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The Rose Thief, Claire Buss

The Rose Thief, Claire Buss

The Rose Thief

The Rose Thief has an upside down opening: quite literally, as Ned Spinks, Chief Thief Catcher, is suspended by his heels for questioning at the time. Someone’s been stealing the Emperor’s roses, and one of them embodies the force of love. Steal that, and the kingdom will lose all ability to care. Ned’s job is to track the rose thief…before he or she makes off with the rose of love. Between that, an undercover warlock, and the murder of a prominent figure in Roshaven’s underworld, Ned’s dance card for the day is getting full – and that’s without the diplomatic pitfalls of beetle cheesecake (spit or swallow?)

The Rose Thief is a light-hearted comedy fantasy, set in a world of magic and intrigue (and we aren’t going to mention the strap-on attachment that allows humans to talk with Sparks the firefly). The plot weaves politics, family feuds, and the power of love into a colourful adventure, underscored with a telling commentary on gender discrimination that forms a more serious sideline to the main story. The character of Jenni, Ned’s partner-come-nemesis, was one that particularly drew me – a sprite with an entertainingly foul mouth to match her customary aroma, Jenni is one of the most powerful characters in the story, a force of nature with no interest in being in charge. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys laughter and fantasy.

Vileness, Rowan Waters

Vileness, Rowan Waters

Vileness (Samantha Brooks Thrillers Book 1)

In a twisty tale of betrayal and good intentions gone bad, Vileness follows Samantha Brooks as she begins to work as an agent for her brother’s network, working with victims of domestic violence to help them disappear and escape their abusers. However, when Sam moves to small-town USA, she starts to break one of the rules of the network…she starts to get involved. And once involved, she can’t help but realise that the details of the escapes she facilitates simply don’t match up…

With a compelling plot and characters, Vileness made a very strong start to the Samantha Brooks Thriller series. Personally, I would have chopped the opening chapter, where the past of a journalist you barely hear of again in the rest of the book is covered, but the main story more than compensated. Sam is a particularly refreshing heroine to read about: she doesn’t expect a knight on a white horse to ride to her rescue, and she’s not afraid to chase down unpleasant facts. The romance is a pleasant side-line to the main plot, without any attempted take-over of the storyline, and the action is reasonably plausible and well-paced. I also found that the writing was, with a few exceptions, well-edited, which allowed me to focus on the story rather than wrestling down my inner editor. I’ll definitely be watching for more releases from this author – this was a really enjoyable crime / thriller read.

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.