“Arena” is a futuristic dystopian story with some flavors of “Hunger Games” meets “Red Rising” but follows along a more traditional Roman gladiator structure—which shouldn’t be a surprise given the title and cover. The story follows Colston, the son of an abusive drunk and owner of an estate where murderers are sent to fight in gladiatorial combat, as he grows from a lonely 15 year old to the premier trainer of these fighting men. By befriending Cole, a giant of a man convicted of murder by trying to defend his slaughtered family, the two help each other survive in their respective worlds. When Colston falls for Anna, a debtor that his father purchased, he starts to plan for a future away from his father’s estate. Unfortunately, he never really gets to the point where he wants to better or change this dystopian society where those who fall into debt are sold like slaves, and those convicted of murder must entertain the masses in bloody combat, which you kind of expect from a dystopian story. Despite the feel of those other books present in “Arena”, Colston is only ever focused on him and his immediate circle, not changing an inhumane practice the way Anna encourages him, which never sat well with me. Now, some of these plot points are spread out between several books, but this is the omnibus with all three books rolled into one. I liked some of the books better than others, but as I received the whole collection, I’ll be rating it as the omnibus and not the individual stories.
“The Devil’s Backbone” is a crazy, delightful blend of science fiction, action adventure, psycho-thriller, and epic Western fantasy with some of the best dialogue I’ve read in a while from an indie author. Holy cow, did I enjoy myself on this wild ride! We follow Sadie Bishop, who is recovering from a massive trauma, as she embarks on a dangerous jaunt through the Badlands of a futuristic America. In this world, only Citizens (basically people who pay off all their debts and remain good little worker bees) can reap the benefits of society—good food, medicine, and the best technology the world can offer. Gaskill has crafted a world that felt so natural to where our current society might be headed, and I LOVED the social commentary that was tied to that. He does a great job of presenting it “as is” rather than beating the reader over the head with a message that is best left as a tumultuous undertone to this futuristic land. Anyhoo, Sadie is plagued by something deep in her urging her to forgo the comforts of Citizen life and head out into the treacherous no-man’s land, where those dangerous men and women who lost their Citizenship now scrape by in a new Wild, Wild, West. Why does Sadie feel such a compulsion to go out there? She doesn’t know, but she can’t ignore the call, either. While that point got a little murky as the story progressed, I really can’t say enough good things about Gaskill’s novel!
“From the Ash” is not your average post-apocalyptic dystopian book. This isn’t a series about a young woman going on a quest to fix her broken and charred world, she’s not on a mission to put the world back to the way it was before the bombs dropped. No, all Phoenix wants to do is go home. She desperately is trying to get across the barren wasteland that most of the United States has been left in to get back to Maine, where she clings to the hope that those she loves are there waiting for her. Phoenix has no idea if her father or boyfriend are alive, but the idea of them NOT being there and waiting is beyond her comprehension. At its core, “From the Ash” is the journey of a young woman running away from her depression, blindly believing that something better HAS to be on the other end of that tunnel, because if not, then what would be the point of even trying to go on? I love the subtly of that feeling Phoenix has, from someone who has suffered from anxiety and depression, I can relate to that feeling. That irrational hope that you cling to because, if you didn’t, the idea of just getting out of bed in the morning would be pointless. But that’d be a really, really depressing book to focus purely on, so Heron wonderfully bundles that within a physically strong and capable woman, and gives her a task that shows the reader her struggles packaged in an apocalyptic world—that is far more believable then most books out there—and that’s wonderful!
I am usually not big on apocalyptic books. Generally, they feel all too familiar for me to ever get the sense that I am reading a truly unique story. “Angelfall” wasn’t that for me at all! The last thing humans would expect to cause the end of the world, have. Angels have come to earth and turned Northern California (though really, it’s the whole world I’d assume) into a waste land. People struggle to eat, gangs roam the streets, but everyone knows to find shelter come dark; it’s basically like the TV show “The Walking Dead” minus the zombies. Driving the helm of destruction are the angels themselves, though not all seem to agree as they occasionally turn on each other, which is evidenced when Penryn comes across a group of angels attacking one of their own. All Penryn wants to do is survive, she wants to take care of her mentally damaged mother, and protect her paralyzed little sister. But after Penryn tries to help the fallen angel, those who attacked him have other ideas. Snatching Penryn’s sister from her pushes a human and angel to form an unlikely alliance in order to get her sister back, and return his wings. All while the world burns around them, how quaint.
**** I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review****
“Season 7” is a bit like what I’d imagine “The Truman Show”, “Hunger Games” and the “X-Files” all having a baby and raising it together to be like. We follow along as Richard has the worst day of his life, a rival gets promoted at work, he gets fired, and just as he attempts to wash away his troubles at a bar before returning to his slob of a roommate, he gets abducted by an alien who promises him that he is the chosen one of his planet, destined to be king. With promises like that, how could Richard not believe his luck was about to turn around? Except Richard is wrong, so very, very wrong, and his bad day gets infinitely worse. It’s an intriguing concept and the aliens D.F. Nightshade creates are all very unique for the short time you see them, but this books creativity is bogged down by some very correctable issues.
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