Book Reviews for 2023 So Far

Nov 17, 2023

Book Club Superversive

By: Brandon Quakkelaar

An open book.

We appear to be in the midst of a resurgence of pulp. But rather than spinning a rack of pulp magazines and comics at your local grocery store, instead you spin the scroll wheel on your mouse to browse online shelves. Mountains of adventures are ready to be downloaded to your device, or delivered straight to your door. Books dominate my entertainment diet, and I’ve found myself more excited for book releases than for upcoming movies and TV shows.

Unlike films and TV, the taste-makers and gatekeepers don’t really have any way to throttle the flow of new books. Any indie author with a computer can get their books stocked on virtual shelves. And those virtual shelves happen to belong to the largest bookstores in the world, so anyone can find that indie author’s book, and buy it.

Here are my fiction reads for the year so far. Take a look and consider picking up one or two (or all) of these titles to see how well you enjoy them.

Terrors of Pangaea by John C. Wright

Cover of Terrors of Pangaea by John C. Wright

I just finished this novel, and it’s fantastic. John C. Wright is an absolute expert wordsmith. As a fan of his blog and podcast, I picked up Terrors of Pangaea with high hopes, and I wasn’t disappointed. This reads like a classic pulp story. Our hero, Colonel Preston Lost, crash lands on a completely foreign continent after flying through a portal in the Bermuda Triangle. He finds strange, and dangerous beings there whom he must outwit and outgun. Written fully from the perspective of the hero, there’s very little dialogue through the first half of the book, but the fast-paced action easily held my attention. After finding strange devices that augment his supplies and allow him to interpret the odd languages of the area, the second half of the book explores the foreign cultures in a world where humans are not the dominant life forms. This story explores the strengths and weaknesses of the human spirit, and how a man might best face a hopeless situation. The ending leads directly into the next book of the series, which I’ll be picking up very soon.

Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia

Cover of Son of the Black Sword by Larry Correia

I’m a huge fan of Correia. He has a straight-ahead writing style that I love. I’ve finished everything published so far in Correia’s Monster Hunter International series, and Monster Hunter: Memoirs series. (I highly recommend those.)

Son of the Black Sword is book one of the Saga of the Forgotten Warrior, published by Baen. And, it continues to validate my appreciation for Correia’s writing. This is a very enjoyable fantasy adventure story. If Judge Dredd was crossed with Conan the Cimmerian, then you’d get Ashok the Protector from Son of the Black Sword. The mythology is great. The political tensions between the powers of this world are great. The magic is mysterious, and the climax is epic.

House of Assasins by Larry Correia

Cover of House of Assasins by Larry Correia

This is book two of Saga of the Forgotten Warrior. This book is also very good. It’s pacing is a little slower than the first book. But, that serves the story since we spend a lot of time learning about mysterious factions and forces who want to use the main characters as pawns. We learn more about the world and what the true stakes are. I’m picking up book three as soon as possible.

The Black Crown by John A. Douglas

Cover of The Black Crown by John A. Douglas

John A. Douglas' debut book, The Black Crown, is fun! It’s an excellent fantasy story centering around a half-orc prince. Douglas is an indie author and he does a great job. I have a more in-depth review, so please check that out. Put simply: I’m a John A. Douglas fan and I’ll be following his work.

Nethereal by Brian Niemeier

Cover of Nethereal by Brian Niemeier

Nethereal is book one of the acclaimed Soul Cycle series. The follow-up to Nethereal won a Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel. This book is about a band of space pirates. They smuggle and brawl their way across space, and they must deftly deal with many dangerous characters. As the story goes on we become more familiar with the political landscape, and we start to understand this universe’s faster-than-light travel. There’s something mystical about how Nether works. Only certain people have the gift for working it, and therefore only certain people can helm the huge ship that our band of pirates find themselves on. And, there are hidden secrets lurking, waiting for the opportune time to trap our protagonists. When the action and intrigue kick into gear our scrappy band of pirates find themselves in the midst of a demonic struggle. Brian Niemeier has essentially mixed scifi space pirates with Dante’s Inferno.

I’m a huge fan of Niemeier’s blog. And, I really like his book: Don’t Give Money to People Who Hate You. Nethereal didn’t really resonate with me, however it has resonated with lots of people like Larry Correia, so you might really like it.

Roots Down to Hell by Matthew Louis

Cover of Roots Down to Hell by Matthew Louis

This is such a thought provoking story. It’s an indie book. Unlike the other books on this list, it’s not science fiction, nor is it fantasy. Rather, it’s a gritty crime noir drama that forces the reader to wrestle with tough questions about society and right versus wrong. It’s dark, and there isn’t really a ‘good guy’ in the story. I think this book serves as a warning to society. But it also points to a solution for the dark situations presented. Anyone who likes gritty crime noir, I think you’ll like this one too. You might want to consider picking this up even if you don’t typically read this genre.

Justified by Jon Del Arroz

Cover of Justified by Jon Del Arroz

Justified is an indie work that’s a fun adventure in space. It’s solid space adventure. It’s clear that Jon Del Arroz is writing an allegory. The main fictional religion lines up well with Catholicism. The protagonist is a Nano Templar which basically means he’s an elite soldier completely devoted to his religion. He’s like a Jedi Knight archtype, complete with light sword. They travel the galaxy liberating planets from slavery. The story begins with the protagonist no longer being sure that his fight is a justified fight. So he becomes a deserter, crash lands on an enslaved planet, and helps free the locals while preaching the truths of his order. All while discovering more about himself and his purpose. I enjoyed it.

Servants of War by Larry Correia and Steve Diamond

Cover of Servants of War by Larry Correia and Steve Diamond

Servants of War, published by Baen, is what you’d get if World War One took place in a fantasy world with giant magical golems fighting alongside soldiers in the trenches. It’s also got a small town boy, a sharp shooting woman trapped in a war, feuding gods, evil sorcerer magicians, and shrewd backstabbing spies. It’s an exciting, scary, and epic story. So far, Larry Correia hasn’t led me astray. I’ll also be keeping an eye out for what’s next from Steve Diamond. I here he has a book called Residue that might be good.

Honorable Mention: A Fistful of Demons

Cover of A Fistful of Demons

This is an anthology I picked up specifically because John A. Douglas has a story in it, which I enjoyed very much. I’ll avoid spoilers, but it’s definitely weird west, and there’s a special place in my heart for the ‘final boss’ cryptid of Douglas' story.

What’s Next

My “To Be Read” list just seems to keep growing. I’m calling it my infinity pile. Future reads will include more classics and more non-fiction. But I also love the Baen and indie book scene, so I certainly won’t be abandoning fiction.

Books like the ones listed above are better than what Hollywood and the mainstream has been delivering. I encourage you to start exploring these stories for yourself. And, if you’d like to read some of my own fiction, subscribe to this blog and you’ll get a link to my short story, Malice at Midnight.

Thank you for reading.
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