Operation: Endgame by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

Operation: EndgameOperation: Endgame

by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Series: Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, #6

Kindle Edition, 370 pg.
Imagine That! Studios, 2017

Read: January 2 – 3, 2017


Eliza and Wellington continue their pursuit of Jekyll. They start things off with the most exciting opening to one of these novels since we first met the duo in Phoenix Rising. From there, they get in a little official trouble, and get sent packing. They’re brought off of their suspension because Jekyll is leaving a path of corpses throughout Europe to draw them in. Yeah, it’s terrible, but it’s a fun story. While on the hunt, the couple make a new friend who I’d enjoy getting a book/series of her own, frankly — but first she’s a whole lot of fun to read and helps Eliza and Wellington out a bit, too. About halfway through the book (maybe a little longer), this story takes the turn it needs to and fully explores what Jekyll and Father Books were up to. This takes everything up a notch and really helps sell this finale. I can’t go further without ruining the book — but from here out this is the best thing that Ballantine and Morris have done yet.

Meanwhile, we continue the subplot of Agents Bruce Campbell and Brandon Hill chasing the House of Usher around trying to find out more/stop Operation: Ragnorak. Following their exploits in Russia last time, they’re primarily in the US and Italy for this book. They cross paths a few times with the always entertaining (for the reader, not the Ministry’s agents) Sophia del Morte. This was probably my favorite use for these two agents yet (although, I really did like the Russia stuff), and I thoroughly enjoyed everything but the very end of this storyline. I found the conclusion to this particular storyline disappointing — and maybe I’m supposed to, maybe we’re going to see the actual conclusion to it in the spin-off series (or in one that hasn’t started yet). I’m not saying that there wasn’t an ending to this, but it felt off somehow, like there’s more to be said.

This installment probably did a better job of tying the entire series together than the previous books did — not that there were continuity problems (at least not that I noticed), but books 2-5 built on each other and little else. Operation: Endgame helps you see the way that book 1 led to something in 3 and 6, etc. Which is probably easier to do when you know that you’re bringing everything to a close. The other two main stories (particularly the Books and Braun) also had a sense around them that this was it — do or die time, and no, “Oh, rats, they got away! I guess we know what we’re doing in the next novel!” It gave a heightened urgency, a heightened sense of import to everything that happened — or maybe it was the other way around. Or maybe it’s just me, because I knew it was the last book so that. I don’t think so — I think I’m going to credit Ballantine and Morris for writing that way.

A minor gripe: this really could’ve used one more copy-edit pass — there were too many sentences missing a word, and that kind of thing.

Operation: Endgame did everything it needed to do: it told a compelling story and it brought a series to a satisfying end. Not every series finale can do both, so it’s always a relief when one does (especially when it’s a series you really enjoy). I enjoyed the book on its own merits — a fun chase through, well, most of Western Civilization for Books and Braun; some nice stuff for Campbell and Hill — some chuckles, a little romance, a lot of excitement, some goofy Steampunk tech. The kind of thing that these Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences books have been delivering for years. I also enjoyed the book as a finale — the story of these two agents is over, but it’s not done in such a way that there’s nothing more to be done in this world. The door’s open for more adventures for the surviving characters, the Ministry as a whole, etc. but there’s no need for it — which is a nice bonus. I’ve got the first novel in the spin-off series (and hope to get to it soon), so I know we don’t have to say goodbye to everyone, just Eliza and Wellington (which is bad enough). If you haven’t read any of this series, I really do recommend it from start to finish.

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4 Stars

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The Ghost Rebellion by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

The Ghost RebellionThe Ghost Rebellion

by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Series: Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, #5

eARC/Kindle Edition/Trade Paperback, 268 pg.
Imagine That! Studios, 2016

Read: June 3 – 7, 2016

A little house cleaning first. For the 4 of you who read that bit, you’ll notice the part where I describe what format I read is a little more crowded than usual. When I was sent the eARC, I asked when they’d like me to post this, and was told somewhere around the 10th to be close to the release date, so I glanced at it, but didn’t start reading. Then the Kickstarter copy of the ebook came out before I could start it, and then the (very nice!) paperback arrived in time for me to read the last 80 pages or so. So, yeah, it’s not my normal M.O.

But who cares about that, really? Let’s get on with the book…

“Well then,” Wellington began, “the House of Usher is apparently supplying rebels with inferior, supernatural technology, India is on the brink of war with Mother England, all while a madman possessing the ability to turn ordinary people into ten feet monsters is on the loose.”

Eliza bobbed her head, her lips bent in a smirk. “Just another day at the Ministry.”

“Shall I go put the kettle on?”

“Please.”

Just in case you thought things were going to settle down for the Ministry following the events around the Diamond Jubilee, well, forget it. The Agency is recruiting and training new members, reassigning others, and sending their experienced agents all over to help get things back under control
The somewhat unlikely pairing of Agent Bruce Campbell (and seriously, what a great character/tribute) and Brandon Hill is turning out to be a great combination (even if Hill spent too much time with Kellogg and his kooky health theories last time he was in the States). The two go off to Russia in search of an artifact needed by the Ministry, and find themselves in the middle of something big. Potentially very big. Thankfully, there’s plenty of vodka on hand to help.

Things aren’t going swimmingly for the House of Usher and Jeckyll at the moment, either — there’s some internal shakeups/restructuring with the House which should prove to be important for the Ministry. And Jeckyll’s, well, he’s not taking the loss of his royal patient (and everything else that happened in the last book) too well.

Sophia del Morte, of course, makes her presence known as only she can. When she’s not trying to kill Books and Braun, she’s really one of their most reliable allies. This time she has a vital piece of intelligence or two, that’ll not only impact this book, but (I wager) the next. Also, she brings all the right sorts of weapons to every occasion . . .

Meanwhile, while the Ministry rebuilds, Agents Books and Braun are off trying to take care of Jekyll’s remaining and scattered associates. This brings them to India, where they encounter an old friend, an old acquaintance and some ghosts — literal and figurative. Before they know it, they find themselves in the middle of struggles between the British army and assorted groups of Indian rebels wanting to be rid of said Army (and the rest of the government). The links between Jeckyll and this conflict are surprising, and may put a strain on our protagonists’ relationships with various entities.

One thing that isn’t strained, is the relationship between Books and Braun — their young love is still going strong, and is a pleasure to read. Well, okay, there’s one little strain — Wellington Books himself. We’ve seen hints — signs — of what Usher and his father had done to Wellington, but now we see more than just signs — we see almost the full-fledged results of what they did. These results are both frightening and astonishing (which is pretty much what Eliza and Wellington felt).

I bet I’ve somehow neglected to talk about the chapter titles in any of the previous novels — shame on me. And if I have mentioned them, they need to be mentioned again. They’re easily something overlooked as one reads — because, really, who cares? — these are not to be missed. Witty, understated and full of Steampunk sensibilities. I don’t know if I’ve ever wondered about this before with any book, but I do wonder how much time they spend crafting these. My guess is that it’s harder than it looks.

I enjoyed the new characters (Bruce’s new pal in particular), and getting to see a couple of old ones in new ways. And it’s always fun to see Eliza, Wellington, Bruce, Brandon and Sophia. I just had such a good time with this. In many ways, this book was just setting the table for the next, and final, installment in the series. But the character development, revelations, and overall entertainment value of the book kept this from just being a way to move pieces around. There was real excitement, good character moments (even from an Usher member or two), and a whole lotta fun, with an ending that leaves you really wanting the next installment.. I really can’t wait to see what the authors have in store for us next — it’ll be great.

Disclaimer: I received an eARC copy from the authors in exchange for an honest review. Also, I backed the Kickstarter for this book. Also, I liked every other book in this series, so I wasn’t exactly an objective reader going in. Not that I ever am.

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4 Stars

The Diamond Conspiracy by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris

The Diamond ConspiracyThe Diamond Conspiracy

by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris
Series: Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, #4

Mass Market Paperback, 357 pg.
Ace, 2015
Read: April 9 – 15, 2015
Most authors let a series go for awhile before they break formula, but not these two — here were are in Book #4, and they’re shaking things up in this follow-up to that intriguing cliffhanger. On the one hand, I wish they’d given us a one or two more of the standard Brooks & Braun head off on a mission somewhere (even to another country or something like their trip to the States) before this one — but I’m not sure it could’ve waited.

This is not a good year for me and Book 4s. Like, Pocket Apocalypse, this one took me far too long to get into. There was no point where I wasn’t interested, where I thought the story dragged or anything — but I think it took 5 days to read half of this book, but only one other to read the last half. I’m not sure what to make of that, honestly, but it’s annoying, if nothing else.

You get a glimpse of what’s coming in the previous book — the Ministry has been decommissioned. The agents who served the Crown so faithfully are now hunted by her government. Yet, they stay true to their mission, as you’d expect. Not the easiest task, even for these agents, used to the peculiar and the impossible. And what they’re about to go up against is a lot more peculiar than they’re used to. I’m always a sucker for tales of second chances — and we got a few here, to boot. This book really has a little bit of everything.

Beyond the events of the story, there is just so much here to blow the reader’s mind — events, revelations, characters — in the last hundred pages that I cannot talk about without utterly ruining the experience for anyone. But if you don’t sit up in your chairs a little straighter, mouth agape, at least twice in Chapters 14 and 15 (for example), there’s something wrong with you. And the last chapter? Great, just great.

I’ve always enjoyed the back and forth between the Brooks and Braun, but now they’ve added this flirtatious (and then some) aspect to it, making the scenes between two cackle with a new energy. The growth in their relationship feels natural, and doesn’t go too far. Sure, they’re ga-ga over each other, and in the first blush of new love — but they’re still professionals, with work to be done. Now that there’s a little more trust in each other, maybe that works better, but it’s still the same base relationship we’ve been following since Phoenix Rising.

One final thought: Is it just me or does that position Eliza is in on the cover look: 1. really uncomfortable, and 2. not that useful for shooting?

A dash of steam=punk, a bit of romance, some intrigue, some “you’ve got to be kidding me” moments, and good character progression. This is one of my favorite series going, and this entry just solidifies it.

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4 Stars

Dawn’s Early Light by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

Dawn's Early Light (Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, #3)Dawn’s Early Light

by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Series: Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, #3

Mass-Market Paperback, 374 pg.
Ace, 2014

Read: April 23 – May 1

Agents Braun and Books are back in action — this time in the U.S. of A. Teamed up with a pair of agents from the Office of the Supernatural and the Metaphysical, they set out to investigate a rash of missing ships (of both the air and sea varieties) along the Eastern Seaboard. While full enough of the requisite peril and adventure, this particular investigation is wrapped up quickly — but in doing so, the four agents uncover a plot that’s far more hazardous to both nations. The Pinkertons, the House of Usher, the British Royal Family, and a couple of notable scientists/inventors from the era soon are involved in twist-filled machination to wreak havoc.

This leads the agents chasing their suspects across the continent — with stops in Detroit, Flagstaff, and San Francisco. As fun as it is to see Ballantine and Morris show us around a Steampunk Victorian England, a tour of the States is a nice change (also, nice to see a Steampunk U. S. not filled with Priest’s Rotters). Books latest invention (not to mention the toys that the team at the Ministry give them) are perfect — just the kind of things secret agents need (and could even use today), “science”-y in a suspended disbelief manner, and outlandish enough to have to be fictional.

There are two storylines that only relate to the main plot at the end of the book — one involving the House of Usher attempting to kidnap a Ministry agent, and one involving the assassin Sophia del Morte and the Prince of Wales. I could’ve easily taken another fifty pages or more with both of these. Hope to see all these characters again soon. Speaking of characters to see again soon — the scientists/inventors I mentioned earlier? Yeah, we need more of them.

Of course, the Ministry’s missions (even those not actually condoned by the Ministry) are only part of what makes these books page turners. There’s the whole Will They or Won’t They thing with Books and Braun — scratch that. There’s never been a Won’t They, just a When Will They? That’s been obvious from the get-go, honestly. It’s merely a question of what obstacles will be in the way. This time, the obstacles are the American agents — clearly set-up to be stumbling blocks on their road to romance, the fetching librarian and the gun-slinger each with enough common ground and personality to match our heroes. It was a little too heavy-handed for me, and as much as I liked the Americans as characters, I really disliked them in their role as hindrances. Sure, our authors make those storylines pay off nicely — but I didn’t enjoy the ride.

Nothing against the book, it was a fun read with a couple of characters that I enjoy spending time with, but it wasn’t as good (on the whole) as the previous two (see above paragraph) — but the last two chapters, as they revealed exactly what stakes are involved, earned it the extra half star. A fun read, but mostly one that moved pieces into place for the next book or so while tying up a couple of loose ends from the previous books. I’m really looking forward to what’s next. It’ll be great.

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3.5 Stars

Dusted Off: The Janus Affair by Pip Ballantine, Tee Morris

The Janus Affair (Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences #2)The Janus Affair

by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Series: Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, #2

Mass Market Paperback, 432 pg.
Harper Voyager, 2012

This was just fun. Rollicking steampunk adventure told with just a touch of whimsy (well, maybe more than a touch when it comes to chapter titles).

This time out, our intrepid secret agents investigate the inexplicable disappearances of several leading British suffragists. Pasts come back to haunt, secrets are exposed, romances are kindled, clockwork doohickeys do all sorts of strange and wonderful things–all you can want.

I really enjoyed this first installment of this series, and this first sequel is a lot more fun–I’d be more than happy if these came out more frequently.

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4 Stars

Dusted Off: Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballantine, Tee Morris

Phoenix Rising (Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences #1)Phoenix Rising

by Pip Ballantine, Tee Morris
Series: Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, #1

Mass Market Paperback, 402 pg.
Harper Voyage, 2011

I’ve been curious about Steampunk fiction, but wasn’t sure where to start amongst all the choices out there–so I just dove in and grabbed one. If Phoenix Rising is any indicator of what the sub-genre offers, I’ll be coming back to it again and again.

Most of the ingredients of this book–the characters, the secret organizations, the conspiracies on top of conspiracies, the chemistry between the protagonists–would make for a decent read if set in contemporary England. But throw them into an alternate history of Victorian England, with advanced technology and it’s a sure winner.

I can’t think of anything really to say that doesn’t get into spoiler territory, so I’ll cut this short–as a great spy thriller with a twist, Phoenix Rising is a good, pulpy read and great introduction to what will likely be a great series.

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4 Stars