Friday, 30 March 2007

'Shadowplay' - Tad Williams

This year looks to be another good one for fantasy and science fiction. Erikson, Abercrombie, Lynch and Martin have all got books that are either out or in the pipeline. The one that I've been waiting for is Tad Williams' 'Shadowplay'. I've been a big fan ever since I picked up 'The Dragonbone Chair' (way, way back in 1988!) and learnt that fantasy wasn't just cliched 'Dungeons and Dragons' style quests; there were politics that actually affected the story, things really weren't as they seemed and people actually died (and didn't come back!). The 'Otherland' series was just as good but I was always hoping that Tad would go back to Osten Ard and write something there again, the 'Shadowmarch' series isn't set in Osten Ard but it's fantasy so I'm happy.
'Shadowplay' continues directly on from the events of 'Shadowmarch'; Briony and Shaso are in self-imposed exile (trying to gain support in order to win back Southmarch Castle while Barrick and Ferras Vansen travel beyond the Shadowline for reasons they are yet to discover. The pact made, at the end of the first book, keeps the Qar army at the gates of Southmarch but how long will the truce hold? In Hierosol, Quinnitan tries put some distance between her and the evil schemings of the Autarch but she is important to his plans and he will not let her go that easily... Supporting characters, from the first book, also step to the fore (giving the book a more well rounded feel in terms of three dimensional characters). My favourite was the poet Matt Tinwright (who we discover isn't such a rogue after all) and the introduction of King Olin is also handled well, hopefully we'll see much more of him in the next book.
Tad has often been criticised for overplaying the 'worldbuilding' aspect of his books and producing 'bloated' epics that dwell too long on scenery. While 'Shadowplay' doesn't escape entirely unscathed from this, the book benefits from Tad concentrating more on the characters and how the plot develops. The story seems tighter and left me with a keen anticpation for book three (working title of 'Shadowrise').
Perhaps Tad could have paid just a little more attention to his geography though. A particular character's only escape route lies across miles of uninhabited countryside (and she has no food), placing a Goddess in her path (who's only purpose is to help) just comes across as the author having written himself into a tricky spot and taking the easy way out. Next time Tad; just add a couple of crofters cottages, they're always good to steal food from!
Overall though, a couple of fairly minor points didn't stop me wholeheartedly enjoying this read and I'm looking forward to finding out how this one ends.

Eight out of Ten

Thursday, 29 March 2007

'Twilight' - Stephanie Meyer

Bella Swann's mother has a new boyfriend, who travels a lot, so Bella makes the decision to leave the sunshine of Phoenix to live in the town of Forks (where her father is the police chief). It rains there all the time (sunshine is a rare thing indeed!) but Bella knows what Forks is like and reckons she can settle there for a while at least. Then, on her first day at high school, Bella meets Edward Cullen. Edward and his siblings keep themselves to themselves but he makes it very clear right from the start that he cannot stand to be anywhere near Bella (which is awkward as she finds him very attractive). The reason for this soon becomes clear, through some detective work on Bella's part, Edward and his family are all vampires and their world can be very dangerous for an unwary human. However, against Edward's better judgement, a relationship develops between him and Bella and things get very dangerous indeed...
As a rule I don't read books for young adults; I've got nothing against them, it's just that there lots more adult books out there that catch my eye and I want to read them first. Therefore I was suprised at how engaging this 'young adult' book (Atom Books) was. Although it was fairly obvious that Bella and Edward would get together, it was handled such that I wanted to know how it happened. The characters were well drawn as well, I particularly liked the involvement of the Indians from the Reservation (I wonder if we'll see werewolves in future books?). The dynamics of Edward's family were also interesting to observe although the fact that each of them have a 'special gift/power' seemed slightly contrived in a deus ex machina kind of way.
The other thing that jarred was the fact that, at times, Bella and Edward's courtship seemed just a little too perfect. Bella is portrayed as a clumsy teenager (who doesn't think much of her own looks) and an outsider but despite all this still manages to get herself a hundred year old (great looking!) perfect physical specimen of a vampire. And he will do absolutely anything for her! This is more than likely simply down to the book being written for a particular audience (teenage girls) but a more cynical reader (me!) would wonder if the author has got a wish fulfilment thing going on...
Conclusions? Teenage girls will absolutely love this book (and secretly wish they could find someone like Edward) and I can see it being a bit of a 'guilty pleasure' for adult readers as well. Despite it's problems, I'd be interested to see where the story goes from here. Thanks to George Walkley (Orbit Books) for supplying me with a copy of this book.

Six out of Ten

Wednesday, 21 March 2007

The Stories So Far...

Right now I'm well into Tad Williams latest book 'Shadowplay'and as soon as it's done I'll be posting my thoughts here (all good thoughts so far!). Next up (courtesy of the nice Mr George Walkley from Orbit Books) is 'The Execution Channel' (Ken Macleod) and 'Twilight' (Stephanie Meyer). Not going to give away too much yet (I only picked the books up this morning!) but 'Twilight' is a vampire love story whilst the press release for 'The Execution Channel' bills it as:

'A strikingly topical thriller, mixing character-led suspense and sweeping geo-politics to provide a radical and compelling snapshot of our world, fifteen minutes in the future'

Sounds like good stuff, it's release date is 6th April 2007 but I'll let you know what I think before then.

Monday, 19 March 2007

Ok you guys, listen up...

Here's the deal... I love reading sci-fi, fantasy and horror (and watching it at the cinema as well). I'll be posting here and telling you what what I think of what I've read and seen, all you need to do is read the blog and leave comments.
It's simple, isn't it?