Brotherhood of the Worm by M. T. Miller: A little Sam & Dean, a little more Van Helsing, a lot of Monster Killing

Brotherhood of the Worm

Brotherhood of the Worm

by M. T. Miller
Series: The Culling, Book 1

Kindle Edition, 332 pg.
2019

Read: August 28-29, 2019

The door leading to the hallway and the rooms upstairs slammed open without warning, and in came the missing patron. He was tall, thin, and wide in the shoulders. He had been lodging upstairs for the last three days, and always wore the same grey coat and cocked hat. In his gloved left hand was a heavy-looking leather bag that he never let anyone else touch. Apparently, he even took it to the outhouse.

“Listen to me!” he bellowed after letting the bag down and shutting the door. “And listen well. Until the sun rises, no one may leave this inn!”

Having just emptied a goblet down his throat, Moritz gave the man a look of dull surprise. “What is this? A robbery?”

“I’m afraid not,” the strange patron said. “If it were, we’d all have a better chance of getting through it alive.”

The inn is in an 18th-Century(ish) Germany(ish) country. The strange patron is Conrad Shast, the last member of a noble household turned monster hunter. That’s about as friendly as he gets. He goes from town to town, wherever he’s called to go to eliminate any one of a multitude of monsters on behalf of a shadowy organization that, well, let me let Shast tell it:

“Few refer to it by name, but it is called the Culling, and it’s been protecting the world from monsters and witches for as long as history remembers. From time to time, others have tried their hands at monster hunting, but it never lasted. In the long run, only the Culling has survived the test of time.

“Officially, no noble is under obligation to aid a hunter. But the consequences of rejecting a plea for help far outweigh their potential cost.”

The Culling is a busy group, it seems, there are monsters everywhere in this world (even overrunning some continents), and, as the man said, they’re the only game in town. Generally, they send one or two people to any particular place, but if there’s a big enough problem, they will send out reinforcements. During the course of this novel, Shast ends up working with two other hunters. It’s clear that no two hunters are alike—there’s a variety of approaches, specialties, backgrounds, and personalities (I was a little afraid it’d be armies of Shasts, Miller might have been able to pull it off, but I like this approach better).

Shast is a classic loner, a wandering knight à la Jack Reacher or TV’s David Banner (but with less of a sense of humor). He comes to down, gets his prey and the money he (and The Culling) is owed for that service and moves on. No friends, no family, no entanglements. The particular hunt he’s on when he takes over the inn is a little trickier than most (and will end up being a lot trickier in the end)—he eliminates the monster, but not the source of the infestation. The source has moved on and has likely infested at least one more city by this point. So he has to hit the road to track down the source.

One woman in the inn was so changed by her exposure to the monster that she can detect the hidden creature (not that she wants to), so Shast brings her with him to expedite the hunt. The city guard also dispatches a knight old enough to be her father to act as chaperone and guard. Eventually, they cross paths with another hunter after the same target. She’s into poisons, explosions (Shast prefers a good knife) and making sure her enemies suffer. She joins this grim band as they continue to track down the source, eventually reaching the capital city and discovering things are worse than they thought.

It’s not a smooth journey, and there are distractions and obstacles (both monstrous and human) along the way. The group is not united in any way, and most aren’t that willing to be participating, but there’s not a lot of choice offered any of them. Putting this in an 18th-Century(ish) setting is a great idea—you get a little bit of technology (guns, primarily), but not enough that swords, horses, traveling on foot and slow modes of communication aren’t the flavor of the day. You get a shifting prominence of nobility, a rising middle class, and a church struggling to survive in a hostile world, also. It’s a tumultuous time, not helped at all by the creatures plaguing the citizenry. It’s also a great change from the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Miller’s previous series.

And I wish I had time to give good descriptions of these monsters—and you’d be better to read them for yourselves anyway. The first one we see is simply disgusting and disturbing (and, boy howdy, am I glad we don’t get a bunch of them). Some aren’t that bad (relatively speaking, anyway), but a lot of them could be nightmare fodder is Miller used them a little differently. None of them are easy targets for the Hunters, but it’s only in large numbers that they’re a giant threat. We don’t seem to get anything that you’ve seen before (at least nothing I’ve seen before), which is great. Nothing against trolls, orcs, vampires, wights, etc.—but I appreciate seeing something new.

A common thread, it hit me this weekend, to all the books I read—Crime Fiction, SF, Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, even General Fiction, Non-Fiction or Theology—is that the worst enemies, the greatest predators, the most dangerous threats to humans aren’t aliens, monsters, demons, or whatever external threat you can think of. It’s humanity, our neighbors, our leaders, those like us. And as horrible as the creatures that The Culling targets may be, there’s something hundreds of times worse. Miller using that reality, reflecting that in his fantasy, is my favorite part of this novel (the competition for that was stiff), it’d have been easy and understandable to make a parasite that can control its host—or some other creature—to be the ultimate evil that Shast and the rest contend with. But Miller took the better—and harder—road. Which speaks good things for this new series (and bodes ill for how things are going to go in future installments).

Speaking of future installments, I know he’s already getting things ready to release the sequel in a few months. I can see a lot of options for what that sequel will hold—Character A’s next hunt, or Character B’s hunt/attempt at redemption, Character C & D going forward (together or separately), or a completely new batch of characters in the same world. All of which are pretty appetizing—I’d prefer A or C and/or D to another group or B—but I can see any of those working. Miller’s earned my trust at this point, and I’ll take whatever eagerly.

This is the sixth work I’ve read from Miller (you can read about the four novels and one novella of The Nameless Chronicle here), and I love watching him grow and develop—he’s learned a lot from that last series, and is applying those lessons well. This is more assured and better executed than those—and I had few complaints about them! Jump on to this one at the beginning of what promises to be a great ride.

Disclaimer: I was given a copy of this novel by the author in exchange for my unbiased opinion.


4 Stars
LetsReadIndie Reading Challenge

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Opening Lines—The Swallows by Lisa Lutz

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author—but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit?

Some teachers have a calling. I’m not one of them.

I don’t hate teaching. I don’t love it either. That’s also my general stance on adolescents. I understand that one day they’ll rule the world and we’ll all have to live with the consequences. But there’s only so much I’m willing to do to mitigate that outcome. You’ll never catch me leaping atop my desk, quoting Browning, Shakespeare, or Jay-Z. I don’t offer my students sage advice or hard-won wisdom. I don’t dive into the weeds of their personal lives, parsing the muck of their hormone-addled brains. And I sure as hell never learned as much from them as they did from me.

It’s just a job, like any other. It has a litany of downsides, starting with money and ending with money, and a host of other drawbacks in between. There are a few perks. I like having summers off; I like winter and spring breaks; I like not having a boss breathing over my shoulder; I like books and talking about books and occasionally meeting a student who makes me see the world sideways. But I don’t get attached. I don’t get involved. That was the plan, at least.

from The Swallows by Lisa Lutz

Dark Age by Pierce Brown: The blood-dimmed tide is loosed… / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.

Dark AgeDark Age

by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising, #5

Hardcover, 800 pg.
Del Rey Books, 2019

Read: August 9 – 16, 2019

From a distance, death seems the end of a story. But when you are near, when you can smell the burning skin, see the entrails, you see death for what it is. A traumatic cauterization of a life thread. No purpose. No conclusion. Just snip.

I knew war was dreadful, but I did not expect to fear it.

How can anyone not, when death is just a blind giant with scissors?

This will not end well

Lysander au Lune has a few thoughts along those lines pages after falling in an Iron Rain on Mercury, but this was one of the more striking examples. For a “bad guy,” he’s awfully easy to identify with. He’s trying to establish an alliance between the remnants of the Society and the Outer Planets to crush the Rising once and for all, and so has to curry favor with Atalantia by joining in the counter-attack on Mercury. This attack does not go well for anyone—both armies and the civilian population on Mercury took on incalculable losses, provoking a lot of thoughts like this on both sides, I’d imagine. And that’s just how this novel starts

It’s been almost a week since I finished Dark Age and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it—plot, characters, and ramifications of the events of the novel—and I don’t think I will anytime soon. I’ve joked (online and IRL) that I’ve used “brutal” in every post I’ve written about this series (at least once) and I was going to have to get a new thesaurus to help me come up with alternatives before I wrote this—not just so I’d add a little variety to the posts, but primarily because it just doesn’t seem to be descriptive enough about what happens here.

Iron Gold shows us what can go wrong as a society throws off the shackles of tyranny, but is still learning how to act with a replacement for that system. And it wasn’t pretty. Dark Age is all about what happened right after Iron Gold how does Darrow follow-up his dramatic act on Mercury? How do the remnants of the Society react to that? Can Virginia maintain control of the government (and should she?), and what’s going on with the kidnapped children and the kidnappers?

None of the answers to those questions are easy, and it’s hard to like any of the answers you might find. But man, what a book. Brown surprised me time after time after time and I have no idea what to expect for the next volume. You find yourself hoping that Character X will survive whatever dire situation they’re in, but you almost hope they fall now, because whatever is coming up next for them is going to be worse, much worse.

For a change, this isn’t primarily Darrow’s story. But even as I say that I want to object. The opening chapters are full of him, but after the first 100 pages or so (I’m estimating because I had to take it back to the Library already), other characters—primarily on the Moon and Mars—get the majority of the space. At the same time, there’s not one page—not one paragraph, really— that isn’t in the shadow of Darrow. His acts, his movement, his intentions, his affects on various individuals and/or society at large. Even if the Red Rising is put down and the demokracy is defeated, it will be generations before Darrow’s impact is forgotten. So, yes, he’s sidelined for most of this novel, but ultimately, it’s still all about Darrow.

I can’t take the time to talk about everything that I want to, but if anyone’s going to defeat Darrow/the Rising, I wouldn’t mind if it was Lysander. Sadly, Lysander wouldn’t be alone, and his allies aren’t as honorable or noble (actual nobility, not hereditary titles) as he is—so I hope he goes down in flames.

Yes, I didn’t think Iron Gold was necessary—or as good as the initial trilogy (while I did enjoy it)—but as it paved the way for Dark Age (and whatever comes next) I’m not complaining. This was probably the best thing since Red Rising (in many ways, probably superior), and I’m once again invested in this series.

Brown’s writing has never been better—this is his biggest book to date in terms of size and scope. Yes, it’s an investment of time, but not one that’s impossible to surmount (and is totally worth it). It’s a longer book, with more characters, more perspectives and more potential to surprise the reader (both in this book and what comes next). It’s like he took Yeat’s “The Second Coming” and said, I wonder what verse 1 would look like in the Red Rising Universe?

I can’t do justice to this book, I just can’t. There’s not an ongoing SF series that I can recommend as highly as this, and whatever flaws there might be are dwarfed by the strengths to the extent that I can’t even enumerate them. If your interest post-Morning Star has waned, I encourage you to give this a shot. If you’ve never tried this series, do not jump on board here. Go back to Red Rising, and after you’ve endured (and loved) the emotional battering that follows, you’ll see what I’m talking about.

“What does Mars mean to you, Nakamura?” I ask.

The Terran hesitates. “Hope. And you, my liege?”

“War.”

Virginia says a lot in that last syllable (even ignoring the pun). It sounds ominous there, and I think it tells us everything we need to know about the rest of this series.

—–

5 Stars
2019 Library Love Challenge

Reposting Just ‘Cuz: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

The second re-run from 5 years ago this week is from Rainbow Rowell, before she discovered she could make a lot more money on the YA market than she can with “Commercial Women’s Fiction” or whatever silly marketing label this got. I miss that Rowell, oh well.

LandlineLandline

by Rainbow Rowell

Hardcover, 310 pg.
St. Martin’s Press, 2014
Read: August 13, 2014

If the last few years have taught us readers anything, it’s that if you want quirky, honest, heart-felt romance with real (and usually moderately overweight) people and solid laughs, Rainbow Rowell will consistently deliver for you. And if you don’t think you want that, after you read her, you’ll realize that’s just what you wanted after all. She has two YA books and now two Adult books to her credit. Her latest, Landline delivers the typical Rowell magic in her story, but this time she included something else: actual magic. Sort of.

Georgie McCool is half of a pretty successful TV writing team who are thiiiiis close to being much more successful, all they have to do is crank out a handful of scripts in the next couple of weeks and they’re in a great position to sell their first series. The catch is, this involves working over Christmas — despite Georgie’s plans to go to her mother-in-law’s in Omaha with her husband, Neal and their two daughters. Georgie says that she can’t pass up this opportunity, so Neal and the girls go off without her.

Georgie sees this as a regrettable occurrence, but one of the sacrifices she has to make to get her dream show made. Her mother, step-father and sister see it as her husband leaving her, and Georgie ends up staying with them. Which gets Georgie to worrying — especially when she can never seem to reach Neal on the phone during the day. At night, however, when her iPhone battery is dead, she has to resort to the landline in her old room and she ends up talking to Neal back before they got engaged.

Don’t ask. It makes no sense. She never bothers to explain. And it doesn’t matter. Georgie eventually figures out that’s what’s going on and she rolls with it, and the reader does, too.

These conversations, as well as the absence of her family, lead Georgie on a path down memory lane, reflecting on the beginning of their relationship and how it changed as they did. Maybe Neal had made a mistake choosing her. Maybe she’d ruined her life (and his) by choosing him. Would they have both been better off going their separate ways? Or was there something worth fighting for now? Would that matter? The clock is ticking — for Georgie’s marriage (both now and then) and her career. Is she up for it?

The tension is real, the apprehension, fear, and self-doubt (for starters) that Georgie is wrestling with is very obvious and palpable. Yet while focusing on this, Rowell’s able to create a believable world filled with a lot of interesting people. There’s Georgie’s partner/best friend, Seth and another writer on their current (and hopefully future) show — and Georgie failing to hold up her end of things there, as much as she tries.

Then there’s her sister, mother and step-father. They’re much better developed (probably only because we spend more time with them). Her mother’s a pretty implausible character, yet not a cartoon, she’s a pug fanatic, married someone much younger than her, and generally seems really happy. Her sister’s about done with high school and is figuring herself out (and mostly has) — she’s a hoot, and my biggest problem with the book is that we don’t get more of Heather. Not that there wasn’t plenty of her — and it’d require the book to take a far different shape. We get whole storylines about all the non-Neal people in her life, little vignettes showing us their character, giving us smiles in the midst of Georgie’s crisis, like:

“Kids are perceptive, Georgie. They’re like dogs”–she offered a meatball from her own fork to the pug heaped in her lap–“they know when their people are unhappy.”
“I think you may have just reverse-anthropomorphized your own grandchildren.”
Her mom waved her empty fork dismissively. “You know what I mean.”
Heather leaned into Georgie and sighed. “Sometimes I feel like her daughter. And sometimes I feel like the dog with the least ribbons.”

Not only do the supporting stories, or even the little moments like this fill out Georgie’s world and make it more interesting, they provide a breather for the reader from having to deal with the disintegrating marriage.

I know some people think we spend too much time in flashbacks, where Georgie’s remembering how she and Neal met, got to know each other, and started seeing each other, etc. But we need that. If all we get is Neal in the present, or past-Neal on the phone, we’re not going to care enough. Especially in the first couple of scenes we get with Neal, it’d be real easy to see him as unsympathetic — the guy holding Georgie and her career back. We need these flashbacks so the reader can sync their feelings about Neal with Georgie’s, so that when we read something like:

Georgie hadn’t known back then how much she was going to come to need Neal, how he was going to become like air to her.
Was that codependence? Or was it just marriage?”

or

She needed him.
Neal was home. Neal was base.
Neal was where Georgie plugged in, and synced up, and started fresh every day. He was the only one who knew her exactly as she was.

find ourselves agreeing with her, or at least seeing why she says it.

At the end of the book, there’s a lot of plot lines dangling — some very important ones, actually. Enough so, that normally, I’d devote a paragraph to complaining about it. But I won’t this time — it works for Landline. There’s a lot for Georgie to work out herself, she’s really only settled on the one most important thing, leaving the rest to be resolved another day. And that’s got to be good enough for the reader.

Not her best, but Rowell on an off day is still really, really good.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

A Dangerous Man by Robert Crais: A Routine Errand leads to a Rescue Mission for Joe Pike

A Dangerous ManA Dangerous Man

by Robert Crais

Series: Joe Pike, #7/Elvis Cole, #18
Hardcover, 339 pg.
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2019
Read: August 8, 2019

Pike clipped his .357 to his waist, and went to his Jeep. Sometimes Pike enjoyed silence. Sometimes the silence scared him.

There’s nothing like a riveting scene to start off a Thriller, right? So naturally, Robert Crais starts this Joe Pike novel with Pike waiting in line to make a deposit at his bank. Talk about a nail-biter.

Yeah, that was snarkier than it needed to be. Honestly, I thought the scene was amusing — you don’t think of Pike doing routine things like that, and having the tellers gossip about him was cute. Right after that, this becomes a Pike kind of story—as he’s getting into his Jeep, he sees the teller who’d just been helping him being violently forced into a vehicle that drives away. Pike calls the police and intervenes before the kidnappers can do anything to Izzy.

The kidnappers are arrested, and Joe Pike has become a hero in a young woman’s eyes. Just another day for Pike, really, except his opponents are breathing okay. Neither the police, Izzy or Pike can figure out why she was taken — it’s not for money, she has none; there was no indication of sexual assault; and no one to ransom her to. Yet these two men committed this brazen act in mid-day with many witnesses around (including one witness that decides not to just watch).

A few days later, the kidnappers have been shot and Izzy is missing. Pike is spurred to action — and calls in Elvis to handle the investigation side of things while Pike secures her home and tries to insure her best friend is safe, before trying a different tack than Elvis to discover who took Izzy. It’s not long before Elvis finds himself entangled in a web of family secrets, lies, and murder — in addition to kidnapping.

It’s then a race to find out why Izzy was taken, as well as by whom and where. Despite not knowing her well, Pike’s devoted to saving Izzy and making sure those who took her won’t be in any position to threaten or hurt anyone again.

Joe Pike is in full-on protector/sentry/guardian angel mode here. He feels responsible for Izzy after rescuing her once, and once she goes missing, it’s a given that he’ll devote all his time and energy to rescuing her again. Elvis isn’t quite as invested, but he’s close and catches just enough brakes to get a full picture of what might drive people to kidnap Izzy and who they just might be. He’s also back to being full of quips and isn’t afraid to tweak the LAPD’s nose a little bit.

This is possibly the best John Chen story arc yet, it’s tertiary to the main story, but pivotal when it comes into contact with the primary story. But there’s more drama, more real emotion and tension of John than we’re used to. It was pretty cool to see how this one wrapped up, and how other characters worked to get it there. Do I expect that this will have any change on John’s character in the future? Of course not. But it was a good use of the character.

Very frequently, the clients that Joe and Elvis take on are utterly hopeless and are aware they’re totally dependent on the Joe and/or Elvis in their situation. Usually, part of Joe’s interaction with them is to show them they can rely on themselves, to find their strengths, maybe develop some. But Izzy and her best friend, Carly, don’t need that. Yes, they’re clueless about how to act in this dangerous situation — kidnapping, guns, and violence, in general, aren’t parts of their world, and they need experts to help with this (as 90+% of us would). But otherwise, they’re confident, they know their place in the world and are enjoying life. This does not stop the two of them doing things that are monumentally stupid (understandable, but stupid). But it’s a different arc than we’re used to, and it was pleasant to see these kinds of characters.

Without ruining anything, I’ll just note that Crais is better at bringing back — even if it’s just by dropping their name — old clients than most PI series. I’ve always liked that, and this book is no exception.

Crais is at the top of his game — this book takes place over a very short period of time and the urgency of the story is reflected in the prose. If you don’t get sucked in and gripped by the neck by this story, there’s something wrong with you. I tried to take my time and savor it, knowing it’ll be a while before we get another. But nope, Couldn’t do it, I had it finished about 13 hours after I started it — and it’s only family/work responsibilities that kept me from making that even briefer. There are some laughs; some quiet, reflective moments; but mostly, it’s pedal-to-the-metal action. Which is exactly what you want in a Joe Pike novel. The writing is crisp and compelling from the opening scene to the superb closing line.

Is this accessible for a new reader? Yup. Don’t let the fact that this is the 18th novel with these characters dissuade you, this is a perfect way to meet them and to see why Crais has been a bestseller for quite some time now. A Dangerous Man is as close to perfect as a thriller can be, and is probably the best thing Crais has done since 2013’s Suspect. Don’t waste time, go get it.

—–

4 1/2 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Pub Day Repost: Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh: Eddie Flynn, a Serial Killer and a “Trial of the Century”

ThirteenThirteen

by Steve Cavanagh
Series: Eddie Flynn, #4
eARC, 336 pg.
Flatiron Books, 2019

Read: July 26 – 29, 2019

I wanted this posted a day ago, but just a couple hours after finishing it, I wasn’t capable of discussing it in a meaningful way—unless you consider gibberish with intermittent “squee”s and a lot of exclamation points meaningful (and, I suppose it is, in a fashion). I think I’m a bit better now, but I’m still having a hard time organizing my thoughts. I’ve discussed each of the prior Eddie Flynn books in the last couple of years here—and each one has been a little better than its predecessor. This is no exception—but I’m not sure if Eddie Flynn #5 will be able to top this one (equalling it will prove difficult enough).

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before he’s had time to fully absorb—much less react to—some devastating personal news, Eddie Flynn is approached by one of the biggest, flashiest, best-known defense attorneys in New York to be his second chair in an upcoming murder trial. He’s not interested, at all—even after the money on the table is mentioned. But he eventually agrees to meet with the accused to decide if he believes in the client’s claims of innocence.

Robert (Bobby) Solomon is an actor on the verge of super-stardom. He’s one-half of a Hollywood power-couple with a reality show and a couple of movies together that are responsible for this status. He also stands accused of killing his wife and their security chief after finding them in bed. Eddie believes him and signs on. The media (social and otherwise) is abuzz with the killings and is circulating plenty of rumors, innuendoes and speculation about Bobby and his wife at this time, as they cover “The Trial of the Century.”

The prosecution’s case is almost overwhelmingly strong, but with some creative thinking, Eddie and his investigator dive into the case, coming up with a strategy for his defense—including ways to attack the prosecution’s case. His investigator is the FBI Agent Harper from The Liar, who has since quit the Bureau and is doing PI and security work with her former partner (this was a great move by Cavanagh, she’s the best character from that book not named Flynn).

Still, that’s a daunting target and an almost impossible feat. But what makes it worse? The actual killer—a serial killer, mind you—is on the jury and is committed to getting a guilty verdict. What a great hook, right?

It is hard, almost impossible, to give readers a serial killer as unique as this one. He’s not as charming or intelligent as Dr. Lecter (but close on the latter), he’s not as obviously sick and twisted as most fictional serial killers. There’s not a trace of sexual sadism or anything like that to his modus operandi (which is not to say there’s none in his past). He’s smart, he’s careful, he’s strategic and committed to his vision. He’s got some natural gifts that help him—and an ally that assists him (a non-lone wolf serial killer, I don’t know if I’ve seen that before).

What separates this killer from the rest is the motivation behind his killings and victim selection (and how he makes them a victim). Yes, he’s clearly mentally ill—psychopathic/sociopathic tendencies (if he’s not diagnosable with either), and he enjoys his work. But there’s an ethos, an ideology behind his work. He’s got a message for the world, a lesson he’s trying to teach people. Everything he does is toward this goal, toward living out this ethos. I absolutely loved this, and the more Cavanagh showed this was behind the killing (and eventually, killings), the more we saw of the motivation, the more I liked it (and the more impressed I was with the creation of this killer).

I want to go on a few more paragraphs about him, but I can’t without spoiling everything—so let me stress this is a great, and unique, serial killer.

While dealing with this case, Eddie also has some family problems he’s trying to address, and there are some NYPD cops out for him after embarrassing a detective on the witness stand. Eddie spends more time in danger from members of the NYPD than he does from the killer.

Harry, of course, is back—which is great. He’s more involved in this case than he has been since the first book, The Defense. He’s a judge, Eddie’s former mentor and current self-appointed guardian of Eddie’s alcohol intake. He’s a great friend and ally for Eddie. We also see the return of Arnold Novoselic, the jury consultant that caused so much trouble for Eddie in The Defense, this time, however, he’s on Eddie’s side. From a one-dimensional bad guy in book 1, he’s transformed into someone Eddie has to—and then can—rely on. There’s a new prosecuting attorney, and he’s a great character and a worthy competitor for Eddie.

No matter who’s writing the legal thriller, one of my favorite parts of the book is the narrator/protagonist giving the reader insight into how the judicial system functions—the nitty-gritty stuff about scheduling trials, deciding who to put on your witness list, the order you call the witnesses in, and so on. The reader gets plenty of that here—along with two (complementary) explanations why attorneys on either side of the case just don’t want anything to drive a judge to sequester a jury. I’d never thought of that before, but it rings so true. Eddie also gives a very detailed explanation about how the skills that made him a successful con artist make him a successful trial lawyer. Because I enjoy it so much, I could’ve read a whole lot more of this “behind the scenes” material if it’d been possible for Cavanagh to work it in. Still, I think we get more of that here than we have before.

The pacing on this book is intense—Eddie being hired, investigating, the trial and the outcome all take place in a week. A business week, Monday – Friday, to be specific. That’s just insane—and improbable. But you don’t stop to doubt it while reading. Even after finishing the book, I can’t be bothered to spend too much time wondering about that, because Cavanagh sold the timeline so well. It doesn’t feel rushed at all, however, it just feels like an intense thriller.

While driving the pace that hard, no corners are cut in the intricacy of the story. There are surprises, twists and turns enough to satisfy every reader, and enough courtroom shenanigans to compete with Mason or Haller. The penultimate reveal got me calling Cavanagh some pretty terrible names—not because I didn’t like the reveal, not because Cavanagh cheated in the way he told the story, but because he fooled me. It was all there, ready to be seen, but like a good magician, Cavanagh kept my eyes on what he was doing with one hand and ignoring the —he totally hoodwinked me. I admire that in an author but despise myself for falling victim.

Is Thirteen a decent jumping-on point to the series? Oh yeah, a great one—but you might find yourself a bit underwhelmed if you then go on to read the previous books (just a bit, that that’s only in comparison to this). For those of us who’ve been with Eddie for a while? This is a noticeable progression in quality. Cavanagh’s no longer a promising new author, he’s a reliable established veteran. Cavanagh’s been accumulating plenty of awards lately, and Thirteen demonstrates why and absolutely deserves the critical and award attention it’s been receiving. But better than all of that? It’s a riveting and rewarding read—entertaining, tense, and satisfying. Go get yourself a copy now and you can thank me later.

Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Flatiron Books via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this.

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5 Stars

2019 Cloak & Dagger Challenge

Reposting Just ‘Cuz: Golden Son by Pierce Brown

Here we are with the second of today’s Pierce Brown reposts. Even if Golden Son isn’t really volume 2 of a trilogy anymore, everything else I said about it still stands. There are few writers who can jerk me around like Brown can—he plays with emotions and expectations like Yo-Yo Ma on a cello. And I wish he’d lighten up on his readers, but I don’t expect that he will anytime soon (and I really don’t want him to, it just feels like it).

Golden SonGolden Son

by Pierce Brown
Series: Red Rising, #2

Hardcover, 442 pg.
Del Ray, 2015
Read: February 3 – 4, 2015

I glimpse Gray police standing over arrested Brown vandals who covered an apartment complex with the image of a hanging girl. My wife. Ten stories tall, hair burning, rendered in digital paint. My chest constricts as we pass, cracking the walls I’ve built around her memory. I’ve seen her hanged a thousand times now as her martyrdom spreads across the worlds, city by city. Yet each time, it strikes me like a physical blow, nerve endings shivering in my chest, heart beating fast, neck tight just under the jaw. How cruel a life, that the sight of my dead wife means hope.

As you start this book you’re thinking, this is going to be Red Rising continued — Darrow’s got a good steam and he’s going to continue to rise and learn. And then, you finish the first chapter and see how horribly wrong you were.

The important thing to remember while reading Golden Son: this is the 2nd volume in a trilogy. What does that mean about the book as a whole, especially the ending? Think: The Empire Strikes Back, Kinslayer, Catching Fire, The Deaths of Tao, The Two Towers, and so on. It’s going to get dark, it’s going to be messy, things are going to look bad for Darrow and his group.

Time and time again, Brown suckered me with this book. I got comfortable, got in a groove with the narrative, figured he’s about to zig and he’d zag. 30-50 pages later, we’d do the same thing again . . . and again. Up to, and including the final zig when I was sure he was about to zag. The number of times that a narrative gut punch was delivered as Brown was pulling the rug out from underneath you was enough to make you feel like you were one of Darrow’s crew on a bad day.

I read this at what turned out to be a busy time for me, so I couldn’t get to blogging about it then — I don’t remember many of the details (pretty sure the good ones are spoilery anyway), so I can’t get too specific about things. But I do remember the experience of reading it. This was just a brutal read — and each time Brown sent me reeling, I wanted more.

This was the second book in 2015 that I gave 5 Stars to. Since then I’ve read better books — some of which I’ve rated lower — but the way this book grabbed me, the way it made me feel while reading it? It earned the 5 Star then and still deserves it now.

I can’t wait for the conclusion, Morning Star this coming February.

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5 Stars