Friday, 30 September 2011

‘The Damned Highway’ – Brian Keene and Nick Mamatas (Dark Horse Books)

Regular visitors to the blog already know that I’m a big fan of Brian Keene and will do whatever I can to get hold of his books as they’re published (a little more difficult for me these days, over here in the UK, thanks for nothing Dorchester...) If you’re not a regular visitor to the blog... I’m a big fan of Brian Keene and will do whatever I can to get hold of his books as they’re published (and also, welcome to the blog!) I’ve never a read anything by Nick Mamatas though, the closest I’ve come being a copy of the ‘Haunted Legends’ anthology that somehow never made it off the reading pile. I wonder if it’s still there...

Anyway... ‘The Damned Highway’ presented itself as the ideal way of topping up my dose of Brian Keene along with the chance to find out just what Nick Mamatas is all about. I’m not sure how I made out as far as those two things go but I had one hell of a lot of fun reading ‘The Damned Highway’ in the meantime. I wouldn’t have thought that a book involving Cthulhu would have me laughing out loud. Shows how wrong I was...

It’s January 1972 and America’s premier ‘gonzo’ journalist (yes, him) finds himself resenting his unexpected fame as well suffering from a severe case of writer’s block. It’s time for some reinvention! One name change and a scheme to reinvigorate both his patriotism and his writing later, ‘Uncle Lono’ finds himself on a strange journey to Arkham, Massachusetts, and the presidential primary. All is not well though, Lono gradually uncovers evidence that the forces of Cthulhu are working behind the scenes and their most prominent member is one Richard Nixon! Can Richard Nixon gain the number of states needed to usher in the apocalypse? Can Lono find another supply of those really good mushrooms...? All will be revealed...

I said that I wasn’t sure how well ‘The Damned Highway’ worked in terms of getting my ‘Brian Keene fix’ and being introduced to Nick Mamatas’ work for the first time. The bottom line here is that Mamatas and Keene work together so well that there’s no real of telling who wrote what. It’s like they combined into one uber-writer (Brian Mamatas? MamataKeene?) for the duration of the book and I’m all for that approach. When I read a book written by two (or more) writers I’m always looking to see if I can see the ‘joins’ in the writing. I couldn’t see any here and it made for a very smooth reading experience.

And what a read it was! Two hundred and five pages of sheer adrenaline with a main character living off various illegal substances as well as his frayed nerves. Add a sinister conspiracy that reaches the highest levels of American politics, along with that most dangerous of Elder Gods, and I found that I had myself a book that took a firm hold of my eyeballs and steadfastly refused to let go until the bitter end.

It goes without saying that a working knowledge of Hunter S. Thompson and ‘Gonzo Journalism’ is going to mean that the reader gets a lot more out of the proceedings than someone who doesn’t have that knowledge. Someone like me for instance, a reader who should have paid a lot more attention to his studies (or even studied at all) in the course of gaining a degree in... American Studies. Yep, I know...
Luckily for readers like me, ‘The Damned Highway’ didn’t let too much go over my head. Lono’s acerbic wit and observations carry the book along just as quickly as the underlying threat does. Like I said, that little extra knowledge helps but you don’t necessarily need it to know that Lono loves his country but doesn’t think much of the shape that parts of it are in right now. I couldn’t help but chuckle at some of the stuff that Lono came up with (as well as get a little thoughtful about some of the points being made about modern day America) and that was before the forces of Cthulhu made their appearance.

‘The Damned Highway’ is a read that will bring a grin to your face but it’s also a read that will make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck if my experience was anything to go by. Keene and Mamatas display a handy knack of being able to hide the weird and downright evil in open sight and lull you into a false sense of security just before you run into it. Cthulhu lurks in the most unexpected places and it’s that mix of the normal and weird that makes for a very unsettling read at times. The machinations of Richard Nixon, in particular, are cartoonish and somehow all the more evil for it. The most unsettling thing of all though is when Lono gets a glimpse of the future and lives to see it all come to pass. Keene and Mamatas know that the darkest evil doesn’t live on the page and they use that to great affect here.

What really impressed me though was how a book that flies along, literally at breakneck speed, can be so controlled and tight in its prose. Lono is prone to ramble but the plot doesn’t and everything is tied up by the end of the book, an ending that keeps in tradition with all the best horror by suggesting that a more final ending is looming on the horizon.

‘The Damned Highway’ is a playful homage to Lovecraft, and Hunter S. Thompson, that never fails to make you shiver while you’re busy thinking about some of the more serious satire lurking on its edges. I’d recommend you pick it up, ‘superb’ doesn’t even come close.

Ten out of Ten

Thursday, 29 September 2011

‘Anna Dressed In Blood’ – Kendare Blake (Tor)

There’s no point in my pretending that I’m not a complete Jackdaw when it comes to a nice shiny (and well presented of course) book cover. The author’s name is a big draw, of course, and the blurb will more often than not seal the deal one way or the other. It’s the cover that catches my eye first though and that’s always been the way it has gone; cover art is there to look good on your shelf (in the years to come) but it’s there to draw your initial attention above all. As much as it pains me to say it, the recent ‘garishly yellow’ Gollancz covers are certainly effective in this respect...

All of which, in a round about kind of way, brings me to the cover for ‘Anna Dressed In Blood’. Take one look at that haunting cover and tell me that you’d walk past without giving it a second glance at least. All those greys and blacks, with the merest hint of red, caught my eye straight away and a quick glance over the blurb pretty much decided it for me that I’d be reading this book.
Having finished it though... I’m wondering if my tendency to jump on nice cover art got the better of me this time round, and not in a good way...

Cas Lockwood is much like any other seventeen year old apart from one important detail... Cas kills ghosts for a living, just as his father did before him until his untimely death at the hands of a ghost that he was hunting.
Now Cas travels the country with his mother (a witch), taking note of ghosts that kill and killing them before they kill again. Their travels bring them to a small town in search of a ghost called ‘Anna Dressed In Blood’; a ghost that violently kills anyone who steps inside the house that she haunts, a ghost in a white dress stained red with her own blood. Cas has never come across anything like Anna Dressed In Blood, especially when she spares his life instead of killing him where he stands. There are questions that Cas needs to answer if he is to stop Anna killing again. Some of the answers though, they will take him further back into his past than he is ready to go...

‘Anna Dressed In Blood’ not only has a great premise, it also has a mystery demanding to be solved by a main character that I couldn’t help but find myself liking a lot. Cas Lockwood has a hard life but he is always willing to make that sacrifice, for his father’s memory, and aiming to be the best in what seems to be a very lonely profession despite everything else. You’ve got to admire that strength of will (especially when Blake makes you well aware of what Cas is deliberately choosing to miss out on) and I found myself rooting for Cas all the more because of it. Cas is able to dispatch ghosts in fine style and Blake shows us these moments in an understated way that is all the more powerful for this approach. I also enjoyed following the supporting cast and watching Cas slowly start to open up to others as they offered him their support (a great aid to Cas’ development as a character).

The initial mystery also drew me in very easily. What led Anna to haunt that house in the first place? And why is she able to stop herself killing Cas? These are some pretty intriguing questions and there was no doubt that I was going to be around to see how things played out, especially as it all takes place in a rather bleak setting that accentuates the challenge Cas is facing both with Anna as well as the world of ghosts in general.

Unfortunately, this is where things started to fall down for me and in quite a big way.

It may well be that I missed something but you never really find out why Anna is able to spare Cas’ life in the early stages of the book other than that ‘she doesn’t need to kill him’; she is one vicious ghost (Blake doesn’t pull any punches here, as is also the case with creepier moments that are full of tension) and there is no doubt that Cas would not have survived her attack. You’re just left to get on with it and the feeling I got from this was that Anna’s mercy wasn’t really a part of the plot, it was just there to let things move forward and that felt like a bit of a cheat to me. Admittedly, Cas and Anna’s relationship moves to some interesting places because of this but the way it is handled, in those early chapters, left me cold.

In the same kind of way, it felt that the two sub-plots (‘Cas and Anna’, ‘Cas and his past’) didn’t really gel and I guess I was looking for something a little more cohesive here. My big question (without giving too much away) was why Cas hadn’t encountered this situation much earlier. Blake offers a convincing explanation but it still felt awfully convenient that things would explode at the moment they did; almost like there wasn’t enough of the ‘Anna plot’ to carry things for a whole book and the ‘big reveal’ was needed a lot earlier than people realised.
Balancing things out, Blake does an amazing job of drawing the tension out (as Cas realises just what he is facing) and the finale is explosive and a little tragic at the same time.

‘Anna Dressed In Blood’ offers plenty to get you started but ultimately didn’t quite deliver for me, despite some promising moments. It’s a shame as the book had a lot of potential to begin with...

Seven out of Ten

A Couple of Bits and Pieces for You...

Another Forbidden Planet signing and some free reading. Check out the emails...

FORBIDDEN PLANET are delighted to be hosting a triple signing with Adam Nevill, Mark Charan Newton and Adrian Tchaikovsky on Saturday 15th October at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London WC2h 8JR.

ADAM NEVILL is a graduate of the University of St Andrews Masters programme and the author of Banquet for the Damned, an original novel of supernatural horror inspired by M. R. James and the great tradition of the British weird tale. In his working life he’s endured a variety of occupations, including both nightwatchman and day porter in the exclusive apartment buildings of west London.

Adam will be signing the new paperback of THE RITUAL.

MARK CHARAN NEWTON was born in 1981, and holds a degree in Environmental Science. After working in bookselling, he moved into editorial positions at imprints covering film and media tie-in fiction, and later, science fiction and fantasy. He lives and works in Nottingham.

Mark will be signing the third book in the sensational RED SUN series, THE BOOK OF TRANSFORMATIONS.

ADRIAN TCHAIKOVSKY studied psychology and zoology at Reading. He subsequently ended up in law and has worked as a legal executive in both Reading and Leeds, where he now lives. Married, he’s a keen live role-player and occasional amateur actor, has trained in stage-fighting, and keeps no exotic pets of any kind, possibly excepting his son.

Adrian will be signing the new paperback of the seventh book in the SHADOWS OF THE APT series, HEIRS OF THE BLADE.
The usual disclaimers apply (mostly revolving around just when the smallest member of the household decides when to take her nap...) but this is an event that I'm very much planning on being there for. Three great authors, at least two of whom I'll be hassling for signatures. If you're wondering why only the two authors, lets just say that I need to find my copy of 'The Ritual' before I can get it signed...

What does a vampire eat during the zombie apocalypse?

Coburn has a problem – he’s just woken up from a five year sleep to find that human civilisation has fallen in the face of the zombie apocalypse. He likes blood. They like brains. So, yeah – problem.
And now he’s starving. So this vampire not only has to find human survivors but must become an unlikely shepherd with a shotgun. After all, a man has to look after his food supply...

A thrilling chase across a zombie-infested America – but with a twist – Double Dead is Chuck Wendig’s fantastically entertaining, blood-thirsty, brain-guzzling debut novel.

As part of Abaddon’s READ ANYTHING campaign, a free preview of chapter one of Double Dead is available for download! Check out the epub version, the Kindle version or the .pdf version now, for free!

Abaddon's 'Tomes of the Dead' series is pretty much essential reading if you're a zombie fan (like me) and I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on 'Double Dead'. Go check out the preview, do it now! :o)

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

‘Manhattan In Reverse’ – Peter F. Hamilton (MacMillan)

Looking back over what’s been posted here on the blog, it swiftly became clear that there is a very large ‘Peter F. Hamilton shaped hole’ on these pages. Ok, there are some cover art posts as well as bits of news and maybe even an old competition here and there. What about reviews though? While Laurell K. Hamilton gets a mention here and there not a single one of Peter F. Hamilton’s books have featured at all which is a real shame seeing as his name is the one most mentioned when you’re looking for some quality science fiction to read (having enjoyed the ‘Nights Dawn’ books, although this was years ago, I’d agree with this).

I’m going to have to fall back on the same excuse here, the one that has claimed the likes of Steven Erikson and Robert Jordan over the past few years. Peter F. Hamilton’s books are not just big, they’re huge and we all know what happens to big thick books in my house. They get filed under ‘I really want to read this book but I’d have to buy it its own travel card for the commute...’ I know I’m missing out on some great reads here (and am hoping to redress the balance when I next go on holiday) but that’s the way it is.

Until now.

Talk of Hamilton’s latest book had me sighing wistfully and idly wondering if I could use up some annual leave to get it read. That was until I realised that ‘Manhattan In Reverse’ is only two hundred and sixty pages long. Two hundred and sixty pages! Now that’s more like it :o) I didn’t hang around in cracking ‘Manhattan In Reverse’ open and starting to read. It was duly polished off in a couple of nights, not only because of its brevity but also because it’s a book full of interesting ideas that I couldn’t help but chew on. It’s also a book that I found incredibly easy to get into, to the point where I’d surface for air and wonder where the time had gone. ‘Manhattan In Reverse’ is a collection of short stories and some of these are set in Hamilton’s ‘Commonwealth’ universe, a series that I haven’t read at all. People who have read these books should get a lot out of seeing certain characters back on the page. I missed out on that but these stories were no less accessible for that and have got me thinking that I really should go back and check out ‘Pandora’s Star’ and ‘Judas Unchained’. It feels like I haven’t been this excited by science fiction in a long time and it goes without saying that I’m recommending this book very highly indeed.

‘Manhattan In Reverse’ bills itself as a ‘intriguing look at what makes us enduringly human’ but I’d say this is only half the case. This collection is more of a playground where Hamilton can relieve the immense pressure on his brain and let some of his big ideas come out to play. And there are some pretty huge ideas rampaging around here as well, possibly more than a little familiar to long time readers but thoroughly detailed and refreshing to a relative newcomer like me. There’s a real sense of depth to what are, in some cases, very short stories indeed. Hamilton’s earlier work on the ‘Commonwealth’ books probably helped him a great deal here but it’s still a lot of fun to dive in and immerse yourself in such a thoroughly realised world, even if it’s just for a short while. I’m thinking of the first story in particular, ‘Watching Trees Grow’, where you get to see enormous technological advances made that somehow never lose their credibility despite how quickly they happen.

The offshoot of all these big ideas running around is that we do get to see how humanity endures in the face of technological upheaval, whether it’s in the short term or over a period of centuries. Hamilton displays great faith in the fact that while humanity might fracture into separate parts, as a whole it will still hold to what made it human in the first place. Having said that, Hamilton’s stories are just as likely to show humanity in a negative light as they are a positive one. I like that even handedness and not just because it makes for a great story; Hamilton comes across as a guy who really knows what he is writing about.

Here are the stories that you will find in ‘Manhattan In Reverse’ with my thoughts on each. Not all of them worked for me but I had fun with them all and the overall read was definitely a good one...

‘Watching Trees Grow’

Part detective story, part ‘alternate history of mankind’; ‘Watching Trees Grow’ does a great job of getting you to turn those pages right away with a compelling mystery set against a sprawling backdrop of change. Edward’s refusal to let the case drop, no matter what, adds a nice human touch and Hamilton springs a nice surprise on us by exonerating all the suspects beyond all doubt... and then revealing that one of them was guilty all along. Technological advance is the key here but it’s the human characters driving this tale (and the exploration of a pretty fundamental split in humanity as a whole) that makes ‘Watching Trees Grow’ worth the read.


This was the story that made me think ‘Hamilton really doesn’t like living in the UK does he?’ Bradley Murray opens a wormhole and invites residents of the United Kingdom to join him in a new utopia on the other side. A story that chooses to end on the middle ground rather than making a hard choice; I wanted it to take that risk but there is a nice dose of tension that builds up in the meantime. I also had to chuckle at some of the things that wouldn’t be allowed on the other side of the wormhole. An enjoyable ride that perhaps ends a little on the flat side.

‘If At First...’

A time travel tale that gets straight to the good stuff without the needless hypothesizing; what would we really do with ourselves if we could travel back in time? Treatment of the answer is plausible enough to make you keep reading, and I liked the twist at the end (predictable as it was) but I had trouble remembering this tale just a day after finishing the book... ‘If At First’ is a little more lightweight than the other stories and suffered for it.

‘The Forever Kitten’

The shortest story of the lot, clocking in at under a thousand words. This tale of the early discovery of a form of immortality packs an awesome punch for a tale that is so short, even with the pretty big clue that you are given along the way. It was also fascinating to see Hamilton’s handling of a man about to do something very wrong but for reasons that you can’t fail to understand.

‘Blessed By An Angel’

This was the only story that didn’t quite work for me, purely because it seemed to tied to its ‘Commonwealth’ setting a lot more than the others which chose instead to go with the story. I liked the way it ended though and I’ve got a feeling that the character we meet right at the end may have a big part to play in the main series.

‘The Demon Trap’

Detective Paula Myo makes her first appearance here and proves to be another reason why I will seek out the first two ‘Commonwealth’ books. Myo is a sensitively handled example of just what a ‘vat grown’ human might end up like; bred to excel in her role but well aware of how this comes across to other ‘normal’ humans. I enjoyed seeing how Myo copes with her role as well as with the demands arising from her being the only human of her kind that left her home planet. The plot is a compelling one as well, highlighting frictions and divisions that will inevitably arise from mankind’s scientific advance. It’s no surprise to know that Myo inevitably gets her man but the real joy is in seeing how it’s done.

‘Manhattan In Reverse’

The titular story is perhaps a little too straight forward (no twist here at all) but I couldn’t help but be impressed at Myo’s methodical and relentless approach to the case at hand. I also appreciated the way that Hamilton could take a character’s throw away remark and make it into a title that sums up the story superbly. ‘Manhattan In Reverse’ ends things on a quiet note but a fitting one nonetheless.

Like I said, I’d highly recommend ‘Manhattan In Reverse’ for fans and relative newcomers like me; I’m really glad that I picked this one up.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Couldn't Finish Them...

Sometimes the temptation is there to put books that I couldn't finish to one side and pretend that I never picked them up in the first place... Actually, that's only the case with the really awful books and we've all read a few like that haven't we? ;o)

Books like that will more often than not get a whole review slot all to themselves but what about the others? What about those books that didn't actually do anything wrongbut just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Well, they end up in an occasional series of 'Couldn't Finish It' syle posts where I come out and say, "It wasn't you, it was me..."

Up today are,

Her fate is in her flesh.

In an environmentally fragile world where human and animal genes combine, the rarest mutation of all--the Trader--can instantly switch genders. One such Trader--female Sorykah--is battling her male alter, Soryk, for dominance and the right to live a full life.

Sorykah has rescued her infant twins from mad Matuk the Collector. Her children are safe. Her journey, she believes, is over, but Matuk's death has unleashed darker, more evil forces. Those forces--led by the Collector's son--cast nets that stretch from the glittering capital of Neubonne to the murky depths below the frozen Sigue, where the ink of octameroons is harvested to make addictive, aphrodisiac tattoos. Bitter enemies trapped within a single skin, Sorykah and Soryk are soon drawn into a sinister web of death and deceit.

I fancied checking out something a little different to what I'd read normally (I'm finding it far too easy to feel 'jaded' these days but that's another story...) so agreed to give 'Tattoo' a go. I really got into the characters, setting and even found 'Tattoo' one of the few books I've read that manages to be erotic without going way over the top and being plain corny instead.

So what led me to put it down then? As rich as it is, 'Tattoo' is a book where you have to have read its predecessor ('Ice Song') to really get what is going on here. I haven't read 'Ice Song' so found myself tripping up, a lot, on the bits of 'Tattoo' where I really should have done. It was time to put this book down but if I ever do get round to reading 'Ice Song' then I'd definitely come back and give 'Tattoo' another go. It's worth it.

Senator Howard Stark wants to be President of the United States. So does the demon inside him. With the competing candidates dropping out due to scandal, blackmail, and ‘accidental’ death, Stark looks like a good bet to go all the way to the White House. And if he gets there, Hell on Earth will follow.

Occult investigator Quincey Morris and white witch Libby Chastain are determined to stop this evil conspiracy. But between them and Stark stand the dedicated agents of the US Secret Service – as well as the very forces of Hell itself. Quincey and Libby will risk everything to exorcise the demon possessing Stark. If they fail, ‘Hail to the Chief’ will become a funeral march – for all of us.

Having had some fun with Gustainis' 'Evil Ways', I was expecting more of the same with 'Sympathy for the Devil' but only lasted about a hundred and fifty pages before finding I couldn't go any further. The reason why really stumped me, it has to be said, until I saw the following lines in my review of 'Evil Ways'...

I got the impression that Gustainis’ writing style was more about recounting events rather than getting right inside the heads of his characters. While this works up to a point, it felt like there was a wall between me and Quincey/Liberty etc and this left me feeling a little detached from the book as a whole.

It was exactly the same this time round and if an author isn't too bothered about my getting to know his characters then I find that I'm not all that bothered either. Down went the book and that was that.

And so it's onto the next book(s) to see if things pick up. 'The Cold Commands' is looking good although I'm waiting for it to hurry up and get going. Peter F. Hamilton's 'Manhattan in Reverse' is also looking promising.
What about you though? What are you reading and (perhaps more relevant to this post) what books have you found that you cannot get through? Comments here please! ;o)

A Month of Signings at Forbidden Planet

It looks like they're doing nothing but signings at various Forbidden Planet stores over the course of October, check out what it says in the email I was sent...

We have one our busiest and most exciting months for signings ever – with some fantastic names coming to see us.

Make a note in your diary and make sure you don’t miss: -

Peter F Hamilton signing Manhattan in Reverse

Peter F Hamilton, master of space opera and top-ten bestselling author will be signing his short story collection MANHATTAN IN REVERSE at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR, on Thursday 6th October 6 – 7pm.

American McGee signing The Art of Alice: Madness Returns

Legendary games designer American McGee will be signing: THE ART OF ALICE: MADNESS RETURNS at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR, on Saturday 8th October 1 – 2pm.

John Landis signing: Monsters in the Movies

Top director John Landis will be signing MONSTERS IN THE MOVIES at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR, on Tuesday 11th October 6 – 7pm.

Warwick Davis signing Size Matters Not

Actor Warwick Davis will be signing his fantastic biography Size Matters Not at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR, on Wednesday 21st April 6 – 7pm.

Triple Signing with Paul Cornell, Gareth L Powell and Justina Robson

In anticipation of BristolCon, we’re delighted to be hosting a triple signing with Paul Cornell, Gareth L Powell and Justina Robson on Friday 21st October at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, Clifton Heights, Triangle West, Bristol BS8 1EJ.

Richard Morgan signing The Cold Commands in Bristol and in London

Richard Morgan, the King of noir SF will be signing THE COLD COMMANDS, the follow-up to the sensational THE STEEL REMAINS at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, Clifton Heights, Triangle West, Bristol, BS8 1EJ on Friday 21st October from 2:30 - 3:30pm and at at the Forbidden Planet Megastore, 179 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, WC2H 8JR, on Saturday 22nd October 1 – 2pm
My reactions (in the order announced in the email)... 'Sounds good but my copy of 'Manhattan in Reverse' is going to a friend after I've read it', 'Who?', 'I really should know who John Landis is, time to hit Wikipedia', 'Go to this signing I will not', 'The signing is in Bristol, I'm in London' and 'I'm there for this one, Hope can damn well sleep in the buggy!'
Any of these signings catch your eye?

Monday, 26 September 2011

Cover Art that makes me think, 'Actually, I can respect that...'

It's not often that I come across a book where the cover is so shiny that I cannot read the blurb; I mean, if you have to go to Amazon to find out what the book that you are holding in your hands is all about then something has gone pretty wrong somewhere along the line. Then I looked at the photo of the author, looked at the lady on the front cover, looked at the author photo again... They're both the same person! This has definitely piqued my interest as far as reading this book goes and I'll tell you why in just a minute. Here's the blurb (courtesy of Amazon, thanks for nothing shiny book cover...)

A beautiful woman awakens on a plane and discovers that things are going terribly wrong. The plane is about to crash into the Hudson River…and she can’t even remember her own name.

After she survives the crash, the airline determines that her name is Angela Sands. But she has no idea who she really is.
Reporter Dante Kearns is fascinated by the woman the media dubs “the Angel of the Hudson,” especially once he discovers her shocking secret. Angela can hear voices in her head—the thoughts of all men around her. And when a man gets close, her face and form change into the woman of his dreams.
Who is Angela? And why does she believe that she was murdered before she woke up on that plane in a stranger’s body? Together, Angela and Dante are going to find answers, even if they have to bring down a killer to do so.

Now, this type of book wouldn't normally make me want to pick it up but it was written by a woman who has clearly decided that if anyone's face is going to feature on the front cover of her book it'll be her face and no-one elses. You've got to admire someone like that, makes me want to write a book just so I make sure that my face and no-one else's is on the cover. My reading schedule is a bit odd right now but... yep, I'm going to have to give this book a go sometime soon :o)

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Giveaway! 'Ganymede' (Cherie Priest)

I haven't read a single thing by Cherie Priest (I know...) and am planning to address this matter very soon through a couple of her books that have landed on the reading pile just recently. One of these books (and probably the first one that I'll pick up) is her latest 'Clockwork Century' novel, 'Ganymede'. Check out the blurb...

The air pirate Andan Cly is going straight. Well, straighter. Although he’s happy to run alcohol and guns wherever the money’s good, he’s not sure the world needs more sap, or its increasingly ugly side effects. But reforming is easier said than done: the captain’s first legal gig will be paid for by sap money, because the Seattle Underground is in dire need of supplies.

New Orleans is not Cly’s first pick for a shopping run. He loved the Big Easy once, back when he likewise loved a beautiful mixed-race prostitute named Josephine Early, but that was a decade ago. He’s still on Jo’s mind, he learns when she sends him a telegram about a peculiar piloting job. It’s a chance to complete two lucrative jobs at once. He sends his old paramour a note and heads for New Orleans, with no idea of what he’s in for—or what she wants him to fly.

But he won’t be flying. Not exactly. Hidden at the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain lurks an astonishing war machine, an immense submersible called the Ganymede. This prototype could end the war, if only anyone had the faintest idea of how to operate it….if only they could sneak it past the Southern forces at the mouth of the Mississippi River….if only it hadn’t killed most of the men who’d ever set foot inside it.

Now the only question is whether Cly and his crew will end up in the history books, or at the bottom of the ocean.

How do you fancy winning a copy of 'Ganymede'? Thanks to the nice people at Tor, I have one copy to give away to one lucky reader (I'm afraid this competition is only open to US residents though); will it be you?

Entering is really simple. 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. The subject header needs to be 'Ganymede'.

I'll leave this one open until October 2nd and will aim to announce the winner as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Author Interview! Andy Remic

After finishing 'Vampire Warlords', I knew the time had come to corner one Andy Remic in his lair and put him to the question... Upon arriving at Andy Remic's lair though, I found that Andy was only too happy to be put to the question and would probably have offered tea and cakes if we had been doing this in person :o) Here's what he had to say for himself...

Kell is your homage to Druss the Legend, after three books would you say that Kell has said everything about Druss that you wanted him to?

Indeed, I started off writing Kell’s Legend as a homage not just to Druss the Legend, but to David Gemmell the author, a man I very much respected and admired. I still remember finding out that David had died, and like many other fans across the globe, it was a blow to the heart. The writing of Kell’s Legend was meant as a kind of repayment. I wanted to say thank you. I wanted the spirit of Druss, and Dave, to live on a little longer. However, the more I wrote about Kell, the more he (as all characters will do) pulled away in his own discrete direction until by the end of Vampire Warlords, the third book in the Clockwork Vampire Trilogy, you are very much in no doubt that Kell is not Druss; he is his own man, his own dark soul, and a fantasy character in his own right.

I still can't believe this one... Tell everyone what you told me about where all the swearing etc in 'The Clockwork Vampire' Chronicles came from...

Heh, I couldn’t do that..... What, a double whiskey? Oh go on then.

Kell’s Legend was originally written as a “straight” fantasy, in that it didn’t use contemporary bad language. However, editorial guidance suggested I might want to make it a little more harsh and violent and exciting, which I was happy to do. So, when yon amateur critic bemoans a use of the “F” word in a novel, please be aware that sometimes there isn’t just the writer to blame; editors and publishers like their blood and gore red, and their cusses manly, you know.

Do you think that the overall affect hit the target that your editor was aiming for?

My editor (Marc Gascoigne for the first Kell book) is a very astute editor and publisher, and indeed knows the marketplace like the back of his hand. He was well aware of what writers such as Abercrombie, Morgan, and indeed George R. R. Martin were up to (seeing as I sometimes live hermetically sealed in a bubble), and he gave me a kick to up my game - into the same playing field as my contemporaries. Some people will like the books as they are, some will bemoan the language. You can’t please everyone, dear boy.

And you shouldn't have to either :o) Will we see other tales set in Kell's world that don't involve him or is this setting all about Kell?

No. This is Kell’s world, and his alone. I have another six books (two discrete trilogies) planned for Kell and Saark, but have not yet put them on paper, or indeed approached publishers. So yes, they are in my head. But no, there are no contracts in place.

Is Kell the kind of guy that you could see yourself having a few whiskies with?

Oh yes. And I have. We’ve got drunk together several times around the fire, shared tales about war wounds and evil, and discussed the pleasure in wielding a finely balanced axe. Often is the time I chat with characters in my head.

For those readers who haven't picked up the 'Clockwork Vampire Chronicles' just yet, what will these books give them that no other books can?

The actual race of the Vachine, or “Machine Vampires”, are a unique creation – as has been commented on by many critics. They are based on a clockwork technology that requires a distillation of blood (blood-oil) in which to lubricate the machine parts, thus rendering the Vachine vampiric by necessity of survival. And then we have Cankers, the twisted deviations of the Vachine. And then we have Harvesters, who drink blood and souls through their hollow bone fingers.... and amidst all this we have excessive slaughter, fast-paced action, twisting plots, black humour and banter between Kell (grumpy old man) and Saark (womanising dandy). It all makes for a pot of wholesome adventure goodness, I think ye will agree.

It worked for me! You strike me as a writer who has plenty on the go so... what else do you have on the go right now writing-wise?

I’ve just finished a very straight fast-paced thriller SF novel for Solaris Books called Theme Planet. It is, I believe, one of my finest moments. And I’ve just published SIM under my own little digital label, Anarchy Books, about a mad killer cyborg. With a pussy cat.

Talking of which, what's all this I'm hearing about Anarchy Books? What's all that about?

I'd written a couple of novels which were not of my "genre" (SFF) and, like every other author, have seen the gradual acceleration of digital publishing during the last couple of years following in the footsteps of the digital music world; and I thought, "why the hell not?" I knew some of my books were doing well digitally, and simply decided I'd give it a try as a vehicle for some of my different genre works. Then I discovered other friends/writers wanted to jump onboard as well, hence Anarchy Books! Ultimately, I suppose it's my long-term backup plan for when I've sexually offended every single publisher I've ever worked with, and they all lock me out of the Big Boys Club and in a dark dungeon filled with chains and torture devices. Kinky, these publishing types, y'know ;-).

At the back of 'Vampire Warlords', you mention that you're friends with Ian Graham, what's he up to these days? I haven't seen anything of him since he wrote 'Monument'...

Ach, Ian and I are very, very good friends. We regularly partake in what we call The Stinklings where we critique one another’s ongoing projects. Ian wrote a second novel called Blood Echo, but decided to hold it back because he wasn’t happy with it. Never have I met a man so obsessed with perfection, to his very great personal detriment. He’s so perfect he manicures his leg hairs. Anyway, he has indeed now finished a true successor to Monument (which I have read in various drafts, ha! the benefits of being friends with another author) and it is truly dazzling. I mean, really really great. It’s just going through final tweaking at Orbit, I believe.
And as for Ian’s Monument? Well, still fine and erect, I believe. *cough*. And he trains leeches with it now, y’know.

And finally, what are you reading right now and why should we avoid it at all costs? (Other interviewees get this question the other way round but I think you can handle it...)

I’m currently reading The Truth by Terry Pratchett. I am a big Pratchett fan, having worked my way through several of his early novels whilst sat in Fifth Year Geography at school [age 15], surreptitiously hiding them behind my textbooks on glaciers and deforestation. I got an E grade in Geography. And I applaud Terry for that. The Truth is a good book, scarred by the inclusion of Mr Pin and Mr Tulip, a parody on, it would seem, Jules and Vincent from Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. This inclusion, this parody, is just wrong. It kicks me in the groin every time I come to another section with Tulip and Pin, and their very annoying “-ing”. However, the concept of the novel as a whole is great, and as usual, Pratchett delights in the absurd, the cleverly worded, and the intelligently baffling.

Thanks for taking time out to do this, I owe you one :o)

Friday, 23 September 2011

‘Storm of Magic: Dragonmage’ – Chris Wraight (Black Library)

If I’m being completely honest it was mention of Chris Wraight’s name, as one of the contributing writers, which persuaded to me to give the ‘Storm of Magic’ books (well, two of them) a go. Basically, the bottom line is that there hasn’t been a book of Chris’, from the Black Library, that I haven’t read and enjoyed. Not only does Wraight pay really close attention to his setting but he always comes up with a superb story to sit within it.

All of this ultimately led me to ‘Dragonmage’, a book that I was sure would tide me over until Wraight’s next novel (‘Luthor Huss’) makes its appearance early next year. I did have a few doubts, before picking it up, though as although Wraight’s novels have never failed to hit the spot his short stories (although entertaining) haven’t done it for me so much. As a novella, ‘Dragonmage’ sits somewhere in the middle of these two extremes; how would I fare with it? Pretty damn well as it happens.

The winds of magic are blowing far stronger than ever before and now their force is about to felt on the island nation of Ulthuan, home of the Elves... The Phoenix King nears death and Elven princes across the island jockey for position to be the one who takes the crown next. Lord Rathien of Caledor and Prince Valaris of Ellyrion are the last two players on the field and the outcome of their battle could well decide a lot more than upon whose head the crown will sit next...
Rathien seeks to awaken the dragons from their long sleep and take the Phoenix crown through fire and claw. An ambitious young mage has told Valaris of the power that he can wield if she gains control of the magical storm itself. Two far greater forces lie in wait behind the scenes though, manipulating events to suit their own ends. Far more rides on this rivalry between Elves than anyone could possibly guess.

As with ‘Razumov’s Tomb’, ‘Dragonmage’ is an incredibly slender one hundred and twenty four pages long and, as such, it seems a little too easy to say that it was a book that I found incredibly easy to read. A book that short shouldn’t be anything other than easy to read; you open it up, read a few pages and before you know it you’re done. That was certainly the case here but ‘Dragonmage’ also has a lot more to recommend it and I’m glad I gave it a go. Chris Wraight has come up trumps again!

I wonder if the ‘hundred and twenty four page’ thing was something that the Black Library insisted upon when they commissioned the novellas? I’d need to check ‘The Hour of Shadows’ to find out, unless anyone here has read it...?
Anyway, the relative brevity of the book means that there is only so much you can fit into it (naturally). Whereas Hinks threw everything he had at ‘Razumov’s Tomb’, and ended up with a story that felt frustratingly half finished, Wraight adopts a more low key approach that works a lot better in my opinion. Instead of trying to cram a large story into a small space, Wraight clearly tailors his tale around the space that he has. I did come away with a feeling that, again, the whole story hadn’t been told but I also felt that ‘Dragonmage’ was a tighter affair that does what it sets out to do.

