Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Comic Book Reading...

A bit of a short and sweet one today because sometimes that’s what comic books are, short and sweet reading. Well, I say ‘short and sweet’… Of the two books on show today, both are short but neither of them are particularly sweet. One of these books was never meant to be sweet but the other? I have no idea…

‘The Goon #38’ – Eric Powell (Dark Horse)

Eric Powell’s ‘The Goon’ has the happy knack of generally being a mixture of laughs, pathos and outright tragedy. Every so often though, Powell takes things down a path even darker than normal (‘Chinatown’ for instance) and lays it on really thick with the tragedy. Those are the times when you end up with something like #38; the sad story of Goon’s Aunt Kizzie (the ‘Iron Maiden) and, by extension, the origins of the Goon himself. You know how Kizzie’s story ends but do you know how it began…? It’s no surprise that Kizzie’s early days were as full of hardship as when we first came to know her; a series of events where happiness is either just out of reach or based on an outright lie. It’s those moments in particular where you really feel for Kizzie, leaving her former life for something that was never there in the first place.
Without giving too much away, things only get worse for Kizzie but she never gives up and I couldn’t help but root for her as a result; a very strong lady in more ways than one and a shining point in the Goon’s life, the only person who ever really wanted him.

“When you died I knew there was one less person in this world that really loved me…”

Issues like this are the reason why Powell is an Eisner award winner and I’ll continue reading ‘The Goon’ as long as it runs. A superb story with the usual high standard of artwork and colouring (Is it really the same Dave Stewart? I’m not sure but I think so)

‘Uglies: Shay’s Story’ – Scott Westerfeld (Del Rey)

This on the other hand…? Well, all I can really say that there is a lot of dystopian media out there that does it a lot better…
I haven’t read the other books in this series but the premise is simple and easy to pick up, a little too simple in fact. The whole ‘beauty is only skin deep, it’s who you are that matters’ thing has surely been done to death already and there’s no effort made to be subtle with the message at all. It’s almost insulting to think that stuff like this is being written because someone really believes that teenagers are only after something simple. And another thing, if one group of teens are known as ‘Uglies’, have the artist make them ugly or at the very least different. The manga style employed by Steven Cummings doesn’t really offer a lot of distinction between the two groups… (Although I know you could well argue that’s the whole point, there does need to be a line though)
Very disappointing. 4/10

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

The 'Jobhunting is a pain...' Competition Winner's Post!

Especially when you've been woken up at ten to six in the morning by a little one who just wants to practice all her words... That's all I'm saying for now, purely because I'm too tired to say much more!

On a more positive note, how about some winners for last weeks competitions? Do you want to know who those winners were? You do? OK then...

Phil Darling, Stowmarket, UK
Paul Gibbons, London, UK
Edward Crutchington, St Neots, UK

Emma Engel, Oregon, USA

Nice work guys! Your books should be on their way very soon. Better luck next time everyone else...

What can you expect to see here for the rest of the week? Well, there's a review coming up for a zombie book that I ended up really not being that keen on at all. The rest of it will involve a whole load of short story reviews and at least one comic review too. It's all good (well, apart from the zombie book...) so check back and see what's what... :o)

Monday, 27 February 2012

Blog Tour - 'Arctic Rising' (Tobias Buckell)

I don't normally go in for these things but when I was asked if I'd like to be part of Tobias' blog tour I had to say yes, having enjoyed the books of his that I've read in the last few years. The reading pile is teetering once again but I'm planning on reading 'Arctic Rising' sooner rather than later.
Here's what Tobias has to say for himself today...

So I have a new book out after a roughly three year gap. And it's been a weird three years. Most people might remember me from the far future space opera steampunk type mashup books I did with dreadlocked Caribbean cyborgs putting the smack down on colonialist masters. So now Tobias is doing a near future novel? Something he calls an eco-thriller? What gives?

I think in Silicon Valley it's called the art of the 'pivot.'

I really fell head over heels for the cyberpunk writers back in the mid 90s thanks to a chance discovery. It was Bruce Sterling's Islands in The Net that hit me upside the head. The first third of it was set in a near future Grenada. I grew up in Grenada. It was the first moment where I thought that maybe I could fuse my Caribbean background and experiences with my favorite genre, SF, and make a career of it.

I loved writing those first few big action books, but I've secretly always wanted to do a tech-oriented, near future piece. I've always wanted to play with what's just over the horizon, like the master authors I wanted to follow in the footsteps of while in high school.

Arctic Rising was a chance to head in a new direction and explore a near future that may be around the corner. Explore some interesting social technologies and hacks. Through the eyes of someone we don't normally see in SF adventures. Welcome to the ice-free Arctic.

I am an awful blog tour host, having no idea what the schedule is or where Tobias will appear next! I'm guessing that you should be able to get the information here... ;o)

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Dear Del Rey...

Just wanted to say hi and thanks for sending me an advance copy of ‘Caine’s Law’. I read ‘Caine Black Knife’ way back at the end of 2008 and enjoyed the hell out of it so I’m really looking forward to what should hopefully be more of the same.

I still have a copy of ‘Heroes Die’ that I need to read but I was saving it until I could get hold of a copy of ‘Blade of Tyshalle’. You know, read the whole lot at once kind of thing? But here’s the thing… I can’t for the life of me find a copy of ‘Blade of Tyshalle’ that isn’t an ebook and doesn’t cost upwards of silly money for a physical copy. What’s up with that?

I know you’ll probably turn round and say that the ebook is there for anyone who wants it and that’s fine. What about those people who don’t have a Kindle or a Nook or whatever else? People like, erm… me for example. People like me who might enjoy ‘Caine’s Law’ and ‘Caine Black Knife’ and then want to go back and read the rest in order? Except… Oh, they can’t. It’s a shame really…

I guess I’m wondering why you’re releasing the most recent ‘Caine’ book (and I’d imagine any future books as well) as a hard copy but you don’t seem too keen on going back a couple of books and plugging in that gap? Even an omnibus edition, collecting the first two books, would work for me and quite possibly a whole bunch of others.

The ‘Caine’ series is one of those series that has critical acclaim thrown at it on a regular basis. Is there any chance that you could make the whole series accessible to everyone who wants to read it? If not then the only way I’ll ever read ‘Blade of Tyshalle’ is if I spend eighty nine pounds on a Kindle first…



(Edited To Add) P.S. In a move that I never saw coming, my Mum rung me five minutes after the post went up to let me know that she had found a copy of 'Blade of Tyshalle' really cheap online and would get it for me. I'm sitting pretty now but don't think that lets you off the hook Del Rey. What about all those other people that don't have an ebook reader and can't afford a second hand copy...?

Saturday, 25 February 2012

A Short Interlude (Courtesy of Calvin & Hobbes)...

I didn't realise it but I've been getting all burnt out and jaded with my reading just recently, not being able to get into anything and so on. My clever wife totally realised though and, having banned me from the reading pile for an evening, sat me down with a big pile of 'Calvin & Hobbes' books instead of my normal fare.

Talk about revisiting old friends that I haven't seen in ages :o) I haven't laughed so much in a long time and I put the books down promising myself that I wouldn't leave it so long until I hung out with those two again. Now I'm totally ready to dive back into the pile :o)
Here's one of my favourite 'Calvin & Hobbes' cartoons (you might need to click on it to make it bigger), have you got a favourite?

Friday, 24 February 2012

‘Blackbirds’ – Chuck Wendig (Angry Robot)

It’s early days yet but my theory is that, beneath that mild mannered exterior, Chuck Wendig could very well be a superhero writer using his powers to rescue readers from a reading fate worse than… [insert your least favourite book here]. It’s true, my zombie reads were starting to shamble down a very tedious and ‘samey’ path but, just in the nick of time, Wendig suddenly appeared on the scene with ‘Double Dead’, a zombie tale with a difference. You can either read my review Here or just have a quick look at how I rounded things off…

‘I didn’t realise that my faith in zombie novels was starting to wane but ‘Double Dead’ restored it anyway. There’s something here for both zombie and vampire fans (apart from ‘Twilight’ fans, obviously) and it’s all drenched in blood and entrails.’

I resolved to keep an eye open for anything else of Wendig’s and it turned out that I really didn’t have all that long to wait. Angry Robot will be releasing Chuck Wendig’s ‘Blackbirds’ around May time but I was lucky enough not to have to wait that long for a look at the book. And what did I think…? ‘Blackbirds’ is a totally different book to ‘Double Dead’ but the end result was that it blew my mind in exactly the same way.

All it takes is one touch and Miriam Black knows exactly when and how you will die… and there’s nothing that she can do to stop it happening. She’s tried over and over again but that just makes the death that she has seen all the more likely to happen. All Miriam can do then is keep on moving, and touch as few people as possible, but something is about to happen that will change everything.
Miriam shakes the hand of truck driver Louis Darling and sees that he will die in thirty days, gruesomely murdered while he calls her name. Miriam can’t save Louis but if she wants to stay alive then she’s going to have to try anyway.

I don’t normally do this in a review but I just wanted to take a quick paragraph to basically gush over the cover art a little as it’s gorgeous. If I was in the habit of doing ‘favourite cover art of the year’ posts then this would be an early contender, it might even take the prize right now. I don’t just love the way that it’s made out of blackbirds, I also love the way that closer examination reveals moments from the book as well as the amount of death that has filled Miriam up. Its artwork that you just can’t take your eye off. My advance copy doesn’t give the artist’s name but Angry Robot have more than got their money’s worth here.

But back to the book itself, a book that I had real trouble putting down… There are hints of a sequel here and I for one and all excited just about the possibility that this may be the case.

I’m hard pressed to remember any other book that I’ve read where death haunts the pages in the way it does here. Death is quite literally everywhere; whether it’s in the bleak landscape Miriam walks through, the hearts (and ultimate fates) of the people she meets and Miriam herself. ‘Blackbirds’ is a short read, clocking in at two hundred and eighty seven pages, but it’s a book where the subject matter makes the book feel that little bit heavier in your hands.

It’s a depressing read then, of course it is. How can it not be with the main character forced to live people’s deaths whenever she touches them? It’s clear then that Wendig has a struggle on his hands if he is going to hook the reader in past all of that so they can get to the story proper. The good news is that it turned out not to be a struggle at all. Wendig hooked me and I reckon you’ll be hooked too.

For me, Wendig’s masterstroke was not to sensationalise Miriam’s ability and send ‘Blackbirds’ down the trail of other more generic urban fantasies. Everything is very downbeat and matter of fact, so matter of fact that it is all very readable and flows as smoothly as your passage from this world to whatever comes next.
Wendig also makes it clear that he has a very healthy respect for death and what it means to die as well. Again, no sensationalism here. Everyone dies eventually and the way it happens isn’t fair; the way you check out is the way you check out. Wendig appeals to the slightly nasty part of us that we don’t want to admit to but know is there. Who amongst us doesn’t secretly want to know how it all ends for us? And who amongst us doesn’t want to know how others die so that we can hope for something a little easier for ourselves? Wendig can’t give us the answer to the first question but he gives us plenty of answers to the second.

Caught up in the middle of this is Miriam (a strangely endearing mix of viciousness and vulnerability), a young woman who is trying to deal with this unwanted ability in the only way she knows how; making sure that she stays away from as many people as she can. At the same time though, Miriam can’t help but seem to attract trouble and this is what drives the plot down some dark and unexpected roads. For a book that’s about fate (and how you can’t fight it) everything ties together very neatly in the end but, as Wendig no doubt intended, not quite in the way that you’d expect. There’s a real contrast here, one that I think will be explored in further books. I hope so anyway.
I think that’s where ‘Blackbirds’ fell down, slightly, for me. While the main plot wraps itself up nicely there are other strands that are clearly being set up for resolution at a later date and this offers a contrasting effect that makes the book feel ‘unfinished’ in a strange way.

This is a relatively small price to pay though when you’ve got Wendig throwing you into any number of violent and chilling encounters with what is becoming his typical abrasive attitude. The guy has only written two books and already I can’t get enough. If you’re after some urban fantasy that is by no means typical then ‘Blackbirds’ is probably already on your wish list. For everyone else, give it a go anyway and have your mind blown. Wendig takes you on a journey, down the forgotten highways of America, that you won’t soon forget.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Zombie Quote of the Day!

I was in two minds about continuing with Madeleine Roux' 'Sadie Hewitt is Stranded' (and I'll tell you why when I review the book next week) until I came across this quote...

"I don't know, Andrea. Name me one thing worse than aquazombies. Go on, name one."
She thought for a moment, her head quirked to the side.
"Zombies with wings?"
"Jesus. That is worse."

Now I'm reading the book in the hope that I'll see winged zombies before the end. I know, I probably won't but a chap can hope... :o)

While we're here, can anyone think of anything zombie related that's worse than zombies with wings...?

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The 'It's Rothfuss!' Slightly Later Than Normal Competition Winner's Post!

Thanks to everyone who left a comment on yesterday's post; I'd like to say that I am already deep into 'The Wise Man's Fear' but page seven isn't exactly 'deep into', is it...? ;o) I'll get there as and when (what with all the other, shorter, books I've got on the go right now), next up after that will be 'Dust of Dreams' and then 'The White Luck Warrior'. If I'm very lucky I might have finished them all by the end of the year...

Anyway, enough of that for now as I have a few competition winners to announce... finally. Sorry about that, this week has been a busy one already. Thanks to everyone who entered the competitions and better luck next time to those who didn't win this time. Those lucky winners were...

Euan Au, London, UK
James Collins, West Midlands, UK

Charles Fraker, North Chesterfield, USA
Jeff Raymond, Millbury, USA
Sabrina Osborn, Washington, USA
Shaun Duke, Florida, USA  32608
Pat Forsythe, Texas, USA

Well done everyone, your books are on their way even as we speak! Better luck next time everyone else, fancy entering one of the two competitions that are still open? (Scroll down a bit for them).

See you all tomorrow, I've got some reading to do :o)

Cover Art! 'Black Wings of Cthulhu' (Edited by S.T. Joshi)

Because it reminds me of all the brass rubbing I used to see going on when I was taken around various ruined castles as a child...

I should point out though that none of the brass rubbings that I saw were of an Elder God, just saying :o)
Here's the blurb if you're interested...

Taking their inspiration from works by Lovecraft himself, prominent writers such as Caitlin R. Kiernan, Brian Stableford, Ramsey Campbell, Michael Shea, Darrell Schweitzer, Donald R. Burleson, and David J. Schow delve deep into the psyche, expanding on concepts H.P. Lovecraft created and taking them in new directions.

The result is stories that are wholly original, some even featuring Lovecraft himself as a character. 
Black Wings editor S.T. Joshi is the recognized authority on all things Lovecraftian, and is famous for his restorations of Lovecraft's original works. He has assembled a star-studded line-up in a book that is essential for every horror library.

I still need to finish reading the originals (I know...) but 'Black Wings' is a definite read for sometime after that.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The 'Chunky Book Challenge'!

Because I'm feeling a little pleased with myself at finally managing to get through a book that's over five hundred pages long, it's been a while... :o)
I feel like I could do it all over again but reading what book...? Well, that's where the 'Chunky Book Challenge' comes in and that's where you come in as well. Tell me what you think I should read next! Here are the contenders...

Officially the fattest book on the reading pile as of right now :o)

A book that has beaten me at least three times already (usually around about the hundred and fifty page mark). I think this time could be different though...

Another series that I stalled on due to the sheer size (and weight) of the latest installment...

Which one should I pick up first then? I think I know which one will win... but will it? We'll see.
Leave a comment below the post saying which book you think I should read; the one with the most votes at the end of today will be the book that I start reading tomorrow. I'm not setting myself a time limit or anything here (because that never ends well), just going to go with the flow and see how it goes.

So there we have it, comments please! :o)

Monday, 20 February 2012

‘A Dance with Dragons’ – George R.R. Martin (Bantam/Voyager)

Last year saw some pretty big fantasy and sci-fi releases and none more so than a certain book called ‘A Dance with Dragons’. How could it not have been the book that every self-respecting fantasy fan had to get their hands on? Especially after the wait that had to be endured while GRRM actually polished the book off… Didn’t that divide the fans…? ;o)  ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ was either an astonishing series that had the misfortune to seriously stall or a series that was slowly getting worse and obviously required some major effort from GRRM to turn around. Which camp did you fall into? Personally I was somewhere in the middle; I wasn’t too keen on ‘A Feast for Crows’ but it had been so long since I read the series that I couldn’t for the life of me remember all the issues I had with it in the first place (ok, apart from Brienne’s travelogue and the fact that nothing really seemed to happen). It wasn’t like I didn’t have enough other stuff going to worry about the lateness of a book…

This was probably the reason why I didn’t immediately jump on the book, and start reading, as soon as my copy arrived. It had been a while after all and, like so many other thick hardbacks, ‘A Dance With Dragons’ does not make for practical reading material on the tube! That excuse went though when my job came to an end and I had a little more time on my hands. It was several months late but the time had finally come to crack open ‘A Dance with Dragons’ and get reading.
You’ve doubtless already seen comments here about my experiences with the book but I’ll sum them up one more time by saying that ‘A Dance with Dragons’ had many moments of sheer brilliance but was ultimately a very frustrating read…

The fate of the Seven Kingdoms hangs on a knife edge while petty lords and knights scheme for more ways to grab a little extra power. Queen Cersei must put herself through the ultimate shame if she is to briefly win free from her prison before her trial begins in earnest. A Prince of Dorne must believe in his very blood if the heist to end all heists is to be in any way successful. An exiled lordling journeys into the untmost north to learn about the uncanny power that he holds and an exiled Queen fights to hold onto her territories as well as fighting to remain true to her own ideals.
All the while such scheming is going on, winter is coming and the Others grow stronger in the cold places of the north. It seems that only Jon Snow will do anything to halt the tide and there are men (that he calls brothers) who will do anything to stop him.

I have had a couple of days to ponder ‘Dance’ since I finished the last page and wondered, ‘what went wrong there?’ I think the bottom line and root cause lies in GRRM’s very own words on ‘Dance’ in his introduction…

‘…this volume does not follow that one in the traditional sense, so much as run in tandem with it.’

Not a lot happened at all in ‘Feast’, it was very much the ‘Crossroads of Twilight’ of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ with people being moved into position for events to come. As ‘Dance’ runs in tandem with ‘Feast’ it was inevitable that this would be the same case here…
There are a lot of people saying that they would like to do something but that they are scared of the power of the Lannisters. There are scattered moments where things actually start to happen but don’t get your hopes up too much as these moments inevitably become cliff hangers that won’t be resolved until the next book and, as such, feel like a real anti-climax (apart from the last ‘Jon Snow’ chapter that is, that was a real cliff hanger moment that I can’t wait to see resolved).
There also seems to be a lot of eating and feasts and this wouldn’t be too bad if we weren’t subjected to a dish by dish account of what each course entailed. If that’s your thing then all well and good but I really don’t care what was served at the table. It got to the point where I didn’t feel sorry at all for King Stannis’ snowbound army (all either eating their horses or each other) as their meals were over very quickly, I just felt grateful.

I also wondered whether some chapters should have appeared in ‘Feast’ instead of ‘Dance’. Was it just me or was Sam’s story told the wrong way round just so we could get Jon Snow’s perspective in ‘Dance’…?

 ‘A Dance with Dragons’ was a stodgy read then, as stodgy as the dubious looking stew the small folk eat in Kings Landing. So why did I keep reading?
Well, I’ll be the first to admit that when I get to a certain point in a series then I’m there for the duration; especially when it’s a series that I’ve enjoyed like ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’. I’m here until the bitter end.
It’s not just that though. ‘A Dance with Dragons’ was an unnecessarily slow old read but there were moments where it felt like GRRM not only got his groove back but was on fire with his storytelling and plot. It’s this that will have me picking up the next book in the hope of more of the same.

Tyrion’s chapters show that GRRM definitely hasn’t lost his touch in terms of writing characters that you really want to root for. Tyrion’s tongue is as acidic as ever but GRRM takes care to balance these moments out with the inner turmoil Tyrion goes through not only as a kinslayer but as a man who has just found out that a large chunk of his life was based on a lie. It’s been far too long since we saw Tyrion last (not that I’m blaming GRRM, a writers perogative and all that…) and he makes a more than welcome return here.

I may be amongst the minority here but I really enjoyed Dany’s chapters (and other chapters set in and around Meereen) as well; chapters that showed us that GRRM’s ability to write gripping intrigue and subterfuge haven’t died away. I got the sense that anything could happen in the lands around Slaver’s Bay and while the main events plodded along perhaps a little too predictably there were still enough surprises on the periphery to keep things interesting. The ‘big heist’ chapter in particular was stunning, really powerful and intense stuff.

The world building, away from Westeros, has some real potential as well with the landscape defined by its history instead of the lineage of its inhabitants. This approach makes for reading that you can really lose yourself in and I did on more than one occasion. I know GRRM has enough on his plate for now but if he ever found the time to write more about ancient Valyria then I for one would be very grateful.
I also enjoyed the air of horror in the shadows as magic slowly makes its presence felt in the world again. Whether it was Bran’s meeting with Lord Brynden, the Others picking off the survivors of the battle at the Wall or the practicalities of dealing with three very large and hungry dragons, it is clear that GRRM’s world is still a dangerous place and one that is only likely to become more so.

‘A Dance with Dragons’ is a bloated affair and I’d say that GRRM needs to grasp the reins a little more firmly if the rest of the series is to live up to early promise. There are moments though where GRRM seems to do just that and that’s what has me excited for the future. A very frustrating read then but one with potential at the same time.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Giveaway! 'Fated' (Benedict Jacka)

Orbit have a happy knack for getting hold of urban fantasies and then publishing the hell out of them. A lot of these books all look like the same story with a handy name change for the lead character (sorry but they do...) but every now and then you get what looks like the possibility of a real gem. Like Benedict Jacka's 'Fated' for example. Check out the blurb...

Camden, North London. A tangled, mangled junction of train lines, roads and the canal. Where minor celebrities hang out with minor criminals, where tourists and moody teenagers mingle, and where you can get your ears pierced and your shoulder tattooed while eating sushi washed down with a can of super strength beer. In the heart of Camden, where rail meets road meets leyline, you might find the Arcana Emporium, run by one Alex Verus. He won't sell you a wand or mix you a potion, but if you know what you're looking for, he might just be able to help. That's if he's not too busy avoiding his apprentice, foiling the Dark, outwitting the Light, and investigating a highly toxic Relic that has just turned up at the British Museum.

I just need to finish off Chuck Wendig's 'Black Birds' and then I'll be into 'Fated' :o) Thanks to Orbit, I have three copies of 'Fated' to give away to three lucky readers here (open to UK readers only though, sorry about that...)

If you want in 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 'Fated'. That's all you need to do, I'll do everything else :o)

I'll let this one run until the 26th of February and will aim to announce the winner as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Giveaway! 'Crucible of Gold' (Naomi Novik)

Thanks to those good people at Del Rey I have one copy of Naomi Novik's 'Crucible of Gold' to give away to one lucky blog reader. Actually, make that 'one lucky US blog reader'; yep, this is another US only competition... :o) Here's some blurb for you,

For Laurence and Temeraire, put out to pasture in Australia, it seems their part in the war has come to an end just when they are needed most. But perhaps they are no longer alone in this opinion. Newly allied with the powerful African empire of the Tswana, the French have occupied Spain and brought revolution and bloodshed to Brazil, threatening Britain’s last desperate hope to defeat Napoleon.

And now the government that sidelined them has decided they have the best chance at negotiating a peace with the angry Tswana, who have besieged the Portuguese royal family in Rio—and thus offer to reinstate Laurence to his former rank and seniority as a captain in the Aerial Corps. Temeraire is delighted by this sudden reversal of fortune, but Laurence is by no means sanguine, knowing from experience that personal honor and duty to one’s country do not always run on parallel tracks.

Nonetheless, the pair embark for Brazil, only to meet with a string of unmitigated disasters that force them to make an unexpected landing in the hostile territory of the Incan empire, where they face new unanticipated dangers.

Now with the success of the mission balanced on a razor’s edge, and failure looking more likely by the minute, the unexpected arrival of an old enemy will tip the scales toward ruin. Yet even in the midst of disaster, opportunity may lurk—for one bold enough to grasp it.

If you fancy your chances of winning a copy of 'Crucible of Gold' 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 'Crucible of Gold'. That's all you need to do, I'll do everything else :o)

I'll let this one run until the 26th of February and will aim to announce the winner as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

James Lovegrove's 'Pantheon' series tops 100,000 sales.

From the press release,

Solaris is delighted to announce that sales of the critically-acclaimed, New York Times bestselling Pantheon series by James Lovegrove have now topped 100,000.
In a remarkable coup for a military-SF series, the killer blend of high-octane action and worlds dominated by ancient religions, including New York Times bestseller The Age of Odin, has been a massive hit. The series is now set to continue with three new titles.
The series focuses on the central question of ‘what if the Gods of Mythology were not only real but played a direct role in mankind’s lives?’ Created as alternative histories that can be read as stand-alone novels or enjoyed as a collective, Lovegrove revitalises deities of old with hard-nosed military science fiction and fascinating re-imaginings of our world.
This April will see the publication of the next in the series, Age of Aztec, which envisages a world where the Aztecs defeated the Conquistadors and then spread their empire across the Earth. As the apocalypse looms, this regime of ruthless oppression and regular human sacrifice is now openly defied by a masked vigilante known as the Conquistador.
This year also sees the publication of the first ebook-only novella in the series, Age of Anansi, with the Age of Voodoo due for print publication in 2013.
The Age of Odin featured on the New York Times bestseller immediately upon release last year. The series also includes Age of Ra and Age of Zeus.

I wasn't too keen on 'Age of Odin' (although I will pick up future books in the series) but you can't argue with figures like that can you? Nice work there James and Solaris! :o)

Friday, 17 February 2012

‘Black Petals’ – Michael Moorcock

And there I was thinking that being out of work would give me more time to read… How wrong I was, I’m actually busier than ever! Of course, some of the blame (for my slow reading) has to fall on the shoulders of ‘A Dance With Dragons’, a book where it feels that I’ve been reading it almost as long as it took GRRM to write it… Just a hundred and sixty pages to go until the end of that particular beast.
In the meantime then (and for the foreseeable future) you’ll be seeing a lot more reviews for short stories and novellas nestled amongst the reviews for longer pieces. This time round, it’s the turn of Michael Moorcock’s Elric adventure ‘Black Petals’ to step up to the stand and get a review. I’m not sure where this 2007 novella first appeared (I keep thinking ‘Weird Tales’ for some reason) but I came across it in the Elric collection ‘Swords and Roses’ (Del Rey, 2010); a book worth picking up in its own right.

The drugs that sustain Elric have run out and he doesn’t want to resort to the soul stealing ways of the black sword Stormbringer. Rumours abound of an ancient jungle city that may hold the cure he seeks, a magical flower known as the ‘Black Anenome’. It’s a long and dangerous road to get there though and Elric and Moonglum will find out that the cure may not be worth the price they will need to pay…

Elric’s story span it’s course years ago now but there is still plenty of room in the barrative where gaps can be filled and further stories told. A good example of this is the Elric tale ‘Red Pearls’ in the ‘Swords and Dark Magic’ anthology. Should any further tales be told though? When I briefly reviewed ‘Red Pearls’ I said that the story lost a whole load of tension as we already knew Elric’s ultimate fate. You could argue that’s the whole point of Elric’s tale, whichever one of the many that you read (whether for the first time or not). Elric is doomed from the outset and he can’t escape that, doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again.
An unfortunate affect of that literary approach though is that you essentially get the same story retold, if you’re unlucky, and that’s what happens here with ‘Black Petals’. Elric has the possibility of a cure for his condition but is fated to just miss out. It’s a story that has been told before and if you’re not a die-hard fan then this might just be an issue for you if you’ve read any other of these tales.

But is it a tale that has been told before…? Yes and no…

Moorcock does do what he does best here; a ancient ruined city that promises treasure, an engaging partnership between the two leads and a fearsome monster to be defeated. There are surprises in store here (I think Arioch was hiding in plain sight…) and some suitably grotesque imagery that typifies the kind of things that Elric faces on an almost daily basis. The Black Anenome is very much on a par with Moorcock’s Hungry Whisperers as far as I’m concerned. I found myself having to read ‘Black Petals’ even though I’d read the basic plot before.

What Moorcock does bring fresh to the table though is a change in pace that is refreshing. Earlier tales of Elric are frantic but ‘Black Petals’ is almost languid to begin with (although it speeds up just when it needs to) and this gives us a chance to better explore Elric’s world. This was a move that really paid dividends for me as Moorcock’s Young Kingdoms were always tantalisingly just out of reach in terms of further exploration. You even get a chance to listen in on debates over forms of government and public bodies; there is a world beyond what is immediately happening to Elric.

‘Black Petals’ is an odd one then. You may feel like you’ve read it before and you’d be right. Stick with it though and there is a lot more going on under the surface that makes ‘Black Petals’ a tale far too easy to get drawn into.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 16 February 2012

A Nostalgic Cover Art Post...

...that should have been something else entirely. Oh well, more of that tomorrow :o)

In the meantime, I'm feeling a little nostalgic tonight and thought I'd post the cover art of one of the oldest and best loved fantasy books on my shelves. This is what comes of having all my favourite books next to the computer. Check it out,

I couldn't find the actual cover for my edition of 'The Hobbit' (from 1984) with title on etc but this is what's on the front, drawn and painted by the man himself as well. This takes me back to being ten years old, reading 'The Hobbit' when I should have been doing any number of other things... Time well spent I think :o)

A Quick Review Policy Post!

I'm still getting emails asking me to review a book or whatever; I'm also getting emails saying that it's really tricky to find my review policy. Sorry about that! This post should help, hopefully...

To find my review policy you can either...

1) The 'Labels' column, at the right hand side of the screen, has a little link that says 'Review Policy'. Click on that link ;o)

2) Simply click Here to be taken straight to the review policy.

Hope that helps!

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Naomi Novik Signing Tour Schedule

Newly published books equal signing tours and the release of 'Crucible of Gold' is no exception :o) If you're a fan and in the area on any of the dates below then you know what to do. If you're a fan and not in the area then better luck next I guess...

New York, NY Tuesday, March 6th Housing Works Bookstore Cafe
Panel & Signing with 126 Crosby Street
Hilary Jordan & Myke Cole New York, NY 10012
7:00 PM

Tucson, AZ Saturday, March 10th Tucson Festival of Books
Panels & Signing University of Arizona Campus
2:30 PM & 4:00 PM

Tempe, AZ Monday, March 12th Changing Hands Bookstore
Talk & Signing 6428 S. McClintock Dr.
7:00 PM Tempe, AZ 85283

San Diego, CA Friday, March 16th Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore
Talk & Signing 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd.
7:00 PM San Diego, CA 92111

Los Angeles, CA Saturday, March 17th WonderCon
Convention and Trade Show 777 Convention Way
Anaheim, CA 92802

I'm not too happy about the direction that this series seems to be headed in  but I'm not giving up on it just yet; there will be a review of 'Crucible' at some point but I need to read 'Tongues of Serpents' first (so keep an eye open for that a lot sooner)...

You probably knew this already but...

What? Everyone else is posting 'A Game of Thrones' videos, and so on, so I thought I'd have some of that action as well :o)
So, are you looking forward to Season 2 or are you like me and still need to get caught up on Season 1...? And no, I still haven't finished 'A Dance With Dragons'. Sometimes, in the cold and lonely depths of the night, I wonder if I will ever finish 'A Dance With Dragons'... :o(

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

‘Know No Fear’ – Dan Abnett (Black Library)

Another year, another book in the ‘Horus Heresy’ series. Another one of many in fact, I think there are a few more due to be released over the next few months… There have been rumblings about the length of the series, that it’s far too long already and with no sight of an ending just yet. I can see where people are coming from with this as emptying your wallet for a never ending series is never good… I think that this approach is damaging to the structure of the series as a whole but I’m getting ahead of myself here; more on that later on in this review.
On the other hand though, so long as each novel delivers then do we really have anything to complain about? There has been one significant dip in quality, over the course of the series, but that’s been the only one as far as I can see. On the whole, the ‘Horus Heresy’ series has done an admirable job of showing the reader one of the most turbulent times of the human Imperium. So long as the quality is consistent then, maybe we should all just enjoy the series while it lasts?

This is a particularly easy thing to do when the next ‘Horus Heresy’ book to step up to the plate not only covers one of the key points in the Civil War but is written by one of the Black Library’s most popular authors. Dan Abnett literally cannot put a foot wrong, as far as writing ‘Warhammer 40K’ fiction goes, and I was looking forward to more of the same with ‘Know No Fear’. I got more of the same, ‘Know No Fear’ is a brilliant read.

The Heresy has erupted into full blown warfare spanning entire star systems but there are still regions of the Imperium that don’t yet know what is going on. The Ultramar system is about to find out in the worst way possible…
Primarch Roboute Guilliman is ordered to launch an offensive against Orks mustering in the nearby Veridian system. His Ultramarines will work with their brothers in the Word Bearer’s Legion not only to cleanse the Ork threat but also to repair a relationship damaged (almost beyond repair) over forty years previously. At least that’s what Guilliman thinks…
The Word Bearer Legion follows a different master now and he has ordered them to attack the Ultramarines when they least expect it, completely decimating their home planet of Calth. What will follow is all out war not only on Calth but across the whole Ultramar system, fought between super enhanced warriors looking to settle the bitterest of rivalries. Calth will burn but who will be left standing when the flames finally die down…?

I’ve been reading the ‘Horus Heresy’ books for a few years now but I’m still very much finding my way through the wider background of this setting. I heard that the battle for Calth was a very big deal and was looking forward to reading about what sounded like a pivotal event in the war, especially as Dan Abnett was the guy writing it.
The bottom line is that ‘Know No Fear’ is a superb read that should cater nicely for long time fans while being self contained enough for newcomers to be able to pick it up and dive straight in.

One thing about it though that bugged me in terms of the series as a whole… Because the setting is so vast, and the war is taking its time in spreading, it feels like the series takes two steps forwards and then has to take at least four steps back to cover an event that has happened earlier in the timeline. I get why this has to happen but I’m looking forward to the day when everything catches up with itself and we can all move forward together in a straight line. I mention it here because the rest of the series had moved past the battle for Calth (at least as far as I can see) and now we’re having to go back to make sure that it gets a mention.

There’s no doubt though that Abnett’s coverage of the event ensures that the battle of Calth is worth that mention. Not that it wasn’t worth it anyway, it was, but Abnett does what he does best and makes ‘Know No Fear’ almost essential reading.

Dan Abnett proves once again that he has an eye for what draws the reader into a battle sequence on paper and keeps them reading through. He has a keen eye for the big ‘showcase’ events, stuff that makes you almost feel like you’re watching things happen instead of reading about them. We’re talking about star cruisers crashing into orbital platforms (and everything else), planetary defence grids firing on the sun and battle ships crashing onto the surface of Calth itself. If that wasn’t enough, you have a Primarch so awesomely strong that he is able to punch a man’s head clean off his shoulders! That last example is particularly spectacular but the book is full of moments like these. Abnett not only knows what military sci-fi is all about but is more than able to present it on the page in all its explosive glory.

‘Know No Fear’ isn’t just about the spectacle though. Abnett also gives us a close up into just what the battle for Calth means for the people suddenly caught up in the middle of it. What the reader gets as a result is an event that is fully formed instead of a random collection of (admittedly) really cool space battles.
The rank and file, of the combatants, get their time but Abnett’s focus here falls on the Marines of the Ultramarines Legion and how they react to this sudden betrayal. For warriors genetically altered to be perfect killers, the Ultramarines are stymied by the one thing they never saw coming; betrayal by their brother Legionnaires. Abnett really lays it on the line how deeply this betrayal cuts with characters dying in their droves as they are unable to handle the enormity of what has just happened. Things are really on a knife edge here and even though I had a rough idea of how it had to end the real joy was in seeing how Abnett gets the reader to that ending.

The plot itself is framed beautifully by a clock counting down to the betrayal and then counting on from it, displaying not only how long the battle takes (adding emphasis to each event) but also showing how the battle impacts on the future…

‘While Word Bearers still live, in the madness of the Maelstrom or in the depths of the warp, the mark of Calth will continue to run.
It is running now.’

This stylistic approach worked for the most part. I was left wondering if it gave certain characters enough time to shine. Oll’s story line looks like it’s meant to conclude in future books but for all the build up that Telemechrus gets… you don’t see an awful lot of him. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was deliberate, if it was then it didn’t work for me I'm afraid. It felt like a bit of an anti-climax instead (although I could be missing something here...)

Small complaints though when set against a book as good as this. Dan Abnett sets himself high standards and maintains them with every book he writes, ‘Know No Fear’ is no exception.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 13 February 2012

‘Conan: Road of Kings’ – Thomas, Hawthorne, Lucas, Stewart & Jackson (Dark Horse)

I’m not sure how quite it happened but a quick look at the bookshelves will show you that Robert E. Howard was not the only person to write tales of Conan. I’ve only read the Robert E. Howard stuff but I do know that Robert Jordan wrote some Conan tales and Lin Carter was also known for his tales of the Cimmerian amongst others. L. Sprague de Camp also had a shot with a Conan series of his own. When I heard tell that Dark Horse were publishing ‘Conan: Road of Kings’ I thought they’d dug up the old Karl Edward Wagner tale of the same name. Having only read Wagner’s ‘Dark Crusade’ (which is excellent and I highly recommend it) I was really looking forward to getting hold of ‘Road of Kings’ and seeing more of his work; well, something based on his work but you know what I mean…

As it turned out, reading ‘Road of Kings’ and doing a little bit of online research told me that I wasn’t reading an adaptation of the Wagner work after all which is a bit of a shame (I really wanted to read more Wagner…) What we have here instead is an original piece that links ‘Iron Shadows in the Moon’ (reviewed Here) to the forthcoming mini-series ‘Queen of the Black Coast’ (original story reviewed over Here)

So… I went from having some expectations of ‘Road of Kings’ to having absolutely none whatsoever. I like it when that happens :o) I will admit to a little shamefacedness though having sworn that I was finished with Dark Horse’s ‘Conan’ comics. I was especially shamefaced seeing as ‘Road of Kings’ was a very good read indeed.

Conan’s life as a pirate, on the Vilayet Sea, is about to be cut short in a very final manner. Not only has Conan just had his ship sunk from underneath him but also his companion Olivia has been receiving visions of her royal father, begging her to come home.
Home for Olivia lies at the end of the fabled Road of Kings but it’s a long old road and anything can happen on the journey. For Conan it will involve monsters, highwaymen, victims of Conan’s short-lived life of crime and a hired killer who just won’t stop coming until he has Conan’s head. If that wasn’t enough, Olivia is kidnapped and Conan must rescue her…

Having fallen completely in love with Tomas Giorello’s depiction of Conan, I feel that it’s probably best to start things off here with what I thought of Mike Hawthorne’s art. After all, the exit of Giorello, and the entrance of Hawthorne, was what had me swearing off this book on the first place.
As it turns out, I’m not afraid to admit that I was wrong about my original decision (and even if I was afraid, I’ve have to admit to being wrong anyway!). Hawthorne’s work may be a little too cartoonish for me (and that may be the fault of Dave Stewart’s colours as much as Hawthorne’s art) but he captures both the essence of Conan himself and Conan’s world in such a way that I was drawn in far more easily than I thought I would be. The detail may not be there but the passion, energy and expression certainly is. It’s more than enough in fact and that is just what a Conan tale needs in any format; it needs to be brimming over with all three of these things.

There is a lot more politicking and intrigue in ‘Road of Kings’ than I’ve found in the other ‘Conan’ stories that I’ve read and this made for a really refreshing change. Conan doesn’t really have much of an idea what is happening half the time, he just finds himself in the middle of things almost entirely by chance, and this approach lends just the right amount of energy that the story needs to flow as smoothly as it does. Roy Thomas is no stranger to writing Conan stories and, as a result, Conan is able to extricate himself from difficulty in just the way you would expect from him. Sure, all this really involves is a strong sword arm but Thomas also focuses on Conan’s innate barbarian cunning and this means a properly fleshed out three-dimensional Conan, just as Howard surely intended.

The plot itself is full of little twists and turns that keep the reader on their toes as well as Conan himself. All of this in punctuated with some nasty looking huge monsters and the swordsman Gamesh whose remorseless pursuit makes him more than a match for Conan in terms of attitude. I have to say that I read ‘Road of Kings’ in one sitting as I literally couldn’t stop until I was done. If I had one complaint, ‘Road of Kings’ being a ‘bridging work’ (between two other works) robbed the book of some of its tension. You know Conan is going to be around for ‘Queen of the Black Coast’ so you know he makes it through. Having said that though, there is an argument to be made that this is really the whole point of Conan stories anyway… I’m still trying to make my mind up here.

‘Road of Kings’ was nothing short of brilliant then, I just couldn’t get enough of it. The book may link two others but it’s self contained enough that new-comers to the Dark Horse series could do a lot worse than jump on here. I’d recommend that you do just that.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Giveaway! 'Black Halo' (Sam Sykes)

Now here's a book that I really should have read last year, it's still sat on the reading pile in fact... Must get round to it, especially as it's been out so long Gollancz have now released it in paperback.

To mark the paperback release of 'Black Halo', Gollancz have very kindly given me two copies to give away on the blog (UK entrants only though...) Check out the blurb,

Lenk and his band of fellow mismatched and grumpy adventurers are shipwrecked on an island. An island that is a graveyard for demons and dragonmen alike. An island inhabited by lizard men. An island of secrets that is about to become a battleground. And back in civilisation Bralston, a very different Librarian, is being sent out to learn exactly what has happened to the Tome of the Undergates and to punish those that have misused magic. And Bralston will uphold the law. But the Tome will be read and it is calling to those who would read it and open the gates to hell.

If you want in 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 'Black Halo'. I'll do the rest :o)

I'll let this one run until the 19th of February and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Giveaway! 'The Ruined City' (Paula Brandon)

Thanks to those very generous people at Ballantine Books, I have five copies of Paula Brandon's 'The Ruined City' to give away on the blog. You're probably looking at the flowing dress on the cover and feeling a little dubious here. Lets see if the blurb can change your mind...

Reality is wavering. Soon its delicate balance will shift and an ancient force will return to overwhelm the Veiled Isles. Now those with the arcane talent forge an uneasy alliance in hopes that their combined abilities are enough to avert an eerie catastrophe. Yet it may be too late. The otherworldly change has begun. The streets of the city are rife with chaos, plague, and revolt. And it is here that Jianna Belandor, once a pampered daughter of privilege, returns to face new challenges.

The dead walk the streets. The docile amphibian slaves of humanity have taken up arms. Jianna’s home lies in ruins. Her only happiness resides in her growing attraction to Falaste Rione, a brilliant nomadic physician whose compassion and courage have led him to take dangerous risks. Jianna, stronger and more powerful than she knows, has a role to play in the unfolding destiny of her world. But a wave of madness is sweeping across the land, and time is running out—even for magic.

If you want in (and this competition is for US entrants only...) then you already know what to do. Simply drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your postal address is. The subject header needs to be 'Ruined City'. I'll do everything else.

I'll let this one run until the 19th of February and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 10 February 2012

‘How Nuth Would Have Practiced His Art Upon The Gnoles’ – Lord Dunsany

I don’t know if I’m looking in all the wrong places (probably) but I can’t seem to find anything by Lord Dunsany on the shelves at the moment; this is all the more annoying as I’ve never read any of his works up until now. I’d really love to get hold of a copy of ‘The King of Elfland’s Daughter’…
Luckily for me then, I found ‘How Nuth Would Have Practiced His Art Upon The Gnoles’ hidden within the depths of Ann and Jeff Vandermeer’s ‘The Weird’, an anthology so large that I will never be able to review it all in one go. The plan is then to take bite sized chunks out of the book and feature them here every now and again. ‘How Nuth Would Have Practiced His Art Upon The Gnoles’ is the first such chunk…

‘Despite the advertisements of rival firms, it is probable that every tradesman knows that nobody in business at the present time has a position equal to Mr. Nuth.’

Mr. Nuth is… well, a master burglar with no rivals that even come close to his prowess. If you want something then Nuth is the man to get it for you even though there may be a price to pay later on; that price is worth it though. The story is only three pages long and at least a third of it is telling the reader how great Nuth is at his trade.

So far so… well, not really that weird at all. We’ve basically been shown a portrait of a man who is very good at his trade although the moment where he surprises visitors is a little unsettling…

‘For a long while they waited, and then there was a smell of pipe tobacco, and there was Nuth standing quite close to them.’

The weirdness is still to come and there is no doubt that Dunsany delivers on this score. Nuth and his young apprentice set out to steal emeralds from the Gnoles and Dunsay uses the plot to show us just how far outside human understanding the realm of Faerie is as well as how dangerous it can be.

‘The nearest village was some miles away with the backs of all it’s houses turned to the wood, and without one window at all facing in that direction.’

‘They saw the skeleton of some early Georgian poacher nailed to a door in an oak tree; sometimes they saw a fairy scuttle away from them…’

Dunsany shows us very clearly (but not too clearly as that would defeat the point) that there is a world just outside or view that operates on rules that we would be mad to try and understand. It is weird and we are right to be a little nervous and afraid as we follow Nuth and his apprentice into the wood.

In a setting like this, the only possible outcome to the job is the one that Dunsany gives us and he makes it all the more frightening by refusing to divulge the fate of the apprentice. Nuth escapes though and this reader was left wondering if Nuth had a little Faerie blood in him…
An excellent tale and I will put a lot more effort into searching out Lord Dunsany’s works on the strength of it. 'Weird' is definitely the word to describe it.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

‘King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel’ – Truman, Giorello and Villarrubia (Dark Horse)

It seems like a long time since Conan trod the jewelled thrones of this blog under his sandalled feet, doesn’t it (and did you see what I did there)? I still need to dive into the original texts at some point (in the same way that I still need to read a lot of books right now…) but it was the announcement that Dark Horse’s ‘Conan The Cimmerian’ series was to end that had me seriously wondering whether to pick up any future ‘Conan’ reads. It may look like cutting my nose off to spite my face (I love the ‘Conan’ comics) but Truman and Giorello worked together so well on ‘Conan The Cimmerian’ that it felt to me like anything else would be an anti-climax. What would be the point?

Well, it looks like that decision has been put off a little while longer with the trade release of ‘King Conan: The Scarlet Citadel’. Not only have I not read the original short story but Truman and Giorello have teamed up once again to deliver this version. I couldn’t say ‘no’ really could I?
‘The Scarlet Citadel’ was originally a four-issue mini-series that has been collected for trade release. As a result, I got a shorter read than normal and that has just left me wanting more. I know I said that I wouldn’t read anymore ‘Conan’ but I absolutely have to read ‘The Road of Kings’ now…

Conan is now King of Aquilonia but he is finding that holding a throne is far more than gaining one; especially when neighbouring kingdoms have their own ideas about who they want on the throne…
Conan finds himself betrayed and cast into the dungeons of Tsotha-Lanti’s Scarlet Citadel. If he is to rescue his kingdom, Conan must brave terrors like never before and that is just in escaping the dungeon itself. Even harder challenges await but an unlikely ally might hold the key to victory…

I’m of the opinion that you’re pretty much onto a winner already if you choose to adapt any of Howard’s tales for comic book format, especially Conan. The material is already so brash and larger than life that it often feels to me that Howard wrote it with comic books in mind. He didn’t (I don’t think…) but that’s what it feels like. All you need to do then is just tell it like it is and you’re home and dry, surely? Truman does this to a degree, recounting what happens and making sure that all the bases are well and truly covered in the manner that Howard intended the story to be told (which can make the plot a little more liner than it perhaps wanted to be). To his credit though, Truman isn’t just satisfied with just telling the story and takes things a couple of steps further; not only having Conan tell the tale himself but also providing a very good reason why Conan would do so. I loved this approach, not only does it all make sense but we get a little glimpse of how Conan is faring as King and you are left with the impression that it’s a weight that he is slightly uncomfortable bearing. You also get a little glimpse into Conan’s mind as he wonders the depths of the Scarlet Citadel, a glimpse that leaves you with an idea of Conan’s basic humanity and how it drives him on.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; Tomas Giorello’s ‘Conan’ is the definitive one as far as I’m concerned. Giorello really captures the primal rage simmering under the surface (even when Conan is chained in a dungeon) and unleashes it in veritable tidal waves of gore. This is also the case when we are shown Conan as an older King; he may be older in years (and sporting a nasty new scar) but you still wouldn’t want to cross him, not at all. The background that Conan fights against is as skilfully rendered as ever and there were panels where I just wanted to stop and stare so I didn’t miss out on anything.

All in all then, ‘The Scarlet Citadel’ was nothing short of superb as far as I was concerned. Classic ‘Sword and Sorcery’ deftly fleshed out to fit the presented format.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Cover Art - 'Sadie Walker Is Stranded' (Madeline Roux)

Because it has been three days since I last mentioned zombies on this here blog and that's far too long really... ;o)

Lots of grey grasping hands and blood, just what I like on a zombie cover :o) And here's some blurb for you...

Sadie Walker fights for survival as the dead close in...

In the months since The Outbreak, Seattle has become a walled fortress - the Infected are kept at bay, and the survivors are trying to scrape back a life. But the city is rife with crime, religious cults and black-market dealings. And things are about to get much, much worse.

When a group of frustrated fanatics, the 'Repopulationists', destroy part of the wall, zombies start swarming the city. Sadie, devastated by the brutal kidnapping of her young nephew, must find him and get them both out before it's too late. But the only escape is by sea, and she's seen for herself the horrible fate of those who tried that route before...

I loved the initial concept for Roux's 'Madeline Hewitt is Trapped' but it really didn't hold up to scrutiny and I wasn't too sure if I'd read more of her work off the back of it. It looks like Roux has ditched that approach here though so I'll be giving it a go, it is zombies after all... :o)

The reading pile is looking dangerously high at the moment (it won't be once I finally finish 'A Dance With Dragons'...) so it might take a while to get round to 'Sadie Walker is Stranded'; anyone else reading it in the meantime?

My copy was published by St. Martin's in the US, I'll hazard a guess and say that Headline will be releasing it over here.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

‘Luthor Huss’ – Chris Wraight (Black Library)

Over the last couple of years I’ve really come to look forward seeing more of Chris Wraight’s work, whether it’s set in the far future universe of Warhammer 40K or the fantasy setting of the Old World. I haven’t been a fan of the Black Library all that long but even I can see that Wraight ‘gets it’ in such a way that his tales will always engage long term fans as well as fantasy fans coming across his work for the first time. From where I’m sat, the Warhammer 40K stuff is coming along nicely but Chris’ forte is very much the stuff set in Old World. Long term readers (hi guys!) already know that I love Wraight’s ‘Warhammer Heroes’ books but if you don’t, well… have a click Here and Here to get an idea of what I’m on about.

The merest mention then of another ‘Warhammer Heroes’ book, from Chris Wraight, was more than enough to have me looking forward to 2012 and checking the doorstep with an obsession that wasn’t appreciated by my wife (I was letting the draught in apparently…) The book arrived, and got me through some particularly grim last few days at work, but it wasn’t quite the read that I was expecting. It was very good indeed but… let me try and explain…

The Empire is always under threat from forces on its borders as well as those chipping away from within. Witch Hunter Lukas Eichmann is a man whose calling it is to halt that threat from within; a series of bizarre murders will lead him into the depths of the Empire at the head of his own army. The warrior priests of Sigmar have that very same calling and Luthor Huss battles to free the denizens of the Drakwald forest from a plague of the walking dead. Little do they know it but the fates of these two men will come together in such a way that not only will the true threat to the Empire be revealed but one of the men will find out that he is integral to that threat’s fruition. But that’s only if both Eichmann and Huss can hack their way through the absolute worst that the Drakwald forest has to offer first; a forest that brims over with all that is worst in both men and beasts…

I didn’t need to get too far into ‘Luthor Huss’ to see that Chris Wraight has done it again as far as I’m concerned. ‘Luthor Huss’ has everything in it that made ‘Sword of Justice’ and ‘Sword of Vengeance’ such gripping and compelling reads; there are several other writers producing novels for the ‘Warhammer Heroes’ range but right now, this is a series that Wraight has made all his own. As always, any more books from Wraight would be more than welcome in this house.

The setting is as grim and bleak as ever with danger lurking in the shadows as well as in plain site where you can’t quite make it out until it’s too late. A setting like this is just what the doctor ordered for this kind of book and Wraight delivers on that score. We’re looking at a backdrop where you’re left in no doubt as to the dangers that ordinary citizens of the Empire face on a daily basis. It’s a wild country out there and even the strongest of men and women might not be able to stop a sudden knife in the dark or the clawed shadow that lurks in the trees… Such a setting also highlights the resolve of such men and women to carve out a life for themselves, in this inhospitable wilderness, and beat back the encroaching darkness. This series focuses on heroes for a very good reason, there are loads of them out there and their stories all need to be told. It’s not just Luthor Huss who is the focus in this respect (although his story does take centre stage, more on that later on), there is heroism in the most unlikely of places and Wraight does well to shine a piercing light on all of it. Whether it’s Rickard’s quest for redemption through fanaticism, Mila constantly testing her own boundaries or Huss himself; all bases are very much covered here. The result is a work that is at times very stirring as people push themselves to the absolute limit and will not back down.

Wrapped all around this is a tale of darkness and horror where there is more than one surprise waiting to catch the unwary (and I’m talking about the characters as well as the readers here…) There is plenty going on here to hold your interest and it’s punctuated with bursts of warfare and combat so intense and bloody that I found myself holding my breath until it was all done. Wraight knows only too well how bloody and capricious combat can be in the Old World, especially when you’re trying to face down a Beast Man twice the size of you…

Where the problem came for me (and it was the only problem I had with in the entire book) was with the character of Luthor Huss himself, which was a bit of an issue seeing as the whole book is based around him. Here is a guy who is simply unable to form any meaningful relationship with the world around him; not only does his calling take priority but there are also other issues which you find out about towards the end of the book. What this means is that, for the larger chunk of the book, you are following a character whom it’s more or less impossible to engage with; he’s just not built that way. His heroism is never in doubt but you never really get an idea of why that is. You are told at the very end of the book but by then it’s far too late…
I’m going to give Wraight the benefit of the doubt and say that perhaps he wrote Huss a little too well here, read the book and you’ll understand what I mean. Even so, this approach can make for frustrating reading at times…

Stick with it though and you’ll be rewarded with a stirring tale of pitched battles and heroism that won’t fail to hit the spot. Wraight cannot write quickly enough for me, more please!

Nine out of Ten

Monday, 6 February 2012

The 'Snow, what Snow?' Competition Winner's Post!

We had a little bit of snow yesterday and, erm... that was it. Bit of an anti-climax really although Hope had a lot of fun stamping in all the puddles that sprung up when the snow started melting. I was after something a little more substantial myself; something where I could sit in the warm and laugh at all the people struggling to get to work (because I can be evil like that!) Oh well, there's always time for more to come... please?

In a change from my normal Monday morning posts, I'm actually feeling quite happy. I do need to find a job but I've left one that I never really enjoyed at all; it's a guaranteed way to make your Mondays feel that much better! :o) I've also feeling sprightly because it's that time of the week where I get to be the bearer of good news to people who have won stuff in one of my competitions. Yep, I'm talking about the 'Phantom Menace' competition that I ran last week. The three lucky winners were...

Rebecca Denyer, Reading, UK
Kate Moss, London, UK
Anene Cousin, London, UK

Well done guys, your tickets should all be sorted out for you very soon :o) Better luck next time everyone else, I'm always looking to run competitions here so check back often and see if there's anything that takes your fancy.

That's that then for another Monday. Have a good one whatever you're doing; I shall be job hunting, reading (I've been reading some great stuff just recently) and tidying up after the little one...

Sunday, 5 February 2012

‘Juggernaut’ – Adam Baker (Hodder & Stoughton)

I’ve said it before a number of times, here on the blog, but it’s always worth saying one more time. One of the things that I love the most (perhaps the thing) about reading books for the blog, and just reading in general really, is when I come across a book that just completely blows me away. It could be the characters, the plot or whatever; I’m just gripped for the entirety of the book and I’m practically gasping for breath by the time I put it down at the end. We’ve all read books like that haven’t we?
What’s even better is when it’s a book where I haven’t anticipated that reaction at all. We’ve all got our favourite authors where we’re guaranteed a great read but even those books can’t hope to beat a book that just comes right out of nowhere and flattens you with the tale that it has to tell. A book like Adam Baker’s ‘Outpost’ for example. I picked up ‘Outpost’ more or less on a whim (I love tales of the apocalypse and that was what was on offer here) and very quickly found that I couldn’t have put it down even if I’d wanted to. You can read my review Here if you like but here’s a couple of quotes that sum the whole thing up…

‘I really couldn’t put it down for a whole number of reasons, to the extent that I didn’t want to talk to people until I’d finished it. I finished it, put the book down and thought, ‘bloody hell...’ In the best possible way that is, any book that can put me through the wringer like that more than deserves praise.’

‘Outpost’ is a gloriously bleak read that offers you everything that a good apocalypse should and then proceeds to go one better in every area. You should read it, you really should.’

If you haven’t read ‘Outpost’ by now then I highly recommend you go and read it as soon as possible but I’m digressing.
I’d already made my mind up to check out more of Baker’s work and the arrival of an advance copy of ‘Juggernaut’ gave me the chance to do just that. What really sealed the deal for me though was the realisation that ‘Juggernaut’ was in fact a prequel to ‘Outpost’; I was really excited at the chance of finding out more about the Virus, where it originally came from and so on.
I got my wish but at a cost. ‘Juggernaut’ is a compelling read but not in the same league as ‘Outpost’…

It’s Iraq, in 2005, and seven mercenaries have just found themselves with a chance of becoming very rich. They have a guide who will take them into the desert and straight to a hidden cache of Saddam’s gold, enough to set all of them up for life. Their luck is about to change though and very much for the worse…
The team finds themselves marooned in ancient ruins with traitors in their midst and a shadowy government agency suddenly taking a keen interest in their activities. What’s far worse though is the army under their feet that is suddenly waking up; an army that will do anything to get their hands on fresh meat, an army that just won’t stay dead.

‘Juggernaut’ is not ‘Outpost’, of course it isn’t; ‘Juggernaut’ is it’s own book and very much does it’s own thing. A lot of what was good about ‘Outpost’ doesn’t seem to have found its way to ‘Juggernaut’ though and that’s a real shame. Like I said, ‘Juggernaut’ is a great read but I couldn’t help thinking what could have been…

Whereas ‘Outpost’ pretty much drops you in the middle of an already impossible situation (and has it get worse), ‘Juggernaut’ takes the approach of gradually building up to the big payoff. The problem is though that it takes just that little bit too long to get there and the transition from build up to full on action is choppy to say the least. ‘Juggernaut’ is not a smooth read, in that respect, and it really needed to be with the approach that it took.

What I also found odd was that for all the time it took to set up the mission, get to the ruined temple and so on, I never really got much of a feel for who any of the characters really were. To be fair, the frantic second half of the book doesn’t leave you a lot of time to get to know people but what about the long trip into the desert in the first half? Surely that was the time for introductions? There’s a very definite line drawn between ‘good’ and ‘evil’ but you can’t really root for the ‘goodies’ as you don’t know them. Contrast this with the characterization in ‘Outpost’ (which was very good) and you’ll get why I wasn’t too happy this time round.

When things do kick off though, you find yourself forgiving the bits that weren’t so hot earlier on. There’s a double-cross that you know is coming but at least two more that you don’t and this is what keeps the book fresh and engaging. Yeah, I could have done with more of this earlier but better late than never I guess.
The virus possessed ‘zombie’ soldiers make for some gripping reading as well. They are remorseless and the slightest scratch from one of them spells a demise that makes a regular zombie bite look like a wasp sting. No-one is safe and Baker does a great job of getting that fear across. The two mercenaries left must fight their own comrades as well as a vertaible horde of possessed soldiers that just will not stop coming. Baker does a superb job of drawing you into those moments of quiet and then, when it’s far too late, showing you that it’s not so quiet after all…

Fans of ‘Outpost’ will also get a lot out of ‘Juggernaut’ for the gaps it fills in as far as the arrival of the virus, on Earth, goes. There is more going on in the background than you thought and it fleshes out the overall story more than satisfactorily.

That wasn’t quite enough to save ‘Juggernaut’ for me though. Once it got going I couldn’t put it down but its departure from the tried and proven formula that worked so well for ‘Outpost’…? That was where things fell down for me.
There is a third book in the works and you can bet on my being there for its publication as the overall story line is one that just has to be read. I’m hoping for more along the lines of ‘Outpost’ though…

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Saturday, 4 February 2012

‘Book of Sith’ – Daniel Wallace

It may not feel like it sometimes but there are books out there that you will never see being dished out for free as review copies. You don’t believe me do you? Well, how about a book that comes with its own Holocron case and retails for $99…? I’m talking about the ‘Book of Sith’ here; a book that reviewers like me would probably not bother reading because they were too busy playing with the very funky looking mechanized Holocron case. Nope, what we get is a (much) smaller book of excerpts instead which I think is probably fair enough all things considered.

This isn’t really a review as such then, how can it be when I haven’t got the whole book in front of me? What I’m going for here is more a case of my reactions to what was in front of me and how that bodes for the book as a whole. My reactions weren’t all that great…

According to the press release, the ‘Book of Sith’ is a collection of Dark Side texts that were squirreled away by Emperor Palpatine and have only now just come to light. Palpatine wrote his own manifesto, for the collection, and each of the texts are heavily annotated by various Jedi who have come across them over the years. There’s also the Holocron case that it all comes in as well as some other little bits and pieces (scrap of Sith burial shroud anyone?) but that’s pretty much what you get for your $99.

I think collectors will love it, no question. You’ve got a very cool looking Holocron case etc and that has to look good when placed next to your replica Darth Vader lighsaber. What I just couldn’t get away from though was the nagging feeling that the actual text wasn’t telling me anything that I hadn’t already gleaned from the dozens of other Star Wars books that I’ve read over the years.

Strip away the fancy sounding names and it all basically boils down to ‘The Sith are really angry and hate the Jedi because they’re not’. I could have told you that without reading the excerpts; there are six films and a whole load of related merchandise that have been telling me that since I was five years old! I’m going to assume that the rest of the book follows the same lines (complete with really smug annotations from Luke Skywalker denouncing the Sith stuff) and if that’s the case then you can count me out. ‘Tell me something I don’t know or just don’t bother’ is the order of the day here I think. This book looks very nice but is ultimately another sign of just how stale the Star Wars universe can feel sometimes.

If you’re a collector then I suspect you’ve already ordered the ‘Book of Sith’; I have a Mace Windu lightsaber myself so I think I know where you’re coming from ;o) Everyone else, if you’re dead set on having this book then I’d hang onto your money for a little while longer. Titan Books released a much more affordable version of ‘The Jedi Path’ (remember that?) not so long ago and I suspect the same thing will happen with the ‘Book of Sith’.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Mediocre Cover Art (An Occasional Series) 'Phalanx' - Ben Counter

It occurred to me, not long ago, that I actually love bad cover art. Seriously, I do. The worse it is, the more likely it is that bad cover art will get attention whether it's on blogs like this or people gagging at the sight of it on the bookshelves. In a weird kind of way, bad cover art does a good job in that it gets people noticing the book and that is always a good thing if people then pick that book up and check it out.

Mediocre cover art though... that just makes my blood boil... I mean, what's the point of having cover art that the eyes can't fail but slide over in the hunt for something far more interesting? Cover art is more often than not the first thing you see of a book so make it interesting dammit! Make your cover art do something, make it say something to potential readers whether the artwork is well done or poor. Don't, whatever you do, don't just stick half of a very uninteresting spaceship on the cover (with just one star in the background) and think that's enough to get potential readers excited. Don't do something like the cover art for Ben Counter's 'Phalanx' for example...

You can actually hear the artist yawning as he drew this; I think I yawned when I saw it... If you can't do the whole job then don't bother doing it at all; hand it over to someone who actually gives a... you know what :o)

Shame really, as the blurb didn't look too shabby,

Phalanx, the great star fort of the Imperial Fists, is playing host to Space Marines from half a dozen Chapters, alongside Inquisitors, Sisters of Battle and agents of the Adeptus Mechanicus. They have come together to witness the end of a Space Marine Chapter, as the once-noble Soul Drinkers, now Chaos-tainted renegades and heretics, are put on trial for their crimes against the Imperium. But dark forces are stirring and even this gathering of might may not be enough to guard against the evil that is about to be unleashed...

Doesn't look like much of a star fort to me... I expected better from the Black Library whose covers never fail to catch the eye. More mediocre cover to follow (especially if the blurb looks decent).

Thursday, 2 February 2012

From My Bookshelf… ‘The Regulators’ – Stephen King

Because sometimes it’s nice to put all the new stuff to one side and read books that have been on my shelves for years. What’s the point of having them on the shelf otherwise…?

Lets take things back to the late nineties when I had just left college and was getting my first proper taste of the world of work at the local psychiatric hospital where I was working the night shift. It was quite a nice job actually, apart from the odd bout of nastiness from the patients. Most of the patients slept straight through the night, leaving me to either have a quiet smoke (when no-one was looking) or cram my face full of sugary goodness in an (often vain) attempt to stay awake for the whole shift. I also read a whole load of books, there really wasn’t an awful lot else to do (apart from when I found myself working on the elderly wards, that’s another story though). At the time, I was working my way through a large chunk of Stephen King’s back catalogue; all the horror stuff anyway, I still haven’t read ‘The Eyes of the Dragon’ nor the books that he wrote with Peter Straub. A lot of these books had been out for a long time and ‘The Regulators’, along with its companion novel ‘Desperation’, was the first time that I’d actually picked up a work by King (it says Bachman on the cover but we all know by now don’t we?) that had only just been published. I lost the two books when I moved to Northampton (‘book purges’, the time of many an ill thought out decision…) but a trip to New York, years later, saw me leave with a new copy of ‘The Regulators’ and a copy of ‘Desperation’ followed not long after.

Years on from that and a chance browse across the shelves reminded me that it had been ages since I last read either book. ‘The Regulators’ and ‘Desperation’ share many similarities but none of these points to the best book to read first (probably intentional). I figured that I’d start my re-read off with the book that originally kicked it off for me all those years ago…

It’s high summer in Wentworth, Ohio and nowhere more so than on Poplar Street where the sun is out, Frisbee’s are flying and the local paperboy is about to be the first to die in a drive by shooting unlike any other. The idling red van on the corner is only the start of the horror to come and, unbeknownst to the residents of Poplar Street, it is a horror that was born right in the midst of their quiet street. Will any of them survive the horror that lurks in Audrey Wyler’s house or will they perish at the nightmarish guns of the Regulators…?

The abiding thought that has stayed with me since I first read ‘The Regulators’, all those years ago, was that it was ok but King had written books that were one hell of a lot scarier. That was pretty much the thought I had upon finishing the re-read this time around. Having said that though, ‘The Regulators’ has stayed on my shelf while books such as ‘Christine’ and ‘The Shining’ went to ‘Charity Shop Heaven’ many years ago. It definitely has a staying power that the other books don’t and, having thought about it, I’m going to say that it’s very much down to the cast; I find myself engaging with them just that little bit more than I have done with the casts of King’s earlier books. There’s something about Johnny Marinville (author who is just looking for a quiet life) and Steve Ames (the guy who happens to take a wrong turn at the wrong time) that made me want to keep turning the pages to spend time with them, even though I’ve read the book before. Thinking about it, these characters (as well as some of the others) are just so open and honest about whom they are, no pretension at all. The first time I read the book I felt like I’d known Johnny, Steve, Cynthia and Collie Entragian for years already and, this time round, I felt like I was catching up with old friends (old friends in a fight for their lives but you know what I mean).

It’s a good job the characters appealed to me so strongly though because, like I said, the actual story wasn’t anywhere near as scary and chilling as King is so obviously capable of. It starts off well enough with a picture of glorious American ordinariness slowly corrupted by something unexplainable and just plain evil. The tension is ramped up smoothly yet inexorably and you’re sucked in just about the time the first gunshot is fired.

And then you find out what is causing it all…

This is where the book falls down for me as you don’t really find out enough about Tak to get a feel for why it is putting Poplar Street through hell. Doing it for food and fun will only get you so far and things proceed to degenerate into a repetitive cycle that forces the plot onwards but at the cost of some of the earlier sparkle. The moments inside Seth Garin’s head make up for this (as does the 'gradual possession' side plot) but only a little bit. The ending has to be experienced though, you can see what’s coming (and how it has to happen) but the sheer power of it will knock you sideways.

‘The Regulators’ is a great tale of survival against supernatural odds that is spoilt, sadly enough, by the supernatural elements set against the residents of Poplar Street. I stay for the characterisation though and that’s why I’m sure I’ll be reading it again and again.

Eight out of Ten