Review: Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will

Book: Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I have not visited and never will

Author: Judith Schalansky

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys history, especially maritime history or anything niche. Also recommended for anyone who enjoys travel, spooky stories and learning about cultures and environments of far off islands.

I am in the middle of two novels when my roommate comes home and I see this book on the table. It turns out it is for their world building class and I am instantly intrigued. I tell them to let me know when they finish it thinking I have a week or so, but then they hand it to me the next day. Pushing the other two books aside, I devour this one in less than 24 hours. Few books allow you to travel to remote places on Earth so easily. Few books have tried in this way. The illustrations captivated me and the stories transported me to the shores of fifty different islands in Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands: Fifty Islands I Have Not Visited and Never Will, by Judith Schalansky.

First off, the book itself is beautiful. I love the material they used to bind it and cover it – it feels textured like rubber which adds a feeling that you are holding some king of outing manual. The color is bright orange and other than the title and author there sits two small islands amidst that sea of orange. The cover itself imbues one with a feeling of isolation that will only grow with each story as you dive into the pages.

The stories are split up by the oceans the islands are found in – Atlantic, Indian, Arctic, Antarctic, Pacific – and each new ocean spread comes with an intro page showing the entire ocean and surrounding region, along with the locations of all of the islands you are about to read about. I found this useful as I flipped back and forth to get a rough idea of where in the world each island was. The stories themselves are all framed the same way. Each island had 4 pages, the first of which shows the islands size, number of inhabitants, and a timeline of important island history. The second page is a detailed map of the entire island and then the last two pages are the stories themselves. The entire piece is a little over 200 pages, but because half of the pages are ones you will only glance at the read is pretty quick. I can see some people taking longer as they put the island’s geography to memory before readying the stories, but that wasn’t me so it was a short read.

The stories themselves were so intriguing to dig into. Most of them have a sinister side to them, whether it be exploitation, environmental destruction, loss of life or just sad tales of people trying to survive on small patches of land in an immense ocean. Some others certainly left me with a feeling of isolation and other were really heartwarming. The manner of storytelling is interesting in that the author used a pile of research material to learn as much as she could on each island and then told an important story to that island’s history through small connected snippets or a journal entry. As she states in her introduction, the facts everything is based on are real, but the stories are one person’s interpretations of how events may have unfolded. It is actually pretty cool how little goes into a lot of these stories, yet I left most of them feeling something and I often whipped out my phone to do a little additional research of my own.

In all, I had a blast reading Pocket Atlas. If you enjoy spooky stories, maritime history or just niche history in general I think this is a really cool little novel. Give it a read and let me know what your thoughts are!

Review: Short Stories of The Founding

Book: The Short Stories within The Founding Omnibus

Author: Dan Abnett

My Rating: 4/5 Stars for all 3

As I make my way back through the Gaunt’s Ghosts series I am doing so with the new omnibus editions. I recently posted my review of the first three books in the series which made up the first omnibus volume titled The Founding. This tome also contained three short stories and I would like to quickly review each before moving on to the next volume, The Saint.

A Ghost Return is the opening piece for the omnibus and gives a little backstory to Gaunt before he became Colonel-Commissar of the Tanith regiment. Here we see him as a new commissar serving with his original regiment, the Hyrkans, during the early stages of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade. The plot follows Gaunt and a squad of Hyrkans as they travel deep underneath a hive city to discover a supposed shrine to Saint Sabbat herself – a site that would be very valuable to Warmaster Slaydo if proven credible. Coming in having already read most of the series, I can’t say how well this would hold up as an opener to a newcomer, but I really liked this short introduction to Gaunt. It gives the reader a good understanding of what kind of leader he is and what kind of man he is on the battlefield. It has a good sense of mystery and some action to keep things moving forward. Overall, I felt this was a very well balanced opener to the series for the length of the piece.

Of Their Lives in the Ruins of Their Cities sits nicely in between ­First and Only and Ghostmaker as the second short story of the omnibus. It tells the story of one of Gaunt’s early actions with the Tanith First and Only on the planet of Voltemand. Gaunt leads a small scouting party of Ghosts into a no-man’s land and is ambushed by enemy forces. The troopers around him still seethe with resentment for his decision to abandon Tanith to its fate and not allow them to die in its defense. Now they must decide whether to leave him out to dry and possibly fall to the enemy themselves as a result, or band together and follow their charismatic Colonel-Commissar to victory. The reader is given a look into Gaunt’s psyche as he is haunted by his past and we also meet many characters that go on to become core Tanith soldiers to the series’ later novels. The story was action packed per Abnett’s typical style, this time showing the Ghosts learning to fight as a unit in one of their first engagements. This is a solid addition to the series and I highly recommend to anyone reading along.  

