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.

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.

The Fall, MJ McGriff

The Fall, MJ McGriff

The Fall: Book 1 of the New Earth Series

Lieutenant Cairo Wilson is happy with her career; born into a backward settlement where the role of a female is to mind the kitchen and have children, the Federation’s military training and education opportunities were a life-changing escape from a future of boredom. When she’s assigned to one of the remote colony settlements to investigate rumours of terrorism, she accepts it as an opportunity to develop new skills. However, none of her training prepares her for a cataclysmic meeting with her erstwhile best friend from the Academy…or what that friend has been doing.

The Fall mixes classic adventure sci-fi with YA-style exploration of cultural restrictions and the younger generation’s rebellion against them; Lt. Wilson’s encounter with her parents, many years after she ran away from home to join the Federation military, is a set-piece of the type. I found that in places the youthful rebellion theme impacted the pacing of the main storyline; conversely, there were areas of the world-building where I felt some additional detail would have been beneficial, not to mention some shades of gray between the protagonist and antagonist. The story is very much ‘youthful trauma turns against the government that trained her’ versus ‘perfectly programmed citizen’. However, the book overall was well-written and an enjoyable read – I would recommend it to sci-fi readers, especially those in the younger age brackets.

The Watchers boxed set, Ellison Blackburn

The Watchers boxed set, Ellison Blackburn

The Watchers boxed set: If There Be Giants and Second Son

If you enjoyed Indiana Jones, and the interweaving of fact and myth, past and present, this series is for you. Author Ellison Blackburn takes a solid grounding of English weather and archaeology, and adds a breath of mythology and mystery that raises the plot from merely interesting to a delightful exercise in what-if.

If There be Giants

Mallory Jacks and her best friend, Paisley Bourne, shared a passion for archaeology as children. Years later, Drs. Jacks and Bourne, once again working together, are summoned to a farm where the farmer has uncovered a possible henge site. As they begin to unearth the stones, they make a discovery that has the potential to overturn both the scientific and the religious communities.

If There Be Giants is a story of archaeology and myths, giants and visions, set in Cornwall, the seat of all British legend. Ellison Blackburn has created a story richly woven with archaeological detail and Christian mythology, and peopled it with her strongly-characterised protagonists. This is one of the author’s strongest books to date, a fascinating debut to the new Watchers series.

Second Son

Second Son is the second in the Watchers series, following  Grey’s point of view more closely as he learns the truth of his infamous heritage – and how to reconcile his existence and that of his family with their beliefs.

Author Ellison Blackburn’s trademark ability to weave thought-provoking concepts into stories that are gripping, well-developed reads is back on display in this series, as she explores love, fidelity, and faith through the lens of Grey and Mallory’s lives. The handling of the Christian mythology displays the depth of research that went into the story and provides a strong framework that underlies the choices the protagonists must make in this book.

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body, Simon Petrie

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body, Simon Petrie

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body: A Guerline Scarfe Investigation

Titan is a hostile environment. When people die, it’s the job of someone like Guerline Scarfe to make sure that all the details are correctly recorded and all angles are examined to ensure that the future of Fensal’s citizens is as safe as it can be. The investigation into the death of Tanja Noor Hainan Morgenstein should have been one like any other – despite her influential parents. However, when Guerline starts asking why the daughter of one of Titan’s most influential families would have committed suicide by Titan right outside an airlock, her investigation starts sprouting inconsistencies.

Matters Arising from the Identification of the Body is a well-written mystery thriller in a science-fiction setting. Details of terrain and technology add to the backdrop, but the author has resisted allowing them to overwhelm the story. The characters are well-developed, and while Guerline is at first glance the epitome of the harassed separated parent with a spoiled child, her obstinacy makes her the ideal protagonist for the plot. The final plot twist reveal was particularly nicely handled, with enough presaging to make it credible without giving the game away too early. Overall, this was a thoroughly enjoyable read – there’s something there for everyone from detective mystery fans through to die-hard sci-fi readers.

Icarus, David K Hulegaard

Icarus, David K Hulegaard

The Noble Trilogy: Book One – Icarus

Miller Brinkman is a private eye in small-town 1950’s USA, with his usual cases whatever the widely-respected town sheriff doesn’t want or doesn’t have time for. However, when Jane Emmett, the town’s problem child, vanishes abruptly from the public eye and a rumour is spread that she’s been sent away to school, her only friend begs Brinkman to find out what happened to her. Following the clues left in a disturbing series of Jane’s diary entries that indicate something very different than an involuntary departure to a finishing school, Brinkman has no idea of what he’s about to discover…

Icarus combines two of my favourite genres in a page-turning read. With an economical turn of description that allows the spotlight to shine on the events of the plot, author David K. Hulegaard creates an atmospheric mystery with enough darkness woven into it to keep the reader on edge. Brinkman, our protagonist, comes with enough human flaws to make him plausible and keep him from the superhuman trope. All of the characters show excellent development, with enough background to make them solidly real in the story without straying into the territory of the fatal info-dump, and many with the characteristically ‘small-town’ scandals and links that support the main plot. All in all, I don’t give out five stars very often – this book definitely earnt them.