BOOK REVIEW: Chaos Rising, by Timothy Zahn

Click here for more Star Wars content

Rating: 5 out of 5.
  • Book One of the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy
  • Published by Del Rey in 2020
  • A Space Opera novel
  • 383 pages

For generations, the Chiss Ascendancy has been an island of calm in a chaotic region of space. But now an enemy has set their eyes on the Ascendancy. Rising through the ranks, one Chiss is thrust into the spotlight in this pivotal time. His name is Thrawn . . .

Outside of the big names like Luke, Leia, Han, and Darth Vader, there are few characters in Star Wars as iconic as Grand Admiral Thrawn. Or to give him his full name: Mitth’raw’nuruodo. The blue-skinned alien first appeared in Timothy Zahn’s Expanded Universe-founding Heir to the Empire, and has featured in a dozen books since. And if you need proof of his popularity, how about this? Though he started off life in the Expanded Universe, Disney brought him back in their new canon. That new lease on life is seen in Rebels, and also Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy. But now Zahn is going into uncharted territory, in more ways than one. Because now we’re leaving Known Space behind, and taking a trip back in time to Thrawn’s formative years.

Chaos Rising is technically set during the Clone Wars, but with the expectation of one encounter with a Jedi, this book has nothing to do with the rest of the Star Wars continuity. And that’s greatest strength. It’s very rare (especially in this day and age) for an author to be able to explore a new region of the Star Wars universe. Yet filling in the gaps in established lore is what tie-in fiction is for. Even in the behemothic Expanded Universe, the Chiss Ascendancy was never really explored. Outbound Flight came close, but nothing on the level we see here. The removal of so many familiar Star Wars elements really works to Thrawn Ascendancy‘s strength. The Ascendancy feels truly alien, in a way not seen since the days of the Yuuzhan Vong. And if you’re not a die-hard fan of a Galaxy far, far away, then this is a brilliant space opera in its own right.

As many fans will know, the greater events of Thrawn’s life are still to come, so what we see here is something on a slightly smaller scale. But while the fate of the Galaxy may not be at stake, the future of the Ascendancy is very much imperilled. It might be odd to see Thrawn dealing with solitary pirate vessels rather than rebellious fleets, but everyone has to start somewhere. It’s actually quite refreshing to have an adventure not centred on Jedi and Sith rivalries, and the absence of familiar faces means you’re never quite sure who you can trust. or who will live.

As always, Zahn’s writing is superb. It’s direct, balancing both intrigue and action well, with touches of introspection here and there. We get to see Thrawn’s legendary tactical mind, and his love of art, in full force, and this is the book where the link between the two actually starts to make sense. Zahn also deserves praise for including a large number of flashback sequences in a manner that is separate from the main story, but never intrusive when we do take a break from the present. These snippets of Thrawn’s past give us a bit moreinsight into the great leader. And if you’ve come this far down the Star Wars rabbit hole, those insights are probably what you’ve come here to read.

A great space opera on it’s own terms, and an intriguing reintroduction to one of Star Wars’ most interesting antagonists, Chao Rising sets up what looks to be a most excellent trilogy.

AUDIO REVIEW: The Terra Nostra

Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • A Big Finish production
  • Full cast, including Michael Keating, Sally Knyvette, Abigail Hinton, and Karl Howman
  • Written by James Kettle, Peter Anghelides, and Robert Valentine
  • Approximately 3 hours
  • Released in December 2021

In a Federation rife with corruption, there are few groups as insidious as the Terra Nostra. Weapons, drugs, lives. There is nothing in which they will not deal. And when it comes to the crew of the Liberator, the Terra Nostra have old scores to settle . . .

Sinister criminal organisations are a staple of science fiction. Star Wars has the Black Sun (among many others), Star Trek has the Orion Syndicate and the Emerald Chain. And Blake’s 7 has the Terra Nostra. When we saw them on screen, they were trading in shadow, a rather nasty drug that gave them sway over entire cities. The boxset of audio dramas that shares their name takes us deeper than before into the inner workings of the Terra Nostra, with more than a few familiar faces. And not just the ones you’re expecting.

Battles between good and evil grow tiresome after a while, and the moral greyness of Blake’s 7 was always a big draw for me. It should then come as no surprise that The Terra Nostra is their strongest boxset to date. It’s a great dive into that murkier side of the universe where allegiances shift like sand, and you’re never quite sure if you can trust anyone. The Terra Nostra is full of larger-than-life characters, best shown by Robert Valentine’s ‘Entrapment,’ which throws Vila Restal into the middle of a classic heist scenario. It’s backstabbing criminals galore as the rogues’ gallery try to one-up each other. And that’s what sets this boxset apart from some of Big Finish’s other offerings – It has a real sense of fun about itself. Blake’s 7 had great drama, but it also wasn’t afraid to have a sense of humour. The Terra Nostra is the closest non-Liberator story to the feel of the original series.

As usual, the voice cast is phenomenal. Michael Keating continues to be stellar in his recreation of Vila’s unique mix of charm and cowardice. Sally Knyvette is on her usual top form – the brief post-Blake reunion between the two is a nice touch. But the unsung hero of the Worlds of Blake’s 7 is Abigail Thaw as the elusive and manipulative Hinton. If ever an antagonist were to steal Servalan’s throne, it ought to be Hinton. I have a suspicion Hinton’s role may be building up to something larger down the line. If so, I am one hundred percent here for it.

The Terra Nostra is the best Big Finish Blake’s 7 boxset I’ve listened to so far, and bodes very well for the future of the range. If you want more audio space opera in your life, then you absolutely need to start listening.

AUDIO REVIEW: The Clone Masters

Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • A Big Finish production
  • Full cast, including Jan Chappell, Sally Knyvette, Stephen Grief, and Brian Croucher
  • Written by Tim Foley
  • Approximately 3 hours
  • Released in December 2021

In all the galaxy, there are few groups as enigmatic as the Clone Masters. When these mysterious genetic engineers need to elect a new leader, it comes to the attention of many different groups. Travis, Cally, and an unknown third party head for the world of the Clone Masters. But their goals could not be more different . . .

Blake’s 7 was no stranger to duplicating actors. Roj Blake was cloned as part of a Federation plot (and that clone is presumably still out there somewhere). Stephen Pacey played not only the primary Tarrant, but also his conveniently identical brother. And of course Cally was an Auron, a race of clones. Mostly, this was a means of giving the actors a chance to stretch themselves a little, but I imagine it kept costs low by halving the number of actors required. But the implications went further than that. The Federation was now a place where anyone could be duplicated. Where doppelgangers roam the stars. A concept as thrilling as it is chilling. With The Clone Masters, Big Finish at last dives deep into the murky world of clones.

The opening story here is the strongest. Partly because it brings together Jenna and Cally in one of the best, yet underused, character pairings. Sally Knyvette and Jan Chappell are in full command of their respective roles, and the interplay is perfect. It also features that classic of 70s and 80s BBC science fiction: The base under siege. It’s a tense piece as our heroes unravel the mysteries of the abandoned facility, all while being stalked by an unknown abomination. If Big Finish ever go full horror with Blake’s 7 release, then this story bodes very well for their chances.

It’s ‘The Rule of Life’ – the middle volume of this trilogy – that makes full use of the audio form however. Because when you have multiple versions of a character, you don’t need one actor to play both parts. On TV, Stephen Grief played Travis for a single season before being replaced in the role by Brian Croucher. Thanks to the magic of cloning and audio, both men get to step into those shoes once again in The Clone Masters. Their relationship is best described as contemptuous rivalry, because of course Travis can’t even get along with himself. But having the two bounce off one another for an hour is as delightful as the conclusion is brutal.

It wouldn’t be a clone story without Cally, however, and it’s in the concluding story that Jan Chappell really gets to shine. All good actors enjoy a chance to chew the scenery every now and then, and Chappell makes as devious a villain as she does noble a hero. Despite her terrorist tendencies, Cally always struck me as one of the more idealistic members of Blake’s ensemble. Here that nobility is on full display. Cally will take the time to mourn the deaths of those around her, even as her duplicate merrily slaughters them all.

The Clone Masters fleshes out (in a disturbingly literal sense) a previously only hinted at corner of the Blake’s 7 universe. Mixing horror, politics, and action, it’s a great entry point for this expanded audio range, and one I fully recommend.

BOOK REVIEW: The Bridge, by Janine Ellen Young

Rating: 1 out of 5.
  • A standalone novel
  • Published by Simon & Schuster
  • First published in 2000
  • An apocalyptic social SF
  • 348 pages

A deadly plague ravages the Earth, killing eighty-five percent of the population. And perhaps they are the lucky ones. For those who survive the disease suffer visions of alien origin, and are overcome by a strange compulsion, and an obsession with a bridge . . .

I’m just going to come out and say it. I did not enjoy this book. In effect, this review can end right there. On almost no level did The Bridge work for me, and it is by far my least favourite book I’ve read in 2022. The silver lining is that it’s all uphill from here, but I think it’s important to talk about why I didn’t like this book. Shouting ‘I don’t like this’ from the mountaintops does nobody any good. And who knows, maybe the reasons this book failed to win me over will be the reason it’s your favourite book. Let’s find out.

The core idea behind The Bridge is a fascinating one. It’s essentially a first contact novel, at least in conception, and having that first contact come through an alien probe is a refreshingly hard SF take on an old idea. Even the way that the probe infects humanity with a disease that rewires our DNA to better communicate is great – in theory. In practice, all of this largely sets the stage for a human drama that is far less interesting to me than the larger ideas at play. Because once the origins of the plague are out of the way, The Bridge is largely a story about survival in a post-pandemic world, and the importance of human contact.

Obviously, any story involving a plague feels different in 2022 than it did in 2000. Not because it hits too hard or feels to real, but because we now have first-hand experience of what a global disease outbreak looks like. Young’s depiction is of a much worse disease, but it unravels in a manner so unlike the COVID-19 pandemic that is just feels wrong. And having lived through an outbreak and numerous national lockdowns, I can confirm that reading about characters stuck in their homes due to a disease is even less interesting than experiencing it for yourself. Even the revelation that some people are not infected, but actually mutated, by the disease can’t live it up, and the idea of a human with a brain in their vestigial tail and venom in their bite is more laughable than anything else.

In spite of its hard SF introduction and the broad scope of it’s overall theme, The Bridge is a disappointingly character-focused novel. And I say focused not driven, because there’s not much momentum in this book. It’s actually pretty short, but the chapters just drag by. By the end, I could barely tell the characters apart, and the large time jumps barely seemed to affect their mindsets and behaviours. A lot of this is down to my general apathy towards character-centric stories, but it definitely hurt my enjoyment of the book. More science and less introspection would definitely have helped.

Overall, The Bridge is an incredibly messy book that never quite manages to live up to the full potential of its ideas. Coupled with a writing style that I couldn’t get into no matter how hard I tried, it’s no wonder I’m already forgetting it.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also enjoy:
Noumenon, by Marina J. Lostetter
A Desolation Called Peace, by Arkady Martine
Emily Eternal, by M.G. Wheaton

AUDIO REVIEW: Bayban the Butcher

Rating: 4 out of 5.
  • A Big Finish production
  • Full cast, including Michael Keating, Sally Knyvette, Stephen Grief, and Colin Baker
  • Approximately 3 hours
  • Released in December 2021

Bayban the Butcher. Bayban the Berserker. Bayban the Bad. His is a name that will long live in infamy. For not all who resist the Federation fight for freedom, and Bayban will destroy anyone who stands between himself and greatness . . .

When you have a cast as large as that of the ever-changing Liberator crew, it’s no surprise that Blake’s 7 didn’t have much in the way of recurring guest stars. Aside from Servalan and Travis, most people encountered by Blake and co were either sent on their way or killed off in the episode in which they first appeared. Such was the fate of Bayban the Butcher, as played by a scenery-chewing Colin Baker. But good villains don’t rest easy, and now with the magic of audio Bayban can return to terrorise the Federation in three more stories.

Colin Baker’s single on-screen appearance as Bayban very much sets the tone for this boxset. Bayban is a bad man. A bad, bad man. And he’s proud of it. On screen, Baker excelled at a rather camp sort of villainy. In audio form, there’s a gleeful mania to his delivery. It’s all ludicrously over the top, but that’s what makes it so fun. Baker and Bayban are having just as much fun with the mayhem that ensues. With all the grit and darkness of other Blake’s 7 offerings, it’s a nice change of pace to have an adventure in which the main character is actually enjoying himself.

Of course, what Bayban enjoys is not necessarily a good thing. When we first meet him, he’s running a rather unscrupulous abattoir. Bayban the Butcher indeed. In the second story, Bayban gets married, but this is of course an elaborate scheme to steal a planet’s greatest treasure. And in the final instalment, he’s invited some old ‘friends’ for a game – a game in which he hunts them with murderous intent. Quite often with Big Finish’s trilogies I find that the story starts to drag a little across the volumes. Breaking the story up in a more episodic fashion avoids this problem, with each of the three stories standing alone. At the same time, I think a longer collection might have become subdued after a while, so this little trilogy of tales is just the right length.

Something else Bayban the Butcher does better than some prior offerings is including other characters from the show. Jenna, Travis, and Vila all make an appearance at some point, and all brilliantly recapture the essence of their on-screen appearances. Travis’ role in the middle story is particularly interesting. It works perfectly well on its own terms, but also hints at a broader narrative being woven across the Worlds of Blake’s 7 boxsets. Clearly, I am listening to these first few releases out of order, but they’re great stories nonetheless.

All in all, Bayban the Butcher is a fun, diverting piece of villainy, and a fine example of how Big Finish can grow the universe now that the Liberator’s journey is at an end.

BOOK REVIEW: The Farian War Trilogy, by K.B. Wagers

Rating: 2 out of 5.
  • A sequel to to the Indranan War Trilogy
  • Action-packed, character-driven space opera
  • Released 2018-2019-2021
  • Published by Orbit
  • A total of 1248 pages

Hail Bristol has overcome adversity and now sits on the Indranan throne. But while the war with the neighbouring human nations is at an end, a greater threat now emerges from alien stars. The Farians and the Shen are on the warpath, and Bristol finds herself pulled into a conflict that is not hers to fight . . .

When I reviewed K.B. Wagers’ first trilogy, I likened it to chocolate cake. Maybe not good for you, but fun and moreish. That metaphor still stands, with the expansion that too much chocolate cake is actually quite bad for you. Because while The Farian War might be made of a darker variety of cocoa, it’s essentially more of the same. And after so many mouthfuls, the taste just isn’t there any more.

The Farian War can be read without prior knowledge of Wagers’ works, but it’s better to read the first trilogy beforehand for the benefit of character dynamics and worldbuilding. Also because it’s a better series, but I digress. The main difference this time around is that it’s not just humans fighting other humans. We get far more details on the Farians (as you’d expect from the title) and their rivals the Shen. The problem here is that the Farians never feel all that alien. Except for their ability to resurrect the dead, they may as well be people. They have the same emotions, the same mannerisms, the same personalities. If they had been a mysterious human cult, they’d have been more interesting. But while rubber-faced aliens have a place on TV (because actors tend to be human), in literature I want something more unique.

But worldbuilding quibbles can easily be set aside if the story is interesting enough. Unfortunately, it isn’t. Hail Bristol’s gunslinging adventures were a lot of fun. Her political endeavours less so. Every potential crisis (save the Farians) is quickly overcome or brushed aside without any satisfaction. The banter and jabs between her crew is largely replaced by a cloying wholesomeness that robs the narrative of any tension. In the second book, Bristol is tortured extensively (killed and revived more than once by Farian powers). A few hundred pages later, she’s laughing and joking with her torturer. I get that there’s a message of forgiveness and turning enemies into allies, but I just don’t buy into how fast it all happens.

Those torture scenes (which take up almost half of the middle book) are also the most egregious example of the series’ faults in my eyes. You see, nothing really happens in these two hundred-odd pages. Bristol is tortured, a lot, and spends her time being miserable. Honestly, it’s boring. Wagers clearly sets Bristol on a path of self-exploration, but I never found her to be an interesting enough character to merit the time. These sections of the book also feature one of my pet peeves in literature – the narrative telling us one thing is true, and then revealing it was a lie. It’s not quite as series-ruining as certain other examples I can think of, as this story is all told from Bristol’s perspective. But when I see a character die on the page, I expect them to stay dead. Not ride to the rescue as if nothing has happened.

After such a fun first trilogy, this sophomore release is a real disappointment, and none of the brisk action and snappy dialogue can save it from the fact that I stopped being interested a long time before the finish.

Did you enjoy this trilogy? If so, you might also enjoy:
Planetfall, by Emma Newman
Embers of War, by Gareth L. Powell
The Indranan War Trilogy, by K.B. Wagers

BOOK REVIEW: The Deacon of Wounds, by David Annandale

Click here for all of my Warhammer 40,000 content

Rating: 3 out of 5.
  • A standalone novel in the Warhammer Horror range
  • Focuses on the Imperial clergy
  • Published by Black Library in 2021
  • A slow, psychological horror
  • 203 pages

Theotokos is a world on the brink of death. First comes the drought that wipes out all cities but one. Then comes the deadly sickness known as the Grey Tears. Between Theotokos and death stands Arch-Deacon Ambrose. But the clergyman’s faith is not as strong as the congregation believes . . .

If ever there was an author who could show the variety of styles in the Warhammer Horror range, it’s David Annandale. The House of Night and Chain, his previous novel-length offering, was a twisting and very gothic mystery, rich in prose but ultimately not to my taste. The Deacon of Wounds is a different creature altogether. The prose is stripped right back, the horror is as external as it is internal, and it’s much easier to follow. Really, the only similarity is that both deal with an individual cast hopelessly adrift in a horrific situation. It’s no surprise that The Deacon of Wounds is a much stronger novel.

The book that convinced me to keep reading David Annandale’s works was the magnificent Ephrael Stern (a part of Warhammer’s Character range). A lot of that book’s strengths are on display here, though put to rather more bleak a purpose. Whereas the tale of the Heretic Saint was about the power of faith in times of strife, The Deacon of Wounds is a book in which faith is far less certain, and in which unnatural things can creep in through the gaps left by our doubt. I honestly don’t think there’s another author who captures the duality of religion in the grim dark future as well as Annandale. On the one hand, the power of the Chaos Gods is plain for all to see, and the Imperium has literal saints fighting on their behalf. Yet at the same time, the billions who pray to the God-Emperor will never see any real manifestation of His supposed godhood. How could a person live in such a world and not have doubts?

It’s these doubts that drive the narrative. Faced with death on a staggering scale, Arch-Deacon Ambrose finds himself wondering if all his faith has been for nought. Annandale excels at this quiet, creeping sort of horror. The doubts and voices that niggle at the back of Ambrose’s mind. Voices that might not be his own. This is the sort of horror I can get behind, with its interrogation of what it means to be a man of the cloth of the forty-first millennium. Everything moves very slowly, mirroring the slow decline and baking heat of the story’s setting. Annandale’s use of repeated rhythms and motifs gives a sense of everything moving in patterns. A slow spiral decline into darkness.

So good is this slow horror, it’s almost a shame when the violence starts. Not because the second act is worse, but because this book deserved more pages. But once you’re into the violence and disgust of the book’s latter half, the creeping horror is almost forgotten. The implosion of society amid a devastating plague manages to be not too on-the-nose, especially with armed soldiers massacring the civilian population, and riots breaking out across the city. This being Warhammer, there is a slight predictability to the origin of the city’s conqueror – a problem that has best much of the Warhammer Horror range, but the journey getting to that inevitable climax is an interesting and thought-provoking one nonetheless.

If you want to dive into the theology of Warhammer, then The Deacon of Wounds is a book you won’t want to miss out on. And if you just want to be left unnerved, it’s got something for you as well.

Did you enjoy this book? If so, you might also like:
The House of Night and Chain, by David Annandale
Ephrael Stern: The Heretic Saint, by David Annandale
The Bookkeeper’s Skull, by Justin D Hill

SPSFC FINALIST REVIEW: A Star Named Vega, by Benjamin J. Roberts

The time is finally upon us. The SPSFC has reached the finals, and we have a finalist review here for you today. This one is of Benjamin J. Roberts’ A Star Named Vega. This book has an SPSFC rating of 7.50 out of 10.

Prior to the SPSFC, I had very limited experience with self-published science fiction. My main exposure to it was from Amazon, where the lists of recommended purchases being thrust upon me from all directions consisted in no small part of independently published books. That’s still the case, by the way, because Amazon doesn’t know when to quit. If you take a look at these books, one thing stands out. There are essentially two genres being represented in these recommendations. One is military SF, and the other is space opera. Now, these are both genres I enjoy very much, so when it came to the SPSFC, I was not only expecting, but looking forward to ending inundated with these books. That didn’t happen. In our initial allocation, we had just the one military SF tale, and it didn’t progress very far. A few space operas made themselves known, but none made it beyond the semi-finals. Of course, At Boundary’s Edge is but one team of many, and it seems other had more space opera in their ranks. Thus, A Star Named Vega enters the SPSFC finals.

A Star Named Vega sits somewhere on the spectrum between Daros and The Expanse. It’s warm and cosy, but not an outright comedy. As space operas go, it’s rather more gentle than the harder-edged material I’m used to reading. Nevertheless, at this sae in the competition, it’s my favourite book of the SPSFC so far. Why? Because it’s space opera that isn’t afraid to take on classic staples of the genre without the need for subversion. It’s bold and colourful fun with real heart to it.

A lot of readers will be drawn to a book’s characters, so here I’ll say that the protagonists of this book are on the younger side. That explains some of the book’s gentleness, I suspect. It’s got softened edges so that children don’t get paper cuts. Honestly, if the main protagonists had been our only perspective, this book would have received a lower rating. The writing is fine, I just prefer more experienced characters. And that is where Rel comes in. Rel is a delight, whether he’s helping out those in danger, or being tortured for his sins. If ever a character deserved more page-time, it’s Rel.

In a way, A Star Named Vega could serve well as a younger or less-experienced reader’s introduction to space opera, though there are a fair few science fiction tropes and terms being thrown around with the expectation that the reader have a simple grasp of them. The history of terraforming is quickly explained in one of the best infodrops I’ve seen in the competition, spelled out alongside the future history of mankind without breaking the flow of the prose. And when we get to those individuals who aren’t human, things only get more interesting.

A Star Named Vega is exactly what I hoped to find in the SPSFC, and I encourage all space opera enthusiasts to give it a look.

SPSFC At Boundary’s Edge: Meet the Finalists

Here we are. After almost a year of reading, the SPSFC’s 10 judging teams have narrowed the three hundred-strong field down to just seven finalists. It’s been a rough road for some, with many early favourites falling by the wayside. Sadly, no books from At Boundary’s Edge’s initial allocation made it this far. But that just means we have more great books still to discover. At least that’s the theory. Without any further ado, here are the seven finalists:

Duckett & Dyer: Dicks For Hire, by G.M. Nair

Why yes, we have seen this one before, as it was in our semi-finalist allocation. As such, we already have a review of it from our team, which you can find by clicking HERE.

A Star Named Vega, by Benjamin J. Roberts

This one was also in our semi-finalist allocation, and as such has already received a final score from our team. The full review will be available very soon.

In The Orbit Of Sirens, by T. A. Bruno

Astoundingly, this is a book I’ve heard of prior outside the SPSFC. A such, I’m very much looking forward to seeing why it’s made such a splash.

Iron Truth, by S.A. Tholin

Space opera mixed with cosmic horror? Count me in. This is one of the longer books in the competition, so I’d better get reading sooner rather than later.

Steel Guardian, by Cameron Coral

Robots are very much my thing. Human infants are very much not. So this book about a robot and a human infant could go either way.

Captain Wu, by Patrice Fitzgerald & Jack Lyster

More of the fun space opera that has done well with our team so far, this is one I’ve been hoping will do well in the competition since I saw the first review.

Monster In The Dark, by K T Belt

A story about superpowers and mysterious abilities is pretty far outside my wheelhouse, but any book that make sit this far must be doing something right.

We’ll be reading and reviewing these books right up until the start of July. Hopefully the review turnaround will be a bit more efficient this time, but otherwise the system is the same as the semi-finals. Each of our team reads the book, gives it a 0-10 rating, and the average becomes our team’s SPSFC rating for the book. Five new books in just under two months isn’t too much of a stretch, so hopefully I’ll be back soon with another review. Until then, keep your eyes peeled.

SPSFC SEMI-FINALIST REVIEW: All The Whys Of Delilah’s Demise, by Neve Maslakovic

For the past few months, we’ve been reading six more semi-finalists from the inaugural SPSFC. Today we’ve got the penultimate full review of these six, which is of Neve Maslakovic’s All The Whys Of Delilah’s Demise. This book has an SPSFC rating of 5.00 out of 10, and is reviewed here by my co-judge Ryan.

I was excited to read this book, because that title is catchy—the perfect kind of title for a book about brands and popularity. This book is a murder mystery following the death of Delilah, who had been the most popular person in New Seattle.

New Seattle’s entire system is based around how popular you are, with the most popular people getting the best housing and the top ten (or Tenners) getting the ability to govern the city. The least popular, well, get exiled out of the city, and don’t survive long. Delilah’s death kickstarts a chain reaction among the city and Scottie ends up trying to solve the murder.

Probably my favourite bit about this is Scottie’s AI companion, named Watson because Scottie really, really likes Sherlock and pretends to be Sherlock while solving the crime. It was a small but consistent character beat that I enjoyed; of course it made me really want to re-read my Sherlock Holmes collection.

I feel like the wrong person to review this. This is a case of a book simply not clicking with a reader. I can absolutely see people interested in these dynamics of popularity (along the lines of the Nosedive episode of Black Mirror.) really enjoying this book, and I do hope it finds an audience.

Once again I would like to thank Ryan for his reviews of our semi-finalists. This last book really was one that fell into the wrong group of reviewers, and it could easily have performed better with another group.

This also marks the end of our semi-finalists, as the one book we have remaining to review has made it through to the final seven books in the whole competition. I’ll be back soon with that, and a full breakdown of the SPSFC Finalists.