Book Review: Sockpuppet 🐷 (The Martingale Cycle), by Matthew Blakstad

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date: 19th May 2016 [Paperback Jan 2017]

Source: My own purchased copy [Kindle]

Sockpuppet introduces us to the computing icon, Elyse Martingale, and a digital world where her ideas attract a cult following that will shock the unsettling theme of online integrity to life, until it crackles with startling realism.

We often adopt a questionable nonchalance to how our online presence is stockpiled leaving behind a imprint of our life as we volunteer a little more of ourselves with every browsing session, online conversation or purchase, however private we think it is.

Here, hostility erupts between the government’s launch of a program called DigiCitz (Digital Citizen) which promotes the ideology that a secure online record of every person can exist, and those working to expose the flaws of its so-called unhackable system in order to protect the public by exposing its vulnerabilities with maximum impact.

The attack starts with virtual mudslinging at the minister responsible for the DigiCitz implementation. It originated on server running a social networking program called “Parley”, which hosts artificial personalities coded to auto-interact with real-life users with responses influenced by sourcing data via the internet.

This interaction is known as “proffering” and one particular “proffer” planted the seed of doubt that the system was not infallible. The problem being is this information came from sic_girl, a handle of one of the artificial personalities and no one can trace where “she” retrieved the cringingly confidential information which has been made very, very public.

There’s so much ingenuity to this story, it’s actually scary: why are selected personal attacks being belched into the ether now? And exactly how have the “Giggly Pigglies” invaded everyone’s home page with their familiar little dance, and is it to amuse or distract?  

No doubt our reliance on technology makes it impossible for us to function without a presence on the internet in some capacity or other. But behind every wicked life-changing app is a Wizard of Oz who has the power to influence our lives with their creations.

If I’d thought I would be alienated by the obscure talk of hackers’ encryption and the snorefest of parliamentary humdrum, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The terminology is easily relatable, told through both credible and relevant narration, and its tension is snap-worthy – I consumed this addictive book in one deliriously awesome sitting, it was that good.

Rating:  5/5

(Courtesy of Amazon)

Twitter. Facebook. Whatsapp. Google Maps. Every day you share everything about yourself – where you go, what you eat, what you buy, what you think – online. Sometimes you do it on purpose. Usually you do it without even realizing it. At the end of the day, everything from your shoe-size to your credit limit is out there. Your greatest joys, your darkest moments. Your deepest secrets.

If someone wants to know everything about you, all they have to do is look.

But what happens when someone starts spilling state secrets? For politician Bethany Leherer and programmer Danielle Farr, that’s not just an interesting thought-experiment. An online celebrity called sic_girl has started telling the world too much about Bethany and Dani, from their jobs and lives to their most intimate secrets. There’s just one problem: sic_girl doesn’t exist. She’s an construct, a program used to test code. Now Dani and Bethany must race against the clock to find out who’s controlling sic_girl and why… before she destroys the privacy of everyone in the UK.

SOCKPUPPET is part of the Martingale cycle, a series of interconnected novels exploring the life of computing pioneer and political radical Elyse Martingale – and her strange afterlife in the 21st century.


(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Matthew writes pacy, character-driven fiction that explores the impact of technology on how we live and who we are. His first novel, Sockpuppet, is out in May 2016. Sockpuppet is book one of the Martingale Cycle, a series of interconnected novels exploring the life of computing pioneer and political radical Elyse Martingale – and her strange afterlife in the 21st century. Matthew’s first career was as a professional child actor. From the age of ten, he had roles in TV dramas on the BBC and ITV, in films and at theatres including London’s Royal Court. After graduating from Oxford with a degree in Mathematics and Philosophy, he began a career in online communications. He now works in the public sector, helping people understand and manage money. 


Since reading this book I am delighted to hear I’ve won a copy of Lucky Ghost  by this same author in a recent Goodreads giveaway! A very, very, VERY happy reader here!



Way Down Dark: (Australia Book 1) by J P Smythe

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton  |  Published: 2nd July 2015  |  Edition: Paperback (Goodreads)

Way Down Dark by J P Smythe

There’s one truth on Australia.

You fight or you die.

Usually both.

Imagine a nightmare from which there is no escape.

With its fast flowing text and edgy storyline I ploughed through it and wanted to read EVERYTHING as quickly as my brain would process!

Welcome to Australia, but not as you know it…

A floating version of the continent, a metallic vessel of mammoth proportions, houses a population leading a bleak and grim existence in space – each day brings its own challenges and it’s simply a matter of staying alive as long as you can.

Over time, each section of the ship has morphed into its own version of ‘civilisation’; be it religion, agriculture, bartering for goods, or merely the lust for power. But one constant remains: the hunger to survive at any cost.

The fine line between living and existing is often in the balance and there are some hard decisions to be made – forget crocodiles and poisonous spiders, THIS ‘Australia’ is a selfish, barbaric and a far more dangerous place to live.

With plenty of harsh choices to make and cruel truths that emerge, sixteen year old Chan’s life is tougher than most. As the story progresses you learn more about her life, her capabilities and her interactions with the rest of the inhabitants, who are all contained in this eroding environment they call home.

I’m not going to offer anything too in depth about the story, as I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who is yet to read it. I’ll just say that a superb, action-led series of events unfold throughout (with a few moral dilemmas too) and my attention didn’t waiver at any point.

It has a fantastic build up and a momentous twist, although I did feel that the final events were a little hurried as I approached the last hurdle. In the grand scheme of things that’s irrelevant, as it hasn’t stopped me craving part two already. Oh, no. After THAT cliff-hanger, the lure is too great.

Rating: 4/5

(My sincere thanks to Goodreads First reads and the Publisher for selecting my name from the ‘giveaway hat’ for a chance to read and review this book.)

Find the Publisher on Twitter: @hodderbooks / @hodderscape / @chapter5books

Way Down Dark Author Graphic 2

Follow the author on Twitter: @jpsmythe  |  Author’s Website:  James Smythe

Buy the Book that James Dawson describes as:

“A dark and brutal new YA Trilogy with a heroine that could whup Katniss any day of the week.”

Amazon UK  |  Waterstones

 The ‘Official’ Book Blurb

Imagine a nightmare from which there is no escape.

Seventeen-year-old Chan’s ancestors left a dying Earth hundreds of years ago, in search of a new home. They never found one.

This is a hell where no one can hide.

The only life that Chan’s ever known is one of violence, of fighting. Of trying to survive.

This is a ship of death, of murderers and cults and gangs.

But there might be a way to escape. In order to find it, Chan must head way down into the darkness – a place of buried secrets, long-forgotten lies, and the abandoned bodies of the dead.

This is Australia.

Seventeen-year-old Chan, fiercely independent and self-sufficient, keeps her head down and lives quietly, careful not to draw attention to herself amidst the violence and disorder. Until the day she makes an extraordinary discovery – a way to return the Australia to Earth. But doing so would bring her to the attention of the fanatics and the murderers who control life aboard the ship, putting her and everyone she loves in terrible danger.

And a safe return to Earth is by no means certain.