Friday, 10 February 2017

Review - The Blood of Whisperers by Devin Madson

I'm rarely surprised by fantasy fiction lately. After twenty five years of reading it I've noticed a lot of the books are the same. Male protagonists (usually), medieval European settings, and an ancient and powerful evil that will need destroying. Throw in a wise old wizard or two and you get my drift. So when I read something different I'm usually very surprised and delighted. And when that something draws you into a world so immersive and wonderful then it becomes an experience for the ages.

The Blood of Whisperers is, to put it simply, one of the best fantasy books I've ever read. Madson has managed to combine the wonder and depth of epic fantasy with the grit and emotional power of modern day grimdark, and in doing so forged a book that is, in my opinion, the complete package. Following three main protagonists, The Blood of Whisperers depicts a bloody and chaotic world where the Empire is on it's knees following a coup and the subsequent societal upheaval that usually follows such an event. Navigating the deadly politics of the new regime, the protagonists must each try and survive long enough in order to gain revenge. 

I loved everything about this book. For starters the world building is sublime. Madson wields an efficient, yet beautiful voice, when she describes things and crafts her universe page after page. As a reader you can really tell just how much thought and love she has put into designing the world of the Crimson Throne. Drawing heavily from places like Feudal Japan, Madson carefully peels back layer after layer as you read, and you are slowly drawn into an intricate web of cultures, magical systems, politics and socio-economic groups. And it works! It works so well that you find yourself thinking about it for weeks afterwards. It was also incredibly refreshing to read a book not set in a world based on Medieval Europe. 

Another wonderful feature of this book is it's characters. Characters are the beating heart of every good story, and this rings especially true for The Blood of Whisperers. Madson has created a cast of enthralling and deeply layered characters whose words and actions have power and meaning on every single page. And when bad things happen to those characters, you feel real and sincere emotional loss. Sometimes you even cry (yes... I shed a tear or two whilst reading this book). She has also taken it further with individuals like Endymion, who ability as an Empath allows him to 'feel' other peoples emotions and know their deepest and darkest secrets. I adored the psi-like powers of Endymion (and others), as they gave me a unique and incredibly deep insight into the minds of those around him. Madson's characterisation is so formidable that there are also so many other memorable characters in this story. Hana Otako is a favourite with her strong will and complex nature, as is Darius Laroth, the right hand man to Emperor Kin. 

The action and pacing of The Blood of Whisperers is also superb. Madson finds that balance between action and reaction and drives the story forward at a formidable pace. The Blood of Whisperers is primarily about vengeance, and there is plenty of that occurring as the world fractures and everyone is caught up in the political machinations of players both seen and unseen. And when battles do occur they are choreographed nicely and have far reaching consequences that a reader will not always notice. This sort of thing takes real skill, after reading this book I know Madson has that in spades. In fact, I don't really have anything critical to say about The Blood of Whisperers. I loved everything about it that much. 

The Blood of Whisperers is a superb read filled with emotional power, riveting characters, and mesmerising storytelling. If you have any interest in speculative fiction you'll find something to love in this book. Madson is, in my opinion, a star on the rise. 

Highly recommended. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

Monday, 6 February 2017

Review - The Final Reconciliation by Todd Keisling

I've been on a bit of a novella kick the past six months. I've consumed titles by authors such as Laird Barron and Stephen Graham Jones, and for the most part loved every single one of them. So I was delighted to see author Todd Keisling continue this trend of excellence with The Final Reconciliation, a creepy and enthralling take on Chambers' Yellow King mythos. 

Told in an interview narrative, The Final Reconciliation tells the story of the Yellow Kings, a progressive metal band whose members, along with a couple of hundred other people, were horrifically killed at a private performance of their first and only album. The lone survivor, band member and guitarist Aidan Cross, recounts in this interview the terrifying events that led up to that fateful night. 

I loved this novella. I loved it so much that I actually went back and read it all over again after finishing. The Final Reconciliation is a wonderful example of a story that builds slowly yet surely and culminates in an ending that will blow your skill sideways. The pacing is superb, and Keisling slowly draws you in deeper and deeper until you realise that it's too late to escape. The characterisation is on point, with the depictions of band members and the dynamics of the music industry authentic and fascinating. I genuinely felt like I was watching a biopic of the Yellow Kings as I read, and that they were a real band whose demise was a great mystery wrapped up with conspiracy theories (like the death of Tupac, or Elvis).  The inclusion of Camilla, a gypsy and groupie who drives wedges between the band members (like a modern day Yoko Ono or Courtney Love) was also brilliant, and I was terrified watching her manipulate the band members into performing a concert that would open a celestial gate and allow her entry into Carcosa. 

Speaking of Carcosa, I adored how Keisling weaved Hastur and the Yellow King mythos into this story. A creation of author Robert W. Chambers, the Yellow King has seen a resurgence in recents years (True Detective touched on a lot of this mythos in its first season) after living in the dark shadow of Lovecraft's Cthulhu for so long. And thank fuck it has, because Hastur is arguably more terrifying and confronting than Cthulhu. The imagery and horror that Keisling throws down before you in this novella will blow you away. There's plenty of sex, buckets of blood, and loads of unearthly tunes that transcend reality and take you to another place. Carcosa itself is terrifying, and Hastur and his minions will stay at the forefront of your mind long after finishing this story. The final performance of the Yellow Kings, where they unleash all of this hell, is both stunning and jaw dropping. In fact, Keisling does an amazing job conveying the idea that music transforms you and takes you on journeys both physical and spiritual. In the case of the Yellow Kings, this isn't always a good thing. 

The Final Reconciliation is a brilliant tale of metal and mythos fiction told with a wonderful voice. Keisling has nailed it, and I personally can't wait to read more from him. If you like music (especially metal or rock) and mythos fiction, then you'll love this story. 

4.5 stars out of 5. 

You can buy The Final Reconciliation here. Trust me, you won't regret it. 

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

Review - The Mirror's Truth by Michael R. Fletcher

They're baaacck..... 

And this time... it's personal! 

Yes, that enthralling trio of characters who blew me away in Beyond Redemption have returned, and this time around they've brought with them an even bigger sack of mayhem, insanity, and destruction. 

I must admit I was a little hesitant going into this book. Follow-ups tend to either be flat, or downright disappointing. I also had some reservations about the fact that it was going to be self published, with images of bad covers and poor layout from other self published titles fresh in my minds eye. So I was delighted when Fletcher blew my brain right out of the water with this incredible sequel to his cult hit. The Mirror's Truth incorporates everything that was brilliant about Beyond Redemption, and then injects it with a concoction of steroids and uppers before releasing back upon the world.  

The world building is truly wonderful in The Mirror's Truth. The darkness is there again in spades, and the insanity and madness that reigned supreme in Beyond Redemption have been significantly increased for this book. Fletcher also has done a magnificent job capturing the tone and mood of this horrible world, a world that has been pushed even deeper in the abyss by the looming threat of total war. This book is not for the faint of heart. You really need to gird yourself whilst reading it at times. It can be uncompromising and truly bleak, but it is in those sorts of moments that Fletcher's razor sharp wit and black sense of humour truly shines. Paired with formidable moments of violence, this fucked up formula of darkness is truly breathtaking to read.  

What takes The Mirror's Truth to an even greater level of achievement is it's intense characterisation. Fletcher switches things up a little by shining a light inside the minds of characters like Stehlen, and fuck me it's terrifying what the reader finds in there. This insight into the protagonists and antagonists of the story make's The Mirror's Truth feel more relatable to a reader, and it really deepened my bond with the mad hatters that are Bedeckt, Stehlen, and Wichtig. This emotional investment in turn meant that when shit hit the fan (a Fletcher speciality) I was on the edge of my seat fearful and enthralled by what was unfolding before my eyes. The Mirror's Truth rockets along at a frenetic pace, and before you know it you've reached the epic conclusion and been dumped unceremoniously back into the real world yearning for more. 

For a self published book the cover is also truly outstanding. Artist John Anthony Di Giovanni has captured Bedeckt and the mood of the world perfectly, and the type and layout by designer Shawn King is both wonderful and incredibly professional. All of this elevates The Mirror's Truth to the point where it becomes the complete package for a reader and book lover.

Just when you think things can't get any darker, they do. And just when you think it can't get any more fucked up, it does. Darkness incarnate, and fucking enjoyable beyond words, The Mirror's Truth is one of the most outstanding grimdark novels that I've ever read. 

Buy it. Buy it now. 

5 out of 5 stars.

You can find out more information and purchase details for The Mirror's Truth here. Also, be sure to follow Michael and his Doppels over at his website.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Interview - James A. Moore

Sup Peeps! 

I'm delighted to bring you the first instalment of our ongoing interview series for 2017. This week, I had the pleasure of talking to one of the true gentlemen of speculative fiction, James A. Moore. I hope you all enjoy it! 

James A. Moore, welcome to Smash Dragons! First up, tell us a little about yourself and your career so far. 

Well, to say it’s been convoluted would be an understatement. I started off in comic books, working here and there for Marvel Comics on a few projects. Some were published, like the story “Of Love, Cats & Curiosity,” in issue 15 of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, and several were not. I was just taking over on a couple of titles when they got cancelled and then Marvel had a purge that ended with every contact I had there unemployed. 

I did a lot of work with roleplaying games, mostly with White Wolf Games for Vampire: the Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, and the rest of the World of Darkness. 

Then one day I decided to write a novel and I sat down and started working on the first of those at the same time I was working with White Wolf. 

Did you always envisage yourself writing stories when you were younger? Can you remember the first story you wrote? What was it about?

Nope. I had every intention of being a comic book artist. Turns out my ability to draw was nowhere near my levels of ambition and one of the editors at marvel was nice enough to be direct and point that out to me while he also suggested I try my hand at writing. 

I was writing my first novel when a friend of mine told me I should write a short story first. So I set the novel aside and wrote a story called “Simon’s Muse,” about a writer who meets his idol and find out over the span of time that his idol’s muse is actually the bogeyman. 

You mentioned that you started off in comic books. I'm curious, Batman vs Superman... where do you sit in this long running debate?

Superman. Batman's one hope is Kryptonite and he'd never get close enough to him if Superman was even a little bit alert that day.

Every writer has a process. I'm curious, what's yours? Are you a plotter or a panther? What do you think are the positives and negatives to your particular approach?

Oh, I’m definitely a pantser. I don’t know if there are advantages, but I know that whenever I plot something out properly I feel like it loses all spontaneity and that hurts my head. I like the surprises and the way that, sometimes, characters do things I did not expect from them. I think it makes for a better book, at least for me. 

I’m a massive fan of your Crowley stories. How did the genesis of Crowley come about? Was it a light bulb moment, or the culmination of many different thoughts and creative threads? 

Thank you very kindly! I’m rather fond of the bastard myself. I sort of had plans for Crowley in comic books, but they never came to fruition. Instead of losing him, I made a few adjustments and plopped him into my first novel, UNDER THE OVERTREE, when I needed a character like him. Believe me, he has evolved a lot over the years. 

Will we see more Crowley stories in the future?

Oh yes. I’m just finishing a collaboration with Charles R. Rutledge and we have another planned. I also have a stand alone story set for him in Victorian England, and I’m about three quarters of the way through a weird western called BOOMTOWN, which actually precedes several of his adventures in the old west. 

I couldn’t get away from Crowley if I wanted to. He wants to be talked about.

I’ve recently started to read Seven Forges, the first book in your epic fantasy series. I have been struck by just how different (in a good way) it feels to a lot of the fantasy that is being published today. Was this a conscious decision on your part? To write something that stands out from the crowd? 

Absolutely. When I was younger, before I started writing, I read almost nothing but fantasy. A friend of mine introduced me to horror when I told him I was sick to death of reading the same story again and again (Orphan boy finds Item of Power, uses Item of Power to save the Land from Evil Menace coming back for Round Two.) It was a fun story the first hundred times, but it got stale. So I decided no dragons, no elves, no ancient menace coming back to threaten the Land. They had to be new and different or I didn’t want to deal with them. 

What’s your take on publishing right now? What do we, as an industry and community, need to do better in your opinion? 

Buy books and read them. Seriously. Make sure you post your reviews online, on Amazon, on Goodreads, the whole nine yards. On the publishing side? Harder to say. I know several very successful self-pubbed authors. I am more and more impressed by the successful ones every day. I’m likely going to be publishing a lot of my backstock on my own in the hear future, rather than giving up half of everything, including control of how the books are done. Time will tell. 

I will say this: Publishing is constantly changing these days and I’m interested in  seeing what it becomes. 

Tell me a random fact about yourself.

I’m seven years a widow this year. I still love and miss my wife, but life moves forward and so have I. 

What’s the most cherished book in your library? Why?

Stephen King’s THE STAND, the original version, not the unabridged volume that is far too thick and unwieldy. I think it’s one of the best books ever written and it drew me into reading again when I was seriously thinking of stopping. 

Favourite movie? Why?

That's waaaaay to hard to answer. So I'll say Captain America: The Winter Solider, because it's a phenomenal example of practical special effects and one hell of a fun story. My answer would be entirely different tomorrow or the day after.

If you could shoot the breeze for a day with any other writer (dead or alive) who would it be and why?

Too many choices. I’ve met several of my favorites. These days? I’d love to pick the brain of Ray Bradbury, who has always been a favorite of mine 

You write about horrifying things in a lot of your stories. I’m curious, what scares James A. Moore?

What used to scare the hell out of me was losing my loved ones. I couldn’t imagine what my world would be like without them. These days, having lost my wife and several family members I’m not as afraid of that as I once was. If I’m being honest, I’m not exactly happy with the results of the latest election and I think we’ll see dark times ahead. That scares me a lot. 

What do you do when you’re not writing? 

I read books, I work at a Starbucks not far from my house because I truly love being able to cover my medical expenses, get out of the house and have a 401K, along with Christopher Golden I’m teaching a few writing courses, and I am an avid movie buff. 

You mentioned that you work at Starbucks. What's the weirdest order you've ever received? 

Short coffee (8 ounces) with ten pumps of white mocha and 8 raw sugars and extra caramel drizzle. Basically about two ounces of actual coffee and enough sugar to jack an elephant's blood sugar into the stratosphere. 

One of the things I admire about your work is its scope and breadth. You happily dance across genres, pushing yourself from horror through to military horror and even epic fantasy. What is the reasoning behind this? Is it to stay fresh creatively? 

I hate the idea of being forced into one model of writing. I like to write about whatever strikes my fancy and that means looking outside of the horror genre from time to time. Horror is my first love, and likely always will be, but I want to do different things. 

You’ve collaborated with Charles R. Rutledge (another author whose work I deeply admire) on a number of writing projects. Just how hard is it to work alongside another author? What are the benefits and negatives of collaborations in your opinion?

The first rule of writing with someone else is to find someone you like and admire. The two are not always the same thing. I’ve written with Kevin Andrew Murphy, Jeff Strand, Christopher Golden and Charles. R. Rutledge. I enjoyed each process for different reasons. Mostly I like the idea of playing in a shared sandbox of ideas. I like reading a story that I’m a part of. In the case of working with Charles, we like to throw curveballs at each other and watch what comes of it. 

If you had to pick three other writers to be on your zombie apocalypse team who would they be? Why?

Brian Keene, because he owns lots of guns and has done his research. Jonathan Maberry becasue he's done the research and has mad martial arts skills. Charles R. Rutledge for both of the aforementioned reasons. 

What's the best piece of advice that you could give to people wanting to break into the industry?

Work at it every day. Finish one project at a time. Develop a thick hide. Don't quit the day job. Read outside of your genre, read inside of your genre. Write what you want to read, not what you think someone else might like to read. 

What book are you most looking forward to reading in 2017? 

Grim Death and Bill the electrocuted criminal by Mike Mignola and Thomas E. Sneigoski. The two of them working together on a novel is a notion that absolutely delights me. You can check out a link here.

Finally, what's on the horizon for James A. Moore this year? 

I'm working on the sequel to The Last Sacrifice right now. That's called Fallen Gods. Indigo, a mosaic novel with Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden, Kelley Armstrong, Jonathan Maberry, Kat Richardson, Seanan McGuire, Tim Lebbon, Cherie Priest,  and Mark Morris and yours truly comes out in June.  And, with Christopher Golden, the novella ten years in the making, Bloodstained Wonderland is coming out this year as a limited edition from Earthling Publications. Also, Charles R. Rutlede and I have our third Griffin & Price novel, A Hell Within, coming out from Cohesion Press later this year. I like staying busy. People can check out my Amazon page for more information and pre-order details. 

James A. Moore, thanks for dropping by! 

You can find James's work at all good book retailers. Be sure to check out his Seven Forges series (I'm reading through it now and it's fucking amazing!) and his latest book, The Last Sacrifice. His work with Cohesion Press is also top notch military horror (Crowley for the win!). 

Until next time good people, be nice to each other and keep on reading! 

Review - Bound by Alan Baxter

Smash Dragons is back baby! After a lay off over the holiday period I'm delighted to get back into the swing of things with you all. Up first, I decided to revisit my review of Alan Baxter's Bound. It has just recently been released by Ragnarok Publications in the US and UK (with a blurb from me on the cover), and is an amazing read. 

Buy it, buy it now. 

I picked up Bound, by Alan Baxter, on the recommendation of a friend. I owe that friend a few drinks now. 

Bound is about cage fighter Alex Caine, a man who can see his opponents moves before they make them. Following a successful fight Alex is approached by an Englishman called Welby, who knows his secret and wants Alex to help him unlock the key to an ancient and powerful grimoire. Drawn into a world filled with magic, violence, and a chaotic Fey godling called Uthentia, Alex must harness his innate magical ability and fighting skills to prevent the end of the world as we know it.

Upon finishing Bound my first thought was 'damn.'

My second thought was that if Stephen King and Jim Butcher ever had a love child then it would be Alan Baxter.

Finally, my third thought was that Bound is a seriously entertaining read.

Full of dark, gritty and bloody goodness, Bound is possibly one of the best urban fantasy novels I've read in many years. Cracking action and dialogue propel the story along at a fast pace as the reader journeys from the cages of the underground fighting scene in Sydney to the icy wastes of Iceland. I loved the fight scenes, and I could tell they were written by someone who has trained extensively in hand to hand combat and martial arts. I almost felt the bones being broken and smashed at times throughout the book, and it was this gruesome realism that kept me enthralled page after page. The world in which Bound is set was also gloriously gritty and full of things that go bump in the night. Dark horrors exist everywhere (the Three Sisters for example) in this universe, and the world is full of mythical and supernatural creatures such as gargoyles and the Fey.

Alex Caine was also a fascinating protagonist, flawed in many ways but still very noble and honest. He was a believable hero whom I couldn't help but cheer for as the odds kept stacking up against him. His rages, lust, frustration, and mistakes throughout the story only added depth to his character and made him more human. His dialogue and interplay with the other characters (like Silhouette) throughout the novel were also loaded with wit and humour that had me chuckling well into the night. 

The other characters and creatures in Bound were also interesting. I loved the idea of the Kin, and the dark horrors like the Three Sisters and the Subcontractor. However, the two characters I absolutely adored were the evil duo of Mr. Hood and Miss Sparks and their Black Diamond Inc. They are the perfect narrative foil for Alex and Silhouette, and their dark and twisted relationship and actions brought a real nefarious essence to the story that was both creepy and strangely thrilling as well. 

All in all Bound was a bloody excellent read. I cannot recommend this book enough to fans of Butcher and Wendig.

4 out of 5 stars!

For more information, and purchase details, go here. Also, be sure to check out Alan's other work on Amazon or at his website. He is a wonderful writer with incredible talent. 

Friday, 16 December 2016

Best of 2016!

Well it's that time of the year again. The festive season is in full swing here at the lair (no, I'm not drunk... yet), and I figured it was time I reflected on what has been an amazing year for genre fiction. 

Looking back over the books I read in 2016 made me realise just how lucky I am to be a reader. I've witnessed the emergence of some stunning new talent this year, and I've rediscovered some old favourites along the way. To paraphrase George R R Martin, I've lived a thousand different lives over the past twelve months, and I've loved every single one of them! Choosing a top ten proved extremely difficult. I struggled to make my selections for a long time. However, after much deliberation and thought I managed to nut it out, and I'm pretty happy with the list I came up with. Most of the top ten have full reviews (those that don't never fear, I will get to them soon), which I have provided links to if you'd like to check them out. I've also linked purchase information. It is the season of giving after all, and as a friend of mine pointed out when you buy a book you are buying two gifts essentially (one for the reader, and another for the author of the book you purchased). So be generous to those around you!  

So without further ado, I give you my top ten best reads of 2016! 

1 - The Fisherman by John Langan/Crow Shine by Alan Baxter

I cheated a little here, but I really couldn't seperate the two. The Fisherman is a magnificent character- driven cosmic horror that crawled under my skin and refused to budge. Langan is a masterful storyteller, and The Fisherman is hands down one of the best books I've ever read, period. You can buy The Fisherman here.

Crow Shine is also an incredible book that is filled to the brim with rich and powerful dark fiction. It is one of the best collections I've ever read, and Baxter is one of the best short fiction writers working in the world today. I loved this book so much I even forked out a lot of money to buy a signed limited edition copy of it! Highly recommended. Check out my full review here, and buy yourself a copy here.

2 - The Grief Hole by Kaaron Warren 

Words cannot describe how good this book is. Poignant, chilling, and powerful, The Grief Hole is arguably one of the best ghost stories I've read in all of my years as a reader. Warren takes you on a terrifying journey into the world of loss and grief, and in doing so rips out your heart, stomps on it, and shoves it back into your chest. Captivating work. You can buy a copy of it here.

3 - Swift to Chase by Laird Barron

Swift to Chase, Barron's fourth short fiction collection, is arguably his best. It is an enthralling and frightening journey across both time and space that digs even further into his ever-growing cosmic mythos. Barron always pushes the boundaries, and this remains the case in Swift to Chase. I was hooked on every single story in this book, and Barron took my mind to places I never imagined I would go. Poetic, intoxicating, and brave storytelling, Swift to Chase is cements Barron's position as one of the best genre writers in the world today. Check out my full review here, and pick up a copy here.

4 - The Blood of Whisperers by Devin Madson

Have you ever read the opening few line of a book and fallen instantly in love with it? I have. The Blood of Whisperers had me hooked with the lines: We are judged. That's what the  Sixth Law says. It says the gods are always watching. That they can hear the whispers of our souls. From that first page onwards I was drawn into one of the best fantasy books I've ever read. Wonderful Asian inspired world building, brilliant characterisation, and a story that will destroy you emotionally, Madson takes everything I love about writers like Guy Gavriel Kay and makes it better. Highly recommended. You can pick up a copy here

5 - The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle 

The Ballad of Black Tom is cosmic horror at its finest. It is raw and formidable storytelling, with LaValle never shying away from both honouring and critiquing Lovecraft and his work. I was enthralled by the setting (1920s New York) and shifting points of view, and I adored the pacing of it. LaValle sets everything up like a chess master, and leaves you reeling at the end. Brilliant characterisation and top off what is one of the best stories I've read in many years. Madness encapsulated in novella form, and mesmerising from start to finish, I can only hope that LaValle writes more stories in this genre. You can buy a copy here.

6 - Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew J. McKiernan

Although this collection was published a couple of years ago (and won an award mind you), I didn't read it until early this year. And holy hell, what a collection! McKiernan is one of the most talented writers I've ever come across. Writing in a style that is both poetic and muscular, he dances across genres with glee with stories that range from Lovecraftian horror through to a clown counter revolutionary movement. One of my all time favourite collections. You can read my full review here, and pick up a copy here

7 - Into the Mist by Lee Murray

I'm a big lover of military horror, and Lee Murray nails everything I love about the genre with this book. Thrilling, action packed, and utterly enthralling, Into the Mist blends ancient myths and primordial horror with a wonderful setting and powerful characterisation. Lee Murray is a writer to watch. Brilliant stuff. My full review can be found here, and you can pick up a copy of the book here (Just be mindful that the publisher is currently switching distributors. Updated entires should be up soon).

8 - The Mirror's Truth by Michael R. Fletcher

Like Grimdark? Well it gets no darker than the work of Michael R. Fletcher. Fletcher burst onto the Grimdark scene last year with his book Beyond Redemption, which had me in a frenzy with his incredibly original world building and hellishly dark storyline (check out my full review of BR here). Fletcher continues with the mayhem in The Mirror's Truth. Brutal, uncompromising, and even more fucked up than Beyond Redemption, I loved diving back into this universe! I can't wait to see what comes next from Fletcher.  

9 - American Nocturne by Hank Schwaeble 

I rediscovered my love for short stories this year, and this collection was the book that started that it all. Dark, evocative, and utterly addictive, Schwaeble writes a power and precision that is honestly astounding. There are so many twists and turns in this collection that I didn't know left from right at times, and his take on Lovecraftian horror left me chilled to the core for months afterwards (and it has the best line about goats I've ever read). A masterful collection. Check out my full review here, and you will be able to buy a copy of it online again soon (Cohesion Press, the publisher, is currently switching distributors and putting everything back up with updated information). So keep an eye out for it. 

10 - Vigil by Angela Slatter 

I've been a big fan of Slatter's work for a few years now, and Vigil further cements her standing in my eyes. A powerhouse of a book that is filled to the brim with brilliant action sequences, jarring twists and thrills, and a universe that is both fantastical and grounded at the same time. Vigil was the kick up the arse urban fantasy needed, and I absolutely adored reading it from start to finish. I can't wait to read the next instalment! You can check out my full review here, and it can be purchased here

Honourable Mentions - 

I'd feel terrible if I didn't take the time mention the following entries that I loved as well. 2016 really was a magnificent year for speculative fiction, and I really did struggle to pick a top ten. All of the following books are brilliant in their own right, and they just missed out on a top ten entry. You all should definitely check them out:

Tallwood by Amanda Kool, Leviathan's Blood by Ben Peek, The Angel of the Abyss by Hank Schwaeble, A Shattered Empire by Mitchell Hogan, A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay, Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones, The Children of Old Leech edited by Ross. E Lockhart and Justin Steele, Fathomless by Greig Beck, Children of Lovecraft edited by Ellen Datlow, Crooked by Austin Grossman, Armageddon Bound by Tim Marquitz, Cthulhu: Deep Down Under edited by Steve Proposch, Christopher Sequeira, and Bryce Stevens, SNAFU: Black Ops edited by Geoff Brown and Amanda J. Spedding, The Warren by Brian Evenson, X's for Eyes by Laird Barron, Jade Gods by Patrick Freivald, The Stars Askew by Rjurik Davidson, Disappearance at Devil's Rock, The Lure of Devouring Light by Michael Griffin, The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley, My Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier, Suspended in Dusk edited by Simon Dewar, Squid's Grief by DK Mok, The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence, Sharp Ends by Joe Abercrombie and Black Jade by Kylie Chan. 

So there you have it. 2016 has been a stellar year for speculative fiction, and I'm already very excited by what I'm seeing on the release calendar for next year. I wish you all a happy and safe holiday over Christmas, and I look forward to sharing the book love with you in 2017. Keep being good to each other people. 


Disclaimer -

In the spirit of honesty and full disclosure... I have included titles here from my employer Cohesion Press. I want to point out that Into the Mist and American Nocturne were both rated and reviewed BEFORE I started working for them, and are in my top ten on their own merit. The other Cohesion Press titles (Fathomless, SNAFU: Black Ops, Jade Gods, and The Angel of the Abyss) that I have listed in my honourable mentions are all also wonderful and brilliant in their own right, but they were published AFTER I started working for Cohesion. I wanted to prevent any accusations of bias being levelled against me or Cohesion Press. I highly recommend that you check them out also. 

Friday, 18 November 2016

Review - Crow Shine by Alan Baxter

Writing this review was hard. Damn hard. 

Not because Crow Shine is a bad book. Rather, it was hard because it was so damn good. I've been a fan of Alan Baxter's work for a number of years now. I adored his Alex Caine series, and I've consumed most of his short fiction work with gusto and glee. So when I heard he was releasing a short fiction collection that included some new and original stories I was beside myself with excitement and anticipation. 

Fast forward a few months, and after turning the last page of Crow Shine I found myself sitting and pondering the immensity and power of what I had just read. 

I was still there thinking an hour later. 

Crow Shine is an amazing ensemble of rich and powerful dark fiction that, to put it simply, blew me away. The book opens with the title story "Crow Shine", an intoxicating and heady tale of magical brews, dark choices and soulful music. I adored the imagery in this story, and its exploration of whether or not we are fully in control of our choices was enthralling. The next story, "The Beat of a Pale Wing" was also brilliant, with Baxter injecting dark and ritualistic magic into a story about disposing bodies, revenge, and gangsters. He follows up this brutal and dark story with a short that damn near broke me. "Tiny Lives" is a powerful and heartbreaking account of a toymaker who creates clockwork miracles for customers in order to raise money for his sick daughter. A tale of a father's ultimate sacrifice and love for their child, I openly wept after reading the ending. Baxter continued to tear at my mind and soul with "Old Promise, New Blood", a story about family, pacts, and blood magic, and "In the Name of the Father", a creepy account of a priest whose ministry leaves a path of victims in his wake. This pattern continued as Baxter explored the concepts of justice and death in "Shadows of the Lonely Dead". "The Chart of the Vagrant Mariner" then took me to the depths of madness in what was an incredible tale of pirates and cosmic horror, and "The Old Magic" broke my heart all over again as a witch watches her loved ones die around her as her longevity comes back to bite her. A truly poignant and gut wrenching tale that left me staring at a wall and pondering my own mortality for ages afterwards. 

All in all I couldn't find one weak story in this collection. I savoured reading it, and will read it all over again soon. Baxter is a masterful storyteller whose ability to pull apart the membrane of reality and explore the voids in-between marks him as one of the best dark fiction writers in the world today. His work has breadth, scope, and intensity, and it prompts readers to ask questions of themselves and of life itself. It delves into places that are uncomfortable and terrifying, and it delights in the shades that form the basis of our lives and the decisions we make.  

The human condition lies at the beating heart of this book, and it's a testament to Baxter's skill as a writer that he handles this with both subtlety and power. Crow Shine is raw, and it is incredibly emotional. It is dark, and at times it is even darker still. There is, more often than not, very little light at the end of the tunnel. And it is, most of all, truthful and honest about our existence. Sometimes, as Baxter writes in his afterward, the dragons do win.  

Hands down one of the best collections I've ever read, and a book that will take pride of place on my shelves. Formidable storytelling. 

Get in people. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

Crow Shine is available now online at all good book retailers. Go here for more information, and to check out some of the amazing writers who have blurbed this brilliant collection.