Wednesday, 30 September 2009

‘No Doors. No Windows’ – Joe Schreiber (Del Rey)

According to my local supermarket it’s pretty much Christmas time already (you should see the stuff they are stocking) which means that, despite the fact that it’s still September, I’m already woefully behind with my Halloween reading! :o) I decided to take care of that straight away and first up is Joe Schreiber’s ‘No Doors, No Windows’ (due to be released in the next couple of weeks by Del Rey). Ever since I saw the cover art for Schreiber’s ‘Deathtroopers’ I’ve been looking forward to picking it up, not long to go now... ‘No Doors, No Windows’ seemed like a good book to tide me over in the meantime; sometimes the best way to find out about a forthcoming book is to read the author’s books that have preceded it.
I finished ‘No Doors, No Windows’ on the way into work this morning. I’m hoping for a little more from ‘Deathtroopers’ but the initial signs are that we could be in for a bit of a treat. ‘No Doors, No Windows’ is a scary read...

Scott Mast is back in his New England hometown helping clean out the family home after his father’s funeral; he doesn’t expect to be around for too long but events are about to conspire to keep him town for a lot longer than he thought. If he’s not careful, Scott will never leave...
An unfinished manuscript, of his father’s, leads Scott to the house the story was set in and a decision to finish the book that his father began. It’s not entirely Scott’s own decision though... There’s more to this house than meets the eye; dark parts of the Mast family history is tied up in the house’s secret passageways and so is the curse that is even now wrapping it’s fingers around Scott’s fragile mind... Will he be able to withstand it or will Scott be driven to the same acts of madness that have claimed the minds of generations of men in the Mast family?

I’m a bit of a sucker for ghost stories especially when I’m on my own in the house... Or am I? What was that noise I just heard..? A good ghost story wraps you up in its plot and smacks you with something so scary (that you never saw coming) that you just have to go and check all the doors to make sure that nothing else is in the house with you. ‘No Doors, No Windows’ does this very well but I was left thinking that there was room for a little more...

Schreiber weaves an impressive tale right from the start. The reader knows that there’s something a little odd right from the start and Schreiber doles out little snippets of information that keep the plot moving forward (and kept my interest) and point towards something ominous on the horizon. You don’t get the whole picture until right at the end but what Schreiber feeds us in the meantime is tantalising enough to keep us turning those pages. The setting is appropriately bleak as well, a New England town (why does all the scary stuff seem to happen in New England towns?) that’s brimming over with secrets that no-one wants to let out. If that wasn’t enough there’s a monster snow storm on the way and it’s just the kind of storm that’s apt to trap people just when they’re trying to get away from their worst nightmare...

I enjoyed Schreiber’s characterisation as well; love em’ or hate em’, all of the main players are well rounded out with enough secrets about them to make you want to find out more and see how these make them develop. Scott and Owen in particular are characters that I wanted to invest my time in and this involvement made the ‘scary bits’ even scarier when they jumped out of the page and grabbed me.

Schreiber writes some mean passages that made me shudder as well as, on one occasion, say ‘What the f...’ Don’t underestimate this man; Schreiber switches effortlessly from writing scenes that seem perfectly normal, until you realise just what has happened, to hitting his reader with the full horror of what lies within the Round House. He’s also not afraid to leave his reader hanging, at the end of a chapter, and this approach had me racing through the pages to find out what happened next.

What I found though is that for every time Schreiber got the timing just right he also had a habit of building up to climatic events a little too much. When this happened there was so much detail that the payoff came across as almost an afterthought and this really interrupted the flow of the plot. The abundance of detail didn’t leave a lot room for the ending either. Sometimes events are rushed, in real life, and there is an argument for having the book end in this way. I couldn’t help thinking though that a little more detail in the right place (instead of having to cram explanations in at the death) would have made all the difference.

While I had issues with the structure of ‘No Doors, No Windows’, the story itself is very entertaining and kept me reading throughout. I’m even more excited about reading ‘Deathtroopers’ (look out for the little mention in the book!) now...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

‘My Dead Body’ – Charlie Huston (Del Rey/Orbit)

I’ve recently got into the habit of waking up far too early in the morning and not being able to get back to sleep again; this morning saw me wake up at half past three... Yep, this morning I actually managed to wake up before the sparrows that live in our front garden (who will be getting a bucket of water thrown over them if they carry on with this dawn chorus lark) and today feels like it’s been going on for a week already.
That’s cool though, I may not have got much sleep but what I did get to do is finish off the final instalment in Charlie Huston’s ‘Joe Pitt Casebooks’ series. I’ve been waiting for ‘My Dead Body’ for just over a year now and it turned out to be well worth the wait. Joe Pitt can take a beating that would leave most hard men crying for their mothers and still get up to... well, you’re just going to have to read the book and find out. It’s worth it.

The last time we saw Joe Pitt he was making his way into the New York sewers after having kicked the legs out from under the infrastructure of the Vampyre network and lost his girlfriend to the Enclave. There’s always a little further for a man like Pitt to fall but now it looks like he’s got one more chance to have a shot at... well, everything that’s ever pissed him off. Girls go missing, in New York, every day but only one of them has a Vampyre boyfriend and is carrying his baby. All the clans want the baby; the girl’s father just wants her back and Joe has agreed to find her for him. However, if finding this girl gives Joe a chance to settle some scores of his own then you just know he’ll grab that opportunity with both hands...

Some very good books indeed have laid the groundwork for the finale of ‘My Dead Body’ and there was no way that I was going to miss how it all turned out. On the whole, I wasn’t disappointed.
Huston has written another taut tale set on streets that you can almost feel underfoot as Pitt runs (or more often that not, crawls...) down them. Everyone is on the take and alliances shift and change as quickly as Pitt gets through his cigarettes. The resulting dialogue crackles with attitude and tension although it can sometimes be difficult to keep track of who is saying what (Huston focuses on what is said to the exclusion of who is saying it). There’s an underlying nervous energy to the proceedings as well which drives the plot along at a frantic pace. When you’re living on your nerves, on the very fringes of ‘normal’ society, you end up being driven by them. Now multiply that feeling by the number of players in this piece (and what they are going through) and you’ve got an idea of just what is powering this book along as well as why I found it impossible to put down. This is what ‘Urban Fantasy’ is really all about. I’ve said before that Huston is writing to a formula, and shows no signs of changing, but when it works so well is there any need to fix it?

‘My Dead Body’ takes all of it’s strands and weaves them together in such a way that everything fits together but you’re left with a picture that you were never expecting. You think you know what Pitt is up to but that is just he wants everyone to think. Watching it all come together, at the end, is a joy and the constant feeling that there’s more to this than meets the eye keeps things fresh and gives the reader plenty to think about. However, I found myself questioning the way in which Huston chose to tie certain things off...

The Vampyre ‘Vyrus’ has been a mystery throughout the series and Huston gives us a possible explanation of its origins; it’s not set in stone though (as least not as far as I could tell) and we’re left to make up our own minds as to the truth. I liked this approach; Huston is almost telling us that what’s going on for Pitt and co. is the really important stuff; the Vyrus is just a fact of life and is almost incidental to the story itself.
What I wasn’t so sure of was the way that Huston took Pitt on a journey to meet all his old friends/enemies before the end of the book. Loose ends need to be tied up but the way Huston went about it (sort out business with Person A and then onto Person B etc) ended up feeling a little repetitive and more like an author saying goodbye to his story rather than telling the story itself...

This is only a small niggle though when placed against an otherwise excellent book and a series that I’ve always enjoyed reading. It’s a real shame that it’s ended but Huston has another book (‘Sleepless’) coming out next year...
‘My Dead Body’ is an October release from Del Rey, I’m not sure exactly when Orbit will be publishing it in the UK (Edited To Add: I do now! It'll be published on the 3rd of December).

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten.

News for a Tuesday Morning...

I'm posting these bits now before I totally forget (I've been awake since half three this morning and things are a little fuzzy around the edges)...

Following my review of 'Dead City', a couple of weeks ago, it was a very nice surprise to receive an email from the man himself! We had a little chat and I can tell you that 2010 is going to be a great time to get into Joe McKinney's work if you haven't already. 'Dead City' is set to be re-released in September 2010 and will be accompanied by two short stories that fill in the gaps (in 'Dead City') as well as linking to the sequel, 'Cataclysm', which will be released in the October. 'The Land of Sand and Thorns' will be released six months after that.
If that's not enough for you (it's not enough for me!) then you might want to keep an eye open for John Joseph Adams' 'Living Dead 2' anthology where McKinney's 'Dating in the Dead World' will feature. My list of reads for 2010 just got bigger...

If you're a fan of Terry Brooks and/or Christopher Paolini then you might be interested in advance warning of the live online chat these authors will be doing over at Suvudu on October 14th. If either of these two authors are your thing then you need to be around between 7-8pm EDT for the chat.

Finally, are there any Sherrilyn Kenyon fans out there? I've never read any of her books but 'Born of Night' came through the door the other day and I'll be giving that a go real soon. If you fancy checking the book out, before you buy it, then click either Here or Here to read the first nine chapters. Sherrilyn Kenyon's official site is over Here and her website for 'The League' is right Here...

Monday, 28 September 2009

Dinosaurs and Barbarians!

Not in the same comic! At least not this time... (Are there any comics that feature dinosaurs fighting barbarians? I’d read them). I’ve only just got round to spending my birthday money and you’ll be seeing the results of that, here, over the next few weeks. First up is...

‘Flesh’ – Pat Mills, Kelvin Gosnell, Massimo Belardinelli & Ramon Sola (Rebellion Books)

Dinosaurs fighting cowboys, does it get any cooler than that? I don’t think so... If you’re still doubtful then take a look at this and see if it changes your mind (you might need to click on the picture to enlarge),

I told you! (Although I’m still not sure about furry Tyrannosaurs...) If you’ve ever wondered why the dinosaurs died out then their being farmed to provide meat, for the people of twenty third century earth, is as good an explanation as any other. An asteroid striking the earth and wiping out the dinosaurs? Pah! Give me time travelling cowboys every time! This trade paperback collects ‘Flesh’ books one and two, not only do you get rampaging Tyrannosaurs (book one) but you also get giant scorpions and sea monsters for your money as well. All of this is drawn with real power and verve by Ramon Sola and Massimo Belardinelli (already a favourite artist of mine from his work on ‘Slaine’ and doing himself every favour here).
There’s a great pulp feel to the storyline (it’s dinosaurs fighting cowboys, what do you expect?) but Mills has also got a cautionary tale going on under the surface. There are some things mankind just isn’t meant to meddle with and nature will always find a way to tip the balance in its favour (even when it has been dead for sixty five million years, I loved that bit!) ‘Flesh’ is a storming read that hit the spot on every level and was heading for top marks... until I realised that one of the pages had been printed twice, at the expense of another page entirely. The flow of the tale came to a crashing halt and I had to get my head together before continuing. It’s not the story’s fault it was published incorrectly but the bottom line was that it was incomplete. Check this out before you buy your copy! I’ll be keeping my eye open for a corrected version that I can buy in the future (and it will more than likely get full marks then).

‘Conan the Cimmerian #14’

So there I was in Forbidden Planet (returning my copy of ‘Flesh’) and a quick glance over the shelves showed me that the latest issue of ‘Conan the Cimmerian’ was available for my reading pleasure. I didn’t hang around, buying a copy and reading it on the train back to work. It’s been a while since I’ve read them but Robert E. Howard’s ‘Conan’ tales (as enjoyable as they were) always felt a little heavy on the ‘Conan’ focus and subsequently a little light on the world building. The comics, that I’ve read, make up for this by fleshing everything out and giving Conan more of a backdrop to work against. Everything is well rounded and #15 is no exception to the rule; Conan’s stay in Khoraja (after the events of the ‘Black Colossus’ storyline) is examined in more depth and we also get to see the ramifications of last year’s ‘Cimmeria’ storyline play out in Conan’s home village.

I was a little taken aback by the sudden change in artists, I’d become used to Giorello’s work. Joe Kubert and Tim Truman (artist as well as writer!) are worth sticking with though and I liked the way that each artist took on half of the story to draw; this really set the two storylines apart from each other. If I had to choose right now I would say that Truman’s art did it for me, on a first read, but Kubert’s work ran a close second! We’ll see if I feel the same after a re-read...

As far as the storytelling goes, both Ben and Tim Truman show that the series is in safe hands for as long as they decide to take it forwards. It’s another highly entertaining read, roll on next month!

Nine out of Ten

The Monday Morning Competition Winners Post!

Happy Monday everyone! :o) (Unless you're sat at work right now in which case... it's only four more days until the weekend!) Several people are going to be happier than the rest, this morning, as they won last week's set of competitions. The lucky winners were...

'Bite Marks' - Terence Taylor

Aimee Given, Pennsylvania, US
Jeanette Jackson, Ontario, Canada
Shalayna Woodly, Cincinnati, US

'Shamanslayer' - Nathan Long

Davis Sandefur, Kentucky, US
Alberto Ablanedo, Oviedo, Spain
Emma Cella, Eaton Bray, UK
Neil Molyneux, Bootle, UK
Anders Lindh, Helsingborg, Sweden

Well done everyone! Your books will be with you soon :o)

Better luck next time everyone else (and there's always a 'next time')...

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Giveaway! 'Legend' (25th Anniversary Edition)

Is there anyone out there who hasn't read David Gemmell's 'Legend'? If you are one of these people (or if your old copy has fallen to pieces) then this post could well be for you! To mark the October release of the 25th Anniversary edition of 'Legend', and thanks to the folk at Orbit, I have two copies to give away (UK and Europe only though, sorry everyone else!)

All you need 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.

I'll be letting this one run until October 4th and will announce the winners on the 5th.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 26 September 2009

‘Almost The End Of The Year’ Reading Resolutions…

It’s getting to that time of the year when I look at the reading pile and think thoughts like, ‘How long has Book X been sat there?’ and ‘Book Y? I’d completely forgotten that was even in the pile at all!’ A healthily sized reading pile is pretty much essential, if you enjoy reading, but it can also be a thorn that pricks your conscience…

I never really made any New Years Resolutions (apart from the one about cake… yeah, that really worked out…) and the sight of the reading pile made me decide to make my resolutions now instead. I’m going to see what I can do to work my way through certain longstanding residents, of the pile, before the end of the year. And here they are…

‘Dust of Dreams’ and ‘Return of the Crimson Guard’

I’ve only had ‘Dust of Dreams’ a little while but do not want to fall into the same trap that I did with ‘Toll the Hounds’; I’m going to read it before the end of the year dammit! ‘Return of the Crimson Guard’ has been around a little while longer, much to my shame (call myself a Malazan fan…?) The excuse has always been that they’re a little too bulky for the tube but that’s not going to put me off any longer!

‘The Grave Thief’ – Tom Lloyd

Do you find yourself really enjoying a series and then, for no reason whatsoever, end up ignoring the latest instalment? That’s what has happened here and I couldn’t tell you why; like I said, I really enjoyed the first two books. What I am going to tell you though is that this book will be well and truly read by the end of the year (I hope…)

‘Viriconium’ – M. John Harrison

I know exactly why I put this book to one side (I ended up getting really depressed at its bleak vision of the end of the world. Having said that though, can the end of the world be anything other than bleak…?) The plan was to go for the re-read though and that’s still the aim. Look for more mini-reviews in the near future!

‘The Horror Stories of Robert E. Howard’

And here’s the book that has been on the pile such a long time that I’ve forgotten how long it’s been there. I took a break from it, to read something else, and the next thing I know it’s buried under… well, pretty much everything else! I’m going to finish it though. I am…

More books may be added to the list depending on how I go with these ones…

How about you though? Are there any books on your pile that you want to finish by the end of the year? Could this post be the start of an on line support group where we help each other get through our reading piles? Comments please! :o)

Friday, 25 September 2009

‘Kell’s Legend’ – Andy Remic (Angry Robot)

What with one thing and another, life has been pretty full on right now and I’ve been finding myself wanting to get into some comfort reading. You know the stuff I mean, a book that doesn’t ask too much of you other than to sit back and enjoy the ride. Fantasy is my thing and comfort reading here generally tends to involve guys bashing the hell out of each other with big swords. Think Robert E. Howard’s ‘Conan’ tales or Gemmell’s ‘Drenai’ books and you won’t go too far wrong :o) Comfort reads are re-reads more often than not; at least that’s what I thought until I came across Andy Remic’s ‘Kell’s Legend’. Here’s an author who’s acknowledged Gemmell’s influence on his work and he’s just gone and written a book crammed full of guys bashing the hell out of each other with big swords... ‘Kell’s Legend’ sounded like just the book I was after.
Having finished ‘Kell’s Legend’ last night, I’m not sure that it was the comfort read that I was after but it was still a lot of fun to read...

‘They came from the North, and the city fell...’

The land of Falanor has been invaded by the Army of Iron, brutal albinos doing the bidding of their Vachine masters (vampires augmented by clockwork) in the far north. The King must be warned and Kell (a hero of the empire) and a small group of people are tasked with the job. The way south is blocked by the Army of Iron, the monstrous Harvesters and hybrid Cankers; Kell and his friends must fight their way past them all if the invasion stands any chance of being turned back. The true darkness though is that which lies within the soul of Kell himself. His travelling companions will come to discover that Kell is no hero at all...

