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Exiles’ Escape, W. Clark Boutwell

Exiles’ Escape, W. Clark Boutwell

Exiles’ Escape (Book 2 of Old Men and Infidels)

As Malila is beginning to recognise, faking her own death was the simple part. Actually getting away from the Unity, with an incensed Eustace Jourdaine bent on capturing her to tie up the last loose ends of his own power coup, not so much. On the far side of the Rampart, Jesse Johnstone has his own troubles; being a legend in his own lifetime was one thing, but being a legend in several generations thereafter has earnt him fame, limited rank, and a host of well-connected enemies bent on making his life unnecessarily complicated – and consequently damaging his stocks of good whiskey. Escape is on both their minds, but a lot of people are interested in getting in their way.

Exiles’ Escape had a tough act to follow from Outland Exile, and came through with flying colours. W. Clark Boutwell has a gift for setting themes that are at heart very familiar in dystopia settings, and by so doing, makes the reader take a clearer look at them. Beyond that, the same gift for characterization that drew me into the first book is still at work in this sequel; the story rests on characters that are fully fleshed-out and credible, each with their own needs, dislikes, and histories. I have a weak spot for plots and characters that are complex, intelligent, and well-written, and this sequel didn’t disappoint. In many ways, W. Clark Boutwell’s dystopia is more frightening for its total plausibility than any number of zombie tropes, and, again, I found myself glued to the pages.

Mr. November, Matt Hogan

Mr. November, Matt Hogan

Mr. November

Samuel Webb is a time-traveller, altering the past investment by investment for his company. In the mutable present, he lives in a shrinking oasis of luxury, with every need catered to almost before he voices it, and his main source of companionship his downstairs bartender. However, when people from his past begin to vanish from the present, Webb begins to look under the shiny surface of his life, without the insulating layer of alcohol, and what he finds forces him to act – but is there any way that he can salvage the past he remembers from the present his actions have created?

Mr. November offers some interesting ideas for contemplation – what if one company were able to travel through time, and invest with knowledge of the greatest booms and busts of the future? With a plot underlaid by time-travel paradoxes and a concept of how each of those small changes to the past could impact the future, the story shows the care that went into the plotting. I did feel that the plot was let down to a degree by some of the technical aspects of the writing, which occasionally side-tracked me from the read, but overall this book was definitely worth-while, with some nice inter-personal dynamics.

Paradise, Michael R Watson

Paradise, Michael R Watson

Paradise (Aftershock Series Book 1)

The setting of Paradise, using earthquakes as the vehicle of the disaster, provides an interesting and plausible twist on the story. It leads neatly into the classic dystopia breakdown of infrastructure and mass civilisation, and the rise of local power structures, of which this book offers a number. The roaming Raiders, the feudal system of the Tent City, the religious enclave, and the survivalist hermits hacking it on their own all add to the backdrop of the plot.

There were, however, aspects of the writing that I found impacted the read, including technical challenges in grammar and spelling that were continuous enough to keep pulling me out of the story. In addition, the point of view, which stayed steady on one character, first person, for the first two-thirds of the book, began to move around in the later stages of the book, including switches into third person, which was a trifle jarring.

There was also only one true antagonist, the Governor of the Tent City. The religious enclave was open-minded and accepting, at least provided the women made all the meals, the raiders were actually working the Robin Hood angle underneath the bad reputations, and even the leader of the brutal encampment guards turned out to be nothing more objectionable than a good old boy. Despite the dystopia setting, things never really got rough, which I found made it difficult for me to keep my disbelief suspended through the plot.

In short, I felt that the book had a good initial idea, but it didn’t quite manage to pull me in and convince me over the long run.

The Watch, Amanda Witt

The Watch, Amanda Witt

The Watch (The Red Series Book 1)

The Watch, by Amanda Witt, is set in a closed community under constant surveillance, where walls provide protection from the things that are rumoured to haunt the surrounding woods. Red, so-called for her flaming red hair, is the maverick in a society of martinets, the only child born during the time of the ashes, the only person on the island with that distinctive shade of hair, and she is both watched and shunned because of it. Red’s existence is precarious, and her penchant for breaking rules with her charismatic friend Meritt makes it more so. It isn’t until a dangerous brush with the Wardens that Red becomes increasingly aware that it isn’t just her existence that’s precarious…

Amada Witt offers an action-packed story in The Watch, fast-paced and with rags and tags of buried history drawn unexpectedly from dark corners as the plot progresses, building a fascinating dual picture of a highly-regimented society underlaid by foundations that are crumbling into the abyss at an ever-increasing rate. Red, the wild card, is a strong protagonist, the unknowns in her background drawing the reader on page by page in the quest to discover more. This book offers a wealth of adventure, mystery, and plot twists that will draw you in and surprise you right through to the final paragraph.

Everyone Dies at the End, Riley Amos Westbrook

Everyone Dies at the End, Riley Amos Westbrook

Everyone Dies at the End

Everyone Dies at the End, by Riley and Sara Westbrook, opens in the mouldering and trash-littered home of a pair of desperate junkies, fighting over the tiny amount of drugs they can afford. Earl, infuriated by Jadee’s attack, adulterates her dose with mould scraped from the walls of their home. Jadee, hospitalised and in a coma, eventually regains consciousness, but Earl is horrified to see that she’s altered, feral – and dangerous. Shortly after Jadee’s awakening, Earl finds her skull split by a huge mushroom rooted in her brain, the people around her alternately dead or ruthlessly predatory. Desperate to escape and driven by his addiction, Earl runs from the corpse of his girlfriend into a world that will never be the same again.

Everyone Dies at the End is a classic zombie horror story with a twist, the world of the two drug addicts with whom it begins contrasted against the mundane existence of three ordinary families who are caught up in the events that Earl and Jadee set in motion. The characters are plausible, exploring the theme of normal life thrown into a conflict situation by the unexpected, and the vector by which the disease is spread is original and plays neatly on a very familiar element turning into nightmare. Riley and Sara Westbrook have written a novel that is bound to entertain fans of zombie fiction.

Qorth, Ash Gray

Qorth, Ash Gray

Qorth: he wrote her name in the stars

Qorth is set on a future Earth, where the seas have covered nearly all of the planet’s surface, and of the whole human population, only two isolated settlements remain. It’s a compelling backdrop to a dystopia, but in some ways, the world-building was contradictory. Early in the book, the narrator presents a picture of a community that shares everything, where the elders tell old stories of murder and racism. However, as the story develops, the setting describes the community, and especially those living outside the main settlement, as terrorised and raided by violent gangs, which I found difficult to reconcile.

Alone in her family’s old farmhouse, Cameron lives on the Outer Zone of the US settlement, near what used to be Yuma. Cameron is a powerfully isolated protagonist in many ways, physically and emotionally; highly independent and willing to look outside her community’s customs for knowledge. Her encounter with an alien species on the beach near her home is possible because of this isolation; her isolation also makes both of them a target. It is this status as an outsider, the balance between independence and exposure, that drives a lot of the plot. The first person voice was also strongly-written in this story; flippant and sarcastic, Cameron provides a unique and memorable narrative voice.

I had a bit of trouble with this book, and trying to figure out exactly what it was in objective terms turned out to be tough enough that it delayed putting this review up by an embarrassing amount of time. I’m fond of sci-fi, I generally get on well enough with dystopia, and I have what could be uncharitably termed an addiction to anti-hero types, all of which boxes are checked by Qorth; but when I reached the end I was still on the fence. The romance that develops between Cameron and Qorth had its ups and its downs from my perspective; while it had some original points, (I have to give points for the originality of the setting), I found some of the interactions on the stilted side. While I’m a terrible romance reviewer, there are romance books that I can’t put down, where the characters fascinate me and the tension between them drives me to read more, and that quality wasn’t there in this book for me.

Despite my challenges with some aspects, I found this book merited a solid three stars; it’s well-paced, features a strong anti-hero type as the protagonist (I am a sucker for my anti-heroes) and a lot of the ideas were both original and compelling.

Reviewed for Romance Rehab.

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