Thursday, 31 March 2011

'Cradle of the Scar (Part Four)' - Peter Orullian

I'm working my way through Peter Orullian's 'The Unremembered' right now and hope to have a review up at some point soon. In the meantime though, Peter has also been releasing a series of 'webisodes' called 'The Cradle of the Scar'. In Peter's own words,

“I get excited about telling stories in different media. And I wrote this six-part webisode series entitled “Cradle of the Scar” with a particular idea in mind. I wanted to write more about the Scarred Lands in the world of The Vault of Heaven. And I also wanted to try my hand at pivoting several unique points of view around the same event, much like the film Vantage Point.”

I've never seen 'Vantage Point' (is it any good?) but that hasn't stopped me enjoying 'Cradle of the Scar'. Have a click Here to see the first two episodes and these Youtube clips should have a little thingy on them that will point you in the direction of episode three. Once you've done all that, I was lucky enough to be asked if I'd like to host episode four here. Of course I said yes! Check it out...

The 'Picked the wrong day to be staring at a computer monitor' Competition Winner's Post!

If anyone sees a tiny little man with a dirty great big hammer, please could you tell him to lay off my eyeballs? I'm pretty sure this wasn't what today was meant to be about... :o(

Sorry for the slight delay in announcing competition winners this time round, real life refused to wait its turn this time round. Apologies as well for the longer delay in getting 'Gods of Manhattan' out to the winners of that particular competition; It will happen, I promise! Basically, I've got to wait until I get paid before anything can happen on that front so hopefully you guys have something good to read in the meantime.

Before I really start going off on some headache induced ramble, the winners of the 'Retribution Falls' competition were...

Amber Young, Idaho, US
Charles Fraker, Virginia, US
Tom Adams, New York, US

Well done guys, your books should be on their way very soon. Better luck next time everyone else, I'm always trying to line up more of these giveaways so stick around and see what I'm able to come up with :o)
What am I reading in the meantime? I'm basically trying to polish off all those books that I'm only half way through before I start reading anything right from the beginning. So why did I start reading Sam Sykes' 'Black Halo' this morning then (after it arrived last night)? Just plain contrary I guess :o)

Now if you'll all excuse me, I'm going to hide somewhere dark and wait for my headache to go away...

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

‘Fall of Damnos’ – Nick Kyme (Black Library)

I’ve had a bit of a problem with a couple of the ‘Space Marine Battles’ novels for the reason that, well... they’re just about fighting and stuff. I know that sounds a bit silly and I suppose it is to an extent. If you’re reading a series called ‘Space Marine Battles’ then what the hell do you expect it to be about? I mean, seriously... Well, there is that but I generally find that some story wrapped around the edges generally gives the battle a little bit more resonance. If you know about the people fighting then the battle is going to mean a little bit more; at least that’s the way I see it.

I’m after a little more from my reading than mindless stand up violence without a plot but every so often I find that’s exactly what I’m after. Like last week for example. Several disturbed nights sleep (teething baby) left my brain feeling like mush and in need of something mindless to read to wake me up if nothing else. The perfect time then to read the latest ‘Space Marine Battles’ novel and ‘Fall of Damnos’ certainly delivered on that front. Surprisingly though, there was a story as well and ‘Fall of Damnos’ was all the better for it.

The planet of Damnos is being invaded from its very core. Imperial mining operations have awoken the Necrons, a robotic race from the dawn of time that have slept for millennia. Now they are awake, the Necrons want to take Damnos back and their implacable advance will not stop until every last human on the planet is dead. The call for help goes out and, as luck would have it, a detachment of Ultramarines is close enough to come and lend their assistance. Will it be enough though? How can a Necron be truly destroyed when their regenerative abilities knit them back together as they are being torn apart? And can the seemingly peerless Ultramarines deal with their own internal quandaries to take a stand against this foe? If things aren’t bad enough, the attending Librarian has a vision that the Ultramarine’s beloved Captain will die on Damnos...

Before I get started, just a couple of things... Can anyone explain the Imperial Calendar to me? The prologue kicks off in 274.973.M41 but by the first chapter we’re already in 779.973.M41. It seems like a lot of time has passed here, or has it? I haven’t really come across this calendar very much so if anyone can shed some light things would make a lot more sense. As it was, the whole ‘date thing’ made it difficult to get into the flow of the book at just the wrong time...

Also, this must be the fourth story I’ve read now (from the Black Library) where mining operations have disturbed slumbering Necrons and bloodshed has ensued. As waking up Necrons seems to be a regular occurrence in the Imperium I couldn’t help but wonder why no-one seems to have learnt a lesson from this... How about ‘If you come across an unexplained artefact whilst mining, please dig round it and carry on; it’s probably full of Necrons...’ It does make you wonder how much of a threat these Necrons really are if people are still prepared to run the risk of waking them. Something else that made it a little difficult for me to get into the book.

All that to one side though, once those first few pages are out of the way ‘Fall of Damnos’ becomes as compelling a read as any of the Black Library’s better works. Here is a story that gets its hooks into you and won’t release you until it’s done.

It’s not all easy going though. Apart from the bits I’ve just mentioned, ‘Fall of Damnos’ is very much a book aimed squarely at Warhammer 40K gamers and this means that it might not be quite so accessible to those readers who aren’t used to the ways in which the Ultramarines Chapter works. There’s a lot made of tactics here and passages devoted to how the Marines respond to particular threats. I think this is great for those people who game with Ultramarines, they’re going to get a lot out of it and might even come away with new ideas for tactics. For the rest of us though, these particular passages break up the ebb and flow of the battle with a little too much detail at precisely the wrong time...

I fell into this second camp but what I did find was that this shortcoming was balanced out by all the stuff going on when the battle sequences really find their groove. There’s plenty of pyrotechnics on display (and Kyme proves more than adept at ramping up the tension beforehand) but the real attention is paid to the people caught up in the middle of it all and that’s just the way it should be. It’s individuals who make up the overall conflict and Kyme’s ‘Fall of Damnos’ is a very personal conflict as a result.

Whether it’s the Space Marines struggling to overcome possible internal conflicts (and their own self doubts) or non-augmented troopers and civilians struggling to stay out of the crossfire (in a battle that they cannot hope to win) everyone has their own story to tell and equal footing is given to all. Even the Necrons themselves have a story to tell and you can’t help but feel a little sorry for one of them at least. The end result is a conflict that is extremely well fleshed out and rounded.
I think what I liked most about Kyme’s approach here was the attention he paid to all the individual plot strands. Everything is resolved by the end and no-one is left hanging. The only thing left open ended is the battle itself and that lends a delicious air of uncertainty to the whole thing. I don’t think there will be a sequel but I wouldn’t mind seeing one if this book is anything to go by

‘Fall of Damnos’ does suffer some of the flaws of earlier books in this particular series but rises above these to become a book that I ended up enjoying far more than I thought I would. Recommended for long time fans, possibly not so accessible for the casual reader though and this is more about the book’s structure than the actual content.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten.

Genre for Japan - Bidding Open!

Limited access to the internet last week meant that I missed the chance to post about this when it all began. You've probably read everyone else's posts already but this is something really important and, as such, will be posted about again right here. I'm pretty sure you're all cool with that :o)

Genre for Japan is a science fiction and fantasy themed auction raising money for the Red Cross earthquake appeal in Japan. You've all seen what's going on over there and why our help is needed... Well, not only do you get to support a really good cause but you also stand the chance of coming out of it with some cool sci-fi and fantasy stuff. There's all sorts of stuff on offer (signed books, editing services and chances to appear in a book are only the tip of the iceberg) and there really is something for everyone. If you don't win what you're after then you can still donate via the 'Just Giving' page.

Bidding is open right now but only until the 3rd of April. Click Here to see what's on offer and other ways to make a donation. Kudos to Amanda and the gang for getting this going in such a short space of time as well; what you guys have done is amazing.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

‘Conan: The Hall of the Dead and other Stories’ – Kurt Busiek, Mike Mignola, Timothy Truman & Cary Nord (Dark Horse Books)

I’ll come straight out and say that my plans to read the Fantasy Masterworks editions of ‘Conan’ have rather hit a brick wall in the last few weeks (ok, ever since I said I was going to read them...) You’re not interested in all the details, trust me on this, lets just say that the whole ‘Conan’ reading project is still very much a work in progress... Thank Crom then for the Dark Horse collections! They may only be based on the original works but I’ve always thought that Conan was well suited to the comic book format and I’ve seen nothing to disprove that yet.

‘The Hall of the Dead’ made for some delicious holiday reading last week and will tide me over nicely until I get my act together and crack open the books themselves...

As a young man, Conan proved his worth as a thief in the narrow alleyways and tall towers of the City of Thieves. The one thing that he never learnt though was to curb his excesses and this led to him bringing unwanted attention both upon himself and the other thieves looking to make a living without being noticed...

