Review: The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear

Review: The American Agent by Jacqueline WinspearThe American Agent (Maisie Dobbs, #15) by Jacqueline Winspear
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical mystery
Series: Maisie Dobbs #15
Pages: 384
Published by Harper on March 26, 2019
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Beloved heroine Maisie Dobbs, “one of the great fictional heroines” (Parade), investigates the mysterious murder of an American war correspondent in London during the Blitz in a page-turning tale of love and war, terror and survival.

When Catherine Saxon, an American correspondent reporting on the war in Europe, is found murdered in her London digs, news of her death is concealed by British authorities. Serving as a linchpin between Scotland Yard and the Secret Service, Robert MacFarlane pays a visit to Maisie Dobbs, seeking her help. He is accompanied by an agent from the US Department of Justice—Mark Scott, the American who helped Maisie escape Hitler’s Munich in 1938. MacFarlane asks Maisie to work with Scott to uncover the truth about Saxon’s death.

As the Germans unleash the full terror of their blitzkrieg upon the British Isles, raining death and destruction from the skies, Maisie must balance the demands of solving this dangerous case with her need to protect Anna, the young evacuee she has grown to love and wants to adopt. Entangled in an investigation linked to the power of wartime propaganda and American political intrigue being played out in Britain, Maisie will face losing her dearest friend—and the possibility that she might be falling in love again.

My Review:

It’s March, which means it’s time for this year’s Maisie Dobbs adventure. I’m just sorry her publisher isn’t sponsoring the “Month of Maisie” any longer, as that always made for a terrific excuse to pick up one of the earlier books in the series as well as the new one.

For Maisie, the year in 1940, and London is in the middle of the Blitz. And so is Maisie, as she and her best friend Patricia are doing in London what they did in the Great War so many (and so few) years ago.

They’re driving an ambulance and taking the wounded from the “front” to hospital. It’s just that this time, that “front” is the streets of London. Their roads are better paved this time around, but the shelling is even more deadly.

Just because Maisie is driving an ambulance every night, that doesn’t mean that she isn’t solving cases during the day. Even though she’s “dead on her feet” half the time, victims of murder still need justice.

Her worlds collide. One night, Maisie and Patricia have an observer on their ambulance run – a female American journalist. Cath Saxon is reporting the war from a woman’s perspective – with the hope of becoming one of the “boys” working for and with Edward R. Murrow.

Just as Cath gets in – she’s out. She’s found murdered in her rented rooms, and both Scotland Yard and the American Embassy call on Maisie to find out who killed her. It might just be a love affair gone wrong. It might have something to do with her reporting. There’s also a chance that her powerful family back in America decided that Cath’s sympathetic reports of the plucky and heroic English response to Hitler’s Blitz might be too embarrassing for their Hitler-sympathizing friends back home.

Maisie is supposed to be working with an American agent on this case. Mark Scott is the same American agent who saved her life during her nearly disastrous Journey to Munich. But as the case progresses it’s clear to Maisie that the man who is supposed to be working WITH her is working on an agenda of his own – and mostly far from Maisie’s inquiries.

And that at least part of his hidden agenda has more to do with Maisie herself than any case either of them might be investigating.

Escape Rating A: This is a series that I absolutely love, and eagerly await the next book. So I’m already on tenterhooks for book 16, hopefully next March. But in the meantime there’s plenty to discuss regarding The American Agent.

One thing that struck me as I read about Maisie and Patricia’s exploits as ambulance drivers was the way that it brought home just how close World War II was to World War I. Both women served in the Great War, Maisie as a nurse and Patricia as an ambulance driver. As this book opens, they are still only in their early 40s, still in their prime. And serving again. Although there are many young people who think that war is glorious, as evidenced by the behavior of Patricia’s son in To Die but Once. At the same time there are plenty of people populating Maisie’s world who served in the first war, are serving in the second, and know from grim experience that war is terrible. And are equally aware that they must fight, that surrender is unthinkable.

However, there are plenty of people who have taken that belief that war is terrible, but either believe that Hitler is unstoppable or don’t care who dies as long as their profits continue. And some who agree with his many and terrible hatreds and prejudices. (If that sounds familiar, it bloody well should as things stand today!)

Ironically, we are re-watching Poirot, and the later episodes of that series also deal with the impending war. The Clocks had been rewritten to take place before the war, and part of the plot revolved around government agents who were giving secrets to the Nazis to make Britain fall faster so that the war would end sooner. The Duke of Windsor was part of this movement, much to the embarrassment of the Royal Family.

There were also plenty of people in America who believed that Hitler’s win was inevitable – or were in at least economic cahoots with Germany. And there was a significant amount of Antisemitism involved, people who believed that Hitler’s plan to kill all the Jews was the right way to go. (Yes, that’s appalling. But true.)

Charles Lindbergh, the aviator, was a prominent member of the America First Committee, which wanted America to stay out of the war and tacitly agreed with the Antisemitic tone of the party. One of the other prominent members of the America First movement was Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy. Joe Kennedy was also the U.S. Ambassador to Britain during this story, and Maisie’s American Agent is using the hunt for Cath Saxon’s killer to poke into Joe Kennedy’s dubious dealings. Because there were plenty to poke into.

It works as a ruse because Cath’s father, a prominent U.S. Senator, is also an America Firster. And he, along with his “friends” were dead set against Cath reporting material that was sympathetic to the British cause. The family was dead set against Cath being a reporter at all.

Maisie has to look into just how dead they were set. And wonders if her investigations will lead her into places that the U.S. Embassy will not want her to go. Or, at least to report.

But Maisie never presumes, never presupposed and never lets herself get dead set on any hypothesis. She follows the clues where they lead her. No matter how much she has to dig, and how many secrets she uncovers along the way.

It’s what makes following her so interesting, and her character so fascinating. I’m looking forward to reading more of Maisie’s war in the next book. And while I wait, I think I’m going to treat myself with a dive into What Would Maisie Do?

Review: Lonen’s Reign by Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Lonen’s Reign by Jeffe KennedyLonen's Reign (Sorcerous Moons #6) by Jeffe Kennedy
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Sorcerous Moons #6
Pages: 160
Published by Brightlynx on March 20th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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A Looming Threat
The sorceress Oria has finally come into her own—able to wield the power of her birthright and secure in the marriage she once believed would bring her only misery. But the past she escaped still chases her, and the certainty of war promises to destroy everything she’s fought to have.

An Impossible War
Once before Lonen led an army in a desperate attempt to stop the powerfully murderous sorcerers of Bára—and he nearly lost everything. Now he must return to the battlefield that took the lives of so many of his people. Only this time he has more to risk than ever.

The Final Conflict
With guile, determination—and unexpected allies—Oria and Lonen return to the place where it all began… and only hope that it won’t also be the end of them.

My Review:

This was a lovely wrap up to the series. Or, to put it another way that feels much more accurate, Lonen’s Reign provides the concluding chapters to this lovely fantasy romance.

That’s a hint, by the way. The Sorcerous Moons series reads way more like a single book split into chunks than it does a series of individual books. It only works if you read from the beginning. Every time I get a new “chapter” I find myself reading the synopses and my reviews of the previous books to catch myself up – even if it hasn’t been all that long since the previous book.

All the action in this book rests on what came before. Which is fitting for the concluding “chapter” of an epic (in scope if not in length) saga.

This is also the point where the story comes full circle. We began, in Lonen’s War, with then-Prince Lonen and his Destrye attacking the stronghold of their enemies, the Bara. Where Lonen discovers a disregarded Princess Oria imprisoned in her tower by her own weaknesses.

Oria finds herself the only functioning member of the Baran royal house, and brokers a peace treaty between her people and the Destrye – only to have that well-thought out and surprisingly well-working peace broken the moment her brother wakes up and forcibly takes the crown.

From that point forward, the story moves back and forth between Destrye and Bara, as Oria discovers the depths to which her own people have sunk – and the desperation that has forced Lonen’s people to rise and strike back.

Along the way, Oria discovers that all of the prohibitions, weaknesses and fears that have held her back are a tissue of lies and misdirections. And Oria and Lonen make a marriage of state and convenience that turns into so much more.

This is the point where the finally undisputed King of the Destrye, and his newly anointed Queen Oria risk everything they have on one final gamble against the heavily fortified and magically defended Bara – in the hopes of saving both their peoples.

All of their people. On both sides.

Escape Rating B+: I’m kind of reviewing the whole series at this concluding point. Because this book really doesn’t make much sense on its own, it feels necessary to look at the series as a whole.

At the same time, I have to say that Lonen’s Reign feels like a fitting conclusion to the saga begun in Lonen’s War – and it feels equally fitting that both the first and the last book are titled after him. He began the action at the outset, followed by Oria’s reaction in Oria’s Gambit, followed by two middle books, then Oria’s finally coming into her own power in Oria’s Enchantment and now we sit at the conclusion.

The two sides began at war, not that the Barans would have considered their actions warlike. Bara used to be a lush paradise, but the climate changed and their city turned into a desert. Instead of adapting, they used magic as well as engineering to steal water from the lands that surrounded them, making even more desert. Eventually they reached the lands of the distant Destrye, absolutely certain that their magical might gave them the right to strip those lands of their water and kill anyone who fought back.

Lonen brought the war home to them. And left with the prize and pride of Bara, Princess Oria. As they fell in love, it gave her strength of will, and the desperate determination to reach beyond everything that she had been taught. She had to in order to survive – and to be able to do the right thing.

Oria grounded Lonen, giving him the wisdom to become the king his people needed, in spite of the betrayals he suffered at home.

Their union, which does indeed become the love story for the ages as I said in my review of Lonen’s War, provides a path forward for both of their peoples, who have now become one.

In some ways, the story in Lonen’s Reign feels as if it is missing a few bits – almost all of the backstory is in their earlier books.

Because I really enjoy worldbuilding, it also felt as if Oria’s final revelations – the climate change, the resulting subjugation and despoiling of a wider and wider swath of territory, and, most of all, the way that magic as practiced in Bara became ossified in a way that almost literally set their people, and particularly the women, into stone that preserved the predatory status quo – got a bit of a short shrift. I’d love to know more about how it happened.

Maybe that’s another book sometime in the future.

Lonen’s Reign turned out to be a quick and mostly satisfying wrap-up to a fascinating fantasy romance series. I’m looking forward to both the author’s eventual return to the awesome Twelve Kingdoms series – because that is edging towards its final confrontation – and to her new fantasy romance series, beginning with The Orchid Throne later this year.

Review: Hell Squad: Griff by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Griff by Anna HackettGriff (Hell Squad #17) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: post apocalyptic, science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #17
Pages: 186
Published by Anna Hackett on March 19th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
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As the battle against the invading aliens intensifies, a group of bad boy bikers and mercenaries will stand and fight for humanity’s survival…

Squad Three berserker Griff lived through hell long before the alien invasion. Once, he’d been a dedicated cop, but then in a gut-wrenching betrayal, he ended up behind bars in a supermax prison. After the aliens invaded, he managed to escape and join the soldiers fighting back…and came face to face with his best friend’s little sister—the bold, vibrant, off-limits woman he’s always wanted. Now the beautiful, tattooed Indy is his squad’s comms officer…and she hates his guts.

Indy Bennett lost her parents and brother in the alien attack, and every day, she vows to suck the marrow out of life. She’s also doing her bit in the fight, as Squad Three’s comms officer, even if it means seeing the man who broke her young heart. Griff was once her brother’s best friend, a boy she adored, but now she knows she needs to steer clear of the hard-edged man who still draws her like a moth to a flame.

Griff vows to claim Indy as his. The only problem is, Indy is having none of it. As their fiery attraction explodes, they find themselves embroiled in the hunt for the aliens’ unexplained octagon weapon, and a mysterious survivor town where all is not what it seems. Both Griff and Indy will have to learn to let go of the hurts of the past if they have any chance of not just surviving, but having a future.

My Review:

This is going to be a mixed feelings review, because my feelings about Griff are very mixed. Or rather, my feelings about the Hell Squad series in general and Griff’s relationship with Indy in particular are more than a bit mixed.

And I’m feeling conflicted because my feelings about this author’s work usually fall much higher on the “like to love” range, and this one just didn’t work for me. So there’s a bit of sad there as well.

Griff is the OMG 17th book in the Hell Squad series. The setup is post-apocalyptic, with the apocalypse being very specific and extremely recent. A race of alien-dinosaur-raptor hybrids have invaded a very near future Earth and wrecked the joint.

The Gizzida initially came to strip the planet and take all its resources, including the humans. There’s more than a bit of Borg in the Gizzida as they don’t merely wipe out the populations of the planets they invade, they use genetic engineering to convert both the human and animal populations into more of themselves.

The series follows one group of human survivors. This particular bunch were in Australia when the Gizzida took over (most but not all are Aussies), holed up in a remote military installation and have been sticking it to the Gizzida as much and as often as they can in some rather effective guerrilla warfare.

As the series has progressed, key members of the population of “The Enclave” have managed to grab their bit of happiness in spite of the destruction all around them. Life really does go on.

This particular story features Griff Callan, a member of one of the squads that brings that guerrilla warfare to the Gizzida, and Indy Bennett, the communications officer for his squad. Griff and Indy knew each other before the disaster. Her brother was his best friend until their relationship went seriously pear-shaped long before the aliens invaded.

They’ve always loved each other, but have never been in a place where they could admit it. They grew up together, but Indy was just younger enough to have made any possibility of romance seriously skeevy. And once she was old enough, well, there was that whole “bro code” that makes your best friend’s little sister untouchable – no matter how much she wants to be touched.

Which doesn’t mean that Griff didn’t break her heart with his refusal. And he’s scared he’ll break it again before they have any chance at all.

But it’s a chance he’s finally willing to take. If the aliens don’t take them both out first.

Escape Rating C+: Whenever I see a character named Indiana I hear Sean Connery’s voice from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade complaining to his son Indy, “We named the dog Indiana.” Clearly at least one of Indy Bennett’s parents was a fan.

Speaking of fans, while I am definitely a fan of this author’s work, I was not a fan of this particular story. I love the premise of this series, so if you like post-apocalyptic where the heroes get to stick it to the ones who brought that apocalypse, the series is generally a blast. The first book is wrapped around the romance between the leader of the Hell Squad (Marcus) and HIS communications officer.

And thereby sits a chunk of why I have such mixed feelings about this particular entry. It’s not that there ARE patterns in the stories, because all stories of all types follow patterns. It’s that the specific patterns used in this series repeat themselves, and over 17 books those repeats are becoming a bit too obvious for this reader.

I fully recognize that those very same patterns are what make many people love this series – no matter how long it goes.

The story here, and frequently throughout the series, is that the couple in question finally acknowledge both that life in the Enclave with the Gizzida sniping at them is WAY too short, and that they have feelings for the other person that they have refused to acknowledge because one party, usually the male, thinks he’s not good enough for the female. Although that’s been reversed a couple of times and I’ve liked those better.

In this particular case, the reason that Griff is certain Indy won’t want to be with him is pretty damning, but it was also obvious from the get-go. And it felt like she got over it way too fast considering how important it was. (I’m trying not to give it away.)

After the couple finally acknowledges their feelings, they face a situation where the female has to go into battle with the squad, and she is either captured or nearly so. The male has to ride to the rescue, incurring life threatening injuries. They forgive whatever caused any tension between them during his recovery and then live happily for now.

This series really can’t include a happily ever after, not because of the internal dynamics of the couples in each story, but because the Gizzida make any “ever after” extremely tenuous at the moment.

In the case of this particular story, the scenes where Griff finally declares his intentions involve him carrying her out of meetings in a fireman’s carry, with her protesting all the way. It felt like his need to mark his territory was more important than her need to be professional and part of the team that is, after all, trying to save the world.

I felt it took away from her agency. YMMV.

My other issue with the series as a whole is that it’s just taking too long for the Enclave and their allies around the world to kick the Gizzida off our Earth. Ironically, it hasn’t been all THAT long within the scope of this world, but 17 is a lot of books. There’s been some progress towards their overall goal, but I’ve become impatient waiting for it to finally happen. And that’s affecting my enjoyment of the individual series entries at this point.

That being said, I still love Anna Hackett’s writing, and I’m eagerly anticipating her next book, Heart of Eon. I found her first in her space opera SFR, and it’s still where I love her best. Not that the Galactic Gladiators haven’t also carved out a piece of my heart – but I’ll have to wait longer to get back to Kor Magna.

Review: The Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons

Review: The Ruin of Kings by Jenn LyonsThe Ruin of Kings (A Chorus of Dragons, #1) by Jenn Lyons
Format: audiobook, eARC, hardcover
Source: publisher, publisher via Edelweiss, purchased from Audible
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Chorus of Dragons #1
Pages: 560
Published by Tor Books on February 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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There are the old stories. And then there’s what actually happens.

Kihrin is a bastard orphan who grew up on storybook tales of long-lost princes and grand quests. When he is claimed against his will as the long-lost son of a treasonous prince, Kihrin finds that being a long-lost prince isn't what the storybooks promised.

Far from living the dream, Kihrin finds himself practically a prisoner, at the mercy of his new family's power plays and ambitions. He also discovers that the storybooks have lied about a lot of other things things, too: dragons, demons, gods, prophecies, true love, and how the hero always wins.

Then again, maybe he’s not the hero, for Kihrin isn’t destined to save the empire.

He’s destined to destroy it . . .

Uniting the worldbuilding of a Brandon Sanderson with the storytelling verve of a Patrick Rothfuss, debut author Jenn Lyons delivers an entirely new and captivating fantasy epic. Prepare to meet the genre’s next star.

My Review:

The “Ruin of Kings” is a sword. It’s also one hell of a story. Come to think of it, it’s also one hell of a sword.

That this is the author’s debut novel is amazing. Because this may very well be the epic fantasy of the year. It’s almost certainly the debut epic fantasy of the year. And I’m already positive that it will be on my Hugo ballot next year.

I’m going to try to stop squeeing now so that I can possibly talk about the actual book – and not just how much I loved it. Although I certainly did.

This story, like The Raven Tower earlier this year, is an experiment in voice. Unlike that previous book, however, this one works. It really, really works.

The three voices that tell the story of The Ruin of Kings are all fascinating, all compelling, and all utterly different. They are also telling the same story from not merely different perspectives but from different points in time. And yet, they all manage to meet in the end to set up the truly epic conclusion.

This is Kihrin’s story. And it’s Talon’s story. And it’s Thurvishar’s story. But mostly it’s Kihrin’s story, told partially from his perspective and partially from theirs. Well, sort of from theirs.

Talon is a mimic. A sadistic mimic. She’s a monster in the human sense of her sadism, but also in the sense that she really is a monster. She kills people for fun, eats their brains and receives the memories from the brains she eats. So when she tells the story, it’s partially her perspective and partially the perspective of the people whose brains she ate.

Thurvishar is the peanut gallery. Not really, in the end his perspective is more important than that. We begin the story thinking he’s the chronicler of events that have recently past – and he certainly is that. But he was also a part of those events, as well as being a scholar and researcher. He has opinions. He has quibbles. He gets disgusted with the naivete and the misinformation provided both by and to the other two people in the story.

It is a true story, but it’s told from a certain perspective. Eyewitness accounts are far from reliable, and people believe all sorts of things that are not provably true – or even that are provably false.

Especially when it comes to gods, and goddesses, and origin stories thereof.

This also, unusually for epic fantasy, is not a story about a hero saving the world. All the prophecies are pointing to Kihrin being the hero who will destroy the world. The question of whether (not to mention exactly how) he’s supposed to do this, as well as whether or not its a good idea for him to do this, are all still up in the super-heated air when this first book in the project trilogy closes.

Not even death is an ending in this one. It may only be the beginning. And what a marvelous beginning it is.

Escape Rating A+: Was that rating a surprise? Really? This is pure awesomesauce from beginning to end.

The story begins with Kihrin in jail, being coerced by Talon to tell her his story from his point of view while they wait for him to be sacrificed. He opens his own story at a slave auction, with himself as the slave being auctioned. And the pace never lets up from there.

But Talon is unsatisfied. As she so often is by so many things. She believes his story began earlier. When he broke into an empty house to steal whatever wasn’t nailed down and let his curiosity get the better of him. He witnessed a murder. And a demon summoning. And he got caught – by the demon. And eventually by both of the summoners.

It all leads back to that jail cell. And what comes after. But in the middle – it’s one hell of a story.

No one in this story is exactly what they seem – or even what they think they are. Particularly Kihrin, who begins the story as a thief and a minstrel’s son, and reaches the end as a swordsman, a sorcerer, and a prince. None of which turn out to be exactly what they’re cracked up to be.

In some ways, this story reminded me of Dune. I know that sounds odd, but it’s in the way the story is being told. Dune also begins with a chronicler claiming to be writing an unbiased historical account. An account that is not exactly unbiased – although I remember Princess Irulan trying a bit harder than Thurvishar does.

In other ways, it reminds me very much of The Name of the Wind. It has that same kind of depth, that epic scope and sweep, that same sense that nothing is as it seems. It’s also told somewhat the same way, with the character, or in this case the characters, telling the story to someone else. I just hope that the author of The Ruin of Kings manages to wrap up the trilogy a bit more expeditiously!

The voices of the three “narrators” of The Ruin of Kings are very distinct. Kihrin begins the story as young and naive, no matter how jaded he thinks he was. His naivete is under constant assault, and this is the story of his loss of many different types of innocence.

Talos’ has absorbed many, many people, and they are all distinct to her in her extremely crowded head. She speaks for them, but also for herself. Her perspective is that of someone who has literally seen everything and done everything – and then killed the people who did it.

Thurvishar begins the story speaking directly only within footnotes. It was Thurvishar’s part of the story that made me switch from the ebook to the audiobook. Footnotes do not work well in ebooks, but in audio his contributions were inserted as wry asides, or occasionally arguments, within the text and provided further information, sarcastic commentary, and light relief in turns.

(I actually have the audiobook and the eARC AND the hardcover. I loved this one real hard. I needed the hardcover for the maps.)

I was enjoying the audio so much than when I couldn’t stand not knowing how the story ended I played Solitaire for four hours so I’d have something to do with my hands while these three marvelous actors told me a terrific story.

The Ruin of Kings has everything a reader could possibly want in an epic fantasy. Unreliable narrators, meddling gods, troublesome demons, crazy dragons, evil necromancers and political shenanigans played to the death – all folded into the story of a lifetime.

Or two or three lifetimes. Death, after all, is not permanent. Except when it is.

The second book in the trilogy, The Name of All Things, is scheduled to be released in October. I want it NOW!

Reviewer’s Note: Goodreads claims that this is YA. It is so, so, so not YA. And it should come with all the trigger warnings, including some that probably don’t exist yet.

Review: Radicalized by Cory Doctorow

Review: Radicalized by Cory DoctorowRadicalized by Cory Doctorow
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: science fiction, short stories
Pages: 304
Published by Tor Books on March 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From New York Times bestselling author Cory Doctorow, Radicalized is four urgent SF novellas of America's present and future within one book

Told through one of the most on-pulse genre voices of our generation, Radicalized is a timely novel comprised of four SF novellas connected by social, technological, and economic visions of today and what America could be in the near, near future. Unauthorized Bread is a tale of immigration, the toxicity of economic and technological stratification, and the young and downtrodden fighting against all odds to survive and prosper.

In Model Minority, a Superman-like figure attempts to rectifiy the corruption of the police forces he long erroneously thought protected the defenseless...only to find his efforts adversely affecting their victims.

Radicalized is a story of a darkweb-enforced violent uprising against insurance companies told from the perspective of a man desperate to secure funding for an experimental drug that could cure his wife's terminal cancer.

The fourth story, Masque of the Red Death, harkens back to Doctorow's Walkaway, taking on issues of survivalism versus community.

My Review:

This is my first Cory Doctorow, and probably won’t be my last. I’ve seen his columns in Locus, where he predicts the future -sorta/kinda – but hadn’t read any of his books. When this popped up on my radar, it seemed like the time.

The advantage of collections is that the individual entries are generally shorter. I could always bail if it didn’t work for me. That didn’t happen – although I occasionally wanted to stop out of sheer terror.

The disadvantage of collections is that they are sometimes uneven. That didn’t happen here either. What did happen is that the stories get darker as they go. The first one isn’t exactly light-hearted, but does end with a glimmer of hope.

And that glimmer is the last light we see. The stories, and the futures that they posit, get progressively darker from there.

What this is is a collection of very-near-future dystopias. This is a future so close that we can see it from here. It seems to be mining a similar vein as If This Goes On, the recent collection edited by Cat Rambo – although these stories feel closer. A bit too close.

Unauthorized Bread is the first story in Radicalized, and it’s the one that ends in that glimmer of hope I mentioned. Not that there isn’t plenty of darkness in the middle. This story is about a lot of things, particularly the way that immigrants and others at the lower end of the socioeconomic lottery are marginalized and demonized. That message seemed fairly overt.

The less overt message, but still very much present, is the message about just how different “choice” looks from the perspective of people who have the societal privilege of being able to always choose between good, better and best, as opposed to those who are squeezed into the position of being forced to choose between terrible, awful and least bad.

But the plot is also a slightly terrifying extension of digital rights management – frequently a horror story all by itself – from the world of music, video and software to the world of appliances. We’ve seen the start of this, when Keurig introduced DRM into its line of coffee makers, allowing them to restrict use of the device that you own to pods that they authorize. Think about that, scale it up, and then shake in fear – and caffeine withdrawal.

The Model Minority is where the chill really sets in in this collection. But in the end, it ultimately felt sad. The future is posits is frightening, and all too plausible – even, perhaps likely. But this is one where I really felt for the character, and he ends up in a very sad place by the end. And so should we all.

The protagonist of this piece is a superhero who is meant to be Superman without ever naming him such. (DC would probably object – with lawyers). But he’s an alien whose current mundane identity is named Clark and whose girlfriend is a reporter named Lois. And he has a rich friend named Bruce who also has a secret identity. You connect the dots.

The story here is what happens when our hero is confronted with blatant racism. He witnesses a bunch of white cops pull a black man out of his own car and beat him nearly to death while putting on a show for their body cameras. Superhero steps into save the man being beaten, and attempts to get him proper medical treatment and a fair trial.

And it all goes pear-shaped, as we all expect it to. The system is designed to protect the cops and demonize the innocent black motorist. The media gins up, the way it does, to make it seem like the arrest and brutal beating are all the fault of the victim – because he’s black. The more our hero tries to help the man, the more trouble he causes, not only for the original victim, but also for himself.

Because when he threatens that fragile white majority with evidence of their own racism, they turn on him rather than look inside themselves. As they do. As we do.

The title story in this collection is a story about the weaponization of what is now the quiet desperation of families who are about to lose or have lost a beloved family member. Not because their condition is untreatable, but because their health insurance company refuses to pay for treatment.

Combine that with a big “what if?” What if those quietly desperate people treated health insurance company executives and employees exactly the same way that abortion providers are “treated” by the so-called right-to-life movement – with doxxing and harassment and terrorist attacks. This is purely my interpretation of the story, but it feels right. And ends up making the story about whether the ends justify the means – a contemplation that is itself frightening.

Last but not least, The Masque of the Red Death. On the surface, it’s the story of a prepper’s dream that turns into a prepper’s nightmare. A whole bunch of smug one-percenters are so certain that they’ve figured out how to survive the coming collapse of civilization – and that they will emerge from their hidden sanctuary fat and happy and ready to be back on top of the new civilization that they are just certain will be exactly like the old one, and that they’ll rule it.

Discovering that they have planned for everything except for their own humanity – and their hubris – takes this tale from chills to downright horror in quick steps. This is one of those cases where the road to hell is paved with bad and thoughtless intentions that the thinkers believe are good – at least for them.

Thinking about it, however, it strikes me that this story also ends in a glimmer of hope – just not for its initial protagonists.

Escape Rating A+: Science fiction in general, and this author in this collection in particular, is at its thought-provoking best when it comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. These stories do much more of the latter than the former, and are all intensely well-done in ways that will make the reader think – and squirm.

Review: Murder on a Midsummer Night by Kerry Greenwood

Review: Murder on a Midsummer Night by Kerry GreenwoodMurder on a Midsummer Night (Phryne Fisher Mystery #17) by Kerry Greenwood
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Phryne Fisher #17
Pages: 250
Published by Poisoned Pen Press on February 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The Hon. Phryne Fisher, languid and slightly bored at the start of 1929, has been engaged to find out if the antique-shop-owning son of a Pre-Raphaelite model has died by homicide or suicide. He had some strange friends - a Balkan adventuress, a dilettante with a penchant for antiquities, a Classics professor, a medium, and a mysterious supplier who arrives after dark on a motorbike. Simultaneously, she is asked to discover the fate of the lost illegitimate child of a rich old lady, to the evident dislike of the remaining relatives.

With the help of her sister Beth, the cab drivers Bert and Cec, and even her two adoptive daughters, Phryne follows eerie leads that bring her face-to-face with the conquest of Jerusalem by General Allenby and the Australian Light Horse, kif smokers, spirit guides, pirate treasure maps, and ghosts.

My Review:

I was doing the bounce thing, where I kept picking up different books and bouncing off. It’s not that any of my choices were bad books, because honestly I didn’t get far enough to tell. They just didn’t grab me. They weren’t what I was in the mood for. Not that I could exactly tell what I was in the mood for!

When I’m in that kind of reading doubt, I reach for comfort. I reach for a book that I know will wrap me in its pages and transport to a familiar world with characters that I’ve become fond of. Having seen a Facebook post reminding me that the Phryne Fisher movie is in post-production, I decided it was time to visit Melbourne and see what Phryne was up to.

This particular adventure of Phryne’s involves two cases that aren’t in the least related to each other, as well as, let’s call them interludes, that seem to be coming out of nowhere – until they neatly tie one case up at the end.

One case is a suicide-that-isn’t, wrapped up in a treasure hunt that somehow leads to Blackbeard the Pirate and his lost treasure troves. The other is more prosaic and mundane, a lost child, a missing heiress, a spot of blackmail and a whole lot of not-so-petty theft. Stirred well with a nasty bit of family drama.

Escape Rating B: A part of me says that this was far from the most compelling of Phryne’s cases. At the same time, I was compelled to finish it in an evening. It was simply the right book at the right time for me.

I think that the reason that it worked so well was that it’s been a few months since I dipped into Phryne’s world. And while the cases aren’t as dangerous as some she’s been involved with, her voice sparkled in the solving of them.

Also, this particular story focused a great deal on Phryne’s relationships with the many people who have become part of her circle. The not-a-suicide case came by way of her socialist sister, who found common cause with red-raggers Bert and Cec, and had a great time doing their own little bit of investigating.

Sister Beth seems to be the book character for whom Aunt Prudence is the TV series substitute, and I must say I like Beth a whole lot better. Between the involvement of Beth and Lin Chung’s ingenuity in the resolution of one of the two plots, it’s easy to see why this was not one of the stories that was filmed.

On the other hand, the interactions between Phryne and her family-of-choice, particularly her relationship with her adopted daughters (yes, there are two in the books) and her appreciation of BOTH Mr. and MRS. Butler and their work for and with her, are quite lovely.

Dot’s foray into her own bit of investigation involving theater history and the keepers thereof was absolutely filled with bright spots.

To make a long story short, this is one of Phryne’s adventures that is marvelous for readers who are already involved in the books rather than just the TV series, and who are itching for a chance to visit with their friends.

I had a ball.

Review: The Chaos Function by Jack Skillingstead

Review: The Chaos Function by Jack SkillingsteadThe Chaos Function by Jack Skillingstead
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: science fiction, thriller, time travel
Pages: 304
Published by John Joseph Adams/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on March 19, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For readers of the best‑selling novels Sleeping Giants and Dark Matter, an intense, high‑stakes thriller with a science‑fiction twist that asks: If technology enabled you to save the life of someone you love, would you do so even if it might doom millions?   Olivia Nikitas, a hardened journalist whose specialty is war zones, has been reporting from the front lines of the civil war in Aleppo, Syria. When Brian, an aid worker she reluctantly fell in love with, dies while following her into danger, she’ll do anything to bring him back. In a makeshift death chamber beneath an ancient, sacred site, a strange technology is revealed to Olivia: the power to remake the future by changing the past.    Following her heart and not her head, Olivia brings Brian back, accidentally shifting the world to the brink of nuclear and biological disaster. Now she must stay steps ahead of the guardians of this technology, who will kill her to reclaim it, in order to save not just herself and her love, but the whole world.

My Review:

There’s a quote from The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that goes,

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

This is a story about what happens when someone has the power to lure that Moving Finger back to cancel more than half a line – but does not – as no human does – have the wisdom to determine whether that cancellation was, or was not, the right thing to do.

This book was simply a wow.

Of course, it’s also just a bit more complicated than that. Also just saying it’s a wow isn’t really an informative review – although it certainly is succinct.

At first, this seems like a near-future dystopian novel, until it isn’t. And then it is again. And then it isn’t.

Still confused? I think it’s intentional – at least on the part of the story.

Olivia is an investigative journalist chasing a story in Aleppo, Syria, just a little more than a decade from now. Her world doesn’t feel much different from ours in time, only in place. The seemingly permanent, perpetual civil war/uprising/revolution/counterinsurgency/whatever that she is covering is worlds away from the comfortable life that still very much exists back in the US.

But Olivia makes her living covering what she calls the “Disaster”. A disaster that could be anywhere, and often is – just not back home. Also a disaster that seems to be a direct consequence of actions taken in our present, as the Syrian conflict that she is covering is the war to overthrow Assad, which has its roots in our now.

She’s attempting to cover violations of the current, tentative peace agreement when she, her guide and her aid worker-lover get caught in the crossfire – and the world changes.

And changes again. And again. And it’s all Olivia’s fault… Really, it is.

Brian is killed in that crossfire, and Olivia finds herself in the basement of the building she was trying to investigate, his blood still on her hands, when she finds an old man who has been tortured taking his last breaths. Something jumps from his corpse to her living body, and burrows itself into her brain.

When she makes a wish that Brian hadn’t died – he isn’t dead. But the world has changed, and not for the better.

That’s the point where things get very, very hairy. And then they get worse.

Since it’s all Olivia’s fault, it’s up to her to fix it if she can. Because the needs of the many really do outweigh the needs of the few or of the one – even if that one is someone she loves.

Escape Rating A+: This is still a wow.

I believe that the reason this is such a wow is that there are multiple ways to look at the story, all of them equally valid – as they should be. This is, after all, a story about the butterfly effect – for a butterfly with extremely large wings.

From the very beginning, I saw multiple connections to this story. Something about the atmosphere in war-torn Aleppo recalled for me the atmosphere of The Children of Men by P.D. James. The stories aren’t actually alike, but the worlds felt similar.

Once Olivia discovers her ability to change the future, the way that it worked was extremely similar to Ia’s ability in the military SF series Theirs Not to Reason Why. Like Ia, Olivia is trying to find the best of all possible outcomes, no matter how slim a chance it is, and make it happen. The difference is that Ia knows how to use her power, and Olivia most definitely does not.

But it’s the different, and all equally awful, portraits of the way that the world goes mad that push the story forward at breakneck speed. Each of Olivia’s attempts to save Brian results in greater and greater disasters. A weaponized smallpox epidemic. Nuclear powers, blaming each other, fingers on too many triggers, wiping out each other’s major cities and food producing regions. And it gets worse from there.

(I haven’t seen the world go so far past hell in a handbasket so fast since the early books in S.M. Stirling’s Emberverse)

The source of Olivia’s new-found power throws in a cult of conspiracy theorists as well as a chase around the world. The ability to control the future is a power that has been closely guarded – and extremely contested – for centuries. And no one’s vision of “better” remotely resembles anyone else’s.

But there’s a reason why I started with Omar Khayyam and ended with Spock. Because the story in The Chaos Function is also, writ large and with even more deadly consequences, the story of the classic Star Trek episode The City on the Edge of Forever. And the ending is just as necessary, and just as heartbreaking.

Review: Mahimata by Rati Mehrotra

Review: Mahimata by Rati MehrotraMahimata by Rati Mehrotra
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: epic fantasy, fantasy
Series: Asiana #2
Pages: 480
Published by Harper Voyager on March 5, 2019
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A young female assassin must confront the man who slaughtered her family, risk her heart, and come to terms with her identity as a warrior and as a woman in this thrilling fantasy from the author of Markswoman.

Kyra has returned to the caves of Kali, but her homecoming is bittersweet. She no longer knows what her place is. Her beloved teacher is dead and her best friend Nineth is missing. And gone, too, is Rustan, the Marksman who helped her train for the duel with Tamsyn--and became far more than a teacher and friend.

Shaken by his feelings for Kyra and the truth about his parentage, Rustan has set off on a quest for answers. His odyssey leads him to the descendants of an ancient sect tied to the alien Ones--and the realization that the answers he seeks come with a price.

Yet fate has plans to bring Kyra and Rustan together again. Kai Tau, the man who slaughtered Kyra’s family, wages war on the Orders of Asiana. Hungering for justice, Kyra readies herself for battle, aided by her new companions: the wyr-wolves, who are so much more than what they seem. And determined to keep the woman he loves safe, Rustan joins the fight to ride by her side.

But will this final confrontation ultimately cost them their love . . . and their lives?

 

My Review:

The Asiana duology (yes, this is the second of two and there are only two) is set 800 plus years after a global catastrophe on our Earth. This is the story of the fantasy-like (or fantasy-lite) “civilization” left behind after a war that almost literally ended all wars – by wiping out a huge chunk of any population that might fight those wars.

But human beings are stubborn, in both good and bad ways. We came back as a species, and as this story begins, it looks like yet another war to end all wars has already begun – complete with weapons of mass(ive) destruction.

That the guns are called “kalashiks” is kind of a dead giveaway that this is our Earth and not someplace else. It’s not that another race of bipeds won’t/wouldn’t/hasn’t come up with the equivalent of assault weapons, it’s that this reader doubts that said other race would also spawn the languages that gave birth to the name “Kalashnikov”.

I digress and yet I don’t. The long-ago and long-lost past is part of the deep background of this story – and in a strange way also a part of its future. I’ll come back to this in a bit.

The story in Mahimata is a continuation of the story from Markswoman, and this can’t be read without having read the previous. Nothing will make sense otherwise. I’m actually glad that my reading of Markswoman wasn’t all that long ago, because Mahimata drops the reader right where that book left off.

This is a story where what goes around ultimately comes around, and karma is indeed a bitch. But our heroine Kyra is as much its victim as anyone else in the story.

Once upon a time, a man kidnapped and raped her mother, resulting in, well, Kyra. That same man returned to her mother to kill everyone in her clan, except Kyra. Who is, in the way of such stories, fated to kill him in his turn.

It’s what happens in the middle that makes the story. And one hell of a story it is.

Escape Rating B: I’m giving the rating early so that I can talk about what I did and didn’t like about the book. Because there’s a whole lot of like and not much dislike, except for one thing – which I’ll get to in a minute.

This is a story that put me in that rare approach/avoidance trap. I desperately wanted to know how it ended but I didn’t want it to end. The world that has been created in the wake of exactly whatever the apocalypse was is fascinating. The Orders of Peace, of which our heroine’s Order of Kali is just one of several, are dedicated to keeping the general population of the tribes safe from predators both without and within.

But while their purpose is a noble one, so much of their origin and history has been lost that much of what they have come to believe is neither true nor in the best interests of either the orders or the general population. They’re slowly killing themselves off, leaving the field wide open for a tyrant to bring unity through subjugation. The Orders are no longer strong enough to take care of such problems before they become big ones.

Which leaves our heroine and her friends and companions in a position where they will have to throw away much of what they think they know in order to face a danger which will overwhelm their world if they don’t act.

At the same time, the Asiana duology is also Kyra’s coming of age story. When we began in Markswoman, she was just about to take the step that graduates her from apprentice to markswoman. As her story continues, she finds herself in almost a constant state of examining the acts she has already committed with eyes that have become sharpened by experience.

An examination which often leaves her wondering just how she could have made so many huge mistakes, or have been so much of a fool. Her experiences may not have brought wisdom, but they have certainly brought clarity – even if nearly always too late.

However, and this is where we get to the things that gave me mixed feelings, while the epic battle and everything that led up to it was awesome and fascinating and grabbed me completely, the SFnal elements that underpin the way this world works felt more like a tease than anything that gelled into coherence.

I realize that is also how it is for the people of Asiana, that their scientific past has moved into myth and legend, but the way that Mahimata comes to its epic conclusion relies on those SFnal elements – and it didn’t stick the dismount. The story is great, the war has consequences, evil is vanquished – in a way that was very cool – and good, or at least not-evil triumphs.

But the extremely understated romance between Kyra and Rustan came to a kind of forced happy ending, using those SFnal elements as a kind of deus ex machina. It would have felt better, or truer, or more realistic, if one of them had paid the ultimate price for their victory. Or at least that would have made more sense.

Your mileage, as I always say, may vary.

The ending doesn’t erase just how much I loved 90% of the story. In the end, in comparison with an Olympic gymnastic routine, the routine was beautiful, but viewing this story as the gymnast in the analogy, it just didn’t stick that dismount.

Review: The True Queen by Zen Cho

Review: The True Queen by Zen ChoThe True Queen (Sorcerer Royal #2) by Zen Cho
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, historical fantasy
Series: Sorcerer Royal #2
Pages: 384
Published by Ace Books on March 12, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the follow-up to the "delightful" regency fantasy novel (NPR.org) Sorcerer to the Crown, a young woman with no memories of her past finds herself embroiled in dangerous politics in England and the land of the fae.

When sisters Muna and Sakti wake up on the peaceful beach of the island of Janda Baik, they can’t remember anything, except that they are bound as only sisters can be. They have been cursed by an unknown enchanter, and slowly Sakti starts to fade away. The only hope of saving her is to go to distant Britain, where the Sorceress Royal has established an academy to train women in magic.

If Muna is to save her sister, she must learn to navigate high society, and trick the English magicians into believing she is a magical prodigy. As she's drawn into their intrigues, she must uncover the secrets of her past, and journey into a world with more magic than she had ever dreamed.

My Review:

Sorcerer to the Crown was one of my favorite books of 2015. From the joint review Lou and I did at The Book Pushers in 2015, it’s pretty obvious that it was one of her favorites too. The hoped for sequel has been on my most anticipated list ever since.

That long awaited sequel has finally arrived in the manifestation of The True Queen. I wanted to love this book. I expected to love this book. And I’m SO disappointed that I didn’t.

It’s not a bad book. It certainly has some interesting moments. But, and in this case it’s a very large but, it just doesn’t have the same verve as the first. Sorcerer to the Crown was epically readable, because there’s just so much going on from the very first page.

Definitely on the other hand, The True Queen just doesn’t have that compulsive readability.

Instead, the first half of the book plods. It’s slow. Not much seems to happen.

Part of that is that we need to be re-introduced to this world and its characters. 2015 was a long time ago, even if not much time has passed within the series.

But a lot of it is that the protagonists of The True Queen are passive, where the protagonists of Sorcerer to the Crown were both very active participants in the story. Instead, one of the main characters of The True Queen is fridged for a big chunk of the story. And while Sakti is frequently annoying, especially to her sister Muna, she is also the more active of the pair.

Of the sisters, Sakti is proactive – even if usually wrongheaded – while Muna is reactive. Unfortunately, it’s Muna the passive that we end up following for the first half of the story. And while Sakti always overestimates her capabilities, Muna underestimates hers. As a consequence, Sakti is the one who makes things happen – even if they are often the wrong thing.

Muna usually cleans up after Sakti. Without Sakti around to push her, she spends a lot of time waiting for something to happen, for someone to help her, or for the situation to become clear.

The two very active protagonists of Sorcerer to the Queen are relegated to background roles, and the story misses their drive immensely. Instead, the true standout character in The True Queen is Prunella’s shy and retiring friend Henrietta.

About halfway through the book, once all of the situations are set, the action finally kicks into gear. That’s the point where Henrietta finally takes her courage into her hands, and Muna sets plans in motion to rescue her sister instead of waiting for someone else to tell her what do it and how to do it.

From the point where the action moves to the court of the capricious Queen of Fairy, the situation becomes both more interesting and more dangerous. Not just because Henrietta manages to find out what she’s really made of, but because Muna takes the lead and figures out who she really is and what she’s been meant to be all along.

Escape Rating C+: This is a book that does reward sticking with it, but it takes a lot of stick. The action does not really get going until the book is half over, and that’s a lot of set up. In the end, it makes sense that Muna is as passive and reactive as she is – but it still makes The True Queen a disappointment in comparison with its predecessor. And I’m so, so sorry about that.

Review: Hunting Game by Helene Tursten

Review: Hunting Game by Helene TurstenHunting Game (An Embla Nyström Investigation #1) by Helene Tursten, Paul Norlén
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Series: Embla Nystrom #1
Pages: 288
Published by Soho Crime on February 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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The first installment in Helene Tursten’s brand new series featuring the strong, smart Detective Inspector Embla Nyström.

From a young age, 28-year-old Embla Nyström has been plagued by chronic nightmares and racing thoughts. Though she still develops unhealthy fixations and makes rash decisions from time to time, she has learned to channel most of her anxious energy into her position as Detective Inspector in the mobile unit in Gothenburg, Sweden, and into sports. A talented hunter and prize-winning Nordic welterweight, she is glad to be taking a vacation from her high-stress job to attend the annual moose hunt with her family and friends.

But when Embla arrives at her uncle’s cabin in rural Dalsland, she sees an unfamiliar face has joined the group: Peter, an enigmatic young divorcé. And she isn’t the only one to take notice. One longtime member of the hunt doesn’t welcome the presence of an outsider and is quick to point out that with Peter, the group’s number reaches thirteen, a bad omen for the week.

Sure enough, a string of unsettling incidents follow, culminating in the disappearance of two men from a neighboring group of hunters. Embla takes charge of the search, and they soon find one of the missing men floating facedown in the nearby lake, his arm tightly wedged between two rocks. Just what she needs on her vacation. With the help of local reinforcements, Embla delves into the dark pasts of her fellow hunters in search of a killer.

My Review:

A couple of years ago I reviewed Who Watcheth by this author for Library Journal. It was my first “real” dip into scandinavian noir, and I found the story really compelling, as well as a bit creepy. But I really enjoyed the main character, Inspector Irene Huss. Enough so that I picked up the short story collection An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good to get just a bit more of her. (She is not the elderly lady of the title, she is investigating the elderly lady of the title).

Inspector Irene Huss’ series has ended, but the author has begun a new series, and I decided to pick it up – from the beginning this time. And so we come to Detective Inspector Embla Nyström of the mobile crime unit, on her annual vacation at her uncle’s hunting cabin.

The moose isn’t the only creature being hunted. So when the human bodies start piling up, Embla finds herself back on the clock, investigating a group of men she’s known – and mostly respected – all of her life. Along with one charmer who might just be a bit too good to be true.

Only because he is.

Escape Rating B+: This isn’t so much of a whodunit as a whydunit, as has been pointed out by multiple reviewers. It is a bit obvious who must be the killer. There’s only one newcomer to this rather tight-knit group. If one of them had been a serial killer, the dead bodies would go back decades. And they don’t. Mostly.

The group, with the exception of 28-year-old Embla and the newcomer, are also middle-aged if not older. For the most part, they are successful and well-to-do. Embla and her uncle are definitely not in the same financial strata as some of the others. (Or come to think of it, I don’t think they are. We don’t actually know enough about her uncle’s situation to be certain. He does, after all, own a house in town AND a hunting cabin.)

Embla is a cop. And a good one. She’s just multiply conflicted on this case.

Not just because she knows everyone well, except that newcomer. On the other hand, she gets to know the newcomer in the biblical sense, creating yet more conflict. And this case echoes back to an unsolved and unresolved trauma in her own past.

She knows there’s something wrong, but has a difficult time putting all the pieces together. Just as with the issue in her own past, the criminal is acting out of his own unresolved trauma. This is a case that just isn’t going to be solved without digging into a whole lot of the dirty laundry of everyone involved.

Embla is an interesting character, and she’s going to be good to follow for a series. On the one hand, she is a bit of an outsider in this group. By the time the crimes start occurring, she’s both the only woman, and with the exception of the newcomer, the only person under 40.

Her profession makes her suspect everyone and everything, and at the same time it sets her apart, making some of the party members suspicious of her, because she’s a young woman in a man’s job, and in authority once the moose hunt turns into a manhunt.

As a championship boxer, she’s a woman used to and capable of taking care of herself – a skill that turns out to be necessary in the course of the story. One of the unusual things we see is that in her own small team, while she’s not the leader, she is the muscle. We don’t often see that in fiction in a mixed gender team and it’s refreshing.

Her past trauma makes this case more poignant for her, and provides avenues for the author to explore in future entries in the series. That this case is wrapped up entirely in a hunting trip and the hunting culture of Scandinavia may put some readers off. There’s a lot of detail about the process of hunting and the annual hunts. I found it interesting – not that I’d want to do it myself but just how much tradition and culture are still wrapped around it.

I certainly enjoyed Hunting Game more than enough to want to read the next book in the series when it’s translated into English. I like Embla and her team and want to see how they go.