Tuesday, 30 November 2010

‘The Walking Dead Volume 13: Too Far Gone’ – Robert Kirkman/Charlie Adlard (Image Comics)

I knew it would happen, I’m slowly getting further and further behind in my attempts to watch the ‘Walking Dead’ TV show. I guess I’m just not built for TV watching these days what with everything else that’s going on; you can be sure that I’ll get there eventually though!
The important thing though is that I am now bang up to date with what’s been going on in the ‘Walking Dead’ collected volumes, all thirteen of them. You may be tired of me repeating myself but I’m not... ‘The Walking Dead’ is pretty much the best slice of zombie fiction out there right now, there’s nothing better. If you’re a zombie fan and you haven’t been reading this... well, you really need to start. Right now in fact!
Having said all that though, I found Volume 12 to be rather a flat affair that promised good things for the next volume but still left me feeling a little unsatisfied in the meantime. When things like this happen I always find myself wondering how the next volume is going to shape up. Turns out that I needn’t have worried...

Rick and his band of survivors have settled into community life but some things still don’t feel quite right, whether it’s the fear of going back outside the walls (there’s work to do out there) or the fact that certain residents either have dark secrets or are helping others to keep theirs.
Rick sees the community as perhaps the best chance anyone has to live a halfway normal life in this new world; the question is what he is prepared to do in order to maintain things... Rick used to keep the law as a police officer, now it looks like he might be taking it into his own hands, will anyone stand against him?

Yet again, Kirkman had me thinking in one direction only to turn things round and really hit me with stuff straight out of left field. Rick has been slowly going off the rails for a little while now (and who could blame him really?)  and I thought this was going to culminate in his becoming the one man who has caused him the most pain up to now. Who knows, this could still happen but not just yet. Kirkman’s ‘man on the edge’ is still clinging on despite a growing tendency to lose it in the most violent ways and it’s going to be very interesting to see if he still keeps trying to do the right thing as the series progresses further. It could still go either way but what we have in the meantime is a well fleshed out character whose decisions cannot help but reverberate in the community around him.

It’s not just Rick either, it’s very interesting to see how the others react to life in relative safety and Kirkman cleverly swaps things around so that there’s a fresh slant on people that you think you know well by now. You really get the impression that people had to dig deep and be people other than who they really were during their time in the wilderness and this becomes a fresh way of looking at established characters. People whom you thought would be cool with stepping outside those gates would suddenly much rather be safe behind closed doors...

If this wasn’t enough, we finally get to find out what’s been going on behind some of the closed doors in the community. The big confrontation was perhaps signposted a little too clearly, in Volume 12, to be a surprise but you can’t deny the power that goes with it. Kirkman does moments like these only too well and he’s on form again here with a couple of moments that made me gasp at what was happening. Special mention has to go to Charlie Adlard for showcasing the sheer intensity of physical confrontation with using any colour in the artwork at all. That lack of colour seems to push the aggression to the surface even more.
While Rick is finding his place in the community, events are happening outside that  will not only solidify his position but also hint at something huge happening in Volume 14. It’s going to be just like the prison all over again but this time with an entire city full of zombies...Kirkman knows when to leave people hanging and now I cannot wait to crack on with the story; this could be the moment when Rick falls one way or the other.

I deliberately haven’t said a lot about Charlie Adlard’s art because; well... what can I say that hasn’t been said already. Adlard has made art duties, for ‘The Walking Dead’, completely his own and you just can’t see that changing. That could be why some of the larger panels are missing a little detail, complacency or is that just common practice? I don’t know...

‘Too Far Gone’ bumps things back onto track nicely just when I was wondering what would come next and has whetted my appetite nicely for Volume 14. The long wait begins again but at least it begins on a better note than last time round...

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Monday, 29 November 2010

Leslie Neilsen - RIP

My favourite 'Naked Gun' moment :o)
No matter what kind of a day I'd just had, you always made me laugh out loud and put a smile on my face; rest in peace.

The 'Where's My Damn Snow?' Competition Winner's Post

Seriously, where is it? It's not as if it isn't cold enough and everywhere else seems to be all snowed upon; where's Londons snow? Just a little bit of the stuff would have given us all a good reason to stay at home and avoid the latest Tube strike (it's just like being back in the nineteen eighties at the moment, only with better haircuts...)

Hope you all had a good one this weekend! Despite the above 'mini-rant' I actually had a great weekend, possibly because I turned on all the radiators and didn't step out of the house once; the recipe for a perfect winter weekend :o)

What's that? Oh yes, competition winners. You want to know who won the 'Seed Seeker' and 'Virga' competitions? Here you go...

'Seed Seeker' (Pamela Sargent)

Penny Crampton, Virginia Beach, US
Randall Newnham, Oregon, US

'Virga: Cities of the Air' (Karl Schroeder)

Christina Oseland, Minnesota, US
Justin Lee, Brooklyn, US
Joan Bedinger, Georgia, US

Well done guys! Your books will be on the way very soon. Better luck next time everyone else...

Sunday, 28 November 2010

A Cover Art Post: 'The Good, The Bad and the Unfortunate...'

One of my more self explanatory posts... :o) A quick look at the reading pile threw up the following gems and a few... well, you tell me...

The Good...

'The Emperor's Finest' - Sandy Mitchell

This is just what you would expect recruiting posters in the Imperium to look like. In your face and absolutely glorious! I'm a big fan of Black Library cover art and you can see why here...

'The Bone Palace' - Amanda Downum

The cover art for Amanda Downum's 'The Drowning City' was enough to get me reading and the same applies here :o) However, I am hoping for a better read from 'The Bone Palace' than I got with 'The Drowning City'...

The Bad...

'The Human Blend' - Alan Dean Foster

A thriller about genetics or the sad tale of a horse with cataracts (there's something about the hair that lends a sense of the equine here...)? Looking at this cover, I'm not sure at all. Can anyone say one way or the other...?

'Trio of Sorcery' - Mercedes Lackey

Not so much bad as... lazy and bland. A blurred picture of a woman, wow... An artist somewhere is bathing in money and hoping that the requests for cover art are just as undemanding next time round. You just know I'll end up reading it though as I've never read anything by Mercedes Lackey... Would this be a good place to start?

The Unfortunate...

'House of the Star' - Caitlin Brennan

Not only is this an unfortunately posed picture (in its own right) but it also immediately brings the 'Yogi Bear' movie poster to mind...

See what I mean? I can't look at the above picture without sniggering like a schoolboy, I've got no hope with the cover art for 'The House of the Star'...

What do you think of these covers? All comments are welcome :o)

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Giveaway! 'Towers of Midnight' (Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson)

I still need to read 'The Gathering Storm'...

Oh well, for those of you who are ahead of me (probably everyone) I've got a pretty cool giveaway. Thanks to Orbit Books, I have two copies of 'Towers of Midnight' to give away to two readers of the blog. Actually, what I should have said was 'two UK readers'... Yes, this competition is only open to people in the UK.

For those of you who are left, 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 postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'Towers of Midnight'. I'll do everything else.

I'll let this one run until the 5th of December and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good luck!

Friday, 26 November 2010

‘The Silent Land’ – Graham Joyce (Gollancz)

As much fun as high octane military sci-fi can be (and it is), you have to be careful not to overdose on the stuff. One book too many and you run the very dangerous risk of breaking out in state of the art body armour and wondering what the girl you left behind on Earth is up to... I recognise the symptoms only too well so knew when it was time to put the Black Library books down and go for something completely different instead.
And you can’t get a lot more different than Graham Joyce, fine purveyor of literature that sits in your head and messes with your brain for days after you’ve finished reading the book. That’s what happened with me when I read ‘The Tooth Fairy’ way back in 2008. Here’s a book that you can’t really say is ‘enjoyable’ as such but it’s certainly one that you can’t help but chew on and, in that sense, it is a more than satisfying read. After finishing ‘The Tooth Fairy’ I somehow never got round to reading any more of Joyce’s work and the arrival of ‘The Silent Land’ prompted me to rectify matters there! As with ‘The Tooth Fairy’, ‘The Silent Land’ isn’t an enjoyable read as such but it does give you plenty to chew on...

Zoe and Jake are on a romantic skiing break when they become caught right in the middle of an avalanche. They manage to escape relatively unhurt and return to their hotel only to find that the entire village is completely empty. Reasoning that the village has been evacuated, Zoe and Jake attempt to make their way down the mountain only to find that various routes all lead them right back to where they started. Ensuing hallucinations and weird occurrences lead them to believe that perhaps they never survived the avalanche but if this is the case, what happens next...?

‘The Silent Land’ is a very short tale (seriously, a ‘blink and you might just miss it’ two hundred and forty eight pages long) of true love that is put to its ultimate test. It had me gripped throughout and there may have even been a couple of moments where I had to pretend that there wasn’t a tear in my eye. What the book also was though was a book with an ending that I saw coming from a mile off, possibly far earlier than it should have been apparent.

Now, part of me wonders if the ending wasn’t so much the point as it was the interactions and changing relationship between Zoe and Jake as they make sense of their surroundings. The growing sense of inevitability, that the clearly signposted ending brings, does push Zoe and Jake’s relationship to it limits and in interesting new directions from time to time. By leaving the ending in no doubt, you can argue that Joyce leaves his readers free to concentrate on the really cool stuff instead. It might just be me though but what I found was that this foreshadowing really took the sting out of the tale for me; I’m one of those folks who doesn’t like to have the ‘big reveal’ sprung on them right until the end (or at the very least, just before) so to know what’s looming on the horizon did make me wonder why I was continuing to read at times...

That reason became very apparent early on though. Like I said, Joyce leaves his readers free to concentrate on the cool stuff and there is more than enough of this to keep a reader like me very happy indeed.

While Joyce may leave the ending in no doubt, all the clues that go towards that ending are immediately engaging and very mysterious, you’ll know how it all ends but what you’ll spend the time on is working out how all these clues fit together in the final puzzle. That what was happened with me as I spent time musing over things like how only Zoe could hear her mobile phone ringing... When the answers come, everything slides together perfectly and it all makes sense. Perhaps the delivery of that final revelation comes across as a little flat but, again, that’s almost beside the point. It’s all about Zoe and Jake and how they come to terms with their situation.

Zoe and Jake’s relationship is the focal point of the story and it is refreshing to see the direction that it travels in over the course of the book. Instead of moving their relationship from one point to another, Joyce reflects how relationships play out in real life by throwing Zoe and Jake’s relationship hither and yon whilst battering it with various revelations. The more things change the more they stay the same though and you are left in no doubt as to how these two people really feel about each other. This approach lends a real sense of loss to those final pages; a feeling that stayed with me for a long time afterwards.

‘The Silent Land’ is a novel that is perhaps signposted a little too clearly to be really effective but makes up for this in a number of smaller (but still important) ways. It’s certainly a novel that has left me eager not to miss out on any of Joyce’s work in the future.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 25 November 2010

‘Dead Men Walking’ – Steve Lyons (Black Library)

Like me, if you’re relatively new to the Black Library range then you’d be forgiven for thinking that the ‘Imperial Guard’ line consists solely of Dan Abnett’s ‘Gaunt’s Ghosts’ books. After all, these are the books that seem to get all the accolades for telling it just how it is for the mortal Guardsmen on the front lines of the far future. However, the regiments of the Imperial Guard number in the hundreds of thousands (at least) and this is reflected in a number of other books that might just fly under your radar if you’re not careful. The authors of these books might have paid the price for not developing their work into a series but give their books a go anyway. In particular, I’ll recommend Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s ‘Cadian Blood’ and Rob Sanders’ ‘Redemption Corps’ as good places to get started.

Steve Lyons’ ‘Ice Guard’ was one of the first ‘Imperial Guard’ novels that I read for the blog and was enough for me to keep an eye open for more of his work. Unfortunately for me, the next thing of his that I picked up was the audio book ‘Waiting Death’ and that didn’t work for me at all. With the scores evenly balanced, Lyons’ latest book ‘Dead Men Walking’ was always going to tip the scales one way or the other...

In the Imperium of Mankind the danger doesn’t always come from the stars; sometimes it lays waiting right beneath your feet... The workers on an Imperial mining planet have uncovered something that should have been left well buried. Now the necrons walk the planet once again and an ill equipped Planetary Defence Force is being massacred almost as a matter of course. The call for help goes out but the arrival of four regiments of the Death Korps of Krieg may not be the salvation the beleaguered populace are after.
The Death Korps of Krieg are perhaps the most brutal of the Imperial Guard regiments, prepared to sacrifice anything to kill what’s in front of them in the name of the Emperor. Anything else is of secondary importance, an outlook that lends unhealthy comparisons to the necrons that they are fighting. In the face of astronomical casualties, the Death Korps are resolute in their zeal to do the Emperor’s bidding. Will there be anything left after the guns finally fall silent?

If there’s one thing that you take away from Warhammer 40K fiction, it’s the sobering realisation that war is a game that no-one ever really wins (unless you’re playing the WH40K game that is, you can win that). In this universe, warfare is merely about staving off mankind’s inevitable destruction at the hands of various alien races for as long as possible. Any kind of victory is determined purely in terms of whether the enemy is still standing at the end of an engagement, never in terms of the consequences for the civilian populace. Lyons totally gets this and has written a novel that reflects it almost perfectly. ‘Dead Men Walking’ is a dark and gloomy novel that asks the question of whether you can really die a hero when, to all intents and purposes, you already see yourself as dead. The answer very much depends on who you are asking here and the results throw up some interesting contrasts between the Imperial Guard and the citizens they are tasked to protect. Gunthar Soreson’s tale is most interesting in this respect and Lyons uses it bring the effects of the war into the sharpest relief. I wasn’t sure about Arex’ narrative though. While I get how she influenced the path of other characters her story didn’t pack the same punch as others and lessened the overall impact of the novel as a whole.

‘Dead Men Walking’ charts the gradual fall of an Imperial world at the hands of a particularly insidious menace. To be fair, all of the xenos races in the Warhammer universe are particularly insidious but there is something about the necrons that is especially chilling. These metal warriors display no emotion whatsoever (even the Tyranids have a form of animal rage) and are absolutely remorseless in their approach to warfare; they just won’t stop until you are dead. Lyons captures this very well, simply by sending by piling loads of necrons together and shelling them with Imperial guns.

On the other side of the equation is the Death Korps, an army of men with nothing else on their mind than selling their lives to right an ancient wrong their ancestors committed. The gas masks they wear mean they show no emotion whatsoever and they are absolutely remorseless in their approach to warfare; they just won’t stop until you are dead. Lyons captures this very well, simply by lining the Death Korps up in neat ranks and marching them into range of the necron gauss weaponry.

You can see where I’m going here. Lyons is essentially showing us that there really isn’t a lot of difference between the two opposing forces; both want to win and both see the surrounding area (and its populace) as expendable materiel for exploitation. This raises some interesting points where certain characters finally begin to get an idea of the regime that they live under. It’s a shame that it comes too late to make any real difference... It also helps foster a real sense of empathy for the Death Korps themselves once you realise what has made them this way. You’ve got to feel a little sorry for them.
What I would say is that an interesting basis for comparison is sacrificed in the name of lining these opposing parties up and having them shoot at each other. Don’t get me wrong, the battle sequences are suitably intense (neither side will back down, only one can walk away at the end), and the urgency of the plot demands resolution over introspection, but it just felt that there was an opportunity missed to dig a little deeper. There’s plenty to chew on but I found myself waiting for a second course that never arrived...

Maybe that was intended though. ‘Dead Men Walking’ charts the downward spiral of an Imperial planet under attack and not only is that the main order of the day but it’s done very methodically and very well. From the first hints of an alien presence on the planet to Gunthar’s final decision at the end of; everything fits together perfectly and sends the plot rolling forwards to its inevitable conclusion. ‘Inevitable’ isn’t such a bad thing either, not when it’s written so well. If you’re a fan of the Imperial Guard, or just military sci-fi in general, then ‘Dead Men Walking’ deserves a look.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

‘Firedrake’ – Nick Kyme (Black Library)

I told you it would probably be a ‘Black Library Week’ on the blog didn’t I...? The last couple of weeks have seen me realise that although it’s always good to test yourself on something that you wouldn’t normally read, sometimes all you want is to have a little fun with a book. If you don’t enjoy what you’re reading then you have to ask yourself what the point is really...
This realization invariably leads me back to the Black Library ‘Warhammer 40,000’ line; books that are never anything less than entertaining and are generally very well written. When the nights start to draw in and the daily commute becomes more and more of a grind, these books take care of it all.
I read Nick Kyme’s ‘Salamander’ way back in August last year and, despite a couple of niggles, enjoy it immensely; certainly enough to have the sequel firmly in my sights when it was published. It took me a little while longer to actually get round to reading it and, despite some new niggles, enjoyed this one immensely too...

