Anne Reviews: The Jackal’s House by Anna Butler

TITLE:  Lancaster’s Luck, Book 2: The Jackal’s House

Author: Anna Butler

Publisher:  Dreamspinner Press

Pages: 310

Characters: Rafe Lancaster/Ned Winter

POV: 1st

Sub-Genre: Series, Steampunk

Kisses: 5

Blurb:

Something is stalking the Aegyptian night and endangering the archaeologists excavating the mysterious temple ruins in Abydos. But is it a vengeful ancient spirit or a very modern conspiracy….

Rafe Lancaster’s relationship with Gallowglass First Heir, Ned Winter, flourishes over the summer of 1900, and when Rafe’s House encourages him to join Ned’s next archaeological expedition, he sees a chance for it to deepen further. Since all the Houses of the Britannic Imperium, Rafe’s included, view assassination as a convenient solution to most problems, he packs his aether pistol—just in case.

Trouble finds them in Abydos. Rafe and Ned begin to wonder if they’re facing opposition to the Temple of Seti being disturbed. What begins as tricks and pranks escalates to attacks and death, while the figure of the Dog—the jackal-headed god, Anubis, ruler of death—casts a long shadow over the desert sands. Destruction follows in his wake as he returns to reclaim his place in Abydos. Can Rafe and Ned stand against both the god and House plots when the life of Ned’s son is on the line?

Review:

I was already a huge fan of Anna Butler’s SF Taking Shield series before I started reading this one.  Although it has a different feel to it—and is a different genre—I’m in love with this series too.

The Jackal’s House—like book 1 in the series—is narrated in first person by Rafe Lancaster.  I love his tongue-in-cheek banter, and internal narrative.  One of the strengths of this author’s writing is her characterisations.  Rafe is just the right mix of smart arse, and a man who feels very deeply.  Although we see Ned through Rafe’s perspective, it’s a very intuitive perspective, and Ned is very much a man who is tied by his position as first heir of Gallowglass.  I love Rafe and Ned together, and the line when they are making love under the stars was very romantic, and made me sigh happily. It’s sad that although they love each other, they can’t admit it publically or officially marry, but that’s a sign of the times, and again realistic.

The supporting cast is wonderful, with their character quirks and personalities coming across very clearly. I thought the author did a great job in writing Harry, Ned’s son, and he’s easy to visualise as the small boy he is.  Molly, Harry’s dog, is a character in her own right.

The world building in this series is fabulous. The author’s love for all things Egyptian is obvious and I enjoyed the details of the archaeological dig. I could feel Ned’s passion for his chosen field, and Rafe’s reluctant realisation that he’s getting sucked into it all as well. Ned’s good humour is also very contagious and I found myself smiling as I read.  I also appreciated the fact that Rafe needed to practice flying the airship, rather than just pilot immediately, as it felt more realistic.  The descriptions are detailed, and make everything very easy to visualise.

The political agendas seen in The Gilded Scarab rack up another notch, as dangerous games are played against the backdrop of Abydos.  It’s obvious that the author has put a lot of thought into the house system and politics of this world, and I found it all fascinating.  The title of the book works well on several levels, and there are more jackals around than the animal variety, although the true double meaning is quite subtle.

I also love the way she connects this alternate steampunk world with our own, with references and people I recognised. I must admit I squeed a little when Howard Carter turned up.  Although this is set in an alternate 1900 I loved the mention of analytical machines—computers—and other steampunk versions of current technology such as ebooks etc.  The security fence was especially cool.

The action scenes are well written, and had me on the edge of my seat. I spent several evenings sitting up far too late as I needed to find out what happened next.  There’s a nice twist at the end of the book.  I hope the author plans to write more of this series as I’m now totally hooked, plus I want to see how Rafe takes Ned’s advice, and the changes they hopefully can both make.

I’d highly recommend The Jackal’s House to readers who enjoy steampunk with a good dollop of mystery and adventure, and interesting, likeable characters.  More please.

Reviewed By: Anne

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Anne Reviews: Heart Scarab by Anna Butler

Title: Taking Shield, Book 2: Heart Scarab

Author: Anna Butler

Publisher:  Glass Hat Press

Pages:  286

Characters: Bennet/Flynn, Bennet/Joss

POV: 3rd

Sub-Genre: Series, Science Fiction

Kisses: 5

Blurb:

Shield Captain Bennet is on Telnos, a unpleasant little planet inhabited by religious fanatics and unregistered miners running illegal solactinium mines. It’s about to be about to be overrun by the Maess. Bennet’s job is to get out as many civilians as he can, but the enemy arrives before the evacuation is complete. Caught in a vicious fire fight, Bennet is left behind, presumed dead.

His family is grieving. Joss, his long-term partner, grieves with them; lost, unhappy, remorseful. First Lieutenant Flynn has no official ‘rights’ here. He isn’t family. He isn’t partner or lover.

All he is, is broken.

Review:

Book 2 in the Taking Shield series picks up eighteen months after the events of Gryfalcon.

I love the world building in this series. It’s very well thought out and researched, and makes me feel as though I’m reading about a world with a long and rich history.  I loved the links back to their original home world—Earth—and the way Joss, Bennet’s ex-partner thinks about how their ancient rituals replace other even older ones.  Joss takes some of the POV in this book, looking back on his and Bennet’s relationship, and giving the reader a different perspective.  His grief—and that of other friends and family—felt very real.

I really felt for Flynn, who is not family and therefore has no official rights, but still grieving for someone he truly loves.  I don’t think it’s a spoiler, given there are more books in the series, to say I was very relieved to discover that Bennet survives.

As with the first book, the author doesn’t pull any punches about the brutality of war.  The world on which Bennet is left is very harsh, and there are consequences for what had happened to him. He is badly injured, and doesn’t just miraculously recover either physically, or psychologically.  It takes time and hard work. And that’s the way it should be.

I like that these guys are flawed, and I love Bennet and Flynn together. I think they complement each other well, and their frustration when they take a step forward together and then something else comes up to prevent them being together feels very real. But in saying that, although their romance is a decent sized part of the story, it isn’t what drives it, and I think that is what makes this series so strong.

The war with the Maess is never far away, nor the underlying feeling that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.  These aliens are very other, and dangerous, and I like the way we—and Bennet—learn a tiny bit more about them with each new book, but not enough to understand them.  That information doesn’t comfort, it terrifies, and I think the author did a fabulous job in keeping me on the edge of my seat, and trying to work out what exactly the Maess’ plan is.

I’ve been a huge SF fan for years, and this series reminds me why.  I’d recommend Heart Scarab to readers who enjoy military SF with in-depth world building, complex characters, and a story that keeps you on the edge of your seat and wanting more.

Reviewed By: Anne

Click HERE to purchase Heart Scarab by Anna Butler

Anne Reviews: Gyrfalcon by Anna Butler


TITLE: Taking Shield, Book 1: Gyrfalcon
Author: Anna Butler
Publisher: Glass Hat Press
Pages: 281
Characters: Bennet/Flynn, Bennet/Joss
POV: 3rd
Sub-Genre: Series, Science Fiction
Kisses: 5

Blurb:

Earth’s last known colony, Albion, is fighting an alien enemy. In the first of the Taking Shield serial, Shield Captain Bennet is dropped behind the lines to steal priceless intelligence. A dangerous job, and Bennet doesn’t need the distractions of changing relationships with his long-term partner, Joss, or with his father—and with Flynn, the new lover who will turn his world upside-down.
He expects to risk his life. He expects the data will alter the course of the war.

What he doesn’t expect is that it will change his life or that Flynn will be impossible to forget.

Review:

I’d heard good things about Taking Shield by Anna Butler and as a long time SF reader, wondered if the hype was well founded. It is! A couple of pages into this story, and I was hooked. The world building is wonderful, and I felt like I was walking into a world with a rich history, and yet I had no problems in jumping in at the point this story takes place within it. The story starts with a fast pace action scene which grabbed my attention immediately. The technical aspect of the series is obviously well researched, but didn’t bog down the story either. I loved the way the author approached the aliens in this story—the reader learns about them alongside the characters, and I reacted in the same way Bennet did when he discovers—sorry, spoiler—which reflects how engrossed I was in the story.

Bennet and Flynn are very different characters, but they complement each other so well. There is a lot standing between them and their HEA, which makes a lot of sense considering everything else going on. I would have been disappointed if their relationship had gone smoothly, even though their romance is not the focus of the story. Although this story includes a romance, it is so much more than that, and I felt the romance was secondary to the plot. This is a SF story in which the characters are gay, rather than vice versa, and it works perfectly.

The supporting cast are well fleshed out too, and have their own motivations. I did find though, that as soon as I’d read the final words in this story, I had to keep going and read the next one…and the next one… so expect a few reviews while I play catch up.

Gyrfalcon reminds me of why I love SF, and I’d highly recommend the book—and the series—to readers who enjoy military SF with fabulous world building, complex characters, and a story that leaves you wanting more. Gyrfalcon is up there with one of the best books I’ve read this year. I don’t buy many hardcopy books because of the cost of postage etc to NZ, but there are a few I have on my wish list. This series definitely is.

Reviewed By: Anne

Click HERE to purchase Gyrfalcon by Anna Butler