Review: Crystal Venom, Steve Wheeler

crystalvenomCrystal Venom (Goodreads)
Author: nz_flag Steve Wheeler (website)

Rating: ★★★½☆

What will you do when the hand that nourishes you starts choking you? 

The crew of Basalt, the interstellar frigate, are major media heroes, famous beyond their wildest dreams. The various factions of the Administration, the Games Board, the Haulers and the corporate Gjomviks all want a piece of their action, and will go to any lengths to manipulate the famous ship and crew to make more money and gain more influence, even if it means savaging Basalt beyond recognition.


Series: A Fury of Aces #2
Genre: Science fiction
Published: Harper Voyager, September 2013
Pages: 465

Paper copies:  Bookworld • Booktopia
E-copies: Barnes & Noble

Please note: This review is for the second book in the Fury of Aces series and so contains spoilers for the first, Burnt Ice. You might prefer to read my review of that book instead!


In Burnt Ice, the veteran crew of the Basalt were sent to investigate a far-away planet where they uncover a few different strange, new and rather dangerous life forms. They are effectively abandoned there by the Games Board but become instant celebrities once they limp their way back into the Sphere. Now, after a recuperation period the crew head out on a new salvage mission, along with their new crewmates, Stephine and Veg.

At the start of this book we are thrown back into the action with the crew of the Basalt without any real re-introductions. If, like me,  it’s been a while since you read Burnt Ice, here’s a short summary.

The Human Sphere of influence in space is controlled by the Administration. The Basalt is an Administration ship, tasked with carrying out security missions around the the Sphere. The Games Board is a group under the Administration providing reality audiovisual entertainment to the general population. They sanction conflicts and send in their monitors and producers to record everything, edit it and broadcast it to the hungry public.

As with Burnt Ice, Crystal Venom consists of a series of episodes – adventures where the Basalt is sent on various missions and runs into different kinds of baddies at the behest of the Games Board. I did wonder at several points why on earth they keep signing up for these missions as it’s become rather obvious that the Games Board is pretty much out to kill them, but they continue to jump in head-first. They are being well-paid for the footage they provide, but surely the cost to their sanity and general health is starting to get a bit overwhelming?

In general, the dialogue and character interactions were better written in this one than in Burnt Ice, although still rather cold and a little awkward at times. I enjoyed reading about Marko’s development and his new abilities, as well as the rest of the crew and their technical wizardry.

There also seems to be a fair bit of gratuitous sex in this one – there’s very little romance in this universe. Marko’s sheets are barely cold before he’s jumping into bed with someone else, and despite this being the future where there may well be different etiquette for this sort of thing, it jarred a little bit.

Once again, the ACEs (Artificially Created Entities) steal the show and get up to lots of mischief – it’s like having a bunch of highly intelligent children in charge of some high-tech weaponry. What could possibly go wrong?

These books are designed as a series of episodes, threaded together by plenty of amazing technical creations and strange alien life forms. The writing may not be the most brilliant I’ve seen but the imagination and world building is just amazing. I’ll be interested to see how things develop next.

Warnings: Graphic violence, sexual references

A Fury of Aces

Burnt Ice, Steve Wheeler crystalvenom 3: Obsidian MaulTBR 2014

Review: Red Seas Under Red Skies, Scott Lynch

Red Seas Under Red SkiesRed Seas Under Red Skies (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Scott Lynch (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Thief and con-man extraordinaire, Locke Lamora, and the ever lethal Jean Tannen have fled their home city and the wreckage of their lives. But they can’t run forever and when they stop they decide to head for the richest, and most difficult, target on the horizon. The city state of Tal Verarr. And the Sinspire.

The Sinspire is the ultimate gambling house. No-one has stolen so much as a single coin from it and lived. It’s the sort of challenge Locke simply can’t resist…

…but Locke’s perfect crime is going to have to wait.

Someone else in Tal Verarr wants the Gentleman Bastards’ expertise and is quite prepared to kill them to get it. Before long, Locke and Jean find themselves engaged in piracy. Fine work for thieves who don’t know one end of a galley from another.


Series: Gentleman Bastards #2
Genre: Steampunkish Fantasy Adventure with Pirates!
Published: Gollancz, 2007
Pages: 630 (and tiny print in this edition)

Paper copies: • • Book Depository
E-copies: • • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (ePub)

Please note: This is a review for the second book in the Gentleman Bastard series, and so contains spoilers for the first in the series, The Lies of Locke Lamora. You may wish to read my review for that book instead!


Red Seas Under Red Skies had all the adventure, danger and excitement of The Lies of Locke Lamora, but with even more detail and intricate plot twisting. At times it felt more like a snarl of tangled wool than a coherent story, but if you’re familiar with the first book you’ll know that’s what the Gentleman Bastards are all about.

Locke Lamora and Jean Tannen have escaped from Camorr with their lives, their battle scars and little else. After a couple of years, the setup of a new major heist in the city of Tal Verrar seems to be going well until they run into some old friends from the Magi of Karthain. Suddenly, things start to unravel and Locke and Jean find themselves working against their wishes for several different masters – not only the master of their original target, the Sinspire, but also the Archon of Tel Verrar himself, not to mention the other random attempts on their lives.

In order to preserve his rule, the Archon sends Jean and Locke out to sea to stir up the pirates of the area – something that turns out to be much more easily said than done. Throughout this part of the story, Locke and Jean are tested to the limits of their friendship, their resourcefulness and their courage as they try to fulfil their obligations and keep themselves alive, while still pulling off their planned heist.

There are two things I think Scott Lynch is absolutely brilliant at. The first: convoluted storylines with intricate detail. In fact, sometimes the story got so complicated that I lost track of the characters and aliases involved and had to go back to pick up the threads again. There is also the overwhelming detail relating to ships and their anatomy and operation. If you don’t know your craplines from your binnacle then you might be a bit confused by the plethora of nautical terms used in this story, but for the most part it doesn’t hurt to have no clue what’s being discussed.

Secondly, Lynch is a master of insults. One of my pet peeves in books is the use of the phrase, “So and so cursed under his breath” or “uttered a few choice words” or similar. It is infinitely more satisfying to me as a reader when the character simply says, “Shit.” when something bad happens – I’m not sure why, and I understand why the swear words are omitted, but I like it better when they’re in. It’s why I don’t usually mention swearing in book warnings – if you’re old enough to read these books, you’re old enough to know what swear words are, in my opinion. Anyway, I digress.

In Red Seas Under Red Skies, there is no such holding back with swearing. Locke and Jean themselves have a colourful vocabulary – in fact their banter with each other is the absolute highlight of this book for me. The rest of the cast of characters are not shy with their insults either. I won’t repeat any examples here but rest assured there are plenty of occasions that had me laughing with delight.

Locke and Jean are just slightly too honourable to be believable thieves – they aren’t shy of picking random pockets but they are loyal to each other and their allies to a fault and won’t allow the vulnerable be hurt. Gentlemen, indeed! I love them.

The other characters are interestingly cast as well, from the Majordomo of the Sinspire, Selendri, who was tragically burned all over exactly one half of her body, to Captain Drakasha, a badass mum of two small children who charges into battle without fear. There’s plenty of intrigue, romance, betrayal and tragedy in the pages of this second volume, and even though the story threads are neatly tied up at the end, the story is by no means over for Locke and Jean. This book has been out for quite a while now, but the third in the series, The Republic of Thieves, is due out in a few weeks time and I am quite looking forward to seeing how Locke and Jean cope with the new trials in their lives.

Highly recommended to fans of fantasy adventure, pirate tales and casino heists, in no particular order. Just be prepared for slow points with elaborate detail.

Warnings: Graphic violence and torture, sexual situations

The Gentleman Bastards

  1. The Lies of Locke Lamora, 2006
  2. Red Seas Under Red Skies, 2007
  3. The Republic of Thieves, October 2013
  4. The Thorn of Emberlain
  5. The Ministry of Necessity
  6. The Mage and the Master Spy
  7. Inherit the Night


Review: The Lies of Locke Lamora, Scott Lynch

The Lies of Locke LamoraThe Lies of Locke Lamora (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Scott Lynch (website)

Rating: ★★★★½

The Thorn of Camorr is said to be an unbeatable swordsman, a master thief, a friend to the poor, a ghost that walks through walls.

Slightly built and barely competent with a sword, Locke Lamora is, much to his annoyance, the fabled Thorn. And while Locke does indeed steal from the rich (who else would be worth stealing from?), the poor never see a penny. All of Locke’s gains are strictly for himself and his tight-knit band of thieves. The Gentleman Bastards.

The capricious, colourful underworld of the ancient city of Camorr is the only home they have ever known. But now a clandestine war is threatening to tear it apart. Caught up in a murderous game, Locke and his friends are suddenly struggling just to stay alive.


Series: Gentleman Bastards #1
Genre: Fantasy adventure
Published: Gollancz, 2007 (originally 2006)
Pages: 531

Paper copies: • • Book Depository
E-copies: • • Barnes & Noble • Bookworld (epub)


A swashbuckling story of vengeance and loyalty, betrayal and lies, all set against a beautifully described city reminiscent of Venice. I wanted so much to give The Lies of Locke Lamora five stars, but sadly it didn’t grip me as much as I wanted it to. Allow me to explain.

The Lies of Locke Lamora  is set in Camorr, a city built on the remains of an ancient city of unyielding Elderglass, sectioned by canals and peopled by a colourful mix of the nobility, adherents of the twelve (or thirteen) gods, and the thieves and low-lives that make up the criminal underbelly. Locke and his gang of Gentleman Bastards live poised on the edge of the criminal boss Capa Barsavi’s control – giving the appearance of being mediocre thieves, when in fact they are masterminds of high-stakes heists and are really quite wealthy. When leaders of other gangs start turning up murdered by the mysterious Grey King, things start to go wrong for the entire criminal society. Locke and his friends must fight for their lives on several fronts.

There are essentially two stories in one here, as at the end of each chapter there is a flashback to the Bastards’ childhood as they are being trained by their mentor, Father Chains. With a slightly Oliver Twist feel, we learn how the gang developed each of their specialised skills and various other things about the way Camorr society works. Each of these snippets is important to understanding the rest of the story.

The only problem with having snippets of flashback is that it really breaks the story up. They ruined the flow of the main storyline for me, and prevented me from getting properly hooked.

I thought it was a real shame that the pacing was so disrupted. Every other aspect of the story was fantastic – the characters are snarky, brilliant and loyal to a fault. Their banter had me chuckling to myself all the way through, and I loved the variety of disguises the Bastards use in their work. The descriptions of everything are amazingly detailed but not overwhelmingly so – I loved the way the ancient Elderglass holds the light of the day after sunset, the dangers lurking in the waters beneath the city and all the different foods and drinks described so lovingly throughout the book.

The magic in Camorr is mostly based on alchemy – glowing light globes, poisons and other botanical oddities are everywhere. There are also the Bondsmagi of the faraway city of Karthain, who work their own particular magic for a hefty price. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more of the Bondsmagi before long.

The action towards the end of the story was the most gripping part and even though the ending wrapped things up very nicely, I’m still keen to get my hands on the second in the series, Red Seas Under Red Skies, just to see what the Bastards get up to next!

This is a debut that reads like the production of a veteran writer. Fans of Game of Thrones and the like will love this story of adventure.

Warnings: Brutal violence, torture and plenty of swearing. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Gentleman Bastards series

  1. The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006)
  2. Red Seas Under Red Skies (2007)
  3. The Republic of Thieves (tbp October 2013)

… and 4 more planned!

Review: Star Wars: Scoundrels, Timothy Zahn

ScoundrelsTitle: Star Wars: Scoundrels (Goodreads)
Author: Timothy Zahn (Facebook)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Han Solo should be basking in his moment of glory. After all, the cocky smuggler and captain of the Millennium Falcon just played a key role in the daring raid that destroyed the Death Star and landed the first serious blow to the Empire in its war against the Rebel Alliance. But after losing the reward his heroics earned him, Han’s got nothing to celebrate. Especially since he’s deep in debt to the ruthless crime lord Jabba the Hutt. There’s a bounty on Han’s head—and if he can’t cough up the credits, he’ll surely pay with his hide. The only thing that can save him is a king’s ransom. Or maybe a gangster’s fortune? That’s what a mysterious stranger is offering in exchange for Han’s less-than-legal help with a riskier-than-usual caper. The payoff will be more than enough for Han to settle up with Jabba—and ensure he never has to haggle with the Hutts again.

All he has to do is infiltrate the ultra-fortified stronghold of a Black Sun crime syndicate underboss and crack the galaxy’s most notoriously impregnable safe. It sounds like a job for miracle workers . . . or madmen. So Han assembles a gallery of rogues who are a little of both—including his indispensable sidekick Chewbacca and the cunning Lando Calrissian. If anyone can dodge, deceive, and defeat heavily armed thugs, killer droids, and Imperial agents alike—and pull off the heist of the century—it’s Solo’s scoundrels. But will their crime really pay, or will it cost them the ultimate price?


Series: Stand-alone, but part of the greater Star Wars saga
Genre: Science fiction heist
Published: Del Rey (Random House), January 2013
Pages: 432

Paper copies: • Book Depository
 Barnes & Noble


Scoundrels is a very enjoyable grand heist story, set in the Star Wars universe. If you’ve seen Ocean’s Eleven, you’ve got the basic storyline here – Han Solo and Chewbacca are offered an amazing reward for busting some stolen credits out of a maximum-security safe. Han gathers a team of professional thieves and slicers to take on the job, including Lando Calrissian.

The story takes place after the events of A New Hope (Episode IV) but before the Rebels relocate to Hoth at the start of Empire Strikes Back (Episode V). Han has received credits as a reward for his part in the rescue of Princess Leia and the destruction of the Death Star, but he was held up by pirates and the money was stolen before he could pay off Jabba the Hutt. Now he’s looking for a new job to raise the money again, and get those bounty hunters off his back, but with the Black Sun organisation making their presence known and Imperial agents sniffing about, a carefully crafted plan may not be enough to pull the caper off.

Timothy Zahn is a master of Star Wars lore, having already written at least 10 other books set both before and after the time of the films. I have actually read his Heir to the Empire series as well, a long time ago. His stories are easy to read and very suspenseful – you’re never quite sure who can be trusted or what the plan actually is until it happens. To a certain extent the ending is predictable – we know how some of it ends, because Lando isn’t happy with Han when they meet at Bespin during Empire Strikes Back (“You’ve got a lot of guts coming here…”), and we know the bounty hunters are still after Han. Despite that, the actual order of events is never obvious and there are plenty of twists throughout.

Being set within the timeline of the original three films is a major bonus here – unlike some of the other Star Wars books, there are only a few references to obscure places and people elsewhere in the universe, or events that happened in the past outside of the film storyline. This makes Scoundrels a more accessible book to those who are just film fans and not necessarily lore gurus like some people I know (*eyes SWTOR-playing friends*).

Scoundrels gives a bit of extra insight into some of my favourite characters from the Star Wars films. Han shows true leadership and more of his intelligent side than the “scruffy looking nerf herder” of the films. While Chewie doesn’t exactly get a lot of dialogue, he is still a major player in the heist. I didn’t feel that Han, Chewie and Lando showed that much of their film personas, but I get the feeling that the audiobook version would bring out the characters we know and love a lot better.

I’d recommend Scoundrels to Star Wars fans. Prior Star Wars knowledge isn’t essential, so those who enjoy an action-packed heist story should enjoy this one too!

Warnings: Star Wars levels of violence (blasters, no blood)

What did others think of Scoundrels?

  • “All in all this is a big step away from the traditional SW novels focused on action with plenty more tension and planning, but there are still plenty of things that go boom.” – The Mad Hatter’s Bookshelf
  • “Zahn takes a number of risks here, writing something of this kind for the franchise, and as I read the book it was clear he looked simply to have fun with it and hoped readers would do the same. I think he was right because I had a good time!” – SFRevu
  • “Zahn tells a good story and Scoundrels is no exception. He has the advantage of building upon the foundation of a well-known universe and Zahn uses that to his advantage, skillfully unveiling parts of Lucas’ universe for new readers without rehashing what the passionate fans may already know.” – Stainless Steel Droppings

Review: The Waste Lands, Stephen King

Title: The Waste Lands (Goodreads)

Author:  Stephen King

Rating: ★★★★½

~ Blurb from Goodreads ~

Roland, the Last Gunslinger, moves ever closer to the Dark Tower of his dreams and nightmares- as he crosses a desert of damnation in a macabre world that is a twisted mirror of our very own.

With him are those he has drawn to this world, street-smart Eddie Dean and courageous wheelchair-bound Susannah. Ahead of him are mind-rending revelations about who he is and what is driving him.


Series: The Dark Tower #3 of 7
Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror
Published: First published August 1991
Pages: 422

Paper copies: • Depository
E-copies: • • Barnes & Noble


Note: The Stephen King’s The Dark Tower challenge is supposed to be a read-a-long, but I’m doing less of the “answer questions as you read” part and more just reading each book and posting my review each month. If you’re interested in reading some discussion questions about each book, please check out the Dark Tower Challenge blog.

You can also check out my reviews for the first two books in The Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger and The Drawing of the Three. This review contains spoilers!

Roland, Eddie and Susannah (as Odetta is now called) are recovering from their time journeying along the beach in search of doors between the worlds. It’s soon clear that Roland is slowly starting to lose his mind, as he hears voices and is no longer sure which of his memories is the truth. Meanwhile, in New York, eleven-year-old Jake is having a similar crisis as he’s sure he should have died on his way to school. Roland and his companions must try to draw Jake into their world and continue on with their quest.

We find out a lot more about the Tower, about the group’s Ka and their quest towards the end goal moves along at pace, taking them to an almost-ruined ancient city in search of an insane train.

The Waste Lands is packed with literary references, as well as elements of pop-culture from the 1960s-80s eras. I’m sure there were quite a few references I didn’t pick up as well. The often odd references made the story enjoyable in some ways, but distracted from the Mid-world itself in other ways. The first part of the story is a little slow – I thought the entire sequence with Roland and Jake’s dual memories went on for too long. The pace picks up a lot more in the second part of the book and I had a lot of trouble putting it down right to the end.

I found The Waste Lands much more enjoyable than the previous two books. For one thing, it’s not quite so desperate and a lot more adventurous. I spent the entire time reading The Drawing of the Three biting my nails, waiting for the next horrible event to occur, but The Waste Lands was much more like a traditional fantasy tale with a fairly linear journey and plenty of character relationship development.

I loved the way the characters have developed, although I’m still not really sure what happened to Odetta and Detta at the end of the previous book. Susannah seems like a strange mixture of the two of them and we don’t get to know the new her all that well. I did think Eddie was brilliant and I can’t wait to see how he and Susannah develop both their relationship and their abilities as Gunslingers. I also loved having Jake back in the story and the introduction of Oy the billy-bumbler, even though I’m trying not to form too much attachment to any of them as I’m sure they could be killed off at a moment’s notice!

As with the previous books in the series, I’d recommend it to fantasy fans who don’t mind a bit of blood and guts and who enjoy terrifying chases and escapes. The series just keeps getting better with each instalment and I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into the fourth book, Wizard and Glass.

Warnings: Sexual scenes (some abusive), coarse language, graphic violence.


The Dark Tower series

The Gunslinger

The Drawing of the Three

The Waste Lands

Wizard and Glass

The Wind Through the Keyhole

Wolves of the Calla Song of Susannah The Dark Tower

Review: The Drawing of the Three, Stephen King

Title: The Drawing of the Three (Goodreads)

Author:  Stephen King

Rating: ★★★★☆

~ Blurb from Goodreads ~

After his confrontation with the man in black at the end of The Gunslinger, Roland awakes to find three doors on the beach of Mid-World’s Western Sea—each leading to New York City but at three different moments in time. Through these doors, Roland must “draw” three figures crucial to his quest for the Dark Tower.

In 1987, he finds Eddie Dean, The Prisoner, a heroin addict. In 1964, he meets Odetta Holmes, the Lady of Shadows, a young African-American heiress who lost her lower legs in a subway accident and gained a second personality that rages within her. And in 1977, he encounters Jack mort, Death, a pusher responsible for cruelties beyond imagining. Has Roland found new companions to form the ka-tet of his quest? Or has he unleashed something else entirely?


Series: The Dark Tower #2 of 7
Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror Novella
Published: First published April 1987
Pages: 463

Paper copies: • Depository
E-copies: • • Barnes & Noble


Note: The Stephen King’s The Dark Tower challenge is supposed to be a read-a-long, but I’m doing less of the “answer questions as you read” part and more just reading each book and posting my review each month. If you’re interested in reading some discussion questions about each book, please check out the Dark Tower Challenge blog.

You can also check out my review for the first book in The Dark Tower series, The Gunslinger.

The story of The Dark Tower really begins in earnest in this second instalment. At twice the length of The Gunslinger, The Drawing of the Three packs twice the punch in drama and non-stop action.

As one might expect from a Stephen King novel, the story is often strange and more often graphically violent, right from the first chapter when Roland first meets the “lobstrosities” – the huge, razor-clawed crustaceans that roam the beach and pose a constant danger throughout this story.

There are three doors to be entered, each leading to New York City but to three people in different times. The Gunslinger must try to help each of these tortured individuals with their dramatic lives, and bring them through the doors to his own world to join him in the quest for the Tower. Along the way he must deal with a completely foreign world, and I found this aspect of the story fascinating. Roland is very good at improvisation and manages to get what he needs in the strange world despite his bafflement and awe.

I enjoyed this second book in the series more than the first, as it flowed together in one coherent story. There may well be some allegorical meaning that I’m missing somewhere, but in itself this is a very compelling and often horrible story. I wanted to read it, to find out what happens, but I didn’t want to read it because of the things that were happening!

I’m not convinced about the characters in this one – Roland himself is still awesome, but everyone else seemed to have wild and extreme mood swings – they love very easily and yet hate with passion, which doesn’t seem entirely realistic to me. At the end I was left wondering what exactly had happened to Odetta/Detta, but I suppose I’d better get a hold of book three to find out!

If you’re a fan of horror and fantasy in equal measures, I’d recommend The Dark Tower series. It’s an often harsh world but it is so well-written that I can see why many call it King’s masterpiece.

Warnings: Sexual scenes, coarse language, graphic violence.


The Dark Tower series

The Gunslinger

The Drawing of the Three

The Waste Lands

Wizard and Glass

The Wind Through the Keyhole

Wolves of the Calla Song of Susannah The Dark Tower

Review: Pearl of Pandaria, Micky Neilson

Title: World of Warcraft: Pearl of Pandaria (Goodreads)

Author: Micky Neilson and Sean Galloway

Rating: ★★★★☆

Pearl of Pandaria introduces Li Li Stormstout, a precocious young student who lives atop a giant turtle called Shen-zin Su. Like the rest of the wandering island’s pandaren, Li Li comes from a line of adventurers who left their homeland long ago to explore the world…and she wants nothing more than to chase that dream. But when Li Li runs away to find her famous uncle Chen, how will she survive Azeroth’s perils?


Series: Stand Alone
Genre: Graphic Novel
Published: DC Comics, September 25, 2012
Pages: 128
My copy: The publisher via Edelweiss

Paper copies: • Depository
E-copies: • • Barnes & Noble


If you didn’t already know, I’ve been a World of Warcraft player for quite a few years now, so I was thrilled to be given the chance to review this graphic novel. It’s a tie-in with the upcoming expansion release of Mists of Pandaria on September 25th (omg tomorrow!!!), and introduces us to the Pandaren and their wanderlust.

Long ago, a group of Pandaren followed the explorer Liu Liang onto the back of his giant turtle, known as the Wandering Isle, to set off to see the world. Gradually the wanderlust left them, but one Pandaren still longed to explore – Chen Stormstout. Years later, Chen’s young niece Li Li decides to set out on a dangerous journey to the Eastern Kingdoms to find her Uncle Chen.

The journey takes her and her protector sent from the Wandering Isle, Bo, across the Eastern Kingdoms to familiar cities, to the drunkenness of Brewfest, then across to Kalimdor. Along the way Li Li and Bo face darker forces intent on taking the Pandaren treasures for themselves.

I really enjoyed the gorgeous illustrations in Pearl of Pandaria. The story itself is cute and funny at times – not quite on the same scale Lore-wise as the other Warcraft books but introduces quite a few stories and should appeal both to children and veterans of Azeroth alike. The Pandaren are amazing characters and I’m really looking forward to exploring more of their lands soon!

Warnings: Cartoon battle scenes.

Other WoW Graphic Novels

Review: The Gunslinger, Stephen King

Title: The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1) (Goodreads)

Author:  Stephen King

Rating: ★★★★☆

~ Blurb from Goodreads ~

In The Gunslinger King introduces his most enigmatic hero, Roland Deschain of Gilead, the Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting, solitary figure at first, on a mysterious quest through a desolate world that eerily mirrors our own. Pursuing the man in black, an evil being who can bring the dead back to life, Roland is a good man who seems to leave nothing but death in his wake.

Beginning with a short story appearing in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 1978, the publication of Stephen King’s epic work of fantasy — what he considers to be a single long novel and his magnum opus — has spanned a quarter of a century.

Set in a world of extraordinary circumstances, filled with stunning visual imagery and unforgettable characters, The Dark Tower series is King’s most visionary feat of storytelling, a magical mix of science fiction, fantasy, and horror that may well be his crowning achievement.



Series: The Dark Tower #1 of 7
Genre: Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror Novella
Published: Originally in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 1978-82
Pages: 264

Paper copies: • Depository
E-copies: • • Barnes & Noble


Note: The Stephen King’s The Dark Tower challenge is supposed to be a read-a-long, but I’m doing less of the “answer questions as you read” part and more just reading each book and posting my review each month. If you’re interested in reading some discussion questions about each book, please check out the Dark Tower Challenge blog.

This first book in the epic Dark Tower series introduces us to “The Gunslinger”, a mysterious cowboy-type character who is pursuing an unknown “Man in Black” across a barren desert. Through his encounters with the inhabitants of the desert and with Jake, the strange boy he meets later in the journey, he tells stories of the events of his past.

I’ll admit, I was kind of lost for a while at the start. I haven’t read any Stephen King for quite a long time, but I remembered enjoying his writing style before and I wasn’t disappointed this time – he has an amazing style of storytelling that really draws you in and gives you a feeling for the setting. The characters are bleak and rather strange and the events of the story even stranger, but by the end of The Gunslinger I was starting to get a handle on what was happening (maybe).

The Gunslinger was originally published as a series of stories in a magazine – a fact that I didn’t find out until after I’d finished reading it. Suddenly, the “sections” of the book make more sense!

There’s plenty of graphic violence which isn’t usually my cup of tea, especially when children are involved, but in this case it wasn’t too overpowering. One thing that did annoy me slightly was that there was plenty of foreshadowing of what’s to come – it kind of spoils a story for me when I know that something bad is coming. Stephen King is the master of the unexpected though, so you never know what might be around the corner!

There’s a strange mix of the wild west that could be our world in a post-apocalyptic setting, complete with Christianity, Hey Jude and railroads, but there’s also plenty of magic. I did quite enjoy Stephen King’s storytelling style and this first instalment in a much longer journey has really whetted my appetite to read more of this series.

Warnings: Sexual scenes, coarse language, graphic violence.


The Dark Tower series

The Gunslinger

The Drawing of the Three

The Waste Lands

Wizard and Glass

The Wind Through the Keyhole

Wolves of the Calla Song of Susannah The Dark Tower

Review: Shift, Kim Curran

Title: Shift (Goodreads)

Author:  Kim Curran (@KimeCurran)

Rating: ★★★★☆

When your average, 16-year old loser, Scott Tyler, meets the beautiful and mysterious Aubrey Jones, he learns he’s not so average after all. He’s a ‘Shifter’. And that means he has the power to undo any decision he’s ever made. At first, he thinks the power to shift is pretty cool. But as his world starts to unravel around him he realises that each time he uses his power, it has consequences; terrible unforeseen consequences. Shifting is going to get him killed. In a world where everything can change with a thought, Scott has to decide where he stands.


Series: Stand Alone (for now?)
Genre: YA Paranormal Thriller
Published: Strange Chemistry, September 4, 2012
Pages: 416
My copy: The publisher via Netgalley

Paper copies: • Depository
E-copies: • • Barnes & Noble


Scott is busily going about his teenage life with his dysfunctional family, when he accidentally Shifts for the first time. The rather abrupt but very mysterious Aubrey Jones drags him away from a confrontation with the government organisation in charge of regulating Shifters, ARES. Scott soon finds himself deep in a strange new world, where every choice could have dramatic consequences.

Shift is one of two titles debuting not just for their authors, but for the Strange Chemistry imprint. Kim Curran has a engaging writing style, writing with a very British voice. Much of the character interaction seems quite cartoonish, written a little tongue-in-cheek and I found it quite entertaining.

The premise of this story is fascinating – Shifters can undo their past decisions, changing their own reality to a different path. The ability to Shift fades out at about twenty (a phenomenon called “entropy”), so almost all of the Shifters are teenagers going through training to control their abilities at the ARES headquarters in East London. ARES itself aims to encourage Shifters to only shift to improve reality, to make only decisions that will make reality better.

There’s also an underground movement working against ARES, the SLF. These teenagers are convinced that entropy is not certain and that ARES are manipulating Shifters for their own uses.

Unfortunately the whole Shifting phenomenon wasn’t explained all that well – we only get glimpses here and there of the theories as Scott discovers them and I was left with questions at the end. Is entropy real? Why is it so hard to Shift some decisions while the Shifts made while fighting are quick and easy? What was with that strange power the machine gave to Scott at the end? There were a lot of things that weren’t explained and it got a little baffling at times.

The character of Scott was the star of the show here, just keeping his sanity together as he discovered all the horrors of the Shifting world. The romance with Aubrey was gentle – any more would have been overpowering but I feel Kim Curran got it just right. There’s also plenty of action and some pretty horrific scenes in this story.

On the whole, Shift was quite an exciting read and I’ll look forward to the next instalment in this story, hopefully to find out some more about my unanswered questions.

Warnings: Horror themes.


What did others think of Shift?

  • Shift is like a British, young adult version of The Butterfly Effect with just as chilling effects and served with a side order of humour. ” – 4/5 – Ellie of Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
  • “The writing was good, clearly conveying Scott’s attitude to things. I love how Kim doesn’t shy away from graphic descriptions” – 4/5 – Nina of Death Books and Tea
  • “I just kept waiting for the moment where I would start to feel, well anything for the characters, but it never came. That being said, I do think Kim Curran is talented as the overall concept and writing style were impressive, enough so that I would be interested in checking out her future works as her imagination definitely isn’t lacking.” – 2/5 – A Book Obsession


Review: Mister Monday, Garth Nix

This post is part of the Discover Australian Fantasy feature, running all July on The Oaken Bookcase. Please visit the Aussie Fantasy page to see the other reviews and articles and also to enter the giveaway! 

Title: Mister Monday (Goodreads)

Author:  Garth Nix (@garthnix)

Rating: ★★★★☆

Arthur Penhaligon is not supposed to be a hero. He is, in fact, supposed to die an early death. But then he is saved by a key shaped like the minute hand of a clock.

Arthur is safe but his world is not. Along with the key comes a plague brought by bizarre creatures from another realm. A stranger named Mister Monday, his avenging messengers with blood-stained wings, and an army of dog-faced Fetchers will stop at nothing to get the key back even if it means destroying Arthur and everything around him.

Desperate, Arthur ventures into a mysterious house a house that only he can see. It is in this house that Arthur must unravel the secrets of the key and discover his true fate.


Series: Keys to the Kingdom #1 of 7
Genre: Middle grade Fantasy
Published: Scholastic, 2003
Pages (paperback): 361

Paper copies: • • Book Depository
E-copies: • • Barnes & Noble
Audiobook copyAudible ( • Audible (


I listened to the audio version of Mister Monday from Bolinda Audio, borrowed from the library.

Arthur Penhaligon is just an ordinary kid – that is, until he suffers a supposedly fatal asthma attack and a strange man, Mister Monday, appears out of nothing and chooses him to be the Heir to the Keys to the Kingdom, for a little while at least. But Arthur doesn’t die like he’s supposed to, and when the people around him start dropping from a mysterious “sleepy plague” he must venture into the strange world of the House to find out what on earth is going on.

Mister Monday is the first part in a seven part series following Arthur’s adventures in the world created by the Architect. The first few chapters were a little slow, but once Arthur had decided he had to get to the House that only he can see, the action is almost non-stop throughout the rest of the book.

Garth Nix loves to describe everything in detail, often through dialogue between characters. While that can get a little slow in some areas, it creates a vivid picture of the new world and what is going on within it. The characters of Mister Monday are unique and rather comical – in fact I think this book would make a brilliant animated series or film! Arthur is an unlikely hero, being a rather small asthmatic boy, but he steps up to the task admirably. He meets Suzy Blue along the way, who sounded to me like a sort of scruffy urchin but ends up being a most steadfast and loyal companion.

I really enjoyed listening to Mister Monday. It has been a long time since I read Garth Nix’s Sabriel series and the only other work of his that I’ve read recently was A Confusion of Princes, which I didn’t enjoy as much as I’d hoped to. Mister Monday was a delightfully different world altogether, and the non-stop action left me feeling a little worn out by the time I reached the end! I think the pacing of the audio version was a little off-kilter – I felt that each scene may have gone on a bit long, and later realised that it was probably because you can read with your eyes faster than speaking aloud, so the audio book slows the pace down a little.

Mister Monday would be a perfect read or listen for middle-grade readers (or adults that enjoy a “younger” story!) who love the sound of adventure, magic and a slightly twisted and weird other world!

Warnings: None, it’s squeaky clean, but might be a little scary for little ones.

Keys to the Kingdom series

  1. Mister Monday
  2. Grim Tuesday
  3. Drowned Wednesday
  4. Sir Thursday
  5. Lady Friday
  6. Superior Saturday
  7. Lord Sunday


About the Author

Garth Nix was born in 1963 in Melbourne, Australia, to the sound of the Salvation Army band outside playing ‘Hail the Conquering Hero Comes’ or possibly ‘Roll Out the Barrel’. Garth left Melbourne at an early age for Canberra (the federal capital) and stayed there till he was nineteen, when he left to drive around the UK in a beat-up Austin with a boot full of books and a Silver-Reed typewriter.

Despite a wheel literally falling off the Austin, Garth survived to return to Australia and study at the University of Canberra. After finishing his degree in 1986 he worked in a bookshop, then as a book publicist, a publisher’s sales representative, and editor. Along the way he was also a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve, serving in an Assault Pioneer platoon for four years. Garth left publishing to work as a public relations and marketing consultant from 1994-1997, till he became a full-time writer in 1998. He did that for a year before joining Curtis Brown Australia as a part-time literary agent in 1999. In January 2002 Garth went back to dedicated writer again, despite his belief that full-time writing explains the strange behaviour of many authors.

He now lives in Sydney with his wife, two sons and lots of books. You can find out more about Garth at his website,


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