Tuesday, 31 May 2011

UK Cover Art for 'Echo City' & Me Moaning About Feeling Ill...

Mornin' all :o)

I'm really hoping that you'll all cut me a little slack this week. Whatever it was that I caught off Hope, last week, still hasn't cleared up and I'm feeling absolutely rotten (we're talking 'tired wobbly legs, can't stop coughing' rotten here). If that wasn't bad enough, work is set to get a little hectic this week... Oh joy :o(
All this basically means that you're not going to see as many book reviews this week (although I'll do my best to keep them coming; I do have an audiobook and comic to post about so that's a start I guess) If it's any consolation, this means that there will be twice as many book reviews next week so it all balances out ;o)

In the meantime then... The UK cover art for Tim Lebbon's 'Echo City' was doing the rounds on Twitter, last Friday, and it's so utterly gorgeous that I'm posting it here today. Check it out...

Now, isn't that the kind of cover art that makes you want to clutch the book to your chest and shoot paranoid stares in the direction of anyone who so much as glances at it? Totally captures the apocalyptic feel of the desert outside the city as well as the apocalyptic feel of the book in general. I read 'Echo City', at the back end of last year, in its US guise and there's no doubt at all that the UK cover art wins out this time round. Cover art to one side though, read the book anyway. It's worth it.

Right, time for a Lemsip. See you all tomorrow!

Monday, 30 May 2011

Giveaway! ‘The Mall’ (S.L. Grey)

If you were around these parts last week then you’ll have seen my review of ‘The Mall’ and what I thought of it. If you can’t be bothered to scroll down and find it allow me to summarise :o) In a nutshell, ‘deeply unsettling but a shame that the ending felt a little forced.’ That ending might work for you though and I’m going to give you a chance to find out for yourself without having to hand over money for the privilege...

Thanks to the lovely people at Corvus, I have three copies of ‘The Mall’ to give away to three readers here. Once again though, this competition is only open to UK entrants. Sorry about that everyone else (publishers are limited as to where they can send books but I do try to be as fair as possible with what I can offer here).

If you’re still with me (and you haven’t read the last two blog posts before this one...) then here’s what you do. Drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. Your subject header needs to be ‘The Mall’.

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

Good Luck!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Giveaway! ‘The White Luck Warrior’ (R. Scott Bakker)

Here’s another book that I plan to be well into this weekend (you need a three day weekend to tackle a book this size!) and while I’m reading it, you could be winning a copy of your own! Thanks to Orbit Books, I have one copy of ‘The White Luck Warrior’ to give away to one reader. One ‘UK reader’ that is, UK entrants only this time...

I’ll also point out that, while anyone is welcome to enter this competition, if you haven’t read the previous books in this series then you’re guaranteeing yourself one hell of a headache picking this book up. Seriously, think about it ;o)
If you’re still with me then you know what to do next. Drop me an email (address at the top right hand of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. I’ll do everything else. The subject header will be 'White Luck Warrior'.

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

Good Luck!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Giveaway! ‘Hexed’ (Kevin Hearne)

It’s a Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK and everything that entails (a lot of reading hopefully) means that I won’t be able to spend much time doing things here. Sorry about that but how about I leave you some competitions to be getting on with in the meantime...? :o)

Yes, thanks to some very generous publishers the next three days are all going to be about the chance to win free books here on the blog. First up is Kevin Hearne’s ‘Hexed’, check out the blurb...

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, doesn’t care much for witches. Still, he’s about to make nice with the local coven by signing a mutually beneficial nonaggression treaty—when suddenly the witch population in modern-day Tempe, Arizona, quadruples overnight. And the new girls are not just bad, they’re badasses with a dark history on the German side of World War II.
With a fallen angel feasting on local high school students, a horde of Bacchants blowing in from Vegas with their special brand of deadly decadence, and a dangerously sexy Celtic goddess of fire vying for his attention, Atticus is having trouble scheduling the witch hunt. But aided by his magical sword, his neighbor’s rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and his vampire attorney, Atticus is ready to sweep the town and show the witchy women they picked the wrong Druid to hex.

I’ll be digging into this book over the weekend and, thanks to Del Rey, I have three copies of ‘Hexed’ to give away to three lucky readers. Before you all start sending emails though, this competition is only open to US entrants. Sorry about that everyone else.

For those of you left over entering this competition is as simple as ever. My email address is at the top right hand side of the screen; drop me a line telling me who you are and what your postal address is. Because I’ve got some awful nineties pop tunes running round my head at the moment, your subject header will be ‘Hex me up!’

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

Good Luck!

Friday, 27 May 2011

‘Gotham Central: In the Line of Duty’ – Rucka, Lark & Brubaker (DC Comics)

Babies don’t do an awful lot do they? They don’t really, just a bit of crawling from A to B and playing with stuff in-between. If it looks like they’re going to get into any trouble then an adult will very kindly step in and head things off. Why then is that babies are the main vector for all sorts of germs and illness? Seriously, I never used to get ill before Hope turned up and now I’ve spent the last couple of days absolutely wiped out by, well... everything I think. You wouldn’t believe how much Lucozade I’ve managed to get through! :o)

Episodes like this don’t do an awful lot for my ability to chip away at the reading pile (which has unexpectedly grown even more this week) so it’s at times like this that I say ‘thank the good lord for comic books!’ I’ll still argue with anyone that a well written comic book can have just as much meat to it as a regular book but these last couple of days I’ve been after something that’s a little easier on my poor headachy eyes. That’s where ‘In the Line of Duty’ came in and made for a very welcome change.

My reading ‘In the Line of Duty’ is the result of another trip to the library where I can get to take a bit more of a chance with my comic book reading. ‘In the Line of Duty’ caught my eye as it focuses on police officers who not only have no superpowers to protect them but must constantly prove their worth under the shadow of one of the most iconic heroes ever. When an officer is killed by the villain Mr Freeze his colleagues suddenly have a lot more to prove. The hunt for Mr Freeze is on and Gotham’s finest want to get to him before Batman does...

‘In the Line of Duty’ takes the spotlight off characters like Batman (and his various allies and enemies), keeping it firmly focussed on the Gotham P.D. instead. I liked this approach very much as it gave me chance to move outside the regular sphere of storytelling and look at something a little new instead. Having just reread that last sentence it’s funny to think that reading about the lives of ordinary people can be considered fresh and a little bit different. Only in comic books I guess... Do you guys have any other suggestions for comic book reading where superheroes take a backseat like this?

How does it all come off then? Brubaker does very well to show us what it’s like to be a cop working in Gotham City where a closed door can either be hiding a kidnapped girl... or a high powered super villain (there is more than one case under investigation in this book and the Gotham PD has to pick up all kinds of stuff); you don’t know what’s behind that door until you kick it in. There’s uncertainty, and tragedy as well, but there’s also a real sense of camaraderie that invites the reader to be a part of it too. You end up knowing just exactly what it means to be a police officer in Gotham City and you can’t help but respect the people who do that job. You certainly can’t blame them when they want to prove a point to Batman about the job that they do.

The story itself was perhaps signposted a little too clearly for me in that I saw the man behind the kidnapping a little earlier than was necessary to keep things moving along nicely. What I would say though is that I certainly never saw one of the other two cases under investigation linking to him in that manner and Brubaker does very well to spring that surprise on us while linking separate plot strands together in such a way. ‘In the Line of Duty’ is very intelligently written and demands your attention if you are to get the most out of it.

As far as the artwork goes, I was in two minds here. Rucka and Lark combine to create some gorgeously atmospheric panels that capture Gotham to a tee along with some very dynamic set pieces. What they sometimes fail to do though is let facial expressions shine through all that atmosphere, leaving the reader having to go purely on the dialogue. It’s not much of an imbalance but it’s there.

Minor niggles though really. ‘In the Line of Duty’ was a comic book that I found myself re-reading before I could put it down. A lovely read that gave me a glimpse of Gotham that I don’t think I’d have seen otherwise.

Nine and a Quarter out of Ten

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Some cover art that left me feeling a little sad...

There was meant to be a review today but life decided that the last thing it wanted to see on the blog today was a review... Thanks for that life! Have a look for that review tomorrow instead.

In the meantime, I was mooching around the reading pile and came across this cover for ‘Deceived’, the latest book in the ‘Star Wars: Old Republic’. Check it out,

On seeing this cover my first thought was, ‘hang on... Darth Vader wasn’t around for that era of the Old Republic’ (because I’m a little sad like that and have these moments sometimes). I’m right of course, this book is set thousands of years before Anakin Skywalker was even a glint in his Mum’s eye... and that’s what’s left me feeling a little sad about the whole thing.

Sith Lords are vastly powerful and evil beings; surely there is more scope for drawing a Sith Lord than making him a 'Darth Vader knock off'? Apparently not going by the picture here. I mean, do the designers think that fans won't recognise a Sith Lord unless he looks like Darth Vader? Or is the whole franchise starting to stagnate and run out of fresh ideas?

Either way, I'm left feeling a little sad looking at this cover. I remember when Star Wars was all fresh and exciting and it doesn't feel like that anymore :o(
Having said all of this, I'll probably end up picking the book up anyway... because it's Star Wars and I'm always hoping for something good here. Anyone else read 'Deceived'?

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

‘The Mall’ – S.L. Grey (Corvus)

Way back in September last year I highlighted this title as one that I would be keeping an eye open for and would love to get my hands on. As seems to be the way with my reading pile at the moment, my copy of ‘The Mall’ was eagerly received and then promptly disappeared into the mass of printed paper that is once again creeping across the bedroom floor (I wouldn’t have it any other way!) I have a horrible feeling that the reading pile is where the mice have made their nest...

I rescued ‘The Mall’ in the end though. I wouldn’t say that life has been particularly hard just recently but it has stopped me getting into all the books that I really want to be into right now. The best cure for this is to go for something completely different and see where it takes you; I can’t get into any fantasy right now so maybe reading some horror is the way forward... It turned out to be a move that worked very well.
‘The Mall’ really drew me into its dark and twisted pages to the extent that I was probably a little anti-social around guests over the last couple of days. It did leave me feeling a little let down in places though...

Rhoda’s trip to the mall, to score some coke, has backfired in the worst possible way. The little boy Rhoda was babysitting has gone missing in the mall and Rhoda has no idea where he is. Dan’s job in the bookstore is full of angst and petty anger (which is pretty much his life as a whole) but things are about to get a lot more interesting as he is the only person who might know where Rhoda’s charge actually went...
Rhoda and Dan’s search takes them into parts of the mall that they have never seen before, pursued by something terrifying and facing a series of twisted tasks (sent via disturbing text messages) that they must complete if they want to survive. They manage to pass these tests but the worst is yet to come. The mall that they make their way to is not the mall that they left...

‘The Mall’ is one of those books that almost effortlessly sucks you in and gets you reading straight away. The urgency of Rhoda’s entrance into the book uncovers a hook that you can’t help but bite on; after all, who’s not going to want to know what happened to a poor little lost boy? From there on in, Grey peppers the plot with lots of tiny yet biting questions that draw you in further. There’s no way out other than to keep reading through to the end and that’s the best way for a book to do things.

Grey also gives us a couple of very engaging characters to take us on this journey. Rhoda’s spiky attitude powers the plot forward in directions that you won’t see coming until you’re well down the path. As you get to know her a little more, Rhoda also becomes a surprisingly sympathetic character that you can’t help but root for.

Grey perhaps doesn’t do quite as well with Dan whose angst ridden persona grated after a while; I was there for Rhoda not him. Again though, Dan’s journey yields insights into his character that won’t necessarily make you like him more but will help you to understand him a little more.

Where Grey really excels though is in the atmosphere of surreal terror that permeates the novel and left me feeling more than a little disturbed every time I put the book down for a breather. The flight through the tunnels underneath the mall is an exercise in classic terror that got my heart thumping. You don’t know what is pursuing Rhoda and Dan but you can see all too well the effect that this looming presence has on them and the fast pacing of these passages makes it all too easy to get caught up in the rush. There’s also an element of surreal terror that makes for a nice counterpoint to the regular stuff. Grey hints at what ultimately awaits Rhoda and Dan with brief respites from the pursuit that highlight the growing weirdness of their situation. It’s scarily odd and the worst is yet to come.

The ‘alternative’ mall where Rhoda and Dan find themselves is perhaps drawn a little too strongly to be an effective satire of consumer culture (if that is what Grey intended, I think I can see that intent) but still makes for some terrifying reading. Rhoda and Dan must learn to deal with stuff that seems merely weird at first but then proves to have nasty repercussions that they must fight to avoid. Grey injects these elements of realisation at just the right points to give the plot fresh impetus and carry the reader along.

Rhoda and Dan’s stay in the mall makes for some occasionally harrowing reading (poor Dan...) and I had to be around for the ending. This is where things fell a little flat for me however...

The ending is signposted a little too clearly for my liking but I can let that one go. After all, any good horror novel has that sense of crushing inevitability about its ending, just to make the reader want to hang around and see characters get what’s coming to them.
The problem I found though (and without giving too much away) was that this ending dragged out a little too long and wasn’t so punchy as a result. The last place you want to let the pace drop is right at the end of a horror novel...
What I also found (and this was the only place in the book that this happened) was that events towards the end of the book felt like they were there specifically to push the plot towards a particular conclusion. The organic and smooth nature of the plot just vanished at this point. I found it hard to accept that Dan would do what he did and it was more or less the same with Rhoda. The actual ending worked but I didn’t like how the plot was aimed at this ending.

That to one side, ‘The Mall’ makes for some tense and unnerving reading that any horror fan will get a lot out of. I certainly did. Just beware of that ending...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

‘Justice: Volume 3’ – Ross, Krueger & Braithwaite (D.C. Comics)

My journey through the ‘Justice’ storyline has been a bit of a mixed bag to say the least. Volume 1 saw me absolutely captivated by some gorgeous artwork and intrigued by the promise of a storyline that looked like it might actually dare to do something different with the nature of (super) heroism. Volume 2 though... The artwork was absolutely gorgeous once more but what I found myself with was a story that was headed down some very familiar paths. The stakes were high but you could almost tell how it was going to turn out...
Or could you? With only one more volume to work through I was always going to finish the story off and I couldn’t help but hope there’d be at least one small surprise to send things out with a bang. As it turned out…

I’ll be honest with you, life has led to me writing this review on the fly and I’ve copied/pasted the blurb instead of rewriting it as I normally do. Read on but BEWARE OF SPOILERS in the next paragraph…

Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, the Flash, Green Lantern and the Martian Manhunter are the world's greatest super-team - the Justice League of America! With Lex Luthor's plan - and Brainiac's betrayal - revealed, the world's heroes must regroup and launch an all-out assault on the headquarters of a huge society of supervillains, in order to free the world from their grasp! Master tactician Batman has a plan...but will any heroes survive long enough to put it into action?

Even if I hadn’t told you to beware of spoilers you already knew how this one was going to go… I guess the problem is that some superheroes are just too well established as a brand for writers to be able to do anything truly innovative with them. Volume 3 follows the path set by Volume 2 in drawing clear battle lines and setting one group against another ahead of a foregone conclusion. That’s not to say that there aren’t some nice moments along the way though. I’m thinking about Aquaman’s attempts to save his son and a beautifully drawn page where he realises that it won’t be as easy as he thought; this volume is worth picking up for moments like these.

A big ol’ superhero/villain smack-down is inevitable and there are no surprises about how it turns out. What you can’t deny though is the energy present in the dialogue and artwork; if you didn’t know that there’s a scrap happening then you will and in no short order!

At the risk of repeating myself once again… Ross and Braithwaite’s artwork is superb and leaves you with no choice but to turn the page, once you’ve finished running your eyes over the gorgeous detail that is.

‘Justice: Volume 3’ doesn’t surprise its reader at all but what it does do is done very well and rounds things off with a bang that you will see coming but will enjoy nonetheless. If you’re a DC fan then you’ve read this series already but read it again anyway, the artwork is more than worth it.

Eight out of Ten

Monday, 23 May 2011

The ‘Post Apocalyptic’ Competition Winner’s Post!

Afternoon folks and welcome to this brave new post apocalyptic world that we all inhabit now after the events of the weekend... Hang on, that didn’t actually happen after all did it? People the whole world over just got on with business as usual but things were actually pretty apocalyptic in my house... An ill wife and puking baby ganging up and giving me their germs? I was glad to leave the house and come to work this morning!

Right, on with the competition winners from last week (and there are a few of them)! Congratulations to everyone who won, better luck next time everyone else...

‘The Warlord’s Legacy’ (Ari Marmell)

Ryan Poole, Cheshire, UK

‘Corsets & Clockwork’ (Trisha Telep)

Before I tell you who the winners are, I just want to say thanks to everyone who made me laugh with their comments regarding the competition email header. You all know who you are, thanks for the chuckles! :o)

The winners were...

Maria Patrinou, Greece
Daniel Franklin, Manchester, UK
Mel Symonds, Surrey, UK
Kim Stewart, California
Rob Weber, The Netherlands

Well done everyone, your books should be on their way soon!
Due to the weekend being a bit manic, I really can't remember what I've got lined up for the blog this week (there's a pile of 'read books' next to the bed, that's all I can tell you...) I guess it's going to be a surprise for us all :o) Stick around...

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Cover Art! ‘The World House – Restoration’ (Guy Adams)

If we’re talking about ‘Eagerly Anticipated Books in 2011’ then I’m probably looking forward to all the same stuff that you are; like a certain long awaited book about dragons released in July for instance... There’s another book, due to be released in July that I’m even more excited about though. I’m talking about ‘Restoration’ which is the sequel to Guy Adams’ ‘The World House’, a book that I utterly adored when I read it (read my review Here)

I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy of ‘Restoration’ which is now officially a high priority read on the reading pile (no promises about when it will be read though, I’ve made that mistake before...) In the meantime, check out the cover art...

Simple yet very effective in its execution although the subject matter maybe isn’t that inspiring. The cover image will make a lot more sense if you’ve read ‘The World House; actually, the whole book will probably make a lot more sense if you read ‘The World House’ first! Here’s the blurb...

They sought the box for many years, because held inside that arcane magical artefact was, miraculously, a house. But now its real purpose has become clear – it was a prison, and the infinitely evil being it was built to imprison has been let loose. Now the real quest begins in earnest.

Bring it on...

Saturday, 21 May 2011

‘Tron: Legacy’

You won’t normally see me talking about films here for a couple of reasons. First up is the fact that I’m just hopeless at making it to the cinema to watch anything that I want to see, it just never happens. “That’s no problem though” I hear you all say, “just watch it on DVD a few months later”. I could do that, you’re absolutely right. The really annoying thing is though, Hope has learnt to turn the TV off at just the moment when I’m really into something (and giggles when I tell her to leave the TV alone...) I may as well read a book instead to be honest...

Every so often though, a film comes along where I will creep downstairs to watch it when the little one is asleep. Yep, I’m talking about ‘Tron: Legacy’.

I loved the original ‘Tron’ to pieces when I was a kid (and even posted something about it on the blog, click Here) so I’d been looking forward to the sequel for a long time. It then turned out that I had to look forward to the sequel for a little while longer as I missed it in the cinema and had to hang around for the DVD instead, go me :o)

I got there in the end though and was suitably entertained by the whole experience; how can you not be with lightcycle battles (as well as what I’m calling ‘Frisbee Wars’...) being upgraded for a 21st century audience? I mean, forget the story; this is what all the fans of the original film came for isn’t it? I certainly got my money’s worth here with some very cool looking 'game grid' sequences, the night club scenes weren’t bad either.

I wasn’t so sure about bits of the story though. The search for Flynn worked fine (and I may have even got a little teary eyed in all the right places) but the stuff about new digital life, and Clu’s refusal to accept this, just didn’t seem to gel. It was like there were two different stories being told here and one of them just petered out into nothing, at least as far as I could see.

‘Tron: Legacy’ was great fun and, in some ways, was just like seeing the original for the first time. I got the impression though that it sometimes wasn’t quite sure what it was on about. IMDB tells me that there are more sequels lined up though so maybe there’s time yet for things to be worked out.

Friday, 20 May 2011

‘Among Thieves’ – Douglas Hulick (Tor UK)

One of the things I love about blogging/reading other people’s blogs is how it has made me a lot more aware of books in the pipeline that will be published at some point in the future. I remember a time when the first I would know about a new book was when I first saw it in the book shop. After I’d read it I’d be left waiting for however long it took for the next book to arrive (with no idea of when that would be).
Not these days though. Thanks to online publishing schedules and bloggers pointing at what excites them, I now know exactly what I want to read and how long I have to wait for it. How cool is that? There are no surprises anymore but it’s a small price to pay I think :o)
Which brings me onto Douglas Hulick’s ‘Among Thieves’ (in a slightly roundabout way, sorry about that)...

Praise for Hulick’s debut has been popping up all over the internet for a while now and all the good things being said (by a lot of people whose opinions I trust) highlighted this title as one that I’d definitely be picking up. Not only that but it’s about thieves and we all know that thieves in a fantasy setting are always cool, no question about it. Yet again, it has taken me longer than I’d planned to pick this one but I did and I have to say that all the nice things being said about ‘Among Thieves’ are bang on the money. Could this be my debut of the year? Quite possibly...

The city of Ildrecca is a very dangerous place if you don’t know the ins and outs of its criminal fraternity. One wrong move on these mean streets and you’ll be getting a visit from an Agonyman before you know it... Fortunately for Drothe, he knows exactly what he is doing (having worked the streets for years) and has made quite a nice living for himself rooting out trouble within his boss’ organisation whilst smuggling Imperial relics on the side.
Drothe’s boss wants him to find out who is leaning on his people in a sensitive area of the city, nothing too arduous... at least that’s what Drothe thinks before he really gets into the thick of things. All of a sudden the mystery widens to include a trail of dead bodies and a relic sought by any number of people with plans to bring down an empire and take power for themselves. Drothe soon finds himself right at the heart of a shadowy war fought in dark alleyways and rooftops. No surprise there, Drothe has found himself in possession of the relic that everyone is looking for...

‘Among Thieves’ is a sumptuous slice of the dark underbelly of a city that seems plenty dark enough to start off with. There is a lot here to get your teeth into and if you’re anything like me you’ll really enjoy the experience. What we’re looking at here is an almost perfect blend of dank and gloomy atmosphere along with a searing dose of swashbuckling action and a lead character who’s a lot of fun to hang out with.

It’s a shame then that the book itself makes things harder than they perhaps needed to be in terms of being able to get into it right from the start. The chief culprit here is Hulick’s use of ‘thieves cant’ in a large chunk of the dialogue. I loved the air of authenticity that this ‘cant’ gave to the proceedings; you really get a feel that the ‘Kin’ (Thieves Guild to the likes of you and I) are a well defined group in their own right just by having a few well chosen words scattered here and there. What I wasn’t so keen on though was the fact that you’re never entirely sure what particular phrases actually meant... I kept finding myself thinking things along the lines of ‘he said what...?’ and that stopped me really getting to grips with the story at times that felt like it was really important to be fully engaged. Not a huge problem in terms of the book as a whole but one that did rankle from time to time.

Get past this admittedly very small niggle and you’re in for a great read. I guarantee it :o)

You may think that thieves have been done one time too many in fantasy literature (I mean, you do see a lot of them...) I’d disagree and say that so long as a book is written well (or at the very least tries to be a little different) then you can have as many ‘tried and tested’ plot devices as you like. ‘Among Thieves’ may feature some familiar looking characters but I’m pretty certain that you’ve never seen them doing their work in such a downright brutal way. The first chapter alone features a man being tortured and a near drowning! Hulick displays a fine ability to show his readers what life in and around the gutter is really like, nasty and often very short. This very honest and grim atmosphere makes for a read that you can’t help but follow (and feel very glad that you can close the book afterwards and get away, certain characters aren’t that lucky...)

If that wasn’t enough, Hulick furnishes the book with a mystery that is teased out at just the right pace, answering questions whilst asking many more; just the thing to maintain interest and keep readers reading. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on things Hulick takes great pleasure in proving you wrong and there are more than a few moments that made me go ‘what the...’ This is all punctuated with moments of fierce action (that are almost cinematic) and, once again, Hulick refuses to pull any punches. If Drothe takes a battering then you’ll know all about it... and so will he. Drothe himself makes for a commanding lead in this piece, a character that doesn’t shy away from what he is and a character you can’t help but root for as a result. Drothe may do things for the wrong reasons but he does want to do the right thing... at least from his point of view.

‘Among Thieves’ is a book that grabs you right from the first page and refuses to let go. In fact, I finished this book a few days ago now and it still hasn’t let go... I’ll have more of this please!

Nine and a Half out of Ten

P.S. I was reading the Tor UK edition, if you're in the US (or if you just like the US cover and want that...) 'Among Thieves' is published by Roc.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

’13 Bullets’ – David Wellington (Piatkus)

Vampires these days just aren’t what they used to be. I don’t know, maybe I’m reading the wrong books but it seems like the bloodthirsty killing machines of old have been replaced with a softer ‘vampire lite’ version that exists merely to bemoan its own existence in a series of angst ridden conversations with the girl it loves but can never have (unless you’re a vampire written by either Meyer or Hamilton in which case anything goes). It’s kind of sad to see the once proud ‘apex predator’ of the undead brought so low, isn’t it? As a result, you won’t see an awful lot about vampires here; only if they’re the truly evil kind.

There are books out there that give us the ‘real deal’ in terms of vampires and it’s my job here to showcase these books and show you guys what vampires are really all about. I’d read David Wellington’s ‘Monster Island’ (way back in the days when the blog was practically brand new) and the style he employed there gave me a pretty clear indication that his take on vampires needed to be picked up and read.
Wellington’s vampires are as bloody and animalistic as all good vampires should be and give us one wild ride of a story. It’s just a shame that the plot itself doesn’t live up to what his vampiric creation initially promises ...

All the official reports say that vampires have been extinct since the late eighties when Federal Agent Arkeley took out the last one in a fight that nearly killed him. Arkeley knows better though; there is one vampire left, imprisoned but none the less deadly as she plots and bides her time in an abandoned asylum.
State Trooper Laura Caxton has a case on her hands, that hints at vampire involvement, and only Arkeley can help her (even though she quickly comes to want nothing to do with him. Caxton is out of her league here and woefully unprepared for the rigours of a case involving vampires and their undead thralls. What Caxton is even less prepared for though is the feeling that the vampires want more from her than merely her corpse standing between them and the law. It was just chance that led to things originally happening when Caxton was on patrol... wasn’t it?

Go to your drinks cabinet, grab a bottle of whisky and take a big old gulp from the bottle and see what happens next. If you don’t have a bottle of whisky to hand go to your local supermarket and ask for the hottest chilli that they sell. Once you’ve paid for it, take a massive bite...
Either of these things is the equivalent of reading ’13 Bullets’; a book that will quite literally blow the top of your head off from the very first pages and then proceed to merrily tap dance on what’s left of your skull.

There is no doubt that ’13 Bullets’ is one hell of a ride with Wellington throwing everything but the kitchen sink at Arkeley and Caxton and seeing what happens next. Caxton is out of her depth and totally new to this situation while Arkeley carries deep scars from years of fighting vampires. Arkeley is too set in his ways to develop much if at all; it’s only at the very end that we get to see a chink in his armour and get the briefest glimpse of what he’s really all about. Caxton is the more interesting of the two to follow as everything happening is brand new to her and she can’t help but react to it. With this character you get a real sense of the journey that she makes from start to finish.

Wellington’s vampires are vicious animals eager for that next hit of blood and with enough cunning to make it happen on an all too regular basis. Wellington captures the essence of these creatures with clever use of drawn moments of tension quickly followed by a short and intense burst of action. Everything flows smoothly and there are more than a few moments that make you jump (even though you know what’s coming, just like any good horror film). Wellington also shows a keen eye for spectacle and how to make the best use of it. Whether it’s a vampire being taken down by the Feds, breaking a siege or a manic chase through woods into a cemetery; Wellington has it all covered and has no trouble getting his readers right into the heart of what’s happening. This high octane read packs an awesome punch as a result and I wouldn’t be surprised if Wellington had one eye on the film version as he was writing this. I could see it working very well indeed.

So what’s the problem then? I mentioned right at the start that I didn’t think the plot lived up to the spectacle and this creates a discord that the novel can’t really shake off. Sometimes the pace of what’s happening is literally so fast that I don’t think the plot is able to keep up and gets lost as a result. There’s so much going on (and it’s all good) that it eventually degenerates into one set piece following another with the plot taking a back seat as an afterthought. This left me wondering just exactly how the revelation at the end actually tied together and I also wouldn’t have minded slowing things down a bit and taking a look at some of the other characters that make up this world (I’m thinking about the guy who skins ghosts). Maybe in another book...

When the plot does kick in things are signposted a little too clearly for anyone who wants to take some time and guess what is going to happen next. Maybe ’13 Bullets’ is just that kind of book but certain events were signposted too clearly for me. I like action but I also like to think about what’s coming up and there was no need for that here. The energy of the book carries you past this but it does leave you feeling a little hollow by the end.

’13 Bullets’ scores highly here for its sheer exuberance and willingness to smack its reader in the face with a strong dose of brutal action. This comes at the expense of the plot though and while ’13 Bullets’ makes for a thoroughly entertaining commuter read, it’s not going to be any more than that.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Brandon Sanderson Signing at Forbidden Planet

This looks like it could be worth checking out (if only to finally get me to open the copy of ‘The Way of Kings’ that is currently propping up my book pile...) From the press release,

Forbidden Planet is pleased to announce a signing by Brandon Sanderson for his astounding novels The Way of Kings Parts I and II at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR, on Saturday 4th June 1 – 2pm.

Mankind used to live in The Tranquiline Halls. Heaven. But then the Voidbringers assaulted and captured heaven, casting out God and men. Men took root on Roshar, the world of storms. And the Voidbringers came against man ten thousand times.

Or so the legends say. Today, the only remnants of those supposed battles are the Shardblades, the possession of which makes a man nearly invincible on the battlefield. Kings strive to win more Shardblades, each secretly wishing to be the one who will finally unite all of mankind under a single throne. On a world scoured down to the rock by terrifying hurricanes that blow through every few days a young spearman is forced into the army of a Shardbearer, led to war against an enemy he doesn't understand and doesn't really want to fight.

Brandon Sanderson was born in Nebraska in 1975. Since then he has written the Mistborn series, amongst others, become a New York Times bestselling author and been appointed by Robert Jordan's estate to complete Jordan's Wheel of Times. He lives in Utah.

I'm having real trouble working my way through books that are half the size of this one and haven't got round to picking it up. Have you read 'The Way of Kings'? What did you think of it?

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

‘Apocalypse of the Dead’ – Joe Mckinney (Pinnacle Fiction)

It was way back in September 2009 that a casual re-read of Joe Mckinney’s ‘Dead City’ became a full blown review, have a click Here and see what I mean. The review details all the reasons why I’d recommend this book so I won’t go into them all over again; lets just say that (despite a couple of issues) fans of zombie fiction should definitely give ‘Dead City’ a go if they haven’t already.

I thought ‘Dead City’ was a one off so I was more than pleasantly surprised when the author himself stopped by the blog and let us all know that a sequel ‘Cataclysm’ was due out sometime in 2010. Me being me, I totally forgot about this (other stuff going on and lots of it...) so I was once again more than pleasantly surprised to find the sequel nestling on the bookshelf, in Forbidden Planet, at the back end of November last year. It wasn’t called ‘Cataclysm’ at all but that still didn’t stop me picking the book and taking it home right away. Once again, a book that I’ve really been looking forward to has taken a long time to finally be read but I got there in the end and it was well worth it. The last review was for Book Smuggler Thea so this one is as well :o)

Two years have passed since hurricanes tore through the Gulf Coast and the zombie virus arose from the wreckage to prey on the living. Whole cities and vast areas of land have been quarantined and survivors left to fend for themselves behind hastily erected walls. Anyone caught trying to escape is shot on sight.

And then the infection breaks the quarantine...

Within weeks the planet is reeling from an unprecedented swarm of zombies and it’s soon up to people to survive as best they can with little or no help from those in charge. Searching for a cure may be more than just a pipedream but for the likes of retired US Marshall Ed Moore it’s all about making a final stand when all else fails. That stand may come sooner than Ed thinks when the people he has worked so hard to protect are caught in between the plans of an apocalyptic preacher and a horde of zombies thousands strong...

I tore through ‘Dead City’, when I first picked it up, and the same can be said for ‘Apocalypse of the Dead’. It may have taken me a while to get to it but it didn’t take nearly as long for me to finish it off. McKinney builds on what we first saw in ‘Dead City’ and takes his story onto a much larger stage; the zombie invasion has just gone epic... That’s not to say that the book isn’t without its issues though which occasionally made for a less than smooth reading experience.

‘Dead City’ was a short sharp burst of action (only taking place over a day or two if my memory serves me correctly) and McKinney proved to be more than adept at keeping his plot on a short leash and powering it forward at one hell of a rate of knots. ‘Apocalypse of the Dead’ is an entirely different read though with attention paid to how the virus can spread (and society collapse around it) over a longer period of time. As a result of this approach, McKinney has to switch between ‘short/intense’ pieces and passages that are a little more drawn out (so we can get a ‘wide screen’ feel for the changes to the landscape). It’s a necessary approach to take but the pacing does come across as very choppy because of it and I was left with a ‘stop/start’ read that took a while to get back into every time it started going again.

It’s also worth pointing out that ‘Apocalypse of the Dead’ isn’t the thoughtful novel that its predecessor was. Again, you can appreciate why this is the case as the focus has changed from the last novel. People know a lot more about the zombies now and are more concerned about surviving the onslaught than they are thinking about why zombies are around in the first place (and whether they are zombies at all). I missed that air of thoughtfulness though; there’s nothing wrong with an action packed read (such as this) but I couldn’t help but wonder if opportunities for further exploration were being missed. To be fair, McKinney does explore the attitude of certain survivors (freedom eventually leads to anarchy) but this was a one off as oppose to the general rule.

Don’t worry though, if you enjoyed ‘Dead City’ then ‘Apocalypse of the Dead’ still has plenty to offer the hardened zombie fan as well as newcomers (you don’t have to had read ‘Dead City’ to get stuff out of this book).

Issues with pacing aside, McKinney does a great job of showing his reader just how the zombie virus can resurface despite the best attempts of the government to halt it’s spread. Any good piece of zombie fiction highlights the failings of humanity to cope and that’s just what happens here.

What you get next is essentially a story of survival set against a crumbling infrastructure that cannot cope with this new onslaught of the dead. The background is appropriately dark yet strangely poignant at the same time, McKinney does well to show us just what the characters are all losing while they fight to survive. The odds are stacked against our band of leading characters as they must cope with the undead as well as the lawless inhabitants of this new landscape. McKinney shines a light directly onto all of his characters as they fight to keep moving forward and, while you may not agree with their motives or actions, you can’t deny that McKinney has taken a lot of time to populate his books with characters that you can’t help but follow.

Everything then clicks up a gear for a finale that underlines the fact that humanity is it’s own worst enemy when faced with something of this undead nature. There’s plenty happening although you just know that certain characters will make it out alive. That let some of the tension bleed out but, overall, I couldn’t really complain at all over how it pans out by the end.

‘Apocalypse of the Dead’ suffers from certain structural issues that mean it doesn’t reach the heights it could have done. The book remains a thoroughly gripping read though and McKinney shows us all, once again, that he knows what he is on about as far as zombies are concerned. Bring on ‘Flesh Eaters’, I won’t leave that one so long before I pick it up...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

‘Justice: Volume 2’ – Ross, Krueger & Braithwaite (DC Comics)

If you were around this time last week you would have seen me gushing like a burst water pipe over the absolutely marvellous time that I had reading ‘Justice: Volume 1’. If you weren’t here last week then you might want to either scroll down the page a little bit or just click Here instead, either way works :o)
‘Justice: Volume 1’ wasn’t without its little flaws here and there but there was no doubt that I’d be around to see where things led to in ‘Volume 2’. Along with the gorgeous artwork, there was plenty to think about (in particular, how being a hero and doing heroic things is really just a matter of perspective) and I wanted more of the same. Into ‘Volume 2’ then and I have to say... I couldn’t really have expected those high standards to be maintained in a second book. It would have been nice though...

The world’s super villains have turned over a whole new leaf and are promising a better world for all... or are they? When the truth behind all the good intentions comes to light, the Justice League are ready to take the fight to their enemies and reclaim the world for the people it truly belongs to. First though, the League must recover from a devastating assault on it’s foremost members and root out a traitor in the ranks. Even if they can do all this, an even bigger threat is on the horizon...

You spend a whole book being promised something a little new and thoughtful and then.... you realise that what you’ve got is essentially the same old story that always gets trotted out when superheroes are going at it with their mortal enemies. That’s what happened here and it was almost like I was reading two different stories (I even checked the covers). What started out as an interesting spin on the nature of heroism becomes the same old ‘they were lying to us all along...’ plot and I couldn’t help feel that a chance to do something new had been wasted.
That’s not to say that the story is too clear cut; there are a couple of surprises in store for the reader and the ante is upped in a couple of impressive ways (one of which will see me return for the final instalment). ‘Justice: Volume Two’ remains a entertaining read and maybe that’s all you can ask for at the end of the day.

As in the previous volume, Ross and Braithwaite combine superbly to deliver artwork that is just a joy to behold and I’m looking forward to cracking open the third volume and getting more of the same.

‘Justice: Volume 2’ drops in quality due to a decision to follow well trodden paths rather than strike out somewhere new. If you follow the same old route then you’re eventually going to be stuck telling the same old story...
There’s enough here though for me to pick up Volume 3, just to see how it all ends. I’m hoping for something more along the same lines as Volume 1 however...

Seven out of Ten

Monday, 16 May 2011

The ‘Blogger Fail/Graeme Fail’ Competition Winner’s Post!

If you have a blog (or if you read them) then you’ll be only too aware of Blogger going offline on Friday. A bit of an inconvenience but it all came back online so everyone was happy (although not necessarily happy with the way that Blogger took care of business)... Apart from me that is. Turns out that Blogger wasn’t the only screw-up on Friday, I had totally forgotten to pay my broadband bill and the broadband people finally caught up with me. That’s what I’ve been up to this weekend and that’s why the blog looked like I hadn’t updated it since Wednesday. Everything is all posted again though and if you scroll down a bit you’ll see a couple of competitions as well as a little post on books I couldn’t finish, it’s all good :o)

Right now though, I’m all about letting you folks know who won last week’s competition for copies of Daniel Polansky’s ‘Lowtown’. It’s a quite a long list so you might want to get comfortable. Here goes...

Fred Coughlin, Philadelphia
Shane Branham, Nebraska
Chris Antoline Ohio
Keith Prochaska, Minnesota
Lori Magill, California
Sabrina Osborn, Washington
Carrie Conley, North Carolina
Ray Pratt, Vermont
Chris Miller, Maryland
Josh Kupecki, Texas

Well done everyone, your books will be with you soon! Better luck next time everyone else, did I already mention that there are a couple of other competitions that you can enter? Scroll down and have a look...

This would be the paragraph where I tell you what’s in store this week but... I’ve got no idea right now (things are busy!) There will be books of one sort or another involved though. Stick around and see what happens next ;o)

See you tomorrow!

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Giveaway! 'The Warlord's Legacy' (Ari Marmell)

A little bit late in the day (thank you Blogger and a sarcastic 'well done' to me as well for not paying my broadband bill...) but better late than never I guess... :o)

To mark the UK release of Ari Marmell's 'The Warlord's Legacy' (check out my review Here, I loved it) I have one copy to give away to one lucky reader of this blog. It's a 'UK only' competition though, sorry about that everyone else...

Entering is as simple as ever. Just drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'Warlord's Legacy'. That's all you need to do! I'll do everything else.

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

Good Luck! 

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Giveaway! 'Corsets & Clockwork' (Trisha Telep)

If you're finding that your steampunk reading is lacking a little romance (or if your romance reading is lacking a little steampunk, either's good) then you just got lucky happening by the blog today! I have just the giveaway for you... (For the record, my reading currently lacks both steampunk and romance. All sorts of stuff permitting, look out for a review of this book at some point).

Thanks to those lovely folk at Constable Robinson I have five copies of 'Corsets & Clockwork' to give away on the blog. Even better than that, this is a competition that anyone can enter. It doesn't matter where you live, if you want in then you're in!  

Entering couldn't be easier (actually, it probably could but lets not go into all that...) All you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. In a moment of sniggering school boy humour, I have decided that your subject header shall be 'I look great in a clockwork corset'. Sorry about that but that's just the way it has to be this time round :o)

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

Good Luck!

Friday, 13 May 2011

Didn’t finish reading it. Didn’t finish listening to it...

A few disturbed nights (okay, more than just a few...) and all of a sudden reading isn’t becoming a chore as such but it is becoming a lot more difficult to find books on the pile that will let me get right into them right away. That’s the way it goes here and I know that it’s a phase that will pass soon enough.

In the meantime, I’m not letting this feeling affect the books that I am managing to get into. If I’m going to put a book down unfinished (and never pick it up again) then it should be for reasons relating to the book rather than a particular mood I’m in. As it happens, I’ve had to ditch a couple of reads over the last few days and here’s why...

‘Sati’ – Christopher Pike (Tor)

I was after a read that I wouldn’t normally pick up at all and ‘Sati’ seemed to fit the bill here. A trucker picks up a young hitchhiker called Sati who declares that she is God and sets about proving her divinity in a number of life changing ways. At least that’s what the blurb said, I never got far enough to find out.

Maybe I quit on this one too early (although halfway through a two hundred and forty seven page book isn’t doing too badly, I’d say that I gave it a fair chance) but an interesting premise instead became a long and rambling religious diatribe that felt more like it belonged in a textbook somewhere. It certainly didn’t do anything to advance the plot and I couldn’t see that happening anytime soon so I put the book down and can’t see myself picking it up again. Shame really as, like I said, the opening chapters looked very interesting...

‘False Gods’ – Graham McNeill & Martyn Ellis (Black Library)

I’m always looking forward to my next Black Library read and their audio books are a great way to spend the journey into work. With this in mind I really thought my luck was in when the abridged audio book of Graham McNeill’s ‘False Gods’ (a book I’d enjoyed reading in the days before the blog was even the merest spark of an idea...) arrived on the door mat. You can’t fault the story here but its delivery failed on the most basic level, at least as far as I was concerned.

A high standard has already been set by Toby Longworth’s narration and it’s a shame for Martyn Ellis that his own narration doesn’t meet the grade. You might disagree with me but Ellis was simply not able to infuse the story with the sense of dark grandeur that the setting usually commands. Worse still, the voices that Ellis used for the characters bordered on the comedic (as far as I was concerned) and that really didn’t work at all. The story and its delivery were at odds with each other to the point where I literally couldn’t listen to it any more (I'll also admit to being a little shallow and missing the sound effects that have worked so well on previous audio books). This was a real shame as I’d spent ages making room on my iPod so I could fit it all in...

Have you come across either of these titles? Do you think I’ve made a mistake in dropping them without finishing first? Leave a comment and let me know what you think...

Thursday, 12 May 2011

‘The Ritual’ – Adam Nevil (Pan MacMillan)

The nineteen eighties were a fine old time for a boy like me to discover horror books for the first time ever. Not that I ever got to read any of them (that came a little later) but my bloodthirsty eight year old self was absolutely enthralled by cover art featuring giant crabs attacking sunbathers, evil slugs oozing down people’s faces and rats ripping the flesh off hapless bystanders. What was there not to like? :o)
By the time I got round to having a little spare income to throw at the genre though... it vanished from the bookshelves and could only be found in second hand bookshops if you were lucky. It wasn’t too bad if you only wanted to read Stephen King (his books pretty much demand their own shelf space after all) but there wasn’t an awful lot else. Things got even more galling when the likes of Laurell K. Hamilton etc began to encroach on this shelf space and almost squeeze horror out of the bookshops entirely!

Luckily for us all, horror is making a bit of a comeback these days (if it ever really went away, it’s certainly raising its profile if nothing else) and it’s all to the good. Adam Nevill’s ‘Apartment 16’ found itself near the head of this resurgence and for very good reason. While it wasn’t a perfect read for me, ‘Apartment 16’ did its job very well and had me looking forward to whatever Neville published next. Well, that time has come about with the publication of ‘The Ritual’ and I didn’t hang around picking this one up. I’m glad I didn’t hang around either as ‘The Ritual’ is quite simply a superb read...

‘And on the third day, things did not get better...’

Four old university friends have set off into the Scandinavian wilderness to try and reconnect with each other and get away from problems at home. None of them have an awful lot left in common though and tensions soon arise on what was meant to be a relaxing camping trip.
Things are about to get worse though... With two of the party lacking in fitness and hiking experience a decision is made to take a shortcut that should get the party back to civilisation. Where this shortcut leads them though is into the heart of a forest millennia old that doesn’t seem to want to let them leave.
Things are about to get even worse though... The hikers are not on their own in the forest. Something is stalking them, something that leaves grisly reminders of what it will eventually do to them. Will exhaustion and starvation kill off the hikers or will the presence lurking in the trees kill them first...?

There is a time and a place for reading horror and that’s tucked up in bed, late at night, with the lights off and a torch on. Anyone who reads it differently just isn’t doing it right ;o) A teething baby (mine of course...) meant that I got to read ‘The Ritual’ in just that way and I am still reeling from an intensely scary reading experience. Neville draws you in with a simple premise and then proceeds to smack you round the head with a whole load of seriously terrifying business, all when you least expect it.

The main issue I had with ‘Apartment 16’ was that some of it felt a little too familiar and I initially wondered if I was in for more of the same with ‘The Ritual’. I mean, a party of hikers lost in the woods with something nasty stalking them? Are you thinking of ‘The Blair Witch Project’? I was...
Luckily for me though, that initial similarity was where it all ended. ‘The Ritual’ is a tale all of its own and one that’s worth the price of entry.

Neville sets the scene by showing us what our hapless hikers are up against and then tracking back to show us how they got to this position in the first place. Again, I was left wondering how effective this would prove to be. After all, instead of throwing these characters into the unknown Neville is basically telling us what they will find. As it turned out, this approach worked very well indeed with Neville widening the viewpoint and showing us the hiker’s plight before they even find the first hint that something worse is to come. We might know what’s coming but they don’t and you can’t help but get involved with their more immediate concerns; you’ll actually sympathise with them all the more with your knowledge of what is to come.

Once Hutch, Luke, Dom and Phil enter the woods Neville really starts to crank up the pressure with a combination of the overall atmosphere becoming more and more oppressive while the group dynamic gradually disintegrates. Looking at the ensuing events from an ‘outsider’s perspective’ it’s interesting to note that one character actually finds the breakup of the group a far more horrifying prospect than being lost in the woods. I guess it just goes to show that true horror can be found in any number of things that others would consider mundane and Neville displays a keen eye in picking this up.
The atmosphere within the forest itself is appropriately dark as well and that’s without the various man made items that hint at something horribly wrong. Neville does a superb job of getting across just how old the forest is and how precarious the hiker’s position in it is as a result. He also does a fine job of drip feeding us enough pointers to keep us heading keenly towards the really nasty stuff...

When it all really kicked off, ‘The Ritual’ had me in mind of some dark and evil version of the first ‘Predator’ film, twisted into something brutal and full of fear. There’s something in the forest, something that’s actually a part of the forest and has been for a long time. The hikers have no idea when it will strike next and neither do you. Every attack comes as a nasty surprise that you will never see coming, especially the scene when there are only two of the hikers left... That one stayed with me for a long time after reading. Neville feeds you enough glimpses for you to get a feel for what’s stalking the hikers but lets your imagination fill in the gaps until the climactic scenes at the end. That’s just the way it should be, something this terrifying deserves to have your imagination and fears make it all the more so.

Just when you think you’re looking at a ‘monster picking off hikers in the woods’ scenario, Neville turns things round yet again and shows us that the true horror of the piece lies within the hearts of humanity (in sequences that will take the final surviving hiker to the absolute limits of his endurance). The transition from the plot in the woods to what comes next felt a little bit choppy and slightly at odds with what was essentially a very smooth flowing read. Once you’re past this bit though, things do pick up again and Neville ties the two strands of the plot together in ways that will surprise you just when you thought you had it all under control. The final scenes drew me right into the thick of it and there was never any doubt that I wouldn’t put the book down until I was done. Even then, Neville leaves us with a tantalising glimpse that suggests certain dream sequences could perhaps be a lot more...

‘The Ritual’ didn’t just stop at sending a shiver down my spine, carrying on past that to leave me feeling all unsettled and resolved to stay away from large unexplored woods. A horror novel that leaves you feeling melancholy and thoughtful (as well as just plain scared); Neville is rapidly cementing his position as an author worth watching.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

‘Embedded’ – Dan Abnett (Angry Robot)

I never really bothered with the whole ‘What books I’m looking forward to in 2011’ thing.  I’m not knocking it as a whole load of blogs that I read regularly all turned out lists with some interesting books on them. Everyone else got there before I did though (erm... I was busy...) and any post I did make would have been just a repeat of everyone else’s. If I had made such a list though, one of the books on it would definitely have been Dan Abnett’s ‘Embedded’.

If you’ve been around these parts for a while then you’ll know that Dan Abnett has swiftly become my ‘go to author’ for all things ‘military sci-fi’ (as well as popping up when I least expect him to in places like 2000AD and ‘Primeval’ tie-in fiction to deliver  entertaining reads there as well). I’ll even stick my neck out here and say that I don’t know anyone who does military sci-fi better (Karen Traviss isn’t bad at all but doesn’t get the balance right between technical jargon and human interest...) Having only really read Abnett’s military stuff in the Warhammer 40K setting, I was looking forward to seeing how his work would translate into a setting entirely his own (the Sabbat systems only really ‘half count’ as far as that goes). On the whole, I wasn’t disappointed...

There’s something decidedly dodgy happening on the colony planet of Eighty Six (local trouble suddenly developing into full blown warfare) and it’s going to take a better journalist than Lex Falk to get to the bottom of it all; Falk is the best journalist around and if he can’t dig up the dirt then no-one can.
All of a sudden, the playing field opens up in a way that Falk never saw coming. Journalists are forbidden from going anywhere near the battlefield but a journalist hitchhiking in the head of a combat veteran, that’s a different story entirely. Things take a turn for the worse though when Falk’s carrier stops a bullet in the worst possible way... In a body that isn’t his own, Falk must somehow find his way to safety whilst keeping an eye open for whatever is going on that’s so important. The answer will prove to be the story of a lifetime, if Falk can stay alive for long enough.

I’ve read enough of Abnett’s work now to know that I’ll be in for the long haul with new books of his. This was very much the case with ‘Embedded’, a book with a big question that demanded you stick around for the answer. Having said that though, prepare to possibly feel a little let down when the ‘big answer’ finally rears its head. I actually quite liked the vagueness of it all (to me that just added to how ‘big’ this thing is and you can probably take a guess at what it is anyway) but if you’re in the market for a clear cut conclusion then this book may not be for you...

‘Embedded’ is a bit of a slow burner to begin with, almost too much of a slow burner if you know what I mean. It’s almost like Abnett does too much of a good job on telling us just how deadly dull the planet of Eighty Six and doesn’t leave us too much to engage with. There are a few little nice touches (like the sponsored expletive) that give the setting an original feel but these are few and far between. Falk’s character is well drawn enough but too world weary, at this point, to really move things forward. The book drifts as a result and I’m left wondering whether this is a result of elements failing to engage or whether Dan planned this deliberately so that events in the second half of the book would have even more impetus. My reading of the book leans towards the former I have to say; if this was all done deliberately then it was a move that didn’t quite pay off...

Stick with it though, I did and the end result is worth sticking around for.

When the ‘military’ part of this military sci-fi kicks in, Dan Abnett really brings his ‘A Game’ to the table and you are immediately caught up in a rush of fire fights, espionage and explosions. Abnett presents us with a detailed military infrastructure and drops Falk right in the middle of it all, a man with no prior military experience at all. The ensuing passages are all the more urgent because of this as Falk must not only fight to survive but do so in a body that isn’t his. You might wonder at how easy these difficulties are overcome but give it a chance and you’ll find that it all makes sense. In the meantime, we get to see Falk make a personal journey that redefines his character, and makes him a person worth following throughout the book, as well as throwing up moments that stand the plot on its head at just the right time. Falk can’t get too comfortable and you won’t be able to either. Abnett has proved more than adept in the past at showing us just what life can be like on the frontline; he does it again here and in some style. You really get a feel for what it’s like to be under sustained fire and I was left glad that I was only reading about it! The second half of the book flows like quicksilver and I was left wishing that the first half had been able to do the same...

 Everything ties together nicely at the end (aforementioned vagueness to one side, it might be your thing and it might not...) with a neat little word play on just what the term ‘Embedded’ can mean in the context of this book. I’ve counted three possible meanings and they all work, I liked that.

‘Embedded’ feels a little stodgy to begin with but a little persistence really pays off in the long run as Abnett delivers the kind of pulsating military sci-fi that we all know he can. Fans of Abnett will lap this one up and fans of military sci-fi in general should check it out anyway. ‘Embedded’ has its issues but is worth a look.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

‘Justice: Volume 1’ – Ross, Krueger & Braithwaite (DC Comics)

Last week I used ‘The Flash: Rogue War’ as an example of the pitfalls inherent in letting someone else go out and chose your comic book reading for you. Not wanting to sound ungrateful (I love that my wife gets me comic books from the library) but that’s just the way it can go sometimes. For every up there’s inevitably a down...
Well, this week sees my comic book reading shoot up in terms of quality. Another totally random read picked off the shelves but one that satisfied on all levels. So much so in fact that I went back to the library yesterday and picked up the other two volumes in the series. If ‘Justice: Volume 1’ is anything to go by then I’ve got some quality reading ahead of me...

Across the world, a select band of people are sharing one dream about an apocalypse that the famed Justice League of America is powerless to prevent. Is there anything that these people can do about it? When their ranks include the likes of Lex Luthor, the Riddler and Brainiac the answer is... maybe.
This band of villains has come together to do some good, proving to the world that the Justice League is no longer needed and, in fact, may even be to blame for the Earth being the target of various alien attacks etc. Is this their only motive though? The members of the Justice League are in no position to find out as they’re suddenly under attack from all sides...

One thing that I find disappointing about reading comic books is that the often gorgeous cover art isn’t continued inside. That’s fair enough as what’s inside is still usually quite cool and you can’t reasonably expect artists to turn out that kind of art for a whole comic with various deadlines to take into account. Or can you...?

Check out the cover art here, lovely isn’t it? Well, that’s the standard of art that you get throughout the whole book this time round and it’s great. We’re talking about pages and pages of artwork that I was happy to just lose myself in and let the story wait for a while; it all looks so lush and you can almost see the characters moving on the page. Braithwaite and Ross combine superbly to deliver scenes of action and introspection that grab you with no effort at all.

As lovely as the artwork is, I wouldn’t be planning on coming back if there wasn’t a decent story backing it all up and there certainly is here. There is a strong feeling that things will end up going the way they usually do but this is tempered by a delicious feeling of uncertainty that, perhaps this time, it could all be different. Are these villains looking to do something good for humanity or is there an ulterior motive? You can probably guess the answer. I’ve got a fairly good idea but I’ll still be reading on to see if I’m right. There are also loads of other questions all set up to answered in future volumes. Perhaps it’s a little too obvious what these questions are doing (moving the plot forward rather than adding to the story itself) but I found myself getting into anyway and I definitely want to see how things pan out over the next two volumes.

‘Justice: Volume 1’ is a rich layer of gorgeous artwork wrapping up a story that could go either way but is intriguing enough to have you hanging on for the ride anyway. I’ll let you know how Volume 2 goes...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 9 May 2011

The 'Short & Sweet' Competition Winner's Post!

Morning all! How was the weekend? Mine was great thanks, just the right mixture of playing around with Hope and getting books read :o) What does that mean for the blog? Well, you won't be hearing any more about my playing games with Hope but you will be hearing about Dan Abnett's 'Embedded', Adam Nevill's 'The Ritual' and Douglas Hulick's 'Among Thieves'. I'm really looking forward to talking about these books as they all made for some very entertaining reading to one degree or another. Okay, 'The Ritual' was more scary than entertaining but you know what I mean...

Right now though it's time to announce the winner of last week's competition, a winner who will shortly be getting their hands on copies of Alexey Pehov's 'Shadow Prowler' and 'Shadow Chaser'. A winner whose name is...

Jake Woodworth, New York

Well done Jake! Your books will be with you soon... Better luck next time everyone else.
That's all for me today, see you folks tomorrow :o)

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Giveaway! 'Low Town' (Daniel Polansky)

You may have been around when I mentioned this book last month but, in case you weren't, here's the blurb...

In the forgotten back alleys and flophouses that lie in the shadows of Rigus, the finest city of the Thirteen Lands, you will find Low Town. It is an ugly place, and its cham­pion is an ugly man. Disgraced intelligence agent. Forgotten war hero. Independent drug dealer. After a fall from grace five years ago, a man known as the Warden leads a life of crime, addicted to cheap violence and expensive drugs. Every day is a constant hustle to find new customers and protect his turf from low-life competition like Tancred the Harelip and Ling Chi, the enigmatic crime lord of the heathens.

The Warden’s life of drugged iniquity is shaken by his dis­covery of a murdered child down a dead-end street . . . set­ting him on a collision course with the life he left behind. As a former agent with Black House—the secret police—he knows better than anyone that murder in Low Town is an everyday thing, the kind of crime that doesn’t get investi­gated. To protect his home, he will take part in a dangerous game of deception between underworld bosses and the psy­chotic head of Black House, but the truth is far darker than he imagines. In Low Town, no one can be trusted.

Sounds good doesn't it? 'Low Town' won't be published until August but I have an advance copy so will hopefully be able to tell you all what I think of the book very soon. In the meantime...

DoubleDay Books have very kindly offered ten advance copies of 'Low Town' to give away here on the blog. It would have been rude of me to say no so that's what we're all about today! I'm afraid this competition is only open to US residents though, sorry about that everyone else...

Entering is as simple as ever. Just drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'Low Town'. That's all you need to do! I'll do everything else.

I'll let this one run until the 15th of May and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

‘Doctor Who: The Dalek Handbook’ – Steve Tribe and James Goss (BBC Books)

Whether you’re a longer term fan of ‘Doctor Who’ or someone who has only been watching since Chris Eccleston took up the reigns you’ll know only too well that the Doctor’s deadliest foes are the Daleks; mutated life forms in protective armour that will not stop until they are the dominant life form in the universe. Long term fans of the series will probably already know all there is to know about the Daleks but the BBC are well aware that there are a whole load of new fans out there that don’t have the whole picture yet. That’s where the ‘Dalek Handbook’ comes in...

‘The Dalek Handbook’ sets out its stall to be the ultimate ‘one stop shop’ for all things Dalek related. You get the Dalek’s history in terms of their appearances on the TV show itself but you also get their history off screen as well; we’re talking the history behind their creation and ongoing design as well as their appearances in other media. Did you know that there was a Dalek stage play for example? I didn’t until I read the handbook...

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t really bother picking this book up unless you have some kind of interest in Daleks! I’m a big fan of the show etc and that was all I needed to get stuck in and find out what little bits of information I’d been missing out on...

The first thing that struck me was that the book is only a hundred and sixty pages long. That suggests to me that either the writers involved didn’t have that much to tell their audience (unlikely given how long the Daleks have been around in the show etc) or that things have been deliberately scaled back to cater to the younger end of the market. I would have personally suggested the latter but when you get into the book itself you’ll find that everything is covered in fine detail. There’s no wasting words here although the font is pretty small as well!

There’s a whole load of the old Dalek stories that I’ve never seen (‘The Chase’, ‘Mission to the Unknown’ & ‘The Dalek’s Masterplan’ amongst others) so I found this book particularly beneficial in terms of finding out just what happened in those episodes. I also liked the way that Tribes and Goss made sure that all these separate stories were connected, lending the whole thing a sense of ‘Dalek history’ (apt, given the time travelling theme…) rather than it just being a collection of TV shows. I picked this book up for the story that I thought it could tell and I wasn’t disappointed in that regard.

Being in it for the story meant that the more factual passages (the Dalek’s creation off screen etc) didn’t do it for me as much. I’m one of those people who like to get into what’s happening on the screen and finding out how it was all done just spoils it… These passages have had the same level of care and research lavished on them though and there is bound to be something of interest there for those amongst us who want to know about the technical details. It’s just not for me.

Unless you’re a hardcore ‘Doctor Who’ fan ‘The Dalek Handbook’ won’t grip you with everything that it has to offer. There’s enough there though to appeal to casual fans on one level or another. Worth a look if you have any kind of interest in the show at all.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Friday, 6 May 2011

‘The Dragon’s Path’ – Daniel Abraham (Orbit)

Everyone wants to write a book but there’s only so much room on the bookshelves to sell them all. Book stores want make money by selling books to as wide an audience as possible and publishers react accordingly by pushing the writers who they think will do the best job of making money for all concerned. It’s a sad fact then that certain writers fall under the radar because of this, their work may well be brilliant but it’s not what publishers and booksellers think the buying public is after. I give you ‘Exhibit A’ in this sorry scenario... say hello to one Daniel Abraham.

Abraham’s ‘Long Price’ quartet is considered to be top notch original fantasy by those people who have read it. For the record, I’ve only read the first two books but if they’re anything to go by then I’ll quite happily agree with the people saying all the good stuff. However, this oriental influenced fantasy didn’t fare so well (sales wise) in the US which led to the publishers not bothering to release the final instalment in mass market paperback. Sometimes, no matter how nice your face looks it just doesn’t fit...
Abraham doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to be put off by something like this though and has come back with another fantasy based effort, this time set in more familiar quasi-medieval surroundings. Orbit have already shown their support for the series by acquiring two more books, to follow on from the three that they’ve already bought, and rightly so. ‘The Dragon’s Path’ is a gorgeous read that lays its cards on the table right away and promises a lot more goodness to come in the future.

‘Summer is the season of war in the Free Cities...

The politics of Kings impact on the lives of all and it is the job of everyone else to make out the best they can in the meantime. Marcus is getting out of the city of Vanai before the armies of Antea arrive to lay siege; guarding the last caravan out of the city seems as good a way to escape as any... or is it? Cithrin Bel Sarcour has been charged by the Medean Bank, as its ward, to oversee the removal of it’s Vanaian treasury (before the city claims it) and she is trying very heard to keep it all a secret... in the last caravan out of the city.
On the other side of the coin, young noble Geder Palliako marches to war for the first time although he would rather pursue matters of philosophy than swordplay. His role as the regimental scapegoat will change in the fires of battle (as Antean nobility manoeuvre for influence over their King) but his discoveries on a remote mountain range will bring change of a kind that the world itself may not be ready to face...

I’ll happily admit that when I first heard mention of ‘The Dragon’s Path’ I was wondered if this was a tactical move on Abraham’s part to get back in the game by writing something that would appeal to a wider audience than the people who read the ‘Long Price’ books. Maybe this was the case (and who could blame Abraham for doing that?) but Abraham has stuck to his guns and given us a book that may tick all the boxes for a regular fantasy novel but also is just as thoughtful and character driven as anything he has written before. The result is striking to say the least.

A big deal is made these days about ‘gritty’ fantasy novels where the author takes great delight in killing characters when you least expect it and showing the ‘evil villain’ to be a generally nice guy after all. That’s all well and good but I find that I can tell which way a character will fall as they’re pushed so far in one direction that you’re almost waiting for them to spring back and go the other way (GRRM, I’m looking at you right now). This is not the case with ‘The Dragon’s Path’, not at all. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book where all the characters are painted in such a perfect shade of grey that you cannot tell what they’ll do until it is done. The reasoning behind their actions also throws everything on its head at moments cleverly chosen by Abraham to keep the ball rolling. The end result is compulsive reading, pure and simple. You’ve got a story where the character least likely to make a game changing decision does so at the worst possible time. You’ve also got a story where you find yourself genuinely sympathising with characters opposing the main players; people genuinely believe that they are doing the right thing here. Abraham’s characters are so well drawn that I literally had to keep reading to find out how they develop further (and they all do). There’s also a nice blend of character driven moments and moments where action takes over and things get a lot more visual; a move that makes the plot flow very smoothly.

‘The Dragon’s Path’ is left open ended in such a way that you find yourself drawn in just to see where the plot takes you. The book itself is very much an ‘opening instalment’, with things being set up for the future, but events are self contained enough that you don’t feel you’re left hanging for all the wrong reasons. I was left more than satisfied with what the book gave me in terms of plot and I’m looking forward to seeing more of the same (plot and characterisation working together so well) in the future.

I wasn’t so sure though about the focus on the role that economics plays in such a scenario. It’s certainly an interesting theme to pursue and perhaps one that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves in other novels. What I didn’t feel though was a solid connection to the rest of the plot and that was a shame seeing as everything else is so tightly bound together. Having said that though, fair play to Abraham for presenting it all in such a way that it kept my interest throughout the book (economics and I don’t mix as a rule...)

The world in which the drama plays out is left vague in some areas, gaps that will presumably be filled in as the series itself develops further. What we’re given in the meantime though is more than enough to be getting on with as Abraham gives us the kind of detail that fans of the ‘Long Price’ series will have already enjoyed. Enough work has gone into the background scenery that you will feel like you are walking through mean streets, corridors of power and lonely mountain passes...

A minor issue arising from the exploration of economics prevents ‘The Dragon’s Path’ from being the excellent novel that it initially promised to be. There’s no doubt though that we’ve got something special here that any fan of well thought out fantasy should be following as a matter of course. Recommended reading here.

Nine and a Half out of Ten