Age of Assassins (2017) by R.J. Barker

He turned, swinging his club. Fifteenth Iteration: the Oar. Bending at the hip and bringing my body down and round so it went under his swing. At the lowest point I punched forward, landing a solid blow between his legs. He screeched, dropping his weapon and doubling over.

Girton Club-Foot is a young apprentice-assassin. He and his master Merala are given a mission to discover the person or persons behind a rumored threat to the throne. The target of this threat is young Prince Aydor, a boy of similar age to Girton. To catch the would-be royal assassin, Girton must go undercover as a squire-in-training, keeping his fighting skills hidden from the other trainees.

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Daily life in the medieval court proves almost as challenging as his hunt for the assassin. Girton needs a friend if he is to fit in but up until now his unique apprenticeship has limited his social life. He is not like other boys of the same age, yet he must convince everyone he is. The deeper Girton digs in his investigations, the greater the risk he appears to be putting himself in. Continue reading

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Witchmark (2018) by C.L. Polk

‘Magic was rare, a dangerous curse. It brought no one good fortune.’

This debut novel by C.L Polk introduces us to Miles Singer, a gifted surgeon lately returned home from a WWI-like war. Miles lives in Aeland, currently at war with the kingdom of Laneer. His ‘gift’ is the ability to wield magic, specifically to help with his healing work. The problem is he must keep this a secret or risk personal disgrace and the threat of being locked up in an asylum.

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Polk builds a fascinating world to set her story in. Refraining from dumping huge blocks of exposition, she instead reveals the details of Miles’ world piece by intriguing piece. There are echoes of Edwardian England with its class divisions, manners, and fashion. Instead of electricity they have something called ‘aether’ which is a kind of magical element. Technology is limited, and there are some wonderful descriptions of the way people ride bicycles in the city, in groups almost like flocks of birds. Continue reading

The Vision (2016~2017) by Tom King & Gabriel Hernandez Walta

‘For a moment, as she listened to her family argue and laugh, Virginia felt content. She belonged here. They belonged here. Everything in the end would be good.

That moment lasted 1.72 seconds.’

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Originally created as a weapon by Ultron, The Vision just wants to be normal. He has extraordinary powers, is a fully-fledged member of the Avengers, but what he most wants is an ordinary human life. So, he creates a family: wife Virginia and twin children Viv and Vin. They move into a house in the suburbs and are welcomed by the neighbours. The twins start attending the local school. Everything seems to be going well. But can it last? Continue reading

Mad Hatters & March Hares (2017) Ed. by Ellen Datlow

From the book’s Synopsis:

‘Ellen Datlow asked eighteen of the most brilliant and acclaimed writers working today to dream up stories inspired by all the strange events and surreal characters found in Wonderland.’

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Art by Dave McKean

In her introduction, Datlow writes of her love of ‘the Alice books’, especially the many ‘illustrated versions’. A few years ago, she was asked by someone at a convention if there was an ‘anthology idea’ she had always wanted to do. This question led to the creation of this new collection of Alice-inspired short stories: Mad Hatters and March Hares.

Whether you have read the original books or watched one of the numerous film adaptations, you will be very familiar with Alice and the weird and wonderful characters she meets on her journey down the rabbit hole and into Wonderland. How many can you name off the top of your head? Go on, try it!

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The New Voices of Fantasy (2017) Ed. by Peter S. Beagle & Jacob Weisman

‘The New Voices of Fantasy collects the work of nineteen authors of fantasy that Peter S. Beagle and I firmly believe will soon be much better known. […] All of the stories in this book are recent, published after 2010.’ – Jacob Weisman from his Introduction.

 

Short-story collections can often be a mixed bag of good stories as well as not so good ones. After reading The New Voices of Fantasy, I can say that every story in here is worth reading if you have an interest in fantasy or modern fairy tales. Peter S. Beagle is an author I really admire, so seeing his name attached as one of the editors drew me to this volume. I’ve highlighted the stories that stood out the most for me and would love to hear which stories you enjoyed or didn’t enjoy.

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Continue reading

Ack-Ack Macaque (2012) by Gareth L. Powell

I want to start this review with the book’s synopsis because it is a cracker!

 

‘In 1944, as waves of German ninjas parachute into Kent, Britain’s best hopes for victory lie with a Spitfire pilot codenamed ‘Ack-Ack Macaque’. The trouble is, Ack-Ack Macaque is a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey, and he’s starting to doubt everything, including his own existence. A century later, in a world where France and Great Britain merged in the late 1950s and nuclear-powered Zeppelins encircle the globe, ex-journalist Victoria Valois finds herself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who butchered her husband and stole her electronic soul. Meanwhile, in Paris, after taking part in an illegal break-in at a research laboratory, the heir to the British throne goes on the run. And all the while, the doomsday clock ticks towards Armageddon.’

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Ack-Ack Macaque was the joint winner of the 2013 BSFA Best Novel Award along with Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. It is British author Gareth L. Powell’s third novel and is a much-expanded version of his 2007 Interzone reader’s poll-winning short story of the same name. Powell has since penned two highly-rated sequels: Hive Monkey (2014) and Macaque Attack (2015). His latest novel is Embers of War (2018), a space opera which has also been garnering very positive reviews. Continue reading

The Ginger Star (1974) by Leigh Brackett

“The man who doesn’t fear, doesn’t live long. I fear everything.” (p.32)

 

‘Mercury-born Earthman’ Eric John Stark is back! I last encountered him in Brackett’s 1951 short story “Black Amazon of Mars.” That was a very entertaining pulpy space-fantasy adventure which surprised me with its quality of writing and depiction of characters, especially for a short story. (You can read my review here.)

The Ginger Star is the first part of the ‘Book of Skaith’ series. It is followed by The Hounds of Skaith (1974) and The Reavers of Skaith (1976). The story opens with Stark arriving on the planet Skaith, “a lawless sphere at the edge of the known universe.” He is searching for his friend and mentor, Simon Ashton, who was last heard of visiting Skaith on a diplomatic mission for the Galactic Union. Stark is determined not to rest until he finds him.

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1976 Sphere edition; (Artist not credited)

Skaith is an old planet which used to house a thriving culture, but generations of exploitation have left it a dying shadow of its former glory. Its sun, the Ginger Star of the title, is also dying. Stark begins his search in the market city of Skeg, a dangerous place filled with a plethora of unfriendly and distrustful beings. Continue reading