Saturday, 28 February 2009

Giveaway! 'Patient Zero' - Jonathan Maberry

It was way back in October, last year, that I Reviewed this tale of zombie terrorism for the twenty first century. To mark the US release of 'Patient Zero', St. Martin's Press have very kindly agreed to offer two books as prizes for two lucky winners (US entries only though I'm afraid...)

Entering this competition is as simple as... well... entering all the other competitions here! ;o) 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 mailing address is. I'll do the rest...

I'll let this one run until the eighth of March and announce winners on the ninth.

Good Luck!

Friday, 27 February 2009

Author Interview! Kate Griffin


It wasn't so long ago that I read and Reviewed Kate Griffin's 'A Madness of Angels' which turned out to be a very early contender for my favourite urban fantasy novel of 2009. I'm weighing it up against Mike Carey's 'Thicker than Water' right now to see which one wins...
Having read the book, I had some questions for Kate and she was kind enough to answer. Here's what Kate had to say...

Hi Kate. Thanks for agreeing to answer some questions, I really appreciate it.

Before we even talk about the book lets clear up a little mystery. The cover of ‘A Madness of Angels’ says that you’re Kate Griffin but Amazon tells me that you are in fact Catherine Webb, author of the ‘Horatio Lyle’ books. Are you more than one person?

I was born Catherine Webb; but since I started writing children's books as Catherine Webb back when the earth was young, and am now writing more adult fantasy, it turns out that I am also, simultaneously, Kate Griffin, my more mature incarnation! Honestly, it freaks me out a bit too. I am waiting with baited breath for the day I am thrown out of my own lecture for impersonating Kate Griffin when I clearly lack appropriate identification.

What was it like to make the transition from writing ‘Young Adult’ literature to ‘Adult’ literature? Was there a transition at all?

Well, sadly, I've been getting old. The council tax bill has flopped onto my doorstep, my Dad bought a bonsai tree when I moved out, and I have been informed that the age of responsibility is upon me. Which, plus side, made transitioning from writing young adult to adult much more easy, since I was kinda headed that way anyway! I still love writing young adult stuff, as it's hugely entertaining and fun to do, but adult writing was always kinda going to be on the cards.

If you had to pick one audience to write for exclusively would it be ‘Young Adult’ or Adult’ literature?

Argh! Um. I don't know. Um. I guess thinking long term it'd probably have to be adult, just because I'm not getting any younger. On the other hand, writing just for adult might keep me from getting any younger, so maybe I should head for young adult just to keep in the practice of youthful glee... um... can I have notice of that question?

London appears to have had a great influence on your work so far, was there anything else that formed the inspiration for ‘A Madness of Angels’?

Tonnes of stuff! I'm not entirely sure what, but I have the definite sneaky feeling that amazing things have been slowly sneaking into my field of vision and being quietly filed at the back of my brain for a rainy day. Tom Lehrer once said 'plagiarise! But always be sure to call it 'research'....' Which isn't just sound academic advice, but it's probably fair to say that every writer, if not everyone just generally, is constantly seeing stuff and not consciously making a note of it, but which will later come back to bite you. Reading a lot of books, watching a lot of films and so on have been major influences I guess, without really meaning it, but otherwise, I'm not sure where to begin...

I was asked to explain the concept of ‘Urban Magic’ to one of my readers. I didn’t do so well and I know that you’ll do a lot better! So, what is ‘Urban Magic’?

Ever since the days of Tolkein, there has been the assumption in fantasy writing that magic is about ancient mysteries, spells recited in Latin-esque derivatives, lost artefacts, unlocked secrets and unspeakable evils locked away by... my favourite word... 'ancients'. These mysterious, long-lost, dead forces from which all mystic power flows. Attached to this, there's also another assumption that magic is somehow a natural thing, invoked by druids and wizards with a thing for the alignment of the stars overhead.

Urban magic takes all this and turns it on its head. Magic isn't about an ancient lost mystery; it's a thing derived from life and the way life is lived. Since these days, 80% of the UK lives in a city, it is therefore logical that magic itself begins to reflect the environment around it. An urban Gandalf when he summons his magic light, will not summon a light the colour of moonlight; rather it is sodium-orange, the colour seen far more in the city than the moon ever is. An urban vampire will chose their supper very carefully from medically certified, Type-O blood, and be very sure to have a good NHS dentist. No longer do you summon ivy from the earth to tangle your enemies; you summon wires from concrete. No longer to you recite spells in mystic dead languages, the magic words of power are the words on the back of a travelcard, or the language used to send a text message.

This is a long explanation, I apologise. If I had to be succinct, I guess I would say that urban magic works on the premise that magic is created by life. And life, these days, is about the underground, the buses, the street lamps, the smell of Chinese take away and the footsteps you half-thought you could hear behind you in the empty car park, but which are gone when you look again.

For the benefit of readers who haven’t read the reviews yet, tell us what ‘A Madness of Angels’ is all about and why we should be reading it. Bonus points are on offer if you can do it in ten words or less...

Sorcery, vengeance, telephones, the London Underground and blue electric angels...

For me, life in London currently consists of the daily commute and eight hours in front of a desk. Tell me three places that I can visit, in London, which capture the spirit of ‘A Madness of Angels’ for you...

The River Thames, seen from Waterloo Bridge at night.

The alleys and streets between Liverpool Street to Guildhall on a dead, dead Sunday afternoon in the heart of the city, when no one else is moving and you can walk down the middle of the roads.

Canary Wharf on a Saturday when the sun is going down.

My review of ‘A Madness of Angels’ had only been up for day before someone mentioned a sequel due in September. What can you tell us about ‘The Midnight Mayor’?

The Midnight Mayor continues the story of Matthew Swift... without wanting to spoil too much, it involves a telephone call that he really shouldn't have answered and which will change his life forever, a pair of missing shoes, some very angry spectres with a penchant for heavy metal, the oldest and nastiest protectors that the city has and what they do when the sun goes down, and the unforeseen and unwise consequences of stealing the wrong women's hat.

Matthew Swift’s travels took him all over London but he always seemed to manage to avoid Lewisham. As a resident of Lewisham I can understand why he never visited (it’s not a particularly magical place) but I was a little sad that we got left out... Is there any chance that you can write in a quick Lewisham visit in a future book?

I should say in Swift's defence that he was violently sick in Streatham! But yes, as a north Londoner, South of the river is a strange and foreign place... however, now that I have actually visited Lewisham I will admit that it has its own magic... it's just not necessarily a very nice one...

That's a good point, I know exactly what you mean!

And finally, as the writer of an urban fantasy set in a major world city what would you say is the golden rule to follow for anyone who wants to do the same thing?

Walk EVERYWHERE.

Thanks Kate!

Thursday, 26 February 2009

‘Mechanicum’ – Graham McNeill (Black Library)


In the universe of the fortieth millennium there is only war, brutal and unrelenting, and this makes it the perfect scenario for Games Workshop’s ‘Warhammer 40,000’ war games. After all, the slogan “In the far future there is some war but, on the whole, people tend to get on really well with each other and hang out at barbecues instead” doesn’t have the same ring to it (although I could see ‘Warhammer Barbecue’ becoming a cult favourite in time...)
In all the wars documented in Warhammer history, none have been bloodier than when the Imperium of Mankind turned on itself in civil war. Under the influence of the forces of Chaos, Warmaster Horus took humanity to the brink of destruction in the final battle for Earth itself...
‘The Horus Heresy’ series documents the most important events of these tragic times and ‘Mechanicum’ tells the tale of how the civil war touched the weapons factories and forges of Mars...

Oldest of the Forge Worlds, Mars is home to the Adeptus Mechanicus; an organization dedicated to the rediscovery of ancient technology and its use in furthering the aims of the Imperium. It is also the main source of weapons and munitions for the Great Crusade to reunite Mankind.
All is not well on Mars however. Disagreements over doctrine threaten to split the hierarchy of the Mechanicum whilst mutterings grow against the Emperor and his plans for Mars. Centuries of rivalry between the Titan Legions (think huge robots bristling with weaponry and towering over all) are danger of becoming open warfare.
Just the kind of conditions for the cunning Warmaster Horus to exploit and gain a valuable ally in his war against the Emperor...

The biggest problem I had with ‘Mechanicum’ (and with the other ‘Horus Heresy’ books that I have read so far) is the fact that these aren’t so much stories as they are accounts of the history of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. If you know anything about this history at all (and I do, a little...) then you will know how it all ends. This lends a certain inevitability to the tale that robs proceedings of more than a little spontaneity and tension. If you don’t know your Warhammer history then this won’t be a problem at all, if you’re a hardcore fan then I reckon you’ll love digging into the minutiae of the conflict and not worry too much about the ending. There is plenty of minutiae to be found...

Mars is a simmering pot of feuds and hostility at the best of times and, over the course of the book, we get to see how this ultimately ends in bloodshed on an epic scale. There is also a real sense of tragedy that unfolds as we see people’s dreams of securing technology for the good of the Imperium crushed by those with less wholesome ambitions. With the emphasis on all out warfare, ‘crushing’ means just that. ‘Mechanicum’ has a death toll of billions...

There is some politicking but the book moves so quickly that you don’t really get much of a chance to find out what it’s all about. The bottom line is that sides are being formed and there is no neutral ground. When civil war arrives on Mars, the pace is picked up even more and battle is joined in a cacophony of explosions, Titans, traitors and death.
The action itself is very intense and I was left feeling that perhaps the book was aimed too obviously at its war gaming audience to appeal to the casual reader. There’s a lot of referring to ordinance only really familiar to regular gamers and, like I said, this is a ‘history’ that fans will get the most out of.

At the same time though there is something incredibly stirring about the images of gigantic Titans striding to war across the Martian landscape and facing down their enemies in ruined reactors and silos. The Knights of Taranis are much smaller in scale but their chivalrous approach is equally stirring and their final charge is well worth the price of admission.

‘Mechanicum’ is definitely one for the fans but it is a very entertaining read that anyone with a little ‘Warhammer History’ will get something out of. I’m already eager for ‘Tales of Heresy’, the next book in the series...

Eight out of Ten.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

‘Thicker Than Water’ – Mike Carey (Orbit)


When I first started out with the blog I tried to be really good and disciplined with the reading pile; switching between publishers/genre, making sure everyone got a fair turn, you know the kind of thing. As time went on however, all my good intentions went south in the worst way possible as I found myself reverting to the tried and tested method of ‘that looks good, I’ll try that next’... Even now I try to read books in the order that they’re sent (a hard enough task when you consider how long certain books have been in the pile, I might have to do a post about that...) but every so often a book comes along that blows my reading order right out of the water. Mike Carey’s latest instalment in his ‘Felix Castor’ series is one of those books and featured prominently in my mental list of ‘Books I’m looking forward to in 2009’.
Having read ‘Thicker Than Water’, I can tell you that it was well worth the wait. Fans of the series are really going to enjoy this one...

When the police knock on Felix Castor’s door his first thought is that his sins have finally caught up with him, one sin in particular... One trip to a South London housing estate later and Felix finds out that life still holds a few surprises for him. After all, it’s not every day that you find your own name painted in blood at a crime scene...
This is only the beginning though, the housing estate in the grip of an epidemic of violence too brutal to be anything other than supernaturally caused. Felix knows it and the Anathemata (exorcised militant wing of the Catholic Church) know it too. And what is Felix’ brother doing lurking in the shadows? Felix has some work to do before hell breaks loose. And then he finds that it already has...

I’ll be straight with you all; I’m a big fan of the ‘Felix Castor’ series so you may just want to have a pinch of salt handy to take with everything I say. The bottom line though is that I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Thicker Than Water’ and if you’re a fan then I reckon you will too. If you’re a fan of intelligently written urban fantasy and haven’t picked this series up yet then do yourself a favour, get yourself a copy of ‘The Devil You Know’ and get reading.

Right from the very opening paragraph, Mike Carey takes us on a dark journey through the seamier sides of London, Felix Castor’s head and Hell itself. While I can’t vouch for the descriptions of Hell (tantalisingly few), I’ve worked in the Elephant & Castle area of London and Carey’s description of it is spot on. It’s not somewhere you want to be at all, let alone live there...

The story itself is one hell of a ride, just not the one that you might expect. Given Castor’s line of business and his attitude towards it (freelance exorcist who likes to get all the facts before he takes any action) the plot inevitably throws up lots of questions that are answered over the course of the book. Think carefully before congratulating yourself on having worked it all out, everything fits together perfectly but nothing is quite as it seems... All credit to Carey for tying everything together in a conclusion that is explosive on more than one level. I was left shaking my head, in awe, by the end of it all.
Carey also starts to let some pretty big hints drop about the plot arc that has been running for four books now. It’s hard to say too much about it without giving it all away but what I can say is that it will shift everything into a whole new perspective and give Castor some real food for thought.

Castor himself doesn’t really change as a character (from the last three books) and I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing. In a sense he doesn’t really need to change at all. The series, so far, has been more about the dangers he faces rather than how he develops as a character and that’s not a bad thing in itself. Castor is a well rounded character, with plenty going on already, and this frees up time to concentrate on threats posed by the plot. There’s also the promise of things to come, in the next book, which will force Castor to change his outlook. The promise of momentous things to come balances out the fact that Castor hasn’t really changed at all and yet, at the same time, there is a hint of stagnation that dragged things down ever so slightly for me. Having said that though, if you’re reading an ‘urban fantasy noir’ tale though, you should expect certain rules to be adhered to...

This is only a very small niggle though. ‘Thicker Than Water’ more than meets the standards set by its predecessors and promises great things to come. I’m going to be around to see them happen!

Nine and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

‘Caligula’ – Douglas Jackson (Corgi)


Is it me or were all the Emperors of Ancient Rome more than a little bit mad? It’s a well known fact around here that I never paid an awful lot of attention to my history lessons but I did watch loads of Sunday afternoon films (you know the ones) and they were chock full of Roman Emperors letting the power go to their heads and killing people in lots of new and interesting ways.
Nero’s name is always the first name out of the hat when it comes to mad Roman Emperors but Caligula is definitely up there as well. One of my New Year’s resolutions for the blog was to shake up my reading a little bit and read more historical fiction (so long as it has plenty of sword fighting etc, like a fantasy novel but full of stuff that actually happened...) and Douglas Jackson’s ‘Caligula’ came along at just the right time...

Rufus is a young slave who believes that his luck has changed for the better, training animals for the gladiatorial games under a master who has promised to free Rufus and make him a partner in the business. However, luck can change the other way just as quickly and Rufus suddenly finds himself looking after the Emperor’s elephant. Life at the Imperial Court is dictated by the Emperor’s ever changing moods and his constant fear that people are plotting against him. This paranoia is not misplaced though. There are at least two plots to kill Caligula and Rufus is about to become embroiled in both of them. In a court where something as innocuous as a look can be seen as a sign of treachery can Rufus play both sides and escape with his life?

I’ve said it before and it’s worth saying again; I’ve pretty much forgotten what I learnt in my history lessons so can’t really comment upon how historically accurate ‘Caligula’ is. Jackson writes confidently though and doesn’t make many references to historical events, suggesting that he knows what he’s on about (and feels that he doesn’t need to overdo it in this regard) and is happy to let the story take centre stage.

The story itself is a mixture of full on bone crunching action, in the arena, and subtle machinations in court leading up to a bloody conclusion. While the emphasis is on physical confrontation and armed combat things move along at great speed and I completely got into what was happening on the page. Jackson isn’t one for leaving out any details, be warned though that this is also applied to some of the more unfortunate beatings that minor characters must suffer... These passages are perhaps best not read while you’re eating! Jackson has the ability to keep things running smoothly, keeping the reader’s interest in the meantime.

It’s a shame then that this isn’t the case when the plot shifts into the Imperial Palace. Scheming and plotting are the order of the day, with a long game being played by all sides and everything dependant on what mood the Emperor is in at any one time. This slow patient approach, on the part of the players, really slows things down and can be very annoying considering that certain characters are particularly good at hiding their motivations. At times I was left with no idea what was going on, only the knowledge that everything turned out ok in the end...

It’s a good thing then that the main characters are accessible and have plenty to recommend them to the reader. Rufus’ progression from naive slave to player of the game of intrigue (still a slave though) is compelling and we get to see how personal tragedy shapes his development. The gladiator Cupido is also a good character to spend time around as well, his internal conflict between honour and doing the right thing is an ongoing theme and ends in the only way such a conflict can.

‘Caligula’ is rather a ‘stop start’ affair but enjoyable nevertheless. There are hints that we might see more of Rufus in future books, I’d certainly be interested in seeing where his story takes him next.

Seven and a Quarter out of Ten

Monday, 23 February 2009

‘The Graveyard Book’ – Neil Gaiman (Bloomsbury)


Ever since I read ‘Good Omens’, back in high school, I knew that Neil Gaiman was an author worth keeping an eye out for. In a strange twist of irony, ‘Good Omens’ would be the only book of his that I ever managed to find until a few years ago when I picked up ‘Neverwhere’ and never looked back. There’s something magical about Neil Gaiman’s work that would take a post all of it’s own to really get into, maybe I’ll do that another time...
In the meantime though, this post is all about Gaiman’s latest book for children, ‘The Graveyard Book’. I read this in one sitting over the weekend which says good things about the book as far as I was concerned! It didn’t quite hit the heady heights of some of his earlier books though. Not everything that Neil Gaiman touches turns to gold but ‘The Graveyard Book’ still manages to shine though...

Nobody Owens (Bod) is a boy much like any other. He has parents who love him, friends to play with and school to go to. The only difference (and it’s a big one) is that Bod is a boy growing up in a graveyard. Bod may still be alive but his adopted parents are not and neither are the rest of the occupants of the graveyard (not surprising really), his guardian is neither alive nor dead... The man who is trying to kill Bod (and did kill his real family) is very much alive however, Bod may not be alive for much longer unless he can use every trick he has learnt in the graveyard...

Neil Gaiman is very up front in acknowledging his debt to Rudyard Kipling over the inspiration for ‘The Graveyard Book’. The influence of ‘The Jungle Book’ is very apparent so I don’t suppose that Gaiman had a lot of choice really, fair play to him for being honest.
The problem I had though was that it felt to me that ‘The Jungle Book’ was an influence that weighed a little too heavily on Gaiman’s work, almost to the point where it didn’t let the story breathe. Gaiman puts a great spin on the original concept and tells a great story at the same time (more on that in a bit) but I kept finding myself thinking, ‘this is The Jungle Book in a graveyard’ while I was reading it. I know that’s the point of the book it felt a little too overdone for me. If you haven’t read, or seen, ‘The Jungle Book’, then obviously this wouldn’t be a problem at all.

The episodic structure of the book also felt a little bit disjointed to me. While it was a great way of introducing readers to the secrets of the graveyard it sometimes felt to me that there wasn’t an awful lot connecting the chapters until right at the end of the book. They felt very self contained and didn’t really flow well into one another as far as I was concerned... Having said that though, if ‘The Graveyard Book’ had been marketed as a short story collection it would have worked just fine...

Now all this may sound like I didn’t really think that much of ‘The Graveyard Book’ but (like I said earlier) I finished it off in one sitting and had a great time doing so. The book may feel a little disjointed but Gaiman still manages to tell a riveting story full of characters that I found myself wanting to get to know more and more (even the villain Jack). Bod’s journey through his formative years is funny and touching all at the same time, especially when you take into account the fact that he is being raised by ghosts that are hundreds of years dead and don’t have the first idea of what to do with a human child.
The graveyard itself is beautifully drawn with plenty of ivy and crumbling headstones to leave the reader in no doubt that graveyards can be really beautiful places. They can be dangerous places as well and Bod will find this out during the course of the book...

‘The Graveyard Book’ doesn’t come close to dislodging any of my favourite Gaiman books from their perch but I had a great time reading it nevertheless. It’s not without it’s faults but it’s still a good reminder of just how great a storyteller Neil Gaiman is.

Eight out of Ten

More Competition Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered the 'Hater' and 'Abaddon Books' competitions last week. There could only be three winners though and they were...

'Hater'
Donna Locklin, Belton, Texas
Jeff Shibley, La Verne, California

'Abaddon Books Pack'
Matt Dray, Ashford, Kent, UK

You've got some quality reading ahead of you guys, hope you enjoy it!

Better luck next time everyone else...

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Graeme’s Retro Classics! ‘Them!’ (1954)



I can’t really remember much from my history lessons but it’s fairly safe to assume that the nineteen fifties was, in part, a time where people were waking up to what it meant to have countries armed with nuclear weapons and ready to use them if they had to.
Hollywood was also well aware of what the nuclear age was all about, at least as far as radioactively mutated giant ants went…

The deserts of New Mexico are suddenly the scenes of strange crimes that have the police baffled. Unseen assailants ransack the local general store, the corpse of the storekeeper is filled with enough formic acid to kill twenty men… A shell shocked little girl is the only survivor of her family, all she can say is “Them…”
Atomic bomb testing has spawned a new race of giant ants hungry for meat (and sugar, they love their sugar!) and the authorities must stop them before they can breed and spread. The original nest is destroyed but two queen ants hatch and escape, where could they be? The race is on to find them before the human race becomes an endangered species…

Some people might say that ‘Them!’ is a cautionary tale about the perils of the atomic bomb. I had a tutor at college who would have said that ‘Them!’ is a film about America’s policy of isolationism and mistrust of foreigners, especially after the Second World War and the onset of the Cold War. I say that ‘Them!’ is a very cool film where the US military goes up against giant ants that are surprisingly well done for a film made in 1954. Sometimes what you see is what you get, deal with it people! :o)



For what is essentially a silly concept (its giant ants!) ‘Them!’ takes itself very seriously and that is where its charm is found. There’s nothing tongue in cheek about this film at all and this makes the stakes seem even higher. It even has it’s very own ‘mad scientist’ (Edmund Gwenn as Doctor Harold Medford) who does a great job of keeping a straight face whilst delivering prophecies of doom for humanity. He also has a great line in wanting to get to the front line and study the ants, whilst battles are raging, with no thought to his own safety. This is true mad scientist material! I particularly loved the moment where Medford sits all the army chiefs down and shows them a film about common garden ants so they can get an idea of what they’re up against!

In a film populated with honest cops, square jawed FBI agents and a feisty scientist’s daughter (not forgetting our man Dr. Medford himself) it’s the ants who steal the show and quite rightly so. There are only ever two or three ants on screen at any one time but it always seems like there are so many more, especially when they creep behind people who are not expecting it… The best example of this is when a nest of giant ants is found on a ship at sea. Only two ants are used but really tight camera work helps give the impression that the entire ship has been overrun and the crewmen are battling for their lives.
The final battle, in the storm drains underneath Los Angeles is handled in a similar fashion and also makes for some tense viewing.

In an age where ‘old classics’ are constantly being re-worked for a modern audience I'm actually quite surprised that no-one has taken up the option to rework ‘Them!’ I reckon it could work really well, I’ve been watching ‘Cloverfield’ (finally) over the last couple of days and I think a ‘Them!’ remake would be a lot better! :o)
In the meantime, keep an eye out for this one on Amazon, it’s really cheap and well worth a look…

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Giveaway! 'Thicker Than Water' (Mike Carey)


'Thicker Than Water' is one of my most anticipated releases of 2009 and it's a fairly safe bet that I'm probably reading the book while you're reading this post! ;o)
Here's the blurb from Amazon...

Old ghosts of different kinds come back to haunt Fix, in the fourth gripping Felix Castor novel. Names and faces he thought he'd left behind in Liverpool resurface in London, bringing Castor far more trouble than he'd anticipated. Childhood memories, family traumas, sins old and new, and a council estate that was meant to be a modern utopia until it turned into something like hell ...these are just some of the sticks life uses to beat Felix Castor with as things go from bad to worse for London's favourite freelance exorcist. See, Castor's stepped over the line this time, and he knows he'll have to pay; the only question is: how much? Not the best of times, then, for an unwelcome confrontation with his holier-than-thou brother, Matthew. And just when he thinks things can't possibly get any worse, along comes Father Gwillam and the Anathemata. Oh joy ...

Sounds good :o) How do you fancy winning a copy?

Thanks to Orbit, I have three copies of 'Thicker Than Water' to give away (UK and Europe only though, sorry about that...) If you want to be in with a chance then all you need to do is send me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. It's that simple :o)

I'll let this one run until the 1st of March(next Sunday) and announce the winners on the 2nd...

Good Luck!

Friday, 20 February 2009

‘Knights of Dark Renown’ – David Gemmell (Orbit)


My David Gemmell reading adventure continues! While the plan is still to revisit some old favourites I’ve also been looking to get into some of his books that I’ve never read before. Gemmell’s back catalogue is impressively large so there’s no danger of me not achieving this aim! Some readers have also suggested that I try looking at stuff outside Gemmell’s well known ‘Drenai’ universe. ‘Knights of Dark Renown’ ticked both boxes here, a book that I hadn’t read before and one set outside the lands of the Drenai (although I did wonder if there were any connections, more to do with the feel of the book than anything actually mentioned). It also had metallic shiny dogs on the front cover, a move that seemed designed with the specific aim of getting me reading. What? I like shiny stuff...
It was a shame then that what was inside the covers wasn’t quite so shiny...

Six years ago, eight of the nine legendary knights of the Gabala rode through a demon haunted gate between worlds. They haven’t been seen since and the remaining knight who didn’t go (Manannan, the Coward Knight) has been seeking some kind of redemption in the meantime. The clouds of war gather over the lands of the Nine Duchies and Manannan must ride to the Forest of the Ocean and face his darkest fear. The only hope for the land is if the eight Gabala knights can be found and returned to the Nine Duchies to face down the threat. Manannan must ride through the very gate that he backed away from all those years ago, what he finds there will tear his soul apart...

On the surface, ‘Knights of Dark Renown’ is a David Gemmell book much like any other and this is most definitely a good thing. Gemmell doesn’t give much background history away but what he does do is give his reader is a sumptuous setting for his characters to play against. ‘Knights of Dark Renown’ is a novel full of lush forests, soaring castles and dank evil lairs. If this book was a film then it would shown in Technicolor, everything’s a little too vivid but it’s fun to dive into anyway.

