Tuesday, 31 August 2010

I'm Back!

What, you didn't realise that I'd gone...? Didn't the unusual number of competitions give you a little hint? Oh well...

Yep, I'm back after a lovely week's holiday in Plymouth with the in-laws. Most relaxing :o) Now all I have to do is go back to work and see what waits for me there...
I didn't really want to come back but there was a pile of book parcels that sweetened the deal. Here's what was inside them all...

Three of these books will definitely be read. Two of them might be read. One of them won't be read at all. Which ones are which...? ;o)

Oh well, back to it! Expect to see a few more reviews this week than you did last week...

Monday, 30 August 2010

Giveaway! 'The Last Page' - Anthony Huso

Another one that's sat in the reading pile and I'm planning on getting to as soon as I can! Looks like it could be my thing though, here's the blurb...

The city of Isca is set like a dark jewel in the crown of the Duchy of Stonehold. In this sprawling landscape, the monsters one sees are nothing compared to what’s living in the city’s sewers.

Twenty-three-year-old Caliph Howl is Stonehold’s reluctant High King. Thrust onto the throne, Caliph has inherited Stonehold’s dirtiest court secrets. He also faces a brewing civil war that he is unprepared to fight. After months alone amid a swirl of gossip and political machinations, the sudden reappearance of his old lover, Sena, is a welcome bit of relief. But Sena has her own legacy to claim: she has been trained from birth by the Shradnae witchocracy—adept in espionage and the art of magical equations writ in blood—and she has been sent to spy on the High King.

Yet there are magics that demand a higher price than blood. Sena secretly plots to unlock the Cisrym Ta, an arcane text whose pages contain the power to destroy worlds. The key to opening the book lies in Caliph’s veins, forcing Sena to decide if her obsession for power is greater than her love for Caliph.

Meanwhile, a fleet of airships creeps ever closer to Isca. As the final battle in a devastating civil war looms and the last page of the Cisrym Ta waits to be read, Caliph and Sena must face the deadly consequences of their decisions. And the blood of these conflicts will stain this and other worlds forever.

Thanks to Tor, I have two copies of 'The Last Page' to give away on the blog. I'm afriad that you can only enter though if you're living in the US. Sorry about that everyone else...

To enter, 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 postal address is). Your subject header (should you choose to enter) will be 'The Last Page'.

I’m leaving this one open until Sunday the 5th of September and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Giveaway! ‘Love Bites’ (Adrienne Barbeau)

If you read Adrienne Barbeau’s ‘Vampyres of Hollywood’ then you might just be waiting to pick up the sequel. If you are then it’s your lucky day as I have two copies of ‘Love Bites’ to give away on the blog. If you’re not living in the US or Canada then this competition isn’t for you I’m afraid. US & Canadian entries only here...

Here’s the blurb,

Picking up where VAMPYRES OF HOLLYWOOD left off, LOVE BITES brings back the unlikely duo of Beverly Hills detective Peter King and Scream Queen Ovsanna Moore, the famous Hollywood actress and producer who just happens to be a 450-year-old vampyre.

It's only two weeks since Peter and Ovsanna faced off with the Cinema Slayer, and already life is getting complicated.

First there’s the werewolf attack. Then a mutilated body at the Sportsmen’s Lodge turns up. Not to mention the fact that several of Ovsanna’s clan members, including Orson Welles and Mary Pickford, are vying for attention. All of this makes it hard for Peter and Ovsanna to get together. And it doesn’t help that Ovsanna’s personal assistant and sometimes lover, Maral, will do anything to get Peter out of the picture.

Peter and Ovsanna have to fight for their relationship and their lives. Ovsanna enlists her clan, the Vampyres of Hollywood, to help battle a menagerie of supernatural beasts straight out of Alien vs. Predator. This isn’t a box-office ratings war, it’s a fight to the death.

I liked ‘Alien vs. Predator’ (I may be the only person who did though...) so mention of this might just balance out what could be your typical Urban Fantasy fare. If a review copy comes my way then I might just be tempted to give it a go...

In the meantime, if you fancy your chances at winning a copy of ‘Love Bites’ just drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is; the subject header needs to be ‘Love Bites’.

I’m leaving this one open until Sunday the 5th of September and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Giveaway! ‘Plague of the Dead’ (Z.A. Recht)

Thanks to Simon & Schuster, I have three copies of Z.A. Recht’s ‘Plague of the Dead’ to give away on the blog. Now is the time when I’d normally give you all some blurbage but I reviewed this one fairly recently so you can have a link to the post instead :o)

Good isn’t it? The only small fly in the ointment is that this competition is only open to people living in the UK, sorry about that everyone else...

If you’re still with us then entering is simple. All you have to do is drop me an email telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header on your email will be ‘I want to catch the plague!’ :o)

I’m leaving this one open until Sunday the 5th of September and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 27 August 2010

The 'Yep, Late Again...' Competition Winner's Post!

I've stopped pretending that these posts will go up at any particular time, life laughs in my face if I even think about trying to be punctual! This week's excuses include a wedding, a baby in a bad mood and my trying to get ahead of myself in terms of reading books for the blog (which will explain why there hasn't been much in the way of reviews this week, just wait until next week...)

So, last week's competitions and the people who won them! Thanks to everyone who entered by the way :o) There could only be a certain number of winners though and they were...

'The Reapers are the Angels' - Alden Bell

Michael L. Martin, Baltimore, US

'The Evolutionary Void' - Peter F. Hamilton

Joseph Gervasi, Philadelphia, US
Robert Nickerson, California, US
Simeon Tsanev, Indiana, US

Well done everyone, your books are on their way! Better luck next time everyone else. I've gone a little mad with competitions (normal service to resume shortly) this week so there will be other chances to win... ;o)

Signing Events at Forbidden Planet...

A couple for your diary if you're in the area...

Wednesday 6th October 6 – 7pm

Forbidden Planet is pleased to announce a signing by top Hollywood director Guillermo del Toro. He will be signing his new novel The Fall at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR, on Wednesday 6th October 6 – 7pm.

In this fantastic sequel to The Strain, humans have been displaced at the top of the food chain, and now understand what it is to be not the consumer, but the consumed. Ephraim Goodweather, director of the New York office of the Centers for Disease control, is one of the few humans who understands what is really happening. Vampires have arrived in New York City, and their condition is contagious. If they cannot be contained, the entire world is at risk of infection. As the Biblical origins of the Ancient ones are gradually revealed, Eph learns that there is a greater, more terrible plan in store for the human race – worse even than annihilation…

There's nothing like a press release to remind me that the book itself is propping up several others from the bottom of a pile in my bedroom! I'll have to see about that...

Diary Date: Thursday 16th September 6 – 7pm

Forbidden Planet is pleased to announce a signing by Pat Mills and Clint Langley. They will be signing ABC Warriors: The Volgan War Volume 3 at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR, on Thursday 16th September 6 – 7pm

The countdown to Zippo’s execution has started! Only the ABC Warriors can stop their comrade from being melted down by the ruthless G Men. If that wasn’t bad enough, the Warriors are also set to be betrayed by another member willing to follow Volkhan and his destructive cause. And just who is the mysterious resistance figure known as the ‘Urban Fox’?

Pat Mills is one of the founding fathers of 2000AD and one of the most respected comic book writers around. He’s created some of the longest-running characters for the title such as Slaine, ABC Warriors and Nemesis The Warlock. His other work includes writing and developing Judge Dredd and Charley’s War.

Clint Langley started his career in the 90’s. His images can be seen worldwide in comics, on novel covers and in the conceptual design for advertising and films. His first comic strip work was Dynosty, which appeared in 2000AD. He’s since worked on various comic strips such as Slaine, Judge Dredd and Warhammer.

I've enjoyed the books in this series that I've read so far, might have to see if I can pop along for this one...

Thursday, 26 August 2010

I am so excited about this...

So... There's an absolutely amazing series out there at the moment that everyone should be reading, even if they don't think they're a fan. When it's finally done, I think we'll be looking at a classic in the genre, it's that good :o) There are certainly hordes of fans waiting (in the meantime) with bated breath to see what happens next as the writer isn't afraid to kill off favourite characters... And now it's going to be a TV series.

I'm not talking about 'A Game of Thrones' either. Check this out (it doesn't quite fit on the screen though, sorry about that)...

I can't wait for Halloween! What a great time to be a zombie fan. :o) Thanks to Aidan for flagging this one up ;o)

Author Interview! Chris Wraight

Isn't the internet great? There used to be a time where if I enjoyed a book there wan't much more I could do after I'd read it other than think, 'that was a good book'. These days though, if I enjoy a book then I can chat to the author online and run a whole load of questions past them. Everyone wins (but mostly me)!

After having enjoyed 'Sword of Justice', the power of the internet gave me the chance to run a few questions past Chris Wraight. Here's what we had to say for ourselves...

You write in both the Warhammer and Warhammer 40K game settings, which one do you enjoy writing in the most?

Until now I’ve been exclusively a Fantasy author, so that’s the setting I feel most comfortable in. That said, I’m writing my first 40K book at the moment, and it’s been a huge - and fascinating - challenge. There are definitely some things about 40K that are very different - the darkness of the far future has the advantage of truly epic scale, and (arguably) a more consistent vision and tone. There are some BL authors who write for both settings (Graham McNeill, for example), and if the editorial gods will it I’d be happy to do the same.

How did you get into writing for the Black Library?

I submitted a short story to one of the old writing competitions, which ended up being published as Premonition in the Warhammer Invasion anthology. An invitation to pitch for a debut novel followed. I wrote Iron Company for the Empire Army series in 2009, after which BL invited me to pitch for the new Warhammer Heroes line.

What projects have you got coming up and why should someone who has never picked up a Black Library book give them a go?

Sword of Vengeance, the sequel to Sword of Justice, has just had its final edits sent in. I’m now over halfway through the Space Marine Battles book Battle of the Fang, which features the Space Wolves and Thousands Sons duking it out on Fenris. Like Rynn’s World, a previous title in the series, this part of the background has existed seemingly forever, so it’s a privilege and a challenge to take it on. I’m currently talking to the BL guys about a third Warhammer Heroes title featuring Volkmar, so the chances are I’ll be back writing Fantasy soon.

In terms of BL books in general, I’d simply encourage anyone with an interest in mainstream Fantasy or SF to give them a read with an open mind and not worry about whether they’re licensed works or not. There are authors writing for BL who are as talented as any in the business, and with Empire winning the Gemmell Award and the Heresy titles consistently entering the bestseller lists, the dismissive response of ‘but they’re just tie-in books’ looks lazier than ever.

In the same vein, what are you reading right now and why do you think I should be reading it too?

I’ve just finished Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, which didn’t quite hit the heights of the brilliant Oryx and Crake for me, but was still interesting and characteristically well-written. I revisited Legend a few days ago, which needs no recommendation, and have recently started Warrior Priest by Darius Hinks, which is due out later this year. It’s very immersive, and steeped with the gritty details that make Warhammer stand out from lighter, more optimistic Fantasy worlds.

You’re writing in a universe that isn’t just shared between writers but also between thousands (at least) of wargamers. How has this second group of people taken to your work so far? How does it feel to be the one depicting cities and countries that have been fought over for years now?

That’s a good question, and probably the thing that gives me most sleepless nights as an author. Sword of Justice has had a fantastic reception in its first few weeks, including from review sites that also cover the gaming side of things. The feedback I’ve seen so far indicates that the ‘feel’ of the established setting has been faithfully reproduced, which is immensely satisfying. One of the unresolvable issues of writing for a big franchise such as Warhammer is that you’ll never please everyone, since each individual will have a slightly different take on the universe, but you can do your best to capture the essential qualities that make it unique.

There are established characters from the Warhammer universe (I’m thinking Schwarzhelm and Helborg here) whom I’m guessing are almost sacrosanct in that you can’t kill them off easily if at all. How does that affect the writing process for you?

That’s the challenge of writing licensed fiction. There are lots of things that as an author I can’t do - certain people can’t die, certain places can’t be destroyed, and the balance of power in the Old World has to remain basically the same once the battles are over. In response to those limitations, you have to find different ways to generate jeopardy, interest and uncertainty. Characters have to be sufficiently well-rounded to draw the reader in and suspend disbelief, and you have to find fresh ways to treat long-established ideas. In Sword of Justice I was able to make use of a situation that’s been a longstanding facet of the background - the undetermined succession in Averland - which opened up lots of fictional possibilities.

Was it just me or is there a lot of Druss the Legend in Ludwig Schwarzhelm? I’m not just thinking about that amazing beard either...

You’re not the first to point out Gemmellisms in Sword of Justice. Druss wasn’t explicitly in my mind when I was writing Schwarzhelm, but of course there are a lot of similarities in their situations. In a broader sense, Gemmell is such a dominant figure in ‘low’, military-based Fantasy - which Warhammer basically is - that comparisons are probably inevitable. I’ve taken them as compliments.

Without giving too much away... There are four Chaos powers, what made you choose the one you did to infest Averland?

I chose the one that Schwarzhelm - a straightforward, noble, and in some ways naive warrior - would have the most trouble understanding. That’s really the whole point of the book: taking a man who’s almost unbeatable in a plain fight, and putting him up against opponents with a very different set of values and characteristics. To my mind, Chaos is at its most insidious and impressive when it preys on the weaknesses of mortals and turns their strengths against them.

I have to ask this... Are you a Warhammer gamer and, if you are, do you use the figures to act out battles from your books?

No, not a gamer I’m afraid. And having just finished writing battle scenes with armies of several thousand soldiers in them, acting them out would be very expensive...

If you are a gamer, how do you fancy painting my ‘Lord of the Rings’ figures for me? ;o)

You really wouldn’t want me to do that. The results would be... unfortunate.

If you could be any other Black Library writer, which one would you be and why?

I’m in awe of Dan Abnett’s ability to place memorable characters into taut, fast-paced action stories and make the end product so satisfying. As preparation for writing Battle of the Fang I read lots of his stuff, and it was a mixture of terrifying and inspirational. That said, there’s a lot of talent in the BL stable at the moment: I think Aaron Dembski-Bowden is frighteningly good, and on the Fantasy side I’m a big fan of what Nathan Long has done with Bloodborn. For all of that, though, I’m very happy doing what I’m doing and wouldn’t change it - I’ve been lucky enough to write about some of the most compelling characters and factions in Warhammer Fantasy and 40K, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

And finally ... Can you give us any clues for what we can look forward to in the sequel to ‘Sword of Justice’?

Schwarzhelm has a lot of work to do in the follow-up, but we get to see much more of Helborg’s motivation and character - there’s plenty of unresolved business between the two of them that forms one big strand of the book. The sequel also ties up all the threads left open in Sword of Justice, so if you’re wondering what happened to Achendorfer, Tochfel, Alptraum, Heidegger, Bloch, Verstohlen, Skarr, Gruppen, Natassja, Kraus, Rufus and the rest, there will be answers...

Thanks Chris!

If you want to find out more about Chris Wraight, and what he's up to, then you should be clicking right here...

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

‘The Girls with Games of Blood’ – Alex Bledsoe (Tor)

I’ll be the first to admit that I get stuck in a rut with my favourite writers. If Author A is consistently producing work that I enjoy then I don’t want him to try something different, why would I? It’s selfish but there you go. If I see a writer treading a different path, to the one that I’m used to, then I want to grab them by the scruff of the neck and send them back down the right path instead!

I’m more than happy to be proved wrong though if I get a good read out of the deal. That’s what I got when Tad Williams made the jump from fantasy to sci-fi (for example) so I’m usually a little more cool about things when I see an author making that leap between genres.

It still leaves me feeling a little uneasy though and that was the case when I saw that Alex Bledsoe had written a nineteen seventies vampire story. I could quite happily read his adventures of Eddie LaCrosse all day and would have quite happily read more of the same. I got a vampire story instead though and my fear of change had me wondering what I was letting myself in for.

As it happens, what I was letting myself in for was perhaps the best vampire novel I’m likely to read this year...

I had, of course, forgotten that Bledsoe is the author of ‘Blood Groove’ where a European vampire from the early nineteen hundreds awakes to find himself in nineteen seventies America and all the dangers that this brings. ‘The Girls with Games of Blood’ can be read on its own though, I haven’t read ‘Blood Groove’ and I didn’t encounter any problems with continuity. In ‘The Girls’, one Rudolfo Vladimir Zginski has his eye on the ultimate expression of the American Dream, a 1973 Mach 1 Ford Mustang. Unfortunately so does the local redneck ex-sheriff and this confrontation can only end in one way...

What’s more dangerous though are the games being played by two vampire sisters, games of blood that have been played for over a hundred years now. These games threaten not only Rudolfo but the modern day vampires that he has adopted as his own. When games like this are played, who will be left standing once the music stops...?

If you were to ask me what my favourite vampire novel is I’d say Robert McCammon’s ‘They Thirst’ straight away; you should check it out (it’s very good indeed...) ‘The Girls with Games of Blood’ runs it very close though and I’ve only read it the once...

‘The Girls with Games of Blood’ is a soulful tale of vampires who don’t have souls. Or do they? Bledsoe has his characters conflicted between what they are and the emotions they suddenly start feeling. This is no standard urban fantasy fare though; Bledsoe taps right into the animal nature of each vampire and shows his readers how the actions of Rudolfo (and others) are motivated by the basest urge of all. A vampire’s life is all about surviving against the odds and Bledsoe spares no expense in showing his reader just what this means. There might be room for the odd emotion or two but they never once get in the way of the story itself, something that never fails to annoy me about other urban fantasy novels... The gradual humanisation of Rudolfo in particular made for a gripping read as far as I was concerned as Bledsoe introduced a note of uncertainty meaning that things could go either way for Rudolfo and his relationships. Ultimately, conclusions were perhaps a little too predictable (although this could also be down to superb characterisation pointing the way a little too clearly) but the time spent getting there was time well spent. I’ll admit that the introduction of a ‘deus ex machina’ worried me for a while but the spin Bledsoe gave that had to be seen to be believed!

The games played between Patience and Prudence Bolade form the backbone of the novel, even when you don’t think this is the case. Bledsoe ties everything together so neatly that you won’t even realise how well it all fits. A long and well played game is always good to follow and this is definitely the case here, especially when I saw that the game was being played for reasons different to those that I had been led to believe. Moments of vicious release nestle nicely in between machinations that you are only likely to find between siblings. I had to know how this one played out.

I was only four by the end of the nineteen seventies and I certainly never grew up in Memphis! Bearing this in mind I can’t really comment on the accuracy of the picture that Bledsoe paints (apart from a few ‘period’ songs that seem to do the trick) but what I can say though is that the oppressive and brooding atmosphere, and not just the heat of the Deep South either, is done almost perfectly. I couldn’t get a sense of ‘when’ I was in the book but I did get a very tasty slice of ‘where’. If Rudolfo returns in another book then I will be back to hopefully sample more of the same.

The Deep South of the mid seventies was racist and Bledsoe doesn’t shy away from what could potentially be a tricky subject to cover in any book. To his credit, the racist scenes in the book aren’t sensationalised but rather used to develop a particular character and add a little more depth to his life as a vampire; something that is done very well. It can make for uncomfortable reading but it is there for a real purpose.

‘The Girls with Games of Blood’ is what ‘True Blood’ can only aspire to be, a vampire romance that leaves you in no doubt that you’ve been bitten. If there are more these to come then you’ll get no more uneasiness from me! Highly recommended.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Giveaway! ‘Farseer’ (William King)

Because sometimes ‘Print on Demand’ can actually mean good things instead of an easy route into publishing for people who really should know better...

‘Black Library’ run their own ‘Print on Demand’ service (Link) where you can get your hands on all the cool stuff from years ago that doesn’t quite fit in with established canon but is still worth checking out (I’m thinking Ian Watson’s ‘Space Marine’ here). ‘Farseer’ is one of these titles and I just so happen to have a copy to give away on the blog. Here’s the blurb...

Rogue trader Janus Darke is a desperate man. Once rich and famous, a string of bad luck has brought him to the brink of ruin. Dreaming of past glories, lost in despair, the last thing he wants is to accept a commission from two mysterious strangers – a voyage to the Eye of Terror, the dark heart of the galaxy. But Janus finds himself in more danger than he could have ever imagined, as he is pulled into the middle of a deadly power struggle between the elder and their ancient enemy, a daemon prince of Slaanesh.

This particular competition is open to everyone, everywhere! What do you reckon...?

If you’re in then all you need to do is drop me an email telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header for this one will be ‘Farseer’.

I’m letting this one run until the 29th of August and will aim to announce the winner as soon as possible afterwards.

Good luck!

Monday, 23 August 2010

What do you get when...?

What do you get when a favourite author mine runs a few questions past an author who’s written probably the best zombie novel that I’ll read this year (and next year as well)?

What you get is a conversation between Mark Newton and Alden Bell that runs like this. Have a click and see what they have to say, it’s worth the read. And I know I’ve said this before but it’s worth saying again, read ‘The Reapers are The Angels’ when it’s released. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Cover Art – ‘Elemental: Destiny’s Embers’ (Bradley Wardell)

Or, as I was going to call this post, ‘When Good Publishers run out of Inspiration...’

To be fair, this book is based on a computer game with similar artwork on the box so maybe the cover art people were told to go with the same imagery (kind of a ‘brand’ thing). I can’t help thinking though that the person who designed the cover art looked right into the depths of my very soul and picked the one thing that would make me go... meh’. There is nothing here that actually catches my interest and gives me a clue on what the book is about. I mean, come on! There’s a whole book’s worth of story here, surely there has to be something new and original that would make for a cover that would have people eager to pick it up and give it a go. You would think, wouldn’t you...?

Lets have a look at the blurb and see...

At a frontier outpost on the fringes of the civilized world, an orphaned messenger named Xander witnesses the destruction of all he knows at the hands of the Fallen, the great enemy thought vanquished during the War of Magic.

Abruptly, Xander’s life is changed forever. Now he must seek out an ancient artifact of legendary power in the hopes that it can stop the Fallen hordes from destroying the entire kingdom. Little does he realize that the hope of all mankind rests on his young shoulders, as powers of unimaginable might set out to stop him at all costs.

Aided by his friend Genica, a mysterious thief named Vreen, and a crafty Sion of unknown loyalty, Xander journeys into the heart of the world, where long-hidden secrets will be revealed that could shatter the delicate balance established by the great Cataclysm a thousand years earlier.

OK, maybe not then...

EDITED TO ADD: After a rant like that, I totally forgot to include the cover art! How red is my face right now...?

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Giveaway! ‘Bauchelain and Korbal Broach’ (Steven Erikson)

Further to my ‘Bauchelain and Korbal Broach’ post, the other day, my quest to spread the love for this title as well (because spreading the love is what this blog is all about!) sees me with five copies of the book (containing 'Blood Follows', 'The Lees of Laughter's End' and 'The Healthy Dead') to give away on the blog. Unfortunately for everyone else in the entire world though, this competition is only open to people in the UK... Sorry about that.

If you’re still reading then you know what comes next. To enter, simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you and what your postal address is. Your subject header needs to be ‘Bauchelain & Korbal Broach’.

I’ll be leaving this one open until the 29th of August and will announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Giveaway! ‘ The Bird of the River’ (Kage Baker)

Not only did I really enjoy this book (seriously, check out the review) but I’ve also loved everything else of Baker’s that I’ve picked up. What better way to spread the love then, you all really need to pick up her books, than a giveaway for ‘The Bird of the River’? I can’t think of anything better... :o)

Thanks to those lovely people at Tor, I have three copies of ‘The Bird of the River’ to give away to three lucky blog readers. Here’s the thing though, I’m afraid that this competition is only open to people living in the US. If you’re not one of these people, sorry about that but do yourself a favour and give the book a go anyway!

If you’re still with me then you know what to do. Simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. There will be a few competitions going on and I don’t want to get your entries all muddled up so the subject header for this one is ‘Bird of the River’. If that’s not in your subject header then your entry doesn’t get entered.

I’ll be leaving this one open until the 29th of August and will announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 20 August 2010

‘Aenarion’ – Gav Thorpe (Black Library)

Ever since I started listening to audio-books from the Black Library I’ve been waiting to see not only what they came up for their fantasy setting but also how it translated to an audio format. There have been a few minor hiccups with the ‘Warhammer 40,000’ line but, on the whole, they know just what they’re doing with this setting and it shows in some very well produced titles. There hasn’t really been anything from the Warhammer fantasy line though, until now...

I’ve got to admit that part of my eagerness here was that I really fancied hearing a tale of knights in armour, complete with the pounding of hooves and clash of broadsword on shield. Maybe the guttural sounds of orcs and goblins as well, something to really get the blood pumping on the morning commute to work! I didn’t get everything I wanted as Gav Thorpe gives us a tale of the early history of the Elves instead. It did get my blood pumping though...

The Elves of Ulthuan have fought for centuries against demons of Chaos who seek to plunder that fair Isle for it’s magic. Chief among them is Aenarion who has made many sacrifices so that his people may survive each onslaught. Some sacrifices are too great to bear though and Aenarion forsakes his gods, seeking out the legendary Sword of Khaine so that he may take his fight to directly to the demons... and win.

The Sword of Khaine lies at the heart of the Blighted Isle and many dangers lie in front of Aenarion before he can achieve his goal. Even if Aenarion reaches the Black Anvil where the sword lies though, is the greatest danger still to come...?

Gav Thorpe’s bloody tale of revenge and tragedy follows some familiar paths and you will know fairly early on where these paths will end. If you’re a fan of the setting then the odds are that you will know already! A tale that is in danger of becoming too predictable for it’s own good is balanced out though by Thorpe’s clever depiction of the main character Aenarion and particular issues that other characters raise. The trials that Aenarion faces have all been done before but his character is drawn such that you want to stick around and see his quest through to the end, even if you know what that end will be. (It is an open ended, leaving room for a sequel, but even so it’s clear where it’s going) Aenarion is such a bright and idealistic character that it really hurts to see him taken down a notch and you have to admire his steadfastness in seeing his quest through against all odds. Here is a character who is a real driving force for the plot.

I also enjoyed the questions raised over the Elves use of magic to hold the demons back; magic that serves to lure the demons to Ulthuan in the first place. Do you carry on using this magic (but risk perpetuating the war) or give it up entirely and leave your home defenceless against attack? The Elves face an impossible decision and you really get the sense that whichever way they go it will result in their doom.

All of this is played out against compelling battle scenes (during and after the main fight) where Thorpe’s prose works to very good affect with the audio-book production. Victory may have been a little too easy to come by for the Elves, at the beginning, but I still found myself getting right behind them and may or may not have cheered a little when the battle was done...

Beth Chalmers and John Banks take up the narrative duties once again (after ‘Throne of Lies’) but this time they swap round. Chalmers has the main bulk of the narration and her urgent delivery carries the plot forward at a crisp pace. Banks provides the voice of Aenarion (amongst others) and I couldn’t help thinking that he was taking his ‘Elf cue’ a little too heavily from the ‘Lord of the Rings’ films... He delivers his lines well though, especially the inspiring speeches, and gives each character their own voice (some of this is done technologically but he sounds good however it turns out).

‘Aenarion’ has a couple of niggling issues that are more to do with the format chosen for the plot rather than its execution. It does promise good things for future audio-books in the Warhammer setting and you can count on my being there to see how it all pans out.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 19 August 2010

‘The Spy Who Haunted Me’ – Simon Green (Gollancz)

If you’ve been following the blog right from the start (brilliant if you have, I’d have jumped in around the early part of 2008 though... ;o) then you’ll know that one of the first books I ever reviewed was Simon Green’s ‘The Man with the Golden Torc’. If you haven’t been following the blog right from the start then here’s a link to the review if you fancy having a look.

Simon Green is one of those authors where I really enjoy his work, when I pick it up, but never seem to get round to reading the rest of his series. It’s funny how that happens but there’s only so much time to read so many books I guess... For me, the ‘Deathstalker’ series came to a grinding halt with ‘Deathstalker Honour’ (although that was more about trying to track the other books down) and the one ‘Nightside’ book that I tried looked very interesting but I somehow never got round to finishing it. ‘The Secret Histories’ (of which ‘The Spy Who Haunted Me’ is the third book) is no exception to this rule as I seem to have found myself reading the first and third books while completely bypassing the second! I’m going to have to do something about that very soon if ‘The Spy Who Haunted Me’ is anything to go by though. On finishing the book I felt like I hadn’t had so much fun in a long time...

The Independent Agent (greatest spy in the world) is dying and wants an heir to leave all his secrets to. These secrets aren’t easily earned though, the six greatest spies in the world must solve the six greatest mysteries in the world if they are to stand any chance of inheriting a lifetime’s worth of knowledge that governments would kill for. Eddie Drood (‘Shaman Bond’ to those who don’t know any better) knows the damage that these secrets could do and his family, the guardians of humanity no less, have tasked him with winning the Independent Agent’s game at any cost. In a game such as this, the wise man keeps one eye on the rest of the players and the other eye on their own back, just to make sure that a knife doesn’t suddenly appear there. When the other agents start dying though, Eddie can’t help but wonder if he’s been tricked into playing another game entirely...

I’m going to come straight out and say that I’d managed to guess the ‘final twist’ by about halfway through the book and a quick flick to the back of the book proved my theory to be true. It was signposted pretty clearly, by my reckoning, and I reckon you’ll see it coming too. I don’t know if this was a deliberate move on Green’s part but it did have the unfortunate effect of dumping a whole load of tension from the ending of the book. If you’ve worked out the twist, and you know just what Eddie is capable of, then you can almost write the ending yourself. I say ‘almost’ as there was a little spin, on the otherwise predictable ending, that suggested the Independent Agent didn’t know as much as he thought he did...

The thing was though; even though I’d worked out the ending I didn’t stop reading. For me, ‘The Spy Who Haunted Me’ became a book that wasn’t so much about the ending as it was the journey that it took to get there. What a journey it was!

If a page goes by where there isn’t an explosion, sinister looking monster, conspiracy theory or blatant example of male machismo then it’s clear that Simon Green counts this as a failure on his part and seeks to redress the balance by doubling the quota in the very next page. The end result is a lot of fun as Green takes various mysteries and puts his own spin on them to give you answers that you would never have seen coming. What was the real cause of the Tunguska Incident? What really happened to the US naval ship during the Philadelphia Experiment? And is what happened at Roswell as important as what might be about to happen if Eddie can’t stop it...? One thing you can be sure of is that there will be something happening on every page and it’s all powered by energy that you don’t come across very often in a novel. It certainly picks you up and carries you along before you realise what is happening.

‘The Spy Who Haunted Me’ doesn’t do a lot else other than come out with all guns blazing (although Green does have a nice sideline in Eddie questioning the morals of his superiors) and, as a result, perhaps isn’t the book for people who like their reads to be deep and something that they can chew on. I didn’t have a problem with that though. ‘The Spy Who Haunted Me’ doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is, namely a light read that sets out to entertain the reader in the short time that it takes to work through the book. As far as I was concerned, ‘The Spy’ more than succeeded in this aim. Any book that has me wanting to go back and fill in the gaps has to be doing something right!

‘The Spy Who Haunted Me’ is perhaps a little too transparent to be a truly engrossing read but makes up for this by having a plot that rockets along; powered by explosions and the machinations of eldritch creatures. If only more Urban Fantasy was like this...

Nine out of Ten

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

The 'Baby Jekyll and Hyde' Competition Winner's Post!

Hope is lovely in the morning, all full of smiles and joy and wanting nothing more than to play. Honestly, it's the best way to start the day :o) By the time I get back from work though it's all changed and there's a different baby in the house. This one likes nothing more than to moan, whinge and not do what you want her to. And woe betide the foolish parent who tries to get her to go bed at a decent time...
Are we just dealing with a tired baby or is there something more sinister happening in the house...? I knew I shouldn't have that elixir lying around...


Last week I ran a competition where UK readers could win copies of Jeff Somers' 'The Terminal State' and one lucky winner would win all the 'Avery Cates' books in the series so far. Without further ado, the three lucky winners were...

Eleanor Boyall (from Dorchester) bagged herself a copy of 'The Terminal State'.
Jane Middleton (from Cheltenham) did likewise :o)

Ed Read (from Reading) struck gold and bagged himself copies of 'The Electric Church', 'The Digital Plague', 'The Eternal Prison' and 'The Terminal State'. Nice going there!

Well done guys! Your books are on their way... Better luck next time everyone else.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

‘The Distant Suns’ – Michael Moorcock

Rather than pick another book to carry to work (and back) with me, last week, I thought I’d crack on and finish the ‘Sailing to Utopia’ collection instead. I’d had a great time reading ‘The Black Corridor’ so there was a part of me hopefully looking forward to more of the same. Having already read the other three tales in the collection, I was left with the 1969 tale ‘The Distant Suns’ and mention of the iconic character Jerry Cornelius offered promise of an intriguing finale to my reading of this collection. It was a shame then that the story I actually got didn’t entirely work out that way...

It is the 21st century and the only solution to overcrowding on Earth is for humanity to find new homes in the stars. Are there any viable planets out there though? It is the job of Jerry Cornelius, and the crew of the spaceship ‘Hope of Man’, to find out. It’s a big galaxy out there though and who knows what could be waiting for them on the nearest habitable planet? Before they even get there though, the ship will be making its maiden voyage through warp space, something that has never before been tested on the human psyche... The odds are stacked against this voyage being successful but the odds are heavily in favour of the human race descending into madness, and tearing itself apart, if a solution isn’t found. Will Jerry and his crew return from the unknown space around Alpha Centauri? And will there be anything left for them to return to...?

Part of the reason why Moorcock’s back catalogue is so extensive is that a large number of his earlier books were written in a matter of days and sent off without revision. Sometimes you wouldn’t know this when reading his books but at other times it does show. ‘The Distant Suns’ was one of these times...

That’s not to say that there are any glaring typos or anything like that (although some questions that are raised are answered almost as an afterthought without anything to back them up, at least as far as I could see). ‘The Distant Suns’ just felt more than a little rushed to me; a series of cliff-hangers linking the beginning of the tale to its conclusion. The other stories in the collection come across as being a little more thoughtful about their subject matter (to one extent or another, I’m looking at you ‘Flux’...) whereas ‘The Distant Suns’ is more of an action/adventure pulp deal that felt as if it could have done with that extra insight in order to flesh things out a little more.

When you look at ‘The Distant Suns’, judging it for what it is rather than against what’s in the rest of the collection, that feeling of being ‘rushed’ still manages to work against it. ‘The Distant Suns’ has more than its fair share of action and the fast pace really works in the story’s favour when confrontation or combat is on the cards. Moorcock sets up a nice level of tension and uses to this to spur the plot forward in such a way that I wanted to turn those pages and find out what happened next. At the same time though, I found this approach to be overplayed and the ‘rush’ from cliff-hanger to cliff-hanger quickly settled into a pattern verging on the monotonous. By the end of the story the threat to the Earth just didn’t seem that dangerous anymore purely because of the routine prior chapters had settled into...

As much as I enjoyed reading ‘The Distant Suns’, and there is stuff to recommend it, I couldn’t help but think that it could have been a lot more than the eventual sum of it’s parts. As ‘pulp adventure’ it works well enough but a little more time spent thinking about what’s going on, rather than just rushing from A to B, could have made all the difference...

Seven out of Ten

Monday, 16 August 2010

UK Malazan Fans!

If you balked at paying fifteen quid a shot for the PS Publishing editions of the 'Bauchelain and Korbal Broach' books, if you didn't want to order from overseas... your time has come :o)

The Transworld edition of 'The Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, Vol 1' is due for publication on the 26th of August (which we all know means that you'll be able to get it a few days beforehand, Amazon have it ready to ship today) and contains 'Blood Follows'. 'The Lees of Laughter's End' and 'The Healthy Dead'. So that's all three books for the same price as one of the PS Publishing editions then... I like my PS Publishing editions but I wish I'd waited a bit longer. I've posted my thoughts elsewhere on the blog but the fact remains that they're all good tales that any Malazan fan will enjoy. Here's some blurb...

"Blood Follows" - In the port city of Lamentable Moll, a diabolical killer stalks the streets and panic grips the citizens like a fever. As Emancipor Reese's legendary ill luck would have it, his previous employer is the unknown killer's latest victim. But two strangers have come to town, and they have posted in Fishmonger's Round a note, reeking of death-warded magic, requesting the services of a manservant. "The Lees Of Laughter's End" - After their blissful sojourn in Lamentable Moll, the sorcerers Bauchelain and Korbal Broach - along with their manservant, Emancipor Reese - set out on the open seas aboard the sturdy ship Suncurl. Alas, there's more baggage in the hold than meets the beady eyes of the crew, and unseemly terrors awaken. For Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, and Emancipor Reese, it is just one more night on the high seas, on a journey without end. "The Healthy Dead" - The city of Quaint's zeal for goodness can be catastrophic, and no one knows this better than Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, two stalwart champions of all things bad. The homicidal necromancers - and their substance-addled manservant, Emancipor Reese - find themselves ensnared in a scheme to bring goodness into utter ruination. Sometimes you must bring down civilization...in the name of civilization.

If you haven't got these books already then I think you know what to do... :o)

(All of which reminds me that I really do something other than think about digging 'Dust of Dreams' out from the bottom of the reading pile. Will I finish it by the time 'The Crippled God' is released? Now there's a challenge...)

Karen Miller Signing at Forbidden Planet.

If you’re a fan of Karen Miller, and you’re in London on the 30th of October, then you may want to drop in at Forbidden Planet where she will be signing copies of her latest book ‘The Reluctant Mage’ between four and five in the afternoon. (For the record, I had a lot of fun with ‘The Innocent Mage’ but wasn’t too keen on the sequel... I’m interested in seeing what her ‘Star Wars’ work is like though.)

Here’s the blurb for ‘The Reluctant Mage’...

It’s been months since Rafel ventured over Barl’s Mountains into the unknown and only Deenie believes that Rafel still lives, sensing her brother in tortured dreams. She knows she must try to find him, as his talents alone will heal their land. The prospect terrifies Deenie; she finds the lands beyond Lur blighted with lawlessness and chaos and the dark sorcerer Morg’s deadly legacy. As they travel, they learn of a dangerous new power in the land. Deenie comes to suspect that her missing brother is involved, and that the evil their father destroyed has been reborn. She must save Rafel – if she can’t, then Morg's vast power will once again command their world.

If I can get round to reading Karen's latest 'Clone Wars' book by the end of October, you might just see me there :o)

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Giveaway! 'The Reapers are The Angels' (Alden Bell)

I loved this literary post-apocalyptic zombie tale when I read it earlier this year and I reckon you will too if you're after something a little different from your average zombie fare. Even if you wouldn't normally read a zombie book I'd urge you to give this one a go anway, I don't think you'll regret it.


Thanks to MacMillan in the US, I have one copy of 'The Reapers are The Angels' to give to one lucky winner. That lucky winner will be from the US however as I'm afraid this competition is open to US residents only...

If you're still with me then you know what comes next. Simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. Your subject header will be 'I want to read about zombies!' (because it's my competition and I can get you to write whatever I want...)

I'll be leaving this one open until the 22nd of August and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Giveaway! 'The Evolutionary Void' (Peter F. Hamilton)

If you're waiting to see how Peter F. Hamilton's latest series will end then this could be just the competition for you... When I say that though, I'm only talking to people living in the US as they're the only people who are allowed to enter this particular competition. Sorry about that everyone else...

Still with me? Brilliant! Here's the blurb for the book (possibly containing spoilers for those who haven't read this far...)

Exposed as the Second Dreamer, Araminta has become the target of a galaxywide search by government agent Paula Myo and the psychopath known as the Cat, along with others equally determined to prevent—or facilitate—the pilgrimage of the Living Dream cult into the heart of the Void. An indestructible microuniverse, the Void may contain paradise, as the cultists believe, but it is also a deadly threat. For the miraculous reality that exists inside its boundaries demands energy—energy drawn from everything outside those boundaries: from planets, stars, galaxies . . . from everything that lives.

Meanwhile, the parallel story of Edeard, the Waterwalker—as told through a series of addictive dreams communicated to the gaiasphere via Inigo, the First Dreamer—continues to unfold. But now the inspirational tale of this idealistic young man takes a darker and more troubling turn as he finds himself faced with powerful new enemies—and temptations more powerful still.

With time running out, a repentant Inigo must decide whether to release Edeard’s final dream: a dream whose message is scarcely less dangerous than the pilgrimage promises to be. And Araminta must choose whether to run from her unwanted responsibilities or face them down, with no guarantee of success or survival. But all these choices may be for naught if the monomaniacal Ilanthe, leader of the breakaway Accelerator Faction, is able to enter the Void. For it is not paradise she seeks there, but dominion.

Thanks to Del Rey, I have three copies of 'The Evolutionary Void' to give to three lucky blog winners. 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 postal address is. Your subject header will be 'I want to evolve!' :o) I'll do everything else.

I'll be letting this one run until the 22nd of August and will aim to announce winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 13 August 2010

‘The Black Corridor’ – Michael Moorcock

Every now and then, I find it makes for a nice change to read something a little shorter than some of the books I’ve got on the go. Some people might say that I read nothing but short books and I can’t argue with that at the moment (it’s all I have time for)! It still makes for a nice change though to read something that’s bite sized rather than something more substantial. Sometimes you find yourself being mislead though and you end up reading something that you thought would be a quick and snappy read but ends up being far more. This was what happened with Michael Moorcock’s ‘The Black Corridor’ (first published in 1969), a story making up a mere one hundred and fifty two pages of the ‘Sailing to Utopia’ collection. I thought that I was getting a quick read to tide me over until the weekend; what I actually got was something that I find myself still chewing over as I’m writing this...

The Earth is doomed as humanity, driven to excessive paranoia, seeks to tear itself apart in ever growing bouts of violence. Only a few people can see how it will all end and they realise that their only way of escape is to head for the stars and seek to begin a new life there. Ryan is the man in charge of the ship while the others go into suspended animation; he will keep the ship on course for a voyage that will take years. However, can one man maintain his grip on sanity when he is the only living being for many millions of miles? If this wasn’t bad enough, can Ryan shake off a lifetime of inbred paranoia from his time on Earth? What will the combination of the two result in...?

‘The Black Corridor’ is one of those books where (even a day or so after finishing it) I find myself thinking, ‘did it really just end like that?’ Moorcock effortlessly spins a tale that has you thinking everything is headed in a certain direction until right at the very end when you realise you were reading something else entirely, something that makes perfect sense when you go back and look at it again. Or does it? I’m pretty sure that I ‘got’ the ending but it’s vague enough to leave things hanging in that delicious way that keeps you chewing at it for a long time afterwards.

Earth is overcrowded and in the process of turning on itself (the ‘how’ isn’t really explored but I’d say that’s not really the point of this tale), any chance of escape has to be taken but is going from one extreme to another the answer? Moorcock explores this question right from the start by placing the ensuing drama in the context of the void it takes place in. The end result puts Ryan’s tale firmly in its proper place, in the grand cosmic scheme of things, but it also serves to intensify everything about what’s happening to Ryan. After all, if there is nothing else going on for billions of miles then something happening almost becomes riveting by default! ‘The Black Corridor’ doesn’t just rely on this approach to succeed though, developments and revelations in Ryan’s character add fresh impetus to the questions that the plot throws at him. There was more than enough here to keep me reading and I’m glad that I did.

‘The Black Corridor’ doesn’t just describe the interstellar journey that Ryan commands (although it’s a haunting reminder of the emptiness of space); it also describes the journey into Ryan’s psyche that enforced isolation results in him taking. There is a constant reminder of the void that exists just on the other side of the porthole and this builds up into a crushing weight on Ryan’s shoulders. It’s that other corridor which Ryan must travel that is the more interesting to follow though. As Ryan spends more time on his own, reflections on his past slowly begin to cast him in a new light and I enjoyed the measured way that Moorcock slowly draws these out to give us a picture of Ryan that is far more detailed. I also liked the way that this approach raised questions over how much sympathy the reader should be feeling for Ryan. When you realise just what he has done Ryan comes across as quite a monstrous personality but do desperate times mean desperate measures should be taken? ‘The Black Corridor’ left me trying to work out what kind of a man Ryan really was and how much of what happened was really down to him; any book that gets me engaged that much is a good one as far as I’m concerned.

The only, slight, flies in the ointment (as far as this went) were the sporadic dream sequences and the moments where the conversations with the ship’s computer take a surreal turn. While I can see the point of these passages (and appreciated what they did), their vagueness jarred with the rest of the story which was a lot more tightly written. It all comes together nicely at the end but working my way through those passages was more of a chore than a pleasure at times.

This is only a small niggle though. ‘The Black Corridor’ is a gripping tale of paranoia and obsession that left me with no choice but to keep reading. You can pick up a used copy for a penny on Amazon and I’d recommend it if you’re thinking of giving it a go.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 12 August 2010

‘The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Séance for a Vampire’ – Fred Saberhagen (Titan Books)

After the relative shambles that was ‘Wizard’s First Rule’ I was very much looking forward to getting back into some of the more intriguing books balanced precariously on the ‘Reading Pile’. I say ‘Pile’ but there’s now more than just the one, I should either learn how to put up shelves or somehow read a lot quicker than I am right now! That’s beside the point though. I’ve been getting back into fantasy just recently but ‘Wizard’s First Rule’ left me wanting to try something a little different. A Sherlock Holmes story with vampires in it seemed like it could fit the bill nicely and in that respect it did. You can’t get further away from the generic fantasy quest story than something with Sherlock Holmes and vampires! I was also looking forward to reading a book with proper vampires in it, not those ‘girly’ vampires that I seem to keep finding in various Urban Fantasy tales.
I got everything I was after, it was just a shame that the story itself wasn’t up to scratch...

Aristocrat Ambrose Altamont believes that two ‘psychics’ are trying to fool his wife into believing that they can contact his deceased daughter. Sherlock Holmes is hired to expose them but the truth is far more incredible than anyone previously imagined. At the next séance, it becomes clear to both Holmes and Watson that Altamont’s daughter is now a vampire... Who is behind this vampiric resurrection and what is the talk of stolen treasure that must be returned? Before the investigation can proceed any further, Holmes suddenly vanishes and Watson is left with only one option open to him. The best person to trap a vampire is another vampire and Holmes’ cousin is the most powerful vampire of them all...

I’ve only read a couple of the original ‘Sherlock Holmes’ stories (and those were read a very long time ago now) but the formula employed in them remains clear. Basically, there’s an unsolvable mystery that Holmes (over the course of the tale) proceeds to render transparent through the discovery of clues and deductions that only his superior intellect can grasp. That initial mystery is the hook and the gradual piecing together of the clues is what keeps you reading.

Saberhagen decides to handle things a little differently in his ‘Sherlock Holmes’ tale and it proves to be to the detriment of the book as a whole in my opinion. By the time the prologue is over we not only know who the antagonist is but also his motives for the events that play out as the book progresses. There is no mystery to be solved at all here; it’s all laid out for the reader before they really have to get started. While this is obviously a deliberate move on Saberhagen’s part, I felt that it robbed the tale of much of the charm of Conan Doyle’s originals...

What we have then, as a result, isn’t a mystery at all but more of a pulp tale where famous characters are teamed together to fight a powerful foe. In this respect, the promise of Dracula and Sherlock Holmes working together (in the same book) was enough of a hook to keep me reading. The premise was intriguing but the execution just left me cold...

The narration (via Dracula and Watson) is particularly dry and can sometimes focus on the background scenery at the expense of the plot itself. This wouldn’t be too bad if there were clues to be found to solve a tantalising mystery, I’d quite happily spend time searching for those in the background. When you’re supposed to be reading a high stakes tale (where a beautiful woman’s life is at risk) then what you really want is a tale with pace that matches those elements of the plot. You don’t get that in ‘Séance for a Vampire’. There are times when the plot positively drags and what I found here was that this distracted me from moments where things would have made a lot more sense if things had been written more tightly. What was going on with the Russian revolutionaries and how were they connected to our chief antagonist? I’m sure the book was trying to give me these answers although it might not have been; I couldn’t tell amidst interminable descriptions of various journeys made by characters and I’ve got no desire to go back and find out.

Just when you think things are building up to a nice climax... they don’t. The chief antagonist is revealed to be as aimless as I’d begun to suspect and the introduction of a historical character was in keeping with the period but didn’t seem to connect with the story itself. A conclusion is reached but I’ve got to say that I wondered if it had been worth the effort in getting there. Things fizzle out, when they need to be powering forward, and everything else is wrapped up a little too conveniently for my liking...

If you’re a fan of the great detective or the vampire prince (or both) then there may well be something here for you to get your teeth into. As far as I was concerned though, an intriguing premise proved to be all that this novel had for me. A shame really...

Four and a Half out of Ten

(After a brief flirtation with not giving a score I decided that I preferred it the way it was originally, the scores are back! I will go back and fill the others in at some point...)

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

‘Saga of the Swamp Thing (Book Two)’ – Alan Moore, John Totleben, Steve Bissette (Titan Books)

I know I’ve said this before but I’m afraid you’re going to have to sit through it one more time at least :o) One of the things that I really love about running this blog is that feeling of being blown away by a good book when you were least expecting it. It doesn’t happen all that often, and there are books lurking out there that will inspire the opposite reaction, but once you’ve had a taste of that feeling then there’s no going back. You just want more of the same...
I was lucky enough to get another taste of that ‘high’ when I picked up Book Two of the ‘Saga of the Swamp Thing’ a couple of days ago. “What about Book One?” I hear you all ask. Well, sometimes the path takes you places in totally the wrong order ;o) No worries though, Book Two was such an amazing read that there’s no question of my not going back to fill in the gaps...

Alan Moore’s run on ‘Saga of the Swamp Thing’ came at a time when falling sales and a change in writer meant that Alan Moore was pretty much given free rein to do whatever he wanted with the title. The result is something quite beautiful as far as I'm concerned. You should check it out.

I was under the impression that the Swamp Thing used to be a scientist who mutated into sentient swamp life when a rival blew up his lab. Apparently not though! According to Moore, the Swamp Thing was an elemental who came into possession of the dead scientist’s memories and wound up believing that he was something that he wasn’t. The end result is a lead character trying to find out who (and what) he really is while also trying to deal with the dangers of the supernatural world that exists alongside our own...

You really need to have read the first volume as the second picks up from this with references to things that have happened previously. Book Two is surprisingly easy to get into though, probably because Moore’s ‘The Burial’ serves to cut Swamp Thing off from his ‘past’ and send him off on a new path. For a character that’s made out of moss and flowers (and completely alien in a real sense) you really get a sense of how the Swamp Thing is affected by what is happening here. He’s helpless and has no other choice but to follow things through to an ending. It’s powerful stuff and that ending is also a real beginning...

The next four stories form a wider arc that is the real meat of this collection and a storyline that I found myself lost in for a good couple of hours. Swamp Thing’s fight with Arcane ends a little too easily but it’s the ramifications (as well as the little asides from minor characters) that made this tale so compelling for me. Swamp Thing may not be Alec Holland any more but he still knows what it means to be human and what this in turn means for the person that he loves. His journey into Hell is gorgeously rendered both through the artwork (Steve Bissette’s work is amazing) and Moore’s dialogue. The look on Arcane’s face when he finds out how just how long he has been in Hell has to be seen to be believed! I’m not a big expert on the DC universe but I know a few names and it was fun to see those connections come out on the page.

‘Pog’ is a one off tribute to a comic strip that I’m not familiar with in the slightest but I was still touched by these earnest little aliens trying to find a new home to live on, especially when the First Mate decided to take his fateful swim. I found myself telling him not to go in and the look on his face when he thought he had made some new friends (who were totally the opposite) almost broke my heart. Some planets are not made to be settled on and ‘Pog’ adds our own home to that list.

‘The Abandoned House’ hints at trouble to come in the future for Swamp Thing but there is no room here to find out just what that is. Instead, we get Moore showing us how there has been more than one Swamp Thing across the years and what their purpose has been. I was happy to take that trade and the ‘throwaway’ ending of the story illustrates perfectly how the smallest occurrence can lead onto far greater things...

The collection ends with ‘Rite of Spring’ where love is both declared and returned. What a way to end the book! A story full of the awkwardness, joy and sense of the carefree that those first moments of love bring; all beautifully illustrated with a sense of optimism that you can’t help but feel the characters in question really deserve.

‘Saga of the Swamp Thing’ is one of those books that I’ll always be glad I picked up on a whim. It’s haunting and hopeful all at the same time and shows us perfectly how humanity isn’t just limited to humans. A perfect read.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

‘The Challenge...’ Failed!

I gave it my best shot but ‘Wizard’s First Rule’ has gone in the ‘charity box’, possibly never to be seen in this house again. I really wanted that ‘Raging Rothfuss’ award as well... But you know what? Sometimes life really is too short to be plugging away on something that just isn’t going to work for you. The reading pile gave me a metaphorical tap on the shoulder and said, “Dude, it’s killing you doing this. Check out some of the stuff I’ve got here, you’ll love it...” I didn’t need telling more than once :o)

So... Two hundred and five pages into a seven hundred-page book was enough for me, what happened? Richard and Kahlan were about to be attacked and I realised I just didn’t care. I wasn’t so far gone as to hope that they would die, and the book would end there, but it was a close thing. On what I managed to read (and two hundred and five pages wasn’t bad going), Goodkind managed to fill ‘Wizard’s First Rule’ with characters who advanced the plot but didn’t seem to have anything going as people in their own right. Once I found out Richard’s purpose in the plot (he’s the ‘RELUCTANT HERO WITH LOTS OF QUESTIONS’... that was it. There was nothing else to engage with him on. And the same went for the other characters, why read the rest of the book when you’ve found out all there is to know?

I actually liked some of Goodkind’s descriptive prose, I love reading about forests and I got a good sense of where things were happening in the book. However, I did wonder at times if the lack of characterisation was being padded out with loads of descriptive stuff. Not a lot actually happens, in what I managed to read, but you wouldn’t have thought so with the number of pages that Goodkind uses to make his points. Descriptive prose is only going to carry a book so far. Other authors overindulge in a world that they’ve enjoyed creating but I seriously got the impression that Goodkind wasn’t sure what to write next ...

In the same vein, I very quickly got sick of Goodkind deciding that he needed to tell his readers everything instead of letting us gradually find out for ourselves. I’m looking at the Wizard Zedd here who, despite the looming threat of the Dark Lord, figured he had plenty of time to tell Richard, well... everything really. It was a good job that Zedd was on hand to fill Richard in otherwise he would have had to find all this stuff out himself! Just think what that might have done to the story...
I was also left thinking that if you’re going to lay down a whole set of rules then don’t contradict one of the biggest ones a few pages after you’ve told everyone what the rules are. Stick to what you’ve laid down, please...

One of the conditions of the challenge was that I approached this in as fair a manner as possible. Now, I haven’t finished the book so an argument could be made that I don’t have to be fair at all but there are a couple of things to be said in his defence.

As I said earlier, Goodkind does give you a sense of where you are in the story with some nice background scenery. It’s a world that has potential to be a lot more but is practically smothered by unnecessary padding though... He can tell a story as well and events flow into one another in such a way that the plot does move in the right direction.
The other thing I would say in defence of ‘Wizard’s First Rule’ is that it helped me rediscover a love of reading that I thought I was losing (I have been feeling a little burnt out what with one thing and another). Two hundred pages of this had me eager to get stuck into the ‘Reading Pile’ again and that’s just what I am going to do! I may have failed the challenge but I won in the end :o)

Monday, 9 August 2010

‘Sword of Justice (Warhammer Heroes)’ – Chris Wraight (Black Library)

Regular readers of the blog will know that I’m a regular reader of Warhammer 40K tie-in fiction, epic tales of humanity’s stand against various alien races (and worse) in a universe torn apart by constant warfare. I’ll make no apologies for spending a lot of time in what is a detailed and (on the whole) very written setting. It ticks all the right boxes for me and if you’re a fan of ‘larger than life military sci-fi’ then I reckon you’ll get a lot out of it as well.
I spend so much time with these books though that I tend to find myself forgetting that there is a whole other line of Warhammer books that I could be reading. Gamers will know that Games Workshop have a fantasy setting for their war games, as well as a sci-fi setting, and this is reflected in the books that their publishing arm releases. Constant warfare is once again the order of the day but this time we’re looking at massed ranks of halberdiers and knights in a setting that is reminiscent of Renaissance Italy (slightly on the Germanic side). The dangers are still the same though and I was glad to see that it was all handled just as well as it is in the 40K books...

Ludwig Schwarzhelm is the Emperor’s strong right arm on the outskirts of the Empire; scourge of any other race that seeks to take the Empire for itself. When faced with the machinations of Empire itself though, Schwarzhelm’s reliance on the ‘Sword of Justice’ to settle any and all arguments could well be the sign of a naivety that could easily shatter all he has worked for...
Schwarzhelm is sent to the province of Averland to break a political stalemate and see that an Elector Count is finally chosen by the ruling classes. However, his strengths as a leader on the battlefield will play against him in a world where a blade is hidden behind a false smile rather than held in full view... And this is exactly what certain people are hoping for. A lot rides on the elections in Averland, perhaps even the fate of the Empire itself...

‘Sword of Justice’ starts out by showing just exactly what Ludwig Schwarzhelm is capable of on the battlefield and then goes on to ruthlessly expose this as a shortcoming away from the front line. The result is a compelling tale where the certainty of what is to come is constantly played off against the hope that Schwarzhelm’s strength at arms will help him to see what is truly happening before it is too late...

As a part of this particular package, what the reader also gets is an interesting character study that’s definitely a cut above some of the more ‘hack and slash’ style books in this (and the 40K line). Wraight spends a lot of time with Schwarzhelm and really lays bare what is going on inside for a man who represents the strength of the Empire. There are some things that strength alone cannot fight though and the race is on to see how long Schwarzhelm can hold out against a threat that’s far more insidious than those he must face on the field. While you can kind of see the resolutions coming a mile off, there’s still a lot of fun to be had in getting there and there is enough uncertainty in the tale to make continued reading something that has to happen.

Politicking is the order of the day and several mysteries spring up around the election in Averland. There’s only so much room in the book so some of these naturally die out as the plot progresses and throws up new questions; others are left hanging for resolution in later books. The main mystery though is doled out in just the right amounts and at just the right speed to keep things interesting. A particular party’s involvement is signposted just a little too clearly for long term fans (and perhaps that’s the fun of it) but, again, it’s all about that journey to a conclusion and how it will set things up for the next book.

All of this is played out against the backdrop of some beautifully realised cityscapes. Long term readers will get a lot out places like Altdorf and Nuln while the casual reader will enjoy spending time in places where no expense has been spared with the detail.
As far as I go, I’ve always been a fan of well drawn cities in fantasy literature; all the more so when they go that one step further and take on a real sense of their own identity. That was very much the case in ‘Sword of Justice’ where the cities felt so real that I found my feet twitching at the mention of dung in the streets...

It’s not all about the politicking though as Wraight more than proves he can deliver battle scenes with the best of them. Another reviewer has mentioned that the opening battle, with the Beastmen at Turgitz, is a little too long. What I’d say is that’s how battles go sometimes and Wraight has got a keen sense for mixing those long drawn moments of attrition with the vicious cut and thrust moments that can send a confrontation either way. If you still think the opening battle is a little too drawn out then you’ll be pleased to hear that things become a little more balanced in that respect as the tale progresses.

‘Sword of Justice’ is a glorious mix of blood and tears on the battlefield and in various corridors of power that has left me more than eager to see where events take the reader next. I’m not a big fan of the Gemmell Awards (and that’s another post, maybe) but I could see ‘Sword of Justice’ doing very well there if it was nominated for next year...

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Sunday, 8 August 2010

This Is Serious People! (Part Two...)

Remember last week when I told you about the new 'Zombie Detector App' on the iPhone? Well, it looks like I may not be posting here much longer after the following results came through...

Our mate came over last night and it turns out that he was Patient Zero...

My wife answered the door, she won't be doing that again...

I'm ok but I don't know how much longer I can hold out for...

It's been nice knowing you peop....


Saturday, 7 August 2010

'Jeff Somers' Competition!

Here’s a cool one for you guys... (Although by ‘you guys’ I actually mean ‘you guys in the UK’, it’s UK entries only I’m afraid...)

Long term readers of the blog will know that I’ve enjoyed reading Jeff Somers’ ‘Avery Cates’ sequence. If you haven’t, but you like your reading full of uber-violence delivered by very cool assassin types, then I reckon you will too. Trust me on this :o)

I put down Somers’ latest, ‘The Terminal State’, to embark on the ‘Terry Goodkind Challenge’. Check out the blurb,

Avery Cates is in better shape than ever with the top-class augments the army's fitted him with. Pity he's no more than a puppet then, because they've also got a remote that can fry his brain at any second. And now a corrupt colonel is selling his controls to the highest bidder. Avery has visions of escape and bloody revenge - until he realises just who's bought him. Because the highest bidder is Canny Orel himself, Avery's oldest enemy. And as the System slides into chaos, Canny wants Cates to do one last job. Avery just needs one chance to get back at the old gunner - but this time, it's Canny who's holding all the cards.

Sounds good doesn’t it? I’m certainly looking forward to getting back into this one when I finally get the chance.

Thanks to Orbit, I’ve got prizes that should appeal to fans and people who haven’t given this series a go yet. If you’re a fan, I’ve got two copies of ‘The Terminal State’ to give away to two lucky readers of the blog. If you haven’t given this series a go yet... how would you like to win a copy of every book so far? One lucky winner will get copies of ‘The Electric Church’, ‘The Digital Plague’, ‘The Eternal Prison’ and ‘The Terminal State’; talk about getting up to speed quickly! Sounds good doesn’t it? So, how do you enter...?

Entering is simply a matter of dropping me an email (address at the top right hand of the screen) with your name and postal address. This competition has more than one prize to be won though so you need to make it clear what you’re entering for...

If you’re just after a copy of ‘The Terminal State’ then your subject header needs to be ‘The Terminal State’. If you’re after all four books though, your subject header needs to be ‘I fancy giving this series a go...’ Miss out any of this information from your email and your entry gets deleted...

I’ll be letting this one run until the 15th of August and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Friday, 6 August 2010

From My Bookshelf: ‘The Raven’ (James Barclay)

When I first moved to London, the daily routine would invariably be along the lines of joining job agencies in the morning and finding the nearest bookshop for a good old browse in the afternoon. Well, maybe I did a little job hunting in the afternoon as well but you get the picture.
One afternoon I found myself in one of those bookstores (you know the ones...) where fairly recent releases get bought as a job lot and sold at around half the cover price. I love those places, saved an absolute fortune by using one of these shops for my ‘Wheel of Time’ reading! But anyway...
This time round, I found myself faced with the bright green cover of James Barclay’s ‘Elfsorrow’ at a price that happened to match what was in my pocket. I figured I’d give it a go and that was it. I was away...

It's not the green cover at all but I was kind at the mercy of the internet here! :o)

James Barclay’s ‘Chronicles of the Raven’ trilogy and four part ‘Legends of the Raven’ trilogies tell the tales of ‘The Raven’, a band of mercenaries who are just entering the twilight years of their career. Despite this though, their reputation still holds strong and is usually enough to carry them through any number of confrontations. These men have fought together for over a decade and the struggles they face grow even more dangerous as events conspire to force the end of the world. Wielding an axe or broadsword is one thing though, what truly scares certain members of the band is that one day the Raven will disband. If your friends are your life then what have you got left when they leave...?

Let’s get one thing straight, if you’re after an intelligent tale of old mercenaries pondering their future then this isn’t the first series you should go to. Glen Cook’s ‘Black Company’ series does that a whole lot better with it’s blurring of the line between good and evil. The ‘Raven’ books are a lot more polarised in this respect and it shows, almost to the point where you can predict the outcome of any of the books. That’s not to say that Barclay doesn’t shove his characters into some impossible situations, far from it. Check out ‘Nightchild’ and see what I mean...
The line, between good and evil, in these books, is drawn with thick permanent marker though and this makes some of the confrontations come across as cartoonish rather than considered. I’d also seriously consider not looking at the map in the front of each book as well, just saying...

Bearing all this in mind then, how come the entire series has pride of place on my bookshelf? Simple...

James Barclay has clearly gone to the ‘David Gemmell School of Writing’ and that’s a very good thing as far as I’m concerned. Honour in battle and doing the right thing are the order of the day! You might know just what you’re getting in a read like this but it’s done very well and that’s the main thing, isn’t it?
Barclay is a master of depicting full on warfare in its many guises and also does a mean line in just what it might be like to stare a dragon in the eye. Whatever he’s writing, Barclay leaves you in no doubt just how urgent a situation is and what it means in terms of the larger plot. And that’s where the energy comes in. Barclay pulls the plot along at a hell of a rate and I found that I was caught up by the momentum as well as wanting to know how it all ends.

I found that I had a lot of time for Barclay’s characters as well. They may be generic mercenaries to begin with but they grow and develop over the course of the series in the best way. No matter what they face, Barclay still manages to find time to convey all the fears and thoughts that any middle aged mercenary must have. ‘Do I have enough in me for one more fight?’ ‘What about my family?’ ‘What will I do if I’m left on my own?’ Some of the answers make for poignant reading at times...

‘The Raven’ might not start out on the best foot but there is more and more to recommend it as the series progresses and it’s a lot of fun at the same time. Well worth checking out if you’re a fan of mercenaries trying to do the right thing in a world that’s tipping closer and closer to the edge...