Harlow Giles Unger’s James Monroe biography, THE LAST FOUNDING FATHER: JAMES MONROE AND A NATION’S CALL TO GREATNESS, reads less like a biology and more like a sacred tomb for acolytes to use in worshipping the do-no-wrong object of their devotion.

The parts where Unger is simply relaying the events that happened are well done and quite readable, but all too often, he offers opinions designed to glorify Monroe and his wife beyond all reason.

By Unger’s description, Monroe was preceded by three presidents in John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, who “were mere caretaker presidents who left the nation bankrupt, its people deeply divided, its borders under attack (and) its its capital city in ashes.” Even worse, the 35 years after Monroe’s presidency were led by presidents who were “self-serving, politically ambitions successors” who undermined the national unity he created and led the country into Civil War.

Unger describes Jefferson’s choosing of Madison as his secretary of state over Monroe as Monroe “stepping aside,” rather than being overlooked in favor of Madison, a close and well-respected friend of Jefferson in his own right. Perhaps not coincidentally, Unger reserves much of his vitriol for Madison, claiming that when Monroe served in Madison’s cabinet, it was Monroe who took the reins of the country, especially in the wake of the British attack on Washington. Later, he doesn’t appear to recognize the irony of his response when he brings up accusations that John Quincy Adams had actually crafted the Monroe doctrine:

The assertion that Adams authored the Monroe Doctrine is not only untrue, it borders on the ludicrous by implying that President Monroe was little more than a puppet manipulated by another’s hand. Such assertions show little insight into the presidency itself and the type of man who aspires to and assumes that office; indeed, they denigrate the character, the intellect, the intensity, and the sense of power that drive American presidents.

Each time Unger mentions Madison, he makes certain to belittle the fourth president, referring to him as “incompetent,” and making frequent references to Madison’s well-documented health problems and his short stature. When comparing the foreign policy experience of the two presidents, he says:

Monroe’s many years as a minister overseas had taught him diplomacy as a chesslike game of subtle moves, each fraught with nuanced, ripple effects that can accrue to the advantage or disadvantage of either side. Madison’s years in a nation of unsophisticated frontiersmen had taught him diplomacy as a game akin to the new card craze of Slap Jack.

At another point:

… the president [Madison] seemed impotent, with no command of his armed forces, no credit with Congress, and little influence over the American people. His sickly Lilliputian stature did little to inspire confidence. Everything he said or did only alienated more Americans.

When Monroe makes his seventh annual address to Congress, Unger says that some members trembled with awe as they watch him make his way down the aisle, a description that again feels over the top; I would have loved to see a source there so it seemed less a product of Unger’s overactive, awestruck imagination.

If possible, Unger seems to go even further overboard in defense of Monroe’s wife, Elizabeth:

Washington gossips accused the Monroes – especially Elizabeth – of transforming the White House into a European court. Through no fault of her own, she became the target of mean-spirited attacks, born largely of envy – of her beauty, of her exquisite (and expensive) taste in clothes and furnishings, and of her refined manners and superb education.

What Unger wants you to understand is that not only was Monroe the awesomest president who ever presidented, but he also had the hottest and most perfect wife ever. People who disliked her didn’t have any genuine motivation for their feels — they were simply jealous!

Now, I don’t point all this out to demean Monroe or his wife — I bought this book specifically to learn more about him and his strengths as an American president, and Unger’s comparisons of Monroe to George Washington were indeed eye-opening. But over the course of the book, Unger’s descriptions of Monroe got in the way of the story of Monroe’s life, and made it difficult for me to trust Unger’s accounting of the events in Monroe’s life.

According to this book, everything great that happened, from the Louisiana Purchase to the conclusion of the War of 1812, was a product of Monroe’s greatness despite the perpetual idiocy that surrounded him.

A more nuanced view of Monroe’s life would have been far more satisfying. I have no doubt of his accomplishments or his strengths, but to really understand this president, I also would have liked to learn about his weaknesses and regrets. Unfortunately, this isn’t the book for that type of insight.


THE RITHMATIST by Brandon Sanderson

THE RITHMATIST isn’t a great novel, but it’s not a bad one either — it’s just a quiet, likeable little story with a few flaws that kept me from falling in love with it.

The book tells the story of Joel, whose late father was a chalk maker and whose mother is a janitor at the private school for wealthy children that he attends. The school is home to both regular students such as Joel and Rithmatists, the highly secretive sect of students who are taught to use geometry and precise chalk drawings to fight the wild chalklings in Nebrask, a place where humanity has long been at war.

Though Joel was not selected as a Rithmatist, he remains fascinated by them, sitting in on their classes, studying their theory, and dreaming of becoming a scholar of their methods. After years of watching them from afar, Joel is pulled into their orbit when Rithmatic students begin disappearing, leading to an investigation led by Professor Fitch. With his knowledge of Rithmatic principles, Joel and his friend Melody, a Rithmatic student who has been assigned to Professor Fitch for tutoring, race against time to find the culprit before more students are taken.

Joel is a likeable protagonist, intellectual and curious in a slightly less hectic way than David from Sanderson’s Reckoners novels. His back-and-forth with Melody is charming enough, but the rest of the cast never really comes to life in any meaningful way. Likewise, the story is largely devoid of action until the climax. It isn’t boring, per se, primarily because the book is fairly short, but by the time things start ramping up the book is just about complete and Sanderson is setting things up for the next installment.

If you’re a Sanderson fan, I say go ahead and read THE RITHMATIC, if for no other reason than to bask once again in the brilliance of Sanderson’s world building. The rules for Rithmatics are interesting, and are probably the primary strength of the book.

If you’re looking for an entry point into Sanderson’s cosmere, I would recommend beginning with the Mistborn books, or even the Reckoners. It’s entirely possible that I’ll pick up the sequel to THE RITHMATIC just to see where the story goes, but I can’t say it meets the exceedingly high standard Sanderson has set with so much of his other work.

PITCH BY PITCH by Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler

PITCH BY PITCH: MY VIEW OF ONE UNFORGETTABLE GAME can be described simply — it’s Bob Gibson, unfiltered, brash, confidence still oozing with every word, walking the reader pitch by pitch through Game 1 of the 1968 World Series.

It’s a great idea for a book, and Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler execute the concept with thoughtfulness, humor and an eye for detail.

The parts where Gibson walks us through the game pitch by pitch, outlining his approach to each batter, interesting as they are, aren’t even the best parts. The real juice is when Gibson is telling stories about the personalities involved, talking about his teammates or opponents, and what they were like off the field. That’s when I was most engaged, most interested in Gibson’s perspective — when i got an opportunity to glimpse what it was like to be a Major League Baseball player in 1968.

Of course, that’s not to say that the play-by-play was uninteresting. Gibson is clearly rewatching the television broadcast of the game as he relays his thoughts. As a baseball fan, it’s fascinating to hear how Gibson approached each at-bat, each hitter, as he struck out 17 batters en route to a Game 1 World Series victory. It also shows how imperfect an art it is, even for a battery as incredible as Gibson and McCarver. Gibson details how one pitch sets up the next pitch, and how the previous at-bat impacts his pitch selection. It gets especially interesting when Gibson and McCarver attempt to get into the head of the hitter, avoiding certain pitches because they know that the batter knows that Pitch #1 sets up Pitch #2, so maybe they should go with Pitch #3, though the batter may be aware of their thinking so maybe they should go back to Pitch#1.

Nonetheless, the most interesting aspect of the game is the personalities involved. From Denny McClain to Lou Brock to Curt Flood to Norm Cash to Dick McAuliffe to Roger Maris, the game is packed with talented ballplayers and curious personalities that all made their impact on the history of Major League Baseball. As someone born almost 15 years after this game was played, it was fascinating to learn more about the familiar names I’ve heard through the years.

If you’re interested in the teams or this era of baseball, and you love the idea of hearing from one of the game’s greatest legends as he walks through one of his most historic performances, you will enjoy this book. It’s well-written, thoughtful, and well-paced, and deserves its place on the bookshelves of St. Louis Cardinals fans and baseball historians alike.

THE BUILDERS by Daniel Polansky

This review originally appeared at


“Is it true you killed High-Hand Lawrence and Hotpants the squirrel during the same card game?”

Nothing from Cinnabar. No words, no change in his demeanor, no breathing, only the absolute stillness of which only a cold-blooded creature is capable.

“I wonder if you’re as fast as they say,” Bessie Weasel chirruped, her hand slowly straying toward her belt.

“Wondering is free,” Cinnabar said finally, his voice soft and low. “Certainty has its price.”


If you take the time to browse through the reader reviews of Daniel Polansky’s outstanding The Builders, you’ll see it compared to all sorts of stories – Redwall, Watership Down, Unforgiven, The Dirty Dozen, True Grit, Mouse Guard, The Magnificent Seven, The Wild Bunch, Red Country, The Usual Suspects and even Quentin Tarantino movies.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about The Builders is that even as it draws inspiration from many of these classic stories, it’s wholly original, and unlike anything I’ve come across. Much like the characters whose story it tells, The Builders is a lean, vicious story that doesn’t pull any punches once the action gets going.

About the Author

Daniel Polansky is the author of the Low Town trilogy, and in 2015 began The Empty Throne duology with Those Above. The second half of the series, Those Below, is slated for release on February 25th.


In the anthropomorphic world of The Builders, most of the Captain’s company has settled into a relatively safe, quiet life in the five years since they lost the battle to put their king on the throne. But the Captain isn’t satisfied. And he’s reuniting the old band to avenge their defeat.

One by one, the mouse gathers his old companions: Bonsoir the assassin stoat, Boudica the sniper opossum, Cinnabar the sharpshooting salamander, Barley the chain gun-wielding badger, Gertrude the clever mole, and Elf the now-crazed owl. It’s a ridiculous collection of characters to list in succession, and in the afterword Polansky freely admits that the book began as a one-note joke, but The Builders is successful because it treats its characters and their task with earnest seriousness. Even when Polansky makes jokes regarding the characters’ anthropomorphic qualities, it’s never at the expense of the characters or the plot.

The Builders weighs in at just 226 pages, occupying that strange space between a long novella and a short novel. Polansky intersperses the action with frequent chapter breaks, wasting little time with anything that isn’t absolutely essential to the story. In fact, several chapters are a single sentence. It’s a style that lends toward the story’s pace – Polansky easily could have padded the story, but the story’s genius lies in the simplicity of the plot.

You can compare The Builders to countless novels and movies because you’ve seen the basic setup before. In fact, at this point it’s become something of a trope – a collection of characters with varied backgrounds and skill sets gather in a bar to begin a quest.

Polansky takes the time to show us how the Captain found each of these characters in their new lives – providing just enough hints about their previous roles and skills to keep us interested. And it’s those small details that make the book so special. Considering how many characters he’s juggling and how little time he takes, Polansky’s ability to make us care about most of these characters is staggering.

Here’s his early description of Cinnabar:

Cinnabar had calm eyes, friendly eyes, eyes that smiled and called you “sir” or “madam,” depending on the case, eyes like cool water on a hot day. Cinnabar had hands that made corpses, lots of corpses, walls and stacks of them. Cinnabar’s eyes never seemed to feel anything about what his hands did.

And here’s an example of Bonsoir’s grandiosity:

“I am Bonsoir,” the stoat hissed, a scant inch from the Captain’s ears. “I have cracked rattlesnake eggs while their mother slept soundly atop them, I have snatched the woodpecker mid-flight. More have met their end at my hand than from corn liquor and poisoned bait! I am Bonsoir, whose steps fall without sound, whose knives are always sharp, who comes at night and leaves widows weeping in the morning.”

Inherent in the story of each member of the company is the comparison between who they were and who they are today. Throughout the story, the reader – and the characters themselves – ask whether people (or in this case, animals) have the ability to change the true essence of who they are. Will the company revert to the lives of violence they once led? Some of the characters, like Bonsoir, return happily to the killing. Others struggle against the return to brutality.

At first glance, The Builders does everything possible to belie its true nature. It almost looks like a children’s book, with its diminutive length and cast of animal characters. But a children’s book needs a good guy, and as much as I grew to love the characters in this book, Polansky doesn’t leave you with any easy answers. In the end, it turns out that The Builders isn’t a joke at all.

CALAMITY by Brandon Sanderson

This review originally appeared at


This review contains some spoilers for Steelheart and Firefight. Read with caution if you have yet to finish the first two books.

“Life was so unfair. You couldn’t both destroy everything around you and live like a king.”

With each book in his Reckoners series, Brandon Sanderson has peeled back a layer of the world he created, providing new, more powerful questions for readers even as old ones are answered. In Calamity, the concluding book in the trilogy, Sanderson continues that tradition. The novel brings the story of David Charleston full circle, but leaves so many unanswered questions that it feels as though Sanderson is leaving the door open to return to this world somewhere down the line, despite his already overflowing publishing schedule. Regardless of whether Sanderson returns to play in this particular sandbox, Calamity represents another strong installment in the series, even if it never quite matches the energy of the first two books in the series, Steelheart and Firefight.

In Steelheart, the opening novel, David and his father see the world changed by the sudden appearance of a mysterious red star in the sky, followed by the discovery that some humans had obtained superhuman powers. Now known as “Epics,” these super-powered individuals are all driven mad by the use of their newfound powers, creating a world filled with supervillains and lacking in superheroes.

After his father is killed, David joins the Reckoners, a band of freedom fighters that relies upon technology and wits to kill Epics. Over the course of Steelheart and Firefight, we learn that the Reckoners’ leader, Prof, and David’s love interest, Megan, are also Epics. David’s encyclopedic knowledge of Epics and their powers quickly makes him a crucial member of the group, and after the events of Firefight turn Prof into a full-blown, evil Epic, David emerges at the beginning of Calamity as the Reckoners’ new leader.

Calamity – and the series as a whole – rely on the same strengths that have made Sanderson so successful in his other works. The worldbuilding is detailed and clever, and creates new pathways for further storytelling. When the Reckoners follow Prof to the city of Ildithia, they find a constantly-moving city made of salt, where one side of the city is constantly crumbling into disrepair, only to be replaced with new salt build-up on the other side of the city. Details like these impact our characters as they try to remain in hiding and keep the series feeling fresh, even after we’ve long grown accustomed to each of the main characters.

Of course, those characters are a strength for the series. If you didn’t have at least some appreciation for David’s terrible similes and metaphors, you probably haven’t made it to the third book in the series, and Sanderson doesn’t ease up on David’s unique use of the English language. In fact, he immediately thrusts you back into the world of the Reckoners with his first line: “The sun peeked over the horizon like the head of a giant radioactive manatee.”

Cody continues to tell outlandish stories that no one believes, Mizzy continues to be a ball of energy, and Abraham remains calm and mysterious. The story never takes much time to dive too deep into any of the supporting characters’ psyches, but Sanderson continues to pepper in hints and clues regarding each, and the addition of Nighthawk provides the team one more unique voice to the collection.

Unfortunately, there are some places where the story isn’t quite as good as its predecessors. One of Steelheart’s greatest strengths was the seeming impossibility of Reckoners’ missions. Even killing minor Epics took months of planning and careful coordination, followed by an immediate exit to avoid retribution from other Epics.

That sense of perpetual terror isn’t quite there in Calamity, even as the Reckoners attempt to turn Prof back from his evil ways, and make plans to kill Calamity himself, the Epic who appears as a red star in the sky and has granted the other Epics their powers. On several occasions, the Reckoners go toe to toe with Prof, heavily relying on Megan’s Epic powers and losing some of their underdog credentials in the process.

As David explains, “You want to fight a god? You better have one on your side too.” At this point in the series, the Reckoners have Epics on their side as well, but it takes away some of the dramatic tension that I loved in Steelheart.

Even as I say that, Megan’s ability to pull in aspects from alternative universes is yet another example of Sanderson’s masterful worldbuilding. Even though it sometimes felt like a crutch to help the Reckoners overcome their enemies, it also opened up some incredible storytelling opportunities that Sanderson takes full advantage of.

Nonetheless, while Sanderson brings David’s story full circle, the ending felt rushed. The confrontation with Calamity – the Epic who has caused all the death and destruction the series has chronicled through three novels – feels almost like an afterthought, even as the epilogue demonstrates that the conclusion was clearly plotted out to provide one more emotional gut punch before the end and bring David’s story full circle.

It may not have been a perfect landing, but the Reckoners still proved to be a really enjoyable series with good action, characters, worldbuilding and revelations. Even when juggling multiple series, Sanderson remains a master of the craft.

BLOODFEUD by Ben Galley

This review originally appeared at


Just like its protagonist, Ben Galley’s Scarlet Star Trilogy is a series constantly on the move, constantly growing and changing from a coming-of-age fantasy/western hybrid to an adventure set in an alternate London. With the final book in the trilogy, Bloodfeud, Galley wraps up a consistently strong self-published series that introduced readers to likeable characters, an interesting magic system and settings that included alternate versions of the American Old West and London.

The series debut, Bloodrush, was Galley’s entry into Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, where it placed second amongst more than 300 self-published fantasy entries, behind only Michael McClung’s The Thief Who Pulled on Trouble’s Braids. The book introduced readers to Tonmerion Harlequin Hark, a young British lord whose father was just found murdered on the steps of his own estate. Per his father’s instructions, Merion (and his fairy best friend, Rhin) make their way to the American West, where they are to be reunited with their aunt Lillain.

In the early-going, Merion is something of an annoying hero. He’s childish, impetuous and spoiled, and wants nothing more than to return to London and run his father’s estate, even though it’s debatable whether he’s actually ready for such responsibility. Over the course of the series, Merion’s desire to return to London never wanes, but Galley does a good job of slowly changing Merion’s motivations as he matures. While the Merion readers meet at the beginning of the book merely wants to return for vengeance and a return to the comforts of home, Merion slowly comes to understand who his enemies are and why they must be stopped. As the story unravels, Merion transforms from a protagonist that you reluctantly root for, to a young man who has earned your respect, not just for the challenges he has overcome, but for his ability to learn from his early mistakes and experiences.

Merion’s family and friends provide a sounding board for Merion’s hands-on education, especially Lillain, Rhin, and Lurker, the prospector and war veteran who becomes a father figure for Merion in the new world. Calidae Serped, formerly Merion’s adversary but equally motivated to bring down Lord Dizali, provides an excellent antihero who at times seems more interesting than Merion himself. If Galley was so inclined, I could see him writing another successful novel centered entirely on Calidae.

Early in the trilogy, some of the subplots seemed out of place, especially Rhin’s theft of the fairy queen’s horde and her attempts to recapture him, but Bloodfeud proves that Galley had a plan all along that brings all the plotlines together in an organic and satisfying manner. While I found the alternative American West setting from the earlier books more interesting than that of the alternative London, Galley’s ability to tie old plot points together makes up for the change.

Galley makes a concerted effort in Bloodfeud to finally give us a better look at Lord Dizali and his motivations, with mixed results. Almost entirely absent in the first book, Dizali played a larger role in the second book, Bloodmoon, and get significantly more of the focus in the finale. Dizali’s relationship with his wife provides plenty of opportunities for further storytelling, especially as he uses her as his motivation for everything he does, but to be honest, I didn’t especially enjoy the way that plot worked out, and actually thought there were opportunities for Galley to make Dizali and his wife far more interesting characters. At the end of the trilogy, I still wasn’t certain what motivated Dizali (except perhaps simple insanity?), and I thought he could have been given far more interesting motivations with a simple plot tweak.

The final confrontation between Merion and Dizali wasn’t quite as satisfying as it could have been, as it feels like the final 10% of the book consists of Merion chasing Dizali through the streets of London, but at the end of the day, I’m always more interested in characters, and the characters are clearly Bloodfeud’s strengths. That being said, Merion’s mission to rescue Rhin from the fairy queen provided a jolt of excitement and once again opened a door into a corner of the world that we hadn’t seen before.

The Scarlet Star Trilogy marks the first series from Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off that I have completed, and I’m glad I did. It demonstrates not only that self-published writers are capable of creating compelling, character-driven fantasy fiction, but that they are capable of consistently bringing that same level of quality storytelling throughout an entire series.

While Bloodfeud marks the end of the trilogy, the epilogue clearly leaves the door open for additional storytelling, whether that be in the form of additional short stories, novellas or even novels. I, for one, would welcome a return to the world of Merion and his strange collection of friends.


This review originally appeared at


This review contains spoilers for Gemini Cell. Please read with caution if you have yet to finish the first book. You can find Fantasy-Faction’s review for Gemini Cell here.

Javelin Rain, Myke Cole’s sequel to Gemini Cell, may be the least hopeful book I’ve ever read.

It wasn’t until the final pages, when protagonist Jim Schweitzer hints at the action he will take moving forward, that I thought that maybe, just maybe, Cole actually wasn’t writing a series in which everyone dies and Jim Schweitzer’s story ends in misery and despair. Even in a world in which magic exists and the dead can be brought back to life, Myke Cole’s pull-no-punches storytelling style convinced me there were no positive outcomes available for Schweitzer, his wife and his young son.

If this sounds overly dramatic, I can sympathize. I would have said the same before I read the books.

Gemini Cell introduced us to Schweitzer, a highly-trained Navy SEAL, and his family. Shortly after latest mission, Schweitzer returns home to the wife and child he sees all too rarely. But his return home takes an awful turn when his enemies find him and kill him, even as he battles to save his wife and son.

But death proves just the beginning for Schweitzer, as Gemini Cell resurrects him as the ultimate warrior, an undead juggernaut with an ancient, battle-hungry and completely insane jinn residing inside his now-animated corpse. Schweitzer represents the Gemini Cell’s greatest success, its first pairing of a jinn with a trained, thoughtful special operator retaining at least some control.

But Gemini Cell makes a mistake when it lies to Schweitzer and tells him his family was murdered in the same attack that killed him. When he discovers the truth, he breaks free from Gemini Cell’s control and returns to his family, desperate to defend them against a Gemini Cell that now has them in its crosshairs as well.

Cole doesn’t just acknowledge all the difficulties inherent to Schweitzer’s situation, but he actively dives into them, exploring the bonds of family and what it means to be human through Schweitzer and his family. From the moment they are reunited, it’s clear that the undead Schweitzer can no longer be a husband to his wife, Sarah, or a father to their son, Patrick. With an undead, zombie-like body pumped full of embalming chemicals, mechanical prosthetics, and nothing but the remains of his former face, Schweitzer isn’t exactly the sort of hero who earns warm embraces, even from his family.

Schweitzer’s relationship with his son is especially strained. Overseas missions kept him away from Patrick for much of his son’s life, and now, returning as a half-dead monster shortly after his son saw him murdered in their home only strains the relationship further. Patrick is too young to understand what is happening, and as Gemini Cell’s jinn-fueled monsters chase the Schweitzers down, even Schweitzer sees that if his traumatized son survives, he likely will have a lifetime of therapy ahead of him.

Cole doesn’t shy away from Jim Schweitzer’s struggles to relate to his family now that he’s dead, from his frustration at their slow pace to their need for basic necessities such as food, water and rest. There’s an especially crushing scene when Schweitzer hands his son a can of beans to eat and belatedly realizes that small children don’t especially like beans, and certainly don’t want to eat them cold from a can.

With each scene, it becomes more and more clear that even if Schweitzer were to kill the entire Gemini Cell, he has no future alongside his family, at least not in the half-live, half-dead existence he currently occupies. Slowly but inevitably, he’s losing his humanity, his connection to the living world, and as the process continues, it becomes harder and harder to imagine a happy ending for the Schweitzers.

In addition to Schweitzer’s point of view, readers are introduced to the action through a number of characters still inside the Gemini Cell compound – Jawid, the Muslim sorcerer who brought Schweitzer back to life; Dadou Alva, a Haitian sorcerer with a dark past brought in to keep Jawid under control; and Eldredge, the Gemini Cell scientist who has come to doubt the program since Schweitzer escaped. All three are dealing with their own fears, either of the Gemini Cell itself, or, in Dadou’s case, the past. Dadou proves an especially interesting character, someone you can’t help but sympathize with, even as you hate her.

Jawid is far more problematic. The only character who demonstrates any religious belief in the book, Jawid’s Muslim faith makes him a pawn for the Gemini Cell and especially for Dadou, who manipulates his attraction for her with ridiculous ease. In Jawid’s point-of-view moments, you can’t help but pity him and his childlike naiveté regarding the world around him. In a book in which almost every character is intelligent and determined, Jawid is a clear exception.

Nonetheless, Javelin Rain represents the next step in Cole’s progression as an author, a heartfelt, action-packed military fantasy that punches readers in the guts and takes their breath away. Somehow, in writing about an undead Navy SEAL fighting other undead warriors, Cole has found a way to explore what makes us tick – as people, as members of a family, and as part of a society.

Cole doesn’t spend much time recapping the events of Gemini Cell, so new readers should definitely read the prequel first, and it wouldn’t hurt to read the previously published Shadow Ops books as well – Control Point, Fortress Frontier and Breach Zone – though it isn’t strictly necessary, as Schweitzer’s story is itself a prequel to the events in those novels.

But be warned – nothing you read in the four previous books will prepare you for the depths Cole explores in Javelin Rain.