Giveaway! Signed copies of The Black Stone by Nick Brown

This 26 February is an extraordinary day for book releases. I don’t think I’ve known a day like it. But one new paperback release stands out – The Black Stone by Nick Brown. This fabulous addition to Nick’s Agent of Rome series featured in my top ten historical fiction list for 2014 and I cannot sing its praises enough.

The author has very kindly offered me two signed paperbacks, hot off the presses, to offer as giveaways on For Winter Nights. If you’d like a signed copy (and you live in the UK or Ireland), please send an email to me at by the end of next week (Friday 6 March). And here is why you need to read this book.

The Black Stone by Nick BrownReview
It is AD 273 and ‘grain man’ or spy Cassius Quintius Corbulo is stationed in Bostra, the capital of the Roman province of Arabia, growing accustomed to his military rank while bemoaning the absence of his manservant, Simo. Simo might be a slave, and a Christian one at that, but Cassius has never been able to shrug off his affection for the man who can anticipate his every need. A visit to Simo’s father, though, has overrun and Cassius is losing his patience. His ex-gladiator bodyguard Indavara is still by his side but even he, a man of few words, is showing signs of trying to shake off his ties to Cassius. It’s almost just as well, then, when spymaster Abascantius turns up with a new, perilous mission for Cassius and Indavara.

The Black Stone, an object believed to conduit divine powers, has been stolen from Roman hands, which is unfortunate because emperor Aurelian is determined he needs it to sanctify his rule. Cassius is tasked with gathering a troop of Roman soldiers to go undercover as a merchant and his guards to trace the stone into the desert. The quest will begin in the city of Petra where, it is believed, an agent may have some clues for them (if the local gangs haven’t killed him first for his gambling debts). All the time, though, they hear stories of a new chief in the hills, supported by a tall blond giant and an old woman, who is gathering the local tribes to him. It doesn’t take an imperial agent to work out that Rome has a new enemy.

The Black Stone is the fourth in Nick Brown’s wonderful Agent of Rome series and this one is a little different to its predecessors. At almost 500 pages, it is by far the longest and this means that extra time is given to the action adventure element of the story and the increasingly involved relationships between Cassius, Indavara and, once he returns, Simo. For me, this is a particularly strong feature of the novel and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know more about Simo and – especially – Cassius and Indavara.

The action part of the novel is extremely exciting and well-plotted, which is what you’d expect from Nick Brown after three other excellent Roman adventures, but while I did enjoy the mystery and enigma of Ilaha and Gutha, I was enthralled by the developing drama between Cassius, Indavara and Simo. During the later stages of the novel, this grows to great heights and there were tears – a fair few of which were mine. Both Cassius and Indavara are very young men dealing with events completely out of the ordinary. Simo is the man who could keep them sane but, as his allegiance turns increasingly to Christ, Cassius has to deal with this and he doesn’t like it. All sorts of questions about slavery are raised here.

Honour and bravery also play their part as many of the characters, those with both large and small roles to play, are placed in positions where they have to question their loyalty to their leader, their families, their emperor or chief and their gods – as well as to their own memory. All of this contributes to a tale that is both exciting and poignant in places.

Religion as a theme gets considerable attention in The Black Stone, not just the Christianity of Simo but also the cultism of Ilaha and the more formal Roman religion of Cassius and his men. Indavara continues to be confused by other men’s relationships to their gods but here, in his own worship, another side of Cassius is glimpsed. These large themes are lightly placed into the novel and it raises the adventure into something very memorable. Its ending leaves the reader crying out for more and I have no doubt that this wonderful series will continue to grow from strength to strength.

Buy The Black Stone

Other reviews and features
Agent of Rome I: The Siege
Agent of Rome II: The Imperial Banner
Agent of Rome III: The Far Shore
An interview – The Far Shore

Good luck!

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer

Publisher: Faber & Faber
Pages: 375
Year: 2015 (26 February)
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate HamerReview
All it takes is just a moment for every parent’s worst nightmare to come true. Beth, a single mother, takes her eight-year-old daughter Carmel to a local children’s festival – a magical place where children are entertained by storytellers, their imaginations encouraged to soar. Beth only takes her eye off Carmel for an instant, her daughter wriggling her hand free to assert her independence, but that’s enough. Carmel is taken. While Beth runs around the festival in a desperate search, trying to comfort herself that at any moment she’ll see her girl in the bright red coat, Carmel is in a car being driven through many dark miles through the night by a man who claims to be her grandfather. Her mother is badly injured, he tells her, her father is too wrapped up in his new family to care, Carmel is better off with him and his wife, somewhere far, far away, leaving her mother to recover in peace.

