Friday, 31 December 2010

'It’s the End of the Year…'

And what an amazing year it’s been, certainly the best year for reading good books since I began the blog. I have to add a little caveat there though as the main reason the reading has been so good is that I’ve found myself deliberately gravitating towards the good stuff, rather than taking a chance, after Hope arrived. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt this year it’s that there’s only so much time in the day for reading at the moment and I’d rather make the best use of that time! This will probably be the case more often than not next year but you should still see me taking the occasional chance here and there with things that I wouldn’t normally try.

Still, a good book is a good book and there were plenty of them read this year. I listed my favourite zombie reads over Here, if you fancy a look but there were many more…

‘Surprise Find of 2010’ had to go to Guy Adams’ ‘The World House’ and considering I read this way back in February you can see that it blew the competition out of the water before the year had barely begun.  I said that ‘If there was ever a writer who could write in Technicolor it’s Guy Adams; his creations leap off the page at you and make you jump back in shock’. Never a truer word spoken I think, ‘The World House’ has lived in my head ever since and I’m eagerly anticipating the sequel ‘Restoration’.

Like I said, there were far too many good reads in 2010 for me to go and make a ‘Definitive Best of List’; there’s another reason as well but I’ll come to that in a second. Here though are a few that really stood out for me…

‘Farlander’ – Col Buchanan

February was a good month for reading! ‘Farlander’ mixed a well-conceived setting with a plot that threw up a climax that makes me go ‘what the f…’ even now.

‘The Third Bear’ – Jeff Vandermeer
Just thinking of this book sends a little shiver down my spine. Gorgeously weird and disturbing in equal measure.

‘The Body Snatchers’ – Jack Finney

A read that grew on me without my even realising it with a downbeat ‘happy’ ending that I would love to see more of in other books.

‘Doctor Who: The Coming of the Terraphiles’ – Michael Moorcock

A book that combined two of my favourite things in speculative fiction; that’s all I need to say really.

‘A Gathering of Crows’ – Brian Keene

I don’t know where Keene will be published next but what a book to (possibly) bow out on.

‘Salute the Dark’ – Adrian Tchaikovsky

I wasn’t sure where this series was going, quality wise, but this is the book that has ensured I’ll definitely be on board for the duration of the series.

‘The Bird of the River’ – Kage Baker

What a gorgeous read and a nice contrast to the grittier fantasy that’s in fashion at the moment, the fantasy genre is all the poorer for Baker’s absence.

2010 wasn’t just about the books I managed to read though… Demands on my time meant that I wasn’t able to get to all the others that I really wanted to read and it’s only fitting that some ‘photos of shame’ be included to mark the passing of a year when I didn’t read…

There are many reasons (excuses?) why I didn’t get round to reading all these books. Perhaps my first New Year’s Resolution should be to make these books priority reads for 2011…

That’s all for me this year. Have an amazing last day of 2010 and I’ll hopefully see you all again in 2011 :o)

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Which Cover would you go for?

No title this time because the UK and US publishers have, for some reason, decided to give the book two different names. The blurb is the same for both though, check it out…

My name is Peter Grant and until January I was just probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service (as the Filth to everybody else). My only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit - we do paperwork so real coppers don't have to - and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Leslie May. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from someone who was dead but disturbingly voluable, and that brought me to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England.

Now I'm a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated: nests of vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring god and goddess of the Thames, and digging up graves in Covent Garden . . . and there's something festering at the heart of the city I love, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair. The spirit of riot and rebellion has awakened in the city, and it's falling to me to bring order out of chaos - or die trying.

Here’s the UK cover,

Here’s the US cover,

If 2010 has taught me one thing (other than the whole changing nappies thing…) it’s that the reputation held by US covers for being a bit, well… you know… is unfair to say the least. Have a look back over the year and you’ll see that US cover art can more than hold it’s own with what we have in the UK. It’s kind of nice then to end the year with a decent bit of UK cover art lording it over its counterpart. ‘Midnight Riot’ does the whole ‘bad ass cop’ thing very well but ‘Rivers of London’ gives you a real look at a city that you only think you know and you’re cordially invited to delve a little deeper. I the ‘blood red’ river thing as well, very intriguing. The book is due out here in the next ten days, and has already been reviewed Here, so I’ll be doing some delving fairly soon I think :o) Urban Fantasy that promises Mike Carey is just my kind of thing.

What about you though? Which cover would you go for and which title do you prefer…?

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

One for 2011? ‘Prince of Thorns’ – Mark Lawrence

I’m using the ‘post Christmas come down’ as a time to really chill out and enjoy what I’m reading; something that I really need to do more of I think. Could that be a New Year’s Resolution? I reckon it might be…

In the meantime, here’s another entry in my occasional list of books that you might want to keep an eye open for next year. It may be a case of the publicity people being over eager (although you can’t really blame them for doing their job…) but ‘Prince of Thorns’ comes with a letter talking of the book being ‘acquired in the US for the highest advance for any debut in this field for the past 7 years’ and that ‘every single fantasy publisher in the UK bid for the rights’. Voyager are certainly pinning their hopes on this one as the book isn’t due for release until August and I’ve already had an advance copy through the door…

Check out the blurb and see what you think,

"Before the thorns taught me their sharp lessons and bled weakness from me I had but one brother, and I loved him well. But those days are gone and what is left of them lies in my mother's tomb. Now I have many brothers, quick with knife and sword, and as evil as you please. We ride this broken empire and loot its corpse. They say these are violent times, the end of days when the dead roam and monsters haunt the night. All that's true enough, but there's something worse out there, in the dark. Much worse."

Once a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg Ancrath has become the Prince of Thorns, a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids and atrocities. The world is in chaos: violence is rife, nightmares everywhere. Jorg's bleak past has set him beyond fear of any man, living or dead, but there is still one thing that puts a chill in him. Returning to his father's castle Jorg must confront horrors from his childhood and carve himself a future with all hands turned against him.

I’ve read the first chapter and it’s definitely a little bit more than the ‘young prince after the throne that is his’ story that it initially looks to be. On the other hand though, does the genre really need another tale of a young prince after the throne that is his? I’ll let you know once I’ve finished reading. In the meantime though, what do you think? Has the blurb got you interested in picking this one up?

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Cover Art - 'The Dragon with the Girl Tattoo' (Adam Roberts)

One of the ways that you can tell it's Christmas is by Adam Roberts releasing a book that pokes more than a little fun at a more well established/recently successful work. I'm thinking 'I am Scrooge', 'The Sellamillion' and 'The Soddit' amongst others...

This time round it's the turn of Stieg Larsson's 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' to get the 'Roberts Treatment. I was given a copy but won't be reading it, purely because this one feels like you actually need to need to have read the original first to get the jokes here (and I won't be doing that, I don't know why but it just doesn't appeal to me). I love the cover though so thought I'd feature it here, check it out...

I'm not sure how you would describe the grin on the dragon's face but... I like it :o)
Has anyone here read the original? What did you think of it?

Monday, 27 December 2010

Giveaway! ‘Thirteen Years Later’ – Jasper Kent

If you enjoyed Jasper Kent’s ‘Twelve’ then this could be the competition for you...

The mass market paper back for ‘Thirteen Years Later’ is out at the beginning of January and, thanks to Transworld Books, I have five copies to give away. Check out the blurb...

Aleksandr made a silent promise to the Lord. God would deliver him--would deliver Russia--and he would make Russia into the country that the Almighty wanted it to be. He would be delivered from the destruction that wasteth at noonday, and from the pestilence that walketh in darkness--the terror by night...
1825, Europe--and Russia--have been at peace for ten years. Bonaparte is long dead and the threat of invasion is no more. For Colonel Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, life is peaceful. Not only have the French been defeated but so have the twelve monstrous creatures he once fought alongside, and then against, ten or more years ago. His duty is still to serve and to protect his tsar, Aleksandr the First, but now the enemy is human. 

However the Tsar knows that he can never be at peace. Of course, he is aware of the uprising fermenting within the Russian army--among his supposedly loyal officers. No, what troubles him is something that threatens to bring damnation down upon him, his family and his country. The Tsar has been reminded of a promise: a promise born of blood...a promise that was broken a hundred years before.
Now the one who was betrayed by the Romanovs has returned to exact revenge for what has been denied him. And for Aleksei, knowing this chills his very soul. For it seems the vile pestilence that once threatened all he believed in and all he held dear has returned, thirteen years later... 

Do you want in? Just in case you were wondering... This competition is open to everyone, it doesn’t matter where you live :o)

Entering is really easy (same as ever). My email address is at the top right hand corner of the page, just drop me a line telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. The subject header needs to be ‘Thirteen Years Later’.

I’ll leave this one open until the 9th of January and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Sunday, 26 December 2010

One for 2011? ‘Dark Jenny’ – Alex Bledsoe (Tor)

My reading is slowing down now, as it gets to the end of the year, so I thought it might be fun to look ahead to next year and check out books that I think could be worth your time. If ‘The Sword Edged Blonde’ and ‘Burn Me Deadly’ are anything to go by then I think ‘Dark Jenny’ is definitely worth picking up. It’s not out until April next year but check out the blurb in the meantime,

Murder, betrayal, and magic--just another day on the job for Eddie LaCrosse.

Freelance sword jockey Eddie LaCrosse is in the wrong place at the wrong time while conducting an undercover investigation on the island kingdom of Grand Bruan. When a poisoned apple kills a member of the queen's personal guard, Eddie becomes the prime suspect in the murder. He must do some fast talking to keep his head attached to his shoulders. While trying to clear his name and find the real killer, Eddie becomes embroiled in a nasty political scandal. Someone is trying to ruin Queen Jennifer and doesn't care who is killed along the way.

The more Eddie digs, the more twisted the lies become, until Eddie finds himself caught between two opposing armies. The fate of the entire kingdom lies in his hands.

I’m a fan of Alex Bledsoe’s work in general but I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for Eddie and the way that he always seems to find himself way in over his head. Not too sure about the new cover art though, oh well... I’m not sure that I’ll be able to hold off until April for this one; expect a review sooner than that :o)

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Happy Christmas Everyone!

I hope you all have an amazing day and that Christmas brings you everything you wanted :o) I would tell you not to eat too much but... it’s Christmas! Leave it until a couple of days after Boxing Day before you start worrying about the diet ;o)

Christmas Day is normally all reading books for me but this year it’s more about watching Hope stare in amazement at the lights on the tree and stopping her crawling into all those places where she shouldn’t really be. Books are great but I know what I’d rather be doing today :o)

This is pretty much the reason why you’re not seeing a review for Tolkien’s ‘The Father Christmas Letters’ today, maybe this time next year? We’ll see... What I will say though is that, from what I’ve been able to read, this collection of letters from Father Christmas (written by Tolkien to his children) not only maintains his reputation as a writer but also casts him in a very good light as a father too. It’s the kind of book that inspires you to try something similar.
Oh well, back to wrapping up all the presents that should have been wrapped up days ago...

Happy Christmas!

Friday, 24 December 2010

‘Dark Side’ – Jonathan Green (Abaddon Books)

I told you it wouldn’t be too long before I got round to reading ‘Dark Side’... It’s an occasionally bumpy ride but I know that anything involving gentleman adventurer, and agent of the crown, Ulysses Quicksilver is guaranteed to be nothing short of entertaining. The quickest way to explain the series (other than telling you to go and find yourself a copy of ‘Unnatural History’ and get reading...) is to sum it up as a ‘Steampunk Blockbuster’ where the heroes and villains positively brim over with their requisite traits and the resulting antics are crammed full of rooftop chases, frantic cliff hangers and climactic fights in submersibles or zeppelins... Lightweight? Maybe. Fun? Definitely!
All of this brings me onto ‘Dark Side’; a book that I was eagerly anticipating following the insane events of ‘Blood Royal’ and a book that I subsequently polished off in no short order. I was left wondering if ‘Blood Royal’ set the bar a little bit too high and whether it was too tough an act to follow. ‘Dark Side’ is a great read in itself but there was something missing...

Having saved the world yet again, Ulysses Quicksilver could really do with a holiday. He could certainly do with getting away for a bit as holding a gun to the Tsarina’s head hasn’t gone down well in some circles, no matter how good his intentions... If you’re looking to get away from it all then there’s no better place to go than the British Lunar colonies but Quicksilver has other plans in mind than a mere holiday. Ulysses’ brother Barty has fled to the Lunar colonies in an attempt to escape his problems on Earth; Ulysses wants to track him down and help him out.
What Ulysses will find though is far more dangerous than a sibling in a spot of bother. Why are people constantly trying to kill him? Can he convince the Lunar Police Force that he wasn’t involved in one particular murder? What is going on at a hidden base on the dark side of the moon? And will he ever be cast in anything but a bad light in front of his former fiancĂ©? Three of the questions could well lead to a catastrophe beyond all proportions...

Picking up a ‘Ulysses Quicksilver’ book is like catching up with an old friend. You know roughly what he’s been up to and you just need to know the details. ‘Dark Side’ treads familiar ground in terms of plot and reaps the benefits of a tried and tested formula; namely throwing everything possible at Ulysses and seeing how he handles it. This book takes a couple of significant diversions from it forebears though and one of these ends up being to the detriment of the book itself.

The world of Magna Britannia, and London in particular, are as integral to the series as is Quicksilver himself. This heaving mass of humanity provides a rich and incredibly deep backdrop to the ongoing adventure and it’s a backdrop that I could quite happily lose myself in for hours at a time. It’s dark, dangerous and there is always something going on that sheds light on what a nasty (yet compelling) world this really is. I don’t have the link to hand but Charles Stross had a few words to say recently about Steampunk covering up the seamier side of what the British Empire was built on. While I haven’t read an awful lot of Steampunk, I would say that Green’s setting goes some way towards addressing these particular issues. You get to see the high life here but you are left in no doubt as to what the foundations are...

Moving the action to the Moon then is a bit of a risk and, for me, it didn’t entirely pay off. I can see the sense in introducing fresh scenery that will throw fresh problems at Quicksilver as well as broadening the scope of the Empire in this series. I’ll also quite happily agree that it may be a case of waiting for this new background to ‘bed in’ with the rest and things may seem different in a few books time. For me though, the transition to a new setting didn’t flow as easily as I was hoping.
What the reader is basically doing here is going from a rich tapestry to a relatively blank canvas. Of course it was going to be relatively blank; we’re talking about the Moon here! The thing is though, Quicksilver’s adventures work very well with the level of detail that they’re set against. Without that detail, things didn’t feel quite right. Maybe it’s something that I need to get used to but it didn’t sit well in the meantime...

Can I really complain though when the rest of the book is a glorious medley of time travelling Nazis, giant robots tearing up stuff and an ultimately tragic murder mystery? No, not really!
Green attacks the plot with his usual zest and vigour, giving us a story that rockets along with a mix of heady spectacle (I’m thinking of the giant robots here, loved that bit) and murderous intrigue. Mysteries abound and Quicksilver has to solve them all; the plot moves far too quickly for the reader to have any choice left but to come along for the ride and what a ride it is. There is plenty going on but Green has no trouble keeping everything in the air and ticking along nicely. And what a cliff-hanger ending! Whereas previous books have stood well on their own, ‘Dark Side’ is all about setting up the finale in the book to follow. There is no doubt at all that I will be around for that instalment, especially if things follow the background described in Al Ewing’s ‘El Sombra’.

The shift in setting causes ‘Dark Side’ to stumble a little after the magnificent sprint that was ‘Blood Royal’. In terms of sheer entertainment though, you can’t fault what turned out to be another gripping instalment in the adventures of Ulysses Quicksilver.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Exclusive excerpts from HALO: CRYPTUM by Greg Bear!

If you’re a fan of either the game or the books then you’re probably waiting to get your hands on Greg Bear’s ‘Halo: Cryptum’. The book itself isn’t out until the 4th of January but, in the meantime, you can read exclusive excerpts via (chapter one) and (chapter two). Have a click and see what you think :o)

From the email...

HALO: Cryptum takes place 100,000 years before the events of the Halo games and serves as a great entry point into what has become one of the most successful science fiction franchises of all time. These two exclusive excerpts will be the first place to begin this deep exploration into the time of the Forerunners, the creators and builders of the Halos. Almost nothing has been revealed about this ancient race. This new series will delve deep into the reign of these enigmatic beings, and tell the epic story behind one of the great mysteries of the “Halo” universe: the complete disappearance of the Forerunners from existence, while also revealing an amazing tale of human origins.

An icon in the science fiction community, Greg Bear has penned such critically celebrated international bestsellers as Eon and The Forge of God.  His recent novel Hull Zero Three was published in November by Orbit Books and met widespread acclaim.  Bear’s talent for taut narratives, intellectually rigorous themes, and realistic, appealing characters make him the most qualified author writing today to begin a new chapter in this blockbuster franchise.

Greg Bear will also be appearing with special guests from 343 Industries at University Books in Seattle for an exclusive signing and launch event on January 4th, 2010 at 7 PM.

Not sure if I'll pick this one up or not. I prefer military sci-fi personally and Greg Bear is a little too 'hard sci-fi' for me...

Thursday, 23 December 2010

‘Prospero Burns’ – Dan Abnett (Black Library)

It feels like a lot longer ago but it was only back in February this year that I read Graham McNeill’s ‘A Thousand Sons’; one half of what promised to be an epic (and tragic) tale of the opening stages of the Horus Heresy. And very good it was too (if aimed a little obviously at long term fans rather than the casual reader), certainly more than enough to have me very much looking to reading the same tale all over again from the perspective of the Space Wolves .
Illness (the authors, not mine...) meant that the wait for ‘Prospero Burns’ ended up being a little longer than anyone had anticipated but my anticipation for the book never lessened. In fact, it’s safe to say that ‘Prospero Burns’ was the one Black Library book that I’ve been waiting for above all others.
All good things come to those who wait and that’s what eventually happened with my copy of ‘Prospero Burns’. And it’s well worth the wait; I would even go so far as to say that ‘Prospero Burns’ is the best ‘Horus Heresy’ book yet...

Following the events of the Council of Nikaea, unregulated use of psychic powers and the pursuit of occult knowledge have been strictly forbidden by the Emperor himself. Well intentioned as it was, the breaking of these edicts by the Primarch Magnus the Red has ultimately cost thousands of lives and cast the Emperor’s own plans into disarray. The Emperor is enraged and the ultimate sanction looms; Primarch Leman Russ and his Space Wolves Legion are sent to bring Magnus and the Thousand Sons to justice.
Kasper Hawser’s time with the Space Wolves has shown him many things about this most bestial of legions but he hasn’t seen anything like the sacking of Prospero and he won’t even begin to divine his own true role in events until it’s far too late...

The Horus Heresy series retells a period of Warhammer 40K history that fans are already well aware of. The trick then is for each author to strike a balance, giving new readers a chance to jump on whilst not repeating stuff that long term fans already know, and at the same time fleshing out the detail to give us a story that’s fresh and new. Abnett may fall down slightly when maintaining that balance but what he does give us is a compelling tale that turns itself inside out to spring a few surprises. It’s the tale of espionage and counter espionage that ‘Legion’ really wanted to be but fell short of.

‘Prospero Burns’ is a tale of manipulation and scheming, decades old (the longest of long games in fact), that is all aimed at one particular point in time and for a particular purpose. What better to illustrate this level of deception than by telling the story through the eyes of the man who is unwittingly at the centre of it all?
What is initially a simple study trip to the Space Wolves home planet Fenris is gradually revealed to be a lot more for Kasper Hawser and it is the way that this is done which more than held my interest. Questions are either answered with more questions or not answered at all until the time is right. This gradual unfolding of the picture did an admirable job of getting me hooked early on and, despite knowing how it would eventually all turn out, I couldn’t help but be surprised by the detail of how it ended. This was very much a case of, ‘I knew it would end like this but I didn’t quite realise that was how it would end...’ Everything falls into place so neatly that you will wonder how you never saw the big picture to start off with.

When you add Abnett’s ability to write consistently excellent military science fiction then you’ve got a book that satisfies on more than one level. Abnett gets right inside the beast that is humanity’s Great Crusade and turns it into a living and breathing animal on the page, complete with a structure that is complex enough to accurately reflect its great purpose whilst also being simple enough to get to grips with quickly. Abnett also once again demonstrates his ability to accurately portray the common soldier on the field and adds yet another layer of welcome detail. You will probably never have a better view of mankind’s endeavours in the thirty-first millennium than you get with Dan Abnett.

When the guns start pounding the story ramps up another gear; especially when you see the Space Wolves take to the field. Abnett has already taken time to dispel some of the notions that this Legion is nothing but a gang of bestial killers with the cunning they display during the long game. This is none more evident than in the Primarch Leman Russ himself who orchestrates affairs with a purpose that belies his status as a mere brawler (although he is fond of the grand gesture as well, check out what he does to an enemy space station...). When the fighting kicks off in earnest though, Abnett leaves his readers in no doubt that the reputation of the Space Wolves, as the Emperor’s ultimate sanction, is thoroughly deserved. There is a raw animal power here that burns in every axe blow made by a Space Wolf and you feel it every single time. On the whole, Abnett generally delivers a balanced account of what it means to be a Space Wolf although the flow of the story is sometimes interrupted by Abnett’s pandering to the casual reader with more background detail than is perhaps necessary.

This is really only a small complaint though when set against what is undoubtedly a quality offering from Dan Abnett. ‘Prospero Burns’ completes the picture initially begun by McNeill’s ‘A Thousand Sons’ and in some style. Highly, highly recommended (look out for it at the beginning of next month).

Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

This Made Me Laugh...

I just can’t get into any book right now. The bottom line is that it’s the end of the year and I’m tired, really looking forward to my two weeks off work over Christmas and the New Year! What I’m finding in the meantime is that even the most ‘brain dead pulp fare’ or ‘comfort re-read’ is proving too cerebral for my tired head... I want to read though, it’s what I do! If I took a break then there would be a nasty book shaped hole in my life just begging to be filled. What do you guys do in a situation like this?

One of the things that I do is take random books off the shelves and skim the first couple of pages; sometimes I’ve found that this will spark off something in my brain and then I’m off and reading! Variable results this time round (I realised that I’m too far into James Enge’s ‘This Crooked Way’ to put it down for something else) but I did come across this quote from Fritz Leiber’s ‘Swords and Deviltry’ that made me laugh...

‘As the twain eyed each other challengingly through the murky fog lit indirectly by distant torches, they were already dimly aware that they were two long sundered, matching fragments of a greater hero and that each had found a comrade who would outlast a thousand quests and a lifetime – or a hundred lifetimes – of adventuring.
No one at that moment could have guessed that the Grey Mouser was once named Mouse, or that Fafhrd had recently been a youth whose voice was by training high-pitched, who wore white furs only, and who still slept in his mother’s tent although he was eighteen.’

Talk about setting the scene for something grand and then underlining it with a swift dose of reality and humour... I like that and I think I’ll be picking ‘Lankhmar’ up sooner than I’d planned.

Bits and Pieces...

If you hadn’t noticed, it’s getting closer to Christmas and time is rapidly running out to do Christmas related stuff as well as all the other things that I really want to get done. Like, you know, reviews and stuff... Today’s planned review has therefore become tomorrow’s planned review instead which leaves today as the day where I share some of the press releases (and other assorted bits and pieces) that have turned up in my email inbox. Hopefully there is something of interest for everyone!

Diary Date: Saturday 15th January 1 – 2pm

Forbidden Planet is pleased to announce a signing by Ben Aaronovitch for his astounding novel Rivers of London at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR, on Saturday 15th January 1 – 2pm.

Meet Peter Grant, probationary constable in that mighty army for justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service (aka, The Filth). His only concerns in life were how to avoid a transfer to the Case Progression Unit - and finding a way to climb into the panties of the outrageously perky WPC Leslie May. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, he tried to take a witness statement from someone who was dead, and that brought him to the attention of Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. Now he’s a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard and his world has become somewhat complicated: vampires in Purley, negotiating a truce between the warring gods of the Thames, digging up graves in Covent garden… and there's something festering at the heart of the city he loves, a malicious vengeful spirit that takes ordinary Londoners and twists them into grotesque mannequins to act out its drama of violence and despair.

Ben Aaronovitch was born and raised in London and his work reflects his abiding fascination and love for what he refers to as the 'Capital of the World'. Also the authors of numerous Doctor Who scripts, he works as a bookseller when he’s not writing.
I have the US edition (called ‘Midnight Riot’) and from I’ve read so far, just a quick ‘flick through’ really, this book looks very promising. If you’re there on the 15th then you might very well see me there too...

 Julie Crisp, Editorial Director of Pan Macmillan in London , has concluded a pre-emptive World Rights deal for two epic fantasy novels in a series called THE FAITHFUL AND THE FALLEN by new British author John Gwynne with agent John Jarrold, for a very good five-figure sum.

SO DEEP A MALICE, the first volume in the series, will be published by Tor UK in 2012, followed by its sequel TERROR OF HEAVEN in 2013. 

With one foot in Celtic myth and the other loosely straddling the imagined beginning of the Roman empire, this fresh and original fantasy takes two worlds, old and new, and demonstrates the clash that will occur when the modern tries to overthrow established traditions.

Set on a continent called the Banished Lands, populated by men and giants, dark forests, dreadwolves and draigs; this debut fantasy follows the story of Corban, a young man who just wants to become a warrior, but whose path will lead him to so much more. Populated with original and engaging characters, set in a primal, feral world, soon to become the battleground of angels and demons, this is a tale of love and betrayal, truth and courage, friendship and loyalty. An epic and intimate coming-of-age tale filled with mystery, Machiavellian politics, adventure, joy and tragedy.

Julie Crisp said of the acquisition, ‘This is an incredibly exciting book. It gave me the same feeling when reading it that I had when I first read George R R Martin, Robert Jordan and Patrick Rothfuss. I fell in love with the characters, the world building and the detailed imagining. The beginning of a brand new series, this is a contemporary epic fantasy that I’m sure will gather an enthusiastic and loyal readership and we’re thrilled to be publishing John at Tor UK.’

John Jarrold said: ‘I’m not sure I’ve seen a major fantasy novel that I would recommend more strongly to readers of George R R Martin in the last ten years.  I’ve now read it three times and I am still emotionally involved with the characters and storylines throughout, which is a wonderful achievement for a new writer.  Julie’s enthusiasm was immediate when it was submitted to major publishers on both sides of the Atlantic, and she was able to bring her senior colleagues on board with a very strong pre-emptive offer within days.’
Ok, there’s a little while yet to wait for this one but I’m more than intrigued in the meantime (and that’s despite the ominous sounding ‘coming of age’ phrase hidden away where people didn’t think I’d be looking; fantasy worlds are just brimming over with people ‘coming of age’, I really hope that Corban doesn’t have royal blood...). Moorcock’s tales of Corum have left me with a soft spot for Celtic style fantasy so that was all that was needed to get me to pick this one up. I’ll let you know how it goes.
The Free Reading Bit...
It doesn’t happen here all that often but, every now and then, I like to point people in the direction of books that you don’t have to pay for (all on the level though, ‘Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review’ doesn’t condone illegal file sharing or whatever it is tech savvy people call it). First up is ‘Traveller’s Rest’ by James Enge. I’m in and out of ‘This Crooked Way’ at the moment but I would recommend what I’ve read to anyone who fancies a bit of intelligent ‘Sword & Sorcery’ to read. Have a click right Here to get your hands on ‘Traveller’s Rest’, a free title that celebrates Enge’s ‘The Wolf Age’ being the 100th book published by Pyr (congratulations by the way!)
If science fiction is more your thing then Solaris have made Eric Brown’s ‘The Blue Portal’ available for free download. What you have here is a short story which has since become the opening for Brown’s ‘The Kings of Eternity’ (due from Solaris in April 2011). Here’s the blurb for ‘The Kings of Eternity’...

1999, on the threshold of a new millennium, the novelist Daniel Langham lives a reclusive life on an idyllic Greek island, hiding away from humanity and the events of the past. All that changes, however, when he meets artist Caroline Platt and finds himself falling in love. But what is his secret, and what are the horrors that haunt him? 

1935. Writers Jonathon Langham and Edward Vaughan are summoned from London by their editor friend Jasper Carnegie to help investigate strange goings on in Hopton Wood. What they discover there - no less than a strange creature from another world - will change their lives forever. What they become, and their link to the novelist of the future, is the subject of Eric Brown’s most ambitious novel to date. Almost ten years in the writing, The Kings of Eternity is a novel of vast scope and depth, full of the staple tropes of the genre and yet imbued with humanity and characters you’ll come to love.

If you fancy reading more then you can download ‘The Blue Portal’ via ibooks or you can just go and grab yourself a PDF file direct from the Solaris website. There’s a .epub file on the website as well if you want to download that.

That’s all for now, back to trying to get everything sorted before Christmas. Hope the next few days aren't too stressy for you all :o)

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

‘Soul Stealers’ – Andy Remic (Angry Robot)

I read ‘Kell’s Legend’ way back in September last year and came away feeling a little... well, I don’t know really. Remic’s bid to seize the throne sadly vacated by one David Gemmell was a book crammed full of a lot of things all driven by an undeniable power and energy; a book that slammed its foot on the accelerator and left you scrabbling to hang on in its wake. The stakes were high and we got a hero who could deal with it all accordingly; that for me though was where the book fell down in my eyes... It was all just a little too full on for me, to the point where it felt more like a Saturday morning cartoon than the story it wanted to be. And don’t get me started on the homage to Druss that felt like far more than a simple homage...
So why am I back for the second instalment then? It’s been a long old time since I last read ‘Kell’s Legend’ and I couldn’t really remember how it all went down. What I could remember though is the mother of all cliff hangers and I really wanted to see what happened next. I was also after something fun (it’s the end of the year and I’m tired...) and that was the impression I came away with after reading ‘Kell’s Legend’ so... :o)
If you read and enjoyed ‘Kell’s Legend’ then you’ll be pleased to know that ‘Soul Stealers’ offers more of the same. I’m still undecided on the whole thing though, one way or the other...

The whole world is going to hell but as far as Kell is concerned, that can all wait until he has rescued his granddaughter from kidnappers seeking to manipulate him for their own ends. The war just won’t wait though as the Army of Iron steps up its invasion from the North; harvesting human blood for the purposes of the clockwork vampire Vachine Empire. What are those purposes though? It seems that factions within the Empire, and its army, have their own plans for this monstrous harvest; plans that will drag Kell back into the game once his own quest is over. Kell is having a bad day and it’s about to get a lot worse before the day ends...

‘Soul Stealers’ was an entertaining and fun packed read but, by the time I’d finished reading, I couldn’t help but wonder ‘was that it?’ In the same way that a MacDonald’s meal will still leave me hungry (and wishing I’d forked out the extra for a nice juicy steak), ‘Soulstealers’ left me feeling empty and wishing that I’d picked up something a little more substantial.

The funny thing though is that the approach taken by Remic initially offers the book a lot to recommend it. ‘Soul Stealers’ is a ‘hack and slash bonanza’ where endless enemies line up to present themselves to Kell’s axe so he can kill them and make his way towards his objective. The ensuing scenes come across as predictable (it’s the second book in a series; you just know that Kell is going to be around for a while yet...) but you will be sticking around for the raw power in the writing. When Remic has Kell hit someone with his axe you’re left in no doubt that they’ve been hit! When you factor in the urgency of what’s going on you’re left with a story that rockets along. Except for the little intermissions between fights that is... The bickering between Kell and Saark felt, to me, like it dragged out just that little bit too far and I was left wondering if said bickering was ever going to come to anything. They both had their say and then just started saying the same things all over again... That really didn’t do anything for me.

What was interesting though is the direction that Remic seems to be taking Kell in. I’ve said before that I’m not quite comfortable with how similar Kell is to Druss the Legend and I’ll still stand by that. There’s no ‘almost’ about it, I would always rather read about an original character than one based on another character. Kell though... he proved to be a rare exception on this occasion.
While Remic still very much riffs off Druss here, this time we get to see how Druss might have turned out if he had allowed himself to go off the rails and go beserk. Instead of a good man fighting that tiny bit of bad, Kell is a self confessed bad person trying very hard to nurture that tiny flame of good inside him. Fantasy literature is full of bad people trying to do the right thing but it is rarely done on such a personal level as it is with Kell. Kell’s ferocious honesty really lays him bare in a way that you wouldn’t normally get to witness and Remic’s constant use of coarse language (maybe a little overdone, less sometimes really is more) leaves you in no doubt as to what Kell really thinks of himself. I will be back for the next book, just to see where Kell’s character goes next.

What ultimately let the book down for me though was the very ‘hack and slash bonanza’ that kept things moving to begin with. Midway through the book, it really did feel that the enemy were lining up to provide a spectacle for the reader (in terms of fights with Kell) rather than have the story move anywhere really interesting. This kind of affair would look great on the big screen but on the page it needs to be going somewhere else other than the next person to fight. The pacing fell into a rut (fight bad guy, kill bad guy, walk for a bit, fight bad guy... and repeat) and the villains of the piece lost any of semblance of evil; becoming cardboard cut-outs to be knocked down by Kell. The way that the plot dragged, because of this, turned a days read into a book that lasted longer and not for good reasons.

You know what though? Another massive cliff hanger means that I will be back for the third instalment, even though I know I’m going to encounter the same issues that I had this time round. ‘Soul Stealers’ is an entertaining read but perhaps a little too lightweight in plot to really make the impression that its language suggests that it wants to.

Seven out of Ten

Monday, 20 December 2010

Which Cover Would You Go For? ‘The Way of Kings’ – Brandon Sanderson

If you live in the US (or you couldn’t wait and ordered a copy early) then you’ve had a copy of ‘The Way of Kings’ for a little while now. Did you enjoy it? As is the case with all the ‘doorstopper’ size hardbacks at the moment, this one is still waiting to be read. One day I’ll find the time to read something that’s longer than 400 pages...

If you live in the UK then the end of the month will see you able to pick up the UK edition of ‘The Way of Kings’; I’d use both hands to pick it up though as it is huge! The question, as always, though is... Which cover would you rather see on your bookshelf?

Here’s the UK cover,

And here’s the US cover,

I’m going for the US cover again (who said that US cover art isn’t up to much?) The UK cover has a nice ‘swirly magic effect’ going on but doesn’t cover up the fact that what we’re looking at here is a fairly generic looking guy in armour who’s not doing an awful lot. The US cover though... Here’s a cover that takes you into another world before you’ve even opened the book itself and you can’t give cover art a lot more praise than that.

How about you though? If you were going to buy this book, which cover would you want on your bookshelf?

Sunday, 19 December 2010

One for 2011? ‘Deathless’ – Catherynne M. Valente

This was originally going to be one of those ‘I’ve never read anything by...’ posts until I remembered that I had read something of Valente’s in the past year or so. Well, I say ‘read’  but what I should have said was ‘tried to read’... ‘Under in the Mere’ was a book that I just couldn’t get into and I did try, given that I’d heard an awful lot of good things about Valente’s work. Nothing to do with the book though, I’m just not one for poetry and ‘Under in the Mere’ felt an awful lot like poetry to me...
Never mind though, I’ll be giving Valente another try with ‘Deathless’ (a March 2011 release from Tor). Check out the blurb...

Koschei the Deathless is to Russian folklore what devils or wicked witches are to European culture: a menacing, evil figure; the villain of countless stories which have been passed on through story and text for generations. But Koschei has never before been seen through the eyes of Catherynne Valente, whose modernized and transformed take on the legend brings the action to modern times, spanning many of the great developments of Russian history in the twentieth century.

Deathless, however, is no dry, historical tome: it lights up like fire as the young Marya Morevna transforms from a clever child of the revolution, to Koschei’s beautiful bride, to his eventual undoing. Along the way there are Stalinist house elves, magical quests, secrecy and bureaucracy, and games of lust and power. All told, Deathless is a collision of magical history and actual history, of revolution and mythology, of love and death, which will bring Russian myth back to life in a stunning new incarnation.

This one sounds like it could be a little more accessible to the likes of me. How about you? Is this one that you would consider picking up? Are there any other books, by Valente, that you would recommend?

Saturday, 18 December 2010

What Cover Would You Go For? ‘Songs of the Dying Earth’ – George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois.

Every so often I’m given the same book by two different publishers. I’m only going to read one of them so, in an attempt to be fair, I post pictures of each cover and ask you all which one you prefer.
Up this time round is the ‘Songs of the Dying Earth’ collection; a choice that has me feeling a little guilty as the UK edition has been sat on my shelf for about a year now and still hasn’t been opened (one of those books that I’m very interested in reading but somehow manage to forget is on the list...) Oh well, I’ll have to add it to the massive pile of books that I’ll be looking at reading over Christmas and the New Year.

In the meantime...

Here’s the UK cover,

And here’s the US cover,

In what is fast becoming a pattern, I’m going to go for the US cover. I get what the UK cover is trying to do but, at the end of the day, it doesn’t look like much more than a orangey red circle. The US cover gives you a better idea of what this world is all about. When that sun goes down, it’s not coming back up again. I like that sense of finality.

What about you though? What cover would you go for?

Friday, 17 December 2010

‘Helion Rain’ – George Mann (Black Library)

It is always a good day when a Black Library audio book finds itself on my door mat... It doesn’t take long for me to pop it on my iPod and then I’m guaranteed a days worth of commuting where I can shut out some of the worse excesses of London travel and lose myself in the grim, dark universe of the forty first millennium. At least, that’s the way it normally goes but the latest arrival didn’t have me leaping all over it like I normally would...
The last book I read of Mann’s was ‘The Affinity Bridge’, very well received by everyone who read it. Very well received by everyone accept me that is. I won’t bore you with the details all over again (just click Here to see my review if you want) but, for me, it was a case of only half of what was promised being delivered. When I saw his name on ‘Helion Rain’ then, well... I was left wondering if I was in for more of the same. As it turned out, I shouldn’t have worried so much.

The world of Idos is in the throes of a Tyranid infestation (a ravenous species that seeks to consume everything in its path) and the 4th company of the Raven Guard Space Marines have been tasked to its defence. The opposition is nothing short of overwhelming though and an audacious plan is conceived that will hopefully buy time for the last survivors on Idos to escape. It falls to veteran Sergeant Grayvus and his squad of Raven Guard scouts to execute this plan; a plan that will involve a race against time over a landscape bombarded by the inadvertent destruction of its own moon. If that wasn’t bad enough, many varied (and deadly) sub-species of Tyranid lurk round every corner; ready to rend and flay the unwary...

I’ve got to the point, with this audio book series, where I’ve run out of original things to say about Toby Longworth’s delivery. I’ll come straight out and admit it. The fact of the matter is that he does as sterling a job as ever, certainly up to the point where I can’t imagine another Warhammer 40K audio book that doesn’t feature him in some aspect. Some of the voices may sound suspiciously similar, to those heard from earlier audio books, but it’s that gruff, hard quality to his delivery that really captures the feel of the setting. I said it last time and I’ll say it again; I’m looking forward to hearing more from Toby Longworth in the future. Emphasis is on the characters this time round, instead of background affects, and this is the right approach in a tale that is all about the characters instead of scene setting (although the steady fall of a shattered moon was a particularly nice touch in terms of giving the piece some atmosphere).

The story itself is relatively straightforward, perhaps a little too straightforward for those who after something a little more involved to chew on. There’s a mission and, although Mann does a good job of building up the tension, the outcome is never in any real doubt (although there was one point where I did wonder...) This does rob the story of some of its urgency but the real fun lies in trying to predict who will make it through to the end of the story as Mann takes great pleasure in throwing the very worst elements of a Tyranid swarm at one small band of scouts. Frequent switches in perspective show all too well how hard such an encounter can be for a full Space Marine Company and you’re left with a very clear picture of how hard it is for the scouts to complete their mission. There’s a real element of uncertainty here and, with a revealing insight into the character of Sergeant Grayvus, this was what kept my interest. Space Marines may be well nigh invulnerable but Mann goes past this and gives us a character that is far more than just a ‘hack and slash’ automaton. Grayvus has had prior experience of the Tyranids and knows just what they are capable of...

Longworth’s delivery and Mann’s climactic passages combine to give us an ending that, although not unexpected, is more than worth the price of entry. One of those endings where everything vaguely flammable is thrown at it and the end result wouldn’t look out of place on the big screen. ‘Helion Rain’ may not be a stand out entry in the Warhammer 40K audio book line but it’s a more than solid affair that fans will enjoy. Not only that but it’s also left me feeling a little happier about giving Mann’s ‘The Osiris Ritual’ a go in the near future. Look out for this one in February 2011.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Joe Abercrombie Signing at Forbidden Planet.

Well, not until late next month but I got the email last night so I thought I’d share :o) Here’s what the email had to say for itself...

Forbidden Planet is pleased to announce two signings by by Joe Abercrombie for his astounding novel The Heroes at the Forbidden Planet Megastores.

At 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London on Thursday 27th January 6 – 7pm.
At Clifton Heights, Triangle West, Bristol on Saturday 29th January 1- 2pm.

Three man. One battle. No heroes. Bremer dan Gorst, disgraced master swordsman, has sworn to reclaim his stolen honour on the battlefield – and he’s caring how much blood gets spilled in the attempt. Prince Calder isn't interested in honour; he wants is power, and he'll tell any lie, use any trick, betray any friend to get it. Curnden Craw, the last honest man in the North, has gained nothing from a life of warfare but swollen knees and frayed nerves. He just wants to do the right thing – but what is that, when the world burning down around him? A bloody battle awaits – but with both sides riddled by intrigues, follies, feuds and jealousies, it’s unlikely to be the noblest hearts, or the strongest arms, that prevail.

Catapulted to the top ranks of fantasy writers, Joe’s winning formula is terrific, punchy prose, razor-sharp characterisation and a witty, darkly comic vein. His novels are enjoyed by those who love fantasy as well as those who like to lose themselves in the complex plotting of the richest, and grittiest, historical epics.

I’ll be there! I might have even read ‘The Heroes’ by then (that’s the plan!) but, the way things are right now, I could very well be the person in the queue frantically trying to finish the book before it’s signed...

Thursday, 16 December 2010

‘Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs Zombies!’ – Davide Fabbri and Ian Eddington (Titan Books)

Other demands on my time are starting to force me to be a little more selective in just what zombie books I pick up for a read. For now though, it’s still a safe bet that if there is a zombie book out there that I haven’t read yet, you’ll at least find me scanning the blurb and seeing if it takes my fancy.
Before now, I’d seen individual issues of ‘Victorian Undead’ on the shelves and had resolved to give it a go when it hit trade paperback format. While I’ll admit to going off ‘classic novels featuring zombies’ as a humorous device, the gimmick has worn a little thin by now, there is still a little room to do something more serious; especially in comic books (a format that zombies transfer to very effectively, you already know the examples that I’m thinking of...) If that wasn’t enough... well, it’s ‘Sherlock Holmes and zombies’ dammit! Just those four words promise a feast of flesh eating undead, a villainous villain and problems solved with ease by that most talented of detectives; how could I not pick it up?
Having read the book, my anticipation proved to be fully justified. Shame about the artwork though...

In 1854, a strange meteor was seen above the skies of London. In its wake, the dead rose and set about the business of trying to eat the living... The ensuing twenty years saw Her Majesty’s Secret Service keep the situation under control, and under wraps, but a new threat has arisen that MI5 are powerless to prevent. That arch villain Moriarty is using zombies to further his dreams of world domination and when Moriarty’s plans are set to come to fruition there will only ever be one man who can stop him. Step forward one Sherlock Holmes! Holmes has never faced the living dead though...

‘Victorian Undead’ is a fun read and one of those reads where I found myself wishing I’d made the effort to pick the series up a lot earlier. Oh well, I got there in the end! It could have so easily gone the other way though...

It may sound like an obvious thing to say but the artwork is the first thing that you notice in a comic book and, once I’d got past the rather excellent cover pieces, I have to say that I wasn’t all that impressed with what Fabbri had to offer. The art itself does the job well enough but I found that I wasn’t all that keen on the ‘verging on the cartoonish’ zombies and the slightly bland colouring on display (which certainly didn’t do Fabbri’s work any favours). When the ‘living’ characters are rendered well, you expect the same of the undead but that wasn’t happening here. I guess that I’ve been spoilt by Charlie Adlard’s superb artwork in ‘The Walking Dead’... Like I said; while the artwork does its job, the cartoonish zombies take away some of the impact that the book wants to have in terms of pulp horror. I know there’s a good reason why the cover art is always better than what’s inside but, this time round, the gap was a little too wide to be entirely comfortable.

It’s a good job then that the story itself makes up for these shortcomings with a tale that gripped me right from the start. Of course it was going to grip me, there were zombies in it! It’s not just the zombies though; although Eddington does well in giving his readers plenty of zombie action in terms of nasty surprises and full on zombie swarms. Eddington’s Holmes is just how you would expect the great detective to be; totally in control of every situation (even that one underneath the railway line...) and with a keen analytical mind that always turns out to be at least two steps ahead of everyone else. It is fun to see Holmes work his way through the zombie mystery and it adds to the excitement that he is also a man who is not afraid to get his hands dirty when things get tough. There is plenty going on and our man Holmes is right in the thick of it!

I had some issues with the artwork but, on the whole, ‘Victorian Undead’ is a very engaging read where I just had to find out what happened at the end. It might not be up there with the best zombie comics but it will still sit proudly on the shelf.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

‘Are you a Jim Butcher fan?’

Well, are you? I haven’t read nearly as many of the ‘Harry Dresden’ books as I would have liked to have done but I’ve definitely enjoyed what I’ve read. Will I ever catch up the rest of the series though...? Only time will tell but one of you might be lucky enough...

Those ever generous folks at Orbit have got a competition going on where you could end up winning a complete set of the ‘Harry Dresden’ books (all done out in new covers) as well as advance copies of this year’s forthcoming titles in the series. The only thing is that you have to be a UK resident to enter.

Sounds good to me! Hell, even if you don’t like Jim Butcher you should still consider entering if you’re looking for Christmas presents for someone who likes their urban fantasy. All you need to do is click right here and fill in a little form to say why you like Jim Butcher (in an ideal world you would clicking on the picture itself but my tech-fu failed me...) The chance to win free books doesn’t come a lot easier than this.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I have a form that I need to fill in...

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

‘Pax Britannia: Blood Royal’ – Jonathan Green (Abaddon Books)

Christmas is a time for lots of things and, for me, one of those things is to go back and revisit a favourite author or two when the weather outside is frightful (and the fire is so delightful...) Jonathan Green sits firmly on that particular list with his ‘Pax Britannia’ series being just the right reading for this time of year. If you’re looking for something highbrow then you might just want to look somewhere else but if you’re looking for a highly entertaining read that’s a lot of fun then you’ve come to the right place! The hero is appropriately dashing and if the villains had moustaches then you can bet that they would be twirling them devilishly. The ‘Pax Britannia’ books are guaranteed to take you away from the tedium of everyday living and dump you right in the middle of a steampunk London where every shadow holds a knife and enemies of the Empire plot against the throne. You can tell that I highly recommend these books...
This brings me onto ‘Blood Royal’; a book that I’ve been saving up to read while things gently wind down towards the New Year. ‘Evolution Expects’ was clearly setting up events for future books and, while this lessened the impact of the book itself, this approach had me looking forward to seeing what happened next. I’m pleased to say that, with ‘Blood Royal’, Jonathan Green has turned in his best instalment yet.

Following the events of ‘Evolution Expects’, large chunks of London are barred to the public as they are now home to vicious insect/human hybrids that are barely contained behind makeshift barriers. That’s not going to stop Ulysses Quicksilver though! When a kidnapping goes horribly wrong and a friend’s daughter is spirited away to the locust nest in St. Paul’s Cathedral only Quicksilver can save the girl and the day. This adventure soon proves to be only a small part of something much larger though and Quicksilver once again finds himself embroiled in a plot that could have grave consequences for the Empire... What was Dr. Gallowglass working on before his untimely death and why does the trail lead to a remote region of Russia? And what is the connection to a very familiar looking killer stalking the streets of Whitechapel with a knife...?

I had my reasons for putting ‘Blood Royal’ to one side until now. I wanted to have fun with my Christmas reading this year and I knew that’s what I’d be getting with this book; it made sense to wait until now for the read. Having said all that though, I still found myself wondering I hadn’t picked this book up a lot earlier. It’s one hell of an entertaining ride and I’m not going to wait as long before picking the next book up!

Usually, when an author throws everything (he can get his hands on) at the plot it will be at the overall expense of the story. Not everything will stick, for one thing, and that inevitably leads to a fragmented book that doesn’t flow anywhere near as well as it should.
Not so with Jonathan Green and ‘Blood Royal’. Throughout the course of the book, Green really does throw everything bar the kitchen sink at the plot. Are you looking for a tale with a long dead serial killer rebuilt in cyborg form? It’s here. Were you looking for a tale of biological warfare involving vampires and werewolves? ‘Blood Royal’ comes up trumps there as well. By this point you’re probably thinking that ‘Blood Royal’ cannot possibly contain Mongol warriors riding Pterodactyls, can it? It can...
The beauty here is that everything Green throws at the plot not only sticks but sticks in such a way as to work with the plot instead of merely being decorative. What you get as a result is a plot that moves at a frantic pace whilst making complete and utter sense. Each madcap spectacle flows seamlessly into the next and I was totally caught up in the rush of trying to get to the bottom of a very mysterious murder. It’s very obvious who the murderer is but, at the same time, it’s a lot of fun to see this particular character in a new setting. I think we’ll be seeing more of him in the future...

Green’s ‘scattershot’ approach to the story also has the welcome affect of giving his readers a much more in-depth view of the world of Magna Britannia and the elements that keep the Empire running. The plot may be a little light weight and pulpy but the detail in the background offers clear evidence that this is a world that has been carefully planned and thought out. It’s a firm setting for the plot to rest on and the story benefits from being able to do its own thing without having to justify some of its wilder excesses.

Just like watching your favourite ‘Indiana Jones’ film on Christmas afternoon (‘Temple of Doom’ if you’re asking...) ‘Blood Royal’ has it all going on and at such a speed that you are almost physically compelled to keep reading. Apart from a couple of the ‘journey’ passages that is. Sometimes things just don’t happen on a long trip but that still means things can get a little on the boring side; especially when the rest of the book is such a riot of action. Tying it all together though is that dashing hero of the British Empire Ulysses Quicksilver. As always, Quicksilver is just the right kind of character to drive a plot like this with his ability to take charge of the moment and get things done. He also has a nice line in repartee and dazzling swordplay; you can’t really ask for too much more from your leading man!

‘Blood Royal’ is another thoroughly entertaining read from Green that will set the standard for the rest of the books in this series. I’m hoping for more of the same from ‘Dark Side’ and will let you know how it goes...

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

‘Hellboy: Seed of Destruction’ – Mike Mignola & John Byrne (Dark Horse)

I’ve read bits and pieces of ‘Hellboy’, over the years, but it has always seemed to be for reasons other than the character himself. I read the ‘Ghost/Hellboy’ team-up way back in the mid nineties but that was more about my being a big fan of Ghost; Hellboy just happened to be there at the time. More recently, I found time to read ‘The Fire Wolves’; something that started out being about Hellboy but ended up being more about my checking out Tim Lebbon’s work for the first time. Hellboy even managed to force his way into my reading when he turned up in a ‘Goon’ storyline. While I’ll always be grateful to Hellboy for introducing me to the Communist Airborne Mollusk Militia (I love those guys), he again found himself playing second fiddle to an established comic book favourite of mine.
As one of the more iconic comic book characters out there, I thought it was time to get to know Hellboy properly in his natural setting. No ‘cameo spots’ or spin off novels; I wanted to take it right back to the start with the comic books that made him so popular. So that’s just what I did...

In the last days of World War Two, an increasingly desperate Nazi High Command resorted to the occult talents of one Grigori Rasputin in order to cast a spell that would save them from defeat at the hands of the Allies. The end result was a child like demonic being rescued by Allied Forces and raised in America by the US Army and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence. These days Hellboy works as a Paranormal Investigator for the Bureau but the one mystery he has never solved is that of his own identity. Hellboy doesn’t mind this, as such, but when the answers finally start to present themselves... he’s going to mind very much indeed. What Rasputin began all those years ago is about to end... in a rain of frogs.

I’ve been a fan of Mignola’s cover art for a while now and it felt like a real treat to open up ‘Seed of Destruction’ and find that his work gets to grace the inner pages as well. To put it succinctly, Mignola’s art is gorgeous and I want to see more of it. Just one reason why I can see myself picking up more books in this series. The artwork complements the story perfectly with a good blend of darkness, humour and action. I also like the way that Mignola will sometimes concentrate on character detail at the expense of the background as this has the affect of letting the story flow much easier without getting bogged down in unnecessary detail. It’s not often you see artwork that just ‘is’ part of the story in the same way that Mignola’s art is here. I can’t get enough of it (especially the Lovecraftian monsters that appear from time to time).

The story itself is very much a case of setting things up to play out in future books but, at the same time, there’s also a self contained plot with a very definite ending. It’s a balancing act that plays out very well and you end up getting the best of both worlds here. One thing I would say though is that you don’t necessarily get to find out much about Hellboy’s history here, understandable really due to the way the book is structured. There were enough hints though to make me want to come back for more. Hellboy is a little on the gruff side but he’s loyal to his friends and wants to do the right thing. He also has a mystery in his past that is crying out to be solved; what’s not to come back for? The overall background setting owes a big debt to H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos but doesn’t rip it off entirely and comes across all the more fresh for it. I’m looking forward to delving into more of its secrets very soon.

As far as the plot itself goes, I could see ‘The Big Reveal’ coming quite a way off but this is more of a tale where you enjoy seeing the characters fumbling in the dark rather than having to do it yourself. While all that’s happening you get to see Hellboy go up against mutant frogmen and something that seems to be made entirely of tentacles. Hellboy may have a hand made of stone, that dishes out a mean punch, but that doesn’t stop him taking a beating at the same time. You never know quite how it’s going to turn out and that made me want to stick around all the more. It goes without saying that Mignola portrays these confrontations in fine style. There’s plenty going on (for a relatively short book) and it’s all good.

I think it’s fair to say that my first real experience of ‘Hellboy’ (in the format that made him such a big deal) was a resounding success; I think it’s also fair to say that you’ll be seeing a lot more ‘Hellboy’ here if this first volume was anything to go by...

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 13 December 2010

The 'Straight To The Point' Competition WInner's Post!

Because sometimes that's all you can do on a Monday morning when you haven't had your first coffee of the day... :o) Why does the baby insist on sleeping to her schedule and not mine...?

Anyway, thanks to everyone who entered last week's competitions. The following people have some book shaped goodness headed their way...

'Echo City' - Tim Lebbon

Benni Amato, California, US
Frank Errington, Philadelphia, US
Adam Burgess, Illinois, US

'Stonewielder' - Ian Cameron Esslemont

Ieva Zalite, Latvia
James Yarker, London, UK
Mieneke van der Salm, The Netherlands

Well done guys, your books will be on their way soon! The customary 'better luck next time' to everyone else. Right, time for that coffee...

One for 2011? ‘Bloodshot’ – Cherie Priest (Spectra)

There are doubtless hundreds of Urban Fantasy titles out there that could well be a big deal in 2011 (seriously, it feels like there’s a big conveyor belt churning out tales of feisty yet vulnerable heroines falling in love with the werewolf that their mother always warned them about...) but this title in particular caught my eye. Not only does it look like ‘Bloodshot’ won’t be following the normal UF lines (at least, not as closely as you would expect) but it’s also written by Cherie Priest. That’s right, the Cherie Priest of ‘zombies in the Wild West/Steampunk’ fame. I still haven’t read any of these books (shame on me, I know...) but I still find myself interested in seeing how Priest operates in an Urban Fantasy setting. Could ‘Bloodshot’ be the book that finally gets me to check out Priest’s other work? Check out the blurb and tell me what you think of it...

Raylene Pendle (AKA Cheshire Red), a vampire and world-renowned thief, doesn’t usually hang with her own kind. She’s too busy stealing priceless art and rare jewels. But when the infuriatingly charming Ian Stott asks for help, Raylene finds him impossible to resist—even though Ian doesn’t want precious artifacts. He wants her to retrieve missing government files—documents that deal with the secret biological experiments that left Ian blind. What Raylene doesn’t bargain for is a case that takes her from the wilds of Minneapolis to the mean streets of Atlanta. And with a psychotic, power-hungry scientist on her trail, a kick-ass drag queen on her side, and Men in Black popping up at the most inconvenient moments, the case proves to be one hell of a ride.

There are some Urban Fantasy tropes that you’re just never going to be able to escape from but the rest of it looks like it could be fun. I’ll let you know how it goes...

Sunday, 12 December 2010

One for 2011? ‘The Heir of Night’ – Helen Lowe (Orbit)

It’s that time of year again where publishers very kindly send me advance copies of books that are due out early next year. As is more often than not the case though, I’m too busy trying to work my way through the ‘2010 list’ first (and publishers aren’t keen on you reviewing advance copies too early) so... I thought it might be fun to post details of these upcoming releases and see if any of them take your fancy. Up today is Helen Lowe’s ‘The Heir of Night’, a March 2011 release from Orbit. Here’s the blurb...

The violence of an age-old war casts a long shadow. It falls on a world where mercy is weakness and conflict is a way of life. Young Malian is being trained to rule. Her people garrison the mountain range known as the Wall of Night against an ancient enemy, keeping a tide of shadow from the rest of their world. Malian is expected to uphold this tradition, yet she's known little of real danger until the enemy launches a direct attack upon her fortress home. In the darkest part of the night, the Keep of Winds becomes a bloodbath. Women and children, warriors and priests, are slain by creatures with twisted magic flowing in their veins. And as the castle wakes to chaos, Malian flees deep into the Old Keep, her life at stake. Then when the danger is greatest, her own hidden magic flares into life. But this untapped potential is a two-edged blade. If she accepts its power, she must prepare to pay the price.

I seem to be getting back into fantasy more and more so can see myself picking this one up closer to the release date. Having said that though, I know you shouldn’t pin everything on the blurb but it’s not exactly filling me with confidence. A young ruler about to lose her people but gain powers that she previously knew nothing about? A mountain range with an enemy on the other side? Sounds like awfully familiar territory to me...
Like I said, I’ll probably pick this one up but I think Lowe is going to have to pull something pretty special out of the hat if she wants to steer ‘The Heir of Night’ away from the ‘run of the mill crop’ that it sounds like it could be a part of. What do you think?

Saturday, 11 December 2010

A Saturday Cover Art Post... ‘The Runestaff’ (Michael Moorcock)

I got a little ahead of myself and reviewed ‘The Runestaff’ via an old UK edition that I picked up second hand. I couldn’t help it, I was enjoying the series way too much to have to wait at all! However, Vance Kovacs’ amazing cover art is always worth a look so ‘The Runestaff’ gets itself featured again. Check it out,

It feels a little more ‘posed’ than the others, and not quite as natural, but it’s still looking good as far as I’m concerned. My bookshelves are a little crowded at the moment (so I tend to pick up collected or omnibus editions where I can) but for those of you with a little more space, these new Tor editions of ‘The History of the Runestaff’ series are going to look good on anyone’s shelves! What do you reckon?

Friday, 10 December 2010

‘Echo City’ – Tim Lebbon (Spectra)

Tim Lebbon is one of those authors where you don’t realise that you’ve read as much of their works as you have. Odd really as he’s very good at what he does. I didn’t think I’d read much of Lebbon’s work but a quick look back through the blog proved me wrong. Here’s a guy simply brimming over with short stories and novels; I don’t want to go ‘link crazy’ but would point out ‘Fallen’ and ‘Hellboy: The Fire Wolves’ as great places to jump on board if you haven’t already.
When I realised that not only had I read more of Lebbon than I thought, but I’d really enjoyed it at the same time, my anticipation was raised all the more for his novel ‘Echo City’. The short story ‘The Deification of Dal Bamore’ had me wanting to read ‘Echo City’ anyway so I was really looking forward to cracking my copy open when it came through the post. Life always seems to conspire against my reading the books that I really want to but I got there in the end. ‘Echo City’ is as gorgeous a read as you’d expect but, at the same time, it felt as if there was something missing...

Echo City is perhaps the only bastion of humanity in existence; it’s surrounded by a vast and poisonous desert so there’s no way for its citizens to be able to tell one way or the other. A brutal theocracy holds sway over the city but the impossible arrival of a man from the desert could well blow everything wide open. It’s up to a small group of revolutionaries to protect this man against those who would protect the status quo but no-one has taken into account that he may well have plans of his own.
If this wasn’t bad enough, something is stirring in the caverns below Echo City. It is vast and it is angry. When two such threats collide, will there be anything left standing by the end...?

‘Echo City’ is a gloriously atmospheric piece that pulls you right into the various Cantons and leaves you on the wall of the city, staring out across the desert and wondering what lies beyond the horizon. It was this attention to detail that had me hooked pretty much right from the start when the first, tragic, journey is made across the desert. All kinds of questions are raised in those first few pages and the atmosphere that Lebbon creates makes it all to easy to stick around and wait for the answers to present themselves. It’s not just the upper parts of the city either that are worth visiting; the caverns underneath Echo City are full of fascinating hints of thousands of years of history that you can literally feel hanging in the air. I am a big fan of cityscapes and Echo City can sit quite proudly amongst my other favourites. It’s a place where you feel that people actually live and you can’t give much more praise than that to a city that lives only on a written page.

It’s a real shame then that the story itself rattles around in such a grand setting...

Don’t get me wrong though, the plot is a good one. Like I said, there are mysteries to be solved and they are presented in such a way that you want to stick around and see how it all plays out. How could someone survive in the desert? Just what is climbing out the catacombs beneath the city? That last question in particular is posed in just the right way to encourage interest with information being doled out in drops here and there as the book moves forward.
There isn’t an awful lot of action to be found in ‘Echo City’ but when it does kick off it’s explosive, brutal and brief. Lebbon doesn’t draw things out any longer than they need to be, emphasising the violence in terms of how quickly a person can go from being alive to being just another corpse in the gutters of Echo City. Everything fits together perfectly by the end of the book showing Lebbon as someone who really pays attention to where his plot is going.

Where the problem lies, I think, is in the fact that the city and surrounding deserts are so vast that the story is never going to be able to spread out enough to fill in all the gaps. We have a very distinct group of people on a very specific mission. This mission doesn’t really branch out at all (in fact, all of the main players find themselves feeding back in to the main plot; no matter how reluctantly) so what we have as a result is a very self-contained plot perched nervously in the midst of a setting that is far more expansive. The balance just doesn’t feel right; you need something far more epic and wide ranging to sit in such a landscape. To be fair, Lebbon goes some way towards correcting this in the climatic scenes. These scenes are appropriately powerful but I couldn’t help feeling that approach would have better employed over the whole of the novel instead of just at the end...

I also found myself wondering whether the sheer weight of history behind the plot helped contribute to a general sense of flatness right at the end. After all, if you build something up to have the weight of millennia behind it then you’ve got to be able to sign off in style, you just have to! The imbalance, that I mentioned earlier, means that you can’t quite escape from a sense of anti-climax as far as this goes. Everything comes together nicely but the setting is just too big for the ending to resonate as it should.

I’d like to see more tales from ‘Echo City’, the setting is intriguing and I’d love to see the background history fleshed out more to perhaps provide that ‘epic’ wide ranging feel that this book is missing. An engrossing story that doesn’t quite gel with a far wider ranging setting.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten