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: The 5th Wave, Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave

The 5th Wave (Goodreads)
Author: flag_usa Rick Yancey (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

The 1st Wave took out half a million people. The 2nd Wave put that number to shame. The 3rd Wave lasted a little longer, twelve weeks… four billion dead. In the 4th Wave, you can’t trust that people are still people. And the 5th Wave? No one knows. But it’s coming.

On a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth’s last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie’s only hope for rescuing her brother—or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.


Series: The Fifth Wave #1
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Science fiction
Published: Penguin, May 7, 2013
Pages: 460
My copy: via the publisher

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

Read a preview for free here, or for kindle you can get the sample for free from Amazon.


Cassie is all alone, hiding in the forest. Her father was so excited about the “visitors” arriving, but now her parents are dead, most of the human population wiped out and her five-year-old brother has been taken away by soldiers. She promised she’d find him and look after him, but the military base is far away and impenetrable. How will she get there and find Sammy if she can’t trust anyone to be human?

The 5th Wave is a raw and rather heartbreaking story of just how things could play out in an apocalyptic situation. When you can’t even trust your fellow humans not to kill you on sight, or even to not be an alien in disguise, how are you supposed to survive?

When I finished this book I gave it five stars right away, but after a bit of consideration I decided to downgrade it to four stars instead. Let me see if I can describe why in a coherent way.

What I loved

  • The premise – alien invasion! I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually read a book about aliens invading Earth but wow, it’s scary stuff to consider! Power lost, world thrown into confusion and people dying from a horrible disease left, right and centre – and people losing their families, not just to the invasion, but to other humans fighting to survive. It’s heartbreaking, and terrifying, and makes a cracker of a story. 
  • The action – the action scenes are edge-of-your-seat tense. I couldn’t stop reading because I was terrified that anyone could die at any moment!
  • Evan – such a tortured character! I won’t say more in the interest of spoiler avoidance, but wow, that guy is two parts creepy and one part sweetheart.

What I didn’t like so much

  • There’s a love triangle. Okay, so there’s only a whiff of one, but I have a nasty feeling it’s going to come back to bite in the next book. I know Cassie is only sixteen, but her behaviour towards Evan is incredibly hot and cold. Even after she finds out the truth about him she’s still torn as to whether she’s in or out. Then when Ben’s back on the scene, after all they’ve been through, it turns out she’s still a bit giddy. Okay, old lady alert – I’m sure there are those who love it.
  • Young children in combat. The children are the future, yes. They are also the most impressionable and easily indoctrinated to fight against the invaders. But seriously, anyone under 10 is not going to be able to perform in a combat situation. Also, these kids have just been through harrowing disasters in which they lost their entire families and homes. Is it really a good idea to arm them and place the future of the world in their hands?

After all that, I think I liked Cassie but I didn’t love her. She’s incredibly determined and resourceful, but at the same time is often a very terrified teenager. I guess I just couldn’t get past the part where she meets Evan (“Omg, saved by a guy I’ve never met before and shouldn’t trust, but he’s SO HOT!”).

I found The 5th Wave to be a very tense and exhilarating read. I’ll look forward to seeing what the future brings for the world, as soon as I pop down to the shops and stock up on canned food and water!

Warnings: Strong violence.

What did others think of The 5th Wave?

  • “It’s the kind of fast-paced and compelling read that will grab teen readers and leave them wanting more.” – Lost in a Great Book
  • “This book was so crazily addictive that I read it in literally half a day, and several months afterwards I am still jazzed over its edge-of-your-seat action.” – The Midnight Garden – Enter the giveaway!
  • “Think of a character in apocalyptic movies that you would hang with to survive, Cassie is that person. She is Daryl Dixon in The Walking Dead. Well, you know what I mean.” – Novels on the Run

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: Great North Road, Peter F Hamilton

Great North RoadTitle: Great North Road (Goodreads)
Author: Flag_uk Peter F. Hamilton (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

In Newcastle-upon-Tyne, AD 2142, Detective Sidney Hurst attends a brutal murder scene. The victim is one of the wealthy North family clones – but none have been reported missing. And the crime’s most disturbing aspect is how the victim was killed. Twenty years ago, a North clone billionaire and his household were horrifically murdered in exactly the same manner, on the tropical planet of St Libra. But if the murderer is still at large, was Angela Tramelo wrongly convicted? Tough and confident, she never wavered under interrogation – claiming she alone survived an alien attack. But there is no animal life on St Libra.

Investigating this alien threat becomes the Human Defence Agency’s top priority. The bio-fuel flowing from St Libra is the lifeblood of Earth’s economy and must be secured. So a vast expedition is mounted via the Newcastle gateway, and teams of engineers, support personnel and xenobiologists are dispatched to the planet. Along with their technical advisor, grudgingly released from prison, Angela Tramelo.


Series: Stand-alone
Genre: Science Fiction “Space opera”
Published: Macmillan, September 2012 (will be released in the USA on Jan 1, 2013)
Pages: 1087
My copy: For review from Pan Macmillan Australia, thanks!

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


Science fiction in general at the moment seems to feature a lot of dystopia and generally depressing views of the future. Great North Road is different in that it presents a rather optimistic view of the near future – quite a lot has changed but the basic human nature seems the same. This story is the first by Peter F Hamilton that I have read, but I’m now very interested in reading some of his many other works.

Where to begin with a story of over a thousand pages? Let’s start with a bit of background. In the beginning of the 21st Century, Kane North has been working on a cloning program, specifically to clone himself. After several failures he does succeed – Augustine, Bartram and Constantine North are born. In the middle of the 21st Century, gateway technology is developed (think Stargate but on a corporate scale), allowing instant transport across vast distances. Connections are made to distant planets, and the three North brothers create Northumberland Interstellar Corporation to take advantage of developing resource-rich new worlds across the galaxy. They focus their development on Sirius’ planet of St Libra, growing algae-paddies to harvest bioil for use back on Earth and across the inhabited planets. The North brothers create further clones of themselves and these so-called 2Norths become the management of Northumberland Interstellar.

Fast-forward to 2141, and one of the 2North clones is found dead in the Tyne River in a wintry Newcastle upon Tyne. Detective Sidney Hurst is in charge of the investigation. The case receives a considerable amount of attention given the high-profile victim, but also because the unidentified North was stabbed through the heart by a five-bladed knife (or claws) – the exact way Bartram North and his household were slaughtered twenty years previously on St Libra. Back then, the only survivor, Angela Tramelo, had sworn she had seen a monster in the mansion – a black-armoured humanoid with blades for fingers. Her story was not believed and she was incarcerated for life.

But now, the Human Defence Agency (or HDA) are reconsidering the possibility of sentinent alien life on St Libra, and mount an enormous expedition to the planet to try to track any trace of the alien down. Angela is released from jail, on the condition that she accompany the expedition as an expert advisor. So while the murder investigation continues in Newcastle, the HDA and their legionnaires head through the gateway and into the unknown north continent of St Libra.

Great North Road is an amazing tapestry of stories – the cop-drama investigation in Newcastle and the expedition to St Libra are the two main storylines, with many other smaller stories woven around them. The narrative jumps back and forth with a lot of flashbacks which is a little offputting at times, but it allows the full truth to be kept hidden right up to the end of the story, keeping the mystery intact and the tension high. The fascinating technology is discussed quite casually and not over-described, which makes the advanced tech feel quite natural. I don’t usually go for murder-mystery books but the sci-fi elements of this one really kept my interest.

There were two main problems I had with Great North Road. The first is the size of the book! The paperback is such a doorstop. It’s a stand alone story but I think it could have been split at least in half to make it more manageable to handle. It took me two months to read it (which is a very long time for me!) as I couldn’t carry it to work with me. I’d recommend the e-book version!

The second thing I didn’t really like so much about the story was the sheer amount of detail – every part of the murder investigation is mentioned in detail and it really slows the story down at times, especially in the first half of the book. Thankfully the action ramps up in the second half and it’s very difficult to put the last 300 pages or so down.

The characters are fantastic! Each personality is developed so well that we really get to know them by the end. The point of view is shared around between several main characters, which gives a lot of insight into what’s happening in the different political factions and the motivations of important individuals. The addition of Geordie terms such as referring to each other as “pet” is a nice touch – I kept having to remind myself to think with an accent!

Those who like an upbeat Sci-fi story set in the not-too-distant future should enjoy Great North Road. I’d recommend getting the e-book version if you’d rather not cart around a brick of a physical copy!

Warnings: Graphic violence, language, sexual situations (not graphic), drug use

What did others think of Great North Road?

  • “Overall, Great North Road is a highly recommended novel of 2012, while missing my top 25 where I had expected it to place.” – Fantasy Book Critic
  • “Overall, Great North Road is a very solid novel. It’s not amongst his best, but it rattles along at a good pace and handles its immense length quite well.” – The Wertzone
  • “Hamilton has once again shown why he is one of the best writers in the field today, how he can manage multiple plot threads and complicated twists and turns. Above all he can create a world that is unbelievably detailed, and can tell a vast and engrossing story within it.” – Walker of Worlds

Review: Birdie Down, Jim Graham

Birdie Down, Jim GrahamTitle: Birdie Down (Goodreads)

Author:  Jim Graham (@jimsgraham)

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Outer-Rim rebellion stumbles into its second day …and in the wrong direction.

The third generation residents of the resource-rich New Worlds are seeking to throw off the yolk of corporate rule. Ex-Resource War veteran, Sebastian Scatkiewicz and his colleague, Andrew ‘Birdie’ Goosen, have dared to take on the biggest company of them all. Hot from attacking the Lynthax Corporation head offices on Trevon and then on G-eo they’re planning to attack a third. But there’s friction in the rebel camp. Scat’s ignoring the advice of colleagues. His personal beef with Jack Petroff, Lynthax’s head of security, is affecting his judgement; his friends and political masters are doubting his motives; and the loyalty of the newest recruits is far from certain…


Series: Stand alone, but carries on from Scat
Genre: Science fiction
Published: Smashwords, 19 February, 2012
My Copy: From the Author for review, thanks!

Paper copies not available.
E-copies: • • Barnes & Noble • Smashwords

**Birdie Down is currently free from all vendors. No excuses not to grab a copy! **


Birdie Down is a guns-blazing tale of a group of rebels in the Outer Rim, taking on the Lynthax Corporation. Scatkiewicz (or “Scat”) and his crew have hijacked a ship and attacked Corporation facilities on two worlds and are chased to a third. A group of rebels, led by Andrew “Birdie” Goosen, has crash landed a shuttle into the swampy jungle on the planet below. They must not only survive the Corporation forces searching for them, but also all the nasties that an alien world can throw at them.

Apparently this book was written for fun in only five weeks – if that is the case then Jim Graham has done a great job in a very short time. The start of the story thrusts the reader right into the action and there’s little time for character descriptions, but as the story moves on we get to know the crew better. Once the attack begins on Constitution, the action is exciting and non-stop, with plenty of alien creatures and gory bits.

This story is perfect for lovers of gritty sci-fi and fans of space opera will love it.

Warnings: Graphic violence, but not enough swearing for my tastes!

Review: A Confusion of Princes, Garth Nix

A Confusion of Princes, Garth NixTitle: A Confusion of Princes (Goodreads)

Author:  Garth Nix (@garthnix)

Rating: ★★★☆☆

I have died three times, and three times been reborn, though I am not yet twenty in the old earth years by which it is still the fashion to measure time. This is the story of my three deaths, and my life between. My name is Khemri.

(Goodreads blurb)



Series: Stand alone
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Published: Allen & Unwin, April 8, 2012 in Australia. HarperCollins in UK and USA – hardcover will be released May 15, 2012.

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


Khemri was taken from his parents at a young age and trained, enhanced with “bitek” and brainwashed, ready to become one of thousands of Princes. The Princes are the ruling class of the Galaxy, taking orders from the Imperial Mind and ultimately, the Emperor. Khemri is looking forward to acquiring a ship and heading off with his household of mind-controlled servants, priests and lackeys to explore the Galaxy. He soon finds out that the Empire has other plans for him.

A Confusion of Princes starts by throwing the reader into the deep end of cultural and technological immersion. There’s a lot of information in the first few chapters and not a whole lot of action, but things do get rolling before too long. The story of Khemri’s Naval training and the events afterwards are told in a non-emotional way, but the descriptions of the worlds and technologies are detailed and fascinating. Garth Nix is a great storyteller once he gets into it and the action in the second half of the book was almost non-stop and exciting.

I found it hard to like Khemri. He starts out as a self-important brat and stays that way well into the book. Gradually he starts to think about others rather than just himself, but he does so in a cold, logical way. Halfway through the story, he meets Raine and it’s a little weird that he suddenly has feelings for her, considering that he has been raised and trained to never know love or affection.

We hardly hear anything about Raine herself. They barely meet before she’s throwing herself at him, and then the whole romantic aspect was kind of skipped over. Considering this was a pivotal moment in Khemri’s development, I felt it could have been given a little more attention.

There’s plenty of action, space battles and hand-to-hand combat in A Confusion of Princes. Fans of high-tech Science Fiction will love it, but the more traditional young adult readership may be frustrated with the glossing-over of romance. While I enjoyed the tech and the action sequences, the story was a little cold for me.

Review: Burnt Ice, Steve Wheeler

Title: Burnt Ice (Goodreads)

Author:  Steve Wheeler

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Captain Michael Longbow and his crew of engineers, warriors and operatives are about to catch up on some recreation time on the resort world of Cygnus 5 when an investigation of some ancient underwater ruins turns into a full-scale battle. A series of missions takes them to different worlds to investigate alien tech and rogue Artificial Intelligences, during which the crew must work together and innovate to survive.


Series: A Fury of Aces 1
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: HarperCollins Australia, April 1 2012
My copy: Digital ARC from NetGalley

Paper copies: Book Depository


I found Burnt Ice to be an entertaining read, although it wasn’t quite what I was expecting.

The marketing descriptions compare Burnt Ice to Star Wars, so I was expecting an epic space adventure. About halfway through the book I started wondering where the story was going – it didn’t seem to be building towards anything, but rather felt to me like a series of shorter episodes with down time between each.

Here’s a lesson for bloggers: watch what you write – Steve Wheeler saw my comments about Burnt Ice in my WWW post last week and sent me a lovely note explaining that the book is meant to be picaresque – a series of stories about a certain hero, or in this case, a group of heroes. Colour me embarrassed! He also revealed that there are nine further story sets to come after Burnt Ice!

When viewed as a series of shorter stories, Burnt Ice actually works quite well. It reads a lot like a television series – four or five episodes with a variety of outcomes. The only problem with the story being separated into episodes is the sometimes drawn-out story building between each action sequence. I didn’t really need to read about each crew member’s exact preparations before they set off on their mission. I realise its a good way to introduce new locations and technologies but when the Captain gives each member of the crew exact instructions, my eyes start to glaze a little.

When the action does happen, it’s much faster paced and well-described. The heroes and their various bio-enhancements are pretty awesome in how they deal with situations, and it’s all recorded for broadcast by the Games Board. No wonder they become celebrities!

This book contains a lot of technical descriptions – the team’s every invention and creation are intricately described and I found I had to really pay attention to keep up sometimes. The creations themselves are amazing though – Artificial Created Entities created from the combined traits of various animals to make a pet with benefits? Awesome! Being able to upload yourself into a computer so that if you die, you can just grow yourself a new body? How useful! There are a huge variety of other interesting inventions and advancements that the crew of the Basalt have at their disposal.

The members of Captain Longbow’s crew are likeable enough and they all have secrets that are hinted at, but not revealed. Emotional range is a little limited but that’s made up for by general bad-assery. The fact that they use Aussie/Kiwi vernacular such as “mate”, “have a yarn”, “bugger!” and other local phrases means that the whole story felt like a very local production. This is by no means a bad thing, just different!

If a Space Opera with plenty of battles interspersed with high-tech wizardry sounds appealing to you, Burnt Ice is worth a read! I’ll be watching out for the future of this series.

Warnings: Strong language and sexual references. Not as G-rated as Star Wars.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: