The Seclusion is the debut novel from journalist Jacqui Castle and it’s a ripper. The story is set in a dystopian future America that has been twisted into an isolationist authoritarian nation, separated from the rest of the world by the enormous Northern and Southern Security Borders. All history predating the walls is banned and information is tightly controlled. In this new America, the people are ruled by a faceless board and mindless patriotism is favored above all else. Into this setting we meet Patricia. As an environmental scientist, she’s one of the few people permitted to roam beyond the city walls. It’s while on one of these research trips she stumbles upon a trove of forbidden information that triggers a harrowing sequence of events.
In the year 2090, America has walled itself off from the rest of the world. When her father is arrested by the totalitarian Board, a young woman sets out to escape the only country she’s ever known.
While on a routine assignment scouting the viability of dwindling natural resources outside the massive urban centers most American citizens call home, Patricia ’Patch’ and her co-worker Rexx discover a relic from the past containing dangerous contraband―unedited books from before The Seclusion. These texts will spark an unquenchable thirst for the truth that sees Patch’s father arrested by the totalitarian Board.
Evading her own arrest, Patch and Rexx set out across a ruined future United States, seeking some way to escape the only home they’ve ever known. Along the way, they learn about how their country came to be this way and fall in love. But their newfound knowledge may lead to their own demise.
There’s no pretending The Seclusion isn’t political. It was written before the election of Trump, but many will see it as prescient, with the world it paints an extreme conclusion to the right-wing populism currently sweeping not just the USA, but many other countries as well. Basically, if you’re a racist, right-wing conservative who doesn’t believe in human rights, you’re probably not going to enjoy The Seclusion. Suck it.
I loved this novel. Patricia is a great protagonist who grows throughout as events spiral out of control. The world, though extreme, is well realized and the journey from present-day to dystopian future all too believable.
Disclaimer: The author and I are both contributors to the Writing Bloc. I read an advance review copy of this novel. However, I had already pre-ordered and paid for a retail copy before receiving the version I reviewed. The Seclusion is out September 4th.
My book of the month is The Fireman, by Joe Hill. It came to me as a recommendation from one of my editors, which is high praise in itself. The Fireman is an apocalyptic horror by best-selling author Joe Hill. It takes us to a version of our world that is burning. Literally. A mysterious disease, known as dragonscale due to the markings it creates on the body, is causing mass spontaneous combustion. With the sheer number of people catching fire, almost everything else seems to be going up in flames too, including civilization. Into this setting we meet Harper, an uncompromisingly positive nurse with a fondness for Julie Andrews. Harper is amazing. She’s a charming mix of innocence, courage, and intelligence. Experiencing the world through her point of view is a delight.
“Harper put the novel back on his desk, cornering the edges of the manuscript so it stood in a neat, crisp pile. With its clean white title page and clean white edges, it looked as immaculate as a freshly made bed in a luxury hotel. People did all sorts of unspeakable things in hotel beds.”
The story is a slow burn, building the intensity as the disasters mount. The world is well-realized and the dragonscale fascination, but throughout it’s the characters and the prose that shine. The novel telegraphs each of the disasters and betrayals beautifully, letting you stress as the tension builds without spoiling the moment when it finally arrives.
“Almost as an afterthought, she put a box of kitchen matches on top of it as a paperweight. If her Dragonscale started to smoke and itch, she wanted to have them close at hand. If she had to burn, she felt it only fair that the fucking book burn first.”
If you enjoy dystopian / apocalyptic fiction, you should absolutely read The Fireman. You can find it on Goodreads here or Amazon here.
I just finished reading The Creakers with my young son and it’s delightful. It tells the tale of Wiffington and the relationship between its residents and the creatures known as the Creakers. Specifically, it focusses on the children of the town after they awake to find every grown-up has mysteriously vanished overnight.
Our heroine for the story is young Lucy Dungston, who’s a worthy hero for the adventure. While many children celebrate their new freedom, Lucy attempts to solve the riddle of where their parents have gone. She takes it upon herself to keep her fellow children safe and return the grown-ups to Wiffington — no small order. With monsters under the bed, people being snatched, and a strange, backwards world called the Woleb, The Creakers tiptoes along the edge of scary for its intended audience. However, Fletcher has a wonderful sense of humor, regularly breaking the fourth wall to interact with the reader, and lightening the mood considerably.
The story has great pacing, an eclectic cast of characters, and a strong dose of ridiculousness. It also features excellent illustrations throughout to help bring everything to life. My son and I both loved it — two thumbs up.
The Creakers is aimed at younger readers. Due to the production quality and illustrations, I recommend the physical book rather than eBook.
I can’t explain why, but I put off reading World War Z for several years. I knew about it, knew it ticked a bunch of my boxes, but never started it. Maybe I thought the style (written as a series of personal interviews with survivors of the zombie war) wouldn’t work, maybe it was the Brad Pitt movie. I’m not sure, but I was wrong. This novel blew me away over and over again. By the time I’d finished I felt wrung out, and will probably return to re-read it again before this year ends.
Disclaimer: the author of Sorcery for Beginners is my editor. I’ve tried to be impartial here, and am confident I enjoyed the book regardless, but in the interests of transparency…
Sorcery for Beginners, by Matt Harry, is an urban fantasy targeted primarily at a younger audience. However, in the same way Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Sorcerer’s Stone in the US) captured the imagination of many adults, SFB is also destined to have a wide appeal. It’s an instruction manual for the ancient art of sorcery, teaching its lessons through the educational example of Owen Mcready. The book intersperses Owen’s tale with interesting tidbits, reference notes, and (most importantly) instructions for casting the various spells featured. The story is well told, great fun, and built upon some marvelous world-building. I knew early on I was ready something special and wasn’t disappointed. It’s set up to be the first in a series, and I anticipate these novels becoming a staple in the genre. This could well be the first instalment in the next Harry Potter.
I read most of my novels in electronic format these days, but I recommend picking up SFB as a physical book. The production values sunk into the paperback are awesome, and the book looks gorgeous, with French flaps, rough-cut pages, and wonderful illustrations.
Note: Kindle Oasis owners shouldn’t buy the kindle version. The Oasis has as a different aspect ratio to other kindle models and it plays hell with the formatting of the illustrations. Other kindle models should be fine.
Sparked, by Helena Echlin and Malena Watrous, is a young adult urban fantasy that is a joy to read. I read a wide range of genres, including more than a few YA novels. Reading the novel, I felt it was potentially written for a younger age group than me. Before you start, yes, I know I don’t come anywhere close to qualifying as “young” adult. However, there’s a lot of YA books out there that feel their written for a more mature group within the bracket. Or maybe they just try to be edgier. Either way, there’s something distinctly innocent about the teenagers who take centre stage in Sparked, and it fits the story well.
Speaking of story, Sparked follows Laurel as she tries to work out what’s really happened to her sister, who goes missing early on. Circumstances leave Laurel convinced her sister is in danger, but no one else will believe her. As she digs deeper, she begins to discover the situation is farm more complicated and dangerous than she ever thought possible.
Both Helena and Malena have previously published novels, but never before together as a team. Their skill is obvious, with slick prose and well-structured scenes throughout. There’s nothing in the world or the plot that makes it stand out as something completely unique within the genre, but there’s nothing too derivative either, and the execution is excellent. My only real complaint is that when Laurel finds someone who can give her answers, those answers are a little cliched in delivery. While that small sequence pulled me out of the flow temporarily (I got back into it soon after), I suspect it wouldn’t bother its target audience as much. The rest of the novel avoids such a trap, and the supporting characters are great — indeed, the group dynamics are part of what makes the novel click.
If you’re looking for a YA urban fantasy, but sick of Twilight clones packed full of Edwards, pick up Sparked. It delivers a quality story with panache and leaves the door open for more to come.
You can read more reviews of the book on its Goodreads page here. Alternatively you can order a copy from:
The Punch Escrow (TPE) currently holds a record place in my library, as I finished it in five days, which for a slow reader like myself is a huge statement. I couldn’t put this book down, and now I’ve read it understand why people have been comparing it (stylistically) to Ready Player One.
The novel is set in a somewhat distant future (2147) where teleportation has become the dominant form of transportation. It follows Joel Byram, a salter (he teaches AIs to be more human through mind games), as he’s drawn into a conspiracy that threatens the world order and forces him to question who he really is.
The novel is hard sci-fi and the author (Tal Klein) has done some heavy-lifting in the world building. There is enormous depth to the society he has created and the science that keeps it humming. An interesting style-choice Klein has chosen is to include regular footnotes to explain various aspects of society, history, or science as it is referenced. This wouldn’t always work — these footnotes can be huge info dumps — but in the context of TPE it feels authentic (and the explanations are fascinating.
The story is told directly by the main character, in the form of a message he records for others to find so the “true story” won’t be lost. This is a nice approach, as it lets Klein provide us more than one point of view while staying firmly in Joel’s voice, which is delightful. It also means all those footnotes I mentioned are also explained in character, which is part of the reason they don’t become boring.
I loved this book from beginning to end and can see why it’s been building so much hype. If you enjoyed Ready Player One, or fast-paced hard sci-fi with a sense of humor, I recommend picking this book up.