Monday, 30 June 2008

Author Interview! Jaine Fenn

Having read and reviewed Jaine Fenn's debut sci-fi novel, 'Principles of Angels, I thought it would be really cool to put some questions to Jaine and see what her answers were. Jaine very kindly agreed to answer my questions and these were her answers...

Hi Jaine, thanks for agreeing to take part in this interview!

Your debut novel, ‘Principles of Angels’, is now on the bookshelves. Have you found yourself going into bookshops and rearranging the shelves so that your book is the first thing that shoppers see?
I’ve actually only got into two bookshops since the book came out, and one of those I was doing a signing in. But yes, I suspect I might not be able to resist in future.

For those people who haven’t seen a copy yet, can you sum up ‘Principles of Angels’ in ten words or less?
Revelation, redemption and flying assassins in a floating City.

What made you decide to write science fiction?
Lack of boundaries. So many worlds to explore, so many possibilities…

Are there any writers (sci-fi or otherwise) that have inspired you in your work?
Off the top of my head and in no particular order: Ian (M) Banks (both his SF and non-SF), William Gibson, Geoff Ryman, H P Lovecraft, Mary Gentle and Raymond Chandler.

When you were writing ‘Principles of Angels’ was it the setting or the characters that came to you first?
Setting, just. It was more the set-up, which brought the characters with it.

You put your main characters through a lot, which one was the most fun to write?
Taro. He really shouldn’t be allowed out by himself.

‘Principles of Angels’ features assassins called ‘Angels’ and a mysterious alien race called the ‘Sidhe’. Is there an element of fantasy hidden in your work or are you all about the sci-fi?
Oh dear, you’ve sussed me! Actually I love the tropes of SF – interstellar civilisation, weird tech, alien perspectives – but unlike a lot of SF writers I prefer stories driven by characters rather than by ideas. So definitely ‘soft’ SF. A lot of my more sexy technology conforms to Clarke’s Third law (i.e. it’s all but indistinguishable from magic)

Will the Sidhe be a recurring feature in future books or is there a larger universe to explore first?
There’s a whole lot more to find out about the Sidhe. And a whole lot more universe to explore too.

You mention in your blog that you have been dubbed one of the ‘Three Princesses of Fantasy’ (even though you write sci-fi!) Who are the other two Princesses and why should we be reading their books too?
They are fellow Gollancz debut authors Alex Bell and Suzanne Mcleod. Alex’s contemporary supernatural mystery ‘The Ninth Circle’ is a very atmospheric book which pulls the reader in from page one and has some plot twists that made me smile (in a wicked way); Suzanne’s first book, ‘The Sweet Scent of Blood’ is out in September, though I’m hoping to get an advance copy as it sounds intriguing; she has Sidhe too, but hers are rather different, and occur in a contemporary fantasy setting.

You also mention in your blog that your next book, ‘Consorts of Heaven’, is in the process of being submitted to the publisher. Can you tell us anything about what will be happening in this book? You’re allowed more than ten words to do it in this time!
‘Consorts of Heaven’ is not technically a sequel to ‘Principles of Angels’, as it starts several months before the action in ‘Principles’ and it’s set on a different world, one which is far lower tech and more like a fantasy setting. However, though it is not immediately obvious, the two stories are intimately linked, and the (surviving!) characters from the two books are now on a collision course.

Having now got one book under your belt was ‘Consorts of Heaven’ easier or more difficult to write?
In some ways a little easier, as I learnt a lot about the craft of writing working on ‘Principles’. But ‘Consorts’ was harder work, as I only had a year, and towards the end it rather took over, at the expense of everything not required for actual survival.

Finally, you’re an established short story writer but ‘Principles of Angels’ is your debut novel. Do you have any advice for any ‘would be’ writers who are looking for the break that you got?
Polite persistence. It’s very easy to get disheartened by those form rejections, but all we can do is try our best. And remember to write, first and foremost, for yourself, because whilst you may be your own harshest critic at times, you should also be your target audience.

Thanks for your time Jaine, I really appreciate it.

Photo courtesy of James Cooke.
Read my review of 'Principles of Angels' Here.
For more information on Jaine Fenn and her work, click Here for her website.

Sunday, 29 June 2008

Graeme goes to the Comic Shop, Part One...

Ok... it turns out I didn't post that much after all, sorry! I've just been away for another great weekend with my mates from the SFX Forum where we got drunk, had lightsaber fights in the street and invaded comic shops across Sheffield. Check out what I came back with...

I've heard a lot about this, on various forums, (and really enjoyed 'Inside Straight') so when I saw it on the shelves I thought I'd give it a go. Daniel Abraham's writing/story is as good as what he did for 'Inside Straight' but the artwork didn't do much for me, didn't stand out as any different from any Marvel or DC comic... Having said that, there's just enough to 'The Hard Call' for me to give it one more issue and see if gets better...

I just had to come home with a zombie comic! ;o) There's three stories inside and my two favourites were the 'one shots' that had a definite ending (typical...) and 'People Person' won out as my favourite overall. 'The War at Home' looks like it has potential to be a good tale though and I'm loving the front cover! :o)

'The Goon' is another series that I've heard good things about so I thought I'd give it a shot, this issue ended up being my favourite of the ones that I bought and I'm probably going to end up investing in at least one of the trade paperbacks. Great artwork and a story that's both sweet and a little scary. Oh yes, and it made me laugh out loud too. Great stuff...

While I've been working my way through these I'm also making some headway into Steven Erikson's 'Toll the Hounds'. The best way to put it, so far, is that reading this book is like wading through treacle - 'sweet but really heavy going...' More on this when I finally get it done! I also managed to find a copy of 'The Tower of Fear' by Glen Cook and I should have a review up sometime this week.
Hope you all had a great weekend and that work isn't too horrible to you tomorrow! _

Friday, 27 June 2008

'Keepers' - Gary Braunbeck

I was after something short and sweet to read before I went off for the weekend, Gary Braunbeck's 'Keepers' was short and, for a piece of horror fiction, surprisingly sweet as well...

Gil Stewart is an ordinary man until one day his normal life is shattered after witnessing a bizarre death on the highway. All of a sudden animals are behaving weirdly around him and strange bowler hatted men keep appearing when he least expects it. If all this wasn't weird enough, his Downs-Syndrome nephew goes missing with a comic book that can tell the future...
All this is connected to an event in Gil's past that he has fought desperately to forget but now he must remember if he is to stand any chance of getting through the night with his sanity intact. The Keepers are coming...

This is going to be a fairly quick one, need to leave the house in half an hour, but I could sit here all day and go on about how much I enjoyed this book. We're back in Cedar Hill, the home of strange goings on that mask concepts that I don't normally come across in horror fiction. Without spoiling it for those who haven't read the book, Braunbeck comes up with a really original theme this time round that got me more interested the more I was told.

There's a real 'Twlight Zone' feel about 'Keepers' with everyday objects taking on sinister meanings and becoming even more horrifying when placed against things that are ordinary as ever. There's a hint of poignancy to the proceedings as well and this somehow makes the story even more horrifying; not just in terms of what is going on but also in terms of childhood past, the pain of a first love and the pain of people and animals who are mistreated and forgotten.

It's not all good though; throughout the story Gil fights to keep his memories for surfacing until the very end where he figures out what is going on. It felt to me that, while we got his life story, we didn't get the revelation (only that he knew what he had to do next) and this made for a confusing final few pages. The ending made up for though (and got me a little teary eyed).

It's not perfect by any means but 'Keepers' is a fine example of Gary Braunbeck doing what he does best. If you're a horror fan then I highly recommend you start reading his stuff.

Eight out of Ten

‘Books of the South’ – The Winner!

Thanks to everyone who took part in this competition. However, I’m afraid there can be only one winner and that winner was…

Steven Tornow, Ohio, USA

Nice one Steven! Your book will be on it’s way very soon…
Better luck next time everyone else! (There’s always a next time…)

I'm off to Sheffield, for the weekend, so posting may be a little thin on the ground for the next couple of days. Stick around though, whatever makes it through will still be good... ;o)
Have a great weekend!

Thursday, 26 June 2008

‘Rogue Trooper: The Future of War’ – Gerry Finley-Day (Rebellion Books)

Yesterday I was reading an interview that Aidan ('A Dribble of Ink') had conducted with Brian Ruckley. One of the things that Brian mentioned was that he would like see more coverage of graphic novels in SF blogs and, funnily enough, I was just finishing up on reading this collection of the first ‘Rogue Trooper’ stories so I could post something today…
Brian – I’m not sure if this was what you were after but this one’s for you anyway!

I never read a lot of 2000AD when I was a kid but such was the influence of the comic that I was still able to tell you who all the characters were that had ongoing stories. I’ve already mentioned Judge Dredd, Judge Anderson and Slaine the Beserker, Nemesis the Warlock (a personal favourite) is one for another time. This post is all about the Rogue Trooper…

In the distant future war rages between the Nort and Souther factions and one of the most heavily contested planets is Nu-Earth, a world so damaged and broken that you need a mask just to be able to breathe. That’s where the Genetic Infantrymen come in, Souther troops bio-engineered to be able to survive in these harsh conditions. Such training doesn’t come cheap so if any of them are killed in action their personalities can be stored on a bio-chip until such time as a new body can be cloned. The ‘G.I’s’ were meant to provide the decisive push in the war, until they were betrayed in the Quartz Zone massacre. Only one G.I survived along with three bio-chipped souls hitching rides on his gun, backpack and Helmet. None of them are going back to the war until they’ve found out who betrayed them and tracked them down…

Even though it’s set in the future, the ‘Rogue Trooper’ stories don’t pull any punches in depicting the horrors of war in a way that we can identify with right now. You get to see just what it means to be living in a warzone and what it does to both soldiers and civilians (although I did find myself wondering why the civilian population hung around if the war was that bad, especially in an age of space travel…) It was also cool to see what the writer came up with in order to spice up what is a war of attrition. Decapitator drones and projecting propaganda onto gas clouds are just some of the more outlandish weapons on display! The overdone ‘war is a bad thing’ messages, at the end of each episode, did get on my nerves though. If we’ve already been shown that war is bad then surely we don’t need to be told as well?
The ‘Future of War’ collection marks the beginning of the story arc where the Rogue Trooper sets out to track down the man who betrayed his comrades. This probably came across better in comic form but I still liked the way that the overall plot was gradually introduced with little snippets of information and flashbacks to the Quartz Zone massacre.

It’s not all good though. Despite the number of great ideas on show, this collection does come across as very formulaic with Rogue facing down ‘the threat of the week’ and winning through each time. The story itself is now over twenty five years old and some of the concepts involved are starting to show their age. What was cutting edge back in the day is now far too familiar to get a real buzz out of. Having said all of that though, ‘Rogue Trooper’ makes for an entertaining read and I’ll certainly be back to read the rest and see where the tale takes me.

Seven out of Ten

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

‘The Broken World’ – Tim Etchells (William Heinemann)

This is a weird one to write about. A book with a great premise that is executed well, a book that I think deserves to do really well in fact but a book that I just couldn’t finish. I’ll try and explain…

‘The Broken World’ is the story of one man’s attempts to write a ‘walk through guide’ to a complex computer game. When I say ‘complex’ that’s exactly what I mean for this is a game that can take months to play and can be completed in any number of ways. Writing a ‘walk through’ would be hard enough on it’s own but our narrator is also having to cope with the demands of a full time job and a full time relationship (both of which are being neglected). Something’s got to give and our hero is going to have to ‘win’ in the game and the real world too…

I’m always after trying new stuff and ‘The Broken World’ looked like a good one. In a lot of ways it was. As a tale of obsession it was great and the journey away from reality (into ‘The Broken World’) went at just the right speed whilst being strangely poignant. I was really getting into the narrator’s character as well, a guy with a clear sense of self in that you can really tell where his priorities lay.

All sounds good so far, so where was the problem? I didn’t have a problem with the book but I did have a problem with what the book was about, i.e. a ‘free roaming’ computer game. I love playing video games but I always end up losing patience with the ones where you can pretty much do whatever you like. This stems from early experiences with PC flight simulators (where I kept crashing just to see what would happen) as well as the time when I found the cheat for infinite lives, on ‘The Phantom Menace’, and promptly went off and butchered the inhabitants of Mos Espa (just to see what would happen, I was called a murderer by Anakin Skywalker and this was the last thing he ever said to anyone…)

You can now see that I’m not very good with certain types of computer game and this made ‘The Broken Man’ really difficult for me to get into as far as the ‘game world’ parts went. Playing the game can be infuriating enough without having to read about how to complete it, especially when all you want to do is try out weird stuff… just to see what would happen.

As good as ‘The Broken World’ was looking to be, it turned out to be a read that I just couldn’t stick with. Game over for me and onto the next book…

'Victory of Eagles' Giveaway - The Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered this competition, unfortunately I only had one book to give away so there's only going to be one winner!
On this occasion the lucky winner is...

Monika Haidwagner, Grafendorf, Austria

Well done Monika! Your book will be on its way as soon as I can fight my way past the post office queue at lunchtime.
Better luck next time everyone else, there will be more competitions in the future so stay tuned... :o)

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

‘Principles of Angels’ – Jaine Fenn (Gollancz)

The other day someone mentioned to me that the blog was showing a bit of a bias towards fantasy (and some horror), where were the science fiction reviews? Looking back at the last time I read some science fiction, about a month ago, I had to admit that he was right (as much as it galled me) and I have been neglecting my reading in that area. The thing is that it’s not often that I seem to be able to find science fiction that doesn’t scare me off with overly technical talk of faster than light travel, la grange points etc. I much prefer my science fiction to be of the space opera variety with dark lords, galactic heroes and big laser guns!
I didn’t get any of this with Jaine Fenn’s debut novel but I didn’t mind too much as the story was great just the way it was…

Chesh City is a city of two halves; topside is the last word in extravagance and opulence but downside is dark, twisted and dangerous with not much at all between you and a lethal drop. It’s also a democracy of sorts where voting can result in a person’s assassination, these are carried out by the ‘Angels’ who answer only to the enigmatic Minister. Taro lived with his Angel aunt until the day she was murdered; now he’s on the downside streets looking for revenge but also just trying to stay alive. A timely intervention from the Minister gives Taro a sense of purpose and a job spying on the reclusive Angel Nual. However this job is about to lead Taro into a tricky spot where he will be caught between being marked for death and being the potential saviour of Chesh City…

‘Principles of Angels’ is a fast moving tale packed with incident and intrigue, I had to keep reading as not only did I want to know what was really going on (this seemed to change quite a lot!) but I also had to know how it all ended. This is the first in a series so as far as closure goes you do get some but a lot is left open for the next instalment.
Like I said, there is a lot going on in ‘Principles of Angels’ but it never feels like the book is getting overcrowded, everything happens for a very good reason that ties in with the plot. The emphasis isn’t so much on spectacle but more on the intensity of any given situation which means everything is very up close and in your face. As far as I was concerned this just made it easier for me to keep turning the pages!

‘Principles of Angels’ is a very character driven novel and I have to say that this made the book very hit and miss in places. The focus on characters really helped me get a feel for what was making people tick, the ‘up close’ approach also put me in a ringside seat for all the action that was taking place and this is the best place to sit as far as I’m concerned! However, for me this kind of approach can mean that if I’m not really that interested in a certain character then I find myself with large chunks of book that I’m not that bothered by. While the characters of Taro and Nual worked for me I found myself glossing over large chunks of the book that were about Elarn Reen, she may be a character that you want to know more about but she never really engaged me…
The other problem I had with the novel being character driven was that it seemed to come at the expense of me finding out more about the city of Chesh itself. I knew that ‘topside’ was lavish and ‘downside’ was slum ridden (it says so in the blurb) but there was nothing in the book itself that made me feel this stuff I’d been told. It almost felt like an amazing play was being acted out against a half finished set…

Despite these issues though, I found myself really enjoying this slice of ‘low-tech’ sci-fi and its hints of further developments in the future have got me looking forward to what Jaine Fenn comes up with next. Maybe I should be reading more sci-fi after all…

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 23 June 2008

‘The Twilight Herald’ – Tom Lloyd (Gollancz)

The ‘To Be Read’ pile is a wonderful thing to behold; stretching into the sky like, well… erm… a big pile of books that I haven’t read… It is a thing of beauty but also an edifice that strikes terror into the heart of the bold adventurer who must scale its heady peaks and bring back treasure for you lucky readers. One day I won’t come back, remember me?


There are books on my shelf that, for one reason or another, I haven’t got round to reading since they were given to me. You know how it is, there’s always something that you want to read first and before you know it a year has gone by and your wife is asking you if you’re ever going to read all these books you haven’t got round to… One of these books is Tom Lloyd’s ‘The Twilight Herald’, the sequel to the really rather enjoyable ‘Stormcaller’. I finally got round to it a few days ago (better late than never?) and I have to say it was pretty good…

Following the events of ‘Stormcaller’, the ‘White Eye’ Isak is now Lord of the Farlan tribe and having to deal with all the problems that this brings. Within a few pages, Isak has had to deal with an assassination attempt along with hints of rebellion waiting at home. However, before he can deal with these issues Isak’s attention is drawn towards the city of Scree and a chance for him to take his revenge on one of the architects of Lord Bahl’s downfall. It’s not just the opportunity for revenge that awaits him though. Something rotten lies at the heart of Scree, poisoning the hearts of the people and tearing the city apart. In the midst of everything else that has bought him to the city Isak is about to learn that there is nothing that lies beyond the reach of a shadow…

‘The Twilight Herald’ is a deep and involved tale brimming with politics, alliances and double-crossings (with a large cast of characters). As such, I’d say that the best way to read it is either to have read the prior instalment fairly recently or to have a copy of ‘The Stormcaller’ close to hand, just so you know ‘who’s who’ and ‘what’s what’. I came to this completely cold and, for the first couple of hundred pages at least, felt like I’d been chucked in straight at the deep end! There is a lot to set in place and you will have to be patient if you want to get to the really good stuff. To be fair though, while ‘Stormcaller’ was all about introducing the character of Isak, ‘The Twilight Herald’ is all about setting everything up for the rest of the series (which explains why there is a lot of stuff left hanging right at the end). Bear this in mind and you won’t go too far wrong.

Once I was fully acquainted with everyone I needed to know (I like Vesna and Zhia Vukotic, Styrax is pretty cool as well) it was clear that Tom Lloyd was doing all the good stuff that he had done with ‘Stormcaller’, an exciting story coupled with good solid worldbuilding. ‘The Twilight Herald’ takes a leaf out of Steven Erikson’s book by going for the ‘big spectacle effect’ and staging battles that are epic in every sense of the word. Skirmishes are all well and good but a really good battle demands either hundreds of people on each side all going at it or two mightily powerful opponents squaring off. The final climactic battles in and around Scree, as well as Styrax’s revenge for his son, serve their purpose admirably well.
While there’s loads of stuff to get your head around; Lloyd takes control of the plot really well, dovetailing and tying off strands where necessary and throwing in a little surprise right at the end which paints the whole book in a different light.
When I reviewed ‘Stormcaller’ I said that I could almost close my eyes and see what was happening on the page. In ‘The Twilight Herald’ it’s more a case of closing my eyes and feeling the heat pour off the page! Yes, the city of Scree is a hotbed in more than one way and Lloyd leaves his reader in no doubt that the temperature is rising…

‘The Twilight Herald’ is a tough one to get into but, for me, it paid off with pretty much everything that I enjoy in epic fantasy. The next instalment, ‘The Grave Thief’, is an early 2009 release and I’ll definitely be getting hold of a copy.

Eight out of Ten

Sunday, 22 June 2008

I've been tagged!

I don't usually do this kind of thing but got tagged by Neth Space and Fantasy Cafe and I thought it looked like fun...

Grab the nearest book and turn to page 123. Write down the fifth sentence, post it, and then tag 5 others to do this.

The closest book to hand was an advance copy of Peter Brett's 'The Painted Man', a book that Terry Brooks has had plenty of good things to say about. This should give you a fair idea of what kind of fantasy it is; at least that's what I thought until I turned to page 123, counted five sentences down and found...

Gared's hands roamed her body freely, and Leesha let him touch places that only a husband should.

Ok... There's not much more I can say to that...

I feel like I've turned up far too late to tag anyone who hasn't done this already so I'm turning it over to anyone who reads this post! You know what to do. Go to page 123, count five sentences and post the fifth sentence in the comments...

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Weekend Winners and a Second Chance to win 'The Books of the South'...

Thanks to everyone who entered my competition, last weekend, but I only had two books to give away which means there could only be two winners.
They are...

'Black Ships' - Trine Paulsen, Frederiksberg, Denmark

'The Elves of Cintra'
- Peta Banks, Norwich, UK

Well done! Your books will be on their way as soon as I can get to the post office on Monday morning, Happy Reading!

Were you one of the people who entered the competition I ran, a few weeks back, to win a copy of Glen Cook's 'The Books of the South' omnibus? Did you shed a little tiny tear when you didn't win? Well, I'm giving you another chance to put things right! I've had a review copy of 'The Books of the South' come through the door this morning, I already have all the Black Company books so I'm going to give this one away to whoever wants it :o) You do? Just drop me an email with your name and mailing address (email address at the top right hand corner)and we'll see what happens. Anyone can enter, it doesn't matter where you live!
I'll let this one run until next Thursday (26th June) and announce the winner on the following Friday.

Good Luck!

Friday, 20 June 2008

‘Neuropath’ – Scott Bakker (Penguin)

Most days I’m one of those people who don’t hang around getting to work. After all, the earlier I get in then the earlier I can leave :o) Not today though… Today I will be staying on a little later because I just had to finish the last one hundred (and a bit) pages of Scott Bakker’s ‘Neuropath’ before I went into the office. It’s possibly the creepiest book I think I’ll read this year (maybe the creepiest book I will ever read)…

Thomas Bible’s life is on a downhill slope. His marriage is over and he hardly gets to see his children anymore, all he has left is a stalled writing career and job teaching bored grad students. Tom’s life is about to change though with the arrival of his old friend Neil Cassidy and his revelation that his university job was a cover for NSA work into cracking open the minds of suspected terrorists. Not only has Neil has gone AWOL from the agency but the FBI approach Tom with evidence that Neil has been using his skills on innocent civilians. Neil is obsessed with the fact that he can control the human brain and will strike at those closest to Tom in an attempt to prove a decades old argument…

This is probably the hardest review I’ve ever had to write, purely because ‘Neuropath’ operates at a number of levels and is one of those books that you could end up talking about far into the night.
At its most basic level ‘Neuropath’ is a storming thriller that rips along at a hell of a pace to an adrenaline fuelled conclusion (and some interesting speculations on the shape our world might take in the very near future). You have to hold on tight otherwise the twists in the plot will throw you right out of the book and leave you gasping for breath. Likewise with the frequent moments of creeping dread (especially the prologue). Everything happens for a reason, although you may not realise it at the time, and it all dovetails together to form a cohesive and action packed tale with an apocalyptic ending. Neil Cassidy is a truly monstrous character and some of what he does is shocking to say the least (you queasy folks had better watch out!).

Or is it?

The Argument, that Bakker hangs his plot over, is that everything humanity does is governed purely by stimulus and resulting neural impulses. We have no choice in our actions and this sheds a whole light on the events of ‘Neuropath’. If we have no free will then is there such a thing as crime? Is Neil a monster or is he the most honest character in the book (accepting himself for what he is without trying to disguise it)? Are his ‘messages’ the sign of a sociopath or merely the result of a course of action governed by a mechanical reaction to outside stimulus? Are all the characters just automatons and, once you ask that question, does that apply to us as well?
I don’t know, I don’t think so but that’s a whole different discussion that should take a place on a completely different blog! All I can say is that, as a reader, I was constantly putting the book down and looking at passers by in a whole new light. Did they actually choose to be doing what they were doing or, like Neil, were they just biological mechanisms governed by reaction? Was my continuing to read, instead of going to work, anything to do with freedom of choice? Any book that gets inside my head like that (and makes me view the world in a different light) is pretty damn special as far as I’m concerned!

That’s not to say it’s perfect though. Bakker makes the philosophical/neuro-scientific elements very accessible to a reader (like me!) who may have never dealt with these concepts before but, on occasion, things got a little heavy going for me. Two professors (Tom and Neil) on top of their game are not going to dumb down a conversation that they’re having but it might have helped me understand more if they had. To be fair though it has to be a fine line between getting your point across and doing it in a plausible manner, I’ll be re-reading this (sometime in the future) and I’m sure I’ll pick up more second time round, it feels like one of those books that will shed a few more secrets every time you back to it.

‘Neuropath’ isn’t an easy read but is rewarding whatever level you decide to read it on. If the Argument holds true then you’ll either read it or not, you won’t have any choice in the matter.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 19 June 2008

‘Night Shift’ – Lilith Saintcrow (Orbit Books)

It has to be said that Lilith Saintcrow has the coolest name in Urban Fantasy. While others merely write about Urban Fantasy, Lilith’s name is all it takes to suggest that she actually lives it. I get this picture of her living in a sinister looking house by a cemetery and hanging out with werewolves and vampires, one day she decides to write about all their adventures… Enough of that! I haven’t read her ‘Dante Valentine’ series but when I saw that she had a new series starting I thought now would be a good time to give her work a go. It’s not bad either…

Jill Kismet is a Hunter, one of those charged with making sure that the Hellbreed (those living on Earth) keep the peace and don’t step over the line. Those that do cross the line are slapped down pretty quick… and permanently. Jill is new to the game having only just lost her mentor a few months previously, she also carries the mark of a Hellbreed who gave her enhanced physical abilities in return for a little of her time every month (he wants her soul). Life is tough but manageable until the day Jill is called out to the scene of a particularly brutal cop-killing. A rogue were-wolf was involved but it looks like a Hellbreed was in on it as well, two species that just don’t mix. Jill needs to get to the bottom of this case before the body count mounts even higher but this is a situation that will push her to her physical limits as well as endanger her very soul…

‘Night Shift’ is the opening shot in the ‘Jill Kismet’ series and (as such) a lot of time is devoted to introducing the main players, setting the scene and so on. I like what she is setting up; it’s very atmospheric (in a noir kind of way) and dark. Just the right kind of vibe for the story being told. The good news is that Saintcrow makes sure that her scene setting doesn’t get in the way of telling a fast paced and gritty tale. Life can be brutally short in the big city when the Hellbreed are after your soul and Jill constantly seeks to redress the balance through gratuitous use of the small arsenal of weaponry that she carries. This leads to some very exciting moments of all out combat between Jill and Hellbreed that just seem to get bigger and more deadly. The outcome is never in doubt (otherwise it would be a really short series!) but there’s enough uncertainty in these passages to keep you guessing.
As the main character, there’s a lot of time spent in Jill’s head and we get a really in depth look at what makes her tick. While you may have seen a lot of this kind of information in other characters, from completely different books, Jill springs off the page as a character in her own right with her own hopes and fears. You can tell that a lot of stuff is being laid in place for future episodes but enough of it is relevant to the plot at hand to be worth sticking with.

One thing that did bug me about ‘Night Shift’ was the sense that I got of too much homage being paid to the ‘Blade’ films (although maybe that’s just me). Half breed human fighting evil? Check. Cool looking black leather coat that makes just the right flapping noise at just the right moment? Check. Mentor that dies and leaves the apprentice on their own (not a spoiler by the way)? Check. While the story was entertaining enough to keep me interested there were points where I thought I may as well watch ‘Blade’ instead of read an imitation. I also wasn’t too sure about Jill’s ability to go ‘between’ to find out information. It wasn’t so much the power itself as the fact that she used it at just the right time to find out just what she needed to know, it felt like the author had hit a brick wall in the plot and needed something to smash her way through…

Quibbles aside though, ‘Night Shift’ remains an entertaining read that should please fans, of Lilith Saintcrow, as well as provide a great place to jump on for people who haven’t read her work yet. I’ll definitely be around for the next in the series at least.

Seven and a Half out of Ten.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

‘Pandemonium’ – Daryl Gregory (Del Rey)

One of the big kicks that I get out of doing this blog is the chance I get to try out books that I wouldn’t normally look twice at, books that I wouldn’t normally even see on the bookshelves over here in the UK. Sometimes this backfires on me and I end up reading some complete and utter rubbish, not naming any names… (I don’t need to; it’s all in here if you want to have a look!) Sometimes though, I’ll end up finding a book that’s a real gem and a read that I’ll quite happily get lost in for hours at a time. Daryl Gregory’s debut novel is one of those finds, I loved it and if you’re a fan of urban fantasy that’s a little bit different then I think you’ll like it too.

‘Pandemonium’ is set in our world but with one crucial difference. Ever since the nineteen fifties, people have been randomly possessed by entities that some call demons (but psycho-analytic theory says have sprung from the collective unconscious). A kiss from the Little Angel brings death; the self sacrificing Captain appears when all hope is lost while The Truth has his own lethal methods of punishing falsehood. There are many others but the entity that possessed Del Pierce (while he was a child) was The Hellion, a mischief maker who’s full of tricks and has a devastating aim with a slingshot. With the help of Del’s family (and a psychiatrist) The Hellion was eventually exorcised. Or was it? Following a car crash, an adult Del realises that the Hellion never left his head at all, it was only asleep but now it’s awake and wants to pick up where it left off… Del’s quest for help will lead him into contact with a number of people including an entity possessing the writer formerly known as Philip K. Dick and the leader of a secret society pledged to the extermination of all demons. A cure is out there but Del will find out that it is worse than the disease…

‘Pandemonium’ is one of those books where, once I’ve finished it, I’m left thinking, ‘wow, did all of that really just happen?’ There is a lot going on and it’s a real credit to Daryl Gregory that he distinguishes between what needs to be tied up and what can be left vague. The result is a book where a complete story sits comfortably in a wider world that offers the reader tantalising glimpses of the bigger picture. I mentioned in another review that I really like to see the contrast between the normality of everyday life and the strange events that intrude upon it (makes the strange stuff appear even stranger). ‘Pandemonium’ doesn’t disappoint in this regard and the journey that Del takes (to various parts of America) reminded me, in a way, of the road trip plot device in ‘American Gods’. Not only does the reader get a picture of how people’s lives are affected by the possession phenomenon but they also get a compelling picture of how America might look as a result. This device creates a really eerie atmosphere that complements the story perfectly.
The characters, even (especially) the ‘demons’, are very accessible and easy to get to grips with. I felt a lot of sympathy for Del as he searches for a way to get rid of The Hellion only to find himself being knocked back at each step. While you don’t get much of a feel for the motives behind the demon’s behaviour (Gregory uses this gap to explore Jungian theory, something I know hardly anything about but laid out in fairly simple terms in the book) the ‘Demonology’ chapters show how random acts of possession have affected history. The OJ Simpson trial has a radically different ending while Eisenhower’s assassination sets the tone for early American policy towards the possessed. I have to admit to being left wondering whether Gregory’s opinion, on the outcome of the OJ Simpson case, was a little too prevalent in the outcome of the ‘book version’. It felt like a judgement was being made on real life events but, just as likely, it served to show very well what this particular ‘demon’ was all about… These chapters also offer an interesting contrast between the relative ‘honesty’ of the ‘demons’ (who are only doing what they’ve been ‘created’ to do) and the duplicity of humanity (the machinations of the ‘Human League’ in particular).

While the areas of the book concerning Jungian theory, and Del’s therapy, are relevant to the plot I sometimes felt as if maybe too much attention was being paid to this at the expense of moving the story forward. There were times when I wanted various characters to get off their feet and actually do something! On the whole though Gregory handles his plot extremely well, throwing some interesting twists into the mix and giving us a poignant ending that offers the prospect of more stories to come (although it would work just as well if this wasn’t the case).

I reckon ‘Pandemonium’ could well be my ‘surprise find’ of the year’; as well as being a thoroughly entertaining read it got me inside the heads of all the characters and really made me think about what I was reading. Like I said right at the start, fans of urban fantasy (that’s a little bit different) would do well to give this a go.

Nine out of Ten

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Giveaway! 'Victory of Eagles' (Naomi Novik)

I've just had a rather nice hardback copy of Naomi Novik's latest Temeraire book arrive in the post this morning, unfortunately I already have an advance copy waiting to be read (not long now!)... This means that I have a spare copy of 'Victory of Eagles' if anyone wants it. You want it? And you as well? Here's what you need to do...
You see my email address at the top right hand of the screen? Drop me a line telling me who are you and what your mailing address is (very important, how can I send you the book if I have nowhere to send it to?) There's a couple of other competitions running at the moment so you need to make it clear, in the subject header, that it's the Temeraire book that you're after.
I'll let this one run until next Tuesday (24th of June)and announce the winner on the following Wednesday...

Good Luck!

Monday, 16 June 2008

‘Blood Bound’ – Patricia Briggs (Orbit Books)

After what felt like a manic Saturday, went to a Terry Pratchett signing amongst other things, yesterday was strictly for chilling out and watching the world go by with a good book and a glass of pear cider (very nice actually, try it!). Because of my extremely sleepy state of mind I was after a read with a plot that buzzed along, something that would wake me up a little. With this in mind (and because I enjoyed the previous book) I chose ‘Blood Bound’, the latest in the ‘Mercy Thompson’ series. It was a pretty good choice as well…
If you haven’t read any of these books, Mercy Thompson is a mechanic who lives in the Tri-City area in a time when Fae creatures are just starting to announce their presence and live openly amongst humans. Mercy isn’t Fae but not quite human either, she is a shapechanger whose animal form (coyote) leads her into confrontations, over pecking order, with the local were-wolf pack. Mercy also owes a favour to a vampire and it’s this that will lead her into more trouble. All he was after was a witness that wouldn’t be noticed, one bloodbath later and Mercy finds out that the one thing more dangerous than a vampire is a vampire possessed by a demon…
‘Blood Bound’ follows ‘Moon Called’ very closely in terms of plot structure, maybe a little bit too much. Mercy gets into trouble; Mercy gets herself out of trouble but still finds herself in the thick of things, Mercy has a score to settle, Mercy… well, you get the picture. Maybe this is to be expected if you’re setting up a series where the main protagonist is investigative by nature. While the characters may change (which they do) there’s only so many original situations that they can find themselves in before it starts to get ‘samey’. To be fair though, this is only the second book in the series so maybe I’m expecting too much too soon.
Although the plot was generally pretty cohesive there was one strand that left me wondering as to its relevance. It served to introduce an investigative journalist, who puts some useful information Mercy’s way, but it appeared to peter out with no resolution and left me wondering whether this was being left open ended (for another book) or if Briggs didn’t really know where to take it. I guess I’ll find out another time (as I do intend to continue reading this series) but it was a little infuriating to be left hanging like that.
All this sounds like I hated ‘Blood Bound’ but this couldn’t be any further from the truth. Despite the issues I had with it, ‘Blood Bound’ is still a very entertaining read. The plot flies along at a very fast pace and Briggs flits from ‘full on action’ to ‘scary and tense’ so smoothly you’ll hardly notice until something big happens and you’re jumping out of your skin (like I did when Mercy woke up to find the vampire/demon staring through her bedroom window!) I’m also enjoying the characterisation where, despite fae or preternatural origins, everyone seems to be ‘down to earth’ (even some of the vampires) in a way that accentuates their ‘otherworldliness’ and also makes them more accessible to the reader. Despite my earlier quibble about ‘plot strands left hanging’, it’s also good to see a world being gradually built up (i.e. the Fae slowly being accepted by humans) rather than just being dumped on the reader as a fait accompli.
I’d like to see this series start to explore different directions in the future, so it doesn’t end up repeating itself, but ‘Blood Bound’ was a fun read in the meantime. Another urban fantasy that I’ll be following for the foreseeable future!

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Sunday, 15 June 2008

‘Jigsaw Man’ – Gord Rollo

What would you do for a million dollars? Given the current exchange rate I wouldn’t do an awful lot but if we’re talking sterling then I would probably do a fair bit. I’m not sure that I’ve give up a limb though, not even if I could use some of the money to get a cheap replacement! Two million dollars for a limb is the premise for this short yet violent and shocking slice of horror fiction…
Mike Fox is at rock bottom and a matter of minutes away from throwing himself under a train. All of a sudden he is approached by a stranger who offers him two million dollars in cash, all he wants in return is Mike’s right arm… Mike figures that two million dollars can make up for an awful lot so agrees to go along with the deal. However, losing an arm is just the start and if losing limbs wasn’t bad enough Mike is about to find that their replacements are even worse…
I only got a couple of hours sleep last night, Nintendo Wii is partly to blame (it’s a great console to play on!) but ‘Jigsaw Man’ is the chief culprit. You see, once I started reading I couldn’t stop. Although I knew that Mike wasn’t going to do well from the deal I just couldn’t stop reading to find out just exactly what happened. Rollo did a great job of hooking me right from the start and then doling out little titbits to keep me turning the pages. His villains are a little vague for my liking, ‘Jigsaw Man’ is a short read (288 pages) and there wasn’t enough room for any real explanation about what made them tick. As a result, Drake’s perversity just seemed like an attempt to shock the audience while Doctor Marshall just appeared to be a typical mad scientist with so many scraps of information about him that it was impossible to tell what was the truth. In a sense though, the poor characterisation (in this instance) doesn’t really matter as the true horror is found in Mike’s environment and what he has to go through. Rollo is particularly adept at setting the reader up to expect one thing and then throwing something completely different in their face. I jumped more than once when Mike woke up from various operations to find that the results were not what he had been promised! What is interesting though, as a counterpoint, is that the body parts Mike loses are balanced out by his strength and determination to get through this experience. This can verge on the ridiculous (especially when he’s only left with his head and spine!) but really gives the reader a sense of character development and helps to make the final climactic scenes a little more plausible. Rollo also furnishes an intriguing premise with a chilling background for events to take place in. The home of Doctor Marshall is full of passages with dead ends where you least expect them. Certain rooms contain horrifying surprises as well, the ‘Bleeder Room’ is particularly chilling and the time that Mike spends in there is not for the squeamish (or at least, not for those as squeamish as me!).
While I can appreciate the ‘full circle’ effect behind the ending I thought that maybe the ending dragged out a tiny bit too long. There’s a point in the last few pages where I thought things would have been perfect if it had ended right there, if you read ‘Jigsaw Man’ then I reckon you’ll see it too.
Niggles aside, ‘Jigsaw Man’ is a visceral slice of horror that got in my face and left me gasping. If this and ‘Crimson’ (an excerpt of which is at the back of the book) is anything to go by then Gord Rollo is an author that any horror fan should be keeping an eye on. I will be.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Saturday, 14 June 2008

Weekend Giveaway!

I've been sent a couple of books that I've either already reviewed or have waiting on the 'to be read pile' to be reviewed. It's the weekend, it's nice and sunny outside so I thought I see if any of you would like them! You do? But... you don't even know what they are yet!
For your potential pleasure I have copies of...

'The Elves of Cintra' - Terry Brooks
Fifty years from now, our world looks very different. Governments have fallen. Thousands live in fortified strongholds; others roam the landscape as either predator or prey. Standing against the forces that have tipped the balance from good to evil are a very few heroes, men and women imbued with powerful magic and sworn to a high destiny. Logan Tom is one of those heroes. He's on a desperate quest to deliver the street kids he rescued in Seattle to safety. So, too, is Angel Perez, who is leading a second group in the Oregon wilderness where she encounters the long-hidden Elves of Cintra. And Hawk - just learning his magic - has an encounter with the mystical King of the Silver River, who promises safety for both humans and elves - if only they can reach him...

'Black Ships' - Jo Graham
The World is ending. One by one the mighty cities are falling: to earthquakes, to flood and to raiders - on both land and sea. In a time of war and doubt, Gull is an oracle, a mouthpiece of the gods. Daughter of a slave plundered from fallen Troy, she was chosen as a child to serve the Lady of the Dead, and it is her fate to counsel kings. When nine black ships appear as foretold in her dreams, captained by an exiled Trojan prince, Gull must make her choice. She must decide between her sacred calling and the most perilous adventure - joining her mother's people in their desperate flight from slavery. From the doomed bastions of the City of Pirates to the temples of Byblos, from the intrigues of the Egyptian court to the haunted caves beneath Mount Vesuvius, only Gull can guide Prince Aeneas on his quest. And only she can dare the gates of the Underworld itself to lead him to his destiny. In the last shadowed days of the Age of Bronze, one woman dreams of the world beginning anew. This is her story.

Do either of these sound good to you? To be in with a chance of winning either book (or both) just drop me an email telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. You can enter for both books, if you want, but please send a seperate email for each entry (makes it easier for me to tell who's after what!). Also, please make it clear in your email header which book you are entering for. This competition is open to anyone regardless of where you live, I'm going to let it run until next Friday (20th June) and then announce the winners on the Saturday.

Good Luck!

Friday, 13 June 2008

‘The Summoning’ – Kelley Armstrong (Orbit Books)

If I want to read some Urban Fantasy I’ve found that I can’t go too far wrong with anything by Kelley Armstrong. Her ‘Otherworld’ books occasionally veer into cheesy romance (for me anyway) but on the whole they’re entertaining tales of things that happen as a flicker at the corner of your eye. There are no vampires (at least none that I’ve seen) but plenty of werewolves, shamans, half demons and necromancers looking to make their way in the world. One of these ‘para-normal’ people is Chloe Saunders but she doesn’t realise it yet…
Fifteen year old Chloe’s only real aims, in life, are to make it through school in one piece and meet a boy. This all changes when she starts to see ghosts again, all she wants now is to know that she’s not going insane. A particularly violent encounter with a ghost results in Chloe being admitted to Lyle House, a home for disturbed children. Or is it? One of the children can make his basketball levitate whilst another has a ‘thing’ for fire and why does a disembodied voice keep telling Chloe to go into the basement? Chloe is about to discover that not only does she share something in common with the other residents but Lyle House is far from being a normal residential home…
‘The Summoning’ is the first of a trilogy aimed at the young adult market but I think there’s a lot in it that will appeal to fans of all ages. I’ve got say that, as someone who hasn’t been a ‘young adult’ for a long time, a lot of Chloe’s worries/issues etc didn’t do anything for me at all. I didn’t really care that she was shy, or had trouble with boys, but what I did care about (when it happened) was how she was going to negotiate the dangers of Lyle House. There were some particularly tense (and slightly scary) moments both with ghosts and the human staff who run the home, even when I knew something was going to happen I still felt myself tense up as certain characters walked blithely into danger. I should have seen the ending coming as well; it’s so obvious when you look back at it (especially when you take into account the way that Chloe compares everything to film plots) but I was left completely wrong footed by the way that the last few pages turned out…
If you’re expecting action then you may want to skip ahead to the last quarter of the book where things start to hot up. There isn’t an awful lot that can happen in a residential home governed by routine (except for a couple of scary moments) so what you get instead is a lot of character interaction building up to a climax. There were times when I felt this was being dragged out a bit (there’s only so much listening to teenagers talk about their problems that I really want to do) but there’s something about the way Armstrong directs her characters that not only kept me going but kept my interest as well. There’s a really interesting contrast where, despite all the supernatural stuff going on the characters still manage to come across as really down to earth and easy to identify with. I didn’t really care about what made them tick but I still found myself wanting to know what was going to happen to them.
‘The Summoning’ is a book that I had trouble engaging with but what redeemed it is that it’s full of what Kelley Armstrong does best. Definitely one for the fans, I’ve got a feeling that (despite my misgivings) I’ll be picking up the sequel…

Seven and a Half out of Ten

'Malazan Taster' Competition - The Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered this competition and made it one of my most successful to date. There could only be two winners though and these lucky people will each receive a 'Taster Pack' containing 'Gardens of the Moon', 'Deadhouse Gates', 'Memories of Ice' and 'House of Chains'. There's some great reading in store there! :o)
What's that? Oh yes, the winners... They are...

Cheryl Lim, Queensland, Australia
Erik Hanson, Massachusetts, USA

Well done! Your books are on their way even as we speak...
Everyone else who entered - Sorry you didn't win but go and get yourself a copy of 'Gardens of the Moon' anyway, it's worth it ;o) Just don't do what I did and start reading from 'Memories of Ice', trust me when I say it doesn't work...
There will be more competitions in the future so stay tuned!

Thursday, 12 June 2008

‘The Ten Thousand’ – Paul Kearney (Solaris Books)

Paul Kearney is one of those authors that I’d always meant to pick up but never quite managed to. For a start, whenever I went into my local bookshop they only ever seemed to have ‘book two’ of a series and nothing else. Not the best way to get into someone’s writing… If that wasn’t awkward enough it recently got to a point where I couldn’t find any of his books at all and there were rumours floating about that Kearney was going to give up the writing game altogether. Thankfully this is no longer the case, not only have Solaris taken Kearney on (which means I will eventually be able to read their omnibus editions of ‘The Monarchies of God’ when they are released) but I also managed to get my hands on an advance copy of his latest book ‘The Ten Thousand’. I just put the book down about an hour ago and one of the first things I did was to kick myself for not having read his books much earlier…
‘The Ten Thousand’ tells the tale of a mercenary company of the Macht (guess how many?), a warrior race renowned across the face of the world for their skill at arms and savagery in battle. For the first time in hundreds of years, the Macht have taken up arms and crossed the ocean to do battle for a foreign prince who seeks to depose his brother. In a twist of fate, the Macht’s employer is killed and the company finds itself surrounded by armies of the Empire. What happens next? I’m not going to say as this is a book that you need to read for yourself. It’s worth it.
I’ve read some pretty good fantasy recently but it feels like a long time since I’ve been so engrossed by a book and just torn through it to see how it ends. It doesn’t feel like a big book (although it will be four hundred and ninety six pages in mass market paperback) but Paul Kearney has managed to cram it full of intricate world building, sympathetic characters and a plot that reminded me of Erikson’s ‘Chain of Dogs’ but took on a life all of it’s own. Refreshingly, Kearney also displays a real knowledge of when to focus in on something and when to hold back and let the reader fill in the gaps. This meant that I wasn’t bogged down in needless ‘info-dumps’ and free to enjoy the story. What a story it is! Fans of military fantasy are going to find a lot to enjoy here with detailed accounts of life on the road and bone crunching conflict between massed ranks of spearmen. When I say ‘bone crunching’ that’s precisely what I mean, Kearney’s descriptions leave the reader in no doubt as to what is happening and there were times when I almost felt myself being carried along by spearmen who were behind a certain character on the page. I was left feeling like I’d read some great stuff but I’m glad I wasn’t there! I wasn’t too sure about some of the troop movements however; a mustering that seemed like it would take ages resulted in a grand army waiting over the hill a few pages later. I may need to go back and read that one again.
Fans of character driven fantasy are also going to get a lot out of ‘The Ten Thousand’ with characters that really got under my skin and stayed there. Although some of them seemed superfluous (Gasca and Vorus, although others may disagree with me there) the rest all had a part to play and excelled in terms of the plot. Through characters such as Rictus, Jason and Tiryn Paul Kearney draws a compelling picture of the world they inhabit and the demands that it makes upon them all. It is a harsh world that demands honour and bravery but there is also room for love and Kearney displays a surprisingly soft touch (considering he has had the Macht spend numerous pages visiting gratuitous violence on their foes) when things get a little more tender.
The ending packs a hard punch (although I was half expecting it, you probably will too) but felt strangely abrupt, either like there was nowhere else to go or that there was room deliberately left for a sequel. I would like to see more stories set in this world and, considering how things are left at the end, I think there’s certainly scope for it.
Although it does suffer from the odd niggle, ‘The Ten Thousand’ is a book that has got me more than half inclined to scour the charity shops and see if I can pick up anything else by Paul Kearney. If you’re a fan already then I think you’ll love this. If you’re a fan of epic military fantasy in general then give ‘The Ten Thousand’ a go, I think you’ll like it too.

Nine out of Ten

Want to see more reviews? Check out Thrinidir's review and another over on Speculative Horizons. If you're after reading an interview with Paul Kearney then head on over to A Dribble of Ink...

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Naomi Novik - An excerpt from 'Victory of Eagles' and tour dates.

If you're a fan of Naomi Novik then I'm sure that you're waiting patiently (or not so patiently maybe!) for the release of 'Victory of Eagles', the latest installment in the adventures of Captain Will Laurence and his dragon Temeraire. There's just over a month to go if you're living in the US (July 8th) but a little bit longer for UK residents (August 7th) so how would you like a little something to keep you ticking over in the meantime?
If you go to Naomi's website, not only can you sign up for email updates etc but you can also read an excerpt from 'Victory of Eagles'. I'm a big fan of this series and the excerpt has really whetted my appetite for the book itself. Expect to see a review soon...

Naomi will also be going on tour to promote 'Victory of Eagles'. Here's a list of the dates and venues, I guess that the exact times still need to be confirmed...

7/9 New York, NY
Barnes & Noble (Greenwich Village)

7/15 Philadelphia, PA
Free Library of Philadelphia

7/16 Washington, DC
Borders Books & Music (Bailey’s Crossroads)

7/17 Richmond, VA
Creatures ‘n Crooks

7/22 San Francisco, CA
Borderlands Books

7/23 Berkeley, CA
Dark Carnival

7/24, 7/25, 7/26 San Diego, CA
San Diego Comic Con \o/

7/28 Seattle, WA
University Bookstore

7/29 Portland, OR
Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing

Apparently Chicago will also be visited (sometime in August) but details are still to be confirmed. You can get all this information (and other cool stuff) by visiting Naomi's website and signing up for the email updates.

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

‘The Last Vampire’ – Patricia Rosemoor and Marc Paoletti (Del Rey)

After having read ‘The Company’ I fancied something that was a little lighter and easy going. A book where things actually happened but also a book that I could put down easily once I got to work. By one of those happy strokes of fate, ‘The Last Vampire’ had come through the door a couple of days ago and one look at the blurb told me that this was the book I should be reading…
First of all, ignore the cover. Actually; don’t ignore it, laugh your head off at the slightly romantic tone it is trying to project because (apart from the odd little bit here and there) this isn’t a romance at all.
See the rugged looking man holding the gun? He’s Captain Scott Boulder and he’s as hard as his name suggests. Boulder heads up a Black Ops team whose superhuman powers come from the DNA of a five hundred year old mummified vampire. The only problem is that the vampire has returned to life, butchered his team and escaped. The bad guy needs to be hunted down and Boulder is just the man for the job. He’s more than the man for the job but he doesn’t realise that just yet…
See the sultry looking redhead? That’s anthropologist Leah Maguire, not only has she had a run in with our bad guy vampire but she can do magic as well! Maguire is just the lady to help Boulder on this case (especially with the Voodoo priestess and her zombies) and she’s also just the kind of lady to fall in love with a hardened Black Ops soldier…
If you add some gunfights and a tiny bit of detective work then you have the plot in a nutshell. When I say ‘nutshell’ that’s precisely what I mean because not a lot else happens but to be fair, the authors do a great job at stretching this one out over three hundred pages with a liberal dose of gunfire and confrontation. It’s as cheesy as you like with tough men (who are all vulnerable inside) and vulnerable women who can rise to the occasion when needed. You’ve probably read this before, just with a different title in a different book but it still manages to be an entertaining read nevertheless. ‘The Last Vampire’ doesn’t claim to be anything other than it is and comes out the other end looking better for it. It’s basically James Bond with vampires and it also has a neat line in zombies (as a zombie fan this is great as far as I’m concerned). Like I said, the plot is minimal but things move so fast that I didn’t really care, especially when the zombies took on the marines…
The only thing that did bug (and it’s quite a big thing for me) was the way that the collaboration, between two authors, came across on the page. George RR Martin’s latest ‘Wild Cards’ collection was the work of nine authors and I was hard pressed to tell where one jumped in and another left. This wasn’t the case with ‘The Last Vampire’ which sometimes felt a little clunky when the authors ‘swapped shifts’. This was especially the case when a few pages of hardcore military action all of a sudden got… ‘sexy’. The change in tempo just didn’t work for me and I think the book could really have benefited from more work in this area.
A pretty big niggle to round things off with but still a great ‘commuter’ read or ‘beach book’. Worth a look if you fancy a fast paced, light read.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 9 June 2008

‘The Company’ – K.J. Parker (Orbit Books)

I tried to read one of K.J. Parker’s ‘Engineer’ books last year but just could not get into it. While it had everything that I like about fantasy (apart from dragons, at least in the bit that I read) it felt like an incredibly dry read to me, loads of great stuff there but nothing that really hooked me. If that wasn’t hard enough to get past there was also what felt like far too much talk of technical engineering stuff for my poor ‘non-technical’ brain to handle. I know the books are about an engineer but even so… It got to the point where I was never going to finish the book so I put it down for something else instead. All this was at the back of my mind when an advance copy of K.J. Parker’s ‘The Company’ came through the door a couple of weeks ago but what swung it for me was the ‘military fantasy’ slant and the fact that it’s a ‘stand alone’ novel. If I didn’t like it then at least I wouldn’t be left wondering how the story ended! As it happened, I was left with pretty much the same problems as last time. At least the story was good though…
The war is over and General Teuche Kunessin is gathering together his old comrades in arms in order to start the new life that they had promised themselves during the fighting. A deserted island is the ideal place for them to set up their new home and Kunessin has left no stone unturned in making sure that they have everything that they need (up to and including wives!) However, an unexpected discovery casts a new light on everything and secrets, which the colonists brought with them, threaten to shatter everything they have worked for…
In much the same way as the ‘Engineer’ book came across, ‘The Company’ felt to me like a book where a great deal of potential was being hidden by niggling little things that were conspiring to stop me reading. The tone felt as dry as before, there was a lot of momentous stuff happening but it didn’t feel as if there was. While some scenes were suitably climactic it just seemed to emphasise how the rest of the book could have been… (Although to be fair some of these scenes are actually quite hard hitting once you’ve got to know the characters). There also seemed to be a lot of importance placed on describing exactly ‘how’ things were made or built and it felt like this was getting in the way of the story itself. While it was good to see how a boat was built or a fence put up, too much detail meant that there wasn’t enough time for me to really get to know the characters and this sometimes made their actions a little hard to grasp (as well as obscuring the bonds of friendship that made A Company ‘tick’)… All this is a shame because when you get past this, the actual story is well worth reading.
‘The Company’ isn’t so much a ‘fantasy story’ as a story based in a fantasy setting. There is a sense of a much wider world out there but the story concentrates on the characters and how they interact. I’ve already said that the dynamic behind A Company could have been better explored but the dynamic behind the colonists, as a whole, comes across fairly well with character traits introduced at certain points to explain actions and keep things ticking along in the plot. You would have thought that founding a colony would be fairly straightforward (albeit hard work) but the author leaves us in no doubt that it’s anything but straightforward if your colonists are either harbouring secrets or are just plain psychotic! There were some twists in the tale that I definitely wasn’t expecting and this was what kept me reading…
‘The Company’ isn’t just a story about colonists though; a series of flashbacks, to the war, cast some light on why the veterans have ended up the way they are (but not really enough for me) and set up events that will take place on the island. Some brutal stuff takes place in these flashbacks and Parker excels here in his ability to shock the reader not only with violence but also with it’s unexpected results…
Despite the dryness of the book, and an inclination to spend too much time on minutiae, ‘The Company’ is a book that kept me reading right up until the very end and that’s where my problem lies. There was enough there to keep me going but not enough to keep me interested, consequently I was left feeling strangely cheated at having spent the time on it in the first place…
If you’re a fan of K.J Parker then I think you’ll find plenty to enjoy here but maybe ‘The Company’ isn’t one for a casual reader…

Six and Three Quarters out of Ten

Sunday, 8 June 2008

‘Anderson, Psi-Division’ – John Wagner, Alan Grant (Rebellion Books)

I never read a lot of 2000AD when I was growing up (the local newsagent got wise to my just standing there and reading his stock without paying for it…) but I knew who Judge Dredd was, everyone did. In the towering landscape of Mega-City One Dredd was the law but he didn’t have to do it all by himself, oh no… In this world of the future people with psychic ability are trained at an early age to go into the Justice Department’s Psi-Division, a team of Judges who can detect crimes before they are even committed! Foremost amongst these Judges is Judge Cassandra Anderson and this book is the first collection of her stories from 2000AD.
The first thing I thought when I picked this book up was, ‘if the Psi-Judges can detect crime before it’s even committed then won’t this be a really short book?’ Surely all the Justice Department would have to do would be to place all citizens under house arrest and then all the Judges could go and buy doughnuts and coffee! It’s not as simple as that though, not only do Psi-Division help out the regular Judges but they are also called on to solve crimes of a para-normal nature and go up against psi-agents from other countries. In this collection Anderson not only has to save the life of a boy possessed by a demon but she must also prevent Sov agents from releasing the assassin Orlok. If this wasn’t enough, she must save the city from the Dark Judges, undead custodians of a dimension where all life has been declared a crime and the only sentence is death…
The stories are fairly straightforward but definitely entertaining, police procedural tales in a world of the future. Plenty of gunfights, wise cracks and justice being served! Anderson’s cocky attitude makes a change from Dredd’s stoicism and lends extra emphasis to scenes where she has a tough choice to make. This is something I particularly liked about this book and what I’ve also managed to read from 2000AD. The writers are not afraid to acknowledge sticky situations and they will take the risky option in order to tell a story that packs some punch, this is definitely the case in at least one of the stories in this collection… They’re also not afraid to acknowledge that the Judges do have weaknesses and are not by any means infallible. I’m not sure if this is a comment on the totalitarian system in Mega-City One or simply a means to keep the story moving. Probably a bit of both but still good fun to read.
Having come to this book after having read the Slaine collection I wasn’t that impressed with the artwork this time round, there was nothing wrong with it as such it just didn’t seem to do it for me as much as the Slaine stuff. This is awkward when you’re reading a book where the artwork forms at least 90% of what you’re looking at!
It’s still a good read though, definitely one for the fans and ideal for a quick flick through if you want to know what all the fuss is about.

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

'Making Money' - The Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered, the winner is...

Alex Crompton, Stockport, UK

Well done Alex! I'll pop the book in the post tomorrow so you should hopefully get it in the next few days.
Everyone else - you've still got time to enter the 'Malazan Taste Test' competition and there will be more competitions, for you to try your luck with, in the very near future...

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Author Interview! Jonathan Green

I've really enjoyed reading Jonathan's 'Adventures of Ulysses Quicksilver' so it was particularly cool when Jonathan agreed to answer a few questions for the Blog. Without further ado, here are his answers...

Hi Jonathan, thanks for agreeing to answer my questions!

1) You’re running a competition where readers can have a character named after them, in your next book, if they do something to raise awareness of the series. Does interviewing you get me entered?

Yes it does, as by my reasoning interviewing me will help raise awareness of Pax Britannia. Consider yourself in the hat, ready for the final draw!

2) You’ve written a number of books (including Sonic the Hedgehog!) in a number of genres. What has been your favourite area to write in so far?

I’ve always loved fantasy and sci-fi. Match Wits with the Kids (my next book to be published) and the one I’ve just completed (which will be out in time for Christmas) called What is Myrrh Anyway? are only the second and third times I’ve written something non-fiction, based in the real work, in 16 years and 19 books. That said there’s a fair bit connected with Christmas that you would consider fantasy and I’ve managed to squeeze some sci-fi references into Match Wits.

I have a real fondness for the recent Fighting Fantasy gamebooks I’ve written, which take me back to what I first wrote professionally as well as what it was like to read those kinds of books when I was 11 – and was quite simply blown away by them.

I’m also really proud of the Pax Britannia stuff, which I think gets better with every outing. They’re the first thing I’ve written set within a world of my own creating, rather that making use of a pre-existing setting (such as Doctor Who, Warhammer or Sonic the Hedgehog).

So, I guess a combination of fantasy and steampunk would be the simple answer.

3) What inspired you to start writing Steampunk?

I’ve also found its mix of Victoriana and science-fiction appealing. This has only been enhanced by writers like Tim Powers, Arthur Conan Doyle, H G Wells and Jules Verne. And then there have been the delightful anachronisms of Doctor Who (especially those adventures which take place within Victorian England), and the Victorian period of history itself – a time of real advancement and exploration when nothing seemed impossible. The Indigo Prime story Killing Time (by the inestimable John Smith and Chris Weston) which appeared in the anthology comic 2000AD in the early 90s was also a huge influence. (Time travelling trains before Back to the Future III – how could you go wrong with that?)

4) Have you ever considered writing a Steampunk adventure about Sonic the Hedgehog?

Now that sounds like a cool idea. Unfortunately, I don’t think the IP owners Sega are looking to extend the franchise in that direction any time soon.

5) Is there anything you can tell us about your next ‘Pax Britannia’ novel ‘Human Nature’?

Well, yes, actually. I’ve just started writing it this week, although it’s been plotted out for months. Human Nature is definitely the darkest of Ulysses Quicksilver’s adventures so far, one that’s really going to put our hero through the wringer.

Where Unnatural History was an action-adventure, Leviathan Rising a murder mystery, Fruiting Bodies pulp sci-fi and Vanishing Point the Pax Britannian take on a ghost story, Human Nature is a Cthulhu-esque horror story. Plenty of gribbly monsters and truly terrifying life and death situations for our hero to face.

But to get a better idea of what the actually story is about, you could do a lot worse than read the blurb I’ve already written for the back cover.

The Whitby Mermaid, prize exhibit of Cruickshanks’ Cabinet of Curiosities, has been stolen. But have no fear; consulting detective Gabriel Wraith is on the case. And he’s not the only one, for wherever there is a mystery to be solved, Ulysses Quicksilver is never very far away.

What does the theft – of what would appear to be a poorly-conceived fake – have to do with the mysterious House of Monkeys? And what of the enigmatic criminal known only as the Magpie? When Ulysses probes further into the case, he finds himself embarking upon an adventure that will take him to the industrially-polluted North of England and the fishing town where the curious creature was supposedly caught.

But there are worse things awaiting him there than mermaids. The moors of Ghestdale are haunted by the savage Barghest beast, while in the abandoned mines beneath the Umbridge estate, impossible abominations lurk in the darkness, waiting. And yet Ulysses Quicksilver is about to discover that the worst horrors are those spawned by Man’s own selfish nature.

Trapped within the very heart of darkness, with his body and sanity threatened, can he escape a fate worse than death – with both still intact – before one man’s insane quest for immortality comes to fruition?

6) How much fun do you have in writing a character like Ulysses Quicksilver?

A lot; in fact it’s almost criminal how much fun I have sitting at home, listening to some appropriately mood-setting soundtrack whilst writing Pax Britannia stories, while other people actually have to go out an work all day!

I suppose it’s something of a cliché, but writing a character like Ulysses you get to ‘live out’ your fantasies, doing all the daring, exciting and life-threatening things you would never do in real life (at least, I wouldn’t). That said, with what’s coming up in Human Nature, I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes at all!

7) You have the chance to team Ulysses Quicksilver up with Sherlock Holmes, Captain Nemo or Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde. Which one would you choose and why?

I think it would have to be Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I’ve also been fascinated by the whole idea of man conquering the beast inside him (or not), as well as looking at what it takes to make a good man into a creature of evil. It’s an idea I’ve explored in some of my books in the past (Necromancer and Howl of the Werewolf both have elements of this in them) and I’m sure I’ll come back to it again in the future. In fact, I know I will… in Pax Britannia.

8) You work as a teacher, would you ever give it up to write full time? Have you ever been tempted to model your villains on colleagues that you don’t like?

I’m actually giving up teaching completely this summer, having gone part-time at the start of the last school year. Too many projects, not enough time, and… well… something had to give.

I have to say I’ve never been tempted to model any villainous characters on people I’ve worked with, because they’re all far too nice ;-)

However, I have worked with a few characters over the years (which is how they would probably describe me) and I do have a nugget of an idea for a novel centred upon a school staffroom. Who knows, maybe one day…?

9) At the last count, you’ve got six blogs on the go! How do you manage keeping them all going at once? Do you ever find yourself posting in the wrong blog?

Technically I only manage five (the first was a mistake when I was new to blogging) but yes, it does take some work. Usually it involves me working late into the night to try and keep everything alive on there. I don’t want to be one of these writers who doesn’t post anything for months at a time, but neither will I post drivel, just so as to post something every day.

And yes, I did post to the wrong blog once – but only once, so far, and realised my mistake in time to change it.

Part of the reason for having so many blogs is to help promote individual books (a very good suggestion put forward once at a writers’ seminar). Hence I currently have two blogs named after books coming out this year and a more generic one for my Pax Britannia stuff.

The Jonathan Green, Author blog is really supposed to be the front door into everything else; professional, relevant, with info on publications, events and competitions. Unnatural History (which was my first blog) is the more relaxed, informal one which includes posts on things which have caught my eye or other intriguing trivia.

10) Finally, why should everyone be reading your ‘Pax Britannia’ books?

Because they’re great fun reads and an entertaining way to take yourself out of the world for a few hours. Also, there’s a big story in there that’s steadily beginning to take shape (and which I had planned from day one), so you want to be there for the ride and the dramatic denouement in about… twelve books time (or thereabouts).

Thanks for your time.

It’s been a pleasure.

Jonathan Green
London, June 2008

Read my reviews of Leviathan Rising and Unnatural History!

Jonathan's Author Blog can be found Here.

Friday, 6 June 2008

‘Tigerheart’ – Peter David (Del Rey)

I’ve never read ‘Peter Pan’, probably a combination of ‘I’ve seen the Disney film so I don’t need to read the book’ (I know, I know…) and the simple fact that there’s always been another book that I want to read first. I know how the story goes so I don’t think I’m missing out on too much, or am I? Anyway, even though I’ve never read the book there’s still something about Peter Pan and his adventures that sparks my imagination, possibly something to do with the fact that I would rather be off fighting pirates than sat at my desk. Well, wouldn’t you? Will all this in mind Peter David’s ‘Tigerheart’ seemed like a decent choice for my next read, nice and short as well so a good book for the commute to work!
On the front cover Terry Brooks describes ‘Tigerheart’ as a ‘clever re-imagining of the story of Peter Pan’ and, as such, I don’t really need to go into what that story is. I mean, we all know what happens don’t we… The story runs along the same lines as ‘Peter Pan’ just with a different character that has different reasons for travelling to Neverland… sorry, I meant ‘Anyplace’… This kind of thing is the very reason why anyone picking up this book should read the ‘Acknowledgements’ page first. I went through the whole book thinking, ‘this is just a pastiche of Peter Pan’, reading the acknowledgements I found out that this was Peter David’s intention the whole time… This certainly changed my opinion about what he was trying to do and whether or not he had succeeded. The other issue I had with ‘Tigerheart’ was that it didn’t seem sure whether it was a ‘Young Adult’ or ‘Adult’ book. I’m not saying that a book cannot be both but I think a little more focus one way, or the other, would have tightened things up and made it more readable. I found it unclear whether the asides, made by the narrator to the reader, were for adults or children’s ears. Maybe it’s a book designed for parents to read to their children; maybe it’s a book for teenagers on the cusp of adulthood or maybe it’s a little bit of everything. I just got the impression that it was trying to say too much all at once and missing out on the chance to really get its point across. This is a real shame as there’s a lot of stuff in the book that’s worth exploring in greater detail, in particular that tricky transition from childhood to becoming an adult. While there’s a lot of good things said, there are so many that it feels like the author is sitting on the fence and refusing to commit one way or the other. Maybe this was the author’s intention but it just left me wanting him to decide which side to come down on.
The story itself is as full of excitement as ‘Peter Pan’ ever was; a real swashbuckling tale of pirates, Indians, revenge and honour. The added notes of poignancy kept the story fresh and, to be fair, the narrative ‘asides’ fitted in well in terms of the homage that Peter David is paying to JM Barrie. I also liked the way that while everything is tied up by the end, there’s just enough left unfinished to give the reader a haunting sense of the world ‘beyond the book’.
‘Tigerheart’ is an enjoyable read but a frustrating one at the same time. Whilst it is certainly entertaining the author has a lot to say about a lot of things and it’s a shame that (at two hundred and ninety pages) he hasn’t given himself enough room to say it all in.

Seven out of Ten

Thursday, 5 June 2008

‘Ghost Walk’ – Brian Keene

I thought that ‘Dark Hollow’ was the best thing that Brian Keene has written, to date, so I was both really excited and a little apprehensive when ‘Ghost Walk’ (Brian’s latest book and sequel to ‘Dark Hollow’) came through the door. I’m a big of Brian’s work, so I’m always excited to see what he comes up with next, but could he improve on ‘Dark Hollow’? Well, kinda…
LeHorn’s Hollow has lain empty ever since the final cataclysmic events of ‘Dark Hollow’. Rumour and legend still abound however and the stories surrounding the Hollow make it the perfect place for entrepreneur Ken Ripple to set up his ‘Ghost Walk’ attraction. The thing about legend though is that it based on fact and the evil that waits in the woods is all too real. Unless a reporter, a former Amish man and Adam Senft (the author from ‘Dark Hollow’) can rise to the challenge hordes of tourists are about to get much more than they bargained for at midnight…
As a fan, I think that Brian Keene has delivered yet again both in terms of a scary tale and also as another strong piece of the overall ‘Labyrinth’ mythos that he is building. ‘Ghost Walk’ (the book) does exactly what a ghost walk would do in real life. It draws you in slowly with a feeling that anything could happen; it then draws out the tension until you start to think that nothing could possibly and you let that breath go that you were holding. That’s when Keene strikes with a vicious mix of horror, and the supernatural, which me jump and my stomach turn at the same time. What adds poignancy to these scenes is the way that he gets into the character’s heads and lays out their deepest fears for us to see. When they met their end I felt for them all the more as I had got to know them in a way that you don’t normally get with horror fiction ‘cannon fodder’. The flip side of this is that you can spot who will die next because they’re the people who are having their fears laid out for all to see. This veers towards making things a little predictable but at the same time adds a sense of inevitability that compliments the supernatural theme and the pure evil of what lurks in LeHorn’s Hollow.
For anyone who hasn’t spotted the ‘Labyrinth’ theme yet, ‘Ghost Walk’ will tell you all you need to know and, for the long time fan, it’s fun once again to spot the links to other books. The link to ‘Ghoul’ is one to look out for and I also really liked the way Keene pokes fun at what he’s doing when the reporter scoffs at the suggestion there may be an alternate world infested with zombies.
‘Ghost Walk’ follows on from the events of ‘Dark Hollow’ but you don’t have to read the first book to get an idea of what’s happened before. Keene takes time to fill in new readers, on past events, and the only thing I’d say here is that if you’ve already read ‘Dark Hollow’ you may feel that there’s a little too much exposition. At times I just wanted to get on with the story, I already knew what had happened before. Having said that though it’s pretty cool to see an author do this kind of thing, for the sake of a complete story, when he could have just said, “go out and buy ‘Dark Hollow’ if you want to fill in the gaps…”
While ‘Ghost Walk’ doesn’t quite surpass ‘Dark Hollow’ (in my opinion) it’s a worthy successor and a ghostly read that will have you yelling, “don’t go into the woods!” at various characters. As long as Brian keeps writing horror of this standard I’ll keep reading it. Talking of which, the book also contains a preview of his next novel ‘Castaway’, a reality show with an unexpected bite…

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

I interviewed Brian late last year, if you haven't seen it already then have a click over Here.

I've also been going on about how great 'Dark Hollow' is, here's my Review.