Now Conan must escape the attentions of the City Guard as well as his fellow thieves. It looks like sanctuary might lie within a ruined temple just outside the city but Conan will find that this is where the true danger really lies...

Dark Horse have built up a more than decent reputation as purveyors of some gorgeous looking ‘Conan’ comics and ‘The Hall of the Dead’ does nothing but ensure that this reputation remains intact. Cary Nord’s artwork is such that I could spend ages looking at it before I remembered that there was a story to go with it. His backdrops are superb, carrying a dreamlike quality that cements this fantasy setting. When things kick off though, Nord shows that he is more than able to keep up with the pace, delivering action scenes that really capture what Conan is all about – derring do and a willingness to take on superior numbers armed with nothing but a sword and a whole load of attitude.

This all looks good on the page but what you can’t get away from is how simplistic the plot is. Conan constantly bounces from one danger to another and doesn’t do much else than that. In one sense that is the whole point of Conan I guess, the guy is a force of nature and will solve his problems in that manner. It’s worth mentioning though that while you can really immerse yourself in the setting, Conan himself doesn’t have that same depth to him. Depends what you want out of the story as a whole I guess.

earing this in mind then, how do the writers rise to the challenge of telling a story where the main character perhaps doesn’t carry the plot in all the ways that would really benefit the book as a whole? In the words of Mike Mignola (from the introduction)...

‘Robert E. Howard wrote only a two-page outline for ‘The Hall of the Dead’ but all the big stuff (ambush, lost city, living skeletons, snake in a bag) was already there. I just had to fill in the weird atmosphere and throw in some frogs.’

Howard has given the contributing writers the bones upon which to flesh the story out and they all do a fine job of filling in the gaps. Mignola’s take on ‘The Hall of the Dead’ is the stand out effort here; a great exercise in weirdness with a fearsome frog monster for Conan to take on. Nord’s artwork shows off the fight in the best possible way but it was Mignola who took Conan right into the belly of the beast and going off on that kind of tangent is what makes the story work so well.

Busiek’s opening chapters capture the spirit of Conan without necessarily expanding on it.; it’s all in keeping with the character himself but I couldn’t help but wonder if there was more tale to be told. Truman, on the other hand, delivers an exciting dose of action by taking the simple approach of filling in any gaps with more foes for Conan to vanquish. It may be a simple approach but is certainly effective.

Despite the odd niggle ‘The Hall of the Dead’ has a lot going for it and was a great way to idle away a few hours last week. Now, onto the books themselves...
Eight and a Half out of Ten

Review Policy.

It seems a bit weird to be writing this now after more than a few years of blogging but I do get a lot of review query emails which I don’t have the time to reply to now so... I thought a proper ‘Review Policy Post’ would be better than a whole bunch of people wondering why that rude blogger never replies to his emails :o) I’ll link to this (at the side of the blog) when I’m able. This policy isn’t set in stone at all and may change at any time; hopefully it should reflect what I do and do not accept in terms of review material. If you have any questions just leave a comment and I’ll reply.

So, here goes...

Publishers who already send me books and comics to review.
There’ll be no change here, everything will carry on just the way it always has.

Other genre publishers (mainstream or independent) who want to send me books and comics to review.
It may take me a while to get back to you but drop me an email and I will reply as soon as I can. Just be sure to include the name of the publisher you’re representing (in the subject header) so I know. I can only accept physical copies of review material though as I do not have an e-reader and do not have the time to read from a computer monitor.

Authors published by the above.
It’s very likely that I’ve got a copy of your book already and am looking for the time to read it. Have a look at the blog though and if your publisher doesn’t feature amongst all the others then drop me an email. Alternatively, save yourself some postage and ask your publisher to get in touch with me.

People who would like me to review their e-book.
You probably missed the bit just above this where I said I do not review digital review material. That’s cool, the headers are in bold so you probably skipped straight to this bit :o) The fact is though, I don’t have an e-reader or the time to read from a screen. I might just buy myself a Kindle one day though and I’ll update this part accordingly.

People who would like me to review their self published novel.
I may well be missing out on some great books here but I do not accept self published material (Lulu and so on). I don’t read digital copies and cannot guarantee that I will be able to read a hard copy either – loads of books on the pile and only so much time in the day... If I can’t guarantee that I will read your book then I don’t want you to pay cash to send it to me just on the off chance...

I’m hoping this should cover most of the queries I get but if I’ve missed anything out here leave a comment next to this post and I’ll get on it.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Why do Publishers do things like this?

It's Monday morning and I'm catching up with work stuff after a week off so I'm not going to repeat a whole load of stuff that has been said elsewhere (especially when my morning cups of coffee aren't doing their normal job...). Instead, just click right Here for tales of Dorchester Books royally shafting their writers as well as shafting writers who aren't even with them anymore...

Now, Nightshade Books did something similar a while back but people kind of let them off as it all appeared to be a case of the publisher not being able to keep up with the demands of the business. Things got out of control but Nightshade appear to have made a real concerted effort to adjust to these new demands and treat their writers with the respect they deserve. Dorchester on the other hand... Well, follow that link (and then click on some of the other links there) and you'll see that Dorchester appear to have no intention of solving problems regarding late payment of royalties and making money off e-books that they no longer hold the rights to. There's a lot of 'oh, we'll get this sorted for you' which appears to be nothing more than a stalling tactic while they sell a few more books that they don't hold the rights to. I've been introduced to some great horror writers through Dorchester's 'Leisure' imprint and I feel really sorry for these guys who take the time to write great horror fiction and then get screwed over by their own publisher.

If you're a fan of these writers then you probably feel the same way as I do (you might not care and just be interested in getting hold of the books, that's cool but you need to know that these writers will not see a penny of what you are paying for their books). Follow that link again and you'll see any number of ways of boycotting Dorchester while they are treating their authors (amongst others) in this shabby manner. I don't use Twitter, or follow Dorchester on Facebook, but what I will be doing when I have a spare second is removing any mention of Leisure or Dorchester from my reviews of their books (cover art and all). Celebrate great horror fiction, sure. Lets just pretend though that these guys didn't have the misfortune to be associated with this particular publisher...

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Giveaway! 'Brooklyn Knight' (C.J. Henderson)

Thanks to those lovely people at Tor Books I have two copies of C.J.Henderson's 'Brooklyn Knight' to give away on the blog (to mark the forthcoming publication of the sequel 'Central Park Knight'). Only people in the US can enter though so sorry about that everyone else... Here's the blurb,

Professor Piers Knight is an esteemed curator at the Brooklyn Museum and is regarded by many on the staff as a revered institution of his own if not an outright curiosity. Knight’s portfolio includes lost civilizations; arcane cultures, languages, and belief; and more than a little bit of the history of magic and mysticism.What his contemporaries don't know is that in addition to being a scholar of all things ancient he is schooled in the uses of magical artifacts, the teachings of forgotten deities, and the threats of unseen dangers.I never got round to reading this when it was first published, don't really have the time right now but it doesn't look bad at all... How about you, do you fancy a copy to read?

If a mysterious object surfaces, Professor Knight makes it his job to figure it out--and make sure it stays out of dangerous hands.

A contemporary on an expedition in the Middle East calls Knight's attention to a mysterious object in the collection of the Brooklyn Museum … just before it becomes the target of a sorcerous attack that leads to a siege on a local precinct house by a fire elemental.

What looks like an ordinary inscribed stone may unlock an otherworldly Armageddon that certain dark powers are all too eager to bring about--and only Piers Knight stands in their way.

If you do then entering couldn't be easier, simply send me an email (address at the top of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. I'll do everything else.

I'll leave this one open until April 3rd and will announce winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 26 March 2011

‘Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth #1’ – Ethan Nicolle & Malachai Nicolle (Dark Horse Comics)

Every so often I find myself reading something that just completely leaves me lost for words. On the bus home yesterday I was left speechless (too busy giggling) by ‘Bad Guy Earth’, the Axe Cop mini-series that sprang from the imagination of a six year old boy and has been drawn by his thirty year old big brother. I wish I had a big brother like that…

I could tell you what the story is all about but I reckon you’ll have a lot more fun going to the website (scroll down the page for the link) and finding out for yourself. I’m not even sure that I can sum it up so I’m just going to give you a quick quote so you get a flavour of what it’s all about…

‘Meanwhile, on a chicken farm. All the chicken’s brains popped out. The brains turned into bad guys. They had robotic body parts and swords. They killed the farmer and then chased a cow.’

What I’ll also say is that my wife (who hates most comics) insisted on reading this one with me on the way home; she even got to hold it and turn the pages. When I get issue two she’ll probably get to hold that as well while we read it.

Ethan Nicolle’s art does the story justice but it’s Malachai’s six year old logic that really makes the story work and that’s just the way it should be. Anything can happen to Axe Cop and it invariably does. I’ve got a new favourite comic and I’m having trouble waiting for the next issue to come out in the next couple of weeks. If you like your comics a little more sophisticated then ‘Axe Cop’ might not be for you but if you wish you were still six years old then get the next best thing and check this comic out.

'Pride and Prejudice & Zombies: Dreadfully Ever After' - Book Trailer

I know that review content has been particularly thin on the ground this week, sorry about that! If anyone knows a cure for teething (Hope, not me!) that doesn't involve forcefeeding alcohol to a ten month old baby then I'd be really grateful if you could tell me!

Reviews will kick off again next week (hopefully, I've got a big old stack of unfinished books at the moment) but in the meantime here's the book trailer for 'Dreadfully Ever After', the latest in the 'Pride and Prejudice & Zombies' series - another book that I will hopefully pick up soon. Check it out, I liked it :o)

Edited to add: Youtube clips always seem to either go over the edge of the border or have bits chopped off. Can anyone help?

Friday, 25 March 2011

What Cover Would You Go For? 'Among Thieves' - Douglas Hulick

Here's a book that has been generating more than a few positive comments on the internet in the weeks leading up to it's release. Like this one, this one and this one as well. My copy is in the post so it'll be a little while before I get to tell you what I think, shouldn't be too long though :o) Here's the blurb in the meantime...

Drothe is a Nose, an informant who finds and takes care of trouble inside the criminal organization he’s a part of. He also smuggles imperial relics on the side.

When his boss sends him to Ten Ways to track down who’s been leaning on his organization’s people, Drothe discovers hints of a much bigger mystery. Someone is trying to stir up trouble between lower-level criminal organizations, including the one Drothe belongs to. And there’s a book rumored to contain imperial glimmer (or magic) that a lot of very dangerous people seem to be looking for - including two crime bosses known as the Gray Princes.
When Drothe discovers the book, he finds himself holding a bit of swag that can bring down emperors, shatter the criminal underworld, and unlock forbidden magic…that's if he can survive long enough to use it.

I had a quick look on Amazon to see what the US and UK covers looked like, here's what I found...

Here's the UK Cover,

And here's the US cover,

If I had to choose between the two covers? Well, there's no contest this time. The UK cover looks all dark and brooding; a little dangerous in fact. The US cover has a man who obviously takes a little too much time over his beard in the morning to be much of a thief... There is a cool swashbuckling vibe going on but the UK cover wins this round, for me anyway (although you could argue that the whole ' dangerous silhouette' thing has been done a little too much...)

That's what I think anyway, how about you? Comments please! :o)

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Extracts from 'Embassytown', 'Stands a Shadow' & 'Sea of Ghosts'...

I can't remember signing up for the Tor UK newsletter (I do the strangest things when I'm drunk it would appear...) but every month a shiny new email newsletter lands in my inbox, eager to tell me all about itself and the books that I could be reading. It's a good deal if you're wondering, just click a button to register and you get to find out about all sorts of new books that are on the horizon.

If you have registered then you probably know all this already but for those of you who haven't I thought I'd do you a favour and point you at some extracts (from forthcoming Tor books) just in case you were wondering if a certain book was for you or not. This month's newsletter has links to extracts from China Mieville's 'Embassytown', Col Buchanan's 'Stands a Shadow' and Alan Campbell's 'Sea of Ghosts'. I have 'Embassytown' and 'Sea of Ghosts' waiting to be read but I have to say that the one I'm most looking forward to getting my hands on is 'Stands a Shadow' (although that won't be out until September), I loved 'Farlander' and I really want to know what happens next...

Cover Art - 'Axe Cop Volume One'

I've been following this series online for a while now but I'll still be grabbing a copy of 'Axe Cop Volume One' when I can (just so I'm not stuck on the computer all the time...) My imagination got up to all kinds of weird stuff when I was five years old but all I'll say is that it had nothing on the imagination of five year old Malachai Nicolle, the writer of 'Axe Cop'. I'm holding out for Hope to come up with something similar in the next few years and for me to have learnt to draw by then...

Twenty nine year old Ethan Nicolle (Malachai's big brother) has the artwork duties and you can see that he has managed to sum up what Malachai's character is all about. I love this series and if you're not into it already then I reckon you'll love it too. Check out the website Here. Have you seen this series yet? What do you think of it?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

‘Legion of One’ – James Swallow (Black Library)

Not being at work this week means that I’ve got to listen out for Hope doing all the things that she knows she shouldn’t but does anyway; she’s so pleased at her naughtiness that she gives herself away every time… She’s tenacious and I’ve got to have my wits about me; not the best time then to be listening to an audiobook on my iPod. We’re talking a Black Library audiobook though so a compromise had to be found. It involved staying up really late (and I mean really late) and listening to it really quietly but it was well worth it. Like I said in yesterday’s review, I reckon if you wait for a bit you will probably see these stories in print sooner or later.

Formerly of the Death Guard Legion, Captain Nathaniel Garro is now on the business of the Regent of Terra himself. Garro doesn’t fully know what this business is as yet but there is only one minor task yet to fulfil… This mission will take Garro and his comrades to the bombed out planet where Horus’ rebellion truly began and they cannot leave until they have found what they are looking for. What are they looking for though? And will they know when they find it? Falsehood abounds on these dark streets and nothing is truly as it seems…

In Nathaniel Garro’s continuing adventures, James Swallow has the makings of an audio series that could form a defining part of the Horus Heresy series as a whole. It looks like it could be that good. I got the feeling though that a trick was missed here in terms of fleshing the series out that little bit more as we’re only on the second CD and already there are now two people under Garro’s command. I would have liked to have found out more about how the World Eater Marine Varen came to join Garro on his quest…

This is only a small niggle though as the rest of the CD is full of little twists and turns that made the story one that I had to keep following. I could see the ending coming but Swallow does just enough to keep you guessing; I loved delving into the character of Cerberus and when I found out his true identity… Well, if you’re a fan then I think there’s a bit of a treat in store here. I certainly appreciated it. While events are playing out we also get to see a disparate collection of Marines (all reeling from their own betrayals) slowly start to bond into their own team and it looks like something worth following is slowly starting to grow.

I wasn’t so sure about the soundtrack that accompanied ‘Legion of One’ but the sound effects did a sterling job of portraying a dead world and Toby Longworth’s narration was of its usual high standards. I can’t wait to see where this series goes next.

Nine out of Ten

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

‘Victories of the Space Marines’ – Edited by Christian Dunn (Black Library)

I’ve been really looking forward to getting my hands on ‘Victories of the Space Marines’ but I’ll admit that the first thing to cross my mind when I saw the title was ‘way to spoil the ending of each and every short story in the collection’. The Space Marines win… Ok… Now we know that, is there any point in reading the rest of the book?

The short answer, for me anyway, was ‘yes’ and on the whole I didn’t regret it. You may have a good idea about how things will turn out in each story but that’s almost beside the point really. If you’re reading a Black Library book then you’re after a well written tale (of course) but what you’re also after is a book where stuff happens. And not just ‘happens’ either, we’re talking ‘happens in a hail of gunfire and alien blood’. ‘Victories of the Space Marines’ delivers on that score and comes up with a few surprises as well as the subject matter also covers the traitor Marines who have defected to the side of Chaos. The Marines always win but which Marines? That’s the question and the answers of several Black Library writers take the reader through possibly one of the grimmest visions of the future that you’ll encounter. These guys all know their stuff and the end results are stories that are rich in all the details that make this setting unique. I’ve said it before; this setting is a great place to spend time but I would hate to live there…

I had a lot of fun with ‘Victories of the Space Marines’ but, as with most anthologies, some stories stood out for me more than others. I’m not talking just in a good way either… I guess the bottom line is that fans of the setting are more or less guaranteed a good read from ‘Victories of the Space Marines’ while the book is also a good place for newcomers to jump on board and see if the Warhammer 40K universe takes their fancy. With action happening on different planets and different Chapters of Space Marines in action one thing this particular book does provide is a lot of variety. The stories on offer are as follows…

‘Runes’ (Chris Wraight)

This looked to be a great story to open on as I’ve enjoyed Wraight’s work in the Warhammer fantasy setting. Things didn’t work so well for me this time round though. The tale of Space Wolf Marines searching for a powerful artefact had plenty of action and was fast paced, too fast to get a real feel for the players on the stage… (7/10)

‘The Rewards of Tolerance’ (Gav Thorpe)

A renegade squad of Marines make for the Eye of Terror but their initial attempts at piracy could delay their journey, fatally so. I haven’t read a lot of Gav Thorpe’s work but this was worth the time as you get to see Marines starting to shake off their indoctrination and rediscover their individuality whilst fighting Eldar for control of a merchant vessel. I loved how this one ended but felt that the relative brevity of the tale prevented Thorpe from saying everything that he wanted to. (8.5/10)

‘Black Dawn’ (C.L. Werner)

C.L. Werner continues to surprise me, just after I thought I had his work all figured out. ‘Black Dawn’ has all the gut churning violence that you would expect from Werner but there’s also a real twist in the tale that I never saw coming. I think I’m definitely going to have to pick up more of his books (9/10)

‘The Long Games at Carcharias’ (Rob Sanders)

There was a lot to recommend Rob Sanders’ ‘Redemption Corps’ and I was hoping for more of the same here with a tale of a Marine Chapter attacked from within. This story is gorgeously plotted and you get a real feel for the helplessness of the Marines under attack. What you also get though is Sanders’ habit of bogging the story down in detail that really slows things up. A real shame as this tale had the potential to be one of the leading lights in the book. (8/10)

‘Heart of Rage’ (James Swallow)

I’ve seen a lot of people on Facebook moaning that the Black Library audio books don’t represent particularly good value for money and that they’d rather see these stories collected in regular books instead. Well, those folks will start to get their wishes granted if the inclusion of ‘Heart of Rage’ is anything to go by. I’m not going to talk about this story as I have already covered it Here.

‘But Dust in the Wind’ (Jonathan Green)

Imperial Fists Marines versus the robotic Necrons in a fight to the death. Green’s story shows us in no uncertain terms that even though victory comes with a cost, the fight is still worth fighting. And there’s a face off between genetically powered warriors and tomb dwelling robots which is done in the best possible way. You can’t lose really (9/10)

‘Exhumed’ (Steve Parker)

The Deathwatch are a collection of Marines seconded to work for the Inquisition and ‘Exhumed’ does very well at displaying how such a dysfunctional team must work together to survive. Parker gives his reader a collection of well drawn characters and forces them to work together when faced with an alien that cannot be beaten by any single Marine, or can it? Conflict on two levels made this a story that demanded my attention (9.5/10)

‘Primary Instinct’ (Sarah Cawkwell)

Sometimes you can’t see the wood for the trees and this was very much the case here as Silver Skulls Marines face a new danger on a jungle planet. It felt like there was so much jungle to get through that when things actually happened you almost didn’t notice them. The whole point of the story felt a little lightweight and there was a little too much attention being paid to how handsome the Sergeant was… (5/10)

‘Sacrifice’ (Ben Counter)

Could this be the best Space Marine story I’ve ever read (so far)? I think it is. The Grey Knight Marines are hunting down a dangerous heretic and it’s as dangerous as you would expect. Counter gives us some real gripping moments as the Marines take on daemons but it’s the moments where the action cuts out and you see just what has gone into the making of a single bullet that have the real impact in terms of just what the setting is all about. The other tales in this collection may fade from my mind but not this one (10/10)

Monday, 21 March 2011

The 'Woohoo, not at work!' Competition Winner's Post!

Thanks to paternity leave and a rather unfortunate hospital visit (both around about this time last year) I found myself with a big ol' surfeit of leave that needed to be used up by the end of this month... so that's me not at work this week then! :o) For those who are interested, all that free time will either be spent reading or stopping Hope from trying to eat the 'To Read' pile. It could go either way, wish me luck...

So I'm obviously a very happy man and will be for the rest of the week (although I'm sure the depression will start to creep back next Sunday). The following people will also be more than a little happy around about now as they won copies of Al Ewing's 'Gods of Manhattan'. Those lucky winners were...

Nicola Knapp, Mossingen, Germany
Jon Madden, Ruislip, UK
Genna Lode, Wychbold, UK

Well done guys! Your books should hopefully be with you soonish but I'm actually posting these ones myself so please allow for my current state of 'I'm not at work' laziness. I'll get on it, promise!
Better luck next time everyone else... If you can't enter the competition that I ran over the weekend (scroll down a bit) then I'll see if I can sort something out for next weekend instead.

Right, I'm off to read a book over breakfast. Enjoy your day at work everybody... ;o)

Sunday, 20 March 2011

I've never read anything by...

A copy of Jean M. Auel's 'The Land of Painted Caves' arrived in the post yesterday and it suddenly struck me that I've never read any of these books at all. How many books are there in the series? What am I missing out on? Am I missing out on anything at all? I'm hoping you can tell me... All I know is that whenever these books are mentioned on-line someone invariably says 'Mary Sue'... I don't know why.

The very short blurb that I found runs as follows...

THE LAND OF PAINTED CAVES concludes the story of Ayla, her mate Jondalar, and their little daughter, Jonayla, taking readers on a journey of discovery and adventure as Ayla struggles to find a balance between her duties as a new mother and her training to become a Zelandoni – one of the Ninth Cave community's spiritual leaders and healers.

Short and to the point! Can't say that it's sold me the book though...

Comments please! :o)

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Giveaway! 'Retribution Falls' (Chris Wooding)

I actually read 'Retribution Falls' way back in 2009 (seems like so long ago now...) but its publication in America took a little longer to happen and you'll see it on the shelves there next month. I would give you the blurb but I'd just click here for the review if I were you... ;o)

Anyway, the bottom line is that Del Rey have very kindly agreed to offer three advance copies of 'Retribution Falls' (North American entrants only though) for a giveaway here. If you haven't read the book already then this could well be the chance you're waiting for.

Entering is simple. Just drop me an email (address at the top right hand corner of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'Retribution'.

I'll leave this one open until the 27th of March and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 18 March 2011

‘Wulfrik’ – C.L. Werner (Black Library)

Over the last couple of years I’ve read a couple of books and a few short stories by C.L. Werner and while I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read it’s also left me feeling a little underwhelmed. Werner writes in the Warhammer fantasy setting and while he’s pretty good at capturing the raw visceral edge of warfare not a lot else than that seems to happen. Other writers develop their characters; Werner sticks his characters within sword thrust, or axe blow, and waits to see what will happen next. It’s not bad if you’re after a light throwaway read but if you’re after something a little more engaging then you might want to look elsewhere...

And that is pretty much what I’ve been doing with my Black Library reading; at least until I saw my copy of ‘Wulfrik’ sitting patiently on the pile. The ‘Warhammer Heroes’ series takes a hero from the annals of ‘Old World Lore’ and seeks to shed a little light on their character and some of the things that they are famous (or infamous) for. I’ve never come across the character of Wulfrik before but still found myself interested to see how Werner’s preference for action over character development would translate to a book that should be a lot more ‘character-centric’. I have to say that as much as I enjoyed ‘Wulfrik’ (and I did) I got just what I expected to find...

Wulfrik the Wanderer has learnt the hard way not to make bold boasts when the Ruinous Powers are listening. Now he is cursed to wander the earth without rest, pitting his blades against those foes chosen for him by the Chaos Gods. All he has to look forward to is a constant life of duelling ever more dangerous foes; should he fall, Wulfrik’s very soul will be in thrall to the Chaos Gods for all eternity. All of a sudden there is hope as a shaman offers Wulfrik the chance to be free of his curse; any hope that Wulfirk may feel though is tempered by the mistrust that has kept him alive until now. And Wulfrik would do well not to trust anyone as everyone’s hand is against the Norscan hero whose ego has become a little too big for the boots that he wears. Will the Norscan’s swords carry him through against his many foes and will he finally escape the curse that grips him? The only certainty is the river of blood that stands between Wulfrik and his goals...

To be fair, I guess that ‘Wulfrik’ is aimed at long term fans of the setting who already know a fair bit about the character; his history and what he’s up to at the moment. That being the case, you can understand people not being so bothered about the character as they are about any exploits of his that they may not know about. And that’s just what you get here, a series of exploits fleshing out Wulfrik’s life leading to his current status. It’s all done very well (and I’ll get onto that in a little bit) but what about people like me who have never come across this character before? The likes of us may leave feeling a little short changed...

To be blunt, Wulfrik is a big old dollop of rage holding a couple of big swords and more than ready to use them. That’s it, that’s what he does for the whole book. There is mention of love but you never really get the impression that’s a part of Wulfrik’s character, more something that’s there to move the plot in a certain direction. All Wulfrik is concerned with is getting the better of the people around him and whether this involves having to kill them or not. To be fair, Wulfrik’s murderous energy drives the plot forward in just the right way and it keeps the pages turning nicely.

Now you could argue that Werner has done a great job of capturing Wulfrik’s Norscan psyche and there is something to be said for that as you do get a feel for the surroundings and lifestyle that have made Wulfrik the man he is. Where is the line drawn where a character stops being ‘simply drawn’ and becomes ‘one dimensional’? It’s a fine line to tread here and, for me, Wulfrik did come across as more than a little one dimensional at times. That’s not the kind of character that you want to hang an entire book on...

It’s a really good job then that Werner more than makes up for this shortcoming with a plot that presses all the right buttons. There is so much backstabbing and intrigue going on here that you cannot help but stay on your toes and try and second guess what is about to happen next. I had a lot of fun in this respect.

Werner’s aptitude for portraying the dirty, visceral edge of warfare has already been noted and he shows once again just why (in some areas at least) he is well suited to be writing in the Warhammer universe with scenes that leave the reader in no doubt at all as to what it means to be on the wrong end of a sword blade in the heat of battle. When Wulfrik kills someone, you know that they’re dead!

Werner also displays a keen eye for the kind of foe that Wulfrik must face if he is to truly deserve his title of ‘Hero’. Foes don’t come a lot bigger than the kind Wulfrik must face and this makes for some suitably epic battle sequences where the outcome may well be inevitable but Wulfrik still has to sweat for it. It’s also interesting to note that Werner’s vision of heroism isn’t confined to the clearly marked sides of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ in the Old World. Heroism here is about what people see as being heroic and whether your actions match up to this. A typical Norscan hero is a bloody handed killer at heart and Wulfrik more than lives up to these standards over the course of the book.

‘Wulfrik’ may not live up to the standard set by other Warhammer books in terms of its character development but, in a way, this actually works in favour of the novel as a whole. Wulfrik is a simple man doing great things in a very straight forward manner. I was after a little more than that personally but you can’t argue against the overall result. Werner may be doing exactly what he normally does but, this time round, I think he did it a lot better.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 17 March 2011

‘Doctor Who: The Sontaran Games’ – Jacqueline Rayner (BBC Books)

A much shorter review than normal, purely because the book itself is only ninety five pages long! For those of you who are interested, my reading really is governed by the length of the commute and I had to get home quickly the other day so... there you are :o)

The ‘Quick Reads’ books come out around the time of ‘World Book Day’ (which I always seem to miss, too busy reading...) and are aimed at people who either might not have time to read or just don’t read in general. They’re a short, sharp read and this has got to be appealing for those people put off by big thick books. ‘Doctor Who’ is a bit of a crowd puller these days so it’s no real surprise that his adventures would find their way into the ‘Quick Reads’ series. I’m more than a bit of a fan myself so when Sue brought this book home from the library there was never any doubt that I’d read it.

The TARDIS lands at an academy for top athletes (training for the Globe Games) and the Doctor soon finds a trail of dead bodies that suggests one of the athletes may be willing to murder their way to the top. The Doctor’s investigations are cut short though when a squad of Sontarans invades the academy and forces the occupants to participate in a twisted and lethal version of the Globe Games. The Doctor is an unwilling contestant and must try to survive if he is ever to find out who the original killer was...

I polished off ‘The Sontaran Games’ on the way home last night and not just because it’s a very short read. Jacqueline Rayner has written a fast paced tale with lots happening (I found myself really getting into the games the Sontarans made their prisoners play) and a mystery where the outcome may be predictable but you can still take the time to get involved with the characters attempts to solve it. Having the Doctor say that he knew the answer all the time though didn’t quite ring true, especially as you never see him pondering things like that to himself over the course of the book. Rayner may only have a little room to work in but more attention should perhaps have been paid to little details like that.

On the whole though, ‘The Sontaran Games’ was an entertaining little read that gave last night’s journey home a little extra buzz. Because it’s such a light read, ‘The Sontaran Games’ isn’t a book that will hang around in your head after you’ve finished reading it but that’s probably besides the point. I’d say that this book does exactly what’s required of it, making it an ideal ‘Quick Read’.

Eight out of Ten

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Blimey... 'Graeme's Fantasy Book Review' nominated for an SFX award!

And looking at the competition has made it a lot easier for me to chill out and just enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling I got from being nominated. It's like hanging out with the cool kids at school, check out the contenders...

There's me (obviously)

Adam Whitehead of 'The Wertzone', the man who knows more about George R.R. Martin than George does himself. He writes a damn fine review as well and was one of the reasons why I started blogging (seriously).

David Langford's 'Ansible'. When God created science fiction, David Langford was there to cover it in the first issue of 'Ansible'. He won a Hugo for it and hasn't stopped winning them since...

'SF Signal', a site so huge that it occupies fully half of the Internet (and it's crammed full of genre goodness)

Look at that list, you can't fail to vote for something worthwhile there so follow this link and get voting (you'll find us all in the 'Best Literary Blog' section Here). Or click on the 'Blog Awards' box at the side of the screen, either is good :o)

From My Bookshelf... ‘Child of an Ancient City’ – Tad Williams & Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Tor)

Being given a copy of Howard Andrew Jones’ ‘The Desert of Souls’ the other day reminded me that not only did I have a copy of ‘Child of an Ancient City’ but it’s been a very long time since I picked it up. The way things have turned out, that read will have to wait a little while longer but I thought I could still post about the book in the meantime. I’ve talked about some of Tad’s other works here and there on the blog and, in the interests of completion, it’s probably time ‘Child of an Ancient City’ got a mention here as well.

After devouring the ‘Memory, Sorrow and Thorn’ trilogy (or quadrilogy, depends what editions you have) and a large chunk of the ‘Otherland’ series I knew that I’d end up searching out everything else written by Tad Williams that I could lay my hands on. Sometimes you just know that’s how it’s all going to pan out. Save yourself the stress and just go with the flow; we’re talking buying books here people! As I went about my ‘Tad spree’ it dawned on me that the larger a book of his is the more likely it is to be on the shelves. Seriously, go into your local bookshop and I will guarantee that you are more likely to find a copy of ‘City of Golden Shadow’ than you are a copy of ‘Caliban’s Hour’. Thus it was that my search for a copy of ‘Child of an Ancient City’ ended up with my taking the plunge and ordering a copy from America; a pretty big deal for me way back in those days. The book turned up and I dived straight in but, by the time I surfaced from the read, it proved to be a singular book of Tad’s in that I was left feeling a little let down by it all...

During the reign of the Caliph Harun al-Rashid, a caravan of soldiers sets forth from Baghdad on a mission to the lands of the north. Disaster strikes when a bandit raid leaves the soldiers stranded in the mountains with no horses and things are about to get much worse...

An ancient and powerful vampyr stalks the hills and his eyes are fixed firmly on the stranded soldiers. One by one they are slain until the vampyr approaches the survivors and challenges them to a contest. Sad tales will be told around the campfire and if the vampyr judges them to be sad enough then the remaining soldiers will go free. The vampyr has a tale of his own to tell though...

Being a big fan of Tad Williams, ‘Child of an Ancient City’ will always have a place on my bookshelves (it’s the collector in me). Out of all the books of his that I have though it’s probably the one that I’m least likely to pick up for a re-read.

It all starts off promisingly enough with the seeds of the story being sown and an account of an expedition’s fall into disaster that kept me reading. Everything is set up for the vampyr to make his appearance and, as a concept, it all looks solid enough. Even at this early stage though things didn’t feel quite right but I was prepared to write this one off to my reading experience of Tad Williams and the fact that he was writing this book with someone else instead of on his own. I was very much used to Tad Williams being all expansive with his prose and what I got here was something that was a lot tighter and very light on the world building that I look forward to in Tad’s books. Not ideal then but more than enough in the meantime to keep me going.

And then I got to the whole point of the book; the storytelling competition...
Now, everything is relative isn’t it? What doesn’t do it for one person may totally do it for another and all that. The fact is though that not one of the tales told tugged on my heartstrings at all and you’re looking at the guy who wasn’t far off crying when his pet guinea pig died (I still miss you Badger...) I really enjoyed the story about the Sufi and his perfect balance as the twist at the end was superb, never saw that one coming. Sad though? Not at all, I laughed out loud and had to explain to my wife what was so funny. The other tales didn’t elicit the same reaction but were also lacking in sadness. You may have a totally different reaction to these tales but I couldn’t help but think that the soldiers were onto a real losing streak here.

Well, that’s what I thought until the vampyr threw the whole contest away because he couldn’t get his head around the fact that the man he was about to eat felt sorry for him... I’m sorry but what kind of real vampire does something like that? Our child of an ancient city was in fact the ‘proto Edward Cullen’... The ending couldn’t come quickly enough after that.
Like I said right back at the start, the collector in me pretty much demands that ‘Child of an Ancient City’ keeps its place on the shelf but, looking back at what I’ve written, I think we all know the real reason why the re-read never happened. Despite the early promise, ‘Child of an Ancient City’ failed to deliver what it set out to. I wonder what kind of a tale this would have been if Tad Williams had been the sole author? The book would probably have been five or six hundred pages longer but apart from that, who knows...? Has anyone else here read this book?

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

‘The Goon Noir’ – Various (Dark Horse)

Every time I find myself getting a little sad that I’ve got no more new ‘Goon’ books to read this most favourite of comic book series loves to smack me round the head with something that’s either brand new or something that I’d totally forgotten even existed. In the case of ‘The Goon Noir’ it was very much a case of my totally having forgotten all about it. Once the main series was done I thought that was it but how wrong was I? As soon as I saw this book it was in my hands and I was on my way to the library desk to check it out for a good long read. Talking of which...

This is ever so slightly off topic but I’m going to take a few sentences to talk about how great libraries are. Seriously... I used to avoid the places as my thinking was that regular bookshops would have exactly what I was looking for and I wouldn’t have to order stuff and wait. That’s still pretty much the case but a random trip to the library the other day really showed me the light as it were. For comic book fans in particular these places are untapped goldmines. If you want to read comics but don’t know where to start, save yourself some money and check out your local library first. There’s a whole load in my library that I’ll be looking at real soon and there was also that copy of ‘The Goon Noir’ sat there staring at me and demanding to be picked up. Which brings us back to the review...

‘The Goon Noir’ is basically Eric Powell throwing open the doors and getting a whole bunch of comic book notables to show us their interpretations of the Goon and his psychotic sidekick Franky. The results are, on the whole, superb. Everyone has stuck with the Goon as portrayed by Eric Powell which is a great way to get yourself grounded in what ‘The Goon’ is all about. You could make an argument to say that maybe people should have been a bit more adventurous and gone for something a little more original. To that I’d say that there is plenty enough in the world of Lonely Street for people to go off in their own direction and still stay true to what ‘The Goon’ is all about; tragedy, lashings of violence and some toilet humour to round things off. It’s all good.

In fact, the only two occasions where writers take their tales off the beaten track (as it were) are the only two points in the book where things don’t feel quite right. Roger Langridge’s ‘Rag and Bone’ ends up being more about Peter Cook and Dudley Moore than it is about the Goon himself and the Goon isn’t a guy who takes kindly to not being centre stage. It’s a funny tale in its own way but ‘Rag and Bone’ feels imbalanced and things don’t quite gel. It’s the same kind of thing with Bill Morrison’s ‘Hey Goon, Comics!’ which ends up being more about Yogi Bear then it is the Goon. Again, nice idea but it feels like the two elements of the tale aren’t in balance.

It’s a real good thing then that the rest of the book treads the path that Powell laid out; it’s well worth the read. All of these stories were of a good quality but there were a few highlights. You’ve got zombie fighting in Steve Niles and Ryan Sook’s ‘Big Ma’s Hootenanny and Slack Jaw Fighting’ and I had to chuckle at the little twist in the tale right at the very end. Lonely Street has seen its fair share of monsters and Arvid Nelson’s ‘The Wisdom of the Goon’ not only gives us another worthy monster for the Goon to fight but nails the Goon’s character spot on in how the monster is dealt with.

Hilary Barta’s ‘Reap what you sow’ tells a tale where the impact is felt all the more as not one word is spoken and the artwork here is probably the best ‘Goon’ artwork I’ve seen apart from that done by Powell himself. It wouldn’t be a ‘Goon’ book without Eric Powell (although Dwight T. Albertross has a few words to say about that...) and ‘Peg Leg Full of Heaven’ shows off his distinctive artwork to good effect. Not only that but it also has the Little Unholy Bastards and when this gang of kids are involved you can guarantee that the violence will be notched right up!

You all know that I’m a big and long time fan of the Goon and, as always, you should bear this in mind when reading. ‘The Goon Noir’ though... As far I’m concerned, for the most part, this book is indistinguishable from Powell’s work and that’s high praise indeed for all the contributors.
Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten.

Monday, 14 March 2011

The 'Reading Everything, Finishing Nothing' Competition Winner's Post!

I hate it when this happens... You start reading one book and it's really great but you can't get into it so you pick up another book to try. It's another good one but you can't get into that one either so you pick up another one and... before you know it you've got six or seven half read books on the pile that you can't get into. It's obviously time to put that pile to one side and break out the comfort reads, for this week anyway.

For now though, lets just say that J.M. McDermott's 'Never Knew Another' is a gorgeous read (albeit a little too rich for me right now) and I'm very surprised at just how good Mark Lawrence's 'Prince of Thorns' is turning out to be - one little reservation there but I'm just waiting to see if that one irons itself out or not. You might even see a review this week, not sure though...

Enough of all that though, there are competition winners to be announced! Thanks to everyone who entered the 'Crippled God' and 'Moon over Soho' competitions last week. In an ideal world I'd have given books to everyone but this isn't an ideal world so the winners were...

'The Crippled God'

Chris Durham, Market Harborough, UK

'Moon over Soho'

John Burkland, New York, US
Melita Kennedy, California, US
Tim Miller, North Carolina, US

Well done guys, your books will be with you very soon... Better luck next time everyone else.
Before I head off, here's a quick link to Richard Morgan's blog where he lets us all know that 'The Cold Commands' is finished, in manuscript form at least. The editing process starts here and there's another book to go on the pile of books that I'm looking forward to. Knowing me right now though, I probably won't be able to get into it... ;o)

Have a great Monday!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Giveaway! 'Gods of Manhattan' (Al Ewing)

This is a competition that was originally planned for, well... weeks ago but life got in the way and, before you know it, here we are some time later. Still, better late than never I guess! 'Gods of Manhattan' is as good today as it was when I reviewed it back Here ;o)

Thanks to those lovely people at Abaddon Books, I have three copies of 'Gods of Manhattan' to give away on the blog to readers from the UK and Europe. Entering is simple :o) All you need to do is drop me an email (address at the to right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and where you live. The subject header will be 'Gods'. That's all you have to do, I'll take care of everything else.

I'll let this competition run until the 20th of March and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The ‘I’m gonna mess with your eyes...’ Cover Art Post

The Blogosphere (and who coined that phrase...?) loves to talk about cover art doesn’t it? Whether it’s an exclusive look at new cover art (from a big name author) or the result of an idle glimpse at the bookshelf (this is what I do more often than not) cover art posts are everywhere and, like it or not, they’re here to stay. Deal with it people, that’s just the way it is.

Now I’m sure publishers like all the attention their covers get (it’s all publicity etc...) but you can’t help but wonder if they’re secretly thinking, ‘just read the damn book people!’... Especially if a cover art post isn’t followed by a review of the book (and I’m as guilty of that as the next blogger). What to do then? Well, it looks like the good cover art people at Orbit are working on covers that (while striking) are guaranteed to have bloggers opening the book just to get away from having their eyes pulled in all manner of crazy directions. Check this out...

Doesn’t that make your eyes go all funny? It did with me and you know what? About three seconds after I picked ‘Equations of Life’ up I was reading it just so I could get away from what that cover was doing to my eyes! It’s not bad either, hopefully there’ll be a review next week but here’s the blurb in the meantime...

Samuil Petrovitch is a survivor. He survived the nuclear fallout in St. Petersburg and hid in the London Metrozone - the last city in England. He's lived this long because he's a man of rules and logic. For example: GETTING INVOLVED = A BAD IDEA. But when he stumbles into a kidnapping in progress, he acts without even thinking. Before he can stop himself, he's saved the daughter of the most dangerous man in London. And clearly: SAVING THE GIRL = GETTING INVOLVED. Now, the equation of Petrovitch's life is looking increasingly complex: RUSSIAN MOBSTERS + YAKUZA + SOMETHING CALLED THE NEW MACHINE JIHAD = ONE DEAD PETROVITCH. But Petrovitch has a plan - he always has a plan - he's just not sure it's a good one.

When you can drag your eyes away from the cover for a second, tell me what you think of it :o)

Friday, 11 March 2011

‘Hellboy: Conqueror Worm’ – Mike Mignola (Dark Horse)

Ever since I read ‘Seed of Destruction’ I’ve been waiting to get round to reading this, even when I didn’t realise it at the time. If you’re going to go ‘pulp’ then occultist Nazis are very much a necessary ingredient and while I got a short sharp fix in ‘Seeds’ I’ve been left hanging in the meantime. People told me that ‘The Conqueror Worm’ would sort out the craving so I was keen to finally pick it up. Not only that but, having read ‘The Satan Factory’, I was also looking forward to seeing more of the mysterious costumed vigilante Lobster Johnson and finding out what he was all about.

Having read ‘Conqueror Worm’ I can confidently say that it delivered impressively on these two fronts but what I’ll also say is that I felt strangely cheated at the same time. It’s an amazing read but I couldn’t help but think that if you blinked you’d miss something. Sometimes that’s not a good thing.

Towards the end of the Second World War, Nazi Germany sought to gain the aid of otherworldly allies by launching a dead man into space. Costumed hero Lobster Johnson and the American army may have halted the Nazi space programme but weren’t able to stop that last rocket from launching. Sixty years on and the rocket is returning to Earth and its occupant is dead no longer...
Hellboy’s mission is to stop whatever comes out of the rocket but he is not on his own. On Hellboy’s side are a man who died sixty years ago and a man who has never really been alive at all...

I’ve been looking forward to ‘Conqueror Worm’ and, for the most part, it didn’t let me down. Not only does Hellboy get to fight Nazis but one of them is nothing but a head in a jar! It doesn’t get a lot more pulp than that and, in fact, the only way it could get more ‘pulp’ than that is if the head in a jar (Herman Von Klempt) was aided by a ‘War Ape’ enhanced to do his bidding. Hang on, he is :o)

On top of this you have Nazis pretty much lining up to be taken down by Hellboy, the ghost of Lobster Johnson seeking justice from beyond the grave and the homunculus Roger looking to redeem himself by working for an agency that doesn’t trust him (they’ve planted a bomb in his chest). All the ingredients are in place and when the fuse is lit they totally go off with a bang. Not only is there plenty to see (courtesy of Mignola’s gorgeous art; I love those panels where he either shows something happening in a split second or gives us a random piece of scenery, these really contribute to the mood) but there’s also a lot to think about as well. Hellboy is beginning to really chafe against the attitude of his paymasters at the BPRD, especially when he is told how he will be keeping an eye on Roger, and this adds another level of tension to proceedings. The end result is a story running at break neck pace that goes with a real bang.

It’s just a shame that things seemed to run a little too fast.

Now, you could say that I was just enjoying the book too much and didn’t want it to end. I’ll admit that’s true but, at the same time, it also felt like there was an issue with the pacing; it felt like the story got carried away with itself and didn’t leave itself a lot of time to tie things up neatly. I mean, who was the prisoner in the cellar? What was he all about? Either there wasn’t enough time to explain him or he was just there to conveniently help out Hellboy, neither of those approaches work as far as I’m concerned. If the story had been given a little more time to flow gently maybe things like this would have made more sense, at least to me (if anyone fancies explaining things in the comments below then I’m all ears!)

‘Conqueror Worm’ is a nice place to wrap up my ‘Hellboy’ reading, at least for now, as one plot arc ends and things are set up for another one to begin. I had one hell of a time (no pun intended, I think...) reading ‘Conqueror Worm’ but was left feeling a little cheated at the same time, almost as if Mignola had had enough of this arc and wanted to just finish things off. I’d still recommend it though as what ‘Conqueror Worm’ does is done very well indeed.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 10 March 2011

‘God King’ – Graham McNeill (Black Library)

If you’re a publisher of tie-in fiction and great things are happening with one of your lines then you’re going to want to see if you can repeat it elsewhere aren’t you? Of course you are. The Black Library has enjoyed some considerable success with their ‘Horus Heresy’ series (takes place some ten thousand years before the current setting and has thrown a number of contributing authors onto the New York Times bestsellers) so it makes perfect sense for them to want to replicate that, in some form, with their fantasy line. The end result is their ‘Time of Legends’ series, books that throw back the curtain on events that are thousands of years old and have shaped the present day Empire that we are all familiar with. I’ve only read Gav Thorpe’s ‘Malekith’, from this series but have a couple of others on the shelf which I plan to read at some point. I certainly haven’t read the first two books in Graham McNeill’s ‘Legend of Sigmar’ trilogy (part of the ‘Time of Legends’) which tell us how Sigmar rose to prominence in the Old World... Yes, with me being me I found myself right at the tail end of the trilogy with just enough background knowledge to have a rough idea of what happened but no idea of what was to come next. That was ok though, ‘God King’ solved that issue in no short order.

Sigmar’s fledgling Empire has seen its fair share of threats since its inception; from intrigue within to the Orc invasion at Black Fire Pass and the Chaos assault on Middenheim. All of these threats have been beaten back thanks to the peerless leadership of Sigmar himself but now a threat has arisen which may prove too much even for him...
In the deserts of Nehekhara another empire is beginning to make its presence felt once more but where Sigmar rules over an empire of the living this is an empire of the living dead. The Necromancer Nagash has once again turned his eyes northward and his armies of the dead will not halt until all the land is under their sway. Sigmar’s armies must halt this advance but how is this possible when every warrior that falls returns to fight for the other side? There is only one course of action for Sigmar but he knows that the slightest error in judgment will doom his empire as surely as a victory for Nagash would...

‘God King’ is one of those books where you can read it without having read the preceding two first; the story is very much self contained with one threat to be faced that hasn’t been continued from an earlier work. I came to this book first and certainly didn’t notice any big gaping holes in the plot. At the same time though, it’s clear that you’ll get a lot more out of the book if you do read the preceding two books first. Characters develop as a result of choices made a lot earlier than this tale and to get the full benefit of this you will want to be in right at the start. Like I said, the book does stand well on its own but I can see myself going back and reading the other two just so I can see how things all come together. If ‘God King’ is a reflection of the other two books then I can see myself reading them anyway as ‘God King’ was a great little read.

‘God King’ is a well handled mixture of the seeds of empire taking root (and even growing a little) with plenty of stuff happening to grab the reader’s attention at the same time. There’s a little something here for everything. Fans of the Warhammer setting will find plenty of fan references to pick up on (I saw a few but I don’t think I got them all, not by a long shot) and newcomers will find a detailed story of empire building and the challenges that arise as a result. Everyone wins, especially when it’s all handled so well by McNeill. I like his ‘Ultramarines’ stuff but it’s clear that he’s really at home in a fantasy setting (particularly this one, I think he may have helped develop it so that might explain a few things...)

Outward expansion in this vein is always going to come up against someone or something doing a bit of expanding themselves; McNeill knows this only too well (I’m guessing over the last couple of books at least) and has come up with a truly fearsome foe in the form of Nagash and his undead hordes. If you’re waiting for me to whoop with joy at the mention of zombies then you might be waiting a while. There are no zombies here but there are still plenty of truly grotesque creatures that more than play their part in some massive battle sequences that leap off the page and grab you by the throat (as well as some ghostly moments on the streets of Reikdorf). I found myself wondering if the final battle had come a little too early for the momentum to be maintained but was only too pleased to be proved wrong; McNeill keeps things running very smoothly with a keen sense of how these affairs ebb and flow. These moments are worth the price of entry although what I would say is that perhaps McNeill’s prose has trouble sometimes in keeping up with the ideas in his head...

McNeill isn’t all about the warfare though. Armed combat is balanced out with a keen look at a young empire and the personalities that have helped to shape it. I found myself wondering if perhaps McNeill paid a little too much attention to the character of Sigmar as far as this went. This approach is fair enough in a sense as the book is all about Sigmar after all. I did wonder though if the book could have benefitted from closer attention paid to the supporting cast, Sigmar may have got the ball rolling but he didn’t do it all by himself and it would have been good to see the input of others. Did I miss out on this in an earlier book? You can’t complain at the end result though, a beautifully realised empire coming to terms with the fact that earlier differences must be forgotten and people work together if they are to survive. Heroes come to light in the most surprising ways and it’s all very ‘David Gemmell’ in a sense, that’s no bad thing either.

‘God King’ has a couple of minor niggles but that didn’t stop it being a book that had me hooked right from the opening scenes. Like I said earlier, if the previous two books were anything like this then I’ll have to pick them up very soon.

Nine out of Ten

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

‘City of Ruin’ – Mark Charan Newton (Tor UK)

More so than at any other time, last year was as much about the books I never got round to reading as it was the books I did; I have a horrible feeling that this year will be very much the same... You all know the reason why by now so I won’t go into too much detail; suffice it to say that she’s finding the whole teething thing really painful and she has just discovered that all my ‘Black Company’ and Brian Keene books are at the bottom of the bookshelf. Time for a little rearranging I think!

Just because I missed out on these books last year doesn’t mean that I’ve given up on them entirely though, the backlog in the reading list just got a little heavier that’s all (I don’t know what that means for my reading ‘The Heroes’ any time soon, sorry Joe...) Take ‘City of Ruin’ for instance. Here’s a book that has waited patiently to be picked up since June or July last year and I only managed to get to it in the last week or so. I did it though and, after a year of reading fairly slim paperbacks, it felt like a bit of an achievement to get through something a little more substantial. And you know what? ‘City of Ruin’ isn’t a bad book either...

The city of Villiren is a city wracked by chaos and threatened by danger from without. While an invading army gathers on Villiren’s far shores, its citizens seek personal gain while they can via shady deals in the corridors of power and half human gangs scrabbling for power in ruined streets. Commander Brynd Lathraea, of the Night Guard, has the unenviable task of uniting this fractious city in the face of its true threat but certain people in Villiren have their own plans for the commander, especially when a secret of his is discovered... If that wasn’t enough, a soldier of the Night Guard has gone missing and the evidence points to a serial killer who cannot possibly be human.
Can Villiren be saved from the invaders without as well as its own corrupting influences? Does a city like Villiren even deserve to be saved...?

‘Nights of Villjamur’ was a gorgeous read and I was interested to see if Newton could maintain both the standard of his writing and the momentum of the plot. The good news (you’ve probably already read the book so you know this already) is that Newton succeeds on both fronts and in some style with a tale that gets you thinking as much as it gets your blood pumping when things kick off towards the end. That’s not to say that there aren’t a couple of issues that niggled at me slightly but, on the whole, ‘City of Ruin’ is a book that can stand proudly alongside its predecessor.

The end of the world is still on the horizon but it’s a lot closer for the people of Villiren (than it is for those in Villjamur) and it’s interesting to see the scene that Newton sets as a result. Whereas Villjamur enjoys a contemplative view of oblivion, Villiren is right in the middle of it and fuel is added to this fire by the treatment of the local population by an Empire seeking the best for itself at the expense of the outlying regions. When hardship is this immediate and in your face, all you can do is look out for yourself and make the best of this. Newton captures this air of ‘aggressive resignation’ in a city where if you’re not looking to expand your power then you’re partying until it all comes crashing down. I wouldn’t want to live in Villiren but I couldn’t help but be drawn into it by the manic energy that’s in everything going on. Two books have shown us the two extremes of reaction to the apocalypse; I’m left wondering if there’s a middle ground and whether Newton will show us this? I also noted that the homages to M. John Harrison’s ‘Viriconium’ were just that this time round and not influences that came across too heavily on the page. It was fun picking them out this time!

If that wasn’t enough for you, you’ll be pleased to know that the plot is just as compelling (at least as far as I was concerned). Newton introduces his monstrous creation very early on and I have to say that my fears of it being too similar to Mieville’s ‘Weaver’ proved to be unfounded. Sure, they’re both giant spiders but Newton’s is an entirely different beast and I’m in awe of the way that its true identity is hidden in plain sight. The number of times I was told and never picked up on the message (although I cottoned on fairly quickly with another intriguing question that is raised)... A plot full of intriguing questions and half answers that push things forward is what is promised and that’s what we get; resolutions have all the more impact as they crystallize suddenly from a murky darkness of vague suggestions... One such moment that I wasn’t too sure of though was the introduction of Artemisia and how this affected the final battle for Villiren (a battle, by the way, that is truly apocalyptic and leaves us in no doubt as to the price that must be paid afterwards...) This plot strand came out of left field a little too hard to really gel with everything else that was happening. I reckon it will make a lot more sense as the series progresses (and more detail comes to light) but, right now, it doesn’t quite fit.

While Newton leads his readers on this merry chase through the streets of Villiren, he also takes time to show us the people making up the populace; how they are shaping events and how these events in turn shape then. When Newton hits the target here it is done to great effect and you really get to see how characters such as Beami can still take control of their lives in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Newton’s real skill here is making you care about these characters and there is a lot for you to care about.

What didn’t feel quite right, as far as character studies go, was the treatment of the homophobia facing Commander Brynd. I couldn’t quite believe that he would let himself be found out like that but was prepared to let that one go, these things happen I guess. What didn’t sit quite right with me though was how the homophobic reaction was displayed in such a one dimensional way... Don’t get me wrong, homophobia is a particularly one dimensional kind of hatred but it really felt like such a key part of a multi-faceted character demanded a response that had a little more depth to it than ‘I hate you because you’re gay’. Really? Why? In one sense I think Newton got this reaction spot on (like I said, one dimensional hatred) but, on the page, it felt like it needed something extra to back it up. What it came across as was a means of moving the plot from A to B instead an interaction between people, something Newton does very well over the rest of the book.

This is a relatively small complaint though when the book itself is such an enthralling read. At the end, a particular character is left waiting for another and I’m waiting for ‘The Book of Transformations’ in much the same way. The difference is that I know it will come, it can’t come soon enough.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Author Interview! Conrad Williams

I had a great time reading Conrad Williams' 'Loss of Separation' last week (scroll down a little bit for the review or just click Here) and wanted to run some questions past Conrad for the blog. Despite having loads on, Conrad was good enough to pretty much drop everything else and give me some answers (thanks!) Have you ever wanted to know how a horror author knows when they've written something scary? Does Conrad really think that the Suffolk coast is as grim as it is in the book? Read on...

Hi Conrad, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions,

• Having written ‘Loss of Separation’, can you see yourself getting on a plane anytime soon?

I’ve always been a nervous flyer. I’m a terrible rubbernecker, and can’t not watch programmes such as Air Crash Investigation or Seconds From Disaster. I have a folder at home labelled Air Disasters. I read the NTSB reports… That said, I’m getting better where flying is concerned. I find a Valium washed down with a double G&T does wonders. Off topic... I love the cover to the novel, but I’m not sure if we’ll do any business in the airport bookshops.

• ‘Loss of Separation’ is the third book of yours that I’ve read but the first that ends on an optimistic note? Why the change?

I’m not sure. Possibly I’m getting soft in my middle age. In the original plans, everyone died. Maybe I just wanted to pull the rug from under the feet of those readers who think they know what to expect from a Conrad Williams novel…

• What was harder to write about in ‘Loss of Separation’, supernatural terror or the everyday terrors faced by a man who has had major surgery and woken from a coma?

For me, the supernatural terror came out of the mundane difficulties Paul Roan has to face. I wanted the ambiguity to be there – is The Craw, for example, real, or is it something that has developed like a tumour inside Paul? Is it Paul’s injuries manifesting themselves? It was hard to write about a man who has been reduced to such an extent and then has to grow, develop, recover enough to find the physicality to achieve what he achieves at the end of the book.

• Did a particularly grim holiday on the Suffolk coast inspire the setting for ‘Loss of Separation’?

Not at all. I love Suffolk. I spent a very happy six months there with my wife when we had first started seeing each other in 2000. We spent a lot of time walking on the beach, eating fish, drinking ridiculously strong Bloody Marys and writing. We were both writing for ten hours a day sometimes. I wrote Decay Inevitable while I was there. And I also came across an article in the Guardian that gave me the idea for Loss, although back then I always intended to call it Consummation. If I’d still been in London when I read the article, Loss might well have been a novel set in the city.

• You write some pretty intense stuff, where does that leave you once you finish writing a book? Do you take time to recharge your batteries or have you already thrown yourself into your next book? Do you know what your next book will be about?

I was pretty frazzled at the end of this novel. It was partly because the book had such a long gestation period. I must have started writing it three or four times since I got the idea, but it was only recently that it pushed to the front of the queue. I tend to switch on to something new shortly after completing a novel. At the moment I have three or four short stories I’ve been commissioned to write, but at the back of my mind I’m asking myself what the next novel should be. I’ve got half a dozen ideas, but I’m not sure which one to go with just yet. I don’t have any publishing deals at the moment, and I’m between agents, so the only pressure is from within. I think I’ll take a break and see where I’m at in the summer.

• How do you know when you’ve just written something that will really unsettle your readers? Do you scare yourself with what you’ve written?

That’s a good question. I suppose it’s just hopefulness. You try to write to the best of your abilities and hope that something good comes of it. Sometimes you write quickly, almost without thinking. Automatic writing, of a sort. It’s as if the work has controlled you, rather than the other way around. That’s often a sign of good stuff. I’ve unsettled myself on a few occasions. But there was a scene set in the Underground in The Unblemished that made my flesh creep while I was writing it; pretty much the only time that has happened to me.

• Horror fiction isn’t covered enough online, at least not on the blogs that I read. Which horror writers would you recommend to the readers here?

Those who write on the margins of horror, I find, usually produce work that is almost unbearably frightening. China MiĆ©ville (The Tain), M John Harrison (The Ice Monkey, The Course of the Heart), Christopher Priest (The Glamour, The Prestige), Nicholas Royle (The Matter of the Heart, The Director’s Cut).

• And finally, can you describe ‘Loss of Separation’ in ten words or less to readers who are thinking of picking it up?
Wicker Man meets Blair Witch meets Fatal Attraction
Thanks again!

Monday, 7 March 2011

The 'In a bit of a rush' Competition Winner's Post!

It's going to be a horribly busy one today so apologies for the really quick post. Things will return to normal starting from tomorrow!

Hope you all had a good weekend, I finally managed to finish 'City of Ruin' (it's only been sat on the pile since last June...) so you'll get to see my review over the next couple of days. There were a couple of things that niggled at me which I can't quite put my finger on but, on the whole, it was an excellent read.

That's not what you're here for though is it? You want to know who won the copies of Alex Bledsoe's 'Dark Jenny' from last weeks competition don't you? You do? Here they are...

Jackie Werner, Philadelphia, US
John Quiring, Alabama, US

Well done guys! Your books are on their way and should hopefully be with you soon.

I've got to run but there's plenty of goodness coming up this week as I work my way through that pile of books I took pictures of (amongst others) and post my first author interview in what seems like absolutely ages. Stick around :o)