Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy Weir

Review: Project Hail Mary by Andy WeirProject Hail Mary by Andy Weir
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 476
Published by Ballantine Books on May 4, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission--and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.
Except that right now, he doesn't know that. He can't even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.
All he knows is that he's been asleep for a very, very long time. And he's just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company.
His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, he realizes that an impossible task now confronts him. Alone on this tiny ship that's been cobbled together by every government and space agency on the planet and hurled into the depths of space, it's up to him to conquer an extinction-level threat to our species.
And thanks to an unexpected ally, he just might have a chance.
Part scientific mystery, part dazzling interstellar journey, Project Hail Mary is a tale of discovery, speculation, and survival to rival The Martian--while taking us to places it never dreamed of going.

My Review:

Project Hail Mary is, quite possibly, the ultimate in competence porn stories. Or at least the best such book since The Martian, also, of course, by the same author.

I sense a theme here.

In order to enjoy Project Hail Mary, I think that the reader has to really like stories about people who are good at their jobs demonstrating exactly how good they are, which is the essence of competence porn. (If you prefer watching people flounder, fail and screw up, this is not your book.)

It also feels like it’s absolutely necessary for a reader to like science in order to really get suck in this story. I don’t think one has to be an expert – I’m certainly not and I loved the heck out of this – but the reader has to enjoy reading about science and engineering and discovery and believe that science is real and that it can provide real and verifiable solutions to real problems.

But expertise is not required because a lot of the story is about a scientist and an engineer teaching each other how their specialties work, and how both of their extremely different cultures work, so that they can work together on sciencing the shit out of the problem that is staring both of them in the face.

That teaching aspect – very much the way that Sophie’s World “taught” people about philosophy by telling stories about it – turned out to not just be a fascinating way of telling the story but also way more appropriate and resonant than I was expecting at the beginning.

This is a story with two beginnings. It begins with a man waking up from a coma, chased and coddled by giant robot arms, not knowing who he is or how he got to be in the fix he’s currently in.

And it begins several years in the past, when humanity learns that the sun, our sun, is cooling off, not just measurably but rapidly, and that we have a mere 30 years to fix the problem before Earth faces its “sixth extinction” and takes us with it.

As the two storylines catch up to each other, and the man waking up from the coma remembers how he got stuck with the job of fixing what’s wrong with the sun, leading him to waking up in a tiny spaceship cruising in the Tau Ceti system, along with two dead teammates and a ship full of scientific instruments, we get caught up and caught up in the past and the present of Dr. Ryland Grace, humanity’s last, best hope for survival.

Even if he won’t live to see it.

Escape Rating A+: I pulled this book out of the middle of the towering TBR pile because I’m in the middle of a replay of Mass Effect: Andromeda and was looking for something SFnal to read to go along with my playthrough.

And this book has been recommended to the skies (ha-ha) so it seemed like a good choice. I had no idea that the opening scenes of Project Hail Mary were going to bear such a strong resemblance to the opening scenes of the game, waking up from a coma and trying to figure out which end is up in a situation that has gone even more pear-shaped than it was when the protagonist went to sleep.

Ryland Grace is in a much bigger fix than Pathfinder Ryder and the Andromeda Initiative, but comparisons can definitely be drawn.

Howsomever, the stories that Project Hail Mary most resembles, beyond any obvious similarities to The Martian – which I’ve seen but not read and clearly need to read – are Mary Robinette Kowal’s Lady Astronaut series (start with The Calculating Stars) and Becky Chambers’ To Be Taught, If Fortunate.

The Lady Astronaut series also features an Earth that is facing an extinction-level event and a desperate international effort to save the species before the planet kills us. (There’s also a surprising bit of a resemblance to some of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan series in the way that the leader of Project Hail Mary cuts through bureaucratic red tape with a machete!) To Be Taught features a similar story about a tiny crew doing good science and facing seemingly impossible odds for a home that can never be theirs again, so poignantly similar to Ryland Grace’s situation.

But the surprising difference, and the absolute charm of Project Hail Mary is that Grace does not, after all, face his situation alone, even though he’s the only surviving human on his tiny ship. Twelve light-years from home, Ryland Grace finds a kindred spirit in the place he absolutely least expected, against all the odds.

The heart and soul of Project Hail Mary is not about the plucky human scientist saving the day. It’s about a human scientist and an Erid engineer, who can’t even breathe each other’s air, reaching out to each other using the only language they have in common, the language of science.  Because it’s going to take both of them and every ounce of ingenuity they both possess to save both of their worlds.

So this story that started out as a science and engineering story still turns out to be about the beauty of science – but at its heart it’s about finding friendship in the most unlikely place of all.

And that’s beautiful – right up to and including the ending which gave me the sniffles. It was just a bit bittersweet and so very, very right.

Review: White Top by M.L. Buchman

Review: White Top by M.L. BuchmanWhite Top (Miranda Chase NTSB #8) by M L Buchman
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: action adventure, political thriller, technothriller, thriller
Series: Miranda Chase NTSB #8
Pages: 360
Published by Buchman Bookworks on May 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Miranda Chase—the heroine you didn’t expect. Fighting the battles no one else could win.
The White Top helicopters of HMX-1 are known by a much more familiar name: Marine One. The S-92A, the newest helicopter in the HMX fleet, enters service after years of testing.
When their perfect safety record lies shattered across the National Mall, Miranda Chase and her team of NTSB crash investigators go in. They must discover if it was an accident, a declaration of war, or something even worse.

My Review:

I’ve always found shopping in Walmart to be generally depressing, so I don’t go there often. But the Walmart scene in this story is enough to make me swear off the place for life! Possibly you will too, when you read the literally explosive details of a helicopter crashing into a Walmart and turning the entire huge store PLUS the surrounding parking lot into a gigantic fireball.

That the helicopter that crashed is Marine Two, carrying the Vice-President, is what pushes the crash into the path of the NTSB’s pre-eminent investigator, Miranda Chase, along with her crack team of top-notch experts into the investigation.

Not that she might not have been called in anyway, come to think of it, but Miranda and her team are the only NTSB team with the security clearance to deal with the potential causes and the political fallout of an entirely too successful attempt to sabotage one of the most secure aircraft in the nation’s entire arsenal.

And all of that is exactly what I read this series for. Miranda and her team are beyond excellent in their specialties, making every single book in this series an absolute delight of competence porn. There’s something absolutely fascinating about watching a bunch of interesting people do their complex jobs at the peak of pretty much everything.

The group that has coalesced around Miranda is one of the best teams it has ever been my pleasure to read about, and I mean that in both senses of the word “best”. Because they are all so damn good at their jobs – see above paragraph about competence porn.

But they are also a delight to read about and follow along with. Each member of the team has their own place, from Holly, the former Australian Special Forces operator who serves as the team’s muscle, to Mike, the human factors specialist, to Andi, the helicopter expert – much needed for particular crash, to Jeremy, the expert in all things geek and also Miranda’s “Mini-Me”.

That last bit turns out to be an important part of the story as far as the ongoing development of the characters is concerned. It’s getting to be time for Jeremy to leave the nest. It’s up to Miranda’s team, especially that human factors specialist, to help Miranda – who does not like change at all – to realize that it’s time to give Jeremy the opportunity to learn, grow and fail as a team leader so that he can be ready to become the Investigator in Charge (IIC) of his own team.

Which intersects both well and badly with the crash of Marine Two. It’s time for Jeremy to learn to lead, but this is not the crash he can “officially” lead. Too much is at stake and too much is at risk.

That’s where the other thing I love about this series comes in. In the Miranda Chase series, that the author has managed to out-intrigue one of the masters of the political intrigue genre, Tom Clancy. Buchman does it better in this story and this series, at least in part because it feels like he has an editor he actually listens to. (That is an opinion and I have no actual knowledge, but having read Clancy let’s say that the first books were great and then they got bloated. IMHO for what that’s worth.)

The setup for this story goes all the way back to the very first book in this awesome series, Drone. And it all pays off beautifully here, as the sabotage links back to players on the international stage who are in cahoots with power brokers in the U.S.

We follow along with Miranda as she and her team figure out how it was done, and we have a ringside seat as one of the prime movers and shakers of the whole series learns just how far her thirst for power has managed to lead her away from achieving her dream of it.

Escape Rating A+: The scenes of the two opening crashes, of which the Walmart crash was the second, are gruesome in their dispassionate recital of just how terrible and terrifying the loss of life was. (There were many times more dismemberments than in the book earlier this week.)

But this series is not about the gore, it’s about how the pattern of the crash – including the gore – allows Miranda and her team to figure out what happened. The purpose of that “figuring out” in normal life is to eliminate any design or mechanical factors that are capable of happening again – so they don’t.

In this particular instance, because this is a political thriller as much as it is anything else, the purpose of figuring out what happened is about assigning blame – and if possible, taking vengeance.

Although that part is not usually Miranda’s bailiwick. Not that she occasionally doesn’t end up in the thick of it anyway. But then, Miranda goes where the clues lead her, whether anyone wants her to go there or not.

In this case, those clues lead her, her team, her mentor and her president to a few inexorable conclusions. Conclusions that will certainly factor into where this series goes next. And I am so there for wherever that turns out to be. I’m just mad that the author is making me wait until next freaking year to find out!

But at least I got to see Miranda’s team punch the lights out of her douchecanoe ex-boyfriend, not once but twice. And he got tased again. The women on Miranda’s team stick up for her, for each other, and for the team and definitely for the win!

Review: The Witness for the Dead by Katherine Addison

Review: The Witness for the Dead by Katherine AddisonThe Witness for the Dead (The Goblin Emperor, #2) by Katherine Addison
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, mystery, steampunk
Series: Goblin Emperor #2
Pages: 240
Published by Tor Books on June 22, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Katherine Addison returns at last to the world of The Goblin Emperor with this stand-alone sequel.
When the young half-goblin emperor Maia sought to learn who had set the bombs that killed his father and half-brothers, he turned to an obscure resident of his father’s Court, a Prelate of Ulis and a Witness for the Dead. Thara Celehar found the truth, though it did him no good to discover it. He lost his place as a retainer of his cousin the former Empress, and made far too many enemies among the many factions vying for power in the new Court. The favor of the Emperor is a dangerous coin.

Now Celehar lives in the city of Amalo, far from the Court though not exactly in exile. He has not escaped from politics, but his position gives him the ability to serve the common people of the city, which is his preference. He lives modestly, but his decency and fundamental honesty will not permit him to live quietly. As a Witness for the Dead, he can, sometimes, speak to the recently dead: see the last thing they saw, know the last thought they had, experience the last thing they felt. It is his duty use that ability to resolve disputes, to ascertain the intent of the dead, to find the killers of the murdered.

Celehar’s skills now lead him out of the quiet and into a morass of treachery, murder, and injustice. No matter his own background with the imperial house, Celehar will stand with the commoners, and possibly find a light in the darkness.

My Review:

I read this because I absolutely adored The Goblin Emperor – and I’ve liked many of the author’s books written as Sarah Monette as well. So if you like the one there’s a fairly good chance you’ll like all the others and vice versa.

There’s irony in the above as I picked up The Witness for the Dead because I was hoping for more like The Goblin Emperor. But The Witness for the Dead, in spite of the titular witness being one of the characters introduced in the first book, is absolutely nothing like the first book.

Which doesn’t mean that it isn’t marvelous and well worth reading in its own right, because it’s both. But if you’re expecting another story about high-level political shenanigans and corruption at the heart of the empire wrapped around a coming of age or coming into power story, check those expectations at the door before opening this book.

The Witness for the Dead is a murder mystery, with Thara Celehar, the titular witness for the dead who witnessed for the young emperor’s dead in the earlier story, reaping the “fruits” of his labor in a far-flung corner of the empire that the young goblin emperor Maia now rules.

And that’s as much as there is to the connection between the two stories, meaning that you do not have to have read The Goblin Emperor to get right into The Witness for the Dead. Because court intrigues are pretty much the last thing that Thara Celehar wants to ever be involved with ever again and quite possibly the last thing that anyone with any power whatsoever will ever let him get near even with someone else’s bargepole.

The clerical intrigues he’s stuck in the middle of are quite enough. More than enough. From his perspective, more than annoying and infuriating enough, too, but he’s stuck with those.

Celehar has been assigned to remote Amalo in order to serve his calling as a witness for the dead. Because that’s what he does. He legally serves as a witness for whatever messages or entreaties or truths – especially for the truths – that the recently – make that the very recently – dead are able to transmit through him before they leave all their worldly concerns behind along with their bodies.

He doesn’t hear them speak, not exactly. What he does is witness, as in watch and listen to, their final sights, sounds, impressions and thoughts. And then he acts upon what he has witnessed, whether to bring justice to the dead – or to bring justice or restitution to those the recently departed has wronged.

Some people seek out his services. Some people are not happy with the answers he gives or the results he gets. Some people are frightened to see him coming, while some are grateful that he did.

The cases that find Celehar as he witnesses for the dead in Amalo are a mix of all of the above. A dead opera singer whose murderer should be brought to justice. A grieving family searching for the burial site of their missing sister. A wealthy family caught in the turmoil left behind by their late patriarch and his two contradictory “last” wills and testaments.

It’s Celehar’s job as well as his calling to find answers for the friends and families left behind. Even if those answers are not the answers they wanted. And no matter what Celehar has to go through – or whom – in order to find them.

Escape Rating A+: Based on the blurb, this wasn’t exactly what I expected. And it doesn’t matter because I absolutely loved it.

For one thing, in spite of the fantasy setting, Celehar’s story mostly reads very much like a historical mystery. The past is as much another country as Amalo is. But people are still people, and murder is still murder. Some of the investigative techniques may be different, but the principles are still the same. “Who benefits?” is an investigative concept that is equally applicable no matter what language it is in.

In the case of the duplicate wills, benefit is the easiest to determine, but the most difficult to bring about. Money, after all, talks, and when the competing sides of this case start using theirs to talk to the powers-that-be, each trying to influence the ultimate decision in their favor, Celehar is caught in the middle – with nearly catastrophic results. Not for the rich beneficiaries, but for poor Celehar whose only interest is in a truth that no one expected to hear.

There is a common element among all three cases. They are all about money. The opera singer was also a blackmailer, and the woman whose burial site was hidden was married for her money – and possibly murdered for it. (There’s that not-so-old saying about money being the root of all evil and every woman needing roots. In these two cases perhaps not so much.)

While there is plenty of satisfaction in the resolution of his cases, what makes this story such a pleasure to read is Celehar’s exploration of this city and the people in it in his pursuit of the truth, as well as the character of Celehar himself. Who is humble, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, and yet supremely talented and more intolerant than is safe or politic of the way that most people are treated – even as he bites his tongue and seems to just accept the way that people in power treat him.

He’s also someone who is bearing up under a load of guilt that he can’t let go of, but as he helps and befriends the people along his path we see that load begin to let go of him. He’s fascinating in his contradictions and I hope we see him again.

Even though this story is part of the world of The Goblin Emperor, the story it reminds me of is not its own predecessor but rather the saga of Penric and Desdemona by Lois McMaster Bujold. Penric and Celehar have a surprising amount in common, as both find themselves in the midst of situations and investigations through the offices of a being who expects them to get on with their work on his behalf without much material assistance. These are both worlds where the supernatural of one type or another is not mythical but actual, and where gods expect work as much as if not more than worship and are not shy about manifesting in one way or another to nudge their agents when needed.

While Penric is considerably less self-effacing than Celehar, I think they’d have as much in common as their stories feel like they do. They also share the fact that I’d very much like more of both!

In the end, The Witness for the Dead was just a story that worked for me on pretty much every level. I loved the protagonist, enjoyed exploring his world, wanted to hang with his friends and punch out his enemies – even though he wouldn’t – and had a grand time following him as he investigated his cases and witnessed for the dead as well as the living who would otherwise have no voice in the world. A fantastic read all the way around!

Review: Beyond the Empire by K.B. Wagers

Review: Beyond the Empire by K.B. WagersBeyond the Empire (The Indranan War, #3) by K.B. Wagers
Format: eARC
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction, space opera
Series: Indranan War #3
Pages: 416
Published by Orbit on November 14, 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The adrenaline-fueled, explosive conclusion to the Indranan War trilogy by K. B. Wagers.
Gunrunner-turned-Empress Hail Bristol was dragged back to her home planet to take her rightful place in the palace. Her sisters and parents have been murdered, and the Indranan Empire is reeling from both treasonous plots and foreign invasion.Now, on the run from enemies on all fronts, Hail prepares to fight a full-scale war for her throne and her people, even as she struggles with the immense weight of the legacy thrust upon her. With the aid of a motley crew of allies old and new, she must return home to face off with the same powerful enemies who killed her family and aim to destroy everything and everyone she loves. Untangling a legacy of lies and restoring peace to Indrana will require an empress's wrath and a gunrunner's justice.

My Review:

This rose to the top of the TBR pile because my husband is playing the Mass Effect Legendary Edition and has been for the past three weeks. We’ve both played the Trilogy before, so we both know how the story ends. I picked up Beyond the Empire because I was looking for a female-led big space opera story (he’s playing as FemShep) that hopefully doesn’t have as heartbreaking an ending as Mass Effect 3 did. Does. That entire third game is a goddamn farewell tour and it just hurts. I may not replay it after all because as the old song says, “you won’t read that book again because the ending’s just too hard to take.”

The action of Beyond the Empire follows directly upon the events of After the Crown, which, in its turn, started just about the minute after Behind the Throne ended. In other words, this is not the place to begin Hail’s story. If you love big space operas with snarky heroines and dirty, rotten underhanded politics as much as I do, start with Behind the Throne and be prepared to immerse yourself in a fantastic binge read.

As this story begins, Hail and her company of friends, advisors and found family are on the run. In trilogy terms, this beginning is similar to the opening of The Return of the King, where the situation looks desperate and Aragorn and the Rangers have to take the Paths of the Dead while Sam has started out alone for Mordor. In other words, the situation is in a very dark place but there are ways they can retake the empire IF they are willing to take a hell of a lot of risks.

Empress Hailimi Mercedes Jaya Bristol, the empress formerly known as the gunrunner Cressen Stone, is always up for entirely too many risks. She’s just not used to so much and so many people riding on her success – or dying for her failure.

But a gunrunner-turned-reluctant-empress is the only person who could possibly rescue Hail’s friends, her found family, her loved ones and especially her empire, before it’s too late for them all.

Escape Rating A+: This was, again, the right book at the right time. Both for the Mass Effect Trilogy with a less destructive ending (any ending is less destructive and heartbreaking than the end of that saga) and for its “woman in charge who takes no prisoners” heroine. Because I’ve read too many books recently where women are at the mercy of men, and I just wasn’t there for THAT again at the moment. (Although there’s an irony in that desire that turns out to be part of the denouement of this trilogy that I’m not going to go into here.)

As Hail and company close in physically on the home planet and the capitol, and close the noose around their enemies, they also finally draw close to the architect of everything that has happened, not just in this trilogy, but in pretty much everything that has gone wrong or strange or tragic in Hail’s life since her father was killed and she ran away to become Cressen Stone and chase down his killer.

I’m referring to the mysterious “Wilson” who seems to be more ghost than man. Who has disappeared and reappeared to wreck destruction in Hail’s life over and over for the past 20 years, and who seems to be the architect – or perhaps the puppet master – behind all Hail’s recent tragedies.

The mystery of who and how and why Wilson has been after Hail’s family and her empire has lain behind every event in this series. As Hail closes in on Pashati and retaking the seat of her empire, she and her companions also close in on Wilson’s true identity and the reasons behind his decades-long campaign to destroy the Indranan Empire and its ruling family.

Wilson is clearly out for revenge for something – even if Hail has no idea what.

But, as that other old saying goes (a lot of old sayings seem to be turning up in this one), if revenge is a dish best served cold, then this story, in fact this whole trilogy, turns out to be a case study in what happens when someone lets their cold revenge warm up. Wilson has let his revenge heat to a boiling point, along with his temper, his ego and his aggression, and that revenge curdles as much and as badly as you think it will. But the story that results from that curdle is absolutely EPIC.

Having finished Beyond the Empire in a few all-too-brief hours, and after picking it up because I wasn’t ready to deal with another big space opera with a heartbreaking ending, I’m “pleased as Punch”, as that saying goes, to say that while Hail’s butt seems to be firmly on the throne of the Indranan Empire at the end of Beyond the Empire, her adventures are FAR from over. Her future adventures form the second trilogy in this series, The Farian War, beginning with There Before the Chaos – a fitting title if ever there was one, as Hail is usually around before, during AND after the chaos. I have it in both ebook and audio, and I’m looking forward to diving into it the next time I need a reading pick-me-up.

Review: The Album of Dr. Moreau by Daryl Gregory

Review: The Album of Dr. Moreau by Daryl GregoryThe Album of Dr. Moreau by Daryl Gregory
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: mystery, science fiction
Pages: 176
Published by Tordotcom on May 18, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Daryl Gregory's The Album of Dr. Moreau combines the science fiction premise of the famous novel by H. G. Wells with the panache of a classic murder mystery and the spectacle of a beloved boy band.
It’s 2001, and the WyldBoyZ are the world’s hottest boy band, and definitely the world’s only genetically engineered human-animal hybrid vocal group. When their producer, Dr. M, is found murdered in his hotel room, the “boyz” become the prime suspects. Was it Bobby the ocelot (“the cute one”), Matt the megabat (“the funny one”), Tim the Pangolin (“the shy one”), Devin the bonobo (“the romantic one”), or Tusk the elephant (“the smart one”)?
Las Vegas Detective Luce Delgado has only twenty-four hours to solve a case that goes all the way back to the secret science barge where the WyldBoyZ’ journey first began—a place they used to call home.

My Review:

It’s not a surprise to say that this story ties back to The Island of Dr. Moreau, a classic mixture of SF and horror by H.G. Wells. The punch in the gut at the end is the WAY in which it reaches back and grabs the reader by the heart – and the throat.

But that’s all the way at the end. Along the way it’s pretty easy to lose sight of that past while being completely immersed in the book’s very wild and extremely woolly present.

And I’m not just talking about the WildBoyZ themselves – as wild and definitely woolly – or at least furry – as some of them are. I’m not even talking about their “rabid fans” who are, in their own ways, even stranger than the Boyz they follow.

Oh no, I’m talking about the world of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and boy bands. If you’ve ever wondered whether the members of boy bands are cloned instead of merely born and nipped and tucked and botoxed and trained. Or however else it might actually happen that may honestly be weirder than this story.

In the middle of all of the sheer WTF’ery of a boy band on tour, there’s a murder mystery. A real, honest-to-goodness police procedural in a case and a place where all of the police’s normal procedures have been kicked out a penthouse window because 1) the victim is the evil, grasping manager of the above mentioned boy band, and every single one of the WildBoyZ is a suspect; and 2) the murder happens in Las Vegas, which isn’t a place where real world rules apply anyway – even if those rules applied to the hottest band EVAR. Which they don’t.

It’s the police, especially Detectives Luce Delgado and her partner, who hold this story together, even as they attempt to hold the WildBoyZ in Sin City long enough to figure out whodunnit and how.

But it’s the why of the whole thing that kicks the reader in the teeth at the end.

Escape Rating A+: I haven’t read a mashup between SF and Mystery that was this much fun since Bimbos of the Death Sun, and that’s a very long time ago indeed. But where Bimbos uses SF, or rather an SF convention, as the setting for an otherwise traditional murder mystery so it can poke fun at the genre, The Album of Dr. Moreau is SF after all, just with a murder on top rather like a 200 proof cherry on top of a drugged and drunken sundae.

The SF is in the boyz themselves. However they came to exist – which isn’t revealed until the end – the kind of genetic manipulation required to blend animal and human DNA into a person with traits from both sides of that equation is science gone in a direction we haven’t managed yet. (And this is what this story takes from its progenitor. You don’t have to read The Island of Dr. Moreau to get into the Album. If you’re not familiar with the barebones of the older story, the summary in Wikipedia is more than enough to get a reader up to speed.)

So Dolly the cloned sheep carried out to the nth degree – who does get referred to – absolutely does science fiction make.

It also raises, begs, explores and twists the question of exactly what is required to consider someone human. Or self-aware and sentient and eligible for all the rights and responsibilities generally conferred thereunto. It’s a question we still seem to suck at answering – or rather that some people don’t like the answers that science makes clear.

On the one hand, this story is both amazingly fun and incredibly funny. It lampoons boy bands, fandom and fan culture and the cult of celebrity and what it takes to enter that rarefied atmosphere and maintain a place there. The humor is black and deadpan and spot on at every turn.

On the other, there’s the dark underbelly about youth and innocence and exploitation. And hidden below that cesspit, there are alphabet agencies and conspiracy theories. It’s mucky and murky all the way down, and all the laughs turn out to be gallows humor – sometimes complete with actual gallows.

But the question of whether anyone deserves to hang for the murder – well, that answer was both perfectly surprising and absolutely perfect in its fine application of justice.

I think that The Album of Dr. Moreau deserves to go platinum. I hope you’ll think so too.

Review: A Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein

Review: A Tip for the Hangman by Allison EpsteinA Tip for the Hangman by Allison Epstein
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: espionage, historical fiction, historical mystery, thriller
Pages: 384
Published by Doubleday Books on February 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Christopher Marlowe, a brilliant aspiring playwright, is pulled into the duplicitous world of international espionage on behalf of Queen Elizabeth I. A many-layered historical thriller combining state secrets, intrigue, and romance.

England, 1585. In Kit Marlowe's last year at Cambridge, he receives an unexpected visitor: Queen Elizabeth's spymaster, who has come with an unorthodox career opportunity. Her Majesty's spies are in need of new recruits, and Kit's flexible moral compass has drawn their attention. Kit, a scholarship student without money or prospects, accepts the offer, and after his training the game is on. Kit is dispatched to the chilly manor where Mary, Queen of Scots is under house arrest, to act as a servant in her household and keep his ear to the ground for a Catholic plot to put Mary on the throne.
While observing Mary, Kit learns more than he bargained for. The ripple effects of his service to the Crown are far-reaching and leave Kit a changed man. But there are benefits as well. The salary he earns through his spywork allows him to mount his first play, and over the following years, he becomes the toast of London's raucous theatre scene. But when Kit finds himself reluctantly drawn back into the uncertain world of espionage, conspiracy, and high treason, he realizes everything he's worked so hard to attain--including the trust of the man he loves--could vanish before his very eyes.
Pairing modern language with period detail, Allison Epstein brings Elizabeth's privy council, Marlowe's lovable theatre troupe, and the squalor of sixteenth-century London to vivid, teeming life as Kit wends his way behind the scenes of some of Tudor history's most memorable moments. At the center of the action is Kit himself--an irrepressible, irreverent force of nature. Thrillingly written, full of poetry and danger, A Tip for the Hangman brings an unforgettable protagonist to new life, and makes a centuries-old story feel utterly contemporary.

My Review:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” Whoops. Wrong book. Right concept, but very much the wrong book. Much too early.

Elizabethan England only seems like a Golden Age because we’re looking back at it. Because history is written by the victors, and in this case the victor was Elizabeth Tudor, Gloriana herself.

Anonymous 16th century portrait, believed to be Christopher Marlowe

What history glosses over are the dirty deeds done, whether or not they are dirt cheap, by unscrupulous men in dark places who pretend they are working for the good of their country – even if they are just out for the main chance.

Christopher Marlowe, often referred to as Kit, was a comet blazing across the English stage just as William Shakespeare was getting his start. It’s even possible, although unlikely, that Marlowe actually was Shakespeare. He’s got the credentials for it and the timing is possible.

On the condition that Marlowe faked his own rather suspicious death in a barroom brawl. We’ll probably never know.

But this book, this story wrapped around not one but several tips for any number of hangmen, leads the reader – and Kit Marlowe – to that suspicious barroom brawl by a road that is surprising, circuitous and shrouded in secrets. The kind of secrets that brought one queen to her end and saved another’s kingdom.

Escape Rating A+: A Tip for the Hangman is the best kind of historical fiction, the kind where the reader feels the dirt under their fingernails, the grit under their own feet – and the smells in their own nostrils.

It’s also the kind that immerses the reader in the era it portrays. We’re right there with Marlowe, a poor scholarship student at Cambridge, as he becomes Doctor Faustus to his own personal Mephistopheles a decade before he wrote his most enduring play.

Depiction of Sir Francis Walsingham, principal secretary to Elizabeth I, Queen of England.

It’s hard to get past that image, even though we only see it in retrospect, as the Queen’s Spymaster and Secretary of State, Francis Walsingham, recruits the young, impoverished and most importantly clever Marlowe into his network of agents and informants with one aim in mind.

To bring down Elizabeth’s great rival, Mary, Queen of Scots.

A recruitment which ultimately becomes Mary’s end. But eventually also Marlowe’s as well.

Marlowe spends the entire book dancing on the edge of a knife, trying to forget that he’ll be cut no matter which way he falls and ignoring the forces around him, along with his own increasing world-weariness, that guarantee he will fall sooner or later.

There’s something about this period, the Tudor and Stuart era of English history, that has always captivated me. This book does a fantastic job of drawing the reader into the cut and thrust not of politics so much as the skullduggery that lies underneath it.

As I was reading A Tip for the Hangman, my mind dragged up two series that I loved that feature the same period and have many characters that overlap this book. Elizabeth Bear’s Promethean Age puts an urban fantasy/portal twist on this period and includes both Marlowe and Shakespeare as featured characters, while Dorothy Dunnett’s marvelous Lymond series focuses on a character who spies on many of the same people that Marlowe does here, most notably Mary, Queen of Scots. Lymond’s frequent second, third and fourth thoughts about the life he has fallen into echo Marlowe in the depths of regret and even despair.

A Tip for the Hangman is a fantastic book for those looking for their history and historical fiction to be “warts and all” – to immerse the reader in life as it was lived and not just the deeds and doings of the high and mighty. Because when it comes to conveying a more nuanced version of life as a hard-scrabbling playwright living hand to mouth and fearing that the hand would get cut off this feels like an absorbing story of fiction being the lie that tells, if not THE absolute truth then absolutely a certain kind of truth.

I would also say, “Read it and weep” for Kit Marlowe and what he might have been if he’d lived. Instead, I’ll just say “READ IT!”

Review: What the Devil Knows by C.S. Harris + Giveaway

Review: What the Devil Knows by C.S. Harris + GiveawayWhat the Devil Knows (Sebastian St. Cyr, #16) by C.S. Harris
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss, supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, mystery, thriller
Series: Sebastian St. Cyr #16
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley Books on April 6, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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Sebastian St. Cyr thought a notorious serial killer had been brought to justice until a shocking series of gruesome new murders stuns the city in this thrilling historical mystery from the USA Today bestselling author of Who Speaks for the Damned.
It's October 1814. The war with France is finally over and Europe's diplomats are convening in Vienna for a conference that will put their world back together. With peace finally at hand, London suddenly finds itself in the grip of a series of heinous murders eerily similar to the Ratcliffe Highway murders of three years before.
In 1811, two entire families were viciously murdered in their homes. A suspect--a young seaman named John Williams--was arrested. But before he could be brought to trial, Williams hanged himself in his cell. The murders ceased, and London slowly began to breathe easier. But when the lead investigator, Sir Edwin Pym, is killed in the same brutal way three years later and others possibly connected to the original case meet violent ends, the city is paralyzed with terror once more.
Was the wrong man arrested for the murders? Bow Street magistrate Sir Henry Lovejoy turns to his friend Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, for assistance. Pym's colleagues are convinced his manner of death is a coincidence, but Sebastian has his doubts. The more he looks into the three-year-old murders, the more certain he becomes that the hapless John Williams was not the real killer. Which begs the question--who was and why are they dead set on killing again?

My Review:

If you like your historical mystery very much on the dark and gritty side, you absolutely cannot go wrong with Sebastian St. Cyr. The feeling of being in his moment with him is so strong that the reader just can’t turn their eyes away until the mystery is solved – and that’s been true for 16 books now and hopefully counting.

Because it’s clear at the end of What the Devil Knows that this particular mystery may be solved – for certain definitions of the word solved – but that there are many greater – and lesser – mysteries yet to be revealed.

The most important being the mystery of St. Cyr’s very existence. Although his current case is less personal and a whole lot bloodier.

When St. Cyr is called in to investigate the grisly death of a corrupt magistrate, he knows that the case is already bigger than it seems as it appears that the perpetrator of the heinous Ratcliff Highway Murders (the original murders really happened) has struck again. But that man was executed three years previously, and the killings stopped. Even the doubters were silenced in the intervening three years.

But as St. Cyr investigates the latest murders, he becomes certain that there was a rush to judgment, aided and abetted by the government who needed to calm a roiling – and occasionally rioting – populace. The need for reform was in direct conflict with the government’s fear of a revolution every bit as destructive to the upper classes – and the country as a whole – as the French Revolution that was not just within living memory, but whose results were still being felt.

No one in the government, especially not St. Cyr’s father-in-law Charles Jarvis, the power behind the Prince Regent’s self-indulgent, shaky, profligate regency, wants St. Cyr to poke his nose into the original case. It’s too obvious that there was a fix in, and too many people involved in that fix have died in its wake.

And that’s just what St. Cyr finds. Three new and very flashy murders connected to that original miscarriage of justice. Along with a whole lot of very, very quiet stabbings in the dark.

Escape Rating A+: One of the things that makes this series so marvelous is the way that it exposes the dark underbelly of the Regency. As a result of the popularity of Georgette Heyer’s sparkling Regency romances, when we think of the period we think of romantic aristocrats, the strict rules of the haut ton, and a lot of glitz and glamour.

St. Cyr’s restless investigations into the seamier side of the Regency, reveals all of the creeping, oozing, frightening things that you find when you kick over a rock, just that in this case the rock is very, very shiny and hides more muck than expected because we’ve all been blinded by that shine.

It’s not just that bad things happen to bad people – although they do – or even that bad things happen to good people – but it’s the way that so much of what is wrong has been perpetrated and perpetuated by those in power, supposedly for the greater good. Or at least for Britain’s good. But usually for their own good.

And all of that has resonance for the 21st century while still leaving St. Cyr as a man of his own time. He’s someone who is on the outside of both worlds and has the intelligence and the vision to see what is wrong along with the will not to turn his eyes away.

That’s what makes him a hero worth following from one investigation and one mystery to another, 16 books and very much hopefully counting.

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

This is the second book giveaway for my Blogo-Birthday Celebration, and it’s also the second time that a book in the St. Cyr series has come out just in time for me to include among the week’s giveaways.

The winner of today’s giveaway will receive their choice of one book by C.S. Harris (up to $25 US to include What the Devil Knows), whether in the St. Cyr series or written as Candice Proctor or C.S. Graham. If you have not yet had the pleasure of making Sebastian St. Cyr’s acquaintance, I recommend starting that series at the beginning in What Angels Fear.

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Review: Junkyard Bargain by Faith Hunter

Review: Junkyard Bargain by Faith HunterJunkyard Bargain (Shining Smith #2) by Faith Hunter
Format: audiobook
Source: purchased from Audible
Formats available: audiobook
Genres: dystopian, post apocalyptic, urban fantasy
Series: Shining Smith #2
Published by Audible Audio on February 25th 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
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Sometimes before you can face your enemies, you need to confront yourself.

Time is running out for Shining Smith and her crew to gather the weapons they need to rescue one of their own. But will they even make it to the ultimate battle? First, they’ll need to hit the road to Charleston - a hell ride full of bandits, sex slavers, corrupt lawmen, and criminal bike gangs looking to move in on Shining’s territory.

Shining’s human allies will do anything to protect her - because they must. But will victory be worth it if she must compel more and more people to do her bidding? And will her feline warriors, the junkyard cats, remain loyal and risk their lives? Or are they just in it for the kibble?

My Review:

Honestly, I picked up the audio of the first book in this series because of the title. Basically, I started Junkyard Cats for the cats. But I came back for Shining, her friends, her totally screwed-up world and her need to preserve her own little corner of it – and the cats.

OK, I’m still here for the cats. It’s actually the cats that Shining makes the junkyard bargain of the title with. Because she needs to take some of them away from the junkyard and with her and Cupcake on a dangerous and deadly mission – to Charleston, West Virginia.

A place which isn’t all that dangerous or deadly in our world. But in Shining’s world, post the apocalypse that punched a hole in the ozone layer, totally wrecked the planetary environment and brought alien peacekeepers to our solar system to keep us from screwing ourselves any further – every trip away from Shining’s base at the scrapyard is fraught with danger.

Especially this one. Because she’s preparing to take on and take out the one person who might be a bigger threat to the world than Shining is herself. Someone who is more than willing to take over the entire planet.

The world is literally not big enough for both Shining Smith and Clarice Warhammer. They may both be queens, but only one of them is out to rule the world. And the other is out to stop her.

Escape Rating A+: The first book in this series was very insular, while it still managed to introduce us to the mess of the world that is what Shining, and the rest of humanity, is left with. That insularity managed to introduce us to everything that’s going on because we spend the entire story – and this one as well – inside Shining’s head. And because the world comes to her, her sanctuary and her scrapyard, in order to take her out.

So in the first book the war came to her. This second book is about Shining getting ready to take the war out to the rest of the world – or at least out to the people who are after her. That she may have to take out at least a piece of a rival gang and possibly even part of the government along the way is just part of the cost to protect herself and those she sees as hers.

And that’s where this story goes to all kinds of interesting places. Because Shining is in the process of adjusting her perspective on exactly who and what she sees as hers and how it got that way. She wants friends – not too many but a few. What she’s afraid she has made is something else altogether.

As this story takes us out into Shining’s greater world, we get to see just how FUBAR’d everything really is. Humanity seriously screwed up. In a way, it reminded me of the world of Horizon Zero Dawn. In both post-apocalyptic worlds, at first it seems as if it’s the machines who are the enemy of humanity, only to eventually realize that the situation is one that Walt Kelly’s Pogo recognized all the way back in 1970, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

What makes the story, at least for this reader, is that we do spend all of it inside Shining’s head. This is a first-person singular perspective that is absolutely aided by the marvelous narrator, Khristine Hvam, who manages to perfectly convey Shining’s tired, sad, and generally world-weary voice in a way that made me really feel like I was listening to Shining think. That Shining is excellent at bringing on the snark provides a great deal of rueful laughter and gallows humor.

And yes, the cats are still part of the story. I suspect that the reader’s mileage on just how much they enjoy the cats’ participation in Shining’s not-so-little war is going to depend on just how much the reader likes cats, anthropomorphized or otherwise. I think the pack of little predators fits in really well, and adds to my enjoyment of the story quite a bit. Ailurophobes may feel differently.

Obviously I loved the entire experience of listening to Junkyard Bargain. At the end, it definitely feels like there are more parts to this story, and I’m really, seriously, absolutely looking forward to them. But as this episode in Shining’s saga came to an end, something happened that made me sit up and have a kind of a WOW moment. (Luckily I was sitting in my garage to finish and not still on the road!)

Shining is Galadriel. No, she’s not an elf queen and this is not an epic fantasy world. But Shining IS a queen. Not just figuratively but actually literally. And she has power in some of the ways that Galadriel has power. To the point where Shining is faced with the same choice that Galadriel is faced with when Frodo asks her if he should give her the One Ring. And like Galadriel, when faced with that ultimate test, Shining is not found wanting.

At least not yet.

Review: The Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson

Review: The Jigsaw Man by Nadine MathesonThe Jigsaw Man by Nadine Matheson
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, suspense, thriller
Pages: 496
Published by Hanover Square Press on March 16, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery...
When body parts are found on the banks of the River Thames in Deptford, DI Angelica Henley is tasked with finding the killer. Eerie echoes of previous crimes lead Henley to question Peter Olivier, aka The Jigsaw Killer, who is currently serving a life sentence for a series of horrific murders.
When a severed head is delivered to Henley's home, she realises that the copycat is taking a personal interest in her and that the victims have not been chosen at random.
To catch the killer, Henley must confront her own demons - - and when Olivier escapes from prison, she finds herself up against not one serial killer, but two.

My Review:

There’s a tension-filled junction where mystery, suspense and thriller meet – and fight it out with guns, knives and in this particular case, saws. Particularly jigsaws and ripsaws. But saws. Definitely saws.

This is a story that will have readers on the edge of their seats, wringing their hands in sympathy with Detective Inspector Anjelica Henley of the London Metropolitan Police Serial Crimes Unit as she comes to the chilling realization that she is the mouse in a cat and mouse game with not just one but two serial killers.

Killers who are determined to out-do each other in a bid for Anj’s attention. As if her life wasn’t already fraught enough – and not just because everyone, including some versions of the blurb for this book centered around her as she falls apart – misspells her damn name.

It begins when Anj, on her way to work at the SCU, is diverted to a crime scene for the first time in two plus years by her boss. Who also happens to be her on-again, off-again lover. As she’s on her way to work after yet another in a series of seemingly endless arguments with her husband about the consuming nature of her job, she’s already on edge when she arrives at the crime scene to discover that the body that’s been discovered is in pieces, like a jigsaw puzzle.

The calling card of the serial killer who tried to gut Anj like a fish when he resisted arrest two years ago.

Anj has been investigating cold cases ever since, at least until now. She’s still suffering from PTSD and panic attacks. And her assailant, Peter Olivier, is in a high security prison serving seven consecutive life sentences.

But there’s someone out there either doing Olivier’s bidding or desperately seeking his “master’s” attention. Someone who has discovered the best way to get that attention – by grabbing the place in DI Angelica Henley’s mind that remains hyper-focused on Peter Olivier.

Who simply won’t be having that. At all.

Escape Rating A+: The Jigsaw Man is sitting right on that extremely uncomfortable crossroads. Which makes it an absolutely compelling, can’t put it down kind of story, whether you see it as mystery or suspense or thriller or all of the above.

It’s that “all of the above” factor that kept me up until 4 in the morning because I just had to finish.

This one combines police procedural – although a procedure that gets shot to hell fairly quickly and riddled with holes to begin with – with one of those stories that combines the gruesomeness of serial killer stories with the suspense of stories where the investigator is an integral part of the crime spree.

In that regard, The Jigsaw Man reminded me a lot of The Silence of the White City by Eva Garcia Saenz, Who Watcheth by Helene Tursten and the Frieda Klein series by Nicci French. All of those mysteries include serial killers who are thought to be out of commission in one way or another and detectives who are forced into the conclusion that their deaths or prison terms were mistaken, reports of their deaths were greatly exaggerated, that the police had the wrong person in prison or very nearly all of the above.

The personal stakes for the detectives in all of these cases ratchet up the stakes and the tension as the investigators find themselves unravelling, looking over their shoulders at things and people they thought were safe – only to discover that nothing was as it seemed. As does Anjelica Henley in this book.

DI Henley’s plight in The Jigsaw Man is particularly fraught. Her marriage is falling apart, her father has dropped into a deep clinical depression and, her mind and body are betraying her. Her career feels like it’s all she has left – and it’s killing her even as not one but two serial killers see her as the cherry on top of their killing spree sundae.

The Jigsaw Man is one of those mystery thrillers that is impossible to put down. The way that this story morphs from a hunt for a serial killer to a hunt for his copycat to a desperate search for competing serial killers along with their hunt for each other grabs the reader and quite honestly puts the reader’s own fingers in their mouth so they can bite their nails to the quick in anticipation and rising dread.

At the same time, we see Anjelica spiraling out of control as the crime spree is rising up to engulf her. We want to help her, want her to get help, and need her to put an end to it before it puts an end to her. And yet…

Some of the descriptions of this book lead one to believe that it’s the first of a series. I very much hope that it is, because while this series of crimes is solved, it’s clear that there’s plenty of unfinished business swirling around DI Henley and the serial killer who brought her to this point.

I want more of Henley’s story and I’m dead certain that other readers will, too.

Review: The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers

Review: The Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance SayersThe Ladies of the Secret Circus by Constance Sayers
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fantasy, historical fiction, historical mystery, magical realism
Pages: 448
Published by Redhook on March 23, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Paris, 1925: To enter the Secret Circus is to enter a world of wonder-a world where women tame magnificent beasts, carousels take you back in time, and trapeze artists float across the sky. But each daring feat has a cost. Bound to her family's strange and magical circus, it's the only world Cecile Cabot knows-until she meets a charismatic young painter and embarks on a passionate love affair that could cost her everything.
Virginia, 2005: Lara Barnes is on top of the world-until her fiancé disappears on their wedding day. Desperate, her search for answers unexpectedly leads to her great-grandmother's journals and sweeps her into the story of a dark circus and a generational curse that has been claiming payment from the women in her family for generations.

My Review:

They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In The Ladies of the Secret Circus, the road FROM hell is paved with exactly the same stuff.

It all begins with a mystery, even if that mystery is not the one that anyone in tiny Kerrigan Falls, Virginia believes that it is.

But then, nothing about this story turns out to be exactly what people believe it is, especially not Le Cirque Secret and its mysterious proprietor.

Lara Barnes thinks the story begins with the disappearance of her fiancé on the morning of their wedding. But Todd’s abandoned car isn’t the beginning of the story – not even for Lara.

Because once upon a time, when Lara was a little girl, she received a pair of mysterious visitors. The daemon Althacazar and his daughter Cecile. They’ve come to see if Lara might be the one. The one to fix the mistakes that Althacazar made, not out of evil in spite of his position as a powerful prince of Hell, but out of a love that should never have been.

A love that gave birth to Cecile, her sister Esme, and the magical, mysterious, compelling Le Cirque Secret amid the glitter and glamour of Jazz Age Paris. A love that eventually gave birth to Lara herself, and to the hatred and obsession that has followed her, her family, and even the circus itself.

A hate that has finally come to get her – unless she manages to get it first.

Escape Rating A+: This story flies on a trapeze over the haunted crossroads where timeslip fiction turns into historical fiction, and the paranormal bleeds into dark fantasy, with hellhounds patrolling on all sides.

It’s a story about love, obsession and daemons. And it’s a story about a father trying to do his best for his daughters and failing miserably, even though he’s one of the great princes of Hell.

Part of what’s so fascinating about The Ladies of the Secret Circus is just how many different kinds of stories it manages to tell – all at the same time!

There’s the mystery of the disappearance, which turns into the mysteries of the disappearances, plural. There’s the magical realism bit about Lara’s, and her mother Audrey’s, ability to do magic. Which morphs into the big scary paranormal horror-adjacent element of the Le Cirque Secret, its condemned performers and its mysterious, daemonic owner and master of ceremonies.

Then there’s the timeslip bits, where artifacts from 1920s Paris seem to slip through to 2005 Virginia, and where Lara translates what turns out to be her great-grandmother’s diary, and suddenly we’re there in Jazz Age Paris watching the tragedy unfold.

(This bit that took me way back to a book I read nearly ten years ago, The Bones of Paris by Laurie R. King. They both have that same sense of everything winding down and the crash coming even though they are different crashes.)

And the story just keeps spinning, like Cecile’s circus act, floating in mid air with magic and no net whatsoever. Until it all falls back into the present, and we – and Lara – finally discover what’s really been going on all along.

That there was a price to be paid for the magic, and for Althacazar’s original mistake so long ago. A price that Lara believes she’s going to have to pay. And so she does, just not in the way that she originally thought. A price that she discovers is much, much too high.

But that’s so often true when it comes to Althacazar. His gifts – and his mistakes – always cost more than anyone planned on. Including himself.

Readers who love stories where all the genres are bent to the point that they whirl around faster than the eye can see are going to love this book. And be captivated by the spell of Le Cirque Secret.