Gate to the Great Beyond by Nick Crutchley – 4/5 Stars

Gate to the Great Beyond by Nick Crutchley - Front Cover
What’s it about?

Here is the big question for Great to the Great Beyond (GTTGB): what is it about? Author Nick Crutchley’s books are interwoven and layered so it’s tricky to summarise and my interpretation may not be the correct one, but I shall try to start at what my mind tells me was the beginning.

There was this dwarf, Zorg Bloodbane, and he was mean and greedy. Aren’t all dwarves? Well yes, a bit, but Zorg was also resolute. He’s going to get that key to open the Gate to the Great Beyond at any cost and it doesn’t matter if he has to kill his friends. He’s aided by the sorceress Shiva (a ‘mutaton’) who has luck on her side; and he’s aided by an elf (magic) and a lion-headed humanoid (trying to save his people, blah, blah, blah), among others. They eventually get to meet this wizard who knows about alchemy and unwittingly has the key to the Gate to the Great Beyond. Still with me?

There’s much more beneath the surface

This key allows a questor – somebody destined or determined to have the key – to travel between the seven planes of existence. Or if the questor is someone like Zorg, maybe they’ll sell it instead. The setting widens out soon enough and we learn there is the Divine Plane and the six hundred and sixty-six hells among others, reminiscent of the virtual fantasy world in the first book, The Moment Between Two Thoughts.

There is a race of blue-skinned logical Ordaxions on one plane, trying to ascend through the Gate to the Great Beyond because they think there is another universe. At one point the Ordaxions are a super advanced civilisation, but then some event happens, this shining white light (keeps happening), and everything changes, putting them at the mercy of this thing called the Goo at the edge of their world. The Overseer of the Ordaxions has to work with this rather unremarkable amnesiac character, Srinivasa, who was somebody important in some past battle between heaven and hell, which was important by the way: the lion-headed Ashalonions were betrayed; there was this badass Nameless One with a staff and a string of lies to persuade others to his end of getting more power through a war; this annoying Preacher can’t stop preaching but his intentions are dubious.

Praise

It’s apparent after book two that author Nick Crutchley likes to weave together realms, peoples, plots, and magical objects as a platform for a good vs. evil battle, starring the supernatural, advanced beings, and everything in between. I didn’t get the impression the author was happy with a linear plot or a single reality.

The paperback was only 230 pages, yet there was a lot of worldbuilding and depth despite this. The author has taken care with the placement of each scene, I feel, so that by the end of the book you start to unravel what happened in the first hundred pages or more. There was more than one occasion when I wondered if I was reading an ingenious masterpiece, more so than the first book even, in the sense that we start small and then we blossom out seeing the full ramifications of what was really happening in those first scenes.

In many ways GTTGB is a clever story immersed in the same story template as the first novel, feeling excitingly, exotically foreign for all that, and it makes me wonder what else the author has up his sleeve.

Criticism

Zorg Bloodbane was a really interesting character and he brought about conflict with races wherever he went, and then the focus was off him and the reader was left with less interesting characters, at least until the logical Ordaxion Overseer was face to face with the impulsive Shiva. I’d have liked there to have been more to Shiva who bonded easily with men but she didn’t have much depth. Where did her power come from? That being said, I liked the idea of King Anorashiva.

If the story itself wasn’t a challenge to unravel, some sentences were easy to understand while others were passive, which made what was happening difficult to decipher. I did like the poetical quality to the writing, and the author’s tone never changed in this regard.

This is only a reader’s preference, but I wanted to stay in these worlds of Nick Crutchley’s a little longer before he shifted them. This was more of an issue in this second book, as I know the author can really stick us in these fantasy worlds, head and body.

Overall

You have to read Nick’s books to really experience the addictive quality to them and the unique storytelling style.

Author Website

 

ARvekt by Craig Lea Gordon – 5/5 Stars

ARvekt by Craig Lea Gordon - Front Cover
The main character, Tannis

From the first book in this series to this book, as soon as we’re introduced to new character Tannis, I wasn’t as interested since I felt she hadn’t been introduced properly, but it later became clear she was an action-first–personality-later type of character with a troubled past – and mental state – and that later made sense to me. The prose is a lot to take in – you feel like you’re plugged in – but it’s clear Tannis is a futuristic cop rooting out a group of criminal hackers who hack people’s brains, of all things. She works for some secret department and takes orders from an AI called Ix, a colour shifting entity whose voice changes gender but we remember her best as female.

There is more than meets the eye, as you could have guessed. Is reality real? Is Tannis psychotic or is she being fed lies? Is there really a conspiracy or is it in her head? Why does she keep blacking out? Why does she sense that what she’s seeing just doesn’t make sense? I liked these questions posed as they gave the story more depth, but what really gave it depth were the descriptions, making you feel you’re in a 3D world not dissimilar from the movie Alita or the series Ghost in the Shell.

‘Like a bright roll of silk thrown in the distance. Giant lily pads floated on its surface … thousands of them constantly ascending into the night sky.’

‘The last vestiges of the weapon platform jutting out of the top of the Thames, its rusting form a stark reminder of how close they came to losing that day.’

Ix, the AI

So, there is this AI called Ix that appears benevolent and all knowing at first, perhaps like that model of Alexa you have at home! Not too many chapters in we learn she’s demanding more powers. As soon as the reader knows of this, we suspect we’re up for a power grabbing experience or a conspiracy on a huge scale and the author makes no secret of this. Keep reading, I implore you! It was easy for me to assume how it was going to end …

Criticism

Sometimes I lost sight of where the character was in relation to other objects or situations. Sometimes all the action happened too quickly.

Overall

ARvekt wasn’t too convoluted or derivative as some works in this genre are. You read it having felt like it was unique in its own right, and it does twist the genre in different ways. It felt like a complex multi-coloured video game and to say the story had colour is no understatement: the scenes were vivid and I remember many of them now, a month after reading. ARvekt was a treasured experience and I recommend readers give it that go, which you won’t regret (unless you’re miserable?).

Author Website

Hypercage by Craig Lea Gordon – 3/5 Stars

Hypercage by Craig Lea Gordon - Front Cover
What’s it about?

The first book (?) in the Instant Reality series, Hypercage, had my interest. There was a husband character, Dave, addicted to virtual reality gaming at the cost of his marriage and family. The book coaxed the reader into having a vested interest into whether he would get his marriage and family together or if he’d finally reach Level 50 on his game when all his dreams would come true. Whereas the game offered exciting liberation, his partner was perhaps coming across as uncompromising and mundane, however, at times it’s clear to the reader Dave’s priorities were not his family. From Dave’s point of view, he was doing his best to get ahead to find ways of coping with one reality and making progress in another.

Criticism

I was disappointed we didn’t get to learn more on whether a solution was reached among Dave and his family before other events occurred, and this was likely because it’s a short story, and my rating above was harsher than it would have been as a result. Sometimes I lost sight of where the character was in relation to other objects or situations.

Overall

There were aesthetically pleasing characters in Hypercage, and some novel ideas such as a clinic to help with addiction. They really had everything covered in this world. There was a funny scene at the end of the book, which required more than a touch of imagination and I’d recommend reading through just to get to that part. I definitely had to read ARvekt, book two, to get a grasp on where the author was coming from and for a more fulfilling read – and I was not disappointed!

Author Website

After London Or Wild England by Richard Jefferies – 3/5 Stars

After London Or Wild England by Richard Jefferies - Front Cover

Quotes

‘If so, was it worth while to go upon so strange an enterprise for her sake? But if so, also, was life worth living, and might he not as well go and seek destruction?’

‘When the circle is once broken up it is often years before it is reformed. Often, indeed, the members of it never meet again, at least, not in the same manner, which, perhaps, they detested then, and ever afterwards regretted.’

First impressions

The first few chapters were introductory discourse from the narrator, on the settings and post-apocalyptic vision of England and it can lull you into thinking the rest of the story will be likewise information heavy, concerned with naturalistic detail at a level that isn’t easy to grasp. As a result, I wasn’t certain I knew where the author was taking the story itself, or what to expect beyond a vividly explained natural world of wild England. It almost made it sound as if England was so rural and uninhabitable that no story could come of the book.

What’s it about?

It so happened that After London or Wild England (ALOWE) resembled a historical story as the background for its speculative vision of the natural setting, peoples, and attitudes therein. I found it to be medieval in character, with Felix the main character nostalgic for the lost inventions of the greats but bemoaning the military prowess and status of knights and lords surrounding him. The latter have a much greater chance of winning the hand of his dear Aurora, after all.

It’s not all doom and gloom, and you can expect a few surprises in the plot – some which make sense and some which don’t or aren’t made clear. What is clear is that Felix wants some adventure to make him proud of himself so that he can stand out before Aurora, and on the way he may learn more about the world surrounding him: its past and its dangers.

Overall

ALOWE was an enjoyable read overall, with description that made you feel you were there and you were feeling what Felix was, as an observer of events around him more than a participant, and with ideas that ran contrary to the established order of things.

The aim was perhaps to show us the sort of society we could live in if we continue to poison the world with our society and industry, and the effect of the story itself did that, sometimes through narrative and sometimes through what I’d call an essay.

Author Website

 

God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert – 3/5 Stars

God Emperor of Dune by Frank Herbert

The Worm tyrant

The son of Paul Atreides, Leto, had a legacy but little did we know after Children of Dune that Leto would embody a gigantic worm as part of the Golden Path for humanity. It’s a visage that alienates everyone he comes into contact with. He can’t love properly and even the beloved, loyal Duncan Idaho reviles him for being a monster.

‘Sand crunched beneath him as he rolled, flexing his body in pure animal enjoyment. He could feel his worm-self being restored, an electric sensation which sent messages of health all through him.’

The fourth Dune book is a funny one, standing out as it does in memory as being a book about the tyrant God Emperor Leto Atreides who claims to have godly powers and yet refutes them at the same time with proclamations about the miracle of the individual. In fact much of what Leto says doesn’t make sense, and he says a lot during the book. Leto meets with his dull advisor Moneo, who is Atreides with subservience that doesn’t resemble it one iota. Leto and Moneo talk about the meaning of prophecy, conspiracy, and some of the main characters, for example, this Reverend Mother Anteac and this ‘rebel’ Siona whose plans are housed within the greater machinations of Leto’s – Siona’s own father is the ever loyal Moneo.

Leto will then meet with Reverend Mother Anteac, for almost no reason at all. Or he’ll summon Duncan Idaho, his newly resurrected ghola, to his chamber. Perhaps he’ll have a few words with one or more of his conspirators about tricking Siona … The point is, when does it end? When will something happen? Well, three things happen in the whole book: three points where there is action, and all are short lived. This includes the prelude, which I felt didn’t have much significance to the emotions of the characters. The story of a legacy only took this story so far.

The Duncan Idaho gholas

The only character that brings any real interest to the table is Duncan Idaho as he’s in similar, though slightly different, circumstances to previous books. Yes, he’s been resurrected as a ghola again but the problem is the last dozen Duncans have been killed and he learns he’s only really the replacement to serve as another loyal subject of Leto. It’s this Duncan brain of the past with an idealized view of male soldiery and Atreides loyalty that is now face to face with an empire defended by the female soldier Fish Speakers.

‘You choose male companions for their ability to fight and die on the side of right as you see it. You choose females who can complement this masculine view of yourself. You allow for no differences which can come from good will.’

And the Fish Speakers pose problems for Duncan. They want to mate with him in a carefree way – they even mate with themselves in a way he finds objectionable, highlighting a change towards homosexual acceptance in Leto’s new Dune (Dune or is it Arrakis or Rakis now?). You can’t blame the Fish Speakers as Leto has propounded the myth that Duncan is holy, and he’s the only man other than Leto who has this status (well, remember, Leto’s a worm now.) Leto wants Duncan to mate with Siona. Whereas Duncan appears to be a one-woman man, and to make things complicated the one he’s taken a fancy to is Leto’s bride to be, Hwi Noree.

“‘My Uncle Malky used to say that love was a bad bargain because you get no guarantees.’

‘Your Uncle Malky was a wise man.’

‘He was stupid! Love needs no guarantees.’