The Girl in the Red Coat is an emotional and at times desperately sad tale of a child’s disappearance, told in the first person by both the mother and the child. We watch the agony and displacement of both as the days tick by, never forgetting the other, while having to cope with an unwantable future.

Any concerns that this might venture into the grim territory of sexual predation, somewhere I wouldn’t want to follow, is soon dissipated. Although The Girl in the Red Coat is indeed grim in places – how could it not be with a child as its victim – this is a very different kind of story. At its heart is the strong, clever, brave Carmel. This little girl is lovely to spend time with. Her predicament and her courage are heartbreaking to read. She describes everything she endures in her own words, as well as her trust in this ‘grandfather’, but reading her own words of having to sleep in the dark, with no electricity, no comfort, tears the heart. At the same time we have the mystery of the grandfather and his wife – what do they want with Carmel? What does she mean to them?

Kate Hamer does a wonderful job of putting us into the shoes of this lost, frightened little girl, not just at the beginning but also as time goes by and Carmel has to re-evaluate everything about herself. She is an extraordinary young girl but it’s only as the days pass that we learn in how many ways she is different. There’s another side to the story, though. That is the dark place occupied by Carmel’s mother, Beth. Beth becomes a searcher, a woman whose eyes never stop watching for traces of red coat. The world is closed around her as she withdraws into her pain. But, again, Kate Hamer skilfully shows us, through Beth’s own thoughts, that space expanding as the days drag by. Other people are drawn into Beth’s world, just as others join Carmel.

Reading The Girl in the Red Coat is very sad at times but it’s not without its moments of lightness. Carmel is a fantastic observer of people and situations and she finds the humour, as well as the absurd, in both. There is also always hope.

The Girl in the Red Coat is an immersive novel to read. It’s extremely atmospheric and very hard to put down once picked up. I would argue that it’s best read in one or two sittings. It’s as its best with the outside world kept at bay. In that way Carmel can work her magic.

Those Above by Daniel Polansky

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 400
Year: 2015 (26 February)
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

Those Above by Daniel PolanskyReview
Superhuman, beautiful and near immortal beings – the Others or Those Above – conquered mankind three thousand years ago. Humanity now lives dispersed among several kingdoms or republics, a brittle peace maintained between them thanks to the scrutiny of these four-fingered, vain and pampered Others. Many humans, though, live within the Roost, an enormous mountain of life divided into a pyramid of five rungs. Within the Fifth Rung, the Barrow, live the poorest of the poor among sweatshops, slums, bars and prostitutes, all controlled by gangs, where a dreary short life is lived to the slurping sound of the pipes and pumps that shift the water from the neighbouring sea and lakes into the canals that flow upwards to the higher reaches of the Roost. At the top, within the First Rung, are the beautiful castles, gardens, aviaries and canals of the Others. There they live a glorious life, perched high above the rest of the world, as if they were the most gorgeous of birds. Around them live their human slaves, many of whom can no longer see beyond the paradise that surrounds them. And yet to the Others, humans are less than nothing. They are insects and their lives are insignificant, their deaths even more so.

It is time to stir it up. It is thirty years since the last great battle between humans and the Others. At that time a human soldier, Bas, fought and killed with his own hands one of Those Above, an extraordinary feat, still remembered. At the same battle, the husband of Eudokia, now the chief priestess and venerated mother of the nation of Aelerians, lost his life. The years since have been long but now Eudokia is in a position powerful enough to seek vengeance. Nobody else has the power or ability to tempt down Those Above from their perch. Bas, her General, might be just the man to help. Meanwhile, in the First Rung, high above this human plotting, Calla lives a privileged if subservient life as Seneschal to the Aubade, the Lord of the Red Keep. Through Calla, the mysteries and foibles of Those Above are revealed, at least a little. In the Fifth Rung, there is Thistle, a young boy making a name for himself in the only way possible in the Barrow – spying, thieving, even killing for one of the gang leaders. But even down here in the depths of society, something is stirring. A movement is spreading, the movement of the five fingered against the four, and someone like Thistle is more than ready to listen.

Those Above is an extraordinary novel. It opens a new epic fantasy series in spectacular fashion, gripping the reader from the very beginning through its brilliant worldbuilding, setting the stage for what is to come in the most satisfying and yet tantalising manner. These four individuals are our guides to this strange and yet oddly familiar world – Thistle, Calla, Bas and Eudokia. Each of these four has a unique voice, their experiences are enormously different but each is full. The novel divides itself equally between the four, moving from one to another after almost every chapter. It’s difficult to choose a favourite but I think I was most intrigued by Eudokia and Calla. Eudokia’s plotting is first-rate while Calla provides a viewpoint into the world of the Aubade and I was captivated by it. All of the narratives introduce a whole range of characters and while this is slightly overwhelming at the beginning it soon becomes one of the novel’s richest rewards.

The novel itself is beautifully written. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of the paradise world at the top of the Roost, but I also liked the clever use of bird imagery that runs through the novel. The book is punchy in pace, the dialogue is excellent (especially Eudokia’s) and the characters are fabulously varied. I’m not a big reader of epic fantasy but there was something about the idea of this book that appealed from the first time I heard of it – it feels like a future Earth, ruled over by alien beings in a society that seems ancient in origins. The birdlike imagery is matched by the classical and medieval ideas – the armour, costumes, the rulers and their slaves, the court politics, the almost Roman or medieval squalour of the Barrow, the duels and the full-blown battles. It all seems fantastic but also strangely real and appealing.

Throughout Those Above I wanted to know more about this world, its past and what is to come. It’s an opening novel in a series and so there is a lot of preparation and worldbuilding but, perhaps because of the novel’s fluid movement across all areas of the world, it is done in a wonderfully effective way, providing more and more – both beautiful and ugly – to marvel at. Those Above succeeds enormously in its aim to get the reader hooked on the series. It is a fabulously realised and satisfactory novel in its own right but its climax points us like an arrow to the second novel and I cannot wait to read it.

Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Pages: 405
Year: 2015
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

Wolf Winter by Cecilia EkbackReview
It is 1717 and Maija, Paavo and their daughters Frederika and Dorotea journey from Finland to make a new life for themselves as farmers and shepherds on the slopes of Blackåsen mountain in the remote Swedish Lapland. Few families live on the mountain, their few houses lying scattered and distant. The nearest town is deserted for most of the year, with only the priest and the last priest’s widow to keep an eye on its empty buildings. In the winter, though, this place changes into something unrecognisable as the snow and ice seal it within a deadly iron grip. Most of the settlers move into the town for a few short weeks while the indigenous Lapps come down from the highest reaches of the mountain to camp at its base.

Towards the end of summer Frederika and Dorotea come across the body of a dead man on the mountain side, his torso split from end to end. While some see in this the work of a wolf or bear, Maija recognises it for what it is – murder by human hand. She’s not alone. The priest, too, another outsider, suspects the worst. Maija and the priest are strangers on Blackåsen mountain, unaware of the complicated relationships that exist among the scattered settlers on the mountain. Maija and the priest begin to dig, egged on by the local bishop. But life on the mountain is precarious. The weather turns and early frosts destroy the harvest. The mountain has secrets as does almost everyone else who lives on its slopes but this worst of dark winters – a wolf winter – will seek them out.

Wolf Winter is a chilly tale, bleak in its coldness, the characters adrift in the snow, enduring winter starvation, isolation, suspicion and now deadly violence. With so few people on the mountain, relationships can be too close, but it is only when strangers arrive that the true nature of all that is wrong fights to the surface. The narrative moves among the settlers, spending time in turn with Maija, the priest and Frederika. Through each of them we are introduced to other characters, most memorably the murdered man’s widow, the Lapps and the noble couple that has chosen to live the remotest of exiles. Frederika’s perspective is especially powerful due to the added isolation caused by her youth.

It’s not just the mountain that’s dangerous. The outside world threatens with its calls to war. There is a strong sense that nowhere is safe and no future is certain.

The mystery is almost secondary to the wilderness and its inhabitants. Cecilia Ekbäck has created a harshly beautiful vision of an environment that is cold enough to chill the pages as much as the bones. The language is gorgeous. The characters are exquisitely drawn, especially the children Frederika and Dorotea. There is a particularly dramatic incident that has a grave impact on Dorotea and her family and this is brilliantly, painfully described. The enormous effort that is required just to survive is immense and Cecilia Ekbäck makes us feel every bit of it. But in this environment anything can happen and we are surrounded by its threat. The drama of survival goes hand in hand with the murder mystery, while in the shadows we have the spectre of war, the scar of which has traumatised more than one soul on the mountain. This is a bleak world. The secrets almost compete in their effort to shock. As the novel proceeds, they tumble after each other, one after another.

Wolf Winter takes a little while to pull the reader in – this is a strangely unfamiliar world – but once the winter falls, its haunting power and beauty mesmerises.

The Ship by Antonia Honeywell

Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
Pages: 320
Year 2015
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

The Ship by Antonia HoneywellReview
In the near future, Britain is on the very edge of collapse. Waters have risen, the environment is sated, no longer able to support the population – the young have no memory of apples or oranges. Everything that was worth living for now belongs in museum cases. The Nazareth Act was an attempt to cut the population. Everyone without an identity card is dispossessed, living in camps, old public buildings, with no hope at all. And then one day the Government crosses the line – camps are blown up, the public buildings gassed. For 16-year-old Lalage Paul and her family, it is time to leave London and Britain. They are the lucky ones – privileged and influential, Lalage’s father Michael has bought a large yacht. It can carry them and a few hundred of those in desperate need, selected by Lalage’s philanthropic mother, to safety and a future.

Life aboard the ship is difficult for Lalage. The appalling news from the mainland just gets worse until the passengers of the ship decide to cut their connection with Britain and with the past. The antennae is cut down. No longer can they receive transmissions from what was once home. And on the encouragement of Michael, their strong, determined and paternal leader, they decide to cut away the past entirely, throwing their memories overboard, determined to forget their grief, misery and the loved ones left behind. It’s time for a new start. But Lalage cannot forget a past she never knew. She wants to go back and fight. Lalage is the rebel aboard the ship.

After a few chapters of worldbuilding, focusing on the streets and buildings of central London, The Ship tells the story of Lalage’s shipboard rebellion. Despite the fact that the ‘captain’ is her own father, Lalage can no longer feel the same connection to him that the other youngsters aboard can. Events have cut her adrift not only from the land but also from her family. She is driven to return to London and, despite finding romance aboard the ship, nothing is strong enough to keep her eyes seaward.

The Ship is Lalage’s story, narrated by Lalage, and so the reader’s response to the novel very much depends on their response to Lalage herself. I suspect that she will be loved by many. She is brave and strong, yet vulnerable and afraid, but she is determined to stand for what she believes even if it means she stands alone. Lalage is a teenage heroine, fighting the rules of society, adults, even her family. It is indeed true that adults on the ship, notably Lalage’s father, are hardly steering a true course. Michael Paul is as driven as his daughter and some of his ideas are totally objectionable. There is never any doubt, though, that he loves his daughter.

However, throughout, Lalage is unable to see the other point of view. She is not old enough nor experienced enough to have witnessed the true cruelty and barbarism of the society they are leaving behind – the taste she’s had has been enough to fire her blood but the others aboard are traumatised by the misery and grief they have had to endure for years. Nor can Lalage remember the earth when it was fertile and productive, when floods hadn’t destroyed the cities, and countryside wasn’t barren or grey. There are refugees aboard the ship who have no reason on earth to want to turn back. The behaviour of many of the adults on board is odd, almost cultish, but my sympathies are entirely with them. There’s an especially touching moment when some of the adults huddle together in secrecy to remember London, attempting to rebuild it in flour and water. But their quiet moment of memory is destroyed by Lalage’s exuberant call to arms.

The Ship is a well-written dystopia which mostly takes place within the claustrophobic confines of the vessel, the walls of which this young, lost heroine strains against. The theme of remembrance is dealt with especially sympathetically, adding a depth and sincerity to the novel which is really quite powerful. While The Ship wasn’t entirely for me – I think I may have read several too many young adult dystopias – I think younger readers will love it.

The Devil’s Assassin by Paul Fraser Collard

Publisher: Headline
Pages: 384
Year 2015
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

The Devil's Assassin by Paul Fraser CollardReview
Bombay, 1856: Lieutenant Arthur Fenris is living by the edge of his wits, alone, near penniless and without a place. He is also not what he seems – Fenris died in an Indian skirmish, his identity stolen by Jack Lark, an adventurer imposter, risen from the poorest stews of London who, almost despite himself, has discovered a true purpose and talent in his life – Lark is made to be an officer. He is a natural leader of men, brave but not foolhardy, strategic and clever, and, despite all that has happened to him, constant in his loyalty to Queen and country. But when he is in danger of reaching despair, scrapping for survival in Bombay, fortune throws out a helping hand.

Having befriended a young, frightened and fresh off the boat officer, Lieutenant Knightly, Lark attracts the attention of Major Ballard, the army’s chief intelligence officer who, Lark is confident, would be able to sniff out any imposter. But far from being a threat, Ballard offers Lark – or Fenris – a post. The British Indian army is facing a new threat – the Shah of Persia, who is now being supported by the Russians, Britain’s great 19th-century enemy. A military campaign on Persian shores is imminent. But Ballard knows there is a well-placed spy in the camp. He needs Lark to seek out and kill the spy before hundreds of soldiers are slaughtered, no doubt understanding that one imposter will be well gifted to uncover another. Ballard, though, has a nickname – the Devil – and this devil is the only thing standing between Lark and ruin.

The Devil’s Assassin is the third Jack Lark adventure and I expected much from it. Its predecessor The Maharajah’s General is an absolute delight – combining the perfect mix of boy’s own adventure, romance, exotic landscapes and foreign courts as well as mystery and intrigue. But instead of trying to compete with this, Paul Fraser Collard does something rather different with The Devil’s Assassin. The novel is just as exciting, if not more so in places, and the locations are just as exotic and well-visualised, but everything has got that little bit darker. There is ‘romance’ but Jack’s relationship with Sarah Draper, a senior officer’s wife, is not sentimental. It has much more to do with trying to find light amongst the darkness of war, a distraction from the constant shadow of death waiting around the next corner.

Jack Lark himself is not the man he was. He’s grown and matured. His difficult memories from his youth in London now have rival memories – his experiences in the Crimean War and India which have altered him. He still has his courage and leadership prowess but he knows the true meaning of fear. He has the same old disrespect for the young British public schoolboys who come out to lead men to their deaths with no understanding or preparation for combat but now he has sympathy for them. He takes Knightly under his wing in a truly touching way. Lark’s relationship with his fellow officers and with the troops, Indian or British, is much more developed here. There is a ring of truth to it. And that makes other officers more interesting – notably Ballard and Knightly. It is very difficult not to take Knightly to heart.

As for the action itself, the second half of The Devil’s Assassin was for me a complete eye-opener about mid 19th-century warfare. This little-known conflict in Persia is presented here in all its absolute horror and violence. It is thoroughly thrilling and relentless – battles go on for many hours, taking men to the very limit of their physical endurance. We are shown all aspects of war – light and heavy cavalry, infantry, artillery – and it is as fascinating as it is harrowing.

The novel never stops being a thrilling adventure – the spy mystery at its heart is completely satisfying – but there is also much here to do with social and military history. The treatment of Indian soldiers within the ranks is a growing theme, which may reach ahead in a future novel now that the Mutiny looms so close. I would dearly love to read about that. Paul Fraser Collard has dug deeper into the state of the mid 19th-century British army, with its weaponry, its privileged inexperienced officers as well as the camaraderie between the troops themselves, many of whom enlisted to escape enormous hardship at home. Women inevitably get less of a look in but the character of Sarah Draper is an interesting one. She has an air of independence about her as she goes about her business in these most dangerous of places. Perhaps Jack has met his match?

The Devil’s Assassin is a wonderful novel. It’s a lot of fun to read, almost deceptively so because it also gave me a great deal to think about. This isn’t a period of history I normally read about but Paul Fraser Collard is no ordinary writer – I love the way that he brings this period of British military and imperial history to life, in all its colour, aggression, inequality, violence and vitality. The Devil’s Assassin is a breathless, memorable read and I recommend it completely.

Other reviews and features
The Scarlet Thief
The Maharajah’s General
Guest post: ‘I am a writer with a plan’

Something Coming Through by Paul McAuley

Publisher: Gollancz
Pages: 400
Year: 2015 (19 February)
Buy: Hardback, Kindle
Source: Review copy

Something Coming Through by Paul McAuleyReview
In the not too distant future, Earth is about done for – ruined by nuclear and environmental disaster. And then hope and salvation arrives in the form of First Contact. The Jackaroo turn up, not in person but via their peculiar semi-organic avatars, and give humans a solution to their problems. Humanity is offered fifteen habitable planets on which mankind can start afresh. A lottery decides the names of the colonists and the lucky millions are sent through wormholes on Jackaroo shuttles and there they begin again. It’s difficult at first. Everyone has to graft hard. But finally sufficient infrastructure is built that humans can get back to doing what they do best – causing an awful lot of trouble. Matters aren’t helped by the scraps of enigmatic alien technology (Elder Technology) that have been found scattered across these fifteen worlds, many of which make their way back to Earth, along with all sorts of other contaminants that make Earth a very different place from the planet that the Jackeroo decided to pay a visit.

Chloe Millar lives in London and works for Disruption Theory, an influential company whose business is to map the changes caused by Elder Technology, most especially by the strangest artefacts of all, which are haunted by the spirits of beings, ancient ghosts with minds and plans of their own, only missing the bodies required to act on them. Humans are most susceptible. Humans are also very attracted to another alien import – mind-bending drugs. Just the sort of thing rival gangs like to kill over. Chloe is called out to a happening involving two kids who have come into contact with an Elder ghost. Its spirit is especially strong, attractive not only to Disruption Theory but also to other forces, some of which want to stamp out alien contact once and for all.

Meanwhile on Mangala, one of the fifteen settled worlds, equally likeable policeman Vic Gayle has a body on his hands. A new arrival from Earth has been murdered. Vic’s investigation uncovers a bloody battle between gangsters to control an excavation site, the source of alien artefacts. Something is coming through and there is every reason to suspect it has something to do with the two kids on Earth and their mysterious alien cult. The investigation is not an easy one for Vic and it takes him and us to some very dark places indeed.

Something Coming Through is such an entertaining read, packed full of sparkling ideas and mysteries galore. The chapters alternate between Chloe’s investigations on Earth and Vic’s parallel manhunt on Mangala. This means we have many of the elements of a police procedural crime novel, combined with mystery thriller and the wonder and awe of science fiction. Earth and Mangala are worlds apart but it is fascinating – and not a little depressing – to see the damage that can be done to a planet in a mere generation of human habitation. Indigenous species are there but all the signs suggest not for much longer. Although most of the Mangala population originally won lottery settler tickets, it didn’t take long for the worst elements of human nature to show themselves, especially when it became clear how much hard work would be required to create a utopia. The colonists settle for much, much less.

The mystery of the novel is extremely satisfying and very clever. It is full of twists and surprises and fed by an intriguing line-up of characters, some villainous, some trying to do good, some caught up in something they don’t understand, some who are victims and others who are just human. The depiction of damaged London and the rather unappealing Mangala are big highlights of the book, and all is deftly treated with a splash of wit and humour. This is especially apparent in the portrait of the rather odd Jackeroo themselves. There is a huge amount of mystery surrounding these bizarre beings. Nobody knows what they look like nor what they want. Do they really mean good? Or are they just stirring? Having a good old laugh at the expense of poor old mankind? And who were the Elders? What happened to them? This uncertainty hovers over the entire world of Something Coming Through and you’ll have your own opinions on it as you read through the book.

My only issue with the novel is that its ending felt a little rushed, almost an anti-climax after pages and pages of the most exciting mystery solving. It’s possible that this is setting something up for a future novel – I would certainly welcome that. I was left with such a lot of questions, as was probably the intention.

What an enjoyable book Something Coming Through is. Packed with ideas, fantastic worldbuilding and enigmas, and combining elements of first contact, alien artefacts, a touch of dystopia and good old fashioned conspiracy, murder and greed. It’s a great combination, all handled with a terrific mix of intelligence and accessibility. I really do hope Paul McAuley returns us to this world. I want to learn a lot more about the Jackeroo and the Elders. You sense that there is a huge jam-packed history out there somewhere in the universe between the two of them and it wants us humans to know all about it.