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Review - Stories of the Raksura : Volume Two: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below by Martha Wells


Stories of the Raksura
   Volume Two: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below
AuthorMartha Wells
Series:  Stories of the Raksura
Publisher:  Night Shade Books, June 2, 2015
Format:  Trade Paperback and eBook, 232 pages
List Price:  $15.99 (print)
ISBN:  9781597805377 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review - Stories of the Raksura : Volume Two: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below by Martha Wells
Moon, Jade, and other favorites from the Indigo Cloud Court return with two new novellas from Martha Wells.

Martha Wells continues to enthusiastically breach genre conventions in her exploration of the fascinating world of the Raksura. Her novellas and short stories contain all the elements fans have come to love from the Raksura books: courtly intrigue and politics, unfolding mysteries that reveal an increasingly strange wider world, and threats both mundane and magical.

“The Dead City” is a tale of Moon before he came to the Indigo Court. As Moon is fleeing the ruins of Saraseil, a groundling city destroyed by the Fell, he flies right into another potential disaster when a friendly caravanserai finds itself under attack by a strange force. In “The Dark Earth Below,” Moon and Jade face their biggest adventure yet: their first clutch. But even as Moon tries to prepare for impending fatherhood, members of the Kek village in the colony tree’s roots go missing, and searching for them only leads to more mysteries as the court is stalked by an unknown enemy.

Stories of Moon and the shape changers of Raksura have delighted readers for years. This world is a dangerous place full of strange mysteries, where the future can never be taken for granted and must always be fought for with wits and ingenuity, and often tooth and claw. With these two new novellas, Martha Wells shows that the world of the Raksura has many more stories to tell . . .


Brannigan's Review

Stories of The Raksura: Volume Two: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below by Martha Wells is strange, which in this case is a compliment. I've read some of Well's earlier books and enjoyed them a lot, so I jumped at the chance to review one of her newer works—little did I know what I was getting myself into.

Wells is a master writer and has been doing it long enough that even now as she delves into Strange Fantasy she can still keep me invested in the story. For those of you unfamiliar with Strange Fantasy, it's a sub-genre that focuses on exploring worlds and creatures that are completely unfamiliar to your average fantasy story. Now, almost every fantasy writer likes to create something unique to their world, but they still use familiar creatures and humanoid races that readers can identify with. Strange Fantasy doesn't. It gives you very little you recognize. On the positive side, there's plenty of wonder and exploration for the reader as you discover new things on every page. The negative side is there are so many new things that it's easy to get overwhelmed and feel disconnected to the actual story.

There are four short stories and one novella in this volume of short stories. The only common race throughout most of the stories are the Raksura, a cross between a dragon and humanoid creature that can phase between different shapes. Moon and Jade are two of the Raksura that appear in more than a few of the stories, and I would deem them the main characters. Moon, a male, spent most of his youth away from his own race, and Jade, a female, is a sister queen to her court. In a later story, Moon is Jade's consort.

I'm a character and world fan. I love getting connected to characters and lost in a world. With all the strangeness of the characters and world, Wells drew me in the different stories and I found myself enjoying my time in her world. However, I did feel very lost, as there was a lot I knew I was missing by not reading other books in the series. I also had a hard time relating to the characters even though I was engaged in the story. It's already a difficult read without jumping in on volume two of a short story collection.

Stories of The Raksura: Volume Two: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below is a fascinatingly strange world to immerse yourself in. I would only recommend it to those already familiar with this world or up for a challenge and bored with the regular fantasy tropes. There are acts of violence, no bad language and only implied adult situations. I would recommend it to teens and adults. This series is for die-hard fans of Wells and those looking for something they won't find in every other fantasy book.

Review: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu


The Grace of Kings
AuthorKen Liu
Series:  The Dandelion Dynasty 1
Publisher:  Saga Press, April 7, 2015
Format:  Hardcover and eBook, 640 pages
List Price:  $27.99 (print)
ISBN:  9781481424271 (print)
Review Copy:  Provided by the Publisher

Review: The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
Two men rebel together against tyranny—and then become rivals—in this first sweeping book of an epic fantasy series from Ken Liu, recipient of Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards.

Wily, charming Kuni Garu, a bandit, and stern, fearless Mata Zyndu, the son of a deposed duke, seem like polar opposites. Yet, in the uprising against the emperor, the two quickly become the best of friends after a series of adventures fighting against vast conscripted armies, silk-draped airships, and shapeshifting gods. Once the emperor has been overthrown, however, they each find themselves the leader of separate factions—two sides with very different ideas about how the world should be run and the meaning of justice.

Fans of intrigue, intimate plots, and action will find a new series to embrace in the Dandelion Dynasty.



Brannigan's Review

The Grace of Kings, like the dandelion, isn't all it appears to be at first, and you'll be rewarded if you take the time to invest in the story. I have never read nor have I heard of Ken Liu, but I must say I was intrigued after I saw that he has won so many awards.

The story is set in a realistic fantasy world. There are a few elements of the story that have the feel of magic but nothing that is so far fetched I would have to believe a magical spell would be the cause. The gods of this world play a part in the story and use their godly powers from time to time, but I don't consider that the same as magic in the sense of spells and enchantments. There are several islands with Asian nation states that have just recently been conquered by the first emperor.

The story quickly shows the evil acts of a megalomaniac ruler who subjugates the people to build the world as he wishes. The common people of the islands suffer the most under the hand of the emperor and several different rebel groups spring up to fight against the new empire. Kuni Garu and Mata Zyndu start off in two separate paths of rebellion but soon find each other and work together to defeat the Emperor. They become as close as brothers in their fight to end the empire.

This is where Ken Liu showed me what an award-winning writer can do. From this point on, there are no longer true heroes or villains. Liu shows how power corrupts some and how others have the strength to resist power. He shows several times how far a good person must bend their moral beliefs to win if it means saving the world. These are things we've all learned before, but Liu does it so smoothly, without immediately drawing attention to the lesson, that it feels more natural. There are countless sacrifices by almost every character in the story. Liu explores honor with its many different rules and etiquette and how each character interprets it differently to serve his or her own purpose. Liu is a master of political intrigue, there are so many plots, deals, betrayals and rescues that kept me engaged.

This is an epic in every sense of the word. Liu's characters and the world they live in captivated me. I learned so much about each of them that it doesn't matter if I labeled them a hero or villain, I related to each. The world they struggle to free or control is fully realized. Liu spends time on every island and gives the history of so many characters both important and not. This can be good or bad, depending on the likes of a reader. I haven't had the chance to read a true epic in awhile so I feasted on each page and was satisfied by the end of the story. Most of the battles are only briefly described or summarized with most of the action taking place in the political arena.

The Grace of Kings is a brilliant start to what will be, without a doubt, an impressive series. It forced me to reexamine how I look at historical figures and the men and women leading the world today. There is no true good or evil in the world. We flow back and forth between the spectrum. There are acts of violence, mild language some adult situations. I would recommend it to older teens and adults. This is the dream of any fan of epic fantasy. It's also a great book for people who love strong male and female characters, politics and fully realized world.

Retro Reviews: Starfinder by John Marco



Retro Reviews: Starfinder by John Marco


Starfinder
Author:  John Marco
Series:  Skylords 1
Original Publisher and Date:  DAW, May 5, 2009
Still in Print:  Yes
Current Formats and Length: Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 336 pages
Availability:  Online and in Bookstores
ISBN:  9780756406103 (Mass Market Paperback)

Retro Reviews: Starfinder by John Marco
Brief History

John Marco was born and raised in Long Island, NY. He worked as a technical writer before being published. In 1994, he started working on his first novel, and in 1999 his first book, The Jackal of Nar, was published in 1999. He has published eight novels to date with his ninth book, The Bloody Chorus (Bloody Chorus 1) coming out in November.

Starfinder was meant to be the first of a young adult series. It was published in 2009 as a hardback. It is still available in eBook and Mass Market Paperback. The publisher chose not to continue the series.


Description

A new fantasy series from the author of The Sword of Angels.

Steam trains and electricity are rapidly changing the world. Moth of Calio is obsessed with the airships developed by his friend Fiona's grandfather Rendor, and dreams of taking to the air one day like his heroes, the Skyknights.

But not everyone is happy to see humans reach the skies. For thousands of years, the mysterious and powerful race known as the Skylords have jealously guarded their heavenly domain. But Moth and Fiona are about to breach the magical boundary between the world of humans and the world of the Skylords.



Brannigan's Review

I've been a big fan of John Marco ever since I read The Jackal of Nar. I bought my copy of Starfinder when it came out. I didn't immediately read it, as I have a weird tick about reading ongoing series. I kept waiting to see if any additional books would be published and, over time, got caught up in reading other books. Once again, Retro Reviews has presented me with an opportunity to right my wrongs.

John Marco is a master of character creation and world building. It didn't take long before I became immersed in a sense of wonder reading Starfinder. I found more enjoyment reading this particular young adult novel than I have in most. It doesn't force you to relive teenage angst, but instead touches on those monumental events we all deal with in our youth. It reminded me of the excitement I found as a youth exploring fantasy worlds in literature—discovering new creatures and strange lands that can only live in imagination. Marco has built a world and characters that feel real while keeping the story short and simple enough to be inviting to any age.

Moth, the main character, is a young orphan boy. He lives with Leroux, a kind old Eldrin Knight who's part of an Order that's fading into history. He fills Moth's head with stories of adventures at night. By day, Moth works as a custodian at the airfield. Fiona is a girl a few years older than Moth and the granddaughter of Rendor, a man who invented air travel as the world knows it and aspires to even more. Even the villains are interesting as characters. Marco has a gift of making his villains relatable, and even hints that they might be redeemable. It makes me mourn for them rather than hate them, creating a more satisfying and realistic villain.

The world is split into two continents. One side is comparable to a European country set around the 17th Century. Marco brings in a wonderful twist by creating dragonflies—an early aircraft that looks more like an early helicopter, in my mind, with four glass wings on the top. There are also massive airships that look like over-sized zeppelins. These planes give the story a steam-punk feel, without any actual steam or gears being mentioned. There appears to be no magic on this half of the world. The other side of the world is all magic. It's a land of talking dragons, mermaids, and centaurs. We revel in the wonder of it all with Moth and Fiona as they discover this land. We also soon learn that on this side of the world, birds don't fly, the sky is left for the Skylord's and their slaves. The Reach is the only thing separating the two halves—an ocean of fog that's nearly impossible to cross. I loved the imagery of a ocean of fog rather than water separating two continents.

The overall storyline is a familiar quest story, but the added character depth and world building gave the story originality. The pacing is fast with short chapters, which made it hard for me to set it down, because I knew I could stay up just a little longer and read another chapter.

Since the book was supposed to be the first in a series, I was worried there would be a lot of unanswered questions, however Marco did a great wrap up to the story while still alluding to future stories. After finishing the book, I've tried to think up several ways in which I might be able to coax DAW into letting Marco finish the series. I think the only true way would be to bombard DAW headquarters with as many moths and dragonflies as possible until they beg Marco to finish the series. I'm just afraid PETA might get mad at me if I suggest this idea too strongly.

Starfinder is a wonderfully entertaining young adult fantasy book that was sadly published just before the big YA boom. I know it would have been a smash hit otherwise. Please don't let the fact that it's the first book in a series that may never be finished stop you from enjoying it. The story is complete and worth your time and money to read. It lives up to John Marco's talent and gift as a writer. There are a few minor moments of violence, but I have no problem recommending this book to teens or adults. If you're a fan of John Marco and haven't read this book, go buy a copy and add it to your collection. If you're a fan of fantasy and steampunk this is a great bridge between both genres. It's also a perfect way to remind yourself why you fell in love with fantasy in the first place. It's definitely a book I'll read to my kids once they get a little older.


Favorite quotes from the book

“The wind whistled as it swam between the towers, but not another voice reached them, not a single blinking eye.” page 142.

“Even if we had wings, some of us would be pigeons.” spoken by Rendor page 162.

“To end the human dream.” spoken by Alis page 238.

“The drums were now silent; Moth could hear the wind rustling in the grass as he awaited Jorian's call. Tonight, he and Fiona would be warriors.” page 284.

Review: Echoes by T.D. Wilson


Echoes
Author:  T.D. Wilson
Series:  The Epherium Chronicles 3
Publisher:  Carina Press, March 30, 2015
Format:  eBook, 180 pages
List Price:  $2.99
eISBN:   9781426899201
Review Copy: Provided by the Author

Review: Echoes by T.D. Wilson
Book three of The Epherium Chronicles

The battle for Cygni colony may be over, but for Captain James Hood and the crew of the EDF Armstrong, the battle for humanity's future has just begun. Hood's defense of the remote outpost against the Cilik'ti aliens was magnificent, but without the timely help of an unlikely ally—a splinter tribe of humanity's bitter enemies—the colony would have been lost and the Armstrong destroyed.

An uneasy peace has prevailed ever since. But as the humans prepare for a crucial meeting, a desperately needed Earth supply convoy is attacked under mysterious circumstances, with the lead escort cruiser's captain disappearing even more mysteriously.

The fate of all of Earth's new colonies hangs in the balance, and Hood is charged with protecting them against growing threats from all sides. When rebellion and unrest challenge the very leadership of the Earth Defense Forces, Hood may need to go it alone…and make the ultimate sacrifice.


Brannigan's Review

Echoes is a book of questions and mysteries. As the crew of the Armstrong make their way to the second of three planets that may be the future home for the human race, they continue to struggle for survival. The Cilik'ti race once ruled by a council has broken into warring factions. The mysterious ship manned by humans continues to cause problems for Captain Hood and his crew for yet unknown reasons, and a third, more cryptic, force rears its head and seems to be willing to fight everyone.

Character-and world-building continue to be strong areas for Wilson as we are introduced to some new characters and a new world. It doesn't take long to become emotionally connected to new characters and their struggles. We also see old characters continue to be fleshed out, which gives them depth. The second planet Tau Ceti is by far my favorite world so far. It held plenty of moments of wonder and it houses some very intriguing lifeforms. My imagination wandered a few times thinking about the possibilities it held for future stories.

T.D. Wilson is creating plenty of tension in this third book of an at least 5 books series as more and more events start to unfold. My only issue with the book is that Wilson doesn't resolve any subplots or questions he raised in the first three books. I like to have answers given along the way and, as yet, there haven't been any. I'm trying to keep up with all the different subplots and questions already raised.

Echoes deepens the mysteries of the overall plot as well as adds additional subplots to a great series. The world-building continues to make Wilson's universe appealing and inviting. I look forward to seeing what the last colony world is like and how everything will take shape in the subsequent books. There are acts of violence and mild language. I would recommend it to teens and adults. It's a wonderful science fiction series that has plenty of action as well as exploration and wonder.





Previously

Embrace
The Epherium Chronicles 1
Carina Press, March 3, 2014
eBook, 200 pages

Review: Echoes by T.D. Wilson
Book one of The Epherium Chronicles 

Hope. Captain James Hood of the Earth Defense Forces remembers what it felt like. Twenty-five years ago, it surged through him as a young boy watching the colony ships launched by mega-corporation Epherium rocket away. He, like so many others, dreamed of following in the colonists' footsteps. He wanted to help settle a new world--to be something greater.

Then came the war... 

Hope. During years of vicious conflict with an insectoid alien race, it was nearly lost. Though Earth has slowly rebuilt in the six years since the war, overcrowding and an unstable sun have made life increasingly inhospitable. When mysterious signals from the nearly forgotten colony ships are received, Hood is ordered to embark on a dangerous reconnaissance mission. Could humanity's future sit among the stars?

Hope. Hood needs it now more than ever. As secrets about the original colonists are revealed and the Epherium Corporation's dark agenda is exposed, new adversaries threaten the mission, proving more dangerous to Earth than their already formidable foes...


See Brannigan's review here.



Crucible
The Epherium Chronicles 2
Carina Press, May 26, 2014
eBook, 217 pages

Review: Echoes by T.D. Wilson
Book two of The Epherium Chronicles

January, 2155

Earth Defense Forces Captain James Hood is on the mission of his life. The Cygni solar system is just one space-fold jump away. One more jump and they'll have reached the fledgling colony that Earth desperately needs if the human race is going to survive. But a plot to derail him has already damaged his ship, threatened the lives of his crew and cost him time. Time the colonists might not have.

So much depends on him now, but Hood's confidence is shaken. It's self-doubt he thought he'd buried, a brutal mind-killer for all military commanders. Yet danger surrounds his team; a brutal insectoid alien race is still out there, intent on eradicating humans, and a greater threat from an unknown, elusive enemy has emerged.

The forces at work on Cygni are like nothing Hood has trained for, tactically or emotionally. When put to the test, he must choose to either trust the unlikeliest of allies, or run and seal the fate of the Cygni colony forever.


See Brannigan's review here.

Retro Reviews: Tainted Blood by Nathan Long


Retro Reviews: Tainted Blood by Nathan Long



Tainted Blood
Author:  Nathan Long
Series:  Black Hearts 3
Original Publisher and Date:  Games Workshop, July 4, 2006
Availability:  You can find it used online and in omnibus format
ISBN:  9781844163717 (print)

Retro Reviews: Tainted Blood by Nathan Long
Brief History

Nathan Long started writing at the age of 12 and spent several years writing screenplays for TV and films. He's written 15 novels in the Warhammer shared world so far, and Valnir's Bane was his first book published in 2004. His first original world book is Jane Carver of Waar, a parody/ode to Edgar Rice Burroughs. He's also written a few video games.

The Black Hearts series is a reflection of Long's love of the old classic film heroes, everyday men who went through incredible events, and, just as often as they were heroic, they also showed their fear or weaknesses.


Description

Still shocked by the death of their comrade Abel, Reiner and his cut-throat companions, the Blackhearts, are horrified to learn that there may be a spy amongst them. Imprisoned and forced into dangerous missions under threat of death, they are press ganged into working as bodyguards for their "employer", Count Manfred, as he journeys to Talabheim, where the forces of magic are running wild. With enemies all around and a traitor within, can the Blackhearts solve the mystery and save the city from destruction?



Brannigan's Review

I'm sad to see this series come to an end. I found it by mistake and count myself lucky. Tainted Blood the last book in The Black Hearts series takes you out with a bang.

Tainted Blood starts out with the Black Hearts at their worst with a traitor among them. Who it is and how not knowing the identity of the traitor worms its way into all the Black Hearts and nearly destroys them. I enjoyed the intrigue and guessing and was honestly surprised with the reveal. Long continues to shine with his characters, we see several continue to grow and meet new ones along the way. It amazes me that he has been able to kill off so many members of the Black Hearts and add more with each book. So many authors are unable to find the right balance in killing their darlings, but Long is one of the few that does it right.

The main storyline is a lot of fun as the Black Hearts are once again forced into service and find an impossible path out trouble. Long continues to raise the stakes without turning the whole thing into a gross misuse of the fantasy genre. I love it when an author brings things back from past books without making corny mistakes. It gives the series as a whole a united feel and also helps bring the story to a satisfying ending.

My only complaint with the book or the series as a whole is that it's over. I wish I had another book to read of the Black Hearts. Thankfully, I bought the omnibus, so I have a couple of short stories to enjoy. Nathan Long is now an author I will be keeping my eyes on for future releases. I hope he continues to write in the sword and sorcery genre that he does so well. I'd also love to see him write in his own world. I think he could bring us something new an interesting in world building.

Tainted Blood is sadly the final book is the series, but I'm happy with how it ended, which is more important than how it all began, because now it'll be a series I'll reread for years to come—a testament to Long's skill and the characters he created. There are a few minor moments of descriptive violence and implied sexual activities, but I have no problem recommending this book to teens or adults. It's a go-to series for me to recommend to anyone who enjoys cheering on reluctant heroes without having to be disgusted by them. It's got it all folks. Go buy all three books or get your hands on the omnibus. You'll thank me later.

Guest Blog by Timothy S. Johnston and Review of The Void - March 30, 2015


Please welcome Timothy S. Johnston to The Qwillery. The Void, the 3rd novel in The Tanner Sequence, is out today from Carina Press. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Timothy a Happy Publication Day.



Guest Blog by Timothy S. Johnston and Review of The Void - March 30, 2015




THE VOID: A Classic Murder Mystery in Outer Space
by Timothy S. Johnston

Classic murder mysteries are strangely comforting. There’s something so familiar about them. Perhaps this is thanks to Agatha Christie and the works she’s best known for: THE MOUSETRAP or AND THEN THERE WERE NONE. There are common elements in any story of this type: a confined and claustrophobic location, a hostile environment, a small cast of characters including one murderer and one investigator, a rising body count, storms, power outages, increasing paranoia, and a shocking reveal. I knew I wanted to write stories of this type, but I wanted to transform them into Science Fiction Thrillers. This would give me the ability to pick new and exciting locations and also incorporate some science and technology into the method of murder — something the investigator would have to figure out in order to not only catch the killer, but also to prevent his own death.

The formula I’ve used for THE VOID is the same as in any classic murder mystery. However, the location is the fascinating component here, and opening it up to all of outer space gave me some exciting new options. THE FURNACE is set at a station in close orbit around the sun. THE FREEZER on an ice moon of Jupiter. And with my new novel, THE VOID, I chose the vast loneliness of interstellar space. This gave me the isolated, dangerous location. The characters can’t leave their disabled ship. There’s simply nowhere to go. And with the requisite power outages, there’s no way they can call for help. They’re trapped.

Incorporating a scientific component to the plot is always fun, however one has to keep it compelling and easy to understand. I realize that you can’t bog down a story with too much science. At its heart, THE VOID is a murder mystery, plain and simple.

In this story, Inspector Kyle Tanner discovers the body of a woman in her mid-thirties. The crew of her disabled vessel state repeatedly that the death was due to natural causes. Being a homicide investigator, Tanner of course disputes this, but how can he prove it? He has to not only discover the cause of death, but also decipher the clues around him to expose a conspiracy.

I hope you enjoy THE VOID. I wrote it to feel like a comforting traditional murder mystery, but I know readers will love the technological twist I’ve thrown in!

Take care,

Timothy S. Johnston
20 March 2015





The Void
The Tanner Sequence 3
Carina Press, March 25, 2015
eBook, 106,000 words
Review Copy:  Provided by the Author

Guest Blog by Timothy S. Johnston and Review of The Void - March 30, 2015
2403 AD

It would be easier to kill him than to trust him.

Transporting a serial killer might seem like a simple job for CCF Homicide Investigator Kyle Tanner. After spending years apprehending murderers, he's ready to hang up his pistol. Babysitting a prisoner will bring him to Alpha Centauri, where he can search for a way to escape the CCF forever.

If he makes it.

When his ship breaks down in deep space and a CCF research vessel comes to his aid, Tanner realizes he's in terrible danger: the scientists on board have blocked his distress call. And when Tanner's prisoner escapes, he begins to suspect that the proximity of the research vessel had nothing to do with luck and everything to do with the CCF's relentless reach.

Facing near-certain death by his own organization, Tanner must unravel a tangled skein of vengeance, duplicity and murder in deep space. But he's being held at the will of master puppeteers, and if he can't cut the strings, he'll dance straight to a gruesome, excruciating death....

A Tanner Sequence Novel
and


Brannigan's Review

The Void is the last book in a exciting science fiction thriller series by Timothy S. Johnston. Throughout this series, I've been continually impressed by Johnston's skill in blending different genres. He ends the series on a high note. With each book, Johnston picked a fascinating setting in space, near the sun, a frozen moon and now in the last book dead space. In the area between solar systems, nothing is surrounding our hero Kyle Tanner for light years... except a person bent on killing him and the woman he loves. It shares similar attributes to lost at sea stories. I loved the feeling of being adrift in an all-encompassing void.

Even though The Void is the last book in the series, it's not necessary for the reader to have read the previous two books. Johnston does a great job of giving readers enough information about past events to keep them from being lost. It's also a nice refresher for those of us who read the other books when they first came out.

The mystery this go round was the best yet. I kept thinking I knew who it was, but I was pleasantly wrong. I also enjoyed the action and pacing in this story as it kept climbing towards a climatic ending that didn't disappoint. Nearly everything changes for Kyle. I found the characters in this book to also be my favorite out of the series. The side characters were the strongest by far and very well developed. I would love to see a series devoted to one of the survivors.

Johnston did a wonderful job of bringing closure to Kyle as a character and to the world Johnston created. Everything changed and developed from book one to this last book. You truly go on a journey through the series. Besides bringing closure, Johnston also allows several options to continue the story and I for one would love to spend more time with Kyle.

The Void is a phenomenal ending to a fast-paced electric series. I'm sad to see it come to an end and hope to read more. There is a lot of violence, strong language, and adult situations, so I would recommended it to adult readers only. For those of you who like to read a whole series all at once with no wait, your wait is over. For those of you that want an exhilarating escape, look no farther. With the strong characters, outstanding world-building and blend of genres there's something for everyone.



Note: You may read Brannigan's reviews of  The Furnace (The Tanner Sequence 1) here
and The Freezer (The Tanner Sequence 2) here.






About Timothy

Guest Blog by Timothy S. Johnston and Review of The Void - March 30, 2015
Photo by Tiffany Jones Photography, 2013
Timothy S. Johnston is a writer of futuristic and contemporary mystery/thrillers. There is always a technological component to his plot lines, and the science that he uses to propel his stories forward is real and verifiable. His characters are strongly motivated and undergo extreme change; his protagonists each find themselves drawn into intense situations seemingly beyond their control. The stakes are always huge and the outcomes unique and unpredictable. He is dedicated to the art of telling a compelling story and contributing to the genre that has given him so much over the past four decades. He is passionate about writing and committed to inspiring others through his stories. Carina Press is currently publishing a trilogy of thrillers by Johnston: The Furnace (2013), The Freezer (2014), and The Void (2015). This series — The Tanner Sequence — details Homicide Investigator Lt. Kyle Tanner’s emotional journey as he solves difficult cases set in unique and deadly claustrophobic environments.

Website  ~   Facebook  ~  Twitter @TSJ_Author  ~  Goodreads  ~  Instagram





Previously

The Furnace
The Tanner Sequence 1
Carina Press, December 23, 2013
eBook, 115,000 words
(Originally self-published September 19, 2011) 

Guest Blog by Timothy S. Johnston and Review of The Void - March 30, 2015
Dead Space, 2401 AD

Kyle Tanner is about to die. Alone, floating in a vacsuit only a few million kilometers from a massive, uncaring sun, he has barely enough time or juice to get out a distress signal before either his oxygen runs out or he succumbs to the radiation.

When the CCF sent investigator Kyle Tanner to SOLEX One, a solar energy harvester past Mercury, he thought it would be an open-and-shut murder case. A crew member was found dead, minus his head and hands. Not the worst Tanner has ever seen, but the deeper he delves, the more nightmarish it becomes. A shadowy figure, bleeding from his hands, assaults Tanner in his quarters. Then two more turn up dead, missing their heads and hands as well.

With no one to trust and everyone a suspect--even the intriguing chief engineer, Shaheen--Tanner must navigate a crew on the brink of madness to uncover a conspiracy that could threaten the whole of the human race. Even if it means making the ultimate sacrifice...


The Freezer
The Tanner Sequence 2
Carina Press, August 25, 2014
eBook, 98,000 words

Guest Blog by Timothy S. Johnston and Review of The Void - March 30, 2015
A Tanner Sequence Novel
2402 AD

CCF homicide investigator Kyle Tanner and his girlfriend are on their way to Pluto, en route to a new life together. Just one little death to check out in the asteroid belt first. But when you're as tangled up in conspiracy as Tanner is, a few hours on a case can change your life. Or end it.

The mystery is a strange one--one man dead, a cryptic message his dying breath. Still, Tanner's ready to wrap it up until another gruesome murder shakes him to his core. The discovery of a microscopic bomb near his own heart offers the first faint clue, but the clock is ticking. He has four days....

A desperate search for answers takes Tanner to The Freezer, an isolated facility on one of Jupiter's moons. With anti-CCF dissidents targeting the facility, a team of scientists conducting experiments the military would rather remain hidden, and a mysterious man in white hunting him on the ice, Tanner will have to choose his allies carefully. Putting his faith in the wrong person will leave him bleeding out in seconds.

Retro Reviews: Courageous by Jack Campbell



Retro Reviews: Courageous by Jack Campbell


Courageous
Series:  The Lost Fleet 3
Author:  Jack Campbell
Original Publisher and Date:  Ace, December 18, 2007
Still in Print: Yes
Current Formats and Length: Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 320 pages
     Used: Trade Paperback (Titan Books)
Availability:  Online and in stores
ISBN:  9780441015672 (print)

Retro Reviews: Courageous by Jack Campbell
Brief History

Jack Campbell is an pseudonym for John G. Hemry. John G. Hemry is a retired U.S. Navy Officer and a son of U.S. Navy officer, who was a mustang, a Navy term that describes an enlisted sailor who rises in rank to become an officer. Hemry spent his childhood traveling the globe as his father served in the Navy (Florida, California and Midway Island to name a few). He graduated from the U.S. Navy Academy in 1978. He learned Russian from a relative of Tolstoy. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife and three kids. Hemry is also a member of the SFWA Muskateers. Hemry's first published story was "One Small Spin" in Analog Magazine, September 1997 issue. Hemry's first published novel is Stark's War, April 2000 (written as John G. Hemry). He has written twenty-one novels to date.

The first book in the Lost Fleet series, Dauntless, was published in 2006. There are six books in The Lost Fleet series. A newer series that ties in with it called The Lost Fleet: Beyond the Frontier currently has four books (a fifth will be published in May 2015). The Lost Stars series also takes place in the same universe, but from the view point of a different main character, and presently consists of three books.

Description

Badly damaged and low on supplies, the Alliance Fleet is raiding Syndic mines for raw materials--and Captain "Black Jack" Geary hopes they can continue to remain one step ahead of their enemies. But the Syndics are the least of Geary's worries when he learns of the existence of aliens with the power to annihilate the human race.


Brannigan's Review

I picked up my copy of Courageous on a whim at my local used bookstore about a month ago mostly because I liked the cover, and I enjoy military science fiction more than any other sub-genre. It wasn't until I got home that I noticed it was book three in a series, which can be a daunting read. I have never read anything by Jack Campbell and I hate reading books out of order because I can never be sure how lost I'm going to be in the story or how long it'll take to get into the book. Campbell quickly put my mind at ease. Within a few pages, I knew all the basics of what was going on and even some clues as to what had happened before. All the major key points in the story were explained clearly and even the characters were introduced with enough information from the get go to keep the confusion down to a minimum.

Courageous has a wonderful pacing and description that made me feel like I was on the space ship Dauntless with Captain John “Black Jack” Geary, a futuristic mix between Rip Van Winkle and King Arthur, as he struggles to find a safe way home in enemy space. Campbell eludes to the past history of the Navy as far back to ships powered by sail, which adds a nice romantic touch to the past that blends well with futuristic ships in space.

At the heart of the story, Courageous is a chase book—Captain Geary commands a fleet of alliance spaceships that are being attacked by enemy ships at every turn. Campbell shines as he explores the reality and drama of everyday military ship life. While there are great battles between the warring ships, there's more drama in the struggle to keep the fleet up and running and working as one.

Captain Geary is an interesting character, a man who awoke to find himself in the future and called to lead. He struggles with the myth of who he was prior to his sleep and who he truly is. At times he takes advantage of his myth, but for the most part he almost forces himself to reject this “Black Jack” who everyone loves. Campbell does a masterful job of exploring this topic and the struggle. The supporting cast is well developed and helps balance out the story.

It's a straight-forward science fiction novel with future technology in a human-only universe—so far. The book hints there may be an alien civilization lingering on the edge of the universe. None of the technology is mind-blowingly different than what you'll find in other science fiction books, but I did enjoy some of the military tech used in the battles.

My only criticism would be that at times I felt a little bogged down in the descriptions of the actual directions the ships were going in the midst of the battles. I feel this is more my fault as I have little understanding of navigation, however it does add a sense of realism. The only other complaint I have is I would have liked to know the characters better by the end of the book. I was thoroughly engaged in their struggles, but I don't feel as if I know them personally that well. Granted, this is book three in a six book series so there's a chance the characters were established more fully in the previous two books.

Courageous is a top-notch military sci-fi novel with a heavy emphasis on the Navy. There's plenty of realism mixed with future tech. I found the struggles engaging and the end of the story rewarding. There are plenty of great battles and thought-provoking ideas to keep anyone entertained. As it is a military novel, there is violence but nothing graphic, light to no language and only implied adult situations so I can recommend it to teen and adult readers. This is definitely a book to check out at the library or borrow from a friend. If you enjoy it, you should have no problem finding the rest of the books in the series. I enjoyed myself so much that I'll be keeping my eye out for more books in the series on my next trip to the bookstore.

Favorite Quote:

“Not gladly, not embracing death as some key to heroic salvation, but because she knew others would be counting on her. In the end, that was what it was all about. Do what was needed for those counting on you, or let them down.” Captain Geary thinking about Captain Dejani and the crew of the Dauntless. p. 273

Review: Crucible by T.D. Wilson


Crucible
Author:  T.D. Wilson
Series:  The Epherium Chronicles
Publisher:  Carina Press, May 26, 2014
Format:  eBook, 217 pages
List Price:  $2.99
eISBN:  9781426898396
Review Copy:  Provided by the Author

Review: Crucible by T.D. Wilson
Book two of The Epherium Chronicles

January, 2155

Earth Defense Forces Captain James Hood is on the mission of his life. The Cygni solar system is just one space-fold jump away. One more jump and they'll have reached the fledgling colony that Earth desperately needs if the human race is going to survive. But a plot to derail him has already damaged his ship, threatened the lives of his crew and cost him time. Time the colonists might not have.

So much depends on him now, but Hood's confidence is shaken. It's self-doubt he thought he'd buried, a brutal mind-killer for all military commanders. Yet danger surrounds his team; a brutal insectoid alien race is still out there, intent on eradicating humans, and a greater threat from an unknown, elusive enemy has emerged.

The forces at work on Cygni are like nothing Hood has trained for, tactically or emotionally. When put to the test, he must choose to either trust the unlikeliest of allies, or run and seal the fate of the Cygni colony forever.


Brannigan's Review

Crucible starts off right where book one ends, with the Armstrong damaged and its crew attacked by an unknown enemy from within. They make their way to the planet Cygni to find the Magellan's crew has only just arrived from their 25 year long journey to Cygni weeks before. The fledgling colony has only just started to settle and study their new world when Commander Hood and his crew arrive to protect them from the deadly Cilik'ti.

T.D. Wilson does a great job of starting Crucible with a bang and not letting up throughout the book. The pace starts fast and only increases as we meet new characters and finally meet the Cilik'ti, with all of it ramping up to a colossal war in space and on land.

The characters Wilson created are what make this series for me. Each one is engaging and fleshed out with strengths and weaknesses. Wilson introduces a few more great characters in the second book that blend well with the established cast. One particular Cilik'ti character is one of my favorites in this book. I also enjoyed the new lifeforms on the planet Cygni, they made the world come alive.

The storylines involving the Cilik'ti and colonists are the strongest in this book and wrap up most of the plots that involve them from the first book. Wilson does bring up enough new information to allow the Cilik'ti and Cygni colonists to continue to have a presences in future books. The storyline that deals with the Epherium corporation, their nefarious dealings with the Magellan crew, and the mysterious attacks on the Armstrong at the end of Embrace was not as strong as I would have liked. We learned more about the Embrace program, but it didn't flow as naturally as the main storyline. The mysterious ship/insider attack storyline was hardly touched on at all. This may be due to the fact that Wilson plans to delve into these storylines in future books. I like to see each of the plots an author brings up continue to flow seamlessly through the overall story even if they won't be concluded until future books. Otherwise, I have a tendency to forget about them all together.

This book continued to suffer in the editing. It wasn't as frequent as the first book, but it was still distracting. As was the case in the first book, the strong characters and interesting story kept me focused and engaged enough to look past the minor issues. Unlike the first book, this one had a stronger ending that helped make it feel more complete, even with unresolved plot points.

Crucible strengthens an already engaging series with a wonderful characters and story. I hope Wilson continues to improve as the series progresses. I look forward to see how the world develops and where the crew of the Armstrong goes next. There are acts of violence and mild language. I would recommend it to teens and adults.

Retro Reviews: The Broken Lance by Nathan Long



Retro Reviews: The Broken Lance by Nathan Long


The Broken Lance
Author:  Nathan Long
Series:  Warhammer: Black Hearts
Original Publisher and Date:  Games Workshop, November 29, 2005
Still in Print:  Not as an individual novel
Current Formats and Length: Paperback, 256 pages
Availability: You can find it used online, or in omnibus format.
ISBN: 9781844162437

Retro Reviews: The Broken Lance by Nathan Long
Brief History

Nathan Long started writing at the age of 12 and spent several years writing screenplays for TV and films. He's written 15 novels in the Warhammer shared world so far, and Valnir's Bane was his first book published in 2004. His first original book written out of the shared world is Jane Carver of Waar, a parody/ode to Edgar Rice Burroughs. He's also written a few video games.

The Black Hearts series is a reflection of Long's love of the old classic film heroes, everyday men who went through incredible events, and, just as often as they were heroic, they also showed their fear or weaknesses.


Back Cover Description

A deserted outpost...A cry for help...or a trap! In the second book of the "Black Hearts series", Reiner and his band of reprobates are given a new mission. All communications with a vital Imperial border fort have been lost, and they are sent to find out what's going on - has the commander gone rogue, or are more sinister forces at work! The memorable rogues from last year's Valnir's Bane return with another tale of bravery and treachery. Reiner and his fellow criminals are back with another suicide mission. Can their luck hold out once more!


Brannigan's Review

In my review of Valnir's Bane, I mentioned I came across this series by mistake as I was looking for a different series with the word 'black' in the title. Since then, I've read the first book in each series and The Black Hearts series is by far the more enjoyable one, so I had to dive into its second book.

The Broken Lance is a superb second book. It gets right into the action and has an even quicker pace than the first book. Our favorite group of dishonorable men—and one woman—find themselves once again forced to serve the crown on a secret mission to discover the intentions of a general that feels slighted by the king. Of course, Nathan Long begins to throw enjoyable twists into the plot that force the protagonists to battle with the choice of protecting their own hides or saving the kingdom again.

I truly enjoy a well-written rogue, and Long does it marvelously. He knows how to make scoundrels worth rooting for. It's one of the reasons I hate the modern, dark, and gritty fantasies with their unlovable rogues. I want to laugh and cheer my scoundrels to victory. Even with the fun of the book, Long still allows moments of emotional weight to come into the story and show that his characters have substance.

The Broken Lance is the second book everyone wants to read. It adds to the mythology of the characters and amps up the action and twists. I'll be reviewing the third book in the near future so keep an eye out for it. There are a few minor moments of descriptive violence and implied sexual activities, but I have no problem recommending this book to teens or adults. After enjoying the first and second book, I recommend you go out and buy your own copy, or better yet, the omnibus.

Review: Embrace by T.D. Wilson


Embrace
Author:  T. D. Wilson
Series:  The Epherium Chronicles 1
Publisher:  Carina Press, March 3, 2014
Format:  eBook, 200 pages
List Price:  $2.99
eISBN:  9781426898037
Review Copy:  Provided by the Author

Review: Embrace by T.D. Wilson
Book one of The Epherium Chronicles 

Hope. Captain James Hood of the Earth Defense Forces remembers what it felt like. Twenty-five years ago, it surged through him as a young boy watching the colony ships launched by mega-corporation Epherium rocket away. He, like so many others, dreamed of following in the colonists' footsteps. He wanted to help settle a new world--to be something greater.

Then came the war... 

Hope. During years of vicious conflict with an insectoid alien race, it was nearly lost. Though Earth has slowly rebuilt in the six years since the war, overcrowding and an unstable sun have made life increasingly inhospitable. When mysterious signals from the nearly forgotten colony ships are received, Hood is ordered to embark on a dangerous reconnaissance mission. Could humanity's future sit among the stars?

Hope. Hood needs it now more than ever. As secrets about the original colonists are revealed and the Epherium Corporation's dark agenda is exposed, new adversaries threaten the mission, proving more dangerous to Earth than their already formidable foes...


Brannigan's Review

Embrace is a science fiction-military-mystery hybrid. I really enjoy the blending of several different genres into one story, if done well. I'm happy to say T.D. Wilson does a great job in doing just that. Wilson spends equal amounts of time world-building and developing characters at the start of the novel, which is a great way to build a strong foundation for any series. It does tend to slow the pacing down, which can be a plus or minus depending of the type of reader you are. By the halfway point, the action begins to accelerate as Captain Hood and his crew are space-folding toward three colony ships whose mission is to settle new planets. Along the way, the crew has to be on the guard for the Cilik'ti and insectoid alien race, a mysterious ship shadowing them, and an unknown murderer on their ship.

Wilson created compelling and fleshed out characters that have strong presence on the page and would be able to carry the novel all by themselves. The world-building was good without getting bogged down in details. The mystery was strong enough to keep me engaged as it played out in the story.

That said, I felt the book suffered in the editing. I found several small editing issues throughout, which was pretty annoying, since it threw me out of the story with each error. Luckily, the story was engaging enough to keep me reading, and I'm glad I did as I truly enjoyed it. I only hope Wilson's second book had a better editor—since I'm reviewing it next. This book is short, so it has more of an episodic feel to it than a true stand-alone book. I have no problem with that since I enjoy seeing conflicts take several books to be resolved, however, on its own there is no real sense of resolution.

Embrace is a great start to a promising series. With its blend of genres, there's plenty to offer to all types of readers. There are acts of violence and mild language, I would recommend it to teens and adults.
Review - Stories of the Raksura : Volume Two: The Dead City & The Dark Earth Below by Martha WellsReview: The Grace of Kings by Ken LiuRetro Reviews: Starfinder by John MarcoReview: Echoes by T.D. WilsonRetro Reviews: Tainted Blood by Nathan LongGuest Blog by Timothy S. Johnston and Review of The Void - March 30, 2015Retro Reviews: Courageous by Jack CampbellReview: Crucible by T.D. WilsonRetro Reviews: The Broken Lance by Nathan LongReview: Embrace by T.D. Wilson

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