The Venom Protocols, John Murray McKay

The Venom Protocols, John Murray McKay

The Venom Protocols

The Venom Protocols  is a thriller with a twist on the typical genetically-enhanced military solution gone wrong scenario. Charlotte was all but living on the streets when she jumped into the middle of an alleyway fight. When she came around in hospital, she discovered she’d saved the life of a Mob enforcer – leading to Charlotte becoming the local Mob’s ace-in-the-hole. Unlike most ex-junkie teenage girls, Charlotte had an affinity for any weapon that came handy. Unfortunately those skills came with a price, and Charlotte found herself one unintended massacre ahead of jail-time, trying to find out what made her how she was.

The basic story for the book is a solid classic that fans of the TV show ‘Dark Angel’ will be familiar with, albeit with a semi-mystical twist that adds interest. I found the underlying concept to be good, but the protagonist didn’t really keep my attention; Charlotte read as a bundle of sensory information and not much else, and didn’t elicit much sympathy as a character. The two drag queen secondary characters, Richard and Peter, were the ones that stole the show, to my mind. In addition, there were minor ongoing technical issues in the book. While they weren’t major enough to derail the read completely, they were annoying.

I couldn’t help but feel that this book would have profited from a bit more character development, to draw the reader in, and a detailed copy-edit to keep them from being yanked out of the story by absent punctuation or a clunky bit of phrasing.

The Gorgon Bride, Galen Surlak-Ramsey

The Gorgon Bride, Galen Surlak-Ramsey

The Gorgon Bride

The Gorgon Bride is the story of what would happen if the ancient Greek pantheon showed up on Earth and dropped an Orca on a concert pianist. This book showed strong elements of the traditional Greek legends’ style in the story, with the gods essentially larger-than-life humans pursuing eternal family feuds, but unfortunately my sense of humour is a vanishingly small target, and the comedic elements rather passed me by.

Alexander Weiss is selected by Athena apparently at random to act as her hero and find a suitable match for a gorgon, daughter of Phorcys, in order to appease Phorcys for having turned another of his daughters into a whale that got dropped on Alexander. Athena hopes to prove herself superior to Aphrodite in the process.

While the idea is certainly original, I found this story very hard to get into. The traditional Greek legend style of ‘oh, you got dismembered, old boy? Well, never mind, it’s a new day’ just never does it for me, and despite my best efforts, I kept skidding out of immersion in the storyline in a cloud of curses. This is undoubtedly a tribute to how well the author managed the style, but for me, much as I’d like to be able to, I can’t give a higher rating; I just didn’t enjoy the read.

Urban Heroes, T J Lockwood

Urban Heroes, T J Lockwood

Urban Heroes (The Twelve Cities Book 2)

Urban Heroes follows a pair on the run from the authorities in the middle of an android revolt in this  twisty sci-fi thriller. Calista Ridley has a ship she can’t use, a partner she can’t name, and for a full house, a runaway who can’t look after herself. She’s playing in underground Russian Roulette halls far from the upper cities she used to inhabit to keep them housed and fed, and never staying in one place too long in case the bounty hunters catch up with her. Unfortunately, ‘too long’ is a variable concept, and Calista finds herself on the run again, with her past in hot pursuit.

While this book did offer an interesting slant on the theme of androids, AI, and how close to human it’s necessary to be to qualify for human rights, I didn’t find that the structure of the story stood up to the promise of the subject matter. The majority of the book is Calista on the run, with a partner who is essentially a cipher, and numerous factions after both of them. It’s only in the final fifth of the book that there’s a sudden series of revelations as to who Axton is, who Calista is, and why they’re both so desperate to stay off the radar. It’s also written in first person present tense, which while it’s a perfectly valid stylistic choice, makes my hair stand on end. Overall, while there were strong elements in this book, for me they never gelled together into a cohesive story.

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.

Spellcaster, George Bachman

Spellcaster, George Bachman


Spellcaster is an intriguing mix of fantasy and steampunk, opening in a Victorian-style London amid a group of debutantes from an eclectic mix of backgrounds. Christine, also called Ophelia or Tom-cat by her adoptive sisters, turns out to have a hidden talent for witchcraft. While manoeuvring through appearance-conscious London society, she is also trying to find out why she isn’t alone in her own head, and why most of the mystics in the city won’t help her.

For me, one of the challenges with the story is that the read is chaotic. Every character comes equipped with at least one nick-name, one given name, and one (or more) formal names depending on the situation, and there is a wide cast of secondary characters, all of whom will also be called by any one of several names or a title when they show up. Christine’s viewpoint is frequently coloured or overlaid completely with visions or nightmares, and the fact that she is the main protagonist, and has an entire hidden life of spellcraft that she lies about to everyone around her, doesn’t help to keep the progression of the plot clear.

At about halfway through the book, Christine finally finds out who is in her head with her; a misogynistic, highly focussed knight from the end of the French Dark Ages. At about two-thirds of the way through the book, the French knights, or rather knight and squire at that point, manage to extricate themselves from Christine’s life, and that is, very abruptly, the last that you see of the character in whose head you have spent the first two-thirds of the book. The latter part of the book is written from the point of view of one of the knights, fighting a supernatural enemy with a magical artifact that they somehow found out about and tracked down at some point prior to their abrupt appearance in the Victorian era.

In short, I found that the plot, once I managed to disinter it, was inventive and worthwhile. It was, however, badly let down by the technical side of the story-telling, which is frankly a great shame. Some work to provide the reader with the context of both the timelines, consistent naming of the characters in the plot, and some pruning of the descriptive passages would immediately catapult this book two stars higher for me.

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