All posts by Jayne Lockwood

22Jun/20

Borderland by F E Feeley Jr and Jamie Fessenden

F. E. Feeley Jr will be on WROTE to talk about Borderland later in the summer, so don’t miss it!

Okay, so on first reading the blurb, this book doesn’t sound like a whole barrel of laughs. Borderland is the story of a young married couple, but of the MC’s has a one-way ticket to the next realm, via a terminal cancer diagnosis. Their final journey to George’s home town is hindered by their car breaking down in a ferocious storm, just outside the gates of an old hotel, the Borderland. This hotel has all the elements of “don’t go there or you won’t come out,” but George and Jason have no choice. George is sick and needs looking after.

In less accomplished hands, this premise could turn into a horrible, excruciating mess, but the authors are none other than F E Feeley Jr (author of the majestic When Heaven Strikes and Hallelujah) and Jamie Fessenden, whose genres include the searing (Violated) and the cheeky (Bigfoot Hunters In Love.) That mix of spirituality, horror, gut-wrenching emotion and dark humour is just what a story like this needs. Cancer is a serious subject, and it is treated with respect., but it is married with a good dose of black comedy and genuine creeps.

After a slightly muddled start of their stay, George and Jason begin to twig that All Is Not As It Seems. There are some great visuals, from the pristine hotel turning to a cold dusty wreck and back again, to the guests being alive one moment and very dead the next. There is a hall of mirrors feel about the place, and a garden maze that never seems to end. The genteel owner of the hotel, Rebecca Thibault, is part-Mrs. Danvers/part-Mary Poppins, and Harry, the gardener, is a deceptively simple man who misses nothing. There are tiny dramas occurring amongst the staff, from the young couple who want to be together to the torrid three-way affair of a travelling theatre troupe. The way this story plays out is hideously sinister, with the two MC’s running down endless corridors filled with unearthly screams, being pursued by a demon whose goal is endless misery for guests past and present.

And yet… just read this.

It had been months, and now he needed this man—his lover, his husband—more than ever. He needed him to suspend time. Here in this moment, he wasn’t dying. Here in this moment, as they made love touched by the silver moonlight from the window, he was immortal.

It’s a tiny taste of which tells you all you need to know about the beauty of this book. The prose is beautiful, elegant, poignant and heartbreaking at times.

There are nods to the Eagles’ classic, Hotel California, and the plot also weaves in the Spanish Flu epidemic from 1920, together with colourful characters from the Jazz Age. It’s a glorious technicolour chase for the truth through a haunted house where the walls come alive and yawning pits will swallow the unwary. George and Jason are the unwitting witnesses to a drama which has been going on behind the fetid walls for decades, but their presence, their love and their sexuality is unnerving the inhabitants of the hotel and encouraging them to let go of the narratives they have held onto for a century.

I’ve never read a ghost story quite like this one before, but I’m so glad I took a chance on it. Despite the unlikely premise, the ending is curiously uplifting. Fessenden and Feeley make a formidable writing team and I hope they collaborate on another novel soon.

BLURB

They were young.
In the prime of life and recently married.
And then the diagnosis came.
Cancer.

George and Jason make arrangements to travel back to George’s home state of Vermont so he may pass away in the town where he grew up, but a terrible storm diverts the couple into the gates of an out-of-the-way hotel called Borderland.

Sure, the employees are well dressed and polite. Sure, the food and entertainment are old-time fare. But it’s all a schtick, right?

Or is there something far more sinister at work here?

Welcome to the Borderland Hotel, where you may check in, but you’ll never, ever leave.

01Jun/20

A Little Chatter by Terry Connell

To find out more about Terry and his work, check out Episode 264 – There Are No Shoulds!

I was a little hesitant about reading this book at first. The cover doesn’t invite one in, with a barrage of repeated words that made my eyes go funny. It had a bit of a “try hard” feel about it, and the title seemed to suggest something frivolous, a trifling matter to pass the time if one had nothing else to do. It was an inauspicious start, and a shame because the stories themselves are startling, poignant, sometimes desperately sad, but always entertaining and well-written.

A frivolous read, this certainly is not. It is a truly diverse collection of vignettes than actual stories; snapshots of people’s lives and experiences, each one very different from the last. The author uses dialogue, prose, sections as if taken from official reports, and weaves all those things in to a highly readable package with some intriguing characters.

These stories feel more personal than ones written with fictional characters. These tales read like people who have really existed, people from the author’s past, or echoes of people he has encountered, however briefly. There are exquisite observations of everyday life, perfectly preserved. I can imagine the author sitting in a diner with his notepad, quietly taking in all the tiny dramas around him, then weaving them with words drawn from his imagination. It is a true piece of literary work, crafted with skill and a keen eye.

Standouts for me are the first story, Goodbye, Willow Grove, where two people have very different memories of the same, sun-drenched day. The Tire Swing, where an elderly man reminisces over his life. It is written from a second person aspect, which isn’t for everyone, but there was a poetic rhythm about it that I loved. Finally, Thursday Night at Niko’s Italian Restaurant, which sounds like a Billy Joel song and is a slice of life from the underbelly of old-school Americana.

There’s a theme of savagery running through a lot of the stories, a cynicism as well as rose-tinted sentimentality. Just like any good conversation, there is something for everyone. The book isn’t always a comfortable read. I didn’t warm to some of the stories, but that’s like any collection, as well as being human. And everyone in this book is achingly human; flawed, honourable, selfish, angry, loving. This is definitely a short story collection to check out if you want human stories to make you think.

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The characters moving through Connell’s wondrous, hypnotic stories are vivid, unique, and somehow familiar. With insight and humor, they challenge the status quo, wrestle with shadows from their past, and make innocent mistakes – not always with the best results.

16May/20

Hallelujah by Kim Fielding and F.E. Feeley Jr.


To find out more about Kim Fielding and F E Feeley Jr. and their work, check out the following episodes! For Kim, there is

Kim Fielding – Episode 266 – Marry In A Cemetery!

And for F E Feeley Jr., Episode 255 – The State Of The Queer Union!

If I’m totally honest, I was avoiding this book at first. The cover was tempting. Show me a tornado and it’s usually a must-read, but I wasn’t sure of the premise. Demons, a religious backstory; in these times, I can’t cope with anything too weighty and dystopian. Real life is a bit too much like a disaster movie at the moment, and we can’t predict what the ending will be.

And yes, there are serious issues in this book, the state of the world today, war between states and countries, climate change, man’s inhumanity to man. There’s bleakness and horror which cannot be denied BUT:

Then I remembered When Heaven Strikes, another book with a tornado, written by F E Feeley Jr, and I remembered how I loved it, so I took the plunge. From the first moment, I felt for choir master, Joseph, who in the first part of the book (1991) had turned his back on his musical dreams to support his father on the family farm. He was torn about how he would ever be accepted in his hometown if he came out, and his relationship with his father is prickly. His church seem determined to see him paired off with the sister of the man Joseph secretly longs for. Oh, and Joseph also sees dead people. Some of them are quite persistent, but he is in denial about his talent, and hasn’t found a way to deal with it affectively.

So far, so earnest, but after some demonic activity, the story veers off in an unexpected direction, with hot and tender scenes which were a welcome respite from the encroaching menace. Then tragedy strikes, and the scene closes on 1991.

Skip forward to the present day, and Joseph is still working the farm. He’s given up on being a choir director and is literally treading water, unable to move on with his life.

I’m not going to spoil it for you, but Joseph is compelled to head off into the desert with a mysterious Creole woman, Francine, who says she is his distant cousin. Francine has a message from the past, warning Joseph he is being hunted by the demon who has haunted him for most of his life. As they search for answers, Joseph also has to deal with questioning his faith, and the constant company of a familiar ghost who he isn’t ready to let go of.

Okay, so that doesn’t sound a barrel of laughs, but trust me, this is an expertly woven tale, with likeable characters and a good dose of humour to balance the darker scenes and themes. Joseph is supported by equally compelling secondary characters who enrich the story and give it a colourful energy. I read the book over three nights and was totally hooked.

Can I address the Stephen King thing? To invite comparison is also to invite criticism. Forget King; this is something else. Something unique to these authors. I’m not saying it’s better than King, or worse. It’s totally different. Comparisons are impossible and pretty unfair, if I’m honest.

There’s a road trip, magic that is written in a way that you totally believe it, a respect for religion that I wasn’t expecting, a running theme based around Leonard Cohen’s masterful rendition of Hallelujah, and a powerful, satisfying denouement. The writing was excellent, the plotting off the scale. It was an imaginative, hugely enjoyable journey and I’m so glad I was given the opportunity to read it.

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Can you hear it?

Whispering in the dark.

Secrets only the dark knows.

Joseph Moore, choir director for the First Baptist Church of Lenora, Nebraska, has secrets of his own. Terrible, lonely secrets. One that involves natural human desire. One that calls forth powers he cannot begin to understand. Both with the potential to destroy him and those he loves.

Now the world is changing. The darkness, the shadows, the ghosts, are closing in—and Joseph and his lover, Kevin, are being stalked by a merciless demon, hell-bent on possession.

Can you hear it now?

There in the dark.

It’s whispering your name.

03Dec/19

A Knife’s Edge by Eliot Parker

To find out more about Eliot Parker’s latest work, check out Episode 219: Don’t Be Afraid; Be Proud!

This is Eliot Parker’s new novel featuring police sergeant Ronan Mccullough, who previously appeared in Fragile Brilliance. This story can be read as a standalone, although it follows on neatly from the previous book.

Bloody and gruesome in places, but not gratuitously so, this is a clever crime novel with definite noir undertones and lashings of corporate intrigue. Ronan is very believable as the cop trying to make sense of the murder of a mutual friend, but before that even happens, there is a spectacular crash which sets up the tone of the book, and introduces tension between Ronan and his nearest and dearest.

I struggled in places with the plotting, and felt the editing could have been tightened up a bit. At times my attention began to wander, which didn’t make it a book I felt the need to devour in one go. As plots and characters go, there was nothing really new here but it was a solid crime novel with some genuinely shocking moments, although I had clocked who was the real crime kingpin by the middle of the book. The writing was good and it felt as if the author knew what they were doing, even if the reader didn’t, which ultimately kept me reading until the end.

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Six months after a drug cartel infiltrated Charleston, Ronan McCullough continues to fight the drug war that plagues the city. His investigations are halted when the body of a mutual acquaintance, Sarah Gilmore, is found in the trunk of a burning car. In an investigation that takes him deep into the professional and personal life of the victim, McCullough discovers secrets lurking in her past, and a tangled web of personal and professional conflicts, suspicion, and betrayal. Was Sarah killed for those reasons or something larger? As Ronan seeks answers, his life and the lives of those closest to him are used as pawns in a deadly game that has no ending.

 

04Jun/19

Ithani (The Oberon Cycle Book 3) by J. Scott Coatsworth

The third and final part of the Oberon Cycle trilogy, the first books being Skythane (Book 1) and Lander (Book 2) The books must be read in order, the first concentrating on building the world the author has created, and the second adding more characters to those already introduced.

The worlds of Oberon and Error have been lovingly crafted right from the get-go, so I felt I knew the characters and their surroundings, the curious alien foods they eat and the commodities they treasure. There is an excellent glossary in each book too, reminding the reader of what unusual words mean if they get stuck as I did on occasions. And the size of the glossary alone is testament to how meticulous the author has been in creating these worlds.

The writing was flawless in all three books, with colourful, almost cinematic set-pieces and rounded-out, diverse characters. As with a lot of fantasy/sci-fi novels, there were a LOT of characters, which is always risky as sometimes it can be hard to connect to them all. And yes, I did have a job remembering all of them, and what their dynamics were. There were places where I had to re-read to ensure I was following the plot correctly.

But in this world, the world of Oberon, everyone had their role, and there wasn’t one character that I felt didn’t really need to be there. They were an engaging lot as well, even the bad guys. I don’t want to give too much away, to be honest, fearful of letting a spoiler loose by accident.

What I can say is by the end of the trilogy, a lot of the characters, Jameson and Xander, Quince and Robin, almost felt like friends. Their dialogue was approachable and very natural. I love the mix of pronouns, the diverse genders and sexualities; it really was a rainbow cast, and with cool tech to boot.

Also I saw echoes of our own world and warnings for the future of what we stand to lose if we aren’t responsible for our planet (but not in a heavy-duty, worthy way) but in the end it was just a really good story from start to finish. I think I said in my review of Skythane that Scott’s writing made me fall in love with sci-fi again.

And at the end of this trilogy, I’m glad to say I’m more in love with it than ever.

BLURB

Time is running out.

After saving the world twice, Xander, Jameson, and friends plunge headlong into a new crisis. The ithani—the aliens who broke the world—have reawakened from their hundred millennia-long slumber. When Xander and Jameson disappear in a flash, an already fractured world is thrown into chaos.

The ithani plans, laid a hundred thousand years before, are finally coming to pass, and they threaten all life on Erro. Venin and Alix go on a desperate search for their missing friend and find more than they bargained for. And Quince, Robin, and Jessa discover a secret as old as the skythane themselves.

Will alien technology, unexpected help from the distant past, destiny, and some good old-fashioned firepower be enough to defeat an enemy with the ability to split a world? The final battle of the epic science fiction adventure that began in Skythane will decide the fate of lander and skythane alike. And in the north, the ithani rise….

04Jun/19

The Radicals by Marolyn Krasner

Marolyn Krasner was a very welcome recent guest on WROTE! To check out her interview and her work, follow Episode 209: Have To Have That Light and Dark!

It’s interesting to dive into a book with absolutely no idea what to expect. I confess I didn’t warm to D at first. She was too aggressive, too attracted to chaos and seemingly selfish, but as the story unfolded, I began to get why she was like that, and  understand her frustration and being propelled into a world of diapers, responsibilities to loved-ones and society in general. One can’t rage all the time. Sometimes you have to listen, to learn, and D found those dynamics very hard to adjust to.

And her refusal to compromise made her bloody difficult to like, if I’m honest, but in the end I really did warm to her her. Not because she manages to conform and make those around her more comfortable in her presence, but because she kept true to her beliefs, her spirit, making a brave decision not to be held down by choices someone else made for her, and still fighting for those who find it hard to fight for themselves. It really was a triumph, and I loved her by the end.

The author pulls no punches. She doesn’t attempt to make D accessible to readers, and by that I mean she isn’t afraid to make her protagonist unlikeable at times. But then, we are all unlikeable at times. She doesn’t try to feminise her, or make this a tale where everyone is happy at the end. It’s life, with compromises from everyone. It felt very real.

The writing is first-class, with sharp dialogue and great characters. D’s hideous alt-Right father is one, and so is Sally, the Pussy Power cofounder who I didn’t warm to at all. She seemed even more toxic than the bigoted dad, constantly undermining D who incomprehensibly (to me) went back for more every time, even though she knew how toxic the woman was. For me that was the only bum note. I hated Sally every time she was on the page, and her presence haunts D and her lovely femme girlfriend, as they try to do the right thing for their baby whilst holding on to their disintegrating relationship.

In the end though, this is a coming-of-age story, not just for D, but for Sally and those around them, and the ending is oddly uplifting. This is a book I’ll remember for a very long time.

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After twenty-five years of extremist feminist activism, D is on probation for assaulting homophobes and she is becoming something she never wanted to be: respectable. D’s mom and girlfriend hope her life as leader of the feminist collective Pussy Power is over, but D feels like a failure. When she finds out her estranged father has jumped on the white power bandwagon and is sharing the personal details of marginalized people on his badly designed website, she reconnects with her toxic Pussy Power cofounder and triggers a chain of events that causes her new life to implode, which is very bad, but is also exactly what she wants.

09May/19

Chasing The Dragon: Are You Chem-Friendly? By Cameron Yorke

Cameron Yorke was recently on WROTE! To find out more about him and his work, check out Episode 210: The New Normal!

Very briefly, Cameron Yorke was a successful journalist who accidentally became a drugs kingpin, providing liquid pleasure to eager punters wanting to get “High and Horny.” Then it all went wrong, ending in the death of a young man and a prison sentence for Yorke.

That’s the short version. The long version is told over a trilogy of books, the first two being Chasing The Dragon and Candy Flipping. I certainly learned a lot about this underground industry and the drug-fuelled parties, the wide variety of people involved, the lengths many go to in order to achieve sexual pleasure, and the hunger for as much as possible.

I worried for the author and everyone else involved long before it all went horribly wrong. There was an inevitability about it, almost from the first page. For me it was deeply disturbing that people would willingly do that to themselves, and the peer pressure involved. More than once I wondered what drives a person to seek out this kind of thing?

But I’m not and will never be part of that world, so I would not understand truly how it feels, or what the allure is. I get that, which is why I hope my review as someone new to this topic helps.

There is a lot to unpick here, and an incredible story that needed to be told. However, I thought both books were let down by the editing, and an overuse of exclamation marks, which had the effect of sensationalising all the activities. Someone did die, we have to remember that, and others were left with mental health problems and zero self-esteem.

The size of the paragraphs was also an issue, with stonking great chunks of prose that left one a little breathless by the time I had read through it. Again, this lessened the impact of the words, which was a shame. The books could have been more concise, and therefore powerful, if it had been edited more judiciously.

One thing that came across well; Yorke’s life became a drug-fuelled hot mess, a sort of Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas but in Belsize Park. There are times when it was hard to read because of the relentless pleasure-grasping, but I did because I wanted to understand even just a bit of why he embarked on what seemed like a wanton journey of self-destruction.

I’m not squeamish by any means, but in the end I was reeling at the shocking salaciousness of it all. A little less lurid detail might have had a stronger impact. I came away with the message, “you’ll be fine! It’s fun! Until you get caught!” Were you breathless after reading that? Well, that is what the books are like.

There isn’t much more I can say. Both books will stay with me, that’s for sure. I probably sound like a dowager aunt clutching her pearls, but although it was a fascinating insight into a shadowy underworld, I’ll stay on this side of the table, thank you very much.

When you’re finished, I’ll make some tea…

BLURB

Everyone is into Chemsex – everyone wants to get ‘High and Horny’ and PnP is a normal weekend pastime. At least that’s what it seems when you log onto one of the many gay apps now available, And if it’s not your bag, be prepared to be bullied, ridiculed, scorned and demeaned, such is the attitude towards the few chemsex virgins still left. Chemsex, for the uninitiated, refers to sex parties lasting three or more days, fuelled by recreational drugs such as crystal Methamphetamine or Gamma-Butylactose (GBL), where up to 100 men will gather for indiscriminate sex, in fact, gay middle-class men of almost any professional background are spurning relationships to inject, or ‘slam’ class A narcotics every weekend all over the world, turning to chems as a substitute for love.

Chasing the Dragon is a brutally honest portrayal of this phenomenon, and demonstrates how quickly seemingly successful, civilised men get sucked into a downward vortex, where judgement becomes impaired, and the bizarre becomes the new norm, with disastrous consequences.

18Apr/19

Empire Of Light (Voyance #1) by Alex Harrow

Alex Harrow was recently on WROTE! To hear their interview and check out their work, you can find them on Episode 200: Wait Wait This Is A Thing!

Empire of Light has a lot of warnings, including for for graphic violence and explicit sex. The danger with trigger warnings is that the reader will then read the book and think, so where was that violence then? Or where was the sex?

For the former, the author wasn’t kidding. From the get-go, this book has crunchy action scenes, lots of blood and flailing fists from our tough-talking main character, Damian, hitman and mercenary. 

On paper, he doesn’t sound too promising, but I sort of liked him by the end. If Quentin Tarantino had made a sci-fi, it might be something quite similar to this, shot in monochrome with flashes of blood and fire. Turns out Damian has a soft and squishy side, although he does his best to hide it. I would like to take him out for a beer and tell him how to keep in touch with his emotions.

I really enjoyed this book, despite the dizzying pace. It’s well-written, though I would have appreciated a few more calm moments to get to know the characters more.  It has balls-to-the-wall fight scenes, and a man torn between saving his lover and lusting after the man (Raeyn) who has threatened to kill him if he doesn’t do what he wants. There isn’t much in the way of complicated emotion, but we get the picture. Damian is a bit of blunt instrument. In fact, most of the characters are, apart from the blind woman, who I would have liked to get to know a bit. I loved Raeyn’s sense of style, and slinky Aris who seemed to oscillate from good to bad to good again. 

I wouldn’t say the sex is hugely explicit (though it depends what kind of books you usually read I guess) but the language can be coarse (it would be odd if it wasn’t, TBH) and there is an aura of blood-drenched lust running throughout the whole book. 

Good world-building, and a fast-paced, visceral plot. My one quibble would be the last few pages, where a LOT seemed to happen, and it felt as if there were at least one climax too many (if that’s possible.) I felt a bit breathless reading it; not in a sexy way, but in a “please make this stop” way. I fear some subtleties might have been lost in translations, but all in all, a wild ride, and a huge amount of “fist-in-the-face” fun.

BLURB

Damian Nettoyer is the Empire’s go-to gun. He kills whoever they want him to kill. In exchange, he and his rag-tag gang of crooks get to live, and Damian’s psychokinetic partner and lover, Aris, isn’t issued a one-way ticket to an Empire-sanctioned lobotomy.

Then Damian’s latest mark, a suave revolutionary named Raeyn, kicks his ass and demands his help. The first item on the new agenda: take out Damian’s old boss—or Raeyn will take out Damian’s crew.

To protect his friends and save his own skin, Damian teams up with Raeyn to make his revolution work. As the revolution gains traction, Damian gets way too close to Raeyn, torn between the need to shoot him one moment and kiss him the next. But Aris slips further away from Damian, and as Aris’ control over his powers crumbles, the Watch catches on.

With the Empire, Damian had two policies: shoot first and don’t ask questions. But to save the guy he loves, he’ll set the world on fire.

18Apr/19

Credence by Delphia Baisden

Delphia Baisden was a recent guest on WROTE! To listen to her interview and find out more about her work, check out Episode 208 – A New Jewel In My Crown!

I approached this book with some wariness, and I recently read another book dealing with a rock band, mental health issues, and non-con sex, which I found unbelievably upsetting. However, there ARE trigger warnings in this book, so anyone choosing to read Credence will be warned right from the start.

So I tiptoed in, and yes, the first chapters are hard to read, but they are extremely well-written, and 100% necessary to the plot of the book. The author has trodden lightly, not shying away from the pain of sexual abuse but dealing with it in a sensitive way. I knew I would be able to read the rest of it within a few pages. Trust had been gained, and Credence was a really good read, even enjoyable, given the gruelling premise. 

The blurb sums up the plot pretty well, so I won’t rehash it, but I loved James’s best friend Phil, and the supportiveness of the other members of the band (Eden) once they realise what has happened to their friend. This is a book about fighting back from a traumatic past, about letting go and finding love, both with another person and for oneself, about healing, and the struggles of mental illness. It’s all dealt with deftly and not too reverently, and I applaud the author wholeheartedly for that.

I loved Keiran, the love interest and femme lead vocalist for a less successful band, Lost and Found, who initially resents James for walking away from the the tour they were heading, thus denying Lost and Found crucial exposure to potential new fans. But as James’ band picks up the pieces and forms a new outfit, and Keiran is given the chance to show them how good he is, love begins to blossom undercover, as James is not out and is nervous about his bandmates finding out.

James is sweet, talented and modest, a lovely guy who adores his music. All the members of Eden have their demons, but are basically decent people who just want the best for each other. What a refreshing change to the endless drug and alcohol-fuelled sex parties which usually go hand in hand with “rock star” genre.

This is a hugely satisfying read, dealing with issues so relevant in today’s #metoo climate, and a really strong debut novel by this author. I will definitely be looking out to see what else she does.

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James Morgan, lead guitarist for the rock band Eden, seems to have it all. That is, until Theo, Eden’s lead singer and James’s secret lover, violently betrays him, sending James into a deep depression and cutting their current tour and the band’s life short.

Kieran Jackson, the lead vocalist for the less successful band Lost and Found, is at his wits’ end. At thirty-three, he never dreamed he’d still be opening for bands comprised of twentysomethings. When Eden pulls out of the last few shows of their summer tour, Kieran returns home burned out and heartbroken.

Over a year later, James, Phil, and David of Eden decide to reform under a different name with Kieran as their new vocalist. James, never having forgotten his single interaction with Kieran, nor the only time he ever listened to him perform, knows Kieran’s the best choice.

James is still closeted—and skittish after his last relationship—and one fumbling, drunken kiss threatens to undo everything he’s worked so hard to rebuild, as well as the cover he’s fought to maintain.

Can James overcome his past, confront his demons, and reclaim his former fame? Or will he and the newly formed True North remain in Eden’s shadow forever? Can he finally find comfort in who he is, accept his past, and reopen his heart? Or will the memories of Theo’s betrayal and the subsequent fallout dash any hope of finding—and trusting—love again?

Trigger warning: this book contains explicit rape, as well as one failed suicide attempt by a main character.

21Mar/19

Imminent Dawn by R. R. Campbell

Imminent Dawn (Empathy Book 1) is a complex and involved debut sci-fi novel, first in a series, with a large cast of characters and several different POV’s. There’s no doubt it is well-written and evenly-paced, with great world-building and realistic dialogue.

For me, the number of POV’s were a bit of a stumbling block. I’ve read a lot of books, the the ones I’ve enjoyed most have been the ones with a single or double POV. Once it gets to more than that, with equally important characters, It has to work harder to keep my attention. 

I found this with Imminent Dawn, which at times seemed over-complicated for what it was. Essentially, one woman is used as pawn by a powerful corporation, whilst an investigative journalist and a company employee, each with their own agendas, try to outdo each other in order to achieve their ambitions.

It took a while to unpick all of this, and because of that, I found it difficult to engage with the characters. For me to want to read about a character, I need to care about them or hate them. It was a shame that I didn’t find a particular character to root for in this book, as I was too busy trying to figure out what exactly was going on.

I believe this is down to personal taste though, rather than a fault of the author. Others will find much to enjoy in the characterisations of the enigmatic and ruthless tech magnate, and will relate to Chandra and her predicament. They will enjoy unpicking the complexities of the plot, and will rejoice in subtleties that I may well have missed. In short, I think this novel has far more to it than I was able to glean from it, but I only have a finite amount of time to figure things out before I have to move on. It’s a shame, but as a book reviewer, it’s life.

Finally, this is a solid sci-fi novel, confidently written, with plenty for avid sci-fi readers to enjoy. I really hope they take it on board and run with it.  

BLURB

Four people. One study. The internet-access brain implant to bind or destroy them all.

Art-school dropout Chandra would do anything to apologize for her role in her wife’s coma—including enroll in the first round of human trials for an internet-access brain implant.

At first, the secretive research compound is paradise, the perfect place to distract Chandra from her grief. But as she soon learns, the facility is more prison than resort, with its doctors, support staff, and her fellow patients all bent on hatching plots of their own, no matter how invested they might seem in helping her communicate with her wife.

Making matters worse, a dark wave of uncertainty crashes down on the compound, forcing Chandra to become an unlikely but pivotal player in conspiracies stretching from the highest levels of the North American Union government to the lowest dredges of its shadowy hacking collectives.

To save herself and her wife, Chandra and her newfound friends from the study will have to overcome the scheming of a ruthless tech magnate, the naïveté of an advancement-hungry administrative assistant, and the relentless pursuits of an investigative journalist, all of whom are determined to outpace the others in their own quests to resurrect lost love, cover their tracks, and uncover the truth.

A twistedly delightful clockwork of intrigue and suspense, EMPATHY: Imminent Dawn is an electrifying sci-fi debut from author r. r. campbell.