‘Kell’s Legend’ is a roller coaster ride of a book that grabbed me right from the first page and tore off at a rate of knots like I hadn’t seen in a long time. The only chance anyone gets to take a breather is when Kell removes his axe from a corpse that hasn’t had the time to realise that it’s dead! Before you’ve had a chance to take a proper breath, it’s back into the fray again. A lot rides on Kell’s mission and Remic stacks the odds accordingly. The outcome of each encounter is never in doubt and this can make these situations come across as a little cartoonish; Kell is very much the ‘ultimate warrior’ and this is well established early on, maybe the reader doesn’t need to be told quite so often...

To be fair though, I was never short of a tense moment or exciting scene whilst reading ‘Kell’s Legend’; the book is set up to deliver these one after the other and it does this in style! The pages turn easily and it’s definitely one of those books where you’ll be surprised at how many pages you read in a sitting. It isn’t a comfort read though; Remic sets out to shock his readers with his language and the amount of sheer gore that his characters must wade through. It’s laid on a little too thick though and is very obviously there to shock. It does little for the story itself other than to get in the way at the wrong times...

Before ‘Kell’s Legend’ even begins, Remic dedicates his work to David Gemmell and Gemmell’s influence is obvious as the story progresses. Maybe this influence is a little too obvious. Kell’s axe is possessed, in the same way as Druss’, and I couldn’t quite believe that Remic would go so far as to have Kell address people as ‘laddie’... Saark is also cast very much in the same mould as Druss’ companion Sieben. Paying homage is cool but not to point where it smothers the story itself...

When Remic moves away from his homage to Gemmell, Kell becomes a far more interesting character. Here is a man who has become a hero yet knows full well that he has done nothing to deserve such accolades. In fact, he has done entirely the opposite and is ready to commit the worst atrocities to protect what he loves. Life has eaten all the best bits of this man and left nothing but bitterness behind. Again, Kell’s less salubrious qualities are laid on so thick as to render him almost cartoonish but he remains an interesting character to follow and I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for him.

You may feel that you’ve read ‘Kell’s Legend’ before (with a different title) but it’s still a lot of fun to read, one that has made my morning commutes go a lot faster. I’ll be around to see what happens next.

Eight out of Ten

Gollancz Autumn Party 2009...

Is there anything better than a quick shop at Forbidden Planet (Alan Mills’ ‘Flesh’ is looking like a great read so far, worth waking up early for!) followed by Gollancz’ annual Autumn Party? Right now I don’t think there is.

Thanks again to Gollancz not only for throwing a great party but also for inviting me along to partake of mini beef burgers (my new favourite food!) as well as getting to meet up with authors and other bloggers. Adam, Liz and Mark were there and I got to meet Ana and James for the first time. I’m in awe of what these guys come out with, on their blogs, so it was great to finally get to meet them in person (I’m hoping I didn’t gush too much, it’s ‘cold light of day’ time...)

On the author front, I spent some time chatting with David Moody and Mark Chadbourn who have both written books that I’ve enjoyed reading fairly recently. If you’re a fan of David Moody’s ‘Hater’ (I am!) then you’ll be pleased to know that the sequel is steadily heading towards a 2010 release. The same can be said for Moody’s ‘Autumn’ series (in the UK at any rate); anything with zombies in it is a guaranteed read for me so I’m looking forward to getting my hands on these (I tried reading the free downloads on my computer but ended up with eyestrain as well as my boss asking me what I was doing...)
If you’re a fan of Mark Chadbourn’s ‘Lord of Silence’ then you might like to know that proposals for more books, in the same setting, are in the offing. If you haven’t read ‘Lord of Silence’ (why not?) and can’t find yourself a copy then you might also like to know that the rights to this book are (hopefully) in the process of being sold so you should see ‘Lord of Silence’ back on the bookshelves soon.
Another author worth keeping an eye open for is M.D. Lachlan (I didn’t get a chance to find out what the ‘M’ and the ‘D’ stood for...) whose book ‘Wolfsangel’ is out early next year. I’m cool with werewolves so long as they don’t follow too many urban fantasy tropes; from what I’ve heard ‘Wolfsangel’ sounds like it will be just my kind of thing.

After having enjoyed ‘Mythago Wood’ and ‘Avilion’, one of the highlights of my evening was getting to meet Robert Holdstockand have a little chat. Finding out what went into these works brought a whole new perspective to them for me; if only I hadn’t fallen prey to an attack of ‘starstruck babble’ at precisely the wrong moment...

I wasn’t able to stay for the whole thing but had a great time while I was there. I’m already looking forward to the next one!

Thursday, 24 September 2009

‘Blood of Ambrose’ – James Enge (Pyr)

It’s getting round to that time of year where I look at the reading pile and realise that all my reading plans for the year haven’t worked out at all. The year always starts out with a whole load of ‘must reads’ but life always seems to conspire against me ever getting round to picking them up. There’s a blog post in there somewhere...
Anyway... One of these books was James Enge’s ‘Blood of Ambrose’, a book that piqued my interest and then promptly got lost in one of the piles of books that are making the study a place where you have to tread very carefully! I got there in the end though! The arrival of an advance copy of ‘This Crooked Way’ (the sequel to ‘Blood of Ambrose’) meant that I had to read ‘Blood of Ambrose’ first if I was to have any chance of understanding what was going on.
I finished ‘Blood of Ambrose’ over my lunch break and it’s one of those books where I wanted to keep reading but also put it down at the same time. There was enough there to persuade me to give ‘This Crooked Way’ a go but it was a very close thing...

The Ontilian Empire is under the rule of Lord Urdhven the ‘Protector’; King Lathmar is too young to rule (and just how did his parents die...?) and if Urdhven has his way the young King will never get any older... The only other person standing between Urdhven and the throne is Ambrosia, the King’s (very) elderly relation, and she is imprisoned on charges of witchcraft. Lathmar and Ambrosia’s only hope is Ambrosia’s brother Morlock. Here’s a man who could save the day, if his tendency to fall asleep and get drunk (not in that order) doesn’t get in the way.
There’s a kingdom to be won, and a King that must be prepared for his throne, but the true battle will come from a direction that no-one expects. What is found in the Protector’s shadow will bring the kingdom to its knees...

The first thing I noticed about ‘Blood of Ambrose’ is that the story itself is light on the world building, preferring instead to concentrate on the characters and the situations that they face. On the whole this isn’t done too badly (except for the times when... more on that in a bit) but I was left with the feeling that this could be happening anywhere; like a play performed against a blank backdrop. One of the appendices covers the geographical location of the story but I couldn’t help but think that this information would have sat better in the story itself. Whilst the story itself is enjoyable it did suffer, as far as I was concerned, from not having a background to settle itself in..

As I’ve mentioned, ‘Blood of Ambrose’ is all about the characters and anyone picking this book up is set to meet some pretty interesting people! The villains are all appropriately evil (perhaps cartoonishly so...) but what’s more interesting are the shades of grey that we see in the characters on the side of good. Morlock himself looks like he could quite easily go either way and this ambiguity makes him a fascinating character to read, he knows what he wants but his self imposed isolation from others lets him do whatever he wants in order to achieve his goals. Anything could happen... Morlock, and certain others, are on the side of good but only for reasons that just happen to coincide with the aims of the King; this makes for interesting reading as characters bounce off one another and the plot goes off in directions that you wouldn’t normally expect.

If only they would stop talking about it so much.

Because ‘Blood of Ambrose’ is light on the world building we end up spending more time in the character’s heads, not a great way to spend our time when Morlock (and Ambrosia as well but not so much) is liable to spend pages lecturing Lathmar and generally showing off about how clever he is. Other characters are also liable to take up time joking over wordplay when it’s obvious that more important stuff is happening off stage. These approaches slow the book right down, more often than not just when things are starting to speed up, reducing the pace to a crawl. These were the points when I wanted to stop reading, info dumps like these just do not work!

This was a real shame as the story itself is great when it’s allowed to flow, this was why I kept reading. The dangers faced are huge and Enge leaves his readers in no doubt as to what is at stake. Enge is also more than adept at throwing the reader straight into brilliant swashbuckling scenes of sword fighting and magic that are nothing short of superb. The final scenes, in particular, are more than worth the price of admission. I’ll definitely be reading ‘The Crooked Way’ for more of the same!

‘Blood of Ambrose’ is worth sticking with but I came away with the feeling that it didn’t need to make itself so difficult to get into. When it’s on form though, ‘Blood of Ambrose’ is an entertaining read that promises good things for ‘This Crooked Way’...

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

'Legend' - 25th Anniversary Edition Cover Art

Every now and then, something will come along that is guranteed to make me feel old... Last week it was my birthday (always makes me feel at least one year older than I did the day before...) and this week it was an early look at the new cover art for David Gemmell's 'Legend'. Has it really been twenty five years? Apparently so.

There's not an awful lot of difference between this cover and the one that I already own (mine has a brown background) but I find myself liking this one a lot more, possibly because of the lighter background and the fact that it's so simple yet powerful at the same time. 'Legend' is a book that doesn't need its cover to speak for it; the story does fine by itself. At the same time, the cover pretty much sums up Druss the Legend in that one shot of the axe... I love it.