In Remembrance closes this omnibus and the first arc of the story of Gaunt’s Ghosts. It is told through the POV of an artist commissioned by a Vervunhive noble house to commemorate the war that took place in the novel Necropolis. The artist was explicitly told to represent the regiment that was so pivotal to the hive’s victory, the Tanith First and Only. As the sculptor spends time with the Ghosts in the dead hive city he is given a glimpse into what the victory cost the people of the city and the soldiers who survived the defense. As he accompanies a squad of Ghosts into the dead city on a run to clear an area of potential resistance still dug in, he is subjected to the horrors of battle. The story ends with him describing the statue he ends up erecting outside of the dead hive city and how he inevitably couldn’t fully capture his feelings from that day. In Remembrance was very humanistic compared to other Gaunt’s Ghosts novels and focusses on how the surroundings and events impact this non-combatant through whose eyes we see the events unfold. It was a very fitting end to the omnibus and I felt it was a great wrap up to Necropolis specifically.  

Review: Necropolis



Book: Necropolis (Gaunt’s Ghosts #3)

Author: Dan Abnett

My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys gritty military science fiction, warhammer 40K fiction, fast paced battle scenes and depictions of intense siege warfare in a sci-fi setting.

My epic reread of the Gaunt’s Ghosts series by Dan Abnett continues with the third installment, Necropolis. Coming off a victory on Monthax, the Ghosts, along with a number of other imperial guard regiments, are redirected from the next Crusade push to help resolve an inter-hive conflict on an industrial world known as Verghast. This world’s manufacturing facilities are one of the major suppliers of war resources for Wamaster Macaroth’s forces, so when Ferrozoica attacks Vervunhive – both of these being massive cities called hives – the Warmaster deems it necessary to send in the guard units to help the imperial citizens of Vervunhive and safeguard the valuable manufacturing capabilities they possess. The Tanith First and Only get their first taste of siege warfare as the enemy sends colossal siege engines, thousands of armored tanks and endless waves of infantry at the walls of the hive city. Can they outlast the deadly onslaught and save the city, along with its millions of inhabitants, from annihilation?

This is the first five star rating I have given to a novel in this series, and it was well deserved. Abnett had clearly found his rhythm by the time he wrote this book. The imagery he evokes is quite astounding given the scale of the setting; a hive city is a colossal collection of human existence that spans out and up, with an immense spire in the center. These cities are built up over thousands of years and can reach upwards of 6-7miles high, housing countless millions of people. The action packed story sees Ghosts, along with many other imperial units, fighting on the walls and in the streets against the Chaos infected troopers of the enemy hive. Abnett delivers yet again – he is, as I have said before, a master when it comes to writing clear battle scenes and with each successive novel his skills improve. I was constantly on the edge of my seat as my favorite characters fought for their lives in the smoke clogged streets of the city.

Our main characters are all back, as devoted to the Emperor and the memory of their lost home world as ever. They will need that devotion as the siege defense proves to be their most bitter battle yet. We also get to see things from the POV of many Vervunhive citizens; the novel begins with a couple chapter solely devoted to Vervunhive and as such, we don’t see an inkling of Gaunt or his Ghosts until the war between hives is well underway. Those early chapters were some of my favorite of the book as they really helped give character to the setting and they set things up for a coupe of new main characters coming to the series. Once the devastation ends the Ghosts might have some boots to fill. On that note, one of the best things about Necropolis is that we finally have some women characters! I know it is a common complaint I have seen about the first two books in the series. I don’t know if those same complaints made it to Abnett back in the early 2000s when these we written and this was him responding or it was just coincidence, but it is nice to see the gender pool widen a bit for the series.

In my opinion, the best part of this novel, and the part that probably nudged me to add that fifth star, is that Gaunt grows so much between his arrival on the world and the ending. Reading his part in this story was an absolute blast as he finally embraces his role as a Commissar in light of the staggering level of political bullshit he has to wade through to ensure his regiment and the city make it through the war in one piece. There is no denying that up to this point, Gaunt has certainly proven his courage and valor on the battlefield and proven himself a sound commander. What shines through here, though, is his heroism in the political arena of the commissariat. It is what makes him such an interesting character – he holds the title of Colonel-Commissar and in Necropolis we finally see his heroics evolve into a form that embodies both titles, not just the former.

Overall, this was a very solid ending to the first arc of the series and I can’t wait to move ahead because the next arc is arguably my favorite. For any fans of Warhammer 40K and Gaunt’s Ghosts, this book is a must read. I cheered, I cried and I smelled the discharge of las-weapons. This novel swept me away and I didn’t reach out for support.



Review: Ghostmaker

Book: Ghostmaker (Gaunt’s Ghosts #2)

Author: Dan Abnett

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys gritty military science fiction, warhammer 40K fiction, fast paced battle scenes and dark, magical settings with demons and war.

The second novel in the Gaunt’s Ghosts series by Dan Abnett, Ghostmaker continues the story of the Tanith First and Only – a regiment of Imperial Guard fighting the forces of Chaos in the Warhammer 40K universe. Here we see the regiment stationed on the jungle world Monthax, waiting behind friendly lines for the inevitable enemy assault. As the troopers go about their duties, Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt walks the line and checks in with his men. As he interacts with each character he remembers past actions that have led his regiment to their current place in the war. Each story is told through the eyes of a different core character, helping to flesh out the past of the characters we were introduced to in First and Only. As Gaunt checks in with his troopers the situation on Monthax is slowly brought to light, and the short stories that occupy the bulk of the novel culminate in the battle on Monthax. Gaunt must once again lead these soldiers into a deadly battle with the forces of Chaos as they work to understand the enemy’s motivations and survive both the battle and the environment itself.

I have always been a fan of short fiction, so for me this novel was a great addition to the series. I think short stories give an author the chance to showcase their abilities as they have to begin and finish a story within a few dozen pages, while also keeping the reading engaged. Abnett does not fail to deliver here; I loved every story and thought it was a nice touch to have each told through the eyes of a different trooper. We not only get a deeper understanding of the history of the Tanith regiment, but also a closer look at the characters themselves, which helped me develop connections to each. These connections will go on to make the preceding novels all the more interesting and engaging. Not all of them are equally engrossing, but none of them disappointed; my favorites included stories of Chief-Medic Dorden as he stays behind enemy lines to care for wounded Volpone soldiers, Mad Larkin as he comes to terms with his potential insanity and Try-Again Bragg as he takes his first command. There was a lot to love here for any fan of military sci-fi.

As each flashback comes and goes we are led deeper into the main storyline of the novel, a standoff between Imperial and Chaos forces in the jungles of Monthax. The last quarter of the piece brings the reader fully into this action as a massive Chaos army begins to make its way through the jungle and the Imperial Guard forces move to intercept. While the mission is clear – engage and destroy the enemy – nobody can discern the goals of the Chaos forces as they move seemingly without purpose through the vast jungle. As things unfold, secrets come to light and the reader is treated to a nice surprise as the enemy’s goals are revealed. I would struggle to think someone not familiar with the 40K universe will understand the story of what unfolds on Monthax, but Abnett certainly does his best to provide some level of backstory without spoiling the ending. Even without the knowledge to fully see what is happening, the story of the Tanith regiment is clear-cut and intriguing. Again, Abnett proves his ability to write out intricate battle scenes with surprising clarity. The ending was chaotic on every level, yet he manages to outline things in a way that allowed me to clearly imagine every scene – I almost felt like I was there in the mud with the Ghosts. This alone is reason enough to give these novels a try for those of you still on the fence. It is another action packed entry into the annals of the Tanith First and Only.

Overall, another solid addition to the series. I think the main plot was overshadowed by the superior short story entries, but that is not to say I did not enjoy the Monthax portion as well. The nostalgia is still strong and I know things are only going to get better from here. Stay tuned for more adventures with Gaunt’s Ghosts.  

Review: First and Only

Book: First and Only (Gaunt’s Ghosts #1)

Author: Dan Abnett

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys gritty military science fiction, warhammer 40K fiction, fast paced battle scenes and dark, magical settings with demons and war.

I was introduced to the gritty world of Warhammer 40K about ten years ago when I was given the opportunity to watch a good friend play through a match with the tabletop figurines. This inspired me to purchase some models for myself, but I quickly dropped the hobby due to the price tag on the figurines. What I didn’t drop, though, was a genuine enjoyment of the novels and video games set in the same universe. Throughout college I devoured all of the video games and as many of the novels as I could. In adulthood I still dabble in some of the video games, but the writing that comes out of the Black Library doesn’t usually stack up to what I typically read these days. One of the exceptions to that rule is the Gaunt’s Ghosts series written by Dan Abnett, a diamond in the rough of Warhammer 40K fiction. As the final book in the series comes out I have decided to reread the entire series to prime myself for the ending.

First and Only begins the saga of Gaunt’s Ghosts, a regiment of Imperial Guard who lost their home world and all of their loved ones to the forces of Chaos. They are the last of their people, the only regiment to survive the founding; they are the Tanith First and Only. Their commander, Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt is a man looking to make a name for himself and his small regiment as they fight their way through Chaos held worlds during the Sabbat World’s Crusade. Specializing in stealth combat, the Ghosts are often put on the front lines to find a way to infiltrate and crack open dug in enemy positions. This allows Abnett ample opportunities to showcase his exceptional combat writing that is both faced past and descriptive. The setting is gritty and dark; you can almost smell the smoke from artillery rounds, taste the static discharge from energy weapons and feel the fear as dark magic corrupts the very landscape you are fighting towards.  For those not familiar with the 40K universe, this novel provides enough background to allow a non-fan to jump in, which is likely why these novels are so well received by a broad range of audiences. While reading this book is certainly nostalgic for me, I think anyone remotely interested in military sci-fi will find a lot to love here and it goes without saying that any 40K fan will enjoy it as well.

This pilot novel tells a story that sees the Ghosts on multiple battlefronts, fighting for their lives against the forces of Chaos and sometimes their own imperial guard allies. Gaunt gets swept up in a game of spy craft which forces him and his regiment into a deadly race to find a powerful weapon as multiple factions within the Crusade’s leadership vie against each other for the position of Warmaster. The plot is engaging, often jumping back in time for short blurbs about Gaunt’s past which provides insight into his motivations.  The reader is introduced to a large range of characters, some who die within a couple paragraphs of being introduced and some who will go on to be core characters of the series. My one gripe here is that Gaunt often describes his force as being roughly 2000 soldiers strong, but they then go on to lose dozens if not hundreds of men in each battle, only to have roughly the same number of soldier at the onset of the next campaign. With no supply of bodies, how do these numbers make sense? In general, though, this is a small complaint and one I can forgive in the grander scheme of the work. Overall, this novel does a phenomenal job introducing everything that will go on to make the Ghosts one of the most famous regiments within the Emperor’s legions.  

I am already having a blast digging into these books for a second time so be prepared to see these reviews come fast. Pour yourself a glass of sacra, light up a smoke and get ready to dive headfirst into this brutal world where being a frontline soldier is as terrible as you could imagine.

In the words of Gaunt himself – “Men of Tanith, do you want to live forever?!”

Review: Waking Gods

Book: Waking Gods

Author: Sylvain Neuvel

My Rating: 3/5 Stars

Recommended for: Anyone who loves hard sci-fi, good world building, interview style storytelling and stories of aliens coming to Earth.

Let me start by saying that Waking Gods could have been a four or five star read for me, but it just didn’t quite deliver the way I wanted it to. The novel picks up where Sleeping Giants left off. Earth has discovered a giant alien robot that they named Themis and a group named the Earth Defense Corp (EDC) is busy trying to unravel how it works. The interviews that tell the bulk of the story are conducted by a mysterious, un-named character who is powerful enough to command respect and attention from the world’s governments. The other main characters are EDC scientist Rose Franklin and the pilots of Themis – a hot headed ex helicopter pilot named Kara Resnik and her husband, linguist Vincent Couture. Waking Gods starts eight years or so after the events of the first book; a second giant robot has appeared in the middle of London and the world must decide how to respond…

First off, I love the way the books in this series are written. When I read World War Z in college I fell in love with the way a story could be told through interviews. Waking Gods adds in some journal entries and notes, but for the most part the interviews of our main characters, as well as many auxiliary characters, do a good job telling the story. Along with the mode of storytelling, the hard sci-fi themes really got my neurons firing. Without giving away the plot, there are multiple scientific speculative sci-fi explanations of genetics and physics that I found fascinating. This deep, geeky world building is what I love most about sci-fi and it made me happy to see it here. Lastly, the first book in the series left a lot on the table regarding the aliens, the mysterious interviewer, the robot itself and many other aspects of the world. In Waking Gods, a lot of my questions were answered and I liked the direction the author took most of these reveals. Overall, there was a lot to love here and I do recommend hard sci-fi lovers give this series a chance because it kills it in that regard.

(P.S. – The cover is beautiful. All three novels in this series have very cool cover artwork!)

What comes up, though, must come down. In my opinion, there is a lot of room for growth with the overall writing style. The pace felt off, some of the dialogue felt cheesy and forced and the ending was chaotic. Chaos isn’t inherently a bad thing in a book, some of my favorite novels embrace chaos, but here I felt it didn’t work with the style of storytelling. At the end it left me feeling like half of the plot was crammed into the last fifty pages and for me it didn’t work well. There is also a strong sense of loss in this novel, one that I found to be very depressing and hard to wrap my head around. Now, it wasn’t the loss itself that I found hard to bear; I think loss and death are powerful weapons in the storyteller’s arsenal and can really help convey a sense of reality to a work of fiction. What I didn’t like was how the characters handled the loss – it felt hollow and unbelievable. I think this could have been remedied by adding some depth to the emotions the characters were feeling. Overall, I think the book could have benefitted from another fifty or so pages to help flesh these things out.

While I believe it was overall a flawed work, I still enjoyed the story and am looking forward to finding out what happens in the conclusion to the series in Only Human. Thanks for reading another review and look out in the weeks to come for my review of the concluding work in The Themis Files!

Review: Babylon’s Ashes

Book: Babylon’s Ashes

Author: James S.A. Corey

My Rating: 4/5 Stars

Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys space opera, science fiction, space mystery, military sci-fi, or a long well written series set in the expanse of our solar system (and beyond).

As I flew through Babylon’s Ashes I once again found myself at home among the crew of the Rocinante. The plot picks up where Nemesis Games left off; Earth is struggling to stay alive after the rocks fell, the Free Navy has declared itself the new power in Sol under the leadership of Marco Inaros, Earth and Mars have combined forces to oppose the Free Navy and the crew of the Rocinante is back, ready to do what is necessary to help bring things back into equilibrium.

I thoroughly enjoyed this addition to The Expanse series, and it is nice to see the writing improve with each new novel. For those devout followers of the series – and I can’t see anyone making it this far without some level of devotion – you will find a lot here that feels familiar. We get to see the crew of the Roci back together again, along with a couple of new faces in the crew that readers will recognize and enjoy. We return to a multiple POV style of storytelling, but while the previous novels focused on a handful of them, this book had a dozen or so different characters through whose eyes we get to see this story unfold. Also, the universe the author has created with these novels has been explored in greater depth with each new release – the same is true here and I, for one, love that detailed world building.

Much of this story focuses on the human experience and how no matter how hard Holden may try, we always find a way to end up fighting over territory, segregating based on our origins and inevitably shooting at each other in order to prove that our way is the right way. This is where I really liked the change in the number of viewpoints. It was interesting to see how the war between factions looked from different points in the solar system. On one hand, we have Holden and the crew of the Roci, a familiar group whose ideals are tested in humanity’s most trying time. On the other hand, are Belters from across the system, some in favor of the actions of the Free Navy and some who are sympathetic to the plight of their fellow human beings. We also get to see things from the POV of those trapped on a dying Earth, passages that really evoked a feeling of helplessness, but that also showed small moments of human mercy and compassion. As much as I tried to enjoy the science fiction setting and not compare it to the real world, the “us vs. them” mentality that many people on both sides of this conflict displayed is a stark reminder of our current socio-political climate.

The plot was interesting and engaging, though this certainly felt like a stepping stone novel for the next book in the series. Nemesis Games was action packed, with the Free Navy rising to power and the rocks falling on Earth – it really changed the game in terms of how the story would progress.  Before that we saw the protomolecule epic unfold in the first few books, followed by the exploration of the new worlds through the alien gates. Babylon’s Ashes did not do a whole lot to progress the overall plot, but what it did do was allow everyone to come back together and it definitely set the stage for what is to come next. This is in no way a negative reflection on the work; the plot moved at a good pace, the characters were well developed and we get to see an interesting take on a galactic civil war in our own solar system. My only real gripe with the book was the writing of Marco Inaros, who I found to be a boring villain and a skin deep character.  Overall, this is a small complaint when compared to the good thing to be found here.

I am a little behind the eight-ball with my reading right now, so Persepolis Rising is already out – it has been for some time. Luckily, after reading 6 books in a series I can pretty much assume I am going to see it through, so I have already ordered the book and it is en-route to my house. Keep your eyes open over the coming weeks for a review!