Thursday, 30 April 2009

‘The Patriot Witch’ – C.C. Finlay (Del Rey)

It’s funny how the little things can put you off picking a book up. Not just little things either, I’m talking ‘completely out the blue’ random things that make no sense whatsoever. Take ‘The Patriot Witch’ for instance, the word ‘patriot’ always gets me thinking of the film ‘Patriot Games’ and I can’t stand the character of Jack Ryan. I also got a mental image of Harrison Ford casting spells during the War of Independence which didn’t encourage me to pick the book up at all! Does this kind of completely irrational behaviour ever happen to you?
I worked through this though and finally gave ‘The Patriot Witch’ a go this week. I’m really glad I did; one of the marks of a good book (I find) is whether it takes my mind off the daily commute and ‘The Patriot Witch’ passed the test with flying colours...

Proctor Brown works on the family farm in the New England of 1775 and is also a minuteman, one of the local militia who aim to protect the rights of the colonies by standing up to the strong arm tactics of the British army. Proctor is a lot more than he appears though, magic flows in his blood and he must constantly hide this or risk the hangman’s rope...
There is a wider world of magic that Proctor is unaware of but a chance encounter with a British officer (with magic of his own) is about to propel him right into the heart of a secret war between witches. Whilst the battle for independence rages, another war is happening that could decide far more...

Despite a few ‘bumpy bits’ here and there, I pretty much flew through ‘The Patriot Witch’ and am looking forward to seeing what it’s sequel (‘A Spell for the Revolution’) has to offer. ‘The Patriot Witch’ is the first in the ‘Traitor to the Crown’ series and promises good things to come, being a good blend of action and examination of the characters being put through their paces.

My degree was in American Studies but the passing of time (and the fact that I didn’t attend very many lectures) has led me to forget most of what I learned. ‘The Patriot Witch’ is steeped in the history of that period and a better knowledge of American history (than mine) is useful if you’re going to get the most out of this book. I can remember roughly what happened but the abundance of names, militia movements etc left me in no doubt that I was missing out on a lot more than I was reading.
The plot carries you along at such a pace that, to an extent, that a detailed knowledge of the background history isn’t essential. It does help though :o)

Without going into the story too much (don’t want to give anything away), ‘The Patriot Witch’ did leave me wondering whether Finlay should have made certain of Proctor’s actions pivotal to historical events, especially as he seemed to get over his guilt fairly quickly. I get all the reasons for taking this approach but I was left wondering how necessary it was considering it didn’t seem to go anywhere afterwards. Maybe these ramifications will be explored in a later book...

The plot speeds along at a fair pace that is only derailed slightly when the focus shifts onto interactions between characters. With this being the first book in a series there’s obviously a lot of setting things up to do (as is always the case) but I was left wondering if some of it couldn’t have waited until another book. The characters are all good to spend time with but sometimes things went into a level of detail that detracted from the urgency of the plot...

Having said that though the plot is a great one to follow in terms of mysteries to be solved and problems overcome. The magic on display is simple yet very effective and Finlay writes these passages in such a way that the magic really stands out against an otherwise ordinary background. Finally, any book featuring the undead will always get my vote and Finlay’s undead are particularly nasty!

The pacing can be a bit choppy at times but this didn’t really detract too much from my enjoyment of ‘The Patriot Witch’. There’s no question of whether or not I’m in for the long haul with the ‘Traitor to the Crown’ series, I just am. It’s that simple.

Nine out of Ten

Anyone going to...

...Sci-Fi London over the Bank Holiday weekend? Yet again I've been too busy with other things to get round to booking places for the various talks etc but I'm hoping to meet a whole load of people (that I really want to meet) at the launch party for Tony Ballantyne's 'Twisted Metal'...

How about you though? Will you be going to the talks or are you planning on pulling an all nighter of epic 'Italian Horror' or 'Anime'?
Leave a comment here and let me know either what you're planning on doing or what you thought of it all...

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

From my bookshelf: ‘The Stand’ – Stephen King

This was originally meant to be a review for C.C. Finlay’s ‘The Patriot Witch’ but a twenty minute car journey that ended up taking an hour and a quarter put paid to any notions I had of finishing the book off. London traffic...

It’s hard to separate truth from overblown panic mongering when you see the papers screaming about swine flu; I think we’re all hoping that this one is over soon and that it doesn’t claim any more lives.
If you’re a geek though (like me) then something else may have occurred to you, it probably crossed your mind when the SARS virus was doing the rounds. Just two words, ‘Captain Trips...’

Stephen King’s ‘The Stand’ is the tale of a world devastated by the accidental release of a laboratory grown ‘super flu’ virus. Plenty of liquids, and a couple of days in bed, are no good at all as this virus swiftly mutates to attack whatever anti-bodies are thrown at it. It has a 99.4% communication rate and a 100% rate of mortality...
The world dies choking on its own snot (there are hints that American agents in Communist countries are ordered to release the virus there) but the focus of the story remains in America where small groups of survivors are trying to build a new life for themselves. People are experiencing dreams of either an elderly black woman in the country or a red eyed monster in the desert. Both dreams beckon people and a line being drawn for what could be the last battle between good and evil, it’s time to take a stand...

You wouldn’t expect to come across a copy of ‘The Stand’ in the elderly ward of a psychiatric hospital but that’s where I first came across it and it soon proved to be a great alternative to the cleaning job that I was supposed to be doing. It wasn’t long before I got a copy of my own (the uncut version) and it’s a book that has survived numerous bookshelf culls to this very day.

The breakdown of society, depicted in ‘The Stand’, is actually a lot scarier than the supernatural events that follow it. Reading these events gave me the feeling that this was the way that it could all go down in real life, a total loss of control and everything going up in flames. Hard decisions have to be made by General Starkey over how to control something that is out of control with no hope of a cure. What do you do if you’re in charge of a situation like this? Starkey lets nothing stand in the way of a cover up, even when riots are starting to take place. Anyone spreading news of the super flu is executed for treason...

When the heat finally dies down we are left with two groups of people scrabbling to make some kind of life for themselves in this post apocalyptic environment. It’s here that an oversized cast of characters bog the story down in a mess of ‘who has to do what and with whom’. Everyone has a part to play (and as such it all needs to be written down) but I was left wondering whether it all needed to be gone into in such detail... It’s worth sticking with though as King’s characters are all likeable and accessible enough to make you want to read more. King also has some interesting things to say about how society might reform in the wake of such a catastrophe. The clear line between good and evil sets the scene for an epic battle but also serves to mask the relative merits of the society that Randall Flagg sets up in Las Vegas. He’s a harsh master (crucifixions are the order of the day for transgressors) but he gets the power back on and things running again. Do the ends justify the means though? It’s all very well for us to sit here and condemn them (‘Flagg is evil so his methods must be wrong!’) but if we were in that situation would we be any different? Worth a thought...

The ending is a confrontation of suitably biblical proportions and an aftermath which suggests that humanity might never learn from its mistakes. King’s ability to portray an apocalyptic event as a big picture, and as a series of more intimate events, has made this book an integral part of my bookshelf. The way it links into the wider universe of the Dark Tower makes it all the better as far as I’m concerned. If you’re thinking about picking up a Stephen King book for the first time then this could be the best place to start...

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

‘Courage and Honour’ – Graham McNeill (Black Library)

When I was a lot younger I used to love reading the blurbs (for other books) in the back of whatever book I was reading at the time. It was the best way to decide how to spend my birthday and Christmas money :o) These days publishers have gone one better by printing whole excerpts from forthcoming books and this suits me right down to the ground. Now I can get a lot better idea over whether I want to continue with a series or not...

After I’d finished reading Graham McNeill’s ‘The Killing Ground’ I immediately went on to the excerpt for ‘Courage and Honour’; the resulting fire fight between Space Marines and the alien tau really caught my imagination and I was pleased to see a review copy come through the door not long afterwards.
I knew what to expect, having read ‘The Killing Ground’, and ‘Courage and Honour’ didn’t disappoint as far as this went. It didn’t really deliver anything new though but that didn’t stop it being a very good read indeed...

Having fulfilled the conditions of their death oath, Ultramarines Uriel Ventris and Pasanius are free to return to their home world in triumph. However, their brother marines view their return with suspicion. Can anyone return from the Chaos infested Eye of Terror and still remain pure in heart? Fighting invading tau forces on the planet of Pavonis is the best way for Ventris to prove that his honour is beyond reproach...

‘Courage and Honour’ gives it’s readers exactly what it’s predecessor does, focussing mainly on a stand up fight between two massive opposing forces. Size really does count here and the death toll quickly runs into the thousands in a flurry of fiery explosions that take out entire cities. You’re not going to see a lot of development in the main characters here (although they are well drawn, more on that later) and the same has to be said of the plot. Certain characters have a journey to make but these are incidental to the immense displays of firepower on show. The bottom line is that the plot of ‘Courage and Honour’ is little more than open warfare from start to finish but, having read a few of these books now, that’s what I had come to expect and that’s what fans will expect as well.

‘Courage and Honour’ might just be constant warfare but what it sets out to do is done very well. Troop movements make sense and McNeill does sterling work in his microcosm of a galaxy in conflict. War does not forgive mistakes and McNeill makes this abundantly clear in the case of the planetary governor who picks the wrong side to back! The warzones of the future are notoriously capricious places where a trooper can easily be crushed by a tank from his own side as he can be shot by the enemy, McNeill doesn’t hold back from showing us the horrors of war and this lends an air of realism to a futuristic setting. All the while this is happening, McNeill is ramping up the pace of the battle and the reader is well and truly along for the ride.

Uriel’s quest for redemption comes across as a bit of a foregone conclusion as he comes across as being so perfect that he can do nothing but succeed. The abundance of Ultramarine heraldry and tradition makes up for this though, I love the background to the Warhammer universe and ‘Courage and Honour’ grounds you in it just that little bit more.
Other authors have countered the invulnerability of the Space Marines by focussing more on supporting characters instead and McNeill also takes this approach. The frailties of characters such as Lord Winterbourne and Adept Lortuen Perjed do freshen things up but I still got the feeling that they were all being carried along by the Space Marines (the book proves that they are) and this robbed certain scenes of their tension...

If you’re after a rousing tale of futuristic warfare then you can’t go too far wrong with ‘Courage and Honour’ but if it’s character development and plot that you’re after then you may want to look elsewhere. If you’re a Warhammer fan though, you probably knew this already. I’m still up for reading more by Graham McNeill to see what happens next...

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

Monday, 27 April 2009

‘Shadow of the Scorpion’ – Neal Asher (Tor UK)

Regular readers of the blog will know that I generally tend to shy away from ‘hard science fiction’ and stick with space operas where the laws of relativity etc don’t form such an integral part of the plot. A rule of mine is to stay away from books that make me feel stupid because I don’t understand them (science was never a strong point) :o) In light of yesterday’s post maybe this is something that will have to change on the blog, we shall see...

Anyway... Having read Neal Asher’s ‘Gridlinked’ a few years ago I was ready to lump him with the ‘hard sci-fi’ lot but then I picked up a copy of ‘Prador Moon’. Hard sci-fi is one thing (and there were technical bits that I didn’t quite get) but when you add giant carnivorous space crabs (toting Gatling guns in their claws) then it’s a whole different ball game!
I was up for more of this kind of fare and ‘Shadow of the Scorpion’ (complete with menacing looking scorpion war drone) looked like it would deliver in spades. As it turned out, it did deliver but also failed to deliver at the same time...

If you’re a fan of Neal Asher’s ‘Polity’ series then you will have come across Earth Central Security agent Cormac, not a man to be messed with! ‘Shadow of the Scorpion’ takes a step back to Cormac’s childhood and his early years with the ECS. It helps if you’ve read previous ‘Cormac’ novels but it’s by no means a big deal if you haven’t. A childhood haunted by feelings of intense loss (that can’t be explained), and a large scorpion shaped war drone, sets the pattern for Cormac’s early days as an ECS agent. The enemies may differ but Cormac’s search for answers remains the same. The only difference is that the sheer act of staying alive just got that much harder...

On the surface, I had great fun reading ‘Shadow of the Scorpion’. This is a book driven by a mystery that Cormac isn’t even aware of until three quarters of the way through the book, a move that provides fresh impetus at just the right time and gives the reader a new perspective on Cormac’s childhood. At the same time as it’s doing this, ‘Shadow of the Scorpion’ is also trailing Agent Cormac as he attempts to get to the bottom of a terrorist plot. This is another mystery to be solved; one that’s a little more straightforward (we know who the enemy is, just not where he is...) but ones that’s driven at high speed by a heavy dose of gunfire, chases, intelligent weaponry and races against time. Neal Asher writes unashamedly high octane scenes that are positively ankle deep in spent ammunition and gore, he’s also not afraid to tackle the subject of torture (mental and physical) and these two approaches made for scenes that grabbed me and didn’t let go until their explosive climax.

There is a lot going on, and a lot for fans of fast paced frenetic sci-fi to enjoy, in ‘Shadow of the Scorpion’ but it was the structure of the novel itself that I felt let things down...
Telling Cormac’s stories as a child and ECS agent gives the reader ‘two stories for the price of one’ but I was sometimes left wondering where the connection, between the two, was. Other than Cormac himself, there didn’t seem to be anything else that connected the two plotlines and this lent a rather disjointed air to proceedings. At times I felt as if I was reading two short stories that had been tacked together to form one book. Either plot works fine on it’s own but stick them together...

I was also left a little bemused at how everything was tied up at the end. Cormac’s ‘present day perspective’ is split into two and the two plot lines resolved on one planet at the same time. Although the affect is quite cool I was left confused and wondering which plot line was resolved first. This wasn’t made clear although I’ll admit that I may have missed a trick here, three or four re-reads (of the last few pages) didn’t help though.

While Cormac’s plotline, as an adult, is resolved satisfactorily I was less impressed with the resolution of his childhood mystery. I don’t want to say too much, as it will give the game away, but I was left thinking ‘why didn’t she do the whole job instead of just half...?’ The answer is that doing the whole job would have meant this plotline was potentially not needed at all and I get the impression that this was to be avoided...

‘Shadow of the Scorpion’ is a fun read (loads of fun in fact) that suffered from structural problems once I stopped to actually think about what I was reading. It didn’t hang together very well but I found enough there to make me want to give Asher’s work another go...

Seven out of Ten

Competition Winners and Related Stuff...

This one is going to be a little longer than normal so stick with me... :o)

If you were a UK winner for last weeks 'Foundling'/'Lamplighter competition then you're probably wondering why you only received one book instead of the two promised. I'm wondering that too and I've sent an email to the publisher to find out what happened there. I'll let you know what's going on as soon as I find out.

I had some books left over from the 'Shadow of the Scorpion' and 'Born Queen' competitions the other week, these lucky folks managed to get their hands on them...

'Shadow of the Scorpion'

Richard Hayden, Rye, East Sussex, UK

'The Born Queen'

Nazma Bhaijee, Forest Gate, London
James Yarker, London

Well done guys, your books should be with you very soon!

And now for more competition winners! Last week saw competitions for Nate Kenyon's 'The Bone Factory' and Graham McNeill's 'The Killing Ground' and 'Courage and Honour'. The lucky winners are...

'The Bone Factory'

Indigo Ravenwood, Endicott, New York
Alec Coquin, New York
Selinda McCumbers, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio
Mishel Zabala, Virginia Beach, Virginia

'The Killing Ground'/ 'Courage and Honour'

Barry Forshaw, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
Arief Zainal, Shiga Prefecture, Japan
Peter Stoakes, Victoria, Australia
Tommy Erhardtsen, Denmark
C├ędric Billette, Gatineau, Canada

Your books are all on their way, happy reading!

Sunday, 26 April 2009

What would you like to see more of on the blog?

As much as I'm enjoying doing what I'm doing (no plans to stop anytime soon!) I find myself wondering if the blog would benefit from new content. Y'know, make things a little fresher... The only thing is that I'm not sure what form this new content should take, I've been racking my brains only to find that there's not an original idea in there right now! Give me a break though, work is a constant drain on inspiration... ;o)

And then it occurred to me... You guys must sit there sometimes and think, 'this is all well and good but why doesn't Graeme try writing about... sometimes...?'
Well, here's your chance to tell me what you would like to see more of on the blog :o) I want to keep the focus on genre books/graphic novels etc (with a few films here and there) but there's still a lot of room there to do some new stuff around this.

Would you like to see me interview more authors? (Would you like to be the ones asking the questions?) Would you like to see me step back from the new/recent releases, every now and then, and read stuff that's a bit older? Would you like to see me step outside my comfort zone altogether and read genre fiction that I would never normally read (please God, no para-normal romance though as that almost killed me last time!)? Would you like to see more news from the world of publishing?
Or is there something else entirely that you would like to see more of here...?

As I said, what I'm doing here isn't going to change all that much but I can always make gaps where new (and hopefully interesting) things have the potential to happen.
Leave a comment below the post and let me know what you think... ;o)

Have a good weekend!

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Giveaway! 'Maximum Offense' - David Gunn

Thanks to Transworld, I've got three copies of David Gunn's 'Maximum Offense', mass market, (the sequel to 'Death's Head') to give away to three lucky readers. Here's the blurb from Amazon...

The Aux have been dropped on a far-flung planet called Hekati, only it's in Uplift space and not really a planet at all. As for their mission, it's so damn secret that General Jaxx hasn't even told Lieutenant Sven Tveskoeg what it's about. It appears a citizen of the United Free, an empire not only more vast than Octo V's but far more technologically advanced, has gone missing on this artificial world and it's up to Sven and the Aux to find the poor soul. But Hekati is a realm where nothing is quite as it seems and no one can be trusted. Smelling a rat, Sven is so not happy - and when he's not happy is when bad things start to happen - and the body count starts to rise...The devil-may-care not-quite 100 percent human mercenary soldier-cum-killing machine Tveskoeg and the Death's Head squad are back: cue more extreme violence, a mega death toll, dirty sex, fiendish plot twists and explosive, non-stop action!

Sounds good doesn't it? Fancy a copy? All you need to do is drop me an email (address in the top right hand corner of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is, I'll do everything else :o)

This competition is open to everyone, it doesn't matter where you live!

I'll let this one run until May 3rd and will announce the winners on the 4th...

Good Luck!

Zombie Chickens!

I won the 'Zombie Chicken Award'!!! "Er... what?" I hear you all say. Well, thanks to the Book Smugglers I find myself in possession of the coolest sounding award in the whole internet...

Here's what it's all about...

The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all…

I'm worried enough about regular zombies (it's going to happen one day...) without incurring the wrath of zombie chickens as well! My five worthy bloggers are...

The Wertzone: Adam is a fan of big thick books (think 'Malazan', 'Wheel of Time' and anything by Peter F. Hamilton) and we all know that these are the best kind of books to hit a zombie over the head with!

Speculative Horizons: James doesn't take any crap and, as such, this makes him the ideal kinda guy to have around when zombies start shambling down your street...

My Favourite Books: Because I'm in the process of slowly stealing Mark's zombie survival plan and this award should distract him from what I'm up to...

OF Blog of the Fallen: Check out the size of this book! Here's a book that will pack an awesome punch if a zombie comes calling!

A Dribble of Ink: I don't think zombies have ever been mentioned on Aidan's blog but I'm a big fan anyway and that's enough for him to gain this coveted award ;o)

Have a great weekend everyone!

Friday, 24 April 2009

‘Keeper of Light and Dust’ – Natasha Mostert (Dutton/Transworld)

When it comes to picking the next book to read there are any number of factors that can help me make my mind up. A lot of the time it’s a case of switching between genres, an overdose of fantasy can lead to my trying out some sci-fi or horror. I also try and give publishers fair representation on the blog and this also leads to certain reading choices being made. Sometimes I just think “the hell with it” and pick up the first book I see! When I saw that ‘Keeper of Light and Dust’ was set in South London I just knew I’d be giving it a go as that’s where I’ve been living for the last few years (and very nice it is too). I was sent the American edition and the resulting edits meant that it didn’t feel very ‘South London’ at all; it was still a good read though...

Mia Lockhart is the latest in a long line of ‘Keepers’, a secret clan of women have healed and protected warriors throughout the ages. She practices her craft amongst the boxers and martial artists of South London with no worries other than how her wards will do in the ring. Until now that is... Fighters in peak condition are dying (their hearts coming to a stop days after a big fight) and Mia is about to meet the man behind their deaths, the mysterious ‘Dragonfly, a man who has perfected the art of draining people of their chi so he can stay young forever.
When Dragonfly targets the man Mia loves, she must take the fight to him in both the spiritual and physical realms if her love is to survive...

I’ve never quite been able to get my head around talk of ‘chi’, and all the related spiritual stuff, which proved awkward when reading ‘Keeper’ as that is what the whole book is based upon. ‘Keeper’ switches between assuming the reader already has some background knowledge (of both the spiritual and physical aspects of the martial arts scene) and then giving them info-dumps of things they should know. I know nothing about martial arts and the info-dumps had the unfortunate affect of jarring the flow of the plot. In this sense ‘The Keeper of Light and Dust’ (‘The Keeper’ if you’re a UK reader) proved to be an infuriating read as things either went straight over my head or got thrown at me in such detail that I ended up skim reading... If this is the kind of the stuff that you’re into then you’ll get a lot more out of it than I did.

This was a real shame as the plot itself is one that’s easy to get into and not so easy to untangle yourself from. ‘Keeper of Light and Dust’ is one part mystery/ thriller and one part kick ass martial arts fights and there is plenty to get your teeth into. Mostert’s plot is crisp (apart from the info-dumps I’ve already mentioned) and flows along at a good pace. Any questions raised are done at reasonable intervals and this was what kept me going. The blurb gave a little too much away, before I’d started reading, but there was still plenty there to keep me going in the meantime.
The fight scenes are superbly choreographed and you can just tell that Mostert is writing these from experience. Some of these scenes were breathtaking and I could feel some of the punches! I also liked the sense of camaraderie that was prevalent in the dojos and gyms. There’s a real ‘warrior’s code’ thing going on here that wouldn’t look out of place in a David Gemmell novel...

The only other thing that really bugged me was a moment that came across as more than a little contrived so that Mia could find out more about the mysterious ‘Dragonfly’. While I can see Mia having her bag locked in the ladies changing room, I found it a little harder to believe that there was a way to the ladies changing room via the gents... And a certain someone happened to be in the shower at the same time... It just felt a little forced to me...

Despite this though. ‘Keeper of Light and Dust’ was fun to read and I’d be interested to see what other people think of both this and her other work. It’s definitely one for fans of martial arts...

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

As mentioned (albeit briefly) in the review; if you're in the UK, and looking for a copy of this book, then you need to be looking for 'The Keeper' (not 'Keeper of Light and Dust') as that's what it's called over here.

Signings at Forbidden Planet (the one in London)

Yep, this post is only really any good to people either living in London or those that can get there fairly easily. The Forbidden Planet Store has got some cool signings coming up so I thought I'd let you all know just in case you fancied making the trek :o) (Which as got me thinking now, what's the furthest distance you've ever travelled for a book signing?)

Next week sees China Mieville signing copies of (and reading from) 'The City & The City' on Thursday, Charles Stross signing copies of 'The Revolution Business' on Friday and Tony Ballantyne signing copies of his debut 'Twisted Metal' on Saturday. I'm going to be there for at least two of the three signings (Mieville and Ballantyne) and it would be great to see you there! :o)

For more information about Forbidden Planet signings click Here.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

‘The Shore’ – Robert Dunbar

One of the things that I’ve really enjoyed finding out (while this blog has been running) is that there is a lot more to horror fiction than what’s on the bookshelves in town and most of it seems to be coming from America. Brian Keene, Gary Braunbeck, Nate Kenyon, the list goes on… Every so often a less than satisfactory read bucks the trend but I find myself really enjoying horror these days and get excited whenever a new book comes through the door.
The plan for today was to have read and reviewed Natasha Mostert’s ‘Keeper of Light and Dust’ but I couldn’t sleep last night and Robert Dunbar’s ‘The Shore’ was close to hand. Before I knew it, the reason that I couldn’t sleep was because I was too busy reading…

There’s a storm approaching the New Jersey town of Edgeharbor but the prospect of pounding waves and bitter winds isn’t what’s scaring the residents. Something is hunting in Edgeharbor and the only signs of its passing are it’s bloody footprints and the mangled corpses that it leaves behind. As the storm grows closer, a mysterious stranger and a young policewoman are the only hope that the town has of survival…

‘The Shore’ is a book that has a lot to say and only three hundred and ten pages in which to say it all. It’s very much a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ affair and this can be very confusing at times. For a book that places such emphasis on it’s setting (which can work very well, more on that in a bit), Dunbar throws this out of balance by letting the characters drive the story and having the background scenery rush to catch up. There’s a lot of stuff going on inside people’s heads and it’s not always made clear that they’re on the move while this is happening… This caught me out more than once and having to go back and re-read passages interrupted the flow of the book.

I stuck with it though. In fact I did more than just stick with it, I couldn’t put the book down! ‘The Shore’ is a genuinely creepy read that had me constantly on edge and eager to find out how everything tied together at the end.

As I briefly mentioned, Dunbar places great emphasis on a brooding Edgeharbor that is practically deserted and soon to feel the full force of a storm of almost biblical proportions. This treatment really gives the novel a shot of energy in all the right places, whether it’s the creeping fear found in a deserted house or the full on rush of adrenaline the characters (and certainly this reader!) get when the storm finally breaks.

The plot itself is a good one, with a mystery to be solved and answers that provoke further questions. Dunbar is a master of misdirection and the way that the book ends really caught me out (more than once…)
Before you get to that point however, you’re in for a roller coaster ride where everyone is both the hunter and the hunted. With five central characters, anything could be possible and that’s where the misdirection comes in… Dunbar is also very adept at spinning the tension out in certain passages, making for moments where you literally cannot put the book down!
The characters themselves are well drawn with a measure of sympathy given to each of them that makes the ensuing events all the more horrifying, especially when you are finally given the full story...

If ‘The Shore’ had a better balance between setting and characters it would have been an almost perfect read as far as I was concerned. As it is, ‘The Shore’ is still worth your time if you’re after a book that will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. Keep an eye open for it’s release in July.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

‘The Forest of Hands & Teeth’ – Carrie Ryan (Gollancz)

In the same way that a zombie will relentlessly shamble onwards, in its search for fresh meat, I’m always looking for my next fix of zombie fiction. The only difference is that I don’t shamble, well... not all the time...
I’ve heard a lot of good things about ‘The Forest of Hands & Teeth’ (Carrie Ryan’s debut novel) and the fact that it has zombies in it sealed the deal in terms of my wanting to read it. I was lucky enough to have a review copy come through the door (Gollancz are publishing this in July) and it wasn’t long before I found myself picking it up for a read.
I finished the book last night and the first thing I did was to take a deep breath. Yes, ‘The Forest of Hands & Teeth’ turned out to be one of those books that made me forget to breathe on more than one occasion...

Mary has spent her whole life behind the fences of the village (in the middle of the forest), living under the laws of the Sisterhood and looking on as the Guardians wage an unceasing war against the Unconsecrated (zombies to the likes of you and me) who are constantly trying to break through. Things are about to change though... Not only will Mary find out things, about the Sisterhood, that she didn’t want to know but a breach in the fence will force her to contemplate life outside the village. Whether it’s with the man she loves, or the man who loves her, remains to be seen...

The best zombie books, that I’ve read, are the ones that either go for the ‘full on zombie apocalypse’ (millions of zombies with a liberal dose of gore) or decide to make the zombies almost incidental to the plot and concentrate instead on how characters adapt to life in a world that has completely changed. Ryan decides to make the second option the focus for ‘Forest’ and this pays off beautifully with a story that kept me reading the whole way through. (If you saw someone walking around the London Underground with his head buried in a book, it was me...)

The spin that ‘Forest’ uses is that it has been a number of years since the initial zombie uprising (we never find out exactly how long) and the people living in the village have been there so long, generations, that they no longer know what’s on the outside. What you get, as a result, is a very claustrophobic atmosphere that is emphasised both by the confining fence and Mary’s insatiable curiosity about what lies beyond the forest. Some people are not meant to live behind a fence and Mary is definitely one of these people. While her actions do not lead to the eventual breach, the breach is symbolic of the pent up tension that has nowhere else to go but outwards.

Just when you thought the novel had nowhere else to go everything is thrown on its head and the ending is thrown up in the air. This is when you really get to see what the main players are made of. The flip side is that several questions, that we are led to believe will be answered, are forgotten as the plot turns in a completely new direction. I guess that’s sometimes the way things go in real life but it did leave me wondering why these questions had been pushed to the fore to begin with. ‘The Forest of Hands & Teeth’ feels like it could be the first book in a series and maybe this is where the answers will be found...

The survivors of the village all react in different ways to their new situation and we also get to see how they cope with the sort of situations that anyone familiar with zombie films will know all about. Things get very intense here. What do you do with a zombie baby? How do you cope with the knowledge that a loved one has been bitten and will turn? I already knew the answers but the real fun here is watching the characters arrive there themselves, even at the risk of fracturing the group...
All the while this is happening there is a love story playing out that Ryan does well to balance with the bleaker elements of the plot. Can love survive in the middle of a zombie uprising? It can but not in the way you would expect, the need to survive and make your own way will always take over...

The zombies may not take centre stage but Ryan still uses them to good affect in scenes that had me jumping as I was so engrossed in the book that I didn’t notice people walking up behind me! There’s an ongoing debate over the relative merits of ‘slow’ and ‘fast’ zombies, Ryan chooses to use both sort and this has the knock on effect of upping the tempo of the plot just when it matters. However, the reader is again left with questions to which no answers are given. Maybe we will see Mary return in a sequel after all...

Despite the unanswered questions that it raises, ‘The Forest of Hands & Teeth’ remains a more than solid debut from an author that I’ll be keeping an eye open for in the future. I reckon it would make a good film as well...

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

‘The Empress of Mars’ – Kage Baker (Tor)

If you read fantasy or science fiction then the odds are that you’ve ended up nursing a pint of something alcoholic with the denizens of pubs with names such as ‘The Crippled Orc’ or the ‘Hyperdrive Saloon’. Staying away from places like these are well nigh impossible; whether your adventurer has slain a dragon or busted through a planet’s security blockade the first thing that they’re going to want to do afterwards is celebrate by getting roaring drunk at the nearest place that sells hard liquor.
You would have thought that the prospect of hanging out in yet another space bar would be getting tedious by now but not so! The fact is that ever since I saw Star Wars, for the first time, I’ve loved this setting. The Mos Eisley Cantina has got a lot to answer for :o)
If this wasn’t enough, ‘The Empress of Mars’ is a book written by Kage Baker; an author who I’m always keen to read more of after reading ‘The House of the Stag’ back in September last year. As it turned out, ‘The Empress of Mars’ was more of the same and in the best possible way...

When the British Arean Company founded it’s colony on Mars welcomed any settlers it could get and, more often than not, these were outcasts, misfits and dreamers. When the company realised that there was no profit to be had on Mars the settlers were left to fend for themselves and this is the story of what happened next...
Meet Mary Griffith, an unemployed mother of three who opened the only place to buy a beer on the Tharsis Bulge. ‘Empress of Mars’ is her story but it’s also the story of conman Stanford Crosley, space cowboy Ottorino Vespucci and the mysterious Heretic. With the help of others, these four people will turn a derelict planet into something else entirely...

I haven’t read the 2006 Hugo nominated novella (of the same name) that ‘The Empress of Mars’ is based upon but if this book is anything to go by then I think the nomination was well deserved. ‘The Empress of Mars’ was a thoroughly entertaining read, starting off like ‘Cheers’ set on Mars but then becoming a lot more...

The first chapter sets out the stall for the whole book with an amusing set of circumstances and coincidences that set Mary up with everything that she needs in order to get to her exalted position by the end of the book. The ramblings of the Heretic suggest there is more at work here than sheer luck; this may or may not be the case but these occurrences do fall into a pattern which can leave the reader knowing that come what may Mary will always win through. At first, there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of point in continuing reading, if you already know how it will end, but the way in which Baker goes about her writing business soon gives you a very good reason to stick with it.

I was left marvelling at how everything fitted together to form a plot that was meticulous and moved along at a steady pace. Nothing is superfluous to the story as a whole, if anything looks like it is then that’s only because it’s about to come back (in a few pages) and surprise you in the best way possible. ‘The Empress of Mars’ has plenty of twists and turns but it always makes sure that the reader doesn’t get lost along the way. This book is also not afraid to poke fun at itself every now and then, the addition of little asides like ‘downloading the 350th season of Eastenders’ never failed to surprise me into a laugh and this is one of the best ways to keep me reading.

The characters in the book are a joy to get to know and investing time in their development is definitely a pleasure not a chore. There is laughter and tears over the course of the book and Baker is not afraid to shy away from going into what this means for people like Mary Griffith, her children and others. Even though you know how the story has to end, watching these people refusing to be cowed is still quite an experience.

It wasn’t until about halfway through the book (with the introduction of Ottorino Vespucci) that I started to notice the parallels between frontier life on Mars and the frontier life of the early American settlers. Baker’s commentary here gives the reader plenty to think about and if it’s a little over egged (the English are ‘bad’, I get it, seriously...) it doesn’t matter too much as the end result comes across very much like the Western films I used to watch on Sunday afternoons as a kid, good fun with plenty happening.

‘The Empress of Mars’ proved to be a very entertaining read. I haven’t read the novella so couldn’t say where the differences lie in this book. Bear that in mind, I guess, if you’re thinking of buying this (the book is released in May) but if you haven’t come across this before then I’d recommend giving it a go.

Nine out of Ten

Monday, 20 April 2009

‘Hellboy: The Fire Wolves’ – Tim Lebbon (Dark Horse Books)

The first time I came across Hellboy was way back in the mid-nineties when he teamed up with Ghost (a favourite of mine at the time) to solve a supernatural mystery arising from an old gangland slaying back in the thirties. What I’m now calling ‘The Great Comic Book Famine’ came next and it would be years before I came across Hellboy again, this time going up against the Communist Airborne Mollusk Militia (I want that on a t-shirt!) with my number one comic book character The Goon.
My brief encounters with Hellboy have left me in no doubt that this is a guy I want to get to know a lot better and the arrival of Tim Lebbon’s ‘The Fire Wolves’ gave me the opportunity to do that in the best possible way (any hints on the best place to start with Mike Mignola’s graphic novels would be much appreciated though!)

In AD 79 Pompeii was buried under tonnes of ash from the erupting Mount Vesuvius but these swathes of ash didn’t just bury things, they also covered the sight of something escaping...
Two thousand years later... Carlotta Esposito is certain that an ancient family curse will see her die before her eighteenth birthday. Her cousin Franca makes a desperate plea for help to the one person best placed to save Carlotta... Hellboy (the world’s greatest paranormal investigator).
Despite the hostility of the family patriarch, the coastal town of Amalfi seems like the ideal place for Hellboy to visit after a chillier assignment in Finland. However, when there’s a fire demon on the loose things are liable to get more than a little too hot to handle. If that wasn’t bad enough, Vesuvius is starting to rumble again...

‘The Fire Wolves’ gives its reader a fairly self contained plot, which stands on its own, but isn’t necessarily the best place to start for the casual reader looking to get into ‘Hellboy’ for the first time. A lot of references are made to past events and relationships which sound like they have already been mentioned in earlier books. While the character of Hellboy does make for some interesting reading (more on that in a bit) you aren’t really told anything his origins and what makes him stand out as a special character in his own right. Wikipedia helped me out here. Long term fans won’t have a problem with this but first timers might. Hence the comment at the top, where is the best place to start for someone picking up ‘Hellboy’ for the first time?

Lebbon’s writing more than makes up for these (slight) pitfalls however. Once I started reading ‘The Fire Wolves’ I didn’t want to stop. What you’re getting for your money here is a good slice of detective fiction with a bubbling undercurrent of the supernatural which has a habit of leaping off the page and grabbing you when you least expect it. Lebbon has a real flair for hitting you with the hard stuff at just the right time. Incidental things, like a door handle that is slightly warm to the touch, are so much more than you realise and Lebbon is also spot on with when he chooses to share his revelations. The book’s title gives away part of the plot but when this is revealed to Hellboy it still made me jump!
The plot is typical detective fare (loads of clues to be found, a mystery to be solved, fights to get in and out of) goes along at just the right pace for ensuing circumstances. Lebbon certainly knows when to put his foot either on the brakes or to the accelerator!

Talking of Hellboy... Here is a character that comes across as very intriguing and is someone who I certainly want to get to know better. Like I said, you don’t really get to find out about his background but what you get instead is a look at a man who is not only out of place in society (and trying to fit in) but is also fighting a battle inside himself between the side of him aiming for appropriate behaviour and the part that just wants to cut loose... Hellboy is also a surprisingly sensitive soul and this facet of his character makes for some interesting moments of introspection.
Lebbon does well to realise that although Hellboy takes centre stage there are other characters with just as important a story to tell. By giving them the same time he allows characters like Franca Esposito to really shine.

‘The Fire Wolves’ turned out to be not the best place to start reading ‘Hellboy’ (for me) but did more than enough to pique my interest for more of the same. My wallet is going to take a beating the next time I go into a comic book store...

Nine out of Ten

Competition Winners! Or, the post where Graeme holds up his hands and says...

... that there are still some books left over as not enough people entered the 'Born Queen' and 'Shadow of the Scorpion' competitions. Considering that this is the first time this has happened in just over two years I'm not doing too badly! :o) As it stands, I'm going to leave those two competitions open for one more week to see if there are any more takers (still UK entries only though, I'm at the mercy of the publisher there I'm afraid...)

Anyway, on with the winners who were...

'Foundling' & Lamplighter - D.M. Cornish

Ally Manning, Vancouver, USA
Cheryl Kelley, Gilberts, Illinois
Bryan Franklin, Medford, Oregon
Stephen McEwan, Buxton, Derbyshire, UK
Ken Reid, Nairn, Scotland
Mike Jackson, Wilton, UK

'The Shadow of the Scorpion - Neal Asher'

Andi Evans, Alvaston, Derby, UK
Mike Jackson, Wilton, UK
Jonathan Laidlow, Birmingham, UK
Mike Walsh, Wigan, UK

'The Born Queen' - Greg Keyes

Mike Jackson, Wilton, UK (Mike made out like a bandit this time round but you've got to be in it to win it!)
David Turner, Peterborough, UK
Ana Grilo, Cambridge, UK

Well done guys, your books will be on their way very soon :o)

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Giveaway! 'The Bone Factory' - Nate Kenyon

If you scroll down the page, a little bit, you'll see my review of Nate Kenyon's 'The Bone Factory' which I thought was very good indeed. If you like horror then I reckon you'll enjoy it too. Fancy a free copy? Do you live in America or Canada? (They're the only people who can enter this one, sorry...) If you've answered yes to these questions then keep reading...

Thanks to Leisure Books I have four copies of 'The Bone Factory' to give away. All you need to do, to be in with a chance of winning, is simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. Comments next to this post do not count as entries I'm afraid...

I'll let this one run until the 26th of April and announce the winners on the 27th.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Giveaway! 'Courage & Honour' and 'The Killing Ground' (Graham McNeill)

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Graham McNeill's rather good Warhammer 40K tie-in 'The Killing Ground'. It was a great read and I was excited to find out that I've got a copy of the next book in the series, 'Courage and Honour', heading towards me as I'm writing this :o)

How would you like to win both books? This competition is open to everyone, it doesn't matter where you live! Interested? Then read on...

I have five 'Courage and Honour'/'The Killing Ground' packs to give away courtesy of the Black Library. If you fancy your chances at winning then all you need to do is send me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. Comments left next to this post are great but will not count as entries...

I'll let this one run until the 26th of April and will announce the winners on the 27th.

Good Luck!

Friday, 17 April 2009

‘Nights of Villjamur’ – Mark Charan Newton (Tor UK)

I interviewed Mark Charan Newton around about this time last year and one of the things that he told me was that he was working on was a book called ‘Nights of Villjamur’. Having very much enjoyed ‘The Reef’ the first thing I did was to settle and wait in anticipation for ‘Nights of Villjamur’ to arrive on the shelves.
An advance copy came through the post but before I had a chance to read it Aidan, Adam and James got there first and posted their reviews. I totally trust what they have to say and their praise for ‘Nights of Villjamur’ had me looking forward to reading it even more.
I finally got round to picking the book up last weekend and finished it last night in a fit of ‘I can’t stop reading, I really must find out how it all ends...’ It turns out that everyone was right and my anticipation of ‘Nights of Villjamur’ was well founded...

Villjamur is a bastion of civilisation standing against an impending ice age. It’s also a lot more, being a city full of stories as well as a city with its own story to tell. Banshees mourn the dead while cultists use forgotten technology in the middle of an ancient city of dreaming spires and bridges. The death of the emperor means that the Chancellor is free to advance his own aims, while Randur Estevu’s own aims are honourable in intent but base in their execution... How are the lives of these two men connected to an inquisitor’s investigation of a brutal murder? How are reports of the dead walking the tundra connected with reports of a bizarre genocide on the northern islands of the empire? All the answers, and much more, will be found in Villjamur...

The world of Villjamur stands on the cusp of a gentle slide into oblivion and Newton makes this clear at the outset. The image of the world’s dying sun is prominent as is a sense of futility to everyone’s actions. The need to survive is there but it’s almost as if the book is asking what the point of it all is... This approach establishes the atmosphere of the book in the best way and gives you an indepth picture of the weight of millennia hanging over not only Villjamur but the world itself. It’s a bit of a double edged sword though as this futility can make ‘Nights of Villjamur’ a bit heavy going and really hard to get to grips with.

In interviews that I’ve read, Newton makes no apologies for the influence of authors like Mieville, Vance, Wolfe and Harrison on his work; particularly ‘Villjamur’. I’ve never read anything by Vance or Wolfe (and probably should, where should I start?) but could see the homage paid to both New Crobuzon and Viriconium in terms of the brooding cityscape (something that will stay with you long after you’ve finished) and the attitudes of it’s people. However, I was left wondering if Newton wears his influences a little too obviously. It’s a fine line to walk and the stories within Villjamur’s walls sway things in Newton’s favour.

The bottom line is that Newton writes an engaging tale full of different subplots that all come together to form a picture you’d only half guessed at while you were reading. ‘Nights of Villjamur’ has something for everyone and it’s all good. If you’re after a noir thriller then follow Inquisitor Jeryd down the mean streets as he attempts to solve a murder that has everyone baffled. If you’re after something political then Villjamur is full of competing factions that are all out for power and will stop at nothing to get it. If all you want is a bit of honest thievery and the sound of swords clashing in anger then there is plenty of that as well.

The events portrayed in ‘Nights of Villjamur’ are guaranteed page turners and the characters involved are just as engaging. Newton takes his time going into what it must be like living in a world approaching its end and how this can affect people’s decisions. Some characters stick to what they know whether that’s the upholding of the law or following their own base desires. In a dying world where change can be seen as pointless some characters do develop and these journeys are the ones that are worth following. There is enough going on in these pages to make reading the sequel pretty much essential as far as I’m concerned.

‘Nights of Villjamur’ has it’s (small) faults but remains a book that fantasy fans will enjoy if my reaction is anything to go by. I’ve only just finished it and I’m already waiting to see what happens next...

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Read my Interview with Mark and my review of The Reef.

Then have a look at Adam's Review of 'Nights of Villjamur'.

Have a look at James' Review as well as a Guest Post from Mark.

Last, but not least, take a look at Aidan's interview with Mark and Review of 'Nights of Villjamur'...

Competition Update...

I've just seen a comment (next to the 'Lamplighter'/'Foundling' competition post) saying that my mailbox is full and emails aren't getting through. Not sure what is going on here (as I've had an email come through this morning...) but I don't want you guys to miss out on the 'Lamplighter'/'Foundling' competition (US and UK only) as well as the 'Shadow of the Scorpion' and 'Born Queen' competitions (both UK only) so here's what I'm going to do...

I've got another email address that you can use (just this once while I'm working out what's wrong with the gmail account) and this is graemesfantasybookreview[nospam] . Remember to get rid of the 'nospam' bit first though!

Thinking about it, I've got a couple of competitions coming up over the weekend so use this email address for those as well if the gmail account still isn't working for you...

Thursday, 16 April 2009

‘Dark Disciple’ – Anthony Reynolds (Black Library)

In the dark universe of the forty first millennium, mankind is beset on all sides by alien hordes intent on rendering humanity extinct. You would have thought that there were more than enough planets to go around but apparently not…
If this wasn’t bad enough, mankind finds itself fighting not only the alien menace but a menace from within as well. The ruinous powers of the warp seek to possess anyone who can advance their purposes and of these traitors to humanity none are more deadly than the Space Marines who declared civil war during the Horus Heresy.
One thing that I’ve learnt from reading Warhammer 40K fiction is that everyone in this beleaguered universe has a story to tell. What better way to look into the dark heart of Chaos than to read the tale of one of mankind’s champions turned traitor?

Only one thing stands between Marduk (aspiring Dark Apostle of the Word Bearers Chaos Space Marine legion) and the ultimate power that he truly desires; an alien artefact that promises great power but is locked to all. His quest to unlock the artefact will take him and his horde into the middle of territory that is contested by both the Imperial Fleet and the alien Tyranids. Not only must Marduk negotiate his way through the two opposing forces but he must also deal with a third force that lies hidden on the very planet where his quest must end. This will be the Dark Apostle’s sternest test yet but the prize is worth the risk…

Any 40K fan looking for a book about Chaos Space Marines may be disappointed to start off with as although the Word Bearer Chapter are aligned to Chaos they are not aligned to a particular power; choosing instead to follow Chaos as a whole instead. This makes for deliciously evil moments (Marduk displays some interesting lateral thinking to say the least!) but can also dilute the impact of what the book is trying to portray. If it wasn’t for the direction in which the Word Bearer’s zeal is directed they would come across as just like any of the Emperor’s own forces. To be fair this can show how fine the line is that everyone in the 40K setting must walk…

Once you get past this though, and into the story itself, things do heat up and make for a story that is worth sticking with right until the end. Space Marines are practically invulnerable and, as such, can prove anti-climatic to write about, as there is nothing that they cannot achieve. Marduk’s horde do fall foul of this problem but Reynolds deftly steers them past this through a variety of methods…

Space Marines may be practically invulnerable but Reynolds tests this to its very limit by having them go up against creatures that are more than their match. Not only do you get confrontations that are suitably explosive but the uncertainty of the outcome is never diminished. Space Marines sworn to Chaos are also vulnerable to their own colleague’s personal ambitions and Reynolds goes all out to make this apparent in Marduk’s Horde. There is no such thing as a united front here, everyone has an agenda and will do anything to advance it.

Although ‘Dark Apostle’ is very much about Marduk, Reynolds’ makes a bold move by giving equal time to lesser characters and this approach gives readers a lot more to chew on than just Marines shooting everything. The Imperium of Mankind is an unforgiving place and this made more than clear in the case of characters like Admiral Augustine, Solon and Ikorus Baranov. While Marduk is certainly an interesting character to read about there’s not a lot to root for, Reynolds’ focusing on lesser characters gives the reader a chance to do just this as well as fleshing out the wider picture of an unforgiving universe. The ending is bleak yet fitting at the same time…

It got to a point where I could tell how ‘Dark Apostle’ was going to end but this was a case where making the journey was a lot more fun than the final destination. This book is the second in a series but reads very well as a stand-alone piece. I’d certainly read more to see where this series takes us…

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

‘The Bone Factory’ – Nate Kenyon

When I was younger I used to think that horror was all about monsters and the supernatural which is fair enough when you’re a child. As I grew older though (and thanks to repeat watching of ‘Dawn of the Dead’, which is a great film) it became a lot clearer that humans don’t really need monsters when we are more than capable of doing horrific things all by ourselves...
I’ve still got a soft spot for the supernatural but am beginning to really get into the other kind of horror as well. Nate Kenyon’s latest offering has a little bit of both and not only is that just the way I like it but it’s a very good read at the same time...

The only news bigger than the reopening of the hydropower plant, in the Canadian town of Jackson, are the deaths and disappearances that have begun to happen in the meantime. A farmer has been found horribly mutilated, a little girl has disappeared and so has the deputy sheriff who came across something horrifying deep in the woods...David Pierce has just taken a job in the plant and he is about to find that his four year old daughter’s nightmares are more than just bad dreams. The ‘blue man’ is coming and he is bringing terror and pain with him...

After reading ‘Bloodstone’ I knew that Nate Kenyon was an author that I would need to keep an eye open for, ‘The Reach’ confirmed my suspicions. The only slight sticking point though was that both books were a little too ‘Stephen King’ for my liking. Both books were good but what I was looking for was to see what Kenyon’s work would be like when he ‘struck out on his own’...
While there are some influences that you just can’t escape from, ‘The Bone Factory’ sees Kenyon strike out on his own and show without a doubt that he has got what it takes to write top notch horror.

The action takes place in a snowbound Canadian town and right at the very heart of a psyche that has been tortured beyond breaking point. Kenyon flits between both and uses them to build up a plot where the tension is racked up to the extreme before readers are hit by scenes that do more than just make you jump...
Kenyon proves himself to be a real master with this, writing the kind of scenes where you’re glad that you’re not the guy who thinks there is someone watching his family from the woods... There may not be much out there in those woods but Kenyon really makes the silence work for him. There’s nothing there but... is that a footprint? And what was that in the corner of your eye? There were a couple of moments where I had to resort to a little skim reading as the tension got too much!

There are also elements of the supernatural that add an air of mystery to ‘The Bone Factory’ and these left me wondering if there was more to the story than met the eye. The best kind of horror/ghost story is the one that leaves you with that real uneasy feeling when you finish the book and ‘The Bone Factory’ delivers as far as this is concerned!

The only area where I felt ‘The Bone Factory’ fell down slightly was its habit of occasionally going into a little too much detail about the circumstances of the villain of the piece. This approach didn’t detract from the tension but it did come across as an ‘info-dump’ approach that got in the way of the story itself and stopped things flowing as smoothly as they could have done.

This is only a small niggle though. ‘The Bone Factory’ more than adds to Nate Kenyon’s growing reputation as someone to watch out for if you’re a fan of horror fiction. It isn’t actually published until July, do yourself a favour and grab a copy when you see one.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

‘Midwinter’ – Matthew Sturges (Pyr)

What is it about certain book covers that make me want to read the book as soon as I see them? I don’t know (and maybe that’s a topic for another post) but as soon as I saw the cover for ‘Midwinter’ I just knew that I would have to find myself a copy. The artwork looks gorgeous and there is something about fantasy literature either set in winter, or its onset, that really captures my imagination.
All of these thoughts going round my head and I hadn’t even picked the book up yet! Once I did though I quickly realised that my initial feelings were well founded and I was in for a treat of a read...

As a captain in the Seelie army Mauritaine was a war hero until an accusation of treason led to his imprisonment in Crere Sulace, a mountain prison far from the City Emerald. However, the prospect of life without parole has suddenly become a chance to earn a royal pardon but this involves a suicide mission so secret that Mauritaine and his band of handpicked companions are not even told what it is...
All they know is that time is running out to make it to a rendezvous across the contested lands, magical territory even more dangerous than the traitor in their midst and the massed armies of the Unseelie Queen that are gathering on the border. There are dangers closer to home that Mauritaine must also negotiate if he is stand any chance of making it through alive...

Sturges goes all out to bring it home to the reader that while his characters (barring the human physicist Satterly) may look human; this is where any similarity ends. The inhabitants of the Seelie and Unseelie realms are faeries and their ways are totally incomprehensible to humans. This approach works both for and against the reader... Sturges gives his reader a world in which I was more than happy to get lost in for hours at a time. No detail is spared regarding descriptions of the cities and their inhabitants while snippets of Fae legends and philosophical discourse serve to flesh out the picture further. These elements combine to form a picture of a world that just begs to be explored.

The only problem with Sturges’ approach though is that he occasionally makes his characters so ‘alien’ that there is nothing for the reader to get a hold of in terms of identifying with characters such as Mauritaine and Lord Silverdun. Silverdun in particular is an interesting example as far as this goes seeing as he was imprisoned as a result of a scheme so Byzantine that not even he understands it. While this is a great way of showing the reader the politics of the Fae world there’s not a lot else for the reader to get hold of in terms of understanding why Silverdun behaves the way he does. This approach sometimes also results in the prose itself becoming a little dry and difficult to follow...

Stick with it though as ‘Midwinter’ overcomes these obstacles to become a book that any fantasy fan will get a lot out of. You may not be able to get to grips with the characters, as much as you would like, but there is no denying the sense of urgency that leaps out off the page and drives the story along a very fast pace. The constant plotting and scheming underneath the surface adds to this urgency as well as giving the reader the best possible reason to keep reading. There are loads of questions that all need answering and it’s all credit to Sturges that these are the kind of questions where you care enough about the answers to invest more time in reading the book.
You also cannot deny the dangers that our travellers must face on their journey and these make for some great moments where anything could happen and spectacle is the order of the day!

Once you get into the swing of how ‘Midwinter’ goes about its business then, like me, you’ll find it to be a book that’s very enjoyable and well worth your time. The ending suggests the possibility of sequels and I’d be very interested to see where Mauritaine’s story goes next.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

'Lamentation' Giveaway - The Winner!

Thanks to everyone who entered in what turned out to be one of the more popular competitions to date! :o)
There could only be one winner though and he was none other than...

Khaled Hassan, Pasadena, California

Well done Khaled! Your book should be with you very soon :o)
Better luck next time everyone else... (Go buy the book anyway, it's worth it)

Monday, 13 April 2009

Interview! 'Popgun' Editors and Creators...

Not only did I get to review 'Popgun Vol 3' but I also got the chance to run a few questions past the editors and some of the creators behind the stories that I really enjoyed. This is the biggest interview I've done yet! Here's what they all had to say for themselves...

For the editors (D.J. Kirkbride & asst. ed. Adam P. Knave):

Why should everyone stop reading this interview right now, go to their local comic store and buy themselves a copy of ‘Popgun Volume 3’?

DJ: Anyone who likes cool art, crazy stories, lots of good times, and has around 30 bucks owes it to themselves to pick up POPGUN volume 3! It is a delight of storytelling with so many unique and talented creators. But, before they do this, they should bookmark this article and read it when they get back from the shop!

APK: I don't think there is a better bang-for-your-buck book on the market right now, honestly. When you consider you get almost 500 pages of comics by amazing creators for only 30 bucks it becomes something well worth your money. That the comics are all great just makes it mouth wateringly awesome.

How did the concept of ‘Popgun’ first arise?

DJ: Mark Andrew Smith and Joe Keatinge wanted to do an anthology that featured some of the best up and coming creators around along with more established pros.

APK: As I understand it, Mark and Joe had a long talk about comics, and music, and anthologies and decided to create a book that would showcase new talents as well as well known creators, putting them all in one massive book together. Mark came up with the core concept and then called Joe in to talk about what he had planned and the two went off from there!

DJ: Yep. That simple: No theme or major story restrictions or guidelines – just great art and exciting stories. I assisted them on volumes 1 and 2. With volume 3, Joe has stepped aside from the day-to-day of the book, bumping me up to co-editor with Mark. It’s really fun, and we’re just continuing the tradition.

I couldn’t see a common theme that links all the stories together (other than that they’re all good) and I think that’s probably the idea! What are the criteria for getting something published in Popgun?

DJ: Yep, per the original idea, this book is a smorgasbord of comic storytelling goodness. Our only criteria are great storytelling and art and any other random stuff that pops up as we're editing (nice and noncommittal there). For volume 3, we did do a vague sort of grouping sometimes per Mark's suggestion. So we have some crime stories all in a row and an amusing food trilogy -- stuff like that, but it's nothing official -- no chapters or anything like that. Part of the fun of POPGUN is not knowing what to expect. It makes for some weird story juxtapositions sometimes, which always amuses me.

I know that at least one of the stories in Popgun 3 is about to become a monthly comic, are there any others that we should keep an eye open for (either as a monthly series or graphic novel)?

DJ: Are you talking about OLYMPUS? Yeah, the fellas behind that (writer Nathan Edmundson, artist Christian Ward, and letter Jeff Powell) contributed a cool story called "They Say..." It's a nice primer for their upcoming series that can also be read and enjoyed on its own. That's the only one I know of that's officially happening, though Adam P. Knave and I co-wrote a story called "Agents of the WTF" (illustrated by Matteo Scalera, colored by Antonio Campo, and lettered by Thomas Mauer) that we'd love to expand upon and continue as its own series. There are probably other examples of that in the book, too, but no one tells me anything. (JK, LOL… kind of.)

APK: I don't think there are others, which means we are forgetting someone, so we're sorry! We're just tired and … forgetful sometimes. We still love you! Oh wait! I've heard rumors of “Bastard Road” looking at the idea of doing a book of their own. Also, of course, NEW BRIGHTON ARCHEOLOGICAL SOCIETY was born in POPGUN 1 and is out as an OGN now, written by Mark Andrew Smith and drawn by Matt Weldon.

Finally, while we’re all off out buying ‘Popgun 3’ what else should we be putting in our shopping basket? (I’m a comics ‘newbie’ and need some recommendations!)

DJ: This is such a great time for comics! So many amazing ones out there right now. I'm finally reading this book called INVINCIBLE that I've been hearing about for so long, and it's just knocking my socks off. Great and accessible take on superheroes by Robert Kirkman and original artist Cory Walker and current artist Ryan Ottley. Our own Mark Smith and Dan Hipp have a great collection of their series THE AMAZING JOY BUZZARDS out right now that I wholeheartedly recommend - crazy rock 'n roll band solving mysteries and saving the world stuff that is just so fun. Ah, there's so much great stuff out there, and I feel like I'm blanking! THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY, CRIMINAL, SCOTT PILGRIM, MADMAN ATOMIC COMICS, ATOMIC ROBO... so much goodness out there right now!

APK: DJ is finally reading INVINCIBLE, which means I don't have to go beat him up now. Also, please note that his taste in comics is impeccable, those are all fantastic books that are on my shelf as well, though I am a recent reader of ATOMIC ROBO and damn is that series fun. But if you are new to comics I would toss in some stuff that has been out for a while but is no less deserving of a close look. Greg Rucka's QUEEN & COUNTRY is the best spy book around, and now collected in great big editions. ALL-STAR SUPERMAN by Grant Morrison and Frank Quietly might be the only Superman comic you ever need. I also wouldn't be me if I didn't suggest everyone pick up a copy of SHOWCASE PRESENTS: LEGION OF SUPER-HEROES vol 1.

For the creators:

If you’re a writer, tell me a little bit about how you came by the original inspiration for your story...

DEREK MCCULLOUGH: This isn't typical for me, but "Cuffs" came to me in a dream. It wasn't a nightmare exactly, and I don't remember much of the context, but there was a moment where somebody was going to use C4 to take handcuffs off somebody else. I remembered it in the morning and thought it was a creepy enough idea to build a story around. I think I had the initial draft of the script done within 24 hours.

Strangely, the basic premise of the story I have in for POPGUN 4 also came from a dream, but a different kind. Those two are the only based-on-dreams stories I can remember finishing in the last ten years, and they both went to POPGUN.

GUILLAUME SINGELIN: For my story, my inspirations come from a lot thing like old cartoons (Tex Avery or the first Mickey Mouse), Japanese animation like "Lupin the Third" (by Hayao Myazaki) and a comic named "Mutafukaz" from a fellow Frenchman named Run.

BRIAN WINKELER: “Bastard Road: Cockfighter Blues” is the second comic book adventure of our post-apocalyptic pals Bastard & Farel (the first “Bastard Road” tale appeared in Popgun 2). Dave (Curd) and I have been developing “Bastard Road” as an animated series over the last couple of years – we’ve brainstormed a few dozen story concepts and “Cockfighter Blues” happened to be something we fleshed out as a potential early episode. As we started working on what story to tell in Popgun 3, it became a no-brainer to do this story in comic form. Also, it allowed me to essentially write 12 pages of “cock” jokes. I have a strong appreciation (and interest) in adolescent double-entendre – I still have to stifle a giggle when someone uses a word like “tool,” “package” or “shaft” – so the story practically wrote itself.

If you’re an artist, tell me about the process that ends up with artwork that complements the story... How do the two end up fitting together?

DAVE CURD: As Bastard Road is my (and I believe, Brian's) first real effort, our work flow emerged organically. We have a really great give and take, where we are both allowed to push things around and reiterate to get the funny where it needs to be. So sometimes I'm working with specific direction, and others I'm just intuitively putting together a fight scene and leaving blank bubbles, confident that Brian and I can find the joke that fits.

PETER KRAUSE: Well, it's not easy. Sometimes, there's a bit of push and pull between the artist and writer.

On the "Cuffs" story, there was one page that Derek wrote that called for quite a few panels. The idea was great, but I thought the story would be lost with so many small panels.

We compromised by spreading the scenes over two pages. That was the only real point of contention, but it was a big one. I think I just wore Derek down!

As far as how I work on a story, I generally make very small thumbnails (roughly 2" x 3") first, then I do a second thumbnail that is the size of the printed comic. I scan that into my computer, blow it up to 10" x 15" size, and then print a copy which I lightbox onto Bristol board.

I have an example from the "Cuffs" story in the archives of my blog (

GUILLAUME SINGELIN: For a short story like "Carjacking" I want a nervous and simply story. I want a big impact so I do dynamic point of view, colors contrast, dynamic move. All of these things catch the reader I think... I hope so.

(For Everyone) Whose work are you really looking forward to seeing in ‘Popgun 3’? This could be either art or story or both!

DAVE CURD: I'm intrigued by anything Derek Yu does- just a great, fun artist!

GUILLAUME SINGELIN: I really want to see the stories by Sam Bosma and Ralph Neise. I love their beautiful and original styles. I really like the POPGUN 3 story “Found in the Attic” from Olaf Brill and Ralph Neise.

BRIAN WINKELER: I think Josh Parpan has a gorgeous, fun style and I’d love to see more from him. What I’ve seen of “Agents of the W.T.F.” by D.J. Kirkbride, Adam P. Knave and Matteo Scalera looks like big fun as well. I’m a big fan of Paul Grist and his stuff’s never looked better. And Gary Fields’ “Hairballs” is too short at just 2 pages of funny animal violence (as you can guess, “fun” is big for me these days).

Now your work here is done, what can we expect to see from you in the next few months?

DEREK MCCULLOUGH: My book PUG, drawn by Greg Espinoza, will be coming out in June, as will a kids' book I did with Jimmie Robinson, T. RUNT!. I also have a story with Jimmie in the Spearmint anthology, THIS IS A SOUVENIR. All those books are published by Image. Someday - I'm no longer trying to predict when - the book that was meant to be my second GN, DISPLACED PERSONS, will come out through Image. Not too much longer, knock wood. In the more distant future, I'm about halfway done writing the script of GONE TO AMERIKAY, an OGN to be drawn by Colleen Doran. And just today I started work on another Image project that I'd love to talk about but can't.

DAVE CURD: We've got a whopping 24 pages of Bastard lined up for Popgun 4, if that's not too big a spoiler, and after that, we would love to work on a longer narrative in the Bastardverse.

PETER KRAUSE: I'm currently working on the series IRREDEEMABLE for BOOM! Studios. The first issue just came out, and I'll be doing the art chores for the first twelve issues.

GUILLAUME SINGELIN: I’m working on two others comics, one’s called "Pills" and is about young people and weird drugs. The other one, "Lupus," stars a biker and a werewolf. Both will be published in France, but I hope one day they’ll make their way to America and others countries.

BRIAN WINKELER: We’re producing two interlocking “Bastard Road” tales for Popgun 4 – Dave’s working on one, while our pal Eric Sandhop is illustrating the second one. We’ll be introducing a lot more characters into our “Bastardverse,” including sexy lumberjack Elle Natural and cold-blooded lizard bounty hunter ‘Good Baby’ Scales, and we can’t wait to share ‘em with the world. Otherwise, Dave and I are developing “Bastard Road” and some other projects and the only barrier we have is the need to eat and sleep.

And finally, if you could be any one character from the anthology which one would you be...?

DAVE CURD: Easy, the giant black, one-eyed cock! I too, am most sensitive under the head.

BRIAN WINKELER: Not to be too self-promotional, but I’d love to be Bastard for a day. A big, bad asskicker who always gets the gal. And I’m cursed with perpetually weak upper-body strength, so I’d kill for guns like his.

Cheers guys!

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Giveaways! 'The Born Queen' and 'Shadow of the Scorpion'

Thanks to the generosity of the folk at Tor UK I have five copies of both books to give away!

If you've been collecting 'The Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone' series in paperback then 'The Born Queen' is the book you've been waiting for. Not my favourite of the series but still worth a look...

Neal Asher is one of those authors that I really need to read more of. I've come across Agent Cormac and Mr Crane in 'Gridlinked' so mention of them being in 'Shadow of the Scorpion' has definitely got me interested...

Do either of these books catch your eye? Are you a UK resident? (Because they're the only people who can enter this one, sorry...) Then keep reading...

Entering is simple, just drop me an email telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll do the rest ;o)
You can enter for one, or both, of the books but if you're entering for both then it's separate emails for each entry please! It helps me keep a track of who is after each book...

I'll let this one run until the 19th of April and announce the winners on the 20th.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Giveaway! 'Foundling' & 'Lamplighter' (D.M. Cornish)

I really enjoyed D.M Cornish's 'Foundling' and it's sequel, 'Lamplighter', is hovering very near the top of the 'reading pile' so you can expect a review very soon...

What better way to kick off the Easter Weekend, on the blog, than to give away copies of both books...? :o)

Thanks to Random House and Penguin Books I have six 'Foundling'/'Lamplighter' packs to give away to readers from the US and the UK (it's a US and UK only competition I'm afraid, sorry everyone else...) If you fancy your chances then read on...

Entering is as easy as ever, all you need to do is drop me an email (address in the top right hand corner of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. Feel free to leave comments next to the post but these will not count as entries...

I'll be letting this one run until the 19th of April and I'll announce the winners on the 20th.

Good Luck!

Friday, 10 April 2009

‘Battlestar Galactica: Echoes of New Caprica’ – Various (Tokyopop)

My name is Graeme and I have a confession... I haven’t seen a single episode of the new ‘Battlestar Galactica’ TV series. Everything I’ve heard about it suggests that it would absolutely be my kind of thing but the fact that I didn’t have Sky (and then didn’t have a TV that I could watch) put paid to any ideas of getting into it. The great thing is though that thanks to the good ol’ internet I don’t really need to watch ‘Battlestar Galactica’ at all. There are loads of sites where you can find out what is going on and Adam in particular has written a whole load of Galactica posts that are more than well worth checking out.
Because of this, when Tokyopop sent me ‘Echoes of New Caprica’ I knew that these would be stories based around humanity’s ill fated sojourn on New Caprica (funnily enough) under Cylon rule. I didn’t know a lot more than that though other than that the new ‘Battlestar Galactica’ is meant to be gritty and pretty hard hitting stuff.
‘Echoes of New Caprica’ made for some brutal reading at times; I might just have to search out the TV series on DVD...

New Caprica is a planet that’s under an oppressive regime and the authors in ‘Echoes’ explore how this affects people living under this regime and how they cope afterwards. It’s not just regular people either; ‘Echoes’ makes it clear that the authority figures in the fleet can easily find themselves right at the bottom of the ladder in an instant. One day you can be president and the next day you can be a school teacher in a shanty town... Humanity is right on the edge.

While the actions of New Caprica’s population are examined as a whole it’s three well known figures that are the focal points for each of the three tales. Laura Roslin is the former president of the Colonies but is now a teacher trying to protect her class against the subtle indoctrination of the Cylon occupiers. This is harder than it looks though when anyone could be an informant, even the children...
Tom Zarek leads the interim government after the escape from New Caprica (not much of a spoiler given the discussion over the series finale that has been rattling around the web these last couple of weeks) and must find a way to counter the growing hatred of those who collaborated with the Cylons at the expense of others. There is really only way to deal with this but when Tom’s friend is accused of being a traitor how far will Tom be able to go in his mission?
Kara Thrace thought she had a child on New Caprica, now it turns out that she never did. She cannot get the thought of Kasey out of her head though, especially as the child is living in poverty in a fleet shantytown. How far will Thrace go to save her child...?

It seems like it’s been a real long time since I read anything quite as dark as ‘Echoes of New Caprica’. Like I said, humanity is on the edge and these desperate times mean that the line between good and evil is blurred by necessity. We get to find out just what people will do in order to survive and a number of times we are asked whether the needs of the many outweigh those of the few. The answer isn’t that simple but it really got me thinking...

For such a dark and brooding book it’s fitting that the artwork follows a similar line; Chrissy Delk, Christopher Schons’ and Anthony Wu’s art does this admirably by foregoing colour, resulting in work that comes across as sombre but really knows when to land the killer punch.

Having never watched the series I did get a little bit lost with who was who and in that respect I’d say that long term fans will get the most out of this book. It was still an intense and gripping read though. Like I said, I think I’m going to have to make a point of checking out the TV series now...

Nine out of Ten