CITY OF BONES (Harry Bosch #8), by Michael Connelly

I was eager to reach this installment in Michael Connelly’s series because the story told in City of Bones constitutes the narrative core for the first season of the TV series, which made me finally aware of this author’s works and introduced me to a very intriguing character.  Unlike what happened with previous books, here both narrative paths (book and TV) follow the same progression, so there were no surprises for me story wise, and yet the novel was able to capture my attention from start to finish as if it were completely new – a further demonstration of Connelly’s narrative skills, not that I really needed it at this point…

It’s the first day of the new year, and – unsurprisingly – Harry Bosch is on duty when he’s called to the site of a grim discovery: the bones of a murdered child that have been lying in the ground for a long time, probably a couple of decades. Even worse than the murder of a child is the revelation that the poor kid had been the victim of prolonged abuse, as testified by the multiple healed fractures evident in the bones: nothing like this kind of innocent victim can drive Harry Bosch on an unstoppable quest to find the perpetrator, not even the awareness that the long time elapsed might turn into a fruitless search, at times hindered by the LAPD politics which don’t look too kindly on such an expenditure of time and resources for what looks like a very cold case.

But Bosch is quite determined to get to the bottom of this because this time it’s not just a matter of being faithful to his motto “everybody counts, or nobody counts”, which drives him to seek justice for those who don’t have a voice anymore; this time the case feels close and personal, touching on the hardships of his own childhood, spent between uncaring foster families and indifferent institutions after the murder of his own mother. Even though it’s never expressed openly, Bosch feels a kinship with young Arthur Delacroix, the victim, and also the need to avenge his stolen innocence. As he muses at some point:

Child cases haunted you. They hollowed you out and scarred you. There was no bulletproof vest thick enough to stop you from being pierced. Child cases left you knowing the world was full of lost light.

City of Bones is much more than a compelling police procedural, even though it’s a fascinatingly detailed one, because it turns out to be the book in which Bosch’s psychological makeup is explored in greater depth than before, showing how under the abrasive surface of his personality there is a very human individual who built that exterior armor of bluntness as a defense against the injuries of the world. The detective’s flaws are showcased here more than in previous books, often portraying him as fallible, since his single focus on the goal tends to make him ignore peripheral details that are later revealed in their importance, but it’s thanks to these flaws that the human being can be seen, and appreciated.

There are a couple of instances in which we see Bosch lowering his “shields” in this novel: one is focused on his relationship with Julia, a trainee officer who exposes him to the double dangers of letting down his defenses (and later paying the price) and of going against the department’s regulations concerning romantic attachments inside the force. Julia seems just as determined as he is in making a difference, but does so without the years-long experience that the older detective has acquired over time, and this costs her dearly, leaving Bosch saddled with an undefinable sense of guilt that weighs heavily on him.  The other instance concerns his exchanges with the forensic pathologist charged with the examination of young Arthur’s bones: there is a moment in which the doctor shows Bosch some bones recovered from the city’s tar pits, bones that reveal how murder was a component of society even in prehistoric times – the indication that human wickedness possesses deep roots indeed. Which brings Bosch to a bitter conclusion:

[…] a truth he had known for too long. That true evil could never be taken out of the world. At best he was wading into the dark waters of the abyss with two leaking buckets in his hands.

It’s a very sad consideration, and probably the start of the process leading to the unexpected decision Bosch makes at the end of the book: a decision that mirrors the one he takes at the end of the TV series, but for completely different reasons.  It’s possible that this choice comes from a number of factors, not least the depressing links between law enforcement and its political ramifications, which here also dovetail with media relationships and community awareness, creating a mix that the detective finds unpalatable and more constricting than ever.  This heavy equation is further burdened by the lack of complete closure in the case: yes, the murderer is finally apprehended but it looks almost like an afterthought, and this certainly does not bring any kind of comfort to the shattered and dysfunctional family of poor Arthur, or to Bosch himself.  The prospect of an incoming promotion leaves him cold and distant, almost in acknowledgment of the emptiness of the task he has dedicated himself to for so long: in the very moment we are allowed to see more clearly into the soul of this character, we are also led to what looks like a massive shift in his perspective and his life:

He had always known that the would be lost without his job and his badge and his mission. In that moment he came to realize that he could be just as lost with it all […] The very thing he thought he needed the most was the thing that drew the shroud of futility around him. He made a decision.

Even though I have an inkling about what that decision might be, I more than look forward to actually learning what it is, and to allow Michael Connelly to intrigue me once again with his stories centered on such a fascinating character. I know that I will not wait too long to get to the next book in line…

My Rating:


TV Review: THE EXPANSE Season 6

With the end of the book series and now of the TV version of this saga, I can certainly consider myself an Expanse orphan: both versions of this story are leaving a big gap in my SF horizon, one that will be hard, if not impossible, to fill…

This final season of The Expanse proved to be even more epic than its predecessors, leaving a great deal of room to well-orchestrated space battles – which might be the reason that the number of episodes was cut to just six, probably in consideration of the high budget that they required. But while the episodes were less than usual, there were no shortfalls in the characters’ evolution or in the political angles that have been the backbone of this saga, in both mediums.

In this season we have, on one side, the family of the Rocinante finally reunited after the harrowing events of the previous season, and if offscreen troubles required the removal of Alex’s character, the inclusion of Clarissa “Peaches” Mao to the ship’s complement leaves room for some welcome bonding scenes; on another side, Avasarala is battling with the practical and political aftermath of Earth’s bombing, still backed by former Martian marine Bobbie whose career switch as Avasarala’s aide has not changed her energetic approach to problems.  And again, Camina Drummer and her crew are still carrying out their rebellion against the darkly charismatic Marco Inaros, whose outer façade of Belter liberator is showing several cracks as his megalomania becomes more and more evident.

Individuals, and their reactions to events, have always been at the core of The Expanse, and they are still front and center here at the end of the journey: Naomi was put through the wringer in the previous season, and I approved of the choice of showing how she’s not over those trials, as dramatically proven through a scene where she freezes as she’s about to begin a spacewalk; Amos seems to have mellowed down a little – although with him one can never know – and his choice of adding Clarissa to the crew represents his unspoken willingness to give her another chance, just as he was when he joined the Roci’s family. Clarissa herself is dealing with her past and the heavy consequences of her actions, so that the first sign of acceptance from Holden looks to her like something of an absolution.  Holden is probably the one who seems to have changed less, but this makes sense because he’s the focus of that family, its moral compass if you want, and he needs to represent a fixed point for the others, which is the main reason for a very difficult choice he makes early on in the season.  As far as Alex is concerned, I appreciated how he’s mentioned in fond remembrance by his crewmates, placing a firm divide between the character and the actor who played him, whose actions forced the storyline to remove Alex from the Rocinante’s complement.

There are however two characters I have barely mentioned before and who drew my attention more keenly in this final season of The Expanse: one is Camina Drummer, who was fleshed out more on screen than she is in the books, and who thanks to the amazing performance by Cara Gee quickly became one of my favorites. Drummer’s journey through the series has been a long and complicated one, and I simply loved the combination of outward strength and inner, well-masked frailty that turned her into such a fascinating personality. In these last episodes of the show she looks even more determined and daring than ever, openly challenging Inaros in a scene that surpassed even the famous shipboard address from the bridge of the Behemoth we saw a couple of seasons ago. The message she sends to the leader of the Free Navy, whose actions have revealed his self-serving ruthlessness, is short but very powerful, and gives the full measure of this awesome character:

For his part, Inaros is depicted as your typical, irredeemable bad guy, who gathered almost unanimous consent from the Belters by unleashing their pent-up outrage through the vicious attack on Earth: his charisma barely hides a cruel, manipulative disposition that at times seems to come from deep-seated and unacknowledged insecurities. In other words, he’s the villain we all love to hate, and much of his successful portrayal is due to actor Keon Alexander who had the far-from-easy job of bringing him to life. Playing a convincing bad guy, and one who tethers on the edge of madness like Inaros, is far more difficult, in my opinion, because it requires a fine balancing act that not everyone can manage successfully: Keon Alexander did an amazing work on this character, one that left me divided between my loathing for Inaros and my admiration for the actor’s skills.   Which compels me to also mention Jasai Chase Owens as Filip Inaros, equally successful in showing the young man’s torn loyalties and his slow but inevitable drift from the toxic orbit of a father who had been his whole world for a long time.

Even though The Expanse has been given an appropriately wrapped-up finale, it’s impossible for book readers to forget that there are three more unexplored books in the saga, especially when the final TV season hinted at some of the Laconia storylines that make up the core of the final trilogy: those hints, which look disconnected from the rest of the story told in the final season, made me hope that there might be a remote possibility for a continuation, if not immediately maybe some time from now.  Whatever happens, though, I am aware that both the books and the TV series have merged together in my imagination, despite the differences between the mediums: The Expanse remains one of the best (if not THE best) space opera series I have known in my “travels” and one it will always be a joy to revisit in either form.

My Rating for Season 6:


LEVIATHAN FALLS (The Expanse #9), by James S.A. Corey

Reaching the end of a beloved series is always a bittersweet experience (and the fact that the TV show inspired by this book series has also reached its final season adds to the feeling of loss, but I digress…), yet it’s also true that when a story comes to an end leaving readers wanting for more it means that the author has done an excellent job, and this is quite true for the highly successful, decade-long run of The Expanse

At the close of the previous installment, the might of the Laconian empire had suffered a hard blow, compounded by the disappearance of its leader, High Consul Duarte, and the crew of the Rocinante had finally reunited, taking with them Duarte’s daughter, Teresa. Elsewhere, scientist Elvi Okoye continued her studies on the protomolecule creators and on the mysterious entities that obliterated them and that still represented a clear and present danger for everyone.

Leviathan Falls opens with the desperate search for Duarte, introducing a new character in the person of Colonel Tanaka, a ruthless, cold-blooded operative who is given carte blanche to recover the Laconian leader and who clearly enjoys the unfettered freedom about collateral damage she’s given: her cat-and-mouse game with the Rocinante’s crew showcases very well her callousness but also her tunnel vision where Holden & Co. are concerned, because their longtime experience with difficult situations (together with a good amount of luck) has gifted them with the kind of flexibility that allows them to thwart Tanaka’s plans time and again. And I for one have to admit that witnessing the Colonel’s angry frustration was quite satisfying, since she’s the kind of character that I just love to hate…

The stakes, in this final book, are of course high: though diminished, the Laconian empire is still a force to be reckoned with; the rebellious systems, coordinated by Naomi Nagata, lack the resources and the organization necessary to deal a significant blow to the enemy; and the ruthlessly dangerous aliens responsible for the destruction of the gates’ builders are ready to do the same to humanity as a whole. And yet, even though the story does not lack for edge-of-your-seat scenes, furious battles and harrowing journeys through weird alien constructs, the overall mood is more sober, more inclined to melancholy – it might have been the projection of my own sadness at the end of the saga, granted, but with hindsight this book is, after all, a long goodbye to a number of characters I have come to know well and love as real people, just as they, in the course of the series, went from total strangers thrown together by circumstances to a tightly knit family.

Even in the midst of a galaxy-wide conflict, it’s the crew of the Rocinante that still earns the spotlight in this final act, and despite all that has happened to them over the years, despite the unavoidable injuries of passing time or life’s emotional wounds, they hold on to each other through learned trust and affection, in a sort of symbiosis which needs no words to make them work as a unit.

Time and use had changed them, but it hadn’t changed what they were. There was joy in that. A promise.

Thinking about the persons they were at the beginning, and seeing how time and experiences changed their outlook, made me aware of the long road they traveled as characters: Naomi kept trying to be as inconspicuous and unassuming as possible, guilt from her past compelling her to keep to the shadows, and yet she ended up being the leader of the resistance against Laconia, putting her mechanical skills at the service of the vast “machine” of the underground; Alex had always skirted his commitments as a husband and a father, preferring the freedom and joy of piloting a ship, but in the end the choice he makes is focused on his son and grandson.  And Holden, who had chosen a nondescript work on an ice hauler to be free from responsibilities, little by little found himself at the center of big and momentous events, so that his ultimate decision is a supremely selfless one, which looks even more poignant when considering that his return from imprisonment on Laconia had left him “scarred and broken” in the wake of the physical and emotional torture he had endured, and that he would have deserved some peace after so much suffering.

The only one who remains a constant is Amos: not even the uncanny changes he underwent in the course of the previous book managed to shift him from the steadfast presence I’ve come to appreciate and expect, someone who can come up with startlingly wise advice: 

“You’re overthinking this, Cap’n. You got now and you got the second your lights go out. Meantime is the only time there is.”

Amos’ personality is a weird combination of menacing strength, expressed in nonchalant understatement, and of unexpected gentleness, which we see – time and again – in his penchant for picking up strays: from distraught botanist Prax, looking for his missing daughter, to Clarissa “Peaches” Mao, former enemy he added to the Roci’s crew, to Teresa Duarte (plus her dog), who seems to come as close as an adopted daughter for the apparently unemotional mechanic.  Maybe it’s not so strange when considering Amos’ past and his (albeit unexpressed) desire to protect the helpless, which makes a great deal of sense when we see Amos as the one to get the very last word in this final book, in his role as protector and guardian.

If the final chapter in The Expanse is not as “epic” as might have been expected, it’s however quite rewarding thanks to the quiet but poignant emotions that stand as its backbone: I’m not ashamed to admit that some of these goodbyes affected me deeply because, despite the 9-books run, I was not ready to part company with this crew, and the only comfort to be had was the hopeful outlook on humanity given by the last paragraphs. Granted, in this series humanity did show some of its worst traits, but also the capacity to move beyond them, or at least of being willing to try: the hint that the story does go on behind the closing curtain is indeed a glimmer of hope, and I will stick to that while I wait for these two amazing authors to create something new and equally compelling in the future.

My Rating:



Time for a new bookish tag, which is something I have come enjoy quite a bit. I found this one HERE, with many thanks to the blogger whose post inspired me: the past year is not so far away yet, so it’s going to be easy to find some answers to the questions!  I made a few adjustments to the questions’ list to suit my reading material, but otherwise I had great fun in finding the right characters for the various topics.


Caitlin Hendrix (Unsub series by Meg Gardiner)

Former police officer, then recruited by the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit, she gives chase to serial killers with great determination, managing to overcome her flaws and the dark shadows of her past: the combination of strength and frailties turns her into a very compelling character.


Derossi Vargo (Rook & Rose series by M.A. Carrick)

On the surface, he looks nothing more than a crime lord with high social aspirations, but there is much more than that under the thick skin he presents to the world: this is a character made of many shades of grey that turn him into a very intriguing figure.


Pounce, tiger-analogue nanny-bot (Day Zero by Robert Cargill)

Strange as it might seem, I fell head over heels for this thinking automaton that the story shows is more than the sum of its parts, especially when it comes to the love and fierce protectiveness it feels for young Ezra, the human child to whom it’s been a companion. I found it impossible to resist Pounce’s charm!


Elinor Tregarth and Sir Jessamyn the dragon (Scales and Sensibility by Stephanie Burgis)

A very unusual couple, I will grant you that, but when you take into account Elinor’s strong-willed stance and Sir Jessamyn’s dragonish cuteness, it does not look so strange after all… 🙂


James Harris, vampire (The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires, by Grady Hendrix)

Harris is not only a ruthless predator, he knows how to play his environment’s social rules so he can keep claiming victims undisturbed, with the unwitting complicity of the people he surrounded himself with. Totally despicable, even for a bloodsucker…


Colonel Carl Butler (Planetside by Michael Mammay)

He started as a quirky character who did not care to follow rules to the letter, which gained him my initial sympathy, only to end as a cold-blooded killer without understandable motivations. Thanks, but no, thanks.


Lock – short for “the Locksmith” (The Phlebotomist, by Christ Panatier)

A middle-aged ex marine with an apparently unflappable attitude even in the direst of situations and a master technician who provides a solution to most problems.


The Gullaime (The Tide Child Trilogy by R.J. Barker)

This one needs no explanation: if you read this series you know what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t… what are you waiting for? 😉


Ursala from Elsewhere (The Rampart trilogy by M.R. Carey)

She’s something of a traveling physician by trade, but she won me over with the way she – through her gruff and no-nonsense disposition which hides a big heart – leads her young charges through the dangers of a profoundly changed world.

As usual, I’m not tagging anyone: just feel free to dive in and share your favorite characters from last year!



When a book (or a movie, for that matter) is announced as “like xxx” I’m always wary, because rarely the comparison stands up to scrutiny and – from my point of view – it also shows a lack of imagination from the people writing the blurb.  Activation Degradation is a case in point, its main character presented as similar to Martha Wells’ Murderbot: in truth, the only point of contact between the two comes from the fact that both Murderbot and Marina Lostetter’s Unit 4 are cyborgs, while the story, the overall mood and the characterization are totally different from the Diaries.

As the novel starts, Unit 4 is hurriedly called on-line to face an attack against the mine orbiting Jupiter where it and its brethren service the installation, dedicated to producing clean energy for Earth: the unit’s remote handler informs it that alien marauders are inflicting damage to the station and that Four must help, even though its activation protocols are incomplete – given the situation, time is of the essence.  In the first, frantic moments since its awakening Four finds itself alternately frightened and riddled with doubt, the latter due to the incomplete download of files necessary to its correct functioning and to the often baffling orders received from the handler: as the situation becomes increasingly critical and Four rushes to fulfill its mission – which includes a cat-and-mouse prolonged space chase against the intruders – we learn something about the installation and the bio-mechanical constructs working there, and what we learn raises a lot of questions about the station and its managers. And even concerning the nature of the Units…

Yes, because despite the terms Four uses to describe itself or its environment, there is a definite organic quality to the background and the Units themselves: while it talks about “CPU unit”, “grasping pads” or “fuel intake” it becomes increasingly difficult to envision Four and its mates as mere robots (there is a scene in which it must “terminate” a fatally compromised unit that goes a long way in that direction), and when it boards a space-worthy pod to chase the invaders, the details of the pod’s insides come across as fleshy and biological rather than mechanic.  Moreover, we learn that these Units are vat-grown and recycled from the material of previous constructs once they have reached their termination period of 90 days – the radiation of the environment and the harsh conditions don’t allow for more.

The real defining point in the story, and in Unit 4’s journey of discovery, comes from its capture by the group of “aliens”, who turn out to be strikingly similar to human beings as depicted in the files stored in its memory. The information these people provide conflicts at first with everything Four knows about these “invaders”, and is therefore viewed with suspicion and scorn, but as time goes on it becomes easier and easier to question what used to be unequivocal truth, and what its role in all this could and should be.

The most compelling feature in Activation Degradation is indeed the long road Unit Four – later on called Aimsley – has to travel as it peels away the layers of untruths that have been keeping it and its brethren in the dark about their true nature and the real situation on planet Earth. And if it’s not difficult for the readers to figure out many of the answers, following Four/Aimsley through this journey is what keeps them turning the pages, in the eagerness to see how all these revelations will affect the character: what this novel offers in that respect is a spellbinding and often poignant tale of awakening, of breaking the bonds of conditioning that have kept Aimsley and its fellow units in actual slavery to a perverted system.

The other intriguing aspect of the story comes from the understanding that the two factions at war are not so easily recognizable as “bad” and “good” guys, because both of them are responsible for the present situation in equal measure, although the novel poses some thought-provoking questions about paying off the debts of our forefathers – and for how long that “punishment” must go on – on one side, and on the other about an excess of protectiveness toward something that’s been left in one’s care, and how far that attitude can be taken.

This latter issue is not resolved at the end of the book, and although Activation Degradation looks like a standalone so far, there are some open-ended narrative threads that just beg for some further exploration: while the novel does reach a satisfactory ending, and does so through some quite unexpected twists and turns, there are more than enough elements to turn it into a very enjoyable series, one whose continuation I would certainly welcome.

My Rating:


A DEAD DJINN IN CAIRO, by P. Djeli Clark

I’ve been meaning to read some more works from P. Djèlí Clark after greatly appreciating his Ring Shout, and I finally did thanks to fellow blogger Maryam at the Curious SFF Reader: when she reviewed Clark’s A Master of Djinn, which I found intriguing, she advised me to read the short stories that precede this full novel, and so I started with A Dead Djinn in Cairo, which can be read online on

This is a completely different kind of story if compared  with my previous experience with this author: set in an alternate Egypt of 1912, it portrays a city of Cairo in which the supernatural and the mundane coexist side by side, as a consequence of the opening of a portal between our world and one filled with otherworldly creatures. For that reason, the Ministry of Alchemy, Enchantments and Supernatural Entities must supervise any kind of manifestation through its investigators.

In Dead Djinn we follow Special Investigator Fatma el-Sha’arawi as she deals with the sudden death of a djinn (in Eastern lore they are supernatural beings which can be either benign or evil, according to circumstances): in this particular, and extraordinary, case, it looks as if the death can be attributed to suicide, and as Fatma follows the leads she finds herself facing mechanical angels, flesh-eating ghouls and other assorted dangers.

The story is short and somewhat light in characterization, but it’s a fascinating journey through the mysteries of Cairo and – more important – through the details of this weird world that might look like our own but is quite different, not just because it sports a plethora of supernatural beings, but because of its fascinating steampunk flavor, highlighted by the mention of flying trams, dirigibles and human-shaped mechanical constructs.

Fatma is an intriguing character, a person with a difficult job made even more arduous by her disregard for the period’s expectations of a woman’s role and appearance – her manner of dress is, well, quite unusual 😀  – and in the short number of pages of this story she shows great promise that I hope will be fulfilled in the next short stories and full novel.

As it is, A Dead Djinn in Cairo is a intriguing introduction to this world, enough to compel me to learn more as soon as possible.

My Rating:


TOGETHER WE WILL GO, by J. Michael Strackzynski

After reading Becoming Superman, the biography of J. Michael Strackzynski – talented writer in several mediums and the unparalleled creator of my favorite TV series ever, Babylon 5 – I knew that I would not want to miss his first (and hopefully not the last!) foray into novel writing: even though the core concept for Together We Will Go is an unsettling one, I knew beforehand that I could trust JMS’ skills in dealing with such a touchy subject with empathy and a lot of heart – and my faith was more than rewarded.

Failed writer Mark, who just received his latest rejection, reaches the conclusion that “the only good writer is a dead writer” and therefore plans to leave this world behind, but not alone: he buys a bus and places an online ad for equally inclined people to join him in a coast-to-coast journey at the end of which they will launch the bus down a cliff, ending their lives. While on the road they will provide for individual diaries of the experience, to be uploaded before the end: Mark’s way of gaining posthumous recognition as a writer.

If Mark’s reasons for ending his life sound somewhat thin and peevish, some of his companions are dealing with very serious issues: Karen suffered for most of her life from chronic, unbearable pain; Lisa is the victim of a bipolar disorder that turned her existence into an uncontrollable mess; Tyler has an untreatable heart condition that literally turns him blue from lack of oxygen; Shanelle has been cruelly bullied because of her size; Vaughn is a recent widower saddled with a terrible secret. And then there is Zeke, an addict beyond the point of no return, whose only companion is the cat Soldier, whose days are numbered; other people (for a total of twelve) board the bus, but the ones I mentioned are the main characters whose diaries help us to know them better and start to understand their reasons for letting go of everything.

The diary format of the novel, which includes not only journal entries but also emails and text messages, gifts the narrative with a strong sense of realism and allows the reader to see the characters from the double perspective of their own thoughts and of the other travelers’ opinions, which in some cases can change radically from the ones in their first meeting.  Together We Will Go is indeed strongly character-driven, and each one of the bus’ passengers looks and sounds unique and three-dimensional, their entries ranging from the maudlin to the utterly funny, in the style I have by now come to expect from JMS’ unrivaled writing skills.

From the outside, this story might look like a romanticized incentive to suicide, but I want to say up front that it’s not: it’s rather an analysis, performed with great sensitivity and consideration, of the reasons that might drive a person to take their own life, and along the the way I was not only able to connect with the characters  on a deep level, I also started to hope that they would change their minds, thanks to the discoveries they were making about themselves and to the bond they came to establish with their travel companions. It’s quite touching – and at times heart-wrenching – to understand how these characters have suffered a form of loneliness and isolation because of their troubles, be they physical or psychological, and to see how their common suffering, and common goal, is creating a sense of family despite the short time they have known each other.  Or maybe it’s thanks to the awareness of their limited remaining time that they are able to connect so deeply, having shed most – if not all – of the trappings that life can impose on people.

As I wrote at the beginning, suicide is a risky subject to place at the core of a story, but I believe that JMS managed to maintain the balance between the position of the characters, in their determination to choose when to end their lives, and that of a reader who might be understandably dismayed at a choice perceived as an unwillingness to keep on fighting. The author is not new at handling this kind of quandary, and once again he’s able to present both points of view in a balanced, not-judgmental way: if you are familiar with Babylon 5, you might remember some episodes in which equally controversial themes have been the focus of the narrative (Believers and Passing Through Gethsemane are the best examples) and have been left for the viewers’ individual consideration.

Still, despite the underlying bleakness there is a definite thread of hope in the story, not only because of the way the journey turns out for some of the passengers, but because of a final consideration by one of them: it’s a long passage, but I firmly believe it’s worth quoting it in its entirety.

The reason so many people are vulnerable to suicide is because they think it could never happen to them, so they don’t know what to look for, what feelings could lead to making that decision […] so anybody reading this will know exactly what it feels like to make that choice from the inside out. For some people maybe it’ll be be like a flu vaccine, giving them a little piece of the real thing so it immunizes them, so they’ll know what that impulse feels like when it comes, and maybe they won’t be as vulnerable because now they can recognize that feeling for what it is instead of being ambushed by it. And maybe they won’t make that jump, or at least they’ll know enough to wait and think about it some more.

Together We Will Go is a story that seamlessly alternates drama with humor, playfulness with deep emotion, and remains a compelling read from start to finish: given the touchy subject at its heart, I’m not sure it could be a book for everyone, but I can state with total assurance that it’s one that will make you think and leave its mark on you – in a very positive sense.

My Rating:


GOOD NEIGHBORS (The Full Collection), by Stephanie Burgis

I received this story collection from the author, in exchange for an honest review.

It’s always a welcome surprise when Ms. Burgis so kindly asks me to read and review her new works, because I know that I will always discover delightful stories where a thread of magic is woven with one of romance that even this grumpy old curmudgeon cannot find fault with 😉   (as a matter of fact, I quite enjoy these light-hearted forays into romantic territory…)

Magic is indeed a focal theme in this collection of stories set on a parallel version of 19th Century England, one where this element is commonplace, as in Ms. Burgis’ equally engaging Harwood Spellbook series, but with the difference that here magic is not an integral part of society: anyone caught with such abilities or marked as “unnatural” is either ostracized or wiped out, depending on the mood of the neighborhood.  

Young Mia, the main character, is an inventor with a special knack for metal to which she can apply her peculiar kind of magic, but her skills have already exacted a heavy toll when her former fellow citizens discovered her true nature and turned against her and her father, burning their home to the ground and grievously wounding the man.  Now that the two of them have found a new place to live, Mia is firmly set in keeping her abilities well hidden, but she did not take into account the persistence of her next-door neighbor, necromancer Leander, whose misshapen undead minions she keeps finding on her doorstep…

Given the shortness of the four stories that compose this collection (Good Neighbors, Deadly Courtesies, Fine Deceptions, Fierce Company) I don’t want to dwell any longer on the actual plot, which despite its light, humorous tone is also able to touch on some very serious themes like the fear of anything we perceive as different or the double standards of people in power.  I can however concentrate on the character of Mia who, like many of Stephanie Burgis’ heroines, presents a captivatingly grouchy disposition on the outside that hides a generous, selfless soul ready to help those in need – be they human or otherwise.  Previous events – and the consequences they visited on her father – made Mia quite wary of outside contact and a virtual recluse, which forces dashing Leander to launch a well-organized campaign to tear those barriers down and turn the two of them first into allies and then into… well, something else. And he has a lot of ground to cover because, in Mia’s own words:

I was not some fluff-headed flibbertigibbet who could be flustered by a bit of close darkness and a handsome, teasing necromancer.

While the first two stories, which are also the shorter ones in the collection, remain on the light side, the longer third and fourth deal with some quite dramatic issues concerning the frame of mind of the so-called “good citizens” of a nearby town (I always shudder whenever the word “purity” is used as it is in this instance) and Leander’s harrowing past. There is clearly a thematic progression here that moves from the introductory stories where the characters are presented, to the more complex, more layered study of the world they live in, a world in which “normal” people feel threatened by supernatural creatures for no other reason that they are different – and no matter how much fanciful humor is laced throughout the story, there are several thought-provoking issues here that belie the apparent lightness of the collection.

These four short stories were previously presented on Stephanie Burgis’ Patreon between 2020 and 2021 and are now collected in a single volume that will be available from February 2nd, 2022. My hope, after reading them, is that the author will write some more to expand both on this intriguing world and on Mia and Leander’s story. I will look forward to them.

My Rating: