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review 2019-03-09 03:01
I Can't Suitably Encapsulate this Gripping Thriller
Killing State - Judith O'Reilly

“You should come with me.”


He turned over the offer in his mind.

 

Why would he?

 

Because she was stop-your-heart beautiful.

 

Then again, the world teemed with beautiful women. Because he wanted to know how it ended.

 

Badly, he predicted.


What happens when an assassin doesn't get the expected reaction from his target? Honor Jones, MP, tells him to let her finish her cigarette and asks him a question, "Where's Peggy?" The assassin in question, Michael North, doesn't know who Peggy is, much less where she is. What he does know is that he can't kill this woman -- maybe it's because (unlike the rest of his targets) he wasn't given a reason for her execution, maybe it's her attitude, maybe he's just getting tired of killing (not to be confused with Martin Q. Blank's newfound respect for life) -- certainly her beauty doesn't hurt.

 

His refusal to kill her doesn't go down well with his employer -- an extra-governmental body dedicated to the preservation of the British government. That morning, he's contacted in person with strict instructions to get the job done or face the (fatal) consequences. Instead, North tried to get her out of the country and ends up saving her from a different assassin. Not very shockingly, North also finds instructions to kill him on this assassin's corpse. By this point, North is smitten with Honor and is committed (whether either of them consciously realize it) to helping her survive and find her friend Peggy.

 

At the moment, it's clear that Honor's search for her dear friend is tied to the kill order. Peggy's an astronomer, largely apolitical, and not tied to any endeavor that would normally put her on the radar of anyone outside of astronomical/academic circles. Nevertheless, she's somehow set these dominoes falling, and now Honor and North are running from killers across the country as they seek to learn why Peggy has disappeared.

 

This hunt for Peggy will push North and Honor to -- and past -- their limits. It will see them both injured. Both under threat of grave bodily harm (and death) through violence -- and both will have to take steps to defend themselves. Around them, the culture and government face shifts and challenges from within that threaten to change everything that Britons know about themselves. On top of all that -- there are some great character moments, real growth and change that happen ways that you can believe -- not just the clear result of authorial fiat, but because that's what happens when people face what they did.

 

Plots involving large-scale conspiracies frequently leave me cold -- O'Reilly not only convinces me that her conspiracy is worth reading, but she's effective enough with it to make me enjoy it. I struggle to accept plots involving psychiatric professionals and loved ones trying to convince a character that the reality they know (and the audience knows) isn't real, but is the result of delusion brought on by some psychological condition. Now this one isn't as involved as say, "Normal Again" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it's there -- and O'Reilly sticks with it long enough to accomplish what she needs to for her story, but she doesn't milk drama out of it. There are a few other things like this -- tricks, plotlines, tropes -- that I typically avoid or get annoyed by, but I accepted and enjoyed here.

 

My notes are filled with "O'Reilly isn't going to try ___, is she?" entries, followed by "Yeah, she is -- and it works." She squeezes in so many of these things that I'm tempted to doubt my memory about them -- and I'm writing this less than a day after I read it! For reasons of space, time, and readability I've limited myself in what I've addressed in this post. I had a lot of other things I wanted to say, and even had drafts talking about. But I ended up restricting myself -- not just because of spoilers (though, as always, that's part of it) -- but because O'Reilly stuffs this novel with so many ideas, plot points and details that I can't talk about it all without the post becoming unreadable. I don't know how she manages to put it all in while maintaining the pounding pace. It's truly noteworthy and laudable that she pulls it off. I can't even express this without producing an ungainly paragraph.

 

Michael North is a larger-than-life character, but honestly more grounded in reality than many assassin/lone warrior types in Thriller fiction. Part of that comes from O'Reilly's restraint in describing him -- he's never depicted as anything superlative. He's simply a skilled and surprisingly dedicated combat veteran in a series of tight situations that even he is shocked that he survives as long as he does.

 

Similarly, Honor is one of many beautiful women in the world (as North himself notes above) -- she's one of many dedicated elected public servants, she's one of many people who've overcome difficult pasts thanks to the help of a friend/loved one. She also isn't depicted as a superlative anything -- just the right person in the right place at the right time. Even if that right place is in front of Michael North's knife. And yes, the name Honor is ripe with possibilities and symbolism -- O'Reilly takes advantage of it. Not as much as some authors would've, but she gets her money's worth out of the name.

 

There is an plausibility-stretching character -- a young computer whiz (actually, she's something beyond whiz, but I can't think of a term that fits her), who North allies himself with temporarily. But between her attitude and role in the overall story, I can't see any reader not suspending disbelief enough to embrace her.

 

Most of this book takes place in moral gray areas (as it almost has to given North's profession), but that doesn't stop O'Reilly's villains from clearly being villains and her heroes clearly being heroic. Killing State doesn't try to go for some sort of situational ethics or a "yes, but" approach to the morality of te characters -- which may or may not have been successful.

 

The plot moves like the proverbial roller coaster -- ups, downs, rushes, and loops all at a pace that you just hope to keep up with. Fair warning -- once the hook is set (and it'll be early on), you won't want to put the book down and you'll likely get in trouble with deadlines and schedules. Things won't really end the way you expect them to -- I had a handful of expected conclusions that I had to discard along the way (although some I didn't have to discard until the last moments) -- but when you're finished with the book, you'll likely realize that there's no other way for things to have fallen out.

 

There's a sequel expected later this year -- I honestly can't imagine that it'll be able to live up to this. But I wouldn't put it past O'Reilly to confound my expectations again. I had a lot of fun with this novel and was regularly impressed with O'Reilly (and North and Honor). I expect that I'm not alone, and soon I'll see a lot of very positive buzz surrounding this book.

 

---
My thanks to Love Books Group for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

Source: irresponsiblereader.com/2019/03/08/killing-state-by-judith-oreilly-i-cant-suitably-encapsulate-this-gripping-thriller
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review 2019-02-24 15:51
Knights of the Round Table - Searching for many unholy Grails
For the Killing of Kings - Howard Andrew Jones
When comes my numbered day, I will meet it smiling. For I’ll have kept this oath.
I shall use my arms to shield the weak.
I shall use my lips to speak the truth, and my eyes to see it.
I shall use my hands to mete justice to high and low, and I will weigh all things with heart and mind.
Where I walk the laws will follow, for I am the sword of my people and the shepherd of their lands.
When I fall, I will rise through my brothers and sisters, for I am eternal
 -- Pledge of the Altenerai


Howard Andrew Jones’s For the Killing of Kings is highly recommended for epic fantasy fans. Twice in the first half, I was completely floored by plot twists. The last third kept me from going to sleep. Haven’t had that much fun reading a book in a long time. This jumpstarts The Ring-Sworn Trilogy, a wild & fresh & furious epic.

Pitched as The Three Musketeers presented via the style of Zelzany’s Chronicles of Amber, it holds true. Indeed, the epic pacing is reminiscent of Zelzany; HAJ doles out action and backstory with precision. Since there are many more than three “musketeers” here, and it has more of a medieval flare, one could argue it is more of a “King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table” mashup. Instead of a singular Holy Grail, the Altenerai guard are spread out searching for many hearthstones of mysterious, spiritual, power—in this case, stones are not clearly holy.

The key story arc focuses on the coming of age of the female squire Elenai, a soldier with burgeoning magic prowess. Her rise in the Altenerai (the Queen’s guard) is compelling. On her journey she mingles with the older members who still reel from the ambiguous ending of a war seven years prior; their commander was killed, and their Queen Leonara decided to make peace rather than annihilate the barbaric Naor enemies. The Queen spread the ranks out searching for hearthstones, and distanced herself from Altenerai traditions.

I list some of my favorite elements (Re-ordered and slightly disguised to avoid spoilers): a spellcasting system that linked nature to people (hearthstones); a sculptured horse worthy of Frazetta’s Death Dealer (or a woman of the similar ilk); a humanoid made of blood; a spooky ghost-town/village; the hidden content within the Chasm Tower; an unexpected, swift betrayal.

Humor: the expected banter between friends on the front line is well-delivered. Also, there are humorous cultures like the kobalin which are honor-driven furballs (reminded me of a matured, and more belligerent, Gurgi from Lloyd Alexander’s Pyrdain series)—if they like you, they want to kill you.

A diverse cast feels genuine and fresh. Despite a requisite dose of masculinity (via violence and “charmers”), women play a dominant role in the book; to wit, Queen Leonara rules over the city of Darassus, and Feolia is governor of Alantris. Elenai mingles with the disenfranchised Altenerai as she matures. The group listed below is ~50% female; a few in the group are sexually nonbinary (orientations are not a focus of the story, just low-key truths, matters of fact). 
1. Asrahn (m): Master of Squires, veteran 
2. Elenai (f): Young squire under Asrahn
3. N’lahr (m): Entombed Swordsman and war strategist; his sword Irion is part of a prophecy
4. Kyrkenall (m): Archer and mad poet; best buddy to N’lahr
5. Denaven (m): Veteran like Asrahn
6. Varama (f): Weapon’s specialists and scientist, emotionally cold (reminded me of a Star Trek Vulcan)
7. Rylin: (m) James-Bond-like, charming specialist 
8. Cerai: (f) Hearthstone seeking sorceress with artistic flare 
9. Rialla (f): Spellcaster and forger of weapons
10. Belahn (m): An aged crazy, protector of families
11. Decrin (m): Veteran 
12. Aradel: (f) Wyvern (ko’aye) riding, retired member
13. Kalandra: (f) MIA sorceress, searching for hearthstone and their origin
14. Renik: (m) also MIA, swordsman looking for hearthstones and their origin, may have heeded to a strange garden in Ekhem

Quibbles: 
A map was not necessary, but would have been appreciated. 

The role of the sword Irion in the plot is fantastic. It is a fun weapon to see in action. It certainly was fated to complete a mission instead of being locked up in a display case after a stalled war. However, the hope/myth behind its potential is referred to as “prophecy” which (a) seemed like a misnomer and (b) introduced a fantasy cliché. In a book in which many dozens of story arcs are interwoven, each having believable motivations/consequences, posing a fate-driven prophecy felt out of place. The prophecy seemed to originate in a relatively private setting in an impromptu ritual (not a public discourse or professed openly) and there was some mystery about its invocation (where did the inspiration come from to link the weapon to a particular individual).

More from HAJ:
The trilogy is well underway. During the Feb 2019 Ask Me Anything (AMA) on reddit, I inquired on the release schedule. HAJ returned: “First, rest assured. Not only is the second book written, it's going through final revisions right now… The third book is fully outlined and I had begun drafting…”

Howard A. Jones has long held a passion for action fiction and throughout his career has re-introduced readers to Harold Lamb, moderated Sword and Sorcery websites, and edited the Dark Fantasy magazine Blackgate and currently Tales from the Magician’s Skull & Perilous Worlds. 

Source: www.selindberg.com/2019/02/for-killing-of-kings-review-by-se.html
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review 2019-02-23 18:36
A January Killing: Detective Inspector Zig Batten 2 - Paul Toolan

It is an exceptional cold winter in Stockton Marsh where Wassail is celebrated, a pagan blessing of the apple orchards, topped with plenty of cider ,but this happy gathering is overshadowed by the death of one of the participants. Late as usual, he is found dead in the same orchard. We are quickly informed that his wife received an anonymous letter and that other letters are being distributed. It is clear that the Inspector Zig Batten and his team have to find a serial writer/murderer. The setting of a rural community in Somerset is very attractive, the characters, both main characters and bystanders are well developed but we are confronted by several POV's and they all seem to talk to themselves Ex.: "You've got to stop doing this,Zig.Doing what Zig? This hanging about ,where dead bodies are". Unfortunately several of them appear in the same chapter and blend into each other. Frankly,apart from being confusing is it also,and this is very personal,very annoying. Fact is,the storyline is full of opportunities but somehow it didn't deliver. Mind you,it has a very attractive cover...

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text 2019-02-08 03:02
Killing Commendatore
Killing Commendatore - Haruki Murakami,Kirby Heyborne

Murakami's first-person narrator for Killing Commendatore never discloses his name (something that didn't actually occur to me until I was close to the end of the novel).  The narrator is a portrait artist whose wife unexpectedly asks him for a divorce, sharing that she has been seeing another man.  Portrait Artist (calling him that for convenience) leaves the apartment he shared with his wife, embarks on a journey, and ends up living in the remote mountain home of a well-known artist--the father of an old art-school friend.  The father, suffering from Alzheimer's disease, has been moved to a nursing home.  For a nominal rent, Portrait Artist cares for the home, focuses on his art, and does some teaching at a community center.

 

Portrait Artist discovers in the attic a remarkable painting called "Killing Commendatore," which depicts in Japanese style a version of a famous assassination scene in Mozart's "Don Giovanni."  Portrait Artist brings the painting into the studio and becomes mesmerized by it. His friend's father, as a young man, had studied in Austria, but mysterious events over there during the Second World War resulted in his being returned to Japan, where he abruptly changed from painting in a European style to a Japanese style.

 

Although he has quit doing traditional portraits through an agency, he accepts a commission by a wealthy neighbor who gives him the direction to paint the portrait in any style he chooses.  The shared experience that produces the portrait leads to a friendship between the artist and his subject, ultimately leading Portrait Artist to accept his neighbor's request to paint the portrait of another neighbor, a 13-year-old girl, Marie.  The neighbor who requests the portrait may have a connection to the girl--but I won't spoil that.

 

Bringing the painting "Killing Commendatore" down from the attic--where its creator had ostensibly hidden it with the intention of preventing anyone from seeing it--seemingly sets into motion certain fantastical events, calling forth "ideas" and "metaphors" that are personified, and making possible/necessary a crossing into an alternate world.

 

This is one of those books I can't quite assign a star rating to.  There were aspects of this book that I loved:  Its depiction of an artist's mind, the narrator's visual memory, the power of art to capture elements that go beyond surface appearance.  There were aspects that I found troubling, too.  I've seen discussions where people note that Murakami seems obsessed with breasts and ears.  The breast obsession definitely comes through in this book (including the narrator sharing that his sister, who died at age 12, had very small breasts, as does the 13-year-old Marie, in contrast with her aunt, who has large shapely ones--while his wife also has small ones).  He also gives his weirdly detailed descriptions of women's ears in a couple of instances. 

 

There is also a scene that involves a sexual dream where the narrator basically rapes his sleeping estranged wife--he himself identifies it this way when he thinks about the dream, noting that if she's asleep, she's not consenting.  On the one hand, he was dreaming, but on the other--the dream might not have been an ordinary dream, so possible unfortunate implications.

 

In addition, although the book had me hooked most of the time, there were also segments where the narrative dragged, and I actually found myself doing "wrap it up" gestures with my hands (I listened to the audio version).

 

In sum, I am glad I experienced this novel.  I think Murakami's fans will, on the balance, appreciate the story, though possibly with misgivings.

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review 2019-01-31 05:36
Killing Eva (In Light of Shadows #3) by Camellia Hart
Killing Eva - Camellia Hart

 

 

A finale three books in the making. Hart has took us on a journey full of heartbreaking twists and dangerously, treacherous turns to end up here. Is a happy ending possible for such a convoluted romance? Eva and Clive are caught in a storm that only they can calm? The thrill is watching the ride.

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