Saturday, March 26, 2022

 See My Tempered Review of. . .

Iron Widow

I’ve often mentioned that I’m the kinda guy who is drawn to quality writing. But it isn’t just the quality that attracts me. No, to truly appeal, it has to be ‘different’ in an unconventional, offbeat way that makes it stand out as special. Ethereal, like Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere; Powerful, like Mike Shackle’s Last War series; unique, as is definitely the case with Tyler Whitesides’ Kingdom of Grit series . . .

. . . and as is definitely the case with Iron Widow, by cow-suit toting Xiran Jay Zhao.

Just fight your way past one of the most amazing covers I’ve seen in a long time, (you know me and my penchant for an eye-catching first impression), and take a look at the blurb. You’ll see why I was hooked from the outset.


The boys of Huaxia dream of pairing up with girls to pilot Chrysalises, giant transforming robots that can battle the mecha aliens that lurk beyond the Great Wall. It doesn't matter that the girls often die from the mental strain.
When 18-year-old Zetian offers herself up as a concubine-pilot, it's to assassinate the ace male pilot responsible for her sister's death. But she gets her vengeance in a way nobody expected—she kills him through the psychic link between pilots and emerges from the cockpit unscathed. She is labeled an Iron Widow, a much-feared and much-silenced kind of female pilot who can sacrifice boys to power up Chrysalises instead.​
To tame her unnerving yet invaluable mental strength, she is paired up with Li Shimin, the strongest and most controversial male pilot in Huaxia​. But now that Zetian has had a taste of power, she will not cower so easily. She will miss no opportunity to leverage their combined might and infamy to survive attempt after attempt on her life, until she can figure out exactly why the pilot system works in its misogynist way—and stop more girls from being sacrificed.



Part of me finds it incredibly difficult to write a review about this book, because there’s sooo much detail I’d like to include that it would end up spoiling the actual surprise. So, I’ll leave that part for Xiran Jay Zhao and her champion – Wu Zetian, the Iron Maiden – to do that for me. As well I should, for you’ll soon be immersed in a tale that is as action packed as it is suspenseful; as exasperating as it is cathartic; and as is infuriating as it is fully satisfying.


Because this is as much a story about the fight against prejudice and bigotry as it is against the Hundun, a relentless foe from another world out to squash the human race from existence. As the blurb reveals, mankind’s system for fighting the Hundun is bias, for females are looked on as nothing more than elemental batteries, used by the male pilots to help power the giant combat mecha machines. And if their energy runs out? Well, that’s okay. After all, there are lots of other girls to take their place.

Oh really?

Enter Wu Zetian. . .

What follows is truly cinematic in scope. Think Pacific Rim meets The Hunger Games, but it all takes place within the Matrix. And everyone is Agent Smith, out to get you.

Better still; navigate the unfolding drama as if you’re Zetian. You’ll embark on a personal journey of revenge and revelation; of evolving love and devolving empathy; of duty, compromise and betrayal. Most of all, you’ll find yourself refusing to bend to an unfair, unjust system, and doing everything you possibly can to survive against overwhelming odds. And it’s all wrapped up in a rampaging, primal scream of an epic that will take your breath away. It really will, as there’s one hell of a twist on the final page that threatens to change everything!

(But the clues are there, seeded throughout the story if you care to look).

Iron Widow: Without doubt, one of the best science fiction/fantasy books I’ve read in a long time. And who knows, perhaps Xiran Jay Zhao will set a trend, encouraging us all to dress as our favorite farm animal?
(I’ll stick to my tutu for now)

Friday, March 11, 2022

 No Boomerangs Required!

See my Review of. . .

The Girls Who Come Back

I was drawn to this, the first of The Beyond series, as the subject matter is something that I’m sure intrigues us all: What happens when we die?
Better still, what happens if you try to answer that question within the setting of a dark fantasy thriller, where scientists are meddling in things that should best be left alone?

Here’s a clue:


In the backwoods of the Midwest, Dr Kerry Sullivan is raising the dead. All she wants to do is fix the girls, so they don’t break again. And all Kate, Kerry’s daughter, wants is to escape this world, but Kerry keeps dragging her back into it.

What Kerry doesn’t know is that the girls didn’t come back from the grave alone. Something returned with them. And now they’re learning they have the power to change the world around them just by thinking about it.

As Kate starts to exert dominance over the other girls, tensions rise. Secrets come out. And the girls who came back don’t want to be fixed. Especially Kate. She wants something else.





Yes, what would you do if you had the power to resurrect the dead? After all, it’s something that has captured the imagination of mankind for as long as we’ve been able to conceptualize the concept of death, and what might occur once our threescore years and ten have expired.

The thing is, if we ever did gain the ability to bring people back, should we? Well, L’Erin Ogle answers that question from a rather provocative angle within, The Girls Who Come Back.

Now, I apologize at the outset if certain aspects of the review are a little bland. As my readers know by now, I often sacrifice detail to maintain the element of surprise, especially if the plot is a corker. And The Girls Who Come Back promises exactly that. As the blurb hints, the subjects Dr. Kerry Sullivan brings back from the ‘other side’ are different.

Just how different is up to you to discover in a cracking thriller that maintains an eerie sense of tension, by telling the story through the various perspectives of all the different people involved – staff and girls alike. In doing so, Ogle manages to weave a subtle mood of sufferance, sterility and inevitability into their voices. A clever strategy, as that evokes an invasive detachment of emotion. It’s almost as if the victims accept the inevitability of their situation, as much as none of the staff really caring what happens to them. They’re dismissive. Dispassionate. Angry. And that anger is the blue touch paper to the flame threatening to ignite trouble.

And trouble is most definitely brewing. Because, while the girls might be dismissive of their safety, you end up wanting answers. You want closure. You want to know what is that comes back from the other side with the girls, and how it affects them.

As I say, this is a cleverly conceived, deep, and provocatively sinister psychological thriller. And something the darkness in all of us can relate to. 

I look forward to seeing how the story develops.

Amazon Review

Saturday, March 5, 2022

 No Superglue Required!

This is One Story That Doesn't Need Fixing

This Broken World

I’ve been a follower of Charles E. Gannon for a while now, and his Caine Riordan novels in particular. I enjoy his writing style, and the effort he puts into his world building. So, when I heard he was releasing an epic fantasy novel, it was a foregone conclusion I’d just have to take a look. And This Broken World doesn’t disappoint.

Here’s a little taster of what you can expect:



A young man must face dangers from without and within—and question everything he believes to be true.

Since boyhood, Druadaen expected he’d ascend to the command of an elite legion and become the leader his father predicted he would be. However, fate had something different in store.

Assigned instead to a small group of outriders tasked with watching nearby kingdoms, Druadaen discovers that the world beyond his homeland is riddled with impossibilities. How do humanoid raiders, known as the Bent, suffer staggering losses and yet return as a vast horde every decade? How do multi-ton dragons fly? How have fossils formed in a world which sacrists insist has existed for only ten millennia?

Determined to solve these mysteries, Druadaen journeys into the dank warrens of the Bent, seeks out a dragon’s lair, and ventures into long-buried ruins in search of ancient scrolls. But, whereas legends tell of heroes who encounter their greatest perils during just such forays into the unknown, Druadaen’s most lethal enemies might lurk in even more unusual places:

The temples and council chambers of his own homeland.


Intrigued? You should be, as what follows is a rather delightful journey across the world of Arrdanc, as told from the prospective of Druadaen, a young man who is more – much more – than he appears. Orphaned; backed by hidden sponsors; possessed of inexplicable talents; naïve in many ways, and yet wise beyond his years, his life’s journey meanders through tragedy, disappointment, failure and frustration, through enforced mundanity, to eventual high adventure. And darn it all, I can’t go into any real detail, because to do so would give away important details from the story arc . . . and that kinda stuff you need to uncover for yourselves.

But you’ll be glad you did, as Gannon has created a truly astounding world that draws you in, only to keep you entertained from beginning to end. As well it should. Because remember, we’re following the personal experiences of young Druaden, who, along the way to becoming one of the most competent outriders the kingdom has ever produced, meets more than his fair share of adventures. Fortune hunters; assassins; denizens of the undergloom; friendly giants; unfriendly wayfarers; and to top it all, snarky dragons possessing a cutting wit.

It makes for great reading. The pace is comfortable, fluctuating to fit the situation; the dialogue is engaging, and keeps things nice and tight. (I personally loved Druaden’s personal reflections and insights – kudos there); and the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle our young hero is trying to fit together, thoroughly stimulating.

Yes, there’s something about Arrdanc that doesn’t add up. And now Druaden is on the case, a lot of mysterious people are becoming increasingly unhappy. You’ll see.

Treat yourself. This Broken World just has to be experienced.