The Rise of Ares, Serge Alexandr

The Rise of Ares, Serge Alexandr

The Rise of Ares: Mortal Sins (Volume 1)

Serge Alexandr’s The Rise of Ares: Mortal Sins is the story of an intricately-envisioned future solar system. Humanity has reached the outer fringes of the Oort cloud, and most policy is de facto formed by the Bank. Privilege is marked by the amount of genetic and machine modification that an individual can afford. Ares, raised in the underbelly of stations through the solar system, has defaulted on his education loan to get his hands on as much illegal tech as he can, and he’s dangerously close to being sucked into the rising underground movement. Evading the fallout from an illegal station entry in a back-alley bar, the last thing Ares expects is an encounter that will change his life…

The Rise of Ares showcases rich world-building and believable characters, and Serge Alexandr’s complex solar system politics add an entire twisty dimension to the plot. Immense corporations monopolise everything, and their CEOs, in turn, bow only to the Bank. Unafraid the explore the interface where man becomes machine, the author experiments with everything from genetic modification to bio-mechanical clones, and the suppression of the less-privileged and less-modified underclasses shades in a chilling and contemporary backdrop. With explosive action and a series of double-crosses, this story will leave you begging for a sequel.

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Royal Deception, Denae Christine

Royal Deception, Denae Christine

Royal Deception

Denae Christine’s Royal Deception is an epic fantasy of shape-shifters and assassins and royalty, told primarily from the view point of the sickly young Prince Symon of Arton. Animal shifters, the Gahim, are despised by the ruling class, executed, sold as slaves, or bound as little better than servants. Kept confined to the royal castle for much of his life, Prince Symon has few friends, and, partly raised by a bound Gahim tutor, is worrying the more extremist factions of the ruling class with his egalitarian bent, something which the neighbouring kingdom of Inurot makes continuing efforts to correct with attempts to assassinate him and eradicate his family.

The world of Royal Deception displays strong world-building and a detailed social structure for the various shifter species, added to a colourful cultural background set across several kingdoms. In Prince Symon, Denae Christine has created a character well able to elicit sympathy in younger readers, chafing under the heavy hand of his over-protective parents and possessed of a strong belief in justice. The plot is equally divided between the development of Symon and the political intrigue driving the assassination plots and violence that threaten his life and his kingdom. Certainly a recommended read for all the fans of fantasy out there.

The Witch of Glenaster, Jonathan Mills

The Witch of Glenaster, Jonathan Mills

The Witch of Glenaster (The Glenaster Chronicles Book 1)

Esther Lanark was five when the first shadow of the Witch of Glenaster touched her remote village. By the time she reached her tenth year, rumours and ill fortune were flying on the wind, and stories of men with their eyes gouged out and the symbol of the Third Eye on their foreheads were becoming commonplace. Even when refugees began to pass through her village, Esther’s home remained untouched – until one night, disaster left Esther to find out exactly what she was willing to do for revenge.

The Witch of Glenaster is a young-adult fantasy with a refreshingly dark slant, and despite the inevitable help and protection rendered to the children by mysterious and competent strangers, the level of coincidence is kept to a plausible minimum. The world-building is detailed and solid, and author Jonathan Mills resists the urge to insert a magical last-minute save, which I deeply appreciated. I did find that after all the build-up, the finale fizzled out a little, but other than that, this is an eminently readable story. The characters have their own pasts, wants, and resentments, and the characterisation of Esther’s infant brother, largely non-vocal, demonstrates the author’s technical skill. While this may not be ideal bedtime reading, it’s certainly a worthwhile read for all ages of reader.

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.

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.