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“Inish Carraig” by Jo Zebedee

Inish Carraig

Inish Carraig begins a few months after an alien invasion has devastated most of the world, including the book’s setting of Belfast, a city that has suffered terrible deprivation during the invasion and the aftermath. Even after a cautious peace breaks out when the aliens are forced by the interstellar Galactic Council to work together with the locals, life is still very hard for the survivors. Initially the story follows two teenagers scavenging among the ruins of the city to try to keep the rest of their family fed, after unwisely choosing to take on a job from a local criminal gang they find themselves targeted both by the aliens and the remnants of the local law enforcement. At this point the scope of the story expands as it becomes clear there are two different alien races competing with each for control of Earth with humanity caught in the middle uncertain of who it should ally itself with.

There have been a lot of alien invasion stories over the years, and while this sometimes feels reminiscent of other stories (I was reminded of the TV series Falling Skies at times) it does have some elements which distinguish it from the rest of the genre. The most obvious is the Northern Ireland setting, since I’m not aware of any other alien invasion stories focuses on there (Ian McDonald’s “Sacrifice of Fools” would be closest, but the aliens there are refugees rather than conquerors). The book does use its setting well, where even after an alien invasion the characters don’t forget about their complicated heritage.

I thought the characterisation was good throughout, showing how characters who had fairly unremarkable lives up to the time of the invasion have had to adapt to survive in a desperate situation. John and Taz, the two teenage protagonists, have a believable combination of vulnerability and bloody-minded determination. Probably the best character is Carter, a police officer trying to do his job as best he can despite being regarded by most of his fellow humans as a collaborator for being willing to work with the alien authorities.

The story moves at a good pace and packs a lot of plot into a relatively short book. Sometimes it would have been interesting to hear a bit more about the aliens themselves and their motivations (particularly the Xelotyr), but it would have been difficult to incorporate this into the plot given that the characters themselves don’t know much about their new alien masters. While this is understandable it does mean that the story feels like it lacking in depth a bit at times. One bit of plotting that felt overly convenient at times was the droids that accompany John and Taz for most of the book, while a fun addition to the story they do seem to manifest new abilities whenever the plot demands it.

Overall, I thought this was an entertaining alien invasion story which made good use of its Belfast setting.

Rating : 8 / 10

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“The Ruling Mask” by Neil McGarry and Daniel Ravipinto

Ruling Mask

I enjoyed both “Duchess of the Shallows” and “The Fall of Ventaris” so I was looking forward to the third book in this series. The series has established something of a formula in which Duchess needs to come up with a scheme to do some seemingly impossible task (in this case involving the heist of a sacred family heirloom of one of Rodaas’ most prominent families) while simultaneously trying to find out more about her heritage and the city’s secrets and carrying out half a dozen other smaller schemes just for good measure. I think it’s a formula that works well and each book has been steadily increasing the stakes which stops the series feeling repetitive. I think it’s been doing a good job of gradually revealing the background world-building and we are starting to finally get a few answers about the mysterious figure Duchess only knows as “P” whose manipulations seem to be behind many of the events that are occurring. There’s also increasing depth to the world-building, with this book adding a focus on the battles for supremacy between the city’s different religious cults. If I had one criticism for the plotting it would be that occasionally Duchess’ elaborate schemes seem to work better than they have any right to, but this is a fairly small flaw. There is some acknowledgement that even Duchess can’t make everything always work out with a subplot in which one member of her gang does something which leads to a major moral dilemma in which she has to balance her own interests against the well-being of someone working for her.

The characterisation has always been good in the series and although the first book largely focused on Duchess and Lysander over time an interesting ensemble cast has built up, all of whom have their own motivations and agendas ranging from just wanting to build a life in a hostile city to more complex struggles for political advantage. It’s interesting to try to work out what all the different characters want, with many of them remaining fairly enigmatic so it’s difficult to really know how much a character like Minette is really a genuine ally to Duchess, although there are occasional exceptions where some characters seem a bit too willing to explain their motivations to someone they barely know.

Overall, I’d probably say this was a bit better than the first book and maybe not quite as good as “The Fall of Ventaris”. It is an entertaining book to read and I’m definitely interested in reading more of this story.

Rating : 8 / 10