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Caligation, Brhi Stokes

Caligation, Brhi Stokes

Caligation

Ripley Mason is a college drop-out, hitch-hiking his way to adventure on the roads of the US, when a car accident catapults him into an existence where nothing is quite as it should be. The city of Caligation, surrounded by impassable fog, is home to shape-shifters, vampires, and people able to manipulate elements – and there appears to be no highway back to normal. When Ripley gets desperate enough to take the only job on offer, with the local Mob, he doesn’t realise the level of trouble he’s about to embroil himself in.

Caligation is a gritty urban fantasy read, featuring a moderately clueless human dropped into a world where almost everyone can kill him and a fair number of them want to. With a strong focus on the main character, this book gives a close-up of the cycle of denial, despair, and acceptance in a city where nothing is quite as it seems. The furred, scaled, and feathered alter egos of the story stole the show, to my mind, especially Nyx the crow who alternately thinks she’s a cat or a badger and loves head-scratches. While I found that the story started slowly, it gathered depth and momentum as it headed into a thought-provoking ending. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a read a little left of normal; it’s technically strong and the plot and characters will pull you in.

The Burgas Affair, Ellis Shuman

The Burgas Affair, Ellis Shuman

The Burgas Affair

Boyko Stanchev, previously of the Burgas Police Department and now an agent with the State Agency for National Security, is drinking too much, smoking too much, and on the verge of running what’s left of his career into the ground. When an attack blows up a tourist bus full of Israeli tourists outside Burgas airport, he’s forced to confront his past, his choices, and not least, the female Israeli agent assigned as his investigative partner.

The Burgas Affair offers a fascinating close-up of Balkan and Israeli politics, and the setting, largely in Bulgaria, was vividly evoked. From my perspective, the settings and the backdrop to the story were the strongest facets of the read, although the character of Stanchev is skillfully written and dislikeable to a degree that merits applause. The underlying plot structure of the book is well-constructed and full of surprises. I did feel that the relative level of emphasis given to the romance detracted from the level of attention that the mystery itself deserved; tying all the stray elements of the attack and its circumstances together into a convincing storyline struck me as the more interesting part of the book. Certainly an enjoyable read for any readers of political thrillers.

Alexandria, Gregory Ness

Alexandria, Gregory Ness

Alexandria (The Sword of Agrippa Book 2)

Following their momentous discovery of the mysterious temple, Agrippa and Samia are working to unlock its mysteries, hampered by a series of elaborate mechanical lockouts. Their prize may well be worth any cost; the wisdom of the legendary Library of the Ages may be among the treasures. Two thousand years and more into the future, Roy Swanson’s research into dreams is attracting more and more attention, even as the world descends further into religious mania and a deep-rooted fear of science. Whether or not Roy will be able to solve the mysteries his research is throwing up before American money closes it down for good is another question entirely.

This second in the Sword of Agrippa series, Alexandria, follows the protagonists from the first novel, Agrippa and Samia, in the heyday of Roman Egypt, along with cameos of Roy Swanson and his research into dreams in an increasingly anti-science close-present. While I found that the proposed link between survivors of Atlantis and several of the ancient pantheons was an interesting twist on the story, I didn’t find that there was a great deal of movement, or resolution, in this book. Most of the questions lying open in the plotlines from the first novel are still open at the close of the second, so while the story was in itself quite enjoyable, there was no real feeling of closure of any of the story arcs. In addition, as with the first novel, I can’t help but feel that a strong copy-edit would help this book do justice to the originality of its plot. Overall, while this series is certainly worth the read, it would benefit hugely from some judicious tuning.

Bodacious Creed, Jonathan Fesmire

Bodacious Creed, Jonathan Fesmire

Bodacious Creed (The Adventures of Bodacious Creed Book 1)

Anna Lynn Boyd has done well for herself; madam of one of the most reputable brothels in Santa Cruz, surrounded by a loyal staff and with enough money to fund her own research into automatons. However, when the famous lawman James ‘Bodacious’ Creed comes to town in pursuit of a multiple murdered, Anna finds her safety, her business, and her cover at risk – and the only way she can fight back may involve opening the Pandora’s Box of her very private research publicly.

Bodacious Creed was my first-ever steampunk-zombie-Western, and I must admit that if my brush through the first few pages hadn’t immediately grabbed my attention, I might have moved on to one of my better-trodden stamping grounds. I would have missed out if I had done so. The melding of genres worked extremely well, and the underlying plot structure was well-thought through and plausible. I found that the variety of the automatons, their functions, and their designs was one of the strongest parts of the book, which supported various twists and turns as the story progressed. The pacing was also excellent. I did find a few areas where a detailed copy-edit would have enhanced the excellence of the read, but overall I would recommend this book without hesitation, and I’ll be looking out for more stories from this author.