Thursday, 31 January 2008

Author Interview! Jeffrey Overstreet

Every year there's guaranteed to be at least one book that you won't have planned to pick up but will end up becoming a personal favourite. I had a couple of these last year and one of them was Jeffrey Overstreet's debut fantasy novel 'Auralia's Colors'. Instead of telling you about it all over again, I'll just point you at my Review . I think it's definitely one to read if you get the chance.
I got the chance to ask Jeffrey some questions about 'Auralia's Colors' and here's what he had to say...

When I first realised that ‘Auralia’s Colors’ had been written by a Christian author my first thought was that “there’s allegory in there somewhere…” I couldn’t see any though, did I miss something?

No, you didn’t miss anything.
Tolkien was a Christian author, but he didn’t write allegory. From Flannery O’Connor to Annie Dillard to Stephen Lawhead—there are plenty of Christians who gave us literature rather than lessons. And I find that inspiring. Allegories can be engaging, but they’re like codes. Once you’ve broken the code, and figured what each symbol or character represents, what’s left?
I believe any writer expresses something of what he or she believes about the world, about good and evil, about spiritual matters, whether they like it or not.
And I’m sure that my own faith influences my storytelling. But I’m not interested in writing allegories. I write a story to discover something, to explore, to play — not to disguise some pre-determined message. Where would the fun be in that?

For people who haven’t read the book yet, could you briefly say what it’s all about? This is your opportunity to really plug your book!

Here’s how it starts:
Two cantankerous thieves are doing hard labor out in the wilderness to pay off their debt to the kingdom of House Abascar, when they stumble onto an abandoned child.
She’s lying in a footprint... a big footprint. They bring her back into the society of crooks, where she grows up manifesting strange and artistic powers, and suggesting that a mysterious, mythical creature might have something to do with her inspiration. Her name is Auralia, and her mastery of color reveals wonders no one seen before.
This is a problem: House Abascar has tough restrictions on color. In fact, the common Housefolk live in an almost-colorless society. Auralia’s work stirs up rebellion as they remember what their greedy king and queen have taken. And her colors upset the balance of power in the kingdom.
The king must decide whether to imprison her, cast her back outside the protection of the walls to live with the criminals, or execute her. But he’s distracted by trouble stirred up by savage creatures called “beastmen” in the wilderness beyond the walls. Ultimately, Auralia’s colors throw House Abascar into a violent turmoil that will claim many lives and change the course of history... not just in Abascar, but all four houses of the Expanse.

I felt that ‘Auralia’s Colors’ had a real fairytale feel to it, both through the language and the content. A lot of fantasy these days has a more edgy and gritty tone to it, what made you decide against taking this route with ‘Auralia’s Colors’?

Well, to be frank, I don’t read a lot of contemporary fantasy. I miss the sense of wonder that I felt reading fairy tales when I was a kid.
So much of modern fantasy feels like it’s just another version of The Lord of the Rings. Or else it feels like the author is striving to be draw attention to his showmanship and audacity, rather than drawing us all into a sense of wonder. Much of it feels like a contest to see who can write the darkest, most disturbing material. And it often feels driven by distracting agendas—take Philip Pullman, and his Christianity-bashing heroes, or various Christian stories that feel more like advertisements for Jesus.
I don’t go to fantasy to discover Tolkien wannabes, or for the ugliness, or for lectures. I’m looking for the kind of story that will dazzle all ages. I go to fantasy for encounters with something truly mysterious and enchanting. My life has enough trouble in it, so I’m looking for beauty rather than just another epic battle between monsters. Now, don’t get me wrong: I do have a huge library of favorite fantasy stories. But when I want grit, I’ll read Cormac McCarthy.
When I want inspiration, I’ll go back to Tolkien, or re-read Richard Adams’ Watership Down, T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast stories, or Patricia McKillip’s The Book of Atrix Wolfe. These stories all have elements of fairy tales, but they also have musical, wondrous language that I find inspiring. I wanted to write something that readers would want to read out loud.

Can you see yourself sticking to the same kind of tone or can you see a darker edge appearing in future books?

Auralia’s Colors takes us to some dark places. Maugam the jailer, who haunts that passages beneath House Abascar... he gives me nightmares.
But Auralia’s Colors focuses on Auralia, who’s very young, and the ale boy, who’s even younger. That brings a sort of “lightness” to the story. The beastman are fearsome monsters, but they’re in the background, in the shadows.
In Cyndere’s Midnight, a beastman is one of the two main characters, and we follow him into the heart of the world of beastmen. So naturally, it’s going to take us into grim and troubling places. But don’t worry. We’re not abandoning the other characters.

Out of all the things a King could outlaw in his Kingdom I wouldn’t have put colour at the top of the list. What made you decide that it would be colour that was to be outlawed?

The story was inspired by a question about what happens to people when they stop caring about creativity and imagination. I was talking with Anne, my girlfriend at the time, about our strange mutual devotion to fairy tales. We wondered why so many adults “outgrow” them, and brush them aside as “kids’ stuff.”
We were hiking in Montana, near Flathead Lake—an incredibly colourful place. I started imagining what it might be like to live in a kingdom that outlawed creative expression. The first thing that struck me was that this society in my imagination was almost colorless. The story revealed itself from there.
And here’s the happy ending: Anne and I kept talking about fairy tales, and now we’ve been married for eleven years.

It’s an old adage that writers write about what ‘they know’. Did Auralia’s use of colour, as rebellion against her society, stem from any similar feelings in yourself?

Well, I don’t think I’d characterize Auralia as “rebellious against” so much as “passionate to inspire.” She was not part of Abascar’s society to begin with. She’s an outsider who has been dragged into House Abascar by their authorities, because they want what she has, but they also want to force her into conformity with their standards. And the truth of what she does, and who she is, clashes with that, because it shows people there is so much more that they need.
And yes, I can relate. For various reasons. I grew up in a particularly stifling community where art was—and still is—viewed with suspicion and condemnation. I was influenced by those standards. But I longed for the beauty and the wild truth I saw reflected in art and nature. I was like the folks in Abascar who get a glimpse of Auralia’s colors.
Since I grew up in a Christian community, some might jump to the conclusion that I think Christianity is a corrupting and stifling influence. But I don’t think it’s Christianity that stifles art. In fact, art and nature both affirm and increase my faith.
No, I think that fear within any community or institution can lead to suffocating restrictions. Art at its best reveals glory and mystery, and that’s an unsettling thing. It humbles us. It shatters our preconceptions. And that makes many people uncomfortable, so they try to organize it in a way that allows them to have control. When they do that, the art becomes something less. It becomes an expression of themselves, not of something higher. I’m in search of revelation, not a sales pitch.
The story is about more than that. But that is one of the reasons that I resonate with Auralia’s story. And I guess I relate more to the people of Abascar than to Auralia, for whom revelation seems as effortless as breathing.

I’ve read that your wife is a poet, what affect does this have on the language that you use in your own work?

It means I have an observant editor right in my own home! While I tend to produce many pages of text very quickly, Anne helps me slow down and pay attention to every word. Her poems sound musical to me, and that inspires me to pay attention to the rhythms of my own writing. Her poems have a strong sense of “place,” and that inspires me to pay attention to the environments of my stories. The places end up participating in the story as actively as characters.
And then there’s the fact that I think she’s beautiful. And beauty tends to inspire writers to write.

You don’t just write fantasy, you’re also a film critic. Which of these came first for you? Was it much of a jump from one to the other?

I started writing fantasy stories when I was about seven. I started writing movie and music reviews in my diary at around ten. So, no, it wasn’t much of a jump. They’ve both been part of my writing life for as long as I can remember.
The challenge is not to let the work I do as a critic make me too critical during the creative work. It’s hard work to silence your inner “censor” and just imagine wild and crazy things until you find that one idea that you love. But the critical work does help me later in the creative process, when I start thinking about editing, and about eliminating what is unnecessary to the story and the vision.

Staying in ‘film critic mode’, are there any films in particular that you recommend we all go and see this year?

I’ve just posted my list of favourites from 2007 at, so you’ll find about twenty or thirty recommendations there. But we’re in 2008 now, and there are some new releases I’m excited about seeing, like U23D, and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. But I’m so busy trying to finish Cyndere’s Midnight that I’m not allowing myself any moviegoing for a while.

What are you reading at the moment and why do you think I should read it too?

At the moment? Well, I’m reading the sequel to Auralia’s Colors! And I’m still finding plenty of paragraphs that need some polishing.
But seriously, it always helps me to revisit works by Mark Helprin, Patricia McKillip, Cormack McCarthy, and other favourite writers just to get good language running through my head. It gives me a standard to reach for.

Can you tell us anything about ‘Cyndere’s Midnight’ (the next book in the sequence)?

I’ve been spending a lot of time with this story, and I’m excited about all of the new adventures that the ale boy is experiencing, along with the large cast of new characters who are the focus of the book: Cyndere, the heiress to the throne of House Bel Amica; Jordam, a murderous beastman; Ryllion, a soldier who is zealous in his faith, and who follows it to extraordinary decisions; Emeriene, who is Cyndere’s closest friend, and whose loyalties are divided. And then, of course, we’ll learn more about Auralia, Scharr ben Fray, Cal-raven, and, yes, Krawg and Warney.
The book began as an idea inspired by Beauty and the Beast. But this version has two beauties, and quite a few characters who could qualify as “beasts.”

Thanks for your time Jeffrey, it's been great talking to you.

If you want to find out more about Jeffrey Overstreet and his books, take a look at his website Looking Closer.

Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Giveaway! 'Dark Wraith of Shannara'

Are you one of those people who entered Aidan's competition to win an ARC of 'Dark Wraith of Shannara'? Were you disappointed when you didn't win? Have you read my review (below) and thought, "I still want to get hold of a copy all for myself"?
Well, you've just gone and earned yourself another chance! ;o) I have one ARC of 'Dark Wraith of Shannara' that needs to go to a decent home, do you want it? If you do then all you have to do is tell me! My email address is at the top right hand corner of the screen, drop me a line telling me who you are and where you live (it's that simple). I'll let the competition run until next Thursday (7th February) evening and announce the winner on the Friday.

Good luck guys!

‘Dark Wraith of Shannara’ – Terry Brooks (Del Rey Books)

Love him or hate him (and I’m starting to quite like him) you can’t argue that Terry Brooks is one of the big names in the fantasy genre and has been since the late seventies. The two series that he is most well known for are his ‘Shannara’ books and ‘The Word and the Void’, both of which are now inter-linked. Not only has Terry done this but he also seems to be looking for any gaps that need filling. While it’s probably too early to see if ‘The Word and the Void’ gets similar treatment, well known characters from ‘Shannara’ have made the leap from the written word to graphic novel format and it’s a pretty good spectacle to behold.
Now, I’m woefully poor with the history of Shannara but I’ve done a little bit of digging around and can tell you that ‘Dark Wraith’ takes place after the events of ‘The Wishsong of Shannara’ and the short story ‘Indomitable’. It is the story of the machinations of the hitherto unknown Croton Witch but ‘Dark Wraith’ is more about the trials of Jair Ohmsford as he must balance the needs of his friends (and Shannara itself) with the damage his newly found magic does to his psyche every time he uses it. Does he succeed? Well, if you’ve read the rest of the Shannara books then you’ll already know the answer but ‘Dark Wraith’ is still a good read to get stuck into with a cast of characters that veterans of the series will instantly recognise but who also serve as a good introductory point for the casual reader.
‘Dark Wraith’ ticks all the boxes for a ‘quest story’ but human interest elements ensure that the story stays relatively fresh and free of cliché. It’s nice and short as well which means that events don’t run out of steam, there’s a job that needs doing and that’s what the story is all about. For a tale that is short, ‘Dark Wraith’ really does well to show the reader all the thoughts and feelings of certain characters, I really got a feel for who Jair Ohmsford was and this helped me understand the story much more. I also enjoyed watching the relationship play out between Jair and Garet Jax, I’m certainly interested to see where this goes next.
One problem I did have was Edwin David’s artwork and that’s unfortunate seeing as his artwork is on every single page! ;o) While the more monstrous characters/creatures come across very well I didn’t see much else that made the artwork stand out from any other comics (or graphic novels) that I’ve read. I’m not really big on art though so I may well be missing loads of stuff that others will enjoy.
‘Dark Wraith of Shannara’ is a fun read that lost marks, for me, only because it wasn’t set in a world that I could identify with more. There wasn’t the ‘spark’ I would have got from a ‘Malazan’ or ‘Westeros’ graphic novel and that’s no-one’s fault, just the way it is when personal preference comes to the fore. Fans of Terry Brooks will love this to pieces!

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

Sign me up for Team Evil!

I've got at least one book coming up, in the 'to be read' pile that goes along the familiar lines of ' someone is transported from our world to another where they become a knight, have a heroic quest, get married to a beautiful princess blah blah blah...' Yes, these stories still exist and this got me thinking. In fantasy literature pretty much everyone who finds themselves in a strange new world ends up doing pretty well out of the deal but what are the odds of that happening to everyone? Surely there's only so many castles, dragons and princesses to go round? The simple fact must be that for every single person who inherits a kingdom there must be dozens of people who find themselves trying to eke out a living in some hick town, they've got extensive knowledge of project management but that's not going to get the harvest in is it? It's a fairly safe bet then that if my wish to escape this life of office tedium ever came true that the odds are that I wouldn't end up ruling the land of Faerie, I'd probably be ploughing a small chunk of it. And this got me thinking... If you had to live the rest of your life in a 'Fantasy Realm' would you rather your life was governed by the 'good' or 'evil' archetypes that we so often find in fantasy literature? Think about it, your basic 'good' King doesn't have a clue what's going on with his populace. He's either being manipulated by his advisors or slowly being supplanted by a jealous sibling. He's got no idea about finance, he'll just raise taxes (or borrow more money) and expect the money to come from somewhere (I'm looking at you Robert Baratheon...) I could go on but I'm supposed to be working ;o) We would be up in arms if our political leaders did this in real life (it doesn't stop them though) and this is why, if I ever found myself in 'fantasy land' I would probably offer my services to the nearest evil overlord (until they started talking about human sacrifices that is). You know exactly where you are with your basic 'evil overlord'. They're ultimately far more honest than the forces of good, they want to rule the world and they don't care who knows it! Evil has a better line in innovation as well and I'm not just talking about torture devices. Saruman may not have been big on natural conservation but all those trees he cut down were helping to fuel industrial revolution! You know, things that could make life easier for the common man! But no, Tolkien had to go and get all pastoral and put a stop to progress...
The best thing about living under an 'evil overlord' is that they want all the power for themselves and have no time for politics or committee. They will defend your borders far more vigorously than a 'good' King for the simple reason that they know how much they have to lose. A King can always come back from exile but it's a definite 'one strike and you're out' policy for a Dark Lord...
Until someone is transported from our world and actually does a good job of ruling 'fantasy land', I'll be the guy peeling potatoes for the evil horde. I reckon I'll be having a better time than you! ;o)

Sunday, 27 January 2008

'Lazy Sunday' Link Up!

The sun is out (for the first time in how long?), and I haven't finished reading any of the books that I've got on the go, so I thought I'd give you some links to places that I think are well worth having a look at...

John, over at Speculative Horizons has just started blogging and already has a review of 'Last Argument of Kings' up. He also finds time to vent some spleen at sub-standard art on fantasy book covers...

The Book Swede's 'Quote of the Week' continues, this time the quote supplier is one Philip Palmer...

Larry has just read David Keck's In a Time of Treason and says that it's a definite improvement on 'In the Eye of Heaven'.

Tia has an interview with Adrian Phoenix (author of 'A Rush of Wings') over at Fantasy Debut

And finally... Pat has just found out what books he will be reading after having lost his bet with GRRM. Have a look over Here to see what looks like some interesting reading coming up for Pat...

Have a great Sunday everyone!

Saturday, 26 January 2008

'The Zombie: Simon Garth' - Kyle Hotz (MAX Comics)

If you're into zombies and comics then it's very likely you've already picked up Mike Raicht's 'Zombie' mini-series from Marvel Comics 'Max' imprint. It's the tale of a bank clerk, Simon Garth, who has to deal with a robbery and a zombie infestation all at the same time. Not a good day for anyone to have I'm sure you'll agree!
Well, the title for this mini-series sequel kinda gives the game away but I've just picked up the first two issues and there's a lot more going on as well. I'm talking a woman on the run with her daughter, a tribe of inbred hill-billies, a drunken cop and a zombie infestation that's just starting to take root (cue lots of gore!). All of that and Simon Garth himself...
I'm on for the ride and if you're a fan of zombies you'll give this a go as well. I reckon you'll like it ;o)

Friday, 25 January 2008

'Half the Blood of Brooklyn' Giveaway - Who won?

I'll tell you who won...

Emily Hutchinson, from Harrogate, won a copy of the UK edition and also managed to bag herself a copy of 'The Shotgun Rule' in the process. The US edition went to Benjamin Sparrow (Coralville, IA). Happy reading guys!
Thanks to everyone else who entered. There will be more competitions in the near future so stay tuned...

In the meantime, I'll bet you're all wondering what's up next on my sci-fi/fantasy schedule. Well, I've just started reading Kay Kenyon's 'The Bright of the Sky' and have got that lovely warm feeling you get when you pick up a book and realise that it's even better than you thought it was going to be. I'm also going to be seeing 'Sweeney Todd' over the weekend, the wife likes Johnny Depp while I like seeing people wrapped up in pastry and fed to an unsuspecting public (everyone's a winner!) 'Cloverfield' is also looming on the horizon and, despite some negative reviews, I'm looking forward to seeing New York getting stomped on (by a large monster) yet again :o)

Thursday, 24 January 2008

‘Debatable Space’ – Philip Palmer (Orbit Books)

Orbit has been pushing this fairly hefty chunk of space opera as one of their big releases for 2008. I’ve gone from being from being cynical about ‘hype’ to totally buying into it so I was eager to see what all the fuss was about. Having finished the book today, I can see what they mean but I didn’t think ‘Debatable Space’ completely lived up to what everyone has been saying about it.
The story itself follows pirate captain Flanagan and his crew on their mission to bring down of the Galactic Corporation and it’s leader ‘The Cheo’. The first step involves the kidnapping of the Cheo’s daughter and things start to go rapidly downhill from there. Or do they? The first thing you learn about ‘Debatable Space’ is that nothing is as it seems and Captain Flanagan knows much more than he is letting on…
‘Debatable Space’ is a fast moving tale with twists in the plot that are regular but never predictable. Palmer has also gone to great lengths to create a galaxy that is plausible (through the development of its history) and rich in life and character. Couple this with two interesting main characters (three if you count an alien sidekick), plus aforementioned twists and turns, and you have a book that I polished off pretty quickly, I really wanted to put the time in and find out where this one was going. It’s also a book that really makes you think about what the story is actually all about. By the time I finished, the book could have been telling three different stories as far as I could tell. This is a great way to get you thinking about the book itself but, at the same time, I did wonder if the story would have benefited by just concentrating on one main aspect (and briefly mentioning others). This is really where ‘Debatable Space’ fell down for me. It felt like Palmer was revelling in this wonderful thing he had created and wanted to show it all off at once, the problem there is that there are only so many pages to do it in. There are characters that are fully developed and then just dumped with no explanation of what happens to them next. There is a lot of ‘info-dumping’ and ‘hard science’ that illustrates the setting perfectly but doesn’t give the story any room to breathe. That reminds me, a ‘get out of jail free’ card is still a ‘get out of jail free’ card no matter how much quantum physics you wrap it up it up in. While it was interesting to see how tricky situations were negotiated, it got to the point where they lost their urgency as the outcome was never in doubt.
I also got the feeling that Palmer was dubious about the amount of hard science in the book. A couple of times, one of the characters would tell the reader to skip large chunks of text if they were bored (although the reader must be stupid if they find themselves bored). While this was a neat little device to use, it did feel like Palmer wasn’t confident in what he was saying and was trying to please everyone at once.
‘Debatable Space’ is an entertaining read that is ultimately hamstrung by trying to do too much at once. However, I’d say that there are enough promising signs to make me want to pick up whatever Philip Palmer writes next.

Seven out of Ten

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Movie! ‘Hard Rock Zombies’

If ‘Hard Rock Zombies’ was a Top Trumps card, it would be the card that you played every time you were deciding on ‘worst horror movie ever’. What’s more, you would win every time. Having said that though, if this film was a Top Trumps card I’d consider playing it for ‘funniest horror moment’ as well. Let me explain…
‘Hard Rock Zombies’ is the story of a rock band that is brutally slain at the hands of that ‘strange family from just outside town’. Luckily for them, the lead singer was working on a song that can bring the dead back to life and this is used to get them out of the grave to take revenge on the ‘strange family’ (and play their gig in front of the music mogul). However, zombies always seem to result in more zombies and pretty soon the whole town is munching on humans…
Where do I start with what is wrong with this film? Is it the fact that it cannot decide whether it wants to be ‘horror comedy’ or if it’s an extended promotional video for 80’s MTV (they insist on playing all the songs at full length and having a zombie dance to them)? Is it the fact that the lead singer, of the band, displays a clearly unhealthy obsession with the blatantly underage heroine? Could it be down to the film budget being the result of a ‘whip round’ and a raid on some little kid’s piggy bank? The introduction of Hitler (no, really) is pretty cool but to have him say most of his lines in German will alienate a large chunk of the audience… Oh yes, there’s also the fact that this is not in the least bit scary at all.
While ‘Hard Rock Zombies’ is very much a film to laugh at while drunk there were some bits that did make me laugh for the right reasons. Have you ever seen a zombie dwarf try to eat a cow? You will if you watch this film. Efforts to defeat zombies by using psychology are also quite funny. What has to be the funniest moment though is when we get to see another zombie dwarf eat himself over the course of the film. Well, the little guy was hungry and there was fresh meat (sort of) right there for the taking…
‘Hard Rock Zombies’ will be the worst horror film you ever see but it’s fun at the same time. Don’t go searching this one out but it’s good for a laugh if you happen to catch it on TV.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

‘Biting the Bullet’ – Jennifer Rardin (Orbit Books)

This is the third book in Jennifer Rardin’s ‘Jaz Parks’ series, an ongoing tale of the CIA’s war on a different kind of terrorism involving vampires, zombies and the like. The best way to fight fire is with fire so if you’re gunning for a master vampire then you want to have one on your side as well. Vayl is that vampire and he is the CIA’s top operative. Jaz Parks is his bodyguard as well as other things that she is only just starting to find out about. This time around, Jaz and Vayl head up a Special Ops teams assigned to take down a terrorist leader in Iran. Or are they? Nothing is quite what it seems on this mission…
‘Biting the Bullet’ is one of those books where the content really annoys me but the plot keeps me reading instead of putting it aside for something else instead. It’s a short book (just over three hundred pages) and one that I found myself reading over two commutes and an evening at home, despite it being full of everything that I dislike in urban fantasy. There’s a feisty heroine who’s emotionally vulnerable but handy in a fight. She’s in love with the brooding intense vampire who’s also emotionally vulnerable and wrestling with his feelings for her. (Please, stop this! Can’t we just have one book where professionalism in the workplace wins over ‘tacked on romance’?) If that’s not enough, the spirit world seems geared especially to help our heroine through any situation, up to and including keeping an eye on dead comrades and bringing them back to life. I’ve seen this kind of thing in more than one series (by different authors) and, to be honest, I’m starting to feel like I already know what’s going to happen so where’s the point in continuing…
However, all of this spleen venting is coming from someone who tore through the book in just over a day, what happened? It’s simple, despite the shortcomings I found myself really enjoying the story itself. ‘Biting the Bullet’ doesn’t take itself too seriously and this is evident in the relentless onslaught of car chases, gun fights and acerbic conversations with the undead. It doesn’t pretend to be anything other than it is, an entertaining read that isn’t too demanding of the reader. In keeping with the ‘spy feel’ of the story there’s also plenty of intrigue and questions that kept me guessing and interested in what happened next.
I think that ‘Biting the Bullet’ will please fans of the series that are in for the long haul and are happy with what they know they are going to get. For me it was an entertaining read for the train but I don’t see it being a lot more than that. Funnily enough though, I will be reading the next one.

Six and Three Quarters out of Ten

Monday, 21 January 2008

‘The Fade’ – Chris Wooding (Gollancz Books)

At the back end of last year, Adam gave this a glowing review over at The Wertzone. I’m a big fan of what Adam has to say so when I was looking for something to spend my Christmas book token on, ‘The Fade’ stood out immediately as a book to try. I finished it over the weekend and while it’s certainly an enjoyable book (with lots to recommend it) I did have a couple of issues with it…
‘The Fade’ is set in the subterranean caverns of a planet too scorched by it’s twin suns for anyone, other than the most hardy of settlers, to risk living on the surface. There is war in these caverns (there has been for hundreds of years) and there are those who would prefer that it remains this way indefinitely. Orna is a cadre member (elite assassin) who has been captured by the enemy as the result of a failed attack that also led to the death of her husband. Her main goal, in escaping, is to be reunited with her son but as the story goes on Orna finds that her needs dovetail far too easily with the machinations of others. There’s a lot at stake here and Orna will find that the success (or failure) of others will depend on what she does next…
I found myself gripped by both the story and the underlying concept of the world in which this was all happening. ‘The Fade’ is only just over three hundred pages long and a lot happens in a very short space of time. The fights are short and brutal while Orna’s motivations for escaping were enough to keep me reading to find out if she succeeded. On top of this there was a hefty dose of intrigue, which added a new level of interest and made me want to finish the book (even more) just so I could work out what was going on. The ending was a real shock, especially when you realise that the pieces were falling into place the whole time and you never noticed them.
However, I felt that the shortness of the book worked against it in that there was only room to tell the story and some of the things that I wanted to know about got left out. For such an interesting setting I felt that I never got to find out more about it because there just wasn’t enough space. This was also partly down to the use of ‘first person point of view’ where it felt like Orna knew what her surroundings were like and didn’t feel the need to elaborate further. What made this more annoying was the fact that whole chapters were dedicated to Orna’s past and this could have been done in short passages here and there.
It’s not often that I say this but although ‘The Fade’ annoyed me on a certain level I really hope that this is the start of a series just so I can experience the setting and atmosphere a little more. Wooding does write a tight and well-crafted tale as well so it will be interesting to see what he comes up with next.

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

Saturday, 19 January 2008

‘Half the Blood of Brooklyn’ – Giveaway!

If you hang around here you’ll already know how much I’ve enjoyed reading Charlie Huston’s ‘Joe Pitt’ books (gangster vampire noir in Manhattan) and ‘Half the Blood of Brooklyn’ was no exception. Have a look at my review over Here
It just so happens that I’ve got one American and one UK edition of ‘Half the Blood of Brooklyn’ to give away to anyone fancies them. But there’s more to come, I’ll be giving one of these editions away along with a hardback copy of Huston’s thriller ‘The Shotgun Rule’ (scroll down for the review) but I’m not going to tell you which edition comes with the extra free book…
So here’s the deal, you email me (address in the top right hand corner of the screen) and tell me whether you’re after the UK or American edition of ‘Half the Blood of Brooklyn’ (and give me your mailing address). I’ll announce the winners (and who got the extra book) next Friday. It really is that simple.

Good Luck!

P.S. I’ve had a few people emailing me saying that they’re not too happy giving out their address to a random guy on the net. That’s completely understandable so I just want to say that the only reason I ask for mailing addresses is so that I can get books to people as soon as possible. People’s addresses are not used for any other purpose and all emails are deleted after each competition closes.
Hope that clears things up!

Thursday, 17 January 2008

‘Snake Agent’ – Liz Williams (Nightshade Books)

When I first started with the blog, urban fantasy was a genre that I’d never really gone into in any depth (epic fantasy has always been where it’s at for me). I think the furthest I ever got into the genre was Mike Carey’s ‘Felix Castor’ books. Over the last year, my initial forays into urban fantasy have turned up real gems such as Charlie Huston, Mike Carey and Charles de Lint. It’s also brought Laurell K. Hamilton to my attention, the less said about that the better as far as I’m concerned… ;o) Next up is one Liz Williams with ‘Snake Agent’, the first novel in her ‘Inspector Chen’ series. While Williams is no Mike Carey or Charlie Huston, she still gets to go in the ‘good urban fantasy pile’ on the strength of this book. I think I’ve found another series to keep an eye open for…
Detective Inspector Chen, of the Singapore Three (a franchise city) police force, specialises in supernatural cases so when the ghost of a murdered girl fails to make it to Heaven as expected, Chen heads the investigation. At the same time Seneschal Zhu Irzh (a member of Hell’s own police force) is tasked with finding a dead prostitute, who has escaped one of Hell’s brothels, and it turns out that they are both after the same ghost. Before they can even decide who gets rightful custody of the ghost, Chen and Zhu must work together to find her. It’s not as simple as that though, this one ghost is just the start of a chain that will lead to a plot that could upset the carefully maintained balance between Heaven and Hell…
‘Snake Agent’ isn’t just a detective novel although it performs this function really well, giving me enough questions to keep me reading while spreading the answers across the book like little rewards for progress made (each answer resulting in more questions). I really appreciated the balance here as I personally hate having to wait until the end of a story to get the full picture of what is going on. I also liked that although this is the first book in a series, it felt like the beginning was actually page one hundred and I had some catching up to do. Gaps are filled in later on but the author assumes knowledge of the characters to begin with and this ups the tempo of the book straight away. Williams also paints a pretty good picture of the world that these people inhabit but sometimes I wanted a little more. I also got the feeling that Williams took advantage of the ever changing nature of Hell and dropped in a few ‘get out of jail free’ cards for certain characters in tricky situations.
‘Snake Agent’ is also a fascinating look at a near future world where Heaven and Hell are more tangible than they have ever been, if you have the right stamps on your passport then you can visit either of them whenever you want. The knock on effects of this are explored in a way that I haven’t seen before. You don’t get demons pouring out of a rift and killing everyone, these guys are trading their technology with humans but it all amounts to the same thing in the end… What’s also interesting is the exploration of human spirituality when a person is forced to live with their deities in physical form. It’s quite interesting to see Chen’s personal battle to do good while being forced to work with agents of evil.
‘Snake Agent’ is an assured beginning to what promises to be a fine series if it carries on in this vein. I’ll be looking out for more of these and I reckon anyone who wants urban fantasy that’s meatier than normal could do worse than pick this up.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

'The Red Wolf Conspiracy', Fantasy Debut for 2008?

That's a pretty tough one to answer so early in the year but there are already promising noises being made about the opening chapter in Robert Redick's 'The Chathrand Voyage' trilogy. Don't believe me? Have a look Here and then head on over Here as well. There's certainly enough good things said to make me mark this title as one to definitely look out for...
Not only are we getting early reviews but there's also an Author Website where you get to check out the first chapter amongst other things. Not only do you get this but one of my favourite purveyors of quality interviews has thrown some questions at Redick and posted the answers on his blog. Have a look Here for Chris' interview...
All sounds like good stuff, I'm looking forward to seeing what 'The Red Wolf Conspiracy' is like when it comes out in February...

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

‘The Shotgun Rule’ – Charlie Huston (Ballantine Books)

I love reading fantasy and (sometimes) sci-fi so that is what this blog is all about, every so often though I break out of the old routine and go for something completely different. Having got a lot out of Charlie Huston’s ‘Joe Pitt’ novels (some of my favourite reads from last year) I was eager to see what his ‘crime fiction’ was like. My wish came true when a copy of ‘The Shotgun Rule’ came through the door on Friday night and I settled down to have a read…
‘The Shotgun Rule’ weighs in at a mere two hundred and forty eight pages but it wasn’t for this reason that I finished it off so quickly. You see, Huston doesn’t just write punchy ‘vampire gangster noir’ that takes no prisoners he also does the same thing for this ‘small town rites of passage’ novel. Paul, George, Hector and Andy are four teenagers spending their summer getting high and getting into trouble. Things kick off in a spectacular way when, trying to get Andy’s bike back, they break into the local hood’s house and find a lab set up to produce crystal meth. It’s the easiest thing in the world to steal a bag of meth but not so easy to deal with the consequences. One impulsive moment is going to set the underworld on fire and draw attention to secrets much closer to home…
‘The Shotgun Rule’ blew me away (no pun intended) in both it’s execution and content. The flashback/flash forward scenes were a little confusing to start off with but it all makes sense halfway through when the two strands seamlessly fit together. Apparently this has been optioned for a film and the technical devices involved in the structure of the novel make me wonder if this was on Huston’s mind when he wrote the book. The prose is stripped down, and sparse in tone, but this just makes every single word more effective in its job. Nothing is wasted and everything is there for a reason. I rattled my way through this book not even noticing what page I was on, the story is fast paced and gripping and I was left eager to turn the next page and see what happened. The ending came right out of left field and really surprised me with its abrupt violence. Looking back things seem a little more obvious but I guarantee they won’t if you’re reading this for the first time. I wouldn’t speculate on Huston’s childhood but all I’ll say is that he gets the four main characters (teenage hoodlums) spot on with what they say and do. What’s also interesting is the study of the capacity for innate violence in different people and how they come across as a result. It is a cliché but in this case the quiet ones are always the worst… The only thing that I felt could have been done better was the portrayal of Paul’s father. Allegations are hinted at but never really confirmed (a couple of sentences right at the very end don’t really work for me, it felt more like gossip rather than anything else). The uncertainty is good but I felt that Huston needed to come off the fence and just say it one way or the other.
Apart from this small point, ‘The Shotgun Rule’ is a great read and one that I would certainly recommend to any fan of Huston’s who has only read the ‘Joe Pitt’ books. I’m looking forward to reading more by Charlie Huston, whatever genre it’s in.

Nine out of Ten

Monday, 14 January 2008

‘Starship: Mercenary’ – Mike Resnick (Pyr Books)

In what will probably not turn out to be a tradition of starting series midway through I’ve just finished reading ‘Starship: Mercenary’, the third (and latest) book in Mike Resnick’s ‘Starship’ series. According to the author bio, at the back, Resnick has a pretty impressive CV comprising Hugo awards, various nominations for awards and fifty two novels. Not really being into science-fiction I’m a little ashamed to say that I had never heard of Mike Resnick until last year when I saw him mentioned in Fantasy Book Critic’s blog (somewhere, can’t find the link…). One book through the door later (thanks to the kind folks at Pyr Books) and I’ll say that although it’s not without it’s faults ‘Starship: Mercenary’ is just the kind of sci-fi that I can see myself reading more of…
Captain Wilson Cole is a man with a big starship and an even bigger problem. You see, Cole has a price on his head for escaping a Republic Navy court martial and he also has a ship to look after and a crew that needs feeding. A life of piracy doesn’t work for the principled Cole but hiring out as a mercenary crew could be a pretty good compromise. ‘Starship: Mercenary’ is the story of ‘what happened next…’
I’ve said before that I really don’t enjoy ‘hard sci-fi’ so luckily for me ‘Starship: Mercenary’ is about as far away from this sub-genre as you can get. Think ‘golden age’ pulp sci-fi and you’re pretty much where Resnick is aiming to be (especially with his introduction of the ‘Pirate Queen’…) In Resnick’s universe it doesn’t matter how spaceships fly, they just do and they’re loaded up with some impressive firepower as well. Strangely enough though, weaponry is rarely used with Resnick preferring to have his characters think their way out of tricky situations. This gives the reader a great route into the heads of the main characters and results in an entertaining story where you’re never quite sure how our heroes are going to escape… Having said that though, pulp sci-fi can sometimes go down improbable paths and the final chapter will have you wondering how a certain character was able to do what he did (and why he would want to!) Resnick’s universe is very intricate and well constructed (not surprising considering how long he’s been writing in it, see the appendices) with original characters, such as the Platinum Duke, and the particularly exotic locale of Singapore Station (a much bigger version of the Mos Eisley Cantina). The naming convention (planets and people) can be a bit frustrating sometimes. For every ‘alien sounding name’ you will also get aliens naming their planet after parts of India and warlords adopting names such as ‘Genghis Kahn’. It even gets to a point where one of the crewmen asks Cole why all the villains are naming themselves after ancient warlords…
Resnick has written almost two hundred short stories (author bio again!) and this is evident in the way the book is structured. Every mission has a very tight plot with a very definite start and finish but it felt to me that the bits in between (ie shore leave on Singapore Station) weren’t quite so well defined and were only there to link up the missions. In this respect the book came across as a short story collection rather the novel it said it was…
‘Starship: Mercenary’ has it’s problems but it’s one of those books that I enjoyed reading despite this, it’s fun and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. A clever blend of ‘military sci-fi’ and ‘space opera’ that is just the job for a trip into work or a lazy weekend.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Sunday, 13 January 2008

‘Dragonharper’ – Anne & Todd McCafferey (Bantam Press)

There are many of life’s little lessons that I steadfastly refuse to learn and one of these is my complete inability to stomach even the mildest Indian takeaway. I love the taste but my stomach ties itself in knots trying to get away from the food itself… Anyway, 5am Saturday morning sees me in the spare room waiting for the stomach cramps to stop. There’s no way I’m getting back to sleep so I thought I’d have a quick read of something short and sweet. Anne & Todd McCafferey’s ‘Dragonharper’ has been on the pile for a while so I thought I’d give it a go…
Anne McCafferey’s ‘Pern’ has always held a special little place in my heart, purely because it was these book covers (amongst other things) that got me reading fantasy in the first place. In a strange twist of fate however, I only read the first few books and then moved onto other stuff. Years and years later, I pick up the latest ‘Pern’ book to find that it’s not just Anne McCafferey writing them now, her son is starting to take up the reins as well (‘approved literary heir’). So, what would my first trip back to Pern be like after a long time away?
Kindan (a character from previous books, I think) is an apprentice at the Harper Hall. This is a boy of many ambitions, most of which will fail over the course of the book. I’m not telling you which ones bite the bullet but this is a character who wants to be a Harper, have his own dragon and try his luck with the Lord Holder’s daughter! Circumstances conspire against him not only in his daily life but also on a world-wide scale. Plague engulfs the planet and all dreams must be put aside in a fight just to survive…
‘Dragonharper’ makes some allowances for the first time reader but it does help if you’re someone who has been reading the series since it began. It’s assumed that the reader already knows a lot of the names and history which I found a bit confusing, especially when trying to place this book in context with what little ‘Pern history’ I already knew. Once you get past this though Kindan’s story is surprisingly easy to follow and invest time in. It’s made very clear (a little too clear sometimes) that he’s a good guy and someone we’re supposed to root for. The McCafferey’s are not afraid to lay on the pathos and tragedy which meant (for me) that Kindan’s character became even more likeable.
The only thing that really got me (and it’s a pretty big thing for me) was that for all the urgency implied in the plot, the story itself carried no sense of urgency at all. This was in part due to the fact that an important plot point is given away in the prologue and I just found myself waiting for it to happen. If you know what’s going to happen at the end of the book then you’re not going to spend time worrying about what’s going to happen. The other thing was that the concentration on the plight of Kindan, and his friends, is at the expense of the world-wide situation which became sidelined and almost irrelevant. Again, I just knew how this one would turn out.
Having said all that though, I really got into the story and wanted to know how it finished so I read it from start to finish. It was just based more on wanting to know about the characters rather than the overall threat…
‘Dragonharper’ will be a good read for fans of the series who know what they want and what to expect. For me though, it felt just a little too comfortable to be truly gripping.

Seven out of Ten

Saturday, 12 January 2008

'Halting State' - Charles Stross (Orbit Books)

I've really enjoyed reading Charles Stross' books but have found that the 'technical bits' tend to run away from me and leave me all confused. What better way then to review Stross' latest work than to give it to someone who has forgotten more technical stuff than I will ever know...
My friend Ben is that person and here's what he thought...

Charles Stross' forthcoming book, Halting State, is a surprising mix
of thriller and computer security textbook.
Most authors who attempt to include technology in their books fail to
make it convincing, and technology professionals cringe when reading
these attempts. Stross is one of those very rare authors who has in-
depth knowledge about computers and those who work with them, and
writes about it accurately yet accessibly. You don't have to be a
computer expert to read this book, but if you are you'll appreciate
his accurate portrayal of the technology and the culture. If you're
not, you'll just have to sit back and enjoy a great read.
The plot has the standard unexpected twists and turns, with a
surprise every chapter or two and the odd bit of romance thrown in
for good measure. It's told from the point of view of about six key
players, which feels gimmicky at first but turns out to be an
effective way of slowly revealing what's actually going on.
Now you're not supposed to judge a book by it's cover, but on the
cover of this particular book among the quotes from more cultural
figures, is a sentence of glowing praise from Bruce Schneier. Google
him. He literally wrote the book on cryptography and computer
security, both the technology and the social implications.
Now any work of fiction with that on the cover is certainly going to
be interesting, and Halting State didn't disappoint. In previous
books, Stross took the idea that magic was simply advanced
mathematics, and ran with it. In this one, he just takes current
technology, trends, and political policy, and winds things on a
decade or so, past Scottish Independence, into a world where everyone
is on the net all the time through an array of personal electronic
gadgets. The mobile phone is now a virtual reality gizmo which
overlays the sum of human knowledge onto your vision through your
glasses, and no-one leaves the house without strapping a vast
quantity of battery powered gadgets to their clothing.
In many ways, it's an appealing vision of the future. The technology
sounds great, and certainly conservatively achieveable in a decade or
two. But there's a downside to everything, and the book examines the
dangers of a world where everything is on the internet and society
can't function without it. It's a good read for anyone interesting in
where things will probably go, and how that could turn out. And you
don't even have to be technically minded to understand and enjoy it.

Nine and quite a lot out of ten.

Friday, 11 January 2008

‘The Chronicles of the Black Company’ – The Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered (and there were a lot of you!) but as I only had one copy there could only be one winner. On this occasion he was…

Jonathan Hill (Caladan Brood on the Malazan Empire Forum), Salisbury, UK

Nice one Jon, the book is on its way to you as I speak!
Better luck next time everyone else, there will be a ‘next time’ so stay tuned ;o)

Thursday, 10 January 2008

‘White Night’ – Jim Butcher (Orbit Books)

Conventional practice for reading a series of books clearly states that you start with the first book, then read the second and so on. Keep going until you’ve either finished or got bored and given up. However, at ‘Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review’ things are done a little differently. I read ‘Storm Front’ (the first of the Harry Dresden books) just over a year ago but never got round to picking the others up. After a long break I am starting again but with book nine…
You’ve probably heard of Harry Dresden already, he’s a private investigator/wizard for hire in Chicago and is the star of nine books, a TV series and (soon) a comic book as well. Life never runs smoothly for Harry, as is the way with private detectives everywhere, and he’s not afraid to sacrifice a lot to keep his city in one piece. ‘White Night’ sees Harry investigate a series of apparent suicides, which are anything but suicides, and before he knows it Harry is embroiled in a conflict between rival factions of the vampire community, an old enemy and Harry’s half brother…
‘White Night’ is initially difficult to get into but only if you’re like me and haven’t read the preceding books in the series. In Jim Butcher’s defence though, deft use of the flashback and ‘info-dump’ meant that I got up to speed fairly quickly. So, not a book to start the series on but it’s not a big problem if that’s what you end up doing. The story itself starts off brightly and works really well in a ‘supernatural detective’ kind of way. I’ve never been to Chicago but Butcher paints it as a pretty grim place, full of seedy bars and cheap motels, just the right setting for any kind of detective novel! Funnily enough though, I felt that the novel suffered when all the detective work was done and the big supernatural conflagration took place at the end. Harry Dresden seems (to me) to be a character better suited to detective work than ‘drawn out climactic’ battles and his choice of companions in the final pages rang a bit hollow for me (given what we already know about that particular relationship). Having said that though, it was great to see how all the individual plot lines came together (at the end) seeing as Harry had spent several chapters trying to figure it all out. I always think it’s a mark of real skill on the author’s part when they can make that happen.
The story is pretty good but (for me) the real positive points can be found in Butcher’s characterisation. Harry has a tendency for going off on long internal monologues (which I found off-putting but more or less expected based on the first person perspective) but once you get past this you really get to know him inside out which means you really feel for him when certain things happen. Supporting characters are more than just there to make up the numbers. It’s probably a mark of how long the series has been running but characters like Murphy and Marcone are well rounded and readable, certainly made the pages turn!
I think that if you’re already a fan then you will know what to expect from the latest Harry Dresden book and really enjoy it. While I enjoyed it the disjointed feel to it’s structure meant that I started to lose interest at the very point where I should have most interested! Still a good read but I’d probably choose Mike Carey’s ‘Felix Castor’ books over this one.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Science Fiction & Fantasy - What do you want to see in 2008?

This is a cross between an open ended question and a game...
It's early January and there's a whole brand new year stretching out in front of us where absolutely anything could happen, what would you like to see come out of the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Genre? Are you one of the many people who's waiting to see if GRRM makes good on his intention to finish 'A Dance With Dragons' this year? Would you like to see Christopher Tolkien produce another book from his father's notes? Is there a favourite book of yours that you would like to see adapted for the big screen? Or do you just want the Writer's Strike over and done with so your TV watching can proceed apace?
Let's take things a little further, this is a speculative genre after all! :o) What ideas/concepts would you like to see hit the bookshelves or the big screen. Have you ever had a hankering to see an urban fantasy about a feisty young dragon trying to make it big on the Stock Exchange (and deciding whether or not to eat his attractive female co-worker) or a vigilante troll trying to deal with the early morning rush hour in London? Actually, that last one is one of mine... Let's get creative people!
And here's the 'game bit'. Leave a comment here and at the end of the year we'll see whos wishes came true. If nothing else it will determine whether some of my readers are psychic...

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

‘Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse’ – Edited by John Joseph Adams (Nightshade Books)

As a child, I was vaguely aware of the threat of apocalypse (I’m talking world shattering events of a biblical scale, not the mutant master of evolution!) but never really paid it much attention. I mean, that’s what parents are for right? If I had thought about it I’d have probably believed that the world would end in nuclear war (the eighties being big for that kind of thing, as I seem to remember). These days I tend to lean towards the world ending in an uprising of zombies (way too much George Romero!) so it was really interesting to pick up this collection of post-apocalyptic tales and find out how this sub-genre of speculative fiction has inspired some pretty well known spec-fiction writers…
Having just put the book down, the first thing I can tell you is that the world is likely to end in any number of ways if these writers are anything to go by! It will mostly be through mankind’s own stupidity but not all the time. For example, Jerry Oltion asks his readers how it would feel to return to Earth from an interstellar voyage only to find that the Rapture took place while the crew was away… Also, for every story of nuclear hellfire there’s at least two that take a different route. Octavia Butler suggests that humanity losing it’s ability to communicate would be an apocalyptic event while Richard Kadrey’s ‘Still Life with Apocalypse’ says that sometimes these things just happen all by themselves…
This collection isn’t just a snapshot of how things could go (although the contributing authors get pretty inventive), it’s also a series of visions of how humanity might adapt to conditions after the apocalypse and this is where the collection really shines. There is heroism (which seems to be a staple in the post-apocalyptic genre) but what you mostly get are examples of people doing whatever they can to survive regardless of the cost. Sometimes they don’t succeed and events become tragic; Stephen King’s ‘The End of the Whole Mess’ is an exercise in the futility of good intentions and George RR. Martin’s ‘Dark, Dark Were the Tunnels’ is a poignant tale of ‘first contact’ gone horribly wrong. While John Langan’s characters rail against their fate, Dale Bailey’s Wyndham cannot even work up the enthusiasm to procreate preferring instead to drink gin on someone else’s porch. It’s this diverse mix of reactions that make the collection a gripping read instead of a cheap ‘Mad Max’ rip-off.
The danger with collections of this kind is that not all the stories are going to appeal to everyone. This was certainly the case with me, Elizabeth Bear’s ‘And the Deep Blue Sea’ was one tale (along with a couple of others) that didn’t maintain my interest as much as others. What I will say though is that there was enough of a spark in each story to make me finish it, even if I didn’t enjoy it. I’ve mentioned a couple as examples but the real ‘stand out’ tales for me were Paolo Bacigalupi’s ‘The People of Sand and Slag’ (a tear jerker tale of people who really didn’t know any better) and Gene Wolfe’s ‘Mute’(a ‘stripped to the bare bones’ tale that resonates purely through what it leaves unsaid).
Not all of the tales will be to your liking but all of them have something to say, ‘Wastelands’ is well worth a look in my opinion.

Nine out of Ten

PS The cover art shows the current 'working title'. According to the information I received, the title I've given will be the final one.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Being on holiday is much better than the alternative...

I am well qualified to comment as, after two blissful weeks away, I'm now back in the office... I didn't even have time to acclimatise, they just expected me to come straight back to work the second my holiday was over! Is that even legalin this enlightened day and age...?
So it's back to reading reports and emails, rather than reading things that I actually enjoy, but I've still got plenty on the go ;o) As well as finishing off 'Wasteland' (a collection of 'post apocalypse' stories, a review will probably go up tomorrow) I'm working on setting up a couple of interviews and I've still got some cool Christmas DVDs to work my way through. It's looking pretty good right now so don't be a stranger... ;o)

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Movie! ‘300’

2007 wasn’t just a year in which I read a lot of books, it was also the year that I meant to go and see lots of films at the cinema but never quite made it. You know how it is, there always seems to be something that needs doing instead or you just wake up in the morning and decide that you’d rather stay in bed… I never made it to ‘Stardust’ or ‘Thirty Days of Night’ and another that I completely missed was ‘300’. Still, that’s what DVDs and Christmas are for. Take one little brother that didn’t know what to get me, plus an inspired Christmas list from me, and ‘300’ can be crossed off the list of films to see. It was good as well…
If you’re a classical history fan or a fan of Frank Miller comic books then you’ll already know the story. For everyone else, ‘300’ re-tells the ancient battle of Thermopylae where three hundred Spartans (under King Leonidas) faced off against a Persian army of a far greater number. Honour, courage and the ‘Spartan Code’ are the order of the day here and because it’s adapted from the Frank Miller graphic novel you also get loads of cool effects that emphasise where the inspiration for the film actually came from.
At just over an hour and a half, ‘300’ is a great way to spend an afternoon of your holiday. There’s loads of action (great for someone like me), some amazingly choreographed sword fights and Gerard Butler’s Leonidas makes a compelling lead. The only problem I had was that once you got all the cool visuals out of the way there wasn’t an awful lot underneath. There’s a battle and some senators argue about whether to send reinforcements, that’s about it really. The plot is very linear and you just know how it will all end. This makes the film sound pretty ropey (and it should be) but I’ll still stand by what I said and say this film is a great way to spend an afternoon. Why? I found I was able to ignore the lack of story because the film just looked so good and this really helped me get into it and stay there. I’m useless with the terminology for this sort of thing but the CGI effects (I think this is what they’re called!) were superb and really went well with everything that I’ve already mentioned. I’m glad I didn’t fork out money to go and see ‘300’ but it’s definitely very good in a ‘leave your brain at the door’ kind of way. Ideal for a rainy Sunday afternoon!

Seven out of Ten

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Preditors & Editors Reader's Poll

I've just been told that the blog is one of the nominees for The Preditors & Editors Readers' Poll, a site that honours print & electronic publications published during 2007. It's just nice to see my blog nestled in amongst some amazing review sites... I've voted for my favourite and, just this once, I wasn't voting for myself! Why don't you head on over Here and vote for your favourite? Voting is open until the 15th January.
Good luck to all the nominees!

Friday, 4 January 2008

‘Last Argument of Kings’ – Joe Abercrombie (Gollancz Books)

Just over a year ago, people were asking me what I wanted for Christmas and I had no idea what to ask for. I’d heard about this book called ‘The Blade Itself’ (which was getting good reviews here, there and everywhere) and thought I’d ask for that. After all, if it turned out to be rubbish then someone else would have bought it and not me… ;o) Fast forward about eleven months and there I am waiting by the letterbox for my review copy of ‘Last Argument of Kings’ to come through the door. You see, ‘The Blade Itself’ was much more than just a good book and ‘Before They Are Hanged’ was even better. I finished reading ‘Last Argument’ this morning and will quite happily say that the final instalment was the best of the lot… Fans of the series are in for a treat. If you haven’t picked up the books yet then you’re in for a treat as well!
This is a really hard review to write as the book won’t be released until March and I don’t want to give anything away. Suffice it to say that the blurb says ‘The end is coming’ and this is definitely true. While there is scope for the tales of minor characters to continue the major players all find a degree of closure. You may not agree with how things end for certain people (you’ll certainly be surprised, I was) but you’ll have to agree that everyone gets what they deserve. For an author who likes to tweak the established archetypes of the genre Abercrombie displays a real streak of morality that I wouldn’t have expected to find in this kind of work. You can’t argue with the results though.
If you’ve read the first two books then you’ll know what to expect from the third in terms of style and content, at least you’ll think you will… Joe delivers his normal dose of intrigue, action and black humour but ramps it all up a gear and smacks you in the gut with some stuff that I guarantee you will not see coming. And then (while you’re gasping for breath) he does it all over again, rendering some of the most powerful battles I’ve seen in fantasy literature almost pointless with the revelations that follow. Let’s go back to those battles; Joe has proved that he can orchestrate the machinations of a small cast of characters, now he proves that he can do it with a cast a thousand times bigger. I love the way he zooms in to small set pieces and then pans out again, it really got me empathising with everyone involved and you get to see how one small action can influence the bigger picture. In terms of warfare in fantasy fiction, I don’t think that Joe is quite up there with Erikson but he’s damn close.
By the time I’d finished I really couldn’t believe that I’d gone on the journey that I had. Final chapters just don’t end in the way this one did but it just felt so right at the same time. It’s not perfect though, one small (but vitally important) scene had me thinking, “what hadn’t they noticed that the last time they went in there?” What followed though was so good that I was prepared to let that one go.
‘Last Argument of Kings’ will be one of the best fantasy books (if not the best) that you read this year. I know it’s only the fourth of January but I’m happy to stand by this ;o)

Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten

Thursday, 3 January 2008

George RR. Martin News!

No, 'A Dance With Dragons' hasn't been completed but it looks like GRRM is rolling up his sleeves in preparation to have it finished by the summer. Head on over Here for George's first update, on the series, since February last year. It's looking hopeful that we could see 'A Dance With Dragons' this year but as George says, "I am not swearing any blood oaths here..." Fingers crossed eh?
What we do get though is a new sample chapter to keep us ticking over for a bit longer. It's a 'Jon Snow' chapter and it makes for good reading.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Giveaway! ‘The Chronicles of the Black Company’

I didn’t expect to be doing a giveaway quite so early in the New Year but this is a good one and I couldn’t wait! When I was first getting into Steven Erikson’s ‘Malazan’ books I kept hearing of comparisons to this guy Glen Cook and his ‘Black Company’ series. This started me on what would become a search that took a good couple of years before I found anything! At the time, ‘Black Company’ books were hard to track down in the UK… I got there in the end though and immediately began another journey; this time it was with Croaker, Raven and Murgen as the Black Company ultimately found it’s fate in fabled Khatovar…
All of this is a rather long winded way of saying that when Tor’s new omnibus edition (collecting the first three books) came through the door I thought, “I have all these already” and then thought, “I wonder who else would like it instead?”
I’m a big fan of the Black Company and have already written a short piece about the series in this very blog (over Here). All I’ll say here is that the books are dark, gritty and refuse to shy away from what it really means to be a mercenary. Erikson wrote, “Reading his stuff is like reading Vietnam War fiction on peyote” and he wasn’t far wrong.
Enough of all that though, how do you fancy winning this omnibus edition comprising ‘The Black Company’, ‘Shadows Linger’ and ‘The White Rose’? You do? Well, you’re in the right place ;o) It’s as easy as ever, just drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and where you live. I will pick a winner next Thursday night and announce it here on the Friday (11th January).

Good luck guys!

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

Happy New Year!

The title says it all really ;o) Hope you all had a good one last night, whatever you ended up doing. I’ve got the hangover I promised myself but we never made it to the fireworks in the end, for some strange reason we preferred drinking copious amounts of red wine and doing a jigsaw of a gardener being attacked by a ravenous giant caterpillar… We’re not people for traditional New Year’s celebrations ;o)
New Year is the time for making resolutions, most of mine seem to involve losing lots of weight and staying away from sweets and chocolate. Maybe some light exercise as well, I’m certainly resolving never to feel as hungover as I do right now! I also have resolutions for the blog, the main one being to work my way through the ‘still to be read’ pile that is slowly taking over the room. If you’ve sent me a book, and haven’t seen it reviewed yet, then keep an eye out this year! The other main one is to try and avoid reviewing the same stuff, as other bloggers, at the same time (I’ve been really bad with this). We’re all fans so there will be an overlap every now and then (in what we read) but everyone will benefit from a little variety I reckon ;o) Having said that, first up for 2008 is Joe Abercrombie’s ‘Last Argument of Kings’, there’s a slight overlap with The Wertzone and Sandstorm Reviews but (this once) I don’t care because it’s turning out to be a damn fine read so far. It’s certainly raising my standards for everything else that I’ll be picking up this year. If you’re a fan then I guarantee you’ll enjoy this, look for a review in the next few days…
That’s about it for me today. I’m going to find a dark corner and wait for the pain to go away…

Happy New Year everyone!