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

Well, since I’ve read both the first and second parts of Dana Fredsti’s “Ashley Parker” trilogy, I thought that it was time to take a look at my second-hand copy of the third novel – “Plague World” (2013) today 🙂

Although this novel contains enough recaps to theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel, it pretty much picks up where “Plague Nation” left off. As such, you’ll get a lot more out of this novel (especially the later parts) if you read the previous two books in the trilogy first.

So, let’s take a look at “Plague World”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS for both this novel and “Plague Nation”.

This is the 2013 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Plague World” that I read.

After a short introductory scene showing the zombie virus spreading to London, the story moves back to San Francisco and picks up where “Plague Nation” left off. The elite “wild cards” team of zombie fighters is stranded in a zombie-infested medical facility and missing several members.

Once they find a way to safety, Ashley Parker has several things on her mind. Not only does she have to prepare for a daring rescue mission but she is also threatened by one of the team’s sleazier new recruits and also has to find a way to track down vital medication for Lil too….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy, even if the novel’s main story takes a while to truly hit it’s stride.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re really good 🙂 In additional to the kind of splatterpunk-like ultra-gruesome zombie horror that you would expect, this novel also contains some brilliantly creepy moments of suspenseful horror, tragic horror, character-based horror, apocalyptic horror, disturbing horror, taboo-based horror etc.. too. Like in the previous two novels, this novel also includes at least a couple of brilliantly disturbing moments of story-based horror where the situation itself is the main source of horror.

One cool feature of this novel is that it also contains short chapters showing how the zombie virus affects different parts of the world. These segments contain a really good mixture of thrills, tragedy, irreverent dark comedy and/or cynical nihilism. And, although the main story improves as the novel progresses, these short side-stories remain consistently good throughout the novel and really help to keep the earlier parts compelling 🙂

In terms of the novel’s action-thriller elements, they’re especially good during the later parts of the novel 🙂 In short, whilst this is a fairly action-packed novel throughout, the early-middle parts of the main story tend to focus a bit more on things like character-based drama, heavy subject matter, small-scale suspense etc… which can detract from the story’s gripping action-thriller elements a little bit.

But, it is worth reading earlier parts of the story just to get to the awesome final segment. In addition to some brilliantly epic action scenes (involving explosions, a biker gang, a secret base etc..) there are also loads of dramatic plot twists, some brilliantly disturbing moments of horror, some excellent satire and a couple of wonderfully heartwarming moments. This is one of those novels where I was reading it very slightly reluctantly during the early parts, but was absolutely gripped during the later parts.

In terms of the characters, they’re pretty interesting. Although there is lots of character-based drama and characterisation, some of this can get in the way of the story a little bit. Even so, it adds depth to the story and also serves as a recap for new readers too.

Still, the best character-based moments appear in the later parts of the novel, where a couple of good and evil main characters turn out to be a bit more morally-ambiguous than previously thought. Plus, there is also a wonderfully heartwarming character-based scene in the last few pages of the novel that will probably make you cry with happiness 🙂

In terms of the writing, it is as good as ever 🙂 Like with previous novels in the series, this novel uses a combination of first and third-person narration. This is clearly signposted to the reader via both titles and italic text, which prevents the perspective changes from being confusing. The novel’s first-person segments are also written in the kind of gloriously informal, pop culture reference-filled way that you would expect and they are really fun to read 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is pretty good. At 308 pages, this novel never really feels too long. Plus, even though the later parts of the novel are more gripping than the earlier parts, the whole story is written in a reasonably fast-paced way. Even so, I wish that more of the novel was like the truly excellent later segments.

All in all, this is a good conclusion to a really good trilogy. Yes, I preferred the later parts of this novel to the early/middle parts of it, but the story is still a rather compelling and dramatic one. If you’ve read the previous two books, then this one is well worth reading for the scenes set around the world and the brilliantly gripping final parts of the main story.

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

Advertisements

Review: “The Arrivals” By Melissa Marr (Novel)

A couple of weeks earlier, I heard about a really intriguing genre called the “Weird West” genre (eg: the western genre, but with supernatural, horror, sci-fi etc.. elements).

So, after looking around online, I found a couple of second-hand books. But, since one of them didn’t interest me as much as I’d initially expected, I ended up reading the other one – Melissa Marr’s 2013 novel “The Arrivals” – instead.

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

This is the 2013 Harper Collins (UK) paperback edition of “The Arrivals” that I read.

The novel begins with a gunfight in a monastery in the middle of a bizarre wasteland in an alternate dimension. One of the possessed monks has just shot a gunslinger called Mary and her friends (Jack, Kitty, Edgar and Francis) want revenge. After a battle, the monk is killed and the gang carry Mary’s body back into the surrounding wasteland. In the wasteland, dead people sometimes return to life after six days. Sometimes they don’t.

When they don’t, a person from our world who has taken a life appears in the wasteland to replace them. When a new arrival appears, no-one can be certain of their loyalties. They could side with Jack and his band of honest outlaws or they could be seduced by a powerful, cruel man called Ajani who wants to turn the wasteland into part of the British Empire…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, although it seemed a little bit random at first, it quickly became a lot more atmospheric and compelling than I had expected 🙂 This is an interesting moderately-paced thriller novel that is filled with intriguing characters and a fairly atmospheric and well-developed fictional world too.

Seriously, I love how the fantastical elements of this story follow a clear set of rules but are also kept mysterious enough to be intriguing. Likewise, this is also one of the most original fantasy novels that I’ve read recently.

Everything from the mysterious mechanics of life and death amongst the arrivals, to the bizarre etiquette of the novel’s vampire-like creatures, to the relatively few magic-based scenes to the array of mysterious creatures (eg: wingless dragons called Lindwurms, plagues of giant insects etc..) are really interesting. Not to mention that the weirdness and originality of these elements really helps to make the reader feel like they’ve been plonked into a mysterious alternate world.

Although this novel is a thriller novel, don’t expect it to be a wall-to-wall action-fest. Although there are several well-placed fight scenes, the focus is more on character-based drama, the atmosphere of the wasteland and the politics of it. Since these three things are handled really well, the story still remains really compelling – even if it is very slightly less of an action-thriller novel than the dramatic opening scene (which reminded me of the computer game “Blood“, which is never a bad thing 🙂 ) might lead you to expect.

Thematically, this novel is pretty interesting too. It is a story about loyalty, friendship and family as well as being a novel about how power corrupts. The more democratic and egalitarian band of outlaws is contrasted well with Ajani’s cruel hierarchy and his imperial ambitions. Although this element of the story isn’t explored quite as much as I would have liked, it still helps to add some depth to the story. Likewise, this is also a story about moral ambiguity, bereavement, love and redemption too.

Still, the best parts of this story are probably the characters and the atmosphere. This novel has the kind of desolate, gritty wild west atmosphere that you would expect and this really helps to immerse the reader in the story 🙂 Likewise, although this is one of those stories where the main characters spend more time arguing with each other than fighting the bad guys, the main characters are a really intriguing bunch of people from different periods of history who all have interesting personalities, complicated backstories and dramatic flaws.

In terms of the writing, this novel’s third-person narration is fairly good. It is written in a fairly informal, but descriptive, style that really helps the story to flow well in addition to being a really good fit with the gruff, harsh world of the wasteland too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is pretty good. At a wonderfully efficient 274 pages in length, this novel never feels too long. Likewise, although this story is a bit more moderately-paced than I’d expected, the atmosphere, setting, characters and plot really help to keep it compelling 🙂

All in all, this novel is a really interesting version of the western genre. It’s an atmospheric, dramatic and compelling tale that is set in an intriguingly mysterious world and populated by some rather interesting characters (even if they do spend quite a lot of time arguing with each other).

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

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

Well, after reading Dana Fredsti’s awesome “Plague Town” a while ago, I eventually found a reasonably-priced second-hand copy of the 2013 sequel “Plague Nation” online. And, since the weather had cooled down a bit, I thought that it was finally time to actually read it 🙂

Although this novel is a sequel, it contains enough recaps for you to theoretically read it without reading “Plague Town” (but you’ll get more out of it if you read that novel first). However, I should point out that “Plague Nation” is also the middle novel in a trilogy too. In other words, don’t expect it to be a fully self-contained story.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Plague Nation”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS for both this novel and “Plague Town”.

This is the 2013 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “Plague Nation” that I read.

“Plague Nation” begins shortly after the events of “Plague Town”. The team of “wild card” immune survivors are clearing out the remaining zombies from the isolated California town of Redwood Grove. However, thanks to the contaminated flu vaccine, there are small-scale zombie outbreaks in other parts of America.

Not only that, things start going wrong in Redwood Grove. The team’s leader – Gabriel – seems to be even more of a self-righteous ass than usual, an attempt to rescue a survivor goes horribly wrong and it also seems like someone is out to sabotage the secret research lab in the town’s university…….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a story of two halves. One of the things I’ve noticed about modern zombie sequels (Jonathan Maberry’s “Fall Of Night” springs to mind too) is that they often tend to start with the slower-paced physical and emotional aftermath of the previous novel. In other words, the first half or so of this novel is more of a drama (with occasional moments of action, suspense and horror) than the kind of thrilling zombie-fighting adventure that you’d expect. Of course, things pick up again as the story progresses.

In terms of the novel’s horror elements, they’re reasonably good. Although the first half of the novel is a little bit more understated and slow-paced, this is where the bulk of the story’s horror can be found. Although the whole story contains the kind of splatterpunk-style ultra-gruesome zombie horror you would expect, the first half of the novel contains many of the story’s truly disturbing moments of horror. In addition to a shocking character death, there’s the disturbing return of a character from the first novel and several other exquisitely tragic, gross and/or horrific scenes too.

Plus, in true splatterpunk fashion, the novel is peppered with short chapters about other random characters in other locations being faced with the zombie outbreak too. These chapters help to add a sense of scale to the story, whilst also helping to add moments of horror to more slow-paced segments of the story too.

As mentioned earlier, the novel turns into more of an action-thriller story as it progresses. The slower first half of the story helps to build up the suspense and set the scene for a gripping “edge of your seat” mission to the zombie-infested streets of San Francisco. And, this part of the story is where the novel really hits it’s stride and becomes the kind of epic, badass zombie apocalypse thriller that the first novel will have led you to expect.

In terms of the characters, they’re as good as ever. The zombie-fighting team are a slightly stylised band of misfits, who receive a reasonable amount of characterisation as the story progresses. Plus, although the story starts off with lots of arguments and other such things, the characterisation remains consistently good throughout most of the novel.

In terms of the writing, this novel uses both first and third-person narration. Although this might sound confusing or annoying, it actually works well since the third-person segments are clearly signposted via italic text. And, like in “Plague Town”, the first-person perspective parts of the novel are narrated by Ashley Parker – a wonderfully cynical, irreverent and badass zombie fighter who is never short of a pop culture reference or two. These parts of the story are written in a fairly informal way and they really help to add personality and humour to the story, whilst also keeping things moving at a decent pace too.

In terms of length and pacing, this story is reasonably good. At 318 pages in length, it is both long enough and short enough. Likewise, the novel begins in a relatively slow-paced way, although this is mostly to set the stage for the more fast-paced later parts of the novel. Even so, the informal narration and several well-placed moments of horror and drama help to keep the beginning of the story compelling enough.

Still, this novel is the middle part of a trilogy. So, like with watching a “to be continued” episode of a TV show, the pacing and drama builds to such a point near the end of the novel that you’ll just know that everything won’t be resolved in the remaining few pages. Yes, there is a little bit of resolution at the end of the novel but there are quite a lot of mysterious unresolved background details and a bit of a cliffhanger ending.

All in all, this is a really good zombie novel. Although it is a little bit slow to really get started, it is still a decent follow-up to “Plague Town” and, if you liked that novel, you’ll probably enjoy this one too. Yes, I preferred the second half of the novel to the first, but both are really good. Still, just be aware that this novel is the middle part of a trilogy.

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

Review: “No Time Like The Past” By Jodi Taylor (Novel)

Well, since the weather was still annoyingly hot, I thought that it was time for me to read Jodi Taylor’s 2013 novel “No Time Like The Past”, since I was lucky enough to find an affordable second-hand copy of it online a couple of months ago and had been saving it for an occasion like this.

This is the fifth book in Taylor’s excellent “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series and you can find my reviews of the previous four “St. Mary’s” books here, here, here and here.

Plus, although this book is the fifth in a series, it can pretty much be read as a stand-alone novel, thanks to a lot of recaps throughout the story. However, a few scenes will have more emotional impact and/or make slightly more sense if you’ve read the previous books.

So, let’s take a look at “No Time Like The Past”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “No Time Like The Past” that I read.

The novel begins about a year after the events of the fourth novel, and the disaster-prone time-travelling historical research institute of St.Mary’s is pretty much back to normal. The story begins when oafish security officer Markham claims to see a person falling past one of the windows on several different occasions, yet a body is never found. So, naturally, Chief Operations Officer Madeleine Maxwell (or “Max” for short) is curious.

After a calamity-filled trip back to a Civil War-era version of St.Mary’s in order to investigate, the mystery is solved. However, there’s a lot more stuff for Max to do.

Not only does she need to organise a peaceful, uneventful and disaster-free (yeah, right…) trip to 1851 for most of the institute’s staff, but there’s also the matter of another treasure-grabbing trip to placate the institute’s sponsors, not to mention that several old enemies have turned up again and… worst of all… Max also has to plan the institute’s annual open day too…..

One of the first things that I will say about this book is that this series just keeps getting better and better. If you’ve never read a “St. Mary’s” book before, then the series is a little bit like a cross between “Doctor Who“, a more grown-up version of “St. Trinian’s“, a military sitcom called “Bluestone 42” and the comedy of Terry Pratchett and/or Douglas Adams.

Plus, not only does this instalment in the series have a more well-structured story with a brilliant balance of comedy, thrilling action and serious drama but it also does a few other interesting things too.

The most interesting of these is probably the opening segment of the story – which is almost a self-contained story in it’s own right. Seriously, the first 50-60 pages of this book could easily be a stand-alone novella and, far from being a distraction, this works perfectly. Not only does it get the story off to a reasonably strong start, but it also serves as a really good introduction to/recap for the series too – with the beginning containing all of the elements that make the series so great.

Seriously, this is one of those books that gets the story density absolutely right. Although there are quite a few sub-plots in this story, they are all linked together and follow on from each other in a logical way – with the emphasis firmly being on just one at a time, which helps to ensure that the story never loses focus. This is the kind of book that feels like watching an entire season of a TV show, whilst still being less than 300 pages long. Now that is good writing!

The novel’s comedy is even better than usual, with a really excellent mixture of eccentric humour, a couple of new running jokes (eg: Markham’s knowledge of classic literature), some well-placed slapstick comedy/farce, some cynicism (eg: Max’s comments about a variety of topics), lots of character-based humour, some brilliant pop culture references (eg: not only does the movie “Tremors” make an appearance, but there’s also a deliberately vague reference to Leon getting a fancy new screwdriver too) and a few other things like that.

The time travel/sci-fi elements are pretty cool too. The novel contains at least three wonderfully suspenseful parts where the characters either have to avoid causing time paradoxes and/or damaging to the timeline. Likewise, the novel also contains a good repertoire of historical settings that include a Civil War-era version of St. Mary’s, the great fire of London, The 1851 Great Exhibition, 15th century Italy and Ancient Greece.

The story’s moments of serious drama work really well most of the time too. Although a couple seem either a little bit over-dramatic or a bit under-dramatic, most of them work really well. However, some of these scenes will have a lot more emotional resonance if you’ve read the previous books in the series. Likewise, Max and Leon’s argument-filled relationship might seem a bit random or bizarre if you don’t know the characters well.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s first-person narration is as good as ever. Max is one of the funniest, most unique and most gleefully irreverent narrators I’ve ever read and this book is no exception. Plus, like in the other books in the series, the narration is informal and “matter of fact” enough to keep the story moving at a decent pace, whilst also being descriptive enough to add atmosphere to the story.

In terms of the characters, they’re as good as ever. If you’ve never read the series before, then expect lots of hilariously eccentric characters 🙂 Interestingly, although this novel does focus on Max and Leon’s relationship during several parts of the story, there’s a lot more focus on Markham (of all people) in this book than I expected. Plus, a couple of familiar villains also make a return too – and, although they don’t really appear for as long as I would have hoped for, both scenes are pretty dramatic.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. Not only does this novel manage to cram a lot of story into a gloriously efficient 291 pages, but the story’s pacing is a lot better than some earlier instalments in the series too. In other words, whilst you shouldn’t expect an ultra-fast paced story, the story moves along consistently at a fairly decent pace.

All in all, this is another great instalment of a great series. If you want a short, but story-filled, sci-fi novel that also contains lots of comedy, drama, thrills and cups of tea, then this one is certainly worth reading 🙂 Seriously, this is one of those book series that should be adapted to television, but would probably lose a lot if it did (since the narration is one of the major reasons this series is so good). So, if you want something that is like a great TV series, but better, then this book is worth reading.

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

Review: “Inferno” By Dan Brown

Well, it has been ages since I last read a Dan Brown novel. I remember enthusiastically reading “The Da Vinci Code” and “Angels & Demons” in mid-late 2005. Then, in 2009, I read Brown’s “The Lost Symbol” (a new hardback copy on release day, no less!), “Deception Point” and “Digital Fortress”.

So, when Dan Brown’s “Inferno” was released in 2013, I…. eventually ended up getting a hardback copy a year later, which I didn’t get round to reading (since I was starting to lose interest in books at the time) and ended up losing somewhere in the depths of one of my book piles.

But, after discovering a cheap second-hand paperback copy of “Inferno” in a charity shop in Petersfield last year, I thought that I’d take a proper look at it. So, yes, this review has been several years in the making.

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

This is the 2014 Corgi (UK) paperback edition of “Inferno” that I read.

The novel begins with a mysterious man called The Shade running through the streets of Florence before hurling himself off of a building and falling to his death.

Meanwhile, revered American symbology professor Robert Langdon is having a bizarre nightmare, filled with hellish visions from Dante’s “Inferno”. When he wakes up, he finds that not only is he in hospital, but he cannot remember the events of the past 2-3 days. Needless to say, the situation becomes stranger when he learns from a visiting English medic called Sienna that he is actually in Italy rather than in America and that he was brought into the hospital after being shot in the head.

However, before Langdon can really start to piece together the events of the past few days, a mysterious assassin breaks into the hospital and tries to kill him. Luckily, Sienna is able to help Langdon escape the hospital before this happens and it soon becomes obvious that someone powerful is out to get them. But, why?

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a gloriously silly thriller novel that, despite a few flaws, was a lot of fun to read 🙂

Like in Brown’s other Langdon novels, this novel is a little bit different from a typical gung-ho action thriller novel. In other words, it is a novel where Langdon has to rely on quick thinking and academic knowledge in order to survive. Since Langdon is unarmed throughout the story, this novel actually has quite a bit of suspense – given that he spends quite a bit of the story chased by various heavily-armed people, whilst also solving mysterious puzzles based on Dante’s “Inferno” in order to prevent a major catastrophe.

And, yes, this is actually a much more intelligent novel than you might expect. This is both a strength and a weakness. On the plus side, this novel is fairly well thought-out and extremely well-researched.

On the downside, Brown feels the need to show off his research constantly via lots of info-dumps, which can sometimes make the book seem more like a slow-paced mixture between a tour guide of Italy and a history textbook during what are supposed to be thrillingly fast-paced moments. Yes, some of these segments are pretty interesting, but they do slow down the story quite a bit!

Still, this novel is a fairly gripping thriller regardless. Although there are more than a few silly moments (such as a random tricycle chase, some character-based stuff, some of the more contrived puzzles/clues/plot twists etc..), this novel still manages to remain compelling thanks to both the premise and the suspenseful storyline.

The idea of starting the story halfway through, with the main character not remembering what happened beforehand isn’t an entirely new technique (I mean, it turned up in the previous book that I read), but it works pretty well here. Likewise, the fact that Langdon is unarmed helps to add extra suspense to the story’s many chase sequences.

Plus, the novel also includes some fairly bold and dramatic plot twists too – although some of these aren’t always foreshadowed as much as they should be. Even so, the plot twists kind of reminded me a bit of the first “Mission Impossible” film, which helped to add to the story’s enjoyable silliness.

One interesting theme in this novel is that of the dangers of overpopulation, with the main villain (Zobrist) taking it upon himself to “correct” the problem via a genetically-engineered virus. In a rather clever move, the novel initially takes a rather simplistic “good vs. evil” approach to this by making the virus out to be a modern version of the bubonic plague. However, the novel achieves a greater level of intellectual and moral complexity when it is later revealed that the virus merely makes one-third of the world’s population sterile. Refreshingly, the novel then leaves it up to the reader to come to their own conclusions about the morality of Zobrist’s actions.

The novel also possibly contains a little bit of satire about the thriller genre too, with a group of characters called “The Consortium” who are a well-funded ship-based group of mercenaries who will carry out any task, with the justification that they are merely a tool for other people and bear no responsibility for how they are used. Although this probably has no connection to Clive Cussler’s “Oregon Files” novels, it’s hard not to see it as a slight parody of these stories (and the action-thriller genre in general).

In terms of the characters, this novel is pretty cheesy. In addition to Robert Langdon (who is a cultured, highly-intelligent and fairly tall professor), his side-kick Sienna initially seems to be a hilariously corny character (eg: a slightly rebellious genius with an IQ of 208, who also owns a motorised tricycle for… reasons). However, she gains a bit more character depth as the story progresses. Some of the background characters are a bit more well-written though, with the most intriguing character being the mysterious antagonist, Zobrist.

In terms of the novel’s writing, it’s ok. Although this novel is a very readable thriller, the story is slowed down quite often by lots of descriptive info-dumps about history, architecture, tourist attractions etc… Even so, I can’t really fault the actual writing in this novel too much. The action scenes are very readable and the descriptions are fairly evocative too. Likewise, Dan Brown makes pretty good use of his traditional ultra-short chapters here too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel needs improvement. At a mammoth 620 pages in length, this novel would have benefitted from trimming some of the background details and repetitive descriptions of major plot points (although, saying this, if you’re reading this book a few chapters at a time, then these are probably fairly useful recaps. Even so, they get a bit annoying if you’re binge-reading).

Likewise, although the novel moves along at a reasonably decent pace (thanks to the suspenseful storyline, short chapters etc..), the story is bogged down quite a bit due to all of the info-dumps that I’ve mentioned before. Seriously, this novel is supposed to be a thriller.

All in all, this is one of the most gripping tour guides/history textbooks you’ll read. It is also a rather silly, but more intelligent than you might think, thriller novel too. Whilst it doesn’t quite reach the high standards of Brown’s earlier works, it’s still a lot of fun to read 🙂

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

Review: “A Second Chance” By Jodi Taylor (Novel)

Well, after reading the absolutely excellent first and second novels in Jodi Taylor’s “The Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series, I was eager to read the third one. I am, of course, talking about Taylor’s 2013 novel “A Second Chance”. However, due to both second-hand prices for this series and the fact that I want to savour this series (rather than binge-reading it all in the space of a month or so), it’ll be at least a few weeks until I review any more “St. Mary’s” novels.

Anyway, although “A Second Chance” is the third book in the series, it can theoretically be read as a stand-alone novel (since it contains recaps etc..). However, I would strongly recommend reading the previous two books before this one. Seriously, you’ll get a lot more out of this book if you read the other two first. But, I probably shouldn’t say any more before I give the obligatory spoiler warning.

So, let’s take a look at “A Second Chance”. As mentioned earlier, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “A Second Chance” that I read.

The novel begins with time-travelling historian Dr. Madeleine Maxwell (or Max for short), witnessing the fall of Troy to the Grecian army. Needless to say, the fall of Troy is considerably grimmer, scarier and more horrific than the short descriptions usually found in history books.

Then the story flashes back several months earlier. Max has just returned to St. Mary’s (a time-travelling historical research institute) after visiting the local university – only to discover that most of her team have turned blue for some reason. Needless to say, the institute’s director, Dr. Baristow, isn’t exactly happy about this turn of events.

And, since Max is the only non-blue historian in the department, she is tasked with taking Dr.Baristow’s friend, Professor Penrose, back in time to witness Isaac Newton leaving his rooms at Cambridge University. It’s supposed to be a quick sightseeing trip. A favour to a friend. Of course, being St. Mary’s, it isn’t long before something goes wrong…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s the best “St. Mary’s” novel I’ve read yet 🙂 The whole story is brilliantly streamlined and there is an absolutely brilliant balance between thrilling time-travel action, hilarious comedy, shocking moments and powerful emotional drama. In short, as great as the first two books are, this one is where the series really hits it’s stride.

It a story that will have you turning the pages to see what happens next, it is a story that will make you laugh out loud, it is a story that will fill you with awe and it is a story that will probably make you cry several times (with both sorrow and joy). Seriously, this is the best book in the series so far 🙂

First of all, the structure of this book is brilliant – from the cold open mini-cliffhanger, to the fact that the story manages to fit so many time jumps into a relatively short number of pages, this is the most focused, streamlined “St. Mary’s” novel that I’ve read yet 🙂

Although there are obviously a few slower moments to provide contrast, the story’s structure and pacing felt a lot more consistent and confident in this novel than in previous ones. Still, this novel does end on a little bit of a cliffhanger – although there’s enough dramatic resolution before this for it not to be too annoying.

In terms of the story’s comedy elements, they are as brilliantly funny as ever. Although there is slightly more of a focus on serious drama in this story, there are still plenty of comedic moments. Whether it is blue historians, hallucinogenic honey or CBBC (Concussion By Bloody Cheese!), this story’s humour is as hilariously eccentric as ever. But, like in previous reviews, I should probably point out to my international readers that the humour in this series is very British.

The story’s sci-fi/ time travel elements are utterly brilliant too. Not only are there quite a few interesting time jumps, but there’s also lots of other cool stuff like what happens if a pod goes back to the year zero and lots of intriguingly clever, a more realistic explanation for the famous “Trojan Horse” and dramatic stuff about timelines too. Needless to say, there’s a good mixture of thrilling moments, funny moments, awe-inspiring moments and dramatic moments.

Finally, the story’s drama elements are incredibly powerful too. This story focuses on Max and Leon’s relationship a lot … and I really don’t want to spoil any of this. But, this is one of those novels where – if you’ve got to know the characters (from reading the previous two books) – then there are quite a few moments that will probably make you cry for one reason or another.

As with the previous two novels, the writing in this novel is as excellent as ever 🙂 Max’s first-person narration is as distinctive, informal/irreverent, comedic, serious and “matter of fact” as always. Seriously, I cannot praise the narration in this series highly enough. It is the kind of personality-filled narration that makes the comedic moments even funnier, the thrilling moments even more gripping and the dramatic moments more realistic.

In terms of length, this novel is really great. At 248 pages, the story is lean, efficient and focused 🙂 I’ve said this many times before but, in an age where novels often tend to be giant tomes (and the next novel I’ll be reading will probably be one of these tomes), it is always refreshing to see a short modern novel 🙂

All in all, this is a gripping, funny, dramatic and emotionally-powerful novel 🙂 As I mentioned earlier, the series really hits it’s stride with this novel. It has everything that made the first two novels so great, but it has been streamlined and improved even more. Seriously, this is the best “St. Mary’s” novel that I’ve read so far.

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

Review: “A Symphony Of Echoes” By Jodi Taylor (Novel)

Well, after reading Jodi Taylor’s excellent “Just One Damned Thing After Another“, I was eager to read the next book in the series. I am, of course, talking about Taylor’s 2013 novel “A Symphony Of Echoes”.

Anyway, although “A Symphony Of Echoes” is a sequel, it can also be read as a stand-alone novel. Yes, you’ll get more out of it if you read “Just One Damned Thing After Another” first, but this novel contains enough recaps etc.. for it to just about stand on it’s own two feet. Even so, I’ll probably be comparing this novel to the previous one quite a lot in this review.

So, let’s take a look at “A Symphony Of Echoes”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2015 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “A Symphony Of Echoes” I read.

This novel, like the previous one, focuses on a group of time-travelling historians who work for a secret research institute called St. Mary’s. The story begins when one of the senior historians, Kal, decides to retire. In accordance with tradition, when a historian retires, they get to visit whichever part of the past they want to before they leave.

So, along with Dr. Madeleine Maxwell (or “Max” for short), Kal travels back to Victorian London in order to scare the bejeesus out of Jack The Ripper. Of course, as you would expect, things don’t go exactly to plan.

Whilst Max and Kal are recovering from their injuries in St. Mary’s sickbay, Chief Farrell goes missing. After a while, the historians work out that he has been kidnapped and taken to the future. So, it is up to Max to mount a daring rescue….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s very compelling. Not only does it begin with a grippingly streamlined flourish of thrilling drama and chilling horror, but the story also has a rather cleverly-designed plot (which, though it may get confusing at some points, ultimately ends up making sense) and a slightly more well-handled emotional tone than the previous novel too. Plus, of course, it also resolves the small cliffhanger at the end of the first novel too 🙂

“A Symphony Of Echoes” also makes full use of the series’ time-travel premise in all sorts of clever ways too. Not only is there a sub-plot about time paradoxes, but there are also some rather interesting scenes that are set in the future too. Plus, of course, there are some interesting scenes about how the existence of time travel has had an impact on the lives of the main characters too. The novel’s title isn’t there to sound pretentious – it is a reference to the knock-on effects that events can have on future events. And it’s really cool to see the series exploring all of this stuff 🙂

But, yes, the plot of this novel can get a little bit confusing at times. However, if you’re willing to pay attention and wait, then almost everything in the story has some kind of logical explanation.

Yes, a couple of the plot twists do seem a little bit contrived/cheap (eg: Max coming up with a plan, but not mentioning the details to the reader until later etc..) but, ultimately, pretty much everything makes sense by the end of the book. The only exception to this is that some elements of the Jack The Ripper-based scenes are deliberately left chillingly mysterious, in order to increase the horror of these scenes.

As I hinted earlier, this novel is a bit more of a thriller than “Just One Damned Thing After Another” was. There are a lot more brilliant set-pieces, intriguing mysteries, clever plans and scenes of fast-paced drama. Yes, these are contrasted with slower moments and moments of character-based drama, but the novel is – in some parts at least- a faster-paced, more streamlined and more thrilling story than I’d expected.

Likewise, the emotional tone of this novel feels much more well-handled too – with the segues from serious moments to comedic moments (and vice versa) feeling more natural and less jarring than in the previous novel. A lot of this is helped by the fact that this novel starts off in a fairly “serious” way, with lots of perilous drama and even a few moments of horror too. So, when the story’s emotional tone lightens, it comes as a relief to the reader. It also prepares the reader for the fact that the story will have serious moments too.

Still, when this novel is comedic, it is hilarious. Not only are there a few amusing references (eg: to “The Big Bang Theory” etc..), but Max’s first-person narration and the novel’s dialogue is as brilliantly sarcastic, “matter of fact” and well-written as ever too 🙂 Plus, this story is also filled with all of the hilariously eccentric details that you would expect – such as the noise that a dodo makes (“grockle”, if anyone is curious).

Seriously, I cannot praise the humour in both this novel and the previous one highly enough 🙂 But, for my international readers, I should probably point out that a lot of the humour in this series is very British, so I don’t know how well it will translate to audiences outside the UK.

In terms of the characters, they’re all reasonably interesting, well-written and/or stylised too. If you’ve read the previous novel, then you’ll enjoy seeing lots of familiar faces again (as well as a few unfamiliar ones too). Yes, some things remain the same (eg: Max and Leon’s tumultuous, argument-filled relationship) but there’s also a bit of character development in this story too. The most noticeable example of this is Max finding herself with more responsibilities and authority than she had in the previous novel. Even so, this novel still manages to keep a fair amount of the “punk” attitude that made the previous novel so much fun to read.

But, if you haven’t read the previous novel, then you might find the characterisation to be a little bit “light”. It’s still there, but you’ll get a lot more out of the novel’s moments of emotional drama if you read “Just One Damned Thing After Another” first. Yes, some of the moments of interpersonal drama in the story do border on the melodramatic at times – but this is part of the style of the series.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good too. Although the novel contains a mixture of fast-paced and slow-paced scenes, and a slightly more complicated plot, it remains reasonably compelling throughout. Likewise, at just 233 pages (in the edition I read), this novel is that wonderfully rare thing – an efficiently short modern novel 🙂

However, it’s possible that I read an earlier edition with slightly smaller print. Plus, although I don’t usually critique this stuff, the copy I read does bear the hallmarks of an early version/small press edition (eg: JPEG compression/ image resizing artefacts in the cover art, a couple of barely noticeable typos etc..). Personally, I felt that this added to the eccentric charm of the story and made me feel like I was discovering something intriguingly new and obscure. However, fussy perfectionists probably won’t like it.

All in all, this is an extremely enjoyable novel 🙂 It tells a slightly complicated story about time travel which is alternately thrilling, hilarious, scary and poignant. In other words, it’s a good sequel to “Just One Damned Thing After Another” – even if, although I liked many individual moments and scenes from this story better, I slightly preferred the previous novel as a whole (probably because it introduced me to this awesome series).

If I had to give “A Symphony Of Echoes” a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.