Review: The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher

aeronauts windlass by jim butcherFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: steampunk, fantasy
Series: Cinder Spires #1
Length: 640 pages
Publisher: Roc
Date Released: September 29, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…

My Review:

I read this during WorldCon. I wanted something big that I could really sink my teeth into, and I’ll admit that I also picked a big book because I didn’t want to read a lot of short books and not have time to do the brain dump of the reviews.

Fortunately for me, The Aeronaut’s Windlass was an excellent choice. Unfortunately for me, it was so excellent that I found myself reading it during some of the panels at the con, or sitting in the hallway just reading.

On the other hand, I was able to give it an in-person enthusiastic “thumbs up” during the Ace/Roc showcase. I’d just finished it a half hour before the panel started.

About the book…this is definitely Jim Butcher writes steampunk. So it reminds me a little bit of his Dresden Files, and an awful lot of his Codex Alera. He’s taken the steampunk and put his own snarky twist on it.

One of the refreshing things is that this is not first person singular point-of-view. We are not stuck in anyone’s head. And, in a delightful twist, this story is every bit as much a heroine’s journey as it is a hero’s journey. Possibly even more so.

While the character profiled in the blurb is Captain Grimm, and he is an important perspective, he’s not the only perspective. After finishing this book, it feels as if the main protagonists are not just Grimm, but equally the Guard cadets Gwen Lancaster and Bridget Tagwynn, Guard Lieutenant Benedict Sorellin-Lancaster, and the young female Etherialist Apprentice (read mage) Folly. And especially Rowl of the Nine Claws, who is the heir to a great cat clan, and Bridget’s best friend and protector.

So we have a group of young people, including Rowl, who is very definitely people. It’s pretty clear that this is going to be their collective coming of age story. Grimm is the one relatively mature main character, and he appears to be somewhere in his 30s.

The setting is fascinating. We don’t know exactly how this situation came about, but everyone lives in extremely tall spires that poke up out of the mist that enshrouds whatever planet this might be. It could be Earth. It could also be a lost colony. While they use airships to travel between the spires, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that there is travel to other worlds.

The surface isn’t uninhabitable per se, but it is inhabited by lots and LOTS of monsters. Who all seem to be cousins of Shelob or the great Ungoliant. Giant, predatory spiders. (Ewwww)

The story in The Aeronaut’s Windlass is the beginning of a war. The author uses the perspectives of these characters to show them switching from whatever they were in peace to growing, changing and adapting to survive. They also band together, sometimes in spite of themselves.

What is not as clear are the reasons for the war. Spire Albion (our heroes) has generally operated as a benevolent monarchy. I think the structure is somewhat like the constitutional monarchy of England, but it is hard to tell. What is certain is that the Squirearch is more powerful and functional, and less ostentatious and pompous, than what we see of the British Royal Family in public. In extremis, the Squirearch can still get things done.

Spire Aurora is employing evil magicians. We know that. There is some explanation that Aurora is a bit like the old Roman Empire – its economy is based on continually gobbling up new territory, and goes into recession when they completely digest whoever they’ve most recently conquered. It also reminds me a bit of the Republic of Haven in the Honorverse.

Of course, the good guys, the Albions, base their economy on their people working for themselves and making things. And those people get to keep and profit from the fruits of their labors. Kind of an idealized middle class, but with nobles on top.

So the story is about the war. It starts with a brutal and cowardly attack on Albion by the Aurorans, and we’re off to the races. At the end of this first book, all of our heroes have survived, but definitely not unscathed. We still don’t know the true nature of the conflict, only that it will be to the death.

In the last two lines of the book, Folly tells her mentor, “I’m frightened”. His response, “ So am I child, so am I.” And he’s right to be. There’s going to be a whole lot of dark between here and the end.

Escape Rating A-: While I occasionally felt like the story dragged a tiny bit, and I could see a whole lot of tropes coming from miles away, I still loved this story, and enjoyed the hell out of exploring this world, even as it (the world, not the book) falls apart.

This is going to be one of those stories where things are always darkest just before they turn completely black. And there will be one tiny light on the horizon that grows until we reach safe harbor in the end. But probably not all of us.

There were a lot of hints dropped about the past. Folly’s mentor, Ferus, clearly has some issues with the evil witch Sycorax. Grimm used to be married to the pirate captain who is helping the Albions. There’s a dark period in Grimm’s past that has depths yet to be plumbed. And the entire Albion economy has just been shot to hell. Literally.

At the same time, the main characters are a mixed bag who are still finding their way. It feels like Bridget, the reluctant guard, may be one of the primary foci. She’s the one who is changing most. On the other hand, Gwen Lancaster, who starts out as a disobedient and disrespectful noble child, has the most to learn about life in the real world. Gwen does not start as a likeable character, but she seems to be improving.

Grimm has all the makings of a dark and brooding hero, but he has touches of dry humor that make me laugh.

Then there’s Rowl. He feels like the voice of the author’s usual snark, but I could be wrong. Certainly Rowl is awesomely self-serving and incredibly snarky. He also, as cats do, retcons every situation to his best advantage, but always in retrospect. When Bridget tells him that he is insufferable, his response is “I am cat.” He is. He is very anthropomorphized and yet he retains what we think of as feline attitudes and feline perspectives. From his point of view, he is the leader and is always in charge. In the end, he may be right.

All in all, I was totally immersed in the world of The Aeronaut’s Windlass, and I can’t wait to return. Soon, please?

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Vacant by Alex Hughes (+ a giveaway and a scavenger hunt)

vacant by alex hughesFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: urban fantasy
Series: Mindspace Investigations #4
Length: 347 pages
Publisher: Roc
Date Released: December 2, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

Nothing ruins a romantic evening like a brawl with lowlifes—especially when one of them later turns up dead and my date, Detective Isabella Cherabino, is the #1 suspect. My history with the Atlanta PD on both sides of the law makes me an unreliable witness, so while Cherabino is suspended, I’m paying my bills by taking an FBI gig.

I’ve been hired to play telepathic bodyguard for Tommy, the ten-year-old son of a superior court judge in Savannah presiding over the murder trial of a mob-connected mogul. After an attempt on the kid’s life, the Feds believe he’s been targeted by the businessman’s “associates.”

Turns out, Tommy’s a nascent telepath, so I’m trying to help him get a handle on his Ability. But it doesn’t take a mind reader to see that there’s something going on with this kid’s parents that’s stressing him out more than a death threat…

My Review:

Alex Hughes’ Mindspace Investigations is a series that absolutely requires starting at the very beginning. (This seems to be my week for that.) If the idea of an urban fantasy series that reads like a marvelously twisted cross between Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files and J.D. Robb’s In Death series, you’ve come to the right place.

Just start clean with the first book in the series, Clean (reviewed here). The following titles in the series are Sharp (reviewed here) and Marked (reviewed at The Book Pushers) It is SO worth it, and also necessary to help figure out the roots of the case in Vacant.

Like so many of the titles in this series, that word, Vacant, is a multiple entendre. It refers to Isabella Cherabino’s career, Adam Ward’s ethics, and the office they come to at the end of the story. Possibly also to any threads of a future that Adam might have, but we’ll see.

The cases that Adam and Isabella have to solve in the present are very much tied in with a larger conspiracy that they uncovered in the earlier stories. But even though that possibility is fairly clear to the reader, it is only a vague hint on the horizon for Adam, and not at all on Isabella’s radar.

This is the first time that they solve a case completely separately. It is also the first time that Adam is away from DeKalb County and operating entirely on his own and without training wheels or a support network. He’s on his own for the first time after his descent into addiction and in his long hard climb back to sobriety.

That separation nearly wrecks his extremely slowly developing relationship with Isabella Cherabino. More importantly, it nearly wrecks him. But he comes out stronger for it, albeit with a few more broken places. The difference is that he is not filling those broken places in with drugs. At least not today.

Isabella is charged with police brutality, and becomes the county’s poster child for non-tolerance of such a crime. The only problem is that she didn’t do it, and both the evidence and the hearing are rigged. The question that is asked throughout the story, and only answered by the end, is that of the rigger.

Adam is off in Savannah, chasing down a precognitive vision with the help of the FBI, although they consider that he is helping them. A child will die if Adam can’t figure out how to subvert the vision before it is too late. In order to derail the vision, he also needs to figure out what a judge in a high-profile case is hiding, and who benefits from killing her child.

And what does any of this have to do with actions in Adam’s past? In the end, it is all about him. And not in a good way. Saving that kid may not fix any of the other things that Adam has broken, but it will be enough to make today worthwhile. It gives him yet one more reason to remain clean.

But some of his screwups still catch up with him. Payment will be demanded, but not all of it today.

Escape Rating A: The world of Mindspace Investigations is a very dark and gritty one. While it seems that things are getting better after the chaos of the Tech Wars, it’s going to be a long, hard time until society gets back to where it is in our now. The levels of pollution in the air and water are a factor that Adam is constantly aware of on his trip to Savannah, and so are we.

What is different about this case is that Adam is operating completely solo. While the series has been told from his first-person perspective from the very beginning, we are always aware of Adam’s nearby support group; especially his police partner Isabella Cherabino and his NA sponsor Swartz.

In Savannah Adam is forced to work with an FBI team that he has never met, and one that resents the need to bring in an unknown teep on an emergency basis when theirs is injured. Adam is there to save a 10-year-old boy’s life, and the FBI team is there to prevent a second kidnapping attempt on that same boy.

Adam is also there because the Telepath Guild is yanking his chain, but that’s nothing new. One of the ongoing themes of the series is that Adam wants to distance himself as much as possible from the Telepath Guild, but he keeps getting sucked back in. It is very convenient for everyone, the police, the FBI, the Guild themselves, to have a telepath whose loyalties seem somewhat fluid.

They aren’t, and that’s what keeps getting him into trouble. Although in this story that same sense of loyalty also keeps him out of trouble. Just a bit.

Adam is forced to make a choice. Actually, he’s forced to make a lot of choices, and they are all choices between bad and less bad. He never really gets to choose between bad and good. He’s come a long way from the drug user he remembers being. He makes the best choices he can, and then lives with the consequences, knowingly.

In addition to the harrowing case that Adam is investigating, what we see is him learning to stand on his own again. The question, as always, is for how long.

While the events in this particular story had a lot to do with previous cases, there was also a sense that the events in this book have pushed the story into a different direction. After the bombshell at the end, I’m on pins and needles waiting to see what happens next.

Reviewer’s note: When I began this series, part of the fun for me was that I used to live in the Atlanta metro area where this series is set. As I write this, I am moving back to the Atlanta area. It made reading about the places involved that much more fascinating for me. I could see it, I have seen it, and I’m going to see it again.

~~~~~~GIVEAWAY AND SCAVENGER HUNT~~~~~~

Alex is giving away an ebook copy of the winner’s choice of one Mindspace Investigations novel (INT). To enter, use the Rafflecopter below:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Alex is also conducting a scavenger hunt based on the game CLUE. Here is the clue for this stop on the blog tour:

AlleyClue

So you can cross this clue off your checklist. For more details on how you can use this clue to get the grand prize of a $25 gift card to Barnes & Noble, a signed copy of Marked, and a character from a future book named after him/her., visit this page that explains the contest and tells you where to find the other clues.

WriteTimePromoBanner1

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: A Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

Murder of CrowsFormat read: ebook
Formats available: ebook, hardcover
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Series: The Others #2
Length: 448 pgs
Publisher: Roc
Date Released: March 4, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, AmazonBook Depository

After winning the trust of the terra indigene residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.

The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murders of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard—Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader—wonders whether their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or of a future threat.

As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.

My Thoughts:

Anne Bishop is one of those authors I always enjoy, even though I can’t say I actually like anything she writes. She’s the authorial equivalent of Sharknado. Everything is so goddamn ridiculous that you absolutely must keep reading. Any second, in between the pretentious italics and Super Important Capitalizations, you’ll be graced with the book’s version of the chainsaw vs shark.

Which is what I got when reading Written in Red last year. The first entry in her new series, filled with all her old bad habits. I absolutely loved hating it, and expected to similarly enjoy whatever drinking game I could create from the wreckage to be found in Murder of Crows.

Imagine my surprise when I realized that I truly liked this book. I can’t say it doesn’t suffer from Anne Bishop’s expected stylistic prose. But underneath the goth glitter, rampant italics of emphasis, and Grammar Slaughtering Capitalization To Show You How Important This Word Is – there is an extremely engaging story.

After much insight, I’ve deduced the source of the significant improvement in quality.

First, we are introduced to other blood prophets, which downgraded Meg from The Maryest of Mary Sues to just a powerful prophet who happened to have the strength of character to overcome the mental and physical restrictions both bred and socialized into her. When you learn what some of the other cassandra sangue are enduring, you realize Meg isn’t really all that special. Just damn lucky to have landed where she did.

Meg’s super special status in the Lakeside Courtyard was similarly addressed through the “exploding fluffballs” (as the Courtyard residents nicknamed their brand-new “human pack”). This human pack – an admitted anomaly in the country – provided assistance to the Lakeside Courtyard, much like Meg, and in return received the same protections afforded to Meg. A believable protagonist is key to any good story. Written in Red’s Meg was irritatingly unique. Murder of Crow’s Meg is a trailblazer for her people. Definitely different – but no Mary Sue.

Written in Red by Anne BishopIn addition to fixing the problems with Meg, Murder of Crows begins overwriting the pitiful excuse for world-building haphazardly scattered throughout Written in Red. There is a whole wide world out there, one where a “human pack” becomes a tourist attraction for rural Others, where shooting crows is illegal, and where storms ravage parts of the world that dared to attempt war with the Others thousands of years ago. As the Others interact more and more with humans, we begin to realize that the human population is not, as a whole, so inanely arrogant they think to subjugate a species capable of controlling the very elements, but rather just foolishly arrogant. While the Others remember the history of their interactions with humans – every town and country they’ve evicted, emptied, or outright disappeared for crimes committed against them or their land – the humans forget. Each generation needing to relearn the same lessons as the last.

This led to the final attention-grabbing improvement. Namely, the gore. Anne Bishop amped up the gore this time around, and all I can say is that I heartily approve. There’s really very little I can say without spoilers, but I applaud’s Anne’s decision to set aside her bizarre obsession with sexual sadism and instead go forward with non-sexual ways to horrify her readers. Kudos to you Ms. Bishop! You took human depravity to a different level. Keep this up and you’ll make an actual fan out of me yet.

Escape Rating: B+ for way better this time around. Though you probably do need to read the first installment to understand the interpersonal relationships. For which I apologize.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Sharp by Alex Hughes

Sharp by Alex HughesFormat read: paperback provided by the author
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Urban fantasy; science fiction
Series: Mindspace Investigation #2
Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Ace/Roc
Date Released: April 2, 2013
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

HISTORY HAS A WAY OF REPEATING ITSELF, EVEN FOR TELEPATHS.…

As a Level Eight telepath, I am the best police interrogator in the department. But I’m not a cop—I never will be—and my only friend on the force, Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino, is avoiding me because of a telepathic link I created by accident.

And I might not even be an interrogator for much longer. Our boss says unless I pull out a miracle, I’ll be gone before Christmas. I need this job, damn it. It’s the only thing keeping me sane.

Parts for illegal Tech—the same parts used to bring the world to its knees in the Tech Wars sixty years ago—are being hijacked all over the city. Plus Cherbino’s longtime nemesis, a cop killer, has resurfaced with a vengeance. If I can stay alive long enough, I just might be able to prove my worth, once and for all…

My Review:

In this second full-length novel in Alex Hughes’ absolutely awesome Mindspace Investigation series, the mind of the killer is sharp; unfortunately, the mind of the telepath investigating the crime is anything but.

clean by alex hughesLevel 8 telepath Adam Ward injured his mental pathways at the end of Clean (incredible, stunning debut, see review) and is left trying to hide his hopefully temporary disability from the school of sharks he works among, otherwise known as the DeKalb County Police Department.

He’s estranged from his only friend and protector, Isabella Cherubino, because saving her life required revealing that he had been resting against her calming mindspace just a bit too often, and that they had accidentally developed a mental “Link”. Now he really can’t stay out of her head, and she feels, rightly so, that he has betrayed her trust.

In the ever-simmering background of the cop shop, there’s the seething resentment of a consultant making the “real” cops look bad with his showmanship, and as the perfect cherry on the sundae, a new round of budget cuts. People’s jobs are on the line, and every cop in the place thinks the first one to go should be Adam, because he’s not one of “them”.

But Adam needs the work. Not just the paycheck, the work. Coming in to solve puzzles, to get bad guys off the streets–to work with Cherubino–is a big chunk of what’s keeping him clean and off drugs.

That and an awful lot of NA meetings and service projects with his sponsor Swartz.

But this case that lands in Adam and Cherubino’s laps turns out to be all about the sins of the past–and it nearly ends both of their futures.

The first murder victim is also the last victim of Adam’s drug addiction while he was still part of the Telepath Guild. His botched mental surgery killed her telepathic gift. Now she’s dead, and one of the other victims is missing.

The cop killer who murdered Cherubino’s fiance has started another serial spree. These things should not be related, but are they?

And while Adam needs desperately to get back into Cherubino’s good graces in order to save his sanity, one of the pillars of his life is struck down–Swartz has a heart attack and the only way to save him is for Adam to strike a deal with the Guild.

He’s not sure who is betraying whom or if it will all be worth it in the end, especially when it looks like the Guild is involved in the entire murder spree, up to its secretive corporate neck.

Escape Rating A+: The Mindspace Investigations series takes place in a gritty and realistic dystopian/post-apocalyptic setting. Even cooler, the setting is a very recognizable Atlanta and its suburbs. I used to live there and it feels right in a just-off-kilter way.

Even cooler, this dystopia is not that far in the future. People then remember our now, or close. The apocalypse inbetween them and us are the Tech Wars, when wired technology went sentient and then viral. We could get there from here.

The Telepath Guild developed to fight tech with human-based mental skills. It makes a sick and twisted sense. But power still corrupts and absolute power definitely corrupts absolutely.

Adam is so very human. Even his name; Adam, the first man. (It’s slightly geeky cool that his name is Adam Ward. I wonder if he was named after Adam West and Burt Ward; the Batman and Robin of the 1960s?)

In some ways, Adam is Icarus, he flew too close to the sun, his wings melted, and now he’s fallen. But the fallen Adam is a better person than the original. He tries harder.

A lot of reviewers compare this series to Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files, because of the urban fantasy plotline. The comparison doesn’t work for me, much as I love Harry. Dresden borrowed the cops but didn’t try to be part of them, and you don’t get much of the cop shop vibe in Dresden. Also Dresden is firmly fantasy, while Mindspace is absolutely science fiction.

A closer parallel might be J.D. Robb’s In Death series, minus the romance. There’s the same police procedural mystery driving the case, albeit with some different procedures. But also there’s the same looming near-future post-apocalypse in the background. Robb’s Urban Wars and Hughes’ Tech Wars have a lot in common.

Adam and Cherubino are extremely flawed, scarred people. They need each other, but navigating their way toward each other, even as partners, is a big part of the fascination in this ongoing series.

As well as the continuing corkscrew convolutions of the mundane politics, the Telepath Guild and whether the humans in this world are going to draw back from the brink of destruction again. And whether Adam will manage to thwart his precognitive visions of his own self-destruction.

marked by alex hughesThis series is awesome stuff. I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for Marked.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Clean by Alex Hughes

clean by alex hughesFormat read: mass market paperback provided by the author
Formats available: ebook, paperback, mass market paperback, audiobook
Genre: Urban fantasy; science fiction
Series: Mindspace Investigations, #1
Length: 351 pages
Publisher: Roc
Date Released: September 4, 2012
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

I used to work for the Telepath’s Guild before they kicked me out for a drug habit that wasn’t entirely my fault. Now I work for the cops, helping Homicide Detective Isabella Cherabino put killers behind bars.

My ability to get inside the twisted minds of suspects makes me the best interrogator in the department. But the normals keep me on a short leash. When the Tech Wars ripped the world apart, the Guild stepped up to save it. But they had to get scary to do it—real scary.

Now the cops don’t trust the telepaths, the Guild doesn’t trust me, a serial killer is stalking the city—and I’m aching for a fix. But I need to solve this case. Fast. I’ve just had a vision of the future: I’m the next to die.

My Review:

The first book in Alex Hughes’ Mindspace Investigations series is one of those stories for which the concept of “book hangover” was invented. I was so completely absorbed by her vision of near-future slightly-dystopian Atlanta, and not just because I used to live there.

This is a dark and gritty landscape in a paranoid post-Tech Wars future. Admiral Adama (Battlestar Galactica) would feel right at home, because what little Tech they have left is not allowed to network with much other Tech, for fear it might get itself together and fight back. Again.

But in order to fight off the viruses created in the Tech Wars, they unleashed something even more potentially dangerous. Some people have developed telepathic powers. And in return for bringing the Tech Wars to an end, the Guild of Telepaths won the right of self-governance.

They seem to be a “state within a state”. Some people with Ability don’t have enough to be more than sensitive. Others are forced to register with the Guild and live under Guild jurisdiction for the rest of their lives. It can be a pretty cushy life, unless you screw up.

And then there’s our hero. The story is told from his first-person perspective, so we don’t know his name until the very last line of the book. (You don’t call yourself by your name very often, do you?)

Our hero is a consultant with the DeKalb County Police Department. And he is way beyond screwed up. He used to be the darling of the Guild, until he got addicted to a very dangerous narcotic called Satin. Now he clings to sobriety by his fingernails and by resting a little too often in the Mindspace of his police detective partner, Isabella Cherabino.

Until his past comes hunting for him, racking up a body count all over the county. Someone in the Guild has a score to settle with him, and he doesn’t even remember why. All he knows is that he has a vision of death that he has to prevent, any way he can. Even if no one trusts him enough to believe him.

payoff by alex hughesEscape Rating A+: I loved Clean so much I bought the novella, Payoff, the instant I finished. The world that Alex Hughes has created is absolutely awesome, and I want to wallow in it. I wouldn’t live there if you paid me, but I want to keep reading until my eyeballs fall out.

Her flawed hero is somebody special. The darling who forgets who he stepped on when he was climbing up, and then gets kicked on the way down. All the way down. He’s vulnerable and wounded and still trying so damn hard to just get through each day clean. Sometimes he fails, and we feel his control slipping. He reminds me a lot of the variation of Sherlock in Elementary; the addict who is using his cases and being needed to solve them as an alternative drug. Hughes’ hero has fallen further and broken harder, he’s also cracked open more and has learned the value of some of the social niceties. But there’s a kinship.
Cherabino seems like the classic combination of tough chick and by-the-book cop, until we find out what made her that way, and then this hidden core of pain is revealed. She’s still tough and she’s still by-the-book, but there’s so much more to her character.

Someday there might even be a romance, but in the fine tradition of urban fantasy, I expect to wait an excellent long while for it.

About the case itself…this was a time where the first-person perspective worked very well (it doesn’t always). Our hero doesn’t remember why the villain is targeting him, so he can’t reveal what he doesn’t know. And the villain is more than a bit off his rocker. Adding to the tension is the need for the hero to decide how many of the Guild’s secrets he can afford to reveal to his police employers in these particular circumstances, where a telepathic serial killer is dumping bodies all over the landscape, bringing the attention of the newspapers to secrets the Guild would rather be kept, well, secret.

Cops, killers, telepaths and stellar worldbuilding. What’s not to love?

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