The rivalry between Lord and Prince is explored thoroughly and erupts into the kind of full on warfare that I’ve come to expect from Chris Wraight’s work. Wraight proves that he is more than able of condensing the horrors of war into a few pages (rather than over the course of an entire book) and I came out of these shaken by the crash of cavalry and the desperate last stand that ensured, really stirring stuff!
Wraight then proceeds to ramp things up to an entirely new level with the introduction of things that can only take place when the winds of magic blow at their strongest. The dragons are huge, brutal creatures and not only do you get a feel for how old they are but you’re also left in no doubt as to what it means to communicate with one of these creatures on any level at all. The fulcrum of magic is also handled very well and is the key for a couple of decent twists that come right at the end of the book and ramp up the climax even more. I saw one of these coming but only with hindsight, I didn’t see the other one coming at all, just the way I like it.

Not only is ‘Dragonmage’ a thoroughly effective advertisement for the new ‘Storm of Magic’ Warhammer supplement but it’s a compelling tale in its own right, with enough carefully placed twists to keep things moving in a very tight space. I’m looking forward to seeing more from Chris Wraight in the future, check him out if you haven’t already.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 22 September 2011

‘Shadow King’ – Gav Thorpe (Black Library)

It’s going to be a bit of a week for Black Library books here because, to be completely honest, that’s pretty much all I was reading last week. I was on holiday dammit! ;o) I wanted something enjoyable that I could lose myself in and have a bit of fun with in the meantime; Black Library books very rarely (if ever) let me down on this score so my holiday reading took care of itself really. You’ll hear a little more about it as the week goes on.

I’m taking my own sweet time about it but it’s become a little mission of mine to work through the ‘Warhammer Time of Legends’ series, nine books detailing the early history of the Warhammer setting. I’ve fallen down quite badly with other series (not thinking of any in particular *cough*Malazan*cough!*) but I love having a large series of books to work through, how about you? I’ve enjoyed Graham McNeill’s ‘Sigmar’ books and thought I’d get back into Gav Thorpe’s ‘Tale of the Sundering’ (having already read ‘Malekith’) before tackling Mike Lee’s ‘Nagash’ series. It had been a while since I read the first book, ‘Malekith’, so I wasn’t a hundred percent sure how this read would go; would I flounder or would I find myself catching up quickly...?

Even as the elven Prince Malekith begins his descent into darkness, the island of Ulthuan is already locked in a bitter civil war as the High Elf Princes fight to defend their countries against the ravages of their Dark Elf counterparts. Alith Anar, prince of the Nagarythe, has it far worse than most as his life crumbles after the betrayal and death of his entire family. All Anar has left is an unquenchable desire for revenge upon those who did this to him... and he will have it.
Whilst the other Princes take to the field to defend their homelands, Alith Anar takes his revenge from the shadows as the Shadow King and no-one will escape his vengeful gaze...

‘Shadow King’ wasn’t the light and fun read that I was looking for, I have to say. In fact, there were a couple of occasions where I almost put the book down and didn’t bother picking it up again (these reasons were nothing to do with the book not being a ‘light and fun’ read though). I stuck with it though and am glad that I did as ‘Shadow King’ is ultimately a rewarding read, certainly one that has me wanting to see how things pan out in the final book (‘Caledor’).

I actually read ‘Malekith’ way back at the beginning of 2009 (how long ago that seems now...) so I did find myself wondering how easy it would be to get caught up. ‘Shadow King’ approaches this problem in two ways; telling the story of an entirely new character (Anar Alith) as well as filling latecomers in on what happened previously. This two pronged approach means that you should be able to jump straight on board here without too many problems (although I’d personally start at the beginning anyway, why wouldn’t you?) or, if it’s been a while since you read the first book, you should be able to get caught up fairly quickly.

At least that’s the idea. I found ‘Shadow King’ to be a book that walks a fine line between helping its readers catch up on prior events and just repeating stuff that happened in the last book. More often than not it’s a case of the latter.

‘Shadow King’ tells its tale in much the same way that the ‘Horus Heresy’ books do (at least to begin with), repeating the same events albeit from a different character’s perspective. In terms of the series as a whole, this tactic does flesh things out and give the readers a multi-faceted tale overall. I’m sure I’ll appreciate this once I get to the end of ‘Caledor’. In the meantime though, it didn’t take me long to realise that I was (to all intents and purposes) reading ‘Malekith’ all over again. It’s not as if you’re really shown these events either; you’re told in great detail. This is what had me seriously considering putting the book down in the early stages. Keeping track of a cast with similar sounding names also proved to be a drag but that’s the kind of thing you sign up for when you’re reading epic fantasy. Reading the same book again though, I didn’t sign up for that...

I stuck with it though and am very glad that I did as once Thorpe gets all the groundwork out of the way ‘Shadowking’ really takes off, it’s really worth sticking with.

I don’t care what other people say, history really is all about the battles sometimes and Gav Thorpe shows this off to great affect with a series of titanic struggles that you just know will leave everything irrevocably changed once the final sword stroke falls. Thorpe draws you right into the thick of things and you can almost hear the clash of sword against shield, the gust of dragon wings and the devastating hum of magic. It’s all stirring stuff and you will be glad you hung around for it.
Thorpe also provides a nice contrast to these main battles by taking a look at all the covert stuff that goes on behind enemy lines. It’s like a very bleak ‘dark fantasy’ version of Zorro; loads of swashbuckling stuff and derring do where the consequences of failure, on both sides, are made very clear. You can’t help but get into it but its sobering stuff at the same time.

This isn’t just the sum of the book though as Thorpe furnishes it with a main cast of very strong characters (once you’ve got past all those names) who carry things along very well indeed. As is fitting, Alith Anar gets the most time on the page. You know what’s coming but he doesn’t and that lends a real feeling of tragedy to the proceedings, especially when you see certain choices that he must make (and sacrifices) to get his vengeance.

The ending comes as a real body blow to both Anar and the reader; it’s made ‘Caledor’ a book that I must pick up, just to see how Anar responds to that final revelation. ‘Shadow King’ is a heavy going read to begin with but stick with it and it will pay off, I guarantee it.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Abaddon Books - 'Time for a Change...'

An interesting press release from Abaddon Books...

Abaddon Books is delighted to announce a bold new venue in genre publishing – one where the readers are in charge!

Time’s Arrow will be the latest book from the world’s longest continuously running Steampunk novel series, Pax Britannia. Set in a world where the Victorian age never ended, Pax Britannia is an insane world of high technology and rip-roaring adventure.

The big difference with Time’s Arrow? Each instalment will be published as an ebook and, at the end of each of the first two, readers will be able to vote on where THEY want the story to go. Once all three instalments have been published, they will be bound together into a print edition.

The first part of the book will go live online on October 11th, with the vote for what happens next closing on December 11th. Merging the best of print and online, Abaddon is proud to engage in such an exciting experiment – one where readers actively have a say in how the book is written.

Jon Green has written titles in the legendary Fighting Fantasy series and created seven of the critically-acclaimed Pax Britannia books for Abaddon.

“Pax Britannia is one of Abaddon’s most established series,” said Jonathan Oliver, editor-in-chief of Abaddon Books, “so it seemed like the natural choice for such a unique venture in publishing. This adventure is sure to reach out to new readers while giving established fans a say in the rich universe they have come to love.”

“I am passionate about the whole Steampunk milieu, and the world of Pax Britannia in particular, while my first forays into writing professionally were adventure gamebooks,” says Jonathan Green. “To marry elements of both is a fantastic opportunity for me as a writer and I, for one, can't wait to see how the story pans out!”

As a long time fan of the 'Pax Britannia' series I was looking forward to 'Time's Arrow' anyway; with Green at the helm as always the tone shouldn't be affected at all but it will be interesting to see where the readers take the story. Could we have a situation where Ulysses Quicksilver is killed off before the final instalment? I don't think it will be that drastic but if readers are anythng like me then they will chose the daftest option just for the hell of it :o) Hopefully Abaddon will bear that in mind when they offer up the choices for the direction that the story can go...

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

‘Storm of Magic: Razumov’s Tomb’ – Darius Hinks (Black Library)

London transport may be many things but the one thing that it does have in its favour is all the extra time it gives me to read and then read some more. I seriously considered missing my stop, yesterday, to read a few more pages but that’s another story.

The bottom line is that all this bonus reading time has totally spoilt me so spending a fortnight’s holiday with a hyperactive baby was a real shock to the system. Don’t get me wrong, I will always love spending time with Hope but she has an annoying habit of grabbing whatever you’re reading and expecting you to blow bubbles for her instead. I was after quick reads then, books that I could get in and out of fairly easily, and as luck would have it Darius Hinks’ latest contribution (from the Black Library) proved to be just what I was after...

The Black Library’s output isn’t tie-in fiction as such; it may be set in the worlds of tabletop war games but authors seem to have a larger degree of freedom to develop their own stories in the overall setting. Well, perhaps more so than in other settings.
Black Library does have form though for releasing novellas that tie-in with the equivalent release from Games Workshop. I’m looking at you ‘Assault on Black Reach’ and I think that ‘Island of Blood’ might be another (don’t quote me on that though). ‘Storm of Magic’ is the latest expansion to the Warhammer game and Black Library has come up with three novellas to support it. I only bought two of them (still not a hundred percent sure how I feel about C.L. Werner’s output) and ‘Razumov’s Tomb’ was first up to the plate. The format of the book perhaps isn’t the best one for a story like this but I couldn’t deny that it was a hell of a lot of fun to read.

The Empire of the Old World is in serious trouble. The moon Morrslieb has spun wildly off course and bizarre plagues of monsters ravage the land as a result. Grand Astromancer Caspar Vyborg must come up with a solution to this threat although he is perhaps more concerned with retaining his position (as head of the Celestial College) than coming up with a cure. His investigations lead him to the half remembered grave of the long dead sorcerer Razumov, a man who summoned immense power before being killed by his own ritual. Could the completion of this ritual be the key to saving the Empire? By the time that anyone is in a position to find out, it may already be too late...

‘Razumov’s Tomb’ is only a hundred and twenty four pages long, an incredibly slim book that looks like a short gust of wind would blow it away! Don’t be fooled though as there is a lot going on here, certainly more than you’d think just by looking at the size of the book. What we’ve got here is a boiling cauldron of magic and men having to deal with an unceasing flow of monsters, a book where I found it incredibly easy to keep turning those pages.

Like I said earlier though, the size of the book isn’t necessarily a great thing though. I got the impression that there was more story to be told here; directions that the story could have gone in, or things that could have been expanded upon, that didn’t happen as there just wasn’t the room for it all. I sometimes felt like I was reading the outline of a story rather than the story itself. For a tale to be told in a hundred and twenty four pages you’d expect things to be a little tighter than this but that wasn’t the case here.

It’s nothing short of an extremely entertaining read though, I couldn’t get enough of it personally. Hinks throws everything into his plot, stirs it up and lets the sparks fly for the whole of the book. If you’re after a book where the use of magic has deadly consequences for everyone in the immediate vicinity then this is the book that you’re after. It's visceral and more than capable of turning on the spellcaster just as easily as the person it was originally aimed at. There were some nice touches to its use as well, especially in terms of the way that certain characters use particular plagues to achieve their own ends. If you play ‘Warhammer’ then I can definitely see this book getting you all excited and eager to check out the ‘Storm of Magic’ expansion set.

The twist in the tale is a little predictable, if only because the blurb tells you it’s going to happen. The fun is in getting there though and it’s a road liberally sprinkled with doomed heroes fighting for their lives and the Warhammer equivalent of bitterly fought office politics. You come away with the feeling of having stepped off a particularly violent rollercoaster and if your read is anything like mine then you will have to catch your breath after putting the book down.

I can’t help but wonder what ‘Razumov’s Tomb’ would have been like if it had been the full length novel that it seemed to want to be but I can’t complain with what I got in the meantime. A thoroughly entertaining read that has got me eager to get started on Chris Wraight’s ‘Dragonmage’.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

‘Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities Volume 2: The Ghastly Fiend of London’ – Eric Powell & Kyle Hotz (Dark Horse)

For all the comic book readers here, have you ever faced that dilemma where the trades aren’t coming out quickly enough for you so you end up buying the single issues while you wait for the trade? When the trade finally comes out you have to decide whether to buy that as well or stick with what you have... I can withstand the temptation as far as ‘The Walking Dead’ goes but Eric Powell’s ‘The Goon’ has become one of those comics for me. The cost of single issues mounts up but I can’t wait months for the trade...

I suspect this fight will continue for a while longer yet but the obvious way to get my ‘Powell fix’ has been to see what else there is of his out there that will tide me over in the meantime. The answer is, ‘more than I thought’... Enter one Billy the Kid and his Old Timey Oddities; just as irreverent as ‘The Goon’ but perhaps just a little bit darker, I’m not sure. There’s another volume out there somewhere and I’ll have to get my hands on it if this one was anything to go by, ‘Billy the Kid’ (and the forthcoming ‘Chimichanga’) should be more than enough to keep me going until ‘The Goon’ makes an appearance in trade once again.

Did you think that the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid was killed by Pat Garrett? I did. Turns out we were all wrong. Billy the Kid actually faked his death and then managed to find himself being the hired gun for a ‘Travelling Spectacle of Biological Curiosities’, or a ‘Freakshow’ as Billy puts it. Since then, Billy and his charges have had to confront a series of supernatural horrors but when an old friend summons them to London, things are about to get a lot worse. Jack the Ripper strikes from the shadows and women die, is he another ‘Freak’ though? Billy must end the killings quickly otherwise many innocent people will die...

If there’s one thing that’s better than an Eric Powell story, it’s an Eric Powell story where Kyle Hotz provides the artwork. My two favourite things about comics, crammed into one book and left to raise hell on the page. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of the art that Powell has given us over the course of ‘The Goon’ (it just gets better as the series progresses and some of the art for the ‘Buzzard’ mini-series is just incredible) but if you’re after someone who can really capture people at their absolute nastiest and most bitter... You need Kyle Hotz on your team.

Hotz totally plumbed the depths of humanity in ‘Zombie’ and ‘The Zombie Simon Garth’ and his artwork is totally suited for the most rotten and sinister parts of Victorian London. He really captures that sense of evil lurking in the fog as well as the nightmarish living conditions that a certain class of Londoner must have had to deal with back then. If that wasn’t enough for you, wait until you see how Hotz depicts the Elephant Man... Absolutely superb stuff and you can’t help but feel sorry for Joseph Merrick as well as a little heartened at how he deals with his condition.

Kyle Hotz’ art was the highlight of the book for me but Eric Powell comes very close with his storytelling, both in ‘The Pit of Horrors’ (from the ‘Buzzard’ mini-series) and in ‘The Ghastly Fiend of London’ itself. We’re looking at straight horror here, with a hint of pulp, rather than the weird (slightly comedic) horror that ‘The Goon’ does so well. Because of this, I got the impression that Powell didn’t feel as free to really go for it and come out with the weird stuff. Maybe it’s just me but the sense of being unsettled wasn’t there so much this time round. A lot happens which will make you go ‘what the...’ but it won’t stay in your head nearly as long afterwards. 

Don’t let that put you off though. Both ‘The Pit of Horrors’ and ‘The Ghastly Fiend of London’ are worth your time; I certainly got a lot out of them. ‘The Pit of Horrors’ is a nice exercise in suspense with a climax that tears along at a furious rate, dragging you along with it. ‘The Ghastly Fiend of London’ poses an intriguing question and answers it in such a way that you have to pay real attention to both the dialogue and the artwork if you’re going to stand any chance of puzzling it out. I didn’t and the ending was a real surprise; well executed, fast and extremely bloody.
I wouldn’t have minded finding out a little more about Billy the Kid himself, a character whom the whole thing hangs off, but I have a feeling that there will be another volume coming along and perhaps we’ll find out more then.

‘Billy the Kid’ is perhaps a case of Powell taking a step outside his comfort zone and the results are predictably mixed. It’s still a very entertaining read though and Kyle Hotz’ artwork is worth the price of entry on its own. I’ll be looking out for the first volume.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Cover Art – ‘With Fate Conspire’ (Marie Brennan)

Sometimes it is all about what’s on the cover. I had trouble with Marie Brennan’s first Onyx Court book and that led to me not picking up the second. This cover art though... It’s so good that I’m going to have to read what’s inside to see if it meets the standard set by what’s on the front (an almost perfect mix of industrial revolution and magic). Here’s the blurb,

Marie Brennan returns to the Onyx Court, a fairy city hidden below Queen Victoria's London. Now the Onyx Court faces its greatest challenge.

Seven years ago, Eliza's childhood sweetheart vanished from the streets of Whitechapel. No one believed her when she told them that he was stolen away by the faeries.

But she hasn't given up the search. It will lead her across London and into the hidden palace that gives refuge to faeries in the mortal world. That refuge is now crumbling, broken by the iron of the underground railway, and the resulting chaos spills over to the streets above.

Three centuries of the Onyx Court are about to come to an end. Without the palace's protection, the fae have little choice but to flee. Those who stay have one goal: to find safety in a city that does not welcome them. But what price will the mortals of London pay for that safety?

Monday, 19 September 2011

The ‘Back And Better Than Ever!’ Competition Winner’s Post!

Morning all :o) The last couple of weeks have been all about recharging my batteries and getting to a point where I’m not still yawning at three in the afternoon; it took some doing (with the help of the pub down the road from my in-laws which does a mean Baileys coffee...) but I’m fighting fit and raring to go once again! Just in time to go back to work today, hmmm...

I hope you enjoyed what I was able to come up with, for the blog, while I was off doing other stuff; thanks once again to those people who very kindly agreed to contribute guest posts while I was away (really appreciated it guys!) I’m back now though and I’ve got a nice little pile of books all ready for review; I also have Richard Morgan’s ‘The Cold Commands’ (very good so far) and Kirsten Imani Kasai's ‘Tattoo’ (not bad but I really could have done with reading the prequel first...) on the go as well so the next few days are going to be pretty interesting here. I’d hang around if I were you ;o)

Before I get on to the business of announcing competition winners, a couple of people asked where this amazing bookshop was; you know, the one where I was planning to spend my birthday on Friday (thanks for all the birthday wishes by the way!) I don’t normally give away secrets like this but you’ve caught me in a good mood today (even though I’m at work) so here goes...

If you ever find yourself in Plymouth then you really need to spend some time around the Barbican; a little area by the harbour full of nice cafes, an absolutely huge aquarium and my favourite second hand book shop – ‘The Book Cupboard’. It’s on ‘The Parade’ and is generously stacked with all those sci-fi, fantasy and horror books that you thought you’d never see again, as well as a few that you’ve probably never even heard of. I’m not too sure about the flat rate pricing (£3 a book no matter what state they are in or how thick they are) but you can’t complain at the variety of books on offer. I spent a fair bit of money in there without even realising it...
Once you’re done there check out ‘Cornerstone Books’ as well, part of a series of little antique shops just round the corner from ‘The Book Cupboard’ (around the back of the tourist centre). I didn’t get to spend too much time browsing here as Hope decided to keep running away and I had to catch her... The pricing does vary a little more though and there are literally piles of books to browse over. Maybe next time... Anyway, check these two bookshops out if you’re ever in Plymouth and thank me later :o)

Right, competition winners... Thanks to everyone who entered, the lucky winners were,

Ransom Hollister, Ohio, US

Jaycee Daniel, Lancashire, UK

Well done! Your books should be on their way to you in the next day or so. Better luck next time everyone else...

That’s it for today, see you all tomorrow ;o)

Friday, 16 September 2011

Blogging schedule interupted by a birthday... mine!

It's my birthday today so I'm taking the day off to do 'birthday stuff' like eating cake, opening presents and generally being insufferable about how it's my birthday and I should be allowed to do whatever I want :o) There's also a very cool second hand book shop that I plan to spend loads of time (and money) in...

See you all in a couple of days and have a great day yourself, in the meantime, why don't you :o)

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Forthcoming Signings at Forbidden Planet

Some signings to look out for if you're on London over the next few weeks. From the email...

Forbidden Planet is delighted to be presenting an autumn of top signings, by our favourite authors, for the very best of the season’s new titles.

On Thursday 29th September, we’re delighted to welcome CHRISTOPHER FOWLER for BRYANT & MAY AND THE MEMORY OF BLOOD, signing at our London Megastore from 6 - 7pm.

On Monday 3rd October from 6pm, our London Megastore will be hosting a Night of Horror, one of our trademark multi-author signings, featuring JOHN AVJIDE LINDQVIST signing his new title LITTLE STAR.

He’ll also be signing the anthology A BOOK OF HORRORS alongside some of the best-known and loved names in the genre. Forbidden Planet are delighted to welcome renowned editor STEPHEN JONES, and authors RAMSEY CAMPBELL, PETER CROWTHER, LES EDWARDS, REGGIE OLIVER and ROBERT SHEARMAN.

All of this – and we’re very pleased to have with us top-ten bestselling author PETER F HAMILTON, signing in our London Megastore for his short story collection MANHATTAN IN REVERSE on Thursday 6th October 6 – 7pm.

All being well, I'd love to go to the Peter F. Hamilton signing but I'm not sure about the other two. Maybe I'll see you there? :o)

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Guest Blog! Kirsten Imani Kasai

Kirsten Imani Kasai's 'Tattoo' is one of a few books that I'm working through, at the moment, so you can expect a review up in the next couple of weeks I reckon :o) In the meantime, I asked Kirsten if she would like to contribute a guest post here and the answer was yes! I'm really glad Kirsten agreed to blog here as, for one day only, the blog heads in an unexpected and more than slightly alcoholic direction. Check it out and then check 'Tattoo' out as well...

To celebrate the recent launch of my second novel, Tattoo, I decided to “import” some of my unique creations from the world of the Sigue to our own and serve them at the book release party. Well-versed in the imaginary properties of “strawberry milk” the question was how to reproduce a substance whose ingredients aren’t even real? To develop the drugs Chen peddles in Tattoo, I turned to a trusted research source,, “an online library containing tens of thousands of pages of information about psychoactive drugs, plants, and chemicals…”

I decided on a unique combination of plants and herbs to be distilled into a syrup: Tabernanthe iboga, from Africa, is a bitter, hallucinogenic shrub that can cause numbness to the skin and mouth. South American ayahuasca is mixed with other herbs to produce a psychotropic brew. Galangal is a rhizome, similar to ginger. You’ve probably seen slivers of it floating around your Thai tom yum soup (mmm, tom yum). It’s purported to have very mild hallucinogenic and aphrodisiacal properties. Dog-thistle berries are the magic, fictional ingredient—juicy, crimson cranberries that pack a mood-altering punch.

“Strawberry milk, Zarina thought, was like cranking the flames beneath your brain. Everything took on this lovely pink sheen—your whole body felt warm and deliciously alive. Tongues and fingers became highly sensitive, and everybody was your best friend. Strawberry milk made the House of Pleasure a play palace of throbbing, open and willing bodies…” –TATTOO

So what would strawberry milk actually taste like? In my mind, it’s a cordial-like liqueur tasting of berries, and black and red currants, deep rose in color, slightly sweet and thick, and buzzing on the tongue. It would impart calm, sensual expansiveness, increased pleasure and a general sense of goofy well-being, although like any drug, taken in the wrong amount or mixed with incompatible substances, it would have the potential to turn nasty and cause anxiety, heart palpitations and hallucinations with jaw-grinding intensity.

Leery of the potential legal and health complications of mixing up my own hallucinogens and serving it to the public (getting busted for running an herbal meth lab isn't exactly the kind of publicity I'm looking for), I searched for a reasonable (and safe) substitute. Nestle Qwik would have been the obvious choice—I loved the stuff as a kid, but the drink served in the clubs and pleasure houses of Neubonne was clear. Google delivered—“how to” recipes for making Portuguese milk liqueur.

 I added whole, organic milk, strawberries, organic cane sugar and vodka to a large jar and let it sit in the cabinet for two weeks, shaking it every day. It took four hours of straining through mesh and paper coffee filters to remove all the solids and extract a lovely, sticky pink liqueur. I also made a chocolate milk liqueur using unsweetened cocoa powder and chopped, 70 percent cocoa chips. The strawberry was good but too sugary for me. The chocolate was better, smooth and sweet with a distinctive, malty taste. It was a kick to pour these otherworldly cocktails into tiny shot glasses and serve them to my guests—an enticing cross-over from the fantasy world to the real world. I’m tempted to create more recipes from the Sigue, maybe dabble in making a special cake for their New Year’s celebration, Haymaz, a week-long festival of feasting, dancing, partying and prayer.

I’ll definitely make more milk liqueur, this time with a new array of nonfictional ingredients: bourbon, heavy cream, caramels or toffees and black cherries. Maybe this time, my real-world experimentation will flavor the fictional world and inspire my characters to make toffee liqueur to serve at their parties. I hope they invite me!

Kirsten Imani Kasai is the author of the science-fiction/fantasy novels “Ice Song” and “Tattoo”, published by Del Rey/Random House. Connect with her via or

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Guest Blog! Simon Marshall-Jones (Spectral Press)

After having reviewed a couple of the chapbooks from Spectral Press (and enjoying them) I found myself wondering just what it was that led Simon Marshall-Jones to set up Spectral Press in the first place... and why ghost stories? I also found myself wondering if Simon would be happy to contribute a guest post here that would answer my first question; luckily for me, Simon was only too happy to oblige. Check out what he has to say...

Life is full of odd little twists and turns, and the birth of Spectral Press is no exception. So why, when there are already hundreds of small independent presses out there (not to mention the ‘e-presses’), did I decide to start up my own imprint?

Perhaps I should begin by winding back the tape to just over a year ago, to last year’s FantasyCon in Nottingham in fact. I was more of an aspiring writer then, and the thought of a) becoming a publisher and b) editing other people’s work were the lowest items on my long list of ambitions. I was also reviewing books for a couple of websites at that time and more than a few books were thrust into my hands. Of the thirty or so I came away with, the products of two publishers stood out: Ray Russell’s Tartarus Press and Nicholas Royle’s Nightjar Press, for completely different, but ultimately related, reasons. First, Tartarus produce some extremely handsome (and hefty) hardback volumes, the kinds of books that, because of the attention to detail and sheer quality lavished upon them, anyone would be proud to display them in pride of place on their bookshelves. Nightjar Press, on the other hand, specialise in a format that became the direct inspiration for Spectral: the chapbook. They, too, were produced to the highest quality, being as handsome as the Tartarus books, in my view. And I realised, after I’d reviewed these fantastic little booklets, that it was a perfect format for showcasing an author’s short story-writing talents. Additionally, they’d be great for allowing readers the chance to ‘try before buying’ those authors they’d heard about but whose work they either hadn’t encountered or weren’t sure whether they’d actually like them.

And so was sown a little seed, one which continued to germinate over the next two or three weeks, until I suddenly decided that setting up Spectral Press was more than a good idea. Despite my enthusiasm, I did still harbour some doubts, as I’d just wound up another business in January that same year, a record label that simply didn’t get off the ground for various reasons (not least of which was my inexperience in the music industry). Even my wife thought setting up another venture a bad idea, although she let me go ahead on the proviso that I had to raise all the funds myself. So, I started the ball rolling and the initial aim was to launch the first ‘issue’ at THIS year’s FantasyCon in Brighton.

Having decided that, I needed to hit upon what Spectral was going to publish. Genre publishing spans a very wide spectrum, but I thought that I’d go for something a little different – so, rather than concentrating on ‘horror’ as most people think of it, I decided I would aim more for the supernatural end of said spectrum. I took, as my initial cue, the work of Robert Fordyce Aickman (1914 – 1981). Many consider his literary output to contain elements of the supernatural, but he himself denied this. That was an idea I found intriguing: a ghost story with no ‘ghosts’ in the tale itself.

I’m also a fan of the stories of HP Lovecraft, a writer who created creeping dread and cosmic terror using suggestion and implication, rather than outright in-your-face horror. Add in to the mix the fact that I’d read a lot of ghost stories, of the classic ‘haunting’ type, when I was a great deal younger, stories which I remembered with some fondness (Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was a perennial favourite), and so my choice became obvious. It just struck me that this was a particularly fruitful direction in which to go. Don’t get me wrong – I like modern horror as well, being a big fan of early Clive Barker, but I think that there are plenty of publishers who cater to that kind of material already. I, as is entirely typical of me, wanted to tread a different path, a path that’s seen as being less frequented these days than of yore. And so, I began looking for stories that rely more on atmosphere, suggestion and implication than having everything splattered onto the page.

I’d built up a lot of goodwill amongst the authors I’d met through both Facebook and attendance at FantasyCon, so they were the first people I contacted. The response was incredibly positive – some even sent me a manuscript or two. Gary McMahon’s What They Hear in the Dark was one of the first sent to me, and I felt that it would be a spectacular opening gambit for Spectral. After a while, the project took on a momentum of its own and it was almost a certainty that something would indeed happen. However, there was one major obstacle: I had no money with which to do anything.

It was at that point that I came up with the subscription idea: exactly the same as people can subscribe to a magazine for a certain number of issues, I thought it might a great idea to offer potential readers the chance to ‘buy’ a year’s worth of chapbooks at a time. Having thought that up, even I pondered whether it was a bit cheeky, considering that I was something of an unknown quantity. Well, I needn’t have worried; not only did people start buying subscriptions almost immediately, but they were being bought in such numbers that I was able to start publishing a lot earlier than planned – in the January of 2011 instead of the September.

And I am glad to say that I went ahead with it – all three chapbooks so far have sold out, and Volume IV, Paul Finch’s King Death (which is due in December), is almost on its way there too. I have received a great deal of positive press for Spectral, which has validated taking that step to plunge into the heady world of publishing, as well as justifying all the hard work and effort I’ve put into it over the last year (including that of graphic designer Neil Williams). I’ve enjoyed every second of it – and now I have plans to publish novellas next year and then single-author collections in 2013. Exciting times are indeed ahead for Spectral Press.

The Spectral Press website can be found at: – hope you can drop by!

Simon Marshall-Jones is a UK-based writer, editor, publisher, artist and blogger: also a book, wine and cheese lover, music freak and is covered in way too many tattoos.

If I can find enough pennies down the back of the sofa I have every intention of taking out a subscription; based on what I've read so far I'd recommend you do the same if you're into supernatural fiction, no question about it :o)
Thanks Simon!

Monday, 12 September 2011

Bits & Pieces...

You’ve probably noticed that the reviews have been a little thin on the ground this last week; I’m taking a little break from the review side of blogging so I can build up a nice little backlog of books and also because, well… I’m really tired at the moment and want to read books just for the hell of it rather than to a deadline. Starting from next week, I’ll be reviewing stuff again but that’s not to say that cool things won’t be happening here in the meantime with a couple of guest posts lined up and interview questions to come back from an author whose work I enjoyed fairly recently. Check em’ out over the next few days.

In the meantime, here’s a couple of bits and pieces that landed in my inbox over the last day or two…

Zeno Agency Press Release - James P. Blaylock

James P. Blaylock‘s first novel length Steampunk story in twenty years has sold to Titan in a world English deal negotiated by John Berlyne. THE AYLESFORD SKULL, which features further gaslight adventures of Langdon St. Ives and his nemesis Ignatio Narbondo will be published by Titan late next year or early 2013. A limited edition is also planned. In addition to THE AYLESFORD SKULL, Titan will also be re-issueing two Blaylock steampunk classics, the 1988 Philip K Dick Award winning HOMUNCULUS and also LORD KELVIN’S MACHINE. Audio rights for all three novels went to Stacy Patton Anderson at Audible.

James Blaylock… One of those names that I feel like I really should know although I haven’t read either ‘Homunculus’ or ‘Lord Kelvin’s Machine’, or any of his other books for that matter. What have I been missing out on? Is there a particular book of Blaylock’s that I should start with (in the event that I ever get round to checking him out)…?

I was also emailed a couple of blurbs, from Pyr, that I thought might interest some readers here. It goes without saying that the ‘Society of Steam’ blurb contains spoilers for those people who haven’t read the first book so watch out there… I didn’t enjoy Book One so can’t see myself picking this one up but I enjoyed Resnick’s ‘Starship’ books so will definitely give ‘The Doctor and The Kid’ a go…

Hearts of Smoke & Steam -The Society of Steam, Book Two
By Andew P. Mayer

Sir Dennis Darby has been murdered, the Automaton has been destroyed, and Sarah Stanton has turned her back on a life of privilege and comfort to try and find her way in the unforgiving streets of New York. But Lord Eschaton, the villain behind all these events, isn’t finished with her yet. His plans to bring his apocalyptic vision of the future to the world are moving forward, but to complete his scheme he needs the clockwork heart that Sarah still holds.But she has her own plans for the Automaton’s clockwork heart—Sarah is trying to rebuild her mechanical friend, and when she is attacked by the Children of Eschaton, the man who comes to her rescue may be the one to make her dreams come true. Emelio Armando is a genius inventor who had hoped to leave his troubles behind when he and his sister left Italy for a life of anonymity in the New World. Now he finds himself falling in love with the fallen society girl, but he is rapidly discovering just how powerful the forces of villainy aligned against her are, and that fulfilling her desires means opening the door to a world of danger that could destroy everything he has built.The Society of Steam takes place in a Victorian New York powered by the discovery of Fortified Steam, a substance that allows ordinary men to wield extraordinary abilities and grants powers that can corrupt gentlemen of great moral strength. The secret behind this amazing substance is something that wicked brutes will gladly kill for, and one that Sarah must try and protect, no matter what the cost.

The Doctor and the Kid (A Weird West Tale)
Mike Resnick

The time is 1882. With the Gunfight at the O. K. Corral and the battle with the thing that used to be Johnny Ringo behind him (see The Buntline Special), the consumptive Doc Holliday makes his way to Deadwood, Colorado, with Kate Elder, where he plans to spend the rest of his brief life, finally moving into the luxurious facility that specializes in his disease.

But one night he gets a little too drunk—hardly a novelty for him—and loses everything he has at the gaming table. He realizes that he needs to replenish his bankroll, and quickly, so that he can live out his days in comfort under medical care. He considers his options and hits upon the one most likely to produce income in a hurry: he’ll use his skill as a shootist and turn bounty hunter.

The biggest reward is for the death of the young, twenty-year-old desperado known as Billy the Kid. It’s clear from the odds the Kid has faced and beaten, his miraculous escape from prison, and his friendship with the Indian tribes of New Mexico that he is Protected by some powerful magic. Doc enlists the aid of both magic (Geronimo) and science (Thomas Edison), and goes out after his quarry. He will hunt the Kid down, and either kill him and claim the reward or die in the process and at least end his own suffering.

But as he is soon to find out, nothing is as easy as it looks.

Either of those two blurbs take your fancy…?