Our recommended books of the month. Page 4.

Every month a book comes along that is just that little bit special, a book that stands head and shoulders above the others that have been read and reviewed. This book becomes our Book of the Month and below can be seen the winners since the award began in June 2009.

Ancillary Sword

by Ann Leckie

Breq is a soldier who used to be a warship. Once a weapon of conquest controlling thousands of minds, now she only has a single body and serves the emperor she swore to destroy. Given a new ship and a troublesome crew, Breq is ordered to the only place in the galaxy she will agree to go: to Athoek station, to protect the family of a lieutenant she once knew - a lieutenant she murdered in cold blood.

"Ancillary Sword is quite easily the best book I’ve read so far this year, and unless I encounter a surprise-Terry Pratchett release, I do not imagine that changing by the time the year is done. Ann Leckie continues her meteoric rise to fame, thanks to a thrilling combination of imagination, storytelling prowess, and intelligence. If you haven’t yet, make sure you pick up both books in the series as soon as you can – wines may get better with age, but books deserve to be enjoyed now." Joshua S Hill

12+
9/10

City of Stairs

by Robert Jackson Bennett

You've got to be careful when you're chasing a murderer through Bulikov, for the world is not as it should be in that city. When the gods were destroyed and all worship of them banned by the Polis, reality folded; now stairs lead to nowhere, alleyways have become portals to the past, and criminals disappear into thin air. The murder of Dr Efrem Pangyui, the Polis diplomat researching the Continent's past, has begun something and now whispers of an uprising flutter out from invisible corners. Only one woman may be willing to pursue the truth - but it is likely to cost her everything.

"City of Stairs definitely makes my list of favourite fantasy novels, and I would definitely read a sequel, as well as more of Bennett's work. Excellent and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it." Kat Berwick

15+
9/10

The Forbidden Library

by Django Wexler

Late one night Alice Creighton hears her father having an argument with a fairy – a snarling, bald beast with warts and needle-like teeth. The next day her father disappears, never to return. And Alice is sent to live with Master Geryon, an uncle she never even knew existed. Geryon has a dark, mysterious library which is strictly off-limits to Alice. But after meeting a talking cat who is willing to sneak her in, Alice opens a book and suddenly finds herself inside it – and the only way out is by conquering the dangerous creatures within...

"There’s a small cast of well-defined and interesting characters; many readers will love the talking cat, Ashes, in particular. Despite being over three hundred pages, it gallops along nicely through 29 brisk chapters. There are secrets, subterfuges and spells galore amongst plenty of action and some humour." KM Lockwood

12+
9/10

The War at Troy

by Lindsay Clarke

The people who lived in those days were closer to gods than we are, and great deeds and marvels were commoner then, which is why the stories we have from them are nobler and richer than our own. So that those stories should not pass from the earth, I have decided to set down everything I know of the stories of the war at Troy – of the way it began, of the way it was fought, and of the way in which it was ended.

"Lindsay Clarke has repainted The Iliad for a modern audience in a manner that is breath-taking at times, done with a touch of humility and in a grandiose style. In taking on a new rendition of one literature’s greatest texts, he has opened himself to failure against the highest standard and, whilst one cannot better the Iliad, he has not done himself and his audience a disservice in making the attempt." travelswithadiplomat

15+
9/10

The Gathering Storm

by Kate Elliott

The world of Liath and Alain is breaking apart as King Henry's kingdom is savaged by earthly and supernatural forces, which they alone have the power to understand. The Eika warriors thirst for the King's land and power, their enmity sealed by generations of blood. Bitter in-fighting within King Henry's court and the ceaseless attrition of raiders also weaken his reign. Those who remain true must stay strong as the shadow of the Cursed Ones falls, and the spell holding the exiled from the planet fails. Liath must force her wild sorcery to maturity and Sanglant, her husband and King Henry's heir, must struggle to hold the realm together. The twin destinies of Liath and Alain may yet avert the destruction written in the stars.

"The fifth volume in the ‘Crown of Stars’ saga, The Gathering Storm, has been a long time coming (duly noted by the apologetic author) but the delay has been worth it. We find ourselves trailing two Eagles, Hanna and Hathui, the former riding to join Sanglant and Sapientia who have gone to Jinn trailing Bulkezu as their prisoner, the latter heading towards King Henry who has been possessed, the Skopos and the insidious Hugh. Amongst this the small fervent band of ‘heretics’, numbering Sigfrid, Ivar and the beautiful Baldwin amongst them end up at the monastery where Alain is desperately attempting to forget who he is and seek peaceful obscurity." travelswithadiplomat

12+
9/10

You Are The Hero

by Jonathan Green

Fighting Fantasy gamebooks have sold over 17 million books worldwide, in over 30 languages. But when Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone sat down to write The Warlock of Firetop Mountain they had no idea this one book would go on to spawn another eighty or more titles, and have an immeasurable impact on a generation of children growing up in the 1980s. Part history, part celebration, YOU ARE THE HERO chronicles more than three decades of Fighting Fantasy. Written by Jonathan Green (author of seven Fighting Fantasy titles), this mighty tome will appeal to anyone who ever wiled away a washed-out summer holiday with only two dice, a pencil, and an eraser for company.

"Jonathan Green’s history of the Fighting Fantasy scores very nearly top marks from me due mainly to two main things. The first is the artwork, the book is crammed with the cover and internal art from all of the Fighting Fantasy books – I don’t think I can express in words how iconic these images are for a generation of fantasy literature fans. It is true, as Jonathan Green suggests that one of the main draws for the series were the monsters and pictures of the monsters that accompanied them; this is true of this book as well. If you have no interest in the history of Fighting Fantasy (hard to believe I know) this book should take pride of place in your collection anyway just for the sheer amount of great fantasy art (sometimes in very different styles) in one volume." Joe Warren

12+
10/10

Lock In

by John Scalzi

Fifteen years from now, a new virus sweeps the globe. 95% of those afflicted experience nothing worse than fever and headaches. 4% suffer acute meningitis, creating the largest medical crisis in history. And 1% find themselves 'locked in' - fully awake and aware, but unable to move or respond to stimulus. 1% doesn't seem like a lot. But in the US that's 1.7 million people 'locked in' - including the President's wife and daughter. Spurred by grief and the sheer magnitude of the suffering, America undertakes a massive scientific initiative. Nothing can fully restore the locked in. But then two new technologies emerge. One is a virtual-reality environment, 'The Agora', where the locked-in can interact with other humans, whether locked-in or not. The other is the discovery that a few rare individuals have brains that are receptive to being controlled by others, allowing those who are locked in to occasionally 'ride' these people and use their bodies as if they were their own. This skill is quickly regulated, licensed, bonded, and controlled. Nothing can go wrong. Certainly nobody would be tempted to misuse it, for murder, for political power, or worse...

"This is an inventive sci-fi story, with so many ideas buzzing around that you should feel disorientated and yet it is so well written that you never feel frustrated or lost by what has not yet been revealed. For speculative fiction the technology levels are not beyond our comprehension and at least communication-wise we seem to be heading in that direction. The political and business aspects that are based on power struggles work really well in this context. If you have never read anything by John Scalzi, I recommend going out and getting yourself a copy of Lock In as quickly as possible." Michelle Herbert

15+
9/10

Stealth Dragon Services

by Lucinda Hare

'The SDS must change if we are to survive. We have to become one people again, as we once were, who live and train and fight together. You have both demonstrated your ability to do this, young though you both are. You come from different peoples; one noble born, the other the son of a scout. One desiring to fly dragons when tradition allows only men to do so; the other proving in the best tradition of his people that you do not need to wield a sword in your hand to protect those you love.'

"But what truly separates Hare’s novels from other books is the deeper message they convey - and this continues with SDS. Hare offers us a world where the underdog can triumph, where you can be who you want to be, where girls can fly dragons, but also dress how they want. Quenelda is still very much a girl in a boys' world and this is what makes a story about old folklore so modern. We see Quenelda battle through, (literally, at times!) as she tries to deal with life as a young girl and her growing dragon magic. Once you've reached the last page, sit back and hope for a film adaptation and a line of frying pans as merchandise." Liz Wride

12+
9/10

The Crystal World

by JG Ballard

Through a ‘leaking’ of time, the West African jungle starts to crystallize. Trees metamorphose into enormous jewels. Crocodiles encased in second glittering skins lurch down the river. Pythons with huge blind gemstone eyes rear in heraldic poses. Most flee the area in terror, afraid to face a catastrophe they cannot understand. But some, dazzled and strangely entranced, remain to drift through this dreamworld forest: a doctor in pursuit of his ex-mistress, an enigmatic Jesuit wielding a crystal cross and a tribe of lepers searching for Paradise.

"As readers we experience this transition through Ballard's coruscating language of prose, his fine attention to using a full prism of tropes that assail us with a sense of colour and light, time and time again. It is Louise Perot who idly notes that "when you first arrive here everything seems dark, but then you look at the forest and see the stars burning in the leaves". It is the reader who, at the final page, realizes the stars are Ballard's words, the leaves the pages of his novel, the forest the entirety of his masterpiece." travelswithadiplomat

15+
10/10

The Lathe of Heaven

by Ursula Le Guin

George Orr is a mild and unremarkable man who finds the world a less than pleasant place to live: seven billion people jostle for living space and food. But George dreams dreams which do in fact change reality - and he has no means of controlling this extraordinary power. Psychiatrist Dr William Haber offers to help. At first sceptical of George's powers, he comes to astonished belief. When he allows ambition to get the better of ethics, George finds himself caught up in a situation of alarming peril.

"This is a fantastic example of classic science fiction – a fascinating moral conundrum focusing on the question: Just because you can do something, does it mean you should?" Cat Fitzpatrick

15+
9/10

Prince of Fools

by Mark Lawrence

The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire fear her as they fear no other. Her grandson Jalan Kendeth is a coward, a cheat and a womaniser; and tenth in line to the throne. While his grandmother shapes the destiny of millions, Prince Jalan pursues his debauched pleasures. Until he gets entangled with Snorri ver Snagason, a huge Norse axe man, and dragged against his will to the icy north. In a journey across half the Broken Empire, Jalan flees minions of the Dead King, agrees to duel an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath, and meets the ice witch, Skilfar, all the time seeking a way to part company with Snorri before the Norseman’s quest leads them to face his enemies in the black fort on the edge of the Bitter Ice.

"Just go ahead and read Prince of Fools. It is a fantastic book that does so many things right, and that I have really struggled to find fault with. The Liar's Key cannot come fast enough." Ryan Lawler

15+
9/10

Skin Game

by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard, is about to have a very bad day. As Winter Knight to the Queen of Air and Darkness, Harry never knows what the scheming Mab might want him to do. Usually, it's something awful. This time, it's worse than that. Mab's involved Harry in a smash-and-grab heist run by one of his most despised enemies, to recover the literal Holy Grail from the vaults of the greatest treasure horde in the world - which belongs to the one and only Hades, Lord of the Underworld. Dresden's always been tricky, but he's going to have to up his backstabbing game to survive this mess - assuming his own allies don't end up killing him before his enemies get the chance...

"Skin Game is a celebration of the originals of Dresden novels, that time in his past when he only had to juggle a couple of near impossible challenges and survive. We now have a seasoned thinker and fighter able to handle whatever is thrown at him, and yes he still gets the proverbial handed to him most of the time. Stacking up the last three books, this has definitely been my favourite, this is Dresden through and through." Fergus McCartan

15+
9/10

Broken Monsters

by Lauren Beukes

Detective Gabi Versado has hunted down many monsters during her eight years in Homicide. She’s seen stupidity, corruption and just plain badness. But she’s never seen anything like this. Clayton Broom is a failed artist, and a broken man. Life destroyed his plans, so he’s found new dreams – of flesh and bone made disturbingly, beautifully real. Detroit is the decaying corpse of the American Dream. Motor-city. Murder-city. And home to a killer opening doors into the dark heart of humanity. A killer who wants to make you whole again…

"If you’re a stickler for a novel to only be written in one genre, then this isn’t the book for you, for everyone else welcome to a truly intelligent story. Lauren Beukes goes from strength to strength with each book she writes." Michelle Herbert

 

15+
9/10

Hagurosan

by Darren Shan

When Hagurosan is told to take an offering to the shrine, he reluctantly begins his trek up the mountain. But when he gets hungry and eats the cake meant for the spirits, things take a turn that no one could have expected. Now Hagurosan must face the consequences of his actions.

"Hagurosan is an easy to read short novel that has a heart-warming ending, and a message that people could help each other in a crisis if they try."

9+
10/10

Animal Farm

by George Orwell

Animal Farm is set in a farmyard where the animals decide to seize the farmer's land and create a co-operative that reaps the benefits of their combined labours. However, some animals see a bigger share of the rewards than others, and the animals start to question their supposed utopia. Little by little, the rules begin to mysteriously change, and the pigs seem to gain power little by little, making the animals question what society they were striving for in the first place and whether their new-found freedom is as liberating as they might have hoped.

"Animal Farm by George Orwell was first published in 1945 and will be celebrating its seventieth birthday next year. It is still a keen area of debate whether it remains relevant for readers of this generation - I certainly believe it is, and the fact that it is still studied as part of the United Kingdom’s English Literature curriculum would add further credence to this opinion. I re-read the novella last night and found its themes and messages just as powerful, moving and relevant as they must have been seven decades ago." Floresiensis, Fantasy Book Review

12+
10/10

The Relic Guild

by Edward Cox

Magic caused the war. Magic is forbidden. Magic will save us. It was said the Labyrinth had once been the great meeting place, a sprawling city at the heart of an endless maze where a million humans hosted the Houses of the Aelfir. The Aelfir who had brought trade and riches, and a future full of promise. But when the Thaumaturgists, overlords of human and Aelfir alike, went to war, everything was ruined and the Labyrinth became an abandoned forbidden zone, where humans were trapped behind boundary walls 100 feet high. Now the Aelfir are a distant memory and the Thaumaturgists have faded into myth. Young Clara struggles to survive in a dangerous and dysfunctional city, where eyes are keen, nights are long, and the use of magic is punishable by death. She hides in the shadows, fearful that someone will discover she is touched by magic. She knows her days are numbered. But when a strange man named Fabian Moor returns to the Labyrinth, Clara learns that magic serves a higher purpose and that some myths are much more deadly in the flesh. The only people Clara can trust are the Relic Guild, a secret band of magickers sworn to protect the Labyrinth. But the Relic Guild are now too few. To truly defeat their old nemesis Moor, mightier help will be required. To save the Labyrinth - and the lives of one million humans - Clara and the Relic Guild must find a way to contact the worlds beyond their walls.

"When I first started reading The Relic Guild, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I soon found myself engaged in the richness of Labrys Town and its varied residents. The story structure itself was split between many different perspectives and two different timelines, but this never felt confusing. Instead it was this structure that drew me in, wondering what had happened in the past that would lead to the events in the present." Michelle Herbert

15+
9/10

The Twilight Herald

by Tom Lloyd

The eyes of the Land are on the minor city of Scree, which could soon be obliterated as the new Lord of the Farlan plots his revenge against Scree's rulers. Suffering under an unnatural summer drought and surrounded by volatile mercenary armies that may be its only salvation, the city is a strange sanctuary for a fugitive abbot to flee to, but he is only the first of many to be drawn there. Kings and princes, lords and monsters; all walk the sun-scorched streets while the evenings witness the performance of cruel and subversive plays that work their way into the hearts of the audience. Elite soldiers clash after dark and the city begins to tear itself apart as the sanity of its citizens crumbles, yet even chaos can be scripted. There is a malevolent will at work in Scree and one that has a lesson for the entire Land; nations can be manipulated, prophecies perverted, and Gods denied. Nothing lies beyond the reach of a shadow, and no matter how great a man's power, there some things he cannot be protected from.

"Tom Lloyd’s The Twilight Reign series is surely shaping up to be one of the best epic fantasy series of the past several decades, and while I’m late to the party, I can’t wait to keep going."

15+
9/10

Exit Wounds

by Tim Marquitz

Actions have consequences. For Frank “Triggaltheron” Trigg, those consequences involve prison. Specifically, an extraterrestrial prison where he and pretty much everyone he cares about are now trapped. Bereft of weapons, magic, or a good lawyer, Frank plots a break out but the indigenous convicts and draconian guardians stand in the way. With time running out on Earth, Scarlett battling to control the mess left behind, Frank must find a way home before he ends up serving a life sentence.

"Exit Wounds is a welcome return to form for the Demon Squad series, ranking right up there as one of my favourite in the series. Marquitz managed to take some really out there ideas and mesh them with some tight plotting and a solid resolution. We were given a tiny cliff-hanger at the end of the story, but I loved it because it presents a sign of things to come for Frank rather than cutting us off halfway through a story. I'm really happy that we got so much resolution in this book, and I'm excited to see what happens next."

15+
9/10

The Passage

by Justin Cronin

Amy Harper Bellafonte is six years old and her mother thinks she's the most important person in the whole world. She is. Anthony Carter doesn't think he could ever be in a worse place than Death Row. He's wrong. FBI agent Brad Wolgast thinks something beyond imagination is coming. It is. THE PASSAGE.

"The Passage is a story of truly epic proportions, a story that dares to span the entire globe over the course of one hundred years. A large scope comes with a large risk of creating something too big to handle, but Cronin keeps the core elements controlled and focused while giving his characters just enough information to be dangerous and unpredictable.The result is a deliberate yet gripping plot full of complex characters and terrifying monsters, all set in an isolated and empty post apocalyptic world." Fantasy Book Review

15+
9/10

The Written

by Ben Galley

His name is Farden. They whisper that he’s dangerous. Dangerous is only the half of it. Something has gone missing from the libraries of Arfell. Something very old, and something very powerful. Five scholars are now dead, a country is once again on the brink of war, and the magick council is running out of time and options. Entangled in a web of lies and politics and dragged halfway across icy Emaneska and back, Farden must unearth a secret even he doesn’t want to know, a secret that will shake the foundations of his world. Dragons, drugs, magick, death, and the deepest of betrayals await.

"I immediately liked this book. I think the word that best describes my initial reading experience would be comfortable. When you read a good fantasy book – or a good book from any genre to be honest – you are able to relax as soon as you pick it up, safe in the knowledge that you are in capable hands and about to follow a story that is sure to allow an enjoyable escape from the real world whilst you are lost within its pages. Every David Gemmell book did – and still does – this for me, so did The Written. Ben Galley is not yet as good an author as Gemmell but the thing that I find exciting is that I honestly think that he could be." Fantasy Book Review

15+
9/10

The Language of Stones

by Robert Carter

The Realm is poised for war. Its weak king – Hal, grandson of a usurper – is dominated by his beautiful wife and her lover. Against them stands Duke Richard of Ebor and his allies. The two sides are set on a bloody collision course... Gwydion is watching over the Realm. He has walked the land since before the time of the druids, since before the Slavers came to subdue the people. Gwydion was here when Arthur rode to war: then they called him 'Merlyn'. But for his young apprentice, Willand, a fearsome lesson in the ways of men and power lies ahead. The Realm is an England that is still-magical. Legendary beasts still populate its by-ways. It is a land criss-crossed by lines of power upon which standing stones have been set as a secret protection against invasion. But the power of the array was broken by the Slavers who laid straight roads across the land and built walled cities of shattered stone. A thousand years have passed since then, and those roads and walls have fallen into decay. The dangerous stones are awakening, and their unruly influence is calling men to battle. Unless Gwydion and Will can unearth them, the Realm will be plunged into a disastrous civil war. But there are many enemies ranged against them: men, monsters and a sorcerer who is as powerful as Gwydion himself.

"What is sparkling about Carter is that here is clearly an author well versed in English and Celtic myth as he transcribes many names, places and myths into his own versions that are immediately recognisable to the knowledgeable reader. His finest effort is Gwydion's reference to Iuliu the Seer (or Julius Caesar to the historian) but the novel is littered with altered names and Celtic mythology that seeks to demonstrate how easy it is to twist the facts by word of mouth. The lengthy author's note at the end goes into some detail about the parallels he draws with British geography and the times that preclude the Wars of the Roses. Carter is a fine author and the sequel to this opener is one novel I'll definitely be shelling out the extra for the hardback version."

15+
9/10

Assail

by Ian C Esslemont

Tens of thousands of years of ice is melting, and the land of Assail, long a byword for menace and inaccessibility, is at last yielding its secrets. Tales of gold discovered in the region’s north circulate in every waterfront dive and sailor’s tavern and now adventurers and fortune-seekers have set sail in search of riches. And all they have to guide them are legends and garbled tales of the dangers that lie in wait - hostile coasts, fields of ice, impassable barriers and strange, terrifying creatures. But all accounts concur that the people of the north meet all trespassers with the sword - and should you make it, beyond are rumoured to lurk Elder monsters out of history’s very beginnings. Into this turmoil ventures the mercenary company, the Crimson Guard. Not drawn by contract, but by the promise of answers: answers that Shimmer, second in command, feels should not be sought. Also heading north, as part of an uneasy alliance of Malazan fortune-hunters and Letherii soldiery, comes the bard Fisher kel Tath. With him is a Tiste Andii who was found washed ashore and cannot remember his past and yet commands far more power than he really should. It is also rumoured that a warrior, bearer of a sword that slays gods and who once fought for the Malazans, is also journeying that way. But far to the south, a woman patiently guards the shore. She awaits both allies and enemies. She is Silverfox, newly incarnate Summoner of the undying army of the T’lan Imass, and she will do anything to stop the renewal of an ages-old crusade that could lay waste to the entire continent and beyond.

"Assail by Ian C Esslemont probably ranks as one of my favourite books of the year – albeit also one of the most anticipated. With characters we have come to love, and new ones to love, returning to the Malazan world is as joyous as I could ever have hoped."

15+
9/10

In the Ruins

by Kate Elliott

The long-awaited cataclysm has reshaped the very land and seas, and disrupted the war for the empire. Now all who have survived the return of the spell-exiled Aoi lands must find a way to mend their shattered territories and take a stand against their enemies in a power struggle that may forge new alliances-or doom them all.

"Elliott's barely disguised early-medieval world draws heavily on that social, geographical and religious structure and is delightful drawn, excellently characterized and possessing of a heavily built plot in a Jordan-esque fashion. Effortlessly building suspense and engendering real empathy in her characters with Hugh, Alain and Liath the stand-out people, the author has created a fantasy world that resides in the top echelons of the genre."

12+
9/10

Devourer of Souls

by Kevin Lucia

Welcome to Clifton Heights, an average Adirondack town. It's nice enough, really. Except after dark. Or on cold winter days when you're all alone... Sophan. An ancient game of chance and Fate. One boy's smoldering hate, another boy's need to make things right, and a father's ghosts of Vietnam past. The Man in Yellow. Tahawus is a small, isolated Adirondack town just north of Clifton Heights. A quiet place filled with simple people of an ardent faith, nothing much ever happens there... until the man in yellow comes calling. He knows your worst nightmares, and he can offer your fondest wish. All you need is faith... and a mouth from which to scream.

"Devourer of Souls by Kevin Lucia is supernatural horror very much in the vein of Stephen King. It is made up of two novella length stories set in the same town, with a frame story that loosely connects the two novellas. While I don't think the horror in this book will make you wet your pants, it does establish an atmosphere that I think will make you feel uncomfortable and, for a horror story, that is a very good thing." Ryan Lawler, Fantasy Book Review

15+
9/10

The Naked God

by Peter F Hamilton

The Confederation is starting to collapse politically and economically, allowing the 'possessed' to infiltrate more worlds. Quinn Dexter is loose on Earth, destroying the giant arcologies one at a time. As Louise Kavanagh tries to track him down, she manages to acquire some strange and powerful allies whose goal does not quite match her own. The campaign to liberate Mortonridge from the possessed degenerates into a horrendous land battle of the type not seen by humankind for six hundred years. Then some of the protagonists escape in a very unexpected direction... Joshua Calvert and Syrinx now fly their starships on a mission to find the Sleeping God - which an alien race believes holds the key to finally overthrowing the possessed.

"Hamilton's ability to provide us with a future vision of humanity that retains our darkest fears and greatest frailties coupled with his skill in provisioning us with realistic future technologies and social development is akin to the visionary writings of Asimov and Clarke." travelswithadiplomat, Fantasy Book Review

15+
10/10

California

by Edan Lepucki

The sunshine state lies in darkness. Los Angeles is in ruins, left to the angels now. And the world Cal and Frida have always known is gone. Cal and Frida have left the crumbling city of Los Angeles far behind them. They now live in a shack in the wilderness, working side-by-side to make their days tolerable despite the isolation and hardships they face. Consumed by fear of the future and mourning for a past they can't reclaim, they seek comfort and solace in one other. But the tentative existence they've built for themselves is thrown into doubt when Frida finds out she's pregnant. Terrified of the unknown but unsure of their ability to raise a child alone, Cal and Frida set out for the nearest settlement, a guarded and paranoid community with dark secrets. These people can offer them security, but Cal and Frida soon realise this community poses its own dangers. In this unfamiliar world, where everything and everyone can be perceived as a threat, the couple must quickly decide whom to trust. A gripping and provocative debut novel by a stunning new talent,California imagines a frighteningly realistic near future, in which clashes between mankind's dark nature and irrepressible resilience force us to question how far we will go to protect the ones we love.

"I found California a really interesting story with lots of twists and turns that never became boring. The characters are well constructed and although you may not empathise with some of the main characters you will understand the lengths people will go to protect their families as well as to simply survive."

15+
9/10

Tower Lord

by Anthony Ryan

Vaelin Al Sorna is tired of war. He's fought countless battles in service to the Realm and Faith. His reward was the loss of his love, the death of his friends and a betrayal by his king. After five years in an Alpiran dungeon, he just wants to go home. Reva intends to welcome Vaelin back with a knife between the ribs. He destroyed her family and ruined her life. Nothing will stop her from exacting bloody vengeance - not even the threat of invasion from the greatest enemy the Realm has ever faced. Yet as the fires of war spread, foes become friends and truths turn to lies. To save the Realm, Reva must embrace a future she does not want - and Vaelin must revisit a past he'd rather leave buried.

"Tower Lord by Anthony Ryan finally begins to realise the imagination and coherency of Tolkien, while remaining true to the heart and soul of the author. The ‘Raven’s Shadow’ series is one of the best new series out there, challenging all the existing big-names to sit up and take notice, or be left behind."

15+
9/10

The Dark is Rising Sequence

by Susan Cooper

Cooper's highly acclaimed series--Over Sea, Under Stone; The Dark Is Rising; Greenwitch; The Grey King; and Silver on the Tree--is now available in its entirety for the first time in an attractive, sturdy boxed set that's perfect for gift giving

"Cooper is a natural storyteller, and all five novels grip the reader tightly, helped in this with copious amounts of mythology and spectacular prose. The prose of the second book in the series, The Dark is Rising, is some of the best I've read in its genre. The sequence is an absolute classic, and should be required reading for children between the ages of seven and fifteen. Those who are older who haven't read them yet are really missing out on something wonderful. Highly recommended." AT Ross, Fantasy Book Review

12+
10/10

Harshini

by Jennifer Fallon

Medalon has surrendered to foreign invaders and Tarja is once more an outlaw. The Defenders have scattered and their only hope is Damin Wolfblade and his Hythrun army. But Damin has his own problems. The High Prince is dead and he must lift the siege on the Hythrun capital and defeat an usurper before he can come to Medalon's aid. For R'shiel time is running out. She has finally accepted her destiny as the Demon Child, but must search for answers. She must defeat Xaphista soon or the Harshini will be destroyed; she must find a way to bring peace to the divided southern nations, to free Medalon from Karien occupation and to find the strength to finally put an end to Loclon. But how do you defeat a God?

"A sparkling trilogy that has created a world that offers far more stories than we have been served so far. Any fan of the genre must recognise the quality that Fallon has produced and hopefully more will come from her pen."

12+
10/10

Shadow Girl

by Sally Nicholls

A poignant story about foster care children with a supernatural twist, from the award-winning author of Ways to Live Forever. Clare knows she's at least partly to blame for her problems at school, but she's learned that it hurts to make friends when you're a foster kid and you'll just be moved on again. It's a relief to meet Maddy, who knows exactly what it's like to be in the system. But then Maddy disappears. Clare has opened her heart at last, and she can't let it go - will she find her friend? Particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant and dyslexic readers aged 12+

"Shadow Girl, rather than being about a girl who finds a new foster mother and friend has a very interesting twist you don't expect. When Clare discovers more about her friend, Maddy, she wonders if she is from another time as she likes bands from the 1980s while Clare is more interested in more modern bands. She wants to know who Maddy really is and where she is from, but when she does, it might shock her. From the author of Ways to Live Forever and Close Your Pretty Eyes comes another gem from Barrington Stoke." Sandra Scholes, Fantasy Book Review

12+
9/10

The Maze Runner

by James Dashner

When the doors of the lift crank open, the only thing Thomas remembers is his first name. But he's not alone. He's surrounded by boys who welcome him to the Glade - a walled encampment at the centre of a bizarre and terrible stone maze. Like Thomas, the Gladers don't know why or how they came to be there - or what's happened to the world outside. All they know is that every morning when the walls slide back, they will risk everything - even the Grievers, half-machine, half-animal horror that patrol its corridors, to try and find out.

"This is the first instalment of ‘The Maze Runner’ trilogy, which explores the themes of survival, identity, friendship, global warming and human intelligence. Although the novel is aimed at YA readers, full grown adults will enjoy the series too. It is fast paced and has plenty of action, so it’s impossible to get bored. Plot-wise, the book kept me guessing until the end. Is this an experiment? Are they human ‘lab rats’? Or are the group being punished, with the maze serving as some kind of prison? There are several plot twists within the book, and I have a feeling there will be more surprises in the following books. I don’t think the true answers will be fully revealed until the end of the last book." Ceimone Kercher, Fantasy Book Review

12+
9/10

In Dark Service

by Stephen Hunt

Jacob Carnehan has settled down. He's living a comfortable, quiet life, obeying the law and minding his own business while raising his son Carter ... on those occasions when he isn't having to bail him out of one scrape or another. His days of adventure are - thankfully - long behind him. Carter Carnehan is going out of his mind with boredom. He's bored by his humdrum life, frustrated that his father won't live a little, and longs for the bright lights and excitement of anywhere-but-here. He's longing for an opportunity to escape, and test himself against whatever the world has to offer. Carter is going to get his opportunity. He's caught up in a village fight, kidnapped by slavers and, before he knows it, is swept to another land. A lowly slave, surrounded by technology he doesn't understand, his wish has come true: it's him vs. the world. He can try to escape, he can try to lead his fellow slaves, or he can accept the inevitable and try to make the most of the short, brutal existence remaining to him... unless Jacob gets to him first and, no matter the odds, he intends to. No one kidnaps his son and gets away with it - and if it come to it, he'll force Kings to help him on his way, he'll fight, steal, blackmail and betray his friends in the name of bringing Carter home. Wars will be started. Empires will fall. And the Carnehan family will be reunited, one way or another...

"Stephen Hunt has produced a well plotted and paced adventure that captures the imagination and entertains throughout. Despite its length, In Dark Service never sags or slows down. Told from many different perspectives, it avoids large info dumps and ciphers. There is a real immediacy and heightened sense of drama that sweeps the reader up." Daniel Cann, Fantasy Book Review

12+
9/10

Dreams and Shadows

by Robert Cargill

In the debut novel Dreams and Shadows, screenwriter and noted film critic C. Robert Cargill takes us beyond the veil, through the lives of Ewan and Colby, young men whose spirits have been enmeshed with the otherworld from a young age. This brilliantly crafted narrative - part Neil Gaiman, part Guillermo Del Torro, part William Burroughs - follows the boys from their star-crossed adolescences to their haunted adulthoods. Cargill's tour-de-force takes us inside the Limestone Kingdom, a parallel universe where whisky-swilling genies and foul-mouthed wizards argue over the state of the metaphysical realm. Having left the spirit world and returned to the human world, Ewan and Colby discover that the creatures from this previous life have not forgotten them, and that fate can never be sidestepped. With sensitivity and hopeful examination, Cargill illuminates a supernatural culture that all too eerily resembles our own. Set in a richly imagined and constructed world, complete with its own richly detailed history and mythology, Dreams and Shadows is a deeply engaging story about two extraordinary boys becoming men.

"This novel begins with a perfect love story and yet this isn’t about the love story, there are no happy endings here, instead this is a dark tale where bad things happen to the characters involved. Sometimes this can simply be because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Have you ever read older versions of fairy tales? The ones where bad things happen to people who don’t know the rules and fairies aren’t all sweetness and light? If you have and you loved them, then this is the story for you... if you haven’t read those tales then you should read Dreams and Shadows anyway as you might just be surprised." Michelle Herbert, Fantasy Book Review

12+
9/10

Echo Boy

by Matt Haig

Echo Boy by Nestlé Smarties Book Prize winner Matt Haig is a stand-alone science/speculative-fiction novel set exactly 100 years in the future. It offers a vision of what day-to-day life may be like in the next century, exploring the likely advancements in technology and artificial intelligence while telling a tale of love, loss, betrayal and corruption.

"Echo Boy is an effortless read, which is precisely what I expected, and I would have no hesitation in recommending it to ages young-adult and up who love futuristic, cautionary tales."

12+
9/10

The Deaths of Tao

by Wesley Chu

The Prophus and the Genjix are at war. For centuries they have sought a way off-planet, guiding humanity's social and technological development to the stage where space travel is possible. The end is now in sight, and both factions have plans to leave the Earth, but the Genjix method will mean the destruction of the human race. That's a price they're willing to pay.

"Wesley Chu is an author on the rise, proving that the success of The Lives of Tao was no fluke. The Deaths of Tao is an explosive action adventure from start to finish, one that easily kept me happy and entertained. I think fans of urban fantasy or action movies will get a good kick out of this book."

12+
9/10

Valour\'s Trial

by Tanya Huff

Gunnery Sergeant Torin Kerr has finally been allowed to re-join Sh’quo Company and get back to fighting The Others with no politics involved. Before this she spent the previous books becoming increasingly disillusioned by the Elder Races and why the Younger Races are fighting but not included in diplomatic missions, as well as being disquieted by the appearance of Big Yellow and the realisation of what it actually is. Is Torin finally going to be able to settle back into the ranks or will she be able to find out the truth?

"If you have been following and enjoying The Confederation series then you will enjoy the twists and suspense of this latest edition. In terms of the unexpected the series still feels very fresh and I love the dilemmas that Torin has to overcome. Where she goes from here will be full of interesting choices. So I leave you with these questions: Are you ever free of your past and do you need to be?"

15+
9/10

Fool\'s Assassin

by Robin Hobb

Tom Badgerlock has been living peaceably in the manor house at Withywoods with his beloved wife Molly these many years, the estate a reward to his family for loyal service to the crown. But behind the facade of respectable middle-age lies a turbulent and violent past. For Tom Badgerlock is actually FitzChivalry Farseer, bastard scion of the Farseer line, convicted user of Beast-magic, and assassin. A man who has risked much for his king and lost more... On a shelf in his den sits a triptych carved in memory stone of a man, a wolf and a fool. Once, these three were inseparable friends: Fitz, Nighteyes and the Fool. But one is long dead, and one long-missing. Then one Winterfest night a messenger arrives to seek out Fitz, but mysteriously disappears, leaving nothing but a blood-trail. What was the message? Who was the sender? And what has happened to the messenger? Suddenly Fitz's violent old life erupts into the peace of his new world, and nothing and no one is safe.

"Fool’s Assassin is, quite simply, one of the best books I have read in years. Brandon Sanderson might have all the attention at the moment, but there is something to be said for the quiet simplicity of a FitzChivalry Farseer story and the world around it. Robin Hobb has dealt a serious blow to all those contending for best book of 2014, and I believe is set to return herself to the centre of attention with this new series. If you haven’t ever read Robin Hobb before, now is the time to jump on – but beware, if you like this book, I can guarantee that you’ll be hankering for more. Thankfully, there’s 13 books in the same universe that will keep you sated until the second in this new series comes out."

12+
10/10

The Oversight

by Charlie Fletcher

Only five still guard the borders between the worlds. Only five hold back what waits on the other side. Once the Oversight, the secret society that polices the lines between the mundane and the magic, counted hundreds of brave souls among its members. Now their number can be tallied on a single hand. When a drunkard brings a screaming girl to the Oversight's London headquarters, it seems their hopes for a new recruit will be fulfilled - but the girl is a trap, her appearance a puzzle the five remaining guardians must solve or lose each other, and their society, for good. As the borders between the natural and the supernatural begin to break down, brutal murders erupt across the city, the Oversight are torn viciously apart, and their enemies close in for the final blow.

"The story is not about good versus evil as there are many shades of grey which give the novel depth and room for characters to grow and be surprised, not only by their discoveries but what they are unable to admit to each other. If you live in a world of secrets and magic it must be hard to trust what is right in front of you. I really loved the way The Oversight ended if there is a sequel to this then I shall be first in line to read it." Michelle Herbert, Fantasy Book Review

15+
10/10

Truth and Fear

by Peter Higgins

Investigator Lom returns to Mirgorod and finds the city in the throes of a crisis. The war against the Archipelago is not going well. Enemy divisions are massing outside the city, air raids are a daily occurrence and the citizens are being conscripted into the desperate defence of the city. But Lom has other concerns. The police are after him, the mystery of the otherworldly Pollandore remains and the vast Angel is moving, turning all of nature against the city. But will the horrors of war overtake all their plans?

"What makes Truth and Fear such a triumph is that it can be read as thriller and fantasy. I cannot delve too deeply into the storyline without revealing too much, so all I can say is this is a rare thing: a sequel that surpasses its original."

15+
9/10

Words of Radiance

by Brandon Sanderson

Return to a planet swept by apocalyptic storms, a world tipping into war as aristocratic families move to control the shard blades and shard plates, ancient artifacts from a past civilisation that can win wars. As the world tips into a war for control of the mythical artifacts of power made from Shard, characters are swept up into new dangers which will threaten their integrity and their lives. 

"With Words of Radiance, Sanderson clearly stamps his authority as the master of the "Hollywood" style of epic fantasy. It is hard to comprehend just how much stuff is going on this book, not to mention how this book impacts the wider Cosmere (the universe that ties all of Sanderson's books together). Big action set pieces of extraordinary people doing extraordinary things is exactly what I want from my epic fantasy, and Sanderson delivered beyond what I could have hoped for. I'm tired, I can barely keep my eyes open, but I can't stop smiling. That's my endorsement for this book."

12+
10/10

Metro 2033

by Dmitry Glukhovsky

The year is 2033. The world has been reduced to rubble. Humanity is nearly extinct. The half-destroyed cities have become uninhabitable through radiation. Beyond their boundaries, they say, lie endless burned-out deserts and the remains of splintered forests. Survivors still remember the past greatness of humankind. But the last remains of civilisation have already become a distant memory, the stuff of myth and legend. More than 20 years have passed since the last plane took off from the earth. Rusted railways lead into emptiness. The ether is void and the airwaves echo to a soulless howling where previously the frequencies were full of news from Tokyo, New York, Buenos Aires. Man has handed over stewardship of the earth to new life-forms. Mutated by radiation, they are better adapted to the new world. Man's time is over. A few score thousand survivors live on, not knowing whether they are the only ones left on earth. They live in the Moscow Metro - the biggest air-raid shelter ever built. It is humanity's last refuge. Stations have become mini-statelets, their people uniting around ideas, religions, water-filters - or the simple need to repulse an enemy incursion. It is a world without a tomorrow, with no room for dreams, plans, hopes. Feelings have given way to instinct - the most important of which is survival. Survival at any price. VDNKh is the northernmost inhabited station on its line. It was one of the Metro's best stations and still remains secure. But now a new and terrible threat has appeared. Artyom, a young man living in VDNKh, is given the task of penetrating to the heart of the Metro, to the legendary Polis, to alert everyone to the awful danger and to get help. He holds the future of his native station in his hands, the whole Metro - and maybe the whole of humanity.

"I would recommend Metro 2033 to anybody who likes fantasy, sci fi and horror and wants a very well written, immersive story with unnameable and unexplainable horrors lurking round each corner. It is a fascinating and claustrophobic exploration of a terrible future and how human nature adapts."

15+
10/10

Half a King

by Joe Abercrombie

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea itself. And he must do it all with only one good hand. Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge. Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could. But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi’s path may end as it began – in twists, and traps and tragedy...

"There is little, nay nothing, that I can find negative with this book. Abercrombie is certainly a master at work, and I eagerly look forward to the next instalment in the series." Jo Fitzpatrick, Fantasy Book Review

12+
10/10

Ghost Hawk

by Susan Cooper

In the winter of his eleventh year, Little Hawk goes deep into the forest, where he must endure a three-month test of solitude and survival which will turn him into a man. But outside the woods, the world is changing. English settlers are landing on the shores of the New World, and tensions between native tribes and the invaders are rising. Little Hawk's fate becomes irreversibly entwined with that of John, a young English boy who dares to question intolerance. He is witness to a secret murder - will he now be witness to bloodshed between nations?

"Indeed, in some ways it’s a book that rewards adult reading just as much as a child’s. I would recommend it for fluent readers of any age who love to be immersed in a no-holds-barred historical setting. If they also want to consider right and wrong, truth and tolerance, then so much the better. As C. S. Lewis said: "A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest." K. M. Lockwood, Fantasy Book Review

12+
10/10

Seaward

by Susan Cooper

His name is West. Her name is Cally. They speak different languages and come from different countries thousands of miles apart, but they do not know that. What they do know are the tragedies that took their parents, then wrenched the two of them out of reality, into a strange and perilous world through which they must travel together, knowing only that they must reach the sea. Together West and Cally embark upon a strange and sometimes terrifying quest, learning to survive and to love and, at last, the real secret of their journey.

"Seaward is a book with no disappointment at all in its ending, and one of the finest executions of this genre you will find. Even the high points of Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising series cannot compare to Seaward. If I didn't make it a policy to never give decimal ratings I'd have given Seaward a 9.5, since while the plot surrounding Lugan is a little under-developed this is only a miner inconvenience. I'd therefore recommend Seaward to anyone, whether you love language, magic, character relations, exploration of fundamental issues or strange worlds you will find something here, all melded into a single whole that is simply wonderful!" Luke, Fantasy Book Review

12+
10/10

Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters

by Tim Marquitz

Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters is a collection of 23 stories focused around the theme of strange creatures in the vein of Pacific Rim, Godzilla, Cloverfield, and more. The anthology opens with a foreword by Jeremy Robinson, author of Project Nemesis, the highest selling Kaiju novel in the United States since the old Godzilla books—and perhaps even more than those. Then, from New York Times bestsellers to indie darlings Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters features authors that are perfectly suited for writing larger than life stories, including: Peter Clines, Larry Correia, James Lovegrove, Gini Koch (as J.C. Koch), James Maxey, Jonathan Wood, C.L. Werner, Joshua Reynolds, David Annandale, Jaym Gates, Peter Rawlik, Shane Berryhill, Natania Barron, Paul Genesse & Patrick Tracy, Nathan Black, Mike MacLean, Timothy W. Long, Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam, Kane Gilmour, Peter Stenson, Erin Hoffman, Sean Sherman, Howard Andrew Jones (The Chronicles of Sword and Sand tie-in), Edward M. Erdelac (Dead West tie-in), James Swallow (Colossal Kaiju Combat tie-in).

"25 stories full of kaiju-driven mayhem with cities destroyed all over the world. Not every story worked for me, and the order of the stories was not always balanced, but the good and awesome stuff completely outshines anything bad I've said about this anthology. Sometimes humanity wins, sometimes humanity loses, but in the end this anthology, its cast of authors, and its editorial staff are the real winners. Highly recommended." Ryan Lawler, Fantasy Book Review

15+
9/10

The Fell Sword

by Miles Cameron

Loyalty costs money. Betrayal, on the other hand, is free. When the Emperor is taken hostage, the Red Knight and his men find their services in high demand - and themselves surrounded by enemies. The country is in revolt, the capital city is besieged and any victory will be hard won. But The Red Knight has a plan. The question is, can he negotiate the political, magical, real and romantic battlefields at the same time - especially when intends to be victorious on them all?

"The Traitor Son Cycle (as this series is called) is definitely a book for fans of “good old fashioned fantasy”. Bastard sons, swords and shields, battle tactics and political intrigue, it’s all here and more, and worth every moment. Miles Cameron is approaching the throne held by writers like Jordan, Erikson, and Sanderson, with his own bag of medieval tricks thrown in for good measure."

12+
9/10

The Enchantment Emporium

by Tanya Huff

Alysha Gale is twenty-four, unemployed, and tired of her family meddling in her life personally and magically. So when a letter arrives from her missing grandmother, bequeathing her a junk shop on the other side of Canada, Allie jumps at the chance to escape.

"The Enchantment Emporium can be confusing at the start (but whose family isn’t?) as you try to get to grips with the numerous layers of aunties, cousins, brothers, sisters and various other family members. But once you get past the first couple of pages it gets easier to understand as the story gets going. It is the mystery of who and what the family is that makes this book such a compulsive and enjoyable read. There are family secrets that need to be shared, loves lost and found and a whole lot of dragons. This is urban fantasy at the top of its game with a strong central focus and engaging characters who really come to life. Once I had finished the book, all I wanted to know was what happens next!"

12+
9/10

Yellowcake

by Margo Lanagan

Yellowcake brings together ten short stories from the extraordinarily talented Margo Lanagan--each of them fiercely original and quietly heartbreaking. The stories range from fantasy and fairy tale to horror and stark reality, and yet what pervades is the sense of humanity.  The people of Lanagan's worlds face trials, temptations, and degradations. They swoon and suffer and even kill for love. In a dangerous world, they seek the solace and strength that comes from family and belonging. These are stories to be savored slowly and pondered deeply because they cut to the very heart of who we are.

"I would highly recommend Yellowcake for confident readers from their teens upwards. They should enjoy stories that take the reader to far-from-ordinary places to experience strange events. Some of the events might be darkly humorous, like Into the Clouds, others such as An Honest Day’s Work maybe more challenging – but never dull. Definitely not suitable for those wanting an easy read full of stereotypes." KM Lockwood, Fantasy Book Review

12+
9/10

Breach Zone

by Myke Cole

The Great Reawakening has left Latent people with a stark choice: either use their newfound magical powers in the service of the government, or choose the path of the Selfer, and be hunted down and killed by the Supernatural Operations Corps. For Lieutenant Colonel Jan Thorsson ' call sign Harlequin ' the SOC is the closest thing to family he's ever known. But when his efforts to save thousands of soldiers leads to the impeachment of the President, he's suddenly cut off from the military and in the same position as his rival Oscar Britton, an outcast criminal who is leading the fight for Latent equality. This latest schism is perfect for the walking weapon known as Scylla, who is slowly but surely building a vast and terrible army. The Selfers and the SOC will have to learn to work together if they are to have any chance of preventing a massacre. Because this time they won't be facing her on a dusty battlefield far from home. This time, Scylla is bringing the fight to the streets of New York.

"From the small beginnings in Control Point where a young man suddenly manifests a weird (and prohibited) magic, to the Earth-shattering events of Breach Zone where a powerful witch instigates a full-scale invasion of New York from a parallel dimension, Cole has shown he has the guts to go big or go home. He went big with Breach Zone, and from my point of view he knocked it out of the park."

15+
10/10

Happy Hour in Hell

by Tad Williams

Bobby Dollar has a problem or four of epic proportions. Problem one: his best friend Sam has given him an angel's feather that also happens to be evidence of an unholy pact between Bobby's employers and those who dwell in the infernal depths. Problem two: Eligor, Grand Duke of Hell, wants to get his claws on the feather at all costs, but particularly at all cost to Bobby . Problem three: Bobby has fallen in love with Casimira, Countess of Cold Hands, who just happens to be Eligor's girlfriend. Problem four: Eligor, aware of Problem three, has whisked Casimira off to the Bottomless Pit itself, telling Bobby he will never see her again unless he hands over the feather. But Bobby, long-time veteran of the endless war between above and below, is not the type of guy who finds Hell intimidating. All he has to do is toss on a demon's body, sneak through the infernal gates, solve the mystery of the angel's feather, and rescue the girl. Saving the day should just be a matter of an eon or two of anguish, mutilation and horror. If only it were that easy.

"The imagery of the different levels of Hell as Bobby traverse through them is sublime, not just descriptive but immersive. You can really see the path and world around you as you walk with Bobby. Williams has given us a place of texture and realism that resembles Dante's. A nice touch is the additional commentary surrounding Hell's geography and its reason for being, provided to Bobby at certain junctions by his Hell sponsor, which helps him survive Hell's infernal extremes. This helped anchor the reader to both the place and Bobby."

15+
9/10

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