Tag Archives: Blackthorn Book Tours

The Warden by Jon Richter

Covid-19. Ugh. We’re all sick and tired of it right now. It’s been a part of our lives for close to two years now, and yet it feels like a lot longer. God only knows when the threat will recede long enough for us to return to any sort of a normal life. Human nature being what it is, I fear we will be living with this virus for some time to come. While I have spent much of my time since March 2020 reading and writing about the books I’ve read, I have purposefully stayed away from any works of fiction that reference the current pandemic. It’s not that I’m a coward or anything–I read enough about it online (from reputable sources, I should add)–but I prefer my reading material to take me away from current events rather than leave me stuck in the present. Having said that, a lot of the books I’ve read in recent months reflect badly on humanity as a whole: murder mysteries, conspiracy thrillers, dystopian science-fiction and fantasy, the whole gamut. Make of this what you will.

All of this leads me to The Warden, written by English dark fiction author Jon Richter. Against what I perceived to be my better judgment, I took on reading and reviewing Richter‘s book for Blackthorn Book Tours. I thank all parties involved because this book is really something. It’s not a comfortable read by any stretch of the imagination, but it sure as hell is an intriguing one. It’s premise and plot, which I will get to shortly, propels the reader from one short but exquisitely paced chapter to the next. Depending on where you are in your life right now, this could either be the book for you, or not. I thought it might not be, but I was happy to be proved wrong.

The Warden begins with Eugene Dodd, a former police detective who, with a whole bunch of other individuals, were chosed my lottery to live in The Tower. The story begins in 2024, the virus has mutated to such a level that any trip outdoors, for whatever reason, is a death sentence. The current UK government, led by Prime Minister Arkwright (who took over after the death of her predecessor), has the entire country in a perpetual lockdown. Only the residents of The Tower could be classed as any way near safe from the virus. This is because they are assigned their own room, have their food delivered by robots on a daily basis, and can call other residents via SMART technology on the television sets. They are monitored by James, an omnipresent artificial intelligence created way back in 2020 by Felicity Herring on behalf of a company called Innovation Corporation. It was her view that James would overtake Alexa and Siri as the world’s most successful and available AI assistant. And that’s pretty much what happened. PIPs replaced iPhones and Android devices, and everyone seemed to get their hands on one. When Felicity and James come up with the idea of a SMART- controlled tower block as a form of experiment in disease control and monitoring, the government jumps at the chance and funds it.

Meanwhile, in The Tower itself, in 2024, Eugene witnesses the aftermath of the gruesome killing of the building’s human superintendent Curtis, the detective in him needs to find out the truth behind the man’s murder. His friend Boyd, a conspiracy theorist, suggests that all is not right with James and the outside world. Boyd gets his information, such as it is, from Natter, a social media website that I think keeps an eye on its users more than they know. The only other person Eugene chats with on a regular basis is Caroline. While Boyd was once Eugene’s partner in their previous life, Eugene has never met Caroline face to face. Their rooms are blocked off from all light, they don’t meet any of the other residents: they are in fact prisoners of sorts, and James is their de-facto warden. Curtis’ murder forces the agoraphobic and deeply traumatised Eugene to seek a way out of his room and discover the truth behind The Tower and James itself.

Back in 2020, Felicity discovers that James has more power and influence than even she could have foreseen. The two timelines ultimately converge in a showdown that has to be read to be believed.

Jon Richter has created a red-hot novel of imagination and frightening plausibility. It’s violent and the characters involved are rarely out of danger. But the most important thing for me is, the story is so real and so well put together that much of what went on from 2020 onward could very well happen in our own timeline. It may very well be happening, if you believe the internet. And why wouldn’t you?

Hunt For The Troll by Mark Richardson

Let’s start with getting the soundbite out of the way. Mark Richardson’s Hunt For The Troll is, for me, the most compelling story narrated by a character whose name remains unknown throughout the book since Daphne du Maurier published Rebecca way back in 1938. Most authors wouldn’t get away with such a concept nowadays for fear of being accused of either being weird or offering style over substance. Hunt For The Troll is indeed a very weird book, and stylish as all hell, but there is quite a but of substance here. You could, if you so wish, compare this book to Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero in that much of what takes place in the book is surreal and yet instantly recognisable. It’s a page-turner, but not as you know it.

A novel that mixes genres as adeptly as one of the characters, Priya, mixes cocktails, Hunt For The Troll is a heady concoction of urban fantasy, cyberpunk, industrial espionage, and a missing person’s case. Our unnamed narrator has lived a charmed and affluent lifestyle since he discovered at a very early age that he had a gift for writing code. Already on his way to become one of the youngest Grandmasters in chess, he dispenses with the board and focuses instead on gaming. A close friend, known only as The Captain, convinces him that two minds are better than one and so they find investors for a start-up of their own. A few years later they sell out and move on with their lives, with our narrator enjoying a life of luxury and solitude in Rome.

The story starts proper when The Captain emails the narrator with a proposition: he wants the two of them to get the band back together as he has a great idea for another start-up. The narrator boards a flight back immediately, but he finds The Captain is nowhere to be found. Seeing that he’s back hone in San Francisco, he’s offered a job for an online gaming company Centre Terrain, where he’s implanted with a neural processor which allows him to enter the game as an avatar, Roma, and fix any code in the game that needs fixing. He also has a little fun while he’s there, breaking one or two company rules along the way. He begins a relationship with one of his colleagues, Nika. At the same time, the narrator’s been having some strange dreams involving binary numbers and a being called the Troll, who tells him they’re about to change the world.

The narrator draws the attention of billionaire Larry Gosling, an investor of Centre Terrain, and he’s very interested in what our young talented hero has to offer. Offering tidbits into the Troll’s history, Gosling suggests that the man is interested in taking humanity to the next level: in others words, transhumanism. It’s an intriguing concept that doesn’t quite bear the fruit that it should by the end, but the journey nevertheless is peppered with offbeat characters like Whitfield, a guy that the narrator is close to (they smoke a lot of weed and play copious amounts of chess), and the two main female leads, Nika and Priya. Even if you haven’t the first clue about quantum computing and binary numbers, you won’t feel lost among these pages. There’s plenty of expositional dialogue to help you along the way.

Mark Richardson’s playful style is addictive and surprising. I whizzed through the chapters and found myself caught up in sheer dreaminess of the story. One thing I will say, though: the book was first published in 2015, and now six years later, I think it’s time Richardson came back and let us know what happened next. Beware: there be cliffhangers.

Author Mark Richardson

Petrichor by Melanie Rees

A friend of mine once told me that the very best stories being told nowadays are from the Young Adult (YA) genre. I remember one such book specifically: Code Name Verity, a young adult historical fiction novel by Elizabeth Wein. It’s an amazing book, one for every adult, no matter their age. Please read it. And while I have you, please read this novella, too. Petrichor is written by Australian author Melanie Rees. At around 160 pages long, you’ll finish it in a coupe of sittings; but it will stay with you much longer. This deceptively simple novella has power, emotion, adventure, and a third-person point of view narrator that could be anyone on this planet.

We’ve all experienced loss, but perhaps not in same way Clayton and his family have. The setting is a rural town of Paddle Creek Station in Australia. It’s almost dystopian in that a drought that has seemingly gone on forever has threatened the livelihood of the families living there. Clayton’s father is a farmer struggling to make ends meet because of the lack of rain. Not only that, but not so long ago, his son and Clayton’s older brother Davo died in tragic but mysterious circumstances. Clayton’s mother and father refuse to talk about Davo, and his father point blank forbids Clayton to go anywhere near the house where Davo lived.

Petrichor, which is a word that means the pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of dry, warm weather, is a remarkable novella, in that it very quickly goes from a period of mourning and buried memories to the world of the fantastical. Clayton is visited by Waringa, a spirit that takes the form of a dead fox. Waringa tells Clayton that only he has the power to defeat the Red King and bring the rains back to Paddle Creek. Aided only by his brother’s dog Rusty, Clayton sets off on an adventure that is both excited and deeply profound. He must free the rain spirits while doing battle with the evil that has taken over the countyside. Waringa isn’t always there to help him, so oftentimes Clayton and Rusty are on their own.

Behind all this, though, is an exploration of grief and the struggle to understand how and why Davo died. The answer to these questions are both disturbing and understandable, and it may trigger a few readers. But I urge you to read through to the end. Clayton’s father initially appears unfeeling and indifferent toward his surviving son. His mother tries to provide balance between the two men in the house, but she herself harbours deep grief, too. In the meantime, unknown to his parents, Clayton is putting himself in mortal danger.

Petrichor packs an absolute wallop of emotion in its short length. And it’s not short on set-pieces either. It’s an exciting and though-provoking novella that will resonate with anyone who reads it. Like I said at the beginning of this review, the very best stories are told in the YA genre. Petrichor by Melanie Rees is another example of this. It’s gorgeously written, vivid in its imagery, and human at its heart.

Ark Of The Apocalypse by Tobin Marks

I think the best thing about being part of Blackstone Book Tours is the knowledge that among the books I’ve signed up to read and review, there will be among them a book so devilishly clever and unique that all I can do is read on and giggle with amazement at the author’s audacity. Tobin MarksArk of the Apocalypse is one such book.

The first thing I looked at was the book cover. The image portrays a blond haired young woman with a baby dragon on her shoulder. Immediately this brings to mind Daenerys Targaryen from the book and TV series Game of Thrones. Another cash-in, you might think. But Ark of the Apocalypse is its own beast, and it’s story is both contemporary and fantastical. Yes, there is such a woman in the story, as well as a dragon (which comes much later in the narrative), but from the very first chapter, there is a lot of foreshadowing, shocking moments, and so many twists and turns that in my mind, Marks has kind of outdone George RR Martin in high-stakes character-driven storytelling–and this book, the first in a series called The Magellan II Chronicles, will see its conclusion long before Martin gets around to concluding his.

Ark of the Apocalypse is a genre-bending mixture of science fact, science fiction, and a healthy dollop of paranormal fantasy. If that’s your bag, then you’re going to enjoy the hell out of this book. If you like to read books that make you utter “What the flaming hell?” after every chapter, before diving into the next one, then yes, this book is for you.

I’ve avoided so far trying to summarise the plot. The blurb available on all platforms goes some way to explaining what AotA is all about; but it doesn’t do it full justice. But like all good sagas, this book revolves around a family from Russia called Yanbeyev. This dynasty evolves through decades of genetic engineering and psychic manipulation to become the veritable saviours of humanity, while at the same time ensuring that even as the Earth dies, the Yanbeyev lineage with survive to lead humanity on not one but two planets (at least). What the blurb doesn’t tell you is that along the way, there is political assassinations, multiple US presidents, and a Russian premiere that sees them all off via help from the Yanbeyev matriarchs (though he’s completely unaware he’s being manipulated). Climate change has ravaged our planet. Governments ignore the scientists until its too late, and the only way to save humanity is to build a generation ship that will take 10,000 humans to a planet that will be called Aqueous. What the planners don’t know is that there is an indigenous species of reptile-like creatures and an advanced alien race already well settled there. But the Yanbeyevs are aware of these races and have factored them into their millenia-long plan for human domination. They are happy to let the world go to war and burn, if only for their ancestors to survive and grow into an interplanetary power.

Like I said, there’s a lot going on in AofA, but it’s a supremely fun and thought-provoking read. I loved it and I wait in glorious anticipation for what Tobin Marks will conjure up in the next instalment. This is space opera and high fantasy at its very finest. I haven’t enjoyed a book so much this year as this one.

Author Tobin Marks

Liner by Chris Coppel

Nothing is as it seems in Chris Coppel’s latest horror novel with a twist, Liner. In the prologue, it’s the present day and Morgan McCarthy is working his one Sunday a month at his job at the National Oceanis Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Communications Center. He’s not happy about this, but hey, what’s a guy to do, right? His focus is on the North Atlantic Ocean seabed tectonic sensor arrays: basically looking for anomalies along the seabed like earthquakes and other movement. A previous false alarm that damaged his reputation has him thinking twice when he spots an anomaly in one of the sectors he oversees. But he makes the call and reports it.

Immediately Coppel and Liner bring us back in the past to the early 1960s. David Easton is taking his first and only transatlantic crossing on the luxurious ocean liner, the SS Oceanis. His life has taken a turn for the worst. Recently divorced, David’s ex-wife and her family have left him close to destitute with his reputation as a microbiologist in tatters. His only solution, as he sees it, is to use the last of his money on a first class ticket on board the Oceanis and then at some point in the crossing throw himself overboard, ending his misery. But before all that, he and the rest of the passengers have to deal with some strange events onboard and weird atmospheric conditions on their journey.

David strikes up a friendship and possible romantic interest with Diana Olson, a young debutante whose mother Myra is eager to match up with an appropriate suitor. David is not what she has in mind, so she goes as far as banning her daughter from being near David. Her father Arthur is less pragmatic and indeed takes a liking to David, going so far as to offer help once they’ve reached port. So it looks like David could be on the up-and-up after all. But Liner has other ideas. There is a pandemic on board, one that’s christened “the green plague”. Cruise staff and customers alike are vanishing, and David thinks that the ship’s doctor, Aiken, knows more than he’s letting on.

It doesn’t take long for the malaise to inflict more people on the Oceanis, and soon the ship’s captain, Havelin, enlists David and Diana’s help. From here on, the story gets more weird and paranormal. What struck me at the beginning was how stoic most of the victims of the plague were. They accepted their impending demise with dignity and little fear. The necrosis eats their entire body until nothing but their clothes are left. And the fog that surrounds them has blocked all communication with the outside world. The SS Oceanis is lost and alone, with no help in sight.

Throughout this fast-moving and involving narrative, author Chris Coppel compels us to read on because he has given us an ideal couple to follow around. David and Diana are delightful, but you get the feeling from the start that their relationship is doomed. You want them to survive and flourish once the voyage is over, but Coppel foreshadows his twists and eventual climax with enough expertise that even though the passengers may get a happy ending, it’s not the one we may have hoped for when we began reading.

Who or what is behind these incredible and unbelievable events surrounding the Oceanis? Well, I’m not going to tell you. You will have to read Liner to find out. For a novel with some pretty decent horror overtones, you will also find a sincere amount of pathos, hope, and longing. I loved how it ended, and my heart went out to David and Diana. Their mutual love stayed with me long after the book ended.

Author Chris Coppel

Asylum by Tamera Lawrence

Tamera Lawrence is an author I’m going to look out for in the future. Let’s just get that out of the way. She has a way with creating deep, dark, pervading atmospheres; and her sense of place and character is quite simply breathtaking and intense.

The subject matter of Asylum is an uncomfortable one. Many countries have their own mostly hidden histories when it comes to mental institutions, orphanages, and how they treat the less entitled and vulnerable among us. I think I hit it on the head when I typed “hidden”, because that’s what happens to people who end up in these places: they’re lost to the rest of us. Just Google ‘Magdalene Laundries’ and ‘Mother and Baby Homes’ in Ireland and you’ll get the full picture.

Kyle Hampton was born and grew up in one of these places, Rose Hill Asylum, in Pennsylvania. His mother had a learning disability and was subject to a lot of abuse in her time there. When she died at a young age, Kyle was lucky enough to be adopted by Scott Hampton and his wife Florence. He left behind his brother Roy, who he hasn’t seen or heard from in decades. Married to Beth, with a young baby named Samantha, Kyle has kept many secrets and struggles in his adult life, as you would perhaps understand. His best friend is Randy, another former Rose Hill inmate, and together they explore the underground tunnels of the soon to be redeveloped former aylum. A chance encounter with a pair of boots set the novel on its path, leaving Kyle and his family heading into danger with someone by the name of Stitches.

Stitches, who’s eventual identity is both surprising and foreshadowed, is an intriguing character. You could write him off as being pure evil, but even evil has to come from somewhere. His appearance and actions brought to mind Joaquin Phoenix’s Oscar-winning role in the movie Joker. Stitches loves to dress up as a clown and act out his dark fantasies. If you’re looking for another reason to be fearful of jesters, then Asylum is definitely for you.

Kyle has to face up to his past and reconcile with his wife if he’s to live further than the end of the book. How Tamera Lawrence kept my attention was by allowing her characters to dictate the story. Yes, you will probably end up questioning why they do what they do, but we humans are invariable driven by the ghosts of our past and don’t always make the kind of decions that are in our best interests. Kyle, Randy, Stitches, and even Beth, are held captive by childhood memories, and as Asylum draws to its intense and perilous climax, the past and present collide violently.

Asylum rattles along at a furous pace, but Lawrence allows us important insights into each of her characters. You will be glad to have read this book, but horrified that events that occured in Rose Hill Asylum are not as fictional as you would hope. In fact, the truth behind many of these kind of institutions is worse than any writer can think of.

Author Tamera Lawrence

Death Perception by Lee Allen Howard

If someone left the last letter of my name off of my birth certificate, and no one bothered to notice, I would be called Jame. Not bad, I suppose, but I would be living a somewhat unfulfilled life. Our name is part of who we are, and how we are referred to is equally as important. It’s our identity and is unique to us. Kennet Singleton found himself in that situation from the moment he came into this world. His life from then on was anything but normal. His father was a man filled with anger and constantly lashed out at Kennet and his mother. His tragic end took so much out of the family that at the end of his mother’s life, he lived with her in a care home run Ms. (never Mrs) Flavia Costa. He struggles to make ends meet by working part-time at the local crematorium. His boss, Cecil Grinold, is an unsavoury type, cutting corners as he sees fit and has eyes on opening up more crematoriums in the future. He treats Kennet how most other adults treat him: with barely disguised contempt.

But Kennet has a gift, bestowed upon him my God and a now-deceased prophetess Sister Etta. In a tradition that can hardly be described as quirky, Kennet toasts marshmallows over the ashes and this action allows him to ascertain by some spiritual connection with the dead how his charges died. Author Lee Allen Howard has given his character a pretty unique power. It’s what Kennet does with this ability that powers this fast-moving and engaging novel, Death Perception.

When the novel begins, Kennet is informed by Ms. Costa that his mother has died. This hits the young man hard and while you would expect the adults in his life to support him in his grief, the opposite happens. Costa moves him from his room to a dank basment and basically tells him to look for somewhere else to live. His boss is unfeeling and instead adds to Kennet’s workload. When Grinhold catches his employee offguard toasting marshmallows, he fires him. However, Grinhold is living a double life and finds his reputation on the line when the woman he’s having an affair with, Delores, threatens to make their liaison public unless he pays her off. Meanwhile, residents in Ms. Costa’s care home are dying at an alarming rate. Kennet, by way of his power, and with the help of his friend Nate and romantic interest Christy, attempt to get to the bottom of both Grinhold’s and Ms. Costa’s subterfuge.

Author Lee Allan Howard

Lee Allan Howard mixes genres here quite well. It’s got all the prequisites of your typical coming-of-age story, with Kennet coming to terms with who he is and what he can do, using whatever resources at hand to do better for himself and his mother’s memory. His burgeoning romance with Christy is sweet without being sickly so. The mysteries Kennet investigates are two-fold: his power tells him that how some of the people he cremated died doesn’t match up with their death certificates. He is told by the spirits of these people to avenge them. Kennet needs to do what he’s being asked. Then there are the separate plots by Grinhold and Ms. Costa. What, if anythung, do they have to do with the dead people that ‘talk’ to Kennet? Then there is the horror behind everything that’s going on. The adults, the so-called responsible people, are committing heinous acts out of greed and and an overblown sense of self-importance. None of them come out well. The spirits will have their vengeance.

Death Perception rattles along at a decent pace and Lee Allen Howard peppers his narrative with engaging character work. I liked Kennet and wanted to see him survive and expose the fraudsters in his midst. I feel there could be more to come from this young man in future books. I would love to see him delve deeper into the origin of his gift and how he could use it for further good. What I would have enjoyed is more horror, though. For me, there wasn’t quite enough of it. I wanted the evildoers to suffer more, instead in one case taking the easy way out. Still, this is a small thing because the book is enjoyable and perfect for readers unsure of whether or not they would enjoy a book with horror elements. I will look out for more of this author’s work.

The Dark Chorus by Ashley Meggitt

Some books are a pleasure to read. Others, more of a nightmare. The Dark Chorus, the debut novel from British writer Ashley Meggitt, gave me pleasure, in that it is exquisitely written — but man, those nightmares are going to follow me around for a while.

The novel unfolds in two distinct voices and personalities. The Boy, who remains unnamed throughout, is the primary character. He sees lost souls, calling them his Dark Chorus. Among these souls is the one that belongs to his mother. When we first meet the Boy, he’s in a boys’ home, but he manages to sneak out and persuade a local woman to become the new owner of his mother’s soul. Unfortunately for the poor woman, the ritual involves her death. The Boy’s powers of persuasion and his ability to see these souls is a gift (or curse) that has supernatural and historic origins. These are explored in detail throughout the story. But for now, once he knows his ritual has been unsuccessful, he persists in his mission, despite the intervention of Ma’am, the local detective inspector (also unnamed), and Dr Eve Rhodes, his appointed psychiatrist — the second point-of-view of the novel. Her journey to understanding the Boy’s motivations is as engrossing to read as the Boy’s exploits themselves.

By far the most amazing aspect of The Dark Chorus is the relationship between the triumvirate of the Boy; Makka, an angry and pathalogically violent young man of mixed-Asian heritage; and Vee, a young and damaged girl whom the boys rescue from men who wish to commit heinous acts in her. As they form a friendship, while on the run from both the law and men who want them dead, the Boy’s mission to save his mother’s soul takes on a different perspective. Learning more about his power and his history, the Boy decides he must condemn all corrupted souls into oblivion. The scenes of violence are not for the faint-hearted, but all kudos to Ashley Meggitt: while the death scenes are extreme and bloody, they are not gratuitous. Think of the Boy as being Dexter-like, with only the truly evil being vanquished into nothingness.

Dr Eve Rhodes is a compelling character in her own right. Without giving too much away, as The Dark Chorus proceeds, she learns she may have a connection to the Boy’s power. What she does with this knowledge provides much of the climax’s intensity. As outlandish as all of this may seem at first glance, there is a visceral realism to these dirty streets of London. I give Ashley Meggitt full praise for writing a novel that both horrified and moved me. His hold over his characters only goes so far, because there are forces beyond even his control at work here. For better or worse, when people start dying, there is chaos behind it. But there is also a cleansing taking place, a natural order of things, the way life and death take on a meaning that is unknown to only a few.

The Dark Chorus is a story of revenge and redemption. It is the story of love and loss. It is also the story of the power of friendship and connection. The Boy cannot do what he needs to do without Makka, Vee, and Dr Rhodes. And they in turn, cannot complete their own arcs without him. This is a breath-taking work from an author to keep an eye out for.

Reality Testing by Grant Price

Over the course of recent months and years, I have come to the firm belief that whatever is in store for humanity, it’s not going to be good. Too many countries have elected indiduals to positions of power who have no right to be there. They have little experience or worse, they couldn’t care less what happens to the people they were elected by and the world around them. To them it’s all about power and how to maintain it. They pay lip service to climate change, and brush the refugee crisis under the carpet. To them, such catastrophes are always someone else’s problem. Very few novels published today focus on what happens when things go well for humanity, instead dydtopian fiction forms the bedrock of a lot of speculative fiction you see in bookstores or online, especially since 2016. In short, bad news sells books.

But that doesn’t mean these books are bad. Quite the opposite, in fact. Some of them are really good. Allow me to introduce you to Reality Testing, by Berlin-based author Grant Price. You’re probably familiar with the cyberpunk genre, made famous by William Gibson’s 1984 novel Neuromancer, which combines a hi-tech futuristic setting with general societal degradation: basically the rich get richer and have access to all the mod cons in technology, and the poor are so far down the bottom of the ladder they have no chance of improving their lot in life. The Berlin of Grant Price’s novel is a perfect example of a society gone worng. It’s the aftermath of the Second Water War, and the Big Five conglomerates have taken control of the city and its citizens, advertising their products and services in very obtrusive ways. They say their technology and policies are in aid of the failing environment, whereas in fact they’re outbidding and out-manoeuvering each other to get a bigger slice of the pie. Automatons known as bulls patrol the streets, dishing out instant justice for even the most petty of crimes. Citizens make ends meet how they can, working enough jobs to ensure they get cheap food and entertainment. Mara Hinzig gets a lot more than she bargains for when she signs up for a gig which will allow her to be paid while she undergoes a few months of sleep in a programme called LINK, run by Ahe+d, and overseen by the mysterious Klaus Koje.

Grant Price

Mara wakes up next to a dead body. She’s got blood on her hands and she has no idea what happened. She runs for it and ends up at the door of her ex-partner Jema. The only problem is, the body Mara how inhabits isn’t her own. Not only is she wanted for a murder she doesn’t remember committing, but she now has a face she doesn’t recognise and a voice inside her head is giving her instructions and at times taking control over her body. This is not a good time to be Mara. When tragedy ensues, Mara is driven literally underground, where she meets a cohort of individuals who either want to kill her, turn her over to the authorities for a reward. Price creates a beautifully realised subterranean world with characters that are unique and off-the-wall crazy. I loved Mantis and Prestone, both augmented and damaged human beings, victims of circumstance and hubris. With their help, Mara is led to another part of Germany where the mythical Vanguard await. There she finds a group of people, mainly women, who live off-grid, and with the aid of the Abbot, the group’s leader, she tries to understand what’s happening to her and how she can get revenge on Koje. Her right-hand man is Daniel Van Morden, a veteran with a secret of his own. Along with Abbadine, Xi Yang, and Theo, Mara plots a way to get back control of her life and identity.

Reality Testing is a fast-paced and action-packed novel that I raced through in a couple of sittings. It brought back memories of Total Recall, Minority Report, and Blade Runner. The aesthetics are similar but Price tells his own story. This is a world that is terrifying, where life has little value, and where the stakes are so high, it’s obvious that not everyone is going to come through unscathed. I especially enjoyed the author’s depiction of a society where, despite everything else going on, people are allowed to be whatever they prefer to be: gender is fluid, and non-binary characters are front and centre of this fascinating future. Grant Price makes us think about how the next step in human evolution might look, and we wonder whether or not it would be best for the planet and ourselves if we just die off as a species and let the Earth start again. There are no easy answers, but there are plenty of adventures to have in the meantime.