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  • Writer's picturePhil Parker

Recommendations for Santa sack 3

Looking for a book for someone special this Christmas? Not sure what to get them? We've asked some of our Speculative Faction friends to make some suggestions, hopefully they will present you with some great ideas! Why not check out their catalogue too? Here is the third in this series.

(There are links in the title to take you to Amazon, if that helps.)

Recommendations from Peter McLean

Hi, I’m Peter Mclean. I’m the author of the fantasy gangster thrillers Priest of Bones and Priest of Lies, published by Jo Fletcher Books and Ace/Roc, and recently optioned for TV by Heyday Television. My first novels, the Burned Man series, are noir urban fantasy. I have also worked on game tie-in short fiction for various franchises including Warhammer.

You can find me at , , and

So, what have I been reading this year? Less that I would like, in all honesty, as I’ve been busy with deadlines and contracts and all that good stuff, but here are three books that really stood out for me recently. They weren’t all published in the last year, but they were new to me and I enjoyed them enormously.

Rawblood by Catriona Ward

This was hands down my favourite read of the year so far. An unholy blend of Thomas Hardy, Shirley Jackson, and The Wasp Factory, this is a masterpiece of gothic horror. It’s not easy, and you have to pay attention, but wow. That was seriously impressive stuff.

Ironsheild by Edward Nile

A, for me at least, very rare foray into self-published books. I was absolutely sucked in by the brilliant cover art, which is how I discovered this book in the first place. It could definitely do with another edit but the premise and the worldbuilding, the whole idea of huge Dieselpunk battlemechs duking it out in a World War One analogue setting, is so damn cool I can forgive it anything. This was an awful lot of fun.

The Trouble With Peace by Joe Abercrombie

This one is a bit of a cheat as I’m still reading it and haven’t actually finished yet, but I know it isn’t going to disappoint. This is Abercrombie at his best; violent, snarky, cynical, and utterly engrossing with brilliant characters. The total deconstruction of capitalism that began with A Little Hatred kicks it up another notch with this book, and the humour flows as freely as the blood. Truly a master at work.

Recommendations from Patrick LeClerk

Patrick LeClerc makes good use of his history degree by working as a paramedic for an ever- changing parade of ambulance companies in the Northern suburbs of Boston. When not writing he enjoys cooking, fencing and making witty, insightful remarks with career-limiting candor. In the lulls between runs on the ambulance --and sometimes the lulls between employment at various ambulance companies-- he writes fiction. Find out more about Patrick via:

His site:



The Last Benediction in Steel by Kevin Wright

Wright combines noir detective prose with grim fantasy and supernatural horror, and blends them into a seamless tapestry of riveting entertainment as only he can. Once again Luther Slythe Krait, knight in tarnished armor, his axe wielding pagan sidekick Karl and his pious brother Stephan must navigate a labyrinth of intrigue and betrayal to unmask an eldritch horror which stalks the land, preying upon it's subjects.

Can he unearth the answer he seeks? And can he distinguish friend from foe among a rogue's gallery of unlikely allies and deadly enemies, each with their own hidden agendas and dark motives? The jury is still out on that, but he can certainly take the reader on a hell of ride trying.

Psycho Hose Beast From Outer Space by CD Gallant-King

This book is a lot of fun. Not surprising as I had previously read “Hell Comes toHogtown” and found it to be entertaining as hell. In fact, I would put him at the top of the list of Canadian horror humor authors, as soon as I find some more so I can actually make a list.

The book is told mostly from the viewpoint of a small group of school ages friends, who are caught up in a potential apocalypse as an ancient evil from beyond the star is wakened from its slumber in the depths of the ocean. It would not be inaccurate to describe the book as “Stranger Things meets H P Lovecraft in 1990s Canada.” If that sounds like a lot of fun, well, it is.

Like “Hell Comes to Hogtown,” the horror is solid, but I think the great strength of the book is the voice, the way Gallant-King really gets into the minds of his characters. The kids feel authentic, with all the baggage or adolescence as well as supernatural horror bearing down on them.

River of Thieves by Clayton Snyder

The characters are fun and well developed, and that is what carries the book. Told in the first person by Nenn, a veteran of the orphanage and the mills turned thief, who has taken up with Cord, a man with a curse and a mission. Cord is seemingly unkillable, returning to life after repeated "deaths" but each consecutive one seems harder and takes more out of him. His mission is to free the kingdom from the reign of callous and greedy nobles and the twisted magicians who support them.

While Cord's goal might be laudable, his methods are...let's say reckless. Our heroes’ journey is filled with well written fights and escapes and trickery and magic, and leaves a trail of chaos in its wake.

But that's not the point. The point is hanging out with Cord and Nenn and their friends and just basking in the banter. Seriously, if all they did was sail up the river and deliver pizza I'd read this book and love it.

Recommendations from Steven McKinnon

I’m a 34-year-old Glaswegian writer with four books to my name. Most of my work is within The Raincatcher’s Ballad, an epic fantasy series set in an industrialised world. The first novel, Symphony of the Wind, was selected as a finalist in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off in 2018, and nominated for’s Best Self-Published Fantasy the same year. I’m currently working on Book 3.

Website address:

Amazon page:


Twitter page:

Facebook link:


The Guns Above by Robyn Bennis

The Guns Above is a secondary world military fantasy, kind of like Steampunk meets the Napoleonic wars. There’s no magic here, but it features airships battles, humour, and dialogue that bounces back and forth like a frantic game of table tennis.

It’s not a grimdark story by any means, but the books I thought of the most while reading this were Joe Abercrombie’s First Law novels. Like that series, our protagonists include a tough, experienced war veteran who has a better instinct for war than the army’s inept and arrogant officers, and a preening, shallow fop who’s only interested in himself until he gets a taste of the real world. Archetypes we’ve seen before, but ones that possess a lot of potential to do something fresh with – which the author does.

Spit and Song by Travis M. Riddle

Spit and Song is a mesmerising fantasy buddy comedy set in a Jim Henson-esque wonderland, full of colourful (and all-too human) creatures.

We follow trader Kali and musician Puk on their cross-world race for a mystical artifact, as they butt heads and make friends along the way (and one or two enemies with a vested interest in said artifact...).

It's whimsical, yes, but it also deals with self-destructive impulses such as jealousy and imposter syndrome, and the things we do to tune that negativity out. Plenty of heart and humour makes it easy to rally behind the main characters.

Maybe some of the conflicts were resolved a little too easily and conveniently for my tastes, rendering a couple of minor characters a little flat - but then, I'm someone who enjoys grimdark and feeling every visceral punch, slash and bite during action scenes, so take that criticism with a grain of salt.

I look forward to stepping into this world again, and uncovering more of its charms and treasures.

Priest of Bones by Peter McLean

A solid, low fantasy that takes Peaky Blinders and Robin Hood and puts them through a stainless steel blender. We follow a host of good… Well, interesting characters newly returned from a gruelling war. Tomas Piety – army priest of Our Lady and leader of the Pious Men - is our eyes and ears in Ellinburg. His businesses have been taken away and his streets are no longer his. The war might be over, but accompanying Tomas on his mission to reclaim what he’s lost are his loyal second-in-command Bloody Anne, his hot-headed younger brother Jochan, and a host of other shady characters - including Billy the Boy, a young lad with a few tricks up his leave (and who provides our few glimpses at the magic that exists in this world).

Tomas metes our harsh justice but also lends an ear when needed – he cares for the men and women under his command. Of course, it’s not long before he’s caught up in the wider machinations of Ellinburg’s ruling class and is dragged into warren of conspiracy, bloody action and gangland revenge, all so he can protect his home from the horrors of war – and maybe line his pockets along the way.

Many thanks to Pete, Patrick and Steven for their recommendations! There will be more of our friends making their suggestions very soon!

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