The Rush’s Edge by Ginger Smith

With the help of his commanding officer, a genetically engineered ex-soldier fights back against the government that created him and others like him to be expendable slaves… 

Ginger Smith’s debut novel The Rush’s Edge is an intriguing, oftimes explosive, adrenaline fuelled shot of science fiction. We follow Halvor Cullen, a genetically engineered supersoldier (or “vat”) as the novel’s heart-of-gold protagonist as he and his crew become slowly embroiled in a fight against the government that created him.

At first, I must admit I wasn’t particularly sold on Hal as the protagonist. Picking up this novel that touted the main character as “genetically engineered supersoldier” put me in mind of the type of action novels I tend to avoid. One could all too easily read him as your stereotypical gun-toting cliched action man – a person written to have obvious style and charisma, but minimal substance behind them.

Yet, further on into the novel I read, Smith surprised me. As much as I am a fan of sci-fi that’s a touch more weird, her exploration of each of the characters, their relationships, and the dilemmas they faced did much to draw me into this book.

“For a vat seeking the rush, the Spiral’s Edge had plenty of temptations to offer. […] Trouble tended to follow Hal wherever he went.”

I’m hugely fond of the found family trope, and this novel serves that up in spades. Each of the crew members aboard the Loshad are compelling in their own way (I really liked the dynamic between Tyce, the ship’s captain, and Hal as bound brothers-in-arms) and there’s even a bit of romance in there (for those who like such things as I do!).

The Rush’s Edge is a book with heart, an adrenaline fuelled character driven story that takes a poignant look at human relationships and the ethics of human rights. The “vats” are shown and treated by wider society and their makers as disposable freaks. They are bred for fighting, and their physiology means they live incredibly short lives compared to “nats” (natural born folk) – a tragic reminder of their existence.

This focus on vats as this “othered” group was a conflict that really intrigued me, one which I was delighted to see explored more as the novel pressed on. What happens when you push science too far? When you sideline the living, breathing soldiers once they’ve served a purpose rather than see them as people? There is a poignant, heartbreaking undercurrent to this action-packed novel that Smith makes sure to remind us of at every turn, which does much to deter you from thinking this is your stereotypical “man turns up and shoots things but in space” book.

“They talked a lot about that in the training[…]-of how loyalty and obedience to the ACAS came first, so much so that Hal had always linked the two in his mind. But now […] obedience meant you did what they told you because they made you, but loyalty couldn’t be demanded. It was given.”

Smith’s enthusiasm for and knowledge of the genre clearly radiates off the page. Exposition and rich details about the world are crammed in with abandon, with this world giving off hardened sci-fi, cyberpunk vibes with seedy underbellies, “teckers” (also known as hackers), assassins, and A.I. Whilst many of the tropes used are well-worn ones, that is perhaps to its credit. Fans of sci-fi books that are simpler to follow will like this, and it is a solid entry into the ranks for readers looking to get started in this genre.

Whilst the pacing was sometimes too erratic for my liking, slow in some places and faster in others bouncing from scene to scene, some readers might prefer that as a way to explore more angles in the story. In fact, there is much to be said about the hints dropped and explanation of other-worldly beings and its history (A.I named the Mudar who fought humanity until they’d lost) that it made me want to find out more.

Final verdict:
A solid debut sci-fi novel, and a great book to introduce readers to the genre, The Rush’s Edge is a thought-provoking, fast paced, heart-wrenching story. I’m excited to see more written by her, and thank you Angry Robot and NetGalley for the ARC!

The Rush’s Edge is due to be released on 10th November, and can be ordered here.

Paladin’s Grace by T.Kingfisher

“Stephen’s god died a little after noon on the longest day of the year. […] It had never occurred to Stephen or any of the others that a god could die. Such things happened in mythology, not in real life”

Paladin’s Grace was a book I stumbled across – much like how Grace encounters Stephen early on in the novel – entirely by chance. I’d been riding on a high of playing a lot of fantasy ttrpg (tabletop rpgs), and wanted the chance to sink my teeth into a new fantasy book to pass the time.

And then, I found this. 

The premise of the book had me intrigued immediately before I even opened the first page, and then the first chapter hooked me entirely. Even for someone as agnostic as I am, I have a deep, abiding love of seeing how faith and pantheons of gods are depicted in fantasy worlds. I’ve seen gods disappearing in fantasy books, their magic ebbing from a broken world (R.S Ford’s A Demon in Silver is a good example of this), or fantasy books with no religion at all. But a god – the “Saint of Steel”, a god of barbarian-like, scarily precise, and holy killing machines – dying? Their followers left to pick up the pieces? This I had to read.

The book is engagingly written, a heady blend of romance, fantasy, intrigue, and mystery, such that I raced through it in less than 48hrs, my eyes practically glued to the page.

It follows Stephen – a paladin without a god, a towering man in chainmail who likes knitting in his spare time – and Grace – a talented perfumer with a wish to disappear from a distasteful past life – as they meet and, slowly, kindle a romance that is very much the heart of the story. Their bashful flirting and burgeoning sexual frustration for one another was an absolute joy to read, although perhaps clouded the ongoing plot (and trust me, there are a lot of subplots flying about) to uncover a potential murder the two find themselves embroiled in.

“Stephen had no idea how you complimented a woman on her ability to imitate someone in the throes of passion without sounding like an unrepentant lecher.”

That being said, whilst I love romance, and whilst this was maturely written with a lot of realistic bumps along the way (the protagonists are in their 30s) it was a little much for my taste, as I was also keenly interested in the other aspects of the book that Kingfisher merely touches on.

And boy, was there so much about this book that I wanted Kingfisher to explore further.

Whilst it plays off recognisable fantasy tropes and archetypes (paladins, priests, a pseudo-medieval town) that is not to say that the world-building is dull. My intrigue away from the main love story, I suppose, is testament to the rich world Kingfisher had created, and something I found myself fascinated with. What were these different sects worshipping different gods, each with different sorts of followers? Who were these other gods? So much history and lore seemed to burst from the page, and I am only sad that they didn’t have time to focus on it for longer. (If another book detailing these things ever were to appear, I would totally read it, just saying).

“Have you seen any of the severed heads that have turned up around the city?”
“Saw one.”
“I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure the cause of death was decapitation.”

Notably, Kingfisher isn’t afraid to shy away from the deeper, darker aspects of human emotion. Suicide is mentioned, and both Stephen and Grace are individuals who are very much dealing with and recovering from their own emotional baggage and traumatic pasts – which are examined and explored with both tact and empathy. But there is a lightheartedness and humour to this book that adds to this, and the supporting characters help to add to the feeling of creating this real and vivid world. The author does a brilliant job at exploring the city through smells in particular, which effectively conjures and gives an interesting perspective to the world.

As one example, given that Grace is a master perfumer, albeit far less sinister than Patrick Suskind’s Jean-Baptiste in Perfume, there is an amusing segment when she contemplates the possibilities of bottling up human scent to capture the essence of Stephen (such are the depths of her immediate sexual longing over him). It is sections such as this, that add another element of humour and depth to the novel.

The character’s aren’t perfect, but clumsy, flawed, and real – although if you’re prone to intense bouts of second-hand embarrassment from watching characters stumble through social situations, perhaps find yourselves duly warned.

So, if you’re looking for another fantasy book fix during your time inside, filled with romance, and a dash of mystery and intrigue, I would heartily recommend this book.

“Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier

As someone who unashamedly loves all varieties of historical fiction and romance (preferably placed together in one work), and has many copies of Jane Austen’s novels sitting on my bookshelf at home, you’d have thought I’d have come across this book years ago.

It was only until I was enthusiastically recommended and sent du Maurier’s Rebecca by a friend (who ardently promised that this would be a book I would love) did I realise about twenty pages in – why on earth hadn’t I read this sooner?

In a similar vein to Northanger Abbey (albeit with far less satire) or Jane Eyre, this book is a timeless example of just how gripping a gothic romance can be. And now with an upcoming Netflix film scheduled for later this year, what better time to review the book it is based off?

“We’re not meant for happiness, you and I”

The preface is a simple yet effective one – an unnamed young woman (the heroine of the novel and its narrator) marries the recently widowed Maxim de Winter, moves into his house, and is haunted by the metaphorical ghost of his late wife at every turn. The narrative, however, is anything but.

There is something instantly captivating about du Maurier’s writing. There is also something eerie too. An uncomfortable sense of foreboding and suspense clings to every page, conveyed wonderfully through the Nick Carraway-esque unreliable first-person narration of the heroine. There are plenty of nail-biting twists and turns as we follow the heroine settling into her new life, that made me feverishly tear through the book just to find out what happens next.

What makes this novel so effective is that you are just as kept in the dark as she is. You are privy to her every flight of fancy and are gripped by her over-active imagination. Every piece of information – true or not, important or not – is tantalisingly drip-fed to you. As I read I found myself trying to figure out the clues, if only to try and understand and see what the heroine could not.

“Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again” 

Of course, then there’s Maxim’s late wife Rebecca. As I learned more about her, I was slowly horrified and enthralled. Her presence is everywhere, in the people the narrator meets, and in the clothes she wears. For instance, there’s a fantastically creepy part where the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, delights in showing Rebecca’s old bedroom like some sort of glorified, well-preserved museum wing that had me wanting to fling the book away from me and shudder.

But, despite all this, it is how du Maurier writes about Manderley that is my favourite thing about the novel. There is something rich and alien about it. It is a sprawling, unfamiliar house the narrator gets lost in upon arriving, a place where she feels watched from every window, and where the garden, with its skeleton-like trees, is a monstrous place with “no sense or beauty” to it. The claustrophobic nature of it only serves to heighten the suspense, and when the events of the novel and actions of its characters have run their course, you find that Rebecca – like all good gothic novels – begins and ends with this house.

So, if you’re a fan of gothic horror, romance, suspense, or even detective novels, and are looking for a new read, I’d heartily recommend this book.

[Rating: 5/5]