Friday, 30 November 2007

‘The World of Quest (Part One)’ – Jason Kruse (Yen Press)

It turns out that Yen Press aren’t just doing Manga, they’re also releasing comic book adaptations of cartoon shows. ‘The World of Quest’ is one of these and while it hasn’t quite made me want to go out and get a TV licence (so I can watch the show) it did make me chuckle on the tube to work.
What do you do if you’re a Prince whose father has gone missing and whose kingdom is in danger? It’s simple; you go and find the hero with the biggest jaw in the kingdom and get him to help you. What if he doesn’t want to help you though? That’s where the fun begins…
‘The World of Quest’ is a quick read, a little too quick in fact. Although there was plenty going on it ended rather suddenly and left me thinking, ‘oh… was that it?’ I enjoyed the artwork, nice and bright with plenty to look at. Ideal for a guy who’s trying to wake up on the way to work! There are also plenty of original ideas that mark ‘The World of Quest’ out from other fantasy comics in a light hearted way. I particularly liked the walking prisons and Quests innovative way of escaping one of these! There’s plenty of humour evident but it’s very much aimed at the 8-10 year old audience that would be watching the cartoon on TV. It made me laugh (I really should try growing up one day…) but it may not be to your taste.
The relationship between Nestor (the Prince) and Quest has been likened to Calvin and Hobbes. To be honest I didn’t see this at all but it may become more apparent in later books. Their interaction is full of quips and a mutual dislike based on each other’s perceived superiority to the other, should be fun to see how this one develops.
‘The World of Quest’ is a quick fun read but at a first glance feels like it probably worked better as a twenty minute cartoon rather than a 140 page comic book. Maybe this will change as the series grows. In the meantime though, it’s definitely one for the kids or maybe for you if you fancy something light and not taxing…

Six out of Ten

Thursday, 29 November 2007

‘The Awakened Mage’ – Karen Miller (Orbit Books)

Karen Miller’s ‘The Innocent Mage’ has been touted as one of Orbit’s big successes, this year, and having read the book it’s not hard to see why. Although it didn’t do anything particularly original what made it stand out for me was the depth of characterisation that made me want to spend six hundred odd pages with these people. By the time it came round to the cliff-hanger ending I really felt that I had invested a lot of time in Asher, and Gar, and was looking forward to seeing how the sequel tied things up. I took ‘The Awakened Mage’ to Vienna with me and although the pages flew by it was too often for the wrong reasons and I finished the book feeling a little disappointed at how things had turned out.
Following the climax of ‘The Innocent Mage’, Prince Gar now finds himself King and entrusted with the weather magic that protects the kingdom of Lur. Faithful Asher is always at hand to help his friend but will eventually be called upon to help in a way that will reveal his powers to all and will hasten the ascendancy of an ancient evil. The fate of the kingdom will depend on Asher being able to accept his part in an ancient prophecy…
‘The Awakened Mage’ has much to offer in the same way that it’s predecessor did, if you’re already a fan then I think you’ll get something positive out of it. Miller really excels in showing her characters as real people that the reader can identify with and places them in situations that almost had me holding my breath while waiting for resolution. Some particularly intense moments really held my attention and had me right there in the book living it out.
It’s a real shame then that these moments felt few and far between, stuck in the middle of endless conversations (and character descriptions) that showed how people were feeling but did little to advance the plot. There were times when I felt like saying, “I know how such and such a character is feeling but can we please get on with the story?” I even ended up skim reading large chunks of conversation which I meant I ended up missing important bits and having to go back. Because of this padding, it felt like the ending was rushed when perhaps more time could have been taken over it. Out of a six hundred and eighty-page book, only twenty or so pages dealt with the climax and maybe it’s just me but I don’t think it was enough.
The other problem I had was the use of prophecy to advance the story. I think ‘prophecy’ is a hard subject to tackle in any book, rely on it too much and it just looks like you’re using it as a way to get your characters out of trouble (I’m looking at you Mr Eddings!). Without giving away too much, Asher is rescued from quite a sticky situation by a prophecy that seems to have every base covered. Maybe that’s the whole point of prophecy (that it will happen) but it just felt contrived to me, almost like a cop-out. I would rather have seen Asher use his magic to escape instead of being rescued by prophecy, it almost rendered the scene in question pointless as you knew that it would work out fine.
As I said earlier, if you enjoyed ‘The Innocent Mage’ then I think there will be plenty here that you’ll like. For me though, I was left with the impression of a good series that could have been great. Apparently Karen Miller will be revisiting the world of Lur in the future, it will still be interesting to see what happens next.

Six out of Ten

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

‘Another One Bites The Dust’ – Jennifer Rardin (Orbit Books)

Last month I read ‘Once Bitten, Twice Shy’, a fast paced and fun book about a vampire assassin (and his feisty assistant) working for the US government. It reminded me of a more light-hearted (yet more hard hitting at the same time) version of ‘Blade’ and it made a nice change to the ‘urban fantasy’ that I’ve read so far this year. When its sequel, ‘Another One Bites The Dust’, came through the door I was looking forward to some more of what I’d read before. I didn’t quite get what I was after but I had fun anyway.
After some time off (following the events of ‘Once Bitten’) Jaz and Vayl are hot on the trail of Chien-Lung, a dragon obsessed vampire clothed in invulnerable armour and looking to start a war with America. How do you kill a vampire whose armour makes him impervious to assault? Jaz and Vayl are about to find out and along the way will also get to grips with a new breed of monster and dreams that can kill…
Although ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ builds on some of what is learnt in ‘Once Bitten’ it doesn’t do a lot that is new. It’s very formulaic and I’m not sure if that’s such a good thing in a series that is only two books old. Having said that though this series is shaping up to be very much like a supernatural James Bond and ‘formula’ seems to work just fine there…. I think the best way to put it would be that Rardin’s books are very unpretentious and ‘up front’ about what they offer the reader. You definitely know what you’re getting for your money but, at the same time, you also know what you won’t be getting as well. I’m still up for reading more but these are very much a ‘commuter’ read rather than a ‘curl up in front of the fireplace for several hours’ read.
The story itself is just as entertaining as the last but there was a lack of intrigue (no treacherous moles here!) which made it feel as if there wasn’t that much actually happening. Don’t get me wrong, there were fights, car chases and plenty of explosions but very no moments where I thought, ‘oh, so that’s what’s going on!’ Sometimes I like to be told stuff and sometimes I like to puzzle things out for myself, maybe I was just in the wrong mood to read this book.
While some things about Jaz are made clearer, it felt that not enough was said. This meant that when she got ‘supernatural help’ from Raoul it just felt like Rardin was bailing Jaz out rather than things happening for a reason. However, enough hints are dropped to suggest that we’re going to get proper answers soon; hopefully things will make sense when placed in a wider context.
One thing that I’m still enjoying though is the gradual development of relationships between the people in Jaz’ new ‘crew’. Jaz’ character in particular shows depth in her struggle to accept new friends so soon after losing old ones. However, I’m a little bit wary of the ‘little bit more than just friends’ thing that is growing between Jaz and Vayl and I’m hoping this one doesn’t go down certain paths…
If you liked ‘Once Bitten’ then I reckon you’ll have just as much fun with ‘Another One Bites The Dust’ but it didn’t quite work for me this time round. Maybe I was after a little more this time, I don’t know. There’s still enough here to make me want to try the next book though so we’ll see how that goes…

Six and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Mystery Book Giveaway - The Winner!

All of you guys who wondered if this was a copy of Kate Elliott's 'Spirit Gate'... you were bang on the money, it is indeed that book. Unfortunately for you though (unless you already have a copy that is) that wasn't what you had to do in order to win... ;o)
Without further ado, the winner is...

Karl Wehage, British Columbia, Canada

Nice one Karl, your book will be in the post very soon. Happy reading!
If you didn't win this time, thanks for entering and there will be more chances to get your hands on free stuff in the very near future...

Monday, 26 November 2007

The Return of... Holidaywatch!

Did you guys all have a good weekend? I did, although the weather was a little chilly, I was in Vienna! Despite one of the engines failing on the runway, on Friday afternoon, we finally made it into Vienna airport several hours late and with no idea what we were supposed to be doing (or where we were supposed to be staying). A good friend of ours had arranged everything but couldn't make it so all we had to go on were the bits of paper he was able to give us. Luckily some fellow travelers and a nice taxi driver took pity on us and we made it to our hotel.
I'm not going to bore you with the 'blog equivalent' of me showing you a bunch of holiday pictures (although I did look good), I'm just going to give you a quick list of reasons why you should visit Vienna if you haven't already...

The Food! I don't think we ate a single bad meal while we were there, we certainly ate several good ones that left us just wanting to curl up somewhere and get some sleep. If you go; be sure to try the roast goose, schnitzel and langos. My not so little stomach is getting nostalgic right now :o)

The Culture! I'm not really into history and all of that but some of the sights we saw took my breath away. The Freud museum wasn't so great but we did get to hang out in his waiting room which isn't something a lot of people can say ;O) If you're a fan of cathedrals and stuff then you should spend time in Vienna, the Cathedral in the Stephansplatz is amazing and another good thing to do is jump on a tram and just spend your time looking out of the window...

Now, I'm one of those people who get all hot under the collar when the Christmas stuff goes in the shop window as soon as Halloween is over. Not any more though, a weekend spent going round the Christmas Fayre (in Rathaus) means that I am more excited than ever about the festive season! Hot punch, good food along with lots of Christmas decorations everywhere. And I mean everywhere, not just on the market stalls but all over the trees and church as well. I'm feeling pretty darn festive now :o)

I'm a little bit sad to be back (it was great) but I only have a four day working week and a fair bit of stuff to blog about before the month is up. I've just finished Jennifer Rardin's 'Another One bites the Dust' and am getting to the closing stages of Karen Miller's 'The Awakened Mage'. I've also got a winner for my mystery competition to announce tomorrow...

Friday, 23 November 2007

‘In the Eye of Heaven’ – David Keck (Tor Books)

La Gringa (aka 'The Swivet') sent this book my way and, after coming off the back of what feels like a lot of sci-fi reading, I was looking forward to getting back into some epic sounding fantasy. I stayed up late last night to finish this one but this wasn’t always the case. In fact, there were a couple of times when I almost put the book down and didn’t bother picking it back up again.
Durand is a squire halfway through his life’s plan of becoming a knight and settling down to run a fiefdom on his father’s land. This backfires in the most dramatic way and Durand is left to fend for himself. Falling in with a band of mercenary knights forces Durand to witness the worst excesses of the Duke who pays them, his next job is working for a Lord who is no less obsessed with a mission to restore his honour. And all the while, Durand is steadily becoming a focus for the wild magic that is slowly creeping back into the kingdom…
‘In the Eye of Heaven’ is (for me) a book of three parts, two extremely good bits with a period in the middle where things felt slack. Get past that bit in the middle and you’ll be rewarded with a very good read that promises good things for ‘In a Time of Treason’ (the sequel). Keck’s world is suffused with myth, legend and a liberal dose of old English culture. It’s a world that you can become totally immersed in but this sometimes happens at the expense of the story you’re supposed to be reading. There were a couple of times, in the middle part of the book, where the telling of ancient legends completely took over the plot and I was left thinking ‘but what about the story?’ Another thing that got me was that a long journey, through a forest, seemed to be punctuated with confrontations and fights that did little to advance the plot. It felt to me that Keck had realised long forest journeys can be tedious and felt like he should throw some stuff into spice things up.
This all sounds like I hated ‘In the Eye of Heaven’ but the feeling I came away with was one of enjoyment. Without giving too much away the various plot elements sat together very well and combined to keep my attention throughout. The politics (of which there were a lot) were not overdone, focussing more on the politics of the tourney field rather than those of state. Durand’s character is very well drawn and you actually get to see him develop, over the course of the book, into a completely different person than when he started out. Some of what he has to go through will really have you feeling for him, ‘In the Eye of Heaven’ is described as ‘gritty fantasy’ and this is certainly true! Durand’s ordeals are no different than any other knight-errant, that you will encounter in other books, but Keck’s skill makes these ordeals fresh and engaging.
‘In the Eye of Heaven’ is a difficult read but one that is ultimately rewarding and promises a lot for its sequel. I’m looking forward to reading more from David Keck, if you’re a fantasy fan then I reckon you should give him a go.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 22 November 2007

New Amazon e-book reader the future of reading?

Just before I got yelled at for peering over someone's shoulder to read their paper (on the tube) I noticed an article about how Amazon have come up with an e-book reader (the 'Kindle') that "may signal the death of the humble paperback". Without stopping to think how hardback sales may be affected (get it?) I immediately jumped off at the next stop, went home and burnt every single one of my books in a massive bonfire of literary distruction. There's no way I'm going to be seen with books when the Kindle is the way forward, right?
Actually what I really did was think, "nope, not for me" and carry on reading my humble paperback (after apologising for my anti-social newspaper reading behaviour). I'm not denying that it looks pretty cool (if you want something that looks like it could also double as a geiger counter) but I'm pretty old fashioned in a lot of ways and will stick with reading books just as they are.
For me the act of reading a book means that I actually have a book in my hands, not an electronic gadget where book storage (and display) is almost peripheral to all the other great stuff that it can do. A book is representational of all the work put in by the author, cover artist, editorial staff and many others. To me, an e-book reader is only representational of some amazing technical work (nothing to do with books at all).
The somewhat prohibitive price is also offputting, $400 is a lot of money even if the US Dollar/Stirling exchange rate is working in my favour right now ;o) What really swung it for me though is that I'm less likely to be mugged for a paperback than I am for a cool looking electronic gadget that I'm reading on the train. Think about it...
Having said all of that though, am I missing out on a great e-reading experience? Let me know if you have an e-book reader and can't be parted from it...

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

‘The Stupidest Angel’ – Christopher Moore (Orbit Books)

It’s not often that I get to sit at my desk and read a book when I should be working. In fact I never get to do this at all! However, a power cut that has lasted most of the day meant that I could take it easy and finish off ‘The Stupidest Angel’ (a book that I started on the train last night).
I’ve read a few books by Christopher Moore and have to say that I never really got the joke, until now that is. I’ve just spent the last few hours, at my desk, trying not to laugh out loud at brain eating zombies, a psychotic ex-film star and a seven year old child with an interesting way of describing wine. This is a book that I’ll be reading every Christmas!
The yuletide season has arrived in the sleepy town of Pine Cove but a little boy (who thinks he has just seen Santa being killed) is about to inadvertently condemn the town to a night of terror. His wish, for Santa to come back to life, is picked up by the Archangel Raziel who (not being the brightest Angel in the heavenly choir) completely misunderstands what is being asked for. Cue the zombies…
‘The Stupidest Angel’ is only a couple of hundred pages long so this isn’t going to be a particularly long review! Suffice it to say that there weren’t very many pages where I didn’t find something that made me chuckle at least. The surreal humour is very much along the lines of Robert Rankin and the situational ‘comedy of errors’ reminded me (a little bit) of P.G Wodehouse. The ‘seasonal relationship breakup syndrome’, which was prevalent throughout, also lent the proceedings a touch of pathos which offset the comedy nicely but also made me want to invest a little more time getting to know the characters (rather than just reading a story). The characters themselves can be found in many of Moore’s other works, making ‘The Stupidest Angel’ either a great place to get reacquainted with old friends or a good point to start reading these books. I mentioned before that some of the situational stuff was sublime, I particularly enjoyed the meeting between Theo and Tuck (cannabis growing policeman and accessory to murder) while the drug induced demons that Molly and Theo faced (just to buy each other the perfect Christmas present) were funny yet strangely touching at the same time.
There were moments where the jokes didn’t quite work but I’d say that was more down to my taste in humour than any failing on Moore’s part.
On the whole, I really enjoyed ‘The Stupidest Angel’. Any book that can carry off the line “No-one knows why, but second only to eating the brains of the living, the dead love affordable prefab furniture” (and this book does) will sit comfortably on my bookshelf!
’The Stupidest Angel’ is a fun, fast read that pretty much hot the spot for me laughter wise, a nice little stocking filler for any fan of the genre.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Mystery Book Giveaway!

I've been sent two copies of the same book to review and I only need the one. Would you like a copy of the other one? You would? Drop me a line (email address in the right hand corner) and I'll let you know who won it next Tuesday.

What's that?

I haven't mentioned the name of the book?

Well here's the thing, I'm not going to tell you what it's called :o) All I'm going to say is that it's got giant eagles in it (it's not 'LOTR' or 'The Hobbit') and I'm looking forward to reading it soon.
Still interested? Drop me an email...

Good luck!

Monday, 19 November 2007

‘The Inferior’ – Peadar O Guilin (David Fickling Books)

I’d heard nothing but good things about Peadar O Guilin’s ‘The Inferior’ so when I was offered the chance to review it I was looking forward to settling down for a good read. I started it on the train to work and began with the blurb on the inside cover. You can imagine my reaction when the last paragraph of the blurb pretty much gave away the point of the whole story… I read it again just to be certain of what I’d seen, it was still there. Despite this, I figured that I’d give the book a go anyway. I’m really glad I did this, ‘The Inferior’ is a captivating book that I only reluctantly surfaced from to do things like work, eat and talk to my wife.
Stopmouth’s tribe ekes out a day to day existence, hunting rival species for their meat or bartering the weakest of their own kind when stocks in the larder are running low. As someone with a speech impediment, Stopmouth is seen as weak and expected to ‘volunteer’ for the flesh trade sooner rather than later (especially as his brother has a nasty habit of stealing his thunder). This changes though when a strange woman falls from the sky, an event that will affect not only Stopmouth but also his entire world.
‘The Inferior’ is a book where there is always something happening and this steady chain of events hooked me until long after I’d actually finished reading. There’s no lull at all but because everything ties in neatly together it never seemed like overkill and I just wanted to keep reading. ‘Survival of the fittest’ is taken to an entirely new level and if you’re picking this book up be prepared to see people doing whatever it takes to make it. Fair play to O Guilin for not ducking away from spelling out what this involves. The only (small) issue that I had with this was that sometimes I wasn’t sure whether I was reading a ‘Young Adult’ novel (which this is billed as) or something more adult. I haven’t got a problem with either of these, it’s just nice sometimes to know what I’m reading.
‘The Inferior’ is a book about cannibalism and this is dealt with in a manner both graphic yet strangely matter of fact at the same time. It’s not glossed over but neither is it over-dramatised, I think O Guilin gets the balance spot on here and manages to steer this theme nicely into cultural and religious avenues that are pivotal to the whole book.
For the tribe that spends its days fighting for survival Stopmouth’s people are a lot more than just savages. They are all well drawn and fleshed out (no pun intended) who function well as a tribe and are not above politicking to ensure that they get their way, an absorbing study all by itself.
I really enjoyed ‘The Inferior’ and would recommend it to anyone who’s thinking about picking up a science fiction book for the first time. While it is a ‘young adult’ book there is enough there for an older reader to enjoy the read without feeling too guilty! The only thing I would say is that if you do pick this up then don’t read the blurb before you’ve read the book itself…

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Sunday Confessional

No, not that kind of confession! A book related one… Every couple of years or so I find that my tastes in fantasy literature suddenly take a nose dive. I don't want Machiavellian plots in various shades of grey. I don't want the person who I think is the hero to die within the first hundred pages and I certainly don't want a villain who turns out to be all vulnerable and ultimately heroic!

No, what I'm after is far more simple. I don't want to have to think about what I'm reading or grapple with a cast of thousands, I'm after being spoon fed with fantasy mush. You know what I mean, the kind of book you read when you've got the flu or with a big bowl of ice cream. You know it's rubbish but you end up reading it anyway. Yes, I'm talking about guilty pleasures.

Mine is David Eddings' 'Belgariad', a series where 'prophecy' is the ultimate deus ex machina and sits alongside every single cliché you can think of (I haven't found a dragon yet but I'm sure there's one hidden away somewhere). I know it's rubbish, even while I'm reading it for the hundredth time, but I just can't help myself and I know that I'll be reading them again (you'll be pleased to hear that the same cannot be said for the 'Mallorean'!). It's comfort reading, pure and simple. Every now and then I want to read a book where I just know that the ending will be a happy one, I reckon you're the same too.

Now you know my 'guilty secret', how about yours? Which book is it that you settle down with when it's grey and horrible outside (even though you know you've got at least ten better reads sitting on the shelf)? Which book is that you'll quite happily mock but somehow never seems to find it's way from your bookshelf to the charity shop?

Don't be shy, fess' up! ;o)

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Aidan interviews Bloggers (including me!)

Remember last week when I was talking about bloggers who manage to come up with all the great ideas before I do? Well, this week it's the turn of Aidan over at A Dribble of Ink. If you click on the link you'll find a really great interview that he carried out with a number of bloggers including my good self! I don't think I've read a single bad post from any of the bloggers involved and Aidan asks a load of questions that really give you an idea of what goes on in our heads when we're reading books and writing reviews. Part One of the interview is up today (it is a pretty big interview!) and Part Two should be coming along soon. Head on over and have a look!

Friday, 16 November 2007

'Stealing Light' Competition - The Winners!

Well, I was going to review this but in the end decided to give another copy away instead. So, without further ado, the three winners are...

Richard Blakeley, Dunedin, New Zealand

Elizabeth Pacey, UK

Doug McEachern, Brooklyn, US

Well done guys, your books will be with you soon!
If you didn't win this time round, better luck next time (and there will be a next time, including something pretty cool I've got planned for December).
In the meantime, the next few days will see a review of the quite frankly brilliant 'The Inferior' (Peadar O Guilin) amongst other things. I've also got David Keck's ' In the Eye of Heaven' and J.V. Jones' 'A Sword from Red Ice' on the go as well (both of which are looking good so far).

Thursday, 15 November 2007

'The Winter of the World' - Michael Scott Rohan (A Quick Plug!)

'The Anvil of Ice'
'The Forge in the Forest'
'The Hammer of the Sun'

You don't really see these books much in bookstores nowadays but if you happen to come across them (in a second hand bookshop) then pick them up straight away. This first trilogy in the 'Winter of the World' series is well worth a look.
The series is set in a world, not unlike our own, that is encroached upon by relentless walls of ice (driven by 'Powers' that hate the filth of humanity). Our hero, 'Alv', is born into this world as a farmhand but by the end will find himself standing side by side with royalty. You're probably thinking that you've heard this one before but you'd be wrong. Alv has a gift for smithcraft and although there is a 'destiny' involved (that goes far beyond mere royalty), his real quest is to put right the wrongs that his smithcraft causes right at the very beginning of the first book.
There are some tedious descriptions of smithcraft but get through them and you'll be rewarded with a series that foreshadows authors such as Brian Ruckley and J.V.Jones. Even now when I read this series, I'm still surprised by the twists and turns that Rohan employs. The ending is a real shocker and a lot of things suddenly make sense. A richly drawn world that is only rivalled by the superb Ian Miller artwork on the covers. Anyone who is a fantasy fan should pick these up if they haven't already.
There is another (looser) trilogy that comes after this one, more on that another time.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

'Hell's Belles' - Jackie Kessler (Kensington Books)

There once was a time when I read nothing but 'epic fantasy' and didn't really care much for what else was out there. Running the blog (and seeing what books come through the door) has really opened my eyes to what else is on the bookshelves and what is popular right now. The success of a certain blonde vampire killer, on the TV, has set off a similar trend in the world of books and it seems like every publishing house has at least one author (usually more) who can churn out the latest instalment of some teenager who has anger management issues where the undead are concerned. Laurell K. Hamilton is the prime suspect and Kelley Armstrong has a neat line in werewolves and witches, Jennifer Rardin and Lilith Saintcrow are also making inroads into the genre. I've read about vampires and werewolves but what I hadn't seen (until now) was a book where the protagonist was a female demon. Enter Jackie Kessler with her tales of Jezebel, a succubi on the run from Hell and working in a lap-dancing club to make ends meet. In a neat twist from the usual fare; it's the demon that falls in love with a human this time round, a man with a few secrets of his own…
That's about as much as I can tell you though because I got halfway through the book and put it down, probably won't pick it up again. It wasn't that it was badly written or lacking in originality, the story flowed well and it was interesting to see Jezebel adapting to life in a human body. Yet again, the problem I had with a book of this nature is the overabundance of sex. You could turn around and say; “well what were you expecting? This is a book about a succubi!” You’d be absolutely right in that respect, a book about a sex demon is (by it’s very nature) going to contain a lot of sex. It’s just I think there are a lot more ways to spice up a story like this than simply covering it in sex. We’re talking about demons here; creatures with enormous strength and many other magical gifts, plenty of scope to write an entertaining story. I don’t have a problem with sex in books generally, just when I think it’s overdone.
What I will say in Kessler’s favour is that if you’re a fan of this sub-genre then you could do a lot worse than check her books out. I reckon you’d like them, they’re just not for me.
In fact, if you’re a fan of paranormal romance/urban fantasy and you’d like to try this book out (and the sequel ‘The Road to Hell’) drop me a line and I will send you the two signed copies that I received. I probably won’t read them and it would be good if they could go to someone who would enjoy them. First come, first served with this one!

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

‘Queen of Candesce (Book Two of Virga)’ – Karl Schroeder (Tor Books)

Even if the words inside turn out to be absolutely awful I’m always a sucker for a book with a cool looking cover. This scattergun approach has led me to some great finds but, at the same time, has also led me to some books that I am even now trying my hardest to forget. When ‘Queen of Candesce’ came through the letterbox I was confronted with what has to be a serious contender for ‘Graeme’s favourite cover art… ever’. The picture has a real sense of the unknown to it; vast open spaces dotted with weird alien structures, just the kind of sci-fi that I like. Luckily, the story inside did the cover justice.
‘Queen of Candesce’ is actually the second book in a series, thankfully Schroeder gives the proceedings a very definite beginning and end (a drops little reminders, about previous events, throughout the story) so you could read this on it’s own. I haven’t read ‘Sun of Suns’ (Book One) but if ‘Queen of Queens’ is anything to go by then I may just have to search out a copy.
Our heroine, Venera Fanning, was last seen falling into the nothingness that comprises the greater part of Virga, a collection of floating city-states held within a gigantic bubble in space. She lands in the ancient nation of Spyre and must use all her tricks (learnt in her father’s court) to survive and, eventually, thrive. All the while she is driven by thoughts of revenge and an artefact in her possession that makes her the most dangerous woman in Virga…
Now, science was never my strong point at school so when ‘Queen of Candesce’ opened with a detailed description of life in artificial gravity, and how rotating cities… errr… rotate, my heart sank a little. Thankfully I stuck with it and was treated to some pretty impressive worldbuilding coupled with a gripping tale. Spyre is made up of dozens of small city-states constantly fighting to increase their territory by a matter of mere feet (the ‘Pantry War’ is a great example of this) and Schroeder lavishes detail on each and every one of them. He paints a picture that you can see in your head and the decrepit overgrown districts of Spyre take on a life of their own away from the page. The story itself starts off slowly but as events start to snowball so does the prose. Intrigue and double-cross are the order of the day and it can be hard to keep track of all the characters (and what they’re up to) at any given moment. Funnily enough, it’s the characters that let things down ever so slightly, it’s almost as if Schroeder had so much fun coming up with this strange new world that he forgot to make characters to match. Venera, Moss and Garth are all characters that you will want to read about but they just seem a little pale when set against the vivid world that they inhabit. Having said that, it’s worth reading this book just for the conclusion to the story behind Venera’s bullet wound, I never saw that conclusion coming!
Minor flaws aside, ‘Queen of Candesce’ borders on being an essential read for a sci-fi fan that likes things a little dark and ideas that are second to none. It’s not the best but certainly one of the better sci-fi books I’ve read this year.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 12 November 2007

‘The Ivory and the Horn’ – Charles de Lint (Tor Books)

Just over a week ago I posted a short piece about urban fantasy and what I thought it was. Someone (can’t remember who) left a comment saying ‘how can you write about urban fantasy and not mention Charles de Lint?’ The answer was that I’d never read anything by Charles de Lint so didn’t really feel qualified to talk about his work. Funnily enough though, I had a copy of his latest collection of short stories lurking in the ‘to be read’ pile. It seemed like a good time to see what ‘The Ivory and the Horn’ was like so I picked it up and started reading. I’ve just finished it within the last couple of hours and it’s fair to say that I begrudged every moment that I had to put this book down and come back to the real world. I can usually suspend disbelief and get into whatever I’m reading, it’s not often though that a book has me feeling as many different emotions as this one did. I usually recommend (tell people to steer clear of) a book once I’ve finished the review itself but in this case I’ll make an exception. No matter what you’re into go and find yourself a copy of ‘The Ivory and the Horn’, I don’t think you’ll regret it.
‘The Ivory and the Horn’ is a collection of short stories set in the fictional city of Newford. Having said that, de Lint’s eye for detail and language will leave readers wondering if Newford is in fact a real place. It did with me. Strange things happen in Newford and in the dreams of its inhabitants. Wishes are granted but not in the way that the recipient originally wanted. Redemption can be obtained but in ways that are rarely expected and a dream is never merely a dream but a gateway into another city entirely.
Each of the stories are connected by recurring characters one of which appears to be pivotal to the strange events that occur in Newford. This interconnection between stories means you can either dip in and out (reading a story at a time) or just plunge in to the extent where the book seems less like a short story collection and more like a novel in it’s own right. The supernatural elements are treated differently in each story and the pitfalls of cliché and familiar plot devices are deftly avoided. In ‘Bird Bones and Wood Ash’ there is a strong supernatural theme right from the start but in ‘Pal O’Mine’ it’s only in the last couple of paragraphs that a sense of that ‘otherworld’ is felt. Because of the delicate way in which de Lint treats the ‘sense of the supernatural’, the magic of each tale isn’t overblown and sat just right in my imagination. Not every story engaged me fully but there wasn’t a single one that didn’t fail to stir something deep inside. The ‘magic’ is handled just right but it’s de Lint’s characters that enable this magic to take centre stage. My mark of a good character is how that character makes me react, indifference is not a good sign! Every single one of the people in these stories had me rooting for them throughout, sympathising for their losses and happy for them when things went right. By the time I finished, I felt like I knew Sophie, Dennison and Angel inside out. I’m looking forward to going back and meeting them again.
The only reason this book doesn’t get a top score is simply because some of the stories didn’t blow me away in the same way that others did (‘Pal O’Mine’ and ‘Dead Man’s Shoes’ were my two favourites). This is purely a matter of taste and nothing to do with the book itself. ‘The Ivory and the Horn’ left me feeling sad yet elated at the same time, definitely glad that I took the time to read it. Do yourself a favour and find a copy too.

Nine out of Ten

Sunday, 11 November 2007

The Book Swede's 'Quotes of the Week'

I love reading other sci-fi/fantasy blogs. Not only is it useful to see what other people think of books (that I'm about to read) but it's also great to see how other people make their blogs unique by 'filling in the gaps' between reviews. I'm constantly logging on and thinking "Dammit! I really wish I'd thought of doing that first..."
The most recent blog to make me gnash my teeth in a fit of jealousy is The Book Swede. Not only is he a really nice guy but he's also full of ideas that make his blog stand out. His most recent idea is stunning in it's simplicity; every week he gets an author to pick their favourite quote from a book and then talk about it a bit. David Anthony Durham took the plunge, first of all, and this week it's the turn of Mark J. Ferrari (author of 'The Book of Joby'). Head on over and have a look (and then keep your eye out for future quotes by Patrick Rothfuss amongst others)!

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Giveaway! 'Stealing Light' - Gary Gibson

It's getting to a point where I'm having to move books out of the way to get to the computer so it must be time for a competition!
Gary Gibson's 'Stealing Light' is a book that has been sat in the 'looks really good, must read soon' pile for quite some time. One day I will get round to it but in the meantime I have two copies to give away (thanks to Emma Giacon at Pan MacMillan Books).
Here's a brief synopsis,

For a quarter of a million years, an alien race has been hiding a vast and terrible secret.
In the 25th century, only the Shoal possess the secret of faster-than-light travel, giving them absolute control over all trade and exploration throughout the galaxy.
Former military pilot Dakota Merrick has witnessed the atrocities for which this alien race is responsible. Now she is piloting a civilian cargo ship on an exploration to a star system containing a faster-than-light travel drive of mysteriously non-Shoal origin. But the Shoal are not yet ready to relinquish their monopoly over a techonology they acquired through ancient genocide.

Looks good doesn't it? Still not too sure? Have a click Here to read what one of my favourite bloggers had to say when he read it.
Fancy a copy? It's as simple as ever to enter (and anyone can). My email address is at the top right hand side of the screen. Drop me a line with your name and address and I'll let the winners know on Thursday 15th of November (I'll announce it on the blog on Friday).
Good luck!

Friday, 9 November 2007

‘Patrimony’ – Alan Dean Foster (Del Rey Books)

Alan Dean Foster’s ‘Pip and Flinx’ series has been going since way back in 1972 and will end with the publication of the book following this one. Since 1972 Flinx (aided by his pet minidrag) has been trying to find out who his father is and it looks like he is finally about to get his answer on a planet called Gestalt. Things are never that simple though, our man Flinx has a price on his head and there are people who are more than eager to collect…
I’d never read any of these books before but the blurb made ‘Patrimony’ look like it could be an exciting read. Apart from the bit about Flinx leaving the galaxy to face certain destruction while he went looking for his Dad that is. Are we really meant to believe that Flinx didn’t think his Dad wouldn’t be there by the time he got back from saving the galaxy? This didn’t sit well with me and meant that I had a problem with the character before I’d even opened the book! I figured I’d give it a go though; it’s only a couple of hundred pages long so it’s not going to be a huge waste of time right? Wrong. Reading ‘Patrimony’ is like wading through treacle, I could see the potential but got so bogged down in the prose that by the end I was skim reading whole pages in an attempt to reach the point of the story. ‘Patrimony’ has a really dry, almost academic, tone to the writing which made it hard for me to engage with the story itself hence the skim reading. The other thing that really got me was the way that the author seemed to feel the need to explain every single scrap of minutiae in his story. If Flinx decided to pursue a particular course of action then I’d be ‘treated’ to at least two pages worth of the thoughts that Flinx had while making his mind up. A bounty hunter made out to be ‘space trash’ turned out to be some kind of intellectual after I was led through every single one of his thoughts, bearing this in mind the final showdown between him and Flinx seemed tacked on and contrived.
I don’t need to be told every single little detail and I reckon most readers are the same. For me, a good book is one where you can make your own connections and feel rewarded for getting something out of it. Where’s the fun if you’re told everything?
Excessive worldbuilding and philosophizing can get in the way of a story, especially if it’s only a couple of hundred pages long. Normally I would throw a book like this across the room in disgust but I was left feeling so apathetic that I couldn’t even do that.
If you’re already a fan of the ‘Pip & Flinx’ books then don’t listen to me, if ‘Patrimony’ is indicative of Alan Dean Foster’s writing then I reckon you’ll enjoy this one as much as the others. If you’re thinking about picking this up for a casual read then I’d advise that you step away from the ‘F’ section, in the book store, and look somewhere else.

Three out of Ten

Thursday, 8 November 2007

‘True Colours (Star Wars, Republic Commando)’ – Karen Traviss (Orbit Books)

Like many others I grew up on Star Wars, my friends and I would act out scenes in the playground and I would watch it (constantly) at home. Fast forward a few years and my seventeen-year-old self was so pleased when he realised that there were new Star Wars books that followed on from the Battle of Endor. The future looked bright for Star Wars fans the world over but then things went wrong, badly wrong. Despite some good attempts nothing quite matched Timothy Zahn’s originals and the other books descended into a formulaic mess of ‘brave rebels destroy the empire’s latest superweapon and Luke learns more about the Force’. This on it’s own would have been ok but then the prequel films were released to the sound of a million childhood dreams shattering (maybe not that bad but I have recently renewed my poetic license!)
The books keep on selling though and recently it’s been the turn of the clones themselves to get star billing. ‘True Colours’ is actually the third book in the ‘Republic Commando’ series and tells the ongoing story of three clone commando units battling Separatist forces while also trying to find their own way in a universe that regards them as ‘non-people’ with no rights at all.
‘True Colours’ is a difficult book to jump straight into if you haven’t already read the first two books in the series, there are a lot of references to past events and a whole load of names to get used to very quickly. Give it a chance though and before you know it you’ll be caught up in what I reckon is one of the best (if not the best) Star Wars series currently running.
Although the same high ideals are being fought for, there is a ‘gritty’ feel to this book that I don’t think you’ll find anywhere else. Fans of military science fiction are going to love this book with all its talk of detailed troop movements and impressive sounding ordinance. Regular fans though may find themselves tapping their fingers while waiting for the action to kick off (note to author: firefights and space battles are always going to be more exciting than the ‘cut and thrust’ of audit trails, there’s just no arguing against it). When things do kick off, it’s in fine style and the well-drawn characters added an extra dimension to the proceedings. A lot of care and attention is paid to each clone, they may all look the same but each one is an individual with a part to play that emphasises the plight of all clones. The relationship between the clones and their adopted Mandalorian fathers (Skirata and Vau) is a quest for redemption on both sides that is surprisingly poignant in places.
What really got me though was the number of pertinent questions raised, by the clones, about the direction the war is taking. I’m not sure if this is part of an ongoing plot thread or if a point was being made (by the author) about gaping plot holes in the screenplay. Either way, it is good to see these issues being addressed rather than us being expected to just accept whatever the films throw at us.
‘True Colours’ is intelligent military sci-fi that still manages to capture the spirit of Star Wars. If you’re a fan then you really need to read this.

Eight out of Ten

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

‘The Twilight Herald’ – The Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered, out of all the competitions I’ve run I reckon this one has been the most popular. As much as I wanted everyone to go home with a copy of ‘Twilight Herald’ only three people could. This lucky trio consists of…

Matt Dray, Ashford, Kent (Robin the Ripper, SFX Forum)

Joerg Bours, Switzerland (Karsa Orlong,

Shaun Duke, California,

Once I’ve beaten the lunchtime rush at the Post Office your books will be on their way. Happy reading!
I’ll have another competition up in the next few days, this time for those of you who are into science fiction. Stay tuned!
Talking of science fiction I’ve just finished reading ‘True Colours’ (the latest in the Star Wars ‘Republic Commando’ series), expect to see a review tomorrow. I’m now starting on Alan Dean Foster’s ‘Patrimony’, the latest book in the ‘Pip & Flinx’ series. For a book that’s only 200 pages long it’s incredibly heavy going, the rule seems to be ‘why use one word when you can use a whole sentence full of big words?’ The jury is definitely out on this one…

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

‘The Ice Dragon’ – George R.R. Martin (Starscape/Tor Books)

George R.R. Martin is one of those authors whose ease at writing in any number of different genres must reduce other authors to tears. Ok, I’m a big fan but it’s true. For horror, read the darkly brooding ‘Fevre Dream’. For science fiction read ‘Sandkings’ and ‘A Song for Lya’ (amongst many others). For fantasy read… well, you don’t need me to tell you. It seems like there aren’t many genres that GRRM hasn’t written in (I think ‘trashy romance’ might be the only one left) and now ‘young adult’ fantasy is another one of his conquests (and in fine style too).
‘The Ice Dragon’ was actually first published last year but it was the mass-market paperback that came through the door yesterday morning. After a rotten day at work this was a good thing to come home to…
Born during the worst freeze in living memory; Adara is a winter child, a distant child who rarely smiles for anyone. Adara’s smiles are saved for winter, the only time she truly feels alive. Winter is also the time when she is visited by the mythical Ice Dragon, a creature rarely seen but feared by all. Against a backdrop of war, a relationship grows between girl and dragon that will end in a tide of far and ice…
While ‘The Ice Dragon’ is very clearly aimed at a young audience, fans of GRRM (and fans of well-written fantasy) will love this book. At only 107 pages long, ‘The Ice Dragon’ is tiny (compared to some of his ‘heavyweight’ works) but Martin lavishes the same care and attention on it that he does on all his works. You’re left with the impression that every word was carefully chosen and that he is one of those authors who won’t let his books go until they are absolutely perfect.
GRRM pays a great deal of respect to his younger readers by coupling the classic fairytale elements of the story with his customary blunt approach to warfare and its after effects. The attitude seems to be that while children do need protecting, it’s actually insulting their intelligence to try and hide the darker aspects of life from them. Martin reckons his young readers can handle it and shows them the horror of a battered army’s forced withdrawal through Adara’s village. As with any book by GRRM, no character is guaranteed a long and happy life! Although it didn’t quite have the same impact as the execution in ‘A Game of Thrones’; I was still shocked by the death of one of the characters (in a particularly powerful scene), I never saw that coming! The ending is also poignant yet upbeat at the same time, a fairytale ending for a modern fairytale.
I can’t finish the review without making at least some note of Yvonne Gilbert’s striking illustrations. They’re done simply yet effectively and capture the essence of the story in the best possible way.
If you want to get your younger siblings into fantasy then ‘The Ice Dragon’ is a great place to start. As far as I’m concerned though, my copy will be staying on my bookshelf and any younger family member can find a copy for themselves!

Nine out of Ten

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Manga Sunday!

Yen Press very kindly sent me three of their new releases, which I received yesterday. I fancied a change, from what I’ve been reading recently, so thought I’d have a ‘Manga Weekend’… All three books are fairly short so, as a result, you’ll be getting three short reviews! Starting with the best first…

‘Zombie Loan’ (Peach Pit)

A weak willed schoolgirl, who can’t say no to her friends, finds herself not being able to say no when two of her classmates enlist her in a battle against the undead. Only she can see the markings that distinguish the undead from the living. Her two classmates have a debt to pay and several schoolchildren have gone missing from their school… A Japanese version of ‘Buffy’ with a couple of neat twists. I forgot to start at the back of the book and managed to spoil the ending for myself… I liked the artwork but found myself with a strange desire to add some colour, the ‘balck and white thing didn’t quite work for me here. It was still a good read though and I think this could become one of the better series from Yen.

Seven out of Ten

‘Black God’ (Dall-Young Lim)

Keita Ibuki stops off for takeaway (on his way home) and finds himself caught in a cosmic battle between a sinister looking man and a girl with very long legs… There’s a whole philosophy behind this story that I didn’t quite get. Suffice it to say that there’s a cosmic balance that needs to be maintained. Because of the battle scenes (of which there were lots) this book seemed rather rushed (and rather like an episode of Pokemon)but, again, the seeds for some promising storylines were sown for the future. With this book I found that if you flick the pages really quickly then sometimes the pictures move!

Six out of Ten

‘Spiral’ (Kyo Shirodaira)

Have you started reading a book where you hate the main character so much that you can’t keep reading? Well, that’s what happened to me here… There’s supposed to be some serious philosophical underpinnings to this story but I never got far enough in to find out what they were. All I can really tell you is that a girl dies at school and our hero is the main suspect (his sister in law is the investigating detective). Ayumu (our hero) is far too cocky for his own good and while there’s a whole load of talk nothing actually happens.
I’m not going to rate this book as I never finished it, I think you could probably guess what the score would be though.

Well, two out of the three books (from Yen) got a decent score so things bode well for future books. I’ll be interested to see what they come out with next. In the meantime I’m getting a taste for Manga, can anyone recommend a good read?

Friday, 2 November 2007

What's your take on 'Urban Fantasy'?

There was a discussion going on about this over on the Terry Brooks Forum, Shawn (the site admin) is writing an 'urban fantasy' novel and was wondering if his thoughts and ours (re. the ingredients of the genre matched up).
While we all agreed that 'urban fantasy' is 'fantastical elements' in an urban setting' there was some small disagreement on where the urban setting should be. Some of us thought that it had to be in a real world setting, something like Feist's 'Faerie Tale' or Neil Gaiman's 'Neverwhere'/'American Gods' etc. I don't agree. As far as I'm concerned; 'urban' is 'urban' no matter where you set your story, whether it's in 'Old London Town', the labrynthine depths of Gormenghast or the village of Hobbiton. China Mieville's 'Perdido Street Station' was based entirely in the fictional city-state of New Crobuzon, surely that would class it as 'urban fantasy' even though there is no stated connection to the real world (unless you live in London that is, you'll see the similarities straight away).
I could be wrong though, I'm into Epic Fantasy more and have only really started reading the 'urban stuff' this year.
So I'm throwing this one out to you. What does 'Urban Fantasy' mean to you? What would you expect to find in it? Is it mandatory for the heroine to get romantically involved with the vampire she has to kill? Let me know what you think!

Thursday, 1 November 2007

‘Dark Hollow’ – Brian Keene

From the moment I finished reading ‘City of the Dead’ I knew that Brian Keene was going to join the list of authors for whom I will always stop whatever I’m reading when they release a new book. In every one of his books; Keene has pushed the fear and horror to new levels, left the reader in suspense and then racked things up another notch when least expected. It’s not often that I read a book so intense that I have to remember to breathe, Keene has written a handful already and shows no signs of slowing down (a good thing for anyone who’s a fan of horror). An Advance Review Copy of his latest book, ‘Dark Hollow’, came through the door a couple of days ago and it seemed like just the kind of thing to be reading on Halloween…
Something very strange is happening in the hometown of novelist Adam Senft. There is a hint of piping music on the wind and strange fires have been spotted deep in the forest at night. When morning comes, another woman has vanished. A chance encounter, whilst walking his dog, leads Adam into the forest and face to face with a nightmare from pre-history. Somehow, an ancient god has been summoned to the woods outside Adam’s town. And it’s hungry…
‘Dark Hollow’ won’t actually hit the bookshelves until next February so I have to try and be careful not to give too much away. This is a real shame as I am so excited about this book that I just want to tell everyone what happens! Suffice it to say that Keene manages to pack six hundred pages of suspense and terror into a book that’s only just over three hundred pages in length using language that is economic yet captivating at the same time.
There were moments in this book where I actually jumped when reading certain passages. All the old clichés applied, I kept nervously looking over one shoulder and I think the hairs on the back of my neck stood up at one point! As with his other works Keene does not pull any punches and leaves everything open to view in great detail. There are two big fights that left me gasping, by the end, because of the blunt visceral language that he uses (rather like Shaun Hutson but Keene actually shocks rather than ‘setting out to shock’). At the same time though, Keene displays a more gentle tone when showing the reader the camaraderie between friends and the love between a man and his dog. This highlights the supernatural element of the tale but by grounding the plot in real life Keene also shows the reader that the so-called ‘mundane realities’ we face every day can actually be more terrifying than the supernatural.
As a long-standing fan, I particularly enjoyed how Keene’s ‘Labyrinth mythos’ is beginning to take centre stage more and more. ‘Dark Hollow’ is a stand-alone book but it also ties in with everything else that Keene has written, I can’t wait to see where the next book (‘Ghost Walk’) takes us.
Brian Keene mixes humanity’s fear of the dark with it’s fear of what the real world can throw up and creates a heady brew of horror that will stay in my mind for a while to come. Give ‘Dark Hollow’ a go and see what I mean.

Nine out of Ten