Monday, 31 August 2009

'Dust of Dreams' Competition - The Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered this competition! As much as I would like to give everyone a copy... I only had three to give away, I did the maths and the numbers just didn't go!

The lucky winners were,

Saif Gohir, Huddersfield, UK
Ben Gummer, London, UK
Riya Puttanna, Farnborough, UK

Well done guys, your books will be on their way very soon...

Better luck next time everyone else!

What cover would you go for...? ‘The Magicians’ – Lev Grossman

Lev Grossman’s ‘The Magicians’ is being talked about a lot and debuted at number nine in the New York Times bestseller list on it’s release. It’s also one of those books that are sat very highly on what I’m now beginning to call the ‘Bloody Hell is it that big now?’ reading pile. I need to read a lot quicker!

In the meantime, I’ve found myself in the possession of both the UK and US copies of ‘The Magicians’ so I thought it was time to do another ‘What cover would you go for?’ post. These posts aren’t a general ‘UK vs. US cover’ thing; they only happen when I actually get two copies of the same book (I’m not going to read both books and it’s only fair to mention the one that won’t be read seeing as someone went to the trouble of posting it...)
So here goes...

Here’s the UK cover,

And here’s the US cover,

What do you reckon? Once again, I’m going for the US cover as my favourite and I’m starting to wonder if US covers are as bad as they’re cracked up to be...
In this case, the UK cover looks to me like a ‘Da Vinci Code’ style knock off; all shadowy and with a figure that you just know will crack the code if he can just stay one step ahead of the sinister organisation bent on his destruction. It wasn’t until I looked at the blurb that I realised ‘The Magicians’ wasn’t this kind of book at all and that it was actually a book that I wouldn’t mind reading.
The US cover though... Here’s a cover with an element of fantasy that ties in neatly with the blurb and intrigued me right from the start. I also liked the fact that the artwork felt a lot more ‘open’ as well. I wouldn’t have picked the UK edition off the shelves but I would have done with the US edition.

How about you though? All comments welcomed! :o)

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Giveaway! 'The Naming of the Beasts' (Mike Carey)

You've probably already read my review for 'The Naming of the Beasts' (if you haven't then just scroll down a bit, I'll still be here when you get back) so you'll know that I think this is the best Felix Castor novel yet! Now, thanks to Orbit, I have three copies to give away to three lucky readers of this here blog :o) Here's the thing though, you must be from the UK or Europe to enter. (Sorry about that! More competitions that others can enter are on their way...)

Still here? Great! All you have to do to enter is just 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. I'll do everything else.

I'll be letting this one run until September 6th and will announce the winners on the following day...

Good Luck!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Author Interview! Jasper Kent

'Twelve' was one of those books where not only was I left wanting to read the sequel but I also had a few questions to ask Jasper Kent himself. Without further ado, here are my questions and Jasper's answers...

Hi Jasper, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions!

Would you hire a team of vampires to defend your country in its hour of need?

Well, I voted Labour in 1997...

That's a good point (I did too). I guess the question should have been whether you would hire a team of vampires to defend your country from another team of vampires...

What led to the inspiration for working vampires into Napoleon’s war with Russia?

As far as I recall, it came from looking at Baron Gros’ portrait of Napoleon on the Pont d’Arcole, of which I’d just put up a print in my flat. In my copy at least, the general has a lean, wan look that struck me as being somewhat vampiric. My first thought was to place the story in the Peninsula War, thanks to over exposure to Sharpe, but once the image of the cold retreat of 1812 came to me, Russia seemed the obvious location. It’s also worth mentioning that somewhere at the back of my mind was the 2000 AD story Fiends on the Eastern Front, which I read in the 80s and was about vampires on the Russian front in World War Two.

Which came first for you, the setting or the vampires?

I’d certainly been thinking of writing horror first – not necessarily vampires, though they were an obvious option. As mentioned above, the idea of Napoleonic vampires came pretty much as a single concept, and the Russian side of it seconds or minutes later.

There are many different types of vampire in fiction and on the screen; did you base yours on any in particular?

I think I did more avoidance of existing fictional vampires than basing on them. I loved the historical setting of the Hammer Films, and so that’s another thing that led to my historical story, but the actual vampires in the films are by and large pretty uninspiring. I’m also a big fan of Buffy, but with that, and with Anne Rice, I wanted to move away from the idea of morally ambiguous vampires and make them simply bad. I took quite a bit from Dracula itself, but even then I wasn’t religious in following what Stoker wrote. Interestingly, although I was absolutely trying to avoid lace-cuffed vampires like Lestat, there is a section of Interview with the Vampire that was, I think, a clear inspiration. In the book, but not the film, Louis and Claudia travel to Romania to find the ‘original’ vampires and discover them to be merely feral creatures. While the Oprichniki are not quite as inarticulate as that, it struck me as an interesting way to go.

Would you ever consider bringing other well known vampires into your own work? The fan boy in me wants to see the Oprichniki go up against Dracula...

Consider the etymology of the name Zmyeevich.

I hadn't, but I will...

What’s the recipe for a good vampire story?

Make sure it’s not just about vampires.

My knowledge of this period in history is weak to say the least! Can you recommend a good book that would get me up to speed?

The trick is – as I’m finding with researching later Russian history such as the Crimean War – to find history books written from a Russian point of view. 1812 – Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow by Adam Zamoyski gives a pretty good balance. War and Peace is essential for getting a feel of the period. Also read Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figes; it’s not specifically about the period, but it gives a superb and enthralling view of Russian culture.

What are you reading at the moment and why should we be reading it as well?

I’m reading Sepulchre by Kate Mosse. I’m tempted to say it’s a little slow to get going, but that would be akin to strolling into the Crystal Palace with a wheelbarrow full of bricks. What’s important (and in contrast with a lot of much faster-paced books) is that prose style is solid and engaging and enough to keep me interested.

‘Twelve’ is the first book in a five book series. Can you give us any clues as to what’s in store in the future? Are you focussing on vampires or do you have plans to bring other supernatural creatures on board?

At the moment, I don’t know too much. The second book, Thirteen Years Later (due out in March 2010), is set in 1825 and is pretty much put to bed now. Beyond that I know the basic dates of the remaining three books (1855, 1878 and 1917) and the major characters, but I don’t have much detail. As for the supernatural – I think vampires are enough, aren’t they?

I'm tempted to say that zombies are always good but vampires are probably enough!

And finally, writing about vampires must have you planning for the inevitable vampire infestation in real life. How would you tackle such an event...?

I hadn’t really been worrying until you mentioned it. I think my best bet would be to live near a windmill (there are plenty here in Brighton). Then as the evil creatures approach, I can swing the sails round to form the shadow of a gigantic cross over them, which would kill them instantly. It works! I saw it in Brides of Dracula.

Thanks Jasper!

Read my review of 'Twelve' over

Friday, 28 August 2009

‘Fragment’ – Warren Fahy (Harper)

My name is Graeme and I love dinosaurs. Ever since an abortive trip to the Natural History Museum in London as a child (I was very sick all over one of the exhibits) and all the way through to the third Jurassic Park movie, via ‘1,000,000 Years BC’, I can’t get enough of them. With this in mind, if I see a book with the tagline ‘A Jurassic Park for the Lost generation’ then I’m sure to pick it up for a read, even if I’ve never seen a single episode of ‘Lost’ (I haven’t, I am ashamed...)
Maybe next time I won’t act so impulsively...

When the cast and crew of reality show ‘Sea Life’ make a diversion to unexplored Henders Island it’s simply to investigate a distress beacon that has gone off. No-one ever suspected that eleven people would die in the first few minutes of landing on the island... Henders Island has developed its own ferocious eco-system over millennia of isolation and is teeming with wildlife that can kill faster than you can blink. The US president has a tough decision to make over the future of an eco-system that could wipe out all life on the planet if it was ever allowed to escape from Henders Island. Just when the outcome is clear a discovery is made that changes everything...

I loved the concept that underpins ‘Fragment’ and what this is able to bring to the story as a whole. An island that you can’t get off because the wildlife is just so nasty, animals and plants that can kill in the blink of an eye. Throw a bunch of totally unprepared people into the mix and you’ve got a plot that shoots along at the speed of a Henders Rat and drags you along with it in a flurry of talons and blood.

Well, this is what would happen if elements of the book didn’t conspire to make the pace sporadic and clogged up with the unnecessary...

A gripping prologue is spoilt by opening chapters where all the leading characters are introduced in a lot more depth than perhaps was needed. Forget the story itself; we get to find out the life history of all the main players before anything else... While it’s always good for characters to have some background I was already impatient to get to the point of the book and these opening scenes really dragged for me. Perhaps these introductions could have been spread out over the book; this would have allowed things to really get moving.
A similar situation arises in Geoffrey Binswanger’s lectures that introduce his character into the proceedings. Perhaps these are really interesting to those of a more scientific nature but I couldn’t really work out what they had to do with the plot itself. As far as I was concerned, they were just another obstacle that I had to get past before I could get to the main event. What I was left with was more of the book that dragged.

When I finally got to the main piece things did start to pick up with our heroes trying to escape from monstrous flora and fauna in a series of adrenalin fuelled spectacles. That’s how it started off anyway. Partway through I realised that not only was Fahy keeping his main characters safe (to drive the story forwards) but a particularly vile character was slowly being signposted more and more as the person who die a horrible death right at the end. Once I saw this I was able to work out who was going to live and die and that was the point where any semblance of tension was lost for me. This approach works on the big screen, where everything is thrown in your face and you have to stay with it, but in a book (where you have time to think about things) it doesn’t do so well...

I wasn’t too keen on the twist in the tale either. I don’t want to give too much away (in case you decide to give this book a go) but crucial decisions made really didn’t make sense based on all the events that led up to them. Again, this would have worked much better on the big screen...

‘Fragment’ is a great concept that is smothered underneath unnecessary padding and diverted by decisions that are clearly nothing more than ‘crowd pleasers’. I would go and see it at the cinema though...

Five out of Ten

A sentence is worth a thousand words...

Karen Marie Moning's 'Dreamfever' came through the door yesterday; I'd never heard of the author or the series so I thought I'd have a quick look at the blurb and see what it was all about. Here's the very first sentence...

MacKayla Lane lies naked on the cold stone floor of a church, at the mercy of the erotic Fae master she once swore to kill...

Seriously, that was the first sentence. The blurb was obviously written with a particular audience in mind but... who are these people? I'm not knocking anyone's choice of reading but I have only ever met one person who openly admits to reading this stuff (she loves Laurell K. Hamilton). Where are all the others?

Are the adventures of a lady with 'an insatiable sexual craving' (that was in the blurb too) something that would appeal to you as a spot of light reading? I'm genuinely interested to know...

Thursday, 27 August 2009

‘The Naming of the Beasts’ – Mike Carey (Orbit)

It’s a well known fact, around these parts, that any new adventures of Felix Castor will be bumped right up to the top of the reading pile as a matter of due course. Especially after the cliff-hanger ending in ‘Thicker than Water’... 2009 has turned out to be a good year for fans of Felix Castor (I’ll ‘fess up to being a fan if you hadn’t guessed already) with the forthcoming ‘The Naming of the Beasts’, look for it on September 3rd, following on from February’s ‘Thicker than Water’.
I started reading this one almost as soon as I’d taken it out of the packaging. The next thing I knew, a day had passed (where did it go?) and I’d finished it. ‘The Naming of the Beasts’ is that good; fans of the series have got a real treat in store...

Following on from the climatic events of ‘Thicker than Water’, Felix Castor has decided that the best way to deal with his problems is to drink himself stupid. That will only get you so far though, especially when an incredibly powerful demon is running around in the body of your best friend. Castor doesn’t want any more blood on his hands (there is enough there already), it’s time to sober up and get on the case. Sobering up is the easy part though, when you’re facing off against a Lord of Hell you need far more than just luck on your side. Castor is going to have to work all the angles like he has never worked them before...

You know that feeling you get when you’ve just finished reading the latest instalment in a favourite series? There’s still some adrenalin after the buzz of the final few pages and, at the same time, you’re feeling really content (like you’ve just polished off a really nice meal and there’s the promise of more to come in the future). Well, that’s exactly how I felt after finishing ‘The Naming of the Beasts’. Carey has maintained a high standard throughout this series and he doesn’t let up here!

‘The Naming of the Beasts’ isn’t so much a continuation of the main ‘story arc’ (at least not as far as I could tell, I might be proved wrong in the next books though) as it is a case of concluding the events from the previous book. If you’re after answers to more wide ranging questions then you will probably have to wait until the next book. This doesn’t do anything to the flow of the book but the flow of the series itself felt a little jerky by the end of this book... The plot line that Carey wraps up here though is still a significant one and readers will come away with some sense of closure at least. It makes me wonder what is still to come if Carey is willing to wrap this plot up early...
As I mentioned when looking at ‘Child of Fire’ (scroll down for the review), a lot of Urban Fantasy seems to be about solving a mystery/problem that has become very urgent. ‘The Naming of the Beasts’ plays to this same rule but Carey takes things to a whole new level by ramping up the scale of the threat and showing some real genius, on Castor’s part, in the way it is resolved. I loved the way the story fits together so that the most innocuous discovery can become crucial to the whole plot by the end... Carey does well to make everything fit together the way he does; when this is coupled with the sense of urgency (Carey writes a mean ‘haunting scene’) running through the book you end up with a tale that demands to be read.

If this wasn’t enough there’s also a growing sense that something big is looming on the horizon that has almost nothing to do with the drama being acted out by the characters. Not only does this promise great things from the next book but it makes Castor’s London even gloomier than it already is. The brooding atmosphere is the perfect ingredient to make what’s going on even more compelling. I’m thinking about what happens in the ‘Super Self’ gym...

When I reviewed ‘Thicker than Water’ I was a little concerned that Castor’s character was starting to stagnate and there was no room left for him to develop further; ‘The Naming of the Beasts’ showed me that Castor has more room in this regard than I thought. Castor is a man who operates most effectively when he’s at rock bottom and circumstances here are constantly forcing him down a lot further than he has ever been. Not only do we se Castor’s brain work like never before but we also get more of an idea of how far he is prepared to push himself to do the right thing by his friends. Felix Castor is a good man, no matter what he might have to say on the matter.

‘The Naming of the Beasts’ is Mike Carey’s best outing yet for Felix Castor. Book six cannot come soon enough as far as I’m concerned!

Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

‘Wolfbreed’ – S.A. Swann (Spectra)

I’ll confess straight away to not being as widely read as I sometimes think I am. It’s practically impossible with all the great looking new stuff on the shelves as well as all the other great stuff that has been around for a while that I haven’t had a chance to read as yet. All I can do is to keep on trying! :o) This is really a roundabout way of saying that it has felt to me recently that werewolves have been the sole property of the Urban Fantasy sub-genre; I know that I’m more than likely wrong here so please feel free to leave a comment directing me towards werewolves in sci-fi or fantasy fiction!
It was the way I felt though so it felt like a real change to see ‘Wolfbreed’ come along and offer a slice of werewolf action that takes place far away from the typical urban locale. The premise sounded like an interesting one but it was the story itself that kept me turning the pages and resulted in one of those ‘surprise finds’ that are always great to come across...

When a Teutonic knight unwittingly discovers a nest of werewolf young the Church comes into possession of a devastating weapon in its northern crusade against pagan Prussia. As instruments of God, these creatures are trained to break sieges by infiltrating strongholds and causing havoc. Lilly is the most cunning of them all and now she has escaped...
Udolf isn’t thinking much beyond helping his adopted family make it through the winter; then he discovers a beautiful young woman cowering terrified in the woods. Hiding her from the knights hunting for her seems like the only proper thing to do but what Udolf and his family can’t possibly know is that they have taken an even greater danger right into their very midst. Will Lilly turn on them too...?

You just know that a book is doing something right when you’re reading it on the train and you find yourself at your stop before you know it. This was very much the case with ‘Wolfbreed’; one of the few books that has made me break my own self imposed ‘don’t read while you’re walking’ rule (don’t knock the rule; it has got me out of trouble on more than one occasion!) There’s a blurb, at the back of the book, for the sequel ‘Wolf’s Cross’ and I’m definitely keen to see if Swann maintains the standard that he has set here.

On the face of things there isn’t an awful lot to ‘Wolfbreed’; a werewolf is in hiding and the plot deals with both this and it’s inevitable consequences. Once you dig down a bit however, it becomes a whole lot more...

‘Wolfbreed’ is a surprisingly thoughtful piece about what makes a person human and whether any trace of an animal nature can mean that they don’t have a soul. There’s plenty to ponder here when you see Lilly’s treatment at the hands of the Order and her rehabilitation with Udolf’s family. Swann makes his views on the matter a little too obvious here and this means that the reader can be left thinking purely about what he is saying rather than coming to it completely fresh and making their own mind up. Despite that though, it still had me thinking things over long after I had put the book down.

As I mentioned, the plot itself is simple but Swann infuses it with rich characterisation and tension to make it far more than the sum of its parts. Udolf and Lilly’s growing friendship flows naturally and can be really poignant, especially when you see the twist coming and the hammer start to fall. The twist in the tale felt entirely natural (especially when taken in the context of the novel as a whole) but it felt to me as if it was signposted perhaps a little too heavily. That might just be me though. What matters though is the intensity of emotion that arises from it and where the plot heads as a result. I was hooked already but I found myself hooked a whole lot more, all the way through to fiery climax.

‘Wolfbreed’ is a story about love and redemption that kept reminding me of ‘White Fang’ in a way (the whole ‘wild animal being tamed’ thing). Swann doesn’t let the story run purely on this though and he mixes action, tension and spectacle to come up with a tale to make the heart pump as well make manly types (like me!) suddenly say that their eyes are watering because of all the dust around the place. I know...
The ‘cat and mouse’ element (where Lilly must hide from the knights looking for her) makes for some tense moments and the ingenuity of Udolf’s family, hiding her, in plain sight is very clever indeed. When the chips are down though, Swann is certainly not afraid to get visceral and show his readers exactly what Lilly is capable of. Make no mistake; this is definitely a novel about werewolves!

‘Wolfbreed’ is definitely up there for my ‘surprise find of the year’. If you’re after an engrossing slice of historical fantasy, or if you just like werewolves, then I don’t think you’ll go wrong with this one...

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

‘Child of Fire’ – Harry Connolly (Del Rey)

I can’t remember exactly what post it was but I do remember having a little moan (a long time ago now) about the fact that there didn’t seem to be an awful lot of male leads in Urban Fantasy. Women who are feisty yet full of angst over whether they should hook up with the vampire master or the werewolf pack leader, there’s loads of those in varying degrees of angst. There are not so many men to be found however. Harry Dresden and Felix Castor spring to mind (plus a small handful of others) but that’s about it. As I mentioned last time round, if I’m missing anyone please leave a comment and let me know!
The balance isn’t quite there yet but it looks like we might start to get there with the arrival of Harry Connolly’s Ray Lilly, a character worth getting to know in a book that’s well worth a look...

Ray Lilly didn’t have an easy time in prison but compared to what he’s going through now it certainly seems that way. Ray is a driver for one Amanda Powliss, high ranking member of the Twenty Palace Society and someone who has sworn to kill him. When he’s not helping hunt down rogue magicians (and stop them introducing extra-dimensional parasites into the world) he’s wondering if each night with Amanda will be his last. Maybe he shouldn’t have betrayed her in the first place...
Now Ray is about to find that Amanda’s latest mission is about to take a new twist. Not only are children spontaneously combusting but their parents are then forgetting that they ever existed. Dark magic is at the bottom of this but their first encounter, with the source, leaves Amanda badly injured and unable to finish the job. It’s all up to Ray...

‘Child of Fire’ weighs in at a very slender three hundred and forty three pages but it felt like it could have been half the size as the relentless pace (and gripping nature) of the plot made the pages fly by. This is a book where if you don’t have your seatbelt on right away then you will be clinging on by your fingertips for the rest of the journey!
Sometimes this isn’t a good thing as it can be a case of ‘blink and you’ll miss something’. There were a couple of occasions where the fast pace meant that important parts of the plot slipped under the radar and I was left a little bemused when they came to light later on. Maybe Connolly needs to take his foot off the accelerator once in a while? On the whole though, I approve of a book that will pick up the plot and run with it rather than indulge in needless introspection from it’s characters.

Ray Lilly is definitely a man who you want to stay on the right side but he’s also a guy who you could see yourself having a beer with. He’s a character that inspires interest right from the start and develops in line with what the plot throws at him. Everything happens for a reason and it’s also interesting to see hints of his past come to the surface, rounding him out further. Having said that though, I was left wondering how relevant some of these hints were (the same kind of thing occurred with Amanda as well). This approach hints at a wider story that will be told in the future but doesn’t seem to have much to do with the story being told now. The plot is normally pretty tight and moments like these make it come across as a little slack (although you could also say that these are setting things up for future plots, it just makes the story less stand alone than it should be). I’m hoping that things will be tied up in later books... Ray’s relationship with Amanda is tense and this tension stands out from the page. You’re never entirely sure what Amanda will do next and this is a real page turner...

The plot itself is average urban fantasy fare where a mystery needs to be solved and there is an urgent reason to get it done quickly. Where Connolly rises above the rest is in his depiction of a small town (where the locals don’t trust outsiders) that is haunted by an evil that you won’t normally find in the Urban Fantasy section. While there are werewolves, Connolly takes things in a more Lovecraftian direction and I found this particularly refreshing to come across. It’s a grim setting which means it’s the perfect setting for a tale like this.
Connolly isn’t afraid to put his characters through the wringer either and adrenalin fuelled moments of spectacle are combined with a willingness to let the plot hang on the direction of a stray bullet. This is what kept me reading!

There are a few niggles with ‘Child of Fire’ but I’m hoping these will be ironed out in the sequel (and beyond). In the meantime, all Urban Fantasy fans should do themselves a favour and grab a copy of ‘Child of Fire’ (out at the end of September). I don’t think they will regret it.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

'The Magicians' - Lev Grossman's doing a live chat on Wednesday...

Larry is interested to see what happens next. Joe Abercrombie found that it was the honesty of the book that made it work for him. I haven't actually read 'The Magicians' yet (too many books to read and not enough hours in the day...) but plan to sooner rather than later. I do feel a 'US cover vs. UK cover' post is in the offing...

In the meantime, you can get a handle on what both 'The Magicians' and Lev Grossman himself are all about when Grossman does a live chat tomorrow (12:30 - 1:30pm EST) at Penguin's Water Cooler Site. Stop by and tune in if you have any questions to ask!

For more information on 'The Magicians', click right Here...

Monday, 24 August 2009

Movie! ‘Dragon Wars’

This was originally going to be a post about the Doctor Who story ‘Revelation of the Daleks’, until I tried watching the DVD that is… As it turned out, the only thing I could really write was ‘this DVD kept repeating the same scene over and over again with no way of skipping past it or choosing a different scene…’ Now there’s one DVD that will be going back to the shop!

Luckily for me, I’ve got a whole load of DVDs that I’ve bought but never got round to watching :o) The reasons behind my purchase of ‘Dragon Wars’ were a mixture of the dragon facing off against the helicopter gunship and the fact that it only cost £6 in the sale. I should have remembered that there are very good reasons why a DVD will end up on the sale rack…

Every five hundred years, an evil serpent will fight to gain the power that will transform it into a celestial dragon and help it reign supreme; it’s round about the time that it all kicks off again… A warrior has been reborn to help the woman who doesn’t even realise that she holds this power within her; the serpent’s henchmen want to reach her first…

When you’ve got a lead actor, Jason Behr, who mumbles every single one of his lines (mumbling isn’t being intense, it’s just mumbling!) then you just know that you’re in for a slow old ride. If that wasn’t bad enough you also have one of those heroines who like to say, “I didn’t ask for this!” at the stupidest opportunity and a wise old mystic who can be relied upon to rescue our hapless duo just when things start to get really interesting. And if that wasn’t bad enough there’s a creaky FBI subplot that doesn’t really have anything to do with the plot and why wasn’t the hero’s last thought, “Where am I and how the hell do I get home?”

You know what though? For a few brief minutes I was able to let all of this go when an entire army of lizards (some of which fired missiles!) descended on Los Angeles and did some serious damage to the city centre. My wife didn’t agree (her running commentary was along the lines of, “They stole that bit from Lord of the Rings, that bit was from Star Wars and wasn’t that bit in Ghostbusters…?”) but there really isn’t anything that’s much more fun than seeing a dragon face off against a military helicopter :o) Fifteen minutes of mayhem almost made up for the rest of the film; what it ended up doing was to get me to watch the rest of the film hoping that something similar would happen. It didn’t…

Good fun but ultimately forgettable…

Competition Winners!

Morning all!

I hope you had a great weekend and that Monday morning in the office (or where ever you are) isn't being too tedious. Monday mornings here are always on the tedious side and I'm wishing that I was at home reading some of the books I started over the weekend. Which reminds me... This week you can expect to see reviews of S.A. Swann's 'Wolfbreed' (very good) and Harry Connolly's debut 'Child of Fire' (also very good!) amongst others; for the sake of a little variety I will probably throw in Warren Fahy's 'Fragment' as well (which wasn't very good at all...)

In the meantime though, thanks to everyone who entered the 'Strange Brew' and 'King's Daughters' competitions. There could only be three winners for each though and these lucky folks were...

'Strange Brew'

Christoff Knudsen, Brossard, Canada
Amanda Makepeace, Georgia, USA
Wanda Mardel Sissle, California, USA

'The King's Daughter's' - Nathalie Mallett

Joe Scanlon, Wisconsin, USA
John Millheim, Florida, USA
Gef Fox, Nova Scotia, Canada

Well done (and happy reading) everyone! Your books will be on their way really soon. Better luck next time everyone else. We've got a Bank Holiday coming up next weekend so I'll see what I can arrange for then... :o)

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Giveaway! 'Dust of Dreams' - Steven Erikson

Here is the point where I would normally spout off about how this particular book is at the top of the reading pile (etc etc) but we all know what happened last time I said this about a Malazan book don't we...? So, erm... yeah... I'll be reading it quite soon (hopefully...)

In the meantime, Transworld have very kindly offered three copies of 'Dust of Dreams' for a competition on this very blog! The only thing is that this giveaway is for UK readers only, no-one else I'm afraid.

Still here? Brilliant! All you have to do to enter is 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. I'll do everything else! :o)

I'll be letting this one run until August 30th and will announce the winners on the 31st.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Which cover would you go for...?

I wasn't too keen on Kristin Cashore's 'Graceling' when I read it last year and said that, "I’d be interested to see what happens next but I can’t see it becoming a priority series in the ‘to be read’ pile..." Well, it looks as if I'm going to have to wait a little longer to find out 'what happens next' as Cashore's forthcoming book 'Fire' tells us 'what happened before'...

Here's the blurb from Amazon,

Set in a world of stunningly beautiful, exceptionally dangerous monsters, Fire is one of the most dangerous monsters of all - a human one. Marked out by her vivid red hair, she's more than attractive. Fire is mesmerising. But with this extraordinary beauty comes influence and power. People who are susceptible to her appeal will do anything for her attention, and for her affection. They will turn away from their families, their work, and their duties for her. They will forget their responsibilities to please her... and worse, crush nations, neglect kingdoms and abuse their power. Aware of her power, and afraid of it, Fire lives in a corner of the world away from people, and away from temptation. Until the day comes when she is needed - a day when, for her king, she has to stand against not only his enemies, but also against herself...

I can't help myself, I'm in. There was enough that was good about 'Graceling' to get me to give 'Fire' a go. Here's the thing though, I was only expecting the one review copy to come through and I ended up getting two instead. What I found interesting here is that while the UK copy weighed in at 356 pages, the US copy was thicker by 105 pages. Both books are the same format so I wonder how that worked out...?

Anyway... I'm only going to read one of the books, haven't decided which one yet, so I thought it would be good to run another 'Which cover would you go for?' post (instead of just ditching the book that I won't be reading and not talking about it at all). Here we go...

Here's the UK Cover

And here's the US Cover

Looking at them both I'm going to have to go for the US cover. I like the colour in the UK cover but... a strong looking heroine with a bow and arrow? I've never seen that on a fantasy cover before... The US cover tells us we're picking up a fantasy book without feeling the need to rub it in our faces and I like that.

What do you think though? Comments please! :o)

Friday, 21 August 2009

‘Salamander’ – Nick Kyme (Black Library)

If you’re anything like me then the most important part of packing for a holiday is the book(s) that you choose to take along with you. We all know that there’s no point in taking a book along that you’ve practically finished; take something else that will keep you going for longer :o) This is pretty much why Nick Kyme’s ‘Salamander’ gets it’s review now instead of about a fortnight ago. I had about fifty pages left to read so made the choice to leave it at home and pick it up when I got back...
As it turned out, I ended up reading a few other books first but there was never any question that I’d be coming back to ‘Salamander’. It’s a great read and I want to find out what happens next...

Times are hard for the Third Company of the Salamanders Space Marine Chapter. Their beloved Captain is dead, at the hands of the forces of Chaos, and resentment simmers at the new appointment. Other rivalries also fester and when prophecy demands a mission to the forsaken planet of Scoria it is a moment when old hurts could either be healed or burst wide open and split everything asunder. The only thing that is certain is that Space Marines will put aside their own differences to fight a common enemy and there will be plenty there for them to fight.
And what lies under the surface of the planet could change everything...

As much as I enjoy reading Warhammer 40,000 novels, I’m always a little wary when the Space Marines take centre stage. Their overwhelming physical strength and fire power can make them a little bit ‘too good to be true’ and it’s always interesting to see how an author balances this out so as to keep the plot interesting and fresh. Any fan of the WH40K universe will know that just about the only thing that can stop a Space Marine is another Space Marine. Nick Kyme takes this idea and adds a little more weight to it by setting Marines against their own Chapter brothers as oppose to traitors...
This approach works an absolute treat. While Marines are good at taking on a Xenos foe they are completely hamstrung at the thought of fighting someone within their own Chapter and this makes for a rising tide of resentment that had me wondering if it could ever be kept in check. A really interesting dynamic arises where Marines are constantly testing their own boundaries and I’m certainly interested to see how this plays out over the rest of the trilogy. (Did I say this is the opening book of a trilogy? I didn’t? Well, it is).

Characterisation is handled very well as Marines fight to complete their mission and also fight in an internal landscape at the same time. Seeds are sown for later books through the conflicts shown in Dak’ir, Iagon and Tsu’Gan and I will be around to see how these develop.
What also sets ‘Salamander’ apart, from other Space Marine books, is that the Salamander Chapter interacts with common humans in a far different way to others; their duty of protection is taken far more literally and this opens up the novel to go down paths that others perhaps wouldn’t. This was an approach that I found very refreshing to see.

The story itself is interesting to follow with a mission that not only doesn’t go according to plan but also has much more going on than anyone would think. While it is relatively self contained, ‘Salamander’ is also very much ‘the first book in a trilogy’ with elements that are obviously there to be examined further down the line. If you’re reading the first book in any series then you’ll be expecting something like this but I was left wondering if some of the hooks on display were all that relevant to the story. Time will tell I guess...
I also wasn’t too keen on the climactic battle in ‘Salamander’; especially when both ‘Blood Pact’ and ‘Cadian Blood’ had shown me how it should be done. The best way to give Space Marines a battle worth fighting is to throw hordes of the enemy at them. Push it too far though and you end up with something that loses its impact and becomes cartoonish; I felt that ‘Salamander’ strayed into this territory once or twice...

Despite this though, ‘Salamander’ is a book that’s well worth picking up (look for it at the beginning of September) and promises a great storyline to come. I’ll let you know how the next one goes...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 20 August 2009

‘Blood Pact’ – Dan Abnett (Black Library)

If Dan Abnett held a military rank in the Warhammer 40,000 he would be the ‘Warmaster’. At least, that’s what I’ve heard... Here is a guy who is lauded for his ability to tell his readers exactly how it is for the poor grunts who find themselves in the middle of any number of warzones across the Imperium; I’ve been told that Abnett is the jewel in the Black Library crown because of his writing, especially his ‘Gaunt’s Ghosts’ novels. Although I have read ‘Horus Rising’, more of a character study rather than military sci-fi, fairly recently it’s been years since I picked up a ‘Gaunt’ novel (and I only ever read the one). ‘Blood Pact’ (due for release in November according to Amazon) seemed like as good a place as any to jump on and see what’s what...

Commissar Gaunt, and the ‘Tanith First and Only’, have been pulled back from the frontline of the Sabbat Crusade and are awaiting re-deployment; maybe even for the regiment itself to be broken up and reassigned. All this uncertainty is about to change though and in the most explosive manner. A highly important prisoner of war has declared that he will only speak to Gaunt and the information this man holds could change the course of the whole war in the Sabbat sector. A raid on Section Headquarters sees Gaunt on the run with his prisoner, pursued by any number of people who want them both dead. When the next person you meet could be the man who shoots you in the head, who do you trust?

‘Blood Pact’ is one of those books where I finish reading and my first thought is, “why haven’t I read all the others?” This thought is closely followed by, “I really need to get my hands on the rest of the series.” I’ve been having trouble getting into books recently but this was one that I picked up and finished in pretty much one go. Abnett is the Warmaster as far as I’m concerned!

‘Blood Pact’ is only three hundred and fifteen pages long but Abnett makes every single one of those pages work for it’s living with what he crams into them. For a book where there is constantly something going on, Abnett does very well to maintain both the pace and tension throughout by sending the plot down alleys where you wouldn’t expect it to go. Everything happens for a reason though, never just for the sake of it, and this is what keeps things humming along for pages of ‘street to street’ combat with spectacles (demonic and otherwise) that leap off the page and grab you by the throat! Despite the unpredictable nature of the plot, everything fits together perfectly at the end (apart from one conclusion that looked ‘grasped at’ as opposed to ‘arrived’...) and makes sense.

Throughout ‘Blood Pact’, Abnett paints a compelling picture both of a world not so far away from the front line and the military machine that runs it. Balhaut is a world where the Imperial dead are interred and commemorated; with this in mind Abnett paints it in sombre colours and builds up an industry around this purpose that is strangely apt and also hints strongly at the nature of Imperial Space in the fortieth millennium.
Both the bureaucracy and military procedures of the Imperial Guard are covered in such a way that the reader is well informed but never inundated with information. Abnett adapts a slow and steady approach that infuses the text with what he wants you to know and I picked up a lot without even realising it. To be fair though, this is the latest book in a long series and it may well be that Abnett is making assumptions about what his readers already know... With hindsight, I would probably read the other books first but only to get the full picture of the whole series; as far as I’m concerned, ‘Blood Pact’ is a book that anyone with knowledge of the Warhammer 40,000 universe can dive into.

Not only does Abnett portray the Imperial Guard structure beautifully but he also does the same job for those that serve within the regiments. ‘Blood Pact’ is also a book about the strain placed on soldiers not on active duty and Abnett shows his readers just exactly what can happen as a result of reckless boredom. Some of it is just plain mischief, but other events have a harder edge to them that make for a gripping few pages...
The men and women of the ‘Tanith First and Only’ are Guardsmen before anything else and this attitude is reflected in all of Abnett’s writing. Whether it is soldiers who are under fire or simply standing guard on a cold night, Abnett leaves his readers in no doubt as to just what it all means at the end of the day.

Apart from that one very small niggle; ‘Blood Pact’ was bang on the money as far as I was concerned. I’m going to be catching up with this series as soon as I get the chance...

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

‘Toll the Hounds’ – Steven Erikson (Bantam Books/Tor)

I’m a big fan of the Malazan series; there’s a lot of good fantasy fiction out there but only a few of these series can hold a candle to what Steven Erikson (and Ian Cameron Esslemont) has got going on here. Why then, after having ‘Toll the Hounds’ sat on the shelf for the better part of a year, has it taken me three attempts to get through this book?
There are reasons which I will go into, in a little more detail, later on. Other reasons include a train journey whilst hung over (I just cannot read Malazan books when hung over) and the fact that ‘Toll the Hounds’, in hardback, is simply not a practical book to read on the morning commute. Trust me on that one...
However, when it gets to the point where ‘Dust of Dreams’ is about to hit the shelves (and I still haven’t read ‘Toll the Hounds’) then it’s clear that something needs to be done. A week in Egypt was the ideal time to start reading but it still took me a further week (after we got back) to finally get it done. It was heavy going but ultimately very satisfying by the end...

As the Malazan Book of the Fallen nears its conclusion, there are still plenty of twists and turns that will affect the final outcome. Most of these will take place in the cities of Darujhistan and Black Coral where Gods walk the streets and the Guild of Assassins have their eye on the current owners of K’rul’s Bar. When the baying of hounds can be heard, all hell will break loose and only the machinations of a small plump man (with a fondness for pastries and wine) will have any chance of saving the city he loves. Gods born in these tumultuous times will be in mortal peril, who knows what the morning will bring? One thing is clear; the resolution of an ancient and terrible wrong will be decided one way or the other...

It’s the eighth book in an epic multi-volume series and you’ve got any number of characters all engaged in their own plot lines. The thing is though that there are only two books left in the series so you really need to start wrapping things up and pulling it all together. If you’ve got a huge cast list to deal with then this approach can really drag...

I never thought I’d say this but ‘Toll the Hounds’ is Steven Erikson’s ‘Crossroads of Twilight’; a bridging novel that sets things up for the endgame but takes far too long in doing so. This is what made me put the book down twice for something a little more exciting and fast paced.
There is simply far too much going on to be able to get a decent feel for each of the individual plotlines; just as I was getting into something I would find myself shifted onto another story entirely and have to start the whole process again. As far as I was concerned, this made for a particularly disjointed and slow paced affair which was only cancelled out in the closing stages when characters converged and the plot streamlined. There was plenty to get into but the book itself stopped me getting into it. When things streamline however, it’s a whole different story with Erikson writing some amazing stuff that got me teary eyed in a way that I hadn’t been since the Chain of Dogs... Reaching the closing stages, and finally getting the whole of Erikson’s vision for the book, blew my mind and it was a shame that this didn’t happen a little bit sooner.

I was also left wondering whether this part of the series was the best time for Erikson to deliver the whole narrative from the point of view of one particular character, something he hasn’t done before. The character in question is an absolute delight to read but only in small doses; his verbosity only adds to the slow pacing of the plot and made it even more difficult for me to really get my head round things. Again though, credit has to go to Erikson for making this small, plump individual the focal point of potentially world shattering events and the way these are dealt with always bought a smile to my face.

All this must sound like I really didn’t get on with this book at all and there’s no point in denying that I had real trouble getting into it. Despite this though, I found plenty of evidence of Erikson doing what he always does best. If you’ve read this far then you’ll finish the series no matter what but there is still plenty to enjoy in the meantime...

Steven Erikson is a guy who sets off fireworks inside my head not only with his imagination but the way he gets it down onto the page. I’ve already mentioned a couple of ‘teary eyed’ moments; Erikson is a writer that’s not afraid to really let his readers get involved with a character before introducing them to the natural outcome of anyone’s life. It’s not just the main characters he does this with either; Erikson may not spend as much time on the lesser characters but all this seems to do is refine his writing and make his depictions all the more poignant.

He’s also a writer that can make you laugh even in the midst of the tears. In the middle of a particularly apocalyptic conflagration of magic, pieces of prose like this are dropped into the mix...

Iskaral Pust rode like a madman. Unfortunately, the mule beneath him had decided that a plodding walk would suffice, making the two of them a most incongruous pair.’

Made me laugh! On top of all this, Erikson retains his ability to write a spectacle like no other, the events at the end of the book have to be seen to be believed!

Once you get past the issues regarding its presentation (and this may take some doing), ‘Toll the Hounds’ has plenty to offer the long term Malazan fan. I won't be waiting quite so long before picking up 'Dust of Dreams'...

Eight out of Ten

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

‘Vanished’ – Kat Richardson (Roc/Piatkus)

Kat Richardson’s ‘Greywalker’ series is one that I’ve been meaning to have a look at for a while now, especially after I picked up the first book and saw mention of zombies in the Seattle sewers... :o) It took me a while but I finally got round to it and, as is usual with me, I’m starting four books into the series (which wasn’t really a problem this time round, more on that in a bit). There weren’t any zombies here but that didn’t matter though as there was plenty for me to get my teeth into. At the same time however, something didn’t seem quite right...

Harper Blaine is a special kind of private investigator; she died for two minutes and now she is able to walk the fine line between our world and that of ‘The Grey’, home of everything supernatural. The thing is though that loads of people have near death experiences, why aren’t they all ‘Greywalkers’ like Harper?
Harper’s attempts to dig up information on her past are interrupted by a job offer that she cannot refuse; a particularly demanding vampire has a job for her in London. As the investigation progresses however, it becomes clear that there is more than one link to Harper’s past. If Harper can get out of London alive she will find out just exactly what her destiny as a Greywalker entails...

While ‘Vanished’ may be the fourth book in the ‘Greywalker’ series but a healthy dose of scene setting fills in the gaps and makes this a book that newcomers can get straight into. Harper’s discovery of her past also gives ‘Vanished’ a sense of having a strong foundation; this really is a book that will tell you everything that you need to know!

‘Vanished’ turned out to be the perfect book to take on holiday; great to get lost in for an hour or two but easy to put down if you wanted to go for a swim or something like that. This was really down to a lead character that didn’t live up to the potential brimming over in the plot itself...

I just couldn’t get much of a feel for who Harper Blaine actually was and this isn’t something that I find particularly appealing in a lead character. To be fair, ‘Vanished’ is the fourth book in a series and long term fans may already have all the information to hand. It may also be that we find out a lot more about Harper in the next book (it certainly looks like this could be the case!) It just felt to me that while we really got to know characters such as Harper’s mother, Marsden and the vampire chief Edward we never really got to know Harper herself. There needs to be some kind of hook to get me involved with a character that’s driving the story; I couldn’t find it and the book felt disjointed as a result...

This was a real shame as, despite a lack of depth to the lead character, ‘Vanished’ still managed to be an exciting affair with a mystery that kept my attention the whole way through. The world of ‘The Grey’ is a strange, forbidding place and mixing this setting with the murky backstreets of London was a fine move on Richardson’s part. In this respect, ‘Vanished’ oozes atmosphere which brings the tension of the story into sharp relief.

The plot is a particularly tense affair with a mystery to be solved, everything to play for and the constant feeling that no-one can really be trusted. Alliances change at the drop of a hat (or death of a vampire...) and it’s all credit to Richardson that it all fits together so well by the end of the book. Richardson also pulls out all the stops when writing scenes of supernatural confrontation with moments when you are left in no doubt as to what Harper must face down. Some of the climatic scenes had my heart pumping!

If it wasn’t for a lightweight lead character, ‘Vanished’ would be superb. As it is, it’s still very good but I was left thinking that it could have been more. Having said that, I would pick up the next instalment to see where things go next...

Eight out of Ten

Monday, 17 August 2009

2000AD Comic Books...

Speaking as someone who hardly bought any comics as a kid (but is getting into it now), I’ve found ‘comic book collections’ to be a great way of catching up on everything that I should have read but somehow never did. This is definitely the case with 2000AD, a comic that never made it into my house (I’d read it off the shelf when the newsagent wasn’t looking; I know, my karma took a real battering there...)
I’m making up for lost time and a couple of books that came through the post, recently, gave me the chance to catch up with some characters that I’d never really got to know all that well. Here’s what I thought of them...

‘Strontium Dog: Traitor to His Kind’ – John Wagner/Carlos Ezquerra

On the occasions when I did pick up 2000AD it was all about Judge Dredd dispensing justice on the streets of Mega City One and beyond. There were other characters there though who were just as worthy of a look and Johnny Alpha was one of these. In the UK of the 22nd century mutants are second class citizens living in the Milton Keynes ghetto (I’ve been to Milton Keynes and can see how this could happen to the town in the future!) but some are able to make a living as ‘Strontium Dog’ bounty hunters. Alpha is the best of these; now he must take on his toughest case yet in rescuing the kidnapped King of England. If he fails in his task then reprisals against the mutant population will be brutal and there are those who want him to fail for that very reason. If Alpha succeeds though, he will be taking away the one thing that his people can use to negotiate a better life for themselves. In order to save mutants in the UK, Johnny Alpha must go against everything he holds dear and betray them...

‘Traitor to His Kind’ (the title rather gives away how the story must end but you probably saw it coming anyway, especially if you’re collecting the trades because your comics are falling to pieces etc) not only tells the story of this case but also looks at how it has an effect on the cases that Alpha must take in it’s aftermath.
The main sequence is quite hard hitting as we see how it ties in with Alpha’s own (very) unhappy childhood and subsequent stance in the mutant riots. Guns never stop firing and betrayal is always a real danger. Having never read the story, when it was being serialised in the comic, this approach really kept me on edge and wanting to find out what happened next.

I didn’t turn the pages too quickly though as Carlos Ezquerra’s artwork is quite simply a joy to behold and not something that you want to rush over. This is a dark and gritty world and Ezquerra displays this brutality perfectly both in his characters and the backdrop. The only (slight) issue that I had was that maybe the colours were a little bright for something that is supposed to be quite dark...

The other stories are not quite as dark but are still full of the same level of break neck adrenaline and standoffs between villains and the forces of law. Alpha and his friend (Wulf Sternhammer) may not get the bad guy every time but it’s never anything less than great fun watching them try (I’m looking at ‘Shaggy Dog Story’ most of all!)

Nine out of Ten

‘ABC Warriors: The Volgan War Volume One’ – Pat Mills/Clint Langley

I’d only ever really come across the ABC Warriors, robots adapted for Atomic, Bacterial and Chemical warfare, in the ‘Gothic Empire’ story (Nemesis the Warlock) but I knew that they were something special as far as 2000AD went. The first volume of ‘The Volgan War’ storyline gave me a proper chance to get to know these characters but I was left feeling more than a little disappointed by the end...

Having deposited the psychotic Mek-Quake at the Broadband Asylum, the rest of the ABC Warriors make their way across Mars to meet the latest recruit to the team. Over the course of the journey; Hammerstein, Mongrol and Joe Pineapples pass the time by swapping old stories of the Volgan War...

The first thing you notice about this book is Clint Langley’s art, it is absolutely gorgeous. I’m not sure what the proper name for it is but the art is a mixture of digital and regular art the combination of which is a real treat to behold. The ABC Warriors have been going for a number of years now, so Langley has a lot of material to work from, but you can’t take away the fact that he really knows how to draw these characters; especially Hammerstein and Mongrol. I’ve often thought that it must be difficult, when drawing robots, to get their metallic and inflexible faces to show the emotions that the story says are there. Langley manages to convey all these feelings in style!

The problem I had though was that the art seemed to really take centre stage over the story itself; especially when you get gigantic two page spreads that were lovely to look at but didn’t really add anything else. There was a real imbalance here that made the story come across as having less depth than it actually did. Moments of real pathos (Mongrol and Lara for example) are lost under the glare of the art and the story doesn’t have a chance to breathe. At least that’s how it felt to me, this is only Volume One so looking at the book again a little later on when there are a few more books out (in it’s proper context) may make it a totally different deal altogether.
It didn’t work for me this time round though...

Eight out of Ten

P.S. The only image I could find, for the 'ABC Warriors' cover, isn't the one on my book. The one here isn't bad but mine is much better :o)

A Mathematical Model for Surviving a Zombie Attack...

I would have found maths lessons a whole lot easier to understand if the teacher had used zombies in the examples... :o)

Students at the University of Ottawa have come up with a mathematical model that predicts the rate of zombie growth and tells us what we really should be doing in such a situation (if you've seen any zombie films then you already know what you should be doing, it involves a chainsaw...)

Are mathematicians finally taking this threat seriously or were a bunch of drunk students watching a Romero film? You decide...

Thanks to Ben for sending me the link!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Giveaway! 'Strange Brew'

Here's a book that I have been meaning to read for a few weeks now but got tied up with other stuff instead. Once 'Toll the Hounds' is done...

Thanks to St. Martin's Press I have three copies of 'Strange Brew' to give away to people from the US and Canada (US and Canadian entries only I'm afraid...) If you're a fan of authors like Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs and Jim Butcher then this collection of short stories is the one for you!

"But what do I need to do to enter?" It's simple. All you need to do is 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. You also need to make it clear, in your email header, that it's this competition that you're entering. I'll do everything else! :o)

I'm letting this one run until the 23rd of August and will announce the winners on the 24th...

Good Luck!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Giveaway! 'The King's Daughters' (Nathalie Mallet)

I read and reviewed this book a few weeks ago, having a great time with it and adding the series itself to that ever growing list of series that I find myself compelled to follow. Now I'm giving you guys the chance to check this book out for yourself...

Thanks to Nathalie herself, I have three signed copies of 'The King's Daughters' to give away to people in the UK, US and Canada (these are the only people who can enter, sorry about that!) You wouldn't believe how easy it is to enter; simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and where you live. I'll do everything else.

I'm letting this one run until August 23rd, I'll announce the winners on the 24th.

Good Luck!

Friday, 14 August 2009

‘Furies of Calderon’ – Jim Butcher (Orbit/Ace)

In the same way as Nate Kenyon (see yesterday’s post), Jim Butcher was known around these parts as a ‘one genre man’; namely Urban Fantasy with his hard bitten wizard for hire Harry Dresden. Shows how wrong I was...
It wasn’t so long ago that I heard of a new fantasy series (the ‘Codex Alera’) by none other than... Jim Butcher. It wasn’t as new as I’d thought either as it’s been going for quite a while in the US. I haven’t read all of the ‘Dresden Files’ but I like what I have read so I knew it wouldn’t be too long before I checked this new series out. I finally got the chance, a couple of weeks ago, when I took ‘Furies of Calderon’ on our camping trip. If this first book is anything to go by then there are fun times ahead, I’m already planning to read the rest of the book based on what I found here...

The people of Alera are at one with the elements to the extent where they can call upon the ‘Furies’ (of Earth, Air, Fire, Water and Metal) to help them in their daily lives. All except Tavi, his life in the Calderon Valley is a constant torture of learning to survive without the powers that other people take for granted.
All that is about to change though. A spy has come to Calderon Valley looking to find the connection between traitors to the crown and the steadily encroaching hordes of Marat barbarians. That connection is all too obvious once full scale war breaks out and Tavi is caught squarely in the middle. With no Furies to command, Tavi has had to develop other skills of his own but will these be enough to protect himself and his family?

When I first read the blurb, on the back, I found myself cringing at the thought of reading another book about a lowly teenage boy who fulfils the potential that he never even knew he had. It feels like I’ve read far too much of this! I should have had a little more faith in the author though; Butcher has never given Dresden an easy ride and he’s not about to do that for Tavi either (at least not yet, there are a few more books to go before we find out what ultimately happens to this unlikely hero). And Tavi really is an unlikely hero... He’s already at a distinct disadvantage, due to his lack of Furycrafting ability, but this only seems to spur him on to try even harder. I also found him to be a likeable kind of guy and this made it easier for me to keep reading. Tavi wasn’t the only likeable character in this respect; Amara, Bernard and Isana are also very easy to get caught up in and even the villains of the piece are written in such a way that you end up wanting to know more about them. Aldrick and Odiana are an intriguing couple and I’m hoping that we will get to see more of them in later books.

Furycrafting is to all intents and purposes the book’s magic system even though there’s no real magic involved at all. There’s more of an elemental thing going on here and this made for a refreshing slant as far as I was concerned. The same deal went for the background setting, a mixture of ‘Roman Empire-esque’ and frontier living. I’ve never really seen this source mined, for fantasy literature, (although this may merely confirm that I haven’t read as much fantasy as I like to think, can anyone point me at books that I have missed in this regard?) and the end result was that I found myself reading more just to see what Butcher did with the material. It was all good; Butcher paints a convincing landscape that’s a pleasure to spend time in.

These are rough and ready characters so anyone expecting a fantasy tale that’s more involved (I’m thinking Bakker, Erikson etc) than the norm is likely to be disappointed. What you do get though is a story that rips along at a ferocious pace and takes no prisoners. Butcher writes a mean battle scene that had me completely gripped and the chapter with the ‘Keepers’ shows that Butcher is also able to effortlessly switch gear between scenes of war and those of creeping dread where you can be a second away from death and not even know it...

‘Furies of Calderon’ was one of those books where the pages flew by and I was glad that it was raining because it meant I could keep on reading. If this book is anything to go by then I’m in for a real treat!

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

(‘Furies of Calderon’ is published by Orbit in the UK and Ace in the US)

Thursday, 13 August 2009

‘Prime’ – Nate Kenyon (Apex Publications)

Around these parts, Nate Kenyon is known for having written some great horror over the last year and a bit. If you’re a horror fan, and you haven’t checked them out already, then you might want to find yourself copies of ‘Bloodstone’, ‘The Reach’ and ‘The Bone Factory’. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
One of the things I noticed was that the first two books mentioned were heavily influenced by certain works of Stephen King. They still made for very good reading though and in my review of ‘The Reach’ I said that I’d be interested to see what happened ‘if Kenyon took his next book out from under this influence’. As luck would have it I got that very chance when I was asked if I would like to review ‘Prime’; no horror influences here as this is science fiction all the way! At only one hundred and forty pages long, ‘Prime’ looked like a relatively quick read that would do me for the commute to work. It took a little longer than that as I ended up really getting into it...

In a world where virtual and real lives are virtually inseparable, the smallest glitch can have the most devastating of consequences. People are dying because of this glitch and bug hunter William Bellow is the man in demand. Here’s a guy who can go right into the network and tackle the problem at its source. That’s if he can get back out alive though. And even if he does, Bellow faces a fight to stay alive in the real world as well. Bellow is in the middle of something big that will call the nature of his own memories into question as well as the violent events of his past...

I didn’t mind it all when the fire alarm went off this morning as this meant I was able to keep reading ‘Prime’ whilst others moaned about being stuck outside. I was moaning about having to go back inside; ‘Prime’ was reminiscent of ‘Neuromancer’ in tone (and background) but Kenyon took off from that point with a story that was all his own.

‘Prime’ is a tightly packed tale where nothing is included without very good reason. I sometimes felt that this worked against the book however; Kenyon paints a grim picture of the future but it felt like there wasn’t enough room for this picture to be all that it could be. It could have been a rich painting but ended up being more of a sketch instead... What we get instead is a decent backdrop that hints at a potential that isn’t fully explored. If you’re not bothered about world building then you won’t be bothered about this’. I enjoy my world building though and this is an area where ‘Prime’ is lacking.

The brevity of the book also means that the story itself almost falls down. Things move along so fast (with so little room to manoeuvre) that conclusions, made by characters, almost seem to spring out of thin air rather than form as a result of consideration of clues. This made me keep wondering if I had missed something or if characters really were forming conclusions out of thin air...

The fact is though that I found ‘Prime’ to be a gripping read. Bellow’s character is a joy to follow as he works his way through the mystery and finds out how his involvement runs deeper than he thought. Not only does Bellow’s development proceed at a natural pace but he is also hard as nails at the same time. This makes for some intense moments that inject fresh life into the plot and keep things buzzing.

‘Prime’ is also a thoughtful piece about mankind’s relationship with machines and where this could conceivably lead in the near future. There is already a close relationship, in the book, with media adverts that are beamed directly into the brain but there is the potential for so much more and this is what Kenyon looks at. The reader is left in no doubt where the author stands but the subject matter is dealt with in such a way that there is still plenty of food for thought at the end. A mark of a good book, as far as I’m concerned, is one that sticks around in your head after you have finished reading. ‘Prime’ certainly does that!

I guess my big complaint is that ‘Prime’ felt like it needed a few more pages to flesh things out properly and become a little more coherent. That didn’t stop it being a pleasure to read though, a gripping detective tale set against a bleak future backdrop that will appeal to sci-fi fans.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Hordes of Competition Winners!!

Would you believe that after all the worry (I really hate going to the dentist...) it was only a consultation? It turns out that I'm having the job done first thing on Saturday morning instead. Bang goes my lie-in...
I'll see what I can do about getting a review up today :o)

In the meantime...

Could this possibly be the largest 'competition winner post' that I've ever done? It could well be! Thanks go to not only everyone who entered but also the publishers who very kindly donated the prizes. You all rock!
The winners were...

‘Ravenor’ (Signed) – Dan Abnett

Bill Hovan, Greensburg, USA
Johanna Zetterlund, Sweden

‘The Horus Heresy’ (Books 1-5)

Nathan Fluhman, Utah, USA
Chris Dawson, Scunthorpe, UK

‘Twelve’ (Signed) – Jasper Kent

Daniel Franklin, Manchester, UK
Bjorn De Swert, Belgium
Maria Patrinou, Greece

‘The Dwarves’ – Marcus Heitz

Mark M. Cagnacci, London, UK
Fahed Rahman, London, UK
Simon Holland, Hyde, UK

‘Cadian Blood’ – Aaron Dembski-Bowden

Mark Devery, New Zealand
Jessica Lay, Dallas, USA
Joseph Lee, Canada
Barry Forshaw, Newcastle, UK
Sharon Schwartz, New Jersey, USA

‘Lord of Silence’ – Mark Chadbourn

Mohd Arief, Malaysia
Jonathan Teutenberg, Auckland, New Zealand
Casey Buell, California, USA
Sandro Pergameno, Rome, Italy
Melissa Symonds, Surrey, UK

‘Age of Ra’ – James Lovegrove

Fernando Martínez Luna, Madrid, Spain
Robert Lee, Colorado, USA
Angela MacRae, Inverness, Scotland
Joel Simard, Montreal, Canada
Ed Read, Reading, UK

‘The Codex Alera’ (First Two Books) – Jim Butcher

Katrin Schuschke, Germany
Ruth Kelly, Birmingham, UK

Well done everyone! Your books should be on their way real soon :o) I haven't sent out any emails (there were far too many, I've got so much else to do!) so if you see your name on the list, please feel free to leave a comment next to the post.
Everyone else - Seeing as I'm going to be at the dentist's on Saturday, I've lined up a couple of competitions to keep things ticking over while I recover... ;o)

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

My Latest Comics Haul!

I’m off to have a wisdom tooth pulled out, later on this afternoon, and I’ve got a few bits and pieces that I should really get done before I go (actually, I should have done them before I went on holiday but there you go!) All this means that you won’t get the book review that I originally had planned but what you get instead are the fruits of my comic buying labours last night. That’s still pretty cool isn’t it? :o) I thought so after picking up my monthly comic fix last night.

These days I’m more about collecting the trade paperbacks rather than individual issues. They’re a great way for me to quickly get up to speed with stories and the bottom line is that they just look better on the book shelf. For anyone here who buys comics regularly, how do you store them? Just wondering...
There are a few series that I will pick up in individual comics though; either while I’m deciding to go for the trades or because I’m a sad obsessive fan who has to get their hands on everything. Here are a few of them...

‘Olympus #3’ – Edmondson/Ward (Image)

We’re onto the third instalment, of this four part series, and as you would expect things are rattling along at a very fast pace indeed. The time spent, right at the beginning, establishing the character of Tantalus is well spent in that while he may be the villain of the piece, I ended up having a measure of sympathy for him and am left wondering how this approach will affect the outcome of the final issue. Everything is up in the air (especially given the revelation about Tantalus’ plans) and that’s just the cliffhanger you need when there’s only one more issue to go. Castor and Pollux remain great characters to hang out with; Castor’s meeting with Summer brought a smile to my face!
Christian Ward’s artwork remains superb on the whole but (as was the case with the previous two issues) it’s still a little hard to work out just what is going on in the action scenes...

‘Conan the Cimmerian #12’ – Truman/Giorello (Dark Horse)

I love fantasy so it was inevitable that Conan would feature heavily whenever I buy comics. Issue 12 is the penultimate chapter in the ongoing ‘Black Colossus’ storyline and this is something that I’ll be covering in a little more depth once I’ve picked up the final issue. In the meantime though, #12 delivers everything you would expect from a Conan comic; brash heroes spitting in the face of overwhelming odds, sultry heroines and an evil villain looming large over the proceedings. Truman’s writing really brings Conan to life and Tomas Giorello’s art is spot on in depicting a harsh time when a man’s life was measured in the sharpness of his blade and the stoutness of his heart. I especially loved the aftermath of Count Thespides’ doomed charge into the valley...
I’ll more than likely start collecting the trades at some point but I’ll definitely be picking up the individual issues in the meantime.

‘Dethklok Versus The Goon’ – Eric Powell/Brendon Small (Dark Horse)

There are times when you pick up a comic and say, “what the f...”
Sometimes this is a good thing because the comic is one hundred percent awesome; sometimes all it means is that you don’t have the slightest clue what is going on. It was very much a case of bewilderment here! A fictitious heavy metal band is somehow pulled through a temporal rift into the world of Lonely Street and outright chaos ensues. There’s maybe a little too much here to fit comfortably into a ‘one shot’ issue and what it felt like to me was that things were glossed over instead of being properly explored. It was still good fun though, even if it was all over before I knew it. The Goon and Franky are funny and outright psychotic in equal measure and it’s always laugh out loud funny to see people dumped in a completely unfamiliar environment and the comedy of errors that come about as a result. Plus I’m a huge fan of The Goon and would buy anything with his ugly mug on it! :o)

Book reviewing should get back to normal on Friday. In the meantime, definitely come back tomorrow to see if you won any of the competitions that were up while I was on holiday (that’s if you entered them of course, I can’t really do anything about it if you didn’t!)...

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

‘Skinwalker’ – Faith Hunter (Roc)

No matter what I say (and no matter how much I may hate what I’m reading at the time) I always end up picking up Urban Fantasy, I just can’t help it. It’s a real guilty pleasure thing; the constant angst may get me down but supernatural creatures laying hurt on each other never gets old :o)
Part of the reason I find myself picking up more Urban Fantasy is that I feel this is a genre that has the potential to come out with some really outstanding books, I just haven’t found them yet... That doesn’t stop me looking though and my latest port of call is Faith Hunter’s opening shot in her new ‘Jane Yellowrock’ series. Was it the book I was looking for? Not quite but it does promise good things for fans of Urban Fantasy...

Jane Yellowrock is a ‘Skinwalker’ of Cherokee descent, able to become any animal that she desires. This ability is rather well suited to her role of hunting down the undead but she is also the last of her kind and cast adrift in uncertainty about a past that she can only half remember...
Now she’s in New Orleans working for people that she would normally work against; a rogue vampire is hunting undead and living alike and the Vampire Council have decided that Jane is the person to sort things out.
New Orleans can be a rough place at the best of times and a rogue vampire can only make things much worse. However, in taking on this job Jane may find some answers to questions of her own...

I knew that I was on to a good thing when I came across this line...

‘Vamps and witches came out of the closet in 1962, when Marilyn Monroe tried to turn the US President in the Oval Office and was killed by the Secret Service.’

That’s as good an explanation as any I guess! I like books that are prepared to go for really out there explanations like this :o) As it happened, this slightly tongue in cheek approach never made any further appearances, being replaced by a grittier ‘detective noir’ feel with plenty of searching for clues and cruising down mean streets on a mean motorbike. This did jar a little with me but the ensuing story was such that I found it easy to forgive this disparity.

‘Skinwalker’ is an oddity (at least as far as my Urban Fantasy reading goes) in that it features a heroine who just wants to get on with the job at hand. Jane has no time for getting all angst ridden over the local Vampire boss, she’s busy dammit! I loved this! For what feels like the first time ever I was reading a tale where the lead character and the plot flowed together instead of having bits shoehorned in to satisfy a need that isn’t really there. The reader gets to find out a lot more about Jane (and her relationship with what is inside her head) and can spend more time on what’s really important, the rogue vampire tearing up New Orleans.

Jane is an interesting character to spend time with and her character goes well with a plot that came across as slightly linear (no real twists in the tale here) but still gave me plenty to chew on and think over. A mixture of brooding streets and vampire politics kept my attention the whole way through and the sporadic shape shifter/vampire fights added fresh impetus to the plot (just when it was needed) and kept the pace moving along nicely.

If I had one real complaint though, it was the fact that ‘Skinwalker’ did have a habit of coming across very much like a ‘first book in a series’ kind of book. To be fair, it is the first book in a series but the moments where introductory pieces were required ended up coming across as a bit too heavy and not only diverting the flow of the story but also slowing it down. I also felt that there were times when Hunter was saying ‘Look! My Urban Fantasy is different to all the others and here’s why!’ Cue more explanatory pieces that detracted from the story itself...

Despite this, ‘Skinwalker’ proved to be a fun read with more than enough there to ensure that I pick up the sequel to see what happens next. I’m not sure about that cover though...

Eight out of Ten

Monday, 10 August 2009

‘Fables: Animal Farm’ – Bill Willingham, Mark Buckingham (Vertigo)

I am one of those people who will go on about how great the opening book in a series is (and swear mighty oaths to read the rest of the books as soon as possible) but then somehow never manage to keep going. I’m full of good intentions but there are just so many books to read and only one of me to read them all! :o)
You would have to go back to Christmas last year to see what I thought of the first ‘Fables’ collection, ‘Legends in Exile’ (to sum it up in two words, ‘bloody good’) and the plan was to read the sequel as soon as possible. Eight months later and I finally got round to it (whilst hoping that the tent didn’t spring a leak, it’s happened before!)
‘Animal Farm’ was bloody good too; I’m certainly not going to hang around before picking up the next book. No, seriously I’m not! ;o)

There’s trouble down at the Farm and this isn’t just any old farm that we’re talking about here. The Farm is where the Fables, fairy tale characters hiding out in our world, who just can’t live in our world (a dragon really wouldn’t go un-noticed in Manhattan) have to live. These Fables aren’t happy with their lot though and the revolutionary rhetoric of Goldilocks and the Three Little Pigs is fanning the flames... Snow White and Rose Red are about to find that the annual trip to the Farm will possibly be a little hotter than they can handle!

I thought I was done with the tales of characters like Snow White and the Three Little Pigs at primary school; how wrong could I be? Willingham brings back all your favourite childhood characters and leaves you in no doubt that this isn’t a kid’s story that we’re talking about here. If you haven’t read ‘Animal Farm’ then I’m willing to bet that you haven’t seen Goldilocks toting a sniper rifle (well, maybe you have but this probably isn’t the place to be talking about that kind of thing...), you will here. This is an adult story with all the trappings that come with such a tale. No-one is safe (well, some are but that’s all part of the story) in the crossfire so don’t be surprised to see at least one of your childhood heroes bite the dust. Willingham also opens things up by redefining the term ‘Fairy Tale’. Characters from other childhood tales also make an appearance (as well as established myths and legends) which results in a wider cast to call upon and this means a richer tale to be told. The sight of the ‘Jungle Book’s’ King Louie up before a war crimes tribunal means that I’ll never look at the book (or Disney film) in the same way again!

I was captivated by a tale in which both sides are evenly matched and only ingenuity can tip the balance. It turned out to be a real page turner where things could change from one panel to the next. There are also a number of interesting hints at future developments that have ensured I will be back to see what happens next (no matter how long it takes this time!) Why is Goldilocks one of the most feared and hated people in the land of Fables...? I also liked the way that Willingham ties classic fairy tale figures in with another modern fairy tale and shows us what could happen when the march of revolution isn’t quite as easy (and not designed at teaching readers about the inherent corruption in humanity)... This ‘Animal Farm’ isn’t so clear cut and it’s that kind of vagueness that appeals to me in a story.

It’s a slight shame then that the artwork didn’t match up to the storytelling, at least in my opinion anyway. For a tale that comes across as very adult, the artwork came across (to me) as a little too cartoonish and not really able to capture what Willingham was putting his characters through. This certainly wasn’t enough to put me off reading though and it won’t be enough to stop me reading the rest of the series. Who knows, the artwork will more than likely grow on me as time goes by.

I’ve decided not to give marks to books that I buy but I think you can probably guess how I feel about this one. The next ‘Fables’ review will not be as long in coming as this one was! Highly recommended...