by Rana Asfour
‘The Red Cobra’ is book one of a new series by Rob Sinclair featuring James Ryker (previously known as Carl Logan from the Enemy Series by the same author). Judging by my reviews of the previous series at the time, it is evident that I really (I mean REALLY) enjoyed them - hooked more like it. I was sad when the last of the books came out. I was so captivated by macho, no-feelings man Carl Logan and his enigmatic nemesis the Red Cobra, so lodged in the tough, brutally, fast paced and cold world of cloaks and daggers that when the time came for the last installment, I unwillingly acquiesced to the fact that my relationship with these characters had come to an end.
So of course, how thrilled was I, when author Rob Sinclair wrote in to say that actually there was MORE. I was over the moon and raced to purchase the new book ‘The Red Cobra’ and then proceeded to finish it (more accurately devour it) in one sitting. This is a fast paced, action packed thriller with strong female and male protagonists who despite all the brutality are more ‘human’. In terms of writing, this is probably one of Rob Sinclair’s best work to date.
After reading all of this author’s books, I believe that his success is down to writing skill as well as a knack for spell binding storytelling; A cognizant reader will find that words in the text are meticulously chosen, scene descriptions and dialogue are kept short and concise, and the plot sequence tight to the point that it takes only a few chapters into the novel for readers to surrender to a tale that not only runs smoothly along but is completely believable.
I’ll tell you another thing that made this book work for me: the short space of time between the release of the last of the Enemy Series books – ‘The Hunt for the Enemy’ and this one ‘The Red Cobra’ meant that the main characters in this new release were still fresh in my mind. With the gazillion books that I read, had Sinclair taken more time in between books, the job of remembering who was who and what was what would have been a tasking one. Trust me when I say not many readers will take the time out to remember or even have the time to go back and refresh their memory by re-reading up on previous books they thought they were done with. For that alone, well done team Sinclair! I should point out that to appreciate this book in no way implies that you should read the Enemy Series first – although really it does up the level of enjoyment particularly with regards to the identity of the Red Cobra when it’s revealed at the end of this book.
Now comes my dilemma. As this series is a spin off from the ‘Enemy Series’, then this book is essentially book one of a NEW series that nonetheless features the much familiar –but changed - character ‘Carl Logan’ operating under a new name. As someone who has read the entire Enemy series it felt like I was not only back to square one but there was a fear that my adored character was, to my horror, in peril of slipping into stagnation. There was slightly that but I’m just keeping the faith that the author has a solid plan to create a catalyst for James Ryker that will have him fighting his way back to the top of my top ten list of macho fictional characters in the sequels to follow.
However, I will concede that I perhaps feel this way because I am familiar with the previous series but not all readers of this book will be and so as Book One, it becomes the author’s responsibility to set the scene, draw the landscape and define the boundaries that James Ryker (to new readers a completely new character) is to operate his new life by and in that it succeeded beautifully.
With the first book in this new series, Sinclair has presented a question: Will the newly changed Logan be able to survive by the new rules he has set himself in a world that is prevalent with ghosts of the past and enemies that will not let him or those he loves be?
I, for one, will definitely be sticking around to find out.
The Blurb at the back of the book:
Carl Logan dedicated nearly twenty years of his life to the Joint Intelligence Agency. Now living in a secret location, under the new identify of James Ryker, he wants nothing more than to be left alone, the chance to start a new life away from chaos, violence, destruction and deceit.
It’s not long, however, before Ryker’s short-lived idyll is destroyed when he is tracked down by Peter Winter, his ex-boss at the JIA. Winter brings with him news of the murder of a woman in Spain, Kim Walker, whose fingerprints match those of one of Ryker’s former adversaries who’s been missing presumed dead for years - an infamous female assassin known as the Red Cobra.
A cyber attack at the JIA led to the Red Cobra’s profile being compromised, and Winter believes JIA agents may now be at risk too, Ryker included. But Ryker knew the elusive Red Cobra better than anyone, and when he sees the grisly pictures of Kim Walker’s corpse, he has news for Winter - she isn't the assassin at all.
So just who is the mystery dead woman? And where is the real Red Cobra?
by Rana Asfour
‘Scream of the Tasburai’ by Rehan Khan is the second instalment of the Tasburai Chronicles trilogy. Book one ‘Last of the Tasburai’ was released in 2015.
‘Scream of the Tasburai’ opens with a flashback to a battle scene in which a much younger Suri-Yi, the last of the Tasburai, is in battle with the Magrog who have crossed the Black Sea to seize hold of Avantolia. Followers of the trilogy will remember that this is the battle that eventually cements the Tasburai Order’s rule who then go on to establish the Republic of Avantolia. What readers find out now though is how exactly the victory was secured.
Suri-Yi we learn is the guardian of a secret weapon known as ‘The Scream’. It is a powerful sound wave that rises up through the belly of its executioner to ‘pulverize flesh, ground rocks to dust, scald grass … like a tidal wave, engulfing everything’ and leaving nothing in its wake. Ordered by the late Naram-Sin to unleash the power she carries inside her, she realizes when it’s over that she is forever changed. Burdened with immense guilt, she vows that she will do everything in her power so as never to have to unleash it again.
And so, with no unnecessary perambulation, the book’s first chapter jumps straight into where it left off in book one. Apprentice of the Tasburai Order Adan is still reeling from the discovery of an evil all-powerful dominating presence inside him who he blames for the killing of his childhood companion; Desperate to be rid of it, despite the fact that it would mean a diminishing of his powers, he has arrived to seek the advice of a Shufi who instructs him to travel to the dangerous land of the Magrog, the vicious bloodthirsty people who have again crossed the Black Sea to attack the lands of Avantolia. There he is to find the only person who can help him: the Magus. Believing that what he carries inside him is a gidm by the name of Vega, he sets out on his quest oblivious of the horrifying revelation that he will soon uncover.
Readers of book one know that the demon masters of the Magrog, their sister tribe the Yagrog and their terrifying partners the Xettin have crossed the Black Sea into Avantolia. Suri-Yi is convinced that victory against such a force can only be secured through a United Front made up of The Republic, Krakonite, Kronnoburg, and neighboring Pathan (the map at the forefront of the book is a big help). What she also knows is that such a move entails teaming up with some of Avantolia’s worst enemies. Additionally and while initially unknown to many of the characters including Suri-Yi, is the fact that setting its sight towards Avantolia is a new menace in town known as the Mogithrak; the creature ‘who smears filth upon the land; The concealer, the liar, the enchanter, the gilder’ who will not hesitate to burn the entire region to the ground.
And so as Suri-Yi heads with a force of ten thousand from Kronnoburg under the command of Olaf the Generous, to parlay with Avantolia’s chief enemy General Volek at Krakonite, the confrontation is anything but amiable and again alliances are reconfigured as Suri-Yi battles for her survival against an enemy that wants nothing more than to destroy her.
The valiant Captain Rikard from book one is now an army Major. Suri-Yi dispatches him East to personally petition the neighboring Maharaja of Pathan to join forces. We find him and his men, Brynjar the Blade, Bolt and Thord the Tracker in caves on the mountainous route of Kronnoburg about to encounter a troupe of hostile Xettin. At the last minute they are saved by the Alappahoe, a people who wear face paint with bodies smudged with a green powder that gives off a luminous glow when close to firelight. In return for ensuring the company’s safe passage through their terrain they ask that one of Rikard’s men stay behind. The choice falls on Bolt who as a reader I found so little mention of in this book that I’m slightly worried the author might forget all about him when book three comes along.
Ylva, daughter of Olaf the Generous, we now find pining to become a Tasburai warrior despite the wishes of Suri-Yi and her father. Her task is to lead the women, elderly and children to safety towards the fortress outside the Forbidden Quarter; A place where all the treasures of the ancient world are kept under guard by the Farheet against the Magrog and the Yagrog. Once there, it is not long before Ylva’s curiosity gets the better of her and she steals the keys to the forbidden doors to find out what exactly lies behind them. But the Farheet are expecting her and she finds out that it is she alone of the ‘pure heart’ that wields the weapon capable of destroying the advancing Mogithrak.
Queen Elsta of Kronnoburg, now dethroned and sold into slavery, is coming to terms with her demise. Angered and seeking to claim what is rightfully hers she is intent on fleeing captivity in order to seek out Chancellor Sargon who she believes will help her to set matters right. And so with the aid of her new friends, the handmaiden Sally and the sprightly clever Ode, she hatches her plan with confidence. Besides, with the seal of the house of Kronnoburg still in her possession as proof of her identity, what could possibly go wrong? Her journey as a character in this book is particularly interesting for although it starts as one born out of shock and a need for revenge, it also becomes one of empowerment, confidence and self-growth.
‘The Scream of the Tasburai’ is extremely good. It succeeds not only in creating a bridgeway to the third and final book but also for living up to the success of its predecessor. In fact, it trumps it. The writing in book two is stronger, more mature, with tighter chapters and a solid unwavering plot and subplots. There is an elevated level of tension through multiple unpredictable twists and turns as the characters get into place for a final showdown – locations shift, alliances change and truths blur. Loved characters die, old ones make a comeback and new ones are so superbly constructed and fleshed out that they fit in seamlessly without so much as a hiccup in the plotline.
The key behind the success of this middle book, I believe, lies in that the author has managed to strike the exact balance between giving background information for readers new to the trilogy and small reminders for those who have read book number one allowing the entire plot and subplots to unfold and move forward with ease. That said I am hesitant to recommend either book as a standalone novel for I personally believe that as a general rule maximum enjoyment and engagement is garnered when a trilogy is read in its proper sequence particularly so with regards the Tasburai Chronicles.
As with the first book, Khan masterfully manages in ‘Scream of the Tasburai’ to allow each and every one of his characters - the major players and the secondary ones, the familiar and the new - to enjoy a breadth of space that allows them to grow and develop in interestingly individual ways. In this book we learn more about some of our favourite characters’ histories and challenges, particularly Suri-Yi giving her not only more depth but revealing a vulnerable, more humane side that was missing in book one.
And just when followers of the trilogy think they have figured out how a story line might go, the author with deft genius turns everything on its head, changing the game in the process goading his readers on with something new with every turn of the page; Not only does this prove the strength of these characters to carry the weight of the story but they manage to hold the attention of the reader through and through.
And so, by the end of book two it’s anyone’s guess how it will all turn out for our valiant and villainous once book number three of the Tasburai chronicles comes into existence. I personally cannot wait to find out!
Rehan Khan, was born in Wimbledon, in 1971. His parents' home was close to the quintessential All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club and a bike ride away from Wimbledon Common. As a child he loved listening to swashbuckling tales of heroism and valour, as well as dabbling in science fiction. His debut novel was 'Last of the Tasburai'.
As his day job, Rehan is the Regional Consulting Director in the MENA region, for a FTSE 100 corporation. He has more than twenty years of experience in consulting, strategy, business planning, innovation, customer experience, marketing, product management, proposition development and business transformation. Rehan has worked across a number of industries including: telecoms, media, technology, real estate, private equity and executive education. He is also a professor at an international business school. Between 2009-10, Rehan was a business columnist for 'The National' newspaper in the UAE. Rehan holds a Master’s degree in applied social and market research, as well as an MBA in strategy. He lives in Dubai, with his wife and two children.