A smile twitched at the corners of Idaho’s mouth.

She grinned up at him. ‘You know it’s love when you want to give joy and damn the consequences.’”

‘You choose male companions for their ability to fight and die on the side of right as you see it. You

Praise and criticism

I remember the story being difficult to understand with nonsensical monologues, and there were more than a few on this read. That being said, there is a richness to the description and awareness of the Dune universe that makes even this book irresistible, a bit like the melange sand.

Not much exciting happened. By this stage the reader must be wondering, are the real events of Dune over and are we to make do with nostalgia?

Conclusion

I suppose it can’t be helped. If you make your main character a gigantic worm that can’t move around much, maybe the story is going to do the same. I enjoyed reading nonetheless, being a Dune universe addict, but I can’t help but think that the first three books were a lot better.

Official Dune Website

 

 

Cranberry Blood by Elizabeth Morgan – 4/5 Stars

Cranberry Blood by Elizabeth Morgan - Front Cover

Heather is an infected Slayer

We’re not sure what this means at first for Heather, being an infected Slayer. Later we learn there is actually a whole three steps necessary to become a vampire, with temptation acting as motivation. Even so, many perish before becoming one. I really did enjoy the lore in Cranberry Blood (CB) – check out the author’s glossary.

I must say I was engrossed in the first few chapters with the action, both physical, and, ahem, sexual. There … yes, well, Heather wakes up in her home and there is this annoying guy called Brendan who’s being Brendan, and then he’s being Brendan some more, saying how he saved her and it was her clairvoyant Gran, Sofia, who told him to and that’s why he’s in Heather’s home making use of the facilities. (Hey, there’s a good story if there is a woman you want!) Heather doesn’t want to call the police though: she wants to kill him with her sword!

‘You’re not doing very well with the whole convincing me not to kill you just because you say you knew my Gran routine.’

‘Aware that I had not been stabbing and kicking his arse out of my house like I’d planned to when I first walked into the kitchen.’

I felt the dynamic between Heather and Brendan was the most important strength of CB and it made it interesting throughout. Heather kept reaching for those cranberry blood bottles, which I felt was a useful reminder of her ‘thirst’. Her and Brendan’s interactions just become funnier and funnier as they’re forced to work together:

‘Can you stop calling me kid?’ I snapped. ‘It may have escaped your attention, but I am not actually a child.’

‘He’s a walking buffet, and he doesn’t even realize it.’

Authentic character voices and personalities

I dare say I imagined Heather’s voice as the author’s own, having seen author Elizabeth Morgan’s Tiktok and Instagram videos. However, with Brendan’s point of view, it became clear the voice I imagined was only my imagination as the author can write different authentic voices. Some readers may not appreciate all the back story covering the same events from two different perspectives, but I rather liked the bigger picture.

Brendan came across as more mature and understanding than you’d expect, and Heather as less mature than you’d expect, what with her vengeful ‘slaying’. But then we know at the beginning of the story that Heather is infected with vampire blood, which perhaps has hormonal implications. Maybe Brendan’s experiences have matured him while Heather has revenge at the front of her mind? The only thing that Brendan gets riled about is being away from Heather, away from his duty to protect her, but then there were times during the story I wondered if they were getting sick of each other and it was only the ‘thirst’ and duty that kept them attached; and it was a duty Heather didn’t feel she agreed with.

Comparisons

CB strongly reminds me of The Twilight Saga, which I didn’t read: I only opened the books so many times 😉. There is that furry fondness feeling of being around a group of friends who all have your back. It felt a bit like Blade in the sense vampires, for all their sinister plans, were pitiful fodder for Heather’s sword. I’d have liked the vampires to have been more worthy opponents. I couldn’t help but see the parallels between Heather’s slaying and her investigations into conspiracy and the Underworld series.

Criticism

Heather had already drunk human blood in the apartment block as part of her act, so her adamant avoidance of it later on in the experimental facility didn’t make sense to me, but maybe I misunderstood the point.

I wish more of the lore in the glossary had made an impact on the story itself: examples of mating rites, weddings, shifters, and the different vampire generations. Maybe I have to wait for the next books for them?

Heather and Brendan were the most interesting characters, though Sofia was important. The sub-characters didn’t interest me much and I found their names hard to remember.

Conclusion

CB is an exciting read front to back. I personally enjoyed the beginning more than the rest as I found the haunting background fascinating with the circumstances surrounding clairvoyant Sofia, and Heather’s bonding, and not bonding, with Brendan. After the initial sexual scenes, there wasn’t much that fazed me. I felt the author had much to offer readers in the urban fantasy genre and for anyone who generally likes vampire and werewolf books, including a sense of humour!

Author Website

Creepy Sheen by Rebecca Gransden – 5/5 Stars

Creepy Sheen by Rebecca Gransden - Front Cover

What’s it about?

From the blurb, and not necessarily from the collection of stories itself, Creepy Sheen (CS) describes that we are living in an alternative history in the 1980s, the Third World War, which has had an impact on the broadcast transmissions making their way through space, as we’re led to believe is usual, and now there is a response aptly described in the blurb: ‘At the head of Earth’s messages to the cosmos travelled the collective broadcasts from one atomic day in history … That transmission is Creepy Sheen.’

First impressions

I believed I was picking up a retro science fiction collection of stories based in the 1980s, possibly with bizarre or horror themes – just check out the cover. I assumed I knew what to expect of the time period, if only from books and media, and to some degree I was correct. Social and cultural attitudes among friends were different, and one may say more expressive or adventurous if we’re using CS as the template.

‘A perfect hiss erupts as Barney opens the drink with a shiny bottle opener. In one motion, he moves his head back, raising the bottle to take a cooling swig, an idealised silhouette against the shining white of the sign behind him.’

‘In outline they ingest the dark liquid and the brightness of the world glows, until gold turns to white and the heat of every particle lights them up in a burst of phosphorescence, the whiteness at the heart of existence tearing into their souls and remaking them anew.’

‘A distant and melodious bing bong echoed along the dusted walkways above. Starved ferns rusted, threatening to tumble and splinter under their own weight. The flatness of the mock marble seating attached to it in a warped triangle partially covered with drooping ornamental grasses, themselves in a process of steady decay.’

When a character checks her watch in the story Arcady, and not her phone, you feel an odd sense of displacement, a leaping back in time to when we had simpler gadgets, and when the desperation of life looked us in the face.

Just have a taster of the author’s choice of words: ‘And sighted a black truck … as it floated the roadway.’

There was a memorable scene in the same story mentioned above, in the arcade where the reader sees life how it is, with blinking lights and repeated tunes, but there is this disconnection and unreachable part of it that draws the character in and makes you question it. Do we live in these times? Why do we take our friends for granted? Why am I stood here in this arcade now? These questions almost make you feel that the strange circumstances that happen afterwards are the more normal ones.

Praise, criticism, and evaluation

With some stories I didn’t grasp the conclusion or the hidden meaning, if there was one in these ones beyond an alien-invading creepy sheen. This was the case in the stories Broken Wings, Tranquilizers at the Mall, Breakdown on a Synthesizer, and Liquid Crystal. We know something went wrong in the stories, but we’re not sure what. Despite this, the author has managed to make us easily imagine what it would be like when a crisis or two did happen in the 1980s and how the characters would respond to it.

With some stories, it took me a bit to see the link between the premise of the book and the culmination of the short story itself, such as in The Future is White and Infomercial for a Dying World. In retrospect, the way the premise was shown was excellent, saying no more than was necessary.

One of my favourite stories was Night Drive Drifter in a Bad Dream. The way this story starts! I found this story illustrated the creepy sheen premise in the most visual way, propelling the character into action and taking none of the creepiness out of the sheen, so to speak. You must read Hell Alley, also, in a story akin to Ghostbusters but with more violence, ugliness, and conspiracy than you’d imagine. I would be interested to learn what happened to the character Myra also, after her ordeal.

Overall, I’d say CS is a story that will take any expectations you had of it and slice it into pieces, leaving you with the uneasy feeling of past reminiscence, perhaps, of stepping into a world you’d thought you’d left but you’re forced to return to when on the run. It’s a collection destroyed by the realities of its … reliance on broadcast transmission, or social or cultural attitudes? I don’t say the last sentence with any certainty, but I do intend to compliment the collection as a whole in this paragraph. There is a sense of adventure or the surreal in some stories you may be familiar with from other works by Rebecca Gransden, and increasingly, there is the theme of disconnection, as we have in this collection: reaching out only to be transported to violence or a warped version of a distinctive time that advertised its rosiness but maybe hid uglier things.

As with all of Rebecca Gransden’s fiction, it’s worth your time to read!

Author Website

Trinity by David Wind – 3/5 Stars

Trinity by David Wind

Today I’m reviewing the third book in epic fantasy series Tales of Nevaeh, a series which I’m a fan of. Please also see my reviews for the first and second books in the series by clicking on the links at the bottom.   

The third book in Tales of Nevaeh, David Wind’s Epic Fantasy series, focuses a lot more on magical realism by taking paranormal psychic warfare to the next step. This opened speculative possibilities about what would be real unless psychic-warrior partners Areenna and Mikaal took action to prevent the Dark Masters’ conquest of Nevaeh. This is made difficult by the fact that both Areenna and Mikaal become increasingly distrustful of The Eight sorceresses and other grand supposedly benevolent natural forces, who they must rely on to prevail. The Dark Masters know who Mikaal and Areenna are and plan to use their fondness for one another against them both. However, what the Masters’ don’t know is that there is a mysterious third person giving the psychic-warriors the edge in battle that could well thwart their conquest of Nevaeh.

As with Born to Magic, the first book, Areenna and Mikaal must contend with a witch; this time the witch’s (Lessig) background and relative importance as an evil rising power is made clear at the outset. I liked the visions provided by The Eight, which showed what would happen if Lessig was tackled in different ways. Trinity is split into two parts, Book One and Book Two, the latter being where the adventure really began for me and it did so with astounding revelation of Nevaeh’s past and present. The last 25% was rife with raw anticipation, as the final battle looms and strategy meets counter-strategy. Through third-person omniscient point-of-view and ever reliable mutant-animal aoutems such as the flying Gaalrie; we experience the glorious battles and impending fate of Nevaeh. The extremely well-conceived epic battle at the end had excellent build-up and delivery of outstanding writing.

Criticism: The language ‘I know not how’, though sounding authentic, was done a bit too often and gave a stilted effect. Some common themes slowed the progression of the plot: the movements of the numerous characters and the devotion between Areenna and Mikaal sometimes didn’t represent change in their relationship. Entering forests, discovering deception, and then aiming for a resolution repeated often. Admittedly this could be because this is the third book in this series I have read and the themes are becoming very familiar. Born to Magic #1 and Dark Masters #2 had evil coupled with great journeys of discovery, but I felt Trinity was a psychic game of chess until the battles commenced.

Overall, there was much in Trinity to applaud. There was revelation about the state of Nevaeh, and possibilities about what evil plans could befall it as the forces of good and evil prepare for a final clash. I immensely enjoyed the final battle, which is comparable in impact to the one at the culmination of the Lord of the Rings. My reservations about Trinity were because of its focus on psychic powers and preparation than on adventure. However, if you’re into this series as I am then there isn’t a compelling reason to not read Trinity.

Born to Magic by David Wind #1 – 5/5 Stars – Review

Dark Masters by David Wind  #2- 5/5 Stars – Review

Earth – Last Sanctuary by Christian Kallias – 5/5 Stars

Earth Last Sanctuary Christian Kallias
(Universe in Flames #1)

Earth — Last Sanctuary is the first in a science-fiction space-opera series where pilot Chase is the main protagonist and must use his incredible piloting and strategic improvisation to survive the decimation of the Star Alliance by the Obsidian Empire. The immediate parallel to make is with Star Wars, but don’t let the terms put you off, for there were many resonating influences that shaped Earth – Last Sanctuary: Independence Day, Star Trek Original Series (in that there was a protective moralist deity); and maybe there were ideas borrowed from the Serenity film or Farscape series.

I liked the moral thread running through the novel, of letting go of money, fame, and lust for power and to embrace foremost the development of the human race through technology. This ideology was a prerequisite for eliminating poverty, to cure illness, and save the environment. Its idea does stem from the basis of putting the needs of the many above the needs of the few, but the author delivered this new ideology in a convincing way.

My analysis was extremely positive. I loved the connection between characters Chase and Earth pilot Sarah Kepler and the way Alliance technology was introduced in a simple and yet absorbing way. It made perfect sense why the Alliance would be as developed economically and militarily when compared with what Chase sees as “human recreational activities”, which involve movies, sex, and food. In this way Earth seems to have prioritised the development of entertainment. Because Chase’s point-of-view showed he didn’t at first understand human indulgences, and for all his similarities to humans in language and appearance he was emotionally detached. This made me empathise with the author’s message, seeing the setting as a bridge that must be crossed for human and humanoid happiness.

Minor criticism: there were a few instances in the final space battle that were reminiscent of the attack on the Death Star in Star Wars A New Hope, and a single line “They’re up to something, I can feel your presence now”, made me think I knew where the series was going, however the author dispelled such notions at the end.

The dogfights were astounding, the space battle strategy imaginative, and there was a conceivable chance either side, Alliance or Empire, could have prevailed. There were easily relatable characters, a writing style that makes otherwise complex terms easy to digest and understand. Some of the writing, especially when Aphroditis spoke, was so impassioned, I felt the words speak to the soul, the writing was that powerful. It was as if I was there! Don’t turn Earth – Last Sanctuary down if you see it anywhere. Actually, if you’re reading this review, download or order it now and begin reading. You won’t regret it.

Otto Von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves – 5/5 Stars

Otto Von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves by Jesse Baruffi

Vigorously entertaining science-fiction super-villain adventure parody that may at first seem like a cross between Naked Gun and Austin Powers, but with a serious and strong plot. In his astounding debut novel, author Jesse Baruffi shows us the ridiculous and far-fetched way heroes are presented, as inordinately stupid supermen who can brush any affliction aside and who mindlessly fight for democracy and freedom, defying natural laws, and of course being unfaithful to their girlfriends!

We have Otto Von Trapezoid, a mad scientist supervillain who is emotionally stunted and has a short temper that sometimes leads to inadequacy and poor short-term decisions. Otto’s personality archetype exaggerates the problems scientists cause when they don’t think while at the same time possessing devastating weaponry. There’s Esmerelda, a master thief who has comical martial arts reflexes, being more concerned with style and appearance, and she has a hilarious disregard for incongruity. While Otto must decide between emotions and drones, Esmerelda must contend with her nasty family.

When the villians meet during a particularly memorable dinner, it is to have a civilised conversation, while of course plotting to end one another’s lives. Otto’s failed attempts were funny because he was so agitated and awkward that he missed his mark and managed to casually thwart Esmerelda’s attempts to do away with him. The protagonist point-of-view focus was well-balanced as we see the developing enmity between both, and the story develops with amusing and crucial incidents that cover betrayal and of course their run—in with Jake Indestructible (no introduction necessary). The villains were imaginatively created; mirrors that deflect projectiles, remote controlled boomerang, ROPE (rocket-operated punching explosive), etc. The villains were not overly negative and when they were treacherous it was artfully done, not cynically, and splashed with inventive humour. Though the main traitor was obvious much earlier in the novel, the scenes were delivered with excitement and energy. There’s a serious adventure beneath the puns, jargon, and mocked clichés that is a battle between good and evil where the reader never really switches sides.

Criticism: I didn’t get all of the humour, or why some sub-characters were presented in the ridiculous way they were, such as Otto’s parents. It’s clear many of the jokes were about exaggeration, and as I continued to read and the main plot developed, I must have got used to the style and found much of it humorous. Also, I thought the distrust between Otto and Esmerelda wasn’t fully explored, even if they did occasionally question each other’s secrecy or motives.

Overall, you do not need to understand all the humour to experience this wildly entertaining read that glues our perceptions of heroes and villains into something original, compelling, humorous, layered, and with a plot that continued to evolve at just the right pace. Astounding!

Otto Von Trapezoid and the Empress of Thieves on Goodreads