1st in a series


This manga is based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books. He’s quite young in the series.

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Writer: Ryosuke Takeuchi

Artist: Hikaru Miyoshi

This manga makes professor James Moriarty, the Napoleon of Crime, into, well, if not exactly a hero, at least a man who is a hero in his own eyes.

The first volume has three stories. The first centers on Moriarty’s childhood and sets up his background, the other two are set in a village where the noble landowners have cruelly oppressed

the peasants for generations.

The first story gives us a couple of surprises. It’s set in 1866. Count Moriarty and his wife pretend to be kind-hearted toward the peasants in public but in the privacy of their home, their attitudes are very different. They adopt two orphan boys, commoners, but in their home, the boys must work hard and are abused. The end of the story is quite a twist so I won’t spoil it.

The rest of the story concentrates on three brothers: Albert James, William James, and Lewis James. So it’s not clear who is the machiavellian criminal in Doyle’s books or if, indeed, they all are.

William James Moriarty hates the class system. He’s convinced that the classes are the root of all evil. They divide people so that the nobility loathes and belittles the peasants and in turn, the commoners hate and fear the nobles. He wants to bring down the class system, violently. The other two boys agree with him and together they work for a ”better future”. Starting from the second story, William’s plan is working on the background. Albert James works in the military so William gets military contacts for his plan.

In the second story, set in 1879, the three Moriarty boys move to their country estate that is next to the oppressed village, Durham. The local nobles keep so high rents that the commoners don’t have any hope for a better future, just endless hard work. James decides to help the locals. He has set himself up as a private consultant and he’s also a professor of mathematics at Durham University. The worst of the local nobles is Baron Dublin who openly admits that he keeps the rent high so that he can enjoy his life.

The third story is set half into the university. One of the local barmaids is seen dancing dangerously on the edge of a bridge. She falls and dies. The local papers claim it was a suicide but she was a cheerful, happy person and nobody believes that she killed herself. William James Moriarty starts to investigate and uncovers some of the small but terrible things the local university boys can do because they’re nobles, future decision-makers.

The Moriarty in this comic has quite different motives than the criminal in Doyle’s books. While this Moriarty is also a genius who has a memory palace, he is also eager to help the people he meets.

This was a very interesting beginning to the series. It has also been adapted to an anime but I haven’t seen it.

The first book in the Primordia modern day fantasy (or sci-fi, depending on how you look at it) series.

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Publication year: 2017
Format: Audio
Running time: 11 hours 58 minutes
Narrator: Sean Mangan

Ben Cartwright is a former Special Forces soldier who quit after a couple of tours. When his father died suddenly from a heart attack, he returns home to comfort his mom. There, he meets again his high school sweetheart Emma and his other old friends.

While going through his father’s stuff, Ben stumbles on letters between his great-grandfather and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It seems that the men were friends. Ben’s great-grandfather, also called Benjamin, was an explorer and an adventurer. He even died during one of his adventures: looking for a valley full of dinosaurs in Venezuela! He wrote about the search to Doyle who was inspired to write a book called the Lost World.

Ben and his friends decide to search for the hidden plateau. One of his friends is a tech millionaire so it’s easy for him to finance the trip. But first, they need to go to England to find Ben senior’s journal for the clues to find the hidden place.

The modern-day narration, in 2018, is interrupted from time to time by the short adventures of Ben senior in 1908 when he’s running from terrible danger among strange creatures. In addition to the two Bens, the book has several other POV characters, including their adversary who is determined to find the place first.

Our heroes are an usual group for an adventure book. Emma is a rock climbing instructor. She’s in excellent condition and no damsel in distress even though she’s the love interest. Andrea the actress wants to come, too, because she wants to become famous if they find the lost plateau. Dan is the bored millionaire who finances the trip. Steve comes because Andrea is coming. Later, a zoologist joins them. Even though they are in their thirties, luckily none of them have obligations that stop them from leaving in a couple of days’ notice.

This was a fast-paced adventure, once you get past the beginning. The second half of the book is a constant battle for survival against both humans and other enemies. I haven’t read Doyle’s the Lost World, and I think I would have enjoyed the book more if I had read it first. It ends in a cliffhanger.

This a light adventure story and I quite enjoyed it.

A historical murder mystery set in 80 BC in the Roman Republic. Can be read as a stand-alone but it’s the first book in the Roma Sub Rosa mystery series.

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Publisher: Minotaur books

Publication year: 1991
Format: print

Page count: 380

Gordianus is called the Finder because he’s an investigator. He’s a Roman citizen but hasn’t inherited wealth, so must work for his living. A young slave comes to him early in the morning, asking him to go and meet with the slave’s master, Marcus Tullius Cicero.

Gordianus has never heard of the young man who is just starting his career as an orator and a lawyer. So after dallying in his house for a while, curing his hangover, Gordianus and the slave, Tiro, head to Cicero’s house. Cicero has just accepted his first law case, involving a suspected patricide. Gordianus isn’t too keen to get mixed in such a case but he needs the money so he takes the case.

He inspects the place where the father was killed, interviews different kinds of people, walks up and down Rome itself, and even makes a short trip to the countryside. The case turns out to be quite a bit more complex than he thought at first.

The book has excellent descriptions of Rome and the culture at the time. Slaves are more numerous than free men. While the wealthy take shelter from the hot sun, the slaves toil away, doing all the real work. Saylor doesn’t sweep away the slavery but has ”good” owners and also the ones who berate and beat their slaves whenever they want. We also get to know that slaves can testify at court, but only under torture. Gordianus himself owns a half-Egyptian female slave, Bethesda, and he sleeps with her several times. She’s depicted as pretty headstrong woman so I guess Saylor implies that the sex is consensual on her part, too. But since she’s a slave, she can’t choose.

The mystery itself is pretty complicated and forces Gordianus to go around and meet all sorts of people, showcasing Rome and its people, both poor and rich. Gordianus lives near the Subura, the slums, and he goes through it several times.

I mostly enjoyed this one and enjoyed the historical detail, although the writing style is pretty dry. Interestingly enough, the mystery is based on Cicero’s first real case.

The first book in a science fantasy trilogy but can be read as a stand-alone.

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Publication year: 1926
Format: print
Page count: 175
Publisher: Tandem

To my surprise, I found an unread Burroughs book from my shelves. It has quite an elaborate backstory, especially for such a slim book.

As is usual for ERB, the story starts with the writer as the narrator and he meets the main character of the main story. This time Burroughs gives us future history which alone would have been enough for most SF writers. The book is set in 1960s when a terrible decades-long war has finally ended. Humanity turns to the stars. They receive a radio transmission from Mars, from Barsoom. Humanity sends spaceships to Mars in order to meet with the people of Helium. Also, the main narrator of the story, Julian, knows the future because he’s already lived it. He can remember his descendants’ future history because he’s reborn to the future.

Julian is the captain of the second spaceship. However, his bitter rival Orthis is also aboard. Orthis sabotages the ship and it goes to the Moon instead. But Julian and the others find that the Moon isn’t a barren place. Instead, beneath the Moon’s crust is a world with not just atmosphere but people. After our heroes explore this world a little, savage, centaur-like people capture Julian and Orthis.

As usual for ERB, this story has lots of adventure with strange creatures and alien landscapes. It’s quite enjoyable if you can ignore the blatant classism. (The descendants of nobility are good and heroic, the descendants of lower classes are the bad guys without a shred of decency.)

Structurally, the Moon Maid is very similar to the Princess of Mars. Julian is unexpectedly thrust to an alien and savage world, he explores the exotic places and people, and he falls in love with the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Like John Carter, Julian is a heroic fighting man; even though he prefers firearms, he’s also a good swordsman.

The Moon races are strange. The centaur-like people (No-Vads) are nomads yet they live in villages which are never described. They’re carnivores but they can’t eat the few animals, so they hunt and eat other tribes and also the one other intelligent race, which looks like humans. The “humans” on this world are remnants of a great civilization. They have two cities which are at war with each other.

The book has surprisingly little description. I would have liked quite a bit more. I was also rather uncomfortable with intelligent races eating each other.

Otherwise this was quite an enjoyable old science fantasy book.

The first book in the Dani Silver Comic Thriller series.

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Publication year: 2017
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 255

Dani Silver is one of the children of Leroy Logan who is one of the greatest con artists ever. But Leroy is getting older and Dani thinks she can do a long con, a complicated con scheme, all on her own. We get a teaser of Dani gathering her crew to swindle a lot of money.

When the story starts, she has just run out of her fiance Nick (who apparently wasn’t a nice guy at all) and swindled him for little over a million dollars. With it, she buys a house from a small town. But she really wants to do her own cons with her own crew. Dani meets her next door neigbor, a young woman whose husband is hitting her, and Dani decides to help her,

– by swindling the abusive husband.

Then Dani returns to New Orlans, to start her life as the head of her own group of con men and women.

The story had a bit of a slow start but when things get going, it’s like a roller coaster ride. Dani is not a perfect person, in fact she makes rather big mistakes at the start. She also constantly doubts herself and her skills of actually doing the con she set out to do. She knows her crew already but they’ve always worked for her dad and don’t respect her. Dani also has a lot to prove to her dad.

The humor in the book was very much in the silly side, sometimes even distracting from the main plot. For example, Sammy is a hacker but he prefers to do his work in a firm, which he doesn’t work for, hacking himself in at first and then doing the actual work in their office. Funny, but could also be very bad for the job.

Dani is the main first person narrator but we get a few short scenes from other characters’ point-of-views. Unfortunately, the book has some editing errors and some of the humor didn’t really work for me. Still, I enjoyed it.

This was a light-hearted fun read, similar to many con artist movies.

Currently the first book in the Sabel Security thriller series.

Publication year: 2015
Publisher: Machined Media
Format: ebook
Page count at GoodReads: 365

Jacob Sterne is an Army veteran. Now, he’s employed by Sabel Security, an international security organization. He has some problems, though. He hears the voice of Mercury, the Roman god of messages in his head. Mercury usually warns him about danger but sometimes he just makes snarky comments about how soft Jacob is, unlike tough old Romans in the good old days. Jacob knows that Mercury is most likely a reaction to trauma but they still banter. He also has problems with women: he wants to sleep with all of them.

Pia Sabel is a former Olympic level soccer player. Now she’s a multimillionaire and runs the security company. She has her own problems because she saw her parents murdered when she was very young. Her adoptive father owned the security company, among other firms, and gave it to her. She’s headstrong and used to getting her own way. But she also wants to do what’s right, no matter if that’s cutting off body parts from rapists or tracking down corporation which are trying to poison millions of people. Jacob is in love with her but considers her way out of his league.

The story begins in Borneo where Pia Sabel is building a school. But she and her team manages to get on the nerves of the local tough guys and they must leave quickly. On the road, Pia meets a young girl who is carrying her sick younger brother. Pia insists that they stop to help, even though Jacob is against it. The team finds a place they think is a hurriedly built hospital full of local sick people. But the place has guards with guns and the medics are too nervous. Jacob steals three vials. Jacob, Pia, and the team are forced out and to leave the girl and her brother behind. Later, they hear that everyone in that camp are dead. Worse, someone tipped off the media that Pia and her company were there.

Pia is determined to find out who killed the people and why. Also, killers are determined to get back the vials Jacob took.

This is a fast-paced story with lots of violence but the plot is surprisingly complex. Sabel Security seems to employ almost exclusively former soldiers so they also swear like soldiers. The hunt for the bad guys takes Jacob all over the world. However, it does have a couple of gruesome torture scenes. And a lot of people are shot. Sabel Security actually uses dart guns with tranquilizers but their enemies don’t and Jacob and the others change to regular weapons when needed and when Pia isn’t around.

Jacob is a first person narrator for most of the book, but there are two other POV characters in third person. One of them is one of the bad guys so we get a pretty good picture of how they operate and bit about why. Still the full explanation for the reasons of all this came as a surprise to me in the end.

Surprisingly many of the secondary characters are women, in addition to Pia. Two of them are actually Jacob’s ex-girlfriends and he isn’t very comfortable working with them, at first.  Many of the women are former soldiers who are just as good in a fight as Jacob and the other men.

This was like a summer action flick with lots of action and some humor. I didn’t really connect with any of the characters but it was entertaining.

While the book is labeled as the first in the series, there are references to past events. In fact, near the end one plot point is dependent on them.  Apparently, this is the third book about these characters. The first two books are now called Sabel Origins series. But that’s a pretty minor point.

The first book in the alternate reality/steampunk Burton and Swinburne series but can be read as a stand-alone.

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Publication year: 2010
Format: Audio
Running time: 14 hours
Narrator: Gerard Doyle

This story is set in1861 in Albertian England. Victoria was assassinated when she was young and King Albert is a recluse as a monarch. This book has a gorgeously realized alternate reality where Charles Darwin’s theories have greatly diminished the importance of religion and London’s streets are filled with various steampunk engines and also enhanced animals. Two very different factions influence British society: Techonologists and Eugenicists. The first ones, of course, create machines while the second faction create genetically enhanced animals which work in very specialized areas, such as parakeet who deliver messages. Then there are the Libertines who want everyone of be free of social conventions. The Rakes take the Libertines’ values even further to callous sexual and drug addled deviancy without any restrictions at all.

Sir Richard Francis Burton is a renowned scholar and explorer. He and his former partner John Speke explored Africa and Middle-East a lot. As a consequence, his reputation is bad. Still, when king Albert calls him to serve, he can’t say no. However, the missions will put him in jeopardy and as a result, he breaks up his engagement with Isabel Arundel. Her parents are very relieved but she takes it badly.

Burton is charged with finding man-wolfs who are apparently kidnapping poor children. And he meets with the Spring Heeled Jack who is pretty much a bogey man in this London. The Jack roughs him up and demands that Burton “do what he’s supposed to do”. When Burton tells about this strange encounter to the Prime minister, he orders Burton to find out more about the Jack.

Burton’s closest associate Algernon Swinburne is a young “failed poet” who drinks too much and longs for life-threatening adventure so that knows that he’s alive. He practically forces his help on Burton.

This was a strange book, as the title promised, with alternate history turned up to ten. I’m not so sure that Queen Victoria’s death alone would have caused all this and later we found out that it didn’t.

Many historical people appear in the story and a couple of them are dragged in the mud as the villains. I didn’t know about them so I won’t spoil the surprises from anyone else. Burton and Swinburne are both historical figures, themselves. Spring-heeled Jack is also a real historical mythical figure.

The last third of the book really goes deep into the Jack and I found it fascinating.

The writing style is quite, er, Victorian. Especially at the start we’re told pretty much everything about the characters and their backstory. Shameless info dumps abound. The steampunk technology is very comic book like. If you like the writing style, I think you’ll like the book.

I liked it enough that I might read the sequel at some point.

The first book in the Salvagers SciFi series but can be read as a stand-alone.

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Publication year: 2018
Format: Audio
Running time: 14 hours, 13 minutes
Narrator: Charlotte Blacklock

Nilah Brio is one of the best drivers in the Pan Galactic Racing Federation. She lives and breaths racing, she trains all that time and has a strict diet because her weight can’t be off at all. She’s sacrificed a lot to get where she is, almost the champion. But during a race, she’s almost sure to win, she’s caught in someone else’s magic and sees a monster kill a fellow racer. So she runs.

Lizzie “Boots” Elsworth used to be a famous treasure hunter but has fallen to bad times. She barely make ends meet while working from her small office – which was burned down, with all her records. This is the exact worst moment for her former captain Cordell to show up behind her door. Boots sold him and his crew a bogus treasure map and she’s sure the captain is going to at least beat her up because of that. So she runs.

Nilah and Boots bump into each other and then Cordell kidnaps them both. The people who are after Nilah are now after the whole crew of the Capricious. Nilah and Boots hate each other already and Cordell crew loathes Boots, but now they must work together to survive.

Boots doesn’t have magic so that makes her a pitied minority. Nilah is a machinist who bonds with machines.

This was a fast-paced, fun space adventure. People have been comparing it to Firefly and it’s kind of true. The dialog, which is essential to Firefly, is very different but it’s fun.

I enjoyed it a lot.

The first book in the Crimson Son series but can be read as a stand-alone.

Crimson Son


Publication year: 2014
Format: ebook
Page count on GoodReads: 418

Spencer’s dad, the Crimson Mask, is the most powerful Augment in the world. He’s invulnerable, can fly, and is amazingly strong. Spencer’s mom was kidnapped by his dad’s arch nemesis, the Black Beetle, two years ago. Spencer is convinced that for some reason his dad isn’t even looking or he would have found her a long time ago.

The same day when Spencer’ mom was snatched, his dad brought Spencer to a bunker in Antarctica. It’s the only place safe for him, or that’s what his dad says. Spencer is all alone, except for his dad’s rare visits and doesn’t have internet connection and only rarely TV. But Spencer has hatched a plan. He needs to get inside his dad’s encrypted files to find proof that the Crimson Mask is working with the Beetle. And to find out where his mom is.

When the Beetle’s huge mechanical bug invades the bunker, Spencer doesn’t immediately just launch out in the escape pod. Instead, he manages to incapacitate the bug and hack the files. Then he launches and to a different place than his dad planned. Once Spencer lands, a beautiful woman finds him. Turns out that the woman, Emily, knows Spencer’s dad and she is supposed to babysit Spence. But Spence finally has a lead to his mom and he must follow it. And the Beetle keeps finding him.

This is a world where the wealthiest governments around the world have engineered super powered people, the Augments. Most of them are or are supposed to be soldiers. But in the recent two years, many of the known Augments have disappeared. The Crimson Mask is the last.

This isn’t a comic-book world. People are regularly hurt or killed in superhuman battles. While the Crimson Mask has some of Superman’s obvious powers, he’s almost the opposite of Clark because CM first neutralizes the threat and only then helps the victims.

CM has a secret identity and because of that he, Spencer, and his mom had to move often. Spencer hated that because he must always leave his friends behind. Now, he only has one friend and he hasn’t even met him in two years. Spencer and his dad’s relationship is very strained. In addition to being bitter about the frequent moves and that his dad hasn’t found his mom, CM is a very distant father who barks orders rather than has conversations. When Spence was younger, his dad would talk about how they would work together as a team. But, once CM realized that Spencer doesn’t have powers, Spence seemed to become only a potential hostage to him. And CM treats Spencer accordingly.

Spencer is the main first person POV character, present tense. There are a couple of other POV characters, too, and they’re in third person, imperfect. This didn’t bother me.

Spence is a snarky character who makes a lot of pop culture references. He’s 19 but this is his coming-of-age story. Of course, it’s hard to have coming-of-age moments all alone in an arctic bunker. At the start of the story, he’s been a couple of years alone and it shows. He ogles Emily in a way I didn’t care for but is understandable. He’s also small for his age and resents it when people treat him like a kid. While he doesn’t have powers, he knows a lot about computers and other mechanical gadgets.

This is a fast-paced story with several exciting fight scenes but it also focuses on Spencer’s emotions. I enjoyed it quite a lot.

This is a prequel story to Frank’s Robin Hood series.

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Publication year: 2020
Format: ebook

I stumbled on this series quite by accident and was delighted to find another Robin Hood series. However, this one is a bit darker than my own.

“Hood” tells the story of how Robin Hood got his nickname and is set in the early days of our heroes’ outlaw life. This outlaw band has Robin, Little John, Will Scarlet, Friar Tuck, and a young woman called Alis. We get a few clues about how Alis and Robin met. Everyone in the group seems to be born nobility but are now outlaws. Robin himself is the son of the late Earl of Loxley. Even though he’s still insecure about this ability to lead, the others willingly follow him.

This Robin has a dark past and is torment by it. He was jailed and tortured by the sheriff. A young woman whom Robin calls Rosa helped him in the dungeons, but she was killed because of it. Her death haunts Robin more than the torture and he has flash backs to it. The others also seemed to have dark pasts.

The story starts in Sherwood on Christmas Eve. Robin and his band haven’t eaten in two days. They ambush Sir Guy of Gisborne who is collecting taxes – and food from the mouths of peasant children.

This was a fast-paced and enjoyable read, if quite dark. I really enjoyed the close-knit family feel of the band.

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