Monday, 31 March 2008

‘The Reef’ – Mark Charan Newton (Pendragon Press)

Taking a book to read on a train journey is always a risky business. What if you get an hour or two down the track and realise that you can’t stand the thing? If you haven’t paid a visit to the newsagent beforehand then you run the very real risk of being stuck with one of those stupid free promotional magazines (although to be fair they do tell you what to do if the train crashes!)
I’m pleased to say that Mark Charan Newton’s ‘The Reef’ passed the ‘train journey test’ with flying colours. Not a perfect read but a more than worthy debut from an author that I’ll be looking out for in the future…
The threat of genocide in a tropical paradise leads a crew of freelance explorers, under the command of the charismatic Santiago DeBrelt, to travel to the island of Arya to solve the mystery behind the killings. What turns out to be of more concern though is the personal baggage that each member of the crew brings with them and how this is played out. While all this is happening, a group of terrorists are making their own way towards the island, theirs is a mission of revenge and what lies underneath the island will help them achieve this…
The first thing that struck me about ‘The Reef’ is how beautifully the continent of Has-jahn is realised on paper. Not a lot appears to happen for the first chapter or so but I really didn’t care as I was too busy getting totally lost in the winding streets of Escha, the shanty town outside Rhoam and (eventually) the island of Arya itself. Shared anecdotes between characters add depth to the background world building and made my journey an enthralling one. And this was all before I got to meet the inhabitants of the continent. The Que-Falta had echoes of Mieville’s ‘Re-Made’ but the ‘self-inflicted’ twist added a refreshing spin on this. I was really getting into the world-building aspect of ‘The Reef’ and was starting to come up with questions that I wanted answering. For example, why was there a rebellion against science? There are a lot of things left unanswered but this is ok as I never expect to have everything answered for me (it adds to the mystery). It was still a bit of a jolt though when, all of a sudden, the focus shifted onto what was going on in each character’s head. Again, this was really gripping stuff especially how the darker side of human nature was set against a bright and sunny tropical backdrop. The contrast serves to really hammer home how nasty (and sometimes just plain thoughtless) people can be. Newton takes the reader on an ideological journey through the actions of his characters and, for me, this was a real refreshing shift away from recent fantasy that I’ve read. It was just that the change in focus threw me out of the book and I had to get back into it all over again. While a book doesn’t have to concentrate on just one thing I think ‘The Reef’ would have benefited from a smoother transition between themes. The book could have benefited from being a little longer so a little more sense could be made from certain parts of the story. A character who dies gives us his commentary, from beyond the grave, but I was left wondering why he needed to suddenly appear (he disappeared just as suddenly). There is also a surreal conversation with a snake where I really wanted to see where things went but, again, nothing more happened. Was there a talking snake hiding on the island or was a certain character having a minor breakdown? I’ve got a good idea but will never know for certain…
Despite my issues with ‘The Reef’ I still think it’s a book that people will get a lot out of, especially if they’re fans of China Mieville’s work. Whether you’re after soaking up the sights of a fantastically drawn world, or being challenged by the darker recesses of the human mind (or even both!), then this is the book for you. Newton’s next work to be published will be his ‘Nights of Villjamur’ series and, on the strength of ‘The Reef’, I’m very much looking forward to seeing how this turns out.

Eight out of Ten

'Cassandra Kresnov' Competition - The Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered but I'm afraid there could only be one winner. The lucky person (who will receive copies of 'Crossover', 'Breakaway' and 'Killswitch') is...

Ryan Frye, Seattle

Nice one Ryan! Your books are on their way... (better luck next time everyone else!)

Sunday, 30 March 2008

The 'I've got a horrible feeling that I'm still hungover' link bonanza!

I've just got back from a great weekend in Sheffield with all my mates from the SFX forum; lightsaber fights, Chinese food and pretty much all the Star Trek films. Good times... :o)
I've hardly had any sleep and I'm wishing that I hadn't drunk quite so much! Here's some links for you, I'm going to bed after I've posted this...

The Book Swede has what may be the first review of Brian Ruckley's Bloodheir, he also introduces us to his Pile of Shame...

There's been a lot of talk about 'blog reviews' just recently. Jay Tomio has this to say...

Pat didn't think an awful lot of Andrzej Sapkowski's 'The Last Wish'

Over at Fantasy Debut it's time for a 'debut showcase' and it's Elizabeth C. Bunce's A Curse As Dark As Gold in the frame.

Tobias Buckell has a quick word to say about the Green Man Review's Best of 2007 List.

SQT has a guest review for Vikki Pettersson's Scent of Shadows

Last but not least, Thrinidir over at Realms of Speculative Fiction has a look at Ursula K. Le Guin's The Lathe of Heaven...

What am I doing while all this is going on? I've just finished Mark Charan Newton's debut novel, 'The Reef', and will be reviewing it soon. I'm now reading Gary Braunbeck's latest 'Cedar Hill' novel 'Coffin County', it's pretty damn good so far :o)

Friday, 28 March 2008

Going on a train ride...

... in the next hour or so which means I have to carry a lightsaber (don't ask!) across a London that is not so used to these things...
It's going to be a good journey though because not only am I reading Mark Charan Newton's 'The Reef' (very good so far) but I've just had copies of 'The Born Queen' (the book I've been looking forward to most this year!) and Gary Braunbeck's 'Coffin County' land on my doormat. I may just decide not to get off the train and keep on reading! ;o)

Have a great weekend!

From My Bookshelf... 'Tailchaser's Song' - Tad Williams

This isn't so much a review, more of a 'shout out' to an old favourite of mine ;o)
In the late eighties/early nineties I'd just started reading Tad Williams' 'Memory, Sorrow and Thorn' series. After a very slow start, 'The Dragonbone Chair' really caught my imagination and I can remember one Christmas where all I wanted to do was read 'The Stone of Farewell', in my opinion the best book in the series (stupid family games of Monopoly getting in the way!) I got to the end of 'The Stone of Farewell', for maybe the second or third time, and realised that there was going to be no new adventures of Simon, Binabik and co. for a long time to come (for a good year at least) What was I going to do? And that was when I realised that the 'By the same author' page was about to come in very useful in deed... I had a choice between 'Tailchaser's Song', 'Caliban's Hour' and 'Child of an Ancient City'. 'Tailchaser's Song' won simply because it had the coolest sounding name! I'm writing this at work (naughty ol' me!) so today you get a 'copy and paste synopsis'... (thank you Wikipedia!)

Fritti Tailchaser, a young ginger tom cat sets out to stray from his home and clan, the Meeting Wall Clan, in search of his catfriend Hushpad after strange disappearances of the Folk have been reported. He and the kitten Pouncequick set out on a long journey to visit the Court of Harar with the intention of finding out the mystery of the disappearances--a journey that will take them to cat Hell and beyond.

At this time, the only 'animal books' I'd read were 'Wind in the Willows' and 'Watership Down'. While I'd quite happily defend these books as 'classics', what spoiled them for me (a bit) was that the animals involved came across as very human and 'British' in their both their outlook and mannerisms. Tad went in a different direction and made his cats so 'animal-like' that they were almost alien as far as I was concerned. I'll still say that if you want to read a book where animals act as animals then 'Tailchaser's Song' is a good place to start.
'Tailchaser's Song' was Tad Williams' debut novel and does look a little rough around the edges when you compare it to his later works, in some ways it's almost like a 'work in progress' where he is experimenting with ideas that he will use more fully later on (in particular his fascination with the art of storytelling and its influence on society). The story has plenty of twists and turns but does appear simplistic at times, what saves it (and makes it a favourite of mine) is the characterisation and worldbuilding that Tad employs. A lot of thought seems to have gone into what makes the characters tick and they always act accordingly, any aberrations always occur with the story in mind. The journey that Tailchaser embarks upon is a device for character development but also serves as a vehicle by which Tailchaser's world becomes known to the reader. The best way I can describe it is by comparing it to a journey you would make yourself, where more and more detail becomes apparent the further you go. Tailchaser has never seen the outside world before so we get to share his sense of wonder as well as experiencing our own.
'Tailchaser's Song' is the ideal solution if you want to read something by Tad Williams that isn't a multi-volume epic, it's everything that I love about his work but it's a bite size chunk rather than a three course meal ;o)

Thursday, 27 March 2008

‘Small Favour’ – Jim Butcher (Orbit Books)

After having enjoyed ‘White Night’ I was pleased to see Jim Butcher’s latest ‘Harry Dresden’ tale come through the door. After a fairly dodgy start I’m really getting into what ‘urban fantasy’ has to offer and Jim Butcher is a name that I look out for. While ‘Small Favour’ wasn’t perfect it certainly didn’t disappoint either…
Things have been uncommonly quiet for Harry Dresden just recently. All the elements of the supernatural community seem to be getting on with each other and, more importantly, no-one has tried to kill Harry in almost a year. All that is about to change though. You see, Harry owes two favours to Mab (Queen of Air and Darkness and ruler of the Winter Court of the Sidhe) and she is about to call one of them in. It’s just a small favour but one that Harry cannot refuse, even if it brings the real risk of most of Chicago crashing down on his head…
As with ‘White Night’, you’ll get more out of ‘Small Favour’ if you’ve been reading the series since the first book. I got off a little more lightly this time, having read the previous book, but there is a lot of stuff happening that is the result of things that took place maybe two or three books ago. ‘Infodumps’ make up for this but only up to a point. I found myself wishing that I had read earlier books just so I could have more of a feel for the overall story. Maybe this is something I’ll get round to remedying some time… Another area where ‘Small Favour’ could prove problematic, for the first time reader is the complexity of the relationships both between characters and various factions. While there is a rich depth to the various interactions (that you could only really get from a long standing series such as this) it would have helped me as a reader if I’d had a little advance warning. Certain relationships appeared to be a little unlikely (to say the least) and the ongoing plot regarding the faerie hit men only looked as if it was there so that Dresden would have a way to bail out of the final confrontation. However, given that this is the tenth book in a series should Butcher be thinking of people who haven’t read all the other books first? I don’t think he should have to…
Difficulties aside, ‘Small Favour’ is an excellent read in terms of the plot itself. The story is convoluted but everything looks like it’s there for a good reason and the resolution of one plot line (in particular) really threw me! One thing that I have found myself looking for recently are ‘set piece battles’ that stories tend to build up to and wind down from. While Butcher prefers to concentrate more on the ‘pulp noir’ side of the story he doesn’t hold anything back when it’s time for a showdown. A pitched battle in Chicago train station, a house under siege or a final confrontation on Lake Michigan, it’s all good and some of the power on display was enough to make me gasp! This is tempered (and bought into perspective) by quieter moments where characters get a chance to kick back and relax and it’s here where Butcher’s ability to draw likeable and compelling characters comes to the fore.
‘Small Favour’ is really a book for the long term ‘Dresden fan’ but don’t let that put you off if you’re after a good slice of urban fantasy pulp noir (it’s pretty much persuaded me to find the rest of the series). I think it’s got pretty much everything you’re looking for.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Bakker & Jones: New Prologues on-line!

This has already been mentioned over on the Westeros Forum but I thought it was worth saying again ;o) Pat has already covered the 'Neuropath' prologue, I've had a quick read and it has whetted my appetite for what looks to be quite a disturbing book!
If you fancy reading the prologue for J.V Jones' 'Watcher of the Dead' (latest in the 'Sword of Shadows' series) then Here is where you need to be looking! From where I'm sat it all looks pretty interesting...

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

My Wife is Great!

Sue is great anyway but she is especially great right now as, yesterday, she jumped out of an aeroplane (10,000 feet up in the air) to raise money for a children's paediatric ward in London. Sue raised just over a thousand pounds in all :o) I've seen the DVD (you can get a camera-man to skydive with you) and my heart is still in my mouth so I can only imagine what it must have been like for real...
Well done Sue! I'm really proud of you :o)

Giveaway! 'The Cassandra Kresnov Trilogy'

The last few weeks have seen me reading (and really enjoying) Joel Shepherd's 'Cassandra Kresnov' trilogy, the high octane tales of a synthetic human making her way in a brave new world and caught between various factions that would rather see her dead. The series comprises Crossover, Breakaway and Killswitch and is a hefty dose of poilitical intrigue/people firing big guns which should appeal to any sci-fi fan.
Sounds good doesn't it? How do you fancy winning the entire trilogy? You do? Well here's what you have to do...
Send me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and where you live (full postal address please, that way I can get the books to you a whole lot quicker), anyone can enter but you can only enter once!
I'm going to let this competition run until next Monday (31st March) and I'll announce the winner on Tuesday.

Good Luck!

Sunday, 23 March 2008

‘The Name of the Wind’ – Patrick Rothfuss (DAW Books)

Graeme turns up late to the party yet again! While everyone was saying, last year, how great this book was I was thinking that I really must get round to reading it at some point… I actually bought a copy of ‘The Name of the Wind’ just before I started the blog and I thought it would be a good one to review. One year on and a week’s annual leave seemed like the ideal time to finally get into this book. While I’m kicking myself for not picking this up sooner I’m also glad that I waited until I had some proper free time as ‘The Name of the Wind’ really demanded that from me.
As this was one of the most hyped books of last year you probably already know the story even if you haven’t read the book. For those of you who don’t; ‘The Name of the Wind’ is the first book in a trilogy that recounts the life story of Kvothe, master wizard and stuff of legend. In this first instalment we get to learn about his formative years; including his time spent in a travelling troupe, his years as an orphan in a crime ridden city and the beginning of his time at university. All the while there are ‘interludes’ that show the reader Kvothe in the present day and how his past actions have led to his present status. There’s almost a case of ‘double foreshadowing’ as the reader gets to see the results of past misdeeds as well as present day occurrences that hint at the shape of things to come…
‘The Name of the Wind’ is a hard book to review in that Kvothe is telling his story for his own ends rather than the reader’s. Because of this you get a lot of what Kvothe wants the reader to know but there can be a lot of gaps if there are other things that you want to know. Because of the way that the story is told, there is an assumption that the reader (or listener in Chronicler’s case) has the background knowledge of an inhabitant of Kvothe’s world. For example, Kvothe will go into great detail about his time in Tarbean and Trebon (because that is part of his story) but will be a lot more vague about the surrounding area/history etc. I found it almost infuriating that that such a richly detailed account of Kvothe’s life would habitually fall short when it came to describing the wider world, especially when he gave such weight to describing things such as university lessons (the content of which failed to hold my interest). Having said that though, it has served the purpose of making me all the more eager for the next book! One other thing that I noticed was that Kvothe has a habit of flitting between the ‘Kvothe telling the story’ and the ‘Kvothe in the story’. For example; in the story Kvothe will meet someone, for the first time, and not know their name but will mention the person by name a couple of sentences later without any introduction having been made. I found this confusing until I got the hang of it.
‘The Name of the Wind’ has had so much hype and discussion that I thought I had to mention it’s shortcomings (or at least the ones I perceived) just to try and get a sense of balance in my own review. The thing is; despite the trouble I had with it ‘The Name of the Wind’ is an astonishingly good read of the kind where I’d be sneaking five-minute reads here and there when I should have been doing other things instead. Rothfuss takes a huge risk in having a character so full of himself that he is arrogant beyond belief but it does pay off as when Kvothe is bought low I really felt for him. There are great highs and sickening lows and this rollercoaster effect really kept me turning the pages to see what would happen next. ‘The Name of the Wind’ has a real sense of something amazing in the offing and I intend to be around and see what happen next. It’s not a gritty read, like Abercrombie or Lynch, but there is still a lot there for any fantasy fan to enjoy. I wish I’d read this sooner.

Nine out of Ten

Saturday, 22 March 2008

The Saturday 'I hope my wife's parachute works tomorrow' link up spectacular!

This time tomorrow my wife will be doing her charity skydive and I'm getting attacks of vertigo just thinking about it. My wife seems to be taking it all in her stride though and acting very cool about the whole thing. Fingers crossed and all that!
In the meantime, here are some of the things I saw this week that made me think "ooh, cool..."

Fantasy Book Critic reviews one of the books that I'm looking forward to most in 2008.

This week saw the sad passing of sci-fi stalwart Arthur C. Clarke, the Wertzone is amongst those who paid their respects.

Sandstorm reviews looks at my Least favourite Terry Pratchett Book...

Larry looks at various award finalists and his review plans for them.

If there isn't enough links for you here then Neth Space has a few more for you...

Speculative Horizons has a few things to say about the earlier book covers for James Barclay's 'The Raven' series.

I've just discovered the Solaris Editor's Blog and it looks pretty cool, have a look over Here

There's a discussion on Pat's blog about the issue of 'voice' in blogging and Aidan has provided us with a handy link!

Last but not least, Grasping for the Wind looks at The Death of the Necromancer by Martha Wells.

What am I doing? Well, I've finally got around to reading 'The Name of the Wind' and am wondering why I didn't pick it up sooner. Look for a review in the next few days...

Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, 21 March 2008

‘Truancy’ – Isamu Fukui (Tor Books)

When I was fifteen I wanted to write a book. Unfortunately, not only had Tolkien got there first but also others were copying him. That was that for me… If I’d thought about it though, I could have done what Isamu Fukui did. You see, there was a lot about school that I absolutely hated but it never occurred to me to write a book about it. However, it did occur to a fifteen-year-old Isamu Fukui and ‘Truancy’ was born.
A nameless city serves as an experiment in human conditioning where children are subjected to endless schooling by sadistic teachers. Outside the system; former students have banded together to form the ‘Truancy’, a group dedicated to overthrowing the regime. Fifteen-year-old Tack is about to find himself caught up in this struggle through the most harrowing of circumstances and will have to question who he really is as the violence spirals out of control.
I’ll admit that the first thing I thought was, “a fifteen year boy who hates school is writing about a fifteen year old boy who hates school, did someone have a couple of bad days at school and want to moan about it? Is this the equivalent of someone being told off by their parents and then writing a story about how horrible fathers are?” Well, yes and no…
Some of the school scenes are very black and white in how the characters are depicted, all the teachers are evil (and don’t care about how unfair the homework is) while the students are hard done by and resentful. I can appreciate why the scene is being set like this and the target audience (teenagers who hate school) are going to lap it up. I’m not part of the target audience though and these scenes just left me cold. I ended up thinking, “I had to deal with school, stop making such a fuss and get on with it…”
However, I think Fukui really comes into his own when the story moves out of the classroom and onto the streets. The story itself is fast paced with plenty happening and loads of twists and double crosses. I really got into it and pretty much tore through the book to find out what happened next.
The character of Tack is used to explore themes of honour, friendship and revenge and while it doesn’t come across particularly subtly there was some real hard hitting stuff going on that made me stop and think. While Fukui denounces violence he accepts that it has a part to play in the tale and doesn’t hold back. A young adult audience will love scenes of missile attacks etc on schools and I’ve got to admit that my inner teenager wanted to be the person pulling the trigger.
If I was a teenage reviewer then I’d be giving ‘Truancy’ top marks but I felt that a lot of what Fukui was trying to say passed me by purely because I was too old to really get a feel for it. It is an entertaining read though and good fun, a ‘Battle Royale’ for a younger generation.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Movie! ‘Spirited Away’

After having watched (and reviewed) ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ just after Christmas, a few people left comments saying that I really need to check out ‘Spirited Away’ as well. I need very little excuse for a spot of DVD shopping so off I went and found myself a copy straightaway! I haven’t really had a chance to put it on until today but I’ve just finished watching it and I’m really glad that I did. It was superb.
For those of you that don’t know the story ‘Spirited Away’ tells the tale of Chihiro, a small girl who is unhappy at having to move house. On the way to their new home her parents stop to explore what looks like an abandoned theme park but is actually a ghostly town. Before Chihiro knows it, she is engaged in a quest to save her parents whilst at the same time trying to stay alive and fend for herself in a new world inhabited by Gods and spirits…
This is a really hard review to write as everything that that I liked about ‘Spirited Away’ is the same as what I liked in ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. Suffice it to say that the DVD packaging says that ‘Spirited Away’ is “the most successful film of all time in it’s native Japan’ and I can completely see why. The artwork/ animation blew me away yet again; everything seems to have been drawn to a really minute level of detail with no expense spared. Like ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, ‘Spirited Away’ is another anime that completely demands your attention and at times the combination of animation/incidental music meant that I actually had trouble concentrating on the story itself. Talking of the story… it’s a real mixture of the classic ‘quest’ tale (Chihiro’s attempts to save her parents) and loads of little extra bits that serve purpose other than to really open up the world that the film is set in. For example, who is No-Face and what is the point of him in the film? Why did someone take the decision to open a bath-house for weary Gods and spirits? You don’t get the answers and it doesn’t really matter either, just enjoy the spectacle that is unfolding before you. The bath-house itself is an amazing creation that’s full of life with a surprise around every corner, I was actually quite sad to leave at the end of it and I got the impression that Chihiro was as well. And that’s the only issue I really had with the film, everything seemed to build up to a confrontation that came across as anti-climatic and things just petered out after that.
All in all though, an amazing experience. I’m really glad I finally got round to watching ‘Spirited Away’, if you haven’t already seen it then I heartily recommend that you do.

Nine out of Ten

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

One year of blogging!

It was on this day, a year ago, that I was sat in front of the computer thinking 'what do I write in my first ever post?' One year on and inspiration has left me yet again...
All I can say is that I've had real fun telling you all what I think about the genre and meeting loads of cool folk at the same time. Hopefully there's another year left in this at least! ;o)
Happy Birthday to me!

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Graeme’s Retro Classics! ‘Blake’s 7’ (Season One)

The BBC TV show ‘Blake’s 7’ ran from 1978 to 1981 (thanks Wikipedia!), four seasons in all. As a child, I probably only saw a few episodes from the last two seasons but ‘Blake’s 7’ is so great that I’m going right back to the very beginning…
‘Blake’s 7’ recounts the tale of Roj Blake and his crew of renegades and criminals, fleeing justice (of a repressive Federation) in a stolen alien spacecraft of unknown origin. The first season mainly deals with the crew’s attempts to determine the capabilities of their new vessel, ‘The Liberator’, as well as their initial attempts to strike back at the Federation. Relationships between the crew are given time to develop and the villains of the piece are introduced. While there is a lot of scene setting that takes place; individual stories still have room to shine with action, intrigue and plenty of impressive looking spaceships (that somehow looked a lot more impressive when I was five or six years old…)

As child watching ‘Blake’s 7’ I never really saw past the laser guns, spacecraft and talking computers. Nothing wrong with that, that’s what being a child (and watching sci-fi on TV) is all about! The last few days though have seen me watching Season One and realising that there is a lot more to ‘Blake’s 7’ than I originally thought. It’s so dark for a start, the first ever episode opens with revelations of a population kept docile through Federation administered drugs and a crowd of protesters are gunned down by security forces. For your money, you also get scenes of torture but this is torture ‘nineteen seventies TV’ style so it’s nothing to get too scared by. Having a ‘rebel’ crew consisting of thieves, smugglers and murderers also turns things upside down in terms of who you’re supposed to root for. Do you go with the oppressive regime (that is fighting to maintain law and order) or do you side with a bunch of criminals (who want to bring down said oppressive regime but for differing and ulterior motives)? It’s a real grey area that isn’t helped by the fact that the crew of the Liberator seems to fight amongst themselves almost as much as they do the Federation. The dynamic between Blake and Avon is particularly compelling, as they are two strong characters with very clear (and differing) ideas of what they want and how to get it. As the more self serving of the two, Avon’s character stands out and it is interesting to see how he develops over the course of the season.
Whichever side you choose (and I’m guessing you’ll make the same choice as me!), ‘Blake’s 7’ offers a ‘Robin Hood in space’ slice of sci-fi where plot and character development more than make up for the ‘card-boardy’ feel of some of the scenery. My favourite episodes, for Season One, were ‘The Avalon Project’ and ‘The Web’. I’ve got no idea if ‘Blake’s 7’ is being repeated on TV anywhere but I think it’s well worth your time if it is!

Monday, 17 March 2008

‘Killswitch’ – Joel Shepherd (Pyr Books)

This year it already feels like I’ve read more sci-fi than I did in the whole of last year and this is mostly down to my having had the good fortune of getting stuck into Joel Shepherd’s ‘Cassandra Kresnov’ books. The bottom line is that I think they’re brilliant and incredibly easy to get sucked into, the most fun I’ve had with sci-fi in a long time. All of this leads me nicely onto the topic of ‘Killswitch’, the final instalment in the trilogy and a book that insomnia led me to finish very early this morning. ‘Crossover’ was brilliant, ‘Breakaway’ was less so but still a cut above the rest. How did ‘Killswitch’ fare? Pretty well…
It’s been two years since the events of ‘Crossover’/’Breakaway’ and the planet of Callay moves towards taking its place as the centre of Federation politics. This does not sit well with the ruling body on Earth who have dispatched a fleet of warships that are threatening a blockade (and worse). The fledging Callayan Defence Force has an advantage in that synthetic human Cassandra Kresnov leads them but Cassandra finds herself at a distinct disadvantage when she discovers that her old masters implanted a ‘killswitch’ in her brainstem. The person holding the codes for the ‘killswitch’ is perhaps the last person that Cassandra wants to meet…
Before I go on I just want to get one thing out of the way. Unless I missed it in ‘Breakaway’, two years have passed and a plot-line looks like it has been forgotten and I don’t think it was ever resolved in the first place. Nothing major but I hate loose ends… That’s the grump out of the way, let’s get on with talking about how great ‘Killswitch’ was (because it is rather good)! Everything that I loved about the last two books was present here and what is really special is how Shepherd manages to ramp up the action and keep it plausible at the same time. The enemy is stronger and more challenging but ‘Killswitch’ never descends into comic book violence. The ‘set piece’ battles just keep getting bigger and bigger and this time we get to see Cassandra take on a battle cruiser by herself. It sounds a little over the top, reading it here, but you’ll be surprised at how easily you accept what Cassandra is able to do. She is a beautifully realised character and I have really enjoyed getting to know her as well as agonising with her over the dilemmas involved in being a synthetic human.
Placing all three books together shows how well the author has done at plotting a story that goes on for longer than one book. There’s a real sense of progression throughout the trilogy and, for the most part, everything is wrapped up neatly in the closing chapters. There’s scope for more adventures here and I’d certainly pick up more ‘Kresnov’ books if they were ever written.
Sure there are loose ends and you may have to go back and read certain passages again (if you blink then you’re bound to miss something!) but ‘Killswitch’ is an intelligent and engaging read that will appeal to anyone who likes their sci-fi thoughtful and action packed at the same time. Highly recommended by me!

Nine out of Ten

'A Dance with Dragons' - UK Cover

I don't know if this has been posted on other blogs already but I just saw this, on the Voyager website, and figured I'd post it ;o)
It looks pretty good from where I'm sitting! Certainly better than the US cover...

PS If anyone knows how I can make this picture a bit bigger...

Sunday, 16 March 2008

New On-line service from HarperCollins, what would you like to see?

I've just had an email from HarperCollins who are planning a new online service offering exclusive limited edition versions of existing HarperCollins titles and online-only new titles. Seeing as this is aimed at folks like you (yes, you!) They've asked me asked me to direct your attention over Here where you can fill out a survey and give your opinion on the service etc that you would like to see. I've just done the survey and it doesn't take long at all...

Saturday, 15 March 2008

The Saturday 'my internet is down so I'm doing this at my neighbour's' link-up bonanza!

Yes, I managed to break the internet at home so am doing this from my neighbour's house! If you haven't seen it already, these are the things I liked this week...

Gav reviews 'Un Lun Dun' over at Next Read

The Wertzone has a look at Steph Swainston's The Year of Our War and also points us in the direction of an early review of 'The Steel Remains'.

The Fantasy Hotlist has a great competition for anyone who's a Malazan fan...

The Book Swede has a few thoughts On Magic...

Fantasy Book Critic absolutely loved The Duma Key...

Aidan adds his voice to the list of people who love Last Argument of Kings

Talking of which, Joe Abercrombie has a few things to say about
Last Argument of Kings himself...

Joe Sherry has been reading Glen Cook's A Cruel Wind and has posted his thoughts...

And last but not least, Tia shines the debut spotlight on Mad Kestrel by Misty Massey (True Fact: My Deputy Head at primary school was called Mr Massey, coincidence or...)

What am I doing? Apart from waiting for the telephone connection to be fixed I've given up on 'The Oblivion Society' (Marcus Alexander Hart). It started off great but took a downturn when the author took too long recounting events leading up to the great beginning. I don't care about what happened before the great beginning, just get on with telling the story! I'm now having another crack at 'The Name of the Wind', I've got the week off work so should have plenty of time for reading :o)

Have a great weekend!

Friday, 14 March 2008

‘Happy Hour of the Damned’ – Mark Henry (Kensington Books)

I love zombies but have found the urban fantasy ‘sub-genre’ to be very hit and miss, in what I’ve read so far, so Mark Henry’s debut novel looked to be just what I was looking for. It’s urban fantasy but it’s got zombies in it! Hang on, how much character development and plot can you possibly get out of a shambling corpse? A fair bit actually, if you bend the ‘rules’ a little…
Amanda Feral is an advertising executive in Seattle, she’s also newly undead thanks to the random attentions of a zombie in a lift. This is where the comparisons with your typical ‘Romero’ zombies stop, in Henry’s Seattle there are two ways to become a zombie and Amanda’s route (being breathed on by a ‘zombie maker’) leaves her in full possession of her faculties but with an occasional yearning for human flesh… ‘Undead Seattle’ is a strange but welcoming place and Amanda manages to find herself friends and a social life, she also manages to find herself in a lot of trouble. Just because Amanda has already died once, it doesn’t mean that she wants to die again…
Once I got past the front cover (quite possibly one of the worst I have ever seen!) I found ‘Happy Hour of the Damned’ to be unlike any other ‘urban fantasy’ I’ve read and enjoyed the experience all the more for it. ‘Happy Hour’ doesn’t take itself too seriously and this is apparent in the little ‘footnote asides’ that pepper the text. These give a great insight into Amanda’s character as well as giving the reader an overview of life in ‘Undead Seattle’. Example…

‘Every now and then – and I’ve never done it – a bunch of zombies heads down to the welfare office and picks up some deadbeats for a feast. They set them loose in a fenced off field and have it. Hilarity ensues.’

Amanda isn’t your everyday heroine, not surprising for a zombie who has to be careful not to get hurt (the wounds won’t heal). She is sarcastic and self serving but is always there to help her friends. Much of the story focuses on Amanda’s interactions with her dysfunctional group of friends and it’s this ‘Friends’ vibe that adds a refreshing spin to the detective element of the plot. Imagine Philip Marlowe on the case but a Philip Marlowe who would much rather be drinking cocktails and going shopping. Add a gay vampire (always looking for love) and a zombie best friend (who really doesn’t want to be involved) and you get a good idea of the obstacles in the way of a mystery being solved!
With so much going on, Mark Henry shows real aplomb in keeping the plot quite tight and not going off on tangents. I thought that perhaps things were tied up a little too neatly but that didn’t stop the story itself being absorbing and fun at the same time. The only other thing that really got me was what looked like the author going for the world record for “number of times the word ‘bitch’ is used in a book”. It’s funny a few times but repeated use on practically every single page grew irksome very quickly. Don’t let that stop you reading ‘Happy Hour of the Damned’ though, it didn’t stop me and I’m glad of that. It’s an irreverent and fun read that has got me waiting impatiently for the sequel ‘Road Trip of the Living Dead’…

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Fantasy Book Critic has also read 'Happy Hour of the Damned'. Have a look over
Here for his review and links to a few others!

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Fantasy Book Spot 'Best of 2007' Tournament!

If you had to choose between 'Acacia' and 'The Blade Itself' which one would you pick? How about a choice between 'The Terror' and 'Brasyl' or 'Silverfish' and 'Pirate Freedom'? Well, you have the chance to make all these choices and then defend your chosen book to the death over at Fantasy Book Spot (link under 'Forums' on the right hand side of the screen) where their 'Best of 2007' tournament is now underway. Joining in is simple; register on the forum, pick your favourite book (in each thread) and then tell everyone why you think that book should win through to the next round. The winner gets the rather nice looking award in the picture, you won't get an award but you'll be able to feel all pleased with yourself if your favourite book wins... ;o)

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

‘Breakaway’ – Joel Shepherd (Pyr Books)

I woke up at four o’clock this morning and just knew that there was no way I was going to be able to get back to sleep. Don’t you just hate it when that happens? This morning wasn’t so bad though as I was able to use the time to get back into Joel Shepherd’s ‘Breakaway’, I’d been reading it on the train yesterday and now I had a good excuse to finish the book off. It’s not as good as ‘Crossover’ but is still great stuff and well worth a look if you’re into sci-fi and cyberpunk…
It’s only been a matter of days since the climatic events of ‘Crossover’ and Cassandra Kresnov (synthetic human and deadliest person on Callay) is still struggling against the prejudices and suspicion that she is held under by everyone else. At the same time, the political parties of Callay move towards a critical vote that will determine the planet’s future relationship with the Federation. There is a lot to be gained from this vote and Cassandra is about to find herself at the centre of every plot and connivance…
‘Breakaway’ is the middle book in a trilogy and, unfortunately, this shows in that the book tends to come across as only setting up events for the final instalment. A fairly major plot strand isn’t resolved and, seeing as there’s meant to be a two year gap in the story (from what I’ve read), it will be interesting to see how this is tackled in ‘Killswitch’. Cassandra’s ‘introspective episodes’ (where she dwells on the nature of being ‘human’) are again well detailed, at least as well as in ‘Crossover’. The scene where she is given a baby to hold really caught me out as Shepherd takes things in a different direction and provides more food for thought. This theme makes for some very interesting reading but (unlike the first book) Cassandra fails to reach any conclusions. This could just be ‘build up’ for Book Three but the sense of ‘unfinished business’ really rankled. Cassandra is pretty much a pawn of others throughout the book and has to piece together a lot of things for herself. Now, I know that Cassandra is hyper-intelligent but there are a lot of occasions where “all of a sudden, everything became clear”; it doesn’t feel as if she is able to work things out for herself, things just occur to her or she is able to use some computer trickery to get the information that she needs. It would have been good if we could have seen more evidence of reasoning and intuition as this would have added more weight to Cassandra’s ‘humanity’…
This may all seem that I had nothing but issues with ‘Breakaway’ but the fact is that everything that made ‘Crossover’ such a good read can be found here as well. There’s enough action and intrigue here to fill three or four lesser books and, despite my reservations, I was completely hooked by the direction that the story led me in. Characterisation was spot on as well; Cassandra and Rice were two characters that I completely empathised with and I even found myself keeping an eye out for other ‘lesser’ characters to see how they were getting on.
‘Breakaway’ feels like a bit of a disappointment, compared to ‘Crossover’, but still manages to do an admirable job and I think it would be better judged once I have finished reading ‘Killswitch’ and the series is complete. I’m sure that exciting times lie ahead for Cassandra Kresnov and I intend to be there to see how it all ends.

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

‘Personal Demon’ – Kelley Armstrong (Orbit Books)

I told you that it wouldn’t be too long before I picked this up! Kelley Armstrong’s ‘No Humans Involved’ was a flawed but fun read and certainly enough to make me bump ‘Personal Demon’ up the pile of books taking over my bedroom…
Hope Adams is a half-demon and a pretty special one at that; she is one of only a handful of demons in the world that can detect the flow of raw chaos and this makes her a pretty useful person to have on a murder scene or if something chaotic is about to happen. This talent has brought Hope to the attention of a Cabal (think Mafia but with sorcerers) in Miami and she is hired to infiltrate a gang of supernatural teenagers and report on their activities. However, the arrival of a killer on the scene forces everyone to re-evaluate their plans and Hope must seek help from unexpected quarters whilst trying not to give into her urge for chaos.
As with ‘No Humans Involved’, ‘Personal Demon’ is a detective story and one that is masterfully written. I’m really bad for skipping to the end of books (to see how they turn out) and there was no exception here. For me; it was a measure of how good the book was that I saw the ending (‘whodunnit’) and was still surprised by it after having gone back and picked up where I left off. There are many twists and turns to be found and this kept me guessing (and interested) the whole way through. A pretty big element of the plot is seemingly discarded halfway through the book, and I did find this confusing, but everything is more or less tied up by the end. The book is relatively fast paced as well which I found demanded my attention throughout, especially when Armstrong ramps up the action! It’s more of a ‘stand alone’ book, than its predecessor, and although some background knowledge is beneficial ‘Personal Demon’ is a book where you can just jump in and get going.
I did have a couple of issues with the book though… ‘Personal Demon’ is told through the perspective of Hope Adams and one other character and if you don’t keep an eye on the chapters (easily done) then things can get very confusing indeed! This is especially true when both characters appear in the same chapter; there were times when I had to re-read passages to see who was talking… Hope’s character can sometimes feel like a bit of a non-starter as well. While you get to learn a lot about her, Hope’s anxiety about losing control over her power means that she keeps a tight lid on things and we don’t get to see what happens when she really does lose control. Maybe this will be looked at in later books but I felt like an opportunity was missed now…
On the whole though ‘Personal Demon’ was a very entertaining read that really engaged me, a nice slice of ‘Urban Fantasy’ in a series that I may have to go back to and read more.

Eight out of Ten

Monday, 10 March 2008

Manga Monday!

Three more books came through the door this weekend and here’s what I thought of them all…

‘Y Square’ – Judith Park (Zen Press)

Yoshitaka is not a success with the ladies but his new classmate, Yagate, has no troubles in this area at all. However, in a strange quirk of fate, Yagate would much rather be a hit with Yoshitaka… Cue lots of unrequited love and teenagers getting themselves into trouble doing stupid things. The press release says this one is for ‘older teens’ and this is very much the case when you look at the characters (all teens) and the setting (a school). I haven’t been a teenager for a long time and school is (thankfully) a distant memory as well. Consequently, there was nothing there that engaged me at all. I read the whole thing but there was nothing there that made me want to keep reading if you know what I mean…
Might be worth a look if you’re fifteen or sixteen years old.

Four out of Ten

‘Black God: Vol 2’ – Dall-Young Lim & Sung-Woo Park (Zen Press)

Game programmer Keita Ibuki’s life is going from bad to worse now he has found himself entangled with a guardian of the coexistence equilibrium. He’s got an arm that isn’t his own, a friend who is suddenly in danger from shadowy strangers and Keita is about to find that it doesn’t stop there.
I loved the fight scenes in this (the artwork doesn’t pull any punches) but it sometimes felt like the rules were either being made up on the spot or I had come into something that had been going on a lot longer than just two books. As a result things sometimes felt confusing and this interrupted the flow of the story. The fight scenes take up a large chunk of the book (so there isn’t much room for the story itself) but you do get sense of plot progression and there’s quite a hard hitting ending!
This story is worth sticking with for one more book at least.

Six out of Ten

‘Zombie Loan: Vol 2’ – Peach-Pit (Zen Press)

Following the events of volume one, Michiru Kita now finds herself working for the Zombie-Loan office helping two undead agents (Chika and Shito from volume one) dispatch unauthorised zombies. The trio have their work cut out for them with the arrival of a serial killer who is intent on creating zombies of his own…
Despite some confusing moments, requiring re-reads, ‘Zombie Loan’ is starting to become a series where I want to see what happens next. The detective element to the tale keeps things fresh and the introduction of a new character puts an effective spin on established relationships, nice cliff-hanger ending as well! And it’s got zombies in it, what more could I want? Less of the confusing ‘did I just read that right?’ moments…

Seven out of Ten

Sunday, 9 March 2008

‘Vampire Apocalypse, A World Torn Asunder’ – Derek Gunn (Black Death Books)

I thought I’d pretty much seen it all as far as vampires are concerned. In a nutshell there’s Dracula, ‘Laurell K. Hamilton style vampires (more interested in sex than drinking blood) and the ‘Buffy’/’Blade’ clones that all look just a little too good to be true. Let me know if I’ve missed anything out…
I was quite pleased then to receive Derek Gunn’s book along with a press release saying not only is the book being developed into a film (have a look at but that it also “takes the sexy posturing out of vampires and turns them back to what they are: bloodsucking animals that feed on humans...” That sounds like just what I’m after, I thought to myself but having finished the book I’m not so sure…
‘Vampire Apocalypse’ is a tale of the aftermath of the vampire conquest of Earth, a planet so drained of natural resources that humanity had nothing to fight back with (there’s a lesson for you all to learn!) The vampires keep humankind drugged and obedient but some people have escaped this and are looking to take back what was originally theirs. The fight is on…
‘Vampire Apocalypse’ is actually ‘Vampire Apocalypse, A World Torn Asunder’ and I have to say this was bugging me before I’d even opened the book. For me what was quite a snappy two-word title got stretched into something that ended up repeating itself and losing its impact. The story itself was a lot easier on the eye but strangely one-dimensional. No shades of grey here, everything is either pure good or disgustingly evil. In this respect I could see the story working well as a film but in book form I was looking for a little bit more depth in the characters. To be fair though, there is other stuff going on to make up for it, if you pick this book up then you can expect loads of action, cunning traps and cliffhangers! ‘Vampire Apocalypse’ is certainly entertaining in that respect.
I think the main problem that ‘Vampire Apocalypse’ has is that it’s a very short book, weighing in at a mere two hundred and fifteen pages. This is all well and good if you’re just looking for a quick read but, for me, it seemed that there wasn’t enough room to go into greater detail and sometimes it felt like this was needed. For example, the reason for one character’s defection is glossed over, in a small paragraph, and I think that such a pivotal moment perhaps needed more explanation. Also, what appears (at first glance) to be ingenious ‘vampire fighting tricks’ come across as contrived because they’re not explained properly. Without giving the game away, the method of avoiding serum dosage works but how did the humans manage to pull it off in a world where all available resources were in the control of the enemy?
I think that ‘Vampire Apocalypse’ would work really well as a film/TV show where the emphasis is on spectacle rather than story, in book form however it didn’t quite work for me…

Five out of Ten

Saturday, 8 March 2008

George Romero's 'Diary of the Dead'

It's always a happy day for me when a new zombie movie hits the big screen. There's nothing like being scared to death in the cinema and then having to walk outside with that little voice in your head saying, "just imagine if zombies had attacked London while you were watching the film..."
George Romero's 'Diary of the Dead' is out in the UK right now and promises to be better (I think) than his last zombie outing 'Land of the Dead'. Instead of me going on about it, how do you fancy seeing what the man himself has to say? My wife knows I'm a complete sad-case as far as zombie films (George Romero ones in particular) so when she saw this on the BBC website I was emailed straight away! Happy reading...

PS, Real zombies don't run! (Although it's cool when they do...)

Friday, 7 March 2008

More Free Reading! Jeff Vandermeer's 'The Situation'

There seems to be a 'mini-boom' just recently in the number of online books being made available for free download. NightShade Books have just done it, Tor and Harper Collins have been doing it for a little while now (and I think Eos Books made some of their books available to mark their tenth anniversary). Now it's the turn of PS Publishing who have made the entire text of Jeff Vandermeer's forthcoming novelette 'The Situation' available in Adobe pdf format over on's GeekDad. Printed copies of the book will not be available for another three weeks so it's a great way to have a little taster in the meantime. According to PS Publishing Editor-in-Chief Peter Crowther, 'The Situation' is "a tale of corporate surrealism that ought to ring true for anyone who's ever found themselves trapped in cubicle hell and struggling to deal with the bewildering pace of technological change." Sounds just like my job right now... :o(
If you find yourself hankering for a printed copy of 'The Situation' then have a look over Here...

Tad Williams Contest - The Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered this competition, the winners (of copies of 'Shadowmarch' and 'Shadowplay') are...

Kevin Neuhaus, Hagen, Germany

Tiago Rodrigues, London, UK

Gaspar Garcao, Portalegre, Portugal

Well done guys, your books are on their way even as we speak. Happy reading!
Better luck next time everyone else, there will be more competitions in the future so keep your eyes open!

Thursday, 6 March 2008

‘Gladiatrix’ – Russell Whitfield (Myrmidon Books)

It wasn’t until I saw ‘Gladiator’, for the first time, that I realised women also fought in the arena. I never really paid much attention in history classes and that one must have slipped me by… It didn’t slip Russel Whitfield’s notice though and he’s gone and written a book about it. This is the first historical novel that I’ve reviewed and to be honest I wasn’t sure, at first, if it would fit into the remit of what I’m trying to do with the blog. I picked it up anyway and enjoyed it so much that it definitely gets a mention here.
The plot is simple. Lysandra is a Spartan warrior priestess who has been shipwrecked and sold into slavery as a Gladiatrix, a female gladiator who provides the ‘warm up act’ to the crowd before the main events. It’s a slim hope but the only possible way that Lysandra can regain her freedom is by victory in the arena. Lysandra’s Spartan upbringing will help her survive the arena but she must still contend with the enmity of Sorina, the Gladiatrix Prima, and the brutal Numidian trainer Nastasen…
I really enjoyed reading ‘Gladiatrix’ and I reckon if you’re a fan of historical fiction by authors such as Simon Scarrow and Conn Iggulden then you could do a lot worse than pick this one up for a read. As the title suggests, a lot of the action takes place in the arena and after reading some of the fights I was left feeling almost as bruised as I would have done if I’d been fighting for real! Whitfield isn’t one of those authors who has their characters rushing in waving a sword, there’s evidence of real thought regarding the consequences of each sword thrust and shield block. The fight scenes can sometimes drag on for a bit though, sometimes this serves to increase the tension but at other times it just seems unnecessary (especially if you know that a certain character will win through) and almost cartoonish. The same goes for the ‘romantic sub-plot’ between Lysandra and one of the other gladiatrices, while there were some real poignant moments I’m pretty sure that the sex scenes perhaps didn’t need to be dwelt upon at such great length. It’s cool if you like that kind of thing in your reading but I wanted to find out what happened next!
On the whole though, ‘Gladiatrix’ is an entertaining read that has an air of thorough research about it. Whitfield steers the reader through a series of events in the arena (as well as some hard hitting stuff outside it!) that contrasts well with Lysandra’s journey to reconcile her Spartan upbringing with her new life as a slave. There are plenty of twists and turns and you’re also well advised not to get too attached any particular character; life in the arena is harsh and death is never far away!
If you’ve ever wondered what ‘Gladiator’ would have been like with Angelina Jolie in the main role (surely it’s not just me?) then give ‘Gladiatrix’ a try ;o)

Eight out of Ten

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Free Download! Richard Kadrey's 'Butcher Bird'

I've got no idea what 'DRM' stands for but Night Shade Books are releasing Richard Kadrey's novel 'Butcher Bird' as a DRM-free download. I've had a quick look and ended up having to remind myself that I should be working right now...
Here's the press release,

Back in 2005, a very different version of Richard Kadrey's novel Butcher Bird began its life as a free download posted online at The Infinite Matrix. At the time, it was called Blind Shrike. In 2007, Night Shade Books published our version.

Now it's back. With the cooperation of Richard Kadrey, Night Shade Books is proud to make the entire text of Butcher Bird available as a DRM-free download, in a wide variety of formats, so that everyone can enjoy this amazing novel of black magic and arcane mysteries, however and wherever they want. The World of Butcher Bird is one where angels and devils brawl in the streets, where the Black Clerks charged with keeping the Dominions in check have developed their own dark agenda, where the swordswoman known as Blind Shrike battles monsters in deadly combat, where a civil war has broken out in Hell, and where Spider Lee, an unassuming San Francisco tattoo artist, and his drinking buddy LuLu Garou, have been dropped right smack into the middle of the action.
Richard himself describes the book as "the Gnostic Gospels meets Wild at Heart." Butcher Bird is an odyssey that will take you from the San Francisco underground to decadent palaces to the very gates of Hell… and beyond!

Richard Kadrey is the author of six novels, including Angel Scene, Kamikaze L'Amour, and the quintessential cyberpunk novel Metrophage. His short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies, as well as the magazines Asimov's, Interzone, Omni, and Wired.

Fancy a free read? Head on over Here where you can download 'Butcher Bird' and a couple of other tales too. Thanks go to John Joseph Adams (Night Shade Books) for the heads up ;o)

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

‘Crossover’ – Joel Shepherd (Pyr Books)

Joel Shepherd’s 2006 debut garnered a lot of positive reviews (Chris the Book Swede loved it and Pat managed to get a quote from his review on the back of ‘Breakaway’, the sequel). From what I’d heard of the novel I just knew that I’d be reading it sooner or later, it turned out to be a lot later with other stuff that has been going on! I finally got around to reading it a few days ago and I’m officially adding my voice to the list of people who enjoyed this book. There are a couple of exceptions but, on the whole, I think the hype has been totally justified.
Cassandra Kresnov is a synthetic person and the pinnacle of League technology in its fight against the Federation. She has been created to lead ‘lesser’ synthetics in battle but her enhanced intelligence, and intuition, lead her to question her orders and ultimately desert her creators. The only place left for her to go is the Federation planet of Callay where her very existence is anathema to Federation doctrine. However, Callayan politics aren’t as clear cut as they seem and there will be plenty of opportunities for Cassandra to make herself useful in her new home…
‘Crossover’ is a pretty hefty 457 pages long but (for the most part) it didn’t feel like it as the story was fast paced enough to keep the pages turning nicely. The plot is a good blend of action, politics and musings on being an artificial human trying to make its way in a human world. The text is split fairly evenly between these three topics and the ‘action’ and ‘musing’ sequences work really well. We get a real taste for what Cassandra is capable of in several fight scenes that are explosive to say the least! No expense is spared with blowing the scenery up but the fights never once become cartoonish. All I’m going to say is that if I’m ever in that kind of fight then I want Cassandra on my side, someone who is capable of jumping off a tall building and breaking the road (instead of her legs) is well worth knowing! Cassandra’s internal conflict (reconciling who she is with what she wants to be) also makes for some poignant and emotional reading. Her developing relationship with SWAT officer Vanessa Rice got me all teary eyed and it’s this kind of switching back and forth between themes (action and introspection) that kept things fresh and engaging for me.
Callayan politics forms the foundation of ‘Crossover’ with an intricate plot involving planetary secession and manipulation, by shadowy agencies, amongst other things. On the whole this works well with a storyline that kept me hooked with its many twists and turns. At times however, the emphasis on politics turned into ‘info-dumps’ that were made more annoying by the fact that some questions were left unanswered. Unless I missed it, I never found out what ‘GI’ actually stood for. ‘Genetic Infantry’, ‘Great Invention’? Who knows… I was also bemused by the decision to have the final confrontation shown through the eyes of the ‘villain’. The fact that he never hears Cassandra say anything just felt like an opportunity was missed for a showdown with some real impact.
Despite these (small) flaws, I loved ‘Crossover’ and haven’t had as much fun with a sci-fi book in a long time. I’m hoping for more of the same from ‘Breakaway’ and it won’t be too long before I find out.

Nine out of Ten

Monday, 3 March 2008

‘Shadowmage’ – Matthew Sprange (Abaddon Books)

Abaddon Books have released some pretty good alternate-earth books (check out ‘Unnatural History’ and ‘El Sombra’) and they’re good for zombie fiction as well. What’s been conspicuous in its absence however is a fantasy series and this looks to have been resolved with the introduction of ‘Shadowmage’, the first in the ‘Twilight of Kerberos’ series.
Lucius Kane is forced into exile when warfare ravages the city of Turnitia; years later he returns and takes up a life of crime on the streets of the city. However, his new allegiance to the thieves guild is about to be put to the test by war with a rival guild and the burgeoning magical powers that he is learning to control…
‘Shadowmage’ is a book that pretty much shoots itself in the foot before it really gets going and this is a real shame because if you give it a chance the story isn’t bad at all. Where ‘Shadowmage’ falls down is its ‘overuse’ of certain fantasy tropes in a genre that is starting to look in different directions with its storytelling. After spending time in Turnitia, I was left with the feeling that I could have been reading about any number of fantasy cities. You want guild wars? ‘Shadowmage’ has guild wars but I’m pretty sure a lot of other fantasy books have done the same thing already. You want a story about a young man, with strange powers, returning from exile? ‘Shadowmage’ has lots of this but so did ‘The Belgariad’… You want a tale about a wise-cracking thief? ‘Shadowmage’ will do the job but ‘The Lies of Locke Lamora’ does it a whole lot better. And just what is a ‘Shadowmage’ anyway? I can appreciate that this is the start of a series, and the reader will find out more as they go along, but there’s no real sense of what being a ‘Shadowmage’ actually means. Lucius is able to do things that other Shadowmages cannot; does this mean that he’s an ‘uber Shadowmage’ or that he is the only real Shadowmage (and the rest are just regular mages)? It would have been nice to know…
After this big rant it will surprise you to know that the story itself wasn’t that bad. There’s plenty happening with some spectacular set piece magical battles and an ongoing commentary about the politics between the major players in the city. I liked the fact that no-one is safe and it’s clear that the author will not let any attachments, to a character, get in the way of the story. The introduction of a major foe is also handled well, getting just the right balance between telling the story and raising questions for future novels to answer.
As a quick light read, ‘Shadowmage’ is certainly entertaining but it doesn’t really stand out amongst all the other books that do the same kind of thing. Having said that though, ‘Shadowmage’ has done just enough to make me want to see what happens next and if the series improves from here…

Six and Three Quarters out of Ten

Sunday, 2 March 2008

The 'I think your blog has a cool name' link-up spectacular!

These are the blogs that make me wish I'd taken a little longer coming up with a name for my own...

A Dribble of Ink points us at some pretty cool free reading...

A Slight Apocalypse reviews one of my favourite vampire books...

Blogorob shines his spotlight on a subgenre that doesn't have a specific name but does have loads a wizard detectives and vampire hunters...

Jumpdrives and Cantrips looks at the first contact novel 'A Small and Remarkable Life'.

Larry is Trying to grasp poor and muddled reviews over on OF Blog of the Fallen...

Sandstorm Reviews looks at 'The Hyperion Cantos', I really need to read 'The Terror' at some point...

Chris the Book Swede reviews Ken MacLeod's 'The Execution Channel'

The Deckled Edge tells us what's where in the New York Times bestseller list...

And finally, the Wertzone recommends that we track down a copy of Paul Kearney's Riding the Unicorn.

What am I doing? Well, I've just finished reading Matthew Sprange's 'Shadowmage' and I've still got Joel Shepherd's 'Crossover' on the go. Expect to see reviews in the next few days.
Have a great weekend!