Review: “A Wanted Man” By Lee Child (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for a thriller novel. So, I thought that I’d take a look at a thriller novel that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I am, of course, talking about Lee Child’s 2012 novel “A Wanted Man”.

If I remember rightly, this book was given to me by a relative who found it in a charity shop in about 2013-14 and thought that I might enjoy it. Although I’d planned to read it at the time, given that Lee Child novels were one of the few things that I still read during my 2014-18 “non reading” phase, it ended up sitting on top of one of my book piles for several years until I eventually noticed that it was one of the few Lee Child novels that I hadn’t read.

So, let’s take a look at “A Wanted Man”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2013 Bantam (UK) paperback edition of “A Wanted Man” that I read.

The novel begins in rural Nebraska with a description of someone witnessing a couple of people entering a disused bunker and fleeing shortly afterwards after blood begins to pool around the door. The witness calls the local sheriff.

In another part of the state, ex-military police drifter Jack Reacher is trying to hitchhike. With his towering build and recently-broken nose, he doesn’t expect to have much luck. But, after an hour and a half, a car suddenly stops for him. The three passengers are wearing identical shirts and tell him that they are travelling to Chicago on business. There is a police roadblock up ahead.

Meanwhile, the local sheriff is surprised to see a FBI agent called Julia Sorensen turn up at the crime scene in the bunker. In addition to helping co-ordinate the search for the killers, it soon becomes obvious that the murdered man in the bunker was someone that the US security services have an interest in.

Back in the car, Reacher’s instincts from his days as a military policeman start to tell him that something doesn’t quite add up about the people he is hitching a ride with…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is probably the best modern Lee Child novel that I’ve read. It has all of the rural desolation and careful suspense of something modern like Child’s “The Midnight Line” or “Make Me“, but with some scenes and elements that are more like classic 1990s-2000s Lee Child. It is the kind of gripping novel where, whenever I sat down to read it, I ended up reading about twice as many pages as I’d planned 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the novel’s thriller elements, which are excellent. This novel has a really brilliant progression from small-scale suspense, mystery, plot twists and action to much larger and dramatic examples of all four things. This is the kind of novel that initially seems a little bit understated for a thriller, but intrigues you enough to make you keep reading before rewarding you with a series of brilliant moments, set-pieces and twists.

All of these elements are handled really well, with the more dramatic car chases and gunfights later in the novel providing a brilliant payoff for the tense scenes of mystery and suspense earlier in the story.

Like a good detective story, this novel also carefully drip-feeds the reader with clues and solutions to parts of the story’s central mystery whilst still leaving enough mysterious to make them want to read more. Add to this a few surprising plot twists, a couple of fairly creative locations and more than a few hints of spy drama and this is a textbook example of how to write a truly gripping thriller.

Interestingly, despite the use of modern technology and both the desolate rural American setting and relative pacifism of some parts of the novel, there are some old-school elements here too.

In addition to a final segment that wouldn’t seem entirely out of place in either a mid-2000s episode of “24” or a 1980s/90s action movie, some parts of this novel feel like they could have come from a hardboiled US thriller from the 1940s-50s too. Whether it is the constant suspense of the earlier scenes set in the car or the dystopian creativity of the motel-based scenes, this novel feels like a really cool updated version of an older thriller at times.

In terms of the writing, this novel is really good. Although Lee Child’s third-person narration is the kind of expertly-honed “matter of fact” narration you’d expect from one of his thriller novels, this novel was also a lot more descriptive than I’d expected too. Since these descriptions, of locations, thoughts etc… are written in a fast-paced way and/or are carefully placed in locations where they will have the maximum effect, they really help to add a lot of atmosphere to the story without slowing down the pace too much.

As for the characters, they’re fairly well-written. Jack Reacher is the ex-military hero that we all know and love although, in this novel, he has a fascination with maths and number puzzles. Even so, he’s kind of an interesting middle ground between the action hero he was in Child’s older novels and the more considered pacifist he becomes in “The Midnight Line”.

Likewise, the rest of the characters are all well-written enough for the reader to know who they are and to care about what happens to them, whilst also often having enough backstory and hidden depths to be interesting too.

As for length and pacing, this novel is fairly good too, At 524 pages in length, it is a little on the longer side of things but the pacing compensates for this. As mentioned earlier, this novel has a really good progression from small-scale to large-scale drama and this is backed up by a fast-paced writing style, some really compelling mysteries and lots of carefully-placed clues and plot twists. This novel is, in a word, gripping. It is the kind of novel where you’ll end up reading at least twice as much as you plan to every time you decide to take a look at it.

All in all, this is an incredibly gripping novel that is a textbook example of thriller fiction at it’s best. It is a brilliant blend of older and more modern thriller fiction that contains a perfectly-engineered mixture of everything that makes thriller fiction such compelling fun to read 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

Review: “Marbellous” [WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/”GZDoom”]

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“The Apprentice” by Tess Gerritsen), I thought that I’d take a quick look at another “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD.

And, after clicking the “Random File” button on the /Idgames Archive a few times, I found myself looking at a WAD from 2012 called “Marbellous“.

However, I should point out that this WAD uses the level 25 slot (for some bizarre reason). So, when playing it, you’ll have to type “IDCLEV25” during gameplay to jump to this level.

I also ended up using an older version (1-8-06) of the “GZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD, since the list of ports in the readme file didn’t mention ZDoom and I wasn’t sure if it contained any port-specific features. However, upon actually seeing the level, it will probably work with pretty much any limit-removing source port (including my favourite, ZDoom).

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Marbellous”:

“Marbellous” is a medium-length single level WAD that, as mentioned earlier, uses the level 25 slot. Although the readme file states that the WAD also includes a new texture, I didn’t really notice it and the overall look of the WAD is fairly “classic” (with an emphasis on marble textures, hence the name).

In terms of the level design, “Marbellous” is really good. This is an old-school style non-linear level that contains a really good mixture of corridors, arena-like areas, simple switch/combat puzzles, cool-looking areas and clever design (eg: parts of the level loop back on themselves).

Seriously, this area looks really cool 🙂

Likewise, this arena near the end of the level looks pretty cool too 🙂

Seriously, the level design is complex enough to force you to think and explore, but simple enough that – on the rare occasions where you don’t know where to go next – it won’t usually take you too long to work it out 🙂

In terms of the gameplay, it is enjoyably challenging 🙂 Whilst this probably isn’t a level for novice players who haven’t learnt all of the usual tactics and strategies, experienced players will probably find this level moderately challenging.

This challenge is achieved in the early parts of the level via careful rationing of ammo and weapons, with the best moment being when you have to fight an Arch-vile using just the pistol and the basic shotgun. Needless to say, this is a fairly good combat-based puzzle where you’ll have to use tactics and strategy 🙂

Ah, with many of the easier levels I’ve been playing recently, I’d almost forgotten how awesome THESE are 🙂

Later on in the level, the challenge is achieved through the use of monster placement. This is a level that contains a lot of low-level monsters, a reasonable number of mid-level monsters and a few well-placed high-level monsters.

In other words, a fun traditional-style level 🙂

The best example of this is probably the level’s Cyberdemon arena, which you’ll first encounter when you don’t really have enough weaponry for it. Like the best “Doom II” levels, this area is something of a combat-based puzzle, where clever strategy, lateral thinking and experimentation are required 🙂 The arena is also laid out in a way where it won’t take you too long to work out what you’re supposed to do to progress.

And, yes, getting to this point is a bit more complex – and fun – than you might initially think 🙂

All in all, this level is a really fun way to spend an hour or so. The level design is really good, not to mention that the combat remains enjoyably challenging throughout the level too 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Angel’s Ink” By Jocelynn Drake (Novel)

Well, although I’d heard about Jocelynn Drake’s “Asylum Tales” urban fantasy series soon after I finished reading Drake’s excellent “Dark Days” vampire thriller series quite a few months ago, I never got round to reading any of them at the time.

Then, a week or so before I wrote this review, I suddenly remembered this series and, to my delight, second-hand copies of the first novel in the series “Angel’s Ink” (2012) had come down in price since I last looked at them 🙂

So, let’s take a look at “Angel’s Ink”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2013 Harper Voyager (UK) paperback edition of “Angel’s Ink” that I read.

The novel is set in a city called Low Town, where magic is real and supernatural creatures exist. In the alleyway next to his tattoo parlour, ex-warlock Gage Powell is threatened by an angry customer because of a malfunctioning “good luck” potion he used in a tattoo. Although Gage wins the fight, he has to use a magic spell or two in the process.

This prompts a visit from a warlock called Gideon who reminds Gage that he is forbidden from using magic spells, except in self-defence. Luckily for Gage, his actions during the fight technically fell somewhere within that definition, but Gideon sternly warns Gage that he’ll be keeping a close eye on him.

Business at the tattoo parlour carries on as usual for a while, but then Gage is visited by a terminally ill woman called Tera who wants a pair of angel wings tattooed on her back. Moved by her situation, Gage decides to secretly help her out by mixing a strand from an angel’s wing into the ink.

However, sometime later, a grim reaper shows up at the parlour and tells him that he accidentally made Tera immortal. He has three days to rectify the problem or the reaper will take his life instead…..

One of the first things that I will say is that this is a really compelling and suspenseful noir-influenced urban fantasy thriller 🙂 Although it’s a little bit more slow-paced than Drake’s “Dark Days” series and it doesn’t have quite the same gothic atmosphere, it’s definitely one of the best urban fantasy novels I’ve read within the past couple of months. Still, it is more of a suspenseful small-scale and vaguely “film noir”-style thriller set within a relatively small number of locations than a more typical urban fantasy action-thriller novel.

Like in a lot of thrillers, this is a “bad day” novel where the main character finds himself faced with a lot of difficult situations within a relatively small space of time and this really helps to ramp up the suspense and pressure. Although this novel contains a few fight scenes (including some vaguely Harry Potter-style magic duels), it’s slightly more of a traditional suspense thriller than an action-thriller novel, since Gage often has to come up with plans or think on his feet in order to get out of the gigantic mess that he’s found himself in. All of this suspense really helps to keep the novel compelling.

Although “Angel’s Ink” isn’t a noir urban fantasy novel in the way that, say, P.N. Elrod’s “Bloodlist” is, there is certainly quite a bit of influence from the noir genre here 🙂 Whether it is the slightly complex plot, the “sleazy” tattoo parlour settings, the focus on a criminal underworld, the mysterious woman walking into the protagonist’s office at the start of the story and the good-hearted but morally-ambiguous protagonist, there are definitely a few hints of the noir genre here 🙂

The novel’s fantasy elements are handled quite well too. In addition to a lot of the usual urban fantasy stuff (eg: elves, trolls, werewolves, vampires, satyrs, succubi etc..), the novel’s magic elements feel solid enough (including some dramatic set pieces too 🙂 ) and the story even includes some intriguingly dystopian elements too. Basically, there is an uneasy truce between humanity and a strict order of powerful, cruel warlocks and witches, who treat the world in a rather colonialist fashion.

Since Gage is an ex-warlock who lives amongst humans, he finds himself under constant suspicion and threat from the order, in addition to having to keep his true nature secret from most of those around him. It’s a brilliantly inventive premise that helps to add some extra suspense and depth to the story.

In terms of the characters, they’re reasonably well-written. Gage comes across as a flawed, but likeable, protagonist with a troubled past who finds himself faced with a lot of difficult situations. Likewise, his two side-kicks – Trixie and Bronx – are both interesting characters with their own motivations, backstories and personalities. The novel also contains quite a few other interesting background characters and a bit of a romantic sub-plot too.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s first-person narration is fairly well-written too. It allows for a decent amount of characterisation and is “matter of fact” enough to keep the story moving at a reasonable pace, whilst also being descriptive enough to add atmosphere. But, although this novel is well written, I still slightly preferred the more gothic and fast-paced narration in Drake’s “Dark Days” series though.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At 338 pages, it isn’t too long – although it was very slightly slower-paced than I’d initially expected. Yes, the story certainly has a lot of fast-paced moments and is compelling enough to make you want to keep reading it, but this is one of those books that took slightly longer to read than I’d initially expected. Plus, although there is enough resolution to make the ending feel satisfying, this novel is the first part of a series. So, don’t expect literally everything to be resolved by the end of the story.

All in all, this is a really good urban fantasy thriller novel which is filled with suspense and some hints of the noir genre too 🙂 On it’s own merits, it is a compelling novel that fans of authors like Mike Carey and Lilith Saintcrow will probably enjoy 🙂 And, although I slightly preferred Drake’s “Dark Days” novels to this one, it’s always great to read more books by this author 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Vampire State Of Mind” By Jane Lovering (Novel)

Well, it has been quite a while since I last read an urban fantasy novel. And, after being given a copy of Jane Lovering’s 2012 novel “Vampire State Of Mind” by a family member who saw the mention of Hobnobs, parallel universes, vampires, Aberystwyth etc… in the first few pages and thought that I might enjoy it, I thought that I’d check it out.

So, let’s take a look at “Vampire State Of Mind”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2012 Choc Lit (UK) paperback edition of “Vampire State Of Mind” that I read.

The novel begins with a brief “Wikipedia article” that outlines the series’ backstory. In short, a gateway between Earth and a parallel universe (containing vampires, zombies, werewolves etc..) opened in Aberystwyth in 1910. This led to quite a few years of strife, which ended when a peace treaty was signed in 1988. These days, humans and otherworlders live in relative peace, with the treaty being enforced by authorities for both groups.

In the city of York, Jessica Grant works for an under-funded department of the local council as a liason between humanity and the otherworlders. She is one of 5% of the population who can sense otherworlders and, as such, her job is mostly to give presentations at local schools and respond to otherworld-related incidents. Which is why she ends up in the city centre at night trying to tranquilise a slightly pathetic vampire called Daim who has strayed outside of a designated vampire area.

However, after she tranquilises Daim, a demonic symbiote called Tez emerges from his chest and reveals that he led Daim to this part of the city so that he could deliver an urgent warning to Jessica. Unfortunately, the warning is a fairly cryptic one and Jessica is more puzzled than frightened by it. However, after a number of incidents, it quickly becomes clear that something is out to get Jessica…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a fairly compelling urban fantasy thriller and, even though I prefer vampire novels with vampire protagonists, this novel is a fairly decent vampire novel too.

In addition to a fairly good narrative voice, this novel also contains a good mixture of thrills, comedy, drama, romance, mystery and supernatural fantasy too.

In terms of the novel’s fantasy elements, they’re quite well-developed. The story has enough mythos and backstory to make the events feel natural, whilst also avoiding bogging the reader down with reams of lore. Although there are a number of paranormal creatures in the novel (eg: ghouls, wights, zombies, werewolves etc..) and some scenes involving magic, the story mostly focuses on vampires.

In the novel, vampires are vampires because they live in a symbiotic relationships with demonic creatures who feed on their hormones, endorphins etc… They mostly drink synthetic blood (but prefer the real stuff), they aren’t harmed by sunlight and they are all stunningly handsome in a gothic kind of way. However, the life of a vampire also has certain psychological effects – which I won’t spoil, but they really help to add an extra level of drama to the story.

Whilst this novel doesn’t really contain that much in the way of horror, this is made up for by the inclusion of several thrillingly suspenseful scenes that have a really good balance between action and comedy. Likewise, the novel also contains a couple of dramatic plot twists and other such things that help to keep the story compelling too. Still, this novel is more of a thriller than a horror novel.

The novel’s romantic elements are really good too. Initially, these aren’t focused on too much and then they gradually build as the story progresses, which prevents them from feeling cheesy or contrived. There’s a good mixture of unrequited love, compelling drama and passion too. Likewise, since this is a vampire novel, there are also a few wonderfully sensual moments too 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re really good. Jessica is a mostly likeable and fairly realistic protagonist, who has a fairly cynical sense of humour and is something of a reluctant hero (rather than the usual heavily-armed badasses found in the urban fantasy genre). The leaders of the city’s vampires, Sil and Zan, initially come across as rather stylised hedonistic ultra-handsome goth/geek characters, but gain a lot more depth as the story progresses. The novel’s main villain is also suitably dramatic and mysterious too. Plus, some of the background characters get a decent amount of characterisation too.

In terms of the writing, it’s also really good. Although the narration randomly switches between first and third-person perspective occasionally, this doesn’t get too confusing or annoying.

The first-person segments of the novel are written in a fairly informal way that not only helps to keep the story going at a reasonable pace, but also allows for a lot of characterisation and some humour too. The first-person narration is also a little bit like a more understated (and less eccentric/ punk) version of the excellent narration in Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this story is really good. At an efficient 288 pages in length, the story never really feels too long. Likewise, there’s a good mixture of fast-paced and moderately-paced scenes too. Plus, the story’s mixture of multiple genres (eg: romance, comedy, thriller, urban fantasy etc..) also ensures that there’s always something to hold the reader’s attention too.

All in all, this is a good urban fantasy novel. It’s good mixture of a slightly light-hearted thriller, a drama, a mystery and a romance. Whilst it didn’t quite have the edge or level of gothic-ness as my favourite series of vampire novels (Jocelynn Drake’s awesome “Dark Days” series) does, it’s still a compelling and well-written vampire novel. Plus, it’s always cool to see an urban fantasy novel set in Britain for a change.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least a four.

Review: “Plague Town” By Dana Fredsti (Novel)

Well, I was in the mood for another zombie novel. So, I thought that I’d take a look at a novel that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. I am, of course talking about a second-hand copy of Dana Fredsti’s 2012 novel “Plague Town” that I found online a couple of weeks earlier.

Interestingly, this book seems to be the first part of a trilogy (and, yes, I’ll hopefully read the other two books at some point in the future), although it can also be enjoyed as a (mostly) stand-alone novel too.

So, let’s take a look at “Plague Town”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2012 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Plague Town” that I read.

The novel begins with a short scene showing a family transforming into zombies after falling ill from a disease called “Walker’s Flu”. Then the story follows Ashley Parker, a student at a small university in the northern California town of Redwood Gove. Ashley is having a bad day.

Not only is she running late for lectures, but the lecturer’s sanctimonious assistant Gabriel berates Ashley for being late, whilst also giving annoying unsolicited dietary advice too. Once the lecture is over, Ashley meets her boyfriend Matt and both of them run into Gabriel. A hilarious scuffle between Matt and Gabriel follows, which ends with the three of them … sort of… becoming friends.

Sometime later, Ashley and Matt are having a romantic candlelit picnic on the campus grounds – when they are suddenly attacked by zombies. Ashley is bitten, but wakes up in a makeshift military hospital in the university.

Ashley’s lecturer informs her that the town has been overrun with zombies, but that she is a “wild card” – part of 0.01% of the population who are immune to the virus (and gain slightly enhanced strength, healing, senses etc.. when exposed to the virus). And, it soon becomes obvious that the military want the few immune survivors to join a secret task force dedicated to fighting the zombies….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was a lot of fun to read 🙂 The best way to describe this story is “Buffy The Vampire Slayer mixed with a late-night zombie movie” and it is absolutely awesome. There’s a really good mixture of horror, dark comedy and thrilling action scenes and it is one of those novels that is, in the best way possible, like watching a gloriously cheesy B-movie 🙂

Whilst the novel’s horror elements aren’t that scary, they work really well. In addition to numerous ultra-gruesome scenes involving zombies, the novel also uses a few other types of horror too.

In addition to disease-based horror, character-based horror, suspenseful horror, tragic horror, scientific horror and post-apocalyptic horror, there’s also a brilliantly disturbing scene (involving a survivor in a cabin) that will catch you by surprise at a point where you’re just starting to think “this is turning into more of a thriller novel than a horror novel“.

Likewise, this novel is also something of an old-school zombie novel too. In other words, the zombies here are traditional slow-moving zombies (with the story even containing some sarcastic remarks about how fast zombies only exist in movies because people have short attention spans). And, whilst the story contains many familiar zombie tropes, it also does a few innovative things too… which I won’t spoil. Even so, one of the story’s zombie-related plot twists is foreshadowed so heavily that it’s fairly easy to guess.

The novel’s thriller elements are also really good too. Although the main characters have the advantages of strength and weaponry, the novel often manages to add a real sense of drama and suspense to some of the story’s many zombie battles through things like making sure that the characters are vastly outnumbered and/or have to help their wounded comrades.

Even so, at least a couple of the thrilling action scenes in this novel have all of the suspense of a superhero movie (which is to say, very little). Even so, this novel is a really enjoyable action-thriller novel.

In terms of the novel’s comedy elements, they’re absolutely brilliant. In addition to lots of amusingly sarcastic dialogue/narration and a bit of dark comedy, this is also one of those novels that is absolutely crammed with pop culture references – and most of them are really good (eg: The Evil Dead, Army Of Darkness, Tremors, Alien, Buffy, The A-Team, Romero, Fulci etc..). This novel is also a brilliantly cynical parody of a few horror/thriller tropes too – such as in a scene involving a sociopathic army general and in a segment about the value of pet cats.

The novel’s characters are surprisingly good too. Many of the characters have distinctive personalities, emotions, motivations and actual character development too (with at least a couple of unsympathetic characters becoming more sympathetic as the story progresses). Likewise, the dynamics of the zombie-fighting team and the relationships between the characters are also an important part of the story too.

Ashley is also a really cool protagonist too. Not only is she gleefully sarcastic and wonderfully badass, but she’s also the opposite of more prim and puritanical characters of this type (eg: Anita Blake, Buffy Summers etc..) too, which is really refreshing 🙂 Seriously, I love how this novel will often treat any kind of self-righteousness with the merciless sarcasm it deserves 🙂

The novel’s writing is also really good too. Most of the novel is narrated by Ashley, which not only gives the story a bit more personality but also allows for informal narration that is both hilarious and reasonably fast-paced too.

However, there are also a few random third-person segments which show how the zombie virus is affecting other parts of the town. Surprisingly, these perspective changes actually work really well – since they are both clearly signposted through the use of italic type and are short enough not to distract from the main story too much.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly good. At 350 pages in length, this novel is pretty much on par with many modern novels and didn’t feel too long. The novel’s pacing is really good too, with the story remaining reasonably fast-paced and gripping.

The novel’s more spectacular, suspenseful and thrilling moments are also balanced out with moments of comedy and character-based drama too. In addition to this, the story’s main plot is thankfully resolved in a satisfying way – with only a small last-minute cliffhanger setting up the sequel.

All in all, this was a really enjoyable and gripping novel 🙂 It contains an almost perfect mixture of horror, humour and thrills, which are backed up by good characterisation and personality-filled narration too 🙂 As I mentioned earlier, reading this novel is a bit like watching a really awesome late-night B-movie. Seriously, it is a hell of a lot of fun 🙂

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about get a five.

Review: “Bring Up The Bodies” By Hilary Mantel (Novel)

Well, although I had slightly mixed feelings about Hilary Mantel’s 2009 novel “Wolf Hall“, I was still in the mood for historical fiction. So, I thought that I’d check out the novel’s 2012 sequel – “Bring Up The Bodies”.

Like with “Wolf Hall”, I found a second-hand copy of this novel in a charity shop in Petersfield (the same shop, no less) last year.

Although this novel is a sequel to “Wolf Hall”, it can theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel. However, it is worth reading “Wolf Hall” first – both in order to learn more about the characters and, more importantly, to get used to Mantel’s unusual writing style too.

So, let’s take a look at “Bring Up The Bodies”. Needless to say, this review contains SPOILERS. But, if you have a fairly basic knowledge of Tudor history, then you’ll already know how this novel will end.

This is the 2013 Fourth Estate (UK) paperback edition of “Bring Up The Bodies” that I read.

The novel begins in Wiltshire in 1535. King Henry VIII is on holiday, taking a tour of the many stately houses of England, accompanied by his faithful advisor Thomas Cromwell. During this holiday, Henry begins to take a liking to Jane Seymour, whilst his relationship with his wife Anne Boleyn grows ever more distant and acrimonious.

And, after a complex series of events, the King wishes to end his marriage to Anne so that he can wed Jane instead. And, of course, there is only one person that the king can entrust with this devious task… Thomas Cromwell.

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that whilst it is still a character study of Thomas Cromwell, there is more focus on intrigue and plotting than in “Wolf Hall”. As such, it’s kind of like a more realistic version of “Game Of Thrones”.

Plus, although this novel certainly isn’t a fast-paced thriller, it feels a lot more focused and dramatic than “Wolf Hall” does. In part, this is because I’ve got used to Mantel’s unusual writing style and, in part, it is because this novel tells a somewhat more linear story (with fewer flashbacks, time jumps etc..) than “Wolf Hall” does.

Like with “Wolf Hall”, one of this novel’s strengths lies in it’s atmosphere. The story is filled with all sorts of poetic descriptions of Tudor life, which really help to bring the story to life.

Whilst this story doesn’t go in the dystopian direction of something like S.J.Parris’ “Sacrilege“, it doesn’t present an entirely rose-tinted version of the Tudor age either. This is a novel set in a world where opulence and squalour sit side by side, where the king wields near-absolute power and everything revolves around the people who try to influence him.

This exploration of power is best seen in one scene where, after a jousting accident, Henry’s court fears that he is dead. Even if you know the basic history, this scene is still surprisingly suspenseful. In the brief moment where everyone fears Henry’s loss, you can really feel the instability and uncertainty that comes from having all authority reside within one man.

Then, in a moment of genius, this scene is brilliantly counterpointed by a moment where Henry publicly berates Cromwell for his ambitions – only to meekly speak to Cromwell later when he realises that, without Cromwell, his job as king would be much more difficult. It’s a scene which brilliantly shows that power, by it’s very nature, is not something that can be truly held by just one person.

This is also, as you may have guessed, a novel about death too. In addition to all of the events leading up to Anne’s execution, this novel focuses heavily on how the dead influence the living. Not only are many of the novel’s events set into motion after Catherine Of Aragon dies from natural causes, but Cromwell is also shown to be motivated by the memory of his time with Cardinal Wolsey etc…

Another one of this novel’s strengths lies in the characters – Cromwell in particular. Because both this novel and “Wolf Hall” focus so heavily on Cromwell, the scenes in the later parts of “Bring Up The Bodies” where he becomes much more of a morally-ambiguous character are so subtle and gradual that you might initially find yourself smirking along with him until you suddenly remember the gravity of what he is doing.

These scenes are combined with some brilliant moments of dark comedy (eg: Cromwell accidentally using Christmas decorations to scare a confession out of someone etc..) in such a way that Cromwell’s slow descent into evil is softened to the point of seeming even more chillingly realistic. He’s a loveable rogue… until the gavel falls on his enemies and they are taken to the scaffold.

Likewise, the novel’s portrayal of Henry VIII is fairly nuanced and complicated too – with the jovial and boisterous side of his character contrasted with his more emotional, sensitive and melancholic elements. Despite his bitter plot against his wife, he is also shown to be a surprisingly … noble… man, rather than the lecherous glutton of popular culture (although there are certainly hints of this side of him emerging…)

Anne Boleyn, on the other hand, is shown to be a much harsher and sharper character than she was in “Wolf Hall”. Although she still retains some dwindling power, her marriage to Henry has deteriorated since the events of “Wolf Hall” and, although she is shown to be uncertain about her grim fate until the very last drawn-out moment, this gaunt, harsh and embattled characterisation of her helps to ominously foreshadow the ending of the story.

The novel, of course, has lots of other interesting historical and fictional characters – but I would probably be here all day if I wrote about each one of them. But, in general, the characters in this novel are as good as ever.

As for the writing in this novel, it’s really good… once you get used to Mantel’s writing style. If you’ve already read “Wolf Hall”, then you’ll have no problem here. If you haven’t, then prepare to be confused. In addition to using the present tense, Mantel will also do things like referring to Cromwell as “he” without introducing him first. But, when you get used to all of Mantel’s stylistic quirks, this novel’s third-person narration has a poetry and beauty to it that really has to be seen to be believed.

In terms of the length and pacing, this novel is a relatively concise 482 pages in length – making it shorter and slightly more focused than “Wolf Hall” 🙂 Whilst “Bring Up The Bodies” tells a reasonably slow-paced story, it is probably at it’s most focused and gripping during the earlier and later parts of the story. Even so, the middle of the novel still contains the occasional moment of drama to keep the story flowing. Likewise, since this novel contains fewer flashbacks and time jumps than in “Wolf Hall”, the story’s pacing feels a lot more confident too. Still, expect a slow-paced story with some very long chapters.

All in all, this is a better novel than “Wolf Hall”. Yes, it’s still fairly slow-paced, but the plot feels a lot more focused, the characters gain some extra complexity and it is as wonderfully atmospheric as ever. Plus, once you’ve got used to Mantel’s writing style, then this is also one of those novels that is worth reading just for the writing alone. Yes, you’ll probably have to put a bit of effort into reading this novel, but it’s worth it.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get four and a half.

Review: “Sacrilege” By S. J. Parris (Novel)

Well, it’s been a while since I last read a historical detective novel. So, since I had a bit more time than I’ve had for the past three book reviews, I thought that I’d check out S. J. Parris’ 2012 novel “Sacrilege”.

This was one of a number of historical novels I found in a charity shop in Petersfield last year (the same one where I found my copy of Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall) and, given how much I enjoyed other novels in this genre like C.J.Sansom’s “Shardlake” novels (eg: “Heartstone“, “Lamentation” etc…), Parris’ novel seemed like just the thing to get me back into reading books that aren’t based on films, TV shows, videogames etc…

So, let’s take a look at “Sacrilege”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2012 Harper (UK) paperback edition of “Sacrilege” that I read.

The novel begins in London in 1584. Giordano Bruno, an Italian exile who is working for both the French ambassador and Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham, fears that he is being followed.

A short while later, Giordano catches his pursuer – only to find that she is his ex-lover Sophia in disguise. Sophia tells him that she has been falsely accused of murdering her cruel husband in Cantebury and has been a fugitive ever since. So, Giordano decides to travel to Cantebury in order to clear her name and catch the real killer….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is very gripping 🙂 On the day I started reading it, I’d planned to read about 180 pages -I got to 300 before reluctantly deciding to save the rest of the book for the following day. Imagine a C.J.Sansom novel, but with better pacing, more suspense, slightly more formal/modern-style narration and a slightly grittier tone. Seriously, this is one of the best Tudor detective novels I’ve read in a while.

Not only does this novel contain a series of intriguing mysteries, but this is kept extra thrilling thanks to the novel’s brilliant use of suspense. A lot of this comes from the precarious, dangerous world that Giordano finds himself in. Not only does Giordano have to worry about protecting Sophia from arrest, he also has to contend with some powerful enemies in Cantebury, a corrupt justice system and Tudor-era xenophobia too. Throughout the novel, he’s constantly in danger from someone or another, which really helps to keep things grippingly suspenseful.

Interestingly, Parris’ depiction of Tudor England is considerably grimmer, crueller and more hostile than in the fiction of C.J.Sansom or Hilary Mantel. In a lot of ways, it reminded me a bit of G.R.R Martin’s “Song Of Ice And Fire” novels in terms of the atmosphere/emotional tone. This helps to add drama and suspense to the novel and, although a few moments of the story can be fairly depressing, this dystopian depiction of Tudor England fits the story really well.

Another interesting thing is how Parris’ “Sacrilege” presents Tudor England’s relationship with Europe in a different way to Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” too. In “Wolf Hall”, Tudor England is shown to be a resolutely European country – with many people speaking multiple languages, and people from across Europe living relatively harmoniously in London. On the other hand, “Sacrilege” mostly depicts Tudor England as a cruelly conservative dystopia that is teeming with narrow-minded xenophobia and general backwardness. I would say that this was a satire about Brexit… but this novel was published four years before the referendum.

In addition to all of this, “Sacrilege” is also a pretty good spy thriller too. Although the spy elements are something of a sub-plot, they help to add a little bit of extra intrigue and suspense to the story – especially since they often tend to involve classic-style spy stuff like coded messages, invisible ink, hidden doors, sneaking around etc… too.

Likewise, this sub-plot also allows for some exploration of the religious politics of Tudor England too – but, although this is an important element of the story, it isn’t quite as prominent as it is in novels like Sansom’s “Lamentation” and Mantel’s “Wolf Hall”.

The novel also includes a few interesting horror elements too – mostly consisting of some rather gothic moments that take place inside gloomy crypts and tunnels, in addition to some more traditional horror elements involving monstrous crimes of various types.

In terms of the characters, this novel is fairly good – with most of the characters coming across as realistic flawed people with realistic motivations. Like in C.J.Sansom’s “Shardlake” novels, the sympathetic characters don’t really “fit in” with the world around them for one reason or another (with “Sacrilege” being a novel about exiles and fugitives). And, of course, the story’s villains are also suitably monstrous too. Likewise, just like C.J.Sansom, this novel also takes a fairly modern approach towards things like psychology, social ills etc.. too.

As for the writing, Parris’ first-person narration works really well. Like C.J.Sansom, Parris’ narration is modern enough to be easily readable, whilst also carrying a slight Tudor flavour too (albeit less than in a Sansom novel). However, since the narrator of “Sacrilege” (Giordano) is a well-travelled scientist/scholar and diplomat, the narration is slightly more on the formal and descriptive side of things – although it is still “matter of fact” enough to keep the story fast-paced and gripping.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. Although, at 481 pages, this novel is a bit on the longer side of things – it never really feels bloated. Likewise, the pacing in this novel is excellent too 🙂 In other words, the story starts dramatically and remains consistently gripping throughout. Seriously, I cannot praise the pacing of this novel highly enough 🙂

All in all, this novel is a brilliantly gripping historical detective thriller novel. If you enjoy C. J. Sansom’s “Shardlake” books, then you might enjoy this book even more. It’s a bit like a Sansom novel, but with better pacing and more suspense. Likewise, if you want a novel that combines spy fiction, detective fiction and dystopian fiction, then this one might be worth looking at.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.