Sunday, 30 November 2008

Charles Stross & Neil Gaiman Competitions - Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered these competitions! Without further ado (because it looks like the exhaust is in imminent danger of coming off the car and I want to see what I can do about it...) the winners were,

'Prince of Stories (the many worlds of Neil Gaimain)'

Stephanie Dicks, Milwaukee, US


'The Merchant Princes Pack' (containing 'The Family Trade', 'The Hidden Family' and 'The Clan Corporate')

Chris Hudson, Leeds, UK
Jonathan Cook, Macclesfield, UK

Well done everyone, your books will be on their way soon...

Have a great weekend!

Giveaway! 'Tales from the Perilous Realm' (Limited Edition) - J.R.R. Tolkien


This one is pretty special...

Harper Collins are in the process of relaunching their 'Tolkien Store', an online store where you can pick up limited edition 'collectors' Tolkien books. I would supply a link but (at the time of writing) the site is still undergoing maintenance...

Anyway, to mark the relaunch one lucky winner will be able to bag themselves a limited edition copy of 'Tales from the Perilous Realm' that comes with the following...

Contains more than fifty pencil drawings, all of which were specially commissioned from award-winning artist, Alan Lee

Features an exclusive colour frontispiece painting by Alan Lee, which appears as a fold-out sheet

Includes a specially written introduction by acclaimed Tolkien scholar and writer, Tom Shippey

Each copy personally hand-signed by Alan Lee

Quarter-bound in green with grey boards, stamped in red, gold and silver foil with a unique motif specially created by Alan Lee, and housed in a matching custom-built slipcase

Printed on superior quality paper and including a silk ribbon marker


Are you interested? Do you live in the UK? Do you know someone in the UK who could enter on your behalf? (As you've probably already guessed, I'm only allowed to open this one to UK entrants...) Entering is as easy as it was to enter the 'Stupidest Angel' competition yesterday. Simply drop me an email telling me who you are and what your mailing address is (oh yes, be sure to make it clear that this is the competition that you want to enter!), I'll pick a winner.

I'll leave this one open until next Saturday (6th December) and announce the winner on the following Sunday.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 29 November 2008

Giveaway! 'The Stupidest Angel' - Christopher Moore


Thanks to the good folk at Orbit, Christmas is coming a little earlier this year with a giveaway for a book where a stupid angel and a misunderstood wish can only mean one thing... zombies! :o)

I read 'The Stupidest Angel' last year and absolutely loved it (seriously, read my review over Here), Orbit are publishing the paperback edition in the next week or so and I thought it would be a good time to do a giveaway for it :o) I have three copies to give away!

Do you want in (UK and European entries only for this one I'm afraid...)? Entering is as easy as ever; simply drop me an email (address at the top of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll do the rest.
There are other competitions going on right now, and I've got something pretty special lined up for tomorrow as well, so you need to make it clear in your email which competition you are entering.

I'll let this one run until next Saturday (December 6th) and announce the winners on the following Sunday...

Good Luck!

Friday, 28 November 2008

‘The Well of Ascension’ – Brandon Sanderson (Tor Books)


I ran a quick poll last week to see what you all thought should be the series that I aimed to finish next. It was a close run thing but Brandon Sanderson’s final two ‘Mistborn’ books won the vote and I decided to get started straight away. After not being all that impressed with ‘Elantris’, ‘Mistborn’ turned out to be a book that, although longwinded, had me looking forward to seeing what happened next. This week has seen me working my way through ‘The Well of Ascension’ and things are certainly on the up. ‘The Well of Ascension’ doesn’t totally escape the problems that I felt were in its predecessor but there is plenty to show that it’s making big steps in the right direction.

The Lord Ruler is dead, and his people free, but an event that normally comes right at the end of a fantasy series is only the start of things to come in this book. What should be the start of a new dawn swiftly becomes a standoff involving three armies outside the capital city of Luthadel. Vin and Elend Venture must play all sides against each other whilst searching out the elusive truth behind a prophecy that could offer a glimmer of hope. Where is the Well of Ascension though and what kind of power does it bestow? Should they even be looking for it at all...?

‘The Well of Ascension’ takes a good long look at the aftermath of the toppling of an evil overlord and asks the questions, ‘would everyone have been better off if he had stayed in power?’ and ‘is freedom worth the price that has to be paid?’ The actions of Sanderson’s characters leave the reader in no doubt as to where the author stands on these questions but he throws plenty of things into various conversations and events that also leave the reader with plenty to think about. Sometimes the answer really is as simple as it looks but there’s often a lot more to it before you get to that answer.

The returning characters are as flawed as ever and this makes the journeys they must all take that bit more interesting as it’s not just a case of seeing something and then going for it; everyone has an issue that they must deal with before they can achieve their aims. Vin and Elend take centre stage in this regard as their insecurities must be overcome before they can help save their city but it’s also interesting to see some of the lesser characters face their own demons. Breeze in particular, spends most of the book fighting a battle between what is right and what is right for him. Only at the end does he realise that the two things may be more closely linked than he realised.
The threat is mostly all too human and we get to see returning foes in a lot more detail. It’s the introduction of new foes though that is of more interest however, one of these characters in particular is very interesting but is cut short with that potential only part realised. I hope we haven’t heard the last of him...

The world that they must fight and die in is as beautifully realised as it was in the preceding book. I say ‘beautifully’... the world of the Final Empire is dark and full of mist and shadows, not a nice place to be! Despite this, Sanderson’s descriptive passages really bring it home to the reader what it is like to live in these times and, at the same time, the contrast between crushing despair and the little pockets of happiness and laughter really hooked me and gave me hope that things could work out for characters that I had come to know very well.

My chief complaint with ‘Mistborn’ was that it was very longwinded where I felt that perhaps it didn’t need to be. ‘The Well of Ascension’ suffers from the same problem but this time things come across as being more evenly paced. Whereas ‘Mistborn’ was all about plans being laid and then hatched, ‘The Well of Ascension’ is all about the aftermath and what happens as a result of these plans. It may be described in a little too much detail but there is plenty going on, whether it’s full on siege warfare or the intrigue and plotting that takes place as allies try to get the upper hand amongst one another. One mystery is great fun to follow and its resolution a real surprise.
I also had a real sense of ‘what the...’ as all the pieces fitted into place (regarding the main plot strand) and a whole new set of possibilities arose around a real cliff-hanger of an ending. It won’t be long, at all, before I pick up ‘The Hero of Ages’ to find out how this all ends!

‘The Well of Ascension’ improves upon what is set out in ‘Mistborn’ and promises good things to come from ‘The Hero of Ages’, a series that is so far proving to be well worth picking up.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Thursday, 27 November 2008

From my bookshelf... ‘Legend’ (David Gemmell)


Reading ‘Ravensoul’ the other day, scroll down the page for my review, reminded me of all the David Gemmell books sat on my shelf that haven’t been read for a long time now. It’s not surprising I made the link as James Barclay has mentioned, on his forum, that ‘Ravensoul’ was written in part homage to Gemmell and his work.
There’s a lot to choose from if you’ve never read anything by David Gemmell and haven’t a clue where to start. The best place to start though, as far as I’m concerned, is right at the beginning with the book that kicked off his writing career. ‘Legend’...

Here’s the Amazon blurb,

The Legend Druss, Captain of the Axe: the stories of his life were told everywhere. Instead of the wealth and fame he could have claimed, he had chosen a mountain lair, high in the lonely country bordering on the clouds. There the grizzled old warrior kept company with snow leopards and awaited his old enemy death. The Fortress Mighty Dros Delnoch, protected by six outer walls, the only route by which an army could pass through the mountains. It was the stronghold of the Drenai empire. And now it was the last battleground, for all else had fallen before the Nadir hordes. And hope rested on the skills of that one old man...

I first came across ‘Legend’ when I was about fourteen and on one of the many rainy weekends in a caravan that we went on as a family (there’s a big ‘caravanning rant’ building up right now but that’s a topic for another blog I think!) I had about 30p left of my holiday money and a second hand bookshop was selling ‘Legend’ for... you guessed it :o)
‘Legend’ kept me going for the rest of the weekend and, as it turned out, most of my teens as well.

‘Legend’ was the fantasy novel that first introduced me to the notion that true heroism really is about being scared to death but going out there anyway and doing what you have to do. While Druss is a larger than life character who dominates the page, it’s the supporting characters that are more interesting in this regard. We have men who live under the shadow of their fathers, men who have never swung a sword in anger and men who are scared of fear itself; all of them manage to win through their issues and do something really important over the course of the book. The message is clear if a little idealistic.
Where things get interesting though is where Gemmell looks at bravery and honour in the hearts of the enemy. Is a man any the less a hero if he is working to supplant our heroes? Is the ultimate sacrifice somehow tarnished if it’s made by an enemy? I don’t think so and the signs are that Gemmell didn’t think so either. Anyone can earn redemption.



Druss, the main character, offers an interesting look at what a hero becomes as he gets older. The mind is willing but the body isn’t quite up to snuff these days. Stamina is an issue and arthritis makes swinging that axe a lot more difficult than it used to be. All you’ve got left is a reputation that makes men hesitate when facing you and you have to make use of that split second to get a killing blow in first. Druss is anyone who has ever been frustrated by the onset of age but decided not to let it stop them. He does the right thing as well, choosing to give up a life of relative peace on the strength of a promise made a long time ago.

On top of all this, ‘Legend’ is a tale that gripped me as a teenager and one that still does even now. It’s a ‘siege tale’ where the fate of two nations hang on not just the men fighting but also on magic cast, poison, promises and the actions of men a whole continent away from the action. The outcome may never be in doubt but it hangs on a knife edge just enough of the time to keep things interesting.
The citadel of Dros Delnoch has six walls and Gemmell takes his readers through a blow by blow battle for each one of them. The action is relentless as well as extremely hard hitting. None of this ‘he ran him through with his sword’ for Gemmell, warfare is a dirty business and we are shown exactly what this means for the people who must fight. There are body parts flying all over the place, just the thing for the bloodthirsty teenager that I was (What? People annoyed me...) and still just the thing for the person that I am today (What? People still annoy me...)

Fantasy literature has moved on a lot since ‘Legend’ was published (1984) but it remains a book that’s worth going back to for a re-read. The message might be coming across a little too loudly but the story itself is first rate.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

‘Crimson’ – Gord Rollo

I really enjoyed Gord Rollo’s ‘Jigsaw Man’, when I read it earlier this year, and the excerpt for ‘Crimson’ (that was at the back of the book) looked like it promised more of the same. Being me, I managed to completely forget about it until the ARC of ‘Crimson’ (to be published in March 2009) turned up on the doorstep last night.
‘Crimson’ was a book that I had really been looking forward to and, not only that, at just over three hundred pages long it also looked like a book that would be a nice quick read and a short break away from what I’m currently reading (Brandon Sanderson’s ‘The Well of Ascension’, a good read but it somehow feels longer than it actually is...)
‘Crimson’ was a very quick read, mostly because I was so gripped by the tale that I had to stay up until I’d finished it. At the same time though, it also left me feeling strangely disappointed...

Evil stalked the streets of Dunnville in a night of terror that people don’t like to talk about, if they’ll even admit that it happened at all. Years have passed since that day but a chance encounter (that has nothing to do with chance) is about to signal the return of the terror. Four boyhood friends have uncovered something evil and they can’t get it to go away. It’s on the streets where they play and it’s in their dreams when they go to sleep. It’s with them for the rest of their lives, some of which will be much shorter than others...

The reason why I’m all tired and grumpy today is because I ended up staying up until the early hours so I could finish ‘Crimson’ off. The story may not be entirely original (at least as far as I was concerned, more on that in a bit) but top marks have to go to Rollo for how it’s all presented. ‘Crimson’ is a book that pushed all the right buttons in terms of scaring the life out of me and keeping me turning the pages to see what would happen next. Rollo is extremely adept at winding up the tension and springing a nasty surprise on the reader when they least expect it, he’s also extremely adept at winding up the tension and then having nothing happen at all... You don’t know what you’re going to get until it actually happens and I was constantly on edge trying to second guess what was coming.

Rollo also excels at presenting the reader with situations that are truly horrifying both in a supernatural sense and things that can happen in a real life setting. Where Johnny finds the last leech is guaranteed to make any guy wince and being cornered by a giant spider and a seven foot tall scarecrow are moments that are truly chilling. All of these moments are presented at a fast and furious pace that left me breathless (whilst holding my breath waiting to see what jumped out of the shadows next)!

All is not perfect with ‘Crimson’ however. There is a fine line between paying homage to another author’s work and being derivative. ‘Crimson’ is a book that came across as feeling a little derivative, to me, at times...
The ‘rites of passage’ theme in horror has been done by enough horror authors for it not to be the exclusive property of any one writer but there were elements of ‘Crimson’ that screamed ‘It’ at me, especially the moment where a giant spider says to Tom, ‘You come back and see us anytime you want...’ (I need to go back and double check but I’m sure that’s almost word for word what Pennywise says)
A monster that stalks your dreams with razor sharp claws and witty one liners is damn scary in ‘Crimson’ but felt a little too like Freddy Krueger to me... Where do you draw the line though? I guess that’s a question for another day...
What really bugged me though was the point where the evil creature (and he is evil!) sat one of the main characters down and proceeded to tell him his life story as ‘it was too late for this character to do anything about it and the creature felt an explanation was owed’. This felt contrived and placed there purely so the creature could have background history. I was left wondering if the creature actually needed its background filling in. Sometimes things are better left a little mysterious...

‘Crimson’ does have its faults but when it gets going it does it’s job very well indeed. Gord Rollo remains a horror author to watch as far as I’m concerned.

Seven and a Quarter out of Ten

Good news if you have an iPhone...


Michael Bhaskar (Pan Macmillan) sent me an email that I think anyone who has an iPhone will be interested in...

Pan Macmillan have made excerpts from some of their SFF books available for download directly onto the iPhone which sounds like a good idea if you want to have a little 'taster' of a book before you go out and buy the whole thing. If you're after the whole book then you have to download it to your PC first and then synch it with your iPhone. For more information, have a look over Here or Here...

I don't have an iPhone, I don't even have a phone right now (I really need to do something about that)...

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

‘The Goon: My Murderous Childhood (and Other Grievous Yarns)’ – Eric Powell (Dark Horse Comics)


Those fancy Dan’s uptown have their cops and G-Men to keep the peace; all Lonely Street has is one man who is ready to take a stand against the Zombie Priest, killer robots, a pie crazed skunk ape and Fishy Pete’s sexually frustrated Kraken mother...
That’s ok though as this man is the Goon and he has a beating ready for anyone who gets in his way, especially if Spider insists on cheating at cards again!

I’m slowly working my way through the trade paperback ‘Goon’ collections (and hoping for a few more come Christmas, I know at least one family member still reads the blog so I hope you’re paying attention!) and if ‘My Murderous Childhood’ is anything to go by then I can’t see myself stopping anytime soon. This collection has everything that made the previous two essential reading for me, over the top brutal cartoon violence and plenty of laughs (of the slightly sick kind, you’ve got to have a certain sense of humour for this one...)

As the title suggests, the main chunk ‘My Murderous Childhood’ focuses on what the Goon did after leaving the carnival as a young boy. Namely, go straight into town and start taking over Labrazio’s rackets. This isn’t just a tale of how the Goon got started in a life of crime; it’s also the story of how he and Franky first met and it’s very entertaining to see what Franky was like as a young boy considering how we know he turns out! Lonely Street was a much nicer place to live back in the day and by showing us how it used to be, Powell’s stories are starting to become a little more than just disjointed fragments. Something a lot bigger is starting to grow...

The other stories are a mixture of building on the ongoing plot (the Goon versus grave-robbers and hoboes) and one off stories (the Goon versus Fishy Pete’s mother) that are brimming with goodness as far as I’m concerned. Plenty of irreverent humour mixed in with characters that are ready to throw down at the slightest provocation. It’s not all about the violence though, witness the Goon setting Spider’s ex-wife on him (along with at least a thousand of his baby children) as the result of confusion arising over a bad gambling debt...
There is a fine line here that Powell does well to stay balanced upon. Everyone is doing the same things as they were in previous books but luckily the story remains quirky enough to cover up any repetition. I’ll be interested to see if Powell can maintain this over the rest of the series...

‘My Murderous Childhood’ is full of goodness and the promise of more goodness to come. If you haven’t already gathered what a fan I am then I’ll tell you right now that I’m well and truly in for the long haul with this series and if you’re a comic book fan then I reckon you should give this a go too.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

What shall I read next? (The Big Fat Hardback Edition...)

Well, the votes are in from last week and the score was 6-4. Who won though? Why, it was none other than Brandon Sanderson and his 'Mistborn' books. I'm reading 'Well of Ascension' as we speak and plan on getting round to 'The Hero of Ages' as soon as I can. The remaining two books in Brent Weeks' 'Night Angels' trilogy will be read in due course...
Thanks to everyone who voted! I'm wondering if you can help me out with something else now...

Over the course of the year I've found myself going for the quick reads, books that aren't too cumbersome on the daily commute and that I can read in a day (or thereabouts). What this has meant that a growing pile of thicker, more hefty, reads have steadily grown on top of my wardrobe over the last few months...
Time is tight, with Christmas approaching all too quickly, but I want to get at least one of these beasts read before the end of the year (maybe more if I can). The only problem is that I don't know which one to pick up first. That's where you come in...
Here's the list,

'Toll the Hounds' - Steven Erikson (I can't believe I still haven't read this...)

'Return of the Crimson Guard' - Ian C. Esslemont (This either... And here I am calling myself a Malazan fan...)

'Fallen' - Tim Lebbon (A little too awkward to carry on the tube which is where I seem to spend most of my waking hours!)

'The Dreaming Void' - Peter F. Hamilton (The lone sci-fi book in the pack, I need to read this if I'm going to stand any chance with the next book...)

'A Cruel Wind' - Glen Cook (Because it's just embarrassing how long this one has been sat on the shelf, we're talking since the middle of 2007...)

'Lord of the Silent Kingdom' - Glen Cook (Ditto)

'Royal Exile' - Fiona McIntosh (Because I'm kidding myself if I think I'm going to finish it this month!)

There are others but these are the big ones that I need to get through (I can't really read 'The Temporal Void' until I've made my way through 'The Dreaming Void' first...) I want to read as many as I can but which one do I read first? You tell me! Leave a comment and whichever book has the most votes by the beginning of December will be the book that I have to finish...

Monday, 24 November 2008

‘Ravensoul’ – James Barclay (Gollancz)


I don’t know about you but as far as I’m concerned, cold and blustery days are just made for curling up somewhere warm and reading a good book while the rain hammers on the windows. Saturday was one of those days and Sunday was as well. After a quick trip to sort the car tyres out I came back with no feeling in my fingers and no desire to step outside until I had to go to work on Monday. Every single radiator, in the house, was on and I had a bottle of my favourite beer to drink. I also had a copy (signed!) of James Barclay’s ‘Ravensoul’, a long time coming but well worth the wait...

I’ve been a fan of ‘The Raven’ (fantasy fiction’s toughest mercenary group after the Black Company) ever since I fell prey to a case of ‘ooh that looks like a nice cover’ and picked up a copy of ‘Elfsorrow’. The six ‘Raven’ books written by Barclay (two trilogies, ‘Chronicles of the Raven’ and ‘Legends of the Raven’) are rollercoaster rides full of swashbuckling derring-do where you also get to see the members of The Raven grow and develop over time. Every action has a consequence and Barclay isn’t afraid to make his characters face up to these consequences and how they affect the group as a whole (unless characters die first, it’s a tough job being a mercenary...) 2004 saw the publication of ‘Demonstorm’ and what looked like the final outing for The Raven. Given what happened it should have been the final outing but things are never that simple where these guys are concerned...

Ten years have passed since the events of ‘Demonstorm’ and Sol and Denser (the last surviving members of The Raven) are still busy helping the nation of Balaia rebuild after the demonic attack. Things are about to take a turn for the worse though with an early morning visitor, to Sol’s bar, who has no business being there. He died ten years ago you see... Across Balaia, and the Elven continent of Calaius, the dead are returning to life and warning the living of what has driven them out of the afterlife. The Elves already know what is coming and they are scared.
Something is coming and it will not until the world has been bled dry of the very life force that sustains it. Sol and Denser must take a stand against this new menace but, luckily for them, they won’t be doing this on their own. The Raven will stand together one final time...

When I heard that James Barclay was writing another chapter of ‘The Raven’ I was excited at the prospect of more Raven action but was a little apprehensive at how it was going to happen. ‘Demonstorm’ rounded things off with an air of real finality, how could the story continue? Well, I’m pleased to say that Barclay gets the gang back together in a way that satisfactorily answers any questions that might arise. The bottom line is that there is big trouble on the horizon and there’s only one group of people who can head it off (and they won’t let anything stop them)...

If you’re a fan of the series then ‘Ravensoul’ is full of more what made the preceding books such fun to read. The action just doesn’t stop for a second and I had to keep reading for fear that I wouldn’t be able to catch up if I stopped for one second. The stakes have never been so high and Barclay keeps things very tight and fast as a result. Even when things get a bit ‘technical’ (i.e. the ins and outs of a particular magic spell is discussed) things still rattle along. As someone who cannot stand getting bogged down in unnecessary detail this was very much a good thing as far as I was concerned!

The earlier ‘Raven’ books are known for packing an awful lot into a small space and ‘Ravensoul’ carries on this fine tradition with plenty of adventure, pitched battles and magic. Unsurprisingly (the Raven are mercenaries after all) it’s the pitched battles that form the greater part of the book with combat beginning the second the enemy arrive on Balaia and not finishing until, well... that would be telling! One long pitched battle doesn’t sound all that exciting but Barclay pulls it off by not only switching locales but switching viewpoints as well. Not only do we get to witness events up close and personal (a little too close sometimes, I could sometimes feel myself holding my breath as people dodged swords and axes etc), we also get to see it ‘widescreen’ as Barclay pans out and shows us that all of the individual set pieces combine to form something pretty damn epic. Barclay also isn’t afraid to have his characters throw magic at obstacles in order to win through, he simply avoids any charges of ‘getting characters off the hook’ by not letting the magic win through every time. The end result of this is spectacle on a grand scale as towers come crashing down, forests burn and people on both sides get on the wrong end of some particularly nasty spells!

It was the characterisation that really made ‘Ravensoul’ something special for me however. As someone who had followed the series from the beginning it had been really humbling to see the Raven stand together and grow together, always ready to make the ultimate sacrifice if one of their own was in danger. ‘Ravensoul’ asks the question, ‘what do you do if you’ve made the ultimate sacrifice but another sacrifice needs to be made?’ The answer is simple; you roll up your sleeves and get working. That’s what the Raven do and it’s a really sobering experience to see what certain of them must go through on their return from the afterlife. They’re mistrusted, feared and reviled but still go all out to do what is right. Another member, who is still alive, learns of the sacrifice he must make and the resulting scenes with his family didn’t make me almost cry at all! No sir, there was some dust in my eye... that’s it, dust...
Anyway, moving on... Barclay has a lot of things to say about the true nature of heroism and he leaves his reader in no doubt as to what he thinks this is. Really powerful stuff.
The Raven have grown together over the years and ‘Ravensoul’ takes that growth one step further and then ties things off in a way that just seems... right. I don’t think we’ll see any more of them but what a way to go out!

‘Ravensoul’ is a more than fitting finale to a series that I’ve really enjoyed. Fans will love it; newcomers to the series could read this on its own (as there’s plenty of ‘what has gone before’ filler type stuff) but would be advised to start on ‘Dawnthief’ first and see what they think. I think you’ll like it.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Sunday, 23 November 2008

What I've been watching this weekend...

It's been a quiet weekend, so far, and I've managed to get round to making a (very small) dent in the pile of DVDs that I haven't got round to watching yet. Is it just me or are you one of those people who buys a film, on DVD, and then never seems to get round to watching it...?
Anyway, first up was...

'Stardust'



When this came out in the cinema I swore a mighty oath that I'd go see it. After all, I loved the book and the trailer looked like just the ticket. It's been well over a year now and I've only just got round to watching the DVD... No more 'mighty oath swearing' for me I guess! :o)
Although it differs from the book, more than slightly, 'Stardust' was great fun to watch and left me with that warm glow I get when I've found myself totally engrossed in a film and the time has just flown by. Even Ricky Gervais couldn't spoil this film and, to be honest, he did have a go... Everyone (apart from the aforementioned) seemed to fit their part perfectly and special mention has to go to Robert De Niro's camp sky pirate. This character wasn't in the book at all but he should have been.
'Stardust' is a film that I can see myself watching again and again...


'Night of the Living Dead'



Talking of films that I could watch over and over again... 'Night of the Living Dead' is one of those films that I've seen a number of times but never got round to getting my own copy, until I saw it incredibly cheap in HMV not so long ago. I had the house to myself last night so figured it was a good time to watch the film (read my review of 'Child's Play' to find out what can happen when my wife watches a horror film...)

Like I said, I've seen 'Night of the Living Dead' before but it still remains a film that can have me checking all the windows and doors if I hear a noise while I'm watching it. 'Compelling' is the best way to describe this film; as an inability to co-operate leads the people inside the house to slowly fragment, the number of zombies on the outside steadily grows larger...
Romero really set the standard with this film and it's a shame that his latest zombie films ('Land of the Dead' and 'Diary of the Dead') haven't hit these heady heights. 'Night of the Living Dead' remains a lesson in how this type of thing should be done. Having said that though, I still say that anyone who takes refuge from zombies in a farmhouse that is near a cemetery deserves trouble...

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Saturday 'Giveaway Special'!

Happy weekend everyone! I'm hoping that this one won't be as hectic as last weekend, that would be really nice...
To kick off two glorious days of doing precisely nothing I thought I'd run a couple of giveaways past you and see what you think... ;o)


'Prince of Stories: The Many Worlds of Neil Gaiman' (Hank Wagner, Christopher Golden and Stephen R. Bissette)



If you're a Neil Gaiman fan then I reckon you'll love this. In the words of Amazon...

"...complete with hours of exclusive interviews with Gaiman and conversations with his collaborators, as well as wonderful nuggets of his work such as rare articles and never-before-published essays, "Prince of Stories" chronicles the history and impact of the complete works of Neil Gaiman in film, fiction, comic books, and beyond. Every tale and character is covered, including Gaiman's comments and thoughts, and the authors present loads of rare comics stories (fully reproduced), book covers, photographs, and related trivia and minutiae..."

Thanks to the good people at St. Martin's Press I have one copy to give away (but only to US residents...)


Charles Stross' 'Merchant Princes' series.



When I reviewed 'The Clan Corporate', the other day, I said that I thought that this is a series where you really need to be in right at the beginning in order to get the most out of what's going on. Would you like to be in right at the beginning of the series so far? Thanks to Tor UK, I have two packs (containing 'The Family Trade', 'The Hidden Family' and 'The Clan Corporate') to give away to people who fancy giving this series a try. This one is only open to UK residents though...

Do either of these competitions take your fancy? If they do then drop me an email telling me which competition you're entering, who you are and what your mailing address is (very important, if you don't tell me where your address then I can't send you anything if you win...)
I'll let these competitions run until next Saturday night (29th of November) and announce the winners on the Sunday.

Good Luck!

PS... If you're a non US or UK resident then you've probably been wondering why America and the UK have been getting all the giveaway action just recently. I'm at the mercy of where the publishers are able to send the books that I want to run competitions on and 'US/UK only' is the way that the dice seem have fallen these last few weeks... I haven't forgotten you though and am working to come up with giveaways that you can take part in as well! ;o)

Friday, 21 November 2008

‘Shadowrealm’ – Paul S. Kemp (Wizards of the Coast)


What better way to end a week of ‘quick reads on the tube’ with the last book of a trilogy where the previous two instalments have been thrilling examples of action and introspection... I read Paul S. Kemp’s ‘Shadowbred’ and ‘Shadowstorm’ last year and had a lot of fun in the process, they also cured me of a rather snobbish attitude towards ‘shared world’ fiction. I’d still say that the quality can very between authors but at least these days I’ll pick the books up and give them a go!
I’ve been looking forward to ‘Shadowrealm’ ever since I finished ‘Shadowstorm’ but the second book left me with concerns that the final instalment would have trouble living up to the standard set by it’s predecessor. Having just finished ‘Shadowrealm’ over my lunch break I was left with the feeling that I had been proved right but I was also left with that slightly breathless feeling you get when a book has picked you up, shaken you by the neck and left you in a crumpled heap up a corner...

The final moments of ‘Shadowstorm’ saw Kesson Rel send the Shadowstorm ravaging its way across the country of Sembia in an attempt to appease his Goddess. Various players, in events spanning the first two books, cannot allow this to happen but although their goals may be the same their motives are not. Some want absolute power, Erevis Cale only wants to fulfil a promise to a dead friend and do the right thing. Everyone has their own idea of what the right thing is but no-one will really understand the price they must pay until they have to pay it...

‘Shadowrealm’ is a book that resonates with the clash of sword against shield, thunderous spells being cast and the death throes of entire planets as they fall under the sway of the Lady of Loss. Considering the book is only three hundred and thirty eight pages long, I think Kemp does a bloody good job to fit all of this in! The pages crackle with excitement in a story where no space is wasted. Spectacle is the order of the day and Kemp comes up with the goods in battles and duels that are intense to say the least.

If this wasn’t enough for the reader (and I would have been happy with this on its own) Kemp also gives the reader a good long look at each character and what motivates them. This is a book about decisions and the journeys that arise from them, every action has a consequence and Kemp explores what this means for everyone playing a part in this tale. Sacrifice and redemption (not necessarily the same thing in some cases) are more often than not the end result in scenes that rage from powerful to poignant. Kemp is not afraid to let his characters make the wrong decision and for them to reap what they sow, he’s also not afraid to leave things open ended in one notable case...

When I read ‘Shadowstorm’ my main concern was that Kemp had peaked too early in terms of what he was sending Erevis up against. How was he going to top what he had pulled out of the hat? ‘Shadowrealm’ confirmed my suspicions in that the threat doesn’t get any bigger than before, to be fair it doesn’t need to but it felt a little ant-climatic (to me) to have the stakes raised over two books only to have things plateau in the third...

The pace of ‘Shadowrealm’ is such that you won’t really care about minor issues like this though. There is a lot happening and it’s happening at speed!
I’ve very much enjoyed this trilogy and if you’re a fan of heroic fantasy then I reckon you will too. Definitely one to try if you’re after an entertaining (but quick) read.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Friday Free Reading!

If you fancy some free reading with a twist then you could do a lot worse than head over Here for the first instalment in Jemiah Jefferson's 'Firstworld', a new 'wovel' for Underland Press.
The twist? Jefferson may be writing the story but you get to help decide what happens next...

Have fun!

Jemiah Jefferson also has a site Here if you fancy a look.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

‘Anno Mortis’ – Rebecca Levene (Abaddon Books)


A scantily clad female gladiator trying her best to look like Racquel Welch in ‘One Million Years BC’ (which I really need to watch again sometime soon...) can only mean one thing. Yes, Abaddon have a new book out and this time it’s for their ‘Tomes of the Dead’ range, tales of humanity under attack from the ravening (and brain eating...) hordes of the undead...
This week has been all about ‘quick reads on the tube’ for me and, at roughly three hundred and fifty pages long, ‘Anno Mortis’ managed to sneak into that category! Work has left me feeling a little out of it and not really up for getting into anything too heavy and Abaddon are usually good for those kinds of books as well.
All in all I thought I’d be onto a winner with ‘Anno Mortis’ and for the most part I was. It wasn’t all plain sailing though...

It’s 40AD and the mad Emperor Caligula rules over the Roman Empire with a grip that is demented as he is. If this wasn’t bad enough, things are starting to happen in the backstreets and catacombs that, if left unchecked, will spell disaster for the empire. Slaves are disappearing and so are the bodies of the dead. And what are the mysterious shipments that arrive from Egypt in the dead of night?
A mad emperor’s dreams lead to chaos and blood on the streets of Rome; only a gladiator, a spoilt young noble and a mysterious stranger stand any chance of setting things right before death spreads out from the Empire and engulfs the world...

I tore through ‘Anno Mortis’ in just over a day’s commute and normally that’s a good sign as it means that the book has totally held my attention and I’m desperate to see how things turn out before I get off the train. Well, that’s usually the case but this time I found myself skimming through pages where not an awful lot was going on to get to the bits where something was happening. For every ‘breakneck’ passage that got the blood pumping it felt like there were pages saying, “something great is going to happen but not quite yet, it’ll take a while but... stick around anyway?” Chases through catacombs seemed to drag out longer than necessary and (apart from some notable execeptions, more on those later) the book runs into difficulty trying to maintain tension when characters are being pursued by the undead, most of whom can’t actually run that fast...

When things do get going though ‘Anno Mortis’ is just the kind of light reading that I’m after with a plot full of clever twists and spectacle. I’m slowly working my way through a lot of zombie fiction but one thing that I haven’t come across until now is zombie chariot racers... Don’t think about it too much; just go with it, it’s well worth the trip. Levene’s answer to the stalemate resulting from the undead not being able to scale Rome’s high walls also deserves a mention (as I think it’s genius). Catapult one of the living over a wall and you’re going to kill them, catapult a zombie over a wall...
If all this isn’t enough then there is plenty of ‘backs to the wall facing down hundreds of the undead’ slice and dice action that any fan of the series (so far) will definitely appreciate. The mixing of Norse and Egyptian legends, to create an all encompassing world view (for the enemy to go up against) is also cleverly done and makes for interesting reading.

The biggest problem that ‘Anno Mortis’ has is a ‘stop/start’ approach to pacing that left me flicking through what felt (at times) like a lot of unnecessary filler. Once you get past this though, ‘Anno Mortis’ does what Abaddon books do best and offers a gory slice of zombie action that made my commute that little bit more bearable...

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

‘Elric: The Stealer of Souls’ – Michael Moorcock (Del Rey)


As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, it’s getting to that time of year where I catch myself looking at the ‘to be read’ pile and thinking, “How long has that been sat there? I really need to get reading...” The first book in Del Rey’s new, and definitive, ‘Elric’ collection has been sat in the pile for a long time now, far longer than it should have done in fact. What can I say? Loads of books to read and not enough time to read them all... I got there in the end though and can safely say that I wish I’d done this sooner...

As with the other ‘Elric’ collection that I reviewed back in September, ‘The Stealer of Souls’ is a collection of stories that have already been published before. In this case, we are presented with stories comprising ‘The Stealer of Souls’ and ‘Stormbringer’. There is also a very brief sojourn outside the world of the Young Kingdoms with a tale of ‘Sojan the Swordsman’ which I am sure that I have also seen elsewhere. Miscellaneous letters and essays are also included (and I’m not sure if these have been published anywhere other than the magazines they were originally written for) but the bulk of the book is already available. The message, once again, is to have a quick look at the contents before you buy...
As with ‘To Rescue Tanelorn’, ‘The Stealer of Souls’ features some rather gorgeous artwork (on the cover and inside) this time from John Picacio. It was a shame then, for me, that certain of the stories included didn’t really work as far as I was concerned...

‘The Stealer of Souls’ tells of Elric’s adventures leading up to just before the events of ‘Stormbringer’. The Dreaming City of Imrryr is sacked and burned to the ground through Elric’s desire for revenge on his cousin Yrkoon, a series of events that culminate in Elric losing everything that he holds dear and setting himself on the path to his eventual fate. ‘The Dreaming City’ (in which all this takes place) is gripping tale of futility and obsession that really sets the scene for things to come. I found it a real shame then that what was to come was ‘While the Gods Laugh’, another tale of... futility and obsession... While these tales were being published in magazines such repetition would have escaped notice but this isn’t the case when stories are collected together. To be fair though, this approach does reinforce certain aspects of Elric’s character and make his actions that bit more understandable.
‘The Stealer of Souls’ (the story from which the collection takes its name) resolves an ongoing plot arc but the thing is that it’s an arc that isn’t mentioned anywhere else in the book. While the story stands well enough on it’s own I felt that there was an air of ‘disjointedness’ that jarred things slightly but enough to be noticeable.
‘Kings in Darkness’ and ‘The Caravan of Forgotten Dreams’ serve the purpose of introducing Zarozinia (Elric’s wife) and are also useful in that they lull the reader into a false sense of security before the events of ‘Stormbringer’ kick off. Other than that though they come across as the same events replayed under different guises and while Elric’s ability to call on the Gods for aid (which is given 99.5% of the time) may help in terms of the world building it also robs the stories of their urgency. What’s the point of worrying what will happen to our hero when it’s pretty much guaranteed that a God will bail him out at some point?

But then ‘Stormbringer’ kicks off and everything gets better again.

‘Stormbringer’ is the culmination of everything that Moorcock had planned for Elric, Kinslayer and Prince in Ruins. It was Elric’s fate to start off the events that would lead to the end of the world and it is his fate to be there, right at the end, to ensure that the Balance is kept.
Moorcock wastes no time in unravelling the world that he has created in a manner reminiscent to the very forces of Chaos in the page. Empires burn and are overwhelmed by the forces of Chaos right up until the very last page. All the while, Elric constantly fights between his desire to stay with Zarozinia and the sense of fatalism that forces him to take up the Black Sword once again and fight. The way Moorcock approaches this is interesting to see as something that is constantly mentioned never becomes repetitive and boring. The confrontations are suitably epic (even though Elric still conveniently manages to escape danger with inches to spare) and the world Moorcock shows us may be alien in it’s nature but we can still see how it might become the world that is promised.
Elric’s end is never in any question and is quite apt considering his symbiotic relationship with his sword. There are themes swimming just under the surface of these last few paragraphs (Moorcock says so in one of the letters printed within) but I always prefer, as I have read this before, to be swept away by just how powerful these last moments are. A new world is ushered in and we are left in no doubt as to what the cost has been...

I found ‘Elric: The Stealer of Souls’ to be very much a book of two halves; one half superb but the other... not so. ‘Stormbringer’ more than makes up for any issues, that I had, with ‘The Stealer of Souls’ though. A very good place to start if you’ve never read any of the ‘Elric’ stories before...

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

‘The Clan Corporate’ – Charles Stross (Tor UK)


Is Charles Stross the hardest working writer in genre fiction? I couldn’t say for certain (as I’m sure all genre writers work very hard) but the number of books, of his, that I’ve either had sent to me or heard about suggest that this is a man who has no option other than spend a lot of time sat at his computer trying to get all the ideas out of his head.
Up until now I’d never read any of Stross’ ‘Merchant Princes’ series but liked the look of the blurb enough to jump straight into the third book and see what happened. On reflection, I should probably have started at the beginning...

Miriam is a business journalist from Boston who has recently discovered that her family comes from a parallel timeline where they (and others) operate a courier service, between our world and theirs, dealing in drugs and weaponry amongst other things. Miriam’s family is a little too like the Mafia for her comfort and she is about to find out just what they will do to keep family members in line. If this wasn’t bad enough, her (legitimate) business interests, in yet another dimension, are in danger of going under and just what is a Boston cop doing at her wedding? All these questions will be answered while others will be raised...

‘The Clan Corporate’ is definitely not the place to jump into this series, at least not as far as I was concerned. With varied and convoluted plots (as well as what feels like a very large cast of characters) spanning three dimensions you really need to have been with this one from the beginning if you are to make any real sense of it. To be fair, Stross does add little ‘what has gone before’ type passages here and there but these are clearly intended to reinforce character’s actions in the book rather than serve as an introduction for new readers.
Every now and then though you do get moments where Stross introduces plot elements that clearly will not come to fruition until a later book and these serve as points where new readers can start to get a feel for what is going on. The machinations of the US ‘Black Ops’ team are a good example of this. As someone who is new to the series though, I personally found that this had the unwelcome effect of spoiling the pace of the book...
My advice? If you want to give this series a go then start from the beginning, it will make a lot more sense!

Is this a series worth picking up though? Based on what I’ve seen I’d say that it’s certainly worth picking up the first book, in your local bookstore, and flicking through the first chapter or so. In fact, I may even go and do just that this lunchtime...
There is plenty going on with a cast of characters that cannot afford to let their guard down and trust anyone, plots and counterplots ensue and the end result is a book that kept me thinking about who was double-crossing who... The world that the Clan inhabits is scarce on detail but I’d have to excuse this seeing as this is the third book in a series! The world of New Britain was a lot more detailed though and, not surprisingly, this was where I enjoyed spending time the most.
Stross likes to get technical in his work and ‘The Clan Corporate’ was no exception. Unfortunately though, it felt to me like this was done at the expense of certain characters that came across to me as a little flat and one dimensional. Miriam, for example, is full of anger at her situation but it didn’t feel like there was room for much else. Then again, there could be a lot of character development that I missed out on by not reading the earlier books. Who’s to say...?

‘The Clan Corporate’ is an interesting (although slightly flawed) read that suffered, through no fault of its own, through my not having jumped on board sooner. There’s certainly enough there to pique my interest in the earlier novels, other readers would be well advised to start at the beginning if they fancy trying this series out...

Seven and a Half out of Ten

‘The Clan Corporate’ will be published on the 5th of December 2008 by Tor UK. If anyone is interested in a signed copy, and happens to be in Edinburgh on December 11th, Charles Stross will be signing copies at Waterstones (128 Princes Street) at 6pm. Free tickets are available instore...

Monday, 17 November 2008

What shall I read next?

Things were really busy over the weekend (what with one thing and another) so I didn't get a chance to do all the reading that I wold have liked, I'm about halfway through two books at the moment which doesn't make for a good review...
What you lucky folks get instead is the opportunity to help me decide what to read next...

It's getting round to that time of year where I start looking at all the book piles around the house and thinking, "I really need to read that before the end of the year..." I've got this week's reading pretty much covered but starting from next week I really want to get started on books that have been gathering dust for a while now. Here's an easy one to get you started...

I'm one book into both Brent Weeks' 'Night Angel' trilogy and Brandon Sanderson's 'Mistborn' trilogy. I feel like I've read a lot of stand alone stuff this year and it would be good to actually finish off a series. Both of these trilogies will get read but which one do I pick up first? Leave a comment and let me know, whichever trilogy gets the most votes (say, by the end of the week) will be the one I pick up next...

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Graeme has the house to himself so...

I'm reading some comics that I picked up a couple of days ago :o) Last night's party went really well, good food and good company are always a good mix! And the in-laws even did the washing up this morning (which was very nice of them)
Anyway, back to the comics and they're a bit of a mixed bag this time round...

'The Dead, Kingdom of Flies', Issue 1.



It was a zombie comic, I had to give it a try... :o) The thing is though, I'm starting to feel like I've seen it all before. There's an invasion of zombies and a ragtag bunch of firemen are holed up and waiting for the world to end (and none of them like each other either). Both 'The Walking Dead' and 'The Zombie, Simon Garth' do this better, too much emphasis on cartoony artwork and daytime TV celebrities made this one to forget as far as I was concerned. Having said that though, I'll probably see Issue Two next month and think to myself, "ooh... zombies..." :o)


Frank Frazetta's 'Deathdealer', Issue 5 (of Six).



I loved the cover art and I'm always on the lookout for fantasy comics so thought I'd give this one a go! I've now learned that starting a series five comics into a six comic run isn't the best way to go about things... (d'oh!)
The artwork is just as good on the inside as it is on the cover but there isn't a lot to the story itself. Or maybe there is and I just missed the first four issues... I may have to go back and check...


Dead of Night (Devilslayer)



If there's one thing that's guaranteed to get me to pick up a comic it will be zombies munching on the brains of the living. If there's another thing guaranteed to get me to pick up a comic it's the fact that my favourite horror author has written it! Brian Keene weaves a tale of a shadowy organisation and a soldier's fateful tour of duty in Iraq. I was drawn in by the character of Sergeant Danny Sylva and was left totally hanging by the carnage and gore soaked cliff hanger at the very end. I'll be picking the next one up, no doubt about that!

Have a good Sunday everyone! :o)

'The Judging Eye' Competition - Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered (there were loads of you!) but there could only be three winners who were...

Simon Holland, Cheshire, UK
Jonathan Hill, Manchester, UK
Kevin Pearson, Rockford, Illinois, US

Well done guys, you should be receiving your advance copies of 'The Judging Eye' very soon. Better luck next time everyone else...

Saturday, 15 November 2008

The 'We have guests Graeme, leave some food for them...' link-up extravaganza!

We're having a dinner party tonight which means that I'm going to have to restrain myself, at the table, and... you know... let other people get served first, things like that... I'm not used to this kind of behaviour at all, I fought for this food dammit (!), why should anyone else get their hands on it? Okay, I didn't actually fight for it although sometimes it feels like it when I'm trying to get to work in the morning...
Today will see me trying to be a good host and staying well away from whatever is going on in the kitchen. To keep you guys going, here's some links to all the cool stuff I saw around the blogosphere this week...

Highlander Books looks at Robert Rankin's The da-da-de-da-da Code. I really need to get around to reading this one...

Adam continues his 'Wheel of Time' re-read with The Path of Daggers.

Mark Chitty looks at Sean William's Cenotaxis, the book that I realised I should have read before getting into 'Earth Ascendant'...

James gets into Brent Weeks' 'The Way of Shadows', he's not 100% convinced but will stick around for the next book at least...

Liz has some news for any fans (that would be me then) of Max Brooks' 'World War Z'...

Blood of the Muse looks at the first issue of the 'Dresden Files' comic.

Tia looks at the opening chapters of Ann Aguirre's Grimspace, looks pretty cool to me...

Joe Sherry looks at Issue 14 of Electric Velocipede.

Finally, John points us at some free fiction over at Grasping for the Wind, he also gives a favourable review of Cafe a la Creme where he recently went for a meal.

What am I doing though? Apart from trying to appear helpful while everyone else gets on and gets dinner ready for this evening? I'm currently working my way through Michael Moorcock's 'The Stealer of Souls' collection and I also picked up some cool looking comics last night which I am going to sneak off and read the first chance I get... ;o)

Have a great weekend!

Friday, 14 November 2008

‘The Judging Eye’ – R. Scott Bakker (Overlook Press/Orbit Books)


You spend all that time waiting for the latest instalment of R. Scott Bakker’s ongoing (and frankly more than superb) fantasy epic... and then two copies show up at once! Thanks to Orbit for sending me the page proofs and thanks to Overlook Press for sending me an advance copy. One was a little easier to read on the train than the other... :o)
‘The Prince of Nothing’ is a series that I’ve followed for a few years now and the intentionally abrupt ending of ‘The Thousandfold Thought’ left me wondering how things would be resolved as well as eager for the series to kick on and start tying up the loose ends. Having finished ‘The Judging Eye’ this morning (making myself late for work in the process but I don’t care...) I can say that there isn’t much in the way of loose ends being tied up; that’s to be expected though as there will be more books to come. What I will say though is that fans of Bakker’s earlier books are going to love ‘The Judging Eye’, the stakes are raised over the course of the book and Bakker raises his game in response...

Twenty years have passed since the fall of Shimeh and the Dunyain Kellhus rules the New Empire as Aspect Emperor. However, the threat of the Consult still exists and, in reply, Kellhus has raised a mighty host to storm Golgotterath itself. All is not well in the Empire itself though; Kellhus’ children are coming into their own remarkable powers and each deal with this in their own way. Both heresy and prophecy also cause trembling in the foundations of the Empire. The root cause of this heresy has been in self imposed exile for the last twenty years but he is about to find himself embarking on a journey that will take him to the outskirts of Hell itself. Achamian is obsessed with uncovering the truth of Kellhus’ origins and will do whatever it takes to find this knowledge out...

As is the case with any opening book in a series, ‘The Judging Eye’ starts off slowly as it sets the scene for what is to come. As we find out, a lot can change in twenty years but a lot is also still refreshingly familiar. On the whole though, this is a brave new world that the reader walks through. Despite this (and despite the handy ‘What has come before’ bit at the back of the book) I’d advise readers who are new to Bakker’s work to go back to the beginning and start reading ‘The Darkness that comes before’. The ‘What has come before bit’ will only give you the bare bones of the overall story and you will be seriously missing out if you use this as your starting point for ‘The Judging Eye’.



One of my main issues with the preceding three books was the overabundance of philosophising that certain characters indulged in. I was left wondering how they managed to find the time for all the other things that they needed to do in a world that was in danger of unravelling before their eyes! ‘Deep thought’ is still very much in evidence, in ‘The Judging Eye’, but Bakker gives a nod to the more restless reader (such as me!) with emphasis on more action this time around. The Sranc (amongst others) are a more prominent threat this time around and their very nature means that any scene they’re involved in will step up a gear with high adrenalin, yet bone chilling, displays of tooth, claw and sword. It is clear that Bakker is well adept at stepping the pace up and maintaining a good balance between drawing tension out and keeping things plausible at the same time.

As the book drew to a close though I found things slowing down; not because of any dramatic change in pace but because I genuinely didn’t want the book to end. I’ll quite happily admit to being a fan of Bakker’s work (so my objectivity may be in doubt here!) but the fact remains that I thoroughly enjoyed ‘The Judging Eye’ and am already looking forward to the next book.

The world building, which acts as a backdrop to the plot, is quite frankly brilliant. Bakker’s writing gave me a real feel for where I was at any one time. There is a world of difference between the Imperial City of Mommen and hunting Sranc in the ruins of the old Norsirai kingdoms, Bakker not only nails this difference but effortlessly placed this reader right in the middle of things.

It’s not just the immediate world, that our characters interact with, that gets this treatment either. Bakker enriches the world of the Three Seas with a history so vast and ancient that it weighs heavily upon both the reader and the characters acting out their parts. At one particular point what initially appears to be a homage to Tolkien (you’ll know it when it happens) becomes a lot more, Bakker uses the character’s experiences to leave the reader in no doubt as to how old and full of forgotten history this world really is. And it’s old... For me, this is world building right up there with the greats.

Bakker’s characters are as rich and varied as they’ve ever been although I was left wondering what happened to make one particular player pursue the course that he did. I must have missed a trick there; a re-read will take care of that!
While certain characters, from the ‘Prince of Nothing’ trilogy, return other characters are conspicuous by their absence. This enables Bakker to introduce new players into the game who are perhaps easier to get to know. Sorweel, for one, is an intriguing new character whose progress I am looking forward to following. That’s the beauty of Bakker’s work, you never now quite what’s going to happen with anyone until it actually happens. The moment that the title refers to is one such example that had me completely wrong footed....

It’s safe to say that fans of the first three books will enjoy this latest instalment; it’s got everything that the preceding books had and a lot more. Newcomers to the series should pick up ‘The Darkness that comes before’ and give that a go first. If you like it then there’s a lot more goodness to come.

Nine and Three Quarters out of Ten

‘The Judging Eye’ will be published in January next year by Overlook Press (in the US, Canada as well I think...) and Orbit (in the UK)

Thursday, 13 November 2008

‘Lone Wolf and Cub, Volume One: The Assassin’s Road’ – Kazuko Koike & Goseki Kojima (Dark Horse Manga)


‘Yet history tells that in 1655, the year of Meireki, the Ogami Clan vanished completely, and the Yagyu Clan also assumed the post of Kaishakunin. And then, in 1681, in the first year of Tenna, at the changing of its leadership, the Yagyu Clan, too, comes to an end...
Assassin and Executioner! This story, ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ is one answer to this mystery.’


My wife is slowly coming round to the idea that I’m an unrepentant geek at heart and, every so often, I’ll get back from work to find little ‘geek gifts’ for me to enjoy. Sometimes this doesn’t work (‘The Case of the Bloody Iris’ and ‘The Fearless Vampire Killers’ on DVD are two cases in point, more on that another time maybe...) but more often than not it does. The other day, I came home to find the first two volumes of ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’ waiting for me. Having just finished ‘The Assassin’s Road’ I wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself collecting the rest of the series and considering that the series comprises twenty eight books... my wife may have cause to regret starting me off with this one (my books are starting to take over the house...)!

An assassin and his son walk the land of ‘Edo Period’ Japan, offering themselves for hire to anyone who can match their price. The first few chapters set the scene by showing just how good our assassin is. No-one is able to match him in terms of prowess with the blade and he has an uncanny ability to second guess but the question soon arises as to why he is willing to constantly place his son in mortal danger. The answer is gradually revealed as the story progresses, our assassin seeks revenge and his three year old son ‘chose’ to join him in his journey...

‘The Assassin’s Road’ is an introductory piece and, as such, suffers slightly from repetition as certain themes are established. As the story itself comes to the fore though, things start to get very interesting indeed as we learn more about the assassin’s motivations and just what his eventual aim might be... I’ve got the next book waiting to be read but, like I said, I can see myself buying more as this looks like a tale worth following.

Like the story, Goseki Kojima’s artwork felt overly simplistic to begin with but this appearance soon proved to be deceptive. There is more to each scene than you think and Kojima is able to bring out so much facial expression using simple line drawing. I loved the use of shading as well, both in the landscape and when it is used in either ‘Samurai face-offs’ or to show the journey in progress.

Koike and Kojima combine to present an opening instalment that is both gripping and evocative in it’s depiction of Edo Period Japan. I’ll admit to not knowing anything about the period but was certainly left with a strong feeling of what it could be like...
I’m looking forward to reading more....

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

‘The Queen of Stone’ – Keith Baker (Wizards of the Coast)


Cover art is a funny thing isn’t it? It’s such an important part of the book as it’s the first thing you notice in the bookstore and could potentially put someone off buying the book itself. Everyone has different tastes though and this must make it difficult for a publisher to come up with cover art that will appeal to plenty of people... On this occasion, the cover art for ‘The Queen of Stone’ really didn’t work for me...
The problem I’ve always had with ‘tie-in fiction’ of this kind is its association with the game settings that it arises from. I want to read a story, not someone’s D&D campaign retold! The cover, for ‘The Queen of Stone’, looks (to me) like old 80’s ‘Fighting Fantasy’ cover art and left me immediately thinking that even though I wasn’t picking up a ‘game book’ it was still a book very much based on a game (or someone’s game)... All this was before I got to the book itself....

Nyrielle Tam is also ‘Thorn’, a secret agent engaged in covert actions that will advance the aims of her country Breland. Thorn’s latest mission is to uncover the aims of a fledgling nation of monsters whilst at the same time rescuing a captured Brelish hero from their clutches. If that wasn’t enough for her to be going on with, other plots and machinations are due to come to fruition and very much get in her way...

This is the hardest review I’ve had to write for the blog so far, at least until the next ‘hardest review ever’ book comes along. You see, books normally inspire a reaction in me to some degree. I might love a book, I might hate it, I might find myself completely bemused, you get the picture... ‘The Queen of Stone’ though is perhaps the first book ever that has completely failed to inspire any kind of reaction in me at all. The very definition of ‘meh in fact...

Don’t get me wrong, ‘The Queen of Stone’ does what it sets out to do. It tells a story of spies, mystery and magic with the required plot twists and action scenes. The plot fits together well and appears to be set up for further ‘Thorn’ books in the future. For some reason though, I found it to be completely missing the spark that would have got me into the story a whole lot more....

Characters all seem to go through the motions to achieve their goals with no sense of urgency or real interaction with other characters. If this was a D&D game (and I have a sneaking suspicion that this is what the story has been based upon) it would be immediately clear who was a ‘player character’ and who was a ‘non-player character’... The main reason that there’s no urgency to the plot is because all the main players come ready equipped with spells to counter the problems that they face... Being a fairly slim read as well (two hundred and ninety three pages long) ‘The Queen of Stone’ doesn’t offer the reader much time to get to know the characters either, you just get to see them act out a story where the ending is in no doubt.

With the main players having left me completely cold, there wasn’t an awful lot of hope for the story itself. Like I’ve said, the plot is serviceable but felt like it needed something to give it a bit of spark which never happened as far as I was concerned...

‘The Queen of Stone’ was an odd one for me. It wasn’t badly written as such, it just never really got going. Fans of Keith Baker (or the Eberron books in general) may end up getting a lot out of ‘The Queen of Stone’, this just wasn’t the case for me...

Five out of Ten

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

‘Zoe’s Tale’ – John Scalzi (Tor Books)


Yesterday I mentioned how I just wanted to put all the sci-fi and horror to one side and get back to reading what I enjoy the most (fantasy!) Today sees a review of a sci-fi book... What happened? To be fair, I’d already spent the last few days reading ‘Zoe’s Tale’ before I felt the urge to go ‘fantasy’ and I’d also felt that I wanted to catch up on at least one ongoing series before the year ended!
I’d had a few misgivings about ‘Zoe’s Tale’ (I’ll go into these later) that had stopped me picking this book up earlier. On the other hand though, the ‘Old Man’s War’ series hadn’t let me down yet so what was I waiting for? I just knew I’d end up reading ‘Zoe’s Tale’ at some point and ‘right now’ seemed as good a time as any to get started.
The bottom line? My misgivings proved to be well founded up to a point, as far as I was concerned, but ‘Zoe’s Tale’ is still worth a read and not just to make up the numbers in the series...

‘Zoe’s Tale’ re-tells the events of ‘The Last Colony’ (the human Colonial Union sets up a colony with the express intention of... I’m not going to say, if you haven’t already read the book then you really ought to!) but this time from the perspective of Zoe Boutin-Perry, adopted daughter of John and Jane Perry. Not only does Zoe add her own unique perspective to events but she is also a major player in her own right and her actions will have great bearing on the direction that humanity’s future takes...

The thing that was stopping me from picking this up originally is the fact that ‘Zoe’s Tale’ retells the events of ‘The Last Colony’, albeit from a different perspective. Did I really want to read the same story all over again? One read later and my mind was changed to an extent... To a large degree ‘Zoe’s Tale’ is ‘The Last Colony’ Mark II, it can’t fail to be anything else purely because of the events that it covers. Sure, it does fill in a few of the gaps that ‘The Last Colony’ skips over but I did end up feeling that I had read all this before...

Where Scalzi rescues things is the character of Zoe herself and what she does throughout the course of the book. Scalzi’s exploration of Zoe’s character brings a freshness to events already told, after three books concentrating on either John or Jane Perry (and I’m counting ‘The Ghost Brigades’, Jared Dirac spent so long trying to discover who he was that he felt to me like he was overshadowed by the well established character of Jane...) it’s refreshing to get to know someone practically brand new. I’ve got no idea how close Scalzi gets to successfully portraying the character of a teenage girl (I’ve got nothing to compare her to) but what I can say is that he succeeds in creating a character whose inquisitiveness, love, courage and loyalty shines from the page and completely had me hooked. While I may have read the story before I couldn’t deny that it deserved to be retold with Zoe taking centre stage.

Scalzi also uses Zoe to fill in gaps in the plot and this gives a more rounded feel to both ‘Zoe’s Tale’ and ‘The Last Colony’. Things that we weren’t able to see from John’s perspective, in ‘The Last Colony’, are covered and questions answered. While this approach does flesh things out a bit I was left questioning how effective it was in certain cases. Now, this is a bit embarrassing but hear me out...
After reading ‘the Last Colony’ I was left grumbling about how the ‘werewolf’ sub-plot was not resolved. This is addressed in ‘Zoe’s Tale’ but is geared around Zoe playing an integral part which I have to admit left me cold. It’s clear how great and important Zoe is, did we need to have this reinforced again in a sub-plot that once again was left hanging (to be fair though, there was a lot of other stuff happening to cause this...)? I didn’t think so...

On top of all this, Scalzi continues to show why he’s an author worth picking up with a trademark plot full of action, intrigue and humour. I knew how ‘Zoe’s Tale’ was going to turn out but the way it was all presented meant that I wanted to stick around and see how it all turned out.
I don’t know if there will be any more books set in this universe but it’s been a great ride and I will certainly come back for more if any more books are published. Hell, I’ll be back for more whatever Scalzi writes...

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Monday, 10 November 2008

‘The Adamantine Palace’ – Stephen Deas (Gollancz)


While certain fantasy tropes have either been culled from my shelves (or moved to the ‘Guilty Pleasure’ shelf...) there will always be a small fiery place in my heart for the noble, or sometimes not so noble, dragon.
I’ve always loved reading about dragons but completely agree with those who say that, recently, dragons have had their claws clipped to make them that little bit more accessible to readers. Anne McCaffrey’s dragons are the chief culprits and Naomi Novik’s Temeraire is steadily losing that air of a dangerous animal in favour of campaigning for ‘Dragon Rights’ and spending his spare time solving maths problems...
Where are the dragons that will torch a village just because a tricksy hobbit beats them in a word game? Where are the dragons that we just know are top of the food chain? They’re still around (if you know where to look) and now it looks like Stephen Deas is about to add to their number with his debut set to be published in March next year...

The power of the Realms depends upon its dragons and the mysterious liquid that the alchemists use to keep the beasts under control. If this balance is broken the dragons would soon return to their natural state and humankind would find itself hunted to extinction...
Funnily enough though, the ruling families are all occupied by other matters. Prince Jehal has set his sights high and won’t balk at poisoning his father to advance his aims. Queen Shezira also seeks to gain power in the long term but doesn’t need to stoop to the acts of the poisoner, she has three daughters to be strategically married off to the right suitor. At the other end of the scale is the sell sword Kemir, his plans don’t stretch much further than making it through another day but he has a big grudge against any dragon rider and doesn’t need much of an excuse to act on it.
In the midst of all this it may not seem like such a big deal if one dragon goes missing. It is though; it’s a very big deal indeed...

It’s not like I haven’t been reading any fantasy just recently but I’ve been feeling the urge to put all the sci-fi and horror to one side so I can get back to reading what I like best. ‘The Adamantine Palace’ turned out to be a great place for me to get started! It’s full of everything that I like about fantasy right now; strong characters, a complex plot and loads of dragons. If that wasn’t enough, the ending promises all this and more from the next book....
That’s not to say it’s a perfect read though (for all that great things are promised). The reader gets enough hints of background setting for the story to sit on but it felt strangely insubstantial to me. Kind of like the difference between me hanging a shirt up in a gorgeous antique wardrobe and hanging it off a door handle... To be fair, this is because characterisation and plot take priority but I like plenty of worldbuilding and this isn’t that kind of book. ‘The Adamantine Palace’ is the first book in a series though so I’m hoping that Deas will choose to go into his settings in a little more depth as the series progresses... The Realms are an intriguing setting and fully deserve more detailed treatment.

The main problem that any ‘opening book’, in a series, will have is that it is setting up events that the reader may not get to see until maybe several books down the line. ‘The Adamantine Palace’ is no exception with plenty of politicking some of which is resolved while other events merely serve to leave the book ending on several cliff-hangers. Other reviewers may be tired of trilogies, my view is that a series can be as long as it likes so long as it consistently holds my interest. ‘The Adamantine Palace’ looks like it will do just that with a decent mixture of machination and action.

There is plenty going on with a plot that demands the reader’s attention and heavy doses of ‘dragon action’ that explode in a burst of flame. These dragons are brutal and vicious predators that are only held in check by human ingenuity, Deas does a great job of showing the reader just what these animals are capable of and that’s before they are freed from captivity... When that happens, Deas ramps things up to a completely different level with awesome displays of draconic power and cunning.

It’s not just the dragons who come across well on the page; the human characters are also well treated by the author. Deas takes a lot of time to come up with characters that are well rounded and interact with each other in the way that you would expect from conniving, backstabbing and generally very ambitious people. In the midst of this though you get to see little glimpses that each character could be different from the way life makes them have to behave. Maybe they would prefer to be this new way instead... This element of uncertainty keeps things fresh and interesting and I for one plan on being around to see how things develop.

Like I said earlier, ‘The Adamantine Palace’ may not be without it’s faults but what it does well more than makes up for these. I very much enjoyed it and am already looking forward to a sequel...

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Sunday, 9 November 2008

'Living with the Dead' Competition - The Winners!



Thanks to everyone who entered. The winners are...

Angela MacRae, Inverness, Scotland
Melissa Symonds, Carshalton, Surrey
Stephen McEwan, Buxton, Derbyshire

Well done guys! Your books will be on their way to you tomorrow.
Better luck next time everyone else...

Saturday, 8 November 2008

The 'I haven't done this for a while' Link Up Spectacular!

Looking back I realised that I haven't done a link post for a while, we'll soon see about that I thought! Also, it's Saturday and I'm feeling a bit lazy right now... ;o)
Anyway, here goes...

Speculative Horizons gives us the US Artwork for Mark Chadbourn's 'Age of Misrule' series. Gav over at NextRead also features this.

I saw a 'Madam Mirage' graphic novel on the shelves, the other day, and wondered what it was all about. Fantasy Book Critic must be telepathic as he's only gone and Reviewed the very book I was looking at!

Ken wonders how sci-fi writers will address the feeling of hope that has sprung up in the wake of the US presidential elections.

Jeff's blog is a great place to visit if you're looking for reviews on a specific title as he collects links to all the reviews of genre books that he can find. He's just Updated the index so go and check it out!

Tia takes a look at what author Laura Benedict is up to One Year Later...

Sandstorm Reviews looks at The Adamantine Palace by Stephen Deas. I'll be posting my review on Monday.

Blood of the Muse looks at Issue Three of a series that I've been thinking of picking up.

Hagelrat does two reviews in one day!

Kristen offers her thoughts on 'The Graveyard Book'.

Finally, Grasping for the Wind points us at some Free Fiction from Cory Doctorow.

What am I doing? Right now I'm alternating between John Scalzi's 'Zoe's Tale' (because it's been on the pile for far too long...) and R. Scott Bakker's 'The Judging Eye' (because when a great book comes through the door the reading pile just has to be patient and wait a little while longer...)

Have a great weekend! :o)

Friday, 7 November 2008

Giveaway! 'The Judging Eye' - R. Scott Bakker


I really enjoyed Bakker's 'Prince of Nothing' series so 'The Judging Eye' has felt like it's been a long time coming for me. A copy came through the post today and, all of a sudden, it looks like I might just have to do some 're-arranging' of the 'to read' pile... :o)

Thanks to the kindness of Overlook Press, I have three advance copies of 'The Judging Eye' that three lucky readers will be able to get their teeth into a little early (the book won't actually hit the shelves until January '09...)
Do you want to be one of the winners...?

If you do then it's the same old deal as far as entering goes. My email address is at the top right hand side of the screen, simply drop me a line telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. The mailing address bit is really important as I need to know where the book should go to if you win. If you don't give me your address then you don't get entered, simple as that... You also need to make it clear in the email header which competition you are entering.

I'm letting this one run until next Saturday evening (November 15th) and will announce the winners on the Sunday. This competition is open to US and UK residents only...

Good Luck!

News from Dark Horse Comics!



This has been blatantly copied and pasted from the press releases, it's Friday afternoon and some work that I thought I'd done has come back and bitten me in the rear when I wasn't looking...
Pulp comics sound like just my kind of thing (reading Conan right now) and new 'Terminator' comics can only be a good thing (especially if they're like 'Robocop versus Terminator'!)


Dark Horse to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Terminator with all new comics!

In 1990, at the start of the boom of licensed comics, Dark Horse began publishing Terminator. Now, on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the first Terminator film, Dark Horse is excited to announce the return of all new Terminator material for a whole new generation of fans!
With renewed interest in the property in both television and film, Dark Horse announced today its intent to begin creating new comics for release in conjunction with the film's silver anniversary in 2009.
Rand Marlis, President of Creative Licensing Corporation who represents all Terminator tie-ins, said ”I'm thrilled to be once again working with Dark Horse. They are a superb comic book company and really know the Terminator world. Our prior Dark Horse comics are classics and we look forward to more quality stories and art from the Dark Horse team."
Dark Horse president and publisher, Mike Richardson stated "We've had great success with the ongoing saga of Sarah and John Connor in the past, and the worldwide interest in Terminator has us eager to begin a brand new series picking up where we left off."
The publisher went on to say that the storyline is being developed and the creative team will be announced shortly.



ReelArt Studios Mixes It Up With Sequential Pulp Comics and signs Sales, Marketing and Distribution Deal With Dark Horse Comics

ReelArt Studios has carved out a place in the marketplace amongst of the top producers of collectable statues. Now, the company ventures to move into the publishing world, utilizing an already established relationship with one of comics' top brands.
ReelArt president, Michael Hudson came to Dark Horse with a proposal for a new imprint under the Dark Horse umbrella to transition well known pulp properties into traditional American comics. Fredric Brown's Martians Go Home and Otis Adelbert Kline's Swords of Venus will be the first two properties to receive this treatment. Both properties are licensed directly from the author's estates and will feature contribution from such industry stalwarts as Bruce Jones, Martin Powell, Mike Ploog, Eduardo Barreto and Thomas Yeates. Longtime comics writer and editor, Christopher Mills will serve as Sequential Pulp's Editor-in-.Chief.

The books will be released as full color 22 page stories on a bi-monthly basis. "Our plans at this time are to introduce our line in San Diego next year" states Michael Hudson (ReelaArt’s President). The books will be marketed by Dark Horse Comics as a specialty imprint in late 2009. In addition, Dark Horse Entertainment will represent these projects to Hollywood studios for big screen adaptation.

Dark Horse president Mike Richardson states, "Michael Hudson and ReelArt Studios have produced some of the finest products in the business. We've been very pleased with our existing relationship and are excited by the prospect of expanding our partnership to the printed page. Comic fans are going to see a slate of amazing original projects."