“The Spec Set” is a little piece of neurodivergent lit that is part superhero adventure, part spy thriller, part alien encounter, and sprinkled with a healthy dose of coming-of-age drama for our MC, Emile. Emile has always taken care of his little brother Max; making sure he gets around, that he’s safe, that he has what he needs. But Emile knows that Max is brilliant, that he is capable of more, even though he doesn’t talk, if only their over protective father would stop coddling the kid. Then Max finds a therapist whose young daughter (Lily) not only helps Max, but introduces Emile to a whole new world, one where he can play a part—as long as he, too, can see his little brother for who, and what, he truly is. I really loved the narrative voice of this novel from the onset, it’s fun and just my kind of sarcastic. I also really loved how Emile views Max early on; as someone with a neurodivergent brother, I related to being a sibling’s keeper, and feeling like they were playing the system more than necessary. But there was also a lot happening in this short read, and I often felt like chunks were missing from the story.
“Laura and the Shadow King” sounds far more ominous than the story actually is: “Shadow” is the name of an elite force of military operatives, and “King” is the nickname of the man in charge of shadow—J.J. Berger. In J. J’s world, a rampant disease has swept through civilization, turning people into a type of zombie, where they devolve into cannibalistic animals, and one bite will infect and turn a person into one of them. Governments have collapsed and the only people in charge are groups of militia, military units, and gangs. It’s a fairly familiar storyline, but the one thing that makes it unique is Laura and her mother, and their role in this new world. Unfortunately, I found the writing style to be the biggest determent in my enjoyment of the novel.
I don’t know where to begin with this book. I was unprepared in the best way possible. You see all these blurbs and quotes about lesbian necromancers in space and you think “that sounds neat”, and then you meet Gideon Nav of the Ninth House and her necromancer, Harrowhark and see them try to kill each other in like, the first two chapters and then get summoned by the Undying Emperor to earn a place at his side, and Gideon smuggles sunglasses to this undying party, and suddenly, the things I thought I knew going into this story were decimated by Gideon’s glorious biceps. I was utterly blown away by this book, and the incredible writing. Seriously, everything about this novel is goals.
It’s been a little bit since I re-entered R.M. Garino’s epic fantasy series, Chaos of Souls, but man, starting “Angels of Perdition” reminded me just how much I loved Garino’s writing. The immense world he’s crafted, and the complex political and familial intrigues he weaves into his stories, alongside some really wonderful action sequences, are just as well-crafted as I remember from the first book. This book is a chunky boy, but I never felt like it was undeserving of its length, like the author was unnecessarily waxing poetic. In fact, this book could have been another 50-100 pages longer and I wouldn’t have minded (and, in fact, would have welcomed it). But as this is the second book in the series, don’t read this review if you haven’t at least read the first book, as there are bound to be mild spoilers, but really, don’t let the size of these books keep you at arm’s length. This is a beautiful, epic NA fantasy that I still full-heartedly recommend to everyone and anyone who loves a good multiple POV, and intriguing fantasy series.
“Anti-Hero” picks up shortly after where “Alter Ego” leaves off, with Mary’s secret identity in shambles and on the run, hunting down those responsible for taking her parents away, and dismantling the lies she held as truth for most of her life. So, don’t read this review if you haven’t read Alter Ego yet (and you should read that, by the way) because there will be mild spoilers for the first book in the series in this review. But in this middle book of the trilogy, Swed does a wonderful job of both answering lingering questions, giving more background on the vigilantes now that the world building is done, while still surprising the reader with new characters, new revelations, and one hell of a twist at the end.
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