The people of Nocturne have had a long and bitter relationship with Dark Eldar slavers, an enmity that stretches back millennia. When the Dark Eldar are on the prowl, the Salamander Space Marines can always be counted upon to rise to the challenge and strike back hard. Other parties know this and this is how Salamander Chaplain Elysius comes to fall into enemy hands... That the Salamanders will mount a rescue attempt is beyond any doubt but there is far more at stake than the life of the Chaplain. The armour of Elysius holds secrets that could well shed new light on the eventual fate of Nocturne itself; this rescue attempt is a race against time in more than one sense.
On another planet entirely, newly inducted Librarian Dak’ir accompanies his mentor Pyriel on a mission to ascertain the intentions of their enemies; perhaps more important is the fact that they must determine just exactly what Da’kir’s place in prophecy is. Salvation or damnation is promised but Dak’ir could easily be either...

‘Firedrake’ is the second book in the ‘Tome of Fire’ trilogy so it stands to reason that this isn’t one you can jump straight into (check out ‘Salamander’ first, it’s worth it). With over a year having passed since I read the first book I found this to be even more the case. Main characters aside, I found that it took me a little while to get my head around who was who again; it might just be me but the ‘Tomes of Fire’ trilogy could well be the first Black Library series to require its own dramatis personae list...
Having said all that though, I think that a large part of what made ‘Firedrake’ initially inaccessible to me was Kyme’s approach to the timeline of events. Space Marines are notoriously long lived and their idea of something that happened recently can be anything upwards of fifty years ago. This led to some massive jumps back into the past (to explore prior events) that weren’t particularly well signposted at the time. Everything ties together very neatly at the end but again, it’s a bit of a slog to get your head around it initially. At least, it was for me.

What I would say though is to stick with it (if you’ve already read ‘Salamander’ then I guess that’s what you’ll be doing anyway) as ‘Firedrake’ does come up with the goods while setting things up nicely for the third instalment.

That’s not to say that it’s all plain sailing though. The book is split into two separate strands with Dak’ir and Pyriel’s quest for knowledge running alongside the mission to rescue Elysius. Dak’ir’s plot in particular suffers from the inaccessibility that I mentioned earlier with Kyme’s approach (regarding timescale) taking a little while to properly ‘click’ and dovetail with the rest of the book. Dak’ir’s plot is also set up to be resolved in the final book and is perhaps cut a little too short right at the end of this one. What you’re left with is a character who has taken half a book to answer some smaller questions but not the big one. While I’m sure that ‘Nocturne’ (the third book in the trilogy) will tie things up, we’re left with something that feels like it should be a cliffhanger but seems to go out with a little whimper instead...

Not to worry though, not only is there some nice character development on Dak’ir’s part (to balance things out) but the ‘rescue Elysius’ side plot is well worth the price of entry. Despite being asked to just accept that some things happen off stage (I’m still not 100% au fait with the setting but could the Dark Eldar really capture Elysius as easily as that...?) this plot runs very smoothly, throwing up moments of real spectacle and excitement and properly introducing us to the antagonists in such a way that a real sense of tension is apparent and I was left wanting to see how it all plays out in the final instalment. The world of the Dark Eldar is gloriously... erm... dark and the perfect setting for a real game of ‘cat and mouse’ to play out with all its dead ends and seemingly hopeless confrontations. There are a lot of these and the pace rockets along as a result.

In ‘Salamander’, the Space Marine Tsu’gan was in danger of becoming seriously one dimensional as he was locked into a downward spiral of self hate that didn’t seem to be going anywhere relevant. Perhaps one of the best things that Kyme does is to spend more time working out what makes Tsu’gan tick and then placing him in situations where his character is forced to develop. As a result, Tsu’Gan’s character is fascinating to follow and is perhaps the main reason why I will be picking up ‘Nocturne’ when it is released (late next year I think). There is more to him than you would think...

I have a suspicion that after having read ‘Nocturne’ I will be forced to revise my opinion of ‘Firedrake’ (as part of a larger story rather than a book on its own). ‘Firedrake’ is the ‘middle book’ in a trilogy and falls foul of some of the associated pitfalls but there is a lot to recommend it at the same time. If you’re reading this series, there’s no reason to put it down just yet and every reason to carry on...

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Cover Art - 'Deadline' (Mira Grant)

From the Orbit website...

Good isn't it? I like the whole biohazard thing they've got going on here (and copious amounts of blood always go down well too!) I wasn't so keen on 'Feed' but there was more than enough to make me want to check out the sequel. Here's the blurb (which sounds very cool indeed),

“I guess in the end, it doesn’t matter what we wanted.  What matters is what we chose to do with the things we had. —Georgia Mason”

Shaun Mason is a man without a mission. Not even running the news organization he built with his sister has the same urgency as it used to. Playing with dead things just doesn’t seem as fun when you’ve lost as much as he has.
But when a CDC researcher fakes her own death and appears on his doorstep with a ravenous pack of zombies in tow, Shaun has a newfound interest in life. Because she brings news—he may have put down the monster who attacked them, but the conspiracy is far from dead.
Now, Shaun hits the road to find what truth can be found at the end of a shotgun.

I'm not sure when 'Deadline' is set to be published but I'll be keeping an eye out and hoping for good things...

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

‘Garro: Oath of Moment’ – James Swallow (Black Library)

It could well turn into a bit of a ‘Black Library Week’ on the blog this week what with the direction my reading is taking me in at the moment. Well, that’s how I roll... Don’t listen to those people who mock tie-in fiction. The target doesn’t get hit every time but, if you’re after a well crafted piece of military sci-fi with a gothic edge, then you can’t go too far wrong with the Black Library’s ‘Warhammer 40,000’ fiction. Seriously, check it out if you haven’t already.
I was in the mood for something along these lines when faced with the prospect of coming back to work after a glorious three day weekend; if that prospect wasn’t bad enough my journey means that I have to deal with the trials and tribulations of the London Underground (a commute that can sometimes leave you without space to even hold a book let alone read one...) I was cool with that though as my Black Library fix was nestled comfortably on my iPod...

If you’ve read the Horus Heresy book ‘Flight of the Eisenstein’ then you will know of the disenfranchised Space Marines who, at the end of the book, were left imprisoned to await the will of the Emperor. Nathaniel Garro, formerly of the Death Guard Legion, was one such marine and now his time of imprisonment has come to an end.
Nathaniel Garro has now sworn a new oath to none other to Malcador the Sigillite himself, Regent of Terra and one of the most powerful men in the Imperium. Garro’s new mission will take him back into the stars where he will fight those whom he used to call brother whilst putting the Sigillite’s plans into motion. First stop, the embattled Ultramarine world of Calth.

With only a couple of notable exceptions, I’ve had a great time with the Black Library’s audio book output. They’re a great way to while away an hour or so and are always entertaining. Once again, this was very much the case with ‘Oath of Moment’.

After a brief period of wondering whether the series could do with a little more variety regarding the narration duties I came to the conclusion, a while ago, that Toby Longworth is in fact the man best suited to delivering high octane tales of warfare in a nightmarish future millennia hence. ‘Oath of Moment’ did nothing to change my mind in this respect. There were moments where I found myself wondering if Longworth had exhausted the range of different voices that he had for characters; some of them sounded suspiciously familiar to those heard in prior audio books... That to one side though (and seriously, could any one actor really populate a fictional universe with characters that all sounded different...?), Longworth is most definitely the ‘voice of Warhammer 40K’. His rough tones really cast the Imperium in the light that it’s meant to be cast in and I’m looking forward to more from him in the future. Moving away from the narration, ‘Oath of Moment’ is very clearly a well produced piece with music and sound effects carefully placed to enhance the mood rather than drown it out.

I did wonder what would happen to the likes of Nathaniel Garro and James Swallow very kindly lets us know with the opening chapter in a side plot to the Heresy that looks like it could well run for a while. It doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of room to actually get to know the characters all that well (although you may already know Garro from ‘Flight of the Eisenstein’) but Swallow works well with the space that he has, giving us a keen look into the minds and motivations of Garro and the Ultramarine Rubio. Rubio’s character in particular is fascinating to follow as he fights to find some middle ground between the demands of duty and the consequences of the edict that arose from the Council of Nikea. The outcome is perhaps a little too obvious but what’s thrown at Garro and Rubio, in the meantime, more than makes up for it. The climactic scenes well and truly deserve that title.

‘Oath of Moment’ may be short but it’s very sweet at the same time, an intriguing opening chapter for the continuing adventures of Nathaniel Garro. The detail of the Sigillite’s orders makes this a series that I’ll be keeping an eye open for in the future.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

‘Descent of Angels’ – Mitchel Scanlon (Black Library)

It’s not often that I don’t make it the whole way through a book (although, funnily enough, it’s been happening more and more just recently...) and it’s a rare case indeed where I don’t make it the whole way through a book from the Black Library. That’s what happened over the weekend though... I had a lot on and wanted to kick back and relax with something from the Black Library; I’m always pretty much guaranteed a decent read from these guys and that was just what I was in need of. I’ve also wanted to finish off my ‘Horus Heresy’ reading just recently so ‘Descent of Angels’ seemed like a great way to combine the two. At least, that’s what I thought at the time...

‘Descent of Angels’ introduces us to the mysterious ‘Dark Angels’ Space Marine Legion and the origins of their Legion on the planet Caliban. It also sets the scene for the dissension that will tear their legion apart over the course of the galaxy spanning civil war between Horus and the Emperor...

Or at least, that’s what I thought at the time...

But apparently not. What you get instead is page after page of an aspirants journey towards knighthood on feudal Caliban, complete with what felt like big jumps forwards and backwards in time that had me confused and trying to work out just how old this man (child?) actually was. If Zahariel really was nine years old when he fought the great monster then well done him but I had trouble believing this personally...

If this wasn’t bad enough, the lengths to which this scene setting dragged out ended up with my losing any sense that this story was connected to the overall ‘Horus Heresy’ storyline. How could it be when all we had was a rambling monologue about a boy at ‘Knight School’? It felt like a poor man’s ‘Harry Potter’...

Now, I’ve read enough Black Library books to know that it’s not all about ‘supermen blowing stuff up with large guns’; more often than not there’s a good story underpinning it all and worth turning those pages for. When I got to the point where I flicked ahead a hundred pages, just to see if this really was a Warhammer 40K book, then I just knew that the story had failed to engage me this time round. That ‘hundred page jump’ confirmed that I was reading a 40K book but I found I had no desire to go back and read those hundred pages in order to get to a point where the story actually kicked in. That was enough for me and ‘Descent of Angels’ was put down, probably never to be picked up again.

I have the sequel (‘Fallen Angels’ by Mike Lee) sat on the pile, do things get any better here?

Monday, 22 November 2010

I’ve never read anything by...

There is so much speculative fiction out there that I haven’t got round to reading yet (I’ll keep trying and see how far I get...) and a large chunk of that is composed of all those ‘classic’ authors that all genre lovers really should have at least given a go. There’s only so much time in which to read everything I guess...

And so this semi-regular feature was born. I ‘fess up to not even having cracked open books by certain genre greats; you tell me exactly what I’m missing (or not as the case may well be). It’s a deal that’s stunning in its simplicity :o)

My latest confession is that I have never checked out any of Harry Harrison’s ‘Stainless Steel Rat’ books, not one of them. With my preference for fantasy over sci-fi, his books had only really registered the faintest glimmer of recognition in me... until a copy of ‘The Stainless Steel Rat Returns’ came through the door. Check out the blurb,

James Bolivar "Slippery Jim" DiGriz, Special Corps agent, master con man, interstellar criminal (retired), is living high on the hog on the planet of Moolaplenty when a long-lost cousin and a shipful of swine arrive to drain his bank account and send him and his lovely wife, Angelina, wandering the stars on the wildest journey since Gulliver's Travels.

In this darkly satiric work, Harry Harrison brings his most famous character out of retirement for a grand tour of the galaxy. The Stainless Steel Rat rides again: a cocktail in his hand, a smile on his lips, and larceny in his heart, in search of adventure, gravitons, and a way to get rid of the pigs.

A quick look at the blurb suggests I’m in for some comedy if I pick this one up, am I thinking along the right lines here? I’ve pretty much fallen out of love with Terry Pratchett’s work just recently (although I enjoyed ‘Unseen Academicals’) but I’m always up for something that makes me laugh. Has anyone here read the ‘Stainless Steel Rat’ books? Is this one (or any of the others) worth a look? All comments are welcome!

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Giveaway! ‘Virga: Cities of the Air’ (Karl Schroeder)

This series dropped off my radar a while ago but is now firmly in the picture again with the release of the ‘Cities of the Air’ omnibus and ‘Pirate Sun’ in paperback. The plan is to get back into this series as soon as possible but, in the meantime, how do you fancy getting started with it?

Thanks to those nice people at Tor (again!) I have three copies of the ‘Cities of the Air’ omnibus (comprising ‘Sun of Suns’ and ‘Queen of Candesce’) to give away to three readers of the blog. Unfortunately for those not living in the US though... You guessed it, this competition is only open to those folks living in the US. Sorry about that everyone else.

If you’re still in then you know what to do. 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; subject header needs to be 'Virga'. I’ll do the rest.

I’ll be leaving this one to run until the 28th of November and will aim to announce winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Giveaway! ‘Seed Seeker’ (Pamela Sargent)

If you’ve been following Pamela Sargent’s ‘Seed’ trilogy then this could be the competition for you (only if you live in the US though, this one is a ‘US residents only competition’ I’m afraid...) Thanks to the nice people at Tor Books, I have two copies of ‘Seed Seeker’ to give away to two readers of this blog. Check out the blurb,

Hundreds of years ago, a sentient starship named Ship settled humans on the planet Home with a promise to return. The colony divided into those who live in the original domed building and those who live by the river, hunting and farming to survive. When a new light appears in the sky, the River People send a seventeen-year-old girl named Bian to find out what the Dome Dwellers, who have a radio to communicate with Ship, know. Bian ponders why the Dome Dwellers have said nothing. Has Ship commanded them to be silent, in preparation for some judgment on the River People? Or are the Dome Dwellers lying to Ship, turning Ship against their rivals. Whatever the answer, life is about to radically change on both sides of the divide…

I haven’t read this series myself but might give ‘Seed Seeker’ a go depending on how things go with the reading pile over the next month or so. Is it your thing though? If it is... well, you know what to do next. Simply drop me an email telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'Seed Seeker'. I’ll do the rest.

I’ll be letting this one run until the 28th of November and will announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Books on my radar...

The whole ‘themed month’ thing seems to have totally fallen by the wayside; I’m not giving up on it completely but I’ve found that a lot of (if not all of) the books on that particular pile aren’t screaming at me to be read right now. If that wasn’t bad enough, reading time has been hard to come by of late (for a whole load of reasons that you’re really not interested in hearing about) so you’ll have to wait a couple of days before the reviews kick in again. Sorry about that; normal service will hopefully review soon, promise!

That left me with a bit of a blank space to fill today until, as per usual, the ol’ reading pile hit me with a little inspiration. If you’re anything like me, you’ll find yourself poring over your ‘to read’ pile making up little lists of books that have caught your eye (for whatever reason) and planning to read them very soon. Whether you actually do or not is another matter entirely and one that I know only too well! I was running my eye over the pile last night and a few books caught my attention. I’m not promising anything (especially after pretty much breaking a promise to read only books that I’ve promised to read this month!) but I wouldn’t mind giving all these a go before Christmas. I’m notoriously fickle with my reading right now so, like I said, it’s also entirely likely that something shinier will catch my eye in the meantime. We’ll see how it goes...

Before I get on to any of those books though, I’m currently working my way through Nick Kyme’s ‘Firedrake’ and having some fun while I’m there. It’s an entertaining read but, at the moment, Kyme hasn’t quite done enough with it to break into the ranks of my favourite Black Library Writers. I’m only just over halfway through though so there’s plenty of time yet for things to change. Look out for a review early next week. Mark, over at My Favourite Books, has written a review if you fancy a look.

Right, onto those books that have caught my eye...

‘Helfort’s War Book 4: The Battle for Commitment Planet’ – Graham Sharp

It doesn’t usually stop me but I’m normally a little wary about starting a series on the fourth book. The blurb here convinced me otherwise...

It was insane, it was suicidal, it was wrong -
and by God he was going to do it.

The Hammer Worlds have Helfort exactly where they want him. The ultimatum is brutal and precise. Unless the Federated hero surrenders, the Hammer World's prisoner Anna Cheung - the only woman Helfort has ever loved - will be handed over to a bunch of depraved troopers to be violated, then executed by firing squad.

Helfort can obey, or he can do what the crew proposes: sail his three frontline dreadnoughts into the Hammers' stronghold Commitment Planet, liberate Anna and the rest of the POWs held captive there, and continue the fight in the jaws of the enemy. Helfort's decision? Bring it on!

I just love the whole sense of honesty in this blurb. You know exactly what you’re getting here; there may not be a lot to ponder over but you can bet that the explosions will be really cool. Like the blurb says, bring it on!

‘The Silent Land’ – Graham Joyce

This one actually arrived in the post a couple of days ago but favourable reviews elsewhere have prompted me to check this one out fairly soon (as well as the fact that I really enjoyed ‘The Tooth Fairy’). Check out what Adam and Niall have to say. Once you’ve done that, have a look at the blurb for this one...

A young couple are caught in an avalanche during a ski-ing holiday in the French Alps. They struggle back to the village and find it deserted. As the days go by they wait for rescue, then try to leave. But each time they find themselves back in the village. And, increasingly, they are plagued by visions and dreams and the realization that perhaps no-one could have survived the avalanche. THE SILENT LAND is a brooding and tender look at love and whether it can survive the greatest challenge we will ever face.

I think I know where this one is going and I’m just going to have to read ‘The Silent Land’ and see if I’m correct...

‘The Last Page’ – Anthony Huso

I don’t normally pay too much attention to cover quotes but this one by Glen Cook grabbed me,

"A first novel of unusual scope, power, and imagination that, for me, had much of the sense of wonder feel of Kuttneresque science fantasy set in a grownup world filled of real people desperately trying to cope.  I loved it."

I haven’t seen much of Glen Cook online but from what I have seen, he isn’t normally this enthusiastic (yep, I’m thinking of the interview that Pat did with him)... I’ll be checking this one out just to see what all the fuss is about. Here’s the blurb in the meantime,

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.

‘Corum’ – Michael Moorcock
Because I really enjoyed working my way through the ‘Runestaff’ series and fancy having a go at another of Moorcock’s ‘Eternal Champion’ series. This particular book collects ‘The Knight of the Swords’, ‘The Queen of the Swords’ and ‘The King of the Swords’. I’m not sure if this will come in three separate reviews or just the one though, we’ll see...

I may not read these books straight away but these are the ones on my radar right now. Any of them grabbed your attention? And what books have piqued your interest in general...?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

‘Gilded Latten Bones’ – Glen Cook (Roc)

I’ve read more than my fair share of Glen Cook’s work and have had a great time doing so (and there’s more to read yet...). One area that I haven’t delved too deeply into though, as yet, is his ‘Garrett PI’ series; the ongoing tales of a private detective trying to make a living on the mean streets on Tunfaire. I had a very brief look with ‘Whispering Nickel Idols’ but found that the setting didn’t work me that time round. To be fair though, I was diving in right at the (then) most current book in the series so will quite happily admit that I was perhaps missing out on a lot of stuff that I could have picked up earlier on.
Also, I’ve got a real soft spot for the way that Cook just tells it how it is. None of that flowery stuff, this is the way it happened and if you don’t like it... well, you know where the door is. I’ve been missing that just recently so ‘Gilded Latten Bones’ seemed like the ideal way to get a good dose as well as seeing if maybe I was a little harsh on the series first time round...

Garrett is living the good life these days, swapping private eye work for regular security work in the Tate factory, although he’s wondering if there’s more to life than this. His girlfriend, Tinnie Tate, wouldn’t agree as she’s got her man just where she wants him. At least, this is all the case until his rooms are broken into by thugs paid to kidnap Tinnie (they’re not sure who hired them though...)
And then one of Garrett’s oldest friends is found full of knife wounds and not so far away from death’s door. Are the two cases related? Will Garrett survive to find out the answer to this question? One thing is for certain, Garrett is back on the streets and doing what he does best; fumbling blindly for clues until everything falls into place...

I don’t know if it was a case of ‘Whispering Nickel Idols’ not being the best place to start or if it was the way that this particular story panned out. It might have even been the fact that I’m a little more used to the setting now after having read Alex Bledsoe’s ‘Eddie LaCrosse’ books (do check them out by the way). Whatever it was, something just clicked for me while I was reading ‘Gilded Latten Bones’. The book isn’t without its flaws but I couldn’t get enough of it while I was reading. I’d say that fans of Garrett are going to lap this one up; it has certainly encouraged me to start seeking out the rest of the series.

‘Gilded Latten Bones’ is one of those rare books where both established fans and newcomers will get a lot out of the story. The book hearkens back to events in prior books but this is done in such a way that it doesn’t detract from the story itself and is accessible for newer readers such as myself.  If this wasn’t enough, the nature of the case lends a real ‘stand alone’ feel to the book. If you’ve read earlier books in the series then you will get more out of ‘Gilded Latten Bones’; don’t let that put you off though if you haven’t.

As the story progressed, the main draw for me was the character of Garrett himself. Not only ins Garrett an interesting character to follow in his own right (more on that in a bit) but, for one reason and another, Cook doesn’t have Garrett do a lot of the actual investigating; preferring instead to keep him cooped up in the house where all the information gradually flows back to. It’s an interesting approach whereby a lot of the story seems to pass Garrett by and he’s constantly trying to catch up with what is going on. The upshot is a story that is in equal parts as fascinating as it is infuriating.

The fascination comes in seeing how Garrett’s character stands up to returning to his old life; Garrett’s enforced inactivity gives him a lot of time to reflect on this. It turns out that our Garrett is one to duck responsibility wherever he can but he now has no choice but to face up to the consequences that his actions have had on old friends. This makes for some very interesting moments where Garrett’s character is laid bare and he has nowhere to hide and a surprising upshot of this is Garrett’s realisation that he can have exactly the life he wants if he’s prepared to work at it. I really got into this progression, it was a lot of fun to see those wheels turn over in Garrett’s mind and there are a few poignant moments to be had on the way.

The downside is that you’re basically reading a story where the main character (the guy it’s all focussed on) is sidelined while the largest chunk of the action happens offstage. There are a couple of moments where the magic starts flying, in the best way, but these are the exception rather than the rule. As a result, the book settles into a routine where Garrett hears a knocking on the door and then talks to the person who enters. While you’ll be surprised at just how much this moves the plot forward, it does get repetitive very quickly and slows the pace down when perhaps things really wanted to get going. I didn’t mind it as such because it meant I got to hang out with characters that I really grew fond of; you might want to bear it in mind though.

The story itself is pretty much what you would expect from any novel involving a private eye thrown in at the deep end. There are a lot of twists and turns to the plot and Cook had me wanting to sift through all the clues and dead ends in order to find out what happened next (or even what was happening at all). I wasn’t so keen on what the ‘big cover up’ eventually turned out to be (there was a lot of build up for something that ended up being quite simple) but I had fun getting there and it does open up some interesting possibilities for future books.

‘Gilded Latten Bones’ was a stodgy read at times but a read that never earned anything less than my full attention throughout. Not only will I be reading Garrett’s future adventures but now I find myself in the position of having to catch up with those that he has already had...

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

One for 2011? ‘The Unremembered’ – Peter Orullian

Because the reading isn’t going as quickly as it normally does so I thought it could be cool to look at what I might be reading next year...

I found mention of this over at Aidan’s site and the cover art immediately piqued my interest. Seriously, check it out. Isn’t that gorgeous? There’s the kind of picture that I wouldn’t mind having on my living room wall. Unfortunately, the blurb doesn’t have quite the same affect...

The gods, makers of worlds, seek to create balance—between matter and energy; and between mortals who strive toward the transcendent, and the natural perils they must tame or overcome. But one of the gods fashions a world filled with hellish creatures far too powerful to allow balance; he is condemned to live for eternity with his most hateful creations in that world’s distant Bourne, restrained by a magical veil kept vital by the power of song.

Millennia pass, awareness of the hidden danger fades to legend, and both song and veil weaken. And the most remote cities are laid waste by fell, nightmarish troops escaped from the Bourne. Some people dismiss the attacks as mere rumor. Instead of standing against the real threat, they persecute those with the knowledge, magic and power to fight these abominations, denying the inevitability of war and annihilation. And the evil from the Bourne swells….

The troubles of the world seem far from the Hollows where Tahn Junell struggles to remember his lost childhood and to understand words he feels compelled to utter each time he draws his bow. Trouble arrives when two strangers—an enigmatic man wearing the sigil of the feared Order of Sheason and a beautiful woman of the legendary Far—come, to take Tahn, his sister and his two best friends on a dangerous, secret journey. Tahn knows neither why nor where they will go. He knows only that terrible forces have been unleashed upon mankind and he has been called to stand up and face that which most daunts him—his own forgotten secrets and the darkness that would destroy him and his world.

So, looks like we’ve got a case of ‘boy with a mysterious past has to save the world from evil’ going on here... The question then is not so much whether we’re getting something original here, more of a case of whether Orullian is going to be able to give us something fresh using the same old ingredients... I still find myself in the mood for a good ol’ quest story every now and then; I wouldn’t say ‘The Unremembered’ ranks as a highly anticipated release but I will check it out. Look out for this one in April next year (from Tor).

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

‘The Walking Dead’ (Part 1)

If you haven’t been reading the comics, or you’re even slower than I am at getting to watch the TV show, then there’s probably going to be a couple of spoilers lurking in here. You might want to consider that before diving in...

Still here? Good...

Robert Kirkman’s ‘The Walking Dead’ is quite frankly an awesome piece of comic book fiction, pulling no punches in showing us just what it’s like to be on the receiving end of a full on zombie apocalypse. There aren’t many books that make me gasp and go “Oh, f...!” ‘The Walking Dead’ does this frequently and that’s why I’ll be there until the bitter end.
When I heard that there was going to be a TV adaptation... Well, you should have seen the little dance I did up and down the stairs followed by the ‘zombie lurch’ to the kitchen. Normally I’d be a little concerned about my favourite books getting the TV treatment but not this time. Speaking as a fan, ‘The Walking Dead’ is so great that it would be practically impossible to screw up on the small screen. You would have thought, wouldn’t you...?

You thought right, the first episode was nothing short of enthralling and has me feeling that good things are assured for the rest of the episodes.

Sherriff’s Deputy Rick Grimes is shot in the line of duty and wakes up to find that a lot has changed while he was in hospital. Everyone else seems to have vanished for a start, apart from the half eaten corpse on the floor... It soon becomes apparent that the dead have returned to eat the living, all Rick is concerned about is finding his wife and son but is Atlanta really the place to find them or will he find something else waiting for him?

The first thing that struck me was how quiet this episode was. You can have as much wreckage strewing the landscape as you like but it’s the background noise that really lets you know what’s gone down; it’s really quiet because there’s no-one left. This almost complete absence of noise really sucked me in and when something did happen I jumped all the more. That’s not to say the producers didn’t do a good job with the landscape though with scenes like the outside of the hospital and all the abandoned cars heading out of the city really setting the right tone. Zombies are zombies wherever you go so there weren’t exactly any surprises in how they looked. They were used effectively though. As is the case in the book, it’s not so much about the zombies as it is the characters and how they deal with the zombies.

Andrew Lincoln does a great job as Rick, maybe a little darker than the ‘Rick in the book’ but it still works. There isn’t a lot for him to say (he’s on his own for large chunks of the episode) but you really get a sense of the determination that’s driving Rick on and how nothing’s going to stop him. The real star of the piece for me though was  Lennie James as Morgan Jones, the father who is hiding out in Rick’s neighbour’s place. The moment where he’s sat upstairs looking through the sight on his gun is heartbreaking...

The ending, in Atlanta, deviates from the book a little but the cliff hanger it leaves us more than makes up for that. You would not believe how much I’m looking forward to getting my hands on the next episode (even though I know how it’s going to go)!

Monday, 15 November 2010

The 'Whose stupid idea was it to have a themed month?' Competition Winner's Post.

I'm full of good intentions but also have an attention span similar to that of my six and a half month old daughter at the moment... The plan was to only read books this month that I'd specifically promised to read; all well and good but what do you do when you can't get into any of them and all the other books on the shelves suddenly look a lot more tempting...? This could be the 'shortest themed' month on record but if I don't add a few more books to the mix then I'll probably end up not reading anything at all! Oh well, we'll see how it goes...

In the meantime, I have a few competition winners to announce :o) Thanks to everyone who entered the 'Ulysses Quicksilver' and 'Tomes of the Dead' competitions over the last week. I had just over three hundred entries, all in all, so thanks for helping my email inbox feel all smug and well fed!
There could only be a certain number of winners though and they were...

'Best of Tomes of the Dead'

Carmen Wing, Kent, UK
Angie Thomas-Davis, Cardiff, UK

'The Ulysses Quicksilver Omnibus'

Susan Wood, Edinburgh, UK
Anna Bakes, East Yorkshire, UK

Well done to all the winners, your books will be on their way very soon. Better luck next time everyone else...

Sunday, 14 November 2010

One for 2011? 'Midnight Riot' (Ben Aaronovitch)

A really quick one today as I'm off out to buy armfuls of flowers in a minute (no, really... I might have to hand my 'Man Card' back at this rate!) but I got an advance copy in the post yesterday and the first couple of pages really hooked me. Del Rey are publishing this, in the US, in January next year (Gollancz are publishing it in the UK, not quite sure when though) and I reckon it could be one to look out if you like your urban fantasy to be a little more thoughtful than the usual fare. Check out the blurb...

Probationary Constable Peter Grant dreams of being a detective in London’s Metropolitan Police. Too bad his superior plans to assign him to the Case Progression Unit, where the biggest threat he’ll face is a paper cut. But Peter’s prospects change in the aftermath of a puzzling murder, when he gains exclusive information from an eyewitness who happens to be a ghost. Peter’s ability to speak with the lingering dead brings him to the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, who investigates crimes involving magic and other manifestations of the uncanny. Now, as a wave of brutal and bizarre murders engulfs the city, Peter is plunged into a world where gods and goddesses mingle with mortals and a long-dead evil is making a comeback on a rising tide of magic.

Like I said, the first couple of pages have pretty much guaranteed that I'll be reading until the end. What do you think?

Saturday, 13 November 2010

‘The Fall’ – Guillermo Del Toro & Chuck Hogan (Harper Collins)

I wouldn’t say I’ve given it a great deal of thought but, then again, I don’t really need to. The bottom line is this, vampires do not sparkle. Not only do vampires not sparkle but they certainly don’t spend time getting into intense relationships with humans either. Why is this? Because they’re vampires dammit! The only time a two hundred year old  vampire will be even remotely interested in a high school girl (or feisty yet vulnerable vampire hunter, you know the drill...) is when he needs to grab a bite to eat. How is being able to ‘sparkle’ going to help a vampire get his food (other than when people like me are laughing so hard that we can’t run away)? It isn’t and that’s why vampires don’t sparkle. Vampires are animals only interested in domination over the food chain...
This thinking has slowly but surely driven me away from most urban fantasy and back towards the vampires of horror fiction. The only problem is that there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of vampire fiction out there (at least, as far as I can tell). Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s ‘The Strain’ looked like it was going to buck this trend last year but I never got hold of a copy to see if this would prove to be the case. I wasn’t going to make that mistake a second time so when ‘The Fall’ was published back in September I made sure to get myself a copy to read.
It’s taken me a while to get round to ‘The Fall’ but it was worth the wait. That’s not to say it wasn’t without its faults though...

Following the events of ‘The Strain’, human incompetence and greed has seen the vampire infection take root in New York City and start to breed. The city is slowly falling apart under the strain and citizens must battle a menace that they can barely bring themselves to believe in.
Ephraim Goodweather couldn’t get the city officials to act on his suspicions and now he must do what he can to hold things together and deny the vampires their final foothold. However, despite the help of a motley gang of allies, Goodweather has a battle on his hands that will be lost one way or another. The vampire master is putting the final touches together on a plan decades old, a plan that no-one else will be able to fully grasp until it is too late. If this wasn’t enough for Goodweather to deal with, he must also work out how to stop his vampire ex-wife from doggedly pursuing their only son...

Every now and then I like to jump straight into the middle of a series and see how the book in question stands up in its own right. I never expect things to go one way or the other here; it’s just an interesting exercise really. In the case of ‘The Fall’ (middle book in a trilogy) I’d advise you all to go back and start right from the very beginning. There are brief passages that recall events from ‘The Strain’ but, overall, the assumption is made that you’ve read the first book and are good to go with the second. You can tell that ‘The Fall’ picks up things a matter of minutes after the closing events of ‘The Strain’ and the pace of those opening chapters doesn’t leave a lot of time for hangers on who have only just joined the party. That’s fair enough really, there’s a lot going on and there’s no time for needless info-dumps is there?

What had me more than a little bemused then was Del Toro and Hogan’s insistence on spraying the text with a whole load of other info-dumps. We’re talking about the history of a certain neighbourhood, character (I’m thinking of Angel here) or government organisation. This has the inevitable affect of slowing things up, more often than not when you know that things are about to get interesting. The pacing suffers badly at times and I was left wondering quite what the rationale was when the authors decided to go with these info-dumps instead of something that would have made the book more accessible to a casual reader picking the series up for the first time.

Once I got past this irritating feature though, I found ‘The Fall’ to be a very entertaining read; certainly a book that kept me reading with a description of vampire infestation that had me thinking of Robert McCammon’s ‘They Thirst’. The crumbling of life in Manhattan is portrayed superbly and really had me invested in finding out what happened to the characters who were trying to make their way through the chaos. When it all goes down, the fight scenes are also well choreographed and worth the price of entry. Del Toro and Hogan do well to have the vampires as physically superior but still able to die from a variety of means (apparently Del Toro was involved in the ‘Blade’ films and you can really see this here). This makes the fights more well matched and able to maintain interest in the reader. The authors are not afraid to get really down and dirty in these moments and you can almost feel the punches as they are thrown.

The outcome isn’t really in any doubt but that’s more to do with the fact that ‘The Fall’ is setting things up the finale in the next book. However, I didn’t like the inclusion of Goodweather’s diary entries in the book (there to explain how humanity initially collapsed in the face of the vampires). The fact that he’s writing them at some undetermined point in the future suggests an outcome to the story that I really don’t want to know just yet. I’d rather read the finale and find out myself...

‘The Strain’ isn’t without its flaws but (for the most part) rises above these to become a thoroughly entertaining vampire tale that shows it’s anaemic urban fantasy brethren just how it should be done. I may not have the time to go back and read the first book but I will definitely be around to see how it all ends...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Friday, 12 November 2010

Cover Art - 'Pirate Sun' (Karl Schroeder)

Do you have the slightest idea what’s happening here? Nope, me neither... Isn’t it great though? Lots of crazy stuff blowing up and some guy on a jet bike who looks like he was out for his morning ride and has been caught by surprise by unfolding events around him. It happens to us all sometimes...

Luckily, the title is on hand to let us know that this is ‘Pirate Sun’, book three of Karl Schroeder’s ‘Virga’ series. Check out the blurb,

In the balloon world of Virga, Venera Fanning has fled from Spyre, and Chaison Fanning is suddenly rescued from prison. He falls in with two others from the same clink, Darius Martor and Richard Reiss, and Antaea Argyre of the Virga home guard. They set off, Chaison to confront the ruler who left him to rot for a crime he didn’t commit, and Antaea for her own complex reasons involving the still-mysterious world outside the bubble of Virga. Chaison still hopes to reunite with Venera, of whose adventures he has no inkling. All are caught up in the webs of those who want the key to Candesce, and the power that would come with it, for themselves.

I’m not normally one for ‘hard sci-fi’ but I did have a lot of fun reading Schroeder’s ‘Queen of Candesce’ way back in 2007. The series seemed to drop off the radar for a bit (well, my radar...) but is back with an omnibus edition of the first two books and ‘Pirate Sun’ in trade paperback, ‘The Sunless Countries’ in hardback and a fifth book to follow in 2012. I’ve got some serious catching up to do with this series (I never read the first book...) but, if ‘Queen of Candesce’ is anything to go by, I think I’m in for a good time. In the meantime, have any of you been reading this series? And what do you think of the cover art? I’m going for ‘confusing but cool’...

Macmillan Audio's Towers of Midnight autographed copy giveaway!

From the press release...

To celebrate the recent release of TOWERS OF MIDNIGHT—which will be hitting the Nov 12 NYT Bestseller List at #1—Macmillan Audio will be offering Wheel of Time fans the chance to win a free copy of the ToM audiobook edition, signed by co-author Brandon Sanderson. The contest begins this morning and will run through the weekend, ending midnight on Sunday. Three winners will be picked at random and notified Monday morning.

TO ENTER: Visit Macmillan Audio’s fan page on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MacmillanAudio and post on our wall what you love most about the Wheel of Time.

I actually got this email yesterday evening, so the competition has already begun, but you've still got plenty of time to enter. While you're all posting stuff on the Facebook wall, I still need to read 'The Gathering Storm'...

Thursday, 11 November 2010

‘The Even’ – T.A. Moore (Morrigan Books)

One of the things I love about running this blog is how it regularly throws books at me that I would never have thought to check out but end up really enjoying. Of course, the flip side of this are the books that I would never have thought to check out and end up not getting on with at all... Still, you never know which way it’s going to go until you give it a try.
Luckily for me (especially in this themed month of ‘books that I’ve promised to read’), T.A. Moore’s ‘The Even’ ended up falling firmly into the first camp. It’s a tiny read (an incredibly slim one hundred and sixty four pages long) but still manages to pack a lot into those few pages. While it doesn’t necessarily succeed with this approach I still had a great time with the story and would be more than happy to read more in this setting.

In the point where reality and unreality almost collide lies the city of The Even; an ever-changing metropolis of forgotten gods, mystical fey and even a few humans, all ruled over by the capricious demon Yekum. Eternity is a long time to live in the same city, even if it is constantly changing, and certain jaded immortals are looking to bring about the Apocalypse; the only thing that The Even hasn’t seen happen yet.
The only person standing in their way is Faceless Lenith, the forgotten Etruscan god of death and hopeless gambler. When she is offered the chance to clear all her debts Lenith agrees to help a mysterious benefactor rescue a demon from the Land of the Dead. There is far more to this job though and Lenith must decide whether her own weary cynicism is enough reason to let The Even finally die...

I’ve mentioned this before but one of my favourite things about speculative fiction are the cityscapes that it throws up for me to walk through. The ‘whys’ of that are perhaps something for another time but suffice it to say that I will enjoy finding my way through the winding alleyways of places like New Crobuzon, Villiren and Ambergris. The Even is a totally different kind of city to these three places but it shares a lot of the same traits and has swiftly become a place that I’m looking forward to visiting again and again.
Cities anywhere (fictional or otherwise) have their own characteristics that mark them out as unique in comparison to others and Moore brings this knowledge to The Even, marking it out as a place where you’ll feel like you’re visiting it for the first time. I’ll admit that a city full of forgotten gods isn’t exactly an original setting but, in the case of The Even, you’ll feel like it is this time round. Moore achieves this by concentrating on the sense of ennui that drifts around the more powerful gods (one in particular) who have done it all and need to fill up the rest of eternity. By contrasting this with the regular denizens, who have plenty to do trying to survive, Moore gives us a city at odds with itself in a unique way and a setting that’s worth sticking around for. Lenith stands out as perhaps the one character that really understands The Even and it’s her acceptance of this that drives the plot forward in the best way, towards a conclusion with a neat little twist in the tail.

Having said all that, the plot does suffer a little in terms of the space it has to grow in and the fact that, at least as I saw it, more attention was paid to developing the background scenery than fleshing out the plot. There’s nothing wrong with the plot per se; like I said, there’s a neat twist at the end and everything fits together very well. It just felt a little bare and linear to me. Lenith may not have the time to do much else but even the minor diversions in the plot feel like part of a journey from A to B rather than a journey that’s a little more varied. The ending is left open for more to come though, from The Even, so maybe this approach will change.

‘The Even’ isn’t without its flaws (a lack of balance and a plot begging to be fleshed out more) but a flawed gem is better than no gem at all and that’s what this book is. I was captivated and now I want to read more.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

One for 2011? ‘The Warlord’s Legacy’ – Ari Marmell

After Christmas last year, I thought it could be fun to have an advance look at books due out in 2010 and the first of these was Ari Marmell’s ‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ (preview here and review here). I had some fun doing this so thought I would kick things off a little earlier this time round. Fittingly enough, first up for the preview treatment is Ari Marmell’s ‘The Warlord’s Legacy’, sequel to ‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’.Check out the blurb (beware of spoilers though if you haven’t read the first book already)...

Corvis Rebaine, the Terror of the East, a man as quick with a quip as he is with a blade, returns in this highly anticipated sequel to Ari Marmell’s acclaimed The Conqueror’s Shadow, a debut hailed for its refreshing take on dark fantasy and surprising flashes of sharp, sarcastic wit. Now Marmell raises the stakes in a story that has all the humor and excitement of its predecessor, plus a terrifying new villain so evil that he may well be a match for Rebaine himself.

For let’s not forget how Corvis Rebaine came by the charming nickname “Terror of the East.” Certainly no one else has forgotten. Corvis Rebaine is no hero. In his trademark suit of black armor and skull-like helm, armed with a demon-forged axe, in command of a demonic slave, and with allies that include a bloodthirsty ogre, Rebaine has twice brought death and destruction to Imphallion in pursuit of a better, more equitable and just society. If he had to kill countless innocents in order to achieve that dream, so be it. 

At least that was the old Rebaine. Before he slew the mad warlord Audriss. Before he banished the demon Khanda. Before he lost his wife and children, who could not forgive or forget his violent crimes. Now, years later, Rebaine lives in a distant city, under a false name, a member of one of the Guilds he despises, trying to achieve change non-violently, from within the power structure.

Not even when the neighboring nation of Cephira invades Imphallion and the bickering Guilds prove unable to respond does Rebaine return to his old habits of slaughter. But someone else does. Someone wearing Rebaine’s black armor and bearing what appears to be his axe. Someone who is, if anything, even less careful of human life than Rebaine was.

Now Baron Jassion, Rebaine’s old nemesis, is hunting him once more, aided by a mysterious sorcerer named Kaleb, whose powers and secrets make him a more dangerous enemy than Rebaine has ever known. Even worse, accompanying them is a young woman who hates Corvis Rebaine perhaps more than anyone else: his own daughter, Mellorin. Suddenly Rebaine seems to have no choice. To clear his name, to protect his country, and to reconcile with his family, must he once again become the Terror of the East?
‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ was perhaps a little too sarcastic for it’s own good, the characters all ended up sounding very similar to one another. Despite this though, I had a lot of fun reading ‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ and am looking forward to picking up the sequel sometime soon, it’s certainly an entertaining read. How about you? Did you read ‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ this year? What did you think?
If you live in the US then you can expect to see ‘The Warlord’s Legacy’ in January 2011 (from Del Rey); Gollancz are playing ‘catch up’ over here in the UK so you’ll be waiting a little longer. Give ‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ a go in the meantime ;o)

Mike Carey Signing at Forbidden Planet (London)

Worth checking out if you’re in London on the 26th of November....

From the press release,


Friday 26th November 5:30 – 6:30pm

Forbidden Planet is pleased to announce a signing by Mike Carey. He will be signing The Unwritten Vol 2 at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR, on Friday 26th November 5:30 – 6:30pm

Tom Taylor's father created the Tommy Taylor fantasy series, boy-wizard novels with popularity on par with Harry Potter. The problem: Dad modeled the fictional epic so closely to Tom's real life that fans are constantly comparing him to his counterpart. When a scandal reveals that he might really be a boy-wizard made flesh, Tom comes into contact with a mysterious group. Now, to protect his own life and discover the truth, Tom will travel the world, visiting places where fiction has shaped reality. In this volume, Tom arrives at Donostia prison in southern France and falls into the orbit of another of his stories, ‘The Song of Roland’. Unfortunately, it's a story that ends with a massacre...

Mike Carey’s work in has encompassed everything from a biographical comic of Ozzy Osbourne to the astounding and Eisner Award-nominated Lucifer. The list of credits and titles to his name is as sparkling as it is long – and the publication of his Felix Castor series of novels have proved that he can move format without losing his insight, skill or passion. Mike has a first-class degree in English from Oxford and pre-dated his illustrious comics career with 15 years as a teacher.

I absolutely love Carey’s ‘Felix Castor’ books but have yet to give his comics/graphic novels a real go (my current total equals one ‘Hellblazer’ graphic novel so far...) Has anyone here read ‘The Unwritten’? Is it a good place to get started or do you think that there is something better that I should go for first...?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

‘Battle for the Abyss’ – Ben Counter (Black Library)

On the whole, the Black Library’s ‘Horus Heresy’ series has done a sterling job of outlining the course of events that led to Mankind’s most devastating civil war and the emergence of the brutally oppressive regime that governs the Imperium of the forty first millennium. I may have my issues with certain books but the quality of the overall series is such that you’ll always find me eagerly looking forward to the next instalment (which, unless I’m mistaken, is Dan Abnett’s ‘Prospero Burns’; look it early next year...)
It’s typical of me then (with my ‘so many books, so little time’ attitude) that there’s a gaping hole in my ‘Horus Heresy’ reading that comes right near the very beginning of the series. This isn’t such a big deal in itself as most of the series can be read ‘stand alone’ (although you’re going to get a lot more out of it if you go for the big picture) but it’s still a ‘hole’ and some holes just have to be filled; that’s what this month is all about!
The plan then is to finish off my ‘Horus Heresy’ reading this month, that’s only three books so I should be able to do it! First up is Ben Counter’s ‘Battle for the Abyss’...

Warmaster Horus has fanned the flames of rebellion but any fire will take time to spread, the galaxy won’t be engulfed by warfare just yet. This sense of false security is what ultimately aids the traitor Word Bearer marines when the mighty warship ‘Furious Abyss’ is launched, in sight of Terra itself, on a mission to break perhaps the mightiest legion of all. When loyalist forces finally learn of the ‘Abyss’, it may already be too late to make a difference but the attempt will be made anyway.
Loyalist forces race to intercept the ‘Furious Abyss’ but their journey takes them through the Warp, a dangerous trip at the best times but now more deadly than ever... The fate of an entire system hinges on their success.

‘Battle for the Abyss’ was a fun read and just the thing to get me through a weekend where taking it easy was the order of the day. Having said that though, whereas most of the ‘Heresy’ books leave me feeling satisfied to one degree or another, ‘Battle for the Abyss’ left me feeling strangely hollow and in need of something a little more substantial.

I think half the problem, for me, was the marked similarity that ‘Battle for the Abyss’ had to James Swallow’s ‘Flight of the Eisenstein’. Both books are essentially about loyalist marines trying to avert catastrophe by making a perilous journey through the warp and dealing with the denizens of Chaos en route. The broader context does differ but that’s what’s going on at the root of it all. If I’d read ‘Battle for the Abyss’ first then I’d more than likely be saying something different here (so perhaps it’s not the books fault as such) but as it was, I couldn’t help thinking that I’d read this story before. Swallow did it better as well, realising that there is only so much that you can make out of a journey through warp space and making a lot more of the ‘real space’ passages than Counter did. Counter brings his protagonists out of the Warp for a brief fire fight then throws them back in again for more of the same with various daemons and warp entities. The pace is certainly frantic enough and the terror of the Warp well portrayed but it did fall slightly on the wrong side of being repetitive.

Another area where I felt ‘Battle for the Abyss’ was a little lacking was its connection to the rest of the ‘Horus Heresy’ series. I know that I’ve already mentioned that one of the strengths of the series is that its component parts stand alone but there’s also a strong connection to the rest of the series that just didn’t seem to be there with ‘Battle’. Thinking about it, I’d say that this is probably down to ‘Battle’ focussing on a prelude to one of the side plots of the Heresy rather than a main event. Any Warhammer 40K fans are more than welcome to correct me here but that’s how it felt when I was reading the book. Things just felt a little too removed from the main business for the book to gel with the rest of the series and that sense of disconnection really played on my mind.

You know what though? Despite these issues I found that I had to keep reading ‘Battle for the Abyss’. As I’ve already mentioned, the pacing is frantic and pretty much grabs you by the scruff of the neck to drag you along for the ride. Space Marines are invulnerable when placed against ‘normal’ protagonists so the only way to make things interesting is to have them go up against each other. Counter gives us some bone crunching moments as Marines go at it and marries this into the former rivalries between Legions that are now turning into all out hatred. It’s in these moments that Counter does well to tap into the feeling of brotherhood betrayed and lost. There are some lines that can never be crossed once you take that first fateful step over them and Counter really captures that feeling of something irrevocably broken. ‘Battle for the Abyss’ may not gel with the rest of the series particularly well but what’s inside made me want to read more of the books.

If all that wasn’t enough for you, Counter does an amazing job of showing us the ongoing battles between the ‘Furious Abyss’ and the ships pursuing it. You really get an idea of the scale of combat involved between these behemoths and Counter captures that balance between seemingly innocuous damage done to the outside of a cruiser and the absolute chaos that it wreaks within. I want to read more like this.

‘Battle for the Abyss’ carried some notable flaws that left me feeling ultimately unsatisfied but I had good fun reading it through to the end. Confused? I was but, like I said, it was just the thing to get me through the weekend. I probably wouldn’t rush to get hold of Counters other work (although ‘Galaxy in Flames’ was very good) but I’ll give them a go if I see them.

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten