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.

Stolen Ink, Holly Evans

Stolen Ink, Holly Evans

Stolen Ink (Ink Born Book 1)

Dacian’s a tattoo magician. He’s got a business that pays well enough to let him put his feet up and keep the door closed every so often if he wants to, and a good business partner. Going unnoticed is exactly what he likes best. Unfortunately, it looks as if the gods aren’t content any more with merely raining on him; his tattoos are collecting strays, and someone else is apparently collecting other peoples’ tattoos. The words ‘ink magician’ are flying around a lot more than Dacian’s happy with, but when the tattoo thief strikes close to home, any choice Dacian can live with is going to get him noticed…

The first thing you’re going to notice about Stolen Ink is its strong, unique, cynical voice, and that it’s laugh-out-loud funny in places. The second thing, probably, will be that it’s a couple of hours later than you expected. Author Holly Evans has created a deeply-detailed fantasy world with a rich variety of species and magic types loose in it, and all the conflict points you could want to spark a story. The characters are memorably individual, and, impressively, the author manages to include companion animal spirits without in any way coming off as a Philip Pullman impression. This book truly puts the ‘fantasy’ in urban fantasy – highly enjoyable.

Anchor Leg, Jack Croxall

Anchor Leg, Jack Croxall

Anchor Leg

When the overcrowding forced Earth to seek alternatives to house its population, stations were founded as far out as Saturn, and spaceships travel the vast distances between planets, serving as transport, supply, research, and mining vessels. Seren Temples is a security apprentice on the Charybdis, an orphan from Earth among the primarily system-born crew, trying to escape her past on Earth and make herself a future – any future. However, when an SOS signal disrupts their planned course, Seren and her security team find themselves involved in events that could destabilise the delicate balance of the whole solar system.

Jack Croxall’s Anchor Leg is a fantastic sci-fi novel, with a fast-paced plot, twisty intrigue, and incredibly well-developed characters. While I’m a self-confessed cynic, I also found the romance in this plot was nicely handled, neither distracting nor detracting from the primary plot, but actually supporting the action and contributing to character development. That’s a challenging achievement for many books, and one I admire. The exposition also managed to maintain a perfect balance between keeping the reader informed enough to understand the undercurrents and managing to completely avoid the fatal data dump. This book was an extraordinarily satisfying read on pretty much every level, and I have every intention of going to camp out on this author’s page to do my best Oliver Twist impression. An outstanding achievement.

I Belong to the Earth, J A Ironside

I Belong to the Earth, J A Ironside

I Belong to the Earth: Unveiled, Book 1

A car smash was the turning point for all three sisters, and especially Emlynn, traumatised and with a head injury that apparently kick-started her on-again-off-again ability to perceive the dead. Isolated, and struggling with her own problems, there’s no-one Emlynn can tell about the cold patch on the stairs, or the figures she sees watching their house, or the sense of sheer menace she’s getting off her oldest sister’s new boyfriend. Each of the sisters has their role to play, and it seems the harder Emlynn tries to fight, the more ground she loses.

I Belong to the Earth is a complex story with a depth and richness far beyond most of the YA genre I’ve read. It’s welcomely free of stereotypes and miraculous solutions, and the fantasy elements are solidly thought-out and woven into the plot with a realism that chills. Author J. A. Ironside writes the side-effects of trauma with an understanding that adds dimensions to Emlynn’s struggle. With excellent pacing and incredibly convincing characterisation, this book totally earnt its five stars. I read it in a couple of sittings, and actually read all the teasers at the end looking for more (I never do that). I strongly recommend this read – one of the best fantasy books I’ve come across this year.