lucrative role in a treacherous treasure hunt, he’s only too happy to go AWOL with a band of resurrected soldiers of fortune. All that stands between them and the ancient alien spacecraft they mean to salvage are a massacred city bathed in deadly radiation, unleashed nanotechnolgy with a million ways to kill, and whatever surprises the highly advanced Martian race may have in store. But armed with his genetically engineered instincts, and his trusty twin Kalashnikovs, Takeshi is ready to take on anything—and let the devil take whoever’s left behind.

Having read Altered Carbon eight years ago, I was scared that I'd be completely lost when I sat down to read Broken Angels. Thankfully, though I'm not sure if the same can be said about Market Forces and Woken Furies, the first two novels are mostly stand-alone titles that can be read in whatever order without having read the other. Other than the concept of sleeves, whereby an individual's consciousness and personality can be stored inside a brain and downloaded into another body, and the fact that they feature the same main character, both books are totally different beasts.

Indeed, while Altered Carbon was a science fiction/hard-boiled noir/cyberpunk hybrid, stylistically Broken Angels is more military science fiction and space opera. This sequel is more akin to James S. A. Corey's The Expanse and Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space sequence. And given how much I've enjoyed these two series, it's no wonder I loved Morgan's second Kovacs book as much as I did.

I'm too far removed from Altered Carbon to recall clearly, but I don't remember Martian culture playing any role in that novel. It lies at the heart of the entire worldbuilding of Broken Angels. And the more the author unveils about the Martians and their ancient artifacts, the more fascinating it gets. Although their civilization disappeared millennia ago, leaving behind alien technology scattered across the galaxy, mankind used Martian charts and undeciphered knowledge to reach the stars. Many of those primeval relics are priceless, but a group of archaeologists may have made the biggest discovery in the history of our existence. Trouble is, that prize is now off-limits due to a violent war on Sanction IV. So what began as a bona fide military scifi yarn gradually evolves into a space opera tale as Takeshi Kovacs and his crew attempt to retrieve that treasure. And that's when Broken Angels levels up and becomes impossible to put down. Corporate greed and the tragedy and senselessness of war are themes that are explored throughout the book and give this one its distinctive flavor.

The characterization is once again "top notch." First person narratives can be tricky things, but it's hard not to like Kovacs' no-nonsense style. There is a lot more to this protagonist than meets the eye, and I was pleased that Morgan revealed a lot more about his backstory and his past as an Envoy in this second installment. Though Kovacs ain't the most likeable of characters, it's all but impossible not to root for the guy. Once more in this sequel, Richard Morgan came up with an impressive cast of secondary characters. Matthias Hand made a wonderful greedy corporate executive and I enjoyed the back-and-forth between him and Kovacs. The Soul Market scene was awesome, and the crew of badass mecenaries that accompanies Kovacs on his mission were great. They start off as more or less generic kick-ass soldiers, yet Morgan does a good job fleshing them out and giving them substance. Tanya Wardani and Jan Schneider both play important roles in this one and the story wouldn't have been the same without them. As was the case with Altered Carbon, the author somehow managed to give life and personality to minor characters that don't necessarily play great roles in the bigger scheme of things, yet they feel important in the scenes in which they appear. Have to mention the long and explicit and over-the-top and totally unnecessary sex scenes that Richard Morgan is now renowned for. Yep, there is another one in this book.

The tragedies of war and the lofty and often disingenuous ideals behind such conflicts, corporate avarice and excess, deadly nanotechnology and futuristic military tech, mysterious alien artifacts from an advanced civilization so far ahead of mankind it defies imagination, a quest to lay claim to an ancient starship before dying of radiation sickness, voodoo magic, exciting battle and action sequences, and a bodycount that even GRRM would find imposing; that's Broken Angels in a nutshell.

Deserves the highest possible recommendation! If you have yet to read Altered Carbon and Broken Angels, do yourself a favor and do so ASAP!

The final verdict: 9/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Chuck Wendig Under the Empyrean Sky for only 0.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Fear the Corn.

Corn is king in the Heartland, and Cael McAvoy has had enough of it. It's the only crop the Empyrean government allows the people of the Heartland to grow—and the genetically modified strain is so aggressive that it takes everything the Heartlanders have just to control it. As captain of the Big Sky Scavengers, Cael and his crew sail their rickety ship over the corn day after day, scavenging for valuables. But Cael's tired of surviving life on the ground while the Empyrean elite drift by above in their extravagant sky flotillas. He's sick of the mayor's son besting Cael's crew in the scavenging game. And he's worried about losing Gwennie—his first mate and the love of his life—forever when their government-chosen spouses are revealed. But most of all, Cael is angry—angry that their lot in life will never get better and that his father doesn't seem upset about any of it. When Cael and his crew discover a secret, illegal garden, he knows it’s time to make his own luck...even if it means bringing down the wrath of the Empyrean elite and changing life in the Heartland forever.


You can also download L. E. Modesitt, jr.'s The Magic of Recluce for only 2.99$ here!

And here's the blurb for The Magic of Recluce:

With The Magic of Recluce, L.E. Modesitt made his impressive hardcover debut, breaking out in wide scope and grand scale with a novel in the great tradition of the war between good and evil in a wonderful fantasy world. Modesitt had been producing fast-paced, slickly-written novels of SF adventure, often compared to the work of Keith Laumer and Gordon R. Dickson. Then, in his biggest and best book yet, he broadened his canvas and turned to fantasy and magic, stepping immediately into the front rank of contemporary fantasy writers.

The Magic of Recluce is a carefully-plotted fantasy novel of character about the growth and education of a young magician. In it, Modesitt confronts real moral issues with gripping force, builds atmosphere slowly and convincingly and gives his central character, Lerris, real intellectual challenges. This is the kind of highly-rationalized fantasy that Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson write when they write fantasy, colorful and detailed.

He is given the standard two options: permanent exile from Recluce or the dangergeld, a complex, rule-laden wanderjahr in the lands beyond Recluce with the aim of learning how the world works and what his place in it might be. Many do not survive. He chooses dangergeld.

Though magic is rarely discussed openly in Recluce, it becomes clear, when Lerris is sent into intensive training for his quest, that he has a natural talent for it during his weapons lessons. And he will need magic in the lands beyond, where the power of the Chaos Wizards reigns unchecked. He must learn to use his powers in an orderly way or fall prey to Chaos.

Lerris may resent order, but he has no difficulty choosing good over evil. As he begins his lonely journey, he falls into the company of a gray magician, once of Recluce, who tutors him in the use of magic and shows him some of the devastation caused by the Chaos Wizards in the great wars between Chaos and Order of past times.

Lerris pursues a quest for knowledge and power that leads him across strange lands, through the ghostly ruins of the old capitol of Chaos, down the white roads of the Chaos Wizards to a final battle with the archenemy of Order, discovering in the end true control of magic, true love, and the beginning of true wisdom. An epic adventure, The Magic of Recluce0, is a triumph of fantasy.

The Magic of Recluce is the first book of the saga of Recluce.

Katherine Arden contest winner!

This lucky gal will receive my review copy of Katherine Arden's The Girl in the Tower! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Lila Scott, from Buffalo, New York, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can get your hands on the digital edition of C. J. Cherryh's Fortress in the Eye of Time for only 2.49$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Deep in an abandoned, shattered castle, an old man of the Old Magic muttered almost forgotten words. His purpose -- to create out of the insubstance of the air, from a shimmering of light and a fluttering of shadows. that most wonderous of spells, a Shaping. A Shaping in the form of a, young man who will be sent east on the road the old was to old to travel. To right the wrongs of a long-forgotten wizard war, and call new wars into being. Here is the long-awaited major new novel from one of the brightest stars in the fantasy and science fiction firmament.C.J.Cherryh's haunting story of the wizard Mauryl, kingmaker for a thousand years of Men, and Tristen, fated to sow distrust between a prince and his father being. A tale as deep as legend and a intimate as love, it tells of a battle beyond Time, in which all Destiny turns on the wheel of an old man's ambition, a young man's innocence, and the unkept promised of a king to come.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (January 1st)

In hardcover:

Andy Weir's Artemis is up one position, ending the week at number 4.

Stephen King and Owen King’s Sleeping Beauties is up one position, ending the week at number 9. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One maintains its position at number 4 (trade paperback).

Stephen King's It is up one position, ending the week at number 5 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is down one spot, finishing the week at number 10 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Alastair Reynolds' scifi classic, Revelation Space, for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The highly-acclaimed first novel in the Revelation Space universe.

When human colonists settled the Amarantin homeworld, few of them bothered to question the disappearance of its native population almost a million years before. But in the year 2551, one man, Dan Sylveste, is convinced that solving the riddle of the Amarantin is vital to human survival. As he nears the truth, he learns that someone wants him dead. Because the Amarantin were destroyed for a reason. And if that reason is made public, the universe—and reality itself—could be forever altered. This sprawling operatic novel ranges across vast gulfs of time and space to arrive at a terrifying conclusion.

Alastair Reynolds, who holds a Ph.D. in Astronomy, has written a vivid and action-packed story that will linger in the minds of its readers.

Persepolis Rising


I've been saying it for the last few years. James S. A. Corey's Hugo-nominated and New York Times-bestselling Expanse sequence is the very best ongoing science fiction series on the market today! No doubt about it, this is space opera on a grand scale and as good as anything written by genre powerhouses like Peter F. Hamilton, Iain M. Banks, Ian McDonald, and Alastair Reynolds. With the first three installments, Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck, the two authors behind this pseudonym, managed to raise the bar higher and higher with each new release. Which boded well for what would follow.

Unfortunately, with Cibola Burn they elected to forgo the formula that made the first three books such memorable reads and went for a different approach that didn't work as well. At least for me. My main gripe with the fourth volume was that it appeared to be some sort of interlude between the opening chapters of the series and what would occur in subsequent installments. Previous volumes were sprawling space opera affairs that hit all the right buttons. That book was much more limited in scope and was more of a transitional work. Then came Nemesis Games, which was the best one yet!

The fifth installment raised the stakes even higher and I was curious to discover the aftermath of such a catastrophe in Babylon's Ashes. Like Cibola Burn, it was not as dense and multilayered as Leviathan Wakes, Caliban's War, Abaddon's Gate, and Nemesis Games. To a certain extent, the sixth volume worked more or less as a self-contained epilogue to the events and storylines that made Nemesis Games such an amazing read. The plot was not as far-reaching and mysterious, and it had more to do with how the remnants of Earth and Mars ultimately responded to the terrorist attacks which killed millions of people. Given that Daniel Abraham has often said that the Expanse would probably be comprised of nine installments, it felt as though Babylon's Ashes marked the end of the series first story arc and that everything that would come after would take us toward a promising endgame.

Considering the huge amount of disparate storylines, I was wondering how Abraham and Franck would bridge the gap between the two arcs in Persepolis Rising. And like most readers, I was shocked to realize that the seventh volume occurred three decades into the future. There was a brief moment of panic at the beginning, but each new chapter demonstrated that this jump ahead in the timeline had been necessary. In the end, Persepolis Rising was even better than Nemesis Games!

Here's the blurb:

The seventh novel in James S. A. Corey’s New York Times bestselling Expanse series–now a major television series.

AN OLD ENEMY RETURNS.

In the thousand-sun network of humanity’s expansion, new colony worlds are struggling to find their way. Every new planet lives on a knife edge between collapse and wonder, and the crew of the aging gunship Rocinante have their hands more than full keeping the fragile peace.

In the vast space between Earth and Jupiter, the inner planets and belt have formed a tentative and uncertain alliance still haunted by a history of wars and prejudices. On the lost colony world of Laconia, a hidden enemy has a new vision for all of humanity and the power to enforce it.

New technologies clash with old as the history of human conflict returns to its ancient patterns of war and subjugation. But human nature is not the only enemy, and the forces being unleashed have their own price. A price that will change the shape of humanity — and of the Rocinante — unexpectedly and forever…

One thing's for certain. We have come a very long way from Leviathan Wakes. Of course, we've always known that everything was connected. And yet, Persepolis Rising is the first volume to weave elements from all previous books into a convoluted tapestry of storylines. And little things that made little or no sense before now play an important role in this one. And given the vast amount of plotlines and characters, I believe it's high time to include a "What has gone before" at the beginning of each new installment. I mean, I had to Google who High Consul Duarte was while reading the very first chapter. Having said that, the authors go out of their way to remind readers of who's who and what's what, so it's all good. But given the depth of this series, a reminder of key events and storylines at the start of each book would help a lot.

The fragile political balance between Earth, Mars, and the Belt was always at the heart of the story and influenced everything. It was even more fragile in Babylon's Ashes, now that millions of people had died on Earth, and thousands kept dying everyday in the aftermath of the strikes. The planet was in shambles and it remained unclear whether or not mankind would ever be able to thrive again, or if our home world would have to be abandoned. In each volume, I loved how Abraham and Franck handled the political facets of the various plotlines, as well as the grave repercussions the politicking generated in the greater scheme of things. I loved how the whole concept behind the Ring and what lies beyond would come to affect mankind so profoundly. Thirty years later, the political balance has stabilized for the most part. There is an Earth-Mars Coalition and the old OPA has become the Transport Union. They're in charge of shipping and commerce with all thirteen hundred colonies beyond the gates. There is also the Association of Worlds, speaking on behalf of those same colonies. But that balance will be torn to pieces when Laconian military ships unexpectedly emerged from their gate to threaten Medina Station.

The characterization has always been the aspect which makes the Expanse such a remarkable read. In the past, each volume featured a more or less tight focus spread across a limited number of points of view and the same can be said of this work. This allow readers to live vicariously through these perspectives. Old favorites such as James Holden and Bobbie Draper return as POV protagonists. But it's the new faces that offer the most interesting perspectives. Paolo Cortazár, High Consul Duarte, and Santiago Jilie Singh allow us to find out more about Laconia and its culture. President Drummer of the Transport Union, whose point of view showcases how the Earth-Mars Coalition and her own organization face and react to the Laconian crisis, is another captivating perspective. Her interactions with Chrisjen Avasarala, who returns as a retired secondary character, were always great. Alex, Naomi, Amos, and Clarissa Mao also have their occasional points of view, yet they are few and far between. I was concerned that the thirty-year gap would have dramatically changed some of the protagonists, but not really. The crew of the Rocinante might be older, and maybe a little wiser, but overall the group remains the same. Holden and Naomi have decided to hang it up. They plan to cash in their shares in the ship and make Bobbie the new captain. But when Laconian starships of alien design take control of Medina Station and put the Rocinante on lockdown, dreams of relaxing on the beach and enjoying their retirement evaporate quickly. As the invulnerable ships usher in a new world order, it's up to a small group of people to attempt to escape the Laconian yoke.

In terms of rhythm, Persepolis Rising is paced to perfection. It may not be a fast-paced affair, but the novel is nevertheless a veritable page-turner. It takes a few chapters to get accustomed to the thirty-year gap, true. But after that, this book becomes impossible to put down. The endgame and finale are quite exciting, though this one ends with a number of cliffhangers. Too bad, yet there was no helping it. Persepolis Rising is definitely the first installment in what can only be the concluding story arc, hence we can't expect each book to act as a stand-alone. There are simply too many storylines woven together and coming to their resolution. And considering the quality of this seventh volume, I just can't wait for the sequel!

After reading Babylon's Ashes, I felt that we had now reached a point where all the pieces were on the board. If there were indeed only three volumes left, with worlds decimated, important players dead, an increasingly more fragile political balance between the various factions of the solar system, thousands of worlds awaiting to be discovered beyond the Ring, and an ancient alien civilization that could destroy everything, the time had come for the authors to elevate their game even more and take us toward an endgame that promised to be spectacular. Well, Persepolis Rising is all that and then some!

Like most of its predecessors, Persepolis Rising is a sprawling novel that is vast in scope and vision. The Expanse sequence, with its passionate and compelling characters, with its textured, detailed, and thoroughly imagined world, continues to be the most satisfying science fiction sagas on the market and is shaping up to be one of the very best space opera series of all time.

The final verdict: 9.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Stephen R. Donaldson contest winners!

These lucky winners will get their hands on a copy of Stephen R. Donaldson's Seventh Decimate, first volume in The Great God's War trilogy, courtesy of the folks at Berkley! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winners are:

- Brett Jamen, from Highland Village, Texas, USA

- Guillaume Bergeron, from Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Many thanks to all the participants!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can get your hands on the digital edition package of Vampire Tales by Robert McCammon for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

They Thirst

First published in 1981, They Thirst was Robert McCammon’s fourth novel, and it remains one of the major milestones of an ambitious, constantly evolving career. Like its predecessors—Baal, Bethany’s Sin, and The Night Boat—They Thirst made its initial appearance as a paperback original. In the years since, it has acquired an intensely devoted following, and is now widely regarded as one of the significant vampire novels of the 20th century.

The story begins in the tiny Hungarian hamlet of Krajeck, where nine-year-old Andre Palatazin awaits the return of his father from an unspecified—but clearly dangerous—mission. The man who finally returns is no longer Andre’s father—is no longer, in fact, a man. Pursued by this undead entity, Andre and his mother barely escape with their lives. Decades later, Andre—now Andy—Palatazin is a homicide detective in the Los Angeles Police Department, and spends his days dealing with the quotidian terrors of a large metropolis. His life takes a darker turn when the demonic forces he first encountered in Krajeck arrive in L.A., led by an ancient vampire known as The Master. The Master’s plan: to overrun the city and use it as a stepping-stone toward wider, ultimately global, domination.

They Thirst marks the earliest appearance of McCammon’s penchant for epic, wide-angled narratives. With the unobtrusive ease of a natural storyteller, the author propels a wide assortment of vividly created characters through an apocalyptic scenario that combines gritty urban realism with a powerful portrait of supernatural forces at large in the modern world. The result is a genuine classic of the genre, a novel that is as fresh and absorbing today as it was more than thirty years ago.

I Travel by Night

I Travel by Night marks Robert McCammon's triumphant return to the sort of flamboyant, go-for-broke horror fiction that has earned him an international reputation and a legion of devoted fans. The terrors of the Dark Society, the gothic sensibilities of old New Orleans, and the tortured existence of the unforgettable vampire adventurer Trevor Lawson all combine into a heady brew that will thrill McCammon s loyal readers and earn him new ones as well.

For Lawson, the horrors that stalked the Civil War battlefield at Shiloh were more than just those of war. After being forcibly given the gift of undeath by the mysterious vampire queen LaRouge, Lawson chose to cling to what remained of his humanity and fought his way free of the Dark Society's clutches. In the decades since, he has roamed late nineteenth century America, doing what good he can as he travels by night, combating evils mundane and supernatural, and always seeking the key to regaining a mortal life.

That key lies with his maker, and now Lawson hopes to find LaRouge at the heart of a Louisiana swamp with the aid of a haunted priest and an unexpected ally. In the tornado-wracked ghost town of Nocturne, Lawson must face down monstrous enemies, the rising sun, and his own nature. Readers will not want to miss this thrilling new dark novella from a master storyteller.


You can also download the first Matthew Corbett Adventures omnibus for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Mister Slaughter

The world of Colonial America comes vibrantly to life in this masterful new historical thriller by Robert McCammon. The latest entry in the popular Matthew Corbett series, which began with Speaks the Nightbird and continued in The Queen of Bedlam, Mister Slaughter opens in the emerging metropolis of New York City in 1702, and proceeds to take both Matthew and the reader on an unforgettable journey of horror, violence, and personal discovery.

The journey begins when Matthew, now an apprentice “problem solver” for the London-based Herrald Agency, accepts an unusual and hazardous commission. Together with his colleague, Hudson Greathouse, he agrees to escort the notorious mass murderer Tyranthus Slaughter from an asylum outside Philadelphia to the docks of New York. Along the way, Slaughter makes his captors a surprising--and extremely tempting--offer. Their response to this offer will alter the course of the novel, setting in motion a series of astonishing, ultimately catastrophic events.

Mister Slaughter is at once a classic portrait of an archetypal serial killer and an exquisitely detailed account of a fledgling nation still in the process of inventing itself. Suspenseful, illuminating, never less than compulsively readable, it is, by any measure, an extraordinary achievement, the largest accomplishment to date from one of our most gifted--and necessary--writers.

The Providence Rider

The Providence Rider is the fourth standalone installment in the extraordinary series of historical thrillers featuring Matthew Corbett, professional problem solver. The narrative begins in the winter of 1703, with Matthew still haunted by his lethal encounter with notorious mass murderer Tyranthus Slaughter. When an unexplained series of explosions rocks his Manhattan neighborhood, Matthew finds himself forced to confront a new and unexpected problem. Someone is trying—and trying very hard—to get his attention. That someone is a shadowy figure from out of Matthew’s past: the elusive Professor Fell. The professor, it turns out, has a problem of his own, one that requires the exclusive services of Matthew Corbett.

The ensuing narrative moves swiftly and gracefully from the emerging metropolis of New York City to Pendulum Island in the remote Bermudas. In the course of his journey, Matthew encounters a truly Dickensian assortment of memorable, often grotesque, antagonists. These include Sirki, the giant, deceptively soft-spoken East Indian killer, Dr. Jonathan Gentry, an expert in exotic potions with a substance abuse problem of his own, the beautiful but murderous Aria Chillany, and, of course, the master manipulator and “Emperor of Crime” on two continents, Professor Fell himself. The result is both an exquisitely constructed novel of suspense and a meticulous recreation of a bygone era.

You might also want to peruse additional McCammon titles, for many of them are also 2.99$.

Quote of the Day

“It’s the reward of old age,” Avasarala said. “You live long enough, and you can watch everything you worked for become irrelevant.”

- JAMES S. A. COREY, Persepolis Rising (Canada, USA, Europe)

Almost done with this book and it just might be the very best of the bunch! =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can download J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: One Volume for only 3.99$ here!

Here's the blurb:

One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.

In ancient times the Rings of Power were crafted by the Elven-smiths, and Sauron, the Dark Lord, forged the One Ring, filling it with his own power so that he could rule all others. But the One Ring was taken from him, and though he sought it throughout Middle-earth, it remained lost to him. After many ages it fell by chance into the hands of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins.

From Sauron's fastness in the Dark Tower of Mordor, his power spread far and wide. Sauron gathered all the Great Rings to him, but always he searched for the One Ring that would complete his dominion.

When Bilbo reached his eleventy-first birthday he disappeared, bequeathing to his young cousin Frodo the Ruling Ring and a perilous quest: to journey across Middle-earth, deep into the shadow of the Dark Lord, and destroy the Ring by casting it into the Cracks of Doom.

The Lord of the Rings tells of the great quest undertaken by Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf the Wizard; the hobbits Merry, Pippin, and Sam; Gimli the Dwarf; Legolas the Elf; Boromir of Gondor; and a tall, mysterious stranger called Strider.

This new edition includes the fiftieth-anniversary fully corrected text setting and, for the first time, an extensive new index.

The Lily and the Lion


Like many other speculative fiction readers, it's thanks to George R. R. Martin that I discovered the excellent The Accursed Kings by French author Maurice Druon. As the main inspiration for A Song of Ice and Fire, I was eager to give this series a shot. The first two volumes were very good, but the third installment failed to live up to the expectations generated by its predecessors. The Royal Succession was a return to form for the author and I was looking forward to see if the fifth book would offer the same satisfying reading experience.

The fourth volume ended with Philippe V's coronation, but The She-Wolf totally skipped over his reign and focused on the tale of his sister Isabella, wife of Edward II and Queen of England. Which was a bit odd, as previous installments followed one another rather closely. In the end, The She-Wolf didn't stand as well on its own as I thought it would. Maurice Druon continued to weave a vast number of threads in what is a great tapestry of men, women, and events that will shake the foundations of the kingdom of France and the rest of Europe. That hadn't changed. And yet, focusing more on the demise of King Edward II instead of the intrigues of the King of France's court, The She-Wolf felt like some sort of interlude and was a bit discordant in the greater scheme of things.

Nevertheless, I was eager to discover what would happen next and was looking forward to reading The Lily and the Lion. Unfortunately, this one turned out to be more history textbook than novelization, and as such it was a disappointment. By far the weakest in the series thus far.

Here's the blurb:

The royal house of France has fallen. Charles IV is dead, fulfilling the curse of the Templars once and for all. This leaves the path to the throne open for Robert of Artois to place his cousin, Philippe of Valois, upon it. Having committed fraud, perjury and murder in the name of the new king, Robert expects to receive a title and his full reward.

But the days of betrayal are far from over and Robert is banished to England. In the land of France's enemies vengeance sparks fresh conflict as King Edward III and his new ally prepare for war. As swords are sharpened the lion wakes and a pretender threatens France once more …

Robert of Artois has been a central figure in this series from the very beginning. Indeed, he's been at the heart of every plot and intrigue, and I was happy to realize that The Lily and the Lion would more or less focus on him and his machinations. Manipulating people and events to place Philippe of Valois on the throne of France, it appears that this giant of a man will finally achieve his objective. And yet, over the years he has committed his share of mistakes, some of which will now come back to haunt him. The first few chapters were quite interesting and The Lily and the Lion read as well as The Royal Succession. Problem is, a lot of characters are dead or dying, and the author has no choice but to do a lot of back-and-forth to remind readers of who they are, or who replaced them, with countless dates and interminable background information. Soon, as Robert continues to dig his own grave, so to speak, the prose becomes more history textbook than novel and that puts a damper on the overall reading experience. Sadly, this gets worse the more the tale progresses, and in the end it all but kills the book. Why Maurice Druon was unable to make The Lily and the Lion easier to get into, I have no idea. But there is no deying that it makes it hard to maintain interest the more you go on. And given that this book represents Robert of Artois' endgame, it's a shame.

As always, I found the translation to be quite good. As was the case with the other installments, it is at times too literal, creating occasional odd turns of phrase. But other than that, there's absolutely nothing to complain about. Instead of relying on info-dumps, Druon once again opted for footnotes sending you to the back of the novel for more historical background and clarification. In the past, this usually maintained a fluid pace throughout. As I said before, in this day and age when speculative fiction and historical books are veritable doorstopper works of fiction, these novels are quite short. Too short, I've often felt. Not so with The Lily and the Lion, I'm afraid. Though it weighs in at 402 pages, due to the aforementioned problems the book felt much longer.

The structure of these novels continues to revolve around a number of disparate POVs which allow readers to witness events through the eyes of a variety of protagonists. This helps generate more emotional impact, as you see the web of scandal and intrigue which weaves itself throughout all the storylines. The Lily and the Lion doesn't have the same "flavor" because many of the series' main characters have passed away or are now on the decline. As a matter of course, always in the thick of things, Robert of Artois' perspective is an important part of this novel. But the always entertaining Guccio Baglioni is dead and the Count de Bouville is senile. Spinello Tolomei is on the brink of death. Hence, many of the central protagonists of past installments are absent, or play very minor roles in this book. We get the perspectives of Philippe of Valois, King Edward III, Beatrice d'Hirson, and a few more. But for some reason, the sum of all those POVs is not as compelling as that of the previous volumes.

And since The Lily and the Lion is itself an end of sorts, it will be interesting to see how Maurice Druon closes the show in the final installment, The King Without a Kingdom. Here's hoping that the last volume will recapture everything that made the first five books such enjoyable reads.

I keep saying it: With family rivalries, politicking, betrayals and back-stabbings, ASOIAF fans will find a lot to love about Maurice Druon's The Accursed Kings. And given the fact that these books were first published back in the 50s, they have definitely aged well and are as easy to read as any contemporary novels on the market today. And although The Lily and the Lion was a letdown, I'm eager to find out how this series will end!

The final verdict: 6/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can now download Ann Leckie's Provenance for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

Following her record-breaking debut trilogy, Ann Leckie, winner of the Hugo, Nebula, Arthur C. Clarke and Locus Awards, returns with an enthralling new novel of power, theft, privilege and birthright.

A power-driven young woman has just one chance to secure the status she craves and regain priceless lost artifacts prized by her people. She must free their thief from a prison planet from which no one has ever returned.

Ingray and her charge will return to her home world to find their planet in political turmoil, at the heart of an escalating interstellar conflict. Together, they must make a new plan to salvage Ingray's future, her family, and her world, before they are lost to her for good.


You can also get your hands on the digital edition of N. K. Jemisin's The Stone Sky for only 4.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The shattering conclusion to the post-apocalyptic and highly acclaimed New York Times bestselling trilogy that began with The Fifth Season, winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2016, and The Obelisk Gate, winner of the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2017.

The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women.

Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.

For Nassun, her mother's mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS... FOR THE LAST TIME.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (December 25th)

In hardcover:

Andy Weir's Artemis is up one position, ending the week at number 5.

Stephen King and Owen King’s Sleeping Beauties is up three positions, ending the week at number 10. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is up one position, ending the week at number 4 (trade paperback).

Stephen King's It is down two positions, ending the week at number 6 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale returns at number 9 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can once again download Katherine Arden's The Bear and the Nightingale for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

At the edge of the Russian wilderness, winter lasts most of the year and the snowdrifts grow taller than houses. But Vasilisa doesn’t mind—she spends the winter nights huddled around the embers of a fire with her beloved siblings, listening to her nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, she loves the chilling story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon, who appears in the frigid night to claim unwary souls. Wise Russians fear him, her nurse says, and honor the spirits of house and yard and forest that protect their homes from evil.

After Vasilisa’s mother dies, her father goes to Moscow and brings home a new wife. Fiercely devout, city-bred, Vasilisa’s new stepmother forbids her family from honoring the household spirits. The family acquiesces, but Vasilisa is frightened, sensing that more hinges upon their rituals than anyone knows.

And indeed, crops begin to fail, evil creatures of the forest creep nearer, and misfortune stalks the village. All the while, Vasilisa’s stepmother grows ever harsher in her determination to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for either marriage or confinement in a convent.

As danger circles, Vasilisa must defy even the people she loves and call on dangerous gifts she has long concealed—this, in order to protect her family from a threat that seems to have stepped from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

Senlin Ascends


You may recall that Josiah Bancroft's Senlin Ascends received the seal of approval of both fantasy author Mark Lawrence and popular blogger Adam Whitehead a while back. That immediately piqued my curiosity and I downloaded myself a copy.

Between the time of my purchase and my reading it, Bancroft's debut was picked up by Orbit and garnered a slew of positive reviews. I couldn't close the year before giving it a shot and I'm glad I did. Indeed, Senlin Ascends made it to my 2017 Top 10 SFF reads.

Here's the blurb:

While honeymooning in the Tower of Babel, Thomas Senlin loses his wife, Marya.

The Tower of Babel is the greatest marvel of the Silk Age. Immense as a mountain, the ancient Tower holds unnumbered ringdoms, warring and peaceful, stacked one on the other like the layers of a cake. It is a world of geniuses and tyrants, of airships and steam engines, of unusual animals and mysterious machines.

Thomas Senlin, the mild-mannered headmaster of a small village school, is drawn to the Tower by scientific curiosity and the grandiose promises of a guidebook. The luxurious Baths of the Tower seem an ideal destination for a honeymoon, but soon after arriving, Senlin loses Marya in the crowd.

Senlin’s search for Marya carries him through madhouses, ballrooms, and burlesque theaters. He must survive betrayal, assassination, and the long guns of a flying fortress. But if he hopes to find his wife, he will have to do more than just survive. This quiet man of letters must become a man of action.

I reckon that Josiah Bancroft's Senlin Ascends represents a dream come true for all self-published writers. How many of them dream of having a big name SFF author reading and enjoying their book, and then write a rave review that they pimp to their followers, which in turn leads reviewers to give the work a shot? That's what happened to Bancroft as part of Lawrence's Self-Published Fantasy Contest. And the rest, as they say, is history. Like Michael J. Sullivan, Anthony Ryan, and Andy Weir before him, Josiah Bancroft is the latest indie author to be picked up by a major publisher. Time will tell if his series will enjoy the same sort of commercial success as that of the aforementioned writers.

It's impossible to put a label on Senlin Ascends. That's probably the best thing the novel has going for it. Believe you me, you've never read anything like it. Which is likely why the author had no choice but to self-publish it at the beginning. Since the book defies all labels, it will probably be difficult to market it adequately. It's not fantasy per se, nor is it science fiction. It's steampunk to a certain extent, but that's not it either. Truth be told, it's a strange hybrid, but one that offers a compelling reading experience. It's just unlike everything else on the market today. You can't really put it in a nutshell, is all.

The Tower of Babel is incredibly vast and immensely tall. It is comprised of over forty levels called ringdoms and little is known about those above the first three or four. In his desperate search for his wife, Thomas Senlin will visit the first four; the Basement, the Parlour, the Baths, and New Babel. Each ringdom features some interesting worldbuilding and there are hints that all of them serve some greater purpose regarding the functioning of the tower as a whole. It remains to be seen if Bancroft can maintain this level of originality throughout the series. But as far as Senlin Ascends is concerned, it is evident that the author's imagination is boundless. Each ringdom features a unique and crazy world of its own, which bodes well for what will follow.

I truly enjoyed the character development in this book. Thomas Senlin started off as a particularly lame protagonist, one whose optimism and pleasant disposition get him in trouble at every turn. But the Tower of Babel brings out the worst in everyone, and Senlin gradually realizes that he must change his ways in order to reach his objective. And yet, it also dawns upon him that he must soon find his wife and escape before becoming a monster like so many other denizens of the tower. The supporting cast is relatively small, but it is made up of memorable men and women that help Senlin grow as a protagonist.

Josiah Bancroft's evocative prose creates an imagery that brings the Tower of Babel, its ringdoms, and its inhabitants alive. One wouldn't expect a self-published title that did not go through the editorial process with a professional editor to be that good. Senlin Ascends is cleverly written, with lots of insightful moments. Surprisingly, it's better written than many novels released by major publishing houses.

Other than a few rough patches in the middle, the pace is good throughout. But this is no problem, as Bancroft keeps the majority of his chapters short and you get through those rather quickly.

All in all, Senlin Ascends is an engaging, imaginative, and refreshing read featuring endearing characters whose plights make you want to discover what happens next. You know my usual policy regarding self-published works. But I'll definitely be reading the sequel, Arm of the Sphinx.

The final verdict: 7.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!


You can get your hands on the digital edition of Beren and Lúthien, edited by Christopher Tolkien, for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The tale of Beren and Lúthien was, or became, an essential element in the evolution of The Silmarillion, the myths and legends of the First Age of the World conceived by J.R.R. Tolkien. Returning from France and the battle of the Somme at the end of 1916, he wrote the tale in the following year.

Essential to the story, and never changed, is the fate that shadowed the love of Beren and Lúthien: for Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien was an immortal elf. Her father, a great elvish lord, in deep opposition to Beren, imposed on him an impossible task that he must perform before he might wed Lúthien. This is the kernel of the legend; and it leads to the supremely heroic attempt of Beren and Lúthien together to rob the greatest of all evil beings, Melkor, called Morgoth, the Black Enemy, of a Silmaril.

In this book Christopher Tolkien has attempted to extract the story of Beren and Lúthien from the comprehensive work in which it was embedded; but that story was itself changing as it developed new associations within the larger history. To show something of the process whereby this legend of Middle-earth evolved over the years, he has told the story in his father's own words by giving, first, its original form, and then passages in prose and verse from later texts that illustrate the narrative as it changed. Presented together for the first time, they reveal aspects of the story, both in event and in narrative immediacy, that were afterwards lost.

Published on the tenth anniversary of the last Middle-earth book, the international bestseller The Children of Húrin, this new volume will similarly include drawings and color plates by Alan Lee, who also illustrated The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and went on to win Academy Awards for his work on The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.