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.

The Vestals Conspiracy, Tomasz Chrusciel

The Vestals Conspiracy, Tomasz Chrusciel

The Vestals Conspiracy: A Prequel Novella To The Nina Monte Mystery Thriller Series

Professor Oliveri has made some astounding archaeological finds in his time; even now, approaching retirement age, he’s a well-known name in Italy. Nina Monte, a respected expert in her own right, has been his friend and colleague since she was his student over a decade ago, so when the Professor contacts her with news of a ground-breaking discovery concerning the Vestal Virgins, she drops everything to meet with him. However, the Professor is more closely watched than he ever realised, and even before Nina arrives, news of his discovery has spread.

The Vestals Conspiracy is a great prequel to the Nina Monte series, showcasing everything that makes these thrillers worth reading; intelligent, original characters, great world-building, and adventures with a flavour of danger and history. Author Tomasz Chrusciel’s ability to evoke the areas in which his stories are set provides a fantastic underpinning to the plots. I also enjoy Nina Monte as a protagonist. She’s highly educated, quick-thinking, and has a low tolerance for bullshit, as well as enough small flaws in her self-confidence to make her thoroughly plausible as a character. However, what really made this prequel for me was the way that the author managed to weave archaeological record into a millennias-old conspiracy and an equally ancient prophecy to add that thrill of ‘what-if’ to the read.

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.

J159, Renee Logan

J159, Renee Logan

J159

To ensure the perfect neutrality of a juror, the Pure Juror System was developed, whereby the system would pick jurors, and provide for their needs in an isolated environment for between three and five years. Despite the system’s efforts to keep knowledge of the calendar date from the jurors, Eddie knows he must be getting near the end of his term. However, until he sees a familiar face on a courtroom camera, and a drone drops a covert note into his walled garden, he doesn’t realise that it’s been much longer than that…or what fate the system has reserved for him and others like him.

J159 is an unusual and technically excellent thriller, where the protagonist has everything to lose but almost no agency in the story. Having the Eddie so totally isolated and reliant on others for everything, including his food, shades the development of the plot with remarkable contrasts. While Eddie can do nothing to affect his fate beyond wear a ball cap outdoors, others are putting their lives at risk to break open the secret behind the system. This is a set-up with the potential to backfire spectacularly in the wrong hands, but author Renee Logan did an outstanding job of the character development, and handled the dribs and drabs of information interspersed by Eddie’s day-to-day very well. The underlying structure of the plot is used to hammer home to the reader the sensation of ‘hurry up and wait for someone else to save your life’. A must-read for fans of suspense.

Stone and a Hard Place, R L King

Stone and a Hard Place, R L King

Stone and a Hard Place (The Alastair Stone Chronicles Book 1)

Stone and a Hard Place is a story of magic, academia, and a demon for good measure. Alastair Stone has a quiet job teaching Occult Studies, to classes mostly composed of would-be horror authors. Unlike his colleagues, Alastair actually knows what he’s talking about; he’s a mage. It’s a fact he goes to some lengths to keep hidden, and he’s got pretty good at his cover. However, a late-night call from an old friend lands him with something he’d never seriously contemplated having: an apprentice. After that, it’s only a matter of time until Alastair finds himself facing personal and demonical upheaval in his quiet life – and the odds aren’t stacked in his favour.

R L King’s writing offers memorable characters with their own goals, histories and conflicts, and a setting straight out of urban legend, all spiced with touches of well-timed humour. The tension develops very neatly, with the layer of subterfuge and deceit adding depth to the main plot, and villains and victims who come to vibrant life in the pages. I found Stone and a Hard Place had everything a good urban fantasy needs, including a really credible magic system. The writing style is excellent, making it very easy to lose yourself in the story. I’ll definitely be making my way through the rest of this series.