Afterglow, David J Ross

Afterglow, David J Ross

Afterglow (Chronicles of a Darken Earth)

The central ideas of Afterglow are compelling ones; what would happen if it were possible to see what happens to consciousness after death? What if the consciousness of every species across multiple worlds converged in what humanity thinks of as an afterlife?

Following the consciousness after death is a concept that was perfunctorily explored by the movie ‘Flatliners’ in the 1990s, and one which I’ve always felt had a lot of unexplored territory to offer. Author David J Ross’s dystopian take on it was, at root, a very good plot idea.

However, I did find this a challenging read to complete. I got the feeling from the book that the author wanted to convey the chaos of shattering worlds through the structure of the book, but for me at least, the multitude of characters and settings and body-hops made the many plot lines difficult to follow. The constant changes in viewpoint contributed to my disengagement from the characters and, subsequently, from the story. While one or two of the secondary characters were ones I might have found engaging enough to want to follow the stories of, the main characters didn’t really capture my sympathy on any meaningful level.

In addition to the rather fractured structure of the book, the editorial errors, while minor, were repetitive enough to get my attention throughout the book. I couldn’t help but feel that a strong developmental edit would have allowed the basic, very good, idea of the book to shine. Right now I would be hard-pressed to say it’s doing itself justice.

The Alchemist’s Box, Alex Avrio

The Alchemist’s Box, Alex Avrio

The Alchemist’s Box (The Merchant Blades Book 1)

Regina Fitzwaters is a mercenary, one of the many soldiers who enlisted in an army that, with the advent of peace, no longer needs them. After losing her savings in a high-stakes card game, she finds herself entrapped into a mission across the treacherous Ugarri Pass at the onset of winter. Employed by a pair of criminals with no scruples and forced to take as her co-commander a mercenary previously from the opposing army, Fitzwaters is so far outside her comfort zone that she couldn’t even find it on a map, and that’s only the start of her troubles…

The Alchemist’s Box is a well-written fantasy adventure, spiced with magic that hardly anyone believes in, true prophecy that no one wants to believe in, and full of unlikely alliances. I read this book in two sittings, and on top of an excellently paced and planned plot, I found that the characters really shone. I’m a shameless sucker for intelligent anti-heroes, and Kapitan Maximillian Jaeger deserves, at the least, an honourable mention in that category. Competent, conflicted, and dark to the core, I found that he stole centre stage as far as characterisation went. The protagonist, Regina Fitzwaters, expressed very accurately the vivid exasperation of a competent, intelligent woman consistently underestimated and insulted on account of her gender, but that was the main impression left by the character. The twist at the end of the book in the very conflicted relationship between Fitzwaters and Jaeger was also a nice change from the traditional cliché. Overall, I would highly recommend this book – a most engaging read.

Sweet-pea’s Thief, J Cassidy

Sweet-pea’s Thief, J Cassidy

Sweet-pea’s Thief, J Cassidy

Sweet-pea has had her body stolen and been, for all intents and purposes, transported into a mirror universe version of her old hometown. Adopted by a pair of men who collect Old time, Sweet-pea seems to be a catalyst for disruption in the small community; beyond that, the roving dangers known as the Tin Men seem to be drawn to her. Sweet-pea wants nothing more than to find a way to get her own body back, but even that goal may have to be put on hold…

Sweet-pea’s Thief is a light, pleasant read, with good-hearted principal characters and villains who fall somewhere along the chaotic neutral scale. Sweet-pea’s many predicaments are eased by a series of loyal companions who support and educate her in how to survive her new circumstances each time, while the book’s settings are leavened by magic, time travel, and a touch of true love. Much as I enjoyed this book, I would have personally found it more compelling if the consequences hadn’t been so reliably softened by the lucky discovery of a faithful and useful companion at each turn in the story. However, I would recommend the read, especially for younger readers. It’s a solid fantasy adventure with a strain of Peter Pan to it that will appeal to a wide audience.

Web of Eyes, Jaime Castle

Web of Eyes, Jaime Castle

Web of Eyes (The Buried Goddess Saga Book 1)

Torsten Unger is Wearer of the White to a dying king. With one sickly son and a foreign-born, unstable Queen, he’s all too well aware that the conquered lands around the Glass Kingdom will be planning their invasions before the throne goes cold. Despite this, the Queen insists that more knights be sent into the deadly Webbed Woods in an attempt to retrieve a doll for the heir to the throne – a doll that she insists holds a piece of her son’s soul. To stand a chance where so many others have failed, Torsten knows he needs to enlist some help – the kind of help he wouldn’t normally consider.

Web of Eyes has a lot going for it – a truly excellent, attention-catching title, imaginative world-building, and complex politics with a variety of nations and influences. On the other hand, the characters didn’t do much for me; if they had benefited from the same level of development that clearly went into the world-building, I would have been ecstatic. As it was, Torsten and all his entourage came across as takes on various well-established types – the emotionally fragile queen, the muscled warrior hero, the trickster thief…you get the idea. However, with a little tightening up on the storylines, and a bit more character development, this would have been solidly in the running for five stars. I would still recommend it to anyone who enjoys adventure fantasy.

Habitat for Human Remains, Scott A Lerner

Habitat for Human Remains, Scott A Lerner

Habitat for Human Remains: A Samuel Roberts Thriller

Samuel Roberts is an attorney with a tendency to get caught up in investigating the supernatural. When one of the town’s more prominent estate lawyers contacts him, asking him to represent someone in custody for murder, Samuel hopes for a nice easy murder trial with nothing supernatural about it. Unfortunately, between creepy old houses and alleged murder victims connected with S&M clubs, his nice clean murder trial is taking stranger turns by the minute.

Habitat for Human Remains is the fifth in the Samuel Roberts Thriller series, and while it is undoubtedly readable as a stand-alone story, there were a few places where I felt I was missing references to earlier novels. They didn’t pose any significant impact to following the plot, which is a solid thriller/horror structure. The writing includes some excellent turns of phrase, but that is balanced in some areas by a feeling that the descriptions of the protagonists clowning is a little contrived; I would have enjoyed the humorous interludes more, I feel, with a little more ‘showing’ and less ‘telling’. For me, the pacing was one of the strongest points of the book; while the plot climax could possibly have been played for more impact, overall there were no slow parts to the read and the plot kept me engaged. My only serious problem with the technical aspect of the book was the number of homonyms that sprinkled it. I can honestly say this was an enjoyable read; the plot was well-thought out and imaginative. A solid copy-edit would help the story to shine.