Sunday, 31 May 2009

Malazan Giveaway! 'Gardens of the Moon' and 'Night of Knives'


Thanks to Tor Books I have three sets of 'Gardens of the Moon' (the 10th Anniversary Edition) and 'Night of Knives' to give away. This is just the thing for those who have either never tried the Malazan series before or who want to get a friend into the books! :o)

Does this sound like something you could go for? Are you living in the US or Canada? (You guessed it, US and Canadian entries only please...) If you answered yes to both of these questions then read on...

All you have to do to be in with a chance of winning is to just drop me an email telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. Actually, also tell me whether the books are for you or a friend. It won't make any difference to your entry, I'm just curious... :o) I'll do the rest!

I'll let this one run until next Sunday (7th of June) and announce the winners on the 8th...

Good luck!

Saturday, 30 May 2009

The Big Fat Graham McNeil Giveaway!


Over the past couple of months you will have seen reviews and competitions for Graham McNeil's 'Ultramarine' novels. While this giveaway may look disturbingly similar to others that I have done, the big difference here is that all the books are signed... :o)

Two lucky winners will get the following books (links to my reviews where I've read them)...

'Mechanicum'
'Ultramarines Omnibus'
'The Killing Ground'
'Courage and Honour'

Did I mention that they were signed? Good...

Are you in? (Anyone can enter this competition, it doesn't matter where you live!) To be in with a chance of winning one of these packs, 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 next Sunday (7th June) and announce the winners on the 8th...

Good Luck!

Friday, 29 May 2009

‘Operation Motherland’ - Scott Andrews (Abaddon Books)


It’s been one of those weeks where not only am I being woken up by the sun (blazing through the curtains and right into my eyes...) incredibly early in the morning but all the sparrows in the street are conspiring to do their level best to make sure that I don’t get back to sleep. I mean seriously though, what kind of sadistic little creature makes it his business to sit on my window sill, at half four in the morning, and start singing his little heart out? Sorry, I’m digressing before I’ve even had a chance to get started!
Being all bleary eyed in the morning isn’t the best condition to be in if you want to be reading something complex and involved. I got round this by making my latest read something that isn’t complex in the slightest and one that totally woke me up with a full on concoction of car chases and explosions. It worked for me... :o)

In the aftermath of the events of ‘School’s Out’, sixteen year old Lee Keegan travels to Iraq on the trail of his missing father. He finds his father but also a lot of other things he never bargained for as even ‘The Cull’ (an extremely virulent disease that has decimated the human population, if you haven’t read the first book...) could not stop the war that has engulfed Basra. The least of Lee’s worries is death by electric chair...
Back in England, Jane Crowther (former matron of St. Mark’s school for boys, if you haven’t read the first book...) is fighting to protect her young charges from post apocalyptic threats as well as each other. However; Lee’s actions in Iraq, a president’s plans for global domination and mention of the mysterious ‘Operation Motherland’ will bring the war to her doorstep once again. If anyone does survive, what shape will they be left in afterwards...?

The best to read any Abaddon book is to leave your sense of disbelief at the door and just dive straight into the plot. It’s generally very fast moving and will carry you past awkward moments such as ‘Can people survive being in a tank that has just fallen out of an aeroplane?’ and ‘How did they manage to stow away in said tank in the first place?’ (You can tell where I had issues with the plot can’t you?) Despite these moments, amongst others, ‘Operation Motherland’ does exactly what it sets out to and that is to be a rollercoaster ride of post apocalyptic gunfights and explosions. A steady dose of impossible odds, evil villains, square jawed heroes and in your face combat kept me turning the pages. I didn’t have a lot of choice really as everything happens so quickly that you have to turn the pages just to keep up.

It was good to catch up with Lee Keegan and Jane Crowther and find out what they had been up to since the last book. The demands of ‘Post-Cull’ Earth weigh heavily on these two characters and Andrews spares no expenses in showing us exactly what this means. Things do get quite graphic in places (scenes of torture) but the plot is moving so fast that you won’t get a chance to be too unsettled by this. This has the perhaps unwanted effect of lessening the impact of these scenes...

I’ve been a big fan of the post apocalyptic landscape shown in ‘The Afterblight Chronicles’ and ‘Operation Motherland’ continues to show this to good affect. Things are slowly starting to pick up but this is still a very dangerous world to live in and the appearance of factions like the ‘Cleaners’ make this only too apparent! I also enjoyed the little nod to Paul Kane’s ‘Arrowhead’ which strengthens the continuity in what is essentially a shared world.

That’s not to say that the book isn’t without its faults though... I’ve already mentioned that ‘Operation Motherland’ is a book that will have you thinking ‘hang on, that couldn’t have just happened...’ While it is a book that achieves it’s set aim, ‘Operation Motherland’ is also a book that requires you to not think too hard about what you’re reading and just go along for the ride. This is ok if you know what you’re letting yourself in for but, if not, be warned...
‘Operation Motherland’ is also a book that relies on it’s pace to cover holes in the plot that a slower read would expose, not going to say too much here as it would give away what happens in the book...

‘Operation Motherland’ is a book that succeeds in being an adrenalin and mayhem fuelled ride but it may come up short if you ask any more of it. It’s still a fun read though, I’ll be back for more.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 28 May 2009

‘Reiksguard’ – Richard Williams (Black Library)


I’ve been working my way through a number of the Warhammer 40K tie-in books just recently and figured it was about time I gave their fantasy books a go as well, just to be fair you understand :o) Where to start though? There are loads of these books and it’s not exactly clear where the best place to start reading is... At least that’s what I thought until I saw ‘Reiksguard’, the first book in the new ‘Empire Army’ series. Here’s a series where the aim is to introduce the reader to all the separate elements of the Empire army and show them in battle, just the thing for a newcomer like me!
As it turned out, I got a whole lot more than this and enjoyed the book immensely...

The Reiksguard knights are entrusted with the protection of the Emperor from foes both within and without his Empire; living under a strict code of loyalty and honour. Young novice Delmar von Reinhardt joins the order to follow in the footsteps of his father, a courageous knight who died in battle, but will find that there is more to the order than meets the eye. An alliance between a goblin warlord and an ogre tyrant is the obvious threat but Reinhardt must also contend with internal rivalries, within the order, and the dark secrets that lie beneath them...

What better way to introduce someone to the workings of a monastic order of knights than to follow the progress of a novice from his first day up to his becoming a knight? I don’t think there is a better way but it has to be done just right otherwise you’re in trouble... Richard Williams gets it right more often not, giving the reader a good overview of the order’s workings and setting these against the backdrop of an Empire that is not only reeling in the aftermath of a particularly brutal war but pick itself up for more fighting to come.

Training a prospective knight for war is a slow and involved business and Williams treads a fine line between capturing all the detail and giving the reader just that little bit too much detail; sometimes the overabundance of information interrupts the flow of the story and makes the pace a little bit choppy in places. The book is staying true to its original aim but sometimes it feels like the story itself takes second place and I’m not sure this is a good thing...

I also wasn’t sure that portraying the Reiksguard order as a ‘microcosm’ of the wider world worked in the way that it was meant to, at least not for me. The rivalry between nation states is played out between the young nobles and this does make for some exciting duels and confrontations. The only problem here is that the novices are essentially at school (for their training) and once I got that image in my head their arguments seemed petty when placed against the wider conflict.

While these are issues that I had with the book, ‘Reiksguard’ was still a lot of fun to read. Williams is a man who knows how to write a good charge on horseback, one where you can feel the hooves pounding on the ground and you get that claustrophobic feeling from being encased in a suit of armour. He’s also not afraid to get up close and personal when the charge breaks up into a morass of men and monsters hacking away at each other. It’s packed with adrenaline and leaves you in no doubt what it feels like to go head to head with an ogre...

It’s not just about the fights though. Williams takes a good long look at the ulterior motives behind the purest of motives and shows us what men must do to survive in troubled times such as these. The plotting, and counter plotting, at court shows us that not all combat is fought using steel (maybe it is though, just a different type of steel...) and is a refreshing source of intrigue that gets you asking all the right questions.

Above all though, knights in armour have always been about honour and heroism (for me) and Williams pushes the boat out in some style here. ‘Reiksguard’ is full of enough desperate last stands, last minute rescues and other heroic exploits to keep an old romantic like me very happy.

‘Reiksguard’ is slow to start off with (and perhaps a little difficult to get into) but I stuck with it and came out all the better with it. Warhammer fans should get a lot out of it and I’d say that it casual readers will enjoy it as well.

Eight out of Ten

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

‘Transformers: The Veiled Threat’ – Alan Dean Foster (Del Rey)


Has it really been two years since the Transformers movie came out? Obviously it has been two years but it somehow feels a bit more recent than that to me. Grey hairs in my beard, and a receding hair line, don’t make me feel quite as old as the fact that two years have passed by almost without me noticing... :o( Anyway...

Unless you’re making a conscious effort not to pay attention to things like this you’ll know that the new Transformers movie is out very soon (doesn’t feel like all that long since the last one...) There’s a novelisation of this, that I’ll get round to reading at some point, and Del Rey have gone the whole hog by releasing a prequel to this. The only problem for me is that ‘The Veiled Threat’ has been written by one Alan Dean Foster, an author whose work I really didn’t enjoy the last time I gave him a go. Still; second chances, and all that, as well as shape changing robots beating each other up seemed reason enough to give him another go. While ‘The Veiled Threat’ was an improvement on his last book, that I read, it still didn’t really do it for me...

The events at the end of the last ‘Transformers’ movie seemed to suggest that the war between Autobots and Decepticons was finally over, if only this were true... New Decepticons have answered Starscream’s call and are working to conquer our planet. Against them stand the Autobots and their human allies, working together to defeat the Decepticons and form an alliance between Autobots and humanity. This is a conflict constantly bubbling under the surface of everyday life but occasionally coming to the fore in a crash of metal and heavy weaponry...

I was worried that ‘The Veiled Threat’ was going to be another case of Alan Dean Foster going off on epic tangents, and using a hundred words when five would do, but I was happy to be proved wrong in this case. ‘The Veiled Threat’ is only two hundred and eighty one pages long so there’s no room for any waffling. What you get instead is a story that is aimed at a definite ending (although this is somewhat open ended, presumably so it can lead straight into ‘Revenge of the Fallen’) and sets out to reach this ending along a straight forward route. I was pleased enough by this development to initially not notice the fact that the plot basically boils down to a mixture of ‘giant robots scrapping’ along with ‘robots and humans getting to know each other’. However, this soon became clear and it was then that I realised...

This kind of thing works so much better either on the big screen or in a comic book.

‘The Veiled Threat’ does contain a number of ‘full on robot smackdowns’ and moments of spectacle, such as a chase through Rome, but I was left thinking it would have been so much better if I could have seen this happening rather than been told what was happening.

For a start, the covert nature of the events in the book mean that there’s a lot of travelling and spy work aimed at getting the enemy in one place. Five minutes screen time (or a couple of panels in a comic book) becomes several pages where discussions are had but not a lot else seems to happen and this really slows things down.

The bottom line though is that events like a confrontation between Optimus Prime and Starscream demand a visual element that a book just can’t convey. Maybe it’s because I’ve grown up watching the cartoons (and reading my little brother’s ‘Transformers’ comics) that I feel this way, I don’t know. What I do know is that a paragraph of ‘fight prose’ just didn’t cut it for me in the same way that a fight in either of the movies did (or the comics, Ultra Magnus versus Galvatron was a classic!). I’m pretty good at visualising what’s on the page but that isn’t what ‘Transformers’ is all about as far as I can see.

Alan Dean Foster has gone up in my estimation, with a book that actually goes somewhere, but ‘The Veiled Threat’ is a story that falls by the wayside purely because it’s in the wrong format (in my opinion). I wouldn’t mind seeing it as a comic book but wouldn’t pick it up again in it’s current form.

Six out of Ten.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

‘The 86ers’ – Gordon Rennie, Simon Coleby, Karl Richardson, Paul J. Holby (Rebellion)


If you like your military sci-fi or fantasy then you will know that you will find, within any army, a regiment/squadron etc where the... undesirables end up. You know the ones I mean. The guy who punched out his commanding officer, the guy who got busted down to private and contrived to get himself busted down even further, the maverick who constantly put his comrades in danger. Oh yes, not forgetting the guy who is completely insane but is the best fighter pilot around (so long as he’s had the proper medication!) Whether it’s the Bridgeburners, Wraith Squadron or the Last Chancers (amongst many others) every army has its dumping ground for soldiers who are expendable. These are the guys who will always be first into the meat grinder. The 86ers are one such group...

In the galaxy spanning war between the Norts and Southers (first seen in ‘Rogue Trooper’) the Acoma System is home to a large scale Souther mining operation as well being strategically important to the war effort in general. The 86th Air Support Reconnaissance Squadron protects the supply routes with its roster of pilots who are drop outs and freaks (and Nort defectors). There’s a lot more going on in the Citadel (the Souther base of operations) however as at least three separate factions operate under a cloud of espionage to advance their own agendas. That’s before you take into account the alien Varr who are as inscrutable as they are deadly. All it can take is the arrival of one new person to blow everything out of the water. Just imagine what will happen if that person is a genetic infantryman...

The big issue that I had with ‘Rogue Trooper’ was the episodic ‘defeat the villain of the week’ nature of the stories. There was some attempt to unify separate tales under one all encompassing plot arc but the overall impression I got was that these stories were individual affairs best suited to a weekly format rather than collected together. ‘The 86ers’ is an entirely different affair with a storyline that flows seamlessly from one episode to the next with multiple plotlines that come and go but dovetail very nicely. The timeline jumps around a lot (with lots of introductory pieces set months or years in the past) and this can be disconcerting to start off with but doesn’t take long to get used to.

There is lot to get your head around in ‘The 86ers’ and I was happily taken along for a ride featuring plenty of double and triple crossing (and murder!) in an oppressive and claustrophobic asteroid base. Everything ties in very nicely by the end but ‘The 86ers’ is also very obviously the opening shot in an ongoing series so don’t expect to have all your questions answered! (You’re not left hanging too much; all the important questions get answered...)
It’s not all cloak and dagger stuff though as there are plenty of space combat sequences that get the blood pumping and look suitably impressive on the page (almost film like both in terms of the action and the background it’s set against) . Characterisation is sacrificed for plot and spectacle but Flight Leader Hunter’s mentally scarred character offers some interesting insights into what the war is doing to the people fighting in it...

The artwork on display is consistently good throughout, as far as I’m concerned, but I found myself wishing that they’d stuck with Karl Richardson for the whole book instead of switching to Paul J. Holby partway through. It’s not that I didn’t like Holby’s work but Richardson’s art really stood out on the page for me and I wondered if the story would have been better served by having consistent artwork throughout...

This is a relatively minor niggle though as ‘The 86ers’ was a thoroughly enjoyable ride that I got a lot out of. I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Rafe and the rest of the 86th.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

‘Give Me Back My Legions!’ – Harry Turtledove (St. Martin’s Press)


Bank Holiday Weekends are a time for finding a nice patch of sun, sitting in it and getting pleasantly drunk. (And then being told by the police that you really shouldn’t be drinking there, they’ll let it go this time but they don’t want to catch you doing it again... but I digress...) Bank Holiday Weekends are also a time for catching up on all the reading that you meant to do but didn’t have the time for. That was certainly the plan for me and Harry Turtledove’s ‘Give Me Back My Legions!’ but it didn’t go quite to plan, I ended up putting this one down and won’t be picking it back up again...

‘Give Me Back My Legions’ chronicles the events leading up to the calamitous (for the Romans!) battle of Teutoburg Forest. I’m not a historian by any means, and know nothing about this period, but the blurb on the front cover left me wondering why I should bother reading this book if I already knew how it was going to end. In case anyone was wondering, the Romans lose...

Having never read anything by Harry Turtledove, I thought I’d give the book a go anyway. Maybe Turtledove had an exciting story lined up to make up for the fact that everyone knows how the story ends. Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t, I don’t know because I didn’t get far enough to find out. As far as I’m concerned, a book that’s only just over three hundred pages long needs to move along one hell of a lot faster than this one did. I managed to get just over a hundred pages in before putting this one down. Does there need to be a slow and laborious build up to an ending that everyone knows will happen? Harry Turtledove thinks so, I don’t (it’s an approach that I didn’t find entertaining at all and gave me no reason to keep reading, especially when I knew how it would all end...) and that proved to be the final straw as far as my reading the book was concerned.

Fans of Harry Turtledove will probably get a lot more out of this than I did. I’m not sure if I would give his work another go or not. Anyone got any recommendations?

Monday, 25 May 2009

Blog Tour! Tim Lebbon...


I have the great pleasure to be the latest stop on Tim Lebbon's epic Blog Tour where he will be answering a whole load of questions that I came up with for your reading pleasure :o)

Before that though, there's a few bits and bobs that we need to get out of the way first. You'll like them, don't scroll down!

First up, I'm only the latest stop on Tim's Tour and he has been to some other great places in the meantime. Check out what Tim has to say over at BookSpot Central and follow the trail back from there...

I have a copy of 'Fallen' to give away! Anyone can enter this one (it doesn't matter where you live!) Just drop me an email telling me who you are/where you live, I'll announce the winner next Monday... It's a great read so I wouldn't pass up this chance if I were you...

If you've already read 'Fallen' then here's a chance to win a copy of 'The Island'. Have a click right Here, the code you will need to use is SERIAN.

Right! On with the interview...

Hi Tim, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions for the blog!

No problem, thanks for having me! Love what you’ve done with the place.

It looks nice but I'm thinking it could do with a lick of paint... How are you enjoying the blog tour so far?

Having a great time, thanks. Living out of a suitcase and eating fast food, but I’ve only got myself to blame for that as I’m doing it all from home.

You sound like me... Onto 'Fallen'. You’re stood at the bottom of the Great Divide, are you the kind of guy who would climb it? I got a little touch of vertigo reading those bits...

I got a touch writing them, too. I’m not terrible with heights – they excite me more than scare me, I don’t get all woozy, and I’m the sort who likes looking over the edge of a cliff because of the sense of danger it gives you – but I have had nightmares about climbing a cliff or mountain and just getting stuck, when the only way to get back down is to climb down. One of the scariest things I’ve ever done is a 220 ft abseil down the side of a building – going down was fine, but that bit where you stand on the edge and lean out over nothing … just unnatural, and completely terrifying. So yes, I think I’d climb it, but I’d be as sacred as Nomi Hyden is in the book. And I wouldn’t look down.

If you were heading off on a voyage, how comfortable would you feel in the company of Ramus, Nomi, Beko and co?

Well, knowing Nomi and Ramus like I do, I think I’d keep a distance from them. They have issues. Nomi’s hot, mind you, so perhaps those issues could be put aside for a night or two beside the camp fire. They’re fascinating people as well, with compelling histories and stories about the previous voyages they’ve undertaken across Noreela … Ramus especially, who has travelled and explored the unnamed mountains where a witch might just live.

But I’d feel very comfortable with their escort, the Serians. These guys are hard as nails, and have the humour needed to get through situations like this. They’d be a lot of fun to be around, if you could get past the initial joking and tricks. Some of them are pretty quiet – and people like Lulah obviously have secrets – but I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d want to voyage with into the most dangerous, unknown parts of the world.

In a novel where the central theme is that of exploration, how easy was it for you to keep Ramus and Nomi on the path that you had planned? Were you tempted to have them sidetracked by other new horizons?

I always had a rough idea where the novel was going, even though I never plan in great detail. The Great Divide was always there, and they were always going that way … but yes, there were distractions along the way that I hadn’t planned, and things happened to them and those around them that I’d never really thought about until they occurred. I love writing that way—when the story itself takes over and puts your characters through stuff you’d have never wished on them yourself.

Which story did you enjoy writing the most? The exploration of Noreela’s frontiers or the character’s exploration of themselves and their relationships with other people?

Well, Nomi and Ramus were always the focus from me, from the first moment they appeared in my head. Such a fascinating, complex relationship, and I’d given myself a huge challenge trying to pull it off. Their story is the heart of the book, but the landscape is the meat and bones of the novel. I love the whole world-building process and always have a lot of fun with it, and in this novel especially there was a whole new aspect to it—I was writing about places that not even the characters in the book knew much about. I tried to give it a wild, untamed, unexplored feel, frontier country, and I hope it made for a sense of underlying danger throughout the book. Certainly after the pivotal campfire scene (can’t say too much more about that …. read it!) the world became a much more dangerous place for everyone on the expedition.
As for choosing which aspect I enjoyed writing the most … that’s a difficult one, but I think the characters really spoke to me in this book, and I still feel very close to them both.

Ramus believed that discovering what lies beyond the Great Divide would herald the end of exploration in Noreela. The discovery has been made and Ramus’ words must be a real challenge to you as a writer. What else lies in Noreela waiting to be discovered?

There’s plenty … more ideas than there is time to write about them. THE ISLAND is set after FALLEN, and it contains revelations that expands the Noreela universe even more. I’m quite enjoying jumping around in Noreela’s timeline, and I have an idea for a book set thousands of years after DUSK and DAWN, called LOST TIMES, which is a Noreelan post apocalyptic story … we shall see … If you want to see lots more Noreela stories, buy these first!

Tempers flare in some pretty destructive ways over the course of the book. As a writer, what do you have to tap into to ensure that these emotions are conveyed in the intense way that is required?

It’s important in these scenes to try and keep dialogue and reaction realistic. There are some pretty heavy scenes, with nasty revelations, but none of that would carry if the dialogue and reaction were over the top or unbelievable. The only way to really write these scenes is to put yourself in the characters’ heads and try to foresee how they’d react. How would you react if these things were being done to you, or said about you? So personal reaction is important, but you also have to remember it needs to be applied to the characters you’re writing about, not your own personality … so there has to be a distance as well.

And though it might seem to contradict the above, it’s important to go with the flow. I wrote the most intense of these scenes—the campfire revelation—quite quickly, and it came out better than I could have hoped.

Without giving too much away, Ramus’ story comes to an end but Nomi’s fate is left hanging. Could you see her returning in future novels?

Well, I’ll never say never … but I doubt it. Now, some readers hate this, but I like the fact that a reader’s involvement in the novel is not only confined to the time and events of that novel, but beyond as well, both before and after. So readers will hopefully be interested in where these characters came from, and might also think about where they’re going as well. I could have sewn everything up neat and tidy, but real life isn’t like that (strange thing to say when applied to a fantasy novel, perhaps … but these are real people and places to me). I’m very satisfied with the ending.

‘Fallen’ isn’t your only novel set in Noreela, is there a timeline that it’s a part of? Where would be the best place for someone new to these books to start?

Chronologically, FALLEN falls 4,000 years before DUSK and DAWN (the first two books I wrote set in Noreela), and the forthcoming THE ISLAND is set just a couple of hundred years before DUSK. In truth, they’re standalone books that can be read in any order (apart from DUSK and DAWN, which consist of one story told over two books). The more you read the more you’ll get to know Noreela, of course, and the more you’ll recognise. It has been called a series, but it’s a series you can dip into. The idea of writing a huge trilogy where each novel is integral to the others is daunting (although … well, watch this space).

Are there any plans for ‘After the War’, ‘Dawn’ and ‘Dusk’ to be released in the UK?

That would be nice. But no firm plans as yet.

Finally, your latest novel ‘The Island’ will be getting its UK release very soon. I know why I’ll be reading it, here’s your chance to tell everyone else why ‘The Island’ is a book that they should pick up...

THE ISLAND is an exciting adventure story, a tale of invasion from beyond the shores of everything we know, and charts one man’s agonies as he fights difficult internal conflicts to best serve the people he loves, and those to whom he feels a duty. It plumbs the terrors everyone feels at threats from beyond. It also has big fights, tidal waves, sex, monsters, battles, and is bloody good.

Thanks again!

Thank you! Same time next year?

I reckon so!

If you've been following the tour then you're probably waiting for me to give you the next excerpt from 'Fallen'. (If you haven't been reading these then follow the trail back to the start and get reading! If you've read all the others Here's the next excerpt) You can also read my review of 'Fallen' over Here.

The tour doesn't stop here though, swing by The Mad Hatter's Bookshelf, on May 27th, to finish reading the excerpt and see what else Tim has to say for himself...

'Reiksguard' Competition - The Winners!


Thanks to everyone who entered this competition, the winners were...

Todd Auvil, Honolulu
Michael Carter, British Columbia, Canada
Luka Finzgar, Slovenia
Nikolay Ivanov, Bulgaria
Stacia Helpman, Eastlake, Ohio

Well done guys! Your books will be on their way very soon... :o)

Better luck next time everyone else! (That includes certain people who tried to get away with entering more than once...)

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Giveaway! 'The Wolverine Files'


If you want to find out more about Wolverine, before diving into a mountain of graphic novels and back issues, this competition might just be for you! (Just so long as you live in the US or Canada though as these guys are the only ones who can enter. Sorry everyone else! Should hopefully have a 'worldwide' competition tomorrow...)

Here's the blurb from the Simon & Schuster website...

The enclosed is a top secret compilation of all known facts about the mutant called Wolverine (a/k/a Logan, Weapon X, Patch, the Runt). This report, generated by the concerted effort of SHIELD agents, is intended for the eyes of SHIELD personnel only, and is not to be copied, distributed, disseminated, or in any other way leaked to the general public due to the delicate nature of the information herein. It details Wolverine's origins, career, friends, allies, in all manner of specifics.

Having really enjoyed the Wolverine movie (very cool I thought)I'm looking forward to getting my hands on this and finding out more about the guy with the adamantium claws...

I've got five copies of 'The Wolverine Files' for anyone who wants to enter. Entering is as simple as ever, simply 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 31st of May and announce the winners on the 1st of June...

Good Luck!

P.S. American readers might fancy signing up to the Simon & Schuster Newsletter for news of upcoming releases etc. I tried but my lack of a zip code wouldn't let me go any further!

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Giveaway! 'Winterstrike' & 'Zoe's Tale'

It’s a Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK and that means you guys get pre-posted competitions while I head out to try and find a patch of sun to sit in whilst drinking beer :o)



First up are a couple of giveaways for UK readers only (sorry everyone else, US and Canadian readers should check back tomorrow...) Thanks to Tor UK I have three copies each of Liz William’s ‘Winterstrike’ (haven’t tried this one yet, sounds interesting though) and John Scalzi’s ‘Zoe’s Tale’ for anyone who fancies a go at winning a copy. You do? Read on...



To enter just drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me which book you are after and what your mailing address is. You can enter for both books, if you like, but I’ll need one email for each entry (just so I can keep track of who is entering for what...)

I’ll be letting this one run until the 31st of May and will be announcing the winners on the 1st of June.

Good Luck!

Friday, 22 May 2009

Patrick Rothfuss Book Signing at Forbidden Planet (Last Night)

I try to be pretty disciplined about the order that things get posted here but every so often something comes along that pretty much demands a place right at the front of the queue! Sometimes it’s a book that I’ve been waiting ages to read; sometimes it’s a book that I think people might like to hear about. Right now it’s a post all about Patrick Rothfuss’ pretty darn cool signing session at Forbidden Planet (and Q&A in the pub afterwards) last night. Was this the best book signing that I’ve been to? Quite possibly... Joe Abercrombie certainly has his work cut out if he is going to top it when he comes to town on the 5th of June ;o)

The last time I met an American fantasy author, with a huge beard, I was subjected to the full force of a GRRM scowl when I inadvertently made a comment about how long I’d been waiting for ‘Feast for Crows’. It was his fault for not phrasing his questions properly, not my fault at all! Nevertheless, I’ve got a bad record with bearded American fantasy authors and was resolved to be on my best behaviour this time round. I needn’t have worried, not only was Patrick bright eyed and bushy tailed (despite trekking across Europe) but he was also armed with a sense of humour and was fully intent on making sure that we enjoyed the signing as much as we did.
This is a guy who stopped the signing, a few books in, to tell us that he would write anything we wanted in our books but we had to tell him what we wanted first. If you know me then you’ll know that there was only question I could ask and only one answer that I’d want in my book. Here’s what Patrick wrote...



Patrick was also willing to pose for photos and insisted on full artistic control for that personal touch. I got ‘Serious Pat’ (thanks to Adam, of The Wertzone for taking the picture)...



Others got ‘Not So Serious Pat’... (Adam, I’m looking at you! I want to see that picture posted on your blog...)

After the signing finished a select band made their way to a top secret location where beer was drunk and Patrick answered questions thrown at him by an eager audience. These ranged from ‘Have you caught a pigeon yet?’ (he hasn’t but he’s still getting the urge to try) to ‘Are you a musician?’ (I thought he was, given Kvothe’s love of music, but apparently not; he loves it when people think he is a musician though...) with questions on world building and the art of writing as well. There were some really well considered questions being asked; so many, in fact, that I completely chickened out on asking mine. (‘Who would win in a fight between Kvothe and Harry Potter?’ Come on; don’t tell me you’ve never asked yourself this question!)

I had to leave just before Patrick read excerpts from ‘The Wise Man’s Fear’ but took the opportunity to grab what I think is a bit of a world exclusive. Whilst others may post pictures of the actual reading itself (and fair play to them), Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review can boast perhaps the only pictures of Patrick Rothfuss pretending to read from ‘The Wise Man’s Fear’ (and trying not to laugh at the same time)...





I had a great time, thanks to Gollancz and Forbidden Planet for putting this all on!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

‘The Goon: Wicked Inclinations’ – Eric Powell (Dark Horse Comics)


One of the good things about being fairly new to comic book reading is that I’ve been able to have a long, and uninterrupted, read of my favourite series without having to wait for the next trade paperback to come out. (Which reminds me, are you guys comic or trade paperback readers? I collect the trades myself, they look much better on the bookshelves...)
These heady days are coming to an end though as I’m slowly, but surely, catching up with the series I’m reading. I’m already left waiting for the next ‘Walking Dead’ collection and my days of just being able to nip into the shop and buy a ‘Goon’ book are almost up. It’s ironic that this happens just as things are really starting to get interesting...

With Buzzard watching over the city’s graveyards, the Zombie Priest is looking at a real shortage of fresh corpses for his zombie army. Factor in a fresh offensive from the Goon’s gang and the Zombie Priest has a real crisis on his hands! Desperate times call for desperate measures and the Zombie Priest has a trick up his sleeve that will change things forever. The Goon has other business to take care, will he realise what’s going on before it’s too late?

‘Wicked Inclinations’ is where we start seeing the artwork that really pulled me in when I first picked up issue 25. It’s understated yet strangely haunting at the same time and these two contrasts really kept my eyes on the page. This downbeat tone really complements a story where defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory in the face of a prophecy that bodes ill for everyone. Nobody will escape and I even found myself feeling sorry for the Zombie Priest who is only too aware of what he must sacrifice and displays a surprising empathy for what Mother Corpse must go through (it doesn’t last for long, he’s back to his usual insanity before you know it!) The moment when the Goon realises that his troubles are only just beginning is also heartbreaking in its own way. Here’s a guy who has already fought a long and hard battle and thought he was going to get a chance to breathe. To see that taken away from him (just after he’s been fighting a swarm of little demons) is a real wrench.



That’s not to say that ‘Wicked Inclinations’ doesn’t have the usual dose of what makes ‘The Goon’ an essential read for me. It’s chock full of action as other gangs seek to take advantage of the Zombie Priest’s predicament by muscling in on the Goon’s action and the humour is out in force as Frankie’s knowledge of union law proves a novel way to circumvent a feud between gypsy clans. It might not have made me laugh out loud but it was still worth the price of entry :o)
The only thing that didn’t quite work for me were the three short stories tacked on at the back. While they’re not bad in their own right, their light hearted nature really grated when set against the more sombre tone of the main piece...

It’s going to take a lot more than that to put me off reading ‘The Goon’ though! ‘Wicked Inclinations’ is another great read and I’m eager to see what happens in ‘Chinatown’...

Nine out of Ten

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

‘Viriconium Knights’ – M. John Harrison

I was trawling through Google Images, looking for Viriconium imagery, and came across this picture (courtesy of these guys) that sums up perfectly the experience I had when reading Gollancz’ ‘Viriconium’ collection for the first time. I couldn't get the picture any larger so you're going to have to click on it to read...



As you can see, the scenery is gorgeous (and hints at something worth reading) but I’ve got no idea of what’s being said and what the story is about! That was pretty much how it was when I read ‘Viriconium’ a few years ago... I’d always meant to give these stories another go but was put off by how inaccessible I’d found it. Until now... Larry’s reviews got me interested again and picking up the Viriconium references in Mark Newton’s ‘Nights of Villjamur’ had me wondering if I’d got more out of the book than I’d realised. Plus there was the fact that you guys voted this as the book I should try next! All this means I’ll be going through the book and telling you what I think of the short stories and novellas inside (one every couple of weeks maybe, we’ll see how it goes). First up is ‘Viriconium Knights’.

No sooner has ‘Viriconium Knights’ introduced us to the mysterious city of Viriconium (with its murky alleyways and strange customs) then we are told that this may not be Viriconium at all,

‘I have heard the cafe philosophers say: “The world is so old that the substance of reality no longer quite knows what it ought to be. The original template is hopelessly blurred. History repeats over and again this one city and a few frightful events – not rigidly, but in a shadowy, tentative fashion, as if it understands nothing else but would like to learn.’”

What is the reader meant to do with this? Ignace Retz (man on the run) is faced with this revelation and cannot take it in despite overwhelming evidence. I remember being caught out, and a little disappointed, the last time I read it and I felt the same this time round as well. I really like digging around in the Viriconium that we’re given to start off with. The city gives an impression of being old beyond measure (with ‘derelict observatories and abandoned fortifications’) and full of intrigue as ‘the aristocratic thugs of the High City whistle as they go about their factional games’... This is just my kind of setting and it was a bit of a shock to have it pulled out from under my feet and be told that no-one really knows what’s real and what isn’t. At the same time though, I have to respect an author who has the nerve to tell his readers (in no uncertain terms) that it’s up to them what they make of his book. Or is he just ducking responsibility here? I don’t think so.

Harrison offers his readers some hope by showing Ignace Retz visions of different Viriconiums, hinting that these may be found in the stories to come. I’m going to tell you right now (from what I remember reading the book last time) that this is only partly the case. Some of these visions do come to pass but not all of them. If you’re looking for connections between the tales then you need to look elsewhere...

This time round I found that ‘Viriconium Knights’ worked for me a lot more than it did previously. To be fair, I knew what I was letting myself in for and this gave me a chance to actually engage with the story rather than fight my way through what was going on. It’s a tale of midnight confrontations, and a desperate attempt to stay alive until dawn, but it’s also a springboard into what is to come in the rest of the book. I’m thinking more about what I’m going to find and that’s the best way to travel through Viriconium. I’ll be going back there soon...

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

‘No Prisoners’ – Karen Traviss (Del Rey)


Could this week be turning into ‘Tie-In Week’ on the blog? Not quite (I’m reading ‘Give Me Back My Legions!’ and there’s another ‘Goon’ review in the offing) but I am reading another Warhammer book, and am considering bumping the ‘Transformers’ and ‘GI Joe’ movie novelizations up the reading pile, so it could happen yet... :o) In the meantime I’ve been reading Karen Traviss’ latest offering in the ‘Clone Wars’ setting.
I wasn’t too keen on ‘Aspho Fields’ (Gears of War) but I’ve always found that anything of Traviss’ that has clone troopers in it is more than well worth a look. Traviss is one of those authors who really get what it means to be a soldier on the front line and this can be seen in her writing, especially in the Star Wars universe. ‘No Prisoners’ is more of the same standard but this time round I was left feeling a little disappointed. Let me explain...

‘No Prisoners’ is the tale of a shakedown cruise on a newly refitted assault ship (ironing out the bugs and so on) that suddenly becomes a lot more when a Republic Undercover agent goes missing on a nearby world that has just fallen to the Separatists. This isn’t just any agent though, Hallena Devis is the lover of one Captain Pellaeon and it’s his ship that’s on shakedown when the call comes through. Can Pellaeon reconcile his duty, to his crew, with his love for Devis and do the right thing by both parties? Can Padawan Ahsoka and Captain Rex come through this mission without the help of Anakin Skywalker (and how will they cope with the questions they must face)? All this will be decided in space and on the war torn streets of a planet under siege...

‘No Prisoners’ sees Karen Traviss set out to do what she does best, giving her readers a dose of galactic warfare that’s second only to actually being there yourself. Space and ground based manoeuvres are detailed meticulously with bursts of action (and tense build ups), in all the right places, that lend the story fresh impetus and keep things flowing very smoothly. There’s no filler here, everything in ‘No Prisoners’ is there for a very good reason and the end result is a solid and well presented story.

While the Star Wars prequel films just gave us a set plot (and expected us to swallow it, despite its flaws) the thing I really like about Karen Traviss’ ‘Clone Wars’ books is the way that she questions all the plot holes, fleshing out the Star Wars universe in terms of giving us characters that actually question their circumstances instead of blindly follow orders. Is it really the done thing to declare war on planets that want to secede from the Republic? A clone may be bred for war but is it right to throw them up against huge odds complacent in the knowledge that you can just make some more? Come to think of it, am I the only person who thinks it weird that someone placed an order for a clone army years before there was any hint of war? These are the questions that you are likely to come across in ‘No Prisoners’ (along with some interesting thoughts about the perceived hypocrisy of the Jedi Order) and it’s these questions that make Traviss’ Star Wars books so easy to get into. The Star Wars films hint at a wider universe. Traviss actually engages with that wider universe by questioning its faults and the result is a work that I think is potentially better than the films themselves.

Having said all that, ‘No Prisoners’ suffers in that it’s only two hundred and fifty seven pages long. In the same way that Traviss’ ‘Clone Wars’ novelisation was a length that reflected the length of the film I wonder if ‘No Prisoners’ was written to be a length that reflects the length of a weekly ‘Clone Wars’ episode... The relative shortness of the mission is best covered in a low page count but this brevity doesn’t allow us to get into the characters heads as much as we would like too. What we get then, are hints of potential that aren’t allowed to expand. This made for a frustrating read that I knew could have been so much more, perhaps another couple of hundred pages would have done the trick here...

‘No Prisoners’ does its job well considering the restrictions it’s working under. It’s a good read but if you haven’t read one of Traviss’ ‘Clone Trooper’ books already then you’d be best off starting with ‘Hard Contact’, the first book in her ‘Republic Commando’ series. This series will give you a much better idea of what Traviss is all about...

Eight out of Ten

Monday, 18 May 2009

‘Arthas: Rise of the Lich King’ – Christie Golden (Pocket Books)


One of the things running the blog has allowed me to do is try out a whole load of new stuff that I wouldn’t normally pick up otherwise. ‘Tie-in’ books (movies, games etc) is an area where I’ve only really scratched the surface but have still managed to find some gems amongst the... well... you know.
I gave a couple of Tokyopop’s ‘World of Warcraft’ manga titles a go and found them to be a fun a read although a little lightweight and probably more for fans than anyone else. I wondered if a ‘Warcraft’ novel might be a bit meatier and got a chance to find out when I was offered a copy of Christie Golden’s latest ‘World of Warcraft’ novelisation. The answer, I found, was ‘no, not really...’

If you play ‘World of Warcraft’ then you’ll know that the evil lord, casting a shadow over the world of Azeroth, is Arthas the Lich King. ‘Rise of the Lich King’ does exactly what it says on the cover, detailing the life of a young paladin whose gradual descent into evil is fuelled by the best of intentions and desire to do good for his king and country...

A problem I immediately have, with books like this, is that you already know how they are going to end. (I had a similar issue with the Star Wars prequels as it happens, don’t get me started on that...!) If you know how a book is going to end then you have to ask yourself if there is any point in reading it. The answer is... maybe. If the author can get you inside the head of the main character then the sense of impending doom and tragedy, around their actions, can make for an interesting read. If there is plenty of spectacle (battles etc) then you can let yourself be taken along for the ride and not worry too much about how it will all end. ‘Rise of the Lich King’ failed on both counts for me. It’s not a horrendously written book by any means (there was enough there for me to keep reading) but it didn’t hit the targets that I felt it needed to...

By the time I’d got about halfway through the book I found myself wanting Arthas to just hurry up and become the Lich King in the hope that his new character would be a lot more interesting. The book makes out that Arthas is at the mercy of demonic scheming, and fated to become the Lich King, but the reality is that this is a guy whose incessant whining and inability to accept responsibility for his own actions (whilst at the same time lording it over his subjects) leads him into situations that he cannot get out of without going off the deep end. He reminded me so much of Anakin Skywalker... This would have been fine if the book didn’t try and dress it up as a tragedy that it blatantly wasn’t. What I found instead was a book that was almost at cross purposes with itself. Other characters are there to drive the plot forward rather than contribute anything in their own right and made me wonder what their purpose actually was. The story was crying out for dramatic moments, the most dramatic of which could have been a confrontation between Arthas and his love Jaina Proudmoore. Notice that I said ‘could’ because these confrontations invariably happen off the page. Show don’t tell...

I also got the impression that characters were introduced into scenes as a nod to ongoing ‘Warcraft’ continuity so fans would recognise them and have someone to identify with. That’s all very well if you’re a fan and know these people when they arrive. I was left with an array of names to get used to and this took the momentum out of various battles and other confrontations...

I think the fairest thing to say is that ‘Arthas’ is a book squarely aimed at ‘Warcraft’ fans and if you’re a fan then you’ll more than likely get a lot out of it. It’s not a book that casual readers can jump straight into however and that’s the group that I fall into...

Six and a Half out of Ten

'Give Me Back My Legions!' - Competition Winners!


Thanks to everyone who entered, the two people below will be receiving a copy of 'Give Me Back My Legions!' very soon...

Luke Jass, South Dakota, USA
Gaby Lapus, Brooklyn, New York

Well done guys! Better luck next time everyone else...

Sunday, 17 May 2009

The 'Extremely Lazy' Sunday Link-Up Spectacular!

The great thing about there being so many other great sci-fi/fantasy blogs is that if I don't have anything to post then I can always cobble together a list of links to all the other stuff that has been happening ;o)
As fate would have it, a weekend of drinking and not much sleep has left me with nothing to post today. Here then is a list of all the cool stuff that has been happening elsewhere over the last week or so...

James gives us his thoughts on Tim Lebbon's Fallen and seems to like it as much as I did...

I love Rob's 'Books in the Mail' posts, Here is his most recent one...

Joe Abercrombie gives us details of his forthcoming tour to promote 'Best Served Cold'. I'll be there for the London signing :o)

If you fancy getting your hands on a rather exclusive copy of David Moody's 'Hater' then you might just want to click Here...

If you're after more linky goodness then have a click Here...

Joe Sherry gives us a list of interesting looking releases for the Third quarter of 2009, another John Joseph Adams anthology is always a good thing! :o)

Tim Lebbon will be stopping here, as part of his ongoing blog tour, but in the meantime have a look at what he had to say over at Highlander's Book Reviews.

Neth has some stuff to say about Bookmarks and having this I'll probably end up posting something on this myself (later this week) :o) What do you use as a book mark?

Finally, Mark Chitty has a few things to say about the latest 'Wheel of Time' artwork. I know I haven't said anything, everyone else got there first! :o) It is awful though...

I'm off now to get myself another beer :o) Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Giveaway! 'Reiksguard' - Richard Williams


I'll be picking this book up next week (haven't read much, if anything, from the Warhammer Fantasy line yet), how do you fancy winning yourself a copy?
Here's the blurb...

The Reiksguard knights are entrusted with the sacred duty of the Emperor's protection from foes within and without. Under the command of Marshal Kurt Helborg, the Reiksguard live and breathe their code of loyalty, courage, strength and honour.
But in the midst of a ruinous war, the young knight Delmar von Reinhardt discovers that this most venerated order hides deadly secrets.
Battling an unholy alliance of a goblin warlord and an ogre tyrant, Delmar must unearth the truth no matter which noble knight he should find at its heart.


How does that sound? Well, thanks to the Black Library, I have five copies of 'Reiksguard' to give away to anyone who fancies their chances at winning. By 'anyone' I mean 'anyone', this competition is open to everyone (it doesn't matter where you live!)

Entering is as easy as ever, simply 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 let this one run until the 24th of May and will announce the winners on the 25th.

Good Luck!

Friday, 15 May 2009

‘Fallen’ – Tim Lebbon (Allison & Busby)


Tim Lebbon’s ‘Fallen’ was actually a 2008 release that fell by the wayside, in my reading pile, simply because it was just that little bit too cumbersome to take on the commute to and from work. Seriously, if I can’t get a seat on the train then there’s no way that I’m going to be able to read a large hardback and any London commuter will know only too well that free seats are like gold dust.
I’ve heard a lot of good things about Tim Lebbon though (although I wasn’t too keen on ‘The Everlasting’) and it was only going to be a matter of time before I picked up ‘Fallen’ and gave it another go. With Lebbon’s ‘The Island’ coming out in a few weeks time now seemed as good a time as any to read ‘Fallen’. Having put the book down, I’m wondering why I didn’t just put up with resulting commuter problems and read the book a year ago. ‘Fallen’ is well worth a look...

The continent of Noreela is a young land with plenty still to discover for those willing to forego luxury (and risk a little danger). Perhaps the greatest of these discoveries lie beyond the Great Divide, a monstrous cliff face that dominates the land. Anyone who can cross the Divide will go down in legend as the greatest Voyagers of all time, not only are Ramus and Nomi are up for the challenge but they may have been given a clue to what they will find. What they will find out though is that the dangers of the unknown are nothing to the dangers they will find in each other...

I’ve got to admit that my heart sank, initially, when I read the back of ‘Fallen’ and realised that ‘Fallen’ would be about a long journey undertaken by a band of intrepid travellers. Call me cynical but... hasn’t that been done a thousand times (at least) already? The omens didn’t look good but my doubts were proved wrong very quickly. Lebbon injects a new dose of life into the ‘quest plot’ through the simple fact that although there’s a direction to their travels, Ramus and Nomi have no idea where they’re going and what they will find when they get there. Literally anything could be over a horizon that dominates the page and this uncertainty drives the plot forward at a slow but inexorable pace. I say ‘slow’ because the bottom line is that this is a seven hundred mile journey and there’s only so much an author can do to hurry it along... The excitement found in Ramus and Nomi also drives the plot forward, their motivations and ambition are infectious and if you’re anything like me you will want to see the conclusion to their journey as much as I did!

The Great Divide separates Noreela from the unknown and its stark implacability really stands out on the page. Ramus and Nomi’s ascent is a tense affair and you really get a sense of the Divide setting itself against those who would try and climb it. I’m no great fan of heights and I ended up holding my breath on more than one occasion! The danger with having such an obstacle as a mainstay, of the plot, is that it can be built up to an extent that what lies beyond it can suffer from a sense of anti-climax. ‘Fallen’ does suffer here but only a little, the apocalyptic ending makes up for any shortcomings...

With a landscape that seems small, when placed against the sense of the unknown, Lebbon concentrates on his two main characters and the other voyages that they must make over the course of the book. ‘Fallen’ is about more than just a physical journey, Ramus and Nomi must also make spiritual journeys that will define who they are and their relationship with one another. For the most part this is done well and I really got a sense of who these characters were and why they did what they had to.
The only problem I had here was that the plot demanded that Ramus and Nomi go their separate ways to the Divide. This wasn’t a problem in itself (and the resulting chase scenes made for some exciting moments) but the manner of their parting rankled in that Ramus was required to behave in a way that seemed at odds with previous mention of his character and how he interacted with Nomi. Theirs is a very complicated relationship so I may have missed something here but that still didn’t stop it from feeling slightly off...

When placed against an epic journey (and what comes at the end) though, these are small problems as far as I’m concerned. ‘Fallen’ is one of those books that will be in my head for days to come. If you like your fantasy a little dark and with a touch of horror then you might want to give this one a look.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten

Thursday, 14 May 2009

‘Kings and Assassins’ – Lane Robins (Del Rey)


‘Swashbuckling’ is one of my favourite words. Not only is it a great word to say (try it!) but it conjures images of a dashing hero either making fools of the Palace Guard or swinging through the rigging whilst fighting off hordes of pirates. As far as I’m concerned there can’t ever be too much swashbuckling in fantasy fiction (sci-fi as well come to think of it...)
When I saw the magic word on the back of ‘Kings and Assassins’ that was more than enough for me to pick the book up for a read even though it was ‘Maledicte’ (prequel to ‘Kings and Assassins’) that it was describing. After all... same characters and setting must surely mean that I’m in for another swashbuckler? Well, kind of but this didn’t stop ‘Kings and Assassins’ being a very good read...

The kingdom of Antyre sits uncomfortably between a treaty robbing it of its independence and a ruling aristocracy that doesn’t care so long as their status quo isn’t interrupted. Only one man can reverse the kingdom’s decline and that is Janus Ixion, the new Earl of Last. Janus is full of ambition and this is backed up by his skills with a blade. It may not be enough though. Not only are the noble houses united against his illegitimacy but a scheming foreign prince has plans of his own for Antyre. The greatest threat, however, might just come from Janus’ own wife who has been given dangerous gifts by a forgotten god...

A self contained plot (with references made to ‘Maledicte’) means that ‘Kings and Assassins’ can be read as a stand alone piece if you haven’t already read ‘Maledicte’. Beware though, these references hint at a world that promises more richness of the kind that you will find in these pages. I’m going to be looking for a copy of ‘Maledicte’ to sit alongside this book on my shelf.

‘Kings and Assassins’ is a slow read that’s difficult to get into (at first) for this very reason. Things do happen (including a rather gruesome murder right at the start) but these take second place to an emphasis on a slow and steady build up to the plot. This really bugged me at first; after all, who cares about nobles politicking when murder most foul has been committed? I stuck with it though and I’m glad that I did as the resulting plot was crammed full of intrigue, double crossing and backstabbing. It all fitted together perfectly and the way it was gradually presented to the reader had me in mind of a thousand piece jigsaw slowly being completed to show an intricate and extremely well defined picture. ‘Kings and Assassins’ may take it’s time but it’s for the best of reasons, a well told story that’s a joy to read.

This book suffers a similar problem with its characters. None of them are remotely likeable and even Janus’ more commendable traits are tempered by arrogance and obsession. This is also a man who is more than willing to sink to some pretty despicable acts to take the throne... I found it pretty hard to get into the book as there wasn’t a redeeming quality, in any of the characters for me to focus on. Again however, sticking with it really pays off in dividends (I found) as these negative traits heighten the suspense of a tale that can head off in any direction due to someone’s scheming or even just a whim.
The characters may not be likeable but they are all drawn in a great deal of depth and this becomes more apparent as the book progresses. This was where I finally found my hook, there is a lot to find out and it’s dealt out in such a way that there is always a little bit more to look forward to.

The action, when it does come, contrasts well with the scheming for power that makes up the rest of the book. There’s only so much politicking to be had before it all kicks off and when things spark off it’s done in style! This is where the ‘swashbuckling’ comes in, lots of flashing blades and witty banter at knife point...

‘Kings and Assassins’ is a tough one to get into but the effort really pays off in the long run. You know that feeling you get when you discover a new author that you want to read more of? Well, that’s the feeling I’ve got right now.

Nine out of Ten

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

‘The Awakening’ – Kelley Armstrong (Orbit)


Me and Urban Fantasy (the ‘strong female lead, kills vampires etc etc’ kind) haven’t been getting on too well just recently. It feels like we’ve been seeing a little bit too much of each other and we’ve got to a point where we know each other inside out and there isn’t anything new left to find. Is it time for us to go our separate ways or is there still a spark there? (Have a look through the ‘urban fantasy’ tags on the blog, if you think I’m missing anything really good, that I haven’t read) then leave a comment here)
I was in the mood to give things one more chance and I’ve always enjoyed Kelley Armstrong’s books so when ‘The Awakening’ came through the door I figured I’d give it a go and see if I could rediscover the spark that got me reading ‘Female Lead’ Urban Fantasy in the first place. As it turned out, I think I’ll be sticking with Harry Dresden and Felix Castor for the foreseeable future...

Following the events of ‘The Summoning’, Chloe Saunders (very reluctant necromancer) has uncovered more of the truth about her imprisonment by the sinister Edison Group. A lucky break sees her on the run with a boyish sorcerer, a troubled werewolf and a temperamental young witch but how long can their luck last? It’s a race to see whether Chloe and her friends reach some kind of safety before they are either caught by the Edison Group or internal rivalries tear the group apart...

I thought ‘The Awakening’ would be a safe bet (in terms of an enjoyable read for me) in that ‘The Summoning’ made it pretty clear that this trilogy would definitely not be about angst ridden shape shifters dodging hails of bullets. To an extent this was true, there was some gunfire but this didn’t drive the whole plot. What we get instead is an escape and a road trip where Chloe’s character is allowed to develop a bit further but this is where the ‘angst element’ makes it’s presence felt. You would have thought that a desperate flight from danger would focus people’s minds on survival but oh no... There’s a love triangle in the offing with lots of ‘how does he feel about me’ type introspection accompanying it (that’s not including all the ‘is she my friend?’ stuff that is also to be found). To be fair, Chloe is fifteen years old, and this trilogy is aimed at people of a similar age, so maybe this is to be expected but it has the unwelcome effect of slowing down a book that relies heavily on a fast and urgent pace.

If this wasn’t bad enough, the conclusion to ‘The Awakening’ is pushed into the shadows by the fact that this is very much a ‘middle book’ where the emphasis is on getting everyone into place for the events of the final book. What we have then, as a result, is a book that meanders along (with very occasional bursts of action) to a conclusion that peters out when set up against what’s coming next. To be fair, things will probably look very different when the third book is published (and the story is completed) but that doesn’t make me feel better right now...

These ‘off putting’ bits are a real shame in that I found they detracted really heavily from what Kelley Armstrong does very well (as far as I’m concerned), well fleshed out characters who remain engaging throughout the course of the book. While I wasn’t happy about the way in which Chloe behaved at times (how can someone remain so cheery the whole time?), she was still a character where I found myself genuinely interested in how she got on. It was a shame that the execution of the plot didn’t carry Chloe’s character as well as she deserved...
Armstrong also continues to get that blend of ‘real world’ and ‘other world’ just right and this helps keep things interesting as anything can happen and, when it does, the contrast between ‘real’ and ‘other’ worlds really resonated with me.

If you’re a fan of Kelley Armstrong then I reckon you’ll love this as Armstrong is doing what she has done in all her other books. As far as I go, I’ll probably pick up the third book up but only because I hate leaving a series unfinished, not because I actually want to see how it ends...

Six and Three Quarters out of Ten

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

‘BioHell’ – Andy Remic (Solaris)


It only seems like yesterday that I was talking about how much I love reading about (and watching) zombies. Hang on, it was only yesterday! ;o) I could go over it again but the nicest thing I can do here is to point you to the post below this one (I’ll wait while you read it)...
You’re back? Great! Every so often something will slip under my ‘zombie radar’ but it’s never long until I find out about it. A friend of mine told me about a book that had ‘techno zombies’ in it and I knew that I had to have a look. The book in question was ‘Biohell’ and it took up most of a weekend that was all about reading books. In a strange twist of fate though it was the book that I ended up enjoying the least. Let me try and explain...

“How the hell did zombies learn to drive tanks?”

If you’ve read Brian Keene’s ‘Rising’ books then you’ll know all about zombies in tanks; the residents of ‘The City’ (a planet with a particularly apt name seeing as it’s covered in buildings) don’t though, they’re too busy injecting themselves with nano-bots and getting the latest ‘human upgrade’. None of these upgrades were meant to turn people into pistol packing zombies but that’s just what’s happened... What’s going on? It’s down to the Combat K Squad to find out this, and a whole lot more, once they stop popping pills and threatening to kill each other...

This review has proved to be one of the more difficult I’ve had to write as ‘BioHell’ left me feeling elated and disappointed in equal measure, like eating a McDonalds burger when I was really after a steak. Is that the book’s fault though? It’s clear that ‘BioHell’ was written with a particular audience in mind and I’m just not in that group...

‘BioHell’ is just the book for those commutes into work where you really need to wake up as you have an important meeting first thing. It’s loud, brash and so in your face that it’s actually gone right through and is stood behind you, giving you a good kicking when you least expect it. The frantic pace takes you through the plot at breakneck speed and every explosive spectacle serves to promise that the next spectacle will be even bigger... I had to strain to hear what the characters were saying as the explosions and gunfire were drowning everything out! There is a plot underneath all the action that follows on from ‘War Machine’ (the preceding ‘Combat K’ novel) but the book stands on it’s own very well, with just enough background for a new reader to pick things up very quickly.
And it has zombies in it! They may not be the ‘classic’ shambling undead (they do eat brains though which is a good thing) but their ability to utilise any weaponry they find makes for an interesting ‘zombie twist’ and adds to the suspense.

All this makes ‘BioHell’ sound like just the kind of book that I’m into (and it is, to an extent) and one that shouldn’t have left me with a strange non-plussed feeling. It did though. Like I said, I don’t think I’m the kind of person it was written for...

As far as I’m concerned, guns (and other weaponry) can generally be lumped into the ‘Gun’, ‘Bigger Gun’ or ‘HUGE Gun’ categories. Fancy names (or sets of initials) don’t do anything for me, especially if it’s for a weapon that doesn’t exist. ‘BioHell’ is littered with weaponry of this nature and I found that it really got in the way of the story itself. I wanted to find out what was happening, not be told about some gun or other!

Humour is a subjective thing and, as such, it’s probably unfair to criticise ‘BioHell’ just because I didn’t find the humour on display particularly funny. The fact is though that I didn’t find it funny and there’s nothing worse than reading a book where the jokes don’t work. It might work for you but it didn’t for me...

I also found that the endless cycle of destruction ended up working against the plot. While it would have looked great on screen, jumping from one scene of destruction to another in the book didn’t give me a lot of time (if any) to concentrate on the plot and motivation of our heroes. It’s very obviously not that kind of book but there was just enough there for me to want to find out more about the main characters and it wasn’t happening... Fans will love it but I was after a bit more...

Is it the book’s fault though if I’m after something that it has no intention of delivering? I think it was hinting at enough potential character and plot development for me to be justified in feeling put out that it didn’t deliver...

‘BioHell’ is a big blockbuster sized novel that’s full of action and excitement yet strangely empty at the same time. Fans will love it, I’m not sure if I’ll read another one. I’ve said that before though, about certain blockbuster films, and I’ve always ended up going back... :o)

Six and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 11 May 2009

Manga Monday! ‘Priest’ (Volumes 2-4) – Min Woo-Hyung.

There is an unspoken law on this blog (until now that is!) that anything with zombies in it will eventually find its way here and have a post dedicated to it. It may take a while to get there but it’s inevitable, just like zombies... :o)
I checked out volume one of ‘Priest’ back in March and very much liked what I saw, Wild West zombies with a hint of so much more to come in the background... This weekend was all about reading and yesterday morning was all about getting into ‘Priest’ and seeing where the story took me....



These three volumes show us the results of Ivan Isaac’s confrontation with the demon Jarbilong in the town of Saint Baldlas (zombie carnage on a grand scale with the introduction of a demon to spice things up) and his inexorable march on Temozarela’s castle in a hail of bullets and blood. They also broaden the scope of the story, showing the reader events from the Crusades as well as taking the story three hundred years into the future where Catholic priests attempt to unlock the mystery of Temozarela through Ivan’s journal.



Focusing on significant past events is a good approach here in that it fleshes out both the story and the characters in it. Ivan Isaacs is suddenly a lot more than just a gun toting undead priest who’s full of rage, he has a background history which starts to make his actions a lot easier to understand. I found myself starting to feel sorry for the guy, especially as I know what is to come in his future... There are some really poignant moments and Hyung shows that his artwork is just as capable at taking on these scenes as it the scenes of brutal carnage that have been prevalent up to now. On the negative side though, the change in pace (all out war to filling in the background) is a bit jarring even though there are good reasons for doing it this way.



Focusing on future events though... well that’s a bit trickier. While there’s some intriguing stuff taking place it comes at the expense of the reader finding out Ivan’s ultimate fate. That’s a pretty big spoiler and although there are enough questions raised to make me want to continue reading, I was left feeling a little deflated by this revelation. Having said that though, I could be completely wrong about all this. After all, who lets the ending slip after only three volumes of a fifteen book series? We’ll just have to wait and see I guess...

‘Priest’ remains an ‘in your face zombie horror western’ that promises to be so much more. I’ve got a few reservations about what the story might be revealing so early in but that hasn’t put me off reading the rest of the series...

Competition Winners and Other Stuff...

Thanks to everyone who entered the 'City & The City' and 'Warbreaker' contests, the winners were...

'Warbreaker'

Bethany Settlemoir, Little Rock, Arkansas, US

'The City & The City'

Emily Hutchinson, Harrogate, UK
Moray Nicol, Glasgow, UK

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

Thanks as well to everyone who voted, last week, on what older work I should read next. It was a close run thing but the eventual winner was...



As luck would have it, this was the one book that I thought I had on my bookshelf but didn't... Expect reviews after I've raided Amazon for a cheap copy ;o)

Before I go, Here's an article that my wife showed me (on the way into work this morning) and I thought you'd like as well. I want to do this but am working on establishing my 'billionaire playboy' alter ego first! These things have to be done properly you know... ;o)

Sunday, 10 May 2009

The Sunday Morning 'Damn Toothache' Link-up spectacular!

The title says it all really, the plan for today is to stay in bed and read ('Kings and Assassins' which has proved to be enthralling so far, wish I'd read 'Maledicte' first though...) It's also been a while since I've done a 'link-up' post so I thought that now was as good a time as any to get back in the saddle! ;o)
Here we go...

Following on from Larry's post, Adam takes us through his own list of books he read at certain ages. I'm useless at matching books with the ages I read them (I read 'The Dalek Invasion of Earth' when I was about seven but can't really remember a lot else) so you won't be seeing a list like that from me... :o)

The news about Mark Charan Newton's 'Nights of Villjamur' (and a sequel) being picked up by Del Rey can be found on a number of blogs but I'm linking to Rob's post as I think he got there first. Congratulations Mark!

I came an absolute cropper on the second book of Sean Williams' 'Astropolis Sequence' (couldn't finish the second book) but Liviu (from Fantasy Book Critic) did a lot better than me, making it all the way to the end of the series. Read the review for 'The Grand Conjunction' Here.

Fantasy Cafe reviews John Marco's Starfinder.

On Monday, Tia gave us a look at some April Debut Showcases.

Thea, from the Book Smugglers, gets ready for the new Star Trek movie by taking us through her Favourite Star Trek Moments.

I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for Brandon Sanderson after following this link via Adventures in Reading. I thought I was busy...

Last, but not least, Enter the Octopus points us at a free download of Michael Moorcock's 'The Stealer of Souls' (via Realms of Speculative Fiction) amongst other things...

Right, I'm going back to bed. Have a great weekend and look out for more reviews in the coming week!

News!

I've had a few press release type emails come through this week and have been incredibly slack at putting them up here. So... here they are! :o)

DARK HORSE LAUNCHES MOBILE COMICS PROGRAM WITH TERMINATOR!



MAY 4, MILWAUKIE, OR—Dark Horse Comics, the third-largest American comics publisher, makes the leap into the digital world of mobile content today with the launch of a new app for the iPhone. With the release of the upcoming Terminator Salvation film in mind, Dark Horse has chosen a classic The Terminator story from its vast publishing archives to launch this program.

Following in its rich tradition of innovation, Dark Horse turned down multiple offers from various media developers, and instead opted to develop an application in-house. The result is a reading experience that Dark Horse feels best utilizes the mobile platform and delivers the same standard of quality fans have come to expect from the industry leader.

President Mike Richardson explained “Dark Horse has always attempted to work with great creators in order to create great stories. Over the years, we have been successful in taking those stories into other media. We have always been on the cutting edge of technology, and our new iPhone application allows us to reach a whole new generation of readers. We have always felt that it is important to provide our readers with the best reading and viewing experience possible, and this new endeavor is no exception. People have come to expect nothing less from us, and we will do our best to deliver.”

Chief Information Officer Dale LaFountain commented, “We’re very excited about the Apple iPhone platform and enabling fans to enjoy Dark Horse Comics in digital form. This is an evolution for the comics industry and we look forward to bringing our tradition of innovation and creativity into this new medium.”

The Terminator: Death Valley, originally published in 1998, features a story by Alan Grant and art by Steve Pugh. All four issues are available for download now at http://www.darkhorse.com/Features/Mobile for $0.99 an issue.

The four-issue The Terminator series is the very first of what will soon be an ongoing program for the Dark Horse iPhone app. More titles from Dark Horse’s immense collection will be announced in the near future.


And here's one for fans of Sherrilyn Kenyon's 'Dark Hunter' series...

Vote on a free bonus Sherrilyn Kenyon giveaway, now through May 15! To celebrate the upcoming release of BAD MOON RISING, the next title in Kenyon's Dark-Hunter series, fans have from now through May 15 to decide which free bonus gift will be included exclusively with the audiobook. Listeners can vote using the online survey and choose from three Dark Hunter designs: a window decal, temporary tattoo, or bumper sticker. Which gift do you think is juiciest? The one with the most votes will be included as a free gift with purchase in Kenyon’s new audiobook of BAD MOON RISING. The survey is available on Kenyon’s home page at OfficialSanctuary.com; on the Dark-Hunter Quiz available on Facebook and MySpace; and by following this link: http://officialsanctuary.com/iframes/form_poll.html.