Review: Aurora: Darwin, Amanda Bridgeman

This review is part of the Discover Aussie Fantasy feature, running during July on The Oaken Bookcase. You can find details of the feature and enter the giveaway on the Aussie Fantasy page!

Aurora DarwinAurora: Darwin (Goodreads)
Author: flag_aus Amanda Bridgeman (website)

Rating: ★★★★☆

When a distress signal is received from a black-ops space station on the edge of inhabited space, Captain Saul Harris of the UNF Aurora is called in from leave to respond. But the mission is not what it seems. Female members of the United National Forces have not been allowed to travel into the outer zones before, but Harris is ordered to take three new female recruits.

For Corporal Carrie Welles, one of the Aurora‘s new recruits, her first mission in space seems like a dream come true. Determined to achieve the success of her father before her, and suddenly thrust into a terrifying mission, she must work with her new captain and the strained Aurora crew to make it home alive.

When the Aurora arrives at the station Harris and Welles soon find themselves caught up in a desperate fight for survival. Station Darwin is not what they expected. The lights are off. But somebody is home.


Series: Aurora #1
Genre: Science fiction Thriller
Published: Momentum Australia, May 1, 2013
Pages: 532
My copy: the publisher for review, thanks!

E-copies only: • • Momentum books

You can read a sample of Aurora: Darwin on the Momentum books site!


It’s been a while since I read a proper hard military sci-fi. Often they are cold, violent stories with few realistic characters, and while Aurora: Darwin doesn’t hold back with the violence, there are plenty of opportunities to connect with the crew of the Aurora before the action starts. I was even a bit disappointed when they arrived at the Darwin because I was quite enjoying reading about how the original crew were reacting to suddenly having three women in their previously all-male domain.

The story is told from two alternating points of view – Captain Saul Harris, who knows something is up with this mission even before he accepts it, and Corporal Carrie Welles, a young Aussie sharpshooter, new to Space Duty but desperate to fit in and prove her usefulness. The rest of the crew are various nationalities and backgrounds, including the two other women sent along with this mission as a supposed PR exercise.

There were a few things about this story that I didn’t really buy. Firstly, several of the crew members of the Aurora question orders, including Captain Harris. Now, I’m no military expert, but I’m fairly sure that orders aren’t there to be questioned and in the real Earthly armed forces you’d get your arse kicked pretty severely if you defied orders as much as Carrie does. Then there was the Darwin. If your crew had just been attacked by vicious hostiles of unknown abilities and you knew they were locked off your ship, why go back in after them? Especially when there’s backup on the way! I just couldn’t understand why they were so keen to get back into the Darwin and find the baddies, when they were pretty obviously out-gunned. I mean I realise it wouldn’t have been such a great story if they’d held back, but it just seemed like a really dumb decision to me. One last thing that I didn’t like so much was the ending – without giving anything away, the story peaks at about the 80% mark and I was rather underwhelmed by such an anticlimactic wrap-up after that.

Plot problems aside, I really enjoyed reading this story. The action scenes were great and although the character-building scenes slowed the pace a little at times, the tension was kept high throughout the story and it’s pretty nail-bitingly scary at times! The characters themselves are interesting and their relationships and banter are what made this story a really enjoyable read.

I’d recommend Aurora: Darwin to anyone who likes their sci-fi to be about realistic people, and not overly technical. There’s a sequel on it’s way later in 2013 – Aurora: Pegasus. I’ll be interested to hear what the Aurora‘s crew get up to next.

Warnings: Graphic violence, sexual situations

About the Author

amandabridgemanBorn and raised in the seaside/country town of Geraldton, Western Australia, Amanda hails from fishing and farming stock. The youngest of four children, her three brothers raised her on a diet of Rocky, Rambo, Muhammad Ali and AC/DC. Naturally, she grew up somewhat of a tomboy, preferring to watch action/sci-fi films over the standard rom-com, and liking her music rock hard. But that said, she can swoon with the best of them and is really not a fan of bugs.

She lived in ‘Gero’ for 17 years, before moving to Perth (WA) to pursue her dreams and study film & television/creative writing at Murdoch University (BA Communication Studies). Perth has been her home ever since, aside from a nineteen month stint in London (England).

She is a writer and a film buff. She loves most genres, but is particularly fond of the Spec-Fic realm. She likes action, epic adventures, and strong characters that draw you in, making you want to follow them on their wild, rollercoaster rides.

When she’s not writing, she loves to travel and partake in a little photography.

(Bio and image from Goodreads)

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: Across the Universe, Beth Revis

Title: Across the Universe (Goodreads)

Author:  Beth Revis (@bethrevis)

Rating: ★★★★☆

A love out of time. A spaceship built of secrets and murder.

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone-one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship-tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.


Series: Across the Universe #1 (of 3)
Genre: Young Adult Science Fiction
Published: Razorbill, January 2011
Pages (paperback): 394

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


Across the Universe is a romance, a murder mystery and an examination of society all set on a space ship bound for a distant planet.

The chapters alternate between Amy’s and Elder’s points of view, and this gives us the full spectrum of how each of them is feeling about the other’s presence. The way the society on board the Godspeed has changed in the 250 years since leaving earth is very interesting and imaginative, with an evolved class system and their own legends and history. Earth is just an ancestral story to these people.

The situation Amy finds herself in when she is unfrozen from her cryogenic sleep is a horrifying one – woken up too early into a ship where she knows no-one, and she is told she won’t see her parents or anything outside of the ship for fifty years. I’m sure most people would go a little crazy after hearing that news, and Amy is no exception.

The story flows very well and I read the second half all in one night because I couldn’t bear to put it down. I enjoyed reading it in the same way as I enjoyed The Hunger Games – terrified and waiting for something horrible to happen the whole time.

There were a couple of things that bothered me about the story, though. This next section is a little spoilery so if you’d like to see it, highlight the text in the space below:

If the ship was in space, why would the engines need to be on all the time? There’s no reason why the ship should be losing speed. Surely after they left Sol-Earth’s gravitational influence they could just point the ship in the direction they want to go and turn the engines to idle? 

Also, the romance between Elder and Amy was a little weird. It seemed like he was only attracted to her because she was so different, but Amy wasn’t weirded out by that at all – despite all that is going on on the ship, she is still open to a bit of romance. That completely baffled me, but perhaps it’s been too long since I was a teenage girl!

Overall, Across the Universe was a very interesting and tense read. I would really like to get my hands on the second in the series, A Million Suns, mostly just to see what they are going to do next. This one is recommended for fans of young adult Dystopia!

Warnings: Violence, sex scenes, rape triggers.

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.


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