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Caligation, Brhi Stokes

Caligation, Brhi Stokes

Caligation

Ripley Mason is a college drop-out, hitch-hiking his way to adventure on the roads of the US, when a car accident catapults him into an existence where nothing is quite as it should be. The city of Caligation, surrounded by impassable fog, is home to shape-shifters, vampires, and people able to manipulate elements – and there appears to be no highway back to normal. When Ripley gets desperate enough to take the only job on offer, with the local Mob, he doesn’t realise the level of trouble he’s about to embroil himself in.

Caligation is a gritty urban fantasy read, featuring a moderately clueless human dropped into a world where almost everyone can kill him and a fair number of them want to. With a strong focus on the main character, this book gives a close-up of the cycle of denial, despair, and acceptance in a city where nothing is quite as it seems. The furred, scaled, and feathered alter egos of the story stole the show, to my mind, especially Nyx the crow who alternately thinks she’s a cat or a badger and loves head-scratches. While I found that the story started slowly, it gathered depth and momentum as it headed into a thought-provoking ending. I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a read a little left of normal; it’s technically strong and the plot and characters will pull you in.

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.

Afterglow, David J Ross

Afterglow, David J Ross

Afterglow (Chronicles of a Darken Earth)

The central ideas of Afterglow are compelling ones; what would happen if it were possible to see what happens to consciousness after death? What if the consciousness of every species across multiple worlds converged in what humanity thinks of as an afterlife?

Following the consciousness after death is a concept that was perfunctorily explored by the movie ‘Flatliners’ in the 1990s, and one which I’ve always felt had a lot of unexplored territory to offer. Author David J Ross’s dystopian take on it was, at root, a very good plot idea.

However, I did find this a challenging read to complete. I got the feeling from the book that the author wanted to convey the chaos of shattering worlds through the structure of the book, but for me at least, the multitude of characters and settings and body-hops made the many plot lines difficult to follow. The constant changes in viewpoint contributed to my disengagement from the characters and, subsequently, from the story. While one or two of the secondary characters were ones I might have found engaging enough to want to follow the stories of, the main characters didn’t really capture my sympathy on any meaningful level.

In addition to the rather fractured structure of the book, the editorial errors, while minor, were repetitive enough to get my attention throughout the book. I couldn’t help but feel that a strong developmental edit would have allowed the basic, very good, idea of the book to shine. Right now I would be hard-pressed to say it’s doing itself justice.

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.

Mr. November, Matt Hogan

Mr. November, Matt Hogan

Mr. November

Samuel Webb is a time-traveller, altering the past investment by investment for his company. In the mutable present, he lives in a shrinking oasis of luxury, with every need catered to almost before he voices it, and his main source of companionship his downstairs bartender. However, when people from his past begin to vanish from the present, Webb begins to look under the shiny surface of his life, without the insulating layer of alcohol, and what he finds forces him to act – but is there any way that he can salvage the past he remembers from the present his actions have created?

Mr. November offers some interesting ideas for contemplation – what if one company were able to travel through time, and invest with knowledge of the greatest booms and busts of the future? With a plot underlaid by time-travel paradoxes and a concept of how each of those small changes to the past could impact the future, the story shows the care that went into the plotting. I did feel that the plot was let down to a degree by some of the technical aspects of the writing, which occasionally side-tracked me from the read, but overall this book was definitely worth-while, with some nice inter-personal dynamics.