Category Archives: Sci Fi

The Weight of the World by Tom Toner

Gollancz | 2017 (16 February) | 478p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Weight of the World by Tom TonerThe Weight of the World continues the extraordinary Amaranthine Spectrum series that began in such spectacular, wondrous style with The Promise of the Child. Don’t even think about reading The Weight of the World without having read The Promise of the Child first. This is not a series to dip in and out of. This is a series to lose yourself in, to become enchanted, to fall lost in wonder through its myriad of worlds, marvelling at its wealth of species, both grotesque and beautiful. This review assumes you’ve read The Promise of the Child first. If you haven’t, don’t deny yourself the pleasure any longer.

It is the 147th century. Mankind as we know it has evolved into a range of forms we would barely recognise, some even a hybrid of man and animal. But humans were not the only hominids to originate on Earth that evolved and settled across the Galaxy, living within hollowed out planets and moons – there were others and their legacy is astonishing, terrifying and utterly fascinating. A few humans, though, have survived the millennia as the Amaranthine, immortals with great power, with memories of a distant human past. But immortal they might be in theory, in practice all too often they end their lives in madness and despair, crushed and altered by the weight of time. Once the Amaranthine were revered across the worlds. But now their innate cruelty is revealed, their domains shrinking as war divides the Galaxy and other species compete for glory. Some believe that the longest lived of them all might be the one to save the Amaranthine. Others are more wise.

The Weight of the World continues where The Promise of the Child left off, throwing us back into the heart of the fight for supremacy and knowledge. Lycaste, a beautiful giant, an inhabitant of the Old World or Earth, continues on his mission to discover himself and put right a wrong he believes he has committed. Having left the home planet behind, he journeys with the Amaranthine Maneker (and a rather cantankerous Vulgar), not quite sure where he is being led. Back on the Old World, Lycaste’s old friends, the sisters Eranthis and Pentas, are on an extraordinary journey of their own in the company of another Amaranthine, Jatropha. They carry with them the hope for the future in the shape of Pentas’ baby. But the destiny of the child is far from clear and its burden is immense. This will be a dangerous journey. They will be hunted.

These are the two main narratives of The Weight of the World but there are several more, some of which take up rich swathes of the novel, providing other perspectives of the war and giving us insight into the great mystery at the heart of the Amaranthine Firmament. Each of these strands takes us to different planets and starships. The variety is immense and they each come alive due to the sheer quality of Tom Toner’s imagination and writing prowess. World building doesn’t come better than this. I really believe that. The things we see and experience! Some of it is utterly horrible, even gruesome; some of it is frightening (the scratch of claws in the dark); some is light and bewitching – there may be evil but with it comes love, not to mention humour and wit. Creatures who have lived for millennia have seen it all. There are also moments here that filled me with awe and wonder.

There is no doubt at all that this is proving a complicated, multi-layered story. I needed the glossary of names and places, that’s for sure (plus the catch up summary at the beginning). And the size of that glossary hints at just how much variety and breadth there is in these pages. But while it took me about a third of The Promise of the Child to grasp its wonder, there was no such delay with The Weight of the World. I was hooked from the very beginning. We haven’t yet reached the stage of the series in which we can find resolutions and there are as many questions as answers but I love the ways in which it’s heading as well as its pace which allows us the time to explore.

Tom Toner paints his characters and worlds beautifully, even when they’re at their ugliest. This is a clever, ambitious, inventive, wondrous series, brilliantly executed, that leaves me wanting more and soon. It might be only February but this is the science fiction novel to beat this year and it most certainly won’t be easy.

Other review
The Promise of the Child

Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty

Orbit US | 2017 | 352p | Review copy | Buy the book

Six Wakes by Mur LaffertyThe starship Dormire is bound for the planet Artemis, a paradise virgin planet that will be colonised by the ship’s sleeping cargo of thousands of humans. Watched over by the AI, named IAN, the ship is crewed by three men and three women. Not quite human, the six are clones whose bodies can be rebooted at lifelong intervals during this long voyage through the stars. But something terrible has happened. All six awake at the same time, reborn in the cloning tanks, and around them in the zero gravity float the slaughtered, murdered corpses of their clone predecessors – themselves.

The six soon realise that years have passed and none of them has the memories of what has happened. But the ship is off course, the AI is disabled and the food printer produces only hemlock. There can be no doubt – one of the six is a murderer. But which? It could be any of them for not only are all six clones, they are all criminals and each has secrets to hide.

Six Wakes is a fantastic, brilliantly imagined and executed novel, combining science fiction with crime mystery and doing such a good job of both. We have a small group of suspects, confined together in a completely isolated environment, and every one of them has a motive. But it’s much more complicated than that because of the added clone dimension. Some of these people have lived for hundreds of years, witness to the struggle of clones to achieve legal status and all too aware of the ways in which clones have been abused and manipulated. Each of them has a story to tell and we hear them, interspersed throughout the novel, and this mix of past and present adds such depth and curiosity to the murder mystery at its heart.

The characters are great! Each has a distinct voice and they are so fascinating. We know that each is a criminal but this is much more subtle than that. There are reasons for what they’ve done. And this means that our sympathies are torn. Good and evil aren’t quite as simple in this world and in this extraordinary place.

The cloning aspect of the novel is compelling and clever. It mixes politics and ethics with something much more human and also much more devious. I love the way in which the stories from the past throw light on the present and it’s such a rounded world, even though we see most of it from within the claustrophobic confines of the Dormire, only escaping in the flashbacks to the past.

The mystery element is just as successful as the science fiction and we are caught throughout in twisty traps and surprises. I don’t think I guessed any of it. The atmosphere is sustained throughout and I loved its mood. There are characters here I won’t forget in a hurry. Six Wakes isn’t currently published in the UK but you can buy the import paperback (linked to at the head of the post). I really recommend it as this well-written novel is one of the most enjoyable science fiction and mystery tales I’ve read in quite a while.

Cover reveal (and a review taster) – The End of the Day by Claire North

Claire North is one of the most exciting and original authors writing today – and if you enjoy science fiction thrillers, or thrillers, or just a very good book, then you’ll have no doubt already met The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, Touch and The Sudden Appearance of Hope. Each time I finish one of these novels, I marvel at Claire North’s imagination, which is vast, and her talent, which is extraordinary, and wonder whatever will come next. This year the answer is The End of the Day, which will be published on 6 April by Orbit. And she’s done it again!

I’m delighted to be involved in the reveal of the cover for The End of the Day. It also gives me an opportunity to tell you something about the book and also do a bit from my review, the rest of which will be posted closer to the publication date. The cover, which is rather fine, as I’m sure you’ll agree, is the excellent work of Duncan Spilling (Little, Brown Book Group).

The End of the Day by Claire North

The blurb
Charlie meets everyone – but only once.
You might meet him in a hospital, in a warzone, or at the scene of traffic accident.
Then again, you might meet him at the North Pole – he gets everywhere, our Charlie.
Would you shake him by the hand, take the gift he offers, or would you pay no attention to the words he says?
Sometimes he is sent as a courtesy, sometimes as a warning. He never knows which.

Review taster
Charlie hasn’t been in the job long but there is much about it that appeals – the frequent travel all around the world, often to the most unexpected places, the chance to meet a wide variety of people, and good prospects. Because surely the one person guaranteed a long and safe future is Charlie, the Harbinger of Death. But for everyone else there comes an end of the day and there they will meet Death. But, before that, they meet Charlie.

Yet again, with The End of the Day, Claire North proves that there is no limit to her extraordinary imagination and her powers to convey ideas and themes that can stop you in your tracks. As always, at the heart of the novel is a figure very difficult to forget (with the exception, of course, of The Sudden Appearance of Hope) and Charlie is a marvellous creation. He takes his job very seriously indeed, he wants to do a good job, and he welcomes the opportunities it gives him, and his heart is open. Strangely, if there’s one character even more humane that Charlie in this novel it’s Death himself, or herself. When he or she isn’t angry, that is.

Despite the darkness, I was left with such a feeling of warmth and wonderful weirdness from this novel. Its approach to death is compassionate while people are shown to be possible of redemption and the end, when it comes, needn’t be feared. Charlie endures for us all – it’s powerful and very well done. Picking one word to describe Claire North’s novels isn’t easy but if I had to pick one, the word would be ingenious.

Preorder The End of the Day

The Fortress at the End of Time by Joe M. McDermott

Tor | Ebook (17 January 2017); Pb (13 February 2017) | 305p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Fortress at the End of Time by Joe M. McDermottFor the newly cloned there is little worse than a posting to the Citadel, a listening outpost located between galaxies, on the very edge of human-inhabited space. So far away is it that time itself has little meaning. There’s no escape. In time, the clone will retire to the desolate desert rock orbited by the Citadel, and there he or she (but mostly he) will farm or contemplate God. If very lucky he will have the comfort of knowing that a piece of his consciousness has transcended, itself cloned to live another, hopefully happier existence far, far away. This seems unlikely for pilot Ensign Ronaldo Aldo II, clone of Aldo I and similarly lacking in empathy and tact. He’s liked by few – his commanding officer hates him – and he is cursed by bad luck. Things always go wrong when Aldo is around and, even though it’s not his fault if his colleagues die, commit suicide or abscond, nobody wants to get too close.

The Fortress at the End of Time follows Aldo through ten years of misery. First Ensign and then Captain, Ronaldo Aldo has much to endure as he learns more and more about the way that the Citadel works. Corruption seeps through the shoddy walls of this stinking rathole. The fact that there are so few women doesn’t help tempers. People remember what life was like before they were cloned and sent out to the Citadel as if they were no more significant than an email attachment. Aldo made mistakes before and it looks like he’s well on the way to repeating them.

The novel moves between the Citadel and the planet below, which is undergoing the slow process of being terraformed. While people on the Citadel live in squalour, the settlers on the planet are barely surviving at all, watched over constantly by a monastery of untrustworthy brothers. Almost everyone fears the return of an alien force that attacked the station lifetimes ago and is for a return of this enemy that the Citadel listens. This gives Aldo purpose but it could also send him mad.

The premise of The Fortress at the End of Time is extremely appealing, as is the title, and parts of the novel deliver on its promise. It is a very compelling read and once you’re immersed it can be hard to extract yourself. The descriptions of the Citadel and the rock below are very well done, contributing to the mood of remoteness, alienation, abandonment and isolation. One way or another not everyone lasts long out here and this adds to the sense of despair that Aldo must endure every day. There is only a small number of characters and they are deployed very well, forming a tight if disjointed circle and intensifying the claustrophobic atmosphere and feel of a small lifeboat hopelessly adrift. Each of the characters stands out well and plays their part in the story, with the possible exception of the monks – they felt comparatively undeveloped and purposeless, even though there was an important place in the novel for them to fill.

There are some interesting issues considered here, mostly to do with sexuality and gender. It is this human element of the story that is developed at the cost of some of the science fiction. I didn’t think that the science and process of cloning were explained clearly enough and almost no time at all was spent on the past war. It’s all left very vague, although it’s quite possible that this was intentional – memory is another theme of the book. How can clones remember the past and what does the past matter when time is meaningless?

My main issue with The Fortress at the End of Time is with its relentless doom and gloom. Aldo is not a cheery character, which is hardly surprising, but he’s also not very likeable (or even likeable at all) and this adds to the general despair of the novel. There is some lightness – love and families – but conditions are so hard that love doesn’t often fare well. Aldo certainly does his best to do it harm. There is a religious element which isn’t fully explored in the novel and so, when it rears its head later in the book very unexpectedly, it rather felt like I’d been bludgeoned with it. If there are answers here, I can’t agree with them.

This is a short (about 300 pages) and fast read and, as I mentioned, it is an immersive one. The Fortress at the End of Time is full of premise and promise but not all of it delivers, creating issues that are exacerbated by the unremitting gloom and negativity. There were lots of elements that I enjoyed and it is most certainly an intriguing novel but my mood was dark when I put it down for the final time.

Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan

Doubleday | 2017 (26 January) | 320p | Review copy | Buy the book

Hold Back the Stars by Katie KhanCarys and Max are adrift in space, tethered to one another, and with only ninety minutes of air left. In the short time left to them they try their best to return to their spaceship but ultimately the two of them are all that is left and in these minutes they turn to each other and remember their past and how they dared to do that one thing they shouldn’t – they fell in love.

Living in the near future, Carys and Max are citizens of Europia, a European Utopia bound by rules to further the freedom of the individual. People move every three years to a different region in which they build new friendships, contribute to society in different ways and experience new places and cultures. They are the lucky ones. America and the Middle East have been destroyed by nuclear war and the entire planet is now enclosed within an asteroid belt that has put the stars out of reach. But all is not perfect in Utopia. Marriage is forbidden to the young. It belongs instead to those in their thirties who have matured enough to understand their responsibilities to society and know their place within it. But Carys and Max, both in their twenties, cannot live apart.

Hold Back the Stars is a beautifully elegant yet unsentimental novel about illicit love in a society that in so many ways has so much going for it. In a way, this is a novel about perspective. People are so busy living life they miss the bigger picture. Max and Carys can see it all when they drift through space, the planet far below them, its boundaries lost. But theirs is no rose-petalled romance. And Katie Khan does a wonderful job of making it real, flaws and all, all set within this brilliantly realised future world.

I’m not a reader of romance but I am a huge fan of science fiction and I loved the premise of Hold Back the Stars. It is the story of a love affair but this is much more a novel about two individuals than about a couple. And it is such a fascinating one. Scattered throughout are the moments adrift in space, the minutes of air counting down, and the beautiful horror of their situation stretching out around them into the blackness. It is the definition of compelling. And the story doesn’t quite go where you might expect.

Hold Back the Stars would definitely appeal to teenage readers but it didn’t feel to me like a Young Adult novel especially. Max and Carys are in their twenties. It is society that demands them to act as if they are younger. I really enjoyed the mix of freedom and control, utopia and dystopia, peace and war. But most of all, I loved Carys and Max – and Osric.

This is a book full of surprises, with far more to it than you might think at first when you read the premise. I wasn’t expecting the type of story it became but I loved the direction it took. It’s not a long novel and it’s a fast read, very difficult to put down and utterly bewitching. Hold Back the Stars is Katie Khan’s debut novel but I would never have guessed. I love the way it combined worlds and confounded my expectations while giving me such glorious characters to enjoy. Whatever will be next?!

2017 – looking ahead

I had some grand schemes for posts over these holidays but unfortunately my good intentions have been scuppered by a resilient and rather nasty bout of flu. But, before I post my first review of a book published in 2017, I really want to write a bit about some of the books that I’m looking forward to in the coming year, especially during its first half. So here are just a few of the treats in store, presented by genre. I know I have missed things I shouldn’t have done – but surprises are always to be encouraged. We all like to read different types of books so these are the ones I’m personally looking forward to snuggling up with.

Historical fiction

Six Tudor Queens: Anne Boleyn – A King’s Obsession by Alison Weir (May 2017)
Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession by Alison WeirI am so fortunate to have had an advanced copy of this and I read it immediately. After having devoured the first novel about Katherine of aragon, this was one of my most anticipated reads of 2017 and it didn’t disappoint. I knew it wouldn’t. I loved it. This is the story not of how Anne Boleyn died (although that is tackled brilliantly and so powerfully), but of how she lived. The story feels fresh and new. Fabulous.

The Wages of Sin by Kaite Welsh (June 2017)
‘An irresistible mystery set in 1890s Edinburgh, Kaite Welsh’s The Wages of Sin features a female medical student-turned-detective, and will thrill fans of Sarah Waters and Antonia Hodgson. Sarah Gilchrist has fled from London to Edinburgh in disgrace and is determined to become a doctor, despite the misgivings of her family and society. As part of the University of Edinburgh’s first intake of female medical students, Sarah comes up against resistance from lecturers, her male contemporaries, and – perhaps worst of all – her fellow women, who will do anything to avoid being associated with a fallen woman… When one of Sarah’s patients turns up in the university dissecting room as a battered corpse, Sarah finds herself drawn into Edinburgh’s dangerous underworld of bribery, brothels and body snatchers – and a confrontation with her own past.’

Betrayal by Anthony Riches (March 2017)
betrayal-by-anthony-riches‘Rome, AD 68. Nero has committed suicide. One hundred years of imperial rule by the descendants of Julius Caesar has ended, and chaos rules. His successor Galba dismisses the incorruptible Germans of the Imperial Bodyguard for the crime of loyalty to the dead emperor. Ordering them back to their homeland he releases a Batavi officer from a Roman prison to be their prefect. But Julius Civilis is not the loyal servant of empire that he seems. Four centurions, two Batavi and two Roman, will be caught up in the intrigues and the battles that follow – as friends, as victims, as leaders and as enemies. Hramn is First Spear of the Bodyguard. Fiercely proud of his men’s honour, and furious at their disgrace, he leads them back to the Batavi homeland to face an uncertain future. Alcaeus is a centurion with the tribe’s cohorts serving Rome on the northern frontier – men whose fighting skills prove crucial as Roman vies with Roman for the throne. A wolf-priest of Hercules, he wields the authority of his god and his own fighting prowess. Marius is a Roman, first spear of the Fifth Legion: a self-made man who hates politics, but cannot avoid them in a year of murderous intrigue. Aquillius, former first spear of the Eighth Augustan, like Hramn, is in disgrace for refusing to dishonour his oath of loyalty. But their paths will lead them to opposite sides of an unforgiving war. And Civilis, Kivilaz to his countrymen, heroic leader, Roman citizen and patriotic Batavi, will change both the course of the Empire’s destiny and that of the centurions.’

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown (March 2017)
‘The number of women my brother Matthew killed, so far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six… 1645. When Alice Hopkins’ husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives. But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women’s names. To what lengths will Matthew’s obsession drive him? nd what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?’

Incendium by A.D. Swanston (February 2017)
‘Summer, 1572 and England is vulnerable. Fear of plague and insurrection taint the air, and heresy, fanaticism and religious unrest seethe beneath the surface of society. Rumour and mistrust lead to imprisonment, torture and sometimes murder. To the young lawyer Christopher Radcliff and his patron and employer, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, the prospects for peace are poor. As Leicester’s chief intelligencer, Radcliff is charged with investigating both rumours of rebellion at home and invasion from abroad. That the queen’s own cousin, the Duke of Norfolk, is found guilty of treason is a sign of just how deep the dissent goes. Supporters of the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots foment revolt, but the papist threat doesn’t just come from within. Across the channel, France is being swept up in a frenzy of brutal and bloody religious persecution while England’s other enemy of old, Spain, makes preparations to invade. Christopher’s own life is far from orderly. His relationship with the widow Katherine Allington is somewhat turbulent and he knows full well that the cut-throat world of court politics leaves no room for indiscretions. So England is a powder-keg, waiting for a spark to ignite it. And then a whisper of a plot that could provide that spark reaches Christopher. All he has to go on is a single word – ‘incendium’. But what does it mean and who lies behind it? He must find the answers before it is too late…’

Arminius by Robert Fabbri (January 2017)
Arminius by Robert Fabbri‘One man’s greatest victory. Rome’s greatest defeat. A.D. 9: In the depths of the Teutoburg Wald, in a landscape riven by ravines, darkened by ancient oak and bisected by fast-flowing streams, Arminius of the Cherusci led a confederation of six Germanic tribes in the annihilation of three Roman legions. Deep in the forest almost twenty thousand men were massacred without mercy; fewer than two hundred of them ever made it back across the Rhine. To Rome’s shame, three sacred Eagles were lost that day. But Arminius wasn’t brought up in Germania Magna – he had been raised as a Roman. This is the story of how Arminius came to turn his back on the people who raised him and went on to commit a betrayal so great and so deep, it echoed through the ages.’

Viper’s Blood by David Gilman (February 2017)
‘Edward III has invaded France at the head of the greatest host England has ever assembled. But his attempt to win the French crown is futile. The Dauphin will no longer meet the English in the field and the great army is mired in costly sieges, scavenging supplies from a land ruined by decades of conflict. Facing a stalemate – or worse – the English are forced to agree a treaty. But peace comes at a price. The French request that Blackstone escort their King’s daughter to Italy to see her married to one of the two brothers who rule Milan – the same brothers who killed Blackstone’s family to revenge the defeats he inflicted on them. Blackstone, the French are certain, will never leave Milan alive…’

The Mask of Command by Ian Ross (January 2017)
‘When a treacherous act of murder throws the western provinces into turmoil, Aurelius Castus is ordered to take command of the military forces on the Rhine. But he soon discovers that the frontier is a place where the boundaries between civilisation and barbarism, freedom and slavery, honour and treason have little meaning. At the very heart of the conflict are two vulnerable boys. One is Emperor Constantine’s young heir, Crispus. The other is Castus’s own beloved son, Sabinus. Only Castus stands between them and men who would kill them. With all that he loves in danger, Castus and a handful of loyal men must fight to defend the Roman Empire. But in the heat of battle, can he distinguish friend from enemy?’

The Coroner’s Daughter by Andrew Hughes (February 2017)
‘Dublin, 1816. A young nursemaid conceals a pregnancy and then murders her new-born in the home of the Neshams, a prominent family in a radical Christian sect known as the Brethren. Rumours swirl about the identity of the child’s father, but before an inquest can be held, the maid is found dead after an apparent suicide. When Abigail Lawless, the eighteen-year-old daughter of the coroner, by chance discovers a message from the maid’s seducer, she sets out to discover the truth. It’s the year without a summer. A climatic event has brought frost to mid-July, hunger and unrest, and a lingering fog casts a pall over the city. An only child, Abigail has been raised amid the books and instruments of her father’s grim profession, and he in turn indulges her curious and critical mind. Now she must push against the restrictions society places on a girl her age to pursue an increasingly dangerous investigation.’

Science fiction

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson (March 2017)
New York 2140 by Kim Stanley RobinsonI’m very fortunate to be reading this at the moment. It is utterly immersive. ‘The waters rose, submerging New York City. But the residents adapted and it remained the bustling, vibrant metropolis it had always been. Though changed forever. Every street became a canal. Every skyscraper an island. Through the eyes of the varied inhabitants of one building Kim Stanley Robinson shows us how one of our great cities will change with the rising tides. And how we too will change.’

Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald (February 2017)
‘A Dragon is dead. Corta Helio, one of the five family corporations that rule the Moon, has fallen. Its riches are divided up among its many enemies, its survivors scattered. Eighteen months have passed. The remaining Helio children, Lucasinho and Luna, are under the protection of the powerful Asamoahs, while Robson, still reeling from witnessing his parent s violent deaths, is now a ward–virtually a hostage– of Mackenzie Metals. And the last appointed heir, Lucas, has vanished of the surface of the moon. Only Lady Sun, dowager of Taiyang, suspects that Lucas Corta is not dead, and more to the point that he is still a major player in the game. After all, Lucas always was the Schemer, and even in death, he would go to any lengths to take back everything and build a new Corta Helio, more powerful than before. But Corta Helio needs allies, and to find them, the fleeing son undertakes an audacious, impossible journey–to Earth. In an unstable lunar environment, the shifting loyalties and political machinations of each family reach the zenith of their most fertile plots as outright war erupts.’

The Massacre of Mankind by Stephen Baxter (January 2017)
the-massacre-of-mankind-by-stephen-baxterIt has been 14 years since the Martians invaded England. The world has moved on, always watching the skies but content that we know how to defeat the Martian menace. Machinery looted from the abandoned capsules and war-machines has led to technological leaps forward. The Martians are vulnerable to earth germs. The Army is prepared. So when the signs of launches on Mars are seen, there seems little reason to worry. Unless you listen to one man, Walter Jenkins, the narrator of Wells’ book. He is sure that the Martians have learned, adapted, understood their defeat. He is right. Thrust into the chaos of a new invasion, a journalist – sister-in-law to Walter Jenkins – must survive, escape and report on the war. The Massacre of Mankind has begun.’

The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi (March 2017)
‘In the far future, humanity has left Earth to create a glorious empire. Now this interstellar network of worlds faces disaster – but can three individuals save their people? The empire’s outposts are utterly dependent on each other for resources, a safeguard against war, and a way its rulers can exert control. This relies on extra-dimensional pathways between the stars, connecting worlds. But ‘The Flow’ is changing course, which could plunge every colony into fatal isolation. A scientist will risk his life to inform the empire’s ruler. A scion of a Merchant House stumbles upon conspirators seeking power. And the new Empress of the Interdependency must battle lies, rebellion and treason. Yet as they work to save a civilization on the brink of collapse, others have very different plans…’

Hold Back the Stars by Katie Khan (January 2017)
‘Carys and Max have ninety minutes of air left. None of this was supposed to happen. Adrift in space with nothing to hold on to but each other, Carys and Max can’t help but look back at the world they left behind. A world whose rules they couldn’t submit to, a place where they never really belonged; a home they’re determined to get back to because they’ve come too far to lose each other now.’

The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley (February 2017)
‘Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is travelling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution. As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion. Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation – the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly of the world. Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion’s destruction – and its possible salvation.’

The End of the Day by Claire North (April 2017)
‘Charlie meets everyone – but only once. You might meet him in a hospital, in a warzone, or at the scene of traffic accident. Then again, you might meet him at the North Pole – he gets everywhere, our Charlie. Would you shake him by the hand, take the gift he offers, or would you pay no attention to the words he says? Sometimes he is sent as a courtesy, sometimes as a warning. He never knows which.’

Crime and thrillers

Written in Bones by James Oswald (February 2017)
written-in-bones-by-james-oswald‘The roots of murder run deep… When a body is found in a tree in The Meadows, Edinburgh’s scenic parkland, the forensics suggest the corpse has fallen from a great height. Detective Inspector Tony McLean wonders whether it was an accident, or a murder designed to send a chilling message? The dead man had led quite a life: a disgraced ex-cop turned criminal kingpin who reinvented himself as a celebrated philanthropist. As McLean traces the victim’s journey, it takes him back to Edinburgh’s past, and through its underworld – crossing paths with some of its most dangerous and most vulnerable people. And waiting at the end of it all, is the truth behind a crime that cuts to the very heart of the city…’

Quieter than Killing by Sarah Hilary (March 2017)
‘Sometimes staying silent is the only way to survive. ‘You only ever ask that. Why did I do it? You never ask what they did.’ The winter cold is biting, and a series of assaults is pulling DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake out into the frosty, mean streets of London far more than they’d like. The attacks seem random, but when Marnie’s family home is ransacked, there are signs that the burglary can have only been committed by a child – and someone who knows all about her. It will take a prison visit to her foster brother, Stephen, to help Marnie see the connections – and to force both her and Noah to face the truth about the creeping, chilling reaches of a troubled upbringing. For how can a damaged child really leave their past behind them?’

Corpus by Rory Clements (January 2017)
Corpus by Rory Clements‘1936. Europe is in turmoil. The Nazis have marched into the Rhineland. In Russia, Stalin has unleashed his Great Terror. Spain has erupted in civil war. In Berlin, a young Englishwoman evades the Gestapo to deliver vital papers to a Jewish scientist. Within weeks, she is found dead in her Cambridge bedroom, a silver syringe clutched in her fingers. In a London club, three senior members of the British establishment light the touch paper on a conspiracy that will threaten the very heart of government. Even the ancient colleges of Cambridge are not immune to political division. Dons and students must choose a side: right or left, where do you stand? When a renowned member of the county set and his wife are found horribly murdered, a maverick history professor finds himself dragged into a world of espionage which, until now, he has only read about in books. But the deeper Thomas Wilde delves, the more he wonders whether the murders are linked to the death of the girl with the silver syringe – and, just as worryingly, to the scandal surrounding King Edward VIII and his mistress Wallis Simpson…’

Stasi Wolf by David Young (February 2017)
‘East Germany, 1975. Karin Müller, sidelined from the murder squad in Berlin, jumps at the chance to be sent south to Halle-Neustadt, where a pair of infant twins have gone missing. But Müller soon finds her problems have followed her. Halle-Neustadt is a new town – the pride of the communist state – and she and her team are forbidden by the Stasi from publicising the disappearances, lest they tarnish the town’s flawless image. Meanwhile, in the eerily nameless streets and tower blocks, a child snatcher lurks, and the clock is ticking to rescue the twins alive…’

Watch Her Disappear by Eva Dolan (January 2017)
‘The body is found by the river, near a spot popular with runners. With a serial rapist at work in the area, DI Zigic and DS Ferreira are initially confused when the Hate Crimes Unit is summoned to the scene. Until they discover that the victim, Corinne Sawyer, was born Colin Sawyer. Police records reveal there have been violent attacks on trans women in the local area. Was Corinne a victim of mistaken identity? Or has the person who has been targeting trans women stepped up their campaign of violence? With tensions running high, and the force coming under national scrutiny, this is a complex case and any mistake made could be fatal…’

Rattle by Fiona Cummins (January 2017)
‘A psychopath more frightening than Hannibal Lecter. He has planned well. He leads two lives. In one he’s just like anyone else. But in the other he is the caretaker of his family’s macabre museum. Now the time has come to add to his collection. He is ready to feed his obsession, and he is on the hunt. Jakey Frith and Clara Foyle have something in common. They have what he needs. What begins is a terrifying cat-and-mouse game between the sinister collector, Jakey’s father and Etta Fitzroy, a troubled detective investigating a spate of abductions. Set in London’s Blackheath, Rattle by Fiona Cummins explores the seam of darkness that runs through us all; the struggle between light and shadow, redemption and revenge. It is a glimpse into the mind of a sinister psychopath. And it’s also a story about not giving up hope when it seems that all hope is already lost.’

Ragdoll by Daniel Cole (February 2017)
‘A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together, nicknamed by the press as the ‘Ragdoll’. Assigned to the shocking case are Detective William ‘Wolf’ Fawkes, recently reinstated to the London Met, and his former partner Detective Emily Baxter. The ‘Ragdoll Killer’ taunts the police by releasing a list of names to the media, and the dates on which he intends to murder them. With six people to save, can Fawkes and Baxter catch a killer when the world is watching their every move?’

The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel (March 2017)
the-roanoke-girls-by-amy-engel‘Beautiful. Rich. Mysterious. The Roanoke girls seem to have it all. But there’s a dark truth about them which is never spoken. Every girl either runs away, or dies. Lane is one of the lucky ones. When she was fifteen, over one long, hot summer at her grandparents’ estate in rural Kansas, she found out what it really means to be a Roanoke girl. Lane ran, far and fast. Until eleven years later, when her cousin Allegra goes missing – and Lane has no choice but to go back. She is a Roanoke girl. Is she strong enough to escape a second time?’

Sirens by Joseph Knox (January 2017)
‘Isabelle Rossiter has run away again. When Aidan Waits, a troubled junior detective, is summoned to her father’s penthouse home – he finds a manipulative man, with powerful friends. But retracing Isabelle’s steps through a dark, nocturnal world, Waits finds something else. An intelligent seventeen-year-old girl who’s scared to death of something. As he investigates her story, and the unsolved disappearance of a young woman just like her, he realizes Isabelle was right to run away. Soon Waits is cut loose by his superiors, stalked by an unseen killer and dangerously attracted to the wrong woman. He’s out of his depth and out of time. How can he save the girl, when he can’t even save himself?’

Defender by G.X. Todd (January 2017)
‘In a world where long drinks are in short supply, a stranger listens to the voice in his head telling him to buy a lemonade from the girl sitting on a dusty road. The moment locks them together. Here and now it’s dangerous to listen to your inner voice. Those who do, keep it quiet. These voices have purpose. And when Pilgrim meets Lacey, there is a reason. He just doesn’t know it yet. Defender pulls you on a wild ride to a place where the voices in your head will save or slaughter you.’

Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough (January 2017)
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough‘Louise: Since her husband walked out, Louise has made her son her world, supporting them both with her part-time job. But all that changes when she meets… David: Young, successful and charming – Louise cannot believe a man like him would look at her twice let alone be attracted to her. But that all comes to a grinding halt when she meets his wife… Adele: Beautiful, elegant and sweet – Louise’s new friend seems perfect in every way. As she becomes obsessed by this flawless couple, entangled in the intricate web of their marriage, they each, in turn, reach out to her. But only when she gets to know them both does she begin to see the cracks… Is David really is the man she thought she knew and is Adele as vulnerable as she appears? Just what terrible secrets are they both hiding and how far will they go to keep them?’

Perfect Remains by Helen Fields (January 2017)
‘On a remote Highland mountain, the body of Elaine Buxton is burning. All that will be left to identify the respected lawyer are her teeth and a fragment of clothing. In the concealed back room of a house in Edinburgh, the real Elaine Buxton screams into the darkness. Detective Inspector Luc Callanach has barely set foot in his new office when Elaine’s missing persons case is escalated to a murder investigation. Having left behind a promising career at Interpol, he’s eager to prove himself to his new team. But Edinburgh, he discovers, is a long way from Lyon, and Elaine’s killer has covered his tracks with meticulous care. It’s not long before another successful woman is abducted from her doorstep, and Callanach finds himself in a race against the clock. Or so he believes … The real fate of the women will prove more twisted than he could have ever imagined.’

Her Husband’s Lover by Julia Crouch (January 2017)
‘She stole her husband. Now she wants to take her life. After the horrors of the past, Louisa Williams is desperate to make a clean start. Her husband Sam is dead. Her children, too, are gone, victims of the car accident in which he died. Sam said that she would never get away from him. That he would hound her to death if she tried to leave. Louisa never thought that he would want to harm their children though. But then she never thought that he would betray her with a woman like Sophie. And now Sophie is determined to take all that Louisa has left. She wants to destroy her reputation and to take what she thinks is owed her – the life she would have had if Sam had lived. Her husband’s lover wants to take her life. The only question is will Louisa let her?’

The One by John Marrs (April 2017)
‘How far would you go to find THE ONE? One simple mouth swab is all it takes. One tiny DNA test to find your perfect partner – the one you’re genetically made for. A decade after scientists discover everyone has a gene they share with just one person, millions have taken the test, desperate to find true love. Now, five more people take the test. But even soul mates have secrets. And some are more shocking – and deadlier – than others…’

Ararat by Christopher Golden (April 2017)
‘Meryam and Adam take risks for a living. But neither is prepared for what lies in the legendary heights of Mount Ararat, Turkey. First to reach a massive cave revealed by an avalanche, they discover the hole in the mountain’s heart is really an ancient ship, buried in time. A relic that some fervently believe is Noah’s Ark. Deep in its recesses stands a coffin inscribed with mysterious symbols that no one in their team of scholars, archaeologists and filmmakers can identify. Inside is a twisted, horned cadaver. Outside a storm threatens to break. As terror begins to infiltrate their every thought, is it the raging blizzard that chases them down the mountain – or something far worse?’

2017 looks like it is going to be so good (for books, anyway…) and never has a good read seemed more vital and more inviting. I hope you find something here to entice you! I look forward to sharing the book love with you over the coming year. Hopefully, by then this flu will be gone!

Invasive by Chuck Wendig

HarperCollins | 2016 | 384p | Bought copy | Buy the book

Invasive by Chuck WendigHannah Stander works for the FBI as a futurist. It’s her job to investigate crimes committed with technology so cutting-edge it can defy belief. And when FBI agent Hollis Cooper calls to let her know that a thousand dead bodies have been found in a cabin in New York State, Hannah finds herself at the centre of the puzzle of her life.

Instead of a thousand dead bodies, Hannah discovers in the cabin the corpse of a man stripped of his skin by thousands of ants that now lie dead around him. Hannah’s entomologist friend Ez Choi friend reveals that these are no ordinary ants, they have been engineered into man-eating monsters and their genetic markers suggest that they have been made by a biotech company in Hawaii owned by the charismatic and ridiculously rich Icelandic philanthropist and environmentalist, Einar Geirsson. Hannah has no option but to take the case to him on his island that might not be quite the tropical paradise it first appears.

I am huge fan of Michael Crichton’s techno thrillers, such as Jurassic Park, Airframe, Next, Prey and Micro, and as soon as I heard about Invasive I knew I had to read it as soon as possible. The fact that I’ve also recently read and loved Ezekiel Boone’s spidery horror The Hatching didn’t hurt a bit. A novel about engineered skin-eating killer ants on the rampage? Irresistible.

There are elements of Invasive that remind me of Jurassic Park in particular but I soon came to the conclusion that this is no bad thing and I lapped it up. All of it. This is a thrilling novel of survival quite apart from the fascinating science behind these rather unpleasant critters and it becomes increasingly intense as the numbers of survivors dwindle one by one and the ants themselves look set on an escape to the mainland. The chaos and murder they wreak is horrifyingly chilling and lovingly described. A part of me wanted to look away but the rest of me couldn’t.

I loved the character of Hannah. She’s got the weight of the world on her shoulders, thanks to her parents, and this is dealt with brilliantly by Chuck Wendig. She has so much to fight against and she manages it even though it’s so hard. Agent Cooper has his own problems and it’s all the more telling that he has to rely on Hannah who really could do with some care herself. But despite, or because of, her problems, Hannah’s humour is something she relies upon and this is a novel full of witty, sharp dialogue. It really is such a pleasure to read.

If you read a novel about killer ants you want it to make your skin itch, your spine shudder and your pulse beat faster. Invasive achieved this perfectly. The whodunnit element is satisfyingly done and, chillingly, we go from one crisis to another, from one bloody death to another – I couldn’t turned these pages quickly enough. Fast, gory, horrific, clever, witty, disgusting, itchy – Invasive ticks all the techno thriller boxes while also managing to put me off ants quite considerably.