Asylum, Keith McDonald

Asylum, Keith McDonald

Asylum

Asylum opens with our hero on a dive into a sun without a spaceship, highlighting the point that it’s not where you are, it’s how you got there that’s important. Keith was captured by aliens from a routine night on security duty, narrowly escaped being eaten, and took refuge by lucky chance in a cave occupied by artificially intelligent all-atmosphere suits that had taken a few millennia break from existence. When he defends one of these inanimate suits from damage at the hands of his pursuers, they intervene to save his life, triggering an abrupt turn in his life plans.

Keith McDonald exhibits an entertainingly bloody-minded sense of humour in his writing, as well as some interesting twists on the alien abduction theme. However, overall I found Asylum would have benefited from a bit more time in edits. While the basic story was strong, constant technical issues in the writing prevented me, by and large, from suspending my disbelief long enough to get into the book, and the hero’s tendency to fight with music blasting over his headphones should by rights have got him killed long before he took a dive into a star, especially as it became something of a theme for the story. I’d have to rate this as a read with a lot of potential that needs more work to deliver on that promise.

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Dead Sea Games, J. Whitworth Hazzard

Dead Sea Games, J. Whitworth Hazzard

Dead Sea Games

In Dead Sea Games, J. Whitworth Hazzard throws us into an alternate New York, where an engineered virus known as the Osiris Agent has turned the majority of the population into carnivorous zombies. What little of the human population remains uninfected after the Emergency has taken refuge barricaded in the upper levels of sky-scrapers, reliant on government-provided food drops to stay alive. Loot from abandoned buildings is the common currency, and a few packs of AAs can be worth a life. Only the exiled orphans and the insane venture down to street level, and only Deathwish is willing to bet that he can stay alive there for more than ten minutes. No one knows who released the virus. No one is immune.

Dead Sea Games is a fantastic example of the action / horror genre, where the characters are unquestionably real and the action grabs you in a chokehold and never lets up. J. Whitworth Hazzard has created a gripping mix of martial arts, mystery and murder, overlaid by the martial law of the Colony and underlaid by the seething masses of the wandering dead. Deathwish’s struggle for justice turns into a fight for survival that provides a perfect frame for the stunningly imaged life and death stunts that punctuate the narrative, and the lure of finding out who actually released the Osiris Agent forms a strong undertow to the storyline. This is a thrilling story, and a call to look beyond the simplistic that’s going to keep you reading and guessing the outcomes.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite.

Arc of the Universe, Mark Whiteway

Arc of the Universe, Mark Whiteway

Arc of the Universe

Regan Quinn cut his ties after his wife died, and boarded a colony ship bound for the edges of human space with his young son, Conor. Arc of the Universe opens as an attack destroys the colony fleet, killing Conor as he and his father try to escape. Quinn, his last memory that of severing his own oxygen line, didn’t expect to wake up, and even less so as the prisoner of an alien race that humanity wasn’t aware existed. Captured by the Agantzane, the mysterious race that has enforced their unique sense of balance on a wide swathe of space, Quinn has been injected with a virus that is lethal on contact – and unless he uses it to kill an impressive number of the allied aliens to balance the destroyed colony fleet, he’s warned that the aliens will see human lives as worthless.

Mark Whiteway’s writing provides a thought-provoking series of questions on vengeance, assigning value to the ephemeral, and what constitutes justice, all wrapped in a fast-paced science-fiction story that offers no firm answers and a continually shifting set of perspectives. Quinn, uncertain who he can trust and what he can believe, falls back on the racial staples of deception and manipulation to keep his options open, giving the reader a fascinating contrast with alien social constructs that seem equally reprehensible. Arc of the Universe is woven with mistrust and a series of double-crosses, culminating in a killer plot twist designed to keep the reader salivating for more. I’d definitely recommend this to sci-fi fans out there – between alien psychology, life and death escapes, and lethal politics, there’s something for everyone.

How to Get Arrested, Cameron J Quinn

How to Get Arrested, Cameron J Quinn

How to Get Arrested

Zurik D’Vordi, monster slayer, is the hero of The Starsboro Chronicles: How to Get Arrested. Grandson of the richest man in the state of North Carolina, Zurik’s ancestry makes him uniquely qualified to hunt and kill the creatures that would otherwise prey on humanity – ghouls, fey, and anything else that goes bump in the night. Rooting out a fey nest preying on young women in the small town of Starsboro, however, gets unexpectedly complicated when Morgan Benson, the only woman in the local PD, turns out to have no idea what ‘back off’ means, and an even shakier grasp of self-preservation.

How to Get Arrested is a light read, entertaining and fast-moving, its dialogue flecked with idiomatic American dialect that lends it an air of authenticity. Zurik and Morgan make an entertaining partnership, his arrogance striking sparks from her professional suspicions of him at every turn. Overall, I felt this novella would have benefited from a thorough copy-edit, as the technical issues were omnipresent enough to call my attention out of the story on a frequent basis, but the plot and the characters were sound enough to net it three stars despite that. I’ll definitely be watching for more Cameron J Quinn books – this was a good urban fantasy story, well worth the read.

Kahtar: Warrior of the Ages, S. R. Karfelt

Kahtar: Warrior of the Ages, S. R. Karfelt

Kahtar: Warrior of the Ages

SR Karfelt’s Kahtar: Warrior of the Ages opens with a speeding ticket awarded by a part-time police chief to a woman on her way to a new life. Beth White has just left a highly successful, jet-setting career as an investor to buy an old house that she found a picture of in a library book and start a shop in it. Quite why she feels so strongly attracted to this particular house, she doesn’t know. She also doesn’t know why the community of Willowyth seems determined to make her leave, when she feels more at home there than anywhere else. Even being arrested and racking up four traffic tickets in half an hour aren’t enough to change her mind. In fact, for some reason, arrest from the Willowyth Police Chief could almost qualify as incentive to stay.

Kahtar: Warrior of the Ages is a fantastic opening book to the series, featuring engaging characters and a plotline that made me sorry to step out of it. SR Karfelt expertly creates a world within a world of Covenant Keepers, living beside the modern world, invoking touches of the folklore of the faery land of Underhill woven in with Christian mythology. The characters are plausible and well-developed, drawing you to share Beth’s frustration and Kahtar’s conflict, personifying a collision of cultures between the punk rock of the new world and the ancient and hidden traditions of the Arcs. I can’t over-recommend this book; humour, action and an enticing world make it an entrancing read.

Reviewed for Readers’ Favorite.