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The Janus Enigma, William R Dudley

The Janus Enigma, William R Dudley

The Janus Enigma (The Janus Chronicles Book 1)

The Janus Enigma offers a twisty, intriguing blend of sci-fi, dystopia, and thriller. Calder is a trouble-shooter for hire in the Outer Levels of Janus, with a past he’s walked away from and a present that’s going to take all his contacts and all his skills to stay alive in. When one of the most influential women on Janus hands him a missing person to track and an exorbitant fee to do it, Calder’s instinct is to be wary – but even he didn’t suspect just how far down the rabbit hole the case would take him.

I loved the opening of this book. With elaborate scheming, insider agents, and the immediate threat of inventive physical mayhem, the story started out strong and managed to keep the momentum going. The plotline showcases plots within plots, anti-heroes, centuries-old secrets, and an innovative solution to interstellar travel. Best of all, the author managed to resist the temptation to drown the story in details. The characters were strongly-developed; Sunny O’Malley and Calder in particular, but Mexican Charlie with his constantly-changing physiognomy was another of my favourites. Even the smallest of walk-on parts read like a person, not a cut-out, which I totally appreciated. Overall, this book was well-written, well-edited, and had all the elements to get and keep my attention – definitely worth reading.

Ghostlight, Rabia Gale

Ghostlight, Rabia Gale

Ghostlight (The Reflected City Book 1)

Trey’s job is to keep Lumen safe from marauding spirits. After the Great Incursion, that job is something that cannot be taken lightly. So when he comes across the spirit of a young lady on his way home from a night out, his duty is apparently quite clear; send her on. Somehow, it doesn’t quite happen as he expects, and instead, Trey and Arabella find themselves in the position of having to work together to defend Lumen from a much greater threat – and form an unlikely alliance in so doing.

Ghostlight is the first in the Reflected City series, and as always when I open a Rabia Gale novel, I found myself hooked from the first page. Whether it’s steampunk sci-fi or gaslamp fantasy, the author’s story-telling ability is unquestionable. It’s also refreshing to read novels where the interaction between characters is based on personalities and common goals, rather than who’s going to fall into bed with whom. The world-building is excellent, evoking a solid sense of place and period without getting hung up on the details. Trey is a most original protagonist; he manages to embody the somewhat crotchety ‘get off my lawn’ personality in the person of the young and highly eligible Lord St. Ash, and the conflict between society’s expectations of him and his personal inclinations adds ongoing hilarity to the read. Overall, I highly recommend this book; I was laughing and reading out bits to my partner within minutes of opening it.

Blood and Ink, Holly Evans

Blood and Ink, Holly Evans

Blood & Ink (Ink Born Book 2)

Dacian Corbeaux and his tattoo partner Keirn have fled to Prague, and are living embedded on the edge of the Magical Quarter, under the protection of a powerful wood elf named Fein. However, rumours of an ink magician in the city are spreading despite all the protection the elf can give, and Dacian’s relationship with the ink is still uncertain – too uncertain to allow him to interpret the message it’s trying to give him so urgently that he can hardly focus on the work he does to earn his protection. Between that and personal crises in his household, the situation in Prague is precarious.

Blood and Ink is a strong sequel to Stolen Ink, with a strong focus on Dacian and Keirn and a completely new setting. The book would stand alone, but reading the first one provides more context to the backstory, and the world-building is more than rich enough to merit reading both. The skilled pacing and story-telling that shone in the first book are still present in the second, although I did feel that the characters’ personal lives detracted some of the focus from the main plot. It’s hard to get too worried about this, however, as the characters are one of the key strengths of the series – cynical, well-developed, and part of a truly unique magic system. I would recommend this book – and the series – to any readers of urban fantasy looking for something new.

The White Light of Tomorrow, D Pierce Williams

The White Light of Tomorrow, D Pierce Williams

The White Light of Tomorrow (First Earth Book 1)

Adrian of Tarsus, Knight of the Military and Hospitaler Order of Saint John, just found out that his daughter and squire fights dirtier than he does, and that’s about the best thing in store for him. His daughter is sick, and without the help of some of the technology deemed heretical by his Church, he won’t be able to save her. Even having cashed in every favour that twenty years fighting the Knights’ battles earnt him to get a position aboard a merchant starship hasn’t got him close enough, fast enough, to what he needs. Mariel’s time is running short – and Adrian isn’t the only one looking for the thing that could save her.

The White Light of Tomorrow is a brilliantly original read, seamlessly mixing the legendary Knights of St. John with a dystopian future in which Earth has been destroyed, the Inquisition has made a comeback, and only the most common and vital tech is tolerated by the Church. Author D. Pierce Williams’s characters are convincingly flawed, drawing you into their doubts and fears as much as their successes, and the future Holy Catholic Church is portrayed with faultless irreverence. The dialogue is another strong point in this read – quick-witted, fast, and here and there blackly ironic. I found myself chortling aloud at it, and my sense of humour is a vanishingly difficult target to hit. The technical side is also close to flawless, which as an inveterate nit-picker I deeply appreciate in any read. Overall, if I had a six-star rating, this book would probably have got it. I can’t over-recommend it to anyone who likes their books imaginative, and the flights of fancy solidly grounded in historical detail.

The Alchemist’s Box, Alex Avrio

The Alchemist’s Box, Alex Avrio

The Alchemist’s Box (The Merchant Blades Book 1)

Regina Fitzwaters is a mercenary, one of the many soldiers who enlisted in an army that, with the advent of peace, no longer needs them. After losing her savings in a high-stakes card game, she finds herself entrapped into a mission across the treacherous Ugarri Pass at the onset of winter. Employed by a pair of criminals with no scruples and forced to take as her co-commander a mercenary previously from the opposing army, Fitzwaters is so far outside her comfort zone that she couldn’t even find it on a map, and that’s only the start of her troubles…

The Alchemist’s Box is a well-written fantasy adventure, spiced with magic that hardly anyone believes in, true prophecy that no one wants to believe in, and full of unlikely alliances. I read this book in two sittings, and on top of an excellently paced and planned plot, I found that the characters really shone. I’m a shameless sucker for intelligent anti-heroes, and Kapitan Maximillian Jaeger deserves, at the least, an honourable mention in that category. Competent, conflicted, and dark to the core, I found that he stole centre stage as far as characterisation went. The protagonist, Regina Fitzwaters, expressed very accurately the vivid exasperation of a competent, intelligent woman consistently underestimated and insulted on account of her gender, but that was the main impression left by the character. The twist at the end of the book in the very conflicted relationship between Fitzwaters and Jaeger was also a nice change from the traditional cliché. Overall, I would highly recommend this book – a most engaging read.