From time to time, I’m going to put up non-spoilery book reviews of books I’ve been reading and have enjoyed.
There’s a reason for me doing this…
On the eve of 2020, a mere 5 months ago, I made a New Year’s Resolution.
It was a simple one.
Nothing earth-shattering – just a pledge to read more books.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve not been reading much. I’ve been so focused on Hunters and trying to get it right that every spare, waking minute has been devoted to my writing and editing. It’s like having a second full time job.
And then, of course, there are these blog posts to write, a website to update, Twittering to do…
Through it all, my pile of unread books on my bedside cabinet grew and grew. It is now less of a pile, and more of a tower!
To put that image into further perspective…we also have a bookshelf downstairs that has probably 30 or so unread books on it. Plus the handful of books sitting on my office desk. Plus those that have been thrown onto the shelves in the den.
In all, my unread book total was probably pushing about 50 or so books. Eeek!
Which is unprecedented because reading has always been a passion for me. My appetite for books is voracious!
An addiction almost.
To explain, let me tell you a little story…
When I was a small, wee boy, my parents used to let me read before bed. After my allotted time, I would be tucked in, my light turned off, and my book put to one side.
“Goodnight, Jonathan, sleep well.”
No sooner were they out of the room and I’d heard them trudge downstairs, than I was out of bed and reading again. My younger brother slept in a bedroom next to mine, but at that young age he was a little afraid of the dark. Mum and Dad would leave the landing light on, which was great for me as our bedroom doors had these Perspex windows in them. I could lie on the floor by the door and read by the light of the landing.
I got caught one day after falling asleep in that position and having my mum open the door onto my head.
After that light was turned off, I resorted to an alternative. I had a little remote controlled car, a Pontiac Firebird (like the one in Smokey & The Bandit, but red!).
The thing is…it had working headlights. I’d lie in bed, switch on the car and read by its teeny headlights till the batteries went flat.
After wondering why the battery in the car was in a constant need of charging, my parents finally figured this one out, too.
Once that was confiscated at bed times, I started trying to read by the dim sodium glow of the streetlights outside through a crack in the curtains.
Eventually Mum and Dad gave up fighting the inevitable, and just installed a little wall light over my bed for me.
The written word has always been extremely important for me.
I devoured books, magazines, comics, graphic novels…and when the Internet came around, I was constantly looking for content articles or online stories the way most young adults would search for porn!
Book-buying became an obsession. I couldn’t pass a book shop without buying something. In Birmingham, my Saturdays were taken up with trips into the city center to visit Andromeda Books, and Nostalgia & Comics. My two favorite places to hang out and spend the little money I had.
As is documented on this website in multiple places, around 2015 I started writing Songbird. Seriously started writing it.
Since that day, the number of books I’ve read has fallen off a cliff.
Hours that I previously used to spend reading had now been channeled into writing. I’d be tapping away on my keyboard, or scribbling in notebooks, with every spare second I had.
As such, I can literally count on ONE hand the number of books I’ve read over the past few years.
And that number is:
SHOCKING, I know! As a writer, I am ASHAMED of that number!
I still read magazines, comic books, graphic novels and website content like it’s going out of fashion, mainly because these are ‘bite-sized’ written content. But books have been a harder prospect. Mainly because of the time investment.
Up until the start of 2020, I’d read 5 books.
• American Gods – by Neil Gaiman
• The Skin Collector – by Jeffrey Deaver
• Hail to the Redskins – by Adam Lazarus
• Secrets of a D List Supervillain – by Jim Bernheimer
It isn’t that I didn’t want to read… I did. It just took a looooooooong time to get through a book when my concentration was focused on writing instead.
For this past Christmas, wifey bought me a new book to read.
Which brings me to the aforementioned 5th book I’ve read in the last few years.
It’s called Renegades by Marissa Meyer.
It’s the first of a trilogy of books that wifey knew should be right up my street. It’s about Superheroes and Supervillains!
I took my resolution seriously for about a week, reading the first half dozen chapters. I was enjoying them immensely…and then I got sidetracked, again, into writing and the book lay untouched since January.
Then Covid19 happened.
Suddenly, without the daily commute to work I realized that I was getting some quality time back in my life. So, I decided to buckle down and get back to reading. For a few weeks I’ve been making an effort to head to bed at a reasonable time and get back to reading. It’s working! I FINISHED Renegades.
To celebrate that momentous occasion, I’m going to give you guys a little *non-spoilery* review of the book.
by Marissa Meyer
Before I start, let me get something off my chest right up front…
I’m really sorry, Marissa, but left to my own devices, I probably wouldn’t have bought this book in the UK.
Well, I know the old adage is ‘Never judge a book by it’s cover‘, but I’m one of those shallow types who is attracted to buying books by their cover art.
I’ll give you an example…
I bought Throne of Glass SIMPLY because I adored the cover art…
Now, I’ve never read the first books in the series, and I haven’t gotten around to this one as yet. But the point is that Sarah J Maas made a sale to me by drawing my eye. I’m not even sure this series will be my cup-of-tea, but I’m willing to give it a whirl simply because the cover art is fantastic!
Now, contrast this to the cover art for the UK release of Renegades…
It’s only my personal opinion, but this cover is terrible. It looks like it was done with felt-tip pens and in a hurry just to get cheap cover art onto the book release. Now, I’m no professional artist, but I’m fairly sure I could recreate that cover in about 5 minutes if I had a blue sharpie and a black sharpie.
(And now I feel bad for saying that because there’s probably some professional artist out there who created this and is extremely proud to be the cover artist for a Marissa Meyer book! Sorry!)
Now, the big problem here is that *spoiler* I DID love this book so much that I went online and bought both the sequels AND bought the first book again in HARDBACK!
(I’m a sucker for a hardback book. It is truly what a book is meant to be!)
I bought the US versions…and they are works of majestic art!
Rarely have I had a better looking trilogy of books on my shelf. The design of these covers is superb. I mean…just look at them…
The colour theme running through, the art style, the lettering.
Excuse me while I drool onto the screen for a while…
Okay, so you get the point. UK cover bad. US cover awesome-sauce!
Now, on to the review.
I’ll try and keep the book spoiler-free, but I will need to generalize a bit, so here goes…you have been warned!
So, here’s the set up…
The book details a world where society crumbled and is slowly recovering from chaos with the help of a group called ‘The Renegades’, people with extraordinary powers, known as Prodigies. Think of the Renegades as superhero-cops, if you will. There are a lot of them, hundreds in fact. They fight for peace, justice and etcetera. They basically act as government and police force.
However, not all powered folk are ‘good’!
There are a small group of Prodigies who are considered villains. These are ‘The Anarchists’. Basically, their philosophy is that the world would be better off without Superheroes. That the world has become lazy and complacent, expecting the Prodigies to sort out all their problems.
The book focuses on two characters, Nova and Adrian.
Nova is a young woman who lost her parents as a child. She was raised by the leader of The Anarchists and hates The Renegades for not being there to save her family. She has the ability to put people to sleep, something she never does for herself. She hasn’t slept since her parents died.
She goes by the Anarchist name ‘Nightmare.’
Adrian is a young man who was adopted by the leaders of The Renegades after the death of his mother. He has the ability to bring anything he draws to reality. He is a patrol team leader for a Renegade squad.
He goes by the superhero name ‘Sketch.’
These two characters become connected right at the start of the book in an almost throwaway moment that becomes more important as the story develops.
That’s the setup…so what did I think?
Well, I love the characters of Adrian and Nova. Both have very different view points on the Superhero problem in Gatlon City (the place the books are set), but as the story goes on, you start to find that actually…they aren’t as far apart as they seem at first.
There’s also the fact that there’s a duality to each character that skews them subtly towards each other in regards to how you think about them on a Hero-to-Villain sliding scale. I have to give Marissa Meyer a round of applause here for how she approaches these characters, as they are never less absorbing to read their points of view.
And then there are the supporting cast, who are all distinctly well-rounded out as characters in their own regards, and not simply ciphers to play the main players off of. For example, Nova’s little band of Anarchist friends are certainly not all painted as stereotypical villains. And Adrian’s Renegade friends are not all the heroes you’d expect.
Marissa has also created a very interesting world in which to play. Gatlon City is a place ravaged by war, trying to get itself back on its feet. Perhaps this is where my only criticism really lies…
The setup is familiar to me. It reminds me very much of playing City of Heroes. In that game, Paragon City was a place that had seen war and devastation in the past, and was rebuilding. Thousands of heroes fought supervillains to maintain the peace. Even while playing it, though, I used to have these idle thoughts as to ‘Why is this the only city in the only place in the world with superheroes?’
To a degree, and although Marissa does talk a little about the larger world picture, it does feel similar. Very Gatlon City-focused.
It makes me wonder if Marissa Meyer herself used to play City of Heroes…
The book takes a few twists and turns I didn’t expect. I remember having the thought process about a third of the way through wondering ‘Where is all this heading?’ Then, suddenly, the story took a turn in a particular direction that I didn’t see coming, but probably should have.
Then, again, as I was approaching the end of the book, I had the similar thought process, but this time ‘How is this going to wrap up before the end of the book?’ Then, bang, a twist in the tale gave me the answer I needed and set up book 2 beeeeeyootifully!
For me, this book was paced brilliantly. It gave me answers exactly when I started asking for them.
I REALLY hope I can pull this trick off in my books half as well!
So, my overall verdict!
A big Jon Ford thumbs up from me…
I’m already working on book 2 in the series, ‘Arch Enemies‘, and am determined to knock that tower down to mere ‘pile’ status over the upcoming months!
Love and books
P.S. – I have bought some books that have been written by some of the authors I follow on Twitter. I have every intention of reading them, but it might take a while to get around to it! I’ll maybe try and throw up a review here or there when I’m done!
P.P.S. – I don’t often post piccies of myself, mainly because I am NOT photogenic. But there you go. What can you tell from this picture?
P.P.P.S – Well, I’m old! And I love Battlestar Galactica and, yes, I made the model kit of the Viper you see in the background!