‘Knights of Dark Renown’ also follows ‘standard Gemmell practice’ in that it’s a book full of heroism and valour. Redemption features high on the agenda and so do heroic last stands, characters searching for meaning and romance found in places where it’s least expected. Combine this with Gemmell’s trademark full blooded combat scenes and you have a book that rattles along at a fast pace. These are recurring themes in all of Gemmell’s books and I’ve gone from being tired of these to appreciating that they must have been important to Gemmell for him to have written about them at great length. It’s his treatment of these themes that made this particular book a bit of a let down for me...

In David Gemmell’s books you will more often than not find at least one character that will either overcome extreme cowardice or find a speck of goodness (in an evil soul) that enables them to realise their potential and become the hero that the book demands. When it’s a case of one or two characters getting this treatment then there is plenty of time for the reader to really get to know the character and follow them on their journey.
‘Knights of Dark Renown’ suffers in that Gemmell decides that a whole clutch of main characters have similar journeys to make. No one can be denied a chance at redemption or heroism as far as he is concerned. I think he has a good point but the end result is that there isn’t enough room in the book (which is only four hundred pages long) to properly get to grips with each character and what they go through. This left me feeling that the book was (unintentionally) watered down and not as intense as it could have been.

This knocked a pretty big hole in the book for me personally (I just kept thinking that this could have been so much more) but ‘Knights of Dark Renown’ remains a book that hit the spot in all the other areas. It wouldn’t make my list of ‘Favourite David Gemmell Books’ but did make for a nice way to pass the time on the morning commute.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Teaser Trailer for Giles Kristian's 'Raven'


At the end of last year I Reviewed Giles Kristian's 'Raven' and thought it was a very entertaining read indeed. 'Raven's' release date is almost upon us and Giles sent me a link to the teaser trailer that has just been released. I'm doing this from work so you don't get the embedded youtube thingy I'm afraid. You do get the link though and Here it is. Enjoy!

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Author Interview! David Moody

As soon as I finished reading 'Hater' I was full of questions about the book. Luckily for me, David was kind enough to answer these questions for me. Here's what he had to say...



Hi David! Thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions for the blog, I really appreciate it.

1)You’ve made a name for yourself writing apocalyptic fiction of either the zombie (‘Autumn’) or lunatic psycho (‘Hater’) kind. Having spent so much time writing about the fallout of such events I refuse to believe that you don’t have a backup plan ready in case zombies infest your home town. Would you care to share this plan? What would you do if zombies were trying to break down your door?

It’s so weird... I do find myself thinking about the end of the world with alarming regularity, so much so that I’ve even found myself putting a few extra items in the shopping trolley each week ‘just in case’! Given the way the world’s heading right now, it doesn’t seem too far-fetched to think that we might be facing Armageddon sooner than we think! In reality though, if zombies did invade my home town, I know exactly what I’d do. I live literally on the edge of a city; plastic and concrete on one side, rolling fields on the other. I’d pack up the family and get as far away from civilization as I could. I’m not telling you where I’d go. Imagine that... the unthinkable happens and I head to my safe-haven only to find it already taken by readers of your blog!

2)Talking of the ‘Autumn’ series, I hear that these have now been acquired for publication by Thomas Dunne books. Will there be any changes to the original material? How excited are you about the prospect of these books reaching a new audience? (I loved the downloadable versions by the way. There has been many a time, in a job that I no longer do, where my manager thought I was reviewing documentation. If only he knew...)

I’m absolutely thrilled that the ‘Autumn’ books are going to be available to a wider audience. I’m proud of the concept and each of the novels. It’s great to have been able to put a new spin on such a tried and tested staple of countless horror movies and books. The books will be given a ‘spring clean’ and tidied up and yes, there will be some changes from the original releases. I’m hoping to substantially expand ‘Autumn: The Human Condition’ which I’ve described as ‘part-guide book, part companion to the end of the world’. I want to add a few more short stories, some of which might finally help explain what caused billions of people to drop dead unexpectedly! Also, there will be the first release of ‘Autumn: Disintegration’, the fifth book which I finished writing literally days before offers were made to me for the series. It’s a novel which I’m very pleased with and I’m looking forward to getting it out!

3)Back to ‘Hater’, what gave you the inspiration to write a book where people suddenly turn on their friends/neighbours and kill them?

I’d always had an idea for a story which involved the human race ‘splitting’. I wanted to examine the impact that would have if people were forced to take a side, rather than choosing to. Originally, I’d planned for half of the population to become physically repulsive to the other! But then, in July 2005, I saw footage of the London suicide bombers which chilled me to the core. Incredibly, one of them was a classroom assistant in a primary school. I couldn’t believe how someone could have such a positive, important and trustworthy job, and then, literally days later, be on the Underground with a bomb strapped to their back, ready to kill as many people as possible. Those two themes combined were really the genesis of Hater.

4)While you don’t really say what causes someone to become a Hater, it’s clear that characters in the book walk a knife edge where they could turn at any time. Do you think that people have that capacity to turn in an instant or is this just something that you came up with for the book?

It’s very much a plot device! But then again, I do think that in today’s society people are constantly pushed, sometimes to the limit. And yes, we’ve probably all got a pressure point that, once reached, will force us to blow. Many people joke about the way the British often find it difficult to express their true emotions. Do you know what I mean? If we’re really, really, really angry about something, we’ll often mutter under our breath then go home and write a letter of complaint about whatever’s happened. In the book the Haters are able to act without any concern or remorse... they feel unrestricted and free.



5)You paint a pretty grim picture of civilisation crumbling under an onslaught of ‘Haters’. Do you think this would be the case in real life or do you have faith that humanity is made of sterner stuff and would cope better?

I do hope that we’d cope better if such a situation arose, but I don’t know. The speed of the breakdown in Hater is due to several factors; firstly, it’s impossible to differentiate ‘us’ from ‘them’ so everyone is under suspicion. Secondly, because this breakdown happens at a personal, individual level, it’s impossible to police – you’ve got literally millions of individual battles being fought simultaneously. Finally, the scope of the ‘condition’ means that anyone can be affected, from the youngest child to the Prime Minister and everyone in between. So the police, the armed forces, the government and every other organisation that’s there to protect us is on its knees like everyone else.

6)When you emailed me, you mentioned that you deliberately don’t use genuine places or landmarks (in response to a point I raised in my review). Why is this? If you ever change your mind I can think of a few places...

Again, that’s something I do for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’d like to think that my books will last and that they’ll be read for years, so I deliberately don’t tie myself down to specific places that might change or make reference to landmarks which might disappear. Secondly, I think most writers write what they know about and inevitably there are echoes of my life in all the books I write. They’re often set in places I know and characters sometimes have traits belonging to people I’ve met. I guess what I’m saying is names are changed to protect the innocent!

7)Over the course of ‘Hater’ you provide little breaks from the main plot where you show various people (from all walks of life) becoming Haters. In terms of the violence you portray (and who it was happening to) did you find any of these scenes harder to write than others? Were there any scenes that you (or your editor) felt were too violent for the book?

It sometimes worries me when I look back at some of the things I’ve written but no, there’s nothing I’ve found hard to write and nothing that didn’t make the final edit. That said, I deliberately wrote the violent scenes in a very matter-of-fact way and tried not to sensationalise. To the Haters, the things they are doing are normal and necessary. It worries me going forward, because book two in the series in particular is relentlessly and necessarily violent as the war between the Haters and the ‘Unchanged’ intensifies. I think, however, that this is what would happen. It’s like fighting fire with fire; the reaction of the side under attack in the circumstances I describe is to try and hit their attackers harder than they’re hitting them.

8)You’ve sold the film rights, for ‘Hater’, to Guillermo del Toro. How did it feel closing a deal like that? Is there anything you can tell us about when we might get to see the film?

I still find it hard to believe that Guillermo del Toro and J A Bayona are involved in the project! It might sound clich├ęd, but it really is a dream come true. I’ve followed del Toro’s films since ‘Cronos’ and he’s long been a hero of mine. And I was completely blown away by ‘The Orphanage’; I can’t wait to see what Bayona does with the story. I don’t know when the film will be released. They’re in pre-production right now, still working on the script I understand.

9)For those who haven’t read the reviews etc, tell us why we should all be reading ‘Hater’. Oh, I forgot to say that you’ve only got ten words to do it in. I’ll buy you a drink if you can do it in fewer than five!

I’ve struggled with this one! So here’s a compromise – five(ish) unconnected words which describe the book:

Relentless, uncomfortable, bloody, thought-provoking, plausible.

10)I'll buy you that drink! ‘Hater’ is the first book in a trilogy. Is there anything that you’d like to tell us about the sequel ‘Dog Blood’?

It’s difficult to say too much about ‘Dog Blood’ without giving away the ending of the first book. Suffice to say, as ‘Hater’ becomes more intense page by page, the emotions and action continue to increase throughout the second book! Both sides, the Haters and the Unchanged, understand that they cannot coexist. It’s a question of which side can wipe the other out first!

11)And finally, for any readers who have been bitten by the bug and fancy writing a similar book, what would you say is the golden rule that you must stick to when writing a book like this?

There are no golden rules, I genuinely believe that. Perhaps the only thing I would say is that, with a book like Hater, there’s a heck of a lot of violence and generally unpleasant things happening with alarming regularity! Every drop of blood that’s spilt, however, every bone that’s broken and every life that’s taken... all these things are completely integral to the plot. Violence which just exists for violence’s sake, to my mind, is a real turn-off. It’s easy for an author to lose their audience by trying to shock instead of telling their story.

Thanks for your time David, I really appreciate it!

It’s a pleasure! Thanks Graeme!

Check out David Moody's website Here.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

‘The Ninth Circle’ – Alex Bell (Gollancz)


Books aren’t just there to be signed by the author; you have to read them as well. Sometimes I forget this... I went to the Gollancz multi-author signing, the other week, with every intention of being good and not buying too many books. The lure of Alex Bell’s hat proved too strong though and before I knew it I was paying for a signed copy of ‘The Ninth Circle’. Believe it or not, I have purchased books for even more ridiculous reasons in the past...
I then managed to completely forget that the book was even in the pile until last weekend when I saw it giving me a reproachful look. Feeling rather guilty, I decided to give ‘The Ninth Circle’ a go that very instant! Not only was I glad that I did, I also found myself wishing that I had picked it up sooner...

A man regains consciousness on the floor of a shabby flat, he has no idea what led to his head being stuck to the floor by his own blood and he certainly has no idea why there is an enormous pile of cash on the kitchen table. As time passes he finds that he is in Budapest and that he has abilities (going without food or sleep for days at a time, fighting with extraordinary prowess) that make the mystery of his past even more compelling. He is also beginning to experience visions and even his dreams are not safe from the burning man who is trying to tell him something. What is this message? Our hero may have discovered what his name is but there are so many more questions that need answering and time is running out...

‘The Ninth Circle’ is a clever tale full of twists and turns that drew me in before I even realised what was happening. One minute I was starting the book and the next thing I knew I was halfway through and trying to puzzle out what was going on at the same time as Gabriel (our hero). For every answer that the reader is given, Bell gives us at least two more questions and this approach keeps the suspense on a constant high as well as giving us the best possible reason to keep reading. There is a constant stream of misinformation, to go with the clues and the author should take a lot of credit for tying off all the loose ends by the time the tale comes to a close. While you may guess how it will turn out (regarding the question of Gabriel’s identity) there is still plenty to keep you hanging as the truth behind Gabriel’s visions comes to a gripping conclusion. This is the real cliff-hanger and it is worth sticking around for.

All of this is set against a Budapest that looms over the plot and adds a brooding atmosphere to a tale that is already steeped in gloom. I found myself wondering if a little too much attention was paid to the background setting at times; especially as the book itself is only two hundred and sixty four pages long. Sometimes it felt like there wasn’t much room for the story itself to breathe but, on the whole, a good balance seemed to be struck.

‘The Ninth Circle’ is all about Gabriel and his quest for the truth behind the amnesia that he is afflicted with. Bell does a very good job of showing us Gabriel’s state of mind and how it develops over the course of the book. As each little clue is solved, pieces of the puzzle begin to fit together (although sometimes they don’t fit at all and that’s where the twists are) we get to see how Gabriel copes with each development. Elements of paranoia and determination combine to paint a picture of a man under intense pressure but with reserves of strength that he is yet to discover.

‘The Ninth Circle’ is a deceptively short read that offers it’s readers more to chew on than a book twice it’s size. The eventual outcome is well worth the price of admission and offers a tantalising hint that we may not have seen the last of Gabriel after all...

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

‘Hater’ – David Moody (St. Martin’s Press)


We’ve all had days where we feel like the whole world is out to get us haven’t we? I’ll bet that you won’t have to think too hard before you remember the last time you felt like this! I felt like it yesterday at work…
And here’s the thing, most of the time we can tell ourselves that it’s sheer dumb luck (chance, fate, whatever) conspiring to throw up a whole load of random events that will come together to make a regular day stress inducing and torturous. It’s hard to get through days like this but when it’s done we can see it for what it is and hope that tomorrow is better.
What if the whole world was out to get you though? What if all the feelings that you dismiss as paranoia are actually true? What if the only way to get past this was to fight? What if that fight was to the death…?

A regional manager stabs an eighty-five year-old woman to death with his umbrella. A schoolgirl suddenly attacks and kills her best friend. A labourer bludgeons a woman to death with a lump hammer. These incidents are not isolated, they’re happening all over the country… Christened ‘Haters’ by the media, the only way to tell if someone is afflicted is when they attack you without warning. Anyone could be a Hater…
As the country goes into meltdown Danny McCoyne must make the step up from being a slacker to being a man who can protect his family from a menace that could strike from anywhere and at any time…

‘Hater’ only weighs in at a modest two hundred and eighty one pages but it could have been two (or even three) times the length and I would still have polished it off in one sitting. It was that intense and that gripping.
You can tell from the length of the book that Moody isn’t one to waste words and reading the tale itself confirms this. This isn’t a book ruled by speculation about what causes the Haters to hate (although there is a little discussion of this), it’s a book that tells its reader what’s happening right here and right now. It doesn’t shy away from getting right in your face and giving you the full bloody details either… Be warned that Moody doesn’t want to waste time taking into account the fact that his readers might have weak stomachs (I really felt for the guy who had his vasectomy interrupted!), he has a story to tell…

This approach really helps to give the reader a picture of a country slowly grinding to a halt under the weight of paranoia, fear and the possibility that the person right next to you could suddenly become a ravening psycho. The book charts the course of events over one week and this tight time scale serves to emphasise how quickly the meltdown takes place and the effect that this has on the populace.
Moody also opens each chapter with a moment where someone becomes a ‘Hater’ and sometimes it isn’t the person that you expect... This is another clever device that serves to build up the tension, you may come to expect a death in these passages but there’s usually a twist and the sheer savagery involved will leave you gasping!

The only issue I had was that I had trouble getting a sense of where the book was actually set. Everything seemed to scream ‘typical English city’, right down to the council offices and housing, but every so often references would be made to American things such as the ‘grades’ that children were in at school. This is only a small issue but did stop me getting really grounded in the story itself.

‘Hater’ is a book that strings out the tension until you can’t bear it then throws you to the ground and gives you a good kicking. When you see what happens to the people in the book you’ll be glad that a kicking is all you got...
Visceral, intense and highly recommended by me.

Nine and a Half out of Ten

P.S. I'm not quite sure of the publication date but if you're looking for a UK copy then Gollancz are the people who are publishing it.

Jasper Kent's 'Twelve' - Videos and a reminder for me...

Jasper Kent (author of 'Twelve') has posted two videos about the book on Youtube.
Here's the video version of the Flash introduction to his website...



And here's a video of Jasper talking about the book itself,



If you haven't read the book already, here's the blurb from Amazon...

On 12th June 1812, Napoleon's massive grande armee forded the River Niemen and so crossed the Rubicon - its invasion of Russia had begun. In the face of superior numbers and tactics, the imperial Russian army began its retreat. But a handful of Russian officers - veterans of Borodino - are charged with trying to slow the enemy's inexorable march on Moscow. Indeed, one of their number has already set the wheels of resistance in motion, having summoned the help of a band of mercenaries from the outermost fringes of Christian Europe.Comparing them to the once-feared Russian secret police - the Oprichniki - the name sticks. As rumours of plague travelling west from the Black Sea reach the Russians, the Oprichniki - but twelve in number - arrive. Preferring to work alone, and at night, the twelve prove brutally, shockingly effective against the French. But one amongst the Russians, Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov, is unnerved by the Oprichniki's ruthlessness...as he comes to understand the true, horrific nature of these strangers, he wonders at the nightmare they've unleashed in their midst...Full of authentic historical detail and heart-stopping supernatural moments, and boasting a page-turning narrative, "Twelve" is storytelling at its most original and exciting.


Thanks to Liz for sending me the links! This book has been sat on the pile for a little too long now, I'll be bumping this one up and reading it in the next week or so...

Monday, 16 February 2009

‘Outcast (Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi)’ – Aaron Allston (Del Rey)


It was about the time that I started running out of shelf space, in our old flat, that I realised it was time to stop collecting Star Wars books. Not only that but a large number of the Star Wars books I’d already got weren’t that good (‘Planet of Twilight’ and ‘Darksaber’, I’m looking at you in particular)... As time went on (and the number of published Star Wars books grew) I just knew that there was no way back, there was too much continuity to catch up on and it wasn’t as if I didn’t have other things to be doing in the meantime. At least I had the films to watch...
Karen Traviss’ ‘Clone Commandoes’ books completely changed my way of thinking last year (they’re really good, check them out) and I found myself wondering if it was time to give the Star Wars series a go again. ‘Outcast’ (to be published by Del Rey on March 24th) seemed like a great place to start as it is the beginning of the new ‘Fate of the Jedi’ series and the best place to start is always at the beginning, right? Well, maybe not in this case...

A violent civil war has just come to end and Darth Caedus is now dead. The galaxy is slowly recovering and a bewildered populace is looking for people to blame. Given the nature of Caedus’ rise to power, the Jedi are an easy target... In a shocking move, Luke Skywalker is arrested for failing to prevent the rise of the Sith Lord at the same time as a prominent Jedi suffers a psychotic breakdown and goes on the rampage. The citizens of the galaxy now have more than one reason to doubt the Jedi and in order to safeguard their reputation (and the Jedi’s future) Luke Skywalker will go into exile from Coruscant. There will be no return until Luke can uncover why one of his own family turned to the dark side of the force and that he can prevent such a thing from ever happening again...

If you’re anything like me then you just read this blurb and thought, “Violent civil war? Darth Who?” The simple fact is that, despite some background filling in; ‘Outcast’ is definitely not the place to start for anyone picking up a Star Wars book for the first time or for those looking to get back into the swing of things. At the very least, you probably need to have read the ‘Legacy of the Force’ series first and probably the ‘Yuuzhan Vong’ books (can’t remember the actual name of the series) as well. Failing that, Wikipedia could very well be your friend... ;o)

To be fair though, while ‘Outcast’ isn’t the easiest of books to get straight into there are enough familiar faces to make things a little bit easier going. In a sense, it’s very much a case of the story not mattering so much as we get to see Han, Leia and Luke back to doing what they do best; namely solving mysteries and fighting off the scum of the universe whilst making wry comments along the way.
It’s also interesting to see how these characters (and the galaxy as a whole) have grown and developed since they first appeared in Star Wars. It’s a measure of how long lived the franchise has been that yesterdays Imperial villains are now today’s Alliance bureaucrats and politicians. However, after reading ‘Outcast’ I was left wondering how much swashbuckling Luke et al have left in them. Like I said, the overall story has been running for years now and surely there’s only so many times that you can have the same characters doing the same things...

The story itself is full of these swashbuckling exploits but I couldn’t help but feel that a lot of these were written in to cover over the fact that ‘Outcast’ is the opening shot in a nine book sequence and (as a result) the plot is more about setting events up than things actually happening. This is another reason why you really need to have read the ‘Legacy’ series before starting on ‘Outcast’. If you’ve already ploughed your way through one multi-author series then you’ll know what to expect with this one!
While there is some attempt to cut the Jedi down to size in this book, they’re still too resourceful and all powerful to be kept down for long. This makes for some exciting moments but has the unfortunate side effect of robbing the book of its tension. Questions may be asked but the book then goes and answers them too quickly, ‘the Jedi will sort everything out...’
Being the first book in the series, a lot is left deliberately vague in ‘Outcast’ and these questions will more than likely be answered in later books. There is some attempt to give the book a stand alone feel but this is done through a ‘trip to Kessel’ sub plot that didn’t seem to have anything to do with the rest of the book at all. This left things feeling a bit disjointed to me...

‘Outcast’ took me back to a familiar setting, with familiar characters, but what I felt was missing was a fresh burst of energy that would take the book out of it’s comfort zone and really get things moving. I know that characters have been killed off in previous books but the main characters are all still there and this leaves things feeling a little too... safe. ‘Outcast’ was missing that sense of urgency that would have made it a really gripping read; you just know that nothing’s going to stop Luke and the rest of the gang...
Having said that though, I’ll more than likely be back for the next book to see how that one goes. It is Star Wars after all... ;o)

Six and a Half out of Ten

Competition Winners! 'A Madness of Angels' and 'Men of the Otherworld'/'Bone Crossed'

Always a great way to start off the week! ;o)

Thanks to everyone who entered these competitions, this time the winners were...

'A Madness of Angels'
Dawud Qadri, Manchester, UK
Craig Scott, Auckland, New Zealand

'Men of the Otherworld' & 'Bone Crossed'
Karen Spruyt, Belgium
Tommy Erhardtsen, Denmark

Well done guys, your books are on their way...
Better luck next time everyone else!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Giveaway! Abaddon Books...


I loved Jonathan Green's 'Human Nature' and (wanting to share the love) got in touch with Abaddon Books to see if they wanted to help out with a giveaway to mark the release of the book. I have to say that they have definitely come up with the goods, offering up the following titles (links are to my reviews)...

'Human Nature' - Jonathan Green

'Leviathan Rising' - Jonathan Green

'El Sombra' - Al Ewing

'Kill or Cure' - Rebecca Levene

Now, how do you fancy winning all four of these books in an 'Abaddon Pack' of pulp fiction goodness? If you do then simply drop me an email telling me who you are and your mailing address, I'll pick the winner ;o)

This competition was originally just for UK and Europe only but now I'm opening it up worldwide so anyone can enter, I'll let it run until the 22nd of February and announce the winners on the 23rd...

Good Luck!

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Giveaway! 'Hater' (David Moody)


Thanks to the good people at St. Martin's Press, I have two copies of David Moody's 'Hater' to give away to two lucky winners on the blog. It's US entries only though, at the moment, I'm afraid. If anyone from the UK publisher happens to read this... how do you fancy offering up a couple of advance copies so UK readers don't feel left out? ;o)

Anyway, back to the competition...

If you fancy your chances then all you have to do is send me an email telling me who you are and where you live. There will be another competition coming up tomorrow so you need to make it clear that this is the competition that you are entering! I'll let the competition run until the 22nd of February and announce the winners on the 23rd...

Good Luck!

P.S. Scroll down the page to find out what 'Hater' is all about and look at the video trailer...

Friday, 13 February 2009

'The Other Lands' (David Anthony Durham) - Cover Art


Last night, David sent me (and several other bloggers) the cover art for 'The Other Lands', the sequel to 'Acacia'. Despite the fact that Robert got a post in first (and so did Aidan ) I thought I'd share as well :o)

The cover art is actually based on the cover for the German edition of 'Acacia'. I loved this cover but don't speak German so the book never made it into my collection. As such, I'm really glad that this is going to be the cover for 'The Other Lands'.

'The Other Lands' is looking at a September publication date for the US edition and the word is that the UK and French editions won't be too far behind. Here's a brief description of the book,

The apocalyptic struggle against the conquering Mein now won, Queen Corinn rules over the Acacian Empire of the Known World with a stern hand—aided by increasing mastery of the occult powers contained in the Book of Elenet. But far across the seas the mysterious inhabitants of the Other Lands seemingly control the fate of her empire—supported as it is by an underground trade in drugs and slaves. When she sends her brother Dariel on a secret mission across the hazardous Grey Slopes to investigate, it begins another cycle of world-shattering and shaping events.

In this bold and imaginative sequel, David Anthony Durham's epic imagination continues to expand the Known World of the novel into yet undiscovered lands, drawing on a literary tradition that stretches from The Iliad to George R.R. Martin.


Sounds good doesn't it?

‘The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics’ – Edited by David Kendall (Constable and Robinson)


Is there anything better than a zombie comic? Up until Christmas I would have had to say no, surely there could be nothing better than a comic teeming with zombies all out to devour our beleaguered heroes and heroines? Christmas morning saw me proved wrong though. There is one thing that’s far better than a zombie comic… a huge book brimming with zombie comics…
David Kendall has collected eighteen zombie tales and there’s something in this collection for everyone.

When I say ‘something for everyone’ what I’m also saying is that, perhaps inevitably, there were stories that didn’t quite cut it for me. The inclusion of ‘Necrotic: Dead Flesh on a Living Body’ offers up the argument that there isn’t much difference between a zombie and a mummy, both are undead after all… That’s as maybe, and it is certainly a fun story, but the bottom line (as far as I’m concerned) is that there is a world of difference between a zombie and a mummy… With that in mind ‘Necrotic’ just felt out of place and like it should have been in another collection entirely.
‘Flight from Earth’ is another tale that doesn’t quite hit the mark, especially when compared to the high standard of other tales in the book. Zombies in space are a pretty cool concept but zombies that can fly spaceships? Zombies can’t do anything except stumble around and eat people…
‘Pigeons from Hell’ is a classic Robert E. Howard horror story and the artwork here is brooding and chilling at the same time. It’s a shame then that the publisher forgot to include the words… Warning: If you’re thinking of buying this book then this is definitely something you need to look out for (apparently this mistake will be corrected in later editions).

On the whole though, ‘The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics’ offered up a lot of stuff that I completely got into. I prefer my zombies to be mindless shambling shells but I’m cool to look at the alternatives and this collection offers plenty of these.
Not only can some zombies run but some of them can talk as well; in particular the zombies in Matthew Shepherd’s ‘Dead Eyes Open’, an interesting look at a future where death is seen more as a disability (especially if you’re a zombie!) than the final frontier. There are some interesting legal points (over the rights of the recently returned dead) that make for some pondering…

It’s not so much the zombies themselves that are the main attraction (although fans of gore will love certain scenes) as the human survivors who must make their way through this post apocalyptic landscape. This collection offers up some insights into just what people will do to survive if pushed hard enough. Kieron Gillen’s ‘Zombies’ takes this to its ultimate conclusion and asks whether there is much of difference between ‘us and them’ after all.
Jon Ayre’s ‘Pariah’ asks the question of whether it’s worse to be eaten by a zombie or to be left all alone as the last survivor… Gary Crutchley’s ‘Job Satisfaction’ concludes that surviving in a zombie apocalypse is just a job like any other (borrowing heavily from the ‘Dawn of the Dead’ remake)…
The main element to any zombie story is that of ‘shock’ and ‘The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics’ certainly comes up with the goods here. The terror that is the finale of Steve Niles’ ‘Making Amends’ is only the start. Each of the stories is good in this respect but Mark Bloodworth’s ‘Amy’, Stuart Kerr’s ‘Black Sabbath’ and Stephen Blue’s ‘Zombie World: Dead End’ (my personal favourite of the whole book) are the ones that stand out.

The bottom line is that if you’re a fan of zombie comics then there will be something in this book for you. I’m glad that I have a copy, pick one up yourself and you’ll be glad too (watch out for the ‘Pigeons from Hell’ story though…)

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 12 February 2009

‘Starfinder’ – John Marco (DAW Books)


One of the great things that I always find, about reading fantasy books, is that there will always be new authors on the shelves that I have never read before. Although John Marco has been around for a while now, his books fall into this category so when I was asked if I’d like to read an advance copy of ‘Starfinder’ I figured it would be a great way to find out what he’s all about.
I ended up picking the book up a little earlier than I had planned as it’s not due for publication until May this year. However, by the time I’d realised this I was already into it far too much to stop reading and I figured I’d post the review anyway.
You’re probably thinking that if I couldn’t put the book down then it must have been a good one, right? Well, yes and no. Let me explain...

Moth’s dream has always been to become one of the elite Skyknights, a knightly order who patrol the skies around Calio in their ‘Dragonfly’ flying machines. A lack of social standing is his main obstacle here but the cryptic words of his dying guardian are about to send him on an adventure that is even more amazing.
The city of Calio sits atop mountains overlooking the mysterious Reach, a fog swept expanse stretching all the way to the horizon. His guardian’s final words, and the actions of a mysterious bird named Esme, are about to lead Moth into the Reach and the lands that lay beyond...
All sorts of legends (of what lies beyond the Reach) are about to be proved correct and Moth must somehow fight his way free from the most dangerous threat that Calio has ever faced...

First of all, I’ve got to say that ‘Starfinder’ sucked me right in from the first page and kept me reading the whole way through. There is a lot going on with elements of mystery and action combining to form a plot that crackles with excitement and keeps things flowing well. Things are set up for a sequel but ‘Starfinder’ also reads well as a stand-alone novel. The characters are all very accessible (although not likeable in some cases) and Marco makes sure to take time to let his reader know exactly what is going on in their heads.

I also enjoyed the setting that Marco came up with to set his story against. It’s a ‘two settings for the price of one’ scenario with a steampunk style culture meeting a fairytale fantasy realm and the culture clash that follows offers a lot of food for thought. How would you react if you found out that all the fairytales of your childhood were true? It’s interesting to see Moth and Fiona’s gradual acceptance of their new surroundings…

An explosive battle rounds things off very well but something still wasn’t sitting quite right with me. Thinking about it, I realised that it wasn’t so much the book as the person reading it…

‘Starfinder’ is a fantasy novel aimed at a young adult audience and the bottom line is that I’m just not a young adult anymore, haven’t been for quite some time in fact! My problem was that I found while certain devices (in the book) should work very well for their target audience they just weren’t cutting it with me. They’re not what I’m after in a book.

Moth is an orphaned boy with dreams of adventure and a strong desire to do the right thing, just the kind of character that young boys would enjoy reading about. Marco doesn’t leave the girls out though. Moth’s travelling companion Fiona is a teenager (also orphaned) with low self-esteem, issues around being abandoned and a love/hate relationship with her Grandfather. I could certainly see this character appealing to young female readers who experience similar issues...
These are just two examples of plot devices that are used specifically to aim the book at a younger audience. In this respect the book does very well indeed and I can see how (and why) young readers would enjoy this. Like I said though, I’m not a young reader and, as a result, the book didn’t offer me much to identify with…

I won’t be giving this book a mark purely because I’m equally torn between the two viewpoints. As much as I enjoyed the book (which I did) it just wasn’t for me. At the same time though, I think Marco has been very clever in writing a book that will appeal to its target audience.
What I will say though is that ‘Starfinder’ has convinced me to give Marco’s ‘The Jackal of Nar’ a go in the very near future. If he can write for adults as well as he’s written for young adults then I could be in for a treat…

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

‘Ice Guard’ – Steve Lyons (Black Library)


On the battlefields of the Warhammer 40,000 universe it’s the Space Marines who stand out as the iconic figures in mankind’s never ending battle against the encroaching alien hordes. They’re genetically bred to be practically invincible and equipped with enough firepower to make that invincibility very awkward for any aliens that happen to be in the immediate vicinity! The thing is though that I’ve come to find that this combination doesn’t necessarily make for an interesting story. Where’s the tension if you already know that the marines will win through? Luckily for me, the rank and file of the Imperial Guard provide enough scope for the kind of stories that I’m after. These are men and women who are thrown into battle with the bare minimum of weaponry and protection, the average life expectancy for a Guardsman in a warzone is fifteen hours...

The fight for the planet Cressida has gone so badly that Imperial forces are ordered to withdraw in preparation for the virus bombing of the planet. However, an Imperial Confessor is stranded on Cressida and it is vitally important that he is kept alive and out of the hands of the encroaching forces of Chaos. Enter Colonel Stanislav Steele and his Imperial Guard squad of Valhallan Ice Warriors, hand picked for a mission that has no chance of success and the clock is counting down to the bombardment...

Every chapter of ‘Ice Guard’ begins by showing how much time is left on the clock until the virus bombing commences. This is an extremely effective way of raising the tension that’s made even more effective by the fact that various members of the squad must find their way back, from far ranging areas of the battleground, before the mission can even begin. Hours have already passed by the time the mission is able to begin and the constant countdown leaves the reader in no doubt as to what is at stake...

If this wasn’t enough then a planet that has fallen to the ravenous hordes of Chaos can only mean one thing and that’s a long hard march through the ice fighting the enemy for every gore soaked step. Lyons doesn’t disappoint his readers here as he delivers a constant stream of armed confrontation and its inevitably bloody conclusion. Things are kept fresh by the switching backwards and forwards between icy tundra and ruined hive city and these settings throw up plenty of tricky situations that the Guardsmen must negotiate. There is plenty of action here for fans of fast and furious military sci-fi. However, the relatively short length of the book (two hundred and eighty one pages) means that there isn’t a lot of time to go into the various twists that such battles could potentially throw up. Coupled with the demands of the plot, this casts things very firmly in a ‘pro-Imperium’ light that don’t truly reflect the horrors of war on both sides...

I had a similar issue with the way that the characters were portrayed over the course of the book. Lyons turns the squad into an interesting cross section of Imperium citizens ranging from the madly zealous to the quietly terrified. He also takes a look at how the insidious influence of Chaos can affect even the stoutest heart... I really got into this side of the story and was a little disappointed to find that the length of the book doesn’t allow time for a more detailed look at certain characters. However, it has left me eager to read more Warhammer 40,000 books and see if I can find more of the same kind of thing.

At the end of the day though, despite my own personal misgivings,‘Ice Guard’ fully delivers on its promise of high octane warfare in the fortieth millennium. I’m looking forward to reading more of these books!

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

‘The Twlight Zone’ – Graphic Novels (Bloomsbury)

You're travelling through another dimension -- a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That's a signpost up ahead: your next stop: the Twilight Zone!

I know all the reasons why ‘The Twilight Zone’ is classic genre TV and I also know that one of the episodes features a young William Shatner facing off against a gremlin on an aeroplane. I’ve never seen a single episode though so the introduction of Bloomsbury’s graphic novel adaptations (of individual episodes) was a good way to get into the spirit of things.

Mark Kneece takes on the writing duties for all four books while the artwork is shared between Rich Ellis (‘The Monsters are due on Maple Street’), Rebekah Isaacs (‘The After Hours’), Robert Grabe (‘The Odyssey of Flight 33’) and /Dove Mchargue (‘Walking Distance’). The artwork is of a good standard across the board (as is the layout) but personal taste meant that I liked some better than others. Rich Ellis’ work had to be my favourite but, like I said, they’re all good :o) I also love the way that Rod Serling turns up every now and then to provide some ‘Twilight Zone’ style narration.
Here’s what I thought about each book...

‘Walking Distance’



Overworked executive Martin Sloan breaks down within walking distance of his old town and decides to pay it a visit. However, he finds himself walking into his own past and meeting himself as a child. Can Martin find a way to warn his younger self to seize the day and save his future happiness?
Everyone has a pang of regret for the missed opportunities of childhood and this book looks at what might happen if your wish to go back was granted and the problems this would cause. It’s an easygoing read (that highlights the idyllic halcyon days of childhood) with a sombre message underneath. Live for the present, the past really is another country and you’re a stranger there...

‘The Odyssey of Flight 33’



Flight 33 is flying to New York, from London, but some air turbulence turns out to be a lot more than it looks at first. The aeroplane and its passengers are thrown back 100 million years into the past. Can the crew and passengers hold their nerve long enough to get home? I loved the way that there is no real explanation for the enforced time travel (adding to the strange, supernatural feel) and, instead, we get to see the effect that it has on the passengers and crew. ‘The Odyssey of Flight 33’ is a detailed look at just how much someone can take before they crack. Some people can take a lot, others can’t...

‘The After Hours’



Not only does dissatisfied shopper Marsha White find that the floor she bought damaged goods on doesn’t exist but she awakes, from a fainting fit, to find that she has been locked in the store for the night. Her shopping trip is set to continue with a conclusion that she least expects...
I found this to be the weakest of the four books that I read. It has a good build up, with an ending I wasn’t expecting, but I found the course of events (that led Marsha to the conclusion) hard to believe. There’s a real claustrophobic feel to this one though and it’s worth reading if you ever believed that your toys came to life after you went to sleep...

‘The Monsters are due on Maple Street’



Maple Street is a typical American suburb until the meteor lands nearby. Now lights flash on and off, telephones don’t work and cars have a habit of moving without being driven. Have the aliens landed or is the threat closer to home...?
‘The Monsters are due on Maple Street’ is a really clever study of paranoia and how easily people can suddenly turn on each other. No explanation is given for the ensuing events and this adds to the uncertainty. I wasn’t sure what was happening either and soon I was just as nervous as the people on Maple Street. The revelation right at the end shows us that the greatest threat to humanity might not necessarily lie out there in the stars... My favourite of the four books.

These graphic novels are targeted at a younger audience but are worth a look if you’re a fan of ‘The Twilight Zone’ or if you want to find out what it’s all about.

David Moody's 'Hater' - New Video Trailer


Not only is 'Hater' a book that I've been hearing good things about but it's a book that sounds like just my kind of thing! The hunt for a copy to review is on... :o)

In the meantime, I've been sent the link to the youtube trailer for 'Hater' and I thought it would be cool to share! Here it is in all it's glory...



The Amazon blurb for Hater goes like this...

REMAIN CALM DO NOT PANIC TAKE SHELTER WAIT FOR FURTHER INSTRUCTIONS THE SITUATION IS UNDER CONTROL Society is rocked by a sudden increase in the number of violent assaults on individuals. Christened 'Haters' by the media, the attackers strike without warning. The assaults are brutal, remorseless and extreme: within seconds, normally rational, self-controlled people are becoming maddened, vicious killers. There are no apparent links as a hundred random attacks become a thousand, and then thousands, right across the country. Everyone, irrespective of gender, age, race, sexuality or any other difference, has the potential to become a victim - or a Hater. People are afraid to go to work, afraid to leave their homes and, increasingly, afraid that at any moment their friends, even their closest family, could turn on them with murderous intent. By the end of today you could be dead. By the end of today you could be a killer. Attack first, ask questions later . . . but the answer might not be what you expect . . .

Sounds good to me! Like I said, the hunt for a review copy starts now... :o)

Monday, 9 February 2009

‘A Madness of Angels’ – Kate Griffin (Orbit)


It’s hard for me to describe what makes London such a magical place to live in, mainly because there are so many things that make it magic. If I had to pick a couple of things then top of the list would be all the little windy alleyways (I’m talking about the ones off Charing Cross Road) that probably lead to the back of a restaurant but could lead absolutely anywhere... Second on the list are London’s parks, places where you can sometimes almost believe that you’re not in the city at all...
Well, I think I’ve proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am not suited to writing an urban fantasy novel about how magical London can be. It’s a good job then that there are authors out there who are doing just that and doing a great job of it at the same time. Kate Griffin is about to join these ranks with her forthcoming novel ‘A Madness of Angels’ (to be released in April) and I reckon it’s well deserved...

There is power in London that ebbs and flows with the rhythms of the city. It’s in the alignments of ancient streets and it’s in the rattle of London transport (although you wouldn’t believe it if you had to commute in every morning...) It takes a special breed of magician to access this power and one such person is Matthew Swift, dead for the last two years and suddenly back in London with a lot of questions that he wants answering. Swift is out for revenge as well, someone made a real mess of him before he died... Revenge and answers will all come together in a journey through a London that we live in but don’t realise. A London where magicians ride the Last Train, soar with the pigeons and listen to blue electric angels that live on the telephone wires...

Although there are moments in ‘A Madness of Angels’ where the firepower is very much in evidence (and people look cool in long dark coats) this isn’t the kind of urban fantasy where feisty women kick ass whilst agonising over a hot looking vampire at the same time. What the reader gets instead is a trip into London’s identity in very much the same way that Neil Gaiman did with ‘Neverwhere’. One of my first thoughts, in fact, was ‘this book is just like Neverwhere’... It’s always a shame when you write a book and someone had the idea for the initial concept first! Luckily for Kate Griffin, ‘A Madness of Angels’ becomes very much its own story both through the concept of ‘Urban Magic’ and it’s examination of what life and identity actually mean. More about that later...

‘A Madness of Angels’ starts off in rather a confusing manner but stick with it for a few pages and it will all start to make a lot more sense. No matter how confused you think you are it’s nothing compared to the confusion that Swift is encountering... From here on in a plot emerges and Swift is propelled along it to a conclusion that really grabbed me by the eyeballs and forced me to read. There are plenty of other moments throughout the course of the book that also have the same effect making it a fast paced affair with moments where things get really explosive!

‘A Madness of Angels’ is a chilling read as well. If you think the litterbug is scary (right at the beginning) then wait until you meet Hunger, a shadow whose whole purpose is to feed... Hunger strikes just when you least expect it (no pun intended!) with a speed that never failed to make me jump! Without giving too much away it’s also interesting to see Hunger’s relationship with one of the main characters (not Swift) and how that develops over the course of the book. It’s also good to see how Griffin sometimes mixes humour into the proceedings, both to make the scary bits even scarier and also to keep things fresh and interesting. Swift’s encounter with the troll is a good example of this...

In some ways the story itself takes second place to the ‘London setting’ that Griffin places it against. Griffin doesn’t hold back with the descriptive prose, painting a picture of London that will be immediately familiar to anyone who has visited (or lives there) and will give those who haven’t a very good idea of the locations in which Swift finds himself. However, I did think there was a little too much over emphasis on the using of place names (and the travel in between these places). I knew that the story was taking place in London; I didn’t need to have it rammed home as much as it was...

Having said that though, there's a point in the book where Swift says what sorcery is and it is just what Griffin has done with this book,

"... that's what sorcery is. The ability to see something wonderful, magical, where other people see just mundane and boring nothing."

Griffin shows us London in a different light and leaves us in no doubt as to what we've been missing all this time.

I really liked the concept of ‘urban magic’, not something that I’d encountered before so it felt really fresh. It was also a good way to keep the concept of ‘the city’ in the foreground and adding that ‘otherworld twist’ to a familiar setting. I also liked the way that this tied into the questions raised over Swift’s true identity. Again, I don’t want to give too much away here but I ended up really feeling for Swift and the questions he had to deal with as he tried to work out what he really was. If that wasn’t bad enough there’s everything else to deal with as well...

If it wasn’t for the fact that Mike Carey has a couple of books coming out this year then I would say that, without a doubt, ‘A Madness of Angels’ could be the best urban fantasy that I read in 2009. As it is, I’m sure it will be high up there.
Highly recommended.

Nine and a Half out of Ten