Druan: Dawn, Mark Robson

Druan: Dawn, Mark Robson

Druan Episode 1 – Dawn

In the eternal night, the harvesters hunt and take humans from their villages. No one in Jayenne’s village has known anything other than the all-encompassing darkness, and the death that comes with it. When the miasma finally breaks, at first there is rejoicing – until the scattered villages realise that the never-ending darkness has left no vegetation, and the dark-loving creatures that once could be hunted for food have taken shelter, and they face slow starvation. Then, the settlements rely on their shamans, the only hope remaining to them, to lead them and keep them safe.

Druan Episode 1 – Dawn offers the kind of atmosphere of danger and uncertainty found in good dystopia and some origin stories; a tiny fragment of humanity, eking out a precarious existence in a world of which they have little to no knowledge. Author Mark Robson’s choice to tell the story largely from the point of view of an eight-year old creates an effective emphasis for this element of the plot. The mysticism of the shamans is left mainly for further development in this story, although the various shamans seem at first glance to have an intriguing range of different abilities. The writing was technically excellent, well-structured and free of editorial issues, and while this story is part of a larger arc of episodes, it manages to be perfectly readable alone. Definitely worth the read.

Flare, Rabia Gale

Flare, Rabia Gale

Flare: The Sunless World Book 2

The old political structures are disintegrating, and the precious quartz that provides all light and food is failing. Rafe, with the bare minimum of training in how to use his immense raw talent, finds himself back in the midst of the chaos he’d fled two years ago, with his estranged uncle firmly in power in Oakhaven, his face on every wanted poster in the area, and the heir to the throne missing in action. Rafe has more than enough incidental challenges to keep him busy – and that’s before Isabella arrives. With the entire world apparently on the express track to hell, just staying alive is a tricky challenge. Add a magic-using megalomaniac, homicidal relations, and changing train schedules, and Rafe finds himself pulling out every trick he can come up with.

Flare: The Sunless World is the brilliant second novel in Rabia Gale’s Sunless World trilogy, with Rafe Grenfeld, ex-sailor, soldier, diplomat, and spy, firmly back in the protagonist’s seat, trying to figure out how to control his powerful magical gifts before he kills himself and his world’s best hope with him. The world-building for this series is unique, woven with steampunk flair and meticulous consistency to showcase that rarest gift – total plausibility. As if that weren’t enough on its own, Rafe remains one of my favourite protagonists in this year or any other one; he’s been damaged, he’s been thrown into the unknown, but he keeps going, armed with his own brand of clear-sighted realism and apparently physically unable to resist wisecracks. Add to that a polished, flawlessly edited writing style, and this series stands in a field of its own. I can’t over-recommend this book, I read it in a single day and then went sniffing around the end matter hoping for more.

Seven Lives, Simon Phillips

Seven Lives, Simon Phillips

Seven Lives

She’s an agent for the British Secret Services, recruited for special assignment during the Troubles of the early 1990s, and sent undercover so often that she’s all but forgotten her original identity. For years, she’s followed orders, obtained information, killed the targets she’s pointed at, until a new assignment pulls her back to the UK, and the old, familiar tale of the Irish troubles. Following the trail of one of those rarities, a female IRA operative, she unknowingly pulls on threads that were meant to stay hidden, and the fallout spreads in a domino trail of deaths.

Seven Lives is a spy thriller set in the years when a pager was more common than a mobile phone, and the Internet was little more than a theory, against the bloody background of the ongoing violence of the Northern Irish conflict. The plot is complex and well-constructed, and the characters are clearly well-envisaged. For me, it was the technical aspect of the story that prevented this book from getting more stars. There were a number of repetitive editorial issues in the text, and in places the narrative would have benefited immensely from some polishing to remove the traces of awkwardness that detracted from the otherwise excellent read. I really feel that a strong edit would take this from a three-star rating to a four- or even five-star read – the book is well-paced and twisty, and certain to please thriller fans.

Seven Lives cover

Wanted: the author

Online or off, social media details rewarded with heartfelt thanks.

Murder at the Space Hotel, Mehmet Ali Yazan

Murder at the Space Hotel, Mehmet Ali Yazan

Murder at the Space Hotel

I have to be honest, and admit that I found this book to be very two-dimensional, both in the characters of the story and the story itself, and the writing came across as clunky enough to get continually in the way of the read.

The plot is set up as a locked-room mystery; a businessman was murdered while staying at a high-tech orbital hotel, and neither murderer nor murder weapon is immediately apparent. Detective Herry ‘Chief’ Mortimer and his side-kick, Scott Yvensen, are dispatched to unravel the mystery. Happily for them, all the suspects are happy to answer their questions, of which our heroes only need to ask one or two to immediately ascertain that their interviewee is not guilty.

Murder at the Space Hotel has, at its root, an interesting basis – software ethics. It’s the sort of heatedly argued debate that’s currently in vogue almost whenever topics such as self-driving cars come up, along the lines of whether it’s more socially acceptable for the car’s programming  to squash one woman and her baby, or cause a multiple-car pileup avoiding her. However, the bulk of the story completely bypasses any introduction to the question, allowing it to announce itself out of nowhere towards the end of the book. Between that and the lack of development in the story elements, I didn’t find that this book managed to capture my interest.

Final Exam, Shaun J McLaughlin

Final Exam, Shaun J McLaughlin

Final Exam: A Society Agent Story

Final Exam: A Society Agent Story is a YA sci-fi story featuring action, aliens, and romance, albeit with a heroic last stand in place of the more traditional one-night one. Shane O’Ryan is in a top-secret and very exclusive training program to become part of the Society for Protection of Intelligent Extraterrestrial Species, and he and the other five who have managed to survive the five-year program are about to face…the final exam.

This book was a light, pleasant read, and although I felt the characters would have benefited from more depth and development, overall the short story structure was handled well, without a rush at the finish line. It was also a pleasant novelty to have the female partner presented as more competent in wilderness than her male counterpart, for which I have to give the author props – I love to see authors break with stereotypes, and this story certainly did.

Despite that, I didn’t find that the read had quite that indefinable flair that makes a book irresistible for me. Some combination of the lack of depth in the characters and the way in which, despite all the descriptions of the agents’ elite training, they continually made daft mistakes (but survived anyway) failed to completely captivate me. I think a little more polishing would do wonders to bring out the plot’s strengths and clear away some of the dross that holds it back.

Reviewed for Knockin’ Books Blog.