I've already posted about the story itself so won't go into it again. Have a click Here if you fancy a read...

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

‘Avilion’ – Robert Holdstock (Gollancz)

The ‘dare’ continues... For those of you who have only just joined us, it all started off when Mark Charan Newton said that a lot more bloggers should be reviewing Robert Holdstock’s ‘Avilion’. Despite not being too impressed with ‘Celtika’ I was up for the challenge but had to go back and read ‘Mythago Wood’ first (I’d never read it before). By the time I’d finished I knew that even if I ended up hating ‘Avilion’ it would still be worth it for the fun I’d had reading ‘Mythago Wood’. Here was a book that just blew me away.
I was eager to get into ‘Avilion’ and, as with ‘Mythago Wood’, I’ve spent the last week dipping in and out of the world of Ryhope Wood and what lies beyond. As far as I was concerned, ‘Avilion’ didn’t quite match up to it’s predecessor but it was still a more than worthy read that will have me digging out the other books in this series...

Jack and Yssobel are the children of Stephen Huxley and the Mythago Guiwenneth; they’ve both had the same upbringing (living in the old Roman villa in the middle of Ryhope Wood) but their differing perspective of the world is about to take them in two totally different directions... Jack has always looked outwards to the world beyond the edge of the forest; he will travel there only to find that what he seeks will grow further away the closer he gets. Yssobel has always looked inwards towards the hidden heart of the forest itself. Her curiosity will lead her ever inwards on a journey that will become far more than just a whim. When Yssobel disappears, Jack’s outward journey takes on a new significance and a new direction. Jack must also journey inward if Yssobel is to be found...

Having established the world of Ryhope Wood, Holdstock steps away from world building to tell a story that is more centred around it’s characters and what the plot demands of them. While the plot is certainly compelling, I found myself missing the descriptions of the forest (an entity that was almost a character in its own right in ‘Mythago Wood’) and it felt like some of the ‘forest atmosphere’ was missing this time round. It’s also worth pointing out here that while ‘Avilion’ stands on it’s own, as a story, it’s more than worth reading ‘Mythago Wood’ to get a broader picture of Ryhope Wood and why certain things are taking place within it’s boundaries. ‘Avilion’s’ ability to stand on its own comes at the price of preceding events being glossed over (there’s a ‘What has gone before’ but it was never going to capture everything)...

The atmosphere of the forest may be missing (at least, it was for me) but Holdstock again gives his readers a tangible sense of the history that weighs on Ryhope Wood and beyond. Talking of ‘beyond’, Holdstock takes his readers on a journey right into myth itself and, along with the plot, this was what kept me reading. Holdstock uses figures from different legends to create a land (‘Avilion’) that has a true timeless feel to it. When I read these passages I found myself somewhere familiar yet totally alien at the same time. I wonder if this is what Holdstock intended...
While Holdstock doesn’t pay as much (if any) attention to the wood as a character this time round he makes up for it in other areas; namely ‘Legion’, the army cast adrift in time and wandering at the mercy of those who call on it. Again, there was a real sense of ‘timelessness’ in these passages that emphasised the poignancy of the soldier’s situation as well as their bloody minded determination...

It was good to come back and see recurring characters once more as well ones that I was meeting for the first time. The plot demands a lot of all of them and Holdstock makes sure that they all rise to the challenge. Everyone moves forward, both physically and emotionally, and while there was one character whose motives seemed a little unclear everyone else’s actions generally made sense. Anyone who felt that a certain character’s story was ended too easily (in ‘Mythago Wood’) may find themselves with similar complaints here. What I’d say again is that this is a book that’s more about the story itself than the people. Sometimes things do end that abruptly... The book itself ends in the only way that I think it could but the sense of things being fractured is an odd place to end things on. It’s certainly a feeling that stays with you long after you’ve finished.

‘Avilion’ is another enthralling read from Robert Holdstock’s Ryhope Wood setting although I felt that it didn’t quite go the distance in some areas. I thoroughly enjoyed it though, ‘Avilion’ has me itching to pick up more of Robert Holdstock’s work.

Nine out of Ten

Terminator All Nighter at the BFI

I've got a mind like a sieve at the moment, you would not believe the things I'm forgetting to do... I should have posted this a couple of days ago but it's still very much worth checking out if you're in London on the 3rd of October.

The 3rd of October sees an all night screening of the 'Terminator' films at the BFI IMAX. If this sounds like your kind of thing (it sounds like my kind of thing, not sure if I'll be able to do it though...) then you need to click right Here to find out more...

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

‘The Drowning City’ – Amanda Downum (Orbit)

I don’t know about you but every so often a book comes out and I know that I just have to find myself a copy. It might be the cover art, the blurb or an intriguing title that works its magic on me. In the case of ‘The Drowning City’ it was a mixture of all three. I’ve been a fan of ‘wretched hives of scum and villainy’ ever since I saw Luke Skywalker pull into Mos Eisley, for the first time, so mention of a ‘Home to exiles and expatriates, pirates and smugglers’ sounded like just my kind of thing. And just what is a ‘drowning city’ anyway? What is it drowning in? There was only one way that I was going to find out and that was to dive straight in!
There’s a lot that’s good here but, at the same time, there was also a lot that left me cold. The cover suggests that there will be more books to follow and I’ll certainly give them a go but I don’t think that I’ll be racing to pick them up with the same speed that I went for this one...

The expansionist Assari Empire has its eyes on the northern kingdom of Selafai; plans are in motion to halt this threat and necromancer Isyllt Iskaldur is the lady tasked with using her necromantic skills to this aim.
The flashpoint is the monsoon drenched city of Symir where pirates and smugglers rub shoulders with revolutionary’s intent on overthrowing Imperial rule in their city. Iskaldur has the backing to finance these groups; all she has to do is find them. Are things really that simple though when the alternative to Imperial rule is a rebel group that will go to any lengths to achieve their aims? Iskaldur has made friends in Symir and now she must choose between them and the job that she was sent to do.
Or can she do both...?

I’m a big fan of cities in fantasy literature and Downum has got it spot on with her depictions of the Asian influenced Symir and the surrounding countryside. The rain soaked streets of Symir are never anything but dangerous and the canals are even more so (I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the Nahk in future books). You can feel the tension rising on the streets and the constant humidity makes this worse. Outside the city itself is a jungle that’s full of the ghosts of Imperial injustice, these ghosts bite... Symir is a city where you need to have your wits about you even if you’re just there for a short visit. I certainly wouldn’t want to live there! If there are more books to come, in this setting, then I’m hoping for more cities that are as alive and vibrant as this one.

It’s a shame then that the rest of the story didn’t quite match up to the high expectations that the world building had inspired in me...

I had real trouble engaging with the characters in this book, possibly because any character development came across as pre-determined rather than as a result of reacting to the situations they were facing. It was almost like they were each given a role and then set on their course. As a result, I found that I was sitting back and watching them go rather than living their adventures with them. A barrier like this can really get in the way of the story and this was definitely the case here. It also robbed some particularly dramatic scenes of their potential to move the reader, if you can see it coming then it’s not such a big deal... This was a shame as, on the surface, characters such as Iskaldur, Asheris and Zhirin looked like they could be fun to get to know.

The plot was as fast moving as a storyline involving plenty of intrigue would demand and some of the ‘set piece attacks’ were spectacular, letting all the tension out in the best possible way. However, I couldn’t help but feel that I’d seen all this before. I don’t know about you but sometimes it feels like I could pull any book off my shelf and read about layers of intrigue and a mission that must be resolved. A book has to be pretty special to pull that trick off these days and ‘The Drowning City’ didn’t quite cut it. The original setting saved the book but only to a certain extent as I felt that the characters weren’t pulling their weight and carrying the plot in the way it needed...

‘The Drowning City’ ended up being a little disappointing but there was enough there to suggest that any further books could be worth a look. I’ll see how it goes...

Seven out of Ten

'Way of the Barefoot Zombie' - Youtube Videos...

I was 'half and half' over Jasper Bark's 'Way of the Barefoot Zombie' but he's made up for it, as far as I'm concerned, with some great youtube videos promoting the book. Have a click Here to watch them. All the videos made me laugh but they're probably not for the slightly squeamish (the same goes for the book)...

Have fun!

Monday, 21 September 2009

‘Mercy Thompson: Homecoming’ – Patricia Briggs, David Lawrence, Francis Tsai and Amelia Woo (Del Rey)

As much as I can’t stand certain tropes being over used in Urban Fantasy I just keep on coming back for more. When it’s done well Urban Fantasy can make for some absolutely engrossing reading; even when it’s not done so well it can still be a fun and entertaining way to pass the time. There are a few Urban Fantasy books that I make a point of reading and one of these is Patricia Briggs’ ‘Mercy Thompson’ series. Here’s a series that never fails to entertain (with a shape shifting female lead that really is more than a match for her male counterparts) and if you’re an Urban Fantasy fan I’d recommend these books wholeheartedly.
Just in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m trying to cover more comics on the blog and ‘Homecoming stood out as a way to do just that while getting my ‘Mercy Thompson’ fix at the same time. ‘Homecoming’ may be one for fans only but it’s still worth a look...

‘Homecoming’ tells the story of Mercy Thompson’s arrival in the Tri-Cities and her bid to settle down and make a life for herself. With her usual sense of great timing, Mercy has chosen to come into town just as two rival werewolf packs are getting into a turf war. She also has to find her own place in the Fae community as well as avoiding the inevitable stint flipping burgers in the local bar. Could things get any worse? Maybe...

‘Homecoming’ is the perfect ‘origins’ storyline where we see Mercy come to town and also see her meet established characters for the first time. Everything Mercy gets up to in the books (‘Moon Called’, ‘Blood Bound’, ‘Iron Kissed’ and ‘Bone Crossed’) plays out from these first meetings. You would have thought that a prequel like this would be a great place for newcomers to jump on board but I wasn’t so sure in this case. Here, the introductions come across as a nod to established fans rather than people meeting for the first time. This might just be because I’ve read the books, and met these people already, but that’s how it felt…
‘Homecoming’ is a fairly slender book and after all the groundwork laid there isn’t an awful lot of room for the story itself. What room there is though is used efficiently and the story doesn’t appear to suffer for it. The plot itself is a fairly simple affair (two werewolf packs stand off, there can be only one winner…) but this is balanced out by the sharpness of the prose and the intensity that bleeds out of the artwork…

Say whatever you like about the Dabel Brothers (who originally published this mini-series), and if you’re someone that’s still waiting for last year’s ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ calendar then you have every right to, but one thing that they do very well is match up the story with just the right artists. Francis Tsai and Amelia Woo both have the skill of being able to ratchet up the tension, and capture the sheer animal power of the werewolves, just by drawing a picture. The chase scene at the beginning just blew me away and I’ll happily admit that I forgot to breathe at certain points. I’ve a slight preference for Tsai’s artwork but it was a really close run thing.

‘Homecoming’ is definitely one for fans who are in for a treat here if they haven’t picked it up already. The artwork is gorgeous; the story is simplistic but, really, it’s all about the characters.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

'Fire' & 'Red Claw' Competitions - The Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered these competitions; 'Fire' in particular garnered a great number of entries. I'm looking forward to seeing if the book lives up to the buzz you guys have for it!
There could only be four winners though and these lucky folks were...

'Fire' - Kristin Cashore

John Morley, California

'Red Claw' - Philip Palmer

Sandro Pergameno, Italy
Bob Beaupré, Somerset, UK
Solange Thomas, London, UK

Well done everyone, your books will be on their way shortly...

Better luck next time everyone else! (There are another couple of competitions on the go, scroll down and have a look...)

Stick around in the meantime, I've got Robert Holdstock's 'Avilion' and James Enge's 'Blood of Ambrose' on the go and should hopefully have reviews up this week...

Sunday, 20 September 2009

I am Harry Markov's Evil Twin!

That's what he says anyway (well, apart from the bit about being evil)...

I was lucky enough to be interviewed for Harry's 'Reviewer Time' slot over at Temple Library Reviews. Harry asks great questions and hopefully I gave as good as I got. Have a click right Here and see how we got on...

Giveaway! 'Bite Marks' (Terence Taylor)

Further to my review of 'Bite Marks' (have a little scroll down, you'll find it!), St. Martin's Press have kindly offered up three copies of the book for you lucky people to win! The catch is that only residents of the US and Canada can enter. Sorry about that...

Are you still here? Great! All you need 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. You also need to make it clear which competition you are entering (there's another one going on right now). I'll do everything else.

I'll let this one run until the 27th of September and will announce the winners on the 28th.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Giveaway! 'Shamanslayer' (Nathan Long)

You've read my review for 'Shamanslayer', now how do you fancy winning a copy of the book? (What do you mean, you haven't read it? Scroll down the page right now!) Thanks to the good people at the Black Library I've got five copies of 'Shamanslayer' to give away. Don't worry about whether you can enter this one or not as this competition is open to everyone, it doesn't matter where you live!

What's that? You want to know how to enter? It's really simple. 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 let this one run until the 27th of September and will announce the winners on the 28th...

Good Luck!

Friday, 18 September 2009

‘Fast Ships, Black Sails’ – Edited by Ann & Jeff VanderMeer (Nightshade Books)

‘Talk like a Pirate Day’ isn’t until tomorrow but since when does a real pirate follow any rules other than his own capricious whims? Yeah... today’s review has nothing at all to do with me getting the dates mixed up. No, not at all...
‘Fast Ships, Black Sails’ is a 2008 release that sought to fill in the ‘skull and crossbones’ shaped hole where an anthology of ‘fantasy and science fiction pirate stories’ should have been. This book certainly filled in that hole but what did it fill it with...? I’d already found the place where X marked the spot; it was time to get digging and see what treasure I could find. There were plenty of doubloons to be found but also a couple of smelly old boots at the same time...

The VanderMeer’s set out to show their readers that while there is plenty of fun to be had with the typical pirate stereotype (black beard, parrot on one shoulder etc) there is also a lot more fun to be had with the kinds of pirate that you wouldn’t normally expect to find at all. I wasn’t entirely sure what the overall point of Katherine Sparrow’s ‘Pirate Solutions’ was but what it did show was that software pirates can make their way across the seven seas just as easily as regular pirates can. Were they on the seas though or were they sailing the internet itself? I don’t know... Maybe a re-read will help there.
Pirates don’t necessarily even have to be human as Rachel Swirsky show’s in ‘The Adventures of Captain Blackheart Wentworth’, a story that ended up becoming one of my favourites. Two rats take to a life of crime on the high seas (or at the very least, a large stream) and stray into Edward Lear territory when they meet a shipwrecked cat. Maybe it’s because I’ve kept rats in the past but the sight of these two black hearted villains taking on a world much bigger than them never failed to make me smile and Sully’s burgeoning romance with the cat was so unlikely that I had to see how it all panned out.
Another favourite was Rhys Hughes’ ‘Castor on Troubled Waters’ where, in the best traditions of cheating pirates everywhere, a Welshman comes up with a novel way of getting out of paying his friends their winnings from a game of cards. What I love about this story is the way that our ‘hero’ tells it all with a totally straight face; his story is outlandish but this is a collection of fantasy tales so it’s almost like you’re expecting something like this anyway. It’s only right at the end when everything fits together (almost perfectly) and the punch line is delivered that you realise that you’ve been taken in just as much as Jenkins’ friends were. Not many stories make me laugh out loud but this one did.

The rest of the book is divided up along more traditional lines; namely space pirates and our very own pirates of the last three or four hundred years (don’t let this fool you though; there is still plenty of room for magic and fantasy in these tales). There are also a couple of straight fantasy tales; I’d never read anything by Carrie Vaughn before (says Graeme, frantically trying to remember if Vaughn has contributed to the latest Wild Cards collections...) and if ‘The Nymph’s Child’ is anything to go by I’ll be picking up more of her work. I love a fantasy tale with a spin and Vaughn’s tale introduces us to a dragon that doesn’t behave in quite the way you would expect... Garth Nix’ tale (‘Beyond the Sea Gate of the Scholar-Pirates of Sarskoe’) was also well worth the entry price and Kage Baker’s ‘I Begyn as I Mean To Go On’ didn’t disappoint either.

There wasn’t a single ‘fantasy pirate tale’ that I didn’t enjoy, in one way or another, but I did find that most of the science fiction tales didn’t really work for me. I’ll admit that part of this is down to personal preference (Fantasy or Sci-Fi? Always fantasy!) but it felt like a number of the sci-fi pieces came across as being isolated incidents to the point of being incomplete. Moorcock’s ‘Ironface’ tells you straight out that it’s a vignette so I wasn’t expecting much in terms of depth but it felt like all it was there for was to show off another part of the multi-verse with a little name dropping on the side. This would have worked better in a collection of Moorcock’s own work, maybe a tale of Elric’s freebooting days would have been better here?
Both ‘The Whale Below’ and ‘Pirates of the Suara Sea’ felt similarly disjointed, like a random chapter of a book rather than a complete story. ‘Boojum’ (Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette) was superb though, just how it should be done.

I found ‘Fast Ships, Black Sails’ to be a mixed bag but the treasures that it threw up made reading through the rest a more than worthwhile experience. Is there any chance of a sequel anthology?

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

From My Bookshelf... ‘Dead City’ – Joe McKinney

This one is for Thea, over at the Book Smugglers who said nice things about the blog a couple of days ago! :o) Actually, this was one that I’d been planning on posting about ever since I read a zombie fiction discussion thread over at the Westeros board. The recommendations for good zombie fiction were flying around and I threw ‘Dead City’ into the mix. Then it struck me that it had been a while since I’d picked this one up and it was about due a re-read...

The Texas Gulf Coast has been battered by five hurricanes in just three weeks. The death toll is mounting but the survivors have far more to worry about as they sift through the wreckage. A virus has broken out. The living are safe from this, all they have to worry about are the dead that the virus is somehow bringing back to life.
San Antonio police officer Eddie Hudson is on shift when the city falls to an undead horde intent on getting its fill of human flesh. All Eddie wants to do now is make it home to his wife and son but this one simple aim will involve a battle like none he has ever faced before. It’s a whole new world out there and Eddie is about to discover, at first hand, just what it will take to survive in it...

While other zombie books, that I’ve read (and I haven’t read them all, yet!), deal with humanity’s attempts to survive in an already broken world, ‘Dead City’ pitches the reader right in at the start of it all as things kick off for the first time. The zombies are relentless in their advance and everyone else has been caught totally unprepared. No-one knows what is going on, only that something is very wrong. At the same time though, nothing is set in stone. There’s carnage on the streets but it’s still early enough in the day that our heroes could turn everything around. Anything could happen and this makes for a delicious blend of tension that drives the plot forward.

The reader sees the gradual collapse of San Antonio through Eddie Hudson’s eyes and I think that McKinney made a good choice in this respect. Eddie is there right at the very beginning as a simple public disturbance call becomes a lot more. Through Eddie, we witness the first stand off between armed police and zombies and the massacre that ensues. Eddie’s journey through San Antonio also serves to give the reader a panoramic view of the devastation and introduce us to the other players in this drama. Our hero is a single minded and obsessed character but some situations demand this mindset so we can forgive Eddie for focussing on his aims to the exclusion of everything else. It’s a shame then that McKinney chickens out with the ending, opting to play it safe instead of explore what Eddie’s reaction would be if the worst case scenario came to pass. Having said that though, maybe Eddie has already seen too much (and he does see a lot go down!) and can be excused the ultimate test of nerve...

‘Dead City’ also takes time out from its ‘zombie dodging’ exploits to ask some interesting questions (along with the regular ‘Would you shoot your father if he was a zombie?’ stuff that you would expect to find). The big one is whether the virus kills its subjects at all and what people should do with the zombies until an answer is found. This question is quite rightly left open ended (this vagueness is important concerning how the book ends) but other questions leave the reader hanging when perhaps some kind of conclusion would have tied things off satisfactorily. The plot doesn’t stop for anyone (there’s no time to hang around!) but things like why the zombies are herding together was an interesting point that I wanted to see a little more of.

Despite these niggles though, ‘Dead City’ does its job very well. I’ll admit to some bias here (anything with zombies in it is a winner as far as I’m concerned!) but the bottom line is that if you’re a zombie fan then you could do a lot worse than pick this one up.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Do you have a question for Peter F. Hamilton?

If you do then now is a great time to ask it! Pan Macmillan will be conducting a video interview with Peter, next Thursday, and are asking if anyone has any questions that they would like Pan Macmillan to ask on their behalf. This interview is to mark the release of 'The Temporal Void', in paperback, but you can ask him pretty much anything you like about his work to date.

If you do have any questions then you need to send them to , if your question does get picked then you'll be credited with having asked...

I'll see what I can do about getting a link to the video once it goes live...

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

‘Bite Marks: A Vampire Testament’ – Terence Taylor (St. Martin’s Press)

What is your favourite vampire story? For a long time I would have gone for ‘Dracula’ as my choice but then I read Robert McCammon’s ‘They Thirst’ and everything changed. While I wouldn’t say that ‘They Thirst’ is the best written tale, this story of vampires slowly infiltrating (and taking over) Los Angeles is relentlessly intense and has stayed under my skin ever since. Thinking about it, the whole ‘vampires in a modern day urban setting’ thing may have been what persuaded me to give Urban Fantasy a go.
Whatever it is, when I saw Terence Taylor’s story of vampires living in New York I thought of ‘They Thirst’ straight away and knew that I had to give it a go. I’m glad I did, despite a couple of things that bugged me (one of them incredibly so...) ‘Bite Marks’ is an entertaining tale that I would probably go back and re-read. I’m hoping that some of the loose ends hint at a sequel...

Eternal life leaves a vampire with a lot of time to kill; while all vampires kill to feed others look on it as a kind of hobby. One such vampire’s hobby could very well reveal the hidden existence of vampires in New York... A vampire kills a teenage runaway and then makes her feed on her own child. Before she dies though, she brings the child back to life. Now there’s an undead infant toddling around the streets of Manhattan, something all vampires want dealt with if their own lives are to remain a secret. Steve and Lori aren’t vampires; they’re just working on a book about them. When they discover a lead that introduces them to the hidden vampires on the streets... well, things are about to get interesting to say the least. The city is primed to explode and it’s only going to take a small spark to set the whole thing off...

‘Bite Marks’ is one of the most readable books I have ever come across. I started reading and the next thing I knew I was a hundred pages in. Where had the time gone? Terence Taylor achieves this through a mix of interesting concepts, scary moments and characters where you want to invest your time in finding out what happens to them next. The dynamic of Steve and Lori’s relationship is one that could easily happen to anyone and Taylor makes them both likeable enough (as people) that the resolution of their relationship becomes as important as the fact that the vampire crisis is beginning to boil over.

Thanks to Urban Fantasy, every major American city has a group of vampires sucking on an artery or two; Taylor keeps things fresh, in this respect, by setting ‘Bite Marks’ in the middle of the eighties and sending things off on a tangent as a result of the AIDS virus beginning to make itself known. Taylor’s vampires are as much at risk as anyone else, perhaps even more so, and the book surprises you with its conclusions. The plot surrounding the vampire baby is handled well, as far as I’m concerned, with it made clear just how important finding this baby is (both in terms of the vampire community as a whole and for the vampire who kicked off the whole mess). The tension is manipulated very well and Taylor also isn’t afraid to get down and dirty at the same time, showing his readers the more visceral side of vampire life. I also particularly liked the way that Taylor used the plot to introduce his readers to the vampire community and its structure. It’s all done very gradually (although there’s maybe a little too much of it) but before you know what’s going on, you have a lot more background knowledge than you thought and you’re waiting to see if the lie at the heart of vampire life will be exposed...

I did wonder at times if Taylor was trying to pack too much into too small a space with the introductory pieces sometimes swamping the story itself. This could be fine if the book is the first in a series (and there’s a flow from book to book) but this approach did leave things feeling disjointed in the meantime. I was also left thinking ‘what the...’ when it transpired that Lori had been able to research the vampire villains methods (even though vampires are meant to be a secret and she had only just found out about him) just in time to foil his attack on her...

Despite this though, ‘Bite Marks’ is an engaging and entertaining page turner that had me hooked. Definitely one for vampire fans.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

‘Burn Me Deadly’ – Alex Bledsoe (Tor)

I don’t know about you but one of the best feelings in the world (at least, as far as reading is concerned) is the one you get when you pick up a book, for the first time, and by the time you’ve finished you just know that you that you’re in for the long haul, no matter how long that is.
This is exactly the feeling I had when I picked up Alex Bledsoe’s ‘The Sword Edged Blonde’ way back in July. You may think that a hard-bitten ‘sword for hire’/detective is nothing new but I think you’ll change your mind once you’ve read Bledsoe’s storming debut. Anyway... After finishing ‘The Sword Edged Blonde’ I didn’t want to be caught napping again (it took me almost two years to get round to reading the book) and resolved to get hold of the sequel as soon as possible. Even then, it’s taken me longer than I though to finally get around to reading it. ‘Burn Me Deadly’ was well worth the wait though, as far as I’m concerned it’s even better than the first one...

Life has a habit of throwing surprises at private investigator Eddie LaCrosse, up to (and including) having half naked ladies run out in front of his horse in the dead of night. This wouldn’t be a bad surprise for some but it’s about to be followed by a couple of nasty ones. The next thing Eddie knows, he’s at the bottom of a cliff with the now dead woman and having to move sharpish to avoid his falling horse.
Who killed Laura Lesperitt and why? Eddie’s promise of protection didn’t get her very far so he feels duty bound to track down her killers. In the middle of crime bosses and royal scandals, it’s the arrival of a backwoods dragon cult that will turn Eddie’s world upside down...

‘Burn Me Deadly’ is a book that you can just pick up and read, even if you haven’t already read ‘The Sword Edged Blonde’. The plot is very self-contained with enough explanatory passages to give the first time reader a thorough grounding without being overwhelming. It’s worth picking up the ‘Sword Edged Blonde’ though, just to get a broader picture of how Eddie develops as a character and the impact of this on the plot. While ‘Sword Edged Blonde’ was more of a fun filled romp, ‘Burn Me Deadly’ is a darker affair that examines Eddie’s demons in a little more depth.

The reader is treated to more of the darkness that resides in Eddie LaCrosse, a darkness that was only hinted at in the last book. Here is a man who isn’t above dropping people off cliffs himself and will torture people to find what he is after. However, Eddie has a code of honour that he will always adhere to and this is what sets him apart from those he is after. Even if it is just a case of honouring his dead horse, Eddie really believes that he is doing the right thing and what he is prepared to do in pursuit of this adds another level of intensity to the plot. Just when you think you’ve got him pegged, Eddie will always surprise you!

The plot itself is very much the same as ‘Sword Edged Blonde’ as far as ‘grizzled private eye tackles a case’ goes. I guess there are only so many places you can take a plot like this. Bledsoe makes up for this though by upping the ante on pretty much everything else. The villains are more devious, the fights more brutal and the underlying mystery even trickier to negotiate let alone solve! This time round it’s also clear that no-one can be trusted and that means everyone. Bledsoe takes the opportunity to plant loads of red herrings which makes for a plot that constantly has its readers on their toes and gives you plenty to think about. The way it all ties together at the end is masterfully done.

If I had one complaint it would be that, again (something I found in ‘The Sword Edged Blonde’), the balance between ‘fantasy’ and ‘hard boiled detective fiction’ is skewed to the detriment of the fantasy setting the book has a backdrop. A horse is a horse (not a car) but Bledsoe’s horses are very much 1950’s American Sedans and this made for some odd reading at times. You would push a car over a cliff but would you do the same to a horse when all you had to do was sell the saddle etc? I also got that ‘why are American detectives and cops waving swords at each other?’ feeling again.

It’s all part of the charm though (if you’ve read the first book then you will know what to expect) and it’s only really a small niggle when the end result is a book that I found to be compulsive reading. Like I said, I’m in for the long haul.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Monday, 14 September 2009

Graeme's Weekly Comics Post...

Or, as I should have called this post, ‘Just because you’re in a comic shop it doesn’t mean that you have to buy comics...’ There wasn’t a lot on the shelves that caught my eye this time round so I grabbed one that I was after, along with another that caught my eye, and went off to the Mike Carey signing...
Two comics then; one that turned out well and another that... wasn’t so great...

‘Dead Space: Extraction’ – Antony Johnston/Ben Templesmith (Image)

When you’re only just getting back into comics the words ‘One Shot’ on a cover means that you can pick it up for a quick taste and not have to worry about catching up on a series or anything like that. Those magic words convinced me to give this one a try.
On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with this ‘Dead Space’ video game tie-in. Templesmith’s artwork is really gloomy and sinister (just right for a haunted space station!) and Johnston does a good job telling the story of a doctor who has found herself on the wrong assignment at the wrong time.
However, the further along I went with the story the more it became apparent that you really needed to have a working knowledge of the game setting itself to get the most out of this comic. There’s a lot of stuff going on where it’s taken for granted that you’ll know that back story already, this may be one purely for fans of the game.
I also wasn’t too sure about the direction the story was taking. There were three characters (whom I suspect will appear prominently in the game) that it made a lot more sense to follow than our friend the doctor...
‘Dead Space: Extraction’ was suitably atmospheric but ultimately disappointing...

‘Olympus #4’ – Edmondson/Ward (Image)

Regular readers will know that I’ve been following this mini-series (Superheroes of Ancient Greece? I think so) since it’s beginning; now it’s time for the endgame. Castor and Pollux have grasped the full scope of Tantalus’ madness and what he is prepared to do in unleashing his rage. There’s only one way to stop him and that involves a trip into the underworld...
After everything I’ve been saying about Christian Ward’s art, he saves the best until last... Not only is the artwork as great as ever (in terms of content) but it feels a little tidier this time round, I could actually work out what was really happening!
Edmondson ties everything superbly, bringing back a character (whom we’ve only met briefly) to help deliver the final coup de grace. I love it when things like this happen, it just tightens everything up and makes it more streamlined. There is scope for Castor and Pollux to return though and I hope they do; I’ve had a lot of fun with this series so far...

'Prospero Lost' Competition - The Winners!

Thanks to everyone who emailed to enter this competition; the vagaries of fate whittled an impressive list down to three winners who were...

Sharry Cee, British Columbia, Canada
Rick Pasley, Oregon, US
Shane O'Neil, Texas, US

Well done and happy reading! Books will be heading your way shortly :o)

Better luck next time everyone else...

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Giveaway! 'Red Claw' (Philip Palmer)

I haven't started this one yet, simply because I keep going back to the front cover and marvelling at how awesome it is :o) The blurb isn't bad either...

Professor Richard Helms heads up a tight-knit band of scientists and soldiers sent to explore New Amazon, a lush but savage planet seemingly determined to attack them at every turn. When they are done cataloguing every detail of this vast, unfamiliar ecosystem, they will burn it to the ground and make it fit for human habitation. But when the team falls under attack, Helms and his followers are forced to flee into the depths of the jungle. Here, old enemies and petty rivalries surface as they struggle to survive. They soon end up fighting for their lives - against the planet they are exploring, the robots designed to protect them and, most of all, against each other.

Sounds good doesn't it? How do you fancy trying your luck at winning a copy? Thanks to Orbit, I have three copies of 'Red Claw' to give away (only if you're in the UK or Europe though, sorry everyone else...) to three lucky winners.
Entering is as easy as ever, simply 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. You also need to make it clear what competition you are entering! I'll do the rest.

I'll be letting this one run until the 20th of September and will anounce the winners on the 21st.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Giveaway! 'Fire' (Kristin Cashore)

Thanks to Dial Publishing, I have an Advance Copy of Kristin Cashore's 'Fire' to give away to one lucky reader. Here's the blurb if you haven't seen it already...

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...

Does this sound like your kind of thing? Do you live in the US or Canada? (This competition is US/Canada only but I do have something cool coming up for people in the UK or Europe...) If you answered yes to both of these questions then all you need to do next is drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your email address is. I'll do everything else :o)

I'll be letting this one run until September 20th and will announce the winner on the 21st.

Good luck!

Friday, 11 September 2009

‘Shamanslayer’ – Nathan Long (Black Library)

Until now, I’ve only picked up one ‘Gotrek and Felix’ novel and I have to say that I wasn’t impressed at the time (a few years ago now). ‘Trollslayer’ is a collection of tales, which I think were taken from the pages of ‘White Dwarf’ magazine back in the nineteen eighties, that worked well on their own but came across as a little too repetitive in tone when lumped together. I don’t mind re-reading stuff but only when it’s the same book; not the same story over and over again in the same book!
As a result, I’ve stayed away from ‘Gotrek and Felix’. Until now that is. Rumours of a wider ranging storyline and the promise of a new author to check out (Nathan Long is the writer in residence now, it used to be William King) prompted me to give one of the Black Library’s most iconic duos another go. I’m glad I did. ‘Shamanslayer’ may not be highbrow stuff but what it lacks in this department is more than made up for by a hefty dose of good old fashioned fun.

If you haven’t read any of the ‘Gotrek and Felix’ novels then don’t feel too wary about jumping in right here as the structure of the novel means that you will be up to speed before you know it. All you really need to know is that Gotrek Gurnisson is a ‘Trollslayer’, a dwarf who has sworn to die a heroic death in atonement for a great shame. Gotrek isn’t very good at being a Trollslayer though; nothing has killed him yet... Felix Jaeger is the poor sap who drunkenly swore an oath to follow Gotrek and chronicle his deeds some twenty years ago. They’re firm friends now, despite Gotrek’s quest constantly casting a grim shadow over them.

‘Shamanslayer’ sees the pair on a mission to the north to seek out the surviving members of the Order of the Fiery Heart. What they will find though is far more than just the remnants of the Order. Beastmen are on the march and in such numbers that an Empire already weakened by war will not be able to withstand their dark magic. Gotrek and Felix are all that stands between the free peoples of the Old World and the encroaching darkness, just how Gotrek likes it...

If you’re finding that your fantasy reading is getting a little too self absorbed, philosophical or just plain verbose then ‘Shamanslayer’ could be the perfect antidote. What you’re getting for your money here is a good slice of ‘hack and slash’ sword and sorcery. ‘Shamanslayer’ knows exactly what it is and doesn’t care; here’s a book that’s only interested in telling you a story that races along, punctuated by the clash of swords and the hum of dark magic.
The plot itself is decidedly simple, perhaps a little too simple and linear (although it was just what I was looking for after a long day at work). Gotrek and Felix have a goal to aim at and hundreds of assorted monsters and villains to fight their way through to get to it. That’s it.

On the whole, this worked for me although I did find myself looking for a little more from the plot on occasion. The plot is simplistic but this allows Long to concentrate on other areas which bulk ‘Shamanslayer’ out and make it something that I was able to get totally lost in. Chief among these is the relationship between Gotrek and Felix; these two have travelled together for twenty years now and their depth of their friendship shows not just in what is said but also in what is left unsaid. Long term fans are about to see this relationship change, perhaps irrevocably. I’m a relative newcomer but what’s on show here has already got me wondering how things will pan out. I’ll just have to make sure I’m around to see what transpires.
Long’s depiction of an Empire recovering from a bitter war is also bang on the money. Here is an author determined not to leave any stone unturned in his vision, war may be hell but it’s also a reality that needs to be shown. The aftermath of a hero’s work can be just the same as that of the villain...

Any sword and sorcery novel needs to be big on spectacle and Long does not disappoint; giving us the full range of pub brawls, skirmishes and full on warfare between opposing armies. Gotrek’s apparent invincibility can be a little wearing (as well as robbing certain confrontations of their tension) but the fight scenes more than make up for this. Every blow and sword stroke is guaranteed to make you wince and the mixture of high stakes and epic confrontations keeps the pages turning nicely.

‘Shamanslayer’ is a lightweight read but I found that I didn’t really care because it was so much fun. I’ll be back for more.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Thursday, 10 September 2009

‘Mythago Wood’ – Robert Holdstock (Gollancz)

It wasn’t so long ago that Mark Charan Newton wrote a post heaping shame on bloggers who hadn’t covered Robert Holdstock’s ‘Avilion’ and exhorting them to give the book a go post haste. I was one of those bloggers and while there’s nothing I like more than a challenge for the blog (which reminds me, I really need to find myself a copy of ‘Troll 2’ on DVD...) there was just one small problem. ‘Avilion’ is the sequel to ‘Mythago Wood’, another book by Robert Holdstock that I hadn’t read. It turned out that this wasn’t so much of a big problem, more of an excuse to get my hands on another book! I’ve been in and out of ‘Mythago Wood’ for about the last week and there were times when I really didn’t want to leave. I can fully understand why this book won the World Fantasy Award...

There’s something in Ryhope Wood; something that led Stephen Huxley’s father to an early grave and holds his brother Christian in thrall, soon the Wood will take Stephen as well...
Ryhope Wood is much more than just a three mile square area of woodland on the Ryhope Estate; penetrating the dense layer of forest will lead to a land outside time itself. Stephen will also find that he is not alone as mythic archetypes take on their own life here. There is love and beauty to be found in Ryhope Wood but also great terror, will Stephen make it out of the Wood once he steps inside...?

‘Mythago Wood’ is one of those deceptively slim books (a slender two hundred and ninety six pages) that have a habit of luring me in with the promise of a quick read. The next thing I know, it’s over a week later and I still haven’t finished. Robert Holdstock’s writing reminded me of the making of a sword, layer upon layer of story folded in on itself until what the reader is left with is something sharp enough to cut you right to the core. I can’t get this book out of my head; ‘Mythago Wood’ may even get me to try Holdstock’s ‘Celtika’ again, a book that didn't work for me...

‘Mythago Wood’ is part mystery and part ghost story. Ryhope Wood is a brooding entity that looms large over Oak Lodge and there is an obvious mystery at its heart which manifests in the haunting that Stephen suffers. Holdstock is happy to let things drag out for months at a time, skilfully racking up the tension so that you don’t even notice the passing of time. When the payoff comes it’s understated in such a way that you feel its force through Stephen’s inability to fully comprehend what is happening. Holdstock is also very good at supplying the reader with those moments where Stephen knows that someone has either been in the house... or is still there... There’s a creeping tension to be found here and Holdstock is happy either to hit you with something big or just let the tension drain away. It’s the intensity of the emotion that’s the important thing here and Holdstock certainly hits the mark.

‘Mythago Wood’ is a lot more than just a ghost story however; what we have here is a journey back into pre-history (via that reliable fantasy archetype, the forest) showing us how myths form and perpetuate throughout time. I found that having the book start in the present day (or close enough to it, the book is set just after World War Two), and work backwards, worked for me as I began with the finished concept (the myth of Guiwenneth) and was able to see how it came together rather than take the pieces and have to put them together. The constant reinforcement of the concept really drove it home for me and there were plenty of other things to think about at the same time (how Stephen’s actions in the ‘past’ shaped the myths of the ‘future’ for example).

If this wasn’t enough, the plot played out against some of the loveliest forest scenery that I have ever read. I’ve always been a fan of forests (both as a fantasy setting and in real life) and I could almost feel myself walking through Ryhope Wood. ‘Vivid’ is the word to use when looking to describe Holdstock’s vision; a fey setting where myths taking human form is not that unusual at all.

I’m glad I finally took the time to give ‘Mythago Wood’ a go, it’s a journey unlike any other. While I’m sad that it’s over (until the re-read) I know that I’ll be picking up ‘Avilion’ sooner rather than later.

Ten out of Ten

David Anthony Durham - Live Chat on Suvudu next week...

Here's a little heads up for fans of 'Acacia' (if you haven't read it yet then you really should...) David Anthony Durham will be having a chat on Suvudu on September 15th at 7pm EDT. By one of those strange quirks of fate (that isn't actually a quirk of fate at all), September 15th is the day that Durham's 'The Other Lands' is released so you get to read the book and ask all the questions you have at the same time :o)

I'll hopefully be all signed up for this (I'm looking forward to reading 'The Other Lands' as 'Acacia' was a fine read). For more information about this event, do yourself a favour and click right Here.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

‘Death Got No Mercy’ – Al Ewing (Abaddon Books)

As a rule, I’m not normally the kind of person who picks up a book based on the cover alone. At the very least I’ll have a look at the blurb or maybe see what people are saying on-line. Every so often though there’s an exception to the rule, the artwork may not be great but there will be something about the cover which tells me that this is a book I have to read. Like ‘Death Got No Mercy’ for example.
Just look at that cover. Is there anything that’s cooler than a guy taking on a grizzly bear with only his bare fists, a ‘hard as nails haircut’ and a truck load of attitude? I don’t think there is either and that was the reason I had to pick this one up and give it a go. I mean, come on! It’s a guy fighting a bear! (Did I say that already? I don’t care, it’s brilliant!)
It turned out that the high I got from the cover didn’t last through the whole book but I still had a great time reading it...

Cade is a man who you wouldn’t even dare go near in a pub, let alone spill his drink! He’s certainly not going to let anything like the aftermath of an apocalyptic virus get in the way of his daily routine. When one of his companions (Cade doesn’t have friends) runs out of insulin the only option is a trip down to San Francisco, to pick up some more, and the only man who can make that trip is Cade himself. No-one else has ever returned. Cade may not be ready for what lies inside the city limits but the religious fundamentalists, cannibal cults and psychotic hippies certainly weren’t counting on someone like Cade coming to visit...

Al Ewing’s ‘I, Zombie’ was one of the more visceral stories that I’ve read and I thought that reading this would have been ample preparation for ‘Death Got No Mercy’. While Ewing takes the same approach in his latest book, I still wasn’t quite ready for Cade’s one man wave of destruction across a major city and what he leaves behind him. Like death itself, ‘Death Got No Mercy’ is brutal and gets right in your face with it’s depictions of life in the aftermath of ‘The Cull’ (a virus that has killed nine out of every ten people) and what the survivors are prepared to do in order to carry on surviving. This is a book that has no mercy whatsoever, in terms of it’s reader’s sensibilities, and is the better for it. I’d go so far in fact as to say that this is probably the best chapter of the ‘Afterblight Chronicles’, so far, as Ewing pulls no punches in telling us how it really is.

‘Death Got No Mercy’ runs on a plot that starts out compelling and becomes even more so as the stakes are raised for Cade. Things do veer off into cartoonish territory as Cade is built up to be practically invincible and the moments of spectacle intensify accordingly. While this makes for some exciting moments some of the tension is lost as it becomes clear that Cade will always make it through (although I wasn’t sure what would happen when he fought the bear...) Ewing sidesteps this small issue by showing us the more devious side of Cade’s nature (he’s not all about using his fists and will set people against each other) as well as showing us some of the events that have made Cade the man he. Ewing asks the question of whether a person can be born a killer, or if their life moulds them into one, and doesn’t give an opinion at all. Cade is who he is and it’s up to the reader to answer the question themselves. I liked the way this was left open ended as the result was that the question didn’t overshadow the story itself.

It was a real shame then, for me, that ‘Death Got No Mercy’ really fell down when it got all existential and had Cade ‘meet his maker’ partway through. Not only did this really interrupt the flow of the book but it didn’t have much bearing on the plot itself. I was also left wondering why Ewing went to all the trouble of drawing such a believable world only to pull it all down like that and show the reader what lies behind it. Maybe a re-read would shed a little more light on it (and this is certainly a book I’ll be going back to) but it didn’t make a lot of sense this time round...

Despite these niggles, I’m still standing by ‘Death Got No Mercy’ being the best thing to come out of the ‘Afterblight Chronicles’ so far. Fans of the series are in for a treat. If you’re after a short sharp dose of post-apocalyptic fiction then you could do a lot worse than pick this up.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten