Review: “Rosewater” By Tade Thompson (Novel)

Well, I was still in the mood for some hardboiled fiction, so I thought that I’d take a look at a second-hand copy of Tade Thompson’s 2016 cyberpunk-influenced sci-fi thriller novel “Rosewater” that I’ve been meaning to read for a couple of weeks.

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

This is the 2018 Orbit (UK) paperback edition of “Rosewater” that I read.

The novel is set in the Nigerian city of Rosewater in 2066. This city is only about ten years old, having been built around a mysterious alien bio-dome that fell to Earth. These alien visitations to Earth have not only had a major effect on geopolitics (with Russia, China and Africa becoming more powerful) but have also had a biological effect on the planet too. In addition to occasionally healing the sick, reanimating the dead, introducing new lifeforms and providing free electricity, the alien bio-dome has also caused some humans to become “sensitives”, or psychics.

Kaaro is a cynical, world-weary sensitive who works as part of a human firewall for a bank in Rosewater. Every day, he reads vintage novels to create interference to prevent rogue psychics from hacking into the bank. His co-worker Bola insists on setting him up on a date with her friend Aminat during a visit to one of the dome’s healing sessions. But, during the date, he receives a text from Section 45 – a mysterious branch of the country’s security services that Kaaro secretly works for. So, reluctantly, he goes over to their offices and extracts information from the mind of a tortured prisoner.

But, soon, strange things start happening. Kaaro gets psychic visits from a mysterious woman called Molara, his boss warns him about Aminat, some criminals are after him and, even worse, several of the other psychics start dying from a mysterious disease….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it was a lot of fun to read 🙂 Imagine a combination of a spy/action/detective thriller novel, Jeff Noon’s “Vurt”, a William Gibson novel, Greg Bear’s “Blood Music“, Eric Brown’s “Bengal Station” trilogy, the irreverent time-jumping weirdness of something like Robert Brockway’s “The Unnoticeables” and maybe the “Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex” TV series and this might give you some vague clue of what to expect 🙂

So, I should probably start by talking about this novel’s sci-fi elements – which are really awesome 🙂 Not only is there a lot of good worldbuilding, showing all of the effects that alien contact has had on Earth, but it is also one of those interesting cyberpunk-style novels which doesn’t actually involve the internet.

Like with the hallucinogenic feathers in Jeff Noon’s “Vurt”, this is a novel that features cyberspace-like scenes that take place within a psychic space called the “Xenosphere” (a traditional VR internet called “Nimbus” exists too, but it is just a background detail).

Not only does this lend the novel a slightly fantastical quality, but it is kept firmly in the sci-fi genre thanks to the inclusion of an actual scientific explanation for it and – by extension – a series of rules surrounding it. And, since this novel relies on the mind (rather than machines) for it’s virtual worlds, it can be a lot more surreal, interesting and just generally creative with these scenes.

Not only is this novel’s worldbuilding absolutely excellent but, like the best sci-fi, it is also completely original too. The aliens are quite literally alien, with the characters knowing enough about them to live near them but not knowing enough for them to be intriguingly mysterious at the same time. Likewise, I cannot praise the atmosphere and descriptions of the city of Rosewater itself highly enough. It’s a really interesting place 🙂

In keeping with the cyberpunk genre, the setting also contains some dystopian elements – however, in an interesting twist, they don’t come from the usual mega-corporations but from more realistic things like government, outdated legislation, mob justice, crime etc… instead. In other words, this novel feels really original 🙂

The novel’s thriller elements are also brilliant too. Not only is this novel written in a fast-paced way, but it also makes excellent use of things like suspense, intrigue, secrets, mini-cliffhangers, mystery and a few action sequences to keep everything compelling.

Another awesome thing about this novel is how it mixes the immediacy of first-person narration with the traditional thriller technique of multiple plot threads. Most first-person thrillers that attempt this use the awkward device of multiple first-person narrators – but this novel instead uses a series of flashback chapters set a decade or two earlier to provide a second plot thread without breaking the immersion by switching the narrator. These time jumps are also very clearly signposted (not only do they tell you the date and location, but they are also marked as “Then” or “Now”) which prevents them from being confusing or breaking the flow of the story 🙂

Plus, this novel also contains horror elements too 🙂 Seriously, these were a really brilliant surprise. In addition to some chilling moments of dystopian horror, there’s also a good amount of psychological horror, a few moments of gory horror, some surreal body horror, a brilliantly intense scene of monster horror and – even better – zombie horror too 🙂 Even though the zombies don’t show up that often, the fact that this novel blends the cyberpunk and zombie genres is really awesome 🙂

In terms of the characters, this novel is reasonably good. The narrator, Kaaro, gets the most characterisation and he’s a classic cyberpunk protagonist of the morally-ambiguous, world-weary and cynical type (who, like Deckard from “Blade Runner”, also works for an evil police force). But, thanks to his narration and intriguing backstory (and a few well-placed moments of humour), he comes across as a really interesting, realistic and surprisingly sympathetic character. Although the novel’s other characters get slightly less characterisation, they seem reasonably realistic and there’s enough characterisation for you to care about what happens to them.

As for the writing, it is excellent 🙂 This novel’s first-person narration is written in the kind of fast-paced, personality-filled way that you’d expect from a good sci-fi or horror thriller novel 🙂 Not only that, the narration also reads like a more understated and streamlined version of the kind of classic hardboiled cyberpunk narration that you’d expect from a writer like William Gibson 🙂 Plus, the narration still manages to remain descriptive enough to add atmosphere and bring the story’s settings to life too 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is really good. At 390 pages, it’s a little on the longer side of things – but is written in the kind of fast-paced way that won’t make this too much of an issue. The novel is paced like a thriller – with multiple plot threads, compelling suspense, lots of dramatic moments etc..- which also helps to avoid some of the slowness that is typically associated with science fiction. Plus, although this novel is very clearly the first novel in a series (there’s even a note about the sequel at the end), the main plot has enough resolution for the sequel hook/background cliffhanger at the end not to feel frustrating or unsatisfying.

All in all, this novel was a lot of fun to read 🙂 If you want a more innovative and imaginative version of the the cyberpunk genre that moves at twice the usual pace, includes lots of atmosphere, some well-placed horror elements and an interesting premise, then this novel is well worth reading 🙂

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

Review: “Doom: The Golden Souls 2 Portable” (WAD For “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “GZDoom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel (“Idoru” by William Gibson) and playing the next full-length game (“Dex”) that I plan to review, I thought that I’d take a very quick look at an absolutely awesome joke WAD (well, technically a “.pk3” file) for “Doom II”/”Final Doom” that was released on April Fools’ Day in 2016, but which I somehow only discovered recently. I am, of course talking about “Doom: The Golden Souls 2 Portable“.

This WAD is, as you may have guessed, from the creator of the excellent “Doom: The Golden Souls 2” – and, it is well worth playing that WAD before playing this one.

Like with some of my recent WAD reviews, I used the GZDoom 3.4.1 source port whilst playing this WAD since the original “Golden Souls 2” requires a relatively modern version of GZDoom and the forum post for this WAD suggests something similar. However, there is no accompanying text file for this WAD (since it is downloadable from Mediafire rather than the traditional /IDgames Archive download you’d expect).

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Doom: The Golden Souls 2 Portable”. Needless to say, this review will contain some joke SPOILERS.

Oh my god, the nostalgia 🙂

This is a single-level joke WAD that shows what “Doom: The Golden Souls 2” (a “Doom II” WAD inspired by the classic SNES game “Super Mario World), would look like if it was ported to the original Game Boy. In keeping with this theme, the level’s music and menu are based on the classic “Super Mario Land 2” Game Boy game. And, if you ever played this game back in the day, then it is a nostalgia overload.

Once again, oh my god the nostalgia 🙂

During my childhood, I sometimes used to wonder what a FPS game would look like on the original Game Boy and when I found the closest thing to this that was available in the local second-hand shop (a submarine/battleship-themed game that used a side-scrolling first person perspective), I thought that it was really cool. Almost as cool as when I first saw that the Game Boy version of “Chessmaster” had a spoken intro.

What I’m trying to say is that, if you grew up in the 1990s, then this WAD is like a cool Game Boy cartridge that you heard rumours (actual traditional rumours, none of this modern internet nonsense) about, but could never find anywhere.

Seriously, if only this actually existed in 1996….

Anyway, the WAD itself is a Game Boy style version of the first level of “Golden Souls 2”. However, in addition to new graphics, sound effects and music, there are also a couple of interesting gameplay changes too. The most notable of these is that both the pistol and shotgun now fire projectiles (which make them better long-range weapons, albeit balanced out slightly by the spread of the shotgun’s projectiles) and thanks to the slight scarcity of ammo in this version of the level, the Doomguy’s fists are also slightly more powerful too.

Plus, like in “Doom II”, the shotgun only seems to fire both barrels at once. This is also a really cool nod to the limitations of the original Game Boy too.

Another cool thing about this WAD is the fact that the background music is similar to “Super Mario Land 2” (seriously, so much nostalgia!) and the monster sprites have also been redesigned in order to look like actual Game Boy sprites too. Seriously, this is so cool.

Seriously, it’s so cool to see low-res versions of all the familiar monsters 🙂

In terms of the actual gameplay, the level is a mildly challenging one that involves a decent amount of rather forgiving first-person platforming. If you’ve played “Golden Souls 2”, then it will be very familiar. However, in a really hilarious touch, the game actually “runs out of battery” just before you finish the level. If you ever played an original Game Boy back in the day, this will both make you roll your eyes and laugh at the same time.

I’m not going to spoil the rest of the ending, but this alone should bring back lots of nostalgia.

All in all, this WAD is a really fun, creative and funny piece of modern 1990s nostalgia. If you grew up in the 90s, then you’ll have a lot of fun with it. But, as well as being an awesome joke, it’s also a fascinating glimpse into what could have been if someone had somehow managed to make a FPS game for the Game Boy in the 1990s. Yes, it’s short and silly, but it is also one of the best joke WADs I’ve ever seen 🙂

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

Review: “And The Rest Is History” By Jodi Taylor (Novel)

Well, although I’d planned to read this book a couple of weeks ago, I thought that I’d take a look at the eighth novel in Jodi Taylor’s amazing “Chronicles Of St. Mary’s” series today. If you’ve never heard of this series before, imagine a mixture of “Doctor Who”, a late-night BBC3 sitcom, Terry Pratchett, “St. Trinians” and a punk comic.

Anyway, this novel – “And The Rest Is History” (2016) – was part of a birthday present that I got a couple of months earlier and am carefully rationing, since there are only a couple of other “St. Mary’s” books left to go.

However, although this novel does contain some recaps, you need to read the previous seven novels before reading this one. A lot of the novel’s drama will only really have the emotional impact that it deserves if you’re already familiar with the characters and backstory. Likewise, this story picks up where the previous book left off. So, read the previous seven books before this one. You won’t regret it.

Anyway, let’s take a look at “And The Rest Is History”. Needless to say, this review may contain some mild-moderate SPOILERS.

This is the 2017 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “And The Rest Is History” that I read.

The novel begins shortly after the events of “Lies, Damned Lies, And History”. At the time-travelling historical research institute of St. Mary’s, Chief Operations Officer Madeleine Maxwell (or Max for short) is still getting to grips with the fact that she now has a baby son called Matthew. Surprisingly, there have been no major disasters either.

However, during a jog around the grounds of St. Mary’s, Max runs into her old enemy Clive Ronan. To her surprise, he hasn’t travelled to St. Mary’s to kill her. In fact, he has grown tired of life as a fugitive and wants to work out some kind of peace agreement with St. Mary’s. As such, he gives Max a set of temporal co-ordinates and requests a more formal meeting.

After some discussion, Max agrees to go – with her husband Leon staying behind to look after Matthew. And, after jumping to a remote part of the Ancient Egyptian desert, the meeting starts out well. Even a freak sandstorm that engulfed an entire army doesn’t get in the way and, if anything, engenders a grudging respect between Max and Ronan as they help each other to survive it.

Then, completely out of the blue, the Time Police show up. Needless to say, Ronan thinks that Max has betrayed him. Fleeing the desert, he swears cruel vengeance against both Max and everyone that she loves…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a really solid “St. Mary’s” novel 🙂 There’s a really good mixture of comedy, action/adventure, time travel, historical horror, sci-fi and sombre emotional drama. Plus, if you’re a fan of the mythos of the series, then this novel has all of the classics 🙂 Ronan, the Time Police etc… You name it, it’s there 🙂 Seriously, I don’t know what to say about this novel that I haven’t said before. If you’re a fan of “St. Mary’s”, then you’ll love it 🙂

With every novel in the series, everything gets a little bit more refined and this one is no exception. This is a novel that will both make you laugh out loud and feel numb with shock (especially when you see a new twist on a familiar catchphrase). This is a novel that can be hilariously funny sometimes and grimly bleak sometimes and, somehow, both of these things fit together absolutely perfectly.

It is also a novel that is as much about what isn’t shown as what is, with the most dramatic sub-plot (eg: Leon chasing Ronan through time and space) taking place almost entirely “off screen” and, yet, it still works perfectly.

It is a novel that is able to make you feel nervous and uneasy when nothing goes wrong for the characters. Seriously, it’s a testament to how well-written this series is and how much Taylor knows her fanbase that the absence of chaos and catastrophe can be an extremely notable and suspenseful part of one of these novels.

Seriously, I absolutely loved how this novel was structured 🙂 Although I don’t want to spoil too much, there are some stunningly dramatic twists and turns here and, even if you can predict how some of them might turn out, they remain very dramatic nonetheless 🙂

Seriously, this novel gets the balance between thrilling adventure, dramatic suspense, fascinating sci-fi, grisly history, hilarious comedy (including a sneaky hat-tip to Terry Pratchett too. You’ll know it when you see it) and poignant, bleak emotional drama absolutely right. This is a novel that is like an excellent season of a TV show, but three times better 🙂

In terms of the characters, they are the heart of this story and they are as brilliant as ever. Not only is Max’s relationship with Leon and the fact that she now has a son a huge part of the story, but there is a lot of drama involving the other characters too. In the traditional fashion, this is a novel where the characters feel like old friends and you’ll really care about what happens to them.

In terms of the writing, it is also as brilliant as ever. Like with the other novels in the series, this one is narrated by Max and the incredibly readable, informal “matter of fact” punk narration allows for thrillingly fast-paced scenes, bleak moments of tragic drama and some absolutely brilliant comedy too 🙂 Seriously, like all of the other books in the series, this one has a lot of personality 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a little different. At a whopping 426 pages, it is longer than previous novels in the series. In fact, the increased length was why it took me a couple of weeks to work up the enthusiasm to read it. Even so, the novel is just as compelling and well-paced as you would expect 🙂 There’s a well-handled mixture of suspense, thrills, emotional drama, time travel and hilariously random comedy too.

All in all, if you’re a fan of this series, then you’ll absolutely love this novel 🙂 This is a novel for “St. Mary’s” fans and it absolutely excels 🙂 If you’ve never read a “St. Mary’s” novel before, then start with the first one and work your way towards this one. Seriously, it is even better if you’ve read the other books first 🙂

If I had to go through the formality of giving this novel a rating out of five, it would get the usual five.

Review: “The Empty Ones” By Robert Brockway (Novel)

Well, shortly after I’d finished Robert Brockway’s punk horror thriller “The Unnoticeables” about a month earlier, I ended up finding a second-hand copy of the sequel – “The Empty Ones” (2016). Of course, I got distracted by other books and only got round to reading “The Empty Ones” a month later.

“The Empty Ones” was, after all, the book that had got me interested in the series after I’d read about it on an online list of recommended horror novels. Annoyingly though, copies of the third novel in the trilogy (“Kill All Angels”) were still a bit too expensive at the time of writing.

Since “The Empty Ones” is a sequel, it is recommended that you read “The Unnoticeables” first. Yes, this novel does contain a fair number of recaps – but it’s best to witness these moments first-hand and to get to know the characters (and the series’ mythos) before reading “The Empty Ones”.

So, with that said, let’s take a look at “The Empty Ones”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 2016 Titan Books (UK) paperback edition of “The Empty Ones” that I read.

The novel begins in Peru in 1984, with a brief scene showing a character called Meryll transforming someone into some kind of strange monster. Meryll then muses about being God.

The story then jumps to London in 1977. After the events of the previous novel, New York punk Carey has travelled there to check out the music. However, during a Ramones concert, he happens to spot an unnoticeable – a not quite human person who is instantly forgettable and who does the bidding of even worse creatures. Needless to say, it doesn’t seem like he’ll be having much of a holiday here.

Meanwhile, in 2013, ex-stuntwoman Kaitlyn is in Arizona with Jackie and Carey. Ever since the events of the previous book, the unnoticeables have been chasing her. Whilst spending a sleepless night in a motel, she happens to see an interview with Marco – the inhuman movie star villain of the previous book – on TV. He is heading to Mexico to film something. Determined not to run any more, Kaitlyn decides that she needs to travel to Mexico and deal with Marco once and for all….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is better than “The Unnoticeables” was 🙂 In addition to having some wonderfully grotesque horror elements, it is more of a focused and action-packed thriller story than I’d expected. The novel also keeps the punk attitude and humour of the previous novel too 🙂

As for the novel’s horror elements, they mostly consist of gory horror, paranomal horror, monster horror and/or body horror, with a bit of suspenseful horror thrown in too. Although the novel also contains a bit of Lovecraftian cosmic horror and a few uncanny not quite human characters, there is slightly less of an emphasis on horror in this novel than in the previous one.

The novel’s thriller elements are a lot more prominent though. Not only are there quite a few fast-paced fights with and/or escapes from monsters, but there’s also a fair number of interesting mini cliffhangers, short chapters, dangerous situations and other stuff like that. One cool thing about the novel being set in several time periods is that it allows for some intriguing plot twists too (eg: In 1978, Carey really likes one of the people he meets. But, when he sees her again in 2013, they are enemies etc..).

Like with “The Unnoticeables”, this novel also contains a fair amount of humour too. Although most of this consists of subtle, irreverent and/or puerile humour, there are also some hilarious moments of physical comedy too. Whether it is a chapter narrated by Marco where he suddenly decides that the most efficient way to chase Carey is to literally crawl along the streets of a city, or a hilariously gross mutation-based scene set in a hotel in the 1980s, this novel can be pretty funny at times 🙂

Another interesting thing about this novel is that it expands a little on the mythos established in “The Unnoticeables”. For example, we get to learn why Kaitlyn’s sixth finger is so important, how to defeat the seemingly invincible “empty ones” etc.. Another cool thing about this novel is that, when Carey travels to London, the punks there have different names for the monsters (eg: faceless, husks, sludge and flares) than the NY punks do. Not only that, there are a lot more of them in the crowded streets of London too.

Although most of the novel takes place in both 2013 and 1978, there are also a few brief scenes set in the 1980s and 1990s that help to add atmosphere and characterisation. Like in the previous novel, the 1970s scenes are the best in the novel – filled with fast-paced drama, punk stuff, weird characters and atmosphere. Even so, the scenes set in 2013 were a bit more fast-paced and gripping than I had expected.

In terms of the characters, the main characters get a reasonable amount of characterisation whilst still being very recognisable to readers of the previous book. Another cool thing is that, in the scenes set in London, Carey seems even more like Vyvyan from “The Young Ones” than usual. The novel also introduces a couple of new characters too – such as a crusty old man called Tub and a punk called Meryll. Meryll has a really fascinating character arc and she also takes part in some of the novel’s most badass fight scenes too.

In terms of the writing, this novel uses a similar style to “The Unnoticeables”. In other words, although it uses the dreaded multiple first-person narrators, both the narrator and the year they are living in are usually clearly signposted (so, it isn’t too confusing). Likewise, the novel is also written in the kind of informal style that you’d expect from a punk thriller novel 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is pretty good. At a fairly efficient 284 pages, the story never feels too long. Likewise, the story’s pacing feels a lot more consistently thrilling than in “The Unnoticeables” too 🙂

All in all, this is a really fun thriller novel that is even better than “The Unnoticeables” was 🙂 Yes, there was slightly less horror than I’d expected, but it’s still a really cool mixture of the punk, horror and thriller genres 🙂

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

Review: “Operation Goodwood” By Sara Sheridan (Novel)

Well, it has been far too long since I read one of Sara Sheridan’s “Mirabelle Bevan” historical detective novels. Although I read the first two books in 2017 (but only got round to reviewing the first one), I didn’t get round to reading any more of them, since I was going through a phase of not reading much back then.

When I remembered the series, I looked for my copies of the third and fourth books, but couldn’t remember where I’d put them (Edit: I finally found them shortly after finishing the first draft of this review). So, instead, I ended up buying a cheap second-hand hardback copy of the fifth novel “Operation Goodwood” (2016) online. And, since this is a series where each novel tells a self-contained story, I thought that I’d read it next.

So, let’s take a look at “Operation Goodwood”. Needless to say, this review will contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2016 Constable (UK) hardback edition of “Operation Goodwood” that I read.

The novel begins in summer 1955 at Goodwood. Debt collector and ex-SOE agent Mirabelle Bevan is watching a motor race with her partner Superintendent McGregor. After catching a pickpocket sneaking through the crowd, Mirabelle returns the stolen money just in time to see a racer called Dougie Beaumont beat Stirling Moss to the finish line.

Several weeks later, Mirabelle wakes up in the middle of the night in her flat in Brighton. The flat is on fire! After a narrow escape from the burning building, she watches the fire service stretcher a dead body out of the flat above. To her shock, the body is none other than Dougie Beaumont. Although the injuries on his neck suggest that he took his own life, something doesn’t quite add up about this. So, Mirabelle decides to investigate…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it is a fairly solid historical detective novel. Although it didn’t have quite the same gloomy “film noir”-like atmosphere as the earlier books in the series that I’ve read, it is still a rather compelling mystery that is kind of a bit like a cross between a formal Agatha Christie-style detective story and a more modern/gritty historical detective novel.

The novel’s detective elements are reasonably good, with the story taking more of an Agatha Christie-style emphasis on interviewing people and finding out the motive for the crime (as opposed to Sherlock Holmes-style deductions from physical evidence). Even so, there’s a fair amount of hidden clues, red herrings, sneaking around and clever ruses here too.

As you would expect from a detective story, there is also a second murder that is linked to the first one. But, whilst this second murder is solved, the culprit for the first one isn’t explicitly stated. However, the novel gives enough background information, hints etc… for astute readers to guess who was probably responsible for it. Given the motive, this implied conclusion seems somewhat realistic and also helps to add a slightly chilling tone to this part of the story.

In terms of the historical setting, it is reasonably well written. In addition to a good variety of locations (eg: Brighton, Goodwood, London, Chichester, Tangmere etc..), the novel also does the usual thing of contrasting the genteel popular image of 1950s Britain with all of the stifling repression, prejudices, conservatism etc.. that lurked beneath the surface of it.

There are also quite a few references to major events and historical figures of the time, with some major elements of the plot also revolving around a less well-known (and very disturbing) part of 1950s history. But, if you’ve read about these colonial atrocities before, then the fact that references to them are somewhat understated during the early-middle parts of the novel might tip you off about the ending though. Even so, the novel does use the reader’s knowledge of 1950s history to plant a few clever red herrings too.

In terms of the characters, they are fairly well-written. In addition to a few familiar faces from earlier books in the series (eg: Vesta, Charlie etc..), Mirabelle is the same confident, realistic and resourceful detective as usual too. McGregor is, in the classic fashion, an official detective who is always a few steps behind Mirabelle (in addition to being the source of a few scenes of relationship-based drama too). Most of the other characters are either ordinary people who help Mirabelle or aristocrats who have secrets and/or possible motives for murder.

In terms of the writing, the novel’s third person narration is formal and descriptive enough to emphasise the 1950s setting, but “matter of fact” enough to seem both modern and easily-readable. As you would expect from a classic-style detective story, the third-person narrator always follows Mirabelle and she is present during pretty much every scene of the novel.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is reasonably good. At a fairly efficient 272 pages in length (plus several pages of historical notes, reading group questions etc..), this novel never really feels bloated or over-extended. Likewise, whilst the story moves along at a fairly moderate pace, it is compelling enough for it not to seem too slow-paced.

All in all, this is a reasonably good detective novel. Whilst it doesn’t really have the same gloomy atmosphere as the earlier books in the series, and the focus on aristocratic characters/suspects gives the novel a slightly old-school Agatha Christie-like tone which means that it doesn’t stand out from the crowd as much as I’d have liked, it is still a fairly solid detective story.

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

Review: “Lies, Damned Lies, And History” By Jodi Taylor (Novel)

Ever since I got several of Jodi Taylor’s “Chronicles Of St.Mary’s” novels for my birthday several weeks earlier, I’ve been carefully rationing them out.

So, since a little over a month has passed since I read the sixth novel in the series, I thought that I’d read the seventh – “Lies, Damned Lies, And History” (2016).

Although this novel is the seventh novel in a series, it contains a fair number of recaps near the beginning. However, you will get a lot more out of this novel if you’ve read the previous six books first.

So, let’s take a look at “Lies, Damned Lies, And History”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2016 Accent Press (UK) paperback edition of “Lies, Damned Lies, And History” that I read.

The story begins in the mid 21st century at the time-travelling historical research institute of St. Mary’s. Chief Operations Officer Madeleine Maxwell (or “Max” for short) has made a huge mistake and is in a hell of a lot of trouble. Not only that, so is St.Mary’s too.

The story then flashes back to sometime earlier. Since Max is pregnant, she’s been restricted to less hazardous time jumps (if such things even exist). And, after seeing the coronation of King George IV, she makes another time jump to Wales to examine a hill fort. Of course, this being St.Mary’s, it isn’t long before Max’s team find themselves hiding in the fort after a Saxon army begins to advance towards it.

Luckily, King Arthur shows up to save the day. Even so, things are fairly close. After Arthur wins, he presents the fort with a ceremonial sword – symbolising his protection- that is placed in a nearby cave. Realising that this could be a major archaeological discovery, Max and her team return to St. Mary’s and report the sword to the University Of Thirsk, who dig it up and get all of the glory.

However, one of the team members (Roberts) who has family near the cave starts telling Max about a sudden series of terrible events that have happened in the area after the sword was removed. Needless to say, it isn’t long before Max has secretly assembled a team and begun planning a sword heist….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that the series is very much back on form 🙂 It never really left it, but this is another way of saying that book seven is better than book six. This is one of those awesome novels that feels like a giant, intricately-plotted epic storyline crammed into a small book 🙂

And, did I mention the heist? In addition to including elements from the sci-fi, comedy, drama and horror genres, this novel also includes the heist genre too 🙂 There is something absolutely hilarious about stories featuring “good” characters pulling off elaborate heists – and Max is in good company here, given that none other than Sherlock Holmes established this particular sub-genre of heist fiction (yes, the Holmes story was inspired by E.W. Hornung’s “Raffles” stories, but Raffles wasn’t exactly a “good” character).

Although I sort of mentioned this in yesterday’s article, one of the great things about this book is the sheer sense of progression. This is a novel that expertly jumps between genres and sub-plots so well and so often that it feels like a considerably deeper and larger story than you might expect 🙂

Plus, even though this novel tells a fairly self-contained story, it also manages to squeeze in a few elements of the series’s over-arching storyline in a way that felt slightly lacking in the sixth book.

Even though the novel’s time travel elements take a little bit of a back seat in this novel (there are lots of jumps, and even a battle, but most of them just involve fields and castles), the main focus of this story is on the drama taking place in St.Mary’s and, to my delight, the novel not only pulls this off well but also manages to make it really compelling. Whether it is Max’s fall from grace and her inevitable redemption or the battle of wits between Max and an obnoxious coffee-drinker called Halcombe who briefly takes over St. Mary’s, this novel is wonderfully dramatic, suspenseful and gripping.

Plus, the comedy in this novel is as great as usual too. Seriously, from a pet ringworm called Oscar to the mathematical formulae needed for cleaning products, this novel absolutely excels itself as a comedy novel. Although most of the story’s irreverent humour is as low-key and understated as usual, there were slightly more “laugh out loud” moments in this novel than I’d initially expected 🙂

In terms of the characters, they’re as good as ever. Not only does Max have to deal with being pregnant, but she also has to find a way to make up for all of the trouble she has got St. Mary’s into during the earlier parts of the novel too.

The other characters are as well-written as usual, with the historical figures (eg: mostly various kings) also being portrayed in the series’ usual idiosyncratic and/or cynical way. Not only that, Halcombe is the kind of wonderfully cartoonish villian who you would absolutely love to see get his comeuppance too 🙂 Plus, talking of villains, long-running villain Clive Ronan makes a brief appearance in this novel and is actually a lot creepier and more evil than you’d expect too.

In terms of the writing, this is a St.Mary’s novel. So, it is excellent as ever 🙂 If you’ve never read a novel in this series, then the series’ gloriously informal and frequently irreverent first-person narration is a thing of beauty. I’ve probably described this series as punk literature before, but it’s a reasonably good description. This is a novel that has a lot of personality 🙂

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is stellar. The story’s 315 page length may initially feel slightly too long but, considering the amount of stuff that happens, it’s a miracle this novel is only 315 pages long. Needless to say, the pacing is really good too. There’s a brilliant mixture of slower and faster-paced scenes, not to mention that the clever segues between different genres (eg: suspense, time travel, drama, comedy, thriller, heist etc..) help to keep the story really compelling too 🙂

All in all, this is a really excellent instalment in the “St. Mary’s” series. If you like drama, comedy, sci-fi, history and thrills, then this novel is well worth reading 🙂

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

Review: “Try Before You Die” (WAD For “Doom II”/ “Final Doom”)

Well, since I’m still in the middle of reading a rather long C. J. Sansom novel (is there any other type?), I thought that I’d take the chance to review a “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD today.

After all, it’s been at least a couple of weeks since the last WAD review and, despite playing an older version of “Reelism” occasionally, I was worried that I was getting out of practice.

So, after clicking the “random file” link on the /idgames Archive a few times, I eventually found a rather interesting-looking WAD from 2016 called “Try Before You Die“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port whilst playing this WAD. According to the accompanying text file, this WAD is designed for ZDoom-based source ports – so, it will probably work with ports like GZDoom too.

So, let’s take a look at: “Try Before You Die”:

“Try Before You Die” is a medium to long single-level WAD which revolves around a demonic invasion of Earth.

With Earth in ruins, humanity’s only hope is for the Doomguy to complete some kind of infernal trial in order to rid the planet of hell’s forces. So, yes, pretty standard stuff really.

Well, what were you expecting? A romantic comedy?

One of the first things that I will say about this level is that it’s pretty cool. Not only is the level design the kind of interesting non-linear level design that you’d expect from a classic 1990s FPS game, but the gameplay is also suitably challenging too 🙂

And, in keeping with the 1990s style of the level, this is also one of those modern levels where jumping is disabled by default (although the level is designed with this limitation in mind, so it isn’t really that noticeable whilst playing).

I should probably start by talking in more detail about the level design. In addition to containing a reasonably good mixture of claustrophobic corridors and arena-like areas, this level is also divided into two distinctive areas. There’s a ruined city area and a demonic fortress area (with four sub-areas you can teleport to in any order you want) – and, considering that this WAD only uses the standard “Doom II” textures, both areas look pretty cool.

Woo hoo! Gloomy post-apocalyptic landscapes 🙂

And THIS area almost looks like something from “Final Doom” too 🙂

This is also one of those awesome non-linear levels where you’ll often find yourself having to explore, in addition to finding new routes back to earlier areas of the level. Although the level is reasonably large, it’s still small enough to make exploration interesting rather than frustrating. In other words, it probably won’t take you too long to work out where you’re supposed to go next.

Likewise, this level also contains some fairly interesting, but solvable, puzzles too. For example, if you step through a teleporter in one area, you’ll quickly get torn to pieces by imps when you emerge on the other side. As such, you have to find where the teleporter exits and then use a nearby window/hole in the wall to deal with the imps first.

The level also includes an interesting little puzzle involving teleporters and barrels, a few basic switch puzzles, some combat-based puzzles etc… These puzzles are interesting enough to be reminiscent of the classic FPS games of the 1990s whilst also being straightforward enough not to become frustrating.

Hmmm…. I’m surrounded by barrels o’ fun!

In terms of the difficulty, experienced players will find this level enjoyably challenging 🙂 Whilst it is more of a standard-style level (think “Final Doom” turned up to eleven) rather than a “slaughtermap”-style level (where you’re faced with giant hordes of monsters), the level’s difficulty is achieved in a variety of interesting ways.

When you start the level, you’re faced with a reasonable number of mid-low level monsters, few health power-ups, relatively little ammo and a few claustrophobic areas. Whilst the difficulty in these parts of the level can feel a little bit cheap (especially if you’re slightly out of practice), the level soon begins to include a variety of different types of challenging combat.

These include really fun arena areas, areas where you’ll be running for your life, tense battles in narrow corridors, a Cyberdemon battle and even a fun little slaughtermap-style segment where a wide corridor quickly fills with powerful monsters (and you’ll have to use quick reflexes and clever tactics to find a way to escape).

And, yes, this level fulfils it’s mandatory Arch-vile quotient too 🙂

In addition to all of this, the relative scarcity of health items throughout the level (seriously, my health was less than 20 for large portions of the level!) helps to keep things suspenseful and challenging too 🙂

All in all, this is a really fun level 🙂 It’s a really cool modern twist on classic 1990s-style FPS levels. If you feel that “Final Doom” is a little bit too easy or you want a slightly more epic classic-style “Doom II” level, then this one is certainly worth checking out.

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