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.

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.

Shoeless Child, J A Schneider

Shoeless Child, J A Schneider

Shoeless Child (Detective Kerri Blasco) (Volume 4)

One woman shot and another killed, and the only witness is a small child so traumatised by seeing his mother wounded that he’s unable to speak. When a person of interest to the case shows up dead in a local park, the pressure on the police to find the killer begins a very public build-up. Detective Kerri Blasco and her partner have a pile of coincidental evidence, far too many suspects, and no solid leads – and their boss is after them to close the case fast, before the killer leaves another dead body monogrammed with an angry emoji.

Shoeless Child is the fourth in the Detective Kerri Blasco series; with tense pacing and J. A. Schneider’s characteristic twisty plotting, this story doesn’t disappoint. For me, this author has a unique gift for taking character types that usually make me sigh in exasperation and winding them into the story in such a way that their helplessness supports vital areas of the storyline. It’s this ability, along with the delightfully complex plots, that has kept me reading, spellbound, through all the Detective Blasco books. They’re dark, suspenseful, and intelligent reads where you may be certain that you’ve nailed the perp in the first five chapters, but you’ll change your mind in every chapter after that until the reveal takes you completely by surprise.