Snakewood by Adrian Selby

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Snakewood by Adrian Selby

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: Think fantasy flavoured guerrilla warfare, add characters talking to camera in an authentic almost shaky camera style then put it in a book. That's Snakewood – a debut fantasy novel that dares to be different.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 432 Date: March 2016
Publisher: Orbit
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0356505527

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Kailen's Twenty are an elite; the type of mercenaries that live on in legend. It therefore stands to reason that the authorities want them dead but they aren't the only ones. As the guerrilla war between rebels and governing classes rages on, a lone assassin, as elite as the Twenty, unknown even to those on the same side is on their trail. Who is he and why the vendetta? The answer will be revealed one day to those still alive to hear it.

Welsh-born, Brighton adopted author Adrian Selby had worked in video gaming for 12 years before penning this, his debut novel. The result is a tale with that photogenic screen feeling based in a world that's been given a lot of thought. Textured background vies with adventure and the winners are we readers.

The story itself may be a variation on the old theme of mercenaries taking on the establishment but it's presented in a way that makes us wake up and take notice. We definitely need to pay attention as different first person viewpoints, accounts, reports and letters jump back and forth in time and intertwine to gradually give us a full picture. It may take us a while to get our head around everything and that feeling of bewilderment can sometimes be unsettling, but working through that challenge to the daylight moment of everything falling in to place is worth it. After all, we're in the middle of a war and war is meant to be disorientating.

Indeed from the start we're thrown into a bloody, gritty fight that's both immediate and real. It's rather as if we're watching shaky camera reportage from the war front on TV news. Also from the beginning we're treated as fighting brothers/sisters by both sides so, although it takes a little while for us to get our bearings, we're not short of information, encouragement and intrigue to keep us turning those pages.

Adrian brings us a world where people self-medicate to fight without fear or pain. (Although being blown apart has the same effect with or without 'brew' in the bloodstream.) This concoction is almost an interesting character in itself; not only does it have an uncomfortable 'come-down' but it dyes the skin from the inside out so that battle veterans have more than their scars to differentiate between them – they have a deeper 'colour'.

Once we get to know the protagonists we find ourselves plumping for both sides. Our initial loyalties are with the mercenaries and it's actually Gant, one of the Twenty who is the easiest voice to identify due to his distinctive dialect. However I have a soft spot for Kailen himself, a man worthy of his reputation. Wily, incredibly innovative and fearless, fighting has been his life and now he's looking forward to retirement with his wife and fellow fighter Araliah.

On the other side we grow to like Galathia, a future ruler whom the demise of the Twenty can only assist. Through her eyes we witness some particularly agonising forms of torture but war is a great leveller and Galathia has her own problems.

Some fantasy attributes are familiar, for instance the delicious suspense of realising that everyone's life is tipping precariously so we can't guess fates. Yet it's that hint of brave originality that will entice many, including gamers. Indeed from the crashing initial chapters through the gore and shocks, to the quieter back stories and that final, well sewn up ending, Adrian has produced a bridge between the console and the novel that may well have a feature film in it somewhere too.

(Thank you, Orbit, for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: If this appeals, we also recommend Of Bone and Thunder by Chris Evans a fantasy 'rewrite' of the Viet Nam war by a war historian.

Buy Snakewood by Adrian Selby at Amazon You could get a free audio download of Snakewood by Adrian Selby with a 30-day Audible free trial at

Buy Snakewood by Adrian Selby at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Snakewood by Adrian Selby at

Buy Snakewood by Adrian Selby at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Snakewood by Adrian Selby at


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