Friday, 29 June 2007

‘The Year of Our War’ – Steph Swainston (Gollancz Books)

‘The Year of Our War’ is one those books that I’ve always meant to pick but, for whatever reason, never got round to doing it (too many books to read, not enough money for more books, the usual reasons). All this changed a couple of weeks ago at a book signing in Waterstones (Piccadilly); I was there, Steph was signing her books and all of a sudden everything just clicked. I went home with a copy of the book, and the warning that it was nothing like what I normally read (we had a little chat about what I was into), and got stuck in at the first opportunity. I have to say that Steph was right; ‘The Year of Our War’ is fantasy but nothing like Erikson, Martin or Williams (my favourites). The closest things I can compare it to are China Mieville’s books (but without the overemphasis on politics) or M.John Harrison’s ‘Viriconium’ (but eminently less pretentious and more accessible).
Jant Comet is the Messenger, one of a circle of immortals who oversee the Four Lands on behalf of the Emperor. He is also the only man alive who can fly and a hopeless drug addict who has unwittingly done something that will turn the tide of war (against the Insects) against humanity. If this wasn’t enough, he must also deal with the machinations of his fellow immortals and make good on his word to deliver all that the Emperor asks of him…
Given the number of years that Steph spent building this world up it’s no surprise that I was completely enthralled and sucked into the everyday life of the Four Lands. It’s one of those books that will stay with you even when you’re not reading, the characters are vivid and the situations they face are intriguing. I’ll be re-reading it to see if things become clearer second time round. The only issue I had was that while technology had made rapid advances in some areas, it felt like it was deliberately held back in other areas so as to make the war against the Insects more difficult for humanity to win. It could well be that the mark of a truly ‘fantastical’ world is one where things like that will never make sense to the reader but it didn’t quite gel with me.
Where things really took off for me were Jant’s trips into the ‘Shift’, a place only accessible through imbibing large amounts of drugs. I’ve never wanted an addict (fictional or otherwise) to overdose until I took a trip to the ‘Shift’ with Jant and saw how well written ‘weird fiction’ can be. Vermiforms, the Tine, talking lizards and a fibre-toothed tiger are only the tip of the iceberg… I’ll be buying more of Steph Swainston’s books just for the chance to go back there.
All in all, a very enjoyable read that actually makes you think about what you’re reading. I think I’ve found myself a new series to get into, I hope they’re all as good as this.

Nine out of Ten

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Aarrggh! Zombies!!!!

As you get older, life starts to become less carefree and you have to start thinking about ‘adult stuff’. Mortgages, a house, children, a pension, there’s certainly enough to make your hair go grey before its time and for you to make heavy inroads into the bottle of whisky you got for Christmas. However, none of this matters if you haven’t got a plan mapped out just in case zombies invade your hometown (it could happen!) I’ve got mine all sorted out (not telling you though, you might get there first!) so I thought I’d do the decent thing and point you folks in the direction of some good books that will prove useful in making your plans…
‘The Zombie Survival Guide’ (by Max Brooks) is essential reading when making your preparations, it will tell you everything you need to know. Perhaps the best piece of advice it gives is to “use your head, and cut off theirs”.
There are other good books out there where you can learn from the mistakes of others and be in no doubt what you must NOT do in the face of a zombie invasion. Here’s a few of them…

David Moody’s ‘Autumn’ is a great piece of zombie fiction that details the events of a lethal plague as seen through the eyes of the survivors. It’s strange enough when the dead bodies get up and walk again but when they start trying to eat the living then it’s time for hard decisions to be made. Three people leave a shattered city for the isolation of the countryside but find that the problem reaches further than they thought. The lesson to be learnt here? Don’t wait for help to come because it won’t, you’ve got to help yourself. If you google David Moody, you can download ‘Autumn’, for free, from his website.

In Joe McKinney’s ‘Dead City’, a series of natural disasters set loose a virus that returns the dead to life (and would you believe they want to eat us!) Police Officer Eddie Hudson is caught up in a zombie onslaught (that wipes out the San Antonio Police Department) and tries to make his way across the city to rescue his wife and son. This is a fast paced tense affair with lots of zombie encounters (although I think McKinney chickens out with the ending) that is well worth a look. Is there anything we can learn though? I think so; for a start, don’t even think about opening a door unless you’re very sure what’s on the other side! Also, think very carefully before sheltering in a building, they may not be able to get in but you very well not get out either…

Finally, Brian Keene’s ‘The Rising’ and ‘The City of the Dead’ introduce us to zombies that are actually corpses possessed by demons. As such, they can do whatever we can (just not as quickly). Keene’s two-parter follows the attempts of Jim Thurmond (and friends) to rescue his son and their continuing attempts to stay one step ahead of ravening zombie hordes. This is difficult to do when the zombies are coming after you on motorbikes! Fans of zombie gore and action will absolutely lap these books up but think before you pick them up. Keene chooses to focus on the evil that men can do (when freed from the constraints of civilisation) and pulls no punches with the depravity. If you’re a little bit squeamish, or there are certain things you don’t like to read about, then give these books a miss. There’s only one lesson to learn here, if a zombie can drive a truck and operate a rocket launcher then there really is nothing left that you can do…
These are all good books that I would recommend to the hard-core zombie fan if they haven’t read them already. Best read in a deserted shopping mall or behind the dead-bolted doors of your local pub…

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

‘Armageddon’s Children’ Terry Brooks (Orbit Books)

While I’ve always had trouble getting into Terry Brook’s ‘Shannara’ series (okay, I never made it past the first book…) I really enjoyed reading his ‘Word and the Void’ trilogy. I had mixed feelings then when I received this book to review as it bridges a gap, previously only hinted at, between a series that I enjoy and a series that has yet to get going for me. I’m happy to say though that the end result was pleasantly suprising and may yet persuade me to pick up ‘Sword of Shannara’ and give it another go.
The end of human civilisation (as we know it) is a distant memory, only to the very old, when the story begins. The demons of the Void won their fight with the Knights of the Word and influenced humanity’s path towards mutual destruction, according to the book Dick Cheney had something to do with it as well… In this world of the future Logan Tom and Angel Perez are the only two Knights of the Word left alive. They both fight a seemingly hopeless war against the demons and their once human minions but this is about to take a new and unexpected direction. A great change is coming and if humanity is to survive then Logan and Angel must find the magic that will help this change come about…
Whilst ‘Armageddon’s Children’ was a very entertaining read, the fact that it links two well established series detracts from the sense of urgency that Brooks is trying to convey (very much like a certain sci-fi film trilogy…). Anyone who has read the ‘Shannara’ books will know how certain issues are resolved. I haven’t read any of the ‘Shannara’ books but even I could tell (just by looking at the number of Terry’s books on the shelves) where the series is ultimately headed. The overall sense of urgency may be lessened but Terry makes up for this by throwing his characters into any number of situations that make up life in his post apocalyptic world. There are a lot of tense cliff-hanger moments throughout the book that left me eager to see how things progress in the forthcoming sequel ‘The Elves of Cintra’. Favourite bits for me were the unseen killer on the streets of Seattle and the ‘terminator’ style chase between Angel and the demon Delloreen. Every one of the characters we meet is well drawn and interesting, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to them next.
The issue of ‘The Great War’ is neatly side-stepped and filed under ‘Ancient History’, this leaves Terry only having to deal with the present and I think he does a great job of showing the reader a post-apocalyptic landscape and humanity’s struggle to survive in it. It’s not quite ‘Mad Max’ but there is that sense of the surreal (Logan’s encounter with the Preacher and his Flock) and what could be more apocalyptic than a blasted landscape populated by demons and mutants?
‘Armageddon’s Children’ has its faults but does what it sets out to do very well. I for one am looking forward to seeing more.

Eight out of Ten

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Who won a copy of 'Unnatural History'?

Thanks to everyone who emailed me but I only had two copies to give away. The lucky winners are...

Jim Neuschwander (Winterfella on the ASOIAF Board), Hummelstown, USA

Ken Fergason (KCF just about anywhere there is a forum!), Chandler, USA

Well done guys, the books are on their way to you right now.
Better luck next time everyone else, there will be more competitions in the very near future so stay tuned...

Monday, 25 June 2007

‘Fulgrim’ – Graham McNeill (Black Library)

The Horus Heresy is now developing into a full-scale civil war across the Imperium with the Warmaster gathering all forces loyal to him and culling those still loyal to the Emperor. The planet Istvaan III is a smoking ruin but a far greater betrayal waits on Istvaan V. Fulgrim is the Primarch of the Emperor’s Children Space Marines, a proud legion drawn down the path to treachery by a chance encounter in an alien temple. ‘Fulgrim’ tells the tale of the gradual corruption of the Primarch, and his Legion, culminating in the decisive battle of Istvaan V and its ramifications for the rest of the galaxy…
The Warhammer 40K game and background history is so well known that anyone reading the series will know the final outcome. While this may not go far towards selling the series, its saving grace lies in the authors being given free rein to fill in any gaps in the history and take creative liberties with characters who are only names in a games manual. ‘Fulgrim’ is no exception in this respect. Graham McNeill paints a vivid, and sometimes disturbing, picture of a once infallible Legion’s fall from grace. Given that the Legion’s new patron deity is the Lord of Pleasure (and Pain) McNeill does not spare the reader’s blushes in some of the more descriptive passages and this lends a real crescendo to proceedings. Betrayal is a core theme throughout the book and is none more apparent than in the Primarch’s perceived betrayal by their Emperor (and father). There is a real sense of a childlike innocence being suddenly lost in scenes that are intense and strangely touching at the same time (in particular the Warmaster’s meeting with Fulgrim and then Fulgrim’s meeting with Ferrus). This character analysis isn’t just limited to the Primarchs, each marine under their command must make a similar choice…
This is a Warhammer novel so it was never going to be just emotional and ‘touchy feely’. Fans of intergalactic combat between armies numbering in the hundreds of thousands (plus giant robots!) will be pleased to know that ‘Fulgrim’ delivers all this in the epic scale that Warhammer and the Black Library are known for. You may know how the story is going to end but you will have fun getting there! The only thing that detracted from the story, for me, was the need to go back to events already mentioned, in previous books, and tell them again. This has been a recurrent problem resulting from perhaps too many authors getting involved in one story. We know what has happened before, we don’t need it in detail again…
All in all though, a good read. I’m looking forward to the next chapter.

Seven out of Ten

Sunday, 24 June 2007

‘A Dirty Job’ – Christopher Moore (Orbit Books)

Charlie Asher is the classic beta-male, low on charisma but making up for this with high levels of imagination and paranoia. Despite this, Charlie is still unprepared for the tragic yet strangely surreal circumstances that leave him bringing up his daughter on his own. The weirdness doesn’t stop there though. Who was the ghostly figure in the hospital? Why is Charlie suddenly getting abuse hurled at him from storm drains? Why are people’s names suddenly appearing on his nightstand notepad (and why are these people suddenly dying)? Charlie has been unwittingly recruited into the world’s oldest profession (Not that one, one that’s even older…), it’s a dirty job but one that he has to do…
I’ve read a short collection of extracts from Christopher Moore’s works, they weren’t as funny as I’d been told they were but they were engaging and made me want to read more. This is pretty much what you get with ‘A Dirty Job’. There were some moments that made me chuckle (Charlie throwing fireworks down the drain) but the humour wasn’t on the level of Pratchett’s wordplay or Rankin’s downright weirdness. What you do get though is a group of engaging characters being put through their paces in a plot that caught my sense of the strange and would not let me go. There are also references to characters and goings on, in Moore’s San Francisco, which lend the story some context and made me interested in finding out more.
What we end up with though is a book that promises one thing, doesn’t really deliver it but ends up delivering something else pretty well. It kept my attention but for all the wrong reasons. My other big problem was the front cover; it’s not often I say this but the cover picture manages to give away a pretty big plot device. It’s also inconsistent with the blurb on the back. I managed to work out what was going on before I even started reading, sometimes this isn’t a bad thing (if you like to know what you’re getting) but on this occasion it lent the story a real sense of anti-climax.
If you’ve enjoyed Christopher Moore’s other works you’ll be getting more of the same with this and you won’t be disappointed. Anyone picking this up for the first time may end up asking themselves what the fuss is all about.
Not a bad book but needs to be clearer about what it’s trying to deliver.

Five out of Ten.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Which publishers send me books?

I've been reading some other book review blogs recently and there seems to be a lot of talk going on about whether you should disclose which publishers send you books to review (so as to avoid issues of review credibility). Hopefully you should be able to see from my reviews that I try to provide as balanced an opinion of a review copy as I would with a book that I've bought (check out my review of 'Danse Macabre', review copy from Orbit, amongst others!) but if it makes you guys feel a bit more comfortable reading my stuff then I've got no problem letting you know.
At the moment, I'm receiving books to review from Orbit and Abaddon Books. I've also had a couple from Gollancz. (Which reminds me; if any other publishers are reading this and want to send me anything please don't be shy! Drop me a line at graemesfantasybookreview@(no-spam), remove the no-spam bit though...) What I'll be doing in future is adding the publisher next to the book title, if it's Orbit or Abaddon then you know that it's a review copy I've been sent. If I don't do this then I will make it clear in the main body of the review.
I always give an honest review, what's the point otherwise? Stick around as there's a lot more to come!

Friday, 22 June 2007

New from Orbit Books

On Wednesday, I went out for lunch with some folks from Orbit Books (I love having my own blog! Free books and lunch too…) who gave me a sneak peek at what they’ve got coming up over the next few months. It all looks good so I thought I’d share.
You may have read the hard back already but Terry Brook’s ‘Armageddon’s Children’ will be released in paperback next month as a prelude to September’s release of ‘The Elves of Cintra’. Terry will be signing books in London, Essex and Kent around about this time, I’ll let you know the dates when I have them. I’m also looking at doing an interview with Terry while he’s over here (which I’m pretty excited about.)

Brian Ruckley’s ‘Winterbirth’ was released last year to equal amounts of praise and criticism, it was a real ‘love it or hate it’ book. The first week of August will see it hit the shelves in paperback so you get another chance to read it and decide for yourselves. I’ve got a copy to review so I’ll let you know what I think very soon.

Mike Carey’s acclaimed ‘Felix Castor’ series continues with the September release of ‘Dead Men’s Boots’. When we last left him, Felix Castor was at a pretty low ebb so it will be interesting to see if he can claw his way back up or if he has further to sink. One thing I do know is that we’ll be finding out a lot more about the supporting characters in Castor’s London… I’m looking at interviewing Mike sometime in August so I’ll see what else I can find out…

A book I’m really looking forward to reading is Jeff Summer’s debut ‘The Electric Church’ which will be published on September 6th in the UK (and America through Orbit’s new ‘Orbit US label). A hardened killer (think Richard Morgan’s Takeshi Kovacs) faces off against relentless cyborg monks, should be good…
October will see ‘The Awakened Mage’ (sequel to Karen Miller’s ‘Innocent Mage’) hit the shelves. I haven’t read ‘Innocent Mage’ yet (it’s on the pile to be reviewed) but I’ve heard nothing but good things about it so I’m looking forward to having a read.

Looking ahead quite a way now, January 2008 will see the release of ‘Debatable Space’ by Phillip Palmer. Billed as an epic space opera with pirates, heroines and the ruler of the universe I reckon this will appeal to anyone who enjoys Simon Green’s ‘Deathstalker’ books.
I’ve saved the best until last… February 2008 will see the publication of Iain M. Banks’ first ‘Culture’ novel since ‘Look to Windward’. It’s hefty (some 200,000 words!), it’s greeted with applause at book readings and I reckon it could well be the sci-fi book of 2008.
There looks to be some great reading ahead of us in the next few months, aren’t we spoilt?

Thursday, 21 June 2007

'Hunter's Moon' - David Devereux

You may have seen this in the shops already but today is the day when 'Hunter's Moon' hits the shelves. Don't just walk past it; pick it up, have a look at the rather nice cover and have a little read as well. If you've ever watched 'Buffy' and thought "I wonder how she'd get on with the SAS helping her out?" then 'Hunter's Moon' will show you the answer...
Not only is it a great read but I'm the chap providing the review at the beginning! I was lucky enough to win a book review competition (run by SFX magazine)and now spend my time hassling random people in bookshops to get them to read my review (although the injunction will probably put a stop to that soon...)
Here it is in full,

"While America employs the services of cute blonde teenagers to fight demons; the British way is uglier and more brutal but makes for an absolutely cracking read. Our hero has no name; he doesn’t need one as actions speak louder than words. He is at the very forefront of a covert war waged against the unseen world of faerie and humans who traffick with demons for evil ends. Employed by a faceless civil servant known only as ‘The Boss’, our hero is armed with the latest in scientific (and arcane) technology and sent out to fight for Queen and Country. ‘Hunter’s Moon’ follows the progress of one such mission, infiltrating a coven of witches who are part of a plot to kill the British Prime Minister. As well as contending with the supernatural, our man must also deal with his feelings for a beautiful deep cover operative and also face his own demons when confronting the mistress of mind control…
I read this book in one go, over an evening, and didn’t realize where the time had gone. Non-stop relentless action kept the pages turning nicely and plot twists (one per chapter sometimes!) kept this reader guessing what was going to happen right until the very end. The wry sense of humour employed by the author lends a very British feel to this tale; no agonizing over hard decisions made, our man realizes that if you can’t laugh about something bloody then you’re in the wrong game! Incidental features also add credibility to the story; in particular, we find out what a Man in Black does once he has retired...
At the end of the book, our hero is handed his next assignment and I was disappointed not to be going along with him, great stuff!"

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

‘Unnatural History’ – Jonathan Green (Review and Give-away!)

The year is 1997 but all isn’t as you would expect. In two months time, the Great British Empire (on Earth, the Moon and Mars) will be celebrating 160 glorious years of Queen Victoria’s reign, a life support machine powered by quantum clockwork is a wonderful thing! All is not well in the Empire however. The death of a night watchman (in the Natural History Museum) may not seem like much in the scheme of things but when a train crash unleashes the dinosaurs of London Zoo it becomes clear that the events are connected and that foul play is at hand. Enter Ulysses Quicksilver; ladies man, patron of the arts and gentleman adventurer. Ulysses is employed by the government to investigate the case of the murdered watchman and is soon in a race against time to stop anarchists unleashing chaos on the streets of London. Or is he? It soon becomes apparent that the fate of the British Empire is at stake….
Take a little bit of Sherlock Holmes, sprinkle with a dash of James Bond (adding some Indiana Jones for spice) and you have Abaddon Book’s foray into the genre of alternate history, the good news is that there are two more sequels planned. This is an unashamed romp through a dark and brooding London populated with every pulp cliché you can think of. Dashing secret agents, evil anarchists, devious professors and beautiful women; they can all be found doing what they do best in an entertaining read that I think anyone will enjoy. References to historical figures (and cameo appearances) also lend the book an authentic, yet intentionally surreal, air.
The action and the intrigue never stop and the reader is swept along to a gripping conclusion that is slightly undone by the overindulgence of cliché. Things are signposted a little too clearly and the reader may work out what’s going on too early. For me though, the fun was definitely in the journey and not the destination, the future of the Empire is safe in the hands of Ulysses Quicksilver and I’m looking forward to seeing what evil schemes are thrown at him next…

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Who wants a copy of ‘Unnatural History’?

I reckon you do and I happen to have two copies to give away (thanks to Abaddon Books). Getting hold of one could not be easier. Email me at graemesfantasybookreview@(no-spam) (remove the ‘no-spam’ bit) and tell me who you are, where you’re from and if you frequent any particular forums. I’ll let you know who won next Tuesday…
Good luck!

Tuesday, 19 June 2007

Who won the zombie books?

Thanks to everyone who entered but there could only be two winners (I found an extra copy of 'Death Hulk' for a 'runner up' prize).
South London's very own Peter Organ (Org on the SFX Forum) will be getting a double dose of swashbuckling gangster zombie action ('The Words of their Roaring' and 'Death Hulk') while Casey Buell (Myshkin on the Westeros Board) will be receiving a copy of 'Death Hulk'. I really enjoyed them so I hope you guys do as well!
I've been reading 'Unnatural History' by Jonathan Green, the first installment in Abaddon Books 'Pax Britannia' series. I found it to be even more fun than the 'Tomes of the Dead' books and not only will I be reviewing it tomorrow but I have two copies to give away. Come back tomorrow if you fancy winning a book that has dinosaurs, anarchists, secret agents and a 160 year old Queen Victoria who is kept alive by quantum clockwork...

Monday, 18 June 2007

'Reaper's Gale' - Steven Erikson

Steven Erikson’s ‘Malazan Book of the Fallen’ sequence has been a ray of light to fantasy fans the world over who are either tired of waiting for an author to come up with the goods or are dubious about other author’s philosophical excesses (not naming any names but we all know who they are...). Erikson’s series was always going to be ten books long and no one can complain about his publication schedule (a book a year). He cannot be accused of foisting his own personal philosophy on his readers either, not in a world where nothing is black or white and the most relentless evil can sometimes bring forth the greatest good.
If you haven’t read any of the preceding books then you really need to go and pick up a copy of ‘Gardens of the Moon’ and get stuck in. For a start they’re all brilliant books (that I cannot recommend enough) and secondly there is no way that you will be able to make any sense of what is going on in ‘Reaper’s Gale’ without reading the rest of the series first.
‘Reaper’s Gale’ takes a step back from the transitory nature of ‘The Bonehunters’ and starts tying up some of the loose ends left from other books. Events are converging around the beleaguered Letherii Empire. The Tiste Edur thought they had conquered the Letherii people but instead are finding themselves increasingly sidelined by Letherii corruption and greed. The Tiste Edur emperor grows ever more insane under the burden of paranoia and the fact that, no matter how many times he dies, his own sword has cursed him to eternal life. Champions wait to fight the Emperor and amongst their number are two of the most powerful warriors ever to walk the face of the world. In the west, a disparate group of travellers bound together by sheer circumstance travel to find an ancient artefact that may solve all problems but they each have different reasons for finding it. If all this wasn’t enough for one empire to deal with, the outlawed 14th Army of the Malazan Empire has just landed on Letherii shores and they want nothing less than to halt the schemes of the power behind the Tiste Edur…
This may seem like quite a lot to take in but believe me when I say that I haven’t even scratched the surface of what really happens in this book. Suffice it to say that Erikson leaves no stone unturned in delivering a tale filled with heroism, tragedy, heart -stopping action and the high fantasy equivalent of ‘Jeeves and Wooster’. Anyone who has read the series so far will be left in awe of what Erikson has achieved and at the same time cursing the number of questions still to be answered (my question, “Who was Redmask? And what was the point of him…) Erikson delivers some of the best set pieces in fantasy fiction and maintains this high standard with the battles in and around Letheras. Your heart will be in your mouth and you will not believe how things turn out (once again, true heroism comes from the most unlikely place).
My only (slight) concern is a feeling throughout the book that Erikson’s impartial treatment of all his characters results in a work that borders on being too complex and unwieldy. Everyone gets equal page time and the constant chopping backwards and forwards can make for a disjointed read. He just about gets away with it this time and (judging by the number of people who die!) this hopefully shouldn’t be a problem in the future.
Overall, ‘Reaper’s Gale’ is another quality offering from Erikson. I have now started ticking off the days until ‘Toll the Hounds’ hits the shelves…

Nine out of Ten

Friday, 15 June 2007

Lexx Season Two - 'Lyekka'

Zev is now a bowl of orange goo and this isn't good news for anyone looking for any kind of dialogue on board the Lexx (Kai having to spend most of his time in cryo-stasis and 790 going through the grieving process, I never thought I would write that about a disembodied robot head...) The best way to solve this problem is to introduce another crew member and there's no wierder way to spice things up than for this new crew member to be a carnivorous plant woman with a strange liking for Stan and an appetite for orange goo...
An alien spore takes root in the Lexx and Lyekka is born. At the same time, a team of hick astronauts from the planet Potatoho are about to make first contact of a particularly wierd (and fatal) kind...
I love this episode, a sense of unease at Lyekka's presence is coupled with some laugh out loud moments (Stan accidentally blows up the Potatoho shuttle while showing off what the Lexx can do) and makes for one of the more watchable episodes of season two. Without giving too much away it's obvious what's going to happen to the astronauts but it's fun watching the show push the boundaries of surrealness while this is happening. The ending runs the risk of being too sugary (and you're not quite sure why it's happening) but by this point you're enjoying it too much to care. And all the while, the main story arc is gathering pace in a growing swarm of drone arms...
It's been years since I last saw 'Lyekka' and all I can really say is a big 'thank you' to whoever it was who came up with the idea of internet DVD rental!

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 14 June 2007

'Death Hulk' - Matthew Sprange (Review and Giveaway!)

Zombies on the high seas! Now there's a line I probably won't get to use too often...
Captain Havelock's 'Whirlwind' is dispatched from Spithead to hunt down and capture the French warship 'Elita' which has been sinking British merchant shipping. However, once the 'Whirlwind' makes it to the coast of Africa it becomes clear that they are being hunted and not by the 'Elita'. Captain Havelock must face a deathly enemy from the deep who is determined to make him pay for the sins of his Grandfather...
Abaddon Books deliver a swashbuckling tale and horror and honour, like 'Pirates of the Carribbean' with an '18' certificate. You can almost hear the plummy accents of the British Officers and the zombies are suitably evil (although they're talking zombies again, I'd like to see some zombies that don't talk for a change). There are some gripping sea battles and Sprange shows that he is an author who isn't afraid of doing his research. While I saw the final scene coming, it was dragged out such that it was a very tense few pages leading up to the climax. Room is left for a sequel and I would certainly be interested to see what happens next (if it does).
The only issue I had was that, for a relatively short book, the zombies didn't show up until about halfway through. While this lends more authenticity to the opening chapters, zombie fans may feel cheated out of 'zombie time.'
Overall though, another worthy addition to the Abaddon library, the 'Tomes of the Dead' series is swiftly turning into one of my favourites.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Win 'Death Hulk' and 'The Words of Their Roaring'!

You like free books and I'm pretty sure you wouldn't turn your nose up at free zombie books... Well, thanks to the good folks at Abaddon Books I have copies of 'Death Hulk' and 'The Words of Their Roaring' to give to one lucky person. I enjoyed them both and I reckon you will too.
Fancy it? All you have to do is send an email to graemesfantasybookreview@(no-spam) (remove the 'no spam' bit) telling me who you are, where you live and what forum(s) you frequent. I'll let you know who won next Tuesday...
Good luck!

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Tales from the Black Library – ‘The Horus Heresy’

Whether you’re an avid gamer or if you just like browsing in bookshops it’s very likely you’ve come across the Black Library collection of novels that tie in with events taken from the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 universes.
The tag-line for Warhammer 40,000 is that ‘In the grim darkness of the far future there is only war’, this is certainly true of a universe where humanity has reached the stars and is fighting to hold/expand its territory in the face of an onslaught of alien races and insidious creatures of chaos. You would have thought that mankind would pretty much have its hands full fighting aliens but apparently not, humanity turns on itself in galaxy spanning civil war as part of the ‘Horus Heresy’ (one of the ‘main events’ in Warhammer history).
‘The Horus Heresy’ (in which the Emperor’s own Warmaster Horus is taken over by Chaos and mounts a bid for control of the galaxy) has been a well known part of the Warhammer canon for a number of years. Now the Black Library is publishing a series of novels detailing exactly what happened. The good news is that they’re very good indeed; a high octane dose of epic battles, double crossing intrigue and malevolent alien races that require little or no background knowledge to fully appreciate. Different authors have written the first four books but there are no issues over continuity as events flow very satisfactorily from one book to the next.
Black Library heavyweight Dan Abnett opens the proceedings with ‘Horus Rising’, a tale of the Warmaster at the height of his powers but already suffering from the jealousy of his fellow Primarchs and crippling self doubt over his ability to finish the crusade that the emperor began. Betrayal is already taking place within the ranks of the Adeptus Astartes (space marines to the likes of you and me) and plans set in motion that will culminate in the events of Graham McNeill’s ‘False Gods’. Horus is laid low by a daemonic weapon and the ruinous powers of the Warp conspire to have him join their ranks. Even though we know what will ultimately happen several very tense moments make the reader think this could go either way. At the end though, the stage is set and civil war is in the offing.
The first shots are fired in anger over the course of Ben Counter’s ‘Galaxy in Flames’ and James Swallow’s ‘Flight of the Eisenstein’. Loyalist elements are culled and an entire planet laid waste while the desperate crew of a single ship struggle to reach Terra and warn the Emperor of what is happening.
Words cannot describe the sheer epic scale of this series so far. The closest I can get is comparing them to the old Hollywood epics that always seemed to take up several hours of an Easter Sunday afternoon (you know the ones I mean). The main differences are that the books contain a cast of millions, a brutal gothic atmosphere and the sort of firepower that Ben Hur could only dream of having on his chariot…
I’ll admit to being completely hooked and have the next book in the series (Graham McNeill’s ‘Fulgrim’) waiting to be read and reviewed. Whether you’re a fan of the games or just a fan of epic space battles (with the fate of mankind at stake!) I suggest you pick these books up and start reading.

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

'Mass Effect: Revelation' - Drew Karpyshyn

I've read loads of 'movie tie-in' books but have never read a book about a computer game until now. 'Mass Effect' (for the Xbox 360) has apparently been doing great things at various computer game awards and the novelisation is a good way to get to grips with the universe before forking out your hard earned cash for the game itself.
'Mass Effect:Revelation' is a short and snappy story set in a galaxy where (aided by ancient alien technology)Mankind is beginning to make his presence felt amongst the stars. Alliance operative David Anderson must solve the mystery of why a research base was utterly destroyed by alien mercenaries. Tailed by a duplicitous alien agent and an unstoppable bounty hunter, Anderson will uncover a secret that will greatly influence the future of all sentient species (and probably events in the game as well).
This isn't a bad little read and it certainly ticks all the 'space opera' boxes; big space ships, intergalactic chases, vicious bounty hunters and beautiful heroines. While it is entertaining, it does tend to ply the reader with too much background information (about past history and alien races) and this is what let it down for me. I wanted to feel like I was reading a story, not having various alien factions introduced to me so I would know what to expect when I play the game (which I probably won't as I don't have an Xbox). Maybe this is what a computer game tie-in should be like, I don't know, but I was after something a little more subtle than that.
Buy it if you're into the 'Halo' series or if you're planning on getting the 'Mass Effect' game. I'd be interested in knowng where the story goes from here but I won't be searching out the next book in the series.

Five out of Ten

Monday, 11 June 2007

‘The Words of Their Roaring’ – Matthew Smith

Abaddon Books look to have all bases covered in the pulp fiction genre with a little something for everyone. Whether you’re into post-apocalypse fiction or alternate history, they can cater for you. The series I’ve really been looking forward to getting into is ‘The Tomes of the Dead’, books about zombie outbreaks at various points in history. You see, I’m a big fan of zombies…
‘The Words of Their Roaring’ is set in a very near future London (perhaps nearer than you think), a blasted shell that is crawling with the undead but is also alive with opportunity for the right person to exploit. Gang boss Harry Flowers thinks he is the right person and prepares for the day when the zombie menace is over and he can take charge. However, he is not the only person with designs on the city and other people have a more personal agenda…
There is nothing I love more in the horror genre than those pesky humans outnumbered and fighting for their lives against a horde of ravenous zombies, non-stop suspense coupled with the inevitable stomach churning gore… ‘The Words of Their Roaring’ delivers this in style along with some irreverent peeks at life in an England brimming with zombies (the landed gentry hunting zombies made me laugh and also reminded me of ‘The Planet of the Apes’ in a weird kind of way). The danger with zombies is that there is only so much story that you can write for a walking corpse that has bits drop off it every now and then. Smith gets round this by having the zombie virus ‘evolve’ in its host. This sets up some great ‘zombie on zombie warfare’ right at the end but may upset the purists who like their zombies just the way they are.
‘The Words of Their Roaring’ is a very quick read (just over three hundred pages) but one that will suck you in right until the end. If you’re into Brian Keene then I recommend you give this a go. The only thing I didn’t quite get was the epilogue, I’m not really sure what relevance it had to the rest of the story.

Seven out of Ten

Sunday, 10 June 2007

‘The Magicians Guild’ – Trudi Canavan

Every year, the Magician’s Guild carries out their ceremonial purge of the streets of Imardin. This year will be different though, a common girl will discover that she has power to rival the mightiest magician. While she goes into hiding to escape the magician’s wrath they must find her before her burgeoning powers become too much for her to control. Even if she is found, her problems will only just be beginning…
Trudi Canavan’s ‘Magician’ trilogy is being re-marketed for the young adult market and I think this is a pretty smart move on the part of Orbit Books. ‘The Magician’s Guild’ has a lot to offer the younger reader who has probably seen the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films but may find the books a little dry and heavy going. There’s a likeable heroine who comes from a poor background and is destined for great things, a bunch of ‘loveable rascals’ who make fools out of the city guard and a college full of squabbling wizards. The problem however is that there isn’t much more than this which means that anyone who has read a lot of fantasy won’t find anything new here. It’s an entertaining ride but it takes you down roads that you may have traveled far too often already.
Apart from this, the only real problem I had with this book was Canavan’s use of ‘made up fantasy speak’. Now, if you’re a fantasy author then you will not be able to escape using made-up words to decorate and illustrate your fantasy kingdoms. It really does come with the territory. The problem is, if you’re not careful then these words will either appear blatantly made up or you will make up a word that actually exists in real life. King Kalpol was an ancient king in Trudi Canavan’s world, ‘Calpol’ is a cough medicine where I come from. They’re both spelt ever so slightly differently but it was enough to make me lose the ‘feel’ of the story and I couldn’t get back into it after that.
Potentially a great book for younger readers but it didn’t quite do it for me.

Six out of Ten

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Lexx Season Two – ‘Terminal’

No one really knew if ‘Lexx’ was ever going to make it past the four TV movies before it was eventually commissioned for a full series. In one of those weird ironic twists, by the time the production team got the green light Eva Habermann (Zev) had agreed to do TV work in her native Germany. ‘Terminal’ marks her final appearance in the show and she bows out in typical ‘Lexx’ style, being first transformed into a Cluster Lizard and then into a vat of orange goo (I know that could be a spoiler but sometimes the journey is more important than the destination…)
Stan mistakenly believes that just because he is the captain of the Lexx he knows how to operate some of its more complex machinery. A near fatal encounter with Kai proves his ineptitude and results in a mad dash for the MedSat hospital facility. The staff agrees to treat Stan but are casting avaricious looks at the Lexx in the meantime. Zev holds the key but her love slave programming means she is vulnerable to the attentions of the charismatic Doctor Kazzan…
This particular episode suffers unfavourably when compared with the longer TV movies, the fifty minute format means there’s only time to deal with one plot at a time (instead of several at once, done with great aplomb in ‘I worship His Shadow’) although the looming presence of Mantrid is slowly built upon. Because of Eva Habermann’s departure, the whole episode is geared towards Zev’s exit and because of this you see the ending coming a mile off.
It’s not all bad though; 790 comes up with some particularly acidic put downs for Stan while the inventive villainy of Dr Kazzan and his colleagues make for some tense climactic scenes. Zev’s departure is also quite touching.
Not the best episode of ‘Lexx’ that you will see but entertaining to watch none the less.

Six and a Half out of Ten

Friday, 8 June 2007

‘What I’ve been up to and what’s coming up...

There’s only one better than reading a good book and that’s meeting the author who wrote it. If there’s one thing better than meeting an author it’s meeting lots of authors! This is what I did last night at Waterstones in Piccadilly where there was a large gathering of sci-fi/fantasy writers (what’s the collective noun for a bunch of authors?), their publicity guys and a camera crew…
During the course of the evening I managed to have a chat with David Devereux (there to sign copies of ‘Hunter’s Moon’, which is very good by the way) and also managed to get books signed by Steph Swainston and Robert Holdstock, expect to see them reviewed on the blog very soon… The highlight of the evening was meeting Jon Courtenay Grimwood who I originally got into through his ‘cyberpunk’ books but is now writing some damn fine looking crime novels with a sci-fi/fantasy twist…
I came away feeling just a little bit star-struck but definitely up for another one of these the next time it’s in town!

I reckon you must be wondering just what you might find if you dip into the blog over the next few days. Well, I’ll tell you.
I’m neck deep in Steven Erikson’s ‘Reaper’s Gale’ right now and am only just remembering that I need to eat and drink (it’s that good) expect to see my review very soon. Other books due for a review are Trudi Canavan’s ‘Magicians Guild’, Steph Swainston’s ‘The Year of Our War’ and the rather ominous sounding ‘The Words of Their Roaring’ by Matthew Smith (I love zombie books!) It’s been a little while since I’ve given anything away so I’ll probably be doing a competition towards the end of next week…
I’m also looking at posting things that aren’t just reviews. I’m not sure what they’ll be though, you’ll have to come back and find out…
Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

'No Dominion' - Charlie Huston

After the debacle that was ‘Danse Macabre’ I needed a little something that would restore my faith in vampire novels, something more hardcore that isn’t afraid to take a chance. Luckily for me, the first book I picked up was ‘No Dominion’, the impressive follow-up to Charlie Huston’s ‘Already Dead’ and part of the ongoing tale of Joe Pitt (Manhattan Private Investigator and Vampire).
As an independent ‘rogue’, in the middle of a city strictly divided amongst the vampire communities, life has never been simple for Joe Pitt and now things are going to get a lot more complicated. A new drug for vampires has hit the streets but unexpected side effects threaten to betray the vampire’s secret existence to the world. Joe is called upon to make a perilous trip across town to track down the drug’s source. A trip across Coalition territory is bad enough but how long can a white vampire survive on the mean streets of a vampire Harlem ruled by the notorious DJ Grave Digga? Joe has no choice but to find out, especially if he wants to be in the safety of his own home by sunrise…
Charlie Huston’s ‘Already Dead’ was a laconic, gripping and dirty ‘Raymond Chandler’ take on vampires, reminiscent of ‘Blade’ but without that comic book feel. The gritty New York atmosphere made you think that this could almost be happening in real life. While Huston doesn’t deliver anything new in this installment, he definitely maintains his high standards and you could say that you can’t improve on perfection. Huston skillfully interweaves a set of circumstances that are so overpowering they would crush anyone, Pitt’s dogged determination in the face of adversity earns the reader’s respect and keeps the pages turning. Not least of Pitt’s problems is the façade he must constantly maintain with his HIV Positive girlfriend, his vampire blood could cure her but the result of that would be that she lives the same life as him (instead of living in blissful ignorance of his real life). There are some touching moments between them that serve as an effective counterpoint to the casual violence that is an everyday part of Joe’s world.
The fact that ‘No Dominion’ is a relatively quick read (at around 250 pages) is testament to Huston’s skill at delivering a tight story with no excess baggage. Everything happens for a reason and that reason will not be the one that you think it is. The ending kicks the hell out of your expectations and promises more goodness to come in future books. I’m in for the long haul with Joe Pitt and very much looking forward to seeing what comes next.

Ten out of Ten

Monday, 4 June 2007

'Danse Macabre' - Laurell K. Hamilton

When I was little, I was always scared of vampires. They’re nasty horrible things that drink all your blood (and make you their slave forever) and there’s not a lot that you can do to kill them. At least that’s what I thought until I read Laurell Hamiltons latest Anita Blake novel. Having finished it this morning I am now in the position to tell you that vampires aren’t really interested in drinking your blood at all. No, they would much rather being having sex with you and then reeling from the angst of it all. And that’s just the vampires! For a vampire hunter Anita Blake does no vampire hunting at all, she is in love with the Master Vampire and has as much sex with him and his minions as Hamilton can fit into 500 pages. This is because Anita is infected with the ardeur, a weird kind of sexual energy that must be sated every six or seven pages and this is essentially the premise of the entire book. Jean Claude (the Master Vampire) has arranged a big meeting with all the other Master Vampires and before this can happen it needs to be determined whether Anitas ardeur will affect his guests. With this in mind, a lot of experimental sex with vampires and various were-creatures takes place before the big meeting. The only problem is that Hamilton concentrates so much on the sex that there’s only a couple of pages left for the main event and this comes across as a real anti-climax. A couple of the main protagonists also make brief appearances, perhaps foreshadowing events to come, but again Hamiltons concentration on the sex ‘theme’ means that they are not developed beyond this (which is a shame). One of the consequences of all this unprotected sex is that Anita finds that she may be pregnant. While Hamilton does a good job of exploring Anitas feelings around this, I found that I had no sympathy for a character who admitted to excessive promiscuity at the start of the book and was still going at it while she was deciding whether to buy a pregnancy testing kit!
I’ve never read any of the Anita Blake books before so starting with the thirteenth book probably isn’t the best way to get an idea of the series as a whole. Having said that though, I was unimpressed (to say the least) with this offering. If you’ve read this far then you will probably enjoy this book and look forward to the next. I for one found Hamilton’s apparent willingness to stifle her own story with excessive graphic sex just plain tedious by the end. At least I think there was a story in there somewhere…

One out of Ten.

Friday, 1 June 2007

Who won a copy of 'The Stormcaller'?

Thanks to everyone who sent me an email (including those who didn't actually want the book but thought they would mail anyway!)There were only two books to give away though and the winners were...

Aidan Moher, Gabriola Island BC, Canada (al'Kael on the Terry Brooks Forum amongst others!)

Kristin Murphy, Orono, US (Fastia on the Westeros Board)

Well done guys, your books are on their way!

There will be more of these giveaways in the near future so keep coming back if you want free books!