Tuesday, 31 March 2009

‘Lamentation’ – Ken Scholes (Tor)


After reading Mark Charan Newton’s piece on ‘Dying Earth Fiction’ it just seemed like the right time to pick up Ken Scholes’ much praised ‘Lamentation’ (for reasons that will become clear later on), the opening book in his ‘Psalms of Isaak’ sequence. It was also in no small part down to the great things I’ve heard about ‘Lamentation’ that persuaded me to give this one a go, I made a decision a while ago that I wanted to be in at the start of great things not to be the last one to find out about them!
As it turned out, ‘Lamentation’ wasn’t perfect but I found it an enjoyable enough read to confirm to me that the good things I’d heard about it were more than well founded...

In a world of the far future (possibly this world, it’s not confirmed that I could see but that’s what I’m guessing) the Androfrancine city of Windwir is the greatest, and only, repository of information and technology dating back thousands of years. Windwir is the last beacon of knowledge’s light in a world that is fighting not to fall into the darkness; at least it was until ancient weapon wipes it out in an instant.
The questions arising from Windwir’s destruction soon prove to be secondary in importance to the questions over what is going to happen next in terms of rescuing what knowledge is left and a rush for power set against the rubble of a dead city. Armies gather and great statesmen manoeuvre for position, or are they being manoeuvred by someone else entirely...?

Not only is ‘Lamentation’ almost entirely concerned with statesman like politicking it’s also the first book in a five book sequence. This means that not only does the reader get said politicking but they also get a lot of story that is there purely to set things up for future books. The end result is that ‘Lamentation’ is a book that starts very slowly and, even when it does pick up, maintains this slow pace throughout. As far as this goes I think a re-read of ‘Lamentation’, after a couple more books in the series have been published, will cast it in a more favourable light as it is clearly a part of a series rather than a work that stands alone...

I’ll admit that I found the slow pace off putting to start off with but I stuck with it because not only did the sheer level of devastation visited upon Windwir pique my interest (just what was behind the death of around two hundred thousand people?) but the characters involved also proved to be well worth my time reading about. The destruction of Windwir affects everyone on a number of levels and Scholes keep this fresh by allowing things to develop to their natural conclusions. No-one is given the opportunity to just sit and sulk as the world is moving in strange new directions and they must go with it... Neb’s story is particularly poignant in this regard, especially where the death of his father is concerned, and the fact that we don’t get enough time to really find out what is going on with Isaak lends him an air of mystery that bodes well for the future...

I mentioned Mark Charan Newton’s ‘Dying Earth’ piece earlier and it was this feeling in the atmosphere of the book that really kept me going as well as the very skilful manner in which Scholes ties up all the loose ends while at the same time setting up more questions that will hopefully be answered in future books (I still don’t think ‘Lamentation’ is a stand alone work but it’s definitely good that not too much is left hanging come the end).
While there is plenty going on in the book it is also clear that this is a world approaching the end of its days. The Named Lands are a place where the line between science and magic has become irretrievably blurred as knowledge has been lost over thousands of years; it’s also a place that is hemmed in by the threat of the unknown in the Churning Wastes and what lies beyond. There is an air of what is almost futility to people’s actions (given the broader picture) and this makes the fact that people stand up and fight anyway all the more worthy, especially when you see what has been sacrificed...

There’s no denying that ‘Lamentation’ is a very slow read but once you get past this it’s clear that it’s a book that’s well worth your time and one that bodes well for the rest of the series. I’m looking forward to more of the same...

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten.

Monday, 30 March 2009

‘The Killing Ground’ – Graham McNeill (Black Library)


I had a few days off last week and the plan was to use these to really get stuck into some of the larger books on the pile that need a good few hours uninterrupted reading to get the best out of them. I just couldn’t get into any of them though and I couldn’t work out why... Had I fallen out of love with sci-fi and fantasy? Had I discovered a new love for housework and gardening instead? It turned out that the answer was a lot simpler than that. I was very tired and needed a light fun read where huge guys shoot the hell out of each other with even bigger guns. Yep, it was guilty pleasure time alright!
One look at the cover of Graham McNeill’s ‘The Killing Ground’ suggested that this was the book I was after. It turned out to be all that and a little bit more as well...

The universe of the Warhammer 40,000 game is one dominated by war in all its shapes and forms and ‘The Killing Ground’ looks at the aftermath of conflict in a universe where the raw chaos of warp space means that anything is possible. Having fulfilled their ‘Death Oath’, Ultramarines Uriel Ventris and Pasanius now seek to return home to their Chapter but fate has one more trick to play.... The planet Salinas is a place where the ghosts of the past are far more than just a bitter memory and certain members of the occupying Imperial Guard face enemies that a bullet cannot stop. Uriel and Pasanius must uncover the secret of the Killing Ground before the decision is taken to exterminate all life on the planet (the stakes are that high)...

After a prologue that throws questions into the air, and had me really interested in finding out what happened next, ‘The Killing Ground’ immediately slows right down so that we can catch up with what has happened to Uriel Ventris and Pasanius since the last book. “The last book?” I hear you say... Yes, it’s not made particularly clear in the blurb (hence this book only really being for people who have followed the series so far) but ‘The Killing Ground’ is the latest book in a series detailing Ventris’ and Pasanius’ deeds as part of the Ultramarine Chapter. The rest of these adventures are collected in ‘Ultramarines: The Omnibus’. Here’s the thing though the ‘slowing down to bring readers up to speed’ trick isn’t really necessary as long time fans will know the story already and, as a first time reader, I was more impatient for things get a move on after a promising beginning. And there are things that won’t make sense (at first) if you haven’t read the other books already...

Stick with it though. After the awkward beginning, things do pick up and the end result is a read that Warhammer 40,000 fans will enjoy as will people who like their military sci-fi touched with a hint of the gothic...
The Space Marines are the mainstay of humanity’s armies in the fortieth millennium, packing enough firepower and physical strength to punch a hole in whatever stands before them. As a result this is what you can expect from any ‘Space Marine’ novel and ‘The Killing Ground’ delivers admirably as far as this goes. War is brutal and this book doesn’t hold its punches as far as that goes. In case you’re worrying about ‘tedium through the invulnerability of main characters’ then there’s no need. There is a mystery to be solved, and a dilemma overcome, that require far more than strength of arms and the Space Marine’s sense of loneliness away from their Chapter is exploited to give us characters with enough stacked against them to make their struggles interesting.

It was the atmosphere that really made ‘The Killing Ground’ work for me though both in terms of the story itself and the background universe it’s set against. Information is doled out bit at a time and this really helps maintain the air of uncertainty that everyone is working under. ‘The Killing Ground’ is also a ghost story in every sense of the word and when the ghosts come calling they do it in a way that really made me jump!
Above all else though, ‘The Killing Ground’ has that oppressed air of superstition and religious dogma (set against a totally unforgiving universe) that immediately marks it out as a Warhammer 40,000 novel. It’s a place I love to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there...

‘The Killing Ground’ starts off shakily but recovers to become a cross between ghost story and ‘military sci-fi’ that’s worth reading. You might want to read the other books first though...

Seven and a Half out of Ten

'Godmother' & 'Empress of Mars' - Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered the 'Godmother' and 'Empress of Mars' competitions. Without further ado (because someone made the wholly unfair decision that I must work for a living today...) here are the winners,

'Godmother'

Valerie Tucker, Chesapeake, Virginia
Karen Oland, Knoxville, Tennessee
Donna Simmonds, St Louis, Missouri

'Empress of Mars'

Frank Nagy (Finished Copy), St Charles, Ilinois
Mike Geehan, Houston, Texas

Well done guys, your books should be with you very soon!
Better luck next time everyone else...

Sunday, 29 March 2009

The 'haven't really been reading all that much' apologetic link-up bonanza!

You would have thought that having the last three days off work would be the ideal time to get stuck into the reading pile with a vengeance, you would have thought... wouldn't you?

Nope...

I haven't been able to get into a single book while I was off and it's only the night before going back to work that I find myself wanting to get stuck in and have a good read. It's funny the way things go sometimes...

Normal service should be resumed tomorrow. In the meantime, here's some links to all the great stuff other bloggers have been up to...

Aidan pokes fun at some cover art as well as showcasing the cover art and synopsis for a new book from one of my favourite authors...

Mark reviews 'This Is Not A Game', a book that I keep meaning to check out myself, we'll see what happens there...

Alan Draven's 'Sinister Landscapes' gets a review over at 'Blood of the Muse'...

... while D.M Cornish's 'Foundling' gets the same treatment over at Nethspace.

Adam casts his eye over Jim Butcher's 'Storm Front'.

Rob shows amazing dedication to keeping his 'Books in the Mail' feature running, even though he didn't get anything...

In stark contrast, Larry is brimming over with book porn...

Last but by no means least... 'Realms of Speculative Fiction' get round to telling us more about what they loved reading in 2008.

What am I up to? I'm loving Ken Scholes' 'Lamentation' but don't expect a review for a couple of days yet. I wanted to get my brain back in gear with a couple of lighter reads first and these are what you can expect to see reviewed first...

Hope you all had a great weekend!

Ewoks Versus Predator!

I found this while browsing YouTube on Friday. I'm not sure if this is the way it would really gone down but it still made me laugh :o)

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Giveaway! 'Winterbirth' and 'Bloodheir' (Brian Ruckley)


It's not too long now until Brian Ruckley's 'Godless World' trilogy concludes with 'Fall of Thanes' and I for one am looking forward to seeing how it all ends. How about you? Or are you one those people who's just not sure whether to pick up the books or not...? If you've just answered 'yes' to that last question then I might just have the competition for you...

To mark the forthcoming release of 'Fall of Thanes' I've got three packs of 'Winterbirth'/'Bloodheir' to give away to three lucky winners who have never read the books and fancy giving the series a go. Do you fancy your chances? Are you a UK or European resident (they're the only ones who can enter, sorry...)? Then read on...

Entering is really simple, just drop me an email (address up in the top right hand corner of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. Comments next to the post are great but do not count as entries... I'll pick three winners... :o)

I'll let this one run until April 5th and announce the winners on the 6th...

Good Luck!

Friday, 27 March 2009

‘Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunter Companion’ – Sherrilyn Kenyon with Aletha Kontis (Piatkus)


Having never read a single one of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s ‘Dark Hunter’ books I wasn’t planning on reviewing the companion book to the series. The fact that it’s a ‘companion book’ suggests to me that I ought to have read at least one of the other books first before looking for further information in this one…

It’s Friday afternoon though and not only am I putting off going to the gym but I also figured that this book was worth highlighting for any fans who haven’t come across it yet.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon…

'Dark-Hunters are immortal warriors who have traded their soul to Artemis for one moment of vengeance on their enemies. In return, they swear to spend eternity protecting mankind from the daimons and vampires that prey on them.' Sherrilyn Kenyon's Dark-Hunter Companion is essential reading for anyone who has recently made that once-in-a-life-time deal with Artemis. Packed with insider knowledge and secrets mankind are rarely privy to, it's also a valuable guide to the Dark-Hunter series for lesser mortals. It includes a Dark-Hunter directory, a handy reference guide to Dark-Hunter and Greek mythology, useful tips on dealing with daimons and squires, lessons in conversational Greek and Atlantean; there's even a section on how to handle unexpected visits from ancient gods...The companion also includes a brand new short story from every Dark-Hunter's favourite writer Sherrilyn Kenyon.

Check out Sherrilyn Kenyon's website over Here.

‘Popgun: Volume 3’ – Edited by Mark Andrew Smith & D.J. Kirkbride (Image Comics)


If you’re like me then you want to be buying loads of comics but have no idea where to start. The way I see it there’s two ways round this problem… You could go to your local comic book store and buy everything that catches your eye, it’s good fun but you’re likely to end up coming home with a whole of stuff that you’re going to hate. What you could do instead is buy yourself an anthology with a whole load of different stuff in it. You may not like everything in it but it’s going to take up less room on your shelf and you might just end up discovering a writer or artist that you’d never heard of before but you can’t do without.
I want to buy more comics but don’t have the first clue where to start, the third volume in Image Comics ‘Popgun’ has just given me some pointers…

It’s really hard to get a handle on what ‘Popgun 3’ is all about because all the stories are so different from each other that the book as a whole defies categorisation. What they do all have in common though is a real manic vibrancy all done up with some superb artwork. Reading ‘Popgun 3’ is like having a large bucket of Technicolor energy poured over your head when you least expect it. Once you’ve come up for air, everything looks very different…

With such a broad range of stories not all of them hit the mark for me but then I wasn’t really expecting them to given the variety on offer; as with ‘The Mammoth Book of Best Horror’ I’d say that it’s a safe bet that there is something in here for everyone. Sam Bosma’s artwork on ‘The Magnificent Zhao’ was lovely but I didn’t really get what the story itself was about, I had a similar issue with Juan Doe’s ‘Vertex’ (lovely to look at but didn’t really know what was going on…)

I personally found though that the good far outweighed the not so good. I laughed out loud (and sniggered like a schoolboy) as I walked Brian Winkeler’s ‘Bastard Road’ and also chuckled to myself as I learnt that you should never let an alien near the handbrake on your car (Isam S. Prado’s ‘Alien Abduction’). Derek McCulloch’s ‘Cuffs’ had me going right up until the explosive final panel and Guillaume Singelin’s ‘Carjacking’ has to be the single best way to open an anthology ever…

This isn’t doing the book justice as ‘Popgun 3’ clocks in at almost five hundred pages (in my review copy) and there is so much more to be discovered inside; there’s only so much space here for me to write about it all.
If ‘Popgun 3’ is any indication of the standard of the series then I’ll be on the lookout for volumes 1 and 2. Fans of the series should love it, newcomers (like me) are in for a real treat…

Nine out of Ten

Thursday, 26 March 2009

‘The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics’ – Peter Normanton (Editor)


I can’t believe that I used to think comic books were all about superheroes foiling criminals. To be fair, a lot of comic books are about just this very thing but (as I’ve found out over the last couple of years) there’s so much more going on out there.
If you know me at all then you’ll know only too well that I’m guaranteed to love anything with zombies in it (even the film ‘Hard Rock Zombies’ but don’t hold that against me!) ‘The Walking Dead’ got me into zombie comics and from there it was a very small jump to David Kendall’s very good ‘Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics’ which is well worth a look if you also like zombie comics as well.
When I realised that there was a ‘Mammoth Book of Horror Comics’ as well… I knew that I was going to have to give it a go. Zombies are great but what about vampires, were-wolves and mad scientists? They’re all in here…

‘The Mammoth Book of Horror Comics’ aims to give the reader the best examples of horror comics from the nineteen forties right up until the present day. Whether it does that or not is up to you to decide, I’m new to this sub-genre so couldn’t really say if anything is missing or not. What I will say though is that if you’re planning on picking a copy up for yourself then you might want to have a quick flick through first. ‘The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics’ had the text missing from ‘Pigeons from Hell’, ‘The Mammoth Book of Horror Comics’ has the unfortunate habit of repeating some pages (and missing out others) in certain stories. Check out Robert E. Howard’s ‘Dream Snake’ and James Helkowski’s ‘Shuteye’, if the pages aren’t repeated in your book then you’re probably safe to buy it. This wasn’t the case with me and two otherwise superb stories suffered as a result…

‘The Mammoth Book of Horror Comics’ takes the history of the genre and divides it into certain periods of time, showing us how horror comics have developed and sometimes stagnated (in particular after the introduction of the Comics Code). The written pieces show this development very well but the choice of comics doesn’t reflect it as well. Normanton has chosen the best comics in terms of horror but not in terms of their importance as far as the history goes… In this sense the collection maybe needs to be more clear in it’s objectives but you cannot deny that Normanton has chosen some great stories to be showcased…

The nineteen forties and fifties were the ‘Pre-Code Years’ where pretty much anything went in terms of horror. ‘The Mammoth Book’ makes this clear right from the start with a pretty graphic adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Black Cat’. Implied scenes of animal cruelty are very powerful and left me thinking, “did that really just happen in a comic book?”
The rest of the stories carry on in this vein, while they’re not as graphic as you are led to believe they still come up trumps in terms of sheer power and intensity. Nazi war criminals (‘Hitler’s Head’ and ‘The Living Dead’) and other ruthless people (‘Den of Horror’ and ‘A Glimpse of the Pit’) all get theirs in ways that made me shudder. ‘Dungeon of Doom’ is a chilling reminder that the innocent aren’t protected either, sometimes being in the wrong place at the wrong time is all it takes…

The nineteen sixties and seventies definitely comes across as a little tamer but there is still fun to be had in tales such as ‘The Monster of Dread End’ (with one panel in particular that makes me shiver even now!), ‘Fatal Scalpel’ (especially for the last panel in the story) and Augustine Funnell’s ‘Ghouls walk among us’. I’ve got to say though that a lot of this stuff (although interesting and cleverly done) left me cold…

The nineteen eighties and nineties were where things started to kick off again in terms of the terror being ramped up a few notches. There are several titles here that I’ll be keeping an eye open for, Steve Niles’ ‘Deadworld’ in particular just so I can get more of an idea of what happened before the events of the story ‘One of these Days’. Sounds like I’m going to be collecting more comics. ‘Christmas Carol’ was just plain creepy but I did find myself not having much sympathy for the main character. After all, who invites a leech creature into his house without any thought for the consequences?
Bruce Jones’ ‘Home Ties’ was simple but very spooky while Chuck Regan’s ‘Purgation’ needs a second read before you really get how seriously messed up it is…

The book finishes in the present day and on a high. I wasn’t so keen on the use of photos to tell the story of ‘Dread End’ (an adaptation of ‘The Monster of Dread End’) although it was good to see the story included as a contrast to the nineteen sixty-two version. I preferred the older story myself…
Pete Von Sholly’s ‘The Graveswellers’ is also made up of photographs which really doesn’t work for me, there is an illusion of movement in drawn pictures that doesn’t come across at all in a photo that looks obviously staged.
There is plenty that is good in this section though; Stephen Sennit’s ‘The Crawlspace’ and Steve Niles’ ‘Cal MacDonald: A letter from B.S’ are highlights. If it wasn’t for pages being repeated I get the feeling that ‘Shuteye’ would have been a stroke of genius…

Not everything worked for me in ‘The Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics’ but this suggests to me that there is something for everyone within the pages of this book. It’s certainly a very good place to start if you have never read a horror comic before…

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

‘Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror’ – Chris Priestley (Bloomsbury)


There’s no better time to read ghostly tales of terror than when there is no-one else in the house, the wind and rain are howling outside and the sky is pitch black… Okay, I did read ‘Tales of Terror’ at about nine o’clock this morning (when the sky wasn’t dark at all!) but the wind and rain were howling and I was all on my own…

When I wasn’t reading sci-fi and fantasy at school (primary school and high school) I would invariably be drawn to the horror section in the library. There was just something about books with rotting skulls on the cover that made me have to pick them up (I was that kind of child)! More often than not these books scared the life out of me and one particular story had me cowering in bed convinced that something was lurking on top of my bookshelf…
It’s been a long time since I’d read any young adult horror and the arrival of ‘Tales of Terror’ seemed like a good opportunity to find out whether it still has the power to make me jump and look nervously over my shoulder.
It does…

Edgar doesn’t really get on with his parents, preferring instead to spend his time at his Uncle Montague’s house listening to his Uncle’s stories. One day though, Uncle Montague tells Edgar a particularly chilling set of tales, all of which are connected to objects in his study…
What is the connection? Edgar is about to find that the answers to his questions might just be in the woods outside rather than in the study with his Uncle…

As you have probably guessed by now, ‘Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror’ is a collection of the very tales that Edgar is told by his Uncle that night. The mood is already set by Montague living in a forbidding looking house in the middle of a dark forest and this is built upon in a set of tales that made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Really, they did…

If you’re a child in one of Priestley’s short stories then it’s very likely that something terrible will have happened to you by the end of the story. None of these children are innocent (and perhaps this meant to serve as a moralistic cautionary note for younger readers) but there is still something deeply unsettling about seeing young children fall foul of supernatural occurrences. And they do, they really do… Priestley draws the reader in with every story, telling us all about the main character and dropping very slight hints about what is to come. Just when you’re least expecting it, Priestley pulls no punches with what finally happens to the children (whether they die or merely go insane). ‘The Demon Bench End’ and ‘Offerings’ are really nasty examples (in a good way) of a descent into insanity through terror and these were the stories that appealed to me the most. The stories that resulted in a chilling end weren’t bad either, ‘Climb Not’ shocked me with an ending that I never saw coming…

As with any collection of short stories not all of them worked for me, I didn’t quite see the point of ‘The Path’ which wasn’t as clearly told as the others. This was a shame particularly because the final story (which promised to reveal the terrifying truth behind it all) came across as a bit of an anti-climax when compared to the others. It just wasn’t that scary…

‘Uncle Montague’s Tales of Terror’ was a particularly creepy read though. Thinking about it, I’m glad I didn’t read this one when it was dark…

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

'The Logbook of the Ketty Jay'...


Adam over at the The Wertzone is a guy who knows what he's on about so when he said great things about Chris Wooding's 'Retribution Falls' I knew that this was a book I'd need to keep an eye open for...

If that wasn't enough recommendation for me, Simon Spanton (over at Gollancz) sent me a link to the Logbook of the Ketty Jay itself to show me what I'll be missing if I don't give the book a go. I've had a read and it looks very much like I need to find myself a copy of 'Retribution Falls'! Have a read and see what you think...

Lazy Wednesday Manga Reading...

Days off from work are just the best aren’t they? I’ve just spent the last hour reading manga books when, on any other day, I would be hiding under my desk waiting for my boss to look in the other direction… Here’s what I thought (it was a strange case of the good, the meh’ and the ‘I thought it was going to be bad but ended up being surprisingly good…)




‘Psy-Comm’ (Volume One): Jason Henderson, Tony Salvaggio, Shane Granger.


This is actually a really hard one to write about as it just left me completely cold. I liked the concept (psychic commandos battle each other for TV ratings in an all out network war) but the ‘top commando starts to question his role’ plot just seemed a little too much like volume one of ‘Phantom’ which I read the other week… The characters didn’t really offer all that much to get interested in either although the promise of the ‘big chase’, starting in volume two, looks like it has some potential… I’ll probably give the next book a go just to see if things pick up.



‘Sgt. Frog’ (Volume One): Mine Yoshizaki

Aliens crash landing on Earth? Seen it before… An alien taking refuge in a nearby house and befriending two young children? Yawn… The alien is a cute looking frog who still plots world domination from a bedroom haunted by a grudge-bearing ghost? Now I’m interested…
I had a great time reading ‘Sgt. Frog’ and have made this a series that I will definitely be reading more of if I get a chance. It’s the first manga book that’s had me laughing out loud and there is a lot to laugh as the treacherous alien frog plots to escape his captors but is easily seduced by sunshine holidays, Gundam models and the prospect of his own room. The fact that Keroro (the frog) is so cute just makes it all the more funny as far as I’m concerned. I’m looking forward to volume two already.



‘Ghostbusters: Ghostbusted’: Various

‘Ghostbusters’ is one of those films that I can just watch over and over again (in fact, why haven’t I made it a retro classic…?) so a book about their further adventures in New York seemed like a great idea for a read this morning. At least it did until I read the first story, ‘The Theater of Pain’, which turned out a slightly anti-climatic tale of reconciliation that didn’t really gel with what I remembered of the films at all. And when you can’t tell which Ghostbuster is which then you know there’s a problem with the artwork…
I stuck with it though and was glad that I did as a story arc began to build up which was worth hanging around for. Not too sure about the fashionista ghost story right at the end though…

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

‘Dragonfly Falling’ – Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor UK)


It’s not often that I put a book down, read something else and then come back to the first book. I’m more black and white about this kind of thing; I’ll either read the whole thing (no matter how bad it is) or put the book down half finished and never go back to it again. Every so often though I find myself taking breaks from a book to read something else instead; back in 2007 it was J.V. Jones’ ‘A Sword from Red Ice’ and over the last couple of weeks it was the turn of Adrian Tchaikovsky’s ‘Dragonfly Falling’ (sequel to last year’s ‘Empire in Black and Gold’) to get the same treatment.
Having thoroughly enjoyed ‘Empire in Black and Gold’ I wasn’t expecting to have this reaction to ‘Dragonfly Falling’. To be fair, part of it was down to me suffering a severe lack of attention in my reading just recently. Waking up at three in the morning and grabbing the first book to hand probably isn’t the best way to really get into something!
It wasn’t all down to that though. As much as I enjoyed reading ‘Dragonfly Falling’ (which I did), it didn’t really do it for me as much as it’s predecessor did...

Despite the setback in Helleron, the Wasp Empire still has designs on the Lowland cities. Next to feel the might of the Wasp armies will be the Ant City of Tark, the Ants are prepared to fight to the last but are woefully unprepared for siege weapons that will change the face of warfare forever...
In the midst of the politicking and fighting, Stenwold Maker and his allies constantly seek to derail the Wasp advance (by any means possible) and their success means that the Empire’s secret service has decided that Stenwold is too dangerous to live. Not only must Stenwold die but his home city of Collegium must go with him...
If a whole continent at war wasn’t enough, the Wasp Emperor seeks to take dominion of his realm to new heights. At stake is nothing less than a reign lasting a thousand years but darker forces are at work in the background and the stakes are far higher than anyone could imagine...

Having started this post the way I have, I guess what I really ought to do first is go into why reading ‘Dragonfly Falling’ has been such a stop/start affair for me. The bottom line is that the book felt a little bit imbalanced in terms of the characters and what Tchaikovsky had them doing. ‘Dragonfly Falling’ is just under seven hundred pages long but there is still a large cast all vying for attention and getting up to lots of mischief. A result of this is that Tchaikovsky has to make room for them all and sacrifices have to be made in terms what the reader gets to see, this is where I had problems really getting into the story....

I’ll admit that some of the problems I faced arose from a personal preference for reading about some characters rather than others. I’m willing to accept that Cheerwell Maker is a character is slowly growing into a role that will be worth the read in future, it doesn’t mean that I have to enjoy her chapters in the meantime however (I find her role as ‘hanger on’ frustrating as it’s not going anywhere at the moment).
Totho is a similar character in this respect although he is now beginning to realise his potential in some of the plotlines that Tchaikovsky sends him down. My problem with Totho though is that him constantly bemoaning his fate (and whining over an unrequited love) is really starting to get me down... I told you this was a personal thing!

The main problem I found though was that by having to concentrate on so many characters, bits of story seemed to go missing that I really wanted to know more about. Certain points would be built up to a climax that happened off the page and be explained away ‘a couple of days later’ because the story demanded that we find out what happened with another character. It’s always the way that the things that are hidden away are the things that I want to know more about...

As much as this frustrated me I still kept coming back to ‘Dragonfly Falling’ for another read. I couldn’t help myself; I really wanted to know what happened next to Stenwold and his friends. Despite the sometimes clunky feel, Tchaikovsky fills ‘Dragonfly Falling’ with a heady mix of action and politicking that had me hooked right from the opening pages. The siege scenes are stunning not only in their power but also in the innovations that the Wasps bring to the field. Anything can happen and it makes the impact all the more powerful when it does.
The machinations of various factions, behind the scenes, also made for gripping reading as far as I was concerned. Not only do the constant back stabbings and betrayal result in some action packed moments, you can also never really tell where certain alliances are going to lead and this uncertainty adds a little spice to the story.
The action and politicking also combine to give the reader a wider look at the world of the Lowlands and beyond. We’re constantly finding out more about the Lowlands in the way that doesn’t feel as if we’re having information dumped on us, we’re also getting tantalising hints of lands and people that we are still to meet. I hope we meet them...

Despite owning up to being annoyed by certain characters, I found that the people I met in ‘Dragonfly Falling’ were just as engaging as they were in ‘Empire in Black and Gold’. It’s good to catch up with people like Stenwold Maker, Salma Dien (fast becoming a favourite of mine) and even the Wasp Major Thalric. I found myself really understanding what they were about and sympathising with them (and their actions) all as a result. I’m looking forward to meeting them again in the next book.

Like I said, I found ‘Dragonfly Falling’ to be a frustrating clunky read at times but the good shone through in such a way that I’m in for the long haul more than ever. I’m glad I stuck with it, if you’re a fan then I reckon you’ll enjoy it too.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Monday, 23 March 2009

‘The Caryatids’ – Bruce Sterling (Del Rey)


The last time I read anything with Bruce Sterling’s name on the front cover was when I was going through a phase of reading William Gibson’s work (years ago now) and picked up ‘The Difference Engine’ for a read. I wasn’t all that impressed with the book to be honest (too much detail and not enough story for my liking) but came away knowing that I’d have to give Sterling another go at some point. Well, you know how it goes... Nine or ten years later on and it took a copy of Sterling’s new novel, ‘The Caryatids’, landing on the doormat to remind me of yet another author that I’d always meant to check out properly but never got round to.
As it turned out, I personally don’t feel like I’ve missed out during those ten years. I found that I had the same problems with ‘The Caryatids’ that I did with ‘The Difference Engine’...

Fifty years from now, the Earth is divided into three spheres of influence that are at each others throats over dwindling natural resources and what’s left of dead countries. China is the sole surviving nation state and has only achieved this through relentlessly pruning its own population. The other two factions are the Dispensation (based in Los Angeles and very much all about the money that they can make) and the Acquis (a ‘green-centric’ collective working to regain the land and achieving their own utopia through invasive neurological technology.
Into this dying world are born the Caryatids, the four surviving female clones of a mad Balkan war criminal. Together, these four women might just have it in them to save the world from any number of natural (and manmade disasters) but the only problem is that they cannot stand the sight of each other...

The world of the Caryatids is a world on the brink and Sterling makes this very clear to his readers. Not only are we presented with the aftermath of intense pollution damage (and how important it is that it’s all cleared) but we are also shown that the planet is still more than capable of surprising with things like earthquakes etc. Not only are we shown a picture of humanity being threatened by it’s own world but it’s also made clear that if our own planet doesn’t kill us off then our own sun just might do the job instead. The scenes where this becomes apparent are all the more hard hitting (once you realise what’s happening) due to the totally alien nature of the event. It’s outside anyone’s understanding as it’s happening...

Sterling’s world (fifty years down the line) is beautifully drawn as well, completely immersing the reader in the technology and cultures of the Dispensation, Acquis and Chinese State. Everything seems to fit so well together, even the disparities between factions ‘fit’ in that they really do come across as arising from a plausible conflict of ideologies. I’m also a big fan of some of the tech on display (‘low’ tech as well as ‘high’), in particular the Acquis ‘Boneware’ and ‘Attention Camps’ where people’s aptitudes are determined by what catches their eye the most.

In such an intricate world then, it’s a shame that it seems like not a lot actually happens...

We are introduced to each of the Caryatids over the course of the book and they are all moved towards a conclusion that makes sense given their characters. The problem is though that Sterling’s descriptive passages often become ‘info-dumps’ that shift the balance of the story away from the four clones and make the book more of a guided tour through a damaged earth rather than about the Caryatids themselves. This was a real shame, especially when you get glimpses of how the more feisty Caryatids (Biserka and Sonja) could be if the story allowed them to breathe a little...

Now, I could be totally wrong and this is what the book is meant to do. It just came across as imbalanced and this made ‘The Caryatids’ awkward to read. A book that’s only two hundred and ninety three pages long shouldn’t take as long to read as it did for me!
‘The Caryatids’ is an example of gorgeous worldbuilding but sometimes it felt like that was all it was. This wouldn’t have been so bad but I thought it was going to be a lot more...

Seven out of Ten

Monday Morning Funnies (the Star Wars Edition)!

If you've had a morning like mine then you need something to make you laugh as well... You may have seen these before but they made me laugh so here they are! :o)



(It looks like you have to click on the top one in order to be able to see it properly...)

Competition Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered the 'Escape from Hell' and 'Stone Dance of the Chameleon Trilogy' competitions. The lucky winners were...

'Escape from Hell'

Kristen Hendricks, Milltown, New Jersey


'The Stone Dance of the Chameleon Trilogy'

Casey Buell, Long Beach, California
Nicole Simmons, Enderby, Canada
Adrian Marley, County Louth, Ireland

Well done guys, your books should all be on their way very soon...

Better luck next time everyone else!

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Giveaway! 'Godmother' - Carolyn Turgeon


Did you read my Review of Carolyn Turgeon's 'Godmother' and think to yourself, "I wouldn't mind a copy of that to read..."? Well, here's your chance to pick up a copy to read for the grand price of absolutely nothing (US entries only though, sorry everyone else...)

Thanks to Three Rivers Press, I have three copies of 'Godmother' to give away. If you fancy your chances, simply drop me an email telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. Leaving comments next to the post is always nice for me to read but these do not count as entries, that's just the way it is... I'll pick the winners.

I'll let this one run until Sunday 29th March and announce the winners on the 30th.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Giveaway! 'Empress of Mars' - Kage Baker


Having thoroughly enjoyed Kage Baker's The House of The Stag, I was really pleased to get an advance copy of her next book 'The Empress of Mars' (an expansion of a previous novella) through the post. Wanting to spread the love a little, I got in touch with Tor so see if they'd be up for a giveaway. They were and here's what's on offer...

Thanks to Tor, I have one signed ARC and one finished copy of 'Empress' to give away. Do you want one? You do? Are you living in the US? (It's US entries only) Then read on...

All you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling who you are, your mailing address and whether you would like the ARC or finished copy. Comments next to the post are brilliant but only email entries will be accepted...

I'll let this one run until the 29th of March and will announce the winners on the following Monday...

Good Luck!

Friday, 20 March 2009

‘Bone: Eyes of the Storm’ – Jeff Smith (Scholastic)


The thing about having a comic book drawer, instead of shelves, is that you sometimes forget what’s in it... Not a lot I can do about that really apart from try to work out where to put new shelves. Anyway... Last night I suddenly remembered that I still had one more ‘Bone’ book to read (in the pack that I bought a while ago) and this seemed like the best way to wind down to the weekend (‘The Caryatids’ isn’t great so far but more on that another time).
I was right, reading about Fone Bone’s adventures is the best way to say goodbye to a rotten week...

The Great Cow Race is over for another year and various repairs are going on in the aftermath of the rat creature’s latest attack. There’s still plenty happening though. Not only are Fone Bone and Thorn having weird dreams but these dreams seem to be connected, and what is the red dragon doing in them? Phoney Bone has another money making scheme up his sleeve while Smiley Bone is living in a world of his own but having a great time doing so. Everything is about to change though. The rat creatures are stirring in the woods and Gran’ma Ben’s reaction to Thorn’s dreams show that there is a lot more going on than there initially seems. These two incidents are connected and it might just mean that Fone Bone, Thorn and Gran’ma have to leave the farm forever...

‘Eyes of the Storm’ is the moment where the ‘Bone’ series suddenly opens up with new possibilities. The glorious landscape that Fone Bone first encounters in ‘Out from Boneville’ suddenly comes across as quite limiting in scope, there is so much more out there that we are still to see... After two books introducing us to the valley, this revelation comes at just the right time and I’m definitely keen to find out what happens next.
It’s the movement of the rat creatures and Gran’ma Ben that sparks the change and these moments are handled superbly. The chase through the storm is really tense with black panels suddenly being illuminated by lightening and showing just how close danger really is. The confrontation between Thorn and Gran’ma is also highly charged and compelling, especially once you find out what is really going on. The book ends on a real cliff-hanger and, like I said, I’m eager to find out what happens next.



The artwork is as gorgeous as ever and really adds to the mood. I can’t find the picture to post (and believe me I spent most of the morning looking!) but there is a frame where Fone Bone is lost at sea and the red dragon’s head suddenly appears... It’s a lovely picture (trust me on this), very dreamlike which is apt considering that Fone Bone is dreaming!
The antics of Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone make me laugh every time I see them (especially some of Phoney Bone’s more bizarre money making schemes) and also serve to emphasis how serious the other events are. The pursuit of money, at the expense of all else, can only end sadly though and this is another reason why I find that I have to keep reading this series. Will Phoney Bone change his ways? Does he even want to...?

‘Bone’ ends here for me but only until I can lay my hands on more of the books. Hopefully that won’t be too long, I’m really enjoying the series and ‘Eyes of the Storm’ more than meets the standards set by the first two books...

Ten out of Ten

Angry Robot signs up Dan Abnett!


Here's what the press release has to say (sounds good as well)...

Angry Robot is HarperCollins’ upcoming imprint devoted to all that’s new in genre fiction – SF, F and WTF?! Today, we are delighted to announce we’ve signed noted SF & Fantasy author DAN ABNETT for three original novels, for a substantial five-figure advance.

Dan Abnett made his name in the tie-in SF and Fantasy fiction field, selling more than 1.2 million copies in English language of his Warhammer 40,000 novels. They’ve also been translated into ten other languages. He’s also recently made the UK fiction charts with original Torchwood and Doctor Who novels. His comicbook scripts, for major publishers such as Marvel, DC Comics and the UK’s 2000 AD, have attracted critical plaudits and strong sales on both sides of the Atlantic.

The three novels for Angry Robot will allow Abnett to play to all his strengths as a writer. His penchant for wildly imaginative world-building and lovable characters comes to the fore in TRIUMPH, a ribald historical fantasy set in a warped version of our present day … only with Elizabeth the First on the throne. This will be published by Angry Robot, in both the UK and US, in October 2009.

Next year will see two novels in a stunning new future-war setting. EMBEDDED sends a
journalist into the frontline of a distant planetary war… chipped inside the head of a combat veteran. When the soldier is killed, the journo must use all his resourcefulness to get safely home again, reporting on a live feed all the way. No one writes future war as well as Dan Abnett, and fans of tie-in series such as “Gaunt’s Ghosts” and his “Horus Heresy” novels will be blown away by this bold new move into original science fiction.


I'm a fan of the 'Gaunt's Ghosts' and 'Horus Heresy' books so I'm definitely interested to see what he comes up with next...

Have a look at Dan Abnett's site Here.
The Angry Robot Books site can be found over Here.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

‘One’ – Conrad Williams (Virgin)


On particularly dull days at work I like to while away the hours by imagining how I would cope in the event of something large and very nasty happening to the city of London. There’s something very sobering about thinking of what would happen to me, in the event of civilisation collapsing, and it’s usually enough to either help me appreciate my job that bit more or get me daydreaming about fighting my way through zombies instead. Either is good!
I’ve always had the feeling that mankind is rather uncomfortable with its own mortality and things like my daydreams are a reflection of this. Sometimes these reflections can make their way onto the written page as post apocalyptic fiction and this is where Conrad Williams’ ‘One’ comes in...

As someone who fixes the bits of oil rigs that are deep underwater, Richard Jane misses the end of the world when it comes around. There’s no way that he will be missing the aftermath though, not when he’s up in Aberdeen and his five year old son is in London. The roads are molten and the rain burns. Rats are starting to lay claim to the thousands of corpses that litter the countryside but they’re by no means the most potent threat to what remains of humanity. The threat is in the air and soon it will be in us, Richard Jane had better find his son soon...

‘One’ is an intriguing blend of horror and science fiction that (apart from a couple of issues) really kept me turning the pages to find out not only how it all ended but how it all began as well... That’s the beauty of ‘One’, because all the survivors were underground when ‘The Event’ took place, no-one can really tell how it all came about to start off with (for the first part of the book anyway). This leaves Williams with lots of time to get inside the head of Richard Jane, exploring his motivations and reactions to what is going on around him. This is also true with the supporting cast but only to an extent, this is a ‘one character book’ and Richard Jane is that character. A quick point though, Williams refers to Richard Jane by his surname throughout the entire book and I had to keep reminding myself that it was a man I was reading about...

Richard’s story is one of bloody minded obsession, he is on a mission to find his son and nothing is going to get between him and his goal. Not even his deteriorating mental and physical state... Questions over his sanity are asked over the course of the book, the answers are initially vague but everything is all tied up in an ending that is sad but entirely appropriate to the tone of the book. Williams doesn’t shy away from having Richard ask the kind of questions that any survivor would find themselves asking. Do you trust anyone enough to travel with them? What if they’re holding you back? At what point do you kill in order to survive? All these questions are asked and answered in a manner both unflinching and uncompromising.

It’s a shame then that the first part of the book feels so slow... I can understand why it needs to be like this, a journey from Aberdeen to London (on foot) isn’t going to be over quickly! It is slow though and this isn’t helped by the fact that there is only so much stuff you can uncover in a character’s mind before he starts reacting to external stimulus in the same way... The external stimulus is intense though, very much so! The landscape is also beautifully drawn to reflect both the catastrophe that has overcome it and the ruined landscape inside Richard’s mind. This, more than anything else, is what kept me going.

Be careful when you start reading the second part of the book. There’s a big jump forward in time that isn’t made particularly clear, especially given what happens at the very end of part one. Once you realise what it is, the jump works very well but it doesn’t work so well if you’re not expecting it. This bit had me re-reading the first couple of pages a few times...
Once I got over this bit though things really picked up at a pace that is a lot faster than the first part. We get to find out what was behind the original ‘Event’ and this adds a real element of danger to a London that only has a maximum of three thousand people living in it. There is no such thing as a safe place to hide, even though you might think that there is...
The fear and intensity is relentless, right up until an ending that coats a thin veneer of hope over a feeling that things can only get worse. Fair play to Williams for admitting that if something horrendously bad happens there’s a real likelihood that things won’t get better...

‘One’ can be a bit slow and clunky in places but once you get into the story itself then you’ll forgive it its faults. Well worth a look if you’re a horror fan. ‘One’ will be published by Virgin Books on the 15th of April.

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

‘World of Warcraft’ Wednesday!

Because alliteration is always cool... :o)

I’ve always found it odd that while I can sit and read for hours I’ve got the attention span of a gnat when it comes to spending a similar amount of time playing computer games. Grand Theft Auto is one of my favourite games but you can guarantee that within ten minutes I’ll have stopped trying to complete the mission and decided to drive around Liberty City mowing down innocent pedestrians instead. It’s the same kind of thing with Star Wars: Battlefront, while my comrades are holding out against stormtroopers I find myself shooting ewoks and seeing what happens if I climb out of my X-Wing in mid-flight. I won’t tell you what I did to the citizens of Mos Espa, suffice it to say that a young Anakin Skywalker refused to help me onto the next stage of the game...

It’s no surprise then that I’ve never felt the urge to give the ‘World of Warcraft’ a go. A game that demands you sacrifice hours out of your day to complete quests? I wouldn’t last an hour before I got bored, tried to do something stupid and got myself in so much trouble that I would never be able to show face in the World of Warcraft ever again. ‘World of Warcraft’ books are a completely different deal though, I could read these and not do anything silly at all. Thanks to Tokyopop, I got the chance to check out some of their ‘World of Warcraft’ manga. Here’s what I thought...



‘Warcraft: Dragon Hunt’ - Richard Knaak & Jae-Hwan Kim

‘Dragon Hunt’ is the opening shot in Richard Knaak’s ‘Sunwell Trilogy’ and is one of those books that has the weird effect of leaving me non-plussed but interested in seeing where it goes next. A mysterious power has arisen in the world of Azeroth and it’s a race to see whether the blue dragon Kalec or the forces of the Undead Scourge get their hands on it first...
While I really enjoyed Jae-Hwan Kim’s artwork (which really brought Azeroth and its inhabitants to life) Knaak’s story didn’t do so well. There’s plenty of action and betrayal but the bottom line is that it’s the beginning of a quest story with all that entails. Cue lots of characters being manoeuvred into position for questing, the discovery of where the mysterious power resides and the introduction of the evil villain. It’s all handled well but I just couldn’t escape from the feeling that I’d seen it all before. When the beautiful (yet mysterious) maiden met the down on his luck (but still rock hard) warrior I knew that I had. The thing is though, I still find myself wanting to find out what happens next so it must be doing something right...

Seven out of Ten



‘Warcraft: Legends (Volume One) – Various

This one was more like it however. The first volume of ‘Legends’ collects four different tales from the Warcraft world and, as such, doesn’t give the reader too much time to get bogged down in formulaic storytelling. The clich├ęs are still there but at least there’s some variety. ‘Fallen’ is best read after you have read the ‘Sunwell Trilogy’ but this tale of a bid to escape a curse still makes for an interesting read.
‘The Journey’ was perhaps my favourite of the four with it’s warnings of the perils of war made recklessly and what might happen if you try to do the right thing by your family. It was nothing that I hadn’t read before but I still felt a little sad at the end...
‘How to win friends’ (a tale of a gnome who makes friends the hard way in his new town) was actually my least favourite of the bunch with a tale that was too clearly signposted to be anything other than feel good fluff. The little guy always wins through and this was very clearly the case here.
After the letdown that was ‘How to win friends’, ‘An honest trade’ was a good way to round the book off as it ends things on more of a high. A weaponsmith dwarf learns to grow a conscience (over whose hands his blades end up in) at the cost of his son’s life. His quest for some kind of redemption culminates in an encounter with the orc who killed his son... This is an intense tale and I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of Nori Blackfinger’s adventures leading up to the final encounter, good stuff.

Seven and a half out of Ten

It’s probably fairest to say that these books are most likely to appeal to Warcraft fans, they were harmless fun for me. I wouldn’t mind reading more of these books but can’t see myself going out of my way to get a copy...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

‘Best Served Cold’ – Joe Abercrombie (Gollancz)


I said that you wouldn’t have to wait too long! ;o)
Here’s a question for you. You’re an author who has just written a trilogy that has garnered loads and loads of praise. What do you do next? Do you write another trilogy (safe in the knowledge that your fans will lap it up) or do you try something a little different and aim at fitting a whole trilogy’s worth of goodness into one ‘stand alone’ novel? I know what I’d do (because I’m as mercenary as any of the characters in ‘Best Served Cold’) but Joe decided to try something a little different. I’m glad he did and, if you’re a fan, I reckon you’ll be glad too. If you haven’t read any of Joe Abercrombie’s books then pick up ‘The Blade Itself’ and go from there...

No matter what you do for a living there is always a price to pay for being too good at your job. For Monza Murcatto (the Snake of Talins, most feared and famous mercenary in all Styria) being too good at her job fuels the more paranoid thoughts of her employer and ends up with her being thrown down a mountain and left for dead. Monza isn’t dead though and now she is after revenge on all the men who were in that room when she was betrayed. Her allies include the most disreputable scum Styria has to offer and a barbarian who wants to make a new start and be a better man. Her enemies are... pretty much everyone else. And all that is before the most dangerous man in the world is dispatched to hunt her down...

As far as I’m concerned Joe Abercrombie’s books seem to just get better with each one that’s published. In case that isn’t enough of a clue I’ll admit to being a big fan of all of Joe’s books and I’m trying to talk in a sensible way about how much I enjoyed book without falling into pointless fanboy gushing. Whichever way I fall, it’s still a great book.

‘Best Served Cold’ is a book where the central theme is betrayal. It’s not just Monza’s betrayal that we get to learn about (although that is the mainstay of the plot); there are plenty of other examples of betrayal to get to grips with. At a rate of betrayal that stands at almost one betrayal every other page (or feels like it) ‘Best Served Cold’ is a sordid examination of the lowest points of the human condition. Everyone is out for themselves and they don’t care who they have to step on to get what they want.
Depressing? Yes, but only to an extent. It is sobering, to say the least, to see the dreams stripped from our barbarian friend (who you will have met before, he’s not who you think though) but Abercrombie does allow a measure of redemption to be sought and sometimes even gained. The nature of everyone’s scheming also breaks the air of cynicism that the novel possesses. The reader is allowed to witness elaborate schemes that put others to shame, cruel fate is also allowed its head in scenes that are almost slapstick in their comedy.

The characters on show also make ‘Best Served Cold’ a story that demands you follow it, especially as two of them give a twist to events right at the end. No one is perfect by any means and we are shown this in no uncertain terms. What we’re also shown though is precisely what led each of the main players to where they are now and this casts a whole new light on events. There’s no such thing as a stereotypical ‘evil’ character in ‘Best Served Cold’, just people who are paying the price for choices that they made themselves. There is a measure of sympathy to be had for all of them and they are all well drawn enough that this sympathy comes easily.

Of course; watching a bunch of disreputable and completely untrustworthy characters bounce off each other, over the course of the book, is perhaps the most fun of all. While these people have respect for one another they don’t trust each other at all. Watching the directions that this distrust sends the plot down is dizzying and compelling all at the same time.

If all this wasn’t enough, Abercrombie gives proceedings a good dose of what made his last three books such a gripping read. There are battles that are about as real as you could possibly imagine although you may not want to after you’ve read about them. People actually respond in ways that seem reasonable given the situations that they face. There’s even a noble goat with important lessons to teach us...
All of this results in a book that gives us a better look at a wider world only hinted at in the ‘First Law’ trilogy. There are hints at a big confrontation on the horizon and I for one am going to be around to see it all kick off.

‘Best Served Cold’ was sat fairly high on my ‘Most Anticipated Books of 2009’ list, now it’s firmly on my ‘Favourite Books of 2009 List’. Read it.

Ten out of Ten

Monday, 16 March 2009

The 'Not a Best Served Cold review' post...

*shuffles feet and stares at the ground*

Yes, I know that today was supposed to be ‘Best Served Cold Review Day’ but... but... The bottom line is that superb as it is (and believe me it is superb) ‘Best Served Cold’ does not make for good ‘hang over reading’ and I was hung over for a large part of the weekend... I’m a large chunk of the way through (maybe a couple of hundred pages left) though and the plan is to have a review posted as soon as possible. In the meantime, just take it from me that ‘Best Served Cold’ is a very good read. If you’re a fan of Joe Abercrombie’s books then you’ve got a treat in store for you...

This is all well and good but what do you get in the meantime? Well, I spent the weekend with my mates (from the SFX Forum) and such a weekend always entails trips to comic shops. Here’s a little look at what I picked up and it’s all good...



‘The Goon: Virtue and the Grim Consequences Thereof’ – Eric Powell

If it wasn’t for the consistently excellent ‘The Walking Dead’ then ‘The Goon’ would be my favourite comic book series by a long way. As it is, ‘The Goon’ still does more than enough to give me a regular fix of hilarious ‘gangster horror’. Franky doesn’t get to use his ‘Knife to the eye!’ signature move in ‘Virtue’ but there is more than enough going on to mean that this isn’t such a big loss. What we do get is the Goon’s brief period as an American football player and the resulting tragic bloodbath that erupts. I liked the way that this answers the question of where the Zombie Priest got all his men from... We are also asked to ponder the question of whether virtue is its own reward if trying to help out a friend lands you in Cade’s Island Penitentary. And what a prison this place is! Don’t mess with the bulls or you’ll be going in the hole... We also get to meet Willie Nagel, a zombie who doesn’t want to get caught up in the rackets and just wants to make an honest life for himself. It’s a shame for him then that he’s trying to do all this on the Goon’s turf...

‘Virtue and the Grim Consequences Thereof’ is another fun read (although I wasn’t too sure about the ‘Christmas Carol’ story...), I feel another ‘Goon’ comic buying expedition coming on very soon!



‘Zombie’ – Kyle Hotz

Cash stolen from the botched bank job: $125,000
Two loaded shotguns keeping the hostages quiet: $675.00
A half tank of gas in the getaway car: $27.50
Smashing through a police roadblock and fighting for your life against hundreds of flesh eating zombies: Priceless


I’ve been trying to finish off my ‘Zombie’ collection (was missing one comic) for a while now and this weekend I decided to just go for it and buy the trade. I’m really glad I did...

The quote (which is the blurb on the back of the book) pretty much sums up the entire story, a heist that goes wrong in the worst way possible. It’s very fast paced and, as a result, more than a little shallow. There isn’t enough time to really get into people’s heads. That’s ok though, at least it was for me, and page after page of flesh tearing zombie action always works always works as far as I’m concerned!

The tension is stretched to breaking point and the stakes get higher and higher. In the spirit of all good zombie fiction we see that no-one really wins when there’s a zombie infestation on your doorstep. ‘Zombie’ has well and truly earned it’s place on my shelf of cool zombie comics...



The Zombies that ate the World’ – Jerry Frissen

A question that I’ve seen asked a couple of times, just recently, is why do zombies feel the need to eat? Not only this but what would it be like living in a world where zombies had returned but were not chowing down on the living...

Jerry Frissen answers the second question with his opening tales of a world where zombies are governed only by learned responses from when they were alive. This can make them more of a nuisance than anything else but these days they have rights and you can’t just put a bullet in their head. Enter Karl and Maggie, the kind of people you call when your zombie father in law insists on climbing in bed while you’re getting intimate with your wife. You see, Karl and Maggie perform illegal cremations (they also dig up zombified film stars for kinky millionaires but that’s another story)...

‘The Zombies that ate the World’ isn’t particularly clear about what it sets out to do but a second read sets that straight. What you get is a comic that gives the zombie mythos a little spin and comes out with something that’s both clever and funny in equal measure. This is first in a series of eight, I’ll be picking the rest up and letting you know what I think...

'Nights of Villjamur' & 'The City and The City' - Winners!

Thanks to everyone who emailed in to enter these competitions. In an ideal world I would have been able to give books to everyone but this isn't an ideal world I'm afraid... :o( There could only be four winners and they were...

Nights of Villjamur

Angela MacRae, Inverness, Scotland
Simon Ward, London, UK
Chris Rands, Chester, UK

The City and The City

Gillian Coyle, Leeds, UK

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

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Giveaway! 'Escape from Hell'


You've read my review, how do you fancy winning yourself a copy of Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle's 'Escape from Hell'? Are you a US resident (because this one is 'US only' I'm afraid...)? If you have answered 'yes' to both of these questions then read on...

Thanks to the folk at Tor Books, I have one copy of 'Escape from Hell' to give to one lucky reader. Entering is as easy as always, all you have to do is drop me an email (address is at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll pick a winner...

I'm not sure how long I'll let this one run for as I may be going away next week. For now, lets say that all entries should be in by the 22nd of March and I'll announce the winner on the 23rd. I'll let you know if that changes.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Giveaway! The 'Stone Dance of the Chameleon' Trilogy (Ricardo Pinto)


To mark the release of Ricardo Pinto's 'The Third God' (the concluding book in the 'Stone Dance of the Chameleon' trilogy), Transworld Books have very kindly agreed to supply me with three sets of the complete trilogy to give away right here on the blog. I've never read the books myself (although that will be changing) but I understand that some fans will have been waiting a while for 'The Third God'... ;o)

So, how do you fancy winning a complete set of the trilogy? By the way, this competition is open to anyone and everyone, it doesn't matter where you live! It's simple, just drop me an email telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll pick the winners.

I might be on holiday, the week after this one coming, so this one may end up running longer than a week. I'll let you know if it does but, in the meantime, let's just say that this competition will run until the 22nd of March and I'll announce the winners on the 23rd...

Good Luck!

Friday, 13 March 2009

What I've been watching...

I never thought I'd hear myself say this but going to the gym has completely taken over my life just recently, leaving not an awful lot of time for reading and watching movies... I haven't given up just yet though and managed to squeeze in a couple of films over the last week. Here's what I thought...



'Candyman'
'Candyman' was one of those films that playground rumour had built into one of the most scary films ever. You know the ones I mean don't you?

"My brother's best mate saw it last week and he hasn't been able to go to sleep since he watched it!"

"Yeah well, my brother's best mate's sister's friend saw it and said 'Candyman' five times... We haven't seen her since..."

In case you are wondering, this conversation actually happened.
Sue found me a copy of 'Candyman', for Christmas, and I finally got round to watching it the other day. I haven't been able to sleep since and I keep chickening out of saying the final 'Candyman'... Ok, it's not that bad but 'Candyman' is one seriously scary film! 'Candyman' really racked up the tension for me with an air of relentless menace. The villain of the piece didn't even turn up until about halfway through and I was already looking nervously over my shoulder by this point... Tony Todd's Candyman character is compelling, especially as you never really know when he is about to explode with rage. I'm really glad I finally got to watch this film, I reckon I'm going to have to find the two sequels. Has anyone seen them?



'Cloverfield'
Am I always the last person to see last year's big movie? It sure feels like it sometimes... I watched 'Cloverfield' on DVD (you don't need me to tell you the story, you probably knew it before I did!) and my initial thought was that I wish I'd gone to see it in the cinema. Getting straight to the point, it was too dark and the camera wobbled around like no-ones business... I didn't even realise they were in that half collapsed building until one of the group pretty much said, "we're in a half collapsed building..."
The funny thing is though... About half an hour after I'd finished ranting to myself how awful the film was I actually realised that 'Cloverfield' is a pretty good film after all. It's not the films fault that I didn't see it in the cinema!
The bit where they're in the subway and get attacked by the spider creatures, the bit where the guy looks up and the monster is just stood there looking at him... It's all great cinema! I also loved the way that random bits of video footage cut in and out of the main plot, building up a sweet little romantic subplot.
Maybe I should have seen 'Cloverfield' in the cinema, when I had the chance, but I'm glad I saw it in the end...

My Blog is Fabulous!

It really is, James said so right Here. Thanks James!

The deal is that I have to list five things that I really couldn't live without so here goes...

1) Books. It's an obvious one but oh so true. If it wasn't for my books then my inevitable descent into 'Commuter Rage' would have come a long long time ago. As it is, the inevitable is being delayed one book at a time...

2) My Missus. She jumps out of aeroplanes and does a great impression of that Japanese guy who was constantly ambushing Inspector Clouseau in the 'Pink Panther' films. I wouldn't laugh half so much if she wasn't around.

3) My i-pod. For reasons very similar to the reasons why I can't do without my books. On the tube I'm an agry person waiting to explode... ;o)

4) Chicken and Chips. The food of Kings! That is all...

5) Strawberry Fruitella. I could give up smoking but these little devils have got me totally hooked, damn them...

And here's the bit where I nominate five blogs that I think are fabulous. Some of them may have been nominated already but I don't care, they're still fabulous!

Fantasy Debut.
The Book Smugglers.
Fantasy Book News & Reviews.
Blood of the Muse.
Dave Brendon's Blog.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

‘Escape from Hell’ – Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (Tor)


Way back in 1976 Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle wrote a book called ‘Inferno’, a modern day retelling of ‘The Divine Comedy’ where a recently deceased sci-fi author finds himself guided through the nine circles of Hell by one Benito Mussolini. I was only a few months old when ‘Inferno’ was published so never got round to picking the book up. Come to think of it, I still haven’t got round to picking the book up...
Anyway, fast forward thirty three years and Niven and Pournelle have written a sequel to ‘Inferno’ which came through the door a couple of days ago. Any book that has the word ‘Escape’ on the front (and in big letters) is bound to get my interest and... Escape from Hell? You can’t escape from Hell... can you?
I thought I had better read the book and find out...

With the help of Benito Mussolini sci-fi author Allen Carpenter managed to escape the nine circles of Hell but remained haunted by the sight of those souls that he saw as being tortured unfairly. There was only one thing that he could do, go back into Hell and rescue as many souls as he could...
Now Carpenter is back in Hell and on a mission. If he can’t rescue souls then the very least that he wants to be able to do is to point them in the right direction. Carpenter barely managed to escape the last time though, will he be able to do it again?

As much as I enjoyed this book it’s worth mentioning that you really shouldn’t pay the ‘action packed thriller’ comment, on the front, too much attention. While there are moments where the pace heats up ‘Escape from Hell’ is more of a thoughtful work where Allen Carpenter is forced to question his own role in Hell and the fate of those he finds there. This takes place over what is essentially a guided tour of Hell for those who haven’t read Dante’s work. The background setting is suitably demonic and Niven & Pournelle do well to show the reader that while Hell’s evil is cast in stone, humanity’s free will makes for an evil that is a lot more flexible and can do a lot more harm. This makes for some interesting encounters with characters whose predicament gives rise to reactions that you wouldn’t necessarily expect. Some people would rather rule in Hell than serve in Heaven, others have made a promise and fully intend to stick by it; others do repent of their sins despite where they have ended up... Each and every encounter gives you plenty to think about, whether it’s about Allen (and the role he must play) or the people who he is trying to save.

The only real problem with the ‘guided tour’ format is that it lends a very repetitive air to proceedings. It’s very much a case of ‘Allen goes to the next circle, meets a sinner, tries to talk them into escaping, succeeds/fails, and repeat...’ I’ll admit that I had an issue with this; the repetitive nature of the plot did have me starting to yawn on more than one occasion...

What saves ‘Escape from Hell’ from being a one trick pony is not only the thoughtful nature of the subject matter but also the way in which Niven & Pournelle take each character through their own internal journey to decide whether they should seek to escape Hell or not. Some of the historical characters they choose to focus on make for some interesting reading. While the obvious choices (such as Hitler and Stalin) are featured it’s characters such as Sylvia Plath, Lester Del Rey and William Bonney that stir the imagination as we get an idea of their motivations in life and how their thinking may have changed now they’re in the afterlife The book also asks the reader whether they agree with Allen or not regarding the question of whether people deserve the punishments of Hell. Does everyone who’s there deserve to be there? Most people do, at least to start off with...

‘Escape from Hell’ is a slow old read but one that certainly got me thinking, I reckon it will get you thinking too.

Eight out of Ten

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

‘Foundling’ – D.M. Cornish (Penguin)


Last week I posted pictures of my ‘Reading Pile of Shame’ and invited readers to suggest what they thought I should read next. Larry had good things to say about D.M. Cornish’s ‘Foundling’, a book that I’d been meaning to read for a while now but never got round to (that actually applies to the whole reading pile, not enough hours in the day etc etc...) Larry said that ‘Foundling’ was a “Great, great book and very imaginative”, he’s a guy who knows what he’s talking about so I decided to make ‘Foundling’ the first book to read off the back of the post.
I’m glad I did, ‘Foundling’ was everything that Larry said plus some more...

The unfortunately named Rossamund Bookchild has spent a rather unfortunate childhood as an orphan at Madam Opera’s Estimable Maritime Society for Foundling Boys and Girls. He has been sheltered, thus far, from a world where monsters lurk outside walled cities (and prey on humankind) but this is about to change with his impending recruitment into the Lamplighters, soldiers who protect the Empire’s roads from all evil.
Before Rossamund can become a Lamplighter however, he must make his way across the Half Continent to their base of operations. This is a journey perilous enough for the hardiest of travellers but for a boy who has led a sheltered life and has a habit of getting himself into a lot of trouble...

This hasn’t been the case recently but I generally tend not to read ‘young adult’ books, not through any snobbishness but purely because there’s a whole load of fantasy/sci-fi/horror for adults out there that I want to read first. There’s only so much time to read after all... ‘Foundling’ is very much one of those books that straddles the line between ‘young adult’ and ‘adult’ fiction. Adults could certainly read ‘Foundling’ without having to worry about reading a ‘kids book’, some of the things that we come across in the book are anything but childish...

‘Foundling’ is a very dark and sinister read where the line between good and evil is initially marked clearly and then blurred so much as to be almost illegible. The fact that you get to see this blurring through the eyes of a rather naive child somehow makes it all the more unsettling. Nothing is as it seems, neither the tenets that the Empire is built upon nor the people that Rossamund meets in the course of his travels. Are monsters really that evil? Some might say that they are, why else would they be called monsters? ‘Foundling’ challenges this though by having Rossamund question what he sees happening around him. The only thing I would say here though is that perhaps the secret behind Rossamund’s birth is signposted a little too clearly for what is only the first book in a series. His reactions to certain sights and sounds gave the game away a little for me, although I could still be proved wrong...

The Half Continent is a gloriously grim early industrial age setting full of smugglers, adventurers and evil (looking) monsters all doing what they do best. As a result, ‘Foundling’ overcomes the occasional monotony of Rossamund’s journey (because journeys do get boring when not a lot is happening, a charge that can be levelled at the book from time to time) to become a tale full of strange encounters, fiendish foes and daring chases. This is just my kind of thing and large chunks of the book just flew by as I was so into it. The setting is appropriately gloomy, making certain explosive events come to life even more and also leaving the reader in no doubt that this is a land somehow deserving of the monsters that dwell there. ‘Foundling’ isn’t just a story, it’s also a highly detailed trip through an alien land (ably assisted by a comprehensive glossary and one of the nicer looking maps that I’ve seen in fantasy fiction).

Character wise, Rossamund is our main player and (fittingly) the book is all about him and how he develops as a person after leaving the Marine Society. The boy who reaches the end of the book is not the same boy who started out at the beginning. I’m looking forward to reading the next book ‘Lamplighter’ to see how he develops further.
It’s not just Rossamund who shines though. Every character you meet has a little something that endears you to them and makes you want to meet them again, whether it’s the affable Postman Fouracres or the villainous Captain Poundinch....

Despite its faults, ‘Foundling’ was an immensely enjoyable read. D.M. Cornish is an author where I will definitely be reading more of his works, sooner rather than later...

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

What should I read this weekend?

One of my Year's Resolutions is to work my way through as many hardbacks, that are sat in my 'to read pile', as I possibly can. I'm away this weekend (I've scheduled stuff to appear on the blog though!) and as we all know, a long train journey is just the right situation to get through big fat book! What do I read though? I'm hoping you can help me out here...



The original plan was to read Steven Erikson's 'Toll the Hounds', a book that has been sat on the pile for almost a year now. As a Malazan fan I really should have read this by now but its size makes an impractical read for the tube. Funnily enough, it was on a similar train journey last year that I attempted to tackle this book the first time. Could now be the time when I finally finish 'Toll the Hounds' (especially with 'Dust of Dreams' coming out in the not too distant future)? I was all set to pack the book until I thought...



What about 'Best Served Cold'? Joe Abercrombie hasn't let me down yet (something Erikson did, slightly, with 'Midnight Tides') with his books and my advance copy of 'Best Served Cold' turned up a couple of days ago... It has the 'good cover' as well :o) Should I pack this or 'Toll the Hounds'? I thought it was going to be a straight choice between two books until I thought...



What about 'Return of the Crimson Guard'? Another Malazan book that I shamefully haven't got around to reading yet. I gave it a bloody good go over Christmas but, it was Christmas and I ended up sleeping off all the drink that I'd had... It's another book that is awkward to read on the tube but it could be good for a longer train journey...

So, what do I take to read on the train? You tell me! Leave a comment, next to this post, telling me what you think I should take to read (you only get to choose one book...) The plan is for me to have read whatever book gets the most votes in time for a review on Monday...