Reviews

KEPT FROM CAGES (The Ikiri Duology #1), by Phil Williams

I received this book from the author, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks for this opportunity.

Kept from Cages is Mr. Williams’ new novel, loosely connected with his Sunken City series and portraying completely new characters and backgrounds: the magically-infused British city of Ordshaw is mentioned, and we get a cameo appearance from one of the older characters, but this story takes place elsewhere, broadening our horizons in the matter of supernatural phenomena manifesting throughout the world.

The novel, as I learned from the author’s site, is one Mr. Williams has been working on for a long time and runs on two parallel but distinct tracks which might have seemed confusing at first, if I had not been prepared by the Ordshaw stories and learned that the author likes to place many, apparently unconnected, pieces of the puzzle on the playing field, little by little leading his readers toward the complete picture – or at least as much of the complete picture as he chooses to share at any given time… 😉

So we are presented first with Sean Tasker, an agent from the shady Ministry for Environmental Energy, investigating a ghastly event which occurred in a remote Norwegian village, where the inhabitants seem to have killed each other in an apparent attack of mass hysteria. Tasker’s investigations lead him to connect with Katryzna, a young woman with a history of violence and murderous skills, and they both travel to Congo as they follow a strange and increasingly weird trail of baffling clues.

On the other side of the world, a band of criminally inclined musicians is on the run after their latest hit, and they end up in an isolated farm where they discover a child with peculiar red eyes, tied to a chair: this is only the first of the freaky events that will see Reece and his band mates flee across the Deep South of the USA, hunted by the authorities, by a group of disreputable bounty hunters and bu a plethora of supernatural creatures that seem attracted to the little girl, Zip, like flies to honey.

Before the merging of the two separate storylines you can expect breakneck chases, harrowing battles with things that go bump in the night, old legends about an ominous mountain from where no expedition ever returned, cloak and dagger battles between crooked agencies and much, much more: the pacing is quite sustained, alternating chapters between the two groups of characters so that I felt compelled to move forward at a considerable speed because my need to know what happened next kept growing exponentially. It’s a crazy kind of adventure where you can only expect the unexpected right up to the epilogue, where we are left with such a surprising twist that calling it a cliffhanger would be to do it a huge disservice.

The tone of the novel is a little darker than what I found in the Sunken City series – which was not always rainbows and unicorns, to be clear about it – although there are many opportunities for humor, both in the delightful banter between the musicians, that comes to the fore even in the direst of situations, and through the harsh, uncouth and delightfully ill-mannered sorties from Katryzna, whose… well… unique approach to personal interactions offers the chance for a smile in the most distressing of circumstances.

Kept from Cages moves beyond the parameters of Urban Fantasy, adding elements of mystery, horror and humor to the mix, so that it would be difficult to classify the story, even in this era where the borders between genres keep blurring: it is definitely an adventure – both for the characters and for the readers, transported all over the world in search of the answers for an old riddle that might have dire implications for the present. 

Above all, it’s fun, and I’m delighted to inform you that it will be available from today, September 22nd: if you enjoyed the Sunken City trilogy you will feel perfectly at home here (monsters included…), if you did not read it yet, it might present a good opportunity to sample this entertainingly spooky world.

My Rating:

Reviews

HOW TO RULE AN EMPIRE AND GET AWAY WITH IT (The Siege #2), by K.J. Parker

I received this novel from Orbit Books through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

I enjoyed reading K.J. Parker’s Sixteen Ways to Defend a Walled City, therefore I was very curious to see how the story would be carried forward with a new main character: from the very start Notker, the protagonist of this novel, spoke with a very unique, very entertaining voice and made this new sojourn in the city a delightful time.

The city is now in its seventh year of the (so far not very successful) siege by the ever-growing army of the so-called milkfaces: the blue-skinned Robur ruled over this part of the world for a long time, placing the light-skinned inhabitants in a practically and culturally subservient position. Once the oppressed decided to put an end to the Robur dominion, the siege of the city began and, as we saw in the previous book, it was thanks to the milkface engineer Orhan if the invading army’s attempts at overruling its defenses did not succeed.  As the story opens, we learn that the Robur, not exactly happy to acknowledge Orhan’s endeavors, have tweaked history a bit and heaped the glory for their salvation on the shoulders of Lysimachus – Orhan’s former bodyguard and a far more acceptable Robur – making him the public face of government.

Unfortunately, one of the stones regularly launched by the invaders’ trebuchets falls on on a building where Lysimachus and other officials are present, killing him instantly: the effect on public morale would be devastating, so the city’s de-facto rulers decide to employ a body double to keep Lysimachus alive in the eyes of the citizens. Enter Notker, a struggling actor and playwright, whose skills as an impersonator are well known: he’s enrolled for the charade despite his deep misgivings, and day after day he surprises even himself by growing so well into the role that at times he finds it hard to avoid blurring the boundaries between truth and fiction.  He becomes so good in his role that his personality – at least on the surface – undergoes important changes, as do his goals, or at least that’s what he seems to convey…

Indeed “seems” is the pivotal word here: where Orhan was an unreliable narrator simply because we saw events only from his point of view, Notker is even more unreliable because he’s a professional liar – after all what are actors if not people who can don many personalities as they would do with clothes?  So in his case we not only witness events from his angle, we know he is putting on a mask, playing a role, and this adds a further layer of misdirection on anything he says or does. What’s more, Notker seems to enjoy being Lysimachus, not just for the power he finds himself able to wield, but because he has such a low esteem for himself that he seems to prefer living a lie than showing the real person underneath:

[…] being me has never been easy. And on balance I’d far rather be anybody else but me.

If Notker is clearly unreliable, on the other hand he’s witty and funny and – veteran actor that he is – he manages to infuse a light note in everything he describes, be it a political conspiracy, a particularly bloody assault on the walls or a difficult negotiation with the Themes, the two factions that run the city’s working class and are in constant, fierce competition with each other. What emerges from his light-hearted chronicles, however, is a sort of moral code, no matter how heavily disguised, that adds an intriguing facet to Notker’s character and slowly turns him from the initial lovable rogue into a sympathetic character: if absolute power can corrupt, it can also sometimes change people for the better, make them care for something beyond their immediate needs.  Or, to use Notker’s own words:

[…] that’s the risk with staying in character. Sooner or later the character stays in you.

Through a series of flashbacks we learn more about our protagonist and his difficult childhood under the wing of an overbearing father with a penchant for violence that the man channeled into a career as a Theme enforcer: despite Notker’s almost-fond recollections of those fatherly lessons, we can perceive his desire to detach himself from such an heritage, and that’s another reason it’s easy to empathize with him and to understand his need to forge his own destiny, but also to do something good once he finds himself in the position to do so.

Unlike Orhan, who remained front and center in his version of the story, Notker is paired with another interesting character, fellow actress and onetime lover Hodda: the author often mentions, with tongue-in-cheek humor, that one of the main requirements for a successful play is the presence of a strong female character and Hodda fits this specification to perfection, not only because she’s a determined, independent woman who brings these qualities to her roles, but also because she’s practical and resolute and faces life with a no-nonsense attitude that’s very refreshing. Her dealings with Notker, even when circumstances bring them very close, are always based on those traits, and she often acts as the voice of reason (a voice laced with a strong dose of scorn, granted) tempering Notker’s wildest flights of fancy.  Both in this story and the previous one the author brought to life this kind of female character – women who combine a sharp tongue with an even sharper intellect, who take no flak from men and know what they want from life and how to get it, and Hodda here is their rightful representative.

How to Rule an Empire… like its companion novel is a fun journey that nonetheless compels you to seriously think about people and what drives them, that successfully mixes drama and comedy always keeping a good balance between these elements and that presents you with memorable characters while telling a fast-paced story able to hold your attention from start to finish. For me, a perfect combination….

My Rating:

Reviews

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Most Inspiring Fantasy Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point, ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here.  This week’s topic was a Cover Freebie, so I choose to list the most inspiring Fantasy covers.

We keep telling ourselves that we should never judge a book from its cover, but we also acknowledge that more often than not it’s the cover that draws us to a given book, in the hope of discovering that beauty is not just skin-deep, or rather, cover-deep…

Here are some of the books whose covers, together with their promise for a wonderful story, enhanced my reading experience:

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – N. K. Jemisin

Red Seas Under Red Skies – Scott Lynch

Half a War – Joe Abercrombie

The Last Stormlord – Glenda Larke

Dreamer’s Pool – Juliet Marillier

Promise of Blood – Brian McClellan

A Time of Dread – John Gwynne

Godsgrave – Jay Kristoff

Foundryside – Robert Jackson Bennett

The Spider’s War – Daniel Abraham

Reviews

KILLMAN CREEK (Stillhouse Lake #2), by Rachel Caine

It’s been quite some time since I read the first book in this series, Stillhouse Lake, and one of the reasons I waited so long – besides the usual problems of a crowded TBR – was that my previous experience with one of Rachel Caine’s series, namely The Great Library, soured a little with the second installment and I was wary of a repeat occurrence. It turned out that my doubts were more than founded: to be completely honest, Killman Creek was not a bad read but a good portion of the freshness and inventive of its predecessor was missing in this book, which led me to think that there might be some form of… narrative pattern here.  But let’s proceed with order.

The woman calling herself Gwen Proctor used to be Gina Royal, unsuspecting wife of Melvin Royal, a vicious serial killer: when a freak accident revealed the horrors hidden in Melvin’s garage, no one felt inclined to believe in Gina’s innocence, because it seemed impossible that she would not know what was going on; no one seemed to understand that a meek, subtly plagiarized wife would be unable to see behind the curtain of normalcy projected by her husband. Once the trial established her innocence, Gina had to keep on the move to save herself and her two children by the hordes of haters who hounded them, mostly thanks to the pervasiveness of the internet: changing her name and keeping on the move were the only options she had, and so Gwen Proctor was born.

In Stillhouse Lake we encountered Gwen finding a place where she wanted to stay and start to build a new life for herself and her teenage children, but Melvin’s reach and vindictiveness – enhanced by a hacker collective called Absalom – went beyond the prison’s barriers and once more shattered Gwen’s existence, culminating in Melvin’s escape from jail and a further level of threat for Gwen and her small family.  Killman Creek sees Gwen choosing to go on the offensive: with the help of Sam, the brother of one of Melvin’s victims, she decides to hunt down her former husband and physically remove him from the equation once and forever.  Easier said than done, though: as the only escaped inmate still at large, Melvin seems able to remain several steps ahead, enjoying the mental torture he can inflict on Gwen just as much as he enjoyed the physical violence visited on his victims, and the people from Absalom keep adding new damning material to Gwen’s profile, to the point that her innocence is dramatically contested both by her shocked children and by a still-grieving Sam, so that she finds herself even more isolated than before and chooses to play a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with Melvin in the hope of forever ending her torment.

The pace in Killman Creek is indeed relentless and there seems to be no way out of the intricate network of deceit and remote control that Melvin and Absalom have created against Gwen, but in the end this complicated web turns out to be counterproductive because it requires such a high suspension of disbelief that the drama feels phony. There is far too much on the table: Absalom’s powers, Melvin’s almost psychic intuitions, a reclusive billionaire with an interest in the matter, an FBI agent ready to go rogue to help Sam, and Gwen’s younger son acting like a very naive monkey wrench in his mother’s plans.  

Moreover, at some point a series of fake videos sheds a very suspicious light on Gwen’s past and creates a tragic fracture between her, the children and Sam, and that was the element that managed to shatter my “belief bubble”, because it felt so contrived and over the top and it added a further layer of drama which, at that point, seemed totally unnecessary.  Since it was firmly established that Absalom could easily manipulate evidence, and it was equally established that Gina/Gwen had no part in her husband’s murderous activities, I would have expected the fake vids to create some doubts and some shock, yes, but not the violent rejection she had to endure from everyone, as if her every single action so far, her fierce protectiveness toward her kids and her willingness to sacrifice everything for them, amounted to nothing.  It looks as if the author thought the mix was not complex enough, and she felt the need to add a melodramatic angle that I found both superfluous and annoying – and which apparently left no consequences, because in the end all was forgotten and forgiven as if it never happened: understandable as far as the children are concerned, far less so with Sam…

The characters, which in the previous book had been established as complex and nuanced, here lose some of that complexity and take a step back in favor of the action: nothing wrong with this, of course, but they also seem to de-evolve in comparison with their former selves. Gwen, despite the resolution to go on the offensive, looks like the proverbial headless chicken running in circles and makes a series of foolish mistakes; Sam is there only to brood and doubt; and the kids, who used to have my total understanding for being forced to grow too soon, here appear as the embodiment of the worst in YA characters, forced angst included.  Even Melvin, who so far had looked like an evil manipulator gifted with a twisted intelligence, here appears like nothing more than the classic, mustache-twirling villain.

It’s a pity that such a good opportunity to keep exploring the troubles and traumas of a serial killer’s family was turned into a paint-by-the-numbers thriller that from the midpoint onwards saw me skimming more than reading: I wanted to see how the situation would be resolved, but I had lost faith in the characters’ journey. A pity indeed…

My Rating:

Reviews

SCIFI MONTH 2020: all aboard!

ARTWORK by Tithi Luadthong from 123RF.com

Are you tired of the same old landscapes of Earth?  Do you long for the vastness of interstellar space, or for the vistas of alien worlds? Then joins us in the annual celebration of Science Fiction that will run in the month of November!

Our gracious hosts Imyril and Lisa are again at the helm of the starship that will take us “where no one has gone before” to explore the wildest feats of imagination and find the myriad answers to our favorite question: “What if…?”

As usual, the sky is the limit: books, movies, TV shows, games and every other kind of media will be welcome – who knows, we might even discover a few we had not known before, because discovery is indeed the key word in this monthly journey through the unexplored territories of our inventiveness.

Ready to know more?  HERE you will find all the information you need to join the crew and start the journey. I don’t have to tell you it’s going to be fun, and let me add that this year’s banner is so far my favorite: the suggestion that once we start exploring new worlds our best four-legged friends will still be with us is one that I find delightful… 🙂

See you in outer space!

Reviews

THE BLACK ICE (Harry Bosch #2), by Michael Connelly

My attempt at broadening my reading horizons by including more fictional genres in my TBR worked quite successfully with the first book in Michael Connelly’s Bosch series, The Black Echo, so I did not wait too long to move forward with this second novel: while it ultimately turned out to be an enjoyable experience, and it added some new layers to the main character, it did not have the same narrative drive as the first volume – probably a classic case of “second book syndrome”…

Maverick detective Harry Bosch is spending his Christmas alone and on call for any homicide summons from his department, when he hears on the radio that the body of a colleague was found in a dingy motel, a possible suicide. It’s strange enough that he was not called to the scene, and it’s stranger still that the Assistant Chief of police seems bent on keeping him away from the investigation – when the next morning Bosch’s commander saddles him with a few open cases to be solved as quickly as possible, his suspicions escalate, and being like the proverbial dog with a bone he decides to take a closer look into the deceased cop’s death, particularly once he discovers that two of those pending cases foisted on him seem to be connected with it. A further compelling clue comes through a file that Cal Moore, the suicide, was compiling about the traffic of a new drug – the titular Black Ice – and that he had asked his former colleagues to forward the documentation to Bosch, as if he knew that he would not be able to complete it.

As I said, the story is interesting enough, although not as gripping as the previous one, probably because I expected the same kind of sustained pacing that here was missing and picked up only toward the three quarter mark; this slower rhythm, however, is offset by a more concentrated focus on characterization and on some introspection that adds a few new layers to Bosch’s personality and sheds more light into his past. We learn further details about his childhood, for example, like the fact that he was orphaned at twelve and spent long years being shuttled from one foster family to another, which explains his solitary way of life: there is an interesting passage here where we see how he sort of bonds with a coyote prowling the wilderness near his house – recognizing a kind of affinity with the lonely animal, one that is later acknowledged by one of Bosch’s bosses who tells him that while he is enrolled in the police department he does not behave as if he were part of it, and that explains his often reckless disregard for the rules and the chain of command.

While this side of Bosch’s character carries from the previous book, here one can also see a slight softening of his bluntness toward others, particularly when his investigation brings him across the border to Mexico and he discovers the similarities between his early life and that of his deceased colleague, whose death has by this time been ruled as homicide rather than suicide, prompting the detective to follow the trail of clues and bring justice to the victim – the main drive that powers his every action.  This slow mellowing of Bosch’s rough edges is something I’m looking forward to in the course of the continuing series, because the theme of the “lone wolf” existing in an emotional vacuum would carry with difficulty through the next 20-odd books without becoming a cliché.

Speaking of clichés, however, Bosch’s relationship with women seems to follow the guidelines of the noir genre, and where this might have been interesting enough in the previous book, where FBI agent Eleanor Wish was an intriguing foil (and as close as a femme fatale as her personality allowed) for the detective, here we see him entangled with no less than two women at the same time, and both of them look more like props than characters on their own right.  I tried to keep in mind that the book was written 27 years ago and that a lot of proverbial water flowed under equally proverbial bridges, but Bosch’s treatment of both women skirts chauvinism in a very dangerous, very irritating way that grates even more than his endless smoking.

This, together with a too-convoluted plot that at times did not roll forward very smoothly, and with an ending that was saddled with too much explanation, brought my rating down a notch: second books often being difficult beasts to tame, I’m ready to give this series some more time to see if it develops into the successful string of books that many are praising. The next one will probably offer a deciding factor…

My Rating:

Reviews

TO SLEEP IN A SEA OF STARS, by Christopher Paolini

I received this novel from Tor Books through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

I was very curious to sample Christopher Paolini’s writing: although aware of his Inheritance fantasy cycle, I never read it, and the brief excerpt for To Sleep in a Sea of Stars that I found online, once the campaign for this book was launched, sounded very intriguing, sporting many of the elements I enjoy in Science Fiction. Unfortunately, after a promising and intriguing beginning, I felt myself progressively losing interest in the story and I had to abandon it at the 32% mark – namely at page 262 of its quite considerable 800+ pages run.

In short, the novel focuses on Kira Navarez, an exobiologist attached to a corporation conducting feasibility studies on planets marked for possible colonization. At the beginning of the story Kira and the rest of the team are preparing to leave their latest assignment when in the course of a last-minute survey Kira stumbles on an alien artifact: this encounter leaves her profoundly – even dangerously – changed and launches a series of events culminating in an alien invasion and a devastating intergalactic war.

Where the premise sounds intriguing – and there is no doubt that the inciting incident back at the base has a delightfully creepy Alien vibe – the execution did not meet my (admittedly fastidious) tastes. The novel leans heavily toward plot rather than characterization, and this for me is certainly a problem because I need to connect with characters to enjoy a story; moreover, what characterization there was – either concerning Kira or the secondary figures – felt flat and at times more in service of the plot than of the characters themselves.

Kira’s personality is very contradictory: she is presented as an exobiologist driven by the need to explore new worlds, to apply her knowledge to the expansion of humanity, and yet once she falls in love with one of her co-workers and he proposes marriage she’s ready to throw it all to the four winds in exchange for marital bliss, children and the dream of a white-fenced house.  Then she is subjected to a very traumatic loss and even more traumatic experiences of torture and experimentation, and yet none of this seems to leave her with any permanent scars, or the remotest hint of PTSD.  To top it all off, she evolves in a very, very short period of time from a mousy, lab-bound scientists into this super-hero, ass-kicking warrior without any perceivable hint of how the transformation took place.

Secondary characters fare little better, since they looked to me more formulaic than gifted with distinctive personalities, and so we have, for example, a lovably roguish ship captain; a stern, uncompromising XO; a kindly doctor; and the required gangly and goofy teenager. All of the above provided sometimes wooden, sometimes embarrassing dialogues that although set into a highly energetic but somewhat confused story made my progress through the novel an arduous slog, compounded by what looked like excessive wordiness.  Still, I tried to soldier on because the angle of the alien invasion, with its hordes of weird, scary creatures, is certainly intriguing, but I was also puzzled by the overall tone which at times seemed to veer toward YA standards, although the novel is labeled as adult fiction – a prime example being the description of shipboard pets which include a cat and a pig (yes, a pig, I kid you not), both of them provided with velcro-like adhesive pads so they could move in free fall….

While I can see the potential for this story, I have to acknowledge my disappointment in the way it is delivered: it is certainly a classic case of “it’s not you, it’s me” and I’m looking forward to learning what other fellow bloggers will think of this novel, particularly when I’m aware of the finicky personal tastes I quoted above. 

My Rating:

Reviews

KING OF THE ROAD (Brotherhood of the Wheel #2), by R. S. Belcher

While I usually tend to distance the books in a series to avoid so-called reader fatigue, I did not want to wait too long for this second volume in R.S. Belcher’s on-the-road Urban Fantasy because I greatly enjoyed my first encounter with the Brotherhood, the modern inheritors of the famed Templars, the knights once protecting the pilgrims traveling toward the Holy Land. In more recent times, the old order transformed into the Brotherhood, an alliance of truckers, bikers, patrolmen and so forth cruising the roads and keeping their dangers at bay, be they mundane or supernatural.

In the first book of the series we met the three main characters: Jimmie Aussapile, a down-to-earth trucker gifted with great courage and a heart of gold; Lovina Marcou, a police officer marked by a family tragedy and set on battling all predators; and Heck Sinclair, a war veteran and member of a motorcycle club, all rough edges and deep bravery.  The book starts with a high-octane mission that sees the three of them engaged in stamping out a band of children traffickers, but soon they are forced to take different roads in pursuit of various foes: Lovina, always keen on the subject of missing girls after the kidnapping and murder of her younger sister, follows the trail of a vanished young woman who keeps haunting her in vivid dreams set at the very moment of the assault; Jimmie is battling with the usual problems of too little cash and too many repairs to his truck, but this does not prevent him from lending Heck a hand as the biker finds himself faced with a splinter group in the club whose dangerous departure from the Blue Jocks’ code of honest living threatens the very existence of their crew.

This split narrative, that at some point also sees the welcome return of Max, the talented scientist from the Builders’ branch of the Brotherhood, makes for an intense reading journey, where the alternating chapters drove me to keep reading to see how the other characters fared in their own dangerous investigations. The story is further enhanced by the introduction of twelve year old Ryan, a boy relocating with his mother to a trailer park after a distressing experience, and finding different, terrifying dangers in the new home, but also new friends, in a narrative equivalent to a theme dear to Stephen King, that of the violated innocence of youth that can sometimes turn into unexpected courage and a lifelong bond.

Murderous cults seem to be one of the most common enemies the Brotherhood must face, and the one in King of the Road is a scary one indeed: its members distinguish themselves by painting unique clown masks on their faces (and there is something special and ominous in the paint they use…) and they harvest victims for their leader and his heinous goals, leaving their dismembered remains in plain view, both for ritualistic and shock value. What we learn along the way, is that these monsters have been doing this for decades, if not more, and every single one of them has been handpicked for cruelty and the absolute lack of common human feelings like dismay or remorse. The evil clown theme is one often found in horror literature (once again I need to quote the Master and his novel IT as a prime example) and I’m aware that there is a very real syndrome (coulrophobia) engendering fear of clowns in people who suffer from it, and I found that here this fear is used very skillfully because there is nothing more frightening that finding wickedness under the mask of someone who should only bring joy and amusement.  The bright side in this very dark part of the story comes from Lovina’s determination to go to the bottom of the mystery and to bring justice to the many victims, but also from the trailer park’s kids and their bond of loyalty that proves stronger than their fears.

Heck, on the other hand, seems at first to be fighting against a more mundane takeover of the club’s leadership and goals: it’s only when the sinister character of Viper comes on the scene that the supernatural elements come to the fore – and there is also something quite ominous in the past ties between Viper, the Blue Jocks and Heck himself, that hints at possible shattering revelations along the way. But on that path lie spoilers, so I will say no more…   In my review of the previous book I wrote that it took me some time to warm up to Heck, but here I felt quite strongly for him: seeing his club undermined from its very core, having to suffer grievous losses in the war against the separatists, feeling his future leadership endangered, he rises to the challenge with a focus and a maturity that seemed impossible given his previous volatile nature.  

A special mention must go to another biker club, The Bitches of Selene, where the members are mostly women and everyone is a shapeshifter: their leader Ana Mae is the perfect, ass-kicking female character I enjoy reading, because she’s a delightful blend of strength and humor, and the perfect foil for Heck. Not to mention that she’s a werewolf too and that there is no question about who is the Alpha between the two of them… 😉

The breakneck pace of the events and the deepening characterization of the regulars are the core of the story, and the latter is notably achieved by separating the three “regulars” and so giving them more space to grow, but there is more in King of the Road that makes it special: the intriguing glimpses into the hobo culture, with its inner “laws” and customs, and the way it somehow dovetails with some of the Brotherhood’s principles; the discovery that the Road is not the only place of aggregation for modern wanderers and that the Rail and freight trains are part of a parallel lifestyle. And last but not least a closer glimpse into the other branches of the Brotherhood, the Builders (the scientists and scholars) and the Benefactors, whose focus is on the financial aspects: the final chapter of the novel sheds more light into the other two spokes of the Wheel, and lays the ground for what we will certainly find in the next novel, that for me will not be here soon enough.

Granted, Mr. Belcher does show again his penchant for detailed descriptions of each character’s items of clothing, and here he compounds this quirk by listing the titles of songs playing on the radio whenever one is present on the scene, but I’ve come to accept it as part of the story: to quote programmers of old who used to say, “it’s a feature, not a bug”, I’ve learned to smile indulgently at these digressions instead of being bothered by them… 🙂

My Rating:

Note: this is my first post created using WordPress’ new Block Editor, the dreaded update that seems to have thrown the blogging community in deep turmoil. It was not easy, granted, and it requires patience and a tough learning curve, but it’s not impossible. So far I have been able to style my post the way I like it, although I spent more time on it than I am used to, but I wanted to share this small success as a form of encouragement to my fellow bloggers who have been so far baffled by the new interface. Don’t give up! 😉

Reviews

THE BOOK PREDICTIONS TAG

 

Thanks to Way Too Fantasy here is another fun, book-oriented tag post, originally created by @bookprincessreviews 

What this tag needs is for me to dust off my crystal ball and share the predictions for my…

 

NEXT READ

This is an easy one: author Phil Williams – whose Sunken City novels I had the pleasure of reviewing – contacted me with the news of his next book, whose publication is slated for the second half of September.  Kept From Cages is, in Mr. Williams’ own words, a “fast-paced supernatural action-thriller” peopled with new characters but still tied to the Ordshaw world. My curiosity was quite piqued by his mention of “criminal jazz musicians” and I will start reading as soon as I finish my current book, which means in the next handful of days…

 

NEXT 5 STAR READ

Another easy prediction: I was overjoyed in receiving the bi-monthly Orbit newsletter and learning that the new Age of Madness book from Joe Abercrombie, The Trouble with Peace, is included in the September/October NetGalley releases. There is absolutely no doubt that this will turn into a 5-star read as have all the previous Abercrombie novels I have enjoyed in the past.

 

NEXT 1 STAR READ

Well… No one would pick a book with the foreknowledge that it will turn out into such a disappointing read – and picking up a book with so little promise, to say the least, would sound like an exercise in masochism, so I’m going to focus on my unwavering optimism and predict that there will be no such black marks on the next books I will pick up.

 

NEXT LOVE INTEREST OR CHARACTER THAT SEEMS REALLY COOL

I will go with “character that seems really cool” and name Circe, from the protagonist of Madeline Miller’s novel with the same title: the book promises to deliver an new and interesting angle on the mythical figure who, according to legend, imprisoned men transforming them into pigs. My love of mythology goes back to my school days, so it will certainly be a fascinating experience to revisit this story from a different point of view.

 

NEXT BOOK I WILL BE BUYING

To Be Taught, if Fortunate, by Becky Chambers: I have already acquire the first book from this author, The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet thanks to the enthusiastic reviews from many of my fellow bloggers, but on a recent post I learned about this novella, that can be read on its own, and I decided to start the… experiment with a shorter work, so that my curiosity will be satisfied sooner.

 

It’s your turn now: wave your magic wands, peer into your enchanted mirrors, and let us know what your bookish future looks like!

 

Reviews

LITTLE SECRETS, by Jennifer Hillier

 

First things first, I have to thank Mogsy at Bibliosanctum for showcasing this title a short while ago, when I had decided to diversify my reading materials by branching out in other directions: since crime and thriller are among the other genres I enjoy besides fantasy and SF, this book looked just perfect, and it turned out to be a quick, immersive read that I found quite difficult to put down.

Marin Machado lives what you could call a charmed life: owner of a chain of hair salons catering to the affluent and the famous, married to equally successful and loving Derek, mother to four-year old Sebastian –  she can indeed call herself lucky. That is, until one day, shortly before Christmas, a momentary distraction in a crowded market results in the abduction of Sebastian, last seen by security cameras as he leaves the area hand in hand with a Santa-costumed man.  Roughly one and a half years after the kidnapping, Sebastian has not been found and even the FBI put the case on the back burner given the absence of further useful evidence. 

Despite wallowing in understandable despair, and some suicidal thoughts, Marin is not ready to call it quits and she enlists a private investigator to continue the search, to leave no stone unturned: what the P.I. finds, however, is not a clue to Sebastian’s whereabouts, but rather the incontrovertible proof that Derek has been having an affair with a younger woman for the past six months.  The revelation shocks Marin out of her well of misery and turns her on the path of vengeance, driving her to seek “professional help” to remove the threat of the other woman from her already crumbling marriage: this path, however, will prove to have unforeseeable consequences and will lead Marin to agonizing choices and shocking discoveries.

Where this novel starts as the portrayal of every parent’s worst nightmare, the abduction of a child, it soon veers off in a different direction, and I have to admit that I was quite surprised, not so much by the change of narrative focus but rather by the intensity of Marin’s commitment to her new objective: when we see her after the dramatic prologue, she is a ghost of her former self, consumed by guilt for that momentary distraction and by anguished thoughts about what might have happened to her son. She attends regular meetings with a support group of similarly affected parents, and while their therapeutic value might be dubious, they at least give her a chance to talk with people who understand where she is, emotionally and psychologically, filling the place left by the growing distance with her husband. The discovery of the affair seems to give her a new lease on life, so to speak, the pain for the unbearable loss of her child turning into simmering anger that stops at nothing, not even the thought of commissioning a murder – probably because she finally found a target for that anger: she does not know who took Sebastian away from her, but she knows now who is trying to deprive her of what’s left of her family, and in this she is not powerless anymore.

There is not a single sympathetic character in this novel and when we get to know them (through present actions and flashbacks to the past) we see how deeply flawed they are: Marin suffers from a selfish streak, evident in her dealings with longtime friend and former lover Sal, who she ditched quickly when a better prospect came along, but still remains her go-to person in times of need. And like many other betrayed women before her, she prefers to direct her hatred only toward the rival, the housebreaker, conveniently forgetting that in extra-marital affairs the people involved are always two, sharing the blame in equal measure.  For his part, Derek looks like the perfect jerk, one who was already guilty of a fling during Marin’s pregnancy, which makes her resolution to win him back even more baffling: and little does it matter that he seems already tired of the other woman and is acting accordingly – the picture that comes out of his behavior is not a very pleasant one.

The real surprise, though, comes from the author’s choice of giving voice to McKenzie, the mistress, so that her character is substantially fleshed out and we are able to see the motivations compelling her – not that they are uplifting ones, of course. What the young woman is, and has been for a good part of her twenty-four years, is a professional girlfriend: she latches on to older, preferably married men, waiting for the inevitable breakout time to earn what she sees as well-deserved severance pay.  McKenzie’s shallowness, her fixation with social media and the number of likes she gathers by sharing the trivial minutiae of her everyday life, all contribute to make her the focus of readers’ animosity: there seems to be no redeeming quality to her, no perception of right and wrong, something that hints at some early, irreparable damage…

If the description of these characters and the situation they find themselves in sounds right out of a soap opera, think again: this is a thriller through and through and as the story progresses we realize that there is more under the surface than we – or the characters – bargained for. Apart from the angle of loss and despair following a tragedy, like the kidnapping of a child, there is the examination of the psychological implications of such an event, their aftermath on relationships, and the consequences of betrayal and vengeance. And there is a massive surprise at the end, because all these elements – past and present – are connected and this connection comes out as a big surprise toward the end of the story.

I have to admit that the way the various plot lines were brought to their end felt a little too convenient, and saddled with more ‘telling’ than ‘showing’ for my own tastes, but still the road up to that point was a very easy, very intriguing one and I enjoyed every single minute I spent there, which will certainly prompt me to look for more of Jennifer Hillier’s works.

 

My Rating: