The World Awakening (reviewed by Kay Kenyon)

Kay Kenyon recently got in touch with me to inquire if I'd be interested in a guest review for Dan Koboldt's The World Awakening. Of course, I was happy to oblige.

Here's the blurb:

Quinn Bradley has learned to use the magic of another world.

And that world is in danger.

Having decided to betray CASE Global, he can finally reveal his origins to the Enclave and warn them about the company’s imminent invasion. Even if it means alienating Jillaine . . . and allying with someone he’s always considered his adversary.

But war makes for strange bedfellows, and uniting Alissians against such a powerful enemy will require ancient enmities—as well as more recent antagonisms—to be set aside. The future of their pristine world depends on it.

As Quinn searches for a way to turn the tide, his former CASE Global squadmates face difficult decisions of their own. For some, it’s a matter of what they’re willing to do to get home. For others, it’s deciding whether they want to go home at all.Continuing the exciting adventures from The Rogue Retrieval and The Island Deception, The World Awakening is the spellbinding conclusion to the Gateways to Alissia fantasy series from Dan Koboldt.

Defections abound in Dan Koboldt's final tale of Alissia, a medieval land where, in contrast to the Earth, magic is real. CASE Global is a nasty corporation that has stumbled upon a gateway to the place and believes it is ripe for the picking. Twenty-first century military capability should make short work of a culture of swords and sailing ships--even if they have a bit of magic. Or will it?

CASE is now poised to take possession of Alissia by arms, goaded by a fear of Richard Holt, the Earth-born defector who has become a powerful Alissian leader. With his insider knowledge of the company's predatory ways, as well as the loyalty he commands from one of the major kingdoms, Holt must be deposed, and the team we've traveled with in the first two books now is tasked with his murder. Before book three, Holt has been a shadowy figure whose motives for going native might or might not be honorable. In The World Awakening his goals become clear, ultimately requiring all the central characters to finally choose (or reveal) their allegiances, whether achieved through dogged loyalty, moral conscience, or calculated self-interest.

Major character Quinn Bradley--he of the ready lie, ironic outlook, and spontaneous heroics--discarded loyalty early on and now is firmly in Holt's camp. His motives may not the purist--this is Quinn Bradley--but we root for him to succeed in stopping his former employer. For Bradley personally, the only remaining question is whether he'll return to Earth or stay on the medieval side of the gateway now that he's accessed true magic powers. He'd make a hell of a Las Vegas stage magician, his ambitious Earth-side dream. When an Alissian woman pierces his cheerful self-interest with the oldest magic of all--love--will he abandon his old life, hopes, and world?

Dilemmas and choices test other compelling characters in the Gateways to Alissia trilogy. Foremost is Logan, a black man whose career as a soldier puts him at odds with his conscience, now shaken by CASE's growing ruthlessness.

Koboldt deftly keeps all the balls in the air: Kiara, Holt, Veena, Mendez and the rival leaders of the Enclave who control magic. Shifting allegiances will bring love, death, and sacrifice. Pretty heady material for what might have been merely a delightful romp featuring a wise-cracking rogue with a good heart. Oh, how we love a charming rogue. Even if his charisma falls flat with Tiana mules (who demand an exaggerated politeness in all interactions).

By the end of The World Awakening, plots, subplots, and character arcs weave together for a rousing conclusion, one that lays bare the genesis and the future of the gateway, as well as the fates of the doomed, the redeemed, and the enchanted. A pitch perfect showpiece from a new and already accomplished writer.

--Kay Kenyon

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Kay Kenyon is the author of fourteen science fiction and fantasy novels, including The Entire and The Rose quartet. Her latest work is At the Table of Wolves, an historical fantasy of dark powers, Nazi conspiracies, and espionage set in 1936 England from Saga Press. The Dark Talents novels continues with Serpent in the Heather (April 10). The final book of the trilogy will be published in 2019.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download the omnibus comprised of all three volumes of Katherine Kurtz's The Legends of Camber of Culdi for only 3.99$ here. It's the perfect starting point for anyone interested in discovering the Deryni saga!

Here's the blurb:

Three fantasy novels of intrigue, betrayal, and magic in medieval Gwynedd by the New York Times–bestselling author of the Deryni series—bonus story also included.

Camber of Culdi: Long before Camber was revered as a saint, he was a Deryni noble, one of the most respected of the magical race whose arcane skills set them apart from ordinary humans in the kingdom of Gwynedd. Now, the land suffers under the tyranny of King Imre, whose savage oppression of the human population weighs heavily on Camber’s heart—a heart that is about to be shattered by a tragic loss that will lead him to confront the usurpers whose dark magic haunts the realm.

Saint Camber: The yoke of tyranny has finally been lifted in Gwynedd, but Camber’s job remains unfinished. The dangerous remnants of a conquered enemy still mass at the borders, and the new ruler is desperately unhappy wearing the crown. With the stability of a fragile kingdom at stake, its greatest champion must make the ultimate sacrifice: Camber of Culdi must cease to exist.

Camber the Heretic: The king’s heir is a mere boy of twelve, and the malevolent regents who will rule until young Alroy comes of age are determined to eliminate all Deryni. Suddenly, the future of Gwynedd hangs in the balance, and Camber—once adored as a saint, but now reviled as a heretic—must find a way to protect his people before everything and everyone he loves is destroyed in the all-consuming flames of intolerance and hate.

Filled with mysticism and magic, these sagas reminds us that “Kurtz’s love of history lets her do things with her characters and their world that no non-historian could hope to do” (Chicago Sun-Times).

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

Just saw that you can now get your hands on the digital edition of Sylvain Neuvel's excellent Sleeping Giants for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A page-turning debut in the tradition of Michael Crichton, World War Z, and The Martian, Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by an earthshaking mystery—and a fight to control a gargantuan power.

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

And you can download the sequel, Waking Gods, for only 5.99$ here.

The Vanished Ones

You may recall that I gave Donato Carrisi's debut, The Whisperer, a perfect score a few years ago. Dubbed the Italian literary thriller phenomenon, I have always remained on the lookout for anything else written by Carrisi and I've bought everything he has released thus far. Read the first one, The Lost Girls of Rome, and The Hunter of the Dark in French, so I got the French translation for this novel as well. As a sequel to The Whisperer, The Vanished Ones was the perfect book to bring with me on my Central American adventure. And I wasn't disapointed!

Oddly enough, although Donato Carrisi is a bestselling author in various countries, he remains virtually unknown in the USA. As is often the case, English language publishers have a tendency to be far behind the rest of the world when it comes to international bestsellers. One only has to look at Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, which became a worldwide literary phenomenon before it was even translated into English.

Here's the blurb:

We call them the sleepers . . .

At the elite Missing Persons bureau of the Federal Police, Mila Vasquez is tasked with finding the hundreds of lost people who vanished from their former lives. The longer they are gone, the more they are forgotten by the world.

Now they are returning.

Appearing at random and wielding devastation, they enact a horrifying pattern of murders, leaving Mila scrabbling to discover where they have come from and what they want. Yet the deeper into the case she gets, Mila begins to realise that her colleagues are hiding something from her - something which will jeopardise everything . . .

Set in the world of Carrisi's record-breaking debut, The Whisperer, The Vanished Ones is intelligent, thrilling and incredibly compelling.

As was the case with his previous novels, the action occurs somewhere in Italy. And yet, you don't really get the feeling that that the setting is indeed Italian. The Vanished Ones has an international feel to it and the story could have taken place anywhere in the Western world. As is usually his wont, a variety of sources were used by Donato Carrisi for this literary work, chief among them criminology and forensic psychiatry manuals, as well as several FBI papers regarding serial killers and violent crimes. Many true cases, finalized or ongoing, inspired a number of those found within the pages of the novel. With his homework done properly, Carrisi's novel has an unmistakable genuine feel to it. In addition, he interviewed lots of police officers, private detectives, journalists, and family members of people who have decided to disappear and get off the grid. A correspondence between the author and an anonymous fan of The Whisperer who elected to erase his life from the records and start anew was also a source of insiration for the writing of The Vanished Ones.

Although the book is billed as a sequel to The Whisperer, other than featuring Mila Vasquez the tale has very little to do with the events of its predecessor. As such, I was a bit disappointed, for I really thought that The Vanished Ones was a direct sequel. But the link between the two books wasn't revealed until almost the very end and when it does it's mind-blowing. Hence, give it time and you'll be rewarded.

Not surprisingly, the characterization is once again top notch. Mila Vasquez, who specialized in child kidnapping earlier in her career, was deeply scarred by the events featured in The Whisperer. Since her transfer to the Missing Persons bureau of the Federal Police, she found it easier to get on with her life. With her investigation at a dead end, she approaches Simon Berish for aid. A pariah within the police forces for a crime he did not commit, he is an interrogation expert and an anthropologist who will use his expertise to help the investigation progress. But the more they unveil, the more they realize that they might be in over their heads. And that their superiors might actually be working against them. The narrative is driven by both Simon and Mila's points of view. As disparate as it gets, seeing the tale unfold through both of their perspectives makes for a great reading experience.

Like The Whisperer, this sequel is as engrossing as it is disturbing. Indeed, Donato Carrisi's The Vanished Ones is another complex, multilayered thriller that stays with you long after you've reached the last page. It may lack the emotional impact of certain sequences from its predecessor, yet it's another clever work with plots and subplots forming a chilling tapestry, all of which culminating toward an ending that will knock your socks off. The last scene, especially, is quite terrifying and makes it impossible not to line up for the third installment, whenever it gets published. Throughout, there is Carrisi's habitual thought-provoking theme underlying the entire book: The true essence of evil. Does it exist within all of us, latent and just waiting to be released?

In the end, this perturbing work is everything a thriller is meant to be. But unlike The Whisperer, which was awesome from the get-go and never let up, The Vanished Ones takes a while to get going. Still, it was a worthy sequel and the perfect set-up book for what will follow. If you are looking for compelling and disturbing books delving into psychology that stay with you long after you have finished reading them, give Donato Carrisi a shot as soon as humanly possible!

The final verdict: 8/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

Musical Interlude

A little Ozzy tune to brighten up your day! =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download China Miéville's Perdido Street Station for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

BONUS: This edition contains an excerpt from China Mieville’s Embassytown.

Beneath the towering bleached ribs of a dead, ancient beast lies New Crobuzon, a squalid city where humans, Re-mades, and arcane races live in perpetual fear of Parliament and its brutal militia. The air and rivers are thick with factory pollutants and the strange effluents of alchemy, and the ghettos contain a vast mix of workers, artists, spies, junkies, and whores. In New Crobuzon, the unsavory deal is stranger to none—not even to Isaac, a brilliant scientist with a penchant for Crisis Theory.

Isaac has spent a lifetime quietly carrying out his unique research. But when a half-bird, half-human creature known as the Garuda comes to him from afar, Isaac is faced with challenges he has never before fathomed. Though the Garuda's request is scientifically daunting, Isaac is sparked by his own curiosity and an uncanny reverence for this curious stranger.

While Isaac's experiments for the Garuda turn into an obsession, one of his lab specimens demands attention: a brilliantly colored caterpillar that feeds on nothing but a hallucinatory drug and grows larger—and more consuming—by the day. What finally emerges from the silken cocoon will permeate every fiber of New Crobuzon—and not even the Ambassador of Hell will challenge the malignant terror it invokes . . .

A magnificent fantasy rife with scientific splendor, magical intrigue, and wonderfully realized characters, told in a storytelling style in which Charles Dickens meets Neal Stephenson, Perdido Street Station offers an eerie, voluptuously crafted world that will plumb the depths of every reader's imagination.

You can also get your hands on the digital edition of Michael J. Sullivan's Age of Myth for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Michael J. Sullivan’s trailblazing career began with the breakout success of his Riyria series: full-bodied, spellbinding fantasy adventures whose imaginative scope and sympathetic characters won a devoted readership and comparisons to fantasy masters Brandon Sanderson, Scott Lynch, and J.R.R. Tolkien himself. Now Sullivan’s stunning hardcover debut, Age of Myth, inaugurates an original five-book series—and one of fantasy’s finest next-generation storytellers continues to break new ground.

Since time immemorial, humans have worshipped the gods they call Fhrey, truly a race apart: invincible in battle, masters of magic, and seemingly immortal. But when a god falls to a human blade, the balance of power between humans and those they thought were gods changes forever.

Now only a few stand between humankind and annihilation: Raithe, reluctant to embrace his destiny as the God Killer; Suri, a young seer burdened by signs of impending doom; and Persephone, who must overcome personal tragedy to lead her people. The Age of Myth is over. The time of rebellion has begun.

Finally, you can download Stephen R. Donaldson's The Runes of the Earth for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Stephen R. Donaldson presents the first novel of the four-volume finale to the series that’s become a modern fantasy classic: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant.

Thomas Covenant lost everything. Abandoned by his wife and child, sick and alone, he was transported while unconscious to a magical, dreamlike world called the Land. Convinced it was all a delusion, Covenant was christened The Unbeliever by the Land’s inhabitants—but gave his life to save this new-found world he came to regard as precious.

Ten years after Covenant’s death, Linden Avery still mourns for her beloved companion. But a violent confrontation with Covenant’s son, who is doing the evil Lord Foul’s bidding, forces her into the Land, where a dark malevolence is about to unmake the laws of nature—and of life and death itself. It is here that she comes upon Esmer, son of the Dancers of the Sea, a creature of strange powers who draws Linden backwards through time to witness Thomas Covenant’s return to life, and to reinvent the mysterious, dangerous, and violent history of the Land.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Stephen R. Lawhead's The Bright Empires Collection, an omnibus edition comprised of The Skin Map, The Bone House, The Spirit Well, The Shadow Lamp, and The Fatal Tree, for only 3.99$ here. That's five volumes and about 2000 pages for less than 4$! There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb for The Skin Map:

It is the ultimate quest for the ultimate treasure. Chasing a map tattooed on human skin. Across an omniverse of intersecting realities. To unravel the future of the future.

Kit Livingstone’s great-grandfather appears to him in a deserted alley during a tumultuous storm. He reveals an unbelievable story: that the ley lines throughout Britain are not merely the stuff of legend or the weekend hobby of deluded cranks, but pathways to other worlds. To those who know how to use them, they grant the ability to travel the multi-layered universe of which we ordinarily inhabit only a tiny part.

One explorer knew more than most. Braving every danger, he toured both time and space on voyages of heroic discovery. Ever on his guard and fearful of becoming lost in the cosmos, he developed an intricate code—a roadmap of symbols—that he tattooed onto his own body. This Skin Map has since been lost in time. Now the race is on to recover all the pieces and discover its secrets.

But the Skin Map itself is not the ultimate goal. It is merely the beginning of a vast and marvelous quest for a prize beyond imagining.

The Bright Empires series—from acclaimed author Stephen R. Lawhead—is a unique blend of epic treasure hunt, ancient history, alternate realities, cutting-edge physics, philosophy, and mystery. The result is a page-turning, adventure like no other.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (February 19th)

In paperback:

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is down one position, ending the week at number 4 (trade paperback).

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is down three spots, finishing the week at number 10 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on Bradley P. Beaulieu's Twelve Kings in Sharakhai for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings — cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite ompany of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.

Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings’ laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha’ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings’ mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings’ power…if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don’t find her first.

You can also download C. S. Friedman's excellent This Alien Shore, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, for only 4.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

It is the second stage of human colonization--the first age, humanity's initial attempt to people the stars, ended in disaster when it was discovered that Earth's original superluminal drive did permanent genetic damage to all who used it--mutating Earth's far-flung colonists in mind and body. Now, one of Earth's first colonies has given humanity back the stars, but at a high price--a monopoly over all human commerce. And when a satellite in Earth's outer orbit is viciously attacked by corporate raiders, an unusual young woman flees to a ship bound for the Up-and-Out. But her narrow escape does not mean safety. For speeding across the galaxy pursued by ruthless, but unknown adversaries, this young woman will discover a secret which is buried deep inside her psyche--a revelation the universe may not be ready to face....

Quote of the Day

There is a purity in rage. It will burn out sorrow. For a time. It will burn out fear. Even cruelty and hatred will seek shelter, rage wants none of them, only to destroy. Rage is the gift our nature gives to us, shaped by untold years. Why discard it?.

- MARK LAWRENCE, Grey Sister (Canada, USA, Europe)

Just finished this one and it's even better than Red Sister!

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Richard Morgan's excellent Thirteen for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

The future isn’t what it used to be since Richard K. Morgan arrived on the scene. He unleashed Takeshi Kovacs–private eye, soldier of fortune, and all-purpose antihero–into the body-swapping, hard-boiled, urban jungle of tomorrow in Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, and Woken Furies, winning the Philip K. Dick Award in the process. In Market Forces, he launched corporate gladiator Chris Faulkner into the brave new business of war-for-profit. Now, in Thirteen, Morgan radically reshapes and recharges science fiction yet again, with a new and unforgettable hero in Carl Marsalis: hybrid, hired gun, and a man without a country . . . or a planet.

Marsalis is one of a new breed. Literally. Genetically engineered by the U.S. government to embody the naked aggression and primal survival skills that centuries of civilization have erased from humankind, Thirteens were intended to be the ultimate military fighting force. The project was scuttled, however, when a fearful public branded the supersoldiers dangerous mutants, dooming the Thirteens to forced exile on Earth’s distant, desolate Mars colony. But Marsalis found a way to slip back–and into a lucrative living as a bounty hunter and hit man before a police sting landed him in prison–a fate worse than Mars, and much more dangerous.

Luckily, his “enhanced” life also seems to be a charmed one. A new chance at freedom beckons, courtesy of the government. All Marsalis has to do is use his superior skills to bring in another fugitive. But this one is no common criminal. He’s another Thirteen–one who’s already shanghaied a space shuttle, butchered its crew, and left a trail of bodies in his wake on a bloody cross-country spree. And like his pursuer, he was bred to fight to the death. Still, there’s no question Marsalis will take the job. Though it will draw him deep into violence, treachery, corruption, and painful confrontation with himself, anything is better than remaining a prisoner. The real question is: can he remain sane–and alive–long enough to succeed?

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Lev Grossman's The Magicians for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

Quentin Coldwater is a brilliant but unhappy young man growing up in Brooklyn, NY. At 17, he remains obsessed with the fantasy novels he read as a child, set in the magical land of Fillory. One day, returning home from a college interview gone awry, he finds himself whisked to Brakebills, an exclusive college for wizards hidden in upstate New York. And so begins THE MAGICIANS, the thrilling and original novel of fantasy and disenchantment by Lev Grossman, author of the international bestseller Codex and book critic for TIME magazine.

At Brakebills, Quentin learns to cast spells. He makes friends and falls in love. He transforms into animals and gains powers of which he never dreamed. Still, magic doesn’t bring Quentin the happiness and adventure he thought it would, and four years later, he finds himself back in Manhattan, living an aimless, hedonistic existence born of apathy, boredom and the ability to conjure endless sums of money out of thin air.

One afternoon, hung over and ruing some particularly foolish behavior, Quentin is surprised by the sudden arrival of his Brakebills friend and rival Penny, who announces that Fillory is real. This news promises to finally fulfill Quentin’s yearning, but their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than Quentin could have imagined. His childhood dream is a nightmare with a shocking truth at its heart.

At once psychologically piercing and magnificently absorbing, THE MAGICIANS pays intentional homage to the beloved fantasy novels of C. S. Lewis, T.H. White and J.K. Rowling, but does much more than enlarge the boundaries of conventional fantasy writing. By imagining magic as practiced by real people, with their capricious desires and volatile emotions, Grossman creates an utterly original world in which good and evil aren’t black and white, love and sex aren’t simple or innocent, and power comes at a terrible price.

You can alsoget your hands on the digital edition of George R. R. Martin's Dreamsongs, Volume 1, an excellent collection of short fiction, for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Even before A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin had already established himself as a giant in the field of fantasy literature. The first of two stunning collections, Dreamsongs: Volume I is a rare treat for readers, offering fascinating insight into his journey from young writer to award-winning master.

Gathered here in Dreamsongs: Volume I are the very best of George R. R. Martin’s early works, including his Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker award–winning stories, cool fan pieces, and the original novella The Ice Dragon, from which Martin’s New York Times bestselling children’s book of the same title originated. A dazzling array of subjects and styles that features extensive author commentary, Dreamsongs, Volume I is the perfect collection for both Martin devotees and a new generation of fans.

Quote of the Day

Nothing is as cruel as a righteous man.

- MARK LAWRENCE, Grey Sister (Canada, USA, Europe)

Serpent in the Heather

There was a lot to love about Kay Kenyon's latest alternate history fantasy novel, At the Table of Wolves. So much so that I couldn't resist and decided to jump into the sequel sooner rather than later! The first installment was an introduction to what appeared to be a vaster and more ambitious tale, and I was curious to discover where the author would take her story next.

And I'm glad I did, for Serpent in the Heather is even better than its predecessor. Building on the events and storylines from At the Table of Wolves, Kenyon raised the bar higher and elevated this series to another level. Time will tell if she can continue to up her game with each new volume. And yet, given how special The Entire and the Rose turned out to be, this bodes well for things to come.

Here's the blurb:

Now officially working for the Secret Intelligence Service, Kim Tavistock is back to solve another mystery—this time a serial killer with deep Nazi ties—in the sequel to At the Table of Wolves.

Summer, 1936. In England, an assassin is loose. Someone is killing young people who possess Talents. As terror overtakes Britain, Kim Tavistock, now officially employed by England’s Secret Intelligence Service, is sent on her first mission: to the remote Sulcliffe Castle in Wales, to use her cover as a journalist to infiltrate a spiritualist cult that may have ties to the murders. Meanwhile, Kim’s father, trained spy Julian Tavistock runs his own parallel investigation—and discovers the terrifying Nazi plot behind the serial killings.

Cut off from civilization, Sulcliffe Castle is perched on a forbidding headland above a circle of standing stones only visible at low tide. There, Kim shadows a ruthless baroness and her enigmatic son, plying her skills of deception and hearing the truths people most wish to hide. But as her cover disguise unravels, Kim learns that the serial killer is closing in on a person she has grown to love. Now, Kim must race against the clock not just to prevent the final ritual killing—but to turn the tide of the looming war.

In my review of the first installment, I opined that the worldbuilding was very interesting and opened up countless possibilities. Nobody was quite sure just how the bloom came about, but it was widely believed that the deaths and the suffering engendered by World War I generated the birth of the Talents, those supernatural abilities, in ordinary men and women, especially in the countries that had dealt with the Great War. The action takes place a few months following the events of At the Table of Wolves. The Nazis have risen to power and Germany is rearming, preparing for the great conflict to come. The British, with their heads still up their asses, refuse to face the fact that war is coming again. And although they have begun their own program, they are about a decade behind the Germans in terms of training people with Talents for warfare. It felt as though there was so much room for growth concerning the Talents and I was looking forward to see what Kenyon had in store for her readers in that regard. What we saw in At the Table of Wolves barely scratched the surface and the potential for more was enormous.

We do learn more about Talents in general, but the sad truth is that the British know very little compared to their German counterparts. And though I like what we've seen thus far, I often feel that Kay Kenyon plays her cards too close to her chest. Given that we discover things at the same pace as the POV protagonists, learning such secrets by small increments is understandable but could be detrimental to the series in the long run. Here's to hoping that the third volume will open up the story in that regard. Still, the addition of Dries Verhoeven's Talent to the mix was great. We just need to see more Talents unveiled to add more layers to what is becoming a more complex tale with each new book.

In At the Table of Wolves, I enjoyed the fact that the military and the secret services had screwed up their only chance to discover what the Germans were preparing and it came down to an ordinary woman with a peculiar Talent to try to save her country. A few people with very limited resources had to find a way to obtain proof of the danger by putting their lives on the line. Ordinary people who needed to accomplish extraordinary things. And although the foiled German invasion was an eye-opener for the British, it's still up to those same few individuals to protect Great Britain from her enemies.

With both Kim Tavistock and her father Julian working as undercover agents, none of them can reveal their secret identity to the other and this builds up a lot of tension in their relationship. Having played a large role in thwarting the German's plan to conquer her country, Kim went through training in the arts of espionage. Nevertheless, she remains a somewhat raw recruit. At first exciting, it gradually dawns upon her that having a security clearance and a being a spy can be extremely hard on her private life. Her conscience is seldom at ease with what she is required to do and what she's becoming. But when her peculiar Talent appears to be the only thing that can possibly help shine some light on a series of murders, Kim has no choice but to put herself in danger once more.

Kim and her father are the main points of view throughout the novel, yet the supporting cast is made up of a number of engaging characters. Due to her Talent, Alice plays a bigger role in Serpent in the Heather, which was good. Owen Cherwell has been promoted and is not necessarily comfortable with his new functions. Dries Verhoeven offered a different, always interesting perspective. New faces such as Dorothea Coslett, Powell Coslet, Idelle Coslett, and young Martin were all compelling in disparate ways. Elsa is also back from her injuries and makes for an interesting spy. All in all, the characterization was well-done on every level.

Once again, the pace of this book was exactly what it needed to be. As the secrets between Kim and her father continue to pile up, the tension builds up toward another endgame that delivers an even more satisfying finale this time around. Events force both Kim and Julian to make dire and life-changing choices, something that should have important repercussions in future installments.

My only complaint thus far would have to be the decidedly episodic format of these two books. From now on, Kay Kenyon will have to raise the bar even higher and not just throw Kim into danger in the hope that her Talent will force someone to reveal secrets while she acts as a journalist working on a new story. Given the quality of both At the Table of Wolves and Serpent in the Heather, the potential for bigger and better things is definitely there and expectations will understandably be higher in the future. We'll have to wait and see if the author can rise to the occasion.

I commend this series to your attention. If you're looking for something different, look no further and give these two novels a shot!

The final verdict: 7.75/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Octavia E. Butler's Lilith's Brood: The Complete Xenogenesis trilogy for only 3.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Three novels in one volume: the acclaimed science fiction trilogy about an alien species that could save humanity after nuclear apocalypse—or destroy it.

The newest stage in human evolution begins in outer space. Survivors of a cataclysmic nuclear war awake to find themselves being studied by the Oankali, tentacle-covered galactic travelers whose benevolent appearance hides their surprising plan for the future of mankind. The Oankali arrive not just to save humanity, but to bond with it—crossbreeding to form a hybrid species that can survive in the place of its human forebears, who were so intent on self-destruction. Some people resist, forming pocket communities of purebred rebellion, but many realize they have no choice. The human species inevitably expands into something stranger, stronger, and undeniably alien.

From Hugo and Nebula award–winning author Octavia Butler, Lilith’s Brood is both a thrilling, epic adventure of man’s struggle to survive after Earth’s destruction, and a provocative meditation on what it means to be human.

This ebook features an illustrated biography of Octavia E. Butler including rare images from the author’s estate.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (February 12th)

In paperback:

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One maintains its position at number 3 (trade paperback).

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale maintains its position at number 7 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Nalo Hopkinson's The Salt Roads for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

In 1804, shortly before the Caribbean island of Saint Domingue is renamed Haiti, a group of women gather to bury a stillborn baby. Led by a lesbian healer and midwife named Mer, the women’s lamentations inadvertently release the dead infant’s “unused vitality” to draw Ezili—the Afro-Caribbean goddess of sexual desire and love—into the physical world.

As Ezili explores her newfound powers, she travels across time and space to inhabit the midwife’s body—as well as those of Jeanne, a mixed-race dancer and the mistress of Charles Baudelaire living in 1880s Paris, and Meritet, an enslaved Greek-Nubian prostitute in ancient Alexandria.

Bound together by Ezili and “the salt road” of their sweat, blood, and tears, the three women struggle against a hostile world, unaware of the goddess’s presence in their lives. Despite her magic, Mer suffers as a slave on a sugar plantation until Ezili plants the seeds of uprising in her mind. Jeanne slowly succumbs to the ravages of age and syphilis when her lover is unable to escape his mother’s control. And Meritet, inspired by Ezili, flees her enslavement and makes a pilgrimage to Egypt, where she becomes known as Saint Mary.

With unapologetically sensual prose, Nalo Hopkinson, the Nebula Award–winning author of Midnight Robber, explores slavery through the lives of three historical women touched by a goddess in this “electrifying bravura performance by one of our most important writers” (Junot Díaz).

Quote of the Day

There are many poisons that will induce madness but none perhaps so effective as love.

- MARK LAWRENCE, Grey Sister (Canada, USA, Europe)

About a hundred pages into this one and it's pretty good thus far! =)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Kim Stanley Robinson's New York 2140 for only 2.99$ here. There is a price match in Canada.

Here's the blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Kim Stanley Robinson returns with a bold and brilliant vision of New York City in the next century.

As the sea levels rose, every street became a canal. Every skyscraper an island. For the residents of one apartment building in Madison Square, however, New York in the year 2140 is far from a drowned city.

There is the market trader, who finds opportunities where others find trouble. There is the detective, whose work will never disappear - along with the lawyers, of course.

There is the internet star, beloved by millions for her airship adventures, and the building's manager, quietly respected for his attention to detail. Then there are two boys who don't live there, but have no other home - and who are more important to its future than anyone might imagine.

Lastly there are the coders, temporary residents on the roof, whose disappearance triggers a sequence of events that threatens the existence of all - and even the long-hidden foundations on which the city rests.

New York 2140 is an extraordinary and unforgettable novel, from a writer uniquely qualified to the story of its future.

The Fifth Season

I know it may sound odd, what with N. K. Jemisin winning the Hugo Award for best novel twice, but thus far I had only read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms from her. The book was a solid debut, no doubt about it. Yet like most SFF debuts, it featured a number of flaws, most notably a first-person narrative that can be tricky at times, as well as a corny love story and some decidedly clichéd villains. Still, all in all, Jemisin's fantasy debut was an original and enjoyable read.

Although the characterization was subpar, N.K. Jemisin scored points for exploring themes such as slavery, sexism, racism, and the abuse of power. She wove these deeper issues throughout the various plotlines, sometimes subtly in the background and sometimes in more flagrant fashion. Regardless of how it was done, this was what ultimately gave soul to the novel.

And though I was in no hurry to continue on with the Inheritance trilogy, this is what made me want to read The Fifth Season. Since everyone appeared to agree that this was her best work to date (since then the sequel, The Obelisk Gate, has also won the Hugo Award), I felt that this was the book I had to read next. So I bought myself a copy and I'm glad I did. Indeed, The Fifth Season delivers on all fronts and I can see why it was nominated for all those genre literary prizes.

Here's the blurb:


A season of endings has begun.

It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world's sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun.

It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter.

It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.

This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

The Fifth Season is a blend of fantasy and science fiction. More fantasy than scifi, mind you, but there is science involved in the premise. The worldbuilding is particularly interesting and just might be my favorite facet of this novel. The Earth has changed dramatically and has become an extremely geologically unstable world. Seismic activities cause enormous volcanic eruptions and tsunamis that wipe out vast chunks of the planet's population periodically. These catastrophes generating extended winters are known as Fifth Seasons and they can last for years and decades. The Stillness is the only continent known to exist. Orogenes have the ability to manipulate thermal, kinetic, and related forms of energy to address seismic events. Trained at the Fulcrum and closely supervised by the Guardian order, they are despised and feared due to the potentially devastating powers they wield. In addition to the Fulcrum, there is also a network of nodes manned by orogenes positioned throughout the Stillness to help reduce or quell seismic events. Such an unstable and unforgiving environment makes for a truly original setting, something that we haven't seen before, and I loved everything about it. The novel begins with a new breaking of the world, one that might signal the true end of existence, for this new Fifth Season could last for centuries and even millennia.

The tale features three points of view. It is evident that those three perspectives will meet at some point, but for the better part of the book they are not concomitant. The first POV follows Essun's tale. A mature orogene with a buried past who kept her talent secret, she had two children with a man. The story opens up with Essun discovering the corpse of her young son. He was beaten to death by his father upon discovery that he was orogene. The man fled the village with his daughter and Essun follows him in order to kill him for what he did. Little does she know that the apocalyptic civilization-ending catastrophe that occurred in the South will have dire consequences on her quest. Her only hope is to find her daughter alive, for the girl may also possess her mother's powers. The second storyline follows Damaya, a young girl whose orogeny manifested itself for the first time. Her parents sell her to a Guardian who will take her to the Fulcrum to be trained. From her POV, we discover how young orogenes are educated to serve and protect the Stillness. The third thread follows Syenite, an orogene with great potential who must accompany Alabaster, one of the most powerful orogenes in the world, on a mission. She is also expect to get pregnant by him and give birth to what could be another potent orogene. It's obvious that these three perspectives take place at various moments in the tale's timeline and I liked how Jemisin was able to weave them all into a convoluted tapestry of events that comes together beautifully toward the end.

There is a good balance between the three storylines that keep the plot moving at a nice rhythm. The Fifth Season may not be a fast-paced novel, but it is definitely a page-turner. However, N. K. Jemisin may have kept her cards a little too close to her chest regarding fascinating concept such as the floating obelisk, the Fulcrum, the stone eaters, and the past are concerned. A little more information would have been appreciated. The cryptic bits and pieces that she provided just made you want to discover more and more and more. Though it wasn't telegraphed per se, I saw the moon thing coming from a mile away and kept wondering when it would be addressed.

For the most part, The Fifth Season is one vast introduction to an even bigger tale. I can't really say more about the three seemingly disparate perspectives without giving anything away, but the structure of the plot precluded the secondary characters from playing major roles in what happened. I have a feeling that the supporting cast will have greater importance as the story unfolds in the sequels. Here's to hoping that this will be the case, for Tonkee and Hua seemed to have a lot of potential and I'm looking forward to see them take their rightful place in the scheme of things.

With all three plotlines coming together in such superb fashion at the end, I was truly disappointed by the cliffhanger ending. True, it makes it impossible for anyone not to read the second volume, The Obelisk Gate, but for me it was also a bit of a letdown. After such a compelling and absorbing read, I felt the novel deserved a real ending.

The Fifth Season is a demanding yet very rewarding read. Like in Steven Erikson's Gardens of the Moon, the author drops you off in a very complex world where litte makes sense at the beginning. Just buckle up and enjoy the ride, for Jemisin takes you on an ambitious and emotional journey across uncharted waters. And even if the ending or lack thereof left me put off, the first installment in The Broken Earth series is a gripping read filled with engaging characters and an enthralling setting.

Hard to put down.

The final verdict: 8.5/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Peter F. Hamilton's The Dreaming Void for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Reviewers exhaust superlatives when it comes to the science fiction of Peter F. Hamilton. His complex and engaging novels, which span thousands of years–and light-years–are as intellectually stimulating as they are emotionally fulfilling. Now, with The Dreaming Void, the first volume in a trilogy set in the same far-future as his acclaimed Commonwealth saga, Hamilton has created his most ambitious and gripping space epic yet.

The year is 3589, fifteen hundred years after Commonwealth forces barely staved off human extinction in a war against the alien Prime. Now an even greater danger has surfaced: a threat to the existence of the universe itself.

At the very heart of the galaxy is the Void, a self-contained microuniverse that cannot be breached, cannot be destroyed, and cannot be stopped as it steadily expands in all directions, consuming everything in its path: planets, stars, civilizations. The Void has existed for untold millions of years. Even the oldest and most technologically advanced of the galaxy’s sentient races, the Raiel, do not know its origin, its makers, or its purpose.

But then Inigo, an astrophysicist studying the Void, begins dreaming of human beings who live within it. Inigo’s dreams reveal a world in which thoughts become actions and dreams become reality. Inside the Void, Inigo sees paradise. Thanks to the gaiafield, a neural entanglement wired into most humans, Inigo’s dreams are shared by hundreds of millions–and a religion, the Living Dream, is born, with Inigo as its prophet. But then he vanishes.

Suddenly there is a new wave of dreams. Dreams broadcast by an unknown Second Dreamer serve as the inspiration for a massive Pilgrimage into the Void. But there is a chance that by attempting to enter the Void, the pilgrims will trigger a catastrophic expansion, an accelerated devourment phase that will swallow up thousands of worlds.

And thus begins a desperate race to find Inigo and the mysterious Second Dreamer. Some seek to prevent the Pilgrimage; others to speed its progress–while within the Void, a supreme entity has turned its gaze, for the first time, outward. . . .

BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from Peter F. Hamilton's The Temporal Void.

Pierce Brown contest winner!

This lucky winner will get his hands on my advance reading copy of Pierce Brown's Iron Gold! For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

The winner is:

- Peter Wilson, from Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Many thanks to all the participants!

Quote of the Day

The people we love are the ones who hurt us the most, after all.

- N. K. JEMISIN, The Fifth Season (Canada, USA, Europe)

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now download Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances, the third collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman, for only 3.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

Multiple award winning, #1 New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman returns to dazzle, captivate, haunt, and entertain with this third collection of short fiction following Smoke and Mirrors and Fragile Things—which includes a never-before published American Gods story, “Black Dog,” written exclusively for this volume.

In this new anthology, Neil Gaiman pierces the veil of reality to reveal the enigmatic, shadowy world that lies beneath. Trigger Warning includes previously published pieces of short fiction—stories, verse, and a very special Doctor Who story that was written for the fiftieth anniversary of the beloved series in 2013—as well “Black Dog,” a new tale that revisits the world of American Gods, exclusive to this collection.

Trigger Warning explores the masks we all wear and the people we are beneath them to reveal our vulnerabilities and our truest selves. Here is a rich cornucopia of horror and ghosts stories, science fiction and fairy tales, fabulism and poetry that explore the realm of experience and emotion. In Adventure Story—a thematic companion to The Ocean at the End of the Lane—Gaiman ponders death and the way people take their stories with them when they die. His social media experience A Calendar of Tales are short takes inspired by replies to fan tweets about the months of the year—stories of pirates and the March winds, an igloo made of books, and a Mother’s Day card that portends disturbances in the universe. Gaiman offers his own ingenious spin on Sherlock Holmes in his award-nominated mystery tale The Case of Death and Honey. And Click-Clack the Rattlebag explains the creaks and clatter we hear when we’re all alone in the darkness.

A sophisticated writer whose creative genius is unparalleled, Gaiman entrances with his literary alchemy, transporting us deep into the realm of imagination, where the fantastical becomes real and the everyday incandescent. Full of wonder and terror, surprises and amusements, Trigger Warning is a treasury of delights that engage the mind, stir the heart, and shake the soul from one of the most unique and popular literary artists of our day.

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (February 5th)

In paperback:

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One is up one position, ending the week at number 3 (trade paperback).

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale is down four spots, finishing the week at number 7 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

More inexpensive ebook goodies!

You can now get your hands on the digital edition of Dan Simmons' Phases of Gravity for only 1.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

A New York Times–bestselling author’s moving novel about an astronaut returning to Earth, and the small steps and giant leaps love requires.

Richard Baedecker thinks his greatest challenge was walking on the moon, but then he meets a mysterious woman who shows him his past. Join Baedecker as he comes to grips with the son and wife he lost owing to his passion for space exploration, his forgotten childhood, and the loss he experienced during the deadly flight of the Challenger. The most difficult exploration of his life is not the cold, rocky crevices of the moon, but the warm interior of his heart. Brilliant and beautifully written, Phases of Gravity is a masterpiece about love and loss that transports readers far beyond the confines of space and time.

Phases of Gravity is a thoughtful, deeply involving novel from an author who has earned numerous honors, including the World Fantasy Award for Song of Kali and the Hugo Award for Hyperion.

You can also download Stephen R. Donaldson's Lord Foul's Bane, the opening chapter of one of the very best fantasy series of all time, for only 2.99$ here.

Here's the blurb:

He called himself Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever because he dared not believe in the strange alternate world in which he suddenly found himself.

Yet the Land tempted him. He had been sick; now he seemed better than ever before. Through no fault of his own, he had been outcast, unclean, a pariah. Now he was regarded as a reincarnation of the Land's greatest hero--Berek Halfhand--armed with the mystic power of White Gold. That power alone could protect the Lords of the Land from the ancient evil of Despiser, Lord Foul. Only...Covenant had no idea of how the power could be used!

Thus begins one of the most remarkable epic fantasies ever written...

This week's New York Times Bestsellers (January 29th)

In hardcover:

Pierce Brown's Iron Gold debuts at number 3. For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

In paperback:

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid’s Tale maintains its position at number 3 (trade paperback). For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.

Ernest Cline's Ready Player One maintains its position at number 4 (trade paperback).

The Handmaid's Tale

I feel like such an idiot to have waited this long to read this novel. Honestly, especially given that the author is Canadian, I should have read it thirty ago. The Handmaid's Tale was a nominee for the Man Booker Prize, the Nebula Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, as well as a panoply of other literary awards. One would have thought that this should be enough to entice me.

But Margaret Atwood has always come across as more than a little condescending and pretentious by refusing to acknowledge that she wrote science fiction and maintaining the she was writing speculative fiction. Hence, I've always been reticent to fork out my hard-earned money for works by writers who piss on the genre.

If not for the fact that the recent TV series was so well-received, I would probably not have given this novel another thought. But the more rave reviews the television adaptation garnered, the more it piqued my curiosity. As a matter of course, there was no way I could watch the show before reading the book. So I bought The Handmaid's Tale and decided to bring it with me on my Central American adventure.

The afternoon I arrived in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, I lay down in a hammock and the next thing I knew I had read half of the novel. To my surprise, I finished the book the next day during Happy Hour. Given its size, The Handmaid's Tale was supposed to last me about a week. After all, vacations are not about reading all day. But Offred's plight captured my imagination and I couldn't let go. I went through this novel in about 24 hours. Yes, it's that damn good. And then some!

Here's the blurb:

A gripping vision of our society radically overturned by a theocratic revolution, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale has become one of the most powerful and most widely read novels of our time.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead, serving in the household of the enigmatic Commander and his bitter wife. She may go out once a day to markets whose signs are now pictures because women are not allowed to read. She must pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, for in a time of declining birthrates her value lies in her fertility, and failure means exile to the dangerously polluted Colonies. Offred can remember a time when she lived with her husband and daughter and had a job, before she lost even her own name. Now she navigates the intimate secrets of those who control her every move, risking her life in breaking the rules.

Like Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, The Handmaid’s Tale has endured not only as a literary landmark but as a warning of a possible future that is still chillingly relevant.

The Handmaid's Tale was first published in 1985. Regardless of the genre, titles that are more than three decades old often don't age well. And yet, this chilling cautionary tale is quite actual and is an even more powerful read in 2018 than it likely was back in the 80s. In the wake of the last American election and with Donald Trump's presidency and the atrocities committed by crackpot regimes in countries such as Syria, it felt as though this book had been written just last year. As Atwood mentioned in her introduction, fears and anxieties proliferate these days. Basic civil liberties are perceived as endangered, along with many of the rights women have fought so hard to win over the last decades. In such a divisive climate, hate for many groups appears to be on the rise and scorn for democratic institutions is being expressed by extremists of all stripes. Due to such political and social turmoils, The Handmaid's Tale is a work that everyone should read right now.

Given the current political climate, the premise of the book doesn't sound so far-fetched. The president has been assassinated and the entire Congress has been gunned down. The USA has suffered a coup and its liberal democracy has been replaced by a literal-minded theocratic dictatorship. The Constitution has been suspended and the Republic of Gilead is based on 17th-century Puritan roots. A think tank known as the Sons of Jacob was behind the President's Day Massacre and its aftermath, and thus created what would become the new republic. Using biblical symbols, the authoritarian regime restored an extreme version of the patriarchy. Moving in to seize doctrinal control of the country, this new religion is in the process of destroying all familiar religious denominations such as the Catholics and the Baptists. Jewish people were given a chance to immigrate to Israel and are now being eliminated if they stayed behind. Quakers have gone to ground and are helping desperate people to escape to Canada. Strangely enough, Muslims are barely mentioned. The Handmaid's Tale is a chilling visionary tale. The more so based on the fact that, in light of all that's currently taking place in the USA today, it could happen. And that's truly frightening.

The better part of the novel occurs in and around Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of Harvard University. One of the very best educational institutions in the world, it was once a Puritan theological seminary and probably why it was chosen by the new republic. The Secret Service of Gilead, akin to the SS of the Nazi party, is housed inside the Widener Library. And the Harvard wall is used to display the dead bodies of the executed enemies of the regime. The country's population is declining due to a toxic environment and female fertility is considered a premium asset. Under such a totalitarian yoke, the ruling class monopolizes fertile women and they are assigned to them as Handmaids. The biblical precedent behind this is the story of Jacob and his two wives, Rachel and Leah, and their two handmaids. The selected women's only purpose is to give birth to viable babies. In the book, women are forbidden to read, own property, control their own money, or have jobs outside of their homes.

This horrifying near-future is told from the perspective of Offred. In an act of hope or desperation, she recorded her story so that someone can someday find it and share it with future generations. We never learn Offred's true name, though we discover that she used to be married with a man named Luke and they had a daughter. She had a job, her own money, a future. And it all came crashing down when the Republic of Gilead took over. Having given birth once in the past, she was selected to become a Handmaid and has been assigned to a Commander so he can hopefully make her pregnant. Offred's story is as compelling as it is thought-provoking. Portions of her tale takes place in the present, but there are often flashback scenes in which we learn how the socio-political order unraveled and collapsed altogether and how the Sons of Jacob seized power and changed life as everyone knew it. Offred's plight, both past and present, is often heartbreaking. The flashbacks featuring her daughter and how they were betrayed at the end certainly pack a strong emotional punch. One thing I found quite interesting was that, despite her own suffering, Offred shows a lot of empathy and can sympathize with the pain of others, especially other women, such as the Wives, the Aunts, the Econowives, and the Marthas.

This book was paced to perfection. Every single chapter added another layer to the tale and forced you to keep on reading. Fascinating and disturbing, it was a page-turner of the highest order. Oddly enough, what happened to her in the past was just as absorbing as her current plight. We are the sum of all our experiences, and it was engrossing how Offred's past affected her as a Handmaid. The dire contrast between her two lives, before and after the coup, was gripping.

I found The Handmaid's Tale to be deeply moving. Doubtless, it is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. Perhaps the most powerful given the actual worldwide socio-political climate. It is a decidedly bleak tale for the most part, but there are signs of hope here and there throughout the book. Usually this would have annoyed me, but I loved the fact that we don't exactly know if or how Offred's survived the end of the novel. And that Offred's account discussed at an academic conference in the future doesn't shed much light on her own fate. This could be construed as a cop-out by some, yet I felt that it was the perfect ending to such a tragic story.

Captivating, distressing, touching, and heart-rending in equal measures, Margaret Atwood wrote a masterpiece. The Handmaid's Tale deserves the highest possible recommendation.

The Final verdict: 